Laser styli are the multi-purpose tool of choice for space explorers and travellers. They consist in compact, pencil-sized emitters linked to portable batteries, often worn on the belt or in the back. The emitters are tunable lasers, capable of emitting in wide array of visible wavelengths and continuous or burst modes. Custom tips can be added to the stylus to further increase its versatility. The emitter can be easily put apart to clean it, replace lenses and make various repairs or adjustments -- it is a device first and foremost designed for intensive field work in harsh conditions. Standard styli may be used under water and in hard vacuum, though both very hot and very cold environments require active temperature control (often through the use of a reactive socket) to prevent lens damage. The pencils can be sterilized and autoclaved, which allows them to be used for medical procedures on the field.
Plenty of uses exist for laser styli, and the most notable ones are listed below.
- Illumination of one's surroundings, where the stylus is fitted with a round tip and used as a flashlight or an ambient light.
- Surface cleaning of samples and equipment, with a stylus fitted with a wide tip and tuned to the adequate laser wavelength to burn coverings of dust, bacteria, atmospheric pollutants and other surface deposits.
- Cutting or carving of thin pieces of metal or various materials when the stylus is equipped with a focalizing tip and tuned to high wavelength. Sustained cutting sessions will go through lenses quite fast, but styli are more accurate and gentler than industrial cutters.
- Communication over short distances in vacuum by using the stylus in burst mode and hooking it to a portable communication device. This is often used for ship-to-crew communication in EVA.
- Self-defence. Laser styli are not strong enough to be a credible weapon (except against some very fragile lifeforms), but when set to the highest intensity they can be used as sensor and eye blinding devices.
- Medical procedures on the field, using the stylus as a laser scalpel for surgery or as a scraper for basic dental work.
- Examination of samples or patients using a thin tip specifically made for transillumination of translucent material.
- Range finding, when the stylus is equipped with a laser receiver.
Laser styli are generally classified as light personal tools, which means they do not abide by the stricter regulations of industrial-grade laser tools. Given that styli can be tuned to potentially dangerous wavelengths, most designs use a double trigger mechanism where higher frequencies require the operator to press two buttons at once, thus reducing the risks of accidental discharge. Protection goggles or lenses are still advised when using laser styli.
Illustration: NetWeb01, Creative Commons 3.
Technological networks were the first victims of the collapse that heralded the Low Age. First, the Internet ceased to exist as a coherent system, fragmenting in a thousand regional networks; then, local infrastructure started breaking down, know-how and technical skills were lost and, finally, complex computers ceased to operate as spare parts ran out worldwide and the general breakdown of industry prevented the replacement of existing equipment. However, even at the heart of the Low Age, simplistic electronic equipment never stopped being used. Many a post-apocalyptic commune, polity or enclave found itself manufacturing basic computers out of salvaged parts and, towards the end of the Low Age, locally sourced circuits.
With the dawn of the interplanetary age and the emergence of both the USRE and Laniakea, a certain degree of unity came back to technological networks and, while there was no equivalent to the pre-collapse Internet, standardization of software and protocol became a concern again. It is in this time period that the first elements of a popular operating system for the post-industrial era appeared in the fragmented networks of humankind. By the dawn of the interstellar age, this initiative had coalesced into a public domain, all-purpose operating system. Biblioteca 1.0 was born.
At its core, Biblioteca is not dissimilar to the various open-source operating systems of the industrial age. Its source code is fully public, and any individual or organisation may reuse and build upon the operating system, which is typically distributed in custom packages including UI elements, basic software and sometimes dedicated hardware support. There is no technical limit to what Biblioteca can be installed on as long as it is not some kind of obscure archeo-chip salvaged from the depths of an industrial landfill. In the first decade or so of the interstellar era, Biblioteca was somewhat centralized, with a main numbered branch maintained by Earth-based NGOs and an official repository of community-endorsed distribution. This organisation was maintained for the three main “legacy” versions of Biblioteca: 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0.
As humankind spread through the stars, however, Biblioteca quickly encountered a logistical problem — with the lack of instant interstellar communications, Biblioteca updates on the main branch and approved distributions could take years or even decades to spread across human space, creating all sorts of compatibility issues as well as gaping holes in the cybersecurity of Biblioteca devices. With the advent of Biblioteca 2.8, the software community decided to pivot towards a fully decentralized system. Instead of incremental updates, Biblioteca would now focus on basic, long-term releases meant to remain in use for decades at a time. The various regions of human space would then source their local packages and distributions, building upon the foundations of the long-term release without having to wait for main branch updates and documentations. While this organisation greatly alleviated the logistical issues inherent to interstellar software, it also compromised the universal nature of Biblioteca to a certain extent, as each planet now had its own custom distributions.
