11 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 3:3

 This is the thirdsection of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
 A short post yesterday counteracted by a long one today. While I'm not proud of the writing the GC is something I have been working on for several years, I wish I could into it in even more detail than below, but I try to limit my indulgences.

“What the hell” exclaimed Tom “is that?”
“That would be our ship to Saturn” replied Laurence peering over the queuing people at the window Tom was pointing at.
“That wreck?”
“It’s the largest and longest range passenger ship in existence. Also the fastest way to Saturn at the moment too.”
“It’s hideous”
“It’s functional; you’ve got to remember there’s no such thing as hydrodynamics in space”
“It’s still hideous.”
“I thought you’d been in space a lot.”
“Yeah, personal shuttles between the Habitat and the other odd station. I’ve even visited the asteroid system on one of the new torchships, but that is just appalling.”
“I think it has a certain rugged look.”
“As I said, hideous.”
“Hey it has artificial gravity, more than any of the other shuttles have”
“Yeah but it’s the rotational kind and narrow circumference at that, give me acceleration gravity any day.”
“Just look at it and wonder it’s a triumph of overengineering and then cobbled on ingenuity, I like it.”

The craft before them was the Great Contrafibularity. The core of the craft was the historic Contrafibulatiry built as one man’s quest of brute force over elegance and economy. In the early days of the Habitat when man had only just sent probes to the outer solar system and hadn’t even set foot on Mars never mind the outer solar system the Habitat had made one promise, the end to poverty for anyone on it. The rule had been simple, anything that humans have on offer on Earth it would provide them with in unlimited quantities, constraints of space on the Habitat not withstanding of course. Most people had turned this promise into desires for food and toys of one form or another. At first only the richest of people could make their own way to the Habitat, but then as a network of orbital space stations transit ships and transit craft built up as the majority of humanity flung themselves into getting off the planet as soon as possible getting to the Habitat was within the capabilities of the average human, so the Habitat then started to offer it to anyone. A trip to the Habitat where it would pick you up on Earth in any one of a number of locations in neutral areas and transport you on was offered to every individual on Earth.  For those leaving all you had to do was make it to the collection point and it would take you to the Habitat where all concepts of scarcity would be removed. Billions of people fought to get there as soon as possible, billions more didn’t believe the promise. Governments fell as any individual could leave at any point for no cost. Economies were destroyed as people started shipping goods back from the Habitat at next to zero cost. Regardless of that, for over half the world’s population that chose to go a new age of excess and frivolity, of fast cars, no work and hedonistic pleasure for all. The trend continued ever onwards leaving Earth to recover from the effects of humans, where was now only a few hundred million on the planet. 
On the habitat most of humanity took refuge in indulgence, pleasure and society. Some chose other avenues of entertainment, pet projects they’d always swore they would try were soon completed. Ambition for construction and possession were rendered mute by an endless supply of items from the Habitat and its drones. For a few this wasn’t enough and wanted to carry on pushing the limits of humanity’s knowledge and scope. A few determined people asked the Habitat to create reconstructions of fleets of Saturn Vs or Space Shuttles to explore the inner solar system. A small team even built themselves an orion drive based craft to journey to Jupiter. One man had different ideas; he wanted to be the first man to the outer solar system and set his sight on Saturn, but wasn’t a fan of all the nuclear bombs needed for orion, so he came up with a different plan.
If you studied the current craft from outside hard you could still make out the original craft that had made it there and back for the first time. The most obvious feature from the original was the vast ocean torus. Two kilometres in diameter was a vast torus rotating once every minute giving just over one earth gravity. Hundreds of cables held the great torus in shape, its outer coating of ice forming an efficient self healing meteorite shield for the liquid water within it. The water within it acted as a sea providing food and oxygen for the inhabitants of the craft. Within the sea were a number of submersibles which were the living space for the inhabitants of the craft. The sea also served as a radiation shield from the elements of space, a heat dump and radiator for the engines and a reserve source of propellant should any issues be encountered on the journey. The torus, its enclosing structure and the nano tube cables that supported it were the only parts of the ship to use complex materials but even then where possible off the shelf items such as kevlar and carbon laminates had been preferred. The rest of the ship was built from steel which meant that volunteers to help with construction had been easy to come across.
Where the ship had been truly prophetic was in the engines. Chemical engines were an option, but discarded as being against the spirit of the wandering craft that was the desire; so instead dozens of solid core fission thermal reactors had been used, the same design that had been used in the original expedition to explore the Habitat. With the torus mounted at the front, a long boom four kilometres long covered with heat radiators and the engines at the rear the Contrafibularity was the largest craft ever built at its time by either private or government entity. The fact that it had been built as a hobby project and succeeded in taking people as far away from Earth as had ever been reached made it memorable in the human conquest. All of this would have been impossible were it not for the Habitat’s promise of an end to scarcity, or at least it would have had to wait for the robotic mining of the solar system to be vastly accelerated.
The creator however did not fare as well as his ship, while his attempts to land on a small moonlet in the rings of Saturn was successful, as was his subsequent landing on Rhea, the engines malfunctioned on takeoff and he was killed. This left him with another first as the first man to die on a planetary body except Earth. The small party remaining in the Contrafibularity returned and sold it off to the newly expanding space tourism industries. The Habitat might have removed economics from applying to those within it, but outside of it although technology had given humans access to vast resources rules of supply and demand still applied and money was the way of keeping score, even if the cost of items had plumited.
Over time the original craft was gradually upgraded and retrofitted to increase its comfort and capacity. Numerous cargo bays and ancillary craft were added and it was soon used to set up a small hotel station around Jupiter before that was taken over by military forces. While the original craft was only capable of supporting life in submersibles within the torus, this was now one of the many places on the craft where life support modules existed, the submersibles being maintained for radiation shelters and full gravity exercise and leisure facilities. The majority of people were encouraged to spend their time outside of the limited space available in the submersibles and this had led to the barnacled appearance of the ship with modules and facilities upgraded and changed constantly. It had recently had a significant upgrade to allow it to carry up to two hundred passengers and associated cargo and had had its fission engines replaced with the latest fusion units. The great K7 fusion engines were the seventh generation of the fusion reactor based thermal propulsion system developed after the Habitat had arrived and raised levels of paranoia back on Earth forcing the creation of the first solar navy, the early fission engines - while up to the job and still very common for civilian use - were outclassed by these new breed of fusion engines. With this significant expansion and refit it had been renamed the Great Contrafibularity: over two hundred thousand tons of ship excluding propellant, heading to over a million tons when carrying a full load of ice; boasting luxurious passage to Saturn in less than three months.
Right now with the ice sprayed onto the connecting boom it looked like a barnacled ship had crashed through an iceberg and was stuck awaiting rescue.

