The Merkur IIb is a joint German-American modification of A military variant of the commercial Merkur design (data appeared in `Ships of the French Arm'). While the German all-military variant (the IIa) retains a somewhat secret status, the IIb is designed to meet a number of wants that had heretofore been considered difficult --perhaps impossible-- to deliver in a single hull.
The Kafer War has engendered a growing perception that there is an increased risk (and therefore, cost) connected with exploration. Consequently, interstellar trailblazing has largely become a corporate or foundation venture. Over the years, survey vessels have shown a steady increase in size and specialization. The only organizations that could afford to own and operate them were the organizations that could directly or indirectly profit from any discoveries made by such vessels.
Unfortunately, along with the support of big business came the conservatism of big business. The notion of the bold and individualistic explorer increasingly became a fond remembrance of what once was. This did not affect some nations as much as others. As disparate as the cultures of the Manchurians, Azanians, and French are, all have shown a tendency to explore carefully and in accordance with the probable pace at which discovered resources can be thoroughly exploited. The increasingly corporate character of exploration did not perturb their new surveying ventures in the least.
However, the American and Australian (and to a lesser extent, German and English) exploratory histories are quite different. Americans in particular have evinced a deep-rooted affinity for pushing back the frontier with sweeping, bold (often brash) strokes. Unfortunately, this cultural predisposition was anathema to the careful pace preferred by large organizations.
The German government --in cooperation with the AAEC-- found a way to solve this dilemma; the Merkur IIb. By giving it a laser turret, a missile tube and bay (which can also be used for deploying independent sensor platforms), and an integral fuel-cracking capability, the German-American design team produced a vessel of modestly increased price and vastly increased exploratory potential in a high-threat environment.
It can hardly be denied that the Merkur IIb has significant failings. With the crew complement cut to 11, the captain/sensor workstation and computer/gunnery workstation must be left unmanned during the `night' watch. While these stations do not generally need constant manning, it does reduce the crew's ability to respond with optimum speed and efficiency if surprised during the `night' watch. The addition of the Hyde Dynamics EA 122 laser in a masked turret gives the Merkur IIb a little bite, but use of the weapon steals power from the stutterwarp drive. When firing the laser, the ship's warp efficiency is reduced to 2.57 (move of 5, in terms of Star Cruiser ratings). And of course, the low-comfort, spinless quarters are as unappealing as ever.
However, although the Merkur IIb does no one thing very well, it does reopen the gates for cursory small-team exploration of potentially hazardous systems. While the Merkur IIb carries a weighty price tag for its small size, it offers good speed, integral planetary interface capabilities, and cargo and bay facilities in which to carry remote sensor equipment and/or samples. The fuel cracking plant can completely refuel the vessel in about 19 days. While this might seem like a long layover, the effective range of 7.7 LY suggests a maximum of about 2.5 days of operation between system stops. This is equal to approximately 130 tons of fuel or, about 6.5 days of fuel processing --a perfect stopover period in a new system that's being given a quick once-over.
In short, the Merkur IIb facilitates the more aggressive exploratory style of the nations of the Alderhorst Alliance. While by no means an `inexpensive' exploratory vehicle, or a particularly effective one, its small crewing requirements and emphasis on self-reliance, speed, and survival make it an ideal choice for quick advance reconnaissance into unknown systems --particularly in the American Arm, where the drive to find new garden worlds is gathering steam.
Special Sensors: Standard Cartographic Survey
Work Stations: 5 Bridge, 3 Engineering
General Information: Warp Efficiency: 2.83 Plant: 4 MW MHD Turbine Fuel: 400 tons, sufficient for 1 week of operation Range: 7.7 LY Mass: 732.6 tons Cargo Capacity: 40 m3 (restricted to a mass of 10 tons if stated performance is to be retained) Comfort: -2 Emergency Power: none Total Life Support: 11 Solar Array: 700 m2 (seven arrays), primarily for the support of 7 on-board fuel processors Price: ? (Lv18,140,000)
Y'Lii Remote Fighter;
Appearing as nothing more than a silver sphere with a diameter of eight meters, the `Fastball' is designed to be able to inconspicuously blend in with the other spheroid Y'lii spacecraft. Until it begins its operations, the Fastball is completely indistinguishable from other 8 meter diameter craft. But upon commencing operation, the Fastball's true nature becomes immediately --and disconcertingly-- evident.
