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[OFFICIAL] Some FT background stuff (guidelines for writers) - LONG POST!

From: Ground Zero Games <jon@g...>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 1998 17:23:04 +0000
Subject: [OFFICIAL] Some FT background stuff (guidelines for writers) - LONG POST!

Some time ago, I promised to post some stuff regarding the guidelines we
are putting together for anyone who feels like writing some fiction (or
anything else) based in the "FT Universe". Well, I've just been knocking
together some general background stuff (some of which will be going into
the Fleet Book) on ships and shipboard life in the "official" (ah, that
word again!!) GZG background - it is all "fluff", but hopefully it will
the kind of thing that will help to flesh out the FT universe a little,
might give some ideas to any budding writers out there...

[Yes, various bits are culled from David Weber, David Feintuch, C. J.
Cherryh and loads of other sources....]


Space is REALLY, REALLY BIG. And really empty. In fact, it is even
(and emptier) than Canada...
This incomprehensible bigness and emptiness does bad things to the human
mind. It is bad enough in-system, even though you can still see that one
star is bigger than the rest and this gives you some tenuous link to
grubby little balls of dirt we call planets. Out in interstellar space,
however, things get really empty. You spend a LOT of time out between
stars, in the Deep Cold, drifting along sub-light between Jumps while
ship and your body get ready for the next dislocation. Even if your ship
part of a fleet or convoy, you are probably half a light-year apart, and
you won't see them again till you make the little corrective jumps at
end of the trip. Something in your mind keeps saying that if the Jump
doesn't work then you'll just keep drifting, and maybe if you are really
lucky then your mummified remains will get to see another star in a
thousand years or so.....

Service on a starship, whether Navy or merchant, is much like that on a
20th Century submarine - long periods of little to do except routine
and drills, close proximity of other personnel, little privacy and
absolutely nothing to see outside. It is accepted that crews need as
recreational opportunity as possible, and as such efforts are made in
forces to channel their energies into non-disruptive hobbies and
while clamping down hard on alcohol abuse (certain amounts are quite
while off-duty, as anti-intoxicant medication is freely available and
effective) and "recreational pharmaceuticals". Even the average lowly
spacehand is generally well educated and technically adept, which at
can be a mixed blessing for the Petty Officers who maintain order "below

Day-to-day life aboard ship is generally made as pleasant as possible
the crew, although cost and space limitations obviously affect this to a
greater extent in some ship classes that others. Ships designed for
long-range patrol duties and extended independant operations will often
have better crew facilities that those that are intended for operations
closer to main fleet bases. While it is generally accepted that a
comfortable and happy crew is an efficient crew, differing national
doctrines and attitudes affect the provision of crew facilities - NAC
FSE vessels are (in general) particularly well-appointed and their
designers have devoted considerable effort to crew comfort and
facilities; those of the NSL are rather more utilitarian (though not
unpleasant) while many of the ESU ships are positively spartan and

On most warships, the ratings will live in communal quarters, while
Officers and above will have individual staterooms, though on some ships
junior and cadet officers may share wardroom quarters. The Captain will
usually have a suite consisting of main (sleeping) cabin, day cabin
(normally with direct access to Bridge and/or TacOps) and adjoining
quarters for his/her personal steward.

Crew recreational facilities, as mentioned, vary from ship to ship and
nation to nation, but a well-outfitted vessel will have gymnasium
facilities (both zero and one-gee), holovid theatre and various sports
lounge areas. Food for both crew and officers is generally as good and
varied as possible, using fresh produce from the ship's hydroponics
to supplement frozen, dried and recycled ingredients. Even the smallest
scoutships (sometimes with only three or four crew) are usually
with conventional galley facilities, as prepacked rations on extended
missions have long since been found to be extremely detrimental to crew

Almost all major navies have both male and female personnel serving
together, and the general breaking down of many taboos and predjudices
among Earth cultures over the preceding two centuries has removed a lot
the problems that could otherwise have arisen. Crew of both sexes (and
orientations) share the same accommodations and facilities, and though
"fraternisation" between crew members is not actually officially
it is generally accepted provided it does not compromise ship operation
security; trying to prohibit it has been found to cause far more
that a tolerant attitude. "Attention", whether welcomed or not, that
over the demarcation between officers and enlisted personnel IS still
as a potential problem, and is officially prohibited while on board


Gravitic Compensators allow ships to manoeuvre at the high Gee rates
necessary for combat situations without reducing the crew to red smears
the bulkheads, but though they are effective at this they are far from
perfect - they cannot maintain an exact one-gee field perpendicular to
deckplates while the ship is being thrown through battle turns and
to evade incoming missiles. Thus, moving around inside a ship under
manoeuvring conditions is difficult and dangerous; the only personnel
will normally attempt it are damage-control parties, who are suited and
armoured to withstand being thrown into bulkheads and fittings as the
internal gee-field fluctuates.
Operations crew in vital areas such as the Bridge, TacOps, Engineering
Gunnery are cushioned in shock couches and protected by crash frames.
the crew, whether at combat stations or (in the case of personnel not
required while in action) strapped down in their quarters, will
some very strange and nauseating sensations as the compensators try
best to cancel the manoeuvre forces; to the human inner ear, the effects
are like a high-speed elevator moving in several directions at once, or
worst fairground rides. Most personnel adapt to the situation fairly
quickly, but some do not....

