Friday, July 20, 2018

Building a battleship - administration

This will be my last post about the process of designing the Firenzi battleship, Admiral George Leonard, which Shayla infiltrates in The Ashes of Home.

Previous posts talked about the general design, the arrangement of weaponry, machinery spaces, and crew accommodation, as well as some of the practicalities of such a large drawing project. We wrap up with a quick look at how a ship like this is run.

As with any large ship, the analogy of a good-sized town joins forces with that of a fair-sized corporation. And organizations of any size do love their bureaucracy. And Shayla is ready to exploit any loophole that such cumbersome machinery inevitably reveals, after some preparation to seed minds and systems with her newly adopted identity ...

      She reached the ship’s administration office and paused a moment to bring her mind back to the task in hand, and to the persona she’d adopted. She asked for the admin clerk the CPO recommended.
      Petty Officer Isobel Mullin spun her tale of woe.
      The clerk looked up her record, asked questions. Shayla had answers to match the records. Those records also confirmed that tales of woe followed Petty Officer Isobel Mullin everywhere.
      He shook his head and helped Shayla access her account. Rolled his eyes when she promptly managed to lock herself out of the system again, though buggered if he knew how she’d managed that under his watchful eye. The system really did hate her. They started again, this time with idiot-proof instructions to keep her account safe.
      Petty Officer Isobel Mullin blessed him with a smile to light the darkest night, and Shayla left with a spring in her step that needed no feigning. She’d just completed a paper trail of authenticity that she couldn’t achieve with any of her fictitious identities. She’d created personnel records, training records, disciplinary records, transfer papers, all the administrative details within reach of a payroll clerk, but it took someone with specialized security clearance to activate her system account. She was now officially legit.

The administration office is part of a sprawling suite that includes stores and supply, procurement, finance, payroll, HR, as well as a mail room and the ship’s own internal news room.

The deck below that, right in the heart of the ship, is the command center, or bridge.
I’ve never understood why sci-fi depictions of spaceships so often place their bridges in the most exposed positions imaginable. On a sea-going warship it makes sense to give the captain and command crew as good a view of their surroundings as possible, but in a space battle I expect speeds and distances to be too great for that to make any sense. Plus, you are working in three dimensions, so no matter where you place yourself the ship itself will obscure at least half your field of view. So in my world, all command decisions are fed into tactical displays fed from arrays of sensors covering the whole sphere. It follows that the last thing they need is access to windows, so the command center is placed in the most protected location possible.

      The command center of Shayla’s old Martha Sandover had been strictly off limits to lowly grunts like her. A shiver of excitement ran up her spine as she crossed the threshold into this holy of holies.
      The noise struck her first, or rather the lack of it. She remembered her first experience of an Imperial capital ship’s command deck and the cacophony of sound that pervaded the space. Here, the air was heavy with a hundred murmured conversations that seemed muted and distant in comparison.
      The captain stood, feet apart and hands clasped in the small of his back, behind a ten-foot-wide tactical display set into a central well in the floor. His white uniform jacket seemed to glow in the twilight world, lit by rank on rank of screens. In front and around him control stations radiated away into multi-hued corridors. A quick survey of insignia confirmed Shayla’s assumption that the most senior officers manned the inner circle of stations, with their underlings seated in decreasing order of rank towards the outer reaches of the wide, low-ceilinged room.

The end result looks nothing like a ship’s bridge, but should closely resemble a modern warship’s Combat Information Center.

If you want to see more, remember that the full completed plans are posted to my website here.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Building a battleship - living spaces

Continuing my tour of the large and ancient battleship, Admiral George Leonard.

Most of the ship’s crew of roughly 6,000 bunk down in the three main mess decks occupying the forward lower section of the ship. Here is the plan of the “G” deck mess where Shayla stows away.
Most of it is given over to rows of bunks and lockers, a cramped labyrinth with occasional more open spaces for mess tables. The bunks are in sets of three, much like this shot from a real battleship.

Knowing your way around a maze like this helps in an emergency, like when Shayla realizes she’s being ambushed ...
       As she diverted away from her bunk and towards the locker area, the undercover agent once more, hairs on her neck prickled. In her fatigued state, focused on her bunk and sleep, she’d missed small signals that should have put her on high alert. It was near the end of the night watch, the mess areas were normally quiet but there was always someone, a few small knots of people, eating, playing cards, gossiping in low murmurs. The mess tables around here were suspiciously empty. Instead, a few unfamiliar figures lurked at corners between bulkheads and lockers, feigning innocence. The stake out was obvious. Casual onlookers had been warned away. Casting back through her memory, Shayla pictured who was stationed where as she’d entered the labyrinth of the mess deck. In her mind’s eye she mapped the outline of the quarantined area, aware of a slow drift of people closing in behind her. The epicenter lay ahead, where her locker was.

