Tag Archives: space travel

Starships

One of the things I discovered by relentlessly playing outer-space D & D is the unique setting for fiction presented by the basic interstellar starship.  Here you have a cookie-cutter setting with a basic set of requirements that can’t really change.  It takes the crew as the primary cast from one possible site of adventure to the next, offering a complete barrier to carry-over conflicts and interactions, and also providing a setting for forced internal conflicts that can have profound story consequences.

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Starships are an enclosed environment where you cannot simply run away from your troubles.  Especially when you are alone aboard with a hungry flesh-eating alien and surrounded by empty, airless, interstellar space.  You have to confront both inner and outer demons face to face.  There is no mileage available to put between you.

It has a certain set of requirements for who is on board and available to be hero friends or friends turned adversary.  There must be a pilot.  Somebody has to know how to drive the thing.  There must be an engineer.  Somebody needs to be able to fix things and keep things running.  Somebody needs to know how to manage food and drinking water and the general odor of this enclosed place.  That last is a position that is too often overlooked in movies and science fiction novels.  Scotty cannot be expected to clean the toilets on the Enterprise.  And somebody needs to be in charge.

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Express boats in Traveller are one-man-crew affairs, basically in the service of carrying information between the stars, an interstellar postal truck of sorts.  These can be the setting of man-versus-himself  sorts of conflicts.  If starships are in our future, and it is obvious with global warming we don’t have a future without them, then we are going to have to confront the concept of living with boredom.  Boredom can become mindless or it can become raving insanity.  This is why, in my Traveller games the X-boats all carried the current favorites among episodes of I Love Lucy reruns.  Aliens have been watching that stuff for years now in real life.  It will one day be a galaxy favorite.

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Starships are also filled with a fascinating complexity.  There will be times when there is no gravity so up and down can become irrelevant.  If the heat goes out, deep space can freeze you solid.  If you go outside, you need a space suit so you don’t blow up from your own internal pressure suddenly released in a pressure-free environment.  And you have no air outside the spaceship.  James Holden’s favorite coffee maker could malfunction and foul the air with poisons from burned plastic, causing a serious problem-solving situation that could result in you needing to get really, really, a thousand times really good at holding your breath.

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And, of course, there is the obvious conflict of meeting another starship with lasers and meson cannons and nuclear missiles all controlled by a captain who is a homicidal maniac and knows your sister and really, really wants to get revenge on her whole family for what she said about his zilfinbarger back on Metebelius III.

So, as a role-playing gamer, and as a creator of science fiction, I really, really love starships.  I will probably talk about them a time or too more until it gets really, really annoying… almost as annoying as the whole “really, really” thing.

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A Busy Day Off… World (A short short Paffooney)

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Commander Biznap was the most over-worked Telleron aboard Xiar’s mother ship.   Given the fact that he was the most competent spacer on board, in fact the ONLY competent spacer on board, it was easy to understand why.

Corebait was gone.  The foolish Fmoogian foul-up had gone and disintegrated himself while on Earth using a skortch pistol and an Earther mirror.  That meant no one on board was competent enough to do the astrogation calculations it was necessary to complete for the Tellerons to travel from the ancient Mars Base back to Barnard’s Star where their orbital living complex was located.  It was very possible the entire crew would have to learn to live on the space cruiser in orbit around some other fool planet in this solar system. 

“If you don’t want to live on Earth, dearest,” said Harmony Castille, Biznap’s new Earther “wife”, “then maybe we should just live on Mars.  There’s a perfectly good planetary base there.”

“You must forgive me, honey, but I don’t want to live anywhere even remotely near your people.”  Biznap’s frown told it all.  He had learned to love this woman of another species.  Now that he had used the de-evolutionizer to make the old Sunday School teacher young again, she was ravishingly beautiful… so much so that Bizzy had decided to take up the same strange Earth custom that had so appealed to Captain Xiar and his new Telleron wife Shalar, and married her, binding her to him for the remainder of their lives together, however many centuries that would be.  But Earth people were strange primates with such weird customs.  They didn’t eat their own young, but they ate meat, even (shudder) frog legs.  They used machines on a regular basis, but they also relied on muscles and physical labor far more than any Telleron could stomach.  And since they didn’t absorb moisture through their skin like a Telleron, they preferred dry rooms and refused to run about the spaceship naked the way Tellerons preferred to.  Harmony insisted that Biznap wore clothes at all times, except when they actually had time to be intimate.  She was a bit of a prude.

“Well, what will we do, then, if we don’t find a way to get back to your Bernie’s Star?”

“Barnard’s Star,” corrected Biznap.  “You people named it, after all.”

“Okay, okay.  But it will just be living on a space station, won’t it?”

“Um… yeah…  The artificial swamp in the interior is very realistic, though.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to live with real ground under our feet?  I mean, I think I’m going to miss the birds singing in the early morning, and the lovely fall colors of maple trees.”

“I really don’t think so.  I mean, I don’t even know what those things are.”  Being a Telleron who had lived his entire life aboard some form of space vehicle, and her being a planet-raised monkey-person instead of a proper amphibianoid, might just not have been ideal for getting “married”.  Bizzy loved her bare legs and the wonderful Earther invention known as “breasts”, but did that really make up for having to live your love-life with an alien monkey-person?

“Look here, Bizzy.  You forgot to carry the one in this equation.”

Biznap looked down at the tablet computer.  “I think I know a little more about Sleer Mechanics and Advanced Sylvanian Geometry, thank you.  …Oh, look at that.  I, um, forgot to carry the one.”

“Does that help our problem?” she said sweetly.  “I mean, the same mistake is right here in Corebait’s old equations?”

“Yes… yes, I think our problem is solved!  The numbers match and flow properly for a change.  Thank you, dearest one.  Now we must try it.”

Biznap went to the primary jump control board and began inputting the numbers just as Harmony had corrected them.  The machine purred and glowed with its inherent bioluminescence.  It was a happy machine for the first time since Biznap could remember.  It chugged and farted, and then they were physically lifted through space and time and light-years of travel.  Suddenly a planet appeared on the view screen.

“Oh, no!” gasped Biznap.

“What’s the matter?” asked his lady love, gaping at the blue, green, and brown ball of dirt slowly rotating in space before them.

“This is Galtorr Prime!  The one planet in the area of the Telleron Empire that’s more dangerous than Earth!”

“It’s that bad?” asked the clueless Sunday School teacher.

“They are reptile-men!  With big teeth!  And they’re more aggressive than humans.  If they ever learn space travel, we’re DOOMED!”

“Yep,” she said.  “Maybe we don’t want to live here either.”

Biznap smiled a crazy smile.  A thought had occurred to him.  Living on Galtorr Prime couldn’t be any more difficult than being married…

 

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