Once, For a Bet

There is, technically, a less expensive way to reach orbit than an elevator ride, and it has the additional advantage of being the fastest way to reach orbit. However, I cannot recommend it to you for one simple reason: I’ve “ridden freight“, and it’s an experience best saved for when you have no alternative.

It’s inexpensive, in a nutshell, because you’re being squeezed into a gap in the freight schedule. And as you’re riding freight, the accommodations are very much suited for freight: you get a comfortable acceleration seat, certainly, but one fixed inside what remains unmistakably an intermodal freight container fitted with an aeroshell.

Most providers do, as a courtesy to keep their passengers entertained, equip the nose of such capsules with a sapphireglass window. This is less helpful than it might be.

After boarding, it provides you with a fine bullet’s-eye view – for the seconds of your loading slot – of what it’s like to be shoved into the breech of the Worlds’ largest gun. Then the gravomagnetics catch you up and hurl you forward. The featureless sides of the tube rush by, but you won’t be paying attention to them: being on the freight schedule means fitting in the fewest freight slots possible. Eyeballs in, folks, feel the elephant on your chest and watch your vision blue-shade out – it’s six standard gravities from here all the way up the gunspire.

(Unless you’re riding freight on Paltraeth. Then they fire you at the full twelve local gravities and take bets on whether you’ll be conscious at the top. There’s a barrel of the local booze in it for anyone who can climb out of the capsule on their own, starport legend says, just in case the trip upwell didn’t impair you enough.)

Then comes the fun part. In the old days, the brief glimpse you’d get out of the window would have been of the exceptionally solid iris holding out the attenuated atmosphere at the gunspire’s tip, opening for you with such fine calibration that it’s impossible to see. Now, there’s just a brief flash of blue as you pass the kinetic barrier, the sickening lurch – and eyeballs snapping back out – as you pass beyond the magnetics, and the end of the world coming to call.

You see, everything up until this point has been quiet as a moth’s whisper. A mass driver in an evacuated tube makes no noise – the switchgear and the pumps might, but they’re on the outside.

Once you hit the end, though – the air might be attenuated, but there’s still enough of it to hit like a granite cliff. One moment, silence. The next moment, the storm gods of every pantheon you’ve heard of and a few more besides have come to call, with a real urgent need to come in there.

And they brought some friends, it looks like, ’cause that convenient window is making it very clear that everything outside is on fire.

This, you might think, would be a good time to panic.

Well, you’ve got something under of a second before they start hitting you with the lasers, and it’s back to elephants, blue-outs, and now an angry giant whaling on the back of the capsule with a to-scale warhammer to add to the rest of the noise – with your eyeballs vibrating in time.

That’s the worst of it. It only gets quieter from there to orbit, and after the hammering you’ve taken on the way up, the eyeballs-out dangling-in-your-straps deceleration to match velocity with the highport comes as something of a relief.

But I trust you understand, gentle reader, why it is that I cannot recommend this mode of transport.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol

 

Portal-class Mobile Highport

“Expecting guests with nowhere for them to park? Embarrassing when you’re a host. Expensive when you’re a business. Excruciating when you’re a planet.

“Fortunately, as long as you’ve got a scrap of bare rock to set a shuttle down upon, we have the answer. Hire one of our Portal-class mobile highports today, offering luxurious docking, interface, transshipment, space-traffic control and chandlery services, and see your problem solved… instantly1!

“1. Transit time constraints notwithstanding. Extra fees may apply for emerging markets or regions currently engaged in conflict or piracy.”

– from an Ellore Modular Industries, ICC, interactive advertisement

The Portal-class mobile highport is exactly what its name implies: a complete orbital starport, custom-designed to operate efficiently in conjunction with only very limited downport facilities (or even nothing but airports available), designed to be movable between planets and systems as demand requires.

The Portal is built on a conventional frame: a cylindrical hull with rounded ends, sporting a pair of counter-rotating gravity wheels near its midsection. As can be expected from an Ellore product, it is largely modular: its permanent features are limited to the gravity wheels (containing parks, hydroponics, and living quarters), an axial utility core containing engineering and command elements, a large toroidal fuel tank assembly wrapped around the core, and small craft docking facilities at each end of the cylinder, one dedicated to interface vehicles and the other to orbital traffic. Working squadrons of Nelyn-class cutters, Lowari-class shuttles and Maw-class fuel skimmers accompany the highport.

