Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: P is for Privateer


    The Starfigher Division was something of an experiement.
    Four of Hatawe Ahn’s corvettes sailed through contested space on the grand arc between the leading and trailing StarGates in the border system of Almani Territories.  Three Marauders, Tempest, Prospero, and Ariel, each fully loaded with a half dozen Cerberus fighters and a six Destriers, formed a triangular plane in space perpendicular to their vector.  The fourth Marauder, Caliban, sailed behind the plane at the apex.  Caliban was different.  It carried only four Destriers for defense.  Instead of mounting six high powered lasers, it only carried two in the bow, flanking the forward cabin.  The lateral hardpoints were carried a pair of twin-barreled point defense railguns.  The reinforced spine, which on carrier was stuffed with capacitors for the lasers, housed a single long-shaft railgun suitable for ship-to-ship combat.
   They were hunting.
   “Time to convoy forty minutes for outer envelope, forty-nine minutes to launch.”
   Captain 6Djoser Morga acknowledged the report.  From the CIC on Caliban, Djoser had could observe, after time-lag, the movements of AdStars logistical fleet.  One hundred and thirty-one colliers and dromedaries moved between StarGates on a reciprocal course to Djoser’s stargosy of privateers.  6Djoser’s orders from Command were deliberately vague - capture what he could, destroy as much of the rest as possible.  Prospero, at the acme point of the forward plane of battle, was carrying a platoon’s worth of Espatier Ahks in oversized network servers, ready to download into their Ammit-class automatons loaded on the Starfighter’s six Cerberus HACVs.
    They were also something of an experiment.
    “Thirty-two minutes to outer envelope.”
    The convoy was either defended or dead in space.  With literally millions of kilometers between the freighters and any safe port of call, scattering was not an option.  The only point of clumping so many thousands of tons of shipping into such a small space on a predictable vector would be to place them under the umbrella of protection their escorts could offer.  Depending on the value of the cargo, the defending spacecraft could be a couple of corvettes weaker than Caliban, up to a division of destroyers or even more.   Djoser was by no means an optimist - at least, not beyond what one needed to go into space in the first place.  He assumed at any moment, Caliban’s CIC would erupt with reports of thermal flairs indicating an opposing flotilla.
    “Twenty-six minutes.”
   Djoser gave orders to download Ahks to all fighters and automatons.  Across space, sphont and machine interfaced, become those temporary. mongrel creatures of war.  The quartet of spacecraft entered their final boosting phase, and observed no change in his prey.
   “Eighteen minutes.”
   It was a trap.  In had to be. Something would happen when the two clumps of metal and meat collided.  The Stellar Administration was as ruthless and brutal as any polity in space.  They would surely have found out about 3Gleise’s negotiations with the  Almani.  They surely wouldn’t think to send an undefended convoy through space where the government-in-exile could reach.  Something was going to happen - Djoser was convinced.  But because he couldn’t know what was in store, he kept his ships steady on.  Besides, he was damned if AdStar was going to frighten him away.
   “Outer envelope.  Nine minutes to launch.”
Djoser composed himself for battle. “Fire the main gun.  On target.”
 Lacking multiple ship killing guns, Djoser couldn’t very well bracket the formation ahead of them.  He was half-convinced that the fools wouldn't change vector to dodge anyway.
   “Four minutes to contact, eight minutes to launch.”
 Djoser had four minutes to wait, and another four after to decide the course of the battle.  It was always like this -always had been, for sophonts in space. Hours or days of waiting, and a handful of seconds for action.  He thought a command to calculate multiple tactical maneuvers and counter attacks against a variety of responses.  All at this point were equally likely.  He consciously ignored them even has his augmented mind furiously collated data.
    “One minute to contact, five minutes to launch.”
  Djoser became still and calm.  All that could be done had been, all that could be planned for was.  He was serene in the last seconds, where his crew could see.
   “Contact!  Targets one through five eliminated.  Four minutes to launch. Targets six through ten eliminated.”
    “M-Com, all Flights, target kinetics, Caliban attack one, vectors and velocity to follow.”  Djoser signaled his INCO to send the relevant data.  Across the formation, lasers turned and fired on Caliban’s railgun slugs.  No matter their monstrous speed, the coherent light easily overtook them and either vaporized the tungsten rods or pushed them out onto terminal vectors.
    “Targets fifteen to twenty eliminated.  Targets twenty-two, twenty-six, and twenty-seven eliminated.  Launch window.”
    “Launch half the Ceberus wing.  Keep the remainder on the kinetics. I want eyes on the eliminated targets soonest.”
    “HC-01 and -02, in range two minutes.”
   There had still been no counter attack, no move to defend or evade.  Djoser felt the dread he had been fighting grow ever more powerful as the possible reasons dwindled to a few, each worst than the las.
 Djoser had to swallow before he could talk. “Report.”
    “Passengers?  HC-01, is there any cargo?”
    “Time until upload is complete?”
    “UPLOAD EST 01:22:31 +/- 02:00.”
    “All units, begin rescue operations.”  Djoser tried and failed to keep the tremor out of his voice.  
    “All units acknowledged,” His INCO responded.  “All lasers now on hyperband recovery.  Cross vectors in thirty seconds.”

