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A Collection of Various Notes on the Carpaverse

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  • A Collection of Various Notes on the Carpaverse

    I'm largely starting this thread because I need some place to store some of my out-of-story notes on the setting of my SF universe. I've recently posted a finished story from that setting here, but I didn't want to force people into reading my notes on another site, so I've decided to compile the notes into more structured documents and repost them in another thread here. I hope it's all right.

    While I want this thread to have a fair bit of structure as I add each set of notes, it's not super-hierarchical. Think of it as a scrapbook of compiled notes for my universe. All subject to potential revisions or even retcons, big or small, depending on what's needed.
    Last edited by Petike; 02-13-2017, 02:26 AM.

  • #2
    Notes on the Vrkshkrlrhk ("dragons")


    For the purposes of these notes, I'll be writing "dragons", not "Dragons" with a capital D. This is down to the fact that terms for species are not capitalised in my SF setting. Therefore: humans, dragons, neosapients, aquats, etc. But, in the case of personal names: Emese the human, Lhchrlchrhrr the dragon, Nevn the neosapient, and so on. Though "dragons" is not capitalised, "Vrkshkrlrhk" often is, as it's a much more high-sounding name of the species for itself, rather than just some other species nicknaming them based on something (semi-)fictional or legendary.


    Origin, evolution and basic body anatomy

    Located around 900-1000 light years from Earth, the homeworld of the dragons is rather Earth-like, with an emphasis on "rather". To date, it's the most Earth-like planet of any sapient alien civilisation encountered by humanity. It is a geologically active world, with a magnetic field, plate tectonics, volcanism, oceans, landmasses, currents, seasons, climatic regions, weather, and last but not least, oceanic and terrestrial life that has undergone evolution for roughly the same length of time as life native to Earth.

    Long ago, the equivalents of vertebrate lifeforms developed from ocean-dwelling invertebrates. Eventually, they were one of several major groups of creatures that colonised dry land. Many more hundreds of millions of years later, on a planet with an already sophisticated biosphere, appeared the earliest predecessors of the dragons. A humble bunch. The evolutionary ancestors of dragons were little, six-limbed 'lizards', a largely tree-dwelling species. Over the course of evolution, a few particular species descended from this initial stock branched out (pun intended) into a form capable of short, gliding flight from tree to tree. Their middle wing formed the main support limb of a gliding membrane, stretching from nearly the front limbs to nearly the hind limbs. They were effectivelly a six-limbed version of contemporary Draco lizards, or the extinct Xianglong, or flying squirrels.

    Plenty of millions of years later, certain geological events had let to climate changes in one particular region of the planet, making an area of fairly lush and temperate forests more arid, more sparsely forested. At that time, there was already one species descended from the gliding six-limbed "lizards", capable of fairly competent powered flight. The extensive (but not necessarily drastic) changes to the environment due to the transformation of regional climate necessitated further innovation in the species. It branched out into different subspecies, and these branched out further into new species, and though some of these new species returned to a more terrestrial or flight-free life, at least one didn't. Forced to adapt to living in less dense forests, its middle pair of limbs had evolved extensively into a set of winged limbs, no longer used for walking or grasping of tree trunks. Not quite pterosaur wings, not quite bat wings, not quite Yi Qi wings, these limbs-with-membranes nevertheless evolved to the point where they were now fully useful for active, powered flight.

    Later on, the species, already a smart predatory omnivore, began to develop a greater degree of bipedalism in areas where taller vegetation became sparse. Though never entirely losing the capability of a four-legged gait and running on all fours, the early dragons could soon manage two-legged walking or a slow two-legged run if need be. In time, populations of the species (and its future descendants and successors) started venturing into other environments as well, including plains and grasslands. This was fairly similar to what had happened in planet Earth's east Africa millions of years ago, spurring an early push towards bipedalism among some of the earliest ancestors of humans.

    Dragons are in many ways the most "humanoid" species outside of humans. For lack of a better term... About the most human thing about them are their uppermost limbs (or front limbs, if you will), consisting of arms and hands with a palm and four longer, grasping fingers. The legs also have four toes. The dragons are a viviparous species, with two sexes (male and female) and milder sexual dimorphism. They share some other smaller traits that make them vaguely similar to certain archaic mammalian species. Dragons have geographic races, often differentiated by physical details such as skin tones, particular forms of natural dermal adornments, physical size, etc. Last but not least, the overall civilisation their species gradually created and developed was mainly thanks to their intelligence and skills, instead of much in the way of natural physical advantages. On their world, they had long been prey like any other, and it took intelligence and resourcefulness to turn the tables in the species favour.

    Of course, unlike humans and their evolution and anatomy, the dragons have plenty of differing details too. They are still partly quadrupeds, even capable of a slow gallop, though the exact style of walking and running depends wholly on the situation and context. They do not have a simian-like body plan, their chests more avian or dinosaur-like. While a 180 cm tall human would be considered... tall... for a dragon, that's a fairly average height while standing bipedally, on hind legs. In stark contrast to humans, they are capable of powered flight, thanks to powerful but compact sets of muscles located in the back and chest parts of their torsos. Their bones are structurally evolved not only to benefit powered flight, but share the same underlying properties as all other skeletons of "vertebrates" from the dragon's homeworld, particularly in terms of somewhat different chemical composition (after death, dragon skeletons can actually slowly dissolve and not leave behind much evidence of their existence). The sexual organs of both dragon sexes are hidden inside their bodies when not needed for mating purposes.

    Their methods of sensory perception, their psychology and their worldviews are a blend of the truly alien, and of things understandable even to human minds. Just like their physical properties, their mental properties are as every bit a complex, multi-faceted and fascinating matter. Speaking of...

    ....let's look at their nervous systems and some of their sensory organs. The latter often famously pointed out as strikingly different to those of humans.


    Head anatomy and special adaptations of the nervous system

    Despite the different skeletal composition of the "vertebrates" from the dragons' homeworld, when compared with the skeletal composition of Earth's vertebrates, the basic anatomy of the neck and head is fairly convergent with the evolution of necks and heads in Earth reptiles. It is most reminescent of the skull anatomy of extinct smaller theropod dinosaurs.

    As all "vertebrates" of their homeworld, the dragons also lack eyes on the surface of their head. This is due to the properties of the homeworld's atmosphere, which is enough to protect the planet's biosphere from dangerous cosmic radiation, but can't entirely filter out the luminous intensity of the planet's mother star. Complex eyes on the surface of a creature's head would prove an evolutionary disadvantage. The equivalent of eyeballs are therefore buried deeper in the skull, with the eye cavities (protected from outside influences by several natural defence barriers) serving as a sort of natural set of binoculars, through which a dragon (or other creature) sees the world. However, given the limited field of vision offered by this setup, "vertebrates" from the dragon's homeworld had to evolve an additional form of vision. These are represented on the surface of the head by the reinforced outcroppings of a series of small sensory organs. (In the case of dragons, the outcroppings number a total of fourteen, seven for each side of the head.) The outcroppings provide a more hazy, limited-spectrum visual input of one's surroundings. An individual gets a fairly good idea of the outlines and movements of what surrounds him, and thus doesn't have to worry about being jumped all of a sudden by predators and attackers, or about turning his head all that much to make sense of what's happening. Over time, evolution has perfected this dual vision in all "vertebrates" of the dragons' homeworld, to the point that any "vertebrate" specimen with complex eyes has no issue with literally seeing the world in two different fields of view at the same time. Dragons seeing the world in two forms of vision has had a major (and natural) influence on their worldviews, including culture, art, religion, expectations about alien civilisations... even their martial arts... You could say that, by Earth standards, dragons have no visible eyes. You could just as well say that, by Earth standards, dragons have more individual eyes than even spiders, with the main pair hidden from plain sight inside the skull.

