The Road to the Stars – Chapter Ten

I had to do it. Sorry.

If you like discussions of naval power and politics and all sorts of technical details, you’ll love this chapter.

If you want the snappy patter and dialogue, well, I said I was sorry.

Next chapter.

Put it on your calendars now: November 24.

Why?

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He’s going to be all over the web, including at least one (and maybe two) LIVE appearances, PLUS giveaways and contests and all sorts of other fun things.

MOST of this will be on Facebook (see the button below), but he’s also going to be on the Meet The Author Podcast at 7pm EST (4pm PST) on the 24th as well.

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Chapter Ten

The Solarian Union had a navy. It was a sprawling confederacy of four separate polities, controlling the inner system from the orbit of Earth through the Asteroid Belt, with a distant outpost at Titan; a navy was necessary to provide official means of communication and control between them.

As a confederation, though, each polity provided their own ships and crews to the overall organization. The Solarian Union, then, provided the officers, recruited from the best the various nations had to offer and trained at the Solarian Union Naval College on Luna. The College was run by the Artemis Ministry of Security and served more as an indoctrination center than an institute of higher education. Officers who graduated were proven loyal to Artemis and the Solarian Union, in that order, no matter their origin. Officers who didn’t graduate were given all the appropriate ceremonies upon their return to their homeworlds, and posthumously awarded the rank of Commander.

Loyalty was prized over all else.

In addition to the Union navy, each world had the option to have their own local forces. These forces were strictly limited to no more than twenty percent of the total tonnage of the Union navy and were generally regarded as little more than local patrol vessels. While they could travel through any Union space, their authority ended some distance away from their home worlds, the distance varying from world to world. Only the SUN could legally impose its will anywhere in Union space.

The smallest world, Titan had a total of two small ships, neither of which had enough onboard fuel capacity to escape from Saturn’s gravity well and were thus quite limited in their usefulness. Both sported spinal-mounted 10kW argon lasers, which were little more than high-intensity spotlights. Between their limited range and ineffectual weaponry, Titan’s ‘fleet’ did little more than patrol just outside the atmosphere and respond to distress calls. Titan didn’t contribute much to the SUN.

The Martian Colonies did rather more, as they had a considerable amount of trade back and forth between Mars and Luna. Not only did they maintain outposts on both Phobos and Deimos, Mars’s two moons, but their eighteen-ship force escorted freighters and passenger ships plying their way both out- and in-system, thereby providing Titan with a measure of support their own ships couldn’t provide. The Martian ships were all good-sized, running between fifty and seventy-five meters long, and were armed with gas dynamic lasers which were rated at 150kW, sufficient to punch holes in the hulls of any ship known to the Union. Their maximum acceleration was six g – nearly sixteen g for the native-born Martians – and maximum velocity, due to structural concerns, of thirty-two KPS, or 115,200 KPH. That allowed them to make the close-approach transit to Luna in slightly more than nineteen days, a huge improvement over the technology of even the late twenty-first century.

The Miner’s Guild faced an interesting problem. On the one hand, their colonies, habitats, and outposts were usually close together, as measured astronomically, and could thus support each other. On the other hand, those same colonies, habitats, and outposts were spread through the entire Asteroid Belt, a ring nearly eighteen AU around: 2.68 billion kilometers, or 140.72 light-minutes. So, while short-haul ships would be perfectly adequate for most naval objectives, ships which could endure long voyages were also essential. Even if the ships cut the chord and crossed the inner system to get to a distant point, that could still be up to 420 million kilometers. Further complicating the calculus was the relatively low population of the Miner’s Guild, having less than four million persons.

There were political considerations as well. The Union, which is to say Artemis, strictly enforced the tonnage limits on the sub-navies, as well as tacitly forbidding the construction of any ship larger or more capable than the largest Union vessel. The Guild’s solution was to build three massive vessels, each over two hundred meters long, capable of sustained acceleration of 2g and a maximum velocity of 110 KPS. At the time of their initial construction, they were all just a few kilos less massive than the largest Union ship, but were designed to be easily improved by adding modular sections as the Union built larger ships. As a result of this foresight, they had grown from the original 212 meters to their current 297. All three had their specific tasks, repeating a complex orbital dance through the inner system, each calling on every remote Guild location at least once per year.

