Monday, August 24, 2009


Aboard the Cornucopia

Today, the good ship High Jinks docked with a fresh load of supernumeries - the fifth. Our ship, even with newly-expanded quarters, is started to feel crowded, her usual complement of twenty or so now increased to one hundred and fifty, which number includes many couples and families. The parents have their hands full: put a toddler in zero gravity, and you've got a cute little giggling missile richocheting all over the ship.

Which leads neatly to the question of what these toddlers and their parents are doing on a fab in the asteroid belt: Project Stella. What we have here is the very first privately owned ship capable of interstellar travel, the Cornucopia (now attached to a star drive recently given its first trials attached to the yacht High Jinks). The primary goals of the project are:
  • Exploration - to seek out new habitable worlds, new life-forms; to see the galaxy
  • Economic - to harvest the resources of new systems with self-repping (Von Neumann) fabs
  • Colonisation - to find new homes, and build freer, more prosperous lives
Our "supernumeries" are explorers, scientists, engineers, adventurers, dreamers; people brave enough or crazy enough to take a chance on a new life around a star that we haven't even found yet, making a living with tools we haven't built yet.

Now, we are in the final minutes of preparing for departure, freeing our ship of its camouflage - and what camouflage! We've spend the last few months hidden inside a massive cavern cut into an asteroid, using the bulk of the rock around us to soak up the emissions that would have led the IPTO straight to our door. At last, the stars are moving past our 'ports again as we glide back into open space. 40 minutes or so to get well clear; and then we'll be safely among the stars, even our vast bulk lost in the immensity of this great galaxy, moving further in an hour than light can in years.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The core of it is everything you would hope: suffused in a soft blue glow, it sits behind layer upon layer of shielding (magnetic, radiation, thermal), strung with thousands of cables that add a vaguely organic look, as if a great mass of snakes with plastic skins writhed their way in to bask in the weird light. The thickness of the black buckytube-based support struts hint at the immense forces that that will be developed, and here and there the trained eye can spot the glint of lasers, each beam monitoring the most minute deformation of the structure. Precision with a captial P. The drive is big, too, although without familiar shapes to clue your brain in the scale, the size is hard to grasp. Even now - at rest - it radiates power.

"Artistic" impressions aside, my more immediate concern is, does it work? The components themselves are sound; we've bench-tested the heck out of everything, and all is "nominal". What of the system? Well, we will soon find out; what I am looking at, and describing to you, is a real-live honest-to-goodness star drive! You might be wondering where we got the plans for this little baby... isn't the tech behind star-drives an above-top-secret mystery known only unto the EUFOR and SEAU boffins and deployed only on military-operated "flag-runs"?

JD's position on this, as explained to me just after I joined Project Stella, is that seeking out new worlds and new knowledge is so fundamental to just being human that keeping such a miraculous tech secret is downright criminal. Through means that have not been explained to me, JD "liberated" an incredible motherlode of blue prints, design docs... everything, in fact, that we needed to build our own; now, we are only hours away from doing the first full "system" test. If this thing does work, the ramifications are pretty incredible - because if we can build this thing, so can all the other fabbers (docs have all been P2P'd between the fabs), and the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and we've blasted our way through the roadblock on humanitie's way to the stars.

We've piggy-backed the star-drive to the yacht High Jinks, rather ruining her lines. Her auto-pilot has been fed the coordinates for the test run (this is strictly an un-manned run), and we've instrumented the heck out of everything even slightly instrumentable. Now, it is time to push the Big Red Button (it is actually big and red - a "Wizard special") and find out whether this thing actually works. I figure we are either about to make history as the first non-state actor with interstellar capability, or get vaporised trying. Actually, if I understand the physics correctly, merely being vaporised is one of the less dramatic possible outcomes.

I think I might just re-run a bench-test or two...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Contemplating the Infinite

The days are blurring together; we're working silly hours on our ship, except that there isn't anything saner than being finished and gone as soon as possible.

Last "night", I needed to clear my head; left my workstation and floated down the corridor to a quiet corner, where the lighting is low, and a huge view port is set into the side of the ship - an uncharacteristic grace note in this utilitarian leviathan.

Floating there in the semi-darkness appropriate to the lateness of the hour, I felt my mind empty as a I gazed into the void, eyes focused on something far beyond even the bright unchanging shine of distant systems. A focus returned simultaneously to gaze and mind: a bright star with a bluish tinge near the centre of my field of view, appearing close to Procyon. Too bright, in fact, to be a star...

Strangely, I didn't startle when a soft female voice spoke from close behind me:

"Do you miss it?"


"Earth. Being outside. The sky."

I thought for a moment.

"Yes; but not enough to go back. I need... a wider horizon. A bigger sky".

A pause, and then a reply, in a sweet alto, with just the right amount of huskiness to send a tingle all the way up and down my spine:

"Me too".

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Well, what else can you call it? The fight Joe Cleary describes in the article I linked to is by now just one of dozens; the fabs aren't going down quietly, and why would they? We're talking livelihoods, homes, not to mention some insanely cool tech.