Out of combat, the Compensators are used to effectively negate the much
gentler gee effects of normal manoeuvring, while grav-generators in the
deck plates provide an approximately one-gee environment for movement
around much of the ship. There are still areas that are not provided
grav plates, sometimes deliberately but more often as a cost and power
saving measure; such areas will include boat bays, cargo holds and some
engineering spaces, as well as specific zero-gee recreation areas and
Corridors and compainionways linking zero-gee and one-gee parts of the
are provided with "Gee-Locks", special zones of passageway (usually with
doors at each end) along whose length the gravity gradient is steadily
increased; this helps to prevent personnel suddenly discovering that the
"ceiling" of the zero-gee space they've just come from has become the
of the one-gee zone they are entering, with the consequent risk to
and of the amusement of other crew members.

Standard timekeeping on warships follows Earth-standard 24 hour days,
divided into six 4 - hour watches; First Watch is 0000-0400, Second from
0400-0800, then 0800-1200, 1200-1600, 1600-2000 and 2000-0000. Sixth
is designated the "Evening" watch, and First and Second the "Night"
watches. The day-night pattern is enhanced by lowered illumination in
non-essential areas during the night watches, unless under combat

Much of the ship's operation both in and out of combat is handled by
pseudo-intelligent computer systems, but actual command remains in the
hands of human officers; experiments with allowing the computers to run
whole show, especially in battle, have generally resulted in utter
destruction to BOTH forces.  The capacity of a human Captain to think
laterally and to outguess his or her opponent is most often the deciding
factor in an otherwise even match, and attempts to replicate this by
true AIs (Artificial Intelligences, truly self-aware computers rather
just close simulations of sentience) have universally ended in disaster.
Much the same applies to the small "fighter" craft, which usually have a
crew of between one and three depending on type; experiments with
unmanned "drone" fighters have proven that, although cost-effective in
situations, they are no match for the instincts of a human pilot.
the high attrition rate of fighter crews in combat, there is never any
shortage of willing recruits attracted by the "glamour" of being a

Warship crew complements are not all that large, as most ship functions
require relatively little manpower (except when something goes wrong). A
fair proportion of a ship's complement will be engineering crew for
damage-control purposes, embarked Marines and ship's security troops,
cooks, medical personnel and the like. To take a typical example, an NAC
Victoria class Battleship has a full complement of 14 Officers (of which
are Line officers, and the rest department specialists), 20 Petty
and 112 Ratings, plus an embarked Marine Combat Team of 36 troops. Of
112 ordinary crewmen and women, 24 are "operations" crew, 56 are
to engineering and DC functions while the remainder are general and
supernumary personnel (galley staff, sickbay orderlies, auxiliary  craft
crew, general deckhands etc.).
Under extreme circumstances, one command officer and a handful of
operations staff and engineering personnel could theoretically operate
ship, albeit with little capacity to respond to damage taken in battle.

Weapons fire direction is generally at the direct orders of the Captain
from his combat station on the Bridge; in the case of his incapacitation
devolves to the First Officer in TacOps. Individual weapon "turrets" and
defence installations on the hull are not "manned" as such, but are
controlled from the Gunnery command centre; commands from the Captain
relayed to Gunnery by the senior Tactical Officer's station on the
The Tactical Operations compartment (TacOps) acts as a collection and
collation point for sensor information and communications, which are
relayed to the Captain's station in a condensed and useable form; TacOps
fully equipped to take over as a reserve bridge and con the ship in the
event of the main command bridge being disabled.

In the event of imminent destruction or disabling of the ship, the crew
abandon the vessel in a number of lifepods located around the hull
structure - all crew stations have a lifepod bay within easy reach, and
most ship designs provide enough for the entire complement plus
redundant pods in case some are lost to hull damage. Each pod is
to hold between ten and twelve personnel, though up to twenty can be
accommodated in extreme circumstances. Outfitted with life support and
recycling systems, packaged emergency food and medical supplies and a
rudimentary propulsion system, plus a very powerful beacon and comms
system, a standard lifepod can keep its normal complement alive for
approximately two weeks in reasonable conditions, and then a maximum of
another two weeks under steadily increasing discomfort and


Alert States on NAC vessels (to take a typical example- most navies use
something very similar) are:

DOCKSIDE - used when ship is tied up to an orbital facility - most of
ship's systems powered down, and a skeleton watch crew maintained while
remainder of the complement are permitted shore leave. Average time to
power up to Green status is three-four hours, not including recall of
off-ship crew members.