Each of these decks includes shower and washroom facilities, laundry drop-off and pickup points, and a servery linked to the kitchens a couple of decks above by a hoist. While many crew members might choose to eat down in the mess decks, they also have access to a large canteen, open all hours, in the middle of the main recreation area.

As well as the main crew messes, there are at least another two dozen smaller mess areas for the roughly 1,000 officers and petty officers. To help plan these out, I researched navy ranks to get an idea of a realistic proportion of different ranks in a ship’s population.

A ship like this might be away from civilization for months at a time. It’s not enough to provide basic eating and sleeping accommodation, the ship is a fair-sized self-contained town with essential amenities to keep everyone mentally and physically healthy. The recreation deck includes a coffee shop, library and study rooms, and a chapel. The deck above houses a comprehensive suite of fitness facilities including a running track circling the core of the deck. Along in the next section, there are stores for civilian items, and tailor, cobbler, and barber shops.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Building a battleship - fighting capability

The whole point of a battleship is to be able to fight. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I gave the Admiral George Leonard several docking bays to mount weapons or other payloads, giving the ship class tremendous flexibility during the course of their long service lives.

One of the most common weapons in Shayla’s world is the particle beam. This class of weapon shoots a tightly-focused bolt of charged particles - essentially controlled lightning - and the technology is scalable from hand-held to gargantuan.

In George Leonard, the primary weapons are mounted in pairs as shown in this cross section. This view also shows a lower pod of torpedo launch tubes attached to the ship’s ventral docking points.

     The hatch popped open and Shayla slipped inside the weapon bay. How to board a ship without boarding the ship, that was the trick. Although she was now technically on board, safely enclosed at last within the ship’s armored walls and shielding and subject once more to gravity, this cavernous hold was unpressurized and still technically open to space.
     Shayla examined her surroundings with a pang of nostalgia. Life had been so much simpler back then in her days as a lowly marine. A wash of red light barely dispelled the darkness. Suspended overhead, the barrels of two particle beams—warehouse-sized siblings of the hand-held weapons she heartily despised—each dwarfed the scout she’d recently abandoned.
     Pale green striplights marked a maze of companionways and catwalks that weaved between the inert bulk of machinery clinging to the bay walls. She craned her neck, eyes tracing the lines of cables and conduits high above.

Of course, this kind of offense needs a comparable defense, which Shayla later uses to her advantage ...

     The maintenance corridor ran near the outer skin of the ship. In compartments alongside, electromagnetic shield generators lay dormant ready to protect this flank of the ship in combat. Thick doors at intervals down the narrow passage gave access to the shield machinery. Vivid signs on each door warned of deadly levels of radiation and electrical discharges.
     Shayla cracked open the nearest door and slipped inside. She stopped a few minutes to study the layout of cables and machinery. The shields may be dormant but the circuits would still be hot, ready to come to life at a moment’s notice. She might not be an engineer, but she knew engineering, especially anything to do with weapons and defense systems—how to use the former, and how to disable the latter.
     A ship’s shields worked by deflecting the energy from charged particle weapons—beams and plasma. Most incoming offense was deflected straight back out into space, but the shields caught and channeled a significant amount of run-off. Shield machinery also contained a large quantity of delicate electronics. The two were not meant to mix.
     Shayla stood between two green-painted electrical cabinets. Massive bus bars along the far wall linked the shield coils to banks of cells, reservoirs to contain the leakage. Florescent hazard lines on the floor warned against straying too far into the room. She eyed a run of white-painted pipes along the ceiling, picking her target.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A blustery Canada Day

No, this is not a metaphor for the tariffs on maple syrup and toilet paper that went into effect today, adding to the brewing storms surrounding North American relationships. It’s simply a literal observation.

While much of the country seems to be baking, we’ve had precious few opportunities to enjoy the outdoors this Spring. Even when the rains ease off and the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, like it did today, the wind picks up so much that anything not nailed down is likely to end up on the back lawn.

Like it did today.

Which is kinda weird for this neighborhood.

I’ve grown up used to incessant wind. Living on a small island, with nothing but Atlantic ocean off our west coast, the movement of air rarely fell below a moderate breeze. When we moved out to the west coast of BC, one constant we remarked on time and again over the years was how still it was here.

It was the exact polar opposite to what I’d grown up with. There was now nothing unusual in sitting on the deck with nary a breath to rustle the trees. A noticeable breeze has become the exception. For many summers we strung up a badminton net on the front lawn and happily played with indoor shuttlecocks, not the heavy outdoor variety.

This afternoon, I braved the gusts making my laptop screen quiver, but I sadly abandoned my seat at the table outside when I had to leap up to stop the parasol lifting off like a dandelion seed.

What’s weird is - this seems to have become the norm this year.

Our weather is right royally screwed up.

Ah well, Happy Canada Day, eh!

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