The remainder of its volume is devoted to the modular segments, six of which connect in each section, terminating at the transpod shafts running along the outside of the fuel tank assembly. Various different combinations of modules, along with appropriate operating crew, can be installed as part of the lease to meet individual customer requirements: cageworks, cargo storage space, chandleries, internal berthing volume, large-vessel docking arms, passenger services – including concessions, hotels, lounges, and other amenities – and even defensive systems.

The Portal itself has no integral drive systems; it relies on an accompanying Hane-class superlifter (whose docking clamps surround the interface vehicle bay) for propulsion.

Ellore maintains a small fleet of Portals for lease, chiefly by worlds expecting a short-term increase in traffic (whether one-off, or regular, but insufficient to justify maintaining a largely idle permanent port) due to social events, harvest times or other seasonal traffic bursts, new discoveries susceptible to exploitation, disaster relief (for which the Imperial Emergency Management Authority and a number of eleemosynary organizations keep Portals on retainer), nth-wave colonization, and so forth. A few are also kept under contract to the Imperial Exploratory Service, which may be offered on long-term lease to particularly promising newly contacted worlds likely to generate substantial interstellar traffic over relatively short periods of time.

Ain’t No Law

Internal Security Records: Vizjen Down
Passenger Terminal, Section C (Concessions)
hinMeira Mercantile

7126/8/8 (starting 8+36:00)

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS (PORT DIRECTOR): — seems to be the trouble, here?

RYSEK hinMEIRA (CONCESSIONAIRE): I want her out of here! Your security guards refused to —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: In good time, Sv. hinMeira. I need to hear a report from my personnel first.

JINTH mor-KARIS (SECURITY): The concession operator called us reporting a trespasser. When we arrived, he — requested us to remove Sv. hilKanar, here, from his store.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: And you refused!

JINTH mor-KARIS: You didn’t give us any grounds to remove her.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: She was trespassing!

JINTH mor-KARIS: So you said, but —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Sv. hinMeira, this is a concession space which you lease specifically for the purpose of providing retail services to our passengers. If you allege she was trespassing, that implies that you had previously banned her from your shop for some particular reason.  What was it?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: Well, look at her!

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Yes?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: She’s a kilpaden.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Yes?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: We don’t serve her kind here. No —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Do we have that on record?

JINTH mor-KARIS:  Oh, yes.

MENKA hilKANAR (PAX): Please, I — I don’t want to cause any trouble.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: I do apologize, Sv. hilKanar, on behalf of both Vizjen Down and the Imperial Starport Authority, for this unfortunate incident. Please accept my assurances that this is not the policy of ISA, and if you will accompany my assistant here for a moment, all further purchases you desire to make during your layover here will be covered by ISA, by way of further apology and repayment.

As for you, hinMeira, get the hell out of my starport.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: What? You can’t do —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: I just did.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: I’m allowed to refuse service to anyone! Your law requires that.  So you —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: It does. You have that legal right in your own name. Your lease, on the other hand, says in paragraph 31, section c, that while you retain that general privilege you will – as concessionaire and leaseholder working for and within Vizjen Down – specifically not refuse service to anyone on the basis of externally-attributed group membership, as is standard for ISA contract-starports on planets known for their bigoted kveth-lakhras. You just — play that back?

RYSEK hinMEIRA (recording): We don’t serve her kind here.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Her kind. Your own words. It is therefore my distinct pleasure to inform you that you are in default, your lease is null and void, your concession contract is terminated, and you, personally, will vacate my starport with all speed. Is that clear?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: I’ll see you pay for this! I have friends —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Jinth, did that sound like a threat to you?

JINTH mor-KARIS:  I would say that sounded like a threat.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Then throw him out of the starport.

JINTH mor-KARIS:  Consider it done. Ah — throw him, or throw him?

