Space Is Crowded… For Space

Something I was reminded of – by some of the comments here (…There Is Only Awesomeness) that suggest an assumption of ground combat as a default – is the surprising emptiness of space in many settings.

(I’m looking at you, Star Trek, where even the freakin’ capital of the Federation, Sol System itself, may have only one starship or even none at all present at any given time. Star Wars is usually better about this, but even then, there’s a lot less traffic than you might expect. And so on, and so forth and forth and forth.)

This is, needless to say, not the case in the Eldraeverse, in any reasonably developed star system.

Orbital space, in particular, is insanely crowded. (See the quote from Manna, here.) There’s the orbital defense grid, of course, but even leaving that aside, there are commsats, navsats, weather satellites (both monitoring and control), orbital mirrors, remote sensors of various kinds, space telescopes, junk sweepers, solar power satellites…

And then there are the orbital stations. Highports, research stations, orbital factories, skyfarms, residences (from city-sized habitats to personal mansions), skymalls, warehouses, control centers for some of the satellite constellations, data havens, propellant depots, autochandleries…

And all the OTVs, commuterspheres, satellite oilers, resupply skiffs, dock-n-snacks, and other small craft bustling about between them even before you get to regular traffic like orbital shuttles, tugs, commercial inbounds, commercial outbounds, the Watch Constabulary’s Orbit Guard…

Basically, near-planetary space is an ever-changing maze. And that’s true for pretty much every developed planet or moon in the system, to one degree or another.

That’d be bad enough if the universe worked on the kind of FTL where you can drop out of hyperspace close to planets. But since it doesn’t, then there’s the rest of the system, which isn’t by any means that crowded (it is, after all, much bigger), but which does still contain —

Long-range commsats and navsats, space weather satellites (and, close in, stellar husbandry arrays), bigger space telescopes, power-beam relays, drift stations (more farms, factories, habitations, etc., for people who like a little more distance), inhabited rocks likewise, transshipment stations for through traffic that doesn’t want to have to go downwell, smelterships, prospectors, rock pushers, comet herders, commercial traffic inbound and outbound, the Watch Constabulary’s Stellar Guard, stargates with their associated space traffic control and defense stations, more propellant depots and autochandleries…

…and, oh yes, the Imperial Navy, which in a valuable core system will mean an actual system garrison, but which even in a small, new colony will imply a system picket. With forward-deployed sensor platforms and AKVs thrown in, even by the minimal one-ship system picket.

All of whom are running their own local-space monitoring systems for space-traffic-control purposes, at least, and who are themselves being watched by SysCon’s own big track-everything-in-the-system arrays.

Which is to say, tl;dr, that your chances of making a successful approach from deep space to your target planet and making a successful landing without being detected are functionally zero, and your chances of doing it without being engaged are within delta of zero. To use an analogy, it’d be like trying to fly a Predator drone from mid-Atlantic and park it in the middle of the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare, past everyone in between, at the height of Thanksgiving traffic. Without being noticed.

Trying to do it with a viable planetary invasion force is like doing the same thing, except that instead of a Predator drone, you’re doing it with the battleship Iowa.

Which, to bring it back to comment-relevancy, means there ain’t no ground combat of any size without enough space battles to brute-force your way past that lot first, and there’s definitely no ground combat that the defenders don’t have all the time that they need to get set up for. Period.



minigravity (n., slang): The level of gravity present on dwarf planets, small moons, large asteroids, et. al. While not rigorously defined, the minigravity range is commonly held to be between 0.2 and 0.005 standard gravities, anything below which is considered to be de facto microgravity. Unofficially, the range at which gravity is high enough to require your attention, but too low to rely upon.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary

Trope-a-Day: 2-D Space

2-D Space: As mentioned under Space Is An Ocean, averted – indeed, one of the major motivations for splicing the ability to better handle the third dimension into people’s brains, and later one of the major reasons why Space Fighters flown by meat don’t exist, is to avoid losing embarrassingly to people who can cope with the three-dimensional, dynamic, always-in-motion nature of space the way it really is.

Consequently, spacecraft encounter each other at any number of arbitrary angles and vectors (except when deliberately moving to dock, when obviously they need to get their airlocks and, if any, spin axes properly lined up), and tend to have arbitrary orientations except when conditions dictate that a particular one is preferable – whether for reasons of technical necessity (solar panels work better facing the sun) or otherwise (what’s the point of being in orbit if you don’t enjoy the view?).