The remaining tonnage was spent on the short-haul ships that were necessary to hold the Guild together. Little bigger than shuttles, they had limited range, generally less than an AU, but could sustain 4g acceleration. Fortunately, the Union regarded merchant tonnage separately from naval tonnage, which permitted the Guild to build a vast quantity of freighters and passenger ships. These plied the inner system and made up the backbone of the Union’s interplanetary commerce. They also explained how, even though the Guild supplied an outsized percentage of the crew in the SUN, nearly all of them returned home when their terms ended. Most of the officers remained in the SUN, but the crew members were more than capable of rapid promotion. The merchants, always desperate for seasoned sailors, promised, and delivered, increased pay and benefits to anyone who signed on after serving the SUN. This gave the Guild the most capable merchant crews in space; it also gave them a huge pool of loyal veterans from which to draw if the Union should ever start to fall apart.

Artemis’ navy, by contrast, didn’t come close to approaching the maximum twenty percent tonnage limit. Its ships were numerous, yes, but none were particularly large, with the smallest being shuttle-sized, and the largest less than two hundred meters. For all their diminutive size, though, they were over-powered for both weapons and engines. Most were capable of sustained acceleration of 5g, and the two largest, the ANS Armstrong and ANS Conrad, could sustain 8g. Unlike most of the other sub-navies, the larger Artemesian naval craft were armed with both lasers and externally-mounted missile pods. The Armstrong and Conrad, as well, had integrated internal missile bays and dual forward missile launchers, which gave them a long-distance punch none of the other ships could equal. Each carried fifteen Tycho missiles, each capable of variable-duration powered flight and smart targeting. However, their relatively small size, and the need to maximize fuel load and guidance systems, made them little more than smart rocks as they carried no explosive warheads. Still, the impact of several hundred kilograms of metal, moving at speeds measured in tens of kilometers per second, usually did the job.

The reason Artemis had a smaller navy than the Guild, in numbers and tonnage, was the SUN. The SUN was headquartered in Scipio City on Luna, only a few dozen kilometers from Artemis City, but that was far enough to isolate them from the ebb and flow of society. The SUN answered only to the central authorities, the duly appointed leadership of the Union; the fact that the appointments were made at the behest of the Artemis Four Families was generally unacknowledged.

What that meant was the SUN would obey the orders it was given, and if those orders just happened to support the Artemesian position over that of, say, the Martian Colonies, well, that was just an unfortunate coincidence, and nobody said anything. It also resulted in the SUN being composed of almost entirely large ships, two hundred meters and larger, and extremely massive. Their size meant that they weren’t particularly quick, or maneuverable, but each one packed more firepower than any four other ships in any other navy.

The largest, the Copernicus-class, were 315 meters long, 240 meters wide, and 80 meters from upper deck to keel. Due to the unique position of the Moon, and the relative abundance of He3, the designers were able to include three of the most advanced and powerful He3 fusion reactors known to Lunar science. With those in place, they could maintain a constant 1g acceleration almost indefinitely, which allowed for a huge potential maximum velocity. That power also allowed for lasers to be the primary weapons of the class, in greater numbers and higher power than on any other ship in the Union. Each Copernicus mounted four 6MW spinal lasers, along with broadside arrays of twenty 1MW lasers per side. They also included four missile tubes, three fore, one aft, connected to a central magazine, stocked with forty Huygens missiles. Unlike the Tychoes used by the Artemis naval craft, the Huygens did carry explosives: one megaton thermonuclear warheads. Even though explosions don’t propagate well in space, any ship which was actually struck by a Huygens was going to disappear.

There were ten Copernicus class cruisers. Two were kept orbiting Luna, as a constant show of pride and patriotism, as well as forming the de facto reserve. These two were also usually the ones undergoing maintenance and upgrades, which rather limited their abilities to respond, but they had never yet needed to. Two were on long, looping orbits. These orbits brought them from Luna, to Mars, then Titan, and back. Four were used to show the flag on patrol through the Miner’s Guild, since the Guild had a history of being vocal in their opposition to certain Union policies. The final two cruisers were dispatched wherever the SUN leadership thought they would have the greatest impact, or demonstrated the greatest need.

All told, the SUN consisted of just over sixty large ships, and another twenty small vessels, all of which were available to the Artemis Colony.

It was telling, then, that Minister Whitmore’s plan to attack Diana involved neither the SUN nor the Artemis navy, at least not directly. She had used the Conrad and Armstrong as missile colliers. On Thursday they had been dispatched to a point, offset from the direct path of the Lunar orbit. This point was roughly fifty thousand kilometers from where the habitat would be at oh four forty on Saturday. Then they disgorged all of their on-board and externally-mounted missiles. It was a relatively simple matter to set the internal guidance to station-keeping and timed launch, and the two ships returned to Artemis, never noticed by Diana. The missiles, using minimal power, offset from the orbital track, and radiating almost no signature, should go unnoticed as well. Until they lit off their drives, of course, and then it would be too late.

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