Chapter 13

Kaln stood speechless while the insufferable Tully divided up the Krant crew and assigned them to teams in his mostly human unit to operate the individual gun mounts. Only Krant-Captain Mallu remained apart, ears stiff, still hunched against the obvious ache in his ribs.

Tully gave a quick orientation for the Krants: There were fourteen kinetic guns on this so-called “spine,” which was actually a weapons deck. Each required a seven-man crew: one in charge of fire control radar, four to load the projectiles, a single gun operator, and one to supervise the whole process.

She, in fact, was the only Krant allotted to this particular team, Gun C-Six, though some of the other mounts had been assigned two Krants. Feeling exposed and picked upon, she shuffled behind the six jinau, one Jao and five humans, waiting before “her” designated station. Several of the humans glanced over their shoulders at her with what seemed to be curiosity in their nasty, static, eyes, but the Jao, a stocky middle-aged fellow, pointedly turned away as though tales of her bad behavior had spread throughout the ship.

The one named Tully went on to explain firing procedure in Jao, but she was having a hard time making herself follow his words. By the Beginning, he was only a primitive! As a scion of Krant, she had traveled the stars since emerging from her natal pool, had even fought the Ekhat and survived to tell about it. What could such as he possibly say that was worth her attention?

The gun mount itself, though, was sleek and deadly, crafted of a blue-gray metal which she assumed was an iron alloy. She found it oddly alluring, for some reason. Tracks had been laid into the floor so that the mount could be retracted, as it was now. Bizarre.

“– bulkheads have been reinforced for ramming,” Tully was saying. He gestured at the far wall. “We found that strategy effective when the Melody attacked Terra two years ago. Ekhat ships are particularly vulnerable to structural damage.”

Kaln felt ill. He was talking about actually smashing this ship into an Ekhat vessel. She should have known it would come to something ludicrous like that. Humans were only one evolutionary step away from clouting one another over the head with clubs.

“Senior-Tech?” one of the human crew said in Jao. The creature seemed to be female, small-boned, shorter than most of the others. A strange shade of vivid red fur topped her head.

Kaln realized suddenly that Tully had stopped talking. The gun crews had reported to their assigned stations to run firing drills. Everyone on her own crew was murmuring as they stared at her, waiting. Evidently she had missed something and a response of some sort was required. She blinked.

“I asked — which position would you like to take?” the human said, her tone respectful. “I am charged with supervising this gun as well as several others. You can serve in any capacity you wish: gun captain, gun operator, take the fire control radar, or work in the magazine.” That last word was human. Either there was no Jao equivalent, or the female wasn’t fluent enough in Jao to know it.

The little figure gestured at the gun. She looked inadequate for a soldier of any sort, as though the first strong wave she encountered would sweep her away. “You have experience fighting in space as most of us have not,” the female said, her body carefully still. “We would like to take advantage of that.”

“I — have not worked on this sort of weapon before,” Kaln said. Her mind whirled so that she could not focus. She reached out and touched the cold metal. She did not want to be here, most certainly did not want the responsibility of trying to make this hodgepodge of species work together as an effective crew. “I will train to work in the magazine.” Whatever that was. She hadn’t the faintest idea, but one place she had no wish to be was surely as good as another.

“All right,” the human said. “I rank as ‘lieutenant.'”

Kaln’s good ear flinched at the brash presentation of rank unasked, but then realized the female had at least not forced her personal name upon the Jao. And she had read the service bars incised upon Kaln’s cheek correctly as Senior-Tech, impressive for a primitive.

The rank itself was typically human. One of the Jao with experience dealing with humans had already explained the bizarre customs involved to Kaln and the other Krant officers. The term “general” could mean almost anything, since as well as being a military rank it was a common term. The same for “major.” The term “captain” was more tightly focused, but was still maddeningly vague. It could serve as a verb as well as a noun. Thus, a ship could be “captained” as well as having a captain — but the captainer might not actually have the rank of a captain.

