Ship profile: Wasp Interceptor, 2567


A dozen Interceptors speared through the γ Phoe wormhole eight days ago, scouring the outer fringes of the System. In less than an hour, they’d crushed every military installment and hardened bunker among the moons of Tah, outermost gas giant of the People’s Dominion, to ash, pouring terrible fire from the sky. In just three hours, these twelve small fighters had established a beachhead, clearing the way for an entire battlegroup of heavily-armoured Imperial warships.

Riding magnetic sails driven by banks of particle weapons mounted to the Imperial warships, the Interceptors screamed towards the Inner System at a punishing sixty gravities before switching to onboard propulsion to brake into orbit around Fineholm, the homeworld of our great Dominion. It took them only two days to reach us, burning faster and harder than any of our ships ever could — almost too fast for even the Party Council to plan for their arrival.

Almost.

The fight would be in orbit, the Great Leader had decreed.

Out in open space, these Interceptors had a range of three light-seconds — enough to pick holes in ships and stations as distant as Little Moon — but near a planet, there was a horizon to contend with. Constrained by the territory, the Great Leader said, these overconfident invaders would be crushed by the sheer weight of the People’s Dominion, the vast network of defensive stations overwhelming these twelve, small ships.

For two days, the sky flickered and danced with the maelstrom in orbit — nuke-pumped, single-shot gamma-ray lasers tearing holes in the ionosphere and opening technicolour auroral rifts in the world’s magnetic field as they focused great and terrible energies on the enemy craft, the killing glare of Little Moon’s particle beams glancing off the upper atmosphere like phantom asteroids, scattering clouds below — and still, the Interceptors ran circles around our best weapons and bravest warriors. One carved a canyon half a mile deep across the face of Little Moon, silencing her beam arrays once and for all. Another turned killing fire on the brooding mass of shipyards and weapons platforms, a blade of trillion-electron-volt particles scything through ships and shipwrights alike, the lot of it unfolding like a cruel, bloodied eye in the Southron sky.

The last, desperate phase of the fighting had come, then. The Great Leader and the Party Council had retreated into bunkers buried deep in granite fissures beneath Black Munich, Fineholm’s capitol. Fighter planes meant to quell regional uprisings and desert raiders were scrambled from across the continent, bristling with lasers, railguns and air-to-air nuclear missiles. Fifty spaceplanes — many of them civilian transports pressed into the glory of military service — took to the skies, barreling towards the invaders, hoping to hold them off long enough to protect the capitol.

The first of the shuttles to die did so screaming, her ceramic-plated fuselage cleaved into two uneven halves so quickly that thermal shock killed her patriot crew before anything else. The last of that ragged group, shuttle fifty, crash-landed an hour later, her burning wings clipped by electron fire.

It was one of the fighter jets which got the lucky shot, managing to saturate the Interceptor’s point defences before detonating an airbust nuclear missile. Fifty spaceplanes, many of them armed, and god knows how many warships and weapons platforms in orbit — all of that loss and carnage had managed, mainly by luck, to kill just one of these twelve terrible ships. The other Interceptors learned from this, of course — from then on, they shot to kill, not to maim.

In less than two days, the fighters were either dead or grounded. The surviving pilots, patriots though they were, refused to fly. Now, only city defences stood between the Imperial scum and total victory.


Have you ever seen a relativistic electron gun fire in an atmosphere? Out in space, I’m told it’s silent and, aside from the point of contact, invisible. A bright flash on the target.

Not so in air.

It tears across the sky faster than you can blink — faster than you can think — smooth, straight lightning, setting the air on fire wherever magnetic defences bent the beam. Look at it up close — say, fifteen kilometres distant — and the bremsstrauhlung flaring’ll give you a sunburn. Less than five kilometres away, and the X-Rays and Gammas those same bremsstrauhlung effects produce will give you cancer.

And god above, the noise! The sky herself crying in terror, anguish. It is to a thunderclap what a thunderclap is to the soft crunch of snow underfoot.

Three Interceptors tore open the sky above Waltstadt just yesterday, skimming through the sky, those terrible weapons bared. The government bunkers, heart of the city’s defences, are simply gone, swallowed by three narrow, smouldering craters two hundred metres deep. Firestorms raged throughout central Waltstadt for hours, foliage and fabric and flesh set alight by the burning air.

Word from Black Munich is scarce, but what little we’ve heard tells a story of a city in disarray.