    Each dragon's head comes with two rows of decorative spines, one for each side of the head. The two rows form a crest of sorts, closely surrounding the crown region of the head. The spines are only semi-rigid, rather than being a skeletal part of the skull itself. They're keratinous in nature, similar to earthly equivalents, such as hedgehog and porcupine spines, or various antlers. The spines are connected to the outer muscle tissue and skin atop the skull with their own muscle anchors and small movement muscles in their lower portions, and their own set of hardened skin. This allows them to be moved at will and form various directional and shape configurations, though they are obviously quite limited in their movement. The number, lenghth, shape and colouration of the spines differ both on a sexual dimorphism basis (crest differences between males and females), as well as a phenotype basis (of the 5 to 7 main "racial" groups on the dragon's homeworld, there is quite a variation in crests, in addition to their body's skin colour and pattern). The primary function of the spines is communication, more precisely body language. Their original evolutionary function was to serve as a tool for courtship between males and females during the mating season. As dragons evolved into a fully sapient species and their society grew more complex, the spines became a fairly integral part of an individual's body language, in addition to body postures, gestures and facial expressions. Due to the anatomy of a dragon's head, there's quite a lack of facial and eye expressions in dragon communication (from a human's point of view at least), so the spine expressions are an invaluable supplement (some would say substitute) for those.

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    It's the eye of the dragon, it's the thrill of the flight...

    What the head of a dragon looks like. (The neck is shown only partially, basically just the front area of the neck.) Sorry for the crap copy of the drawing. I've since made a much better one, but it's still being edited. I'll replace this one with the newer scan once it's finished.


    Society, culture and language (briefly)

    Bucking the old cliché of bland, super-united aliens, the dragons are at least as divided and 'struggling together' as humans are, even in the 'interstellar empire' era. Their languages and writing systems, while logical and graspable, are utterly alien to Earthlings, being no more immediately intelligible to a regular human than the 'speech' of mice, owls or monitor lizards. Fortunately for humans (and other Earthlings), some simple gestures are fairly universal and can be used for communication with an average dragon.

    Given the nature of translation devices in the "Carpaverse" setting, you can't actually drown out the original voice of a speaker. It will always be there, along with the slightly delayed voice of the device that is translating the text. When a human and a dragon decide to converse with the help of a translation device, in practice, you get the following situation:
    A human talks to a dragon. The dragon hears gibberish coming from the mouth of the human, regardless of language. At the same time, his translation device kicks in and (depending on the quality of the model) a voice that is "more dragon speech pattern friendly" will translate the human's sentences into the dragon's own native language (obviously, there are many, plus dialects, but the owner of the device will have this adjusted to his or her needs).
    A dragon replies to the human's sentences with his or her own. The human hears gibberish, and to his terragen humanoid ears, it's outright animalistic gibberish. ("Like a regular and well-planned symphony of reptile and bird sounds...") Once again, his device for translating Dragon will render this into a (settings and model-dependent) male or female human voice, while the original speaker's alien voice is still clearly present (and a bit ahead of the curve).
    Basically, trying to have a human-style conversation with any dragon is like if you tried to have a conversation with a monitor lizard, wood grouse and a deinonychus all at the same time.

    The aftermath of the Firewar, a devastating war in the distant past of the dragons' planet (it occured while the last ice age was still in full swing on Earth) didn't in the long term lead to much-desired global unification. Arguably, it led to even more pronounced differences between various political, social and religious ideologies of the dragons, both on the homeworld and the various space colonies. While dragon civilisation didn't restart completely from square one after the catastrophe and has been very much a continuation of surviving pre-War culture, the differences that existed in dragon society until then got even further entrenched than they already were. On the plus side, it also taught the dragons a fiery compassion (no pun intended) for the suffering of other living beings, particularly sapient species. A dragon military might do terrible things to your planet if you start a war with them, but they would never "glass" the planet with WMDs, even if they were given every opportunity to do so (in fact, this was a major surprise to human combatants during the Contact War). The horror of the dragons' own global thermonuclear war scarred their species' mentality so thoroughly ("Never again !"), that they would never allow anything like that to be visited upon another species. One of the minor postmodern religions of their's that popped up in the interstellar era is all about speaking up for species that others could potentially obliterate with more advanced weaponry.

    Dragons have had interstellar spacecraft technology since at least the times of the human Neolithic on planet Earth. Just like humans, they originally experimented with the concept of the generation ship, but eventually adopted a robust and reliable "jump drive" technology, derived from mysterious alien artefacts found in their system of origin. To this day, no civilisation knows how the crystalline-like "steel trees" really work, aside from the fact that one can reverse-engineer new devices from them, in order to punch fairly stable artificial wormholes into the fabric of space, for safe and instantaneous crossing between systems.

    Funnily enough, though dragons had occassionally conducted a few expeditions into the Sol System, including a few landings and surveys of Earth, occasional clues about their visits were never suspected as alien-related by human "ancient astronaut theory" proponents from the 20th century onward. Instead, one or two rare accounts of coming across a dragon exploration team visiting Earth (or being stranded on Earth, temporarily !) resulted only in the creation of various mangled myths and legends about "fire-breathing flying lizards".

    Due to a tragic misunderstanding caused by an overlooked technical error, official spaceborne relations between humans and dragons started well below freezing point. The ensuing military conflict became known to humans as the Contact War. Despite its seriousness, it didn't last particularly long and the initial confusion was eventually cleared up, with both Earthlings and Vrkshkrlrhk signing a key peace treaty. Despite the rocky start of relations with Earthlings, dragons aren't any more warlike or less warlike than them.


    Religions

    As with other cultural traditions, philosophies, ideologies and so on, the dragon civilisation has developed a very diverse set of religious beliefs and religious organisations throghout its long history. This process was further fueled with growing populations, the growing number and growing complexity of societies, exploration and colonisation of their homeworld, and became exacerbated during the civilisation's space age, particularly during the colonisation of the dragons' home system and other planetary systems. Obviously, we can't name every single religion or religious philosophy in a short space of time, so we'll have to resort to two random examples from the "present day" of my Carpaverse.

    The first example is a traditionalist, in essence very old faith. Loosely translated as "The Cult of the The Undying Empress Most Holy, Wise and Merciful", it originated in one of the early planetary empires of the dragons, as far back as their equivalent of our antiquity. This empire was matriarchal in some of its cultural underpinnings, and since a certain starting date in its history, had always been ruled and led by female rulers. The most famous was the First Empress, who is central to the faith. She is kind of the dragons' mash-up version of Jesus, Buddha and the Virgin Mary, with some Joan of Arc trappings here and there. Some comparisons can also be drawn to Byzantine Caesaropapism and to the worship of the Egyptian pharaohs and Japanese emperors by commoners. The followers of the faith believe that after she died, her spirit was reincarnated into every single one of her successors. Since each empress was obviously a unique individual, the worshippers of the Empress posit that the differing personalities of the female rulers reflect the different mental and emotional aspects of the First Empress - i.e. one Empress is artistically-minded, another is a pragmatic "iron lady", or a child-like lass with the soul of a dreamer, or a tomboy who is good at hunting and fighting, or a wise and scholarly romantic, or an alluring femme fatale no dragon male could resist, etc. According to the clergy and commoner worshippers, even the Empresses that have shown much weakness, vice or outright bad/evil conduct were merely reincarnated showcases of some of the First Empress' aspects - in this case, some of the darker, shadier ones. Curiously enough, despite this apologetic stance towards the forever reincarnating One Holy Empress, those who worship her are not adverse to disagreeing with her and her decisions, because they believe the Empress, while a holy and enlightened individual, is not infallible or flawless. The Empress is, in a way, an allegorical figure ("virgin and whore", "peacemaker and warrior", "humble and vain", "wise and shallow", etc.) and a role model - both in the positive sence, and as a cautionary tale, and both for females and males. Modern dragon critics of the "Empress religion" often say that the traditional portrayals of the First Empress have always tended to be too idealised (even though she is not portrayed as a saintly, flawless figure, as some might expect), but both the more hardcore and more casual worshippers of her beg to differ. In the late parts of its history, the ancient empire where this faith originated, split into many polities which have inherited bits and pieces of the empire's knowledge base, culture and religion, despite taking on increasingly divergent roots. Nevertheless, even in the latest, most distant descendants of these successor polities to the empire, this particular religion is still among the most practiced. This occurs even when said state/society has switched mostly to patriarchy or egalitarianism.

