Saturday, 23 January 2016

Space-ships with attitude

One of the best things about scifi is the ships, right? These can be sleek, impressive, and just occasionally, downright mean (my favorite was always Talyn, from Farscape). In my Eden Paradox series, particularly towards the end, a lot of ships fall into the 'mean' category. This is because there is an ongoing galactic war, so most of the story concerns war-ships and battle cruisers rather than cargo vessels, transports and pleasure yachts. Each ship tends to have its own unique weaponry. Here's the spaceship register used in the last book, Eden's Endgame:

Hushtarans – Level Eight race with squid-like ships that use anti-matter cables similar to Q’Roth Crucible ships.

Kalarash – Level Nineteen beings originally believed to have left our galaxy. Only seven remain in the universe. Little is known about them. They are called Progenitors by many Grid species, as the Kalarash fostered civilisation in the galaxy, based on a strictly hierarchical intelligence-ranking system. The Kalarash never leave their Crossbow ships.

Mannekhi – Level Six human-looking alien race except for their all-black eyes. They sided with Qorall in the ongoing galactic war, due to millennia of oppression by the Tazani under Grid rule. Mannekhi use Spiker ships for war, as well as Javelin Class Dropships for incursions.

Nchkani – Level Sixteen warrior race infamous for their brutality in war and insurrections, especially with their ships known as Shredders, and tank-like Crabs for ground assault. 

Nganks – full name Ngankfushtora – squid-like Level Twelve cosmetic surgeons whose services are usually reserved for higher-level species. Their hospital ships are known colloquially as Lozenges, and smaller triage vessels are known as Egg ships, both due to their shape.

Orb – deep space vessel with gravity-based and organic viral weaponry, mode of propulsion unknown; new weapon unleashed by Qorall.

Ossyrians – dog-like Level Eight medical race, charged as humanity’s custodians after the trial, their eighteen-year long stay on Esperia led by Chahat-Me. Their hospital ships are known as Pyramid ships. Such ships visited Egypt five thousand years ago. Rapier ships are used for short in-system transit.

Qorall [kwo-rahl] – ancient enemy of the Kalarash, and invader of our galaxy. His ship is embedded inside an artificial asteroid the sits just above the event horizon of a black hole. His weapons include ‘greenspace’, which changes the nature of local space, preventing Transpace conduits from opening, and using the black hole to trigger gravitic shock waves. 

Q’Roth [kyu-roth] – Level Six nomadic warrior race who culled Earth as part of the maturation process for its hatchlings, in a deal with the Alicians. Currently engaged as soldiers trying to stop the progress of Qorall’s forces across the galaxy. The Q’Roth are the formal Patrons of the Alicians. Q’Roth have a number of warships from the Mega Class Battlestar and Crucible warships, to Mesa Class Destroyers, inter-stellar Marauders and Hunters, down to the short-haul Raptor.

Scintarelli – legendary Level Twelve shipbuilders, whose shipyards dwell in gas giants. Their star-ship designs include the interstellar Starpiercer, the Scythe warship, and the one-man Dart.

Sclarese [skla-ray-zee] Nova Stormers – Level Nine semi-intelligent stealth missiles based on energy amplification technology, aimed at turning stars nova. Built by the Sclarese.

Shiva – a Level Twelve Scintarelli Scythe-ship (a Cutlass Class warship) upgraded by Hellera to Level Fifteen. Shiva is a mind-ship, completely autonomous with its own personality.

Tazani – Level Seven patrons of the Mannekhi. Their battle-cruisers fire energy packets capable of destroying Mannekhi Spikers.

Tla Beth – Level Seventeen energy creatures, rulers of the Grid in the absence of the Kalarash. Their homeworld is located inside a supernova. Their small but powerful ships are called Gyroscopes. Their famed Mega Class battleships were called Grazers, believed to be defunct.

Wagramanians – Level Seven forest-dwelling tripeds famed for art, but also employed by the Tla Beth as shock troops during times of inter-stellar war, in their famed Hammer ships.