    And that was when the convoy’s hidden warships attacked.   

A-toZ Blog Challenge: O is for O'Neill Cylinder

O'Neill Cylinder

    The Ahk designated as FT-0101 was an Espatier.  It’s Ka was the pruned fork of Sergeant 5Djeffries Muh.  It’s Ba was a mechanical monster.
    The interior of the vast O’Neill cylinder that was now part of 3Gleise’s territory was patrolled by Cerberus fighters modified for use as squad transports.  Eight hulking brutes, clipped to the exterior of each war rocket, were launched from the destroyers escorting the space station to secure the inside.  It had taken days to go through the vast habitat, comparment by compartment, capturing and removing the thousands of workers found within.  Most were Gleise citizens, now repatriated.  The remainder, AdStar overseers, were captured and sent for interrogation.
    FT-0101 lead the first squad of the first platoon of DesCon 3’s Expiditionary Force.  It had been online for eight-seven hours now, leading its squad in what was essentially a massive boarding action.  It was the certainly the right Ahk or the job.  FT-0101 had faught on planets, with and without atmosphere, asteroids, moons, and habitats of all sizes.  It had faught on starships ranging from corvettes to to titanic battlers. It was the best of the best.
    It had never seen anything like this before.
    “Roger that, FT-0101.  Get video on all frequencies.”  
    The Espatier Ahk began recording what it saw, in thermal, visible, ultraviolet and x-ray.  The O’Neill was small, as these things go; only eight kilometers long with a radius of a thousand meters.  Despite this, the interior cavity should have been at least five hundred meters wide.  Espatiers on the ground recorded an internal space only two hundred meters wide, divided into compartments every half kilometer.
    “This is downright claustrophobic.”
    FT-0101 focused on an area of the interior skin that hadn’t been completed.  A vast cenote in the artificial ground gaped open, exposing layers upon layers of water bags and aerogel bricks under the surface.  Through the middle of the hole was a what looked like a tall ridge made of carbon that was spun in long ropes of self-supporting latticework.
    “It looks almost like buttressing.”
   FT-0101 continued moving forward.  There was no soil on the decking - just layers of woven carbon fiber plates.  Here and there were other Espatiers examining the odd modifiactions to the habitat.  The central hub, for example, was ribbed by additional buttressing that curved outward toward the compartmenting wall dividing the entire open space of the cylinder a few hundred meters ahead.  The curving buttresses from the column gradually arched over the dividing wall to meet the even larger and wider ridges in the rimward walls.
   “That’s one way of putting it.  Looks familiar, though.  Keep panning around, please.”
   FT-0101 anchored its bulk to the deck and began rotating its main cameras around a hundred and eighty degrees, missing nothing.  There were veins of raised tubing standing out upon the partition like spiderwebs of renforcement.  The curving arches made a graceful symmetry.
   “Wait a moment!  Right there!”
   FT-0101 froze, as only a robotic Ba could.
  “Oh, oh Netjer.  I know what this is!
  “Those dividing walls, they’re rib vaults.”
  “They’re oriented to support the cylinder’s mass along the long axis. Against accelleration.”
  “The outer walls are filled with enough insulation to absorb a full laser barrage.”
  “UNDERSTOOD.” This was the closest FT-0101 ever got to an exclamation. “THIS IS NOT A HABITAT CYLINDER.”
  “Not anymore.  Its a capital ship.”  

Monday, April 18, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: N is for Nemyss

This is a nemyss.  Now you know.