The current long-term release version of Biblioteca is 3.0, with an experimental 3.2 branch available for quantum computers. Three main sub-branches, or meta-distributions, exist in the major regions of human space.
- .A. is the version used on Earth and in the solar system, often considered the closest in terms of UI and functionality to legacy Biblioteca.
- .O. is the Traverse release, optimized for ship computers and modern wetware devices, focusing on performance at the expense of retro-compatibility with legacy versions and other sub-branches.
- .E. is the Smyrnian branch, a barely recognisable Biblioteca that went through the software meatgrinder of endless cyberconflicts and is as such considered as the most secure of them all — and also the most obscure.
Versions of Biblioteca are thus named after the long-term release they are built upon, the meta-distribution and the actual distribution. The current version of the “Capella” distribution used by the Starmoth Initiative would be referred to as follows: 3.0 - O - Capella.2.5.
While Biblioteca is by far the most widely used OS in human space, several open-source competitors also exist, often in very specific niches. The most well-known ones are Mirror, specifically developed for quantum computers, and SGIS, a stellar geographic information system (GIS) that started as a piece of software but became a full-fledged OS.
[EXTRACT FROM THE SPACE TRAVELLER'S HANDBOOK]
In human space, the term "space garments" covers a wide variety of clothing and equipment that isn't limited to space apparatuses per se but covers a wide array of equipment that can protect their wearers in dangerous environments, including deep space.
1 - Voidsuits
Voidsuits are the most protective kind of space garments, used for extra-vehicular activities and operations in atmosphere-less planetary environments. The distant cousins of industrial-era space suits, they are semi-rigid clothes with a three-layered structure. The first layer is made of a temperature management system, the second layer is a pressure regulating undergarment while the third layer offers protection against radiation and micrometeorite impacts. A voidsuit is often worn with regular clothing underneath, though a haptic "skinsuit" can also be used. Voidsuits have their own environmental control systems offering several days of oxygen generation, recycling and basic sustenance. When used for extra-vehicular activities, voidsuits are paired with small RCS modules offering all-aspect mobility in zero-g.
Most communes locally source their voidsuits, which are relatively expensive to build even if they aren't technologically complex. Their software is often based on a public domain OS, Sybil, which provides a zero-g navigation UI and is compatible with virtually all remote communication and control networks.
2 - Exosuits
Exosuits are a natural development of Low Age environmental suits used in the reclamation zones of European, Asian and North American ruins. They are meant to be used in pressurized environments where unassisted breathing is impossible, hard or merely ill-advised. Their main function is to isolate their wearer from their environment and vice-versa. Though exosuits are not necessarily sealed, they provide extensive filtering of incoming cosmic rays, radiations, atmospheric contaminants and gaseous compounds. When used in a breathable atmosphere they trade closed-cycle environmental systems for rebreathers and oxygen extractors. Wet exosuits sometimes include artificial gills and double as diving suits in low-pressure environments. On high-gravity planets, exosuits may be equipped with artificial muscle nodes providing exoskeleton-like strength demultiplication.
Exosuits are modular. They include skin-tight undergarments with haptic controls and health monitoring systems, then a two-part suit used for temperature regulation and finally an outer suit with the protective and environmental control layers. Lighter exosuits only require the last layer which is worn like a jacket or a flight suit; they are often hard to distinguish from regular clothes.
It is not rare to find exosuits used in non-hostile conditions by communes that don't want to or can't manufacture dedicated equipment. In this case, they are often stripped down, with individual layers being integrated in regular clothes. For instance, the temperature regulation layer can be used by field workers, while the haptic controls are sewn in pilot jackets.
3 - Flight suits
"Flight suit" is a bit of a generic term encompassing the specific pieces of clothing worn by space pilots and navigators. They take the shape of single-layered, full-body suits worn over undergarments or civilian clothes. They have three main functions. The first one is to act as high-g suits, preventing blackouts by controlling skin-level blood pressure and, if need be, injecting anti-stroke drugs. The second one is to provide all-body haptic feedback, translating technical data into sensory pings, enabling navigators to "feel" their ships and its surroundings in real-time. The third one is to enable a limited degree of active temperature regulation through artificial veins filled with heat carrier fluids. It is mostly geared towards cooling, as modern spaceships can get quite hot under thrust. In case of hull rupture, flight suits paired with rebreathers can keep their wearer safe and sound for up to six hours.
