Now safely away from the furnace my ship’s computer was determined to throw me into, I pulled up navigation to locate the destination station for this digital mail bag. I guess that it would make sense to use ship-based data transmission to some extent — instant data transfer on an interstellar level must be possible but have some significant cost prohibitions, while starships jump to and from virtually every star in the galaxy on a frequent basis. Unless it is critical to have messages and replies within minutes, it would only make sense to transfer data, particularly big chunks of it, via courier.
So I aimed to the outpost station and soon was dropping out of super cruise. These little outpost stations really are a fascinating study in human efficiency. The station is little more than a dozen boxy modules and some solar arrays. On the one hand the big boxes are all constructed in space, floated out to the location orbit and welded together like toy blocks. On the other hand, the construction apparatus to put one of these little stations in orbit in the first place is a monumental under taking.
The spider’s web of construction gantry, the control equipment, the communication gear, heck even the robots who do all the real heavy lifting of making the outpost stations in the first place, must first be hauled by hand to a new star system. Most often this is done by a single heavy transport or two, but theoretically the many hundreds of tons of equipment could be hauled by an army of little ships like mine. Once there, the bigger ships would be needed to act as both workshop and housing for the technical staff who have to start the process of getting the pieces put together. I suppose that past a point, the robots and controllers can take over the process and finish the job of constructing the ship yard, but it must all start by hand. Only then, once the yard was put up, could these “cheap” outpost stations begin flowing out to act as footholds and beachheads for the planets and moons of the system newly claimed for humanity.
“You are wool gathering again, Buacharach. Pay attention.”
The docking itself is particularly easy at an outpost. Ask for permission to land, they light up a pad and you, quite literally just pull right up. Drop off your messenger bag, get another if there is one, refuel if you must then you are off again. I did three such hops back-to-back. At the end of the third, my luck for having a mail bag waiting for me ran out, and there weren’t any missions what so ever that my little sidewinder could manage. Looking at the Dahan report job, I decided that the payout was just too much to ignore it, and the ten thousand would still more than double my credit balance, so best get it over and done with.
Dahan and the Rat
The three quick hops to Dahan left me with more of the same feeling of being let down. Even the bursting from witchspace facing a sun was losing its novelty, if it can be called that. So coming out into Dahan and pointing myself towards the destination station felt quite rousing. What didn’t feel routine was how just after pointing myself towards my destination station, everything suddenly went to hell. Every alarm on my console lit up and buzzers started to shriek for attention. The alarms were quickly overtaken by the creaking whine of the hull plates being stressed to their limits and beyond. The console warning about being interdiction was not only unnecessary, but it was nearly inaudible over the cabin vibrations.
It is needless to say that I did not escape this first experience with being dragged out of frame shift into relative space again. If the deceleration from interstellar speed was unexciting, I was quickly shown what a difference a little bit of computer control is worth. I was instantly and violently ill from the lurching stop accompanied with the corkscrew spin. My com buffer lit up with a taunting message from a commander named Atmos.
He taunted me briefly about being totally inept and that I was to pay him a toll for use of super cruise. I did a quick scan and saw that he was still off my scanner range but closing quick. I put full power to my engines and was off like a shot away from him. In a heartbeat, Atmos cursed me for running and I saw the first streaking rounds of cannon fire off my port side. As he closed into range I scanned again and saw him marked as an Imperial Eagle.
No let me say that up to that moment I had not see any of the Imperial ships. I didn’t know much other than this Imperial was trying to kill me in Federal space. But rest assured the first sight of that glowing white hull under the glare of Dahan’s hot sun, I felt a pang of lust. I want one of those ships and in a bad way. First though I must escape.
I hit the boost and was quickly out pacing Atmos, and my FSD came back on line. He was still close enough to retard my acceleration but I soon put him behind me. But no sooner was I back into super cruise then the interdiction warnings started flaring again. Persistent didn’t seem to begin to cover the way Atmos wanted me dead. I avoided this attempt and the next all the while he sent me taunting messages about turning to fight him.
Fat chance of that.
Finally, I reached the relative safety of the destination system. And not a moment too soon as I had only just asked for landing permission when Atmos himself arrived on the scene with further taunting. It wasn’t until the system authorities began to shadow his sleek white craft that he pointed away and accelerated back out so that I could line myself up with the station access corridor.
Building a Diamond in Space
The Dahan port of call was one of the BIG orbital stations, and not the little outposts I had been hitting up until this point. So that would be something new, a floating city many times larger than Baker’s Prospect could ever dream to be, boasting more than a million inhabitants. Those monstrous construction projects represent the real wealth of the universe. A population of a small world first must spend enough resources to commission an outpost station to act as logistics. Once that foothold to space is established, the real cost and work come in. To build the 2km floating cubes the populations must leverage generations worth of debt to pay for the materials, construction, and then crew support to pull such a project over the finish line.
So why would anyone go to so much effort? Because having a real orbital station is the only way to really gain access to planetary wealth and prosperity. Imagine if you owned a farm, or a mine, or even a factory. It is completely reasonable to manage your entire logistics plan through one company on one port for your entire life. Now imagine that you are a broker of goods. One type of good from one port to another is no longer going to be sufficient. You need to have the means to solicit a broad spectrum of goods coming in for resale. You need to have access for the largest freight haulers possible and to be able to receive, store, and transfer goods in significant quantities. Outposts just can’t manage the flux of haulage and surface ports are unappealing to large freight craft due to the fuel cost of gravity on the largest hulls.
So building those giant diamonds in space, particularly when there is a viable trade to a nearby system can be the trigger for trillions of credits to begin flowing into the system’s economic coffers. However, with such large wealth streams inevitably comes conflict. Each system having its own little factions fighting for their bites at the apple of commerce right alongside with the larger factions within the galaxy fighting for wealth and influence that I can’t begin to truly fathom. Princesses and Dukes fighting with scoundrels and thieves, it’s no wonder that so many great space operas exist when space is full of so many characters, each with a story to tell.