Likewise with the term “lieutenant.” It could either refer to a specific rank or, more fluidly, to a relationship. Thus, apparently, one general — a very high rank, that was — might still serve another as his “lieutenant.”

It was all very frustrating. Only the term “colonel” seem to have any real precision. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be that many colonels.

“The magazine is below,” the lieutenant said. “Access is through this hatch.” She gestured at a circular opening in the floor as one of the humans climbed down a ladder and disappeared. Kaln followed, filled with foreboding.

Light flooded the chamber below, brighter than Jao eyes liked. Peculiarly-shaped objects of some sort were stored neatly in sturdy racks on one wall. Kaln stared at them blankly. They resembled missiles, in their shape, but she could see no sign of any propulsive mechanisms. She had no experience with kinetic weapons. As a military option, such tech seemed no more effective than surly children flinging rocks at one another.

A human almost robust enough to be a Jao turned to her. His hide was darker than most of the others, a mellow shade of brown. “Those are depleted uranium sabot rounds. They will penetrate any Ehkat armor we — you Jao, I should say — have ever encountered.”

Kaln was able to follow that much of the logic, although the thought of meddling with radioactive material was a bit unsettling. Still, she assumed that by “depleted” the human meant that the uranium was no longer very dangerous.

“In times past,” the human continued, “we would have had to load powder as well. But we use liquid propellant, these days.” He pointed to a mechanism. “That’s the hoist that lifts the rounds into the firing chamber. It’s configured now for sabot rounds, but can be changed if we use other ammunition. High explosives, for instance, or incendiary rounds. For space combat, though, that’s pretty unlikely.”

So, apparently, they had different types of missiles. Kaln couldn’t really see the point to that. Throwing rocks, even explosive or combustible rocks, was not going to defeat the Ekhat. The first enemy ship they encountered would make very short work of them.

But at least then her misery would be at an end. Flow stretched out so that everything was slow and murky. Kaln would rather have been anywhere but here and now. The room seemed to be buzzing.

A hand touched her arm. “Senior-Tech?”

Kaln recoiled, then normal flow reasserted itself. She saw the red-topped female who had designated herself as a lieutenant.

“I think you should view one of our vids before assuming your duties here,” the human said, withdrawing her hand. “It is a standard requirement for all jinau troops during what we call basic training, titled ‘Battle of the Framepoint.'”

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19 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 38

  1. Greg says:

    Why are they using chemical propellants when a rail-gun or coil-gun would be both more efficient and more effective? Please tell me that they aren’t going to have to load projectiles by hand when the human-built tanks from the previous book had automatic loading mechanisms.

  2. saul says:

    These are probably much larger, not the pea shooters on tanks. Is it made clear anywhere if these are newly built, or if they are salvaged. If they are salvaged, they will need manpower. Even the giant automated systems on battleships need people in the mix.

    If they are new builds, the propellant is problematic. Maybe the magnetic field would cause problems with the round, ie you might need guided rounds when shooting across the vast distances of space. Maybe the rounds need a stealth coating that would not handle the magnetic field?

  3. dac says:

    I do not remember rail guns in the first book – just current 2010 earth tech, plus jao tech, which was energy weapons.

    If the Lex needed to be built “now”, on Earth with existing manufacturing technologies and facilities, chemical projectiles would be the only way to go. Even if the Jao had the tech, getting from concept to manufacturing is not a short time frame.

    As to hand loading – well, this is basically space artillery – large artillery, for example on the US battleships pre decommissioning, combined automatic and manual feed to load shells and gunpowder (separately).

    Plus, most Human factories capable of producing weapons has been destroyed in the war and is now being rebuilt. In addition, you have to be able to train the factory workers to construct the tech – workers who have been for 20 years without education

  4. evilauthor says:

    Assuming they can convince Aile (sp?) to fund it, research into rail gun tech would be ongoing. I don’t imagine that there was much rail gun research during Oppuk’s tenure as governer.