There are two distinct fashion schools when it comes to flight suits. Navigators that follow the "quiet worker" ethos pioneered by qith Saïmour like to wear their flight suits "as is", with minimal ornamentation aside from colour-coded insignias. Other, more flamboyant pilots like to adorn their suits in a way that makes them look like old-fashioned flight jackets.
Flight suits are at the bottom of the manufacturing chain of space garments and often made from recycled voidsuits or exosuits.
Illustrations: standard license Shutterstock art/Creative Commons Symbiosis Artbook/Public domain USAF.
Vehicles, Powersuits and Drones : Open Source
This archive has been compiled by AI user Camilla.
It references the most common types of open-source blueprints for utility vehicles in settled space. All of these designs are virtually ubiquitous by the virtue of having been public domain for decades, sometimes centuries.
/OPEN SOURCE ROVER FAMILY
Oh, this thing is old. It predates faster than light travel by at least a century. It's a pure product of the late Low Age. A tough, reliable, versatile ground vehicle capable of adapting to any environment and case use. Name something, the EPR can do it. It's compact, it can be pressurized, it can carry about anything you want and it has cute little manipulator arms that can be used to move cargo and objects around. Propulsion is electrical and powered by an engine block that can accommodate several types of standardized power-producing units, from biofuel engines to small fission reactors. Easy to drive once you get accustomed to its main quirk - like all electric vehicles the EPR has a lot of torque.
//EARTH-PATTERN ROVER "WEAPONIZED"
Well, technically I guess we are talking about EPRs turned into mining/excavation vehicles but I do not think this description is entirely accurate. I've seen these things pop up here and there outside of Communal Space and...I don't know, I guess an EPR can be used for excavation but mining apparatuses also make for decent weaponry. Sub-surface displacement missiles or high-pressure water drills can turn a peaceful EPR into a mining rig and an improvised combat vehicle. It won't stand a chance in a fair fight because it has no armour to speak of but it can definitely score a hit or two. I suggest we keep an eye on such open-source patterns when they appear.
Ah, mechs. I've never been a great fan. Wheels have served us well for millennia, I don't see why we should ditch them just because we now have the possibility to have stable legged designs and the autopilots to drive them. Well I guess putting four legs on an EPR and calling it a "Moon-Pattern variant" just to flex on Earth-bound designs is typical of the Moon Communes that designed this thing and I shouldn't put too much thought into it but...it's weird. I can't help but feel EPRs should keep wheels. Anyway, regardless of my considerations this is a decent evolution of the original rover. Four legs may offer better stability on rugged terrain and the ground pressure isn't ridiculously high which is uncommon for a mech. Don't expect to drive it without autopilot though.
Some people think qith Saïmour wanted to have their own version of the Earth-Pattern Rover purely out of spite but I don't think it's quite fair to the Eloran commune. The Simurgh is an honest attempt at modernizing the EPR and not just a rip-off. It's smaller yet has more internal space due to miniaturization and the wheel design offers better manoeuvrability at the expense of simplicity. I am very partial to the enclosed, spaceship-like cockpit which offers better protection and more comfort though I understand why some people don't like having to rely on external cameras. One important deviation from the original EPR is the engine, which only runs on standard batteries - a choice that was influenced by the ship-bound origin of qith Saïmour.
//SIMURGH ROVER - "NOMAD"
At first glance, the Nomad is what happens when you try to mix an EPR and a Simurgh but this design is more than a ramshackle hybrid assembled by bored engineers on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I think the fairest classification I could give it is "space caravan". The Nomad removes the manipulator arms and most of the non-essential equipment to maximize internal space and make way for habitation modules and environmental control systems. A keen eye might have noticed that the bubble-shaped cockpit is heavily inspired by ship escape pods - the resemblance is intentional, as the Nomad is designed to be assembled from discarded ship parts. In the advent of planetary colonization, the Nomad would make a perfect mobile home for the settlers. Also, it has a tea kettle.
/DJINN DRONE FAMILY
What can I say about djinns? That they are incredibly common? That they are essential to most space-based activities, so much that most people don't even mind them? All of that and a lot more I assume. Djinns are smallish (read: human-sized) space drones that are all based upon the same basic pattern: a CPU, manipulator arms, simple LIDAR sensors and manoeuvering thrusters. You may keep them "as is" or upgrade them with various shenanigans but at heart, that's all they are. Free-floating drones designed to pick up and manipulate things in zero-g, a domain in which we humans are sorely lacking. Uninformed spacefarers will tell you djinns are stupid. That's just because they forgot to hook them up to a central AI and just let them fool around independently. Don't do that.
