One of the most important characters of a science fiction story is very often not human or in any way humanoid. For a reader she’s lines of text, to an observer she’s a chunk of metal and plastic hanging in space – and to her crew members, she’s home in one breath and Hell in the next. She’s a starship, in this case, the Starship Excursion.
The first time the reader will see Excursion is going to be at the beginning of The Crossworlds Affair. She’s a brand new destroyer and the very image of her type, which means she’s fairly comprehensively armed. Her internal fittings are Spartan (she is a warship), but at the same time, starship gigantism means that “Spartan” for her is much more luxurious than anything a modern warship crew might reasonably expect (even so, her crew calls her “Cellblock 485” for her first few months).
Enlisted “racks” are in twelve-person bunk cabins (three beds along each wall with two bunks each). In Officer country, junior officers rack four to a cabin, senior officers two to a cabin. A set of four cabins shares a common rec space. The Command Petty Officer, XO and CO each get their own cabin, with the CO’s cabin being slightly larger. The Command PO’s cabin and the CO’s cabin are the only cabins located within the main hull proper, being respectively one deck below the bridge and on the same level as the bridge.
Crew members call this ship home for months at a time, and as a deployment goes on, they find ways to make their ship less of a spacegoing prison that they happen to be together on. Unauthorized art projects, game nights, impromptu musical jam sessions and scheduled competitions of every sort mark the life of a starship in space.
Power and Speed
Her triple hearts have two different power sources – forward in the heart of the weapon systems (called the “Bang District” by her crew) is a nuclear fission reactor. This reactor has two purposes: To power her weapons (more on them later) and as an emergency energy backup. The fission reactor can power her warp drive all by itself (albeit to a much lower power than usual) and get the crew home if need be. Further aft are the twin fusion reactors at the heart of the ship’s propulsion plant. These are the super-futuristic kind of nuclear powerplants one would expect on a starship in the far future. I’m not a scientist, let alone a nuclear physicist, so I will leave the precise details of operation to those who know how nuclear fusion works, but they are failsafe designs – when they malfunction, their tendency is to malfunction in a way that is contained and safe, not in a way that would kill crew members. This doesn’t mean that they can’t ever explode – they are after all under pressure – but the vast majority of shutdowns, including due to combat damage, should be of the “dammit, it’s not working” variety, not the “we need to eject the core!” variety (not that they can eject the core – it’s functionally built into the keel; a core ejection basically would amount to venting the current reaction products out into space while the physical core remains in the ship).
The Alcubierre-White-Juday warp field generator, (or “warp drive”) is the secret of interstellar travel. With it, a starship can travel hundreds or thousands of times the speed of light with relatively little energy output, and a “slow” modification of it was designed in the late first century star era to work as a sublight engine, allowing ships to use a single set of engines for all propulsion rather than having a rocket engine that would be deadweight during FTL transit and a warp drive that would be deadweight at all other times. The warp drive is what makes galactic civilization an everyday reality instead of just a sci-fi fantasy.
The hull flares into two “wings” just ahead of the waist, and this is where the crew quarters are located. The after edges of the “wings” also serve as a waveguide for the warp field to port and starboard, and appear to glow when the ship is at FTL.
The ship herself handles like a high-bred racehorse. She’s very fast; her warp drive gives her a normal acceleration of 670g at sublight speeds (about 10% faster than the nominal 610g of a ship of her tonnage), which translates to a “flat-out” acceleration of 837.5g. At the high end of the acceleration curve, her warp drive tends to need a little bit of babying to bring out the best in it, and her chief propulsion engineer, Sublieutenant Andrea Lako, is one of the best. The ship’s maximum FTL speed equals out to a real-space displacement of about six light years per hour – this is a doubling of previous fast destroyers and is available because of the advanced technology of the Precursors (I’ll talk more about them, but that’s another post). Her particle-beam reaction control system is precise and powerful, but finicky and jumpy – helm operators tend to overcontrol a destroyer until they get the hang of her.
Weapons and Shields
The ship’s guns and missiles are where she puts the “destroy” in “destroyer,” and like others of her kind, her weapons are a balance between destructiveness and cost-effectiveness. She carries three twin-barrel 65cm/50 calibre continuous-wave plasma lasers for her centerline main armament, backed up by a pair of single-barrel 50cm/50 calibre plasma lasers flanking the centerline weapon systems. The main ready magazine for her torpedoes is forward of Frame 60, carrying six torpedoes for each of her six torpedo tubes. Defensive armament consists of a dozen 150cm/40 calibre pulsed dual-purpose lasers and two dozen laser/autocannon point defense clusters, backed up by sixteen four-tube point defense missile launchers. Because the main missile rooms are located ahead of the first transverse bulkhead (for safety reasons for the rest of the ship), they’re sarcastically referred to as “Suicide Row” by the people who work there.
No armor or shields can fully stop a direct hit by a modern weapon, but the Venture class destroyer’s comes closer than any ship of her size reasonably ought to. She has eighty centimeters of armor over most of the ship, thinning to forty near the bow and stern and thickening to a hundred and fifty over vital systems like the engines, bridge, main powerplant and magazine. Like most ships of her era, her shields are a dense energy field sandwiched between the armor hull and her outer shell plating. The inner hull isn’t armor but it is tough enough to give engineers fits, and backed by a Kevlar antispall blanket to try to keep splinters of hull that break away under a heavy pounding from ricocheting through a compartment. A splinter that penetrates the spall liner is likely to maim or kill, even if the armor completely blocked the hit that caused it.
The bridge is where the entire ship is controlled from (obviously!). The Captain sits on a raised pedestal just aft of the bridge’s midline, in a shock chair equipped with a full wraparound hardlight display. Except for two monitors to aft that are only manned when needed (Astro Sciences and the Ship Master Display), all stations on the bridge are in front of the Conn. Immediately ahead of the Conn is the Information Tank – a holographic projector that shows space near the ship (this takes the function of the Main Viewscreen in Star Trek). Along the main systems table at the bow of the ship are the main bridge duty stations – from port to starboard they are the Navigation Table, Lookout Station, Helm, Tactical, Engineering Systems, and Communications. At general quarters, Astrosci and SMD are unmanned – instead their information is relayed directly to the lookout station and the captain’s chair, respectively.
On the aft wall of the bridge are the Head and the Bridge Galley. The head contains two toilets and two sinks. Hand drying is done by sonics. The Bridge Galley can serve sandwiches (hot or cold) and nonalcoholic drinks (also hot or cold), unless at general quarters. Alcohol is only served in the messes and wardroom, and even then only as long as there are more than 8 hours between you and your next shift (don’t try to lie, Ixion doesn’t believe it and all schedule changes have to go through her).
Ixion is the ships Integrated Experience-Indexed Operational Network. Ixy is the artificial intelligence that runs Excursion, organizing hundreds of focused expert systems under an operational umbrella that is both flexible and functional. In theory, Ixy can run a ship herself; in practice it causes so much operational overload that it’s impossible for her to do so in combat.
Even though the business that takes place on the bridge is Very Serious, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a light side! The bridge is also a place that sees a lot of small practical jokes (and some not so small), wordplay, and general weirdness. It might have responsibility for the kind of firepower that could end a pre-space civilization, but it’s also a workplace, and people like to have fun at work.
So that’s Excursion, our heroes’ home for the first three books. At least.