    The second example is more recent. Loosely translated as "The Ascendancy of the God Engines' Truth", it was first established by certain philosophers and mystics during the early era of dragon interstellar exploration. In terms of atmosphere, it can be best described as "techno-mysticist", with a dash of "ancient astronauts cult" thrown in. It is basically built around the veneration of the mysterious precursor artefacts that allow the existence of jump drive technology in the first place, and of the mysterious alien creators of the devices themselves. The members of this religious faith posit that the ultimate goal of dragons and all other sapient civilisations is to search for traces of the precursors, and if possible, to make contact with them. The faith doesn't really adress whether it regards the precursors as benevolent or sinister. It only emphasizes that the faith's members should keep searching and seeking, and that whatever they reveal about the precursors and the miraculous tech they've left behind is ultimately worth it, because it can bring forth enlightenment, whether good or bad. As you'd expect, the religion views the recovered artefacts and the practical technology derived from them - e.g. jump drives - as sacred objects, borderline holy relics. And they call them the "god engines", if you stick to the traditional human translation of the term they use for them.

    My "Carpaverse" being the future history that it is, there are also interesting overlaps between the faiths of various civilisations. There are converts to religions that originated among different species. Don't be surprised if you meet a dragon Muslim, a neosapient wolf that is Orthodox Christian, or a human who finds delight in the religious teachings of neosapient lynxes. There are some universalist faiths or ideologies meant to unite all (or most) known species too. In this case, many religions often stress pacifism and empathy in their teachings, etc.


    The Behind the Scenes snippet

    Certain elements of my SF universe go as far back as the late 1990s. The dragons are not one of those elements. Slightly less than a decade ago, I decided to completely reboot the earlier version of my universe and start anew, only keeping what I felt had worked previously. (Perhaps the biggest surviving element are the smaller civilisations formed by the neosapients, in essence uplifted Earth mammals of various species.)

    Early on in the "reboot", when I was first coming up with more specific alien concepts, I wanted to try the stereotypical "reptile/lizard alien" template, but give it a wholly different spin. I wanted to make them viviparous reptiles, and add a few features that are also reminescent of mammals, of dinosaur and avian dinosaurs, i.e. birds. This species was also going to be the only vaguely humanoid species in my universe, other than humans. Of course, the term "humanoid" can only be used very loosely, as I've already described in a previous section.

    I like to admit my sources of inspiration, and I'll do just that in this paragraph. Inspiration-wise, there were several sources, even though most of the stuff I devised about these aliens was purely from my own head. By far the biggest singular influence was the iconic and infamous Daggerwrist, an alien animal created by illustrator Wayne Barlowe for his 1990 docu-fiction SF novel, Expedition. (The critter was also featured on a mid-2000s Discovery Channel special which loosely adapted the gist of the novel.) I think this and this image in particular solidified my idea about the dragons' evolutionary origins as a species and where they could go from there. The first image is particularly neat, because Barlowe shows these alien critters forming a rudimentary society, composed of families resting in the tree tops. Scary as they might be anatomically, illustrations like that really help convey that the daggerwrists aren't some alien monsters, but animals in a habitat like any other. Though I wanted to give the dragons a touch of the macabre - hence, the wings, lack of external eyeballs, presence of head spines - I didn't want them to be outright Barlowe-ian. In a more philosophical than literal sense, I also thought of the Overlords from Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. My dragons were meant to evoke similar emotions in humans who had never seen them. Mysterious and more than a little scary. At the same time, I didn't want them to be horrific. Instead, I wanted to keep the scariness more down to intimidation and the dragons' "smart non-human animal" visage. Oddly, it was only last year when I came across illustrations for the older fantasy RPG RuneQuest. In that game, there is a race of diminutive, humanoid dragons, referred to as "dragonewts". While these aren't all that similar to my own creations, I still found it amusing that there is already a race of humanoid, deeply intelligent dragons out there in the occassional popular work.

    The "present day" for most of my Carpaverse setting sees humanity living in highly-advanced, but fairly old-fashioned societies. Comparing it to existing settings, I think Dune and especially BattleTech would be the best comparisons. Yes, this is a space opera setting where there is some "feudalism", human space monarchies, and so on. It's neither a very shiny and opulent society, nor a very run-down and squalid-seeming one. They also aren't as socially backward as the setup would imply at face value. Now, the dragons come into this as a bit of a cheeky element. I can't have actual, fantasy dragons in this setting, obviously. (It's actually rather hard SF, beyond some of the social veneer on top.) So, to have at least a quarter of my cake and eat it, the dragons... are actually aliens.
    Last edited by Petike; 03-12-2017, 01:09 PM.

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    • #3
      Mighty good!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Otis R. Needleman View Post
        Mighty good!
        I'd prefer more varied feedback, but... eh, okay.

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        • #5
          Spacecraft: Interplanetary and interstellar travel





          In the Carpaverse, FTL travel exists and is vital for keeping interstellar polities alive and possible. It is stricly of the 'jump drive' variety, but even improved variants have rather restrictive operational rules. Some early starships used other, much slower forms of drive to propel themselves, but they have basically been rendered wholly obsolete by the now-ubiquitous jump drive. The Carpaverse's take on the jump drive is, in essence, a massive teleportation device utilising artificially created wormholes, not an engine with thrusters that produces exhaust. Therefore, a jump drive doesn't need to be exposed on the outside of the ship, like a normal intra-system propulsion block needs to be (at least its thrusters, at any rate). All starships are still regular spacecraft, making their in-system propulsion (what works like ST would call 'impulse drive') wholly separate from the jump generator. After all, the generator itself is virtually just an oversized teleportation device, though one utilising wormholes.*

          "Jumping" from one system to the next is an insanely instantaneous process and is hardly observable by even the keenest of human sences. However, it does have its issues and disadvantages. Cooling and recharging after jumps is mandatory. Most attempts at creating smaller FTL reactors have proven fruitless, rendering the dream about small-sized jump-capable ships virtually impossible. Another issue is opening up both ends of a wormhole into a safe area of space. Obviously, no one would want to quickly open up a wormhole, cross over in a careless hurry, and slam head-on into an asteroid situated at the other end. While this danger to starships has been dealt with technologically, it's as much of a real issue as modern airliners needing radio altimeter to correctly estimate their height above any given terrain below them.

          'FTL radio' is non-existent and trans-system communication only works by 'jumping' a vehicle with a message aboard. The easiest way is to jump a whole starship, but that kind of defeats the point, so most message-sending involves a starship generating a jump field and sending over a smaller spacecraft or a purpose-built message probe (both of which are non-FTL, so if they get stranded on the other side without the backup of friendlies, tough luck...).