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Use your discretion.

 

 

Things to See, Places to Go (4)

Teralu Startown: The single-system Teralu polity, in the Magen Exodus, once signed a contract with the Empire to maintain a starport on the populated world of their system, Teralu Actual, making the usual concessions with regard to starport extrality and to freedom of passage. Later, after the coup of 5942, the new Teralu government – now on unfriendly terms with its large neighbor – no longer wished for the arrangement to continue, but were unable to repudiate the contract (good for several millennia); the Empire, as ever, holds what it has.

Hard times, though, were thought to be incoming for Teralu Starport, and for the downport, that turned out to be the case: the new regime had much less use for interstellar commerce and those who engaged in it, and Teralu Down remains today a stripped shell of its former self.

The same, however, cannot be said of Teralu Orbital. Positioned as the Teralu system is along the Mercantile Corridor, and at an intersection of local stargate routes, the ciseflish entrepreneur Rilman min Kinethill rented – at a remarkably low rate – many of the now-unused vast transshipment warehouses of Teralu Orbital, filling them with used freight containers eminently suitable to be cut and refashioned into prefabs, and provided them with independent utilities at his own expense, before offering these volumes for rent at low rates.

Thus, Teralu Orbital now plays host to one of the most flourishing startowns in the inner Worlds, offering in addition to standard starport services everything in the lines of taverns, caravanserais, hotels, flophouses, gambling, trading both speculative and slash, hiring, brawling, negotiable affection, hedonics, junk dealing, street food, scratch medicine, and other such services that a jaded crewsoph’s heart might desire. This is no Nepscian red-market, though: personal security and contract enforcement are vigorously provided by min Kinethill’s chartered mercenary company, the Gray-in-Gray Cloaks. Min Kinethill himself retired from hands-on management some years ago, but maintains ownership of the operation and continues to keep an eye on local affairs from his personal aerostat on Cerise (Banners).

It’s well worth a visit, both to take in the thriving – and often sweltering – atmosphere, and to see the unique architecture created by the local residents. Don’t bother with the planet below, though: the locals are unfriendly, and the local color dull, at best.

– Leyness’s Worlds: Guide to the Ecumene

Trope-a-Day: Space Station

Space Station: Lots of them, as residence, lab, factory, outpost, city, farm, cageworks, starport, skymall, border station, and just about everything else you can think of by way of uses.  After all, in the modern day, three out of every five Imperial residents lives in space, not planetside.

The gamut runs from the venerable Oculus Station, a by-modern-standards tiny Skylab/ISS style tin-can habitat – large by the launching standards of early space programs, but then, they were using Orion launchers – preserved as a museum, to the Conclave Drift, which at 36 miles long, eight in diameter, and nearly 10 billion tons gross mass is not the largest ever constructed any more, but by population, diversity and reputation (as the seat of the closest approximation to galactic government and an awful lot of its business) is the unchallenged queen of the orbital habitat community.

Trope-a-Day: Space Elevator

Space Elevator: A standard fixture on most moderately developed planets – while shuttles and lighters can make easy ground-orbit transfers in any direction, and ground-based mass drivers can shift arbitrary amounts of mass upwards and downwards quickly, once a world’s passenger and freight volumes increase to the point that it’s taking commuter traffic, passenger liners and grapeship megahaulers, you need something that can handle multiple continuous streams of traffic in both directions.  Hence, the space elevator.

(Heavily developed worlds often have more than one.  Seranth (Imperial Core), the busiest tradeworld in the Empire, has six, with a starport-heavy ring-city linking them at the geostationary end.)

Such elevators often become vertical cities, with residents living around and among the cables at various levels, and with an even larger city at their base; as the primary interface between planet and space, there are usually a lot of people wanting to live and do business right there.

Notes on the Schedule (At the Starport)

2+6:36 – CMS Istry’s Bargain
Procurer-class freighter; standard berthing; perishable-cargo priority.

2+14:48 – CMS Booze and Ores
Skoufer-class smeltership; bulk discharge berthing.

Please assign to bay 17-A; rock dust gets everywhere and 17-A is already overdue for cleaning.