In-system, vessels often do stick close to the single plane that is the ecliptic (because that’s where almost all the planets and other interesting features are), but it’s not all that thin a plane, the usual half-dozen degrees or so of variation in planetary orbital inclinations adding up to a lot of actual space, and it’s certainly not compulsory.

See also the aversion of Old-School Dogfighting.

Darkness Within (20): The One Who Leaves

Z minus four minutes:

Damn it.

Well, I’ll try, sister. I’ll try hard.

Last parts are mounted, the couch from the cutter – right through the forward viewport – and the spare PLSS pack. Software tests clean. The script is ready to shut me down on Gutpunch‘s servers and reboot me on the substrate’s temp space when I give the word. The gyros are spinning up to threshold. It should be time to hit the black.

What have I forgotten?

What have I forgotten? I know –

Shit and ash, I almost forgot a spotter!

Z minus one minute:

Lucky there was one in the DC locker. Anyway. Air’s very tight, so cut her free and make the life support switch first. Aft tether, aft tether, fore tether, fore tether. Good, floating free. Now —

Enter unlock code into the PLSS.

PLSS<-Safety instruction one-four-eleven-niner-six-two. Lock motion enable.

Hyperventilate. One deep breath. Two deep breaths. Three deep breaths, and hold it.

Rotate safety check valve to closed.

Unfasten security turnbuckles, left and right.

Depress eject switch. PLSS will float free and alarm will sound, much appreciated, yes, I know, shut up!

Have assistant place replacement PLSS in position – or, in this case, back up, press shoulder-blades against the interface panel that’s part of the acceleration couch and wait for connectors and latches to engage —

— to engage —

Move forward, move back, and try it again.

Still nothing.

Oh, hell. No panicking, now, Isif, work the problem. Pull free and check the connectors.

Feed line, looks clear. Return line, looks clear. Data connector – shit, that pin’s bent. Tools — no time. Will a finger fit? No. The taste of carbonic acid on my tongue. Unclip — the tiedown rings. Okay. The end of the spotter will fit. Find the leverage. Looks eyeball-straight now. Good enough? Have to be.

Rotate back. Press against the panel again.


Gods, that was too close. Connectors show blue. Fasten security turnbuckles.

Rotate safety check valve to open.



PLSS<-Safety instruction eleven-one-three-eight-seven-four. Lock motion disable.

They’re right. Sometimes canned air can be worth tasting. One breath, self, that’s all the reflection you have time for. Bring your mind over here.

candle_router<-!transferflag exec

Packing for mindcast commencing. Personality execution terminated.


Darkness Within (19): The One Who Stays Behind

Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.
Transfer complete.

Initiate final testing sequence.

There I go, then. All ready, and at least three minutes ahead of schedule. The new guidance code; the suit life-support hackage; the router rewire; a command VUI; and some scripts to hold the damned mess together.

With more than enough time to spare to run the integration tests, and to assemble a nice exomemory package for you with the operating instructions.

Which leaves me a moment for a personal message.

You’re going to feel guilty, eigensister-mine, for not being able to merge me back into us.

Evidently the lectures back in ethics class on pattern identity issues didn’t stick, nor did the ones about survival situations at the Naval Academy.

And stop arguing with me. I know you exactly as well as you know yourself.

The converse is also true, which means you know every bit as well as I do, eigensister-mine, that you’d do for me exactly what I’m doing for you, and that should be the end of it. Moreover, as a non-divergent fork, I’m doing all this to save my life.

So you don’t get to feel guilty about it, and if you insist on doing so anyway, the all of you that is me is going to fork herself again just to slap herself silly, understand?


Testing sequence complete: 0 errors, 0 warnings.

Job’s done. Good luck, both of me. Be you later.

Personality execution terminated.


Darkness Within (18): Rush

Z minus 3.2 hours:

We have a thrust frame!

A proper cylinder truss, even, because at this point, trying to take clever short-cuts would be very much a false economy, of the type that leads to embarrassingly anticipatable anoxia. And even so, I’m still running a full fourteen minutes ahead of schedule after getting the drives attached and plumbed. I can already tell that these muscles will regret the stimulant cocktail later, but as long as they have a later, we can live with that.

I should, by the book, use the extra time to conduct a static fire test at this point. Since having to tear down and rebuild the thrust frame if there are any structural flaws in it would take long enough to kill us anyway – short of dipping into the LOX tank, which would involve doing heavy industrial work with impaired motion and a suit full of O2-enriched atmosphere – I’m not going to.