          Jumpgates exist, but are not very numerous, and are used almost purely for aiding this aforementioned 'courier service'. Occassionally, if a location is economically viable enough, jumpgates are used for sending audio or audiovisual broadcasts instead of messages carried on storage media. Large-scale terraforming is also possible, partly due to a device that shares an origin with the FTL generators, and partly due to on-the-ground efforts by a specific civilization.

          However, here's the kicker about these generators: They were not created by any of the sapient civilizations present, but by an (apparently long extinct) early galactic civilization. Humble remnants of their technology have been found in virtually all systems with planets where sapient species emerged, the exact artefacts the generators are based on resemble surreally-shaped metallic/crystalline trees of a larger size. Unfortunately, the fact that the generators can be operated purely thanks to a long history of trial-and-error testing and reverse-engineering means that most civilizations don't fully grasp how exactly the device works. More accurately, what is badly understood is how the device can violate certain laws of physics in order to create instantaneous wormholes for jumping and other peculiar phenomenna.

          Though some institutions of the human empire regulate and monitor interstellar trade and transport - most notably The Hansa and NABIT - they do not hold monopolies on starships, FTL generators or the right to use them, provided they aren't misused by individuals for illegal purposes or for comitting political havoc (false-flag operations, etc.).

          You very occassionally hear the odd rumour about secret research being conducted into other, more unorthodox uses for jump drives and the wormholes they punch into the fabric of the universe. Some of these rumours include that the generators can be forced to create wormholes leading to... other, parallel universes. But, naaaah ! Those are surely just some bedtime fairytales to scare kids with. Right ?

          (* - Minor clarification: The artificially created wormholes of my setting's FTL are visually closest to the ostensibly mysterious wormhole(s) seen in Interstellar. Funnily enough, when I first saw the film's second trailer, I did a double-take when it got to the wormhole footage. It was remarkably close to what I came up with for the setting already when I started work on it during the late 2000s. Most of the details are exactly the same, with some minor differences. I suppose great minds think alike, albeit my idea was largely just instinctive and logic-based, rather than me being an astrophysics expert. Before the film came out, I had to do cumbersome, vague explanations about how it looks from the outside and inside. After the premiere, I just say "it's like the one in the film, but the travel is completely instantaneous, and ships create jump spheres around themselves, they don't enter them from the outside".)

          Spacecraft: Starships (Exterior design)





          Starships follow several patterns in the Carpaverse setting. While they are definitely on the hard SF side of things, they aren't entirely uniform and there are several ways you can design and build them. Of all posibilities, there are primarily two schools of starship construction:

          1.) "Spinewheelers" - the most ubiquitous type. This is influenced by the fact that they are the easiest and cheapest to build. Many, if not the vast majority of them are little more than up-scaled or upgraded models of interplanetary ships, with the only major addition to them being the jump drive. While this might make such starships seem less grandiose, it allows for fantastic modularity and less costly repairs and repurposing. As evidenced by their name, for a "spinewheeler", you only need a long axle/spine as a base, a rotating section (or several of them) added onto an appropriate section of the spine, and then you can customise the rest of the spacecraft according to your needs, choosing various possible configurations for the engines, reactors, life support, comms and payload sections. Spinewheelers are common as both interplanetary ships and starships, and equally common in both civilian and military roles.

          2.) "Shellships" - aka "matryoshka ships". The quantitatively rarer type. At face value, these are closer in appearance to what most people think when told "starship": I.e. a sleek-shaped vessel without spiny protrusions, and with clusters of propulsion units mounted slightly outside the hull, like nacelles on a zeppelin. But under the surface (well, the surface of the outer hull), shellships aren't actually that different from spinewheelers in certain general principles. The main principle being that they cannot generate gravity by any means other than rotating or acceleration. However, since shellship designers don't want to bother with large spinning wheels, they devised an alternate solution : Build a ship consisting of two identical hulls, one larger and one smaller, with a gap of appropriate size between them. Fill the gap between hulls with mechanisms that will slowly spin, generating on-board gravity in the inner hull, gravity that is in effect similar to that from the spinning wheel solution. With two or more hulls packed into each other, a shellship is a space-going matryoshka doll. An example of this type of starship from existing works of fiction are the "lighthuggers" from Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series*. Basically, the shellships of my setting have a very similar interior shell structure design, while their outer shape can vary a lot, from conical ships similar to Reynolds's lighthuggers, to needle-like ships, like those of a certain faction in the first Homeworld game. While shellships are obviously more elegant, constructing even one of them is rather complex, and often requires hulls of a slightly larger size and of very specific, prefabricated shapes. Not to mention the fact that you need at least two hulls, one encased in the other, and a rotating compartment of bearing-like devices between them, to build a shellship. You also need to make the overall shape of the ship's hulls to be relatively geometrical and symmetrical, so you'll certainly never be able to build anything like a Starfleet starship from ST (unless you want to build one where zero G will be the rule everywhere on board, particularly during standing in place, when there's no acceleration). Due to the increased complexity and technical demands, be ready to pay as much for the cheapest shellship as you'd pay for 3 or 4 spinewheelers. Shellships are rarer in the civilian sphere due to their prohibitive costs and infrastructural demands, but they have a steady niche in the space forces of planetary and interstellar polities. As they are much less delicate and fragile than spinewheelers, and come already armoured due to the nature of their construction, they prove excellent as large military ships, since those need to routinely withstand a great deal of punishment while in the heat of battle. Spinewheelers are marvelous military ships when it comes to policing star systems or engaging in smaller-scale battles, but when large interstellar fleets start duking it out, it's time to break out the capital shellships and start spammin' beams, missiles and other nasty ammo that can thoroughly ruin your day...

          The jump drives used by either of the broad categories of starships in the setting - spinewheelers and shellships - are basically the same and don't require much in the way of different engineering to work. Naturally, while the jump drive of a spinewheeler is more exposed, a shellship's jump drive is burried deep within it, in the hind parts of its inner hull.

          One more thing : In the case of my starships "Down" is always where their main exhaust is pointing, and "Up" is on the opposite side. So, though I draw my ships in a conventional, horizontal way (as if they were ocean-going ships or submarines), the truth of the matter is that they're more like enormous towers that lie mostly horizontally while they're flying around in space. Thus, while they walk through the wheel's corridors and rooms, the heads of the crews in the rotating section of my spinewheeler are always pointing "to the left" instead of "to the top" of my drawing. The crews don't notice this at all, to them everything aboard is normal, but an outside observer in a tinier ship might consider it amusing. The outer edges of the wheel are therefore not so much the potential "up" or "down" point of the ship, but more like the "farthest sides" of the ship's hull.

          It's not just humans who came up with such solutions for bigger ships. Virtually all intelligent species in the setting came to the same technological conclusions independently of each other. Their large spacecraft are therefore not drastically dissimilar to Earthling ships in their basic aspects.

          We've covered the "theory", so to speak, so we'll follow it up with a random example of a civilian starship from the setting.
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          Here you have an example of a simple type of starship from the 'present day' of the setting: An interplanetary heavy freighter (with added FTL jump drive capability) hauling cargo containers. This is one of the largest commercial starship types used by the Carpanonian Star Commonwealth, under license by the Hansa and NABIT (Navigational Astronautics Bureau for Imperial Trade). As you've no doubt deciphered from the outward appearance, this particular starship fits into the typology of a spinewheeler.

