Saturday, 18 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #7

Captain Lukk spread an old knitted shawl over the small aluminium shipping box and settled herself down, just where a shaft of sunlight spilled through the open main cargo hatch of the Iridium Queen. She drew her jacket more snugly about her. Sertan’s orangey light cast a golden glow across the late afternoon sky, but the K2 star did not throw much heat at this time of year and at this latitude.

Casually checking that the butt of her autopistol was free of the edge of her pocket, Lukk nodded towards the scruffy idler loitering beside the hoist at the foot of the cargo ramp. The idler suddenly found something utterly fascinating in his infotainment sheet and settled down on one of the hoist’s tines, half turning away from the Iridium Queen’s open hatch as he scanned the text boxes. Lukk lit her pipe.

Hearing footsteps on the deck plates, she glanced quickly behind her and then relaxed as Holi Pradeen came into view around the end of some stowed cargo jacks. Wheezing in the thin air, the rotund Celephaizon Engineer plonked himself down beside Lukk on her rug-covered shipping box. “I see our little friend is still out there,” he puffed. “I’d like to know how the Dear Leader gets his watchers on the Starport Authority Payroll.”

Lukk blew a smoke ring. “Quotas,” she said. “The Bromosians are a xenophobic lot. They don’t like offworlders. They’ll trade with us, but they don’t like us.”

Pradeen chuckled. “We’ve been here three and a half weeks, Elera,” he said. “They don’t seem to want to trade with us either.”

Lukk pursed her lips. “That’s why I sent Kiir and the lad over to the terminal,” she replied, “to post our destination on the main board.”

Pradeen raised an eyebrow. “Freight?” he asked. “We’re taking freight? And passengers?”

The Captain glared up at her rotund Engineer. “Yes, we’re taking freight,” she snapped. “And no, we’re not taking passengers. We don’t have a steward, and the Dear Leader probably wouldn’t let any of his Joyful Companions out of their potato fields, anyway.”

“That’s a relief,” Pradeen said. “I like having a stateroom to myself. I would really hate to have to bunk with Kiir.” He cocked his head, listening. “Sounds like the mule, inbound,” he added, hauling himself to his feet. “Hope Kiir and the boy had some luck at the terminal.” He smiled down at Lukk, “And our watcher has vanished, too,” he said quietly over the noise of the approaching quadbike and trailer.

“Well, you’d better go throw some coal in the boiler,” Lukk said, gathering up her shawl and pacing across the deck to the main hatch. “I want to be off this cabbage patch as soon as we’ve got something in the hold. We’re going back to Miazan. At least folks there have got some money.” She quickly stepped aside as Kiirgun gunned the mule up the ramp and through the hatch. Aloin sat perched on a pile of boxes in the trailer, grinning as the trailer bounced over the lip of the hatch behind the quadbike.

“You better have good news for me, Kiir!” Lukk shouted over the noise of the mule.

Kiirgun cut the engine and gestured double-thumbs up. “Captain,“ he said. “We have freight.”

Fifty-six hours later, the Iridium Queen lifted from Bromus Downport, two twenty-ton consignments and a five ton break-bulk load stowed neatly in her hold. Two hundred and fifty-two hours out from Bromus, on 212-1107, she slipped into Miazan Highport Bay 42 Spinward. The docking seals were barely tight when Captain Lukk had Kiirgun and Aloin crack open the main cargo hatch and begin shifting the containers dockside, much to the initial amusement, and then growing irritation, of Miazan Customs and Excise.


Time to rattle along the last couple of jumps before the use of encounter tables kicks in. It has been a nice, quiet run so far which has enabled us to learn a little about the characters, get a handle on how the ship operates, and do a little bit of trading. Sadly, Captain Lukk has had appalling luck on the Trade Tables. When Aloin begins to think about it, he may begin to wonder how she can afford to sit for weeks on a dock.

I’m very happy with how the background of the subsector has been developing, and the discussions on ships and shipbuilding have helped me focus various thoughts I have had off and on for years. Coincidently, I have recently seen two discussions on Citizens of the Imperium about both constructing shipyards and about what shipyards can construct, which have been both informative and entertaining.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga Backgrounder #4

Having introduced two Navy vessels into Aloin’s story, the designs of which are now in the Starships and Space ships page, it seems appropriate to examine the Imperial and Subsector Navies as I see them operating within the RimWorlds.