    “Well, this was unexpected.”
    Commodore-cum-Second StarLord 2Hilna Lin found had been told the Prime Minister was in the stellarium with her former right-hand wo/man, Naval Chief 4Charl Itawa.  Therefore, Hilna expected to see the pair, and to see stars and perhaps a view of Elsinore’s factory system.  
    What she did not expect was to be inside a living wall of hieroglyphic text.
    Every surface save that of the transparent roof of the compartment was covered with column after column of pictograms, interrupted by the occasional image of a deity from Khemet’s pantheon.  Hilna could recognize Geb, the Lord of Planets, prone upon the deck, and Nut, Mother Space, arched over Him.  Where the two touched, fingertips and toes, there were graven images of habitats and starships.  Sobek, the Crocodile, grinned menacingly from under his StarGate crest, warning Hilna never to take the transit between stars for granted.
    But in the most august position, in the center of the stellarium, where Nut and Geb, Heaven and Earth, would meet to spawn the Universe, was Ma’at.
    And at the foot of Ma’at, Prime 3Vonday Ginal floated in prayer.
    At his right, Charl put hir finger to hir lips and motioned Hilna over. The StarLord kicked off the floor and coasted gently toward the pair.  As she approached she could make out better the details of the two from surrounding images.  Vonday, she noticed, wore the traditional leopard pattern nemyss.
    “Welcome back, Hilna.”  Vonday said.  “Looks like you caught me.”
    “You’re a Hema’at?” She said.
    “Not what you expected from a diplomat, is it?  I’m surprised myself sometimes.”
    “It’s terrible, isn’t it?” Charl smiled and reached out a hand to steady Hilna. “It’s bad enough for him to be my boss, but now he can make me feel guilty for not saying the 42 Laws before bed every night.”
    Hilna gave Charl a wry look. “What are you worried about?  Herms are sacred.”
    “Only the natural ones, Lin.”
    “I never agreed with that interpretation.” Vonday said.  “But that’s a debate for after the war. I tend to be long-winded on points canon law.  To business.”  
    “Much as I’m loath to admit it, Morale has improved quite a bit since the...relaxation of certain regulations.”  Hilna pulled her tablet from her pocket and thought the relevant stats onto the screen, where they would be easier to read in the light of the hieroglyphs.
    “Performance has improved by eight percent, and incidence of disciplinary problems has dropped by forty.  There have been five charges of sexual assault...which is down by half from one cycle prior.”
    “Having to rewrite only five out of three thousand is definitely an improvement.” Charl said.
    “Don’t rub it in.”
    “Relax, Lord Hilna,” Vonday smiled, “I understand the difficulty in trying unorthodox solutions.”
    “As you say, Hema’at.” Hilna cocked her head and smiled sardonically. “Did you think about requiring the 42 Laws be spoken by all hands, even once?”
    “You’re thinking of my father.  I’ve been focused on the Virtues of the Husia. ‘I will be free from resentment under the experience of persecution, I will be free from resentment under the experience of wrongdoing’.”
     Hilna’s smile became more genuine. “That’s good advice.”
    “I’ve also been reading the Ritual for the Opening of the Mouth.”
   The three were quiet for a moment, as anyone would be.
    “The coronation ritual?” Hilna asked, after clearing her throat.
    “The only way to incarnate a legitimate fork of the King is to perform the Opening of the Mouth during the download.  And it must be performed by a Hema’at.”
    “Prime had a hunch,” Charl spoke up. “It turns out that the last eight diplomatic envoys sent out from Throne had Hema’atau either in the diplomatic party or as the Ambassador.”
    Hilna frowned. “That seems excessive, sure, but you can’t think that the King actually planned for-”
    “Hilna, all of us are here in this system, with these ships, because the King wanted us to be.” Vonday said.  “The Pharaoh is the serial Ahk of twelve generations of the most intelligent and enhanced sophonts our civilization could produce. I’d be surprised if He left anything unplanned.” 
    There was silence once more.
   “We seemed to have gotten far afield,” Vonday clapped his hands.  “What news of your tour with the Third Division?”
  Hilna assumed an official demeanor.  “I'm pleased to report3Div was successul in capturing an enemy asset during our privateer raid in the Heru system.”
    “Excellent!  What’s the booty?”
    Hilna remained perfectly still. “One O’Neil cylinder, seventy percent complete, with transit booster.  We got it back to Jourdain yesterday.”
   Charl’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you, Lin!  I’ve been dying to see that look of shock on his face for a change!”