– Elin Vidrine, Cargomaster

2+20:00 – CMS Fimry Dancer
Hariven-class free trader; standard berthing.

2+30:48 – CS Ashbourne
Drake-class frigate (routine patrol); requires bunkerage.

2-15:48 – VNS Equitable
Voniensa Republic Navy, Harrier-class destroyer; diplomatic transport; requires bunkerage and supplies.

Deny all shore leave requests except minimum required by draft treaty obligations; tensions are still running high.

– Coril Andracanth, Port Director.

2-6:36 – LS Sev Dal Taine
League of Meridian, Sens Maget-class freighter; standard berthing.

3+5:12 – DM Quaintly Quirky
D!grith Association, d!grianne-class free trader; standard berthing.

3+20:36 – Overwhelm
Rim Free Zone, unknown class, registered to mercenary free corps; standard berthing.

I’ll send one of the kaeth teams to meet them at dockside and say hello. Just friendly-like.

– Merian Vidumarvis, security shift supervisor

3-31:00 – CMS Lucrevault
Cheneos-class free trader; requests leave to sell speculative cargo at dockside.

Granted; assign lighter bay accordingly, please.

– Elin Vidrine, Cargomaster

3-10:36 – LS Sen Mal Murat
League of Meridian, Sens Maget-class freighter; standard berthing.

3-4:10 – CMS Ecdysiast
Pleasurable Company-class liner; passenger berthing.

Can we have them dock directly with the drunk tank?

– Merian Vidumarvis, security shift supervisor

No.

– Coril Andracanth, Port Director

Four extra squads and half a point on the ppO2 it is, then.

– Merian Vidumarvis, security shift supervisor

4+3:48 – MSS Frozenfire
Múrast Symbiosis, Icicle-class symbiont; standard berthing; cold-ammonia atmosphere.

4+12:00 – DM Immodest Profit
D!grith Association, d!grianne-class free trader; standard berthing.

No-one’s manifest is this clean. No-one’s. They’re smugglers. Have an inspection team remind them that they don’t need to smuggle anything hereabouts, but we like to see a full manifest anyway.

– Jynel Herrian, Imperial Customs

4+30:36 – CSS Watchful Vagabond
Far Traveller-class explorer; standard berthing and AM bunkerage.

Plat indicates they came in from the Periphery; exercise extra care in lifeform scans and quarantine procedures.

– Jynel Herrian, Imperial Customs

4-22:12 – NTS Node Crash
Nsang Interactate, Host-class postal carrier; small ship berthing.

4-10:36 – CMS Demand Led
Cheneos-class free trader; standard berthing.

4-4:00 – IS Winter Harmony
Tranquil Repose-class cryo-colonization transport; bunkerage only.

5+0:00 – PNN 0110111011100111
Photonic Network, Doubleword-class polis; infomorph passenger berthing; extra bandwidth requested.

5+11:00 – VSS Star of Rasél
United Viridian States, Solar-class liner; passenger berthing.

5+22:36 – SG His Eye Watches
DISTRESS/SALVAGE; Theomachy of Galia, Attribute-class freighter; reports severe engine damage, under tow; standoff berthing.

Whatever their actual distress situation, I recommend finding some excuse in it for a full inspection. The Submission-class is a common slave-ship variant of the Attribute-class, and they certainly won’t admit to being one of those in our space. We’ve been handed a chance to catch those bastards at it!

– Jynel Herrian, Imperial Customs

Approved, but be discreet. I want a caught-slavers diplomatic incident, not any other kind. And don’t space anyone without checking with me first!

– Coril Andracanth, Port Director

5+31:36 – QRS Liraz’s Orchard
Quave Republic, Firstfruits-class subsidized trader; standard berthing.

5-30:00 – DM More Than Gold
D!grith Association, d!grianne-class free trader; standard berthing.

5-27:00 – CMS Pentagonal Deal
Gallen-class freighter; standard berthing.

Tell Captain Madel he still owes me lunch and a new docking arm. I don’t insist on the lunch.

– Coril Andracanth, Port Director

– from the scheduled arrivals board, Cairen High Port space traffic control