When Kolin Venuraski (later Sector Duke Kolin I) launched the settlement of the RimWorlds by the 3rd Imperium in the 6th Century, he had at his disposal a small flotilla of Imperial Navy ships for the protection of his colony fleet. This flotilla was augmented by such armed auxiliaries as his supporters could buy, equip, or supply. And as they spread out and were granted, or took, planetary holdings, it soon became imperative for each Noble to possess at least a couple of armed ships to both protect their fief, and to send to serve the Sector Duke when he called for aid. Kolin I took his duties as Sector Duke, and head of his comitatus, very seriously and he did not hesitate to downgrade Houses Major to House Minor status if they did not fully support him.

While numbers of available ships, and the technology level of their build, have fluctuated over the centuries, the current system for the defence of the RimWorlds has changed little from Kolin Venuraski’s day, nor from the House Trumer restoration of the Sector in the 10th Century. There is an Imperial Sector Fleet, currently utilising Tech Level 15 ships, charged with defending the nine Imperial controlled Subsectors of the Sector. Headquartered at the Sector capital Thiroor/Gazolan, Sector Fleet has at least one base in each Imperial Subsector and regularly shifts squadrons between them to maintain a state of readiness. The Reserve Fleet of older, Tech Level 14, units is based at Raelmar/Thurgandarn. There is no mothball fleet as all surplus units are sold to Houses Major to augment their Subsector Fleets.

Each Subsector Duke maintains a Subsector Fleet as his or her comitatus and is responsible for the defence of that subsector, as well as being obliged to commit units to assist the Sector Duke as required. As the standing a House Major holds is dependent upon the resources it can both commit to the defence of its Subsector, and to the defence of the Sector, very few recalcitrant Houses have survived the refusal to render aid. "Send ships or grasp the diadem" is a saying that we might translate as "Do your duty, or take charge", with the implication that the act of taking charge involves irrevocably committing the resources and fortunes of your House to both overthrowing the current Sector Duke and dealing with whatever problem was threatening the Sector.

Houses Major of Siridar-Count and Siridar-Baron rank can, and often do, maintain Planetary Navies which both defend their respective systems, and support their Subsector Duke as required. This ships may be built locally, or purchased from shipyard systems. Even System Defense Boats can be moved from system to system if there is sufficient Jump-capable transports of suitable tonnage available.

On the whole, this system works reasonably well with Subsector Fleets, usually backed up by a Sector Fleet squadron, being sufficient to maintain order or deal with most border incursions, and the heavy units of the Sector Fleet being committed only in the event of a major war.

In Miazan Subsector, the bulk of the 12.1 billion Imperial sophonts are concentrated in just three systems – Nakaya, Exxilon and Miazan.

The 6.2 billion inhabitants of the isolated Nakaya system make do with an average Tech Level of 7 – below Interstellar, meaning that they lack the technology to produce the machines that produce the machines that manufacture starships. While the Siridar-Baron of Nakaya maintains a few orbital forts and a large System Defence Boat flotilla, these have all been purchased from elsewhere and have to be maintained by expensive off-world technicians. Nakaya does contribute approximately one fifth of the annual Miazan Subsector Navy Budget of TCr 5.1.

With a population of 575 million sophonts, the Exxilon system is just on the edge of developing a native starship building industry at Tech Level 9 – or it will be when it develops its starport further. Like Nakaya, its greatest contribution towards the defence of the subsector is to finance shipbuilding elsewhere.

And elsewhere just happens to be the Subsector capital of Miazan. With a Tech Level of 12, an A Class Starport, and a population of 5.2 billion, Miazan has a yard capacity of over 6 million tons and the ability to produce ships of up to 100,000 tons in size. It is also the only major starship producing shipyard facility in Imperial-controlled space within the Subsector.

For the last decade, yard space at Miazan has been at a premium as House Geyukthi, Dukes of Miazan, have sought to replace Navy losses incurred during the 4th Outrim War and the Kalar-Wi War, as well as encourage the expansion of interstellar trade required to boost the subsector, financially. With such a bottleneck in the supply chain, and the smaller shipyards at Celephais out of action due to damage sustained during the Kalar-Wi War, the Miazan Subsector Navy is finding itself being out-built by neighboring polities that it is obliged to defend against.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #6

Miazan SubsectorFor the next three weeks the Iridium Queen remained dockside at Miazan Highport while Captain Lukk looked for a cargo. The enforced layover gave Aloin an opportunity to explore a little of the immense flying city that was the Highport.

With a population of four and a half million sophonts, and orbiting a planet with a population of 5.2 billion, Miazan Highport was a bustling centre for trade, commerce, manufacturing and shipbuilding. While small craft and small starships where actually built within the structure of the Highport, Aloin was able to take a Virtual tour of three of the major yards that occupied the outer orbitals around moonless Miazan. Pride of place in the Sharmon-Agilleur Yard was the nearly completed hull of an immense 20,000 ton Daiishaluur Class megahauler. Out beyond the commercial yards lay the Navy Yards, but these were all off limits to the public, much to Aloin’s disappointment.

