Sunday, June 28, 2009

Potemkin Village

Excerpted from the Valles Observer, a report from Joe Cleary, embedded reporter aboard the "Hammer", a Thor-class frigate tasked with enforcing IPTO laws on rogue Fabs

The repaired Hammer is a different ship, not physically, but mentally. The damage sustained in the ambush a month previously has impressed on the crew the reality that this is not a simple stop-and-search mission.

There is tension on the bridge as the new raid begins, taut expressions, dilated pupils; exchanges between the crew are fast and clipped. This time, the Hammer is maintaining station 100km from the target fab, and keeping to the far side of an asteroid to which the fab is attached. The view on the main tactical screen is from a miniature surveillance drone in orbit about the asteroid. The fab sweeps into view, and the raid begins: bright flashes pop on the engines of a tug attached to the fab, and dark shapes attach themselves to the "office" section of the fab and close to the bridge of the tug.

I feed a surge beneath my feet, and, lurching, grab a nearby post to keep my balance. The Hammer is breaking cover at last, moving to allow her directed-energy weaponry to come to bear on the target, ready to provide fire support to the boarding party. Almost immediately, the surveillence drone shows brilliant points of light appear on surface of the asteroid: the Hammer's main guns are shredding mining droids.

Captain Jakobsdottir glanced my way and answered the question I hadn't asked:

"Necessary violence, Mr. Cleary; I will not allow a second escape. Also, we want the fabbers to understand immediately the level of force that we are prepared to use. Crippling the tug won't kill its crew; blasting the droids protects my crew and doesn't much reduce the value of the

The view on the main screen changes; now, we see a schematic of the fab, positions of the breaching party plotted as tiny green men. An overlap shows the helmet-cam feed of the marine leading charge through the breeching-lock (rather than use the ship's own locks, the boarding parties are using the moden equivalent of grappling hook, a marvel of engineering that puncture's the victim's hull like a mechanical lamprey without letting the air out - usually). A long corridor goes past at a blur, then an empty control room appears; the view shudders for a moment, then red lights appear on the consoles.

A moment later, a marine sergeant's voice comes over the bridge speakers:

"Hammer, we've got detonations here, feels big, can you give us anything?"

The raid controller glances at the officer running the surveillance droid, who punches her feed back onto the main display and starts to give a verbal rundown of what her sensors are showing us:

"Blasts coming from the fabbing bays; more showing within the refining section... looks like a controlled demolition"

The Captain ordered the marines out instantly; the bridge went quiet as we all watched the little green figures on the schematic race for the safety of the boarding craft, while on the exterior view, blasts flickered across the exterior of the fab.

When the boarding craft peeled off, I realised I'd been holding my breath. As the boarders raced clear of the self-immolating fab, the detonations increased in strength and number, like the finale to a fireworks show. Slowly, the wreck began to drift apart, in pieces.

The Captain's eyes narrowed and her mouth pursed; then she ordered the surveillance droids in closer, even as the Hammer drew back into the cover provided by the asteroid (in space, shrapnel from explosions doesn't get slowed or stopped by the atmosphere the way it would on a planet - it is just as lethal, if more diffuse, 1AU later).

The robot zoomed in on the wreckage, blackened bulkheads and structural members colliding in chaotic tangles; nothing exceptional to my eyes, but soft swearing rippled around the bridge. Captain Jakobsdottir said something unprintable.

A kind engineer interpreted the imagery for the sole civilian:

"They tried to sell us a Potemkin village - see how thin those members are, and how the bulkheads are just sheet metal?"

I indicated my incomprehension.

"It's a fake, fabbed just well enough to look good when it detonated, with a clapped-out tug attached and a few functioning mining droids for window dressing. Only the Captain just took a second look, we'd be moving on none the wiser."

The Captain turned to me again, her face a study in controlled rage, her voice deliberate, slow and steely:

"They have made a mistake, Mr. Cleary. One mis-timed blast, one unlucky piece of shrapnel, and my marines would have been killed. This is not over."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rapid Reaction Force: dispatches from the trans-martian belt

Excerpted from the Valles Observer
Our reporter Joe Cleary is current an embed aboard the Hammer, a Thor-class frigate carrying the flag of the IPTO Peace Enforcement Fleet and currently engaged in the seizure of roge fabs. His reports are subject to review and redaction for security reasons.

The klaxon signalling "general quarters" woke me with a start. I reached my "station" on the bridge within a minute or two, peering at the tactical displays through bleary eyes. The mood on the bridge was one of quiet excitement: prey in sight!

