Red Suns: A System Named Independence

First explored by Lester Arkwright, who claimed the system for the NATO Bloc and established an initial settlement on Franklin, the Independence System was quick to attract the interest of multiple parties in the area, primarily the Neo-Soviets and the already established NATO colonists. It didn’t take long before conflict was already brewing over the system, primarily because one of the planets, Franklin, was suitable for human life. Eventually an agreement was reached in which NATO and the Neo-Soviets would share Franklin and establish settlements in zones designated to each. Meanwhile NATO would take control of the moon of Burr while the moon of Hamilton would fall under Neo-Soviet control. The rest of the system was then declared to be neutral ground with the exception of a handful of independent settlements that were later established orbiting the gas giant Washington.

Franklin

The planet of Franklin is at one time habitable and bizarre. Like Earth, Franklin orbits within it’s star’s habitable zone and experiences similar seasonal changes, although in most regions it is more likely to rain than snow in the winter. The planet’s surface is white and chalky in most places ranging from fine sand to solid rock and during heavy rains the sand turns into a thick paste.

Surprisingly, both NATO and Neo-Soviet scientists have been able to to engineer crops able to be grow in the planet’s alien soil, although these crops require special attention. To date most crops grown on Franklin are engineered variants of potatoes, beats, and various root vegetables. More traditional crops are grown in special green houses.

Flora and Fauna

Walkers

These imposing creatures are mainly scavengers, eating whatever their tentacles can pick up off the ground. Pedestrians should beware however, the tentacles are tipped with deadly stingers. When sleeping they lower themselves to the ground in order to blend in with the landscape.

Those who have hunted these massive creatures hoping for a feast have often been disappointed. The majority of the creature’s body is its shell, which is continually extruded and grows thicker as it grows older.

Droppers

These gelatinous multi-cellular organisms resemble a giant cell. They move slowly, and attack their pray from above. This is a very painful experience, the poison they excrete slowly breaks their victims down, allowing them to be absorbed by the dropper.

Alone a single dropper is not a huge threat, but droppers reproduce via budding and are often found living in “packs.”

Coral

Instead of trees Franklin is home to “forests” of organisms resembling coral. These colonies are mostly dead except for those parts of the colonies close to the ground where they can easily absorb nutrients.

Dead coral is very brittle. It shatters easily and broken coral shards can be quite sharp. Some settlers have begun polishing coral fragments to make jewelry.

Creep

The bane of every technician and soldier stationed on Franklin. Creep is most similar to algae on Earth. It links to grow in thick mats on objects with lots of crevices. Just a small amount left remaining on a surface is enough to restart the colony, providing endless work to those who have displeased their superiors.

Washington

Washington is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter. Though it may not be habitable like Franklin it does possess many moons with varied environments. Many independent settlements have been established on these moons that have chosen to put themselves under the umbrella of the Rogue Star Collective. Their concerns are mostly represented by the RSC Administrators who oversee Washington Station.

Officially Washington Station is an important trade hub for the Independence System. It’s the one place were merchants of any nation know that they can trade freely. It is also a place were spies and informants often meet and secrets are sold.

Officially the Rogue Star Collective is a neutral entity within the system. However, many suspect that the value of the system has caused the local administrators to assemble a larger concentration of force than is typical for the RSC. Whether this concentration of force is significant is unknown but represents an significant unknown in the plans of many other actors.

Washington Locales

Washington Station

Washington Station was built after several independent settlements on Washington’s moons petitioned for membership in the RSC. Washington Station was then built to house the RSC administrators and representatives and to direct trade around the gas giant.

Many independent merchants have made their home on this station. The ring is full of taverns, warehouses, and casinos that do not wish to be under the thumb of other powers in the system.

Berzog Point

A small asteroid that was captured in Washington’s orbit. Berzog Point is a mostly lawless settlement administered by the Berzog Family. They don’t much care what goes on in their asteroid so long as everyone pays their docking fees.

This sounds exciting, but for the most part the people here just want to avoid more expensive docking fees or experiment with drugs that have been outlawed elsewhere in the system.

Sherman

Cold, icy, and full of interesting chemistry. Tartan is the manufacturing center of the Washing Sub-System. It’s surface is home to a number of large plantations home to self-replicating molecular systems. These self-replicating molecules harvest light from the star Independence and use that light to grow a variety of useful polymers that are sold elsewhere in the system.

Cheng Ho Shipyards

Lately I’ve been having fun designing ships for my Red Suns setting in Affinity Designer. I admit this artwork isn’t going to win any awards, but I really love how easily vector art allows me to communicate the images I have in my head.