          The front end is on the left, dominated by a conical ramscoop and an X-grid of pillars alongside it, with each pillar containing a thruster nacelle for braking manuevers. The main thruster nacelle at the back end of the ship houses a total of 8 thrusters, while the smaller and less powerful nacelles at the front end each contain 2 thrusters. The ship has a total of 8 main heat radiators, plus a myriad of smaller ones. Aside from outer surface shielding, the ship also features 3 large protective shielding plates, located at various crucial segments along the length of its fairly thin, spine-like hull. The interior sides of two of the large shielded sections are used for mounting huge containers with useful cargo to the ship, attaching them to sturdy mechanisms built into the surface of that section of the ship's spine. Once the container starship is docked at a trading base (in open space or the orbit of a planet), smaller ships come to detach the containers and haul them off for unloading, then bring them back empty or with new, different cargo. Notice the size given for an individual cargo container. Yes, that's 100 m for a single specimen. That should give you a good idea about the size of the whole ship...

          Onboard artificial gravity is strongest in and around the part of the ship with the rotating wheel (the tall and protruding section in the middle), instead of the entirety of its hull. The rest of the ship generally lacks artificial gravity (when not under thrust), since those other parts of the ship don't need to be manned by a crew, outside of maintenance. The wheel is actually double-hulled, both halves spinning in opposite directions to avoid spinning the entire ship. The speed/rate of the wheel's rotation and some of the other finer details of onboard gravity are adjusted automatically to the ship being or not being under thrust (in all possible movement directions). Naturally, this kind of overall ship configuration leads to the concentration of the command centres, living quarters, storage rooms, workshops, hangars and hangar bays into the wheel section. Most of them are in the wheel itself, but several of the command centres are also situated in the "axle", surrounding the main spine of the ship. This is done in order to give them better protection in case of an emergency (collission with objects, attack by external forces, etc.).

          Note that the provided picture is a work in progress, hence no colour or finer details. I might still change bits of the design quite a bit, so don't take it completely at face value. Also note that the design used by this ship is not uniform for spinewheelers. And I'm not talking purely about the fact that it doesn't need much artificial gravity or on-board comfort due to hauling only clusters of many large cargo containers. That's obvious. There are several variations on that general type alone, something that the following section will help highlight.
          This is a work in progress, hence no colour or finer details. I might still change the design quite a bit, so don't take it completely at face value.


          (* - Minor clarification: When I compared my shellships to Reynolds' lighthuggers, I of course meant that on a visual level, and as an example of a ship which produces its artificial gravity the way I described it. Other than that though, there are some important tech differences between my shellships and Al's lighthuggers: For one, unlike in the Revelation Space universe, FTL obviously does exist in my setting, and is of a jump drive nature.)

          Spacecraft: Starships (Interior design)





          All manned ships, civilian or military, need some space to put the crew in during spaceflight. While small spacecraft that only need to fly for a few hours or a day or two at most don't need virtually any furnishings outside of the ship's cockpit, and rarely have on-board gravity, bigger ships are different beasts entirely. Obviously, since they are meant to wander the vaccuy expanses of the cosmos for longer periods of time, and meant to take far more passengers or cargo or armaments, they also need bigger crews and proper amenities. And with that, comes every spacecraft constructor's worst nightmare: The need for more space.

          1.) Why interior space can be a hassle

          Why does "more space" cause such worries ? Well, imagine the amount of space you need for humans and all the useful stuff they need to bring with them, ignoring possible superfluous junk. Now imagine the size of the ship and how its various parts add more to its mass as an object in space. More mass and larger mass equals more energy needed to propel and manoeuvre the thing, even at slow and steady speeds and good surrounding conditions. So, using up more space leads to adding more mass to the ship, which complicates matters.

          2.) Command centres (and the need for proper seating)

          Whether your ship will be civilian or military, some rules are universal. First off, your command centre, cockpit, comms centre, etc. will not be at the top of the ship or at its tip or in any other exposed place. Rule of cool is nice and all, but if you're building large spaceships in a reasonable way, you'll try to hide these most crucial manned parts of the ship as deep inside it as possible. So, somewhere near its centre, closest to its centrepoint, its core - this, of course, depends a lot on how the hull of the ship is built. But whatever the case, the crew won't be peering outside through real windows like they might in smaller spacecraft. Our intrepid pilots, tactical officers, and other important personnel will be sitting deep in the ship, in a spacious enough, but still rather claustrophobic room. Not unlike this:
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          (Cockpit of the infamous Icarus 2 from the film Sunshine.)

          Pay attention to the picture. These are quite reasonably arranged control panels and sensibly built piloting chairs. It's no surprise that the ergonomy and protection of these crewed spaces are something in the vein of an Airbus cockpit, plus multi-point seatbelts on the piloting chairs (in the vein of rally racing seatbelts). Also, notice the distinct lack of wide walking alleys, spa resort carpets and curvy polished handrails. Just because you have pretty good on-board gravity doesn't mean that you should build a pointlessly lavish and fancy bridge...

          (Note: Another good visual point of reference would be the seatbelted, sitting crew of a Hyperion class cruiser from Babylon 5.)

          While it might be a cool and slick sight to have captain Picard nonchalantly lounging on his designer armchair and sipping Earl Grey while ordering a standing and unsupported (!) Worf and co. to fire a barrage of photon torpedoes, once the enemy lashes out in retalliation, you can be sure that Picard will fly out of the chair and headfirst into the viewscreen, with hot Earl Grey spilt painfully onto his screaming face. At that same moment, the torpedo-operating crew are trying to get up on their feet, checking if they hadn't broken their spines and necks from pinballing around the torpedo console podium above Picard's chair. The luckier ones only have to worry about picking up their teeth once the fighting's over.

          What does that point to, kids ? That multi-point seatbelts and comfortable chairs exist for a reason ! Lesson: Sit down properly, fasten your seatbelts properly, have adequate space to move your arms, hands and eyes properly and on time. Your chances of weathering a rough flight or even ship-to-ship combat will increase considerably. "But what if someone needs to get up in the middle of the rough flying or the heat of battle and run off to do something manually ?", you ask. Good question. For this purpose, command centres are often built with two floors, both of them not too tall and both of them in the same room. At least vertically, this allows people to just turn on the elevation columns built into their chairs and quickly ride to the top floor or the lower floor, without needing to unbuckle themselves and climb ladders (or float, if the gravity goes off) to get to where they're needed. Consider this: If, during a particularly difficult phase of flight or combat, some people in the command centre or the bridge/cockpit of the ship would just be strolling around or seated loosely, what would happen if one of them went flying after a particularly rough collision ? If you've just said "That person would be flying around like a living ragdol-cum-baseball-bat and hitting into his crewmates at fatal velocities and fatal angles, injuring or killing them in addition to himself", you've just guessed the answer to the million dollar question. Remember that little quote from Mass Effect ? "Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest sonofabitch in space..."

          The lighting of the these flight and command quarters of the ship, while widely adjustable, is subtly submarine-like. This is done to help the crews focus easier on the various readouts and screens. Personally, I'm one of those people who don't like to draw too many analogies between the interiors of large futuristic spaceships and our modern day submarines. Yes, it is one of the best real world points of reference that we have nowadays, but after much study, I'm fairly certain that even the whole submarine allegory isn't utterly accurate. It is closer than most (certainly moreso than "military spaceships are just like aircraft carriers/battleships"), but it's still an incomplete analogy.

          When it comes to cockpits and tactical command centres of military ships, expect the personnel to be dressed up in protective clothing during military operations against enemy vessels. An apt modern day reference is the protective clothing and assorted measures worn by British destroyer crews during naval combat or exercises:
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          (Image of the suited-up crew in the command centre on HMS Diamond of the British Royal Navy.)