Reports suggest the Great Leader detonated an airburst nuke above the city during the first raid, a decision I’m sure must have been wise. But the Interceptors are simply carving neat, geometric wounds in the fabric of the city itself, chewing through concrete and asphalt and bedrock alike. I’ve heard tell that the granite chambers beneath Black Munich are open to the air, metres of rock shattered like pastry, that it’s only a matter of time before the People’s Dominion falls.

I pray it isn’t true.

Excerpt from the diary of a People’s Dominion bureaucrat, on display
at the museum to the twelve day war, New Munich,
open 9-5, Imperial Time.


In many ways, the Wasp Interceptor is the epitome of Imperial shock-and-awe tactics. Oh, she’s a frankenstein’s monster when it comes to mission profile — improbably sleek for a creature of the vacuum, but hardly streamlined enough to truly shine in atmospheric firefights — nonetheless this versatile class of military vessel has been key to conquering worlds and winning wars.

Two factors should immediately stick out to even the casual eye:

  • The Wasp Interceptor has an extremely overpowered drive system, and;
  • The Wasp Interceptor has an extremely overpowered weapon loadout.

Propulsion

At less than twelve thousand tonnes, it might seem like a surprise to many readers that the Wasp Interceptor is, by default, outfitted with not one but rather seven one-terawatt, military-grade fusion torch drives. Alone, each of these drives could propel a ship ten times as heavy as the Wasp Interceptor at one gravity — together, fitted to such a light frame and hull, the ship’s maximum acceleration can be as high as forty gravities.

Correspondingly, the ship is remarkably poorly-armoured. To achieve her incredible maneuverability, the Wasp Interceptor is forced to ditch the bulky, high-mass hull composites used by standard warships and corvettes in favour of sloped, light armour which gives this class of ship the insectoid appearance for which she is named. In order for these ships to be effective both as long-range ‘artillery’ weapons, and close-quarters combat agents, the Wasp has to sacrifice armour for raw speed.

It’s also worth noting that these ships can be outfitted with a range of secondary propulsion units — most commonly some form of magnetic sail, to allow the Wasp to be rapidly deployed by her command ship across whole star systems. Using beamed propulsion, a Wasp can achieve much higher accelerations, on the order of sixty or seventy gees.

Left: Wasp Interceptor, Centre: Voyager Probe, Right: Space Shuttle with Boosters

Weapons Loadout

Before we talk about the ship’s primary, offensive weapon, let’s discuss briefly her dual-role armaments.

Sixteen Khopesh railgun turrets dot the flanks of the Wasp Interceptor, each able to fire one thousand five-centimetre-diameter slugs every minute, each launched at 3.5km/s. Despite these quite impressive figures — 16,000 rounds per minute total — the primarily role of the Khopesh railgun turrets is, surprisingly, defensive. These weapons serve as powerful point-defence intended to disable incoming missiles and enemy vessels alike, though they can also serve an offensive role either at long ranges or when faced with many targets at once.

One critical design flaw in the Wasp Interceptor is the gap in point-defence coverage towards the ship’s rear — however, given the intensity of the fusion thrusters’ collective drive plume, managing to cripple a Wasp Interceptor in flight is rather more difficult than it might at first seem.

However impressive the ship’s other figures, they are all overshadowed by her primary weapon — an eighty-three metre long, 11GW Ultra-Relativistic Electron Beam mounted to the Wasp’s keel. It’s hard to overstate just how powerful the so-called UREB is — this model has an effective range of three light seconds in open space, one and a half times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, and can penetrate tens of metres of plate steel per second under optimal conditions.

Even more devastating are the secondary effects — whenever the path of this beam is deflected or bent, bremsstrahlung effects release an enormous pulse of X-Rays and Gamma showers. When used on spacecraft, this has been known cripple even heavy armour and expose the crew and any repair systems to radiation sickness — when used in atmosphere, this effect routinely sets the air on fire, albeit at the cost of reducing beam power substantially.

Powering such a weapon is no easy feat — the Wasp Interceptor features a dedicated Inertial-Confinement Fusion Reactor to provide her primary weapon enough power to reshape the heavens. Similarly, the waste heat produced by this reactor and the ship’s keel-mounted death ray is considerable to say the least, explaining why the Wasp comes equipped with no less than twelve rugged Curie Point radiators, each of which use magnetically-corralled white-hot metal filings to reject this heat flux. The design also features two flat, solid radiators composed of a complex diamondoid-graphene-nanotube substance, in order to boost the ship’s redundancy.