GREEN - general non-combat status used when vessel is travelling or in a
patrol orbit. All systems functional, but weapons and active defences
under command lock. Standard rotation of duty watches for operations
personnel, none are suited-up. Average time to move to Yellow One status
ten minutes.

YELLOW ONE - semi-alert status, with essential Bridge and Engineering
in open suits and modified watch rotation. Senior command officer
First or Second Officer) on Bridge at all times. All offensive and
defensive systems powered-up, but still under command lock.
personnel on normal duties. Average time to move to Yellow Two status is
ten minutes.

YELLOW TWO - heightened alert: as Yellow One but all crew to combat
stations in open suits. Average time to move to Red status is three

RED - full combat alert status; all crew at combat stations, Bridge,
TacOps, Gunnery and Engineering personnel in sealed suits and locked
crash frames, DC parties suited and on standby. Captain and Second
on Bridge, First Officer in TacOps. All weapons systems command locks
removed, weapons held on Captain's voice command only. Internal
off, gravitic compensators and drive systems at full battle manoeuvring
readiness. Generally, Red status can be held for around six hours at a
before serious degradation of crew efficiency through fatigue will
become a


Interstellar travel is performed in a series of short (in relative
"jumps" through a timeless quasi-reality generally called Jumpspace.
jump (which may also be referred to as a Shift, Shoot or Transit) moves
ship by anything from a few lightminutes to several lightyears*,
on the energy put into the drive at the moment of jump and the proximity
the ship to gravitational influences - the nearer to a gravity well the
ship is when the drive is engaged, the shorter the resulting jump. There
a definite limiting distance from any given gravity well that inhibits
jumping within it - a ship must move to outside this limit before
the TK Drive or risk serious mishap (at best a misjump or drive failure,
worst total destruction).
The actual jump is perceived by the ship's occupants as instantaneous,
leaves a deep subconscious memory of disturbing change in the fabric of
reality - as though the recesses of the human mind can actually register
the transition that the conscious levels cannot. This effect causes
and disorientation after the jump, which if untreated can last for
hours; for this reason most Military crews use specialised drugs to
minimise the aftereffects and ensure that the ship is combat-ready as
as possible after jump emergence, especially if several jumps need to be
made in relatively quick succession. Civilian vessels and those on less
pressing schedules will spread out the jumps to perhaps one every couple
days, and most personnel and passengers will undergo jump asleep in
cabins with just a skeleton bridge crew overseeing the automatics
the jump.
The fastest cycle possible is around one jump per six hours, but this
requires the latest Military drives and power plants along with the most
sophisticated jump navigation software and tremendous crew stamina, even
with chemical assistance. On average, naval vessels on most missions
make not more than one jump per day.
The longer the jump, the greater the potential inaccuracy in both the
distance travelled and the final emergence point. For this reason, most
interstellar journeys begin with a couple of short jumps (necessary to
fully clear the gravity well of the starting starsystem) followed by a
number of longer transits to bring the ship within a few lightdays of
destination system. The vessel will then make a number of successively
shorter jumps, each of increasing accuracy, to place it as near as
to its eventual target. The final approach, under Normal Space
can then take anything from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the
accuracy of the last jump insystem and how fine the jump navigator dares
cut the gravitational limit.
When moving a fleet of ships together, the potential errors in the long
mid-course jumps mean that it is highly unlikely that all the fleet will
remain together throughout the journey - in fact at most of the
between-jump periods each ship will be completely isolated from the rest
huge distances. For precise military operations, therefore, it is normal
practice for the fleet to re-assemble well out of the target system and
then proceed insystem in a succession of much shorter than normal jumps
order to maintain some semblance of cohesive formation.

* The longest verified "planned" jump (ie: excluding random misjumps) to
date was in 2177, when the NAC experimental fast courier CNS Hyacinth
attained a realspace dispacement of 7.328 light years in a single
transit. The ship and its crew of five were unfortunately lost in an
apparent misjump when attempting to beat this record in the following


J MINUS 30 says the readout on the main bridge screen.

The bridge is at zero-gee, and everything on the ship is powered down
except the Jump drives and minimal life-support. The Nav systems have
orientated the axis of the Jump field with our plotted destination, with
millimetric precision. I settle myself deeper into the soft cushioning
the command chair and try to get my racing heartbeat under control.
Breathe, breathe, slow and even... God, how I hate Jump.....