Right now, things are moving so fast I probably can't give you an accurate summary. From following the fab net, though, it is looking like the IPTO tried to simultaneously board two dozen fabs (using Thor-class frigates, not police cruisers!) to maximize surprise, and got ambushed on twenty out of twenty four raids. If you think the fab 'net had inside info... you would be right.

Bad news coming through: it is very likely that not all raids were bloodless. The frigate Club is officially posted as "missing", and nothing has been heard from anyone on the fab El Dorado for nearly a day. I don't know about you, but my adrenaline levels are through the roof... okay, I was bored, yes, I was looking for "adventure", but... battleships!

What are we doing to stay alive and out of jail? Well, it is a bit late to back out now, so we've been implementing some pretty special security measures here: without comprising us too badly, I think I can tell you that we are very focused on minimizing emissions, whether they be photons, neutrons, or electrons. For example, all comms with the outside world start out as laser transmissions, narrow beams relayed via a series of relay beacons (no, I can't say how many!), pretty near impossible to track; a more serious problem has been our reactor - you don't output 1 terawatt without also having to radiate a serious amount of waste heat (not to mention a few stray neutrons). There isn't much point "whispering" by laser if we are tied to an enormous infra-red beacon! Then, there is also the small matter of our hull, painted a uniform white, and visible from Earth orbit (with the right telescope!). Oh, and did I mention radar, lidar? At least sonar is not an issue!

We've actually managed a pretty comprehensive fix for all these problems, and right now, there probably isn't a better-hidden facility in the system; let's just say we are snug as a pea in a pod. Ultimately, though, we didn't buy this fab to play hide & go seek, which is why we are now putting all resources into a final push to get our Big Project ready to roll.

So what is the big project? What made me ditch the secure-but-dull 09:00 - 17:00? Can't tell you yet: definitely not a weapons system, but absolutely the most exciting thing I've ever built. Where we got the design docs I'm not sure - JD must be some operator though. Worth risking my neck for? Well, maybe...

Coming soon: the law comes to visit, and the Big Project gets fired up

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Extra Jure

Well, we are at our "undisclosed location", where we'll probably spending the next few months. JD's been working with our legal people on the ramifications of this little bombshell... we had anticipated some kind of IPTO action, hence the rush to get the Cornucopia moving, but nothing so radical. Legally, the situation isn't clear - the Cornucopia is now owned by a fairly exotic legal entity, some kind of off-planet trust, and isn't orbiting any celestial body with IPTO standing, so you could make a case that our fab isn't affected. However, the legal and political situation is extremely fluid, and JD says we can't rule out some kind of enforcement action.

Given the above, I'm not going to be posting anything specific about my current location. In fact, posting in general is getting a bit harder to do; I'm back in a traditional engineering role, and working full tilt on two projects at the same time.
  • A major refit of the Cornucopia, designed to make her a little less conspicuous ( hedging our bets on the legal front, re enforcement etc). Probably won't be able to give specifics on this for a while.
  • Fabbing a very special... tug, let's call it. What's special about it? Mostly, it's the engines. If you have been reading from the start, you can probably guess what I'm hinting at...

The schedule is pretty insane; we've even re-used the rail-gun assembly as feedstock for our fab (meaning that although we can re-orient the Cornucopia with her own thrusters, we now have no way to significantly change her current orbit) - just to save the time it would've taken to refine enough raw ore to replace the carbon etc. we used on the gun.

More soon on what we are building, and why.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Handy new filter

Hi guys, just help everybody stay current with what's been happening in the outside world, I've set up an agent-based news filter to scan for anything we ought to be reading. The URL is

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gotta get outta this... space

Aboard the "Cornucopia", en-route to

We found the Cornucopia all lit up and a-buzz with 'droid activity - a surprise to me, since as far as I knew, she'ld be mothballed a month previously. Also, something dark and bulky was attached to her tug buffer - an extra big surprise, since I knew for a fact(I'ld worked my way through every possbility in the Llyods register) there wasn't a tug left outside Mars orbit that wasn't booked solid several months ahead.

I raised the mystery - pirate? - tug with JD, who grinned at me. "Bit of a change of plan there... appreciate your efforts, but time isn't really on our side here - this is plan B".

Plan B is the invention of an engineer I'll call "the Wizard" (he has the beard, and definitely the magic). Extracted by JD from a university you've definitely heard of, he had analyzed the problem - ship must be moved, right now - and come up with the simplest possible solution. Working to a deadline imposed by JD ("we've got max 24 hours to be somewhere very, very far away"), he had considered and discarded the obvious options - fab our own tug, etc. - and instead, produced a masterful hack.

Action and reaction; in real space, that is what it always comes down to. The Wizard spent his time en-route getting the fab to turn about 6,000 tons of ferrous feedstock into 1-ton slugs, while simultaneous fabricating some pretty humongous electromagnets. Essentially, the Wizard has fabbed us the largest railgun ever: slugs go out the back, slung out by every spare watt we can spare from the ship's main plant, at speeds I can only describe as silly (don't remember the exact numbers, but way, way past escape velocity for the solar system), and, one kick at a time, the Cornucopia goes a little bit faster.