  5. ItIsDU says:

    Keep in mind, the projectiles are depleted uranium. While you could build the sabot with a variety of magnetic and electric properties, the actual projectile is going to have the properties of DU. Depending on the relative dimensions of projectile and bore, the properties of the sabot/projectile package may be mostly dominated by the DU. If so, does anyone here enough about DU to know if its EM properties would allow it to work in a coil-gun or rail-gun.

    Two, don’t rail-guns and coil-guns have an EM spike? Might this cause problems with Jao force fields?

  6. Mike says:

    Or maybe it’s just that the character development requires this, so this is the way it is.

  7. Grant says:

    @ItIsDU: Uranium (depleted or otherwise) is not magnetic to any significant degree. So yes, you’d have to rely entirely on an appropriate casing for any acceleration to be imparted by a railgun. But frankly, under normal conditions if you’re using a railgun the DU sabot becomes largely unnecessary. You could be shooting almost any metal and it would still pretty much total the target with the kinetic energies involved… assuming the projectile reaches the target intact. That however brings us to the next point.

    These weapons aren’t intended for firing under “normal” conditions. They’re mostly intended for firing inside a sun’s photosphere. That being the case, I would suspect it might be largely counterproductive to try firing projectiles at railgun velocities. Projectile surviveability has to be an issue already without adding those kinds of additional stresses to the equation. A sun’s photosphere is already a couple thousand degrees above the melting point for DU without even factoring in the effect of friction as the projectile slices through the plasma. If the lower velocity delivery does the job (and we know it does) I see no reason to push it. Lot of good it’ll do you to slam a DU round out of the gun at near-relativistic velocities just to have the damn thing disintegrate or vaporize on you while it’s still travelling to the target.

  8. Mike says:

    To accelerate any significant mass to “near-relativistic velocities” would take way too much energy. Railguns are not immune to the conservation of energy.

  9. Johnny says:

    Another problem with a railgun might be heat on the warship. Railguns currently produce an enormous amount of heat- so much they can’t be fired more than once every hour or so. This is a big problem, so if this wasn’t fixed right away, the designers would likely go for just a chemical system. Heat isn’t just a big deal for the gun system- the entire spaceship could heat up from the guns firing. It would be bad to only be able to fire for 15 minutes before your ship becomes uninhabitable.

  10. Just me says:

    A vessel the size of the lexington, intended to operate within the photosphere of a sun, will almost certainly have heat pumps and heat sinks adequate to deal with any number of railguns – especially since you can hardly pretend the chemical propellants are heat-neutral. I’m more inclined to believe that it’s a matter of chemical propellants being proven technology, with limited time to innovate before finalizing the design, and possibly that railguns would just be overkill for the ranges and velocities expected in framepoint combat.

  11. Mike says:

    Where do you sink heat to, inside a photosphere? That makes no sense.

  12. Just me says:

    You sink heat into your heat sinks, obviously. You don’t radiate it into space in a photosphere, and it has to go somewhere, so you need to have heat sinks. They hold the heat until the ship is in a situation where it can actually start radiating heat into space again. Unless you prefer the heat to just build up generally throughout the ship until it starts frying delicate and necessary electronic components. And crew members.

  13. saul says:

    You convert it to electricity, or you use a laser as a heat pump.

    Just a note, we have no idea what warheads they will decide to use. They are probably working on the assumption the EK have not received reports of the last battle or had time to adapt either way. As such, DU rounds might not be the sort that is desired.
    They might even go for shaped rounds designed to penatrate a dense liquid/gas. ie like the anti-torpedo rounds shaped to pass through water at high speed.