Ahead and "above" us lay the fugitive fab King Solomon ('s Mines), a huge mass of pipework connecting massy cuboids, less a ship than a weird chimera of refinery and factory, dark cables mooring her to the still-vaster bulk of the asteroid that the fab was slowing digesting. This close, the mining droids could be seen marching over the surface of the asteroid, weird ant-like machines with spitting lasers for jaws.

My civilian imagination had vaguely anticipated some dramatic space-marine dash aboard a launch to secure our victim, but Captain Jakobsdottir had nothing so dramatic in mind: fabs are no match for the agility of a frigate, and factory workers are no match for space marines. Instead, auto-dock engaged, the Hammer herself closed on the docking station with an ease that belied her weight and bulk, her bridge crew almost bored by the simplicity of the mission. Seen close-to, the true scale of the fab (previously small beside the asteroid on which it rode) became more obvious: a truly vast structure, it dwarfed the frigate. Our hailing calls went unanswered, and a squad of space marines prepared to board.

The docking ramp extended, then things got complicated very quickly. The King Solomon's "docking station" broke from the fab's hull, but remained attached to our ramp; at the same time, the docking 'cam feed on the main screen showed us the strangest thing: a huge duct on the hull of the King Solomon suddenly tore like tissue paper, and dark shapes from within sprang across the gap between the ships. The docking 'cam feed went dead immediately, and huge clangs began to echo through the hull. The hailer came alive at last, and the bridge was addressed by a synthetic voice:

"Frigate Hammer, you are trespassing on private property; a large mining charge has been secured to your docking ramp. Do not attempt to remove it; do not attempt to manouevre."

Almost immediately, consoles around the bridge began to light up with damage reports; exterior 'cams caught terrifying glimpses of mining droids racing across the frigate's hull - but only glimpses, before spitting laser jaws burnt them out. The tactical radar went seconds later; then engineering started to report damage around the main engines. Suddenly, a routine stop-and-board mission had become a pitched battle - one we had already lost, without firing a shot. Faces on the bridge were pale and tense; we all expected to be tasting the vacuum within a very few seconds.

Captain Jakobsdottir reacted quickly; in moments, she had ordered her marines onto the exterior of our hull (they always suit up for boarding operations), weapons free, to engage the mining droids. The tactical screens now switched to show feeds from head cams as the marines went into action, blasting limb after limb from the massive, insectile droids. It was a head cam that showed us the fab's next move: already disengaged from the asteroid, the engines of an attached tug were lit up, awesome power accelerating that ponderous mass steadily away from the Hammer.

The droids did not fight back, and, it seems, did not attempt to rupture the pressure hull; but then, they hardly needed to. These machines are built to shred asteroids, and their cutting gear made short work of the Hammer's senses and actuators; by the time the last droid was laser-blasted into oblivion we were blinded, immobilised - and attached to an enormous bomb. Score one for the rebellious fabbers - but to judge by Captain Jakobsdottir's expression as she received the reports from damage control, it may yet be a pyrhic victory.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

IPTO announces enforcement action against "rogue fabs"

From the AT news service

The IPTO has announced that unspecified "enforcement action" will begin shortly against fabbing facilities which have not yet been surrendered to the new multi-state owned body, the Fabbing Monopoly. It is understood that seizure notices have already been served on 1,400 such facilities with orbits in the asteroid belt, but that at least 700 have recently changed orbit, and their current locations are not known. Ship movements off Mars suggest that the IPTO maybe planning to use vessels from member's military fleets to perform physical seizures of non-compliant fabs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

IPTO announces new regulation for self-rep capable fabs

From the AT news service

The Inter-Planetary Trade Organisation announced today (E 12/6/2129) that agreement has been reached on a set of new regulations governing the operation and ownership of Von Neuman class ("self-rep capable") fabs. With immediate effect, ownership of all such facilities passes to a new body, Fabbing Monopoly Ltd, a holding company jointly owned by all IPTO members. The newly established body, to be headquartered on Ceres, will be responsible for "correcting over-production", with the aim of restoring the primacy of Earth's extractive and manfacturing sectors. The communique also stated that "appropriate levels of compensation" will be paid to the former owns of fabs, although no details were given of how valuations would be calculated.

Market reaction to the surprise IPTO move was mixed; commodities prices surged on the news, with copper ore rising as high as 10 cent per ton at one point, but equity markets fell further. Reaction from trade unions was also mixed, with spokesfolk welcoming the likely reduction in the influx of cheap 'fabbed droid labour, but also voicing concerns as to the likely effect on their membership's spending power of a reduction in imports from the trans-Martian manufacturing belt.

Handy new filter

Hi guys, Alex here; given the fairly fluid political situation, I thought it'ld be worth setting up an agent to generate a feed of anything vaguely relevant to Project Stella. Enjoy!