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Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Sat 16 Jan 2010 21:41
by xzvfstarfire
The sharp edged black plumbs generated by the volcanoes dotting the planet spread horizontally through the thin atmosphere. Officially designated Zulu four four, the harsh snowball planet quickly picked up the name Ice Station Zebra. Apparently one of the survey captains is a fan of pulp literature created just as man started to enter space. It is going to be a harsh life for the nearly one million citizens of the Solar Union that we recruited to come here. We screened the applicants and only took families that were used to living in domes and environmental suits. None of the colonists have been brought out of stasis yet, but my company's team has laid out the first basic habitat.

I guess that's reason enough to take the gig over for a celebration on the SUN Mars. Well technically the new colony class cruiser is still in the builders hands going through trials, but Captain Patel still thinks she is in charge. The Mars was the price we paid to get the repair ship Weishanhu to come along. Zebra is four jumps from the nearest outpost and even further from any yard so we needed some remote repair capacity. At least the Solar Union is picking up the tab for leasing the Weishanhu.

“Captain Arnold, welcome aboard the Mars, the rest of the guests are already in the Wardroom. Except your son. The engine glitch he saw still has him busy in the forward engine room. The captain is really hot about having to tether back up to the Weishanhu again.”

“Thank you Commander Lin, the Mars is certainly cutting edge compared to an old soldier like Bear. After we bought her surplus from the SUN, they only let us keep a couple of sprint missile launchers. You have to expect a few hiccups with all the new gear.”

“You filled the empty space with some nice survey and sensor suites. The Bear is still pretty cutting edge herself.”

“That she is, shall we head to the wardroom commander?”

“Yes, sir”

The Mars is ready for commissioning, you can see she is functioning like a real warship now. Captain Patel must be pissed my son John dragged her all the way out here on builders trials. He is the lead design engineer of the Ganymede yards, so I guess they didn't argue too much when he insisted on a multi-jump acceptance trial. Still it must have eaten into the bottom line pretty extensively.

The wardroom still had the stark gray on gray appearance of a new ship. The captain and officers haven't put in their personal touches yet. “Welcome aboard Captain Arnold, please join us.”

“Thank you, Captain Patel, you have a fine ship, she'll serve the navy for many years.”

“Thank you, Captain Arnold. You've already met my XO, Commander Lin. I take it you already know Captain Arnold of the Weishanhu?”

“I met my daughter-in-law at the wedding, yes. How did you let John get sucked into work at dinner time, haven't you taught him to delegate yet?”

Jitendra Arnold was obviously a direct descendant of someone from the Indian sub-continent of Earth, without any of the ethnic blurring that is creating a homogeneous population. Ironically, she and Talha Patel could be sisters by appearance, but I liked Jitendra. “Paul, you should know by now that John isn't going to be a sailor. You raised an engineer that likes to get his hands dirty.”

“Touche... Captain Patel, I've had the opportunity to work with all your fine officers over the last few months. I think we can skip the introductions?”

“Very well, Captain, we'll move on. Steward, what's our schedule for dinner?” As Captain Patel shifted to her command voice.

“We'll be ready to serve in twenty minutes captain.”

“Very well, inform us when you are ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

And back to her diplomatic tenor. “Captain Arnold, it must be nice to have so much family around this far from home.”

I let a little edge slip into my voice. “I don't think you realize the extent of it Captain Patel. Evey crew in the colony fleet is family, with the exception of Mars.”

Captain Patel was taken aback, but recovered quickly. “Of course, this colony expedition is all Gadiwana owned ships. You feel all your employees are part of an extended corporate family.”

I needed to suppress my misplaced anger. While Captain Patel has acted like she is running this expedition, she isn't a bad person, and most of her crew wasn't even born when...