Lately I’ve been focusing on more mundane designs produced by the designers and engineers working at the Cheng Ho Shipyards. In a universe where humanity still largely orients itself along the old NATO vs. Soviet Lines, Cheng Ho operates its shipyards exclusively within neutral systems and will license their designs to just about anyone.

Their design philosophy is simple: affordable, robust, reliable. Cheng Ho ships are solidly built with an emphasis on minimizing both expense and crew requirements. This philosophy has led to them becoming one of the largest design firms in the settled worlds.

The six ships here are their most popular designs and can be found operating in every major star system.

Red Suns: Swiss Army Space Ship

I just realized that I forgot to the connect the ring to the center of the ship…oh well, I’m keeping it.

I’m always tempted to design every single ship and vehicle that I plan to have appear or even not appear in a setting. What this really means is that I just end up not designing any of them. So instead this time I’m trying to focus on making a few representative ships instead.

This one in particular is what I’m going to call the Swiss Army Space Ship for now, as ships like it were vital to the settling of other planets in the early days of Red Suns.

The design is modular and generic in appearance by design. It does most things well enough to get by, but will always be outperformed by a purpose built ship. These ships are suitable for exploration, carrying cargo and passengers, mining operations, and even some light patrol duties if absolutely necessary. This image in particular shows a ship with enough habitat space in the ring for about a hundred people and a compliment of orange shipping pods held to the hull by latches. When “stationary” the ring spins to simulate gravity. However, under high acceleration the sections of ring can rotate so that the sensation of gravity is provide by the motion of the ship instead.

In place of these pods, other ships might have small hanger bays, manufacturing equipment, enhanced sensor suites, added weapons, or even another ring. The ships also come standard with a compliment of eight auxillary pods suitable for moving people and cargo to other ships as well as a pair of shuttles for landing on a planet surface. In practice though it would be more practical to dock with a local space elevator.

An important this to note is that these ships are not at all dedicated warships. Their light armament is enough to intercept missiles and may scare of pirates, but the ring in my mind is far to vulnrable to attack for the ship to safely fulfill any sort of combat role. That said, the ship’s owner would find it easy to modify the cargo pods with a few nasty surprised for any would-be attacks.

The cost of the ship is the hardest part to figure out. I haven’t given currency in this setting much thought and honestly I am trying no to. The trouble with mentioning specific numbers is that you’re just setting yourself up to forget them later. I do however want a ship like this to be affordable enough that they can be owned by private citizens. Maybe not a new one though, there are enough of these ships in circulation that finding and buying a used one shouldn’t be too hard.

Red Suns: Faster than Light

I’ve often said that scale is an important thing to think about, especially in science fiction settings. It should be no surprise then that I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted faster than light travel to work in Red Suns.

For this setting I was aiming for a similar feel to the Forever War, where ships might be dozens or hundreds of light years from home and far from support. At the same time, I wanted star systems to be interconnected enough for interstellar trade and diplomacy to be practical.

Settlements end up clustered around major trade routes, even if the planets aren’t ideal.

Eventually I decided that ships in this universe will move between stars with something called the Bulgarin Drive. These drives work by warping space around a ship in such a way that the ship can move faster than light. Travel still takes time however, and in order to save myself from making any embarasing mistakes about distance I’ve decided that distances will be thought of mainly in the time it takes for a ship to reach its destination and that these travel times are partially determined by the skill of the ship’s navigator.

The effectiveness of Bulgarin Drives are strong affected by nearby gravity wells. Massive objects disrupt the bubble of warped space around a ship and so this determines what routes are possible. Before departure a ship may have to maneuver at sublight speeds for a signifigant amout of time before it reaches an adequate departure point, then it activated it’s Bulgarin Drive. Then months or even years later it arrives as close to it’s destination as local gravity conditions will allow.

This gravity-dependent behavior leads to three points that I am eager to exploit in worldbuilding and in story telling.

  • The limited number of acceptable arrival points in a star system creates opportunities to ambush ships as they drop out of FTL.
  • Smugglers and infiltrators can choose to take a longer route into a system if it means avoiding more well traveled areas of space.
  • In certain regions of space local gravity conditions align in just the right way to allow even faster FTL travel.

This third point is especially important for what I have planned in this setting and I’ve made a quick map of one of these Gravity Hyperlanes below.

Under normal conditions travelling from one end of this lane to the other might take a year for example, but because local conditions are just right the voyage can be accomplished in just six months.

My intention is for patterns of human settlement to be based around these hyperlanes. Easy travel will mean that colonies cluster around these lanes even if the systems are not ideal settlement sites, while the rare handful of Earth-like planets will be able to develop into self-sufficient units even if separated from these lanes.