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: M is for Morale

OPORD 310325-001  NAVCHIEF AUTH 1178


a. It has come to the attention of this office that morale among the crews of all of ships has degraded significantly over the months of our exile.  
b.While this is understandable, reports and complaints about behavior both on and off duty have reach a frequency and severity that makes addressing the issue a priority.
c.To that end, the surveys, performance evaluatutions, and observations made command and this office have identified the following causes of our current morale crises:
  • Knowledge that our homeworlds are occupied:   This is the most obvious cause of low morale, the simple fact we can’t go home again.  Solving this problem is the the grand strategy of the current war.
  • Loss of contact with kith, kin, and ka:  The fact that many of us forked copies to serve in the military while staying at home has not kept us from that bane of long patrols, homesickness.  While we cannot remerge with ourselves left behind, It may be possible to initiate covert communications at a later date.
  • Lack of shore facilites  and recreational spaces: Destroyers are simply not designed for patrols of the length we’ve been enduring.  The fact that the only places off ship available are factory webs and the modest spaces aboard Varangian simply highlights to all concerned that there is nowhere to go.
d. Having identified these points as primary causes of our worsening morale, Command and this Office have developed several action plans and directives: see below.

All personnel - from the Prime to the newest recruit - are identified as needing a morale boost. The following directives are aimed at improving morale both on patrol and at base.   These are to go into effect immediately.  The directives are detailed below:

a. Three new starships are to be commissioned from the recent lend/lease acquisitions.  These are to be designated Destroyer Tenders and one each attached to the Destroyer Constellations in the fleet.
b. Crew from the destroyers are to be rotated into service aboard the tenders.  In addition to serving as crew on these tenders, crew will be assigned for additional cross-training in all specialities and as instructors in cross-training.
c. Prime has authorized the hiring of private sutler services to be stationed aboard the tenders to provide amenities and recreational services for destroyer crews on patrol.
d. Prime has authorized the hiring of sutler services to be stationed on base at Elsinore Cavalier HQ to provide amenities and recreational services for all personnel.
e. Crews from Destroyer Command will begin rotating aboard Varangian for cruiser training.  It is our intention to add combat cruisers to our fleet within the year.
f.  WHILE ON AUTHORIZED LEAVE ONLY, Fraternization will be condoned among all personnel of equal rank among shipmates.  Personnel who are serving aboard different ships may fraternize across rank WHILE ON AUTHORIZED LEAVE ONLY.
g. Intelligence resources will formulate an action plan for establishing contact with the homeworlds for purposes of determining what, if any, resistance is being mounted against AdStar occupation at this time.  Secondary to this is the goal of initiating some communication with loved ones behind the lines.  Just by letting our citizens in occupied territory know there are elements out here and fighting will surely boost their morale.


“It’s a new world out here, Officers and gentles.  It wouldn’t surprise me if our next constitution is based on Ship’s Articles from Gleise’s pirate days.  I know a lot of my fellow War College grads started frothing at the mouth halfway through section three.  Just remember one thing:
Prime’s plans are working.

-4Char Itawa, Captain, acting Naval Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister


Friday, April 15, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: L is for Lend/Lease

