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".

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