The Y'lii, although military neophytes, are clever thinkers with a penchant for elegant solutions. For example, their universal adoption of spherical ship design is not only in symbolic keeping with their holistic worldview, but presents an aggressor with an insoluble shell game dilemma. In short, the aggressor cannot be sure whether he is confronting a sensor drone, refueling barge, or fighter.
The Fastball reflects many of the high tech capabilities of the Y'lii. The vehicle's extraordinary speed, sensors, hull material, and targeting computer are all at or above the cutting edge of human engineering in each of these areas. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the fighter is not actually a part of the fighter itself, but is instead the complex c3 network that the Y'lii have evolved to optimize the strength of the remote-controlled Fastball.
In keeping with their affinity for elegant solutions, the Y'lii determined that a remote fighter would serve to minimize losses of their scarcest resource; trained combat pilots. However, they also realized that in order for a remote-fighter strategy to work, they had to evolve an uninterruptible command net.
The Y'lii managed this by building over 20,000 microwave uplink stations on the surface of Ssuushni'a. Many are prepared to assume direct control of a Fastball. Many more are slaved to relay transmitters emplaced in almost all of the other spherical spacecraft currently orbiting the Y'lii homeworld. Several more thousand `chain' and direct uplinks are located on each of Ssuushni'a's moons, undistinguishable from the other transmission and control equipment that dots the surfaces of these small worlds. Many of the orbiting relays are no larger than a volleyball and have been seeded into innocuous debris clouds that orbit Ssuushni'a, occupy its trojan points, or hang suspended in the gravometric balance of the various moons' lagrangian zones. This complex web of command and control relays is overseen by a Y'lii supercomputer, with 2 backups on Ssuushni'a itself, and one on each of the moons. In effect, the only way to `turn off' the Fastballs is to completely pulverize Ssuushnia and its moons --and that will take more time than an attacker can spare.
The Fastball is also able to effect self-powered transit to or from orbit via its MHD thrust capability. This obviates total dependence upon orbital tenders and repair facilities. Instead, the Fastball heads back dirtside for its fuel and maintenance needs. It also allows the Y'lii to `call home' the fighters in the event that they are being overwhelmed. However, the Fastball only carries enough fuel for a one-way trip, which means that the Y'lii generally relaunch the Fastballs as a payload on other vehicles or from their numerous slingshots, thereby delivering them to orbit with full fuel tanks.
Of course, there are drawbacks to Fastball. Commands cannot be relayed any faster than the speed of light, so the operating range of the fighters is limited, unless the Y'lii are willing to accept tremendous reductions in reaction time. Another option that would extend the range of the fighters is the introduction of stutterwarp equipped c3 platforms. The Y'lii are building a number of these currently, but are still loathe to risk any of their qualified pilots by putting them in harm's way. Also, the Y'lii technical excellence does not extend to weaponry, as is evinced by the Guiscard LL-98 equivalent lasers that the Fastball mounts (although they are equipped with UTES). Lastly, and most important, the Fastball is not a design that has much operational flexibility. Much of the power of the Fastball is highly dependent upon the `spherical shellgame' strategy, which is hard to `import' into every potential battle zone. Lastly, although it is a high-survivability vehicle, the Fastball packs a fairly weak punch, considering its powerful price tag. In actuality, the significance of the price tag is not budgetary; the Y'lii concept of economics and production is utterly devoted to serving the good of the whole, and the Fastball has first priority as the tool that offers the first line of defense against the genocidal Kafers. However, it takes TIME to build a vehicle as complex as the Fastball, and time may yet prove to be a scarcer resource than trained Y'lii combat pilots.
Work Stations: none
General Information: Warp Efficiency: 4.754 Plant: 10 MW MHD Fuel: 14.55 tons (2.5 hours of constant operations) Range: 7.7 LY Mass: 205.6 tons Cargo Capacity: 0 Comfort: n/a Total Life Support: 0 Solar Array: 30 m2 on vehicle surface, providing enough power for cold-start and communication systems Price: Lv unknown
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