          However, note that the "pyjama suits" worn by crews of my setting's large military spaceships are less dull-looking (design-wise as well as colour-wise) and are built with catastrophic depressurisation to vacuum in mind. That's why they also resemble the lighter flight suits of modern day capsule crews (e.g. the Russian Sokol). If the ship's hull literally gets torn apart and you end up floating out of the control room right into open space, you'll have a marginal chance of surviving if you have the suit on and working. But, naturally, that's only the most extreme case it can handle. The average function of the suit is to provide life support and protection in case of overwhelming interior damage, such as deadly leaks, on-board fires, short-circuiting electrics, flying shards and small debris, etc. Since my setting's ships are not powered by what I like to call "Drama Physics" - i.e. the apparent belief that simple fuses are amazing lost tech and that computer consoles explode or errupt into flames at the slightest hint of onboard damage - most interior damage is fairly subtle unless excrement really hits the fan. Then the protective suits become really useful, or downright life-savers in the luckier cases.

          3.) Living quarters, recreation and work spaces

          Let's get to the more pleasant parts of the manned infrastructure - places where you'll go rest, sleep, socialise, study, exercise or just chill out. You know you want these, even if they'd be fairly small. Even on the most luxurious passenger shellships of the Carpaverse, space limitations are tangible, so while some ships have large and fancy public spaces for the needs of their passengers, the vast majority of ships are certainly not some space Titanic-s with a generous observation lounge with large windows. Quite the contrary... Think more of the Hindenburg, both in terms of public lounges, and in terms of accomodations. The placement and construction of the living quarters will depend massively on the base type of the ship: A spinewheeler will often concentrate most of the accomodation and less important social amenities to the wheel itself, while a shellship will have them in various places of its inner hull, but usually fairly deeply in it. As you'd expect, based on the logical hierarchy of which parts of the ship should be most protected, the living quarters come right after the command centre, since you'd probably want to avoid a senseless loss of life. This counts for shellships in particular, where such a placement is easily achievable.

          "Yeah, but while the guys in the command centres are seated and seatbelted, what should the people in the living quarters do in case of an emergency ? Not just an attack or collision, but for instance... what if the gravity goes out ?", you might ask. Well, simple problems require simple solutions : Every room, be it a cabin/appartment or a public hall, comes equipped with emergency harnesses, seats, handles and velcro strips. They're hidden behind bulkheads and panels and most of them are activated automatically when the gravity-generating devices stop moving. They can also be deployed by the flight crew whenever they think it would be better for the passengers or off-duty crew members to buckle down, in order to prevent possible injuries. Furthermore, the design of each cabin or other accomodation suite aboard a ship is deliberately geared to be easily usable in low G (standard operations) as well as zero G (emergency operations). Most of the bulky furniture is either "nailed down" or built into the walls, preventing it from going flying if the gravity would fail. Same with the carpets, which are essentially a glued-on upper layer of the floor. If the gravity is out and you need to take a nap in the zero G improvised conditions, each room has a closet with basic accessories, including a sleeping bag. You don't even need to take the sleeping bag out of the closet if you don't want to, since in such unusual situations, the closet works pretty much the same way as the sleeping bag compartments on the space stations of today.

          For cases of problems with breathable air loss and/or decompression, emergency safety seats and/or harnesses commonly come equipped with an emergency rebreather mask, just to be sure. Most depressurisation problems can't be solved purely through passive prevention means, and often, evacuating people from a depressurised part of the ship to a safe one is the best temporary solution.

          You've heard about comfy furnishings, but what about washing and going to relieve yourself ? Well, if things are normal and the ship is making its own weak gravity, you can use washbasins and toilets almost the same way as you would on the surface of a planet with normal gravity (much like all the rest of the simple furniture in your cabin). When the gravity goes out, you don't have to fear, because all these hygiene-related appliances can be manually set to a configuration better suited to zero G. The toilets even automatically reconfigure parts of the bowl and seat, just to prevent the liquid (and possible remaining waste particles) from flying outward into all directions (ew !). Shower stalls and wash basins can similarly be switched (manually) to pouring/spraying water in different ways, and in amounts that are more zero G friendly.

          A typical accomodation cabin aboard a ship has at least three rooms : The main room (living room/bedroom/study), the closet (a normal closet, plus the extra gear for emergency zero G situations) and a small bathroom (toilet stall, shower stall, wash basin and mirror).

          4.) Having an on-board, autonomous supply of fresh food and water is important

          So, you're a plucky captain of a merchantman, patrol ship or even a pirate vessel. You and your crewmates need to eat and drink to survive as organisms. Obviously, you need to bring some foodstuffs with you and carry them aboard, so you don't become famished too soon, or even die of hunger.

          So, you say to yourself "Why, me and my crew are hardy people, we'll subsist on ration packs !". Fair enough. But imagine living off them for two weeks, four weeks, two months, four months, etc. Prior to sailors that took balanced nutrition seriously (like Cook's crew, famously enough), packed supplies getting rotten and running out, or the crew getting scurvy, were two very real, but easily avoidable threats. If you're not sure when you're ship will have the next opportunity to replenish its supplies, having your own source of food and drinkable water can often be a matter of life and death. A surprisingly apt comparison to the Age of Sail comes to mind: If you don't want to get scurvy or live off of old, stale food, you'll need to eat fresh stuff on a regular basis. Your health is not worth risking, given how tiring spaceflight can be even to experienced people.

          What to do ? Well, whether you're an intrepid merchant with a green thumb, or a buff military loudmouth, you'll have no choice but to set up some basic agriculture aboard. You'll need a ship-borne equivalent of a greenhouse, preferrably in some manned part of the ship that is not too hard to access from the kitchens and living quarters, or the processing workshops. Again, the specific placement choices will depend on the type of the ship, but as a general rule, the "space greenhouses" will be distanced from the command centres roughly as much as the living quarters, or slightly moreso.

          As for the agricultural products themselves, growing aboard basic crops, vegetables and some fruit, as well as raising creatures suited for aquaculture, can provide suitable nutrition even for bigger crews for quite a long time. In OTL, several methods for growing useful, edible plants in zero G have already been developed, and fish have been found to be capable of surviving in similar low-gravity conditions (provided they get a well-oxygenated water tank). In comparison, the Carpaverse ships make on-board agriculture even easier. Given that the manned parts of a typical large ship will have at least some Earth-like gravity aboard (even if it's somewhat weak), plants and marine critters can live and grow much the same way as on the surface of a planet. While the conditions are quite artificial, they aren't prohibitive to growing/raising your own food aboard.

          As you'd expect, many of the crops chosen for growing aboard spacecraft are chosen not only for their nutritional value, but also for their potential medical applications. By this, I don't just mean plants for making medicine, but also plants that, if eaten regularly, can help prevent various diseases and immunity or development problems. Outside of avoiding getting scurvy (yes, even space pirates are not that stupid to repeat the mistakes of their wooden ship predecessors), this extends to possible medical conditions related to longer habitation in a lower-gravity environment or potentially higher doses of space radiation (complex shielding helps avoid the worst, but some effects might occassionally get through).

          Due to the space limitations and greater difficulty of raising anything bigger aboard than fish and other seafood, crews and personnel who spend most of their professional lives aboard their ships are often teasingly referred to by the mainstream public as "the greatest pescavores in the Galaxy". Some of you have probably contemplated that certain plants might be grown better with hydroponic methods, and made the logical leap that vat-grown flesh is also an option. To which I reply: Yes, yes it is. However, most crews and/or passengers prefer their meat fresh and with a "real, live taste".