  14. Mr. Masterson says:

    Pretty impressive conversation. I like how everyone kept on target yet also thinking outside the box. I have to agree I was little through back when I read chemical propellant for the rail-guns. The firing of a missile at such distances seems like it would be easy for any EK antimissile defense to tackle. Unless their some sort of stealth mode. And using a rail-gun to fire such a massive round at near-relativistic velocities you won’t be able to control it like some torpedo/ missiles. They’ll fly straight and true. It’ll only work if your close or you have software that compensate for movement and distance. I wonder does it mater if your using DU rounds at near-relativistic velocities. I mean doesn’t the round become the forth stage of matter a that point. Another point about rail-guns I was lead to believe was that a rail-gun could fire any material down it’s coil as long as the round is shaped right and sure metal probably works better, but the point is a rail-gun is like beef up particle accelerator right? Also you guys must be right about the heat on the ship because of the photosphere it must be a JAO tech. with a few Human tweaks. They probably have that same tech. for the missiles too. But what do I know?

  15. robert says:

    Based on past works, neither author has exhibited a lot of concern with future tech, unlike David Weber, who may even overdo it at times. Their oeuvre is more about human-human and human-nonhuman interaction and behavior under unusual conditions. So whatever they do in the way of weapons and space transport (modified submarines indeed! What fun.) does not really matter in the context of the story being told. It is what it is or not. But that does not mean that the reader can’t have some fun with the stuff that is there.

    And I see the sequel to Boundary is due in June, speaking of unusual conditions. Will there be snippets? Actually a lot of stuff is due in that timeframe so snippet-world should be rich.

  16. Grant says:

    Sorry, “near relativistic” was off the cuff and a poor choice of terms. But we are talking velocities that are multiples of what any chemically propelled round are going to acheive. And the plasma in the photosphere, while not terribly dense, is hot as hell. A projectile having to tear through it at many thousand m/s is taking a serious beating. Adding additional stresses to the equation when you already have a working solution just seems ill advised even without the heat-sinking problems for the ship the other posters have raised.

    @Masterson: Railguns use electromagnetic acceleration. You need a magnetic projectile for it to work properly. And before the humans gave them the idea of using kinetic weapons the Jao and Ekhat were incapable of fighting battles in the photosphere precisely because their weapons tech (including their missiles) was useless inside it. That’s mentioned in ‘Course’…. whatever shield tech the Jao use for their ships isn’t adaptable to missiles. At least not as things stand now. IThe system is no doubt mass intensive.

  17. Johnny says:

    The entire Lexington might have heat sinks for railguns, true, but the railguns aren’t evenly spaced out through the ship; they’re all in weapons spines, that are easily detatched and so probably not as connected into heat transfer pipes like the rest of the ship. Not only that, but shooting a 500mm depleted uranium round that masses in the neighborhood of 50-100 tons would require a huge amount of power. Maybe it was easier to just have enough power come to the spines for lighting and computers and use chemical propellants that were “good enough.” They still had lasers for long-range engagements, and the spines to provide more armor.

  18. Cypherpunks says:

    No, railguns do NOT require a megnetic projectile; they require a CONDUCTIVE projectile, or a conductive base. Most tests copper or aluminum slugs, although some use metal foil to start an arc behind a plastic block.

    Railguns are inferior to good chemical propellants in all ways except one: they have no speed-of-sound limitation.

    Although I can understand Eric not wanting to bog down the narrative with technical details (this story is about the cultures, not the technologies, and I appreciate that), I wish I understood Ekhat/Jao propulsion technology better. I assume it’s reactionless, or we’d remember the Kzinti lesson…

  19. Johnny says:

    You’re right that railguns only need conductive projectiles, and kind of right about how railguns compare to chemical propellants. There’s no speed of sound limitation on chemical projectiles; my .270 has a muzzle velocity of 2960 ft/s, which is about three times the speed of sound. However, railguns are superior in that they don’t have a real limit on velocity; the projectile will accelerate more with a longer rail and a stronger current. Chemical propellants are limited due to the rate of expansion of gas. However, a huge problem with rain guns is that the rails degrade over time from the projectiles. If the ship doesn’t want to keep replacing rails, chemical is the way to go. However, a 64 mJ railgun like is in development now would cause massive damage to a ship. I imagine the big chemical guns were guns they could build in a year. There’s no point in building a railgun that shoots a projectile with more energy than a 16 inch shell if it takes 5 years to develop and the Ekhat show up in 3.

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