Xera – Level Eighteen Machine race developed by the Tla Beth, who had to be put down due to their war two million years earlier against ‘organics’. Their City ships were feared by an entire galaxy until they were neutralised in the battle at the edge of the galaxy in a place later named Hell’s End.

Zlarasi – Level Six aqua-farmers living in the oceans on Alagara. They use two ships: Conch ships (mass drivers) and Diamond warships (anti-matter core and weaponry).

Creating such ship concepts is a lot of fun! But even better, when commissioning the cover for Endgame with celebrated SF artist John Harris, I got to design the ship Shiva with him (well, technically the Scintarelli designed it, we just visualized it, lol). I sent him the chapter where Shiva goes into action, and he produced the cover, first in pastels and then in oils. Needless to say, it's on my wall!

For the rest though it is up to the reader's imagination. But the way they are best brought to life is through action. The following excerpt is from a battle scene in the last book , when many of the ships above confront each other. Some have been seen earlier in this and previous books, but they have never been brought into the same battle-space. And there is one that has never been seen before...

Micah focused on the foreground, in particular the Ossyrian Diamond ships, and addressed Vashta.
“I didn’t know Ossyrians still had weapons tech. It’s been sixty millennia since you last waged war.”
Vashta took a few moments to reply. “After Level Seven there is never species memory loss. That is why when certain species rebel, they are completely eradicated.”
“You were lucky, then.”
Again, there was a pause. “It did not feel lucky, Micah.”
Micah was about to apologise, when Sandy interrupted.
“Xenic has just arrived with the remains of the Mannekhi fleet. He’d like a word.”
Micah nodded, relieved to see a fleet of black and purple Spikers enter the system.
“Xenic, glad you could join us, but there’s some pretty heavy firepower out there.”
“Do you see the black ships with two prongs at one end?”
Micah did, they reminded him of scorpions.
“Those are Tazani, our overlords for fifty thousand years. As Kilaney would have said, it’s payback time.”
Micah felt he should point out the obvious. “They are Level Seven, Xenic.”
“We brought along some new friends.”
Micah peered at the viewscreen and at first saw nothing, then massive Transpace conduits opened, revealing snake-like ships in the lead that rippled aquamarine. Shiva informed him they were Zlarasi Serpent-ships. He knew what Kilaney had done to them, destroying their home planet in order to salvage Blake, and was about to ask Sandy to contact their Commander when the Zlarasi commander opened a channel.
“Do not worry, human, we know who the enemy is. And Kilaney’s actions have proven effective.”
Micah was relieved, and wondered whether humanity would have been so forgiving had the roles been reversed.
Wagramanian Hammer-ships arrived, behind the Zlarasi Serpent-ships, and Micah recalled that the Wagramanians – the first to be recoded – had recently been restored. When he saw what they were towing, however, he stood and walked up to the viewscreen.
“Worms? You brought dark worms here?”
Xenic’s sharp laugh cut across the bridge. “The Zlarasi tamed the ones Hellera didn’t kill; that’s why there’s not been much activity.”
“What do you propose to do with them?”
“Use them as shields, Micah. And if we get close enough, as mass-drivers. You’ll see.”
He doubted they would perturb the Nchkani vessels, and Qorall could use his black hole to swallow any amount of matter spewed in his direction. Then he remembered something; the worms, whose natural habitat was the inter-galactic void, could excrete anti-matter. That might make a difference.
“Have you told Hellera?”
“She’s the one that made it happen, Micah, she’s been calling in favours across the galaxy. Kalarash aren’t above a little politics now and again.”
Of course. Micah kept forgetting that humanity was just a pawn, and there were more skilled players.
“Don’t get killed, Xenic. I’ve buried too many friends recently.”
Xenic replied in Mannekhi and broke the connection. Micah glanced back to Sandy for a translation. After a second she looked up from her console, a small smile on her face.
“He’s been reading up on Earth culture. ‘Only the good die young.’” Her voice caught on the last word, and she locked her face onto her displays again.
Micah focused on the arrays of ships again, imagining a gigantic chessboard: Hellera and Qorall at opposite ends, their armies lined up ready for the battle, waiting for one or other side to make the first move. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be particularly subtle.