“The captains of my ships were all classmates of mine back when Mars tried to leave the Union. Being a sparsely populated and harsh planet at the the time, all students on Mars were required to do survival training. We were half way up Erebes Montes when we saw our home dome go up. I remember how we rushed back into the inferno looking for our families. I lost my parents and both my sisters, all of us were orphans. We resealed one of the greenhouses. It was nearly two weeks before the troops came through and rounded us up. In the meantime we promised each other we would be family forever. The Mars orphanages were more like prisons. We were educated, had plenty to eat, but we had to watch as carpet baggers bought our old homes and farms at tax auctions and level our old lives. When we were let out as adults, there were no jobs except mining someone else's claim or farming someone else's land. Mars didn't have a University at the time, and we couldn't afford the Earth ones, if they even wanted a bunch of scraggly Mars orphans. So we signed on as deckhands and moved to space. At the time the need for freighters was booming, and being desperate we threw ourselves into learning the trade. Eventually we got the chance to become officers, save our money and buy our own ship, then ships, and here we are.”

Captain Patel and her officers were now a bit leery. The history books and popular culture portrayed Martians from that time as terrorists, hicks and generally insane. And now she was surrounded by them. “It's good you've been able to make so much of your lives starting from such humble beginnings.”

Luckily Commander Lin changed the subject. “Your ships are hauling the supplies and infrastructure for the new shipyard and forward naval base, aren't they? After commissioning they might run us right back out here again.”

Captain Patel interjected. “I believe you are carrying a new forward base. I doubt it'll grow much unless the survey fleet finds something interesting soon.”

Suddenly the ship went dark.

Ice Station Zebra: 2

PostPosted: Sat 16 Jan 2010 21:42
by xzvfstarfire
The emergency lighting came on almost instantly. The general quarters alarm a few seconds more. Jitendra communicator started to buzz. “Captain Patel, John is down in the forward engine room and discovered a blocked coolant conduit. He initiated an emergency shutdown until it could be cleared, and asked for us to wait in the wardroom until he could get up here to explain.”

“Damn it, this ship is supposed to be ready for turnover and he just shut us down cold four jumps from help. XO get to the CIC and get the ship to GQ, my two Captains Arnold wait here with me, rest of you get to your stations.”

It was a tense ten minutes waiting in the dim lighting of the wardroom. The captain waved off the doctor and medical team there to convert it into a casualty receiving station. It wasn't this type of emergency. John and chief engineer Lieutenant Knight came in.

Testily Captain Patel addressed the pair. “You better have a good explanation for taking my ship dark, Mr. Arnold”

Lieutenant Knight started. “Captain the main coolant trunk has a blockage, it could have caused the ship...”

John Arnold interrupted. “It almost blew up. I won't know the cause for sure until we reactors cool off and we can get into the containment chambers.”

“Why are all the engine rooms down, the glitch only showed up in the forward unit? Bring the other rooms up, now!”

“The cause could be a design flaw. Since the ship hasn't been turned over yet, it is my call Captain Patel. You need to evacuate your crew before life support runs out.”

Captain Patel was ready to explode, but she knew John was right. “Paul, Jitendra do you have room for my crew on your ships?”

Paul thought for a minute and glanced at Jitendra. “We could spread you crew around the fleet, but all the ships are pretty crowded with gear for the colony. We've only offloaded one basic habitat. Actually that might be the solution, those pre-fabricated habitats are designed for a couple of thousand workers. It could hold your entire crew until the Mars is back online.”

Captain Patel didn't like the option, but couldn't think of a better one. “Captain Arnold”, glancing at Paul, “Captain Arnold”, glancing at Jitendra, “I think you both need to get back to your ships. Mr. Arnold, fix my ship, I'll start the evacuation to the planet.”

Ice Station Zebra: 3

PostPosted: Sat 16 Jan 2010 21:43
by xzvfstarfire
The bridge of the Bear is a jumble of wires and consoles. Too many things have been ripped out and replaced over the last thirty years for it to have the slick look of a warship. Of course she wasn't a warship anymore. The SUMS Bear was an ugly beast compared to the SUN Mars, except she was alive and Mars floating dead in space.

“Sparks, get me Mars and Wieshanhu.”

“They're coming up now captain.”

“Thanks, Sparks.”

“John, do you have enough crew to finish the job?”

“Sure dad, she's 110% operational, just don't ask us to do more than one thing at once.”