After reading all that you might wonder how messages are transmitted. If a ship may take years to reach its destination then what about an email? Large amounts of data will still need to be carried by special courier ships, but short messages can be transmitted without needing to wait.

Bulgarin Transmitters, which work according to similar principles as the aformentioned FTL drive, are able to transmit short text-based messages nearly instantaneously with just two main limitations.

  • Messages have to be short. The transmitters require a lot of energy to work, so ships will have only have their transmitters active for short times. Receives can be kept on continuously however.
  • Messages need to be encoded. These transmitters suffer from a large amount interference so in order to receive messages intact they are transmitted in short bursts resembling old telegraph signals.

There are likely some flaws with this FTL concept that I’m not seeing, and it wouldn’t work for all settings, but I think it fits my rather well. It gives characters a way to communicate with some limitations, allows them ships to travel with reasonable speed. And most interesting to me, it will make spacers into a separate subculture of their own. Being gone from home for years and aging at different rates due to relativistic effects will quickly set them apart from their friends and family back home and I’m excited to explore this as I continue to build the setting.

Red Suns: Early Ship Design

In my last post I shared the design for my Lunar Cold War bunker built just before the beginning of world war three. This time, I thought I’d share my vision for some of the space craft that would have existed around the same time period.

The image above is meant to be applicable to both NATO and Soviet spacecraft designs. The specifics might be different but the general idea is the same.

My thinking with this design is that the vessel would carry five crew members; one pilot, three gunners, and one radio operator. The craft has two rotary cannons that make up its primary armament and also has a pair of missile pods that could be used for attacking space stations and other relatively immobile targets.

Also, you’ll notice that this vessel doesn’t seem to be designed with landing in mind. For the most part, this should would have operated from space stations or been reached by small cargo modules launched from Earth bring fresh crew and supplies.

For the most part this ship would operate in Earth’s orbit. The insides are cramped and the engines slightly under-powered, by that’s alright for a ship that will rarely go past the moon. Ships of this type might find themselves going on patrol, escorting larger ships, repairing satellites, disabling enemy satellites, and attacking orbital launch platforms.

I think it’s really interesting to envision the types of craft that would exist if we imagine the space race continuing beyond the moon landings. I have a few more ideas for these early ship designs, and I’ll be posting the setting’s FTL mechanics soon. So stay tuned for more updates!

What do you think about these worldbuilding ideas? What would you do differently? Let me know on twitter @expyblog.

Red Suns: A Retroscifi Adventure

Lately I’ve been working on a little side project titled Red Suns. It’s a retroscifi setting where the Cold War turns hot following a malfunction in one side’s early warning systems. By the time anyone realizes what happened it’s too late. Earth has been devastated by nuclear war and the conflict continues in orbit and on the moon’s surface.

Before the war began both the Americans and Soviets had been building an extensive infrastructure in space and on the moons surface. This included defensive lines on both sides of an agreed upon Lunar Demilitarized Zone. On the American side a large number and variety of defensive installations were built before the war started, the Soviets on the other hand were still in the process of building their fortifications when the war broke out.

After the war Earth ceased to be a viable home for the human race and efforts to explore space were quickly accelerated. As humanity spread throughout and beyond the solar system it continued to be divided along the old NATO/Pact line, with a handful of neutral and independent parties caught in between.

Some details still need to be worked out and I want to eventually insert it into some kind of lunar landscape. But you get the idea.

This particular bunker was designed with anti-vehicle operations in mind. A 20 mm auto-cannon and a trio of surface-to-orbit missiles make up its main armament. It had a crew of just four, who were rotated out regularly using the train seen in the bottom left.

Power was supplied by a small nuclear reactor that runs off of easy to handle uranium cartridges that can be switched out as needed by the crew. This reactor was capable of powering both this bunker and it’s neighbors in the even that the larger grid is disrupted. The bunker was also home to fairly powerful computer that provide’s guidance to the bunker’s missiles.

There were a few but not many options for crew comfort, you will notice a small kitchenette in the habitat section, and if you zoom in far enough you’ll see some personal items in some of the bunks.

This design did come with several issues however. While most supplied could be brought to the bunker by train, the missiles could only be reloaded by crews working on the surface. Similarly, while the turret could be operated and reloaded internally, most maintenance could only be conducted from the outside. In this timeline, these bunkers did their job until they eventually fell victim to orbital bombardment.

I’m still ironing out some of the basic ideas of this setting and I am interested in hearing you ideas. For example, the specifics of FTL have yet to be worked out, but I am currently mulling over slow(ish) modes of travel with a handful of faster “express” lanes. If you have comments or suggestions feel free to get in touch on twitter @expyblog.