          Water can be handled by recycling, but the bigger the crew, the more water you need to bring along and regularly recycle. Don't forget, water has quite a lot of mass, so you'll be bringing along more "dead weight" if you bring too much water along with you or misspend it. Of course, there's also the possibility that you might try to produce your own water by gathering its base chemical elements (remember, hydrogen is the commonest element in the universe) and making some water in on-board labs. Of course, you'll need extra infrastructure for that, but it's not completely impossible.

          5.) Modular maintenance spaces

          Of course, even if you don't have a greenhouse, you'll probably have at least some areas for manufacturing, repairs and smaller manual work, as well as a small hangar in which you can carry various small craft (even if it's just two small shuttles, whether atvacs or vaccumgoers). Placement ? On the outer sides of the manned parts of the ship. Though not necessarily the outermost - some hangars and workshops should be built closer to the centre of the ship, just in case the outer ones get damaged or destroyed. It wouldn't be wise to put all of one's eggs in just one basket... If the ship is a spinewheeler, most of the maintenance spaces will be on the wheel, if a shellship, then they'll be just under the surface of the inner hull. The bigger the ship, and the greater or specialised its needs, the more you'll need spaces like these (hangars, workshops), and you'll often need to be generous with them.

          But then, you might hit an unfortunate bump on the road. Due to the regularity of certain types of work, as well as the size limitations of even a large workshop hall or hangar, you'll suddenly realise that an overly rigid design approach to these space can be counterproductive. Therefore, many ships - particularly shellship types - have adopted a more flexible construction philosophy, that of the "modular hangar" and "modular workshop". The modularity implied in the title stems from the idea that the hangar or workshop's walls and built-in maintenance infrastructure are designed in such a way as to be easily reconfigurable by the crew members for a wide variety of task. This configurability is speedy and reliable. It consists of merely selecting the necessary programmes and routines, and leaving the rest to the workshop or hangar rearrangement systems. This way, you can easily customise maintenance spaces on the ship according to the crew's needs at any given moment. I want to emphasize that this reconfigurability involves no improbable nanotech, just clever deck design and even more clever engineering.

          Spacecraft: Space fighters (drones and manned designs)





          First thing's first: Fighters are not the primary space combat vehicles in my setting. They always function in more of a support role. They often perform operations that are more defensive than offensive in nature. A typical example would be the escorting of various larger ships, or defending these larger ships while they are conducting battle against an overwhelming enemy onslaught (this latter example effectively makes fighters into something like mobile point-defense weapons, if anything). The evolution of spaceborne fighters actually took quite a while, and for a long time, space warfare was almost solely dominated by larger combat-capable ships. That spaceborne fighters even reached the level of finesse they have in the "present day" of the setting, was thanks to a lot of painstaking research and development throughout the centuries. Development wasn't always easy, dead ends were often common.


          Manned fighters (spaceborne and atvacs)

          Excluding the understandably more aircraft/spaceplane-like "atvacs", the purely spaceborne fighters (or rather, "combat small craft") can come in quite a lot of shapes and sizes. Virtually all of them are, unlike atvacs, not very elegant in terms of looks. They're very monolithic, robust and geometric (though not necessarily blocky) in their outward appearance and are built purely with functionality in mind. They are not built to ever enter an atmosphere, unlike atvacs. This is why they lack any sort of typical aerodynamic features, as well as any sort of windows or what we'd refer to as a canopy. How do they manuever ? Well, specific configurations obviously vary from type to type, but there are some main thruster blocks in the back of the fighter, some retro/braking thruster blocks in the front, and then there are mid-sized "upward" and "downward" thrusters at the "bottom" and "top" of the fighter, respectively. In addition to these main thrusters, there is a whole heap of RCS thrusters strewn across the outside of the hull/fuselage of the fighter, in various strategic positions.

          Unsurprisingly, spaceborne fighters have some of the most complex and sensitive vaccum-manuevering systems of any spacecraft, small or large, and they put them to very good use. While the spaceborne fighters of my setting never bank as elegantly and plane-like as space fighters from most other setting (e.g. the distinctly aircraft-like banking of the X-Wings from Star Wars), they still manuever in rather elegant and often interesting ways. And unlike with most SF space fighters, the ones in my setting actually show tiny little bursts from various points on their hulls - i.e. those are the various thrusters, big and small, in action. A simple nudge from the josticks of the pilots works the complex wiring inside the ship and activates just the appropriate amount of thrust that the pilot needs to move the ship in a certain direction, at a certain rough velocity. It's a counter-action process, i.e. you nudge the joystick slightly to the right and slightly upward, and the thrusters in the exact opposite direction from the one you've nudged to activate and do an appropriately big enough burn (the harsher and firmer the nudge, the more thrust you get in that particular direction). In short, manuevering these small craft is much easier and fluid than today's spaceships, but the basic physical principles behind it are still the same. On a final note: No, you can't brake by just turning off the main thrusters and waiting. It's impossible. You have to provide an equal counter-action to your main thrust. So, turn on those retros (or whichever thrusters) and start braking, old boy...

          The cockpits of the fighters are small, cramped and offer limited mobility to the crew member(s) - think the Apollo command module or the inside of a more space-limited armoured vehicle. There is no on-board gravity, as it would be not only hard to produce, but completely unnecessary as well. Cockpits double as ejection pods, with the only downside being that the pilots are effectively sitting ducks after ejection is carried out.

          Seats of the crew members are heavily reinforced and not only do they have 24-30 point automatic seatbelts, they also come with a "rollcage"-like contraption in the front of the seat. These are lowered once the pilot is sat down, buckles himself/herself up (a process requiring only two moves) and checks whether his flight suit's and seat's additional support systems are working fine. During flight, a pilot usually only has his hands and arms free, and can move his neck around a bit, but that's it. He's borderline "embedded" into the fighter via its cockpit, as if he was some living AI running the whole machine. He's still a pilot like any other, though. Maybe even an ace...

          Of course, it's not just the seats that have extra safety precautions. There are dampening devices installed deep in the fuselage/hull of the fighter. Without them working their stuff, the number of Gs pilots experience at some of the speedier pursuits after rival fightercraft and small ships, could easily kill them within seconds. And when I mean kill, I mean "turn their entire bodies into paste from the overwhelming pressures of physical forces"... After all, these fighters don't exactly fly at relatively "low" speeds, but can easily pump out kilometers per second when the situation calls for it. You think the New Horizons probe is awfully speedy right now ? Think again. Even an average spaceborne fighter from my setting can squeeze out an impressive 200 km/s (!) if it really tries. And all of that without long-term acceleration, gravity assists and aerobreaks. That's one hell of a speedy little spaceship. And with some guns !

          A flight suit is worn at all times while in the cockpit. In addition to the basic pressurisation concerns, and its capability of becoming a short-duration emergency spacesuit (if ejection is carried out and even the ejected cockpit fails, triggering the ejection seat), it also has built-in aids for helping the pilot cope with G forces and various other physical concerns hostile to the human body. That's right, G forces in fighters are such an annoyance, that even with dampening tech in the walls of the ship and the seats, the flight suit still needs its own set of tech to counter the build-up of Gs !

          A spaceborne fighter can range in size from anything the size of a larger van, to the size of an average bus/coach, or the largest regular road-going vehicles. Though space warfare is in many ways different from planetary and atmospheric warfare, there are some subcategories of spaceborne fighters that are reminescent of familiar air force terminology ("strike fighter", "interceptor", etc.). How many crew members does an average spaceborne fighter have ? This might surprise you, but most types have at least two. Manuevering even a ship this small, yet technically complex and finicky, and then battling another ship with it, is just begging for at least a duo, not just a single pilot. However, there's also an upper limit: Fighter crews rarely exceed four crew members total.