“We need to come up with something more formal than 'dad' for the chain of command. Jitendra, are you ready?”

“I wish we didn't have to do this Paul, but I've got the fleet moving toward the exit warp point.”

“I understand, but you see how the Solar Union mettles more and more in our private lives. It won't change from the inside, and now they have aliens bring into the fold.”

“We're with you Paul, just wish we didn't have to.”

“OK, I'm going to start the deception, out.”

This is something I've been waiting for since that horrible day on the mountain. The one that shattered my entire life. It killed my family and then it reached out twenty four years later and killed my wife. They had to use nukes instead of kinetic weapons. One random burst of gamma radiation made the cancer incurable. My mates and I build something despite all their efforts to hold us back, and now we are going to take what is ours and leave them to rot.

“Guns, set off the pattern, make sure we get one in the upper atmosphere near the habitat.”

“Aye, aye captain.”

“Sparks, get me a laser communication to Captain Patel after the last explosion, voice only. Guns, set off another half dozen explosions while I'm talking to Patel.”

In unison. “Aye, aye captain.”

Even with the automatic dimmers on the screen the explosions were huge, I wonder what they looked like from the surface of Zebra? “Captain Patel, this is Bear, can you hear me?”

“I can hear you Captain Arnold, what happened?”

“I have to make this quick before they get us. Three huge alien ships just came at us from the other side of the planet, we didn't even know they were there. Mars and Weishanhu are gone. They disabled three of my freighters and are faster than everything we got. I don't think we are going to get away...”

“Your son and his wife, both gone...” There was actually pity in her voice.

“No time for that now, we're all dead unless they take us prisoner. I'll try to get a drone off to the communications buoy before we go. Go dark on the planet, maybe they don't realize you are there.”

“Good luck Captain Arnold, God Speed.”

“Good luck Captain Pat....” I signaled to Sparks to cut the signal. He nodded a reply that is was. “See you in Hell.”

“Guns, set those small asteroids you picked up with the tractor to level the shuttle field and drop a few around the habitat. Close enough to make them duck, but don't kill anyone.” I hope nobody is at the shuttle field, but we can risk them seeing us leaving the system.

“Sparks, fleet wide message: 'Today we start a new life as free men and women'. Con set course for the exit warp point.”

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Sat 23 Jan 2010 01:31
by Cralis
Interesting story. I'm curious... is this fan fiction of the Solar Union history? Or is this something of your own invention? It just took me by surprise to see that in there :-)

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Sun 24 Jan 2010 01:36
by xzvfstarfire
I was just goofing around one day last week and figured I'd try some writing and see what people thought. I hope you don't mind that I based it off what was written as SU history and teaser stories.

Don't take this wrong, but from reading the teasers and history, my first instinct that this is a nightmare society. I realize that wasn't the intention and this was supposed to be an ideal society where human have changed their nature.

I was particularly interested in how the Mars rebellion turned out. The beginning had parallels to the American Revolution where Mars was established and run as a tax free haven that had finally reached the point where it was self sustaining. Earth like England wanted the colony to start paying its fair share. In this case, Mars lost brutally.

The rebuilding effort and the fact that 2/3's of the population survived, focused me on the Earth parallel of reconstruction after the American Civil War. The Confederacy primarily fought to protect its economic investment in slavery. After the war was lost, emancipation destroyed the economic base of the south. On top of that people that fought in the Civil War for the south were forbidden from voting and Union troops occupied southern states for nearly twenty years. Carpetbaggers from the north moved in and bought land and industry at tax auctions. Now picture Mars with its major urban areas destroyed, its economy in tatters, occupying troops everywhere, and outsiders coming in to 'rebuild'.

Paul Arnold and his family/school chums, didn't want the utopia of the Solar Union. They wanted the Mars of their childhood back, even through they succeeded in carving out a life for themselves after the rebellion.

You expanded the history right when I wrote this, so Sierra 22 didn't end in genocide, but it would have if a true king hadn't emerged. The Solar Union has political entities on the fringe planets that have an attitude of just wanting to be left alone. While the planet Zebra and its warp chain don't exist in official SU history, I thought it would be fun to put my thoughts into fiction form instead of posts. Feel free to do what you want with it.