"Little cyclops" I call them due to their laser "eye" (in fact a standard emitter) standing at the top of a little gimbal. This djinn design is a natural evolution of the good old laser grid system for debris and dust protection - except that instead of being stuck to the ship our lasers can now wander around and intercept threats with more flexibility. Is it a good thing? Well, at least the people who made this pattern public domain think so. Personally, I've heard potential horror stories about laser djinn swarms used as weapons but I don't think they have enough battery to be a threat. If you want to be exceedingly annoying by blinding someone's sensors with swarms of laser emitters, however, they might cut it.
//FOUR-LEGGED ASTEROID SPIDER
Whoever called a four-legged machine "spider" should take biology courses but whatever, I am not here to be pedantic. This is...a thing, certainly? I'm not sure what it's supposed to be, really. The user manual tells me it's a mobile prospection/exploration apparatus that is supposed to use its legs as clamps to hold on to rocky asteroids and low-g planetary surfaces and okay, fine, but I don't see why you wouldn't use a big djinn instead. I am suspecting this to be an R and D reject, a failed design that a facetious engineer would put in the public domain for giggles.
//LUMIA BIPEDAL WALKER
Meeechs! Alright, I have to admit this one surprised me when it appeared in public domain databases about a decade ago because it is...actually not terrible? For a bipedal mech, I mean. The profile is very well-balanced, the legs make it hard to topple, ground pressure is reasonable and the default autopilot does a very good job at making the mech go where you want it to go. Manipulator arms and side hardpoints mean you can attach a lot of standard tools to the Lumia which makes it a very versatile workhorse machine. Its only true weaknesses are muddy/snowy terrain (but that's true of all mechs) and heat dissipation - the Lumia is very compact.
//LUMIA BIPEDAL WALKER - WEAPONIZED
When the Lumia came out I had my doubts about the identity of its creators - frankly, that a small Smyrnian commune would have achieved such a good design and released it for free was surprising. When I found this alternate design in the dark corners of Eloran networks my doubts only became stronger. The Lumia is not just an elaborate hobby project, there's something else behind it. The weaponized version is one of the only combat mechs out there that could fight outside of flower wars. Compact, very well balanced even under fire, with a low profile, and packing a lot of weaponry for its size - quad chemical guns, an ECM jammer, eight missile pods and that's for the default version. I could see the weaponized Lumia be used as some kind of mechanized infantry unit with good efficiency. Honestly, that a commune could come up with this and release it publicly for shenanigans keeps me awake at night - because if that's what they give, I wonder what they sell.
It took decades for Earth militaries to refine the concept of individual powersuits. They were meant to revolutionize combat, but they arrived right at the moment where AIs and drones had taken over in armies. Bad timing. The concept survived however under the shape of powered hardsuits, the most common of which is the Granite. Roughly man-sized (roughly - if you know someone who's as beefy as a Granite, call me) the Granite hardsuit is I think a Giants' Collective design put in public domain libraries (the copyright is a bit blurry for this one). It's...well it's a hardsuit. Titanium-and-carbon-nanotubes-with-heavy-water-sandwich hard. Three thousand meters under the sea. Five kilometres away from a powerful radiation source. With corrosive water. And explosions. The Granite doesn't mind.
Supposedly it can survive re-entry, I have doubts about the whole slowing down before impact business, however.
//SELENE MOBILE SUIT
I mean it's terrifying but it's also kinda brilliant. Powersuits make the wearer stronger and more resilient but how about giving them more arms? Like three times more? This is a Moon Communes design which was later upgraded by the Irenians and put in the public domain - the Irenians did not originally have the rights to this design and I think making it public was their way of settling the dispute by making the lawsuit way too annoying to handle. It's mostly a spacesuit. A top of the line spacesuit with environmental control, multiple sensor inputs, drone support, autopilot/movement assist and, well, yes, three pairs of arms, two of which are remotely controlled by the suit's mainframe.
Designs: Retrograde Minis.
In the vast majority of inhabited systems, stations are the main type of human habitats. Modular, adaptable, easier to access than ground settlements and sometimes even mobile, stations house dozens of millions of people across Communal Space. Though very diverse in terms of construction and inhabitants, space stations in inhabited space can often fall under several distinct types which are displayed in the following entry.