          Spaceborne fighters are equipped with your typical mainstays, like various types of laser cannons (more rarely particle beams), normal ammunition-spewing auto-guns (similar to various aircraft gunpods in every respect, sans recoil), coilguns (again, recoilless), various missiles (often carrying at least some depleted uranium in the warheads, and launched from an internal concealed missile bay, á la the F-22) and countermeasure detonators/flares. However, some of the more interesting weaponry of spaceborne fighters includes the likes of what I like to call "the kinetic javelin" or "kinetic spear" (British-descended pilots refer to the latter variation of the term by the colloquial word "kipper"). This weapon is... just what it sounds like. It's basically a big and varyingly thick rod, made from highly durable material (usually some sort of metal alloys). Some kinetic rods are launched much like missiles and have limited propulsion, or lack it entirely. Some types have a homing system, but less commonly than true, explosive missiles. There is good reason for this. Unlike the proper missiles, "rod weapons" are meant to be relatively "close combat" arms, and their secret lies in pure simplicity: They are given an extremely high acceleration when deployed and the kinetic energy they develop during their flight (very high, given the absence of proper inertia in a vacuum) is often enough to give an enemy small craft a serious dent. Some more powerful "spears" are capable of completely skewing and thus seriously damaging even a well-armoured fighter. So yeah... I have space fighters throwing simple spears at each other. As you'd expect, some of the really large and energy-consuming weaponry is often far too large to install into even the largest of fighter ships, so you have to look at the larger military types to see those particular arms in action.

          Most combat between small craft is an equally long-distance affair as the one between larger ships, though "close combat" engagements (with actual visuals on the enemy) are far more plentiful. Combat itself consists of little else than lots of manuevering and catching up with each other (at least for sensor range, though visual range is also appreciated, if it comes to it), then a brief nasty scrap with whatever ammo is still left in the weapon bays. Ramming is a possible tactic in case ammo runs out or the weapon systems get damaged, but ramming is nevertheless discouraged by all professional pilots. Also, there is no such thing as "not being able to shake the enemy fighter off my tail", given that the battles are conducted IN SPAAAACE ! (I mean, seriously, space gives you so many directions and ways to manuever in, it's almost ridiculous.) Naturally, you can expect a lot of fighters to be firing at each other from unconventional angles: Imagine a fighter quickly passing an enemy, thrusters turned off, with what is usually the "back" pointing towards the direction of the flight, and the whole fighter being upside down and slowly picking off the enemy with fire from its frontal weapons. As long as you can pull off various fancy tricks, there's no need to chase each other by following each other's behind.

          How about stealth technology ? There must be some awesome stealth fighters in my setting, right ? Well, NO. Sorry to disappoint, but unlike in many other SF universes, no combat or civilian spacecraft from my setting could be classified as "stealthy". Some technological workarounds have been developed for this, and while some of them mimic what you might consider a limited stealth capability, no spaceship, small or big, is truly stealthy in the sense that we'd be hoping for (i.e. sneak past an enemy fleet without them noticing it either on their sensors or visually, etc.).

          (Concerning existing fictional comparisons for my setting's spaceborne shuttles, I think some of the closest fitting examples I can think of right now would be some of the fightercraft from the Homeworld games. Especially the shape and characteristics of Hiigaran and Vaygr fighters in the second game. The variations in thrust while accelerating, coasting, slowing down with retros, the way they launch missiles, etc. To bring up some Carpaverse examples, you have the Paloš and Fokoš types of vacuum-only fighter mainstays, manufactured in the Carpanonian Star Commonwealth. Their outward shape fits their namesakes rather well: The vaguely sabre or backsword shaped Paloš type fighter is mostly a fast interceptor, while the somewhat more ubiquitous and rather hatchet-shaped Fokoš type fighter is a strike fighter. (One of my recurring minor female characters is a Fokoš pilot who could put nBSG Starbuck to shame.) Comparably-shaped fighters from the Homeworld universe would be the Vaygr interceptor (for the Paloš type) and the basic Hiigaran fighter (for the likes of the Fokoš type). Also, you could maybe think of the Fokoš as a more physics-accurate cousin of Star Wars' A-Wing fighters, as the shape is rather similar. Or perhaps think of it as a mating of the A-Wing with Babylon 5's famous Starfuries, plus no windows whatsoever.)

          There's a bit of theme naming going on among the space fighters of the various human polities. As an example, the ones from the Carpanonian Star Commonwealth are often named after various traditional weaponry (e.g. the Paloš and Fokoš). The one from an interstellar polity inhabited mostly by descendants of colonists from the British Isles are named after common species of seabirds (e.g. Fulmar, Skua, Gannet, Puffin), while the ones from the Auskiwi Commonwealth (Australia/NZ descendant culture) are named after beings or monsters from native mythologies (e.g. Kakuru, Bunyip, Min-min, etc.).


          Drone fighters

          Note that I've been talking purely about manned fighters up until this point. The use of fighter-like combat drones is very common, especially for mundane stuff like basic patrolling, guarding "the borders", smaller skirmishes against criminals and pirates, "showing the flag", etc. They are basically similar to manned fighters in all respects, but they are all smaller than them, since they don't have to have interiors for a crew, nor do they need to carry any life support systems for it. Thanks to this slight decrease in mass, they are usually slightly better at acceleration and "decelaration" than the manned types. These combat drones tend to be semi-autonomous while performing normal duties, but virtually always switch over to manual control from the nearest control base when needed. So, ultimately, they are still flown by an actual living crew when push comes to shove and more complex combat needs to be conducted... In this respect, they are rather similar to present day aerial combat drones. (True AIs have not been invented in my setting, so fully automated combat vehicles of any kind are out of the question, unfortunately.) The biggest disadvantage of unmanned spaceborne fighters is that they can't conduct escort missions of large spacecraft well, especially on longer and more complex routes. This is where manned fighters still hold sway.

          (To get an idea of what these space combat drones are like in a fight, I think comparing them to the "wasps" from Peter F. Hamilton's works is a fairly good approximation.)

          Drone space fighters are recon-and-defence vehicles, programmed to fight only spacecraft. They'll engage them if necessary, but won't attack without authorisation from the patrol base they serve under, and will cease to attack either on order from base or when a list of short-term objectives is fulfilled. They also won't attack living beings, including space-suited ones, or ones in unarmed escape pods. If they come across a confusing situation, they'll just coast and carry out basic defensive manuevers, while sending authorisation questions to base. "This is the sitch I'm facing. How should I proceed ?". None of these measures are a design weakness, because all of them are in line with the treaties of my interstellar polities. The drones are meant to pacify pirates, raiders and other small fry threats, and not necessarily by blowing them up. As they are patrol spacecraft for basic defence duties that wouldn't require manned ships, they're designed (in terms of both armament and AI behaviour) to be more akin to spacefaring law enforcement, rather than military robots.

          Even if someone hacked them and uploaded orders such as "shoot missiles into a civilian habitat", the firewall of the drone would keep these on an "outer layer" of computing, while the "inner layer" of the AI would analyse them as at odds with its programming. It would then shut off its weapon systems and engage an emergency protocol that boils down to "return to base immediately". (So the technicians could check the software damage inflicted by the hacking incident.) This is part of why drone hacking isn't even used anymore in the "present day" of my setting. It just isn't effective anymore, as hardware and software security has reached a point when attempting an illegal ranged reprogramming simply doesn't return the desired results. The programming of the drone will simply recognise it as a threat and outsmart it.
          Last edited by Petike; 04-12-2017, 12:02 AM.

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