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Sun 24 Jan 2010 01:50
by xzvfstarfire
I didn't plan on expanding the story because it is based on someone else's universe and incomplete history. But, I think the story opens some interesting social conflicts.

How will the million people in status react to being woken up at a different planet with no contact with Earth? Even if they were recruited for their radical beliefs, it would be a shocker for most of them.

The role of women would be significantly effected by the need to grow the population quickly. It could be a draconian reversal of women's rights.

The fleet could run into a ind-2 society and uplift them into a threat to the SU.

How far could they run before maintenance became an issue? Or need to run, to have the time to become powerful enough to hold off the SU re-assimilating.

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Sun 24 Jan 2010 05:53
by Cralis
Fan fiction is absolutely welcome. Over the last 15 years I've seen dozens of variations on the Weber Starfire history that people have written. None of it ever becomes official history, but the stories are entertaining none-the-less. I was just surprised to see someone write a story based on the incomplete history we've been building. Pleasantly surprised!

I wasn't really going for a "we love to genocide" angle with the TSU. The reason that Mars was genocided was because the Earth government felt Mars would not negotiate, and the use of nuclear weapons without provocation made them an imminent threat. Since you've surprised me, I'll give you a surprise bit that is coming soon: the TSU was never going to genocide the Soffran, merely occupy them for their own good and for the safety of the TSU. But you'll see.

I'm hoping that the special news article I've been working on will clear up a bit of how the TSU views itself (and how I view it). I've actually had someone help me figure out some of the angles to try and make it better and more accurate to the direction I'm trying to take it.

I know I've got a lot of learning to do in writing stories, and next time I hope I can pull off what I was hoping to be subtle without making it seem so drastic.

Thank you for the interesting story. I hope you write more! :mrgreen:

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan 2010 01:57
by Club
Less the willingness to nuke people than the mindset that the blatant imperialism mindset that would foster. Any colony facing differences of opinion with earth would face something far worse than the American problems under British rule. Not to mention the gestapo that would possibly pose as secret police

The colonists in this story are doomed. The professional paranoids are going to look at the attack pattern and the lack of follow-up, dig up some bank records, follow them, find the records for colonization supplies and maintenance parts, (Or even the fact that someone bought them, even if it can't be traced) look at the hole where the shuttle port used to be, and send the fleet out with firm orders.

Think about it. Starfire empires are not run by Nice People - we're brutal SOBs if you look at what our actions would mean on a human level (For lack of a better term)

Had a thought -

Optional rule - Start-up Tax Breaks: A player may chose to have a population of less than 60 generate no income. That population experiences double population growth (Typically 2%)

Re: Ice Station Zebra

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan 2010 11:22
by xzvfstarfire
This was a desperate gamble. The people in this group "knew" they couldn't declare independence after setting up a colony. They worked sixty years to roll the dice, and frankly went over the edge. If they setup a colony, the runners will make moral compromises to get ready to survive a TSU onslaught whether it is coming or not. I suspect as it's history is flushed out, the TSU will soften its approach.

The hope was the running fleet would pop over to an intermediate jump and go out system until the TSU called back its survey forces because some advanced force attacked them. The first advanced EL society the TSU has faced. Buy time by making the TSU resurvey the Zebra system and in the mean time run and jump at the first WP they find in each system. A race between gaining space from the TSU and maintenance.

My hope was the threat of an alien invasion would slow them as they built up a fleet and a base, then the need to survey and consolidate when they chased. I figured that two to three systems into the chase, the number of potential directions the runners could have gone would be fiscally too expensive to aggressively follow. By-passing at least one civilization that would need to be investigated would slow them even more, especially if they left the plans for an Ic drive and WP theory and warn them about the evil TSU.

The real issue is the colony would be too small to improve EL, SL and man and build warships. They would have to find a compatible society and uplift them. Maybe create a confederation of societies waiting for the TSU bogeyman to step through the WP.