By way of compensation, he was able to study two 60,000 ton Segaramii Class Cruisers, in port for crew rotation, from a public viewing gallery. The two behemoths kept station only 200 kilometres out from the Highport, and were clearly visible through the low-power telescopes in the viewing gallery.

Otherwise kept on a tight reign by Kiirgun, Aloin was on hand when six large harvesters were dropped on the Iridium Queen’s dock by a cargo hauler. After helping Kiirgun hitch up the ungainly machines to the ship’s crane boom, Aloin was given a quick lesson in stowing and securing non-container shaped cargo. They had barely finished fastening the last of the tie-downs when the call to secure ship for departure came through their handcomps. “Old lady’s in a hurry,” Kiirgun muttered as he swung the ramp in-board and secured the hold doors. “Double check the seals, lad,” he said to Aloin. “If we vacuum weld these things, the Captain will be very displeased.”

Falling away from the Highport, Captain Elera Lukk swung the Iridium Queen’s nose around onto her departure heading. Beside her, Miska Ilurrin finished feeding the datapoints downloaded from Miazan Traffic Control into the Nav computer. The navigator grunted with disgust. “Thrown us way out in the JZ,” she muttered. “At least 120 diameters. Says there’s a lot of traffic outbound. Says we gotta go deep to clear a megahauler bound for Exxilon.”

The bridge hatch hissed open and Aloin slid into his seat at the Scan position. Captain Lukk glanced back at him and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Captain, sorry, Captain, I’m late, Captain,” Aloin said, quickly running a check on Scan. “Been helping Kiirgun tie down the cargo and thought I’d better have a shower before reporting.”

Lukk grinned at Miska and winked. She then glowered at Aloin. “In future, Mr Grathikka, please advise the bridge prior to your ablutions,” she said sternly. “We tend to have our hands full departing major ports and can’t spend time chasing around after laggards.”

Aloin blushed. “Sorry, Captain,” he said again.

As the hours passed, the Iridium Queen fell deeper to nadir of Miazan, dropping below the system ecliptic plane and into the outbound Jump Zone. At last Aloin could contain his curiosity no longer. “Where are we headed, Captain?” he asked.

Lukk chuckled. “We have a hold full of agricultural machinery, Mr Grathikka. Where do you think?”

“An agricultural world?”

“Very good. And what is the nearest agricultural world to Miazan?”

Aloin thought quickly. “Bromus, Captain?”

“Well done, Mr Grathikka. I am so pleased that I was not wasting oxygen when we discussed the systems of the Miazan Subsector and their trade classifications.” Lukk half-turned her chair to look directly at Aloin. “Now listen, lad,” she continued, “Bromus is a primitive little dung-hill of a planet, and it’s run by a tin-pot little cockerel. But remember, it’s his dung-hill and he’s in charge. We’re just going to slide in quietly, off-load our hold-full of machinery, buy a hold-full of beets or potatoes or whatever he’s got a surplus of, and get the Void straight out of there.

“I will remind you of this, closer to dirtside, but while down on Bromus I want you to stick close by me, or Kiir, or Miska. The Bromosians are a backward bunch and don’t like off-worlders. We’ve wasted enough time on this trip and I don’t have the time or patience to break you out of some backwater jail if you wander off on your own. You hear me?”

Aloin nodded. “Yes, Captain, I’ll stick close.”

Mollified, Lukk swung her chair back to face her board. “All right then, “ she said. “We’re about an hour from Jump. How about you go make us a hot cup of xhu and see if Kiir put any sandwiches in the pantry.”

Relieved, Aloin squeezed out of his station and headed aft towards the crew commons. As the bridge hatch slide closed, Miska glanced at Lukk. “You riding him, ‘lera?”

Lukk glared at her navigator. “I’m trying to put some sense in his damn-fool head before he gets it shot off,” she snapped and fumbled her pipe out of her pouch.

Miska shrugged. “He been off 'is homeworld a couple’a weeks, ‘lera. Can’t grow sense like ‘tatoes. Sometimes, gotta feel a little pain to learn.”

“You telling me my job, demi-sister?” Lukk muttered as she tamped leaf in her pipe. “And we’re keeping him close on Bromus,” she added, jabbing her pipe stem at Miska. “If he’s to learn a painful lesson, it will not be there, not with those inbred xenophobes. We’re only doing this run because we need the cash. In and out, no dramas, you hear?”

Miska touched an old scar on her throat. The gesture made Lukk wince and glance away. “No dramas, ‘lera,” Miska agreed. “Want the boy safe, and not terrified to death by a scared old woman.”