    “They’re cruisers!”  Despite his position as Lord Prime Minister of the Third Gleise Monarchy, 3Vonday Ginal sounded as delighted as a child.  
    At his side, as always, was Captain 4Charl Itawa.  Ostensibly the Naval Chief of Staff, S/he was now widely considered the official babysitter of the Prime.
    “Well, they used to be cruisers, sir…”
    Vonday frowned.  “This is the part where you tell me to stop being optimistic again, isn’t it?”
    The pair had arrived back in Elsinore Monday morning, Vonday’s cruiser, Varangian, was not only the de facto Parliament building, it was the only combat capable cruiser in the fleet.  Increasingly, the business of government was taking over the ship - so much so that Vonday had abandoned his suite and dining room for one of the guestrooms aboard.  And that doubled as his office, with a small desk and chairs replacing the typical sofa and entertainment system.
    “Don’t ever stop being optimistic sir,” Itawa chidded, “We’ve plenty of pessimists on staff already.”
    “Fine, but why are these ‘used to be’ cruisers?”  Vonday asked.
    “They’re old enough that structural fatigue has set in.  Pulse propulsion is hard on a space frame.  You can boost the things hard enough to be useful as cargo ships, but not hard enough to keep up with fleet movements.  And the cost of refurbishment in time and resources would be enough to buy a new one.”
    “Which no one will sell us.  Yet.”  
   Charl observed that hir boss was fond of the word “yet”.  It was a symptom of his optimism.  But so far, Vonday’s yets were justified.  Between 7Hatawe’s convoy escorts and second division’s win against a pair of cruisers, the reputation of 3Gleise’s military was gaining ground among unaligned systems.  So much so that they had entered into a lend/lease program with the Trans-Libran Compact, exchanging Marauders and Cerberus fighters for a constellation of stripped and decommissioned cruisers.
   “Eyes on the prize, sir.  These hulks can be converted to dromedaries in less than a month.”
   “I they’re too slow to keep up with the fleet, how much can they help us?”
  4Charl took a moment.  “They’re massive enough to carry cargo and fighters, sir.  They don’t need to be escorted, so it doesn’t matter if they take their tme.  Besides,” Charl shrugged with hir hands, “We mainly need them to transport war materiel from Jourdain to Elsinore.”
    When Vonday did not respond right away, Charl began to suspect he had asked the question rhetorically.
   “Wait a moment,”  Vonday said at last, “Neuman once joked that Varangian could hold a destroyer with room to spare, remember?”
    Charl blinked, “I remember everything.”
   “Yes, yes, you’re a genius.  But my point is:  Can we turn some of these old cruisers into mobile space docks?”
    Vonday smirked, “I’ve surprised you again, haven’t I?”
   “...Yes.  Sir.”
   “Talk to Hilna and Hatawe about Destroyer Tenders, one per DesCon. In the meantime, where are we on negotiating passage through Almani territory?”
  And just like that, Vonday was off on the next topic, forcing Charl to catch up.      

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: K is for Kufu and Karnak

Kufu and Karnak

    The Throneworld of the Third Gleise Monarchy fell on a Friday, one week after the invasion began.  The Royal Throneship, Kufu, the only capital ship in the King’s Own, was destroyed in a reactor accident that no one outside AdStar’s office of propaganda believed was accidental.  With the destruction of Kufu and a hostile power occupying the capital and palace, it was accepted that the royal family was extinct.
    Accepted, but wrong.
    When Kufu was destroyed, two things happened: First, a signal was sent out to the Throneworld via a secure satellite that ordered the entire Royal Archive wiped.  When the Stellar Administration finally broke into the sacred vaults under the palace on Throneworld, they would find nothing of value, no Kawat that could be warped or perverted into a legitimate puppet.  Such was the resolve of the Third Gleisens.
    Second, a hash of microsats scattered around the orbits of all the worlds in the Capital system, among the asteroids, trojans, comets and dust clouds, began transmitting.
    What they transmitted was garbage.  Fragments of code and scattered pieces of nonsense in binary were broadcasted in wave after wave that expanded at the speed of light from Throneworld.  The AdStar forces on the capital sent out warnings to their outbound assets in brave defiance of the laws of physics.  After all, how can you sent a warning faster than light?  
    After transmitting their garbled signals, the microsats destroyed themselves.  In two orbits, this caused Kessler syndrome to cascade out of control and actually resulted in the destruction of an AdStar frigate.  The powers that be laughed nervously and were thankful these sabotage sats weren’t more effective.  Of course, the damage done to AdStar was just a bonus; the true purpose of the satellites was more subtle.
   The signals sent out en mass were eventually intercepted by receivers across the system.  Some were AdStar listening posts and military recon platforms, while others were civilian radios and computers, and the star system’s formal InterPlanNet nodes. Without fail, these automated receivers discarded the signals, jumbles and gibbering as they were, as mere noise and went about their business.
    Except the StarGates.  The StarGate computers, upon receiving the first fragments of code, becan recording. They recorded for hours, patiently gathering the fragments and slowly assembling them into a coherent whole.  This was far from the first time the system had begun recording.  It happened by accident quite often - this was the first time, however, that the complete message was sent, with each carefully timed piece arriving in the proper order for the given date and time.  
    In response, the StarGates sent out signals to every other system in the Gleise Monarchy.  The StarGate signal was meant for certain ships - hidden in the movements of the Kings Own prior to the invasion.  They were Cruisers.  They were Funeral barges.
  Memphis Carried the Ahk of the King, Pharaoh 12Khemet, an Akh made of all the Kau of all Kings since the beginning of the Third Monarchy.  Memphis was caught between two Capital ship flotillas in the Ptolemay system.   Memphis burned.  There would never be a 13Khemet.
 12Nana Liltu, who was all Queens since the beginning, was lost forever with Thebes, as that cruiser deliberately crashed into the asteroids surrounding the Aten system trailing StarGates.  The detonation destroyed the ship, the asteroid and the trailing ‘Gates in a hail of debris.  AdStar lost the system and it’s invading fleet, while Gleise forever lost it’s Queen.  
 The Ka of Crown Prince 1Khemet Solex, was safe on the Luxor and would reach the Fighting Third Cruiser Constellation of the King’s Own.  Pharaoh 1Khemet Solex would assume command of the Fourth Gleise Monarchy, and his brave spacers would die to the last being as the surrounding AdStar territories swallowed them up.
  The Last of the funeral barges, the cruiser Karnak, was in position to leave Gleisen space for the Unclaimed Librans.  The cruiser, bearing the Ka of Princess 1Nanna Bas, would arrive in the Elsinore system on a Saturday.
  And change everything.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: J is for Jourdain