The Zanzibar model of stations was originally developed by the African-European Space Agency and later on upgraded by the Moon Communes as human presence in low earth orbit kept increasing at the end of the Low Age. It follows the model proposed in 1929 by John Desmond Bernal. The centre of Zanzibar stations is a hollow, rotating spherical shell housing habitation and agricultural facilities in low to medium gravity. From this spherical core, Zanzibar-class stations may extend through additional agricultural rings, docking facilities or zero-g factories. Capable of housing up to fifty thousand people in rather good if urban conditions, Zanzibar stations are most often used as supporting space stations in heavily settled systems. In low-population systems, however, a Zanzibar station might be the main settlement. In Communal Space maps, Zanzibar stations are almost always referenced through their economic specialization, which is reflected in their names, such as Evergreen, Forge, Shipyard or Granary. Zanzibar stations are almost always associated with a planetary body and "free-floating" Zanzibar-class stations are relatively rare.
A variant of Zanzibar stations called "Hollow Zanzibar" can be found as hollowed-out asteroids, generally in asteroid belts or gas giant rings.
The Babylon blueprint was first designed by the Moon Communes but the rights are currently in a legal void due to a conflict with the Giants' Collective, meaning Babylon Stations are de facto public domain designs. It is based on Gerard O'Neill's design from 1976: a vast inhabited station made of two counter-rotating cylinders providing artificial gravity via centrifugal force. The cylinders are connected at each end by a rod via a bearing system, creating a vast structure that can be anywhere between 30 and 100 kilometres long. The inside atmosphere is at a breathable pressure and provides adequate shielding against cosmic rays, as well as an inner weather system for the cylinder. Vast transparent sections, as well as mirrors, reflect light from the parent star of the cylinder. Babylon stations are truly massive achievements, often taking decades to build and mobilizing the resources of entire planetary cooperatives. The decision to build one is often linked to the necessity to have non-planetary population centres in a system, either due to the absence of an earth-like world or the fear that active colonization might destabilize the ecosystem of an existing world. With populations numbering in the millions, Babylon stations are more often than not independent polities and in Eloran space harbour their qith or cooperative syndicate. Babylon stations are often named after the various ecosystems they contain: they are spacious enough to have diverse biomes ranging from forests to small seas, offering living conditions similar to planetary surfaces.
In her seminal study of the geometry drive, Rani Spengler stated that there was no apparent theoretical limit to the size and mass of objects displaced via a geometry translation. Cathedral stations seem to have been created with the sole intent of testing this theory. Almost functionally similar to Babylon stations albeit at the lower end of the scale in terms of size, Cathedral stations are O'Neill cylinders with interstellar capacities provided by a station-sized geometry drive installed at the non-sun-facing side of the cylinder and powered by a station-wide computer network. The presence of such a massive drive creates a side effect that makes a Cathedral station translation a very rare and peculiar occurrence. The station is so massive that its translation creates spacetime disturbances at the arrival point called "weaves" which can hamper translations all across a system for days as they propagate at the speed of light. As they are devoid of sublight propulsion except for basic altitude control, Cathedral stations require towing ships to stabilize at their desired locations. With their geometry drive accounting for 80% of their cost, Cathedral stations are extremely expensive and very rare with only five occurrences across settled space.
The most well-known Cathedral stations are the Irenian stations that colonized the Pleiades, such as Phi Clio.
Sunflower stations are the most recent station type in settled space and the only kind whose designs aren't clearly open-source - the copyright older is qith Saïmour in Eloran space, though they are notoriously sloppy in enforcing it. Sunflowers can be understood as a middle ground between Zanzibars and Babylons: they take the somewhat small size of the former and Earth-like environment of the latter, combining them in medium-sized circular stations with a rotating outer habitation ring and an inner utility ring, all attached to a central docking module. Sunflowers are practical, elegant but expensive - in no small part because they cannot retain their atmosphere which requires the outer ring to be encased in a band of transparent material. Sometimes derided as vanity projects for rich communes, Sunflowers are generally found in planetary orbit and are mostly built by communes rich enough to upgrade their Zanzibars and not willing to seek out the partnerships required to build Babylons. For this reason, Sunflowers are most commonly found in independent, isolated systems.
Waystations are not really a class in and of themselves - they're a use case, not a specific blueprint. These small stations house AI systems and at best a few dozen people. They are present in systems devoid of any other human presence but that are part of long-range interstellar routes. Their main function is to provide external computing capabilities for small ships, thus increasing their effective range, but waystations also provide typical relay services like refuelling, emergency repairs and medical attention. They also handle interstellar communications by allowing courier drones to resupply and computing their jumps to the next waystation in their route. The vast majority of relays are under the authority of either the Moon Communes or Eloran qiths, however, there are potentially hundreds if not thousands of unregistered, independent or dormant waystations outside of officially settled space.
I have been unable to find the source for illustration: Cathedral Station. Sunflower Illustration: Elysium, Neil Bloomkamp (director).
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