The ship says "Captain, please authorise final manual interlock
release"; I
move my index finger to touch three holokeys in sequence. The ship says
"Thank you, Sir; all systems transferring to Jump computers, I am now
offline." and the main bridge screen reads "Manual interlock released -
main Jump sequencer online; all stations reading go, all prejump checks
nominal, final countdown initiating", then flicks back to the dwindling
count. Everything is on automatics now - dumb computers that will decide
we jump or abort. The ship's main pseudo-sentient "brain" is even more
risk from the strangeness of Jump than us humans, so it shuts itself
for the transit and then reboots on the other side. From this point, 
all just along for the ride.


I can feel the Jump Drugs that I swallowed a few minutes ago starting to
take hold of my system. They don't make the transit itself any easier,
they are supposed to pull you out of the bad effects quicker on the
side. Sometimes I wonder if they do anything at all, or if they are just
sugar pill that the medics TELL us will help.....  We don't belong in
Jumpspace, and it doesn't like having bits of our reality shoved into
The Jump field will pull us in, through the interface that I don't think
even the scientists understand, and the amount of energy we have pumped
into the field will determine - at least roughly - how far we "travel"
before Jumpspace throws us out again. That's the theory anyway - it's
that sometimes Jumpspace will chew you around a bit before it spits you


The bridge fills with an electric haze; my skin prickles, and I feel the
Jump fields surging through the ship - she groans and squirms like a
thing. Gripping my chair arms too tightly - relax, let go. Fleeting
as always - crazy thoughts of the old spacers' horror tales, of those
came through Jump without their minds, their souls lost to the Deep
Cold.... Our Father, Who Art In........


Jump sucks us in.....
Going nowhere and everywhere, very, very fast.
No time, no space.
A non-moment that lasts for eternity.
And spits us out......


...Heaven, hallow'd be Thy....Out, out, down again......
Disorientation, then gradual realisation. My mind works, my memory is
there, please don't let me throw up.....
The drugs seem to be kicking in, dragging me back - no, GO AWAY, I want

J PLUS 20.

My eyes are focussing, can just make out the main screen: "Jump sequence
terminated. Initial positioning scans indicate Jump accuracy 94.45%.
Initiating postjump diagnostics and staged shutdown of drive units,
returning command to realspace systems". The ship's brain wakes from its
short sleep: "Main cortex reboot successful; Personality reconstruct at
25%...50%....75%...completed. Recharge cycle time for next Jump: 5 hours
minutes. Hello, Sir, it's nice to be back."

J PLUS 60.

Starting to really wake up now, slowly clearing my mind. The older I get
the worse it seems, some of these kids on the bridge are up and about
already! I've lost count of the Jumps I've made, but it's still as bad
the first time. Less than six hours before the next one, I need some


>From INTRODUCTION TO JUMP THEORY, a lecture presented at Down
Albion, by Dr. James Alvarez, Capt. NAVFLT SCI (Retd.), June 2179:

"Jumpspace, Hyperspace, Subspace - whatever you call it, it doesn't like
bits of our reality being shoved into it. Push a ship in, and Jumpspace
will spit it out again - the good bit is that it will spit you out
somewhere else (hopefully round about where you want to be, if you've
your math right), and all in zero elapsed time! Of course, every now and
then it'll chew you around a bit before spitting you out, but we try not
think about that too much....
The human mind dosn't like Jumpspace any more than the space likes us;
can take it, especially with the right drugs to help, though most of the
time it's pretty unpleasant unless you're well asleep - a few people
to even enjoy it, but then some enjoy some pretty weird things anyway.
you're unlucky (and whatever the shipping lines or Navy recruiting tell
you, every now and then someone is) then you stand a small chance of
out thinking you're Napoleon, that's if you can think at all.
Some people think that they feel time passing while they are transiting
Jumpspace, but we generally put this down to their own imaginations
the event - no-one has ever managed to record a measurable time interval
between Jump entry and exit. I met an old spacer once who claimed he had
actually SEEN the inside of Jumpspace, but this WAS after nine
in the Chrome Angel over on Farren.....
Let's get one thing clear - we don't KNOW how Jump operates. We've been
using it for over a century and even our top physicists and their AIs
figure out what is actually going on. What we do know is how to create a
temporary interface with Jumpspace big enough to push a ship through,
we know how to push it in so we can predict roughly where it will pop
again - basically, the more energy you pump into the drive field
to your ship mass the further (in realspace terms) you go before
gets pissed off with you and chucks you out.
Maybe someday we'll meet someone out there who can actually tell us how
all works....."

Copyright Jon Tuffley and GZG, Feb. 1998.



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