    Jourdain, the second system claimed by Cavalier Arms on behaf of the late Third Monarchy of Gleise, was not much to look at.  A small red dwarf, burning low and slow throughout eternity, cast its modest heat upon what seemed to be an endless sea of gravel.  Rocks sized from thin dust up to hundreds of kilometers spun around the dwarf and each other.  Less than a dozen had been found massive enough to form spheres.  The largest of these was home to CA’s factory web.
    Prime Minister 3Vonday Ginal enjoyed the feeling of gravity without being relieved by it; unlike his second Ba, 3Vonday was adapted to space.  At his side was 3Gleise’s Naval Chief of Staff, 4Charl Itawa.  The pair were touring the facility, trying to make too little infrastructure do the work of a full industrial power.
    It wasn’t working.
    “Scouting has shown Lithium deposits to be well within current needs.” 4Charl consulted the endless data in hir head.  “The bottleneck is currently producing enough mining robots and transports to harvest the stuff.”
   “I’ve grown rather tired of that word, ‘transport’.” 3Vonday said.  “I know it’s important, but - “
   “Do you sir?” Charl asked.  Vonday had been appraised of 4Charl’s informal way of dealing with superiors.
   “Well, I think I do, anyway.  Tell me what I’m missing.”
   “I don’t know if we have that much time available, sir.” Charl admitted.  “But to begin with the obvious, a spacecraft light enough and nimble enough to stay alive in combat has difficulty carrying enough fuel and ammunition to fight more than a couple of sorties at a time.  Just loading enough lithium and deuterium to boost across the Grand Arc of your average system seriously degrades a ship’s ability to fight.  In a friendly system, you can stop over at the system’s giant-
    Vonday snorted.  “Precious few of those for us, right now.”
   “We can use neutral ports for remassing, but the cost is bleeding us.  We’re not being given credit in most polities, because they don’t think we’ll be around long enough to make good.  Half the polities bordering the Stellar Administration ar refusing to resupply us at any cost.”
  Vonday turned away. “As if making nice with AdStar will help them stay free.”
  Charl arched hir eyebrows in a shrug. “We couldn’t pay for service even if they offered it.  The only commodity we have to export right now are HACVs and mercenary services.  And the appeasers want neither.”
  “I get it.” Vonday said. “If we want to move about, we have to have transports.  Can we even build them?”
  “That’s the trick,” Charl spread hir hands.  “We most certainly can build any light ship we need; colliers, tankers, dromedaries, whatever.  Just like we can build the carriers and HACVs.  But not both at the same time.”
   “So you’re telling me we need to expand the shipyards.”
   “If we had a magic wand, absolutely.”  Charl countered.  “But without that, new shipyards are not a short-term solution.  We will eventually turn this entire system into a factory and fabricate capital ships, but that’s decades away.  We need a solution for the shipping problem now.”
   The two were silent for a time.  Charl used the break to review and collate more of the prodigious amount of information available, in case the Prime asked for it.  S/he was so used to accessing the unconscious memory stored in her head that s/he didn’t even need to close hir eyes anymore.
   “Well, there’s no help for it.”  Vonday declared.  “We’ll just have to steal a convoy.  From a known AdStar collaborator would be a favorite.  Preferably somewhere a couple of friendly system’s away from here.  How soon can you - what is it?”
  Charl had a peculiarly strained look on hir face.  “Sorry, Lord Prime.  Here I thought I was getting better at anticipating your next impossible demand...”