A klaxon sounded aboard Shiva as Qorall dispatched three waves of Tazani battle-cruisers and attendant fighter ships towards Hellera’s position. The Wagramanians launched the worms – presumably anaesthetized – towards the first wave. Three Hammer-ships skulked behind each dark worm, hidden in the giant folds of the creatures. Micah zoomed in on one, and saw a pulsing green cable protruding from the worm’s neck; the Zlarasi were controlling them directly.
Mannekhi Spikers accelerated towards the attacking front, over-taking the worms, their purple spines spitting fire at the Tazani. In return, each of the Tazani ships’ two prongs forged a beam between them that launched lozenges of energy at the Spikers, ignoring the worms. Space lit up like a firework factory exploding, but without sound. Shiva filtered out the glare. Micah saw the Mannekhi suffering heavy losses, many of the Spikers blown apart by the energy impact, spilling Mannekhi into space. None of the Mannekhi ships retreated, and nausea gripped Micah’s stomach. But as the worms reached the centre of the battlefield, the Wagramanian Hammer-ships engaged, living up to their name as they spun like tomahawks towards the less manoeuvrable Tazani battle-cruisers, weathered the defensive energy lozenges, and smashed headlong into and through the cruisers. Once a Tazani cruiser was damaged, Spikers descended on it like vultures, to finish the job.
Bronze ships that looked like giant squid entered the fray, and Shiva tagged them as Level Eight, Hushtarans. They began capturing the Wagramanian Hammers with long tentacles of antimatter, burning their way through the Hammers’ fuselage. Hellera deployed the Ossyrian Diamond ships. Micah didn’t actually know what weapons the Ossyrians possessed, only that they had once been feared across the galaxy.
The crystal diamonds approached the squids and split into two pyramids, then began cutting the squid, slicing through its hull, twisting and turning, the two halves of the diamond working together, gouging and dismembering the ship. Soon the Hushtaran ships were listless in space. Micah zoomed in to one that was in pieces, but detected no bodies. Shiva informed him that Hushtaran pilots merged organically with their ships; they were one and the same.  
            Micah knew this battle, though terrible, was all a preamble to the real one, and at the moment a ploy by Hellera to get the Nchkani vessels to enjoin battle. But it wasn’t working. Instead, Qorall fired his famed spatial lightning bolts, criss-crossing the space with green plasma arcs of awesome power. Any Spikers, Diamonds and Hammers that didn’t make it quickly enough to the leeward side of the worms were vaporised, as were the remaining Tazani and Hushtaran ships, evidently collateral damage as far as Qorall was concerned. Micah prayed that Xenic was still alive.
Sandy must have been thinking along the same lines. “Xenic’s ship is still intact, Micah.”
He nodded a thank you, then turned to Vashta. “Sorry for the Ossyrian casualties, Vashta.”
“You have no idea, Micah, how proud we are to be here, fighting, after so many millennia of enforced pacifism. We are complete again.”
Micah stared at her awhile, and realised that whatever happened here today, whoever won, ten million years of ordered Grid Society was going to be torn down. He wondered if Hellera knew, and then decided that of course she knew, she was Level Nineteen.
The Rangers’ assortment of small scout ships swept in like fireflies, dodging the green lightning bolts with faster-than-eye movements, and for the first time Micah appreciated how physically robust the reptilian Rangers must be to survive such manoeuvres. Still the Nchkani hung back. Instead, hundreds of copper-coloured vessels shaped like corkscrews appeared out of nowhere, reminding Micah of old-style solenoids.
For the first time ever, he felt a jab from Shiva via his resident, and guessed it was her equivalent of a flinch. He interrogated, and Shiva replied: .
Micah paced the length of the screen, thinking. Unknown and some kind of stealth tech. It only made sense if Qorall had concealed them all this time, during nearly twenty years of war. The discipline behind his strategy was breath-taking.

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