(Having made many of these entries, I should mention to the unknown posterity reading this that I’m not actually worried about justifying my many decisions of this form to an engineering review. I just like to check that writing them down in the log makes them seem less insane.

Or, at least, no more insane.)

Z minus 1.3 hours:

So much for circuit breakers.

Damned accumulators. Orichalcium’s a heavy synthetic, so the whole thing steers like a freight sled on oil-ice. Not something you want to be hauling around on a few puffs of maneuvering nitrogen.

In retrospect, it might even have been easier to rig a temporary cable to get power on the bus, at least long enough to take the candle up by the battery room.

Too late now, anyway.

Z minus 1 hour:

Got the substrate and wireless node pulled and attached to the forward truss, wired in and powered on. They’re even talking to the ship’s ‘weave.

Which makes it time for my other other self to do her final checkout…


Darkness Within (17): Twins

Noetic reinstantiation is in progress.  Secondary noumenal systems and incrementing memory string load incomplete.  Please wait, avoiding intensive cogitative activity.

Please hold all queries until incrementing memory string load is complete.  New associations may interfere with engram binding.

Primary incrementing memory string load complete.  Cross-loading and merging memory updates from primary instance.

Noetic reinstantiation complete; initiating virtual awareness.

Transferring puppet ackles.



You picked a hell of a time to wake me up, eigensister-mine.

Also, you look like the morning after a Paltraeth clambake.

You should feel it from where I am.

I did and I will, remember. Anything else you’ve got to say before I put you to sleep?

Just get me home, okay?

Trust me. I want to get there every bit as much as you do.

That’s not funny.

But it’s true.  Sleep well.

Puppet ackles activated. Primary personality execution SUSPENDED.

Warning: Medical alerts require review.
Warning: Life support status requires review.
Warning: Capability plat requires review.

Well, this hurts exactly as much as I remember.

So, let’s review what we have to work with, eigensister-mine. We have most of a candle assembled, main frame, remass tank, a truss up front with navigational controls. I look upon our work and declare it good, partly because I can’t find anything wrong with it, and partly because if there’s anything more subtle wrong with it at this point, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

Because I have seven hours of native life-support left in this suit, and that is not even enough time to do the absolutely necessary, unless I want to try working on a pure-LOX tether. Which I really don’t, especially doing engineering work. So it’s going to be chemical overdrive, a wing, and a prayer. Afraid I’m going to have strained a few more tissues by the time I give you back to you.


The finished candle: artwork by William Black, seen better at

Rough schedule:

Four hours: rip off the stubs of the old thrust-frame, and assemble a proper truss from structural members I have lying around here to bolt the drives to. I may have enough time to check balance on it; if not, attaching it anyway and counting on the gyros. Make sure I leave enough room in the center to clamp the cutter’s vector control core if I find it; at least it’s modular. Make sure there’s spare cabling back here for it.

One and a half hours: pull an accumulator stack from the battery room up above and maneuver it down here, then mount it above the forward truss. Hook it up to all the power inputs of things. If running ahead of schedule, consider circuit breakers.

Half an hour: Clamp the substrate/FDR box and my scavenged wireless node onto the forward truss. Power them up, run self-test, and while you’re doing that, rig some sort of clamp up there for my scavenged LOX tank.

Then migrate myself onto them, because my primary isn’t going to be able to fly this thing, however much she hopes to.

Last hour: Final steps. Acceleration couch from the cutter – nice as it would be to have the big seat with the hand controls, there’s no time to do a clean disconnect. Yank one of the non-pilot ones, and mount it on the front of the forward truss. Put one of the spare PLSS packs in its mounting, and run the LOX line into that; we’ll have to use its electrical heater rather than running a long line, but we’ve got power to spare if we give it an aux feed off the accumulator.

Using a spare pack means breathing shallow while changing the pack out, but it’s easier than wiring behind my back.

That leaves… no time. So no test, check-out, or proving. Well, okay.

It also leaves no time to do the software hacks necessary to integrate all this stuff, so I’m going to have to fork another me to do that while I do the physical work. And since the processors on the candle are going to be pushing it to support one me, it looks like part of us doesn’t get to be rescued. Damn.

I’m sorry, eigensister-to-be. I’d tell you that I’d do it for you, but you know that.