“I’m sure it will be much nicer inside, it just had a refit you know.”
“Three months in that thing.” moaned Tom
“Actually I checked, there’s not many people or cargo on this journey so they’ve been able to cut down the journey time, we should be there in about nine weeks. Depends on how much luggage people take of course and the final weight of the passengers.”
“Think I could convince people to shave to save some weight?”
“Guess that’s why they encourage people to use the Gym eh?”
“I’m not sure that would work once you’re on the way, they store the waste until we get there after all.”
“Why? That’s daft.”
“Nope, you’d be surprised when you’re setting up a space colony how useful organic matter is; sure you can lose the water, but the matter at the other end will be important, especially as the ship will want to replenish its food supplies and we’re talking a giant closed system here.”
“I can certainly see why tourism is so rare”
“Hey this journey used to take years, what would you prefer, suspended animation, or as I like to call it probable death?”
“Hell of a hotel they need to have at the other end though”
“Life is a journey you know, besides makes for a hell of a story when you can say where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Where’s the bragging rights in tourism if it’s no more difficult to get to than the shops.”
“Yeah, but I think I’d rather leave this to the military and the diplomats”
“So why are you going to live there then?” asked Laurence
“Because I’m going to live there.” Tom wasn’t sure he was getting his point across “This is marketed at people having fun, trying to find something to do with their lives and I can’t see why you’d want to do this and just this. I at least have other things at the end of the journey”
“Look the queue is moving I’m sure that’s what’s making you grumpy, grab your bag and let’s get aboard.”

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