In case you are wondering why ships aren't routinely propelled in such a conveniently simple and economical way... dumping large, fast moving objects over the side is pretty much a hanging offence under International Space Law, for obvious reasons. Also, although our intentions are purely propulsive, the Cornucopia is now technically a banned WMD. Whoops!

This just in:
Looks like JD's insane timetable wasn't so crazy after all - the IPTO just voted to nationlize all fabs with a immediate effect, "as a necessary precursor to rationlising over-production".

Saturday, June 13, 2009

High Jinks

Goodbye 3-star business hotel, hello the good life! JD promised transport, and did he ever deliver...

I'm dictating this entry aboard the yacht High Jinks, en-route from Ceres to our new purchase, the fab we've renamed the Cornucopia. Although I've spent most of the last 8 or so years bouncing around the system, it's always been on scheduled passenger liners for the long hauls, with employer-chartered shuttles for the final leg. Finally, thanks to JD and a "very significant shareholder", I get to travel zillionaire-style.

Funny thing about luxury and yachts: the environment is definitely gorgeous - the ship was largely hand-built, with actual wood and leather trim in the interior - like something from a magazine cover- but the actual square footage is definitely on the low side. I've got my own cabin, which is gorgeous, but tiny - bunk plus a miniscule wardrobe, and a desk just about large enough for the 'puter I'm talking to - about a quarter of the space I had in the business hotel (and definitely no private bathroom). Best feature of my cabin: the view from the huge oval porthole right over my bunk. This far from any planet, with my cabin lights off and my eyes dark-adjusted, the view is... like nothing on Earth.

Right, I'm going to try to catch 40 winks between my zillionaire sheets before we reach the Cornucopia.

Alex out.


Absolutely fantastic news! Just got a mail confirming that our ridiculously low-ball offer has been accepted - must have been one very desperate owner, is all I can think. What our low nine-digit bid won us:

A vertically-integrated twin bay fab, massing about 40,000 tons, with:
- integrated 1 terawatt reactor, with about 5 years fuel remaining
- full-table transmute capability
- 6 month doubling period.
- quarters for 30 crew
- high-end design suite w/ some really nice evo-design 'wares
- about 100,000 tons of refined feedstock split across the periodic table in the usual proportions
- assorted construction & tractor droids & the associated CAD/CAM files, AI templates

Pretty stoked about this, but I haven't actually been aboard yet - the fab is about .2 AU "behind" Ceres and I've had to stay around to scout for alternatives in case the deal didn't go through (this gig comes with fairly serious time pressure, not from JD, but due to certain "market correcting" legislation being prepared by a certain IPTO block).

Next job is to find a tug with a fairly decent delta-v and a discreet owner (for reasons which will be clear to anyone not living under a rock in the Oort cloud, getting our money's worth out of our new purchase requires moving our fab somewhere very, very private ASAP). Since every other solvent fab owner is apparently thinking along similar lines, the search has been a nightmare so far - I've only got two firm quotes as yet, both at daily rates that can only be described as piratical.

My new job

I started my new job round about a month back, working for a dude called JD (the anonymous guy from the last post). Right now, I'm working out of Ceres, talking to the banks and the repo men, bargain-hunting for my new employer.

What are we looking for? It's no secret now that the 'neumann fabbing model has kicked economies systems-wide into a death-spiral, or that the media howl of "something must be done" is about lead to some seriously drastic (and probably calamitously stupid) action from our dear leaders. Before that happens, my job is to find a self-rep cabable fab cheaply enough to suit our ridiciulously modest budget; with repos and bankruptcies domino-effecting their way through the business sector out here, this might even be possible.

So why do we want it? Haven't we heard the fab model is dead? What about getting shut down when the new anti-'neumann trade barriers clang shut? Well, with the project we have in mind, let's just say that local political issues won't really be an issue for long....

Friday, June 12, 2009

All about the blog

So, there's this thing I've got myself involved in: a small group of like-minded (we hope!) people who think we've got a chance to turn a combination of a few interesting technologies into a really special opportunity.

I got hooked sitting in a passenger lounge at Mars High, watching a news 'caster giving us the latest gory details on the economic meltdown (no news to me, worse luck - the portofolio that was going to pay off my mortgage next year would barely cover my garden furniture today). The guy next to me was looking like the cat that got the cream; I had him pegged as a short seller, but he turned out to be a lot more interesting than that.

Essentially, this dude was betting the entire net worth of himself and several dozen buddies and investors that they, as a tiny private enterprise leveraging the latest and greatest in 'neumann fabbing and their own particular talents, could get into a game traditionally reserved for state actors. Market conditions were apparently ideal, but the plan was missing a few elements - one of which, on the strength of 30 minutes of conversation, my new friend seemed to think was me.

"So, " he said, "want to help steal a star?"

Well, what do you think?