Clamping her pipe in her teeth, Lukk glared at Miska. “You have the bridge,” she said through gritted teeth as she slid off her chair, stood up, and stretched. “I’m going to see where that cup of xhu has got to.” Turning on her heel, she stomped through the hatchway and down the corridor towards the commons.

The game moves a little further on and I’m having fun exploring both the background of the adventure (the Highport, navigational regulations) and the relationships between the characters – Elera Lukk and Miska Ilurrin are demi-sisters, which is a surprise. And Miska is rather taciturn due to an old injury, perhaps the scar tissue restricts her ability to speak and/or shape certain words or sounds?

I still have the basic game plotted out, and very soon I start to use some of the encounter tables from the rules to throw wild cards into the mix. To date, the speculative trading is done purely on dice rolls, which is why Lukk has had to sit dockside for weeks at a time waiting for cargoes. Very soon she gives in and starts hauling freight which, while not as lucrative, at least guarantees a regular pay check. Also, I need to work out the Iridium Queen’s running costs as that will have a bearing on some of the storyline as well. And I need to write-up the Segaramii Class Cruisers I, oh so casually, created in my narrative.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #5

I am slowly getting over a bad head cold. My misery has been compounded by connectivity shenanigans perpetrated by my second-hand-reconditioned-back-from-the dead computer, and a case of writers’ block.

A Brief Recap
Aloin Grathikka was born on the desert world of Golus in the Miazan Subsector. His father, Gealar Grathikka, was a Water Miner while his mother, Imeneene, was the pilot of a free trader and offworld, more often than not, while Aloin was growing up.

By the time he was eighteen, and after his parents had separated, Aloin had little idea about what he wanted to do with his life, except that he wanted to get off Golus and leave the desert dry behind. Meccan Vesukka, Aloin’s step-mother, was able to use her contacts to find a berth for Aloin aboard the free trader Iridium Queen, Captain Elera Lukk, out of Celephais.

After a longer than expected lay-over, the Iridium Queen left Golus, outbound for Miazan, with a cargo of petrochemicals.

During the week in Jump Space, Aloin’s training continued. The 50 tons of Petrochemicals Captain Lukk had purchased from Jarzeroon Petrochem on Golus had cost the ship Cr 450,000, or Cr 9,000 per ton. This made Captain Lukk slightly happy as the base price for petrochemicals was usually estimated at Cr 10,000 per ton. “Should have been able to talk him down further,” Lukk mused as they sat around in the crew common area. “We were the only ship in port, but that Jarzeroon guy, he knew we’d been dirtside for four weeks and we needed a cargo.

“Sometimes,” she said, “you reach a point of balance in the deal where everyone is equally unhappy, but you take it anyway, as you don’t have a choice.” She pulled up a series of charts and spreadsheets on the common area screen. “So, we take a not-so-good deal and we look around to see how to make it better.”

Tapping a map of the subsector, Lukk continued, ”We’re hauling petrochemicals, unprocessed raw materials, so Miazan is our obvious destination.” She began counting points off on her fingers, “It’s the Subsector Capital, and an industrial world with a large population; it’s two parsecs from Golus and within our range; and it has an insatiable appetite for raw materials.”

Bringing up another screen, Lukk began to enumerate the trade classifications of main worlds within six parsecs of Golus. Aloin scribbled notes on his handcomp, frantically trying to keep up.

One hundred and sixty four hours out from Golus, the Iridium Queen dropped down into Real Space, and the Miazan System. The Outrange buoys were soon detected, squawking real time navigational data, local system news and, most importantly, a raw data stream from the commodities market. By the time the Iridium Queen slid into Miazan Highport’s Bay 35 Spinward, Captain Lukk had a fairly clear understanding of the current commercial market. Within hours the cargo of Golusi Petrochemicals was sold and hauler units were moving the pallets of barrels dockside.

Tying down the pallet jacks as the last hauler rumbled down the main ramp, Aloin turned to Kiirgun Atmai. “How did we do?” he asked.

Kiirgun checked the last of the way bills against the manifest on his handcomp, hit {send}, and glanced up at his lanky protégé. “Load out times' a bit slow,” he said. “You’ll need to practise some more. On a tight turn around, you can’t mess about getting pallets lined up for the haulers.”

Aloin pulled a face. “No, I meant the cargo,” he said. “Did we get a good price for it?”

Kiirgun walked over to the main ramp and hit the large button on the battered control panel. Compressed air hissing, huge rams began to close the hold doors. “Two things,” he said over the noise of the rumbling bearings. “One; we don’t talk about ship business on an open dock,” he winked at Aloin, “and two; 765 K, while not quite doubling our money, certainly keeps us flying.”