Crew Provisions

While the exact details are of course subject to considerable state secrecy, the harsh provisions aboard a Wasp Interceptor are infamous among the rank-and-file of the Imperial Navy. To be frank, there are no provisions aboard an Interceptor — as anyone can see from the ship’s performance statistics, she’s an outsized torpedo with a genuine, no-holds-barred bareknuckle-brawl death ray mated to her frontward face. Organic crews are an unfortunate afterthought.

Life support for the seven crew comes in two stages: direct oxygenation, filtering and nutrient-enriching of the blood, and permanent liquid immersion. If that sounds grizzly, brace yourself, because it isn’t about to get any better.

First, the crews are hooked up to dedicated, military-grade life support machines. The primer leaflet given to those assigned Interceptor duty puts it best:

A piezo-mechanical heart will beat for you. A rugged dialysis machine will sleep for you, by cleaning the fatigue poisons out of your blood and dosing you with amphetamines. That very same machine will breathe for you, oxygenating your blood directly. In fact, the only thing you’ll be doing for yourself is thinking — and even that will come with a lot of automatic assistance.
You’ll be wondering now why we’re letting you keep your organs at all — the answer is simple: it’s quicker and easier to leave you as you are than to strip your nervous system out of your body, hook it up to those same machines, and have to regrow that same body every time you take shore leave, which you’ll be taking a lot of.
Any questions?

What they distinctly don’t tell recruits is that the second step in being hooked up to this life support system is being drowned. Once the catheters are in and sealed, and the machines are ready to do the heavy lifting for the crewfolk, their lungs are sprayed with a protective enzyme and they’re submerged in a tank of buoyancy fluid. The sensation is quite unpleasant, with rather a lot of thrashing, struggling, and panic for the first few hours — veteran crews see this as an act of hazing, and call the practice getting your sky-lungs. Reportedly it gets less distressing every time, though whether that’s bravado talking is another matter.

While these measures are considerable, they still have their limits. Liquid immersion can keep someone alive and functioning at as high as 70 gees of acceleration, but the risk of dying begins to mount above twenty or thirty gees. While this wouldn’t normally be an issue — modern, Imperial back-up technology is subsidised for those who serve in the Imperial Navy, a number of incidents of devastating Trojan attacks on these backup signals following the first deployment of the Wasp Interceptor means current policy is to only allow the crew to sync once they’re out of combat.

For many, this breaking of continuity in the event of temporary death would be as bad as permanent death, and some Imperial territories and allies consider loss of continuity a form of legal death — meaning Interceptors have been known to take on criminals and prisoners as crew, in exchange for the suspension of their sentences.

Other Notes

First Produced:2567
Length110 metres (approx.)
Beam24.5 metres (approx.)
Personnel7 (in liquid immersion tanks)
Dry Mass12,000 metric tonnes (approx.)
Wet Mass36,000 metric tonnes (approx.)
Cruising Accel.1 — 11 standard gravities
Peak Accel.11 — 40 standard gravities
Atmosphere Capable:Yes

3 thoughts on “Ship profile: Wasp Interceptor, 2567”

  1. Firstly, I really do enjoy reading your stories. Keep them coming! My favorite one was the one about the Texan Laser Launch Array.
    I do have a rather technical question. I’ve always dismissed charged particle beam weapons like your UREB in favor of neutral particle beams because the interactions between the particles would lead to greater beam divergence. Did you run the numbers on that weapon? Is the divergence irrelevant over the three light-second distances you want to use the beam over?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, thanks for your kind words. The piece about the Texan Launch Array was a real labour of love so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      As for your question: I share your scepticism when it comes to charged particle beam weapons, which is why I was surprised when I saw the range estimate given for an UREB. But I did get my hands on a calculator that a particle physicist I know put together specifically for UREBs and ran the numbers myself (to the best of my ability). Over a range of about three light seconds, a beam which starts out a millimetre across balloons out to a spot diameter of around one to two centimetres!

      The reason for this is quite interesting. At the sort of velocities the electrons that compose an UREB are travelling at, relativistic effects have a huge influence on beam performance. Basically, the electrons experience such a high rate of time dilation that the repulsive force between them is reduced by orders of magnitude — allowing UREBs to remain focused over ludicrous distances.

      I also ran an (admittedly naive) calculation for the penetration depth of an UREB at that range, using Luke Campbell’s online laser penetration calculator — those figures of multiple metres of steel armour per second aren’t a typo, though they might be off by an order of magnitude or so. Or maybe not — electrons have a lot more momentum than photons, after all.

      If you’ve any other questions about the setting or any of the pieces of fiction set in it, feel free to ask — either in the comments, or by shooting me an email on the contact form!

      Best regards,

      Lilly

      Like

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