Chaparral


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Post Chaparral

#1  Nik 16 Dec 2022 22:55

Nik-note: A 'Convention' tale...
---

Their pioneers called the planet 'Chaparral'. Bit smaller than Earth, slightly bigger than Trilorn, there was even a breathable oxy/nitrogen atmosphere thanks to the abundance of 'green sorta-algae' in the vast low-lands' marshes. Okay, the limestone up-lands' air was a bit thin, 'High Plateau', but it didn't stink of swamp. Though there wasn't much rain, a regular night-fog dewed those towering 'Tepuis', allowed scrubby sorta-shrubs and a sorta-lichen to flourish...

Clear across the Convention from that on-going unpleasantness with the Others, the up-land settlers drilled down to their water-table, cultivated their hydroponic greenhouses, mined the inner, rocky planet and the Outer Giants' icy moons.

Excavations progressively unearthed a curious range of fossils. Though 'primitive', vaguely akin to 'Cambrian', life had once flourished, both at sea and ashore. Seems the many uplands had been 'coral islands' in a shallow world-ocean, think Bermuda and much of Florida.

Um, where did all the water go ?? Evidence suggested that this system's K-type star, also 'Chaparral', had had a series of mega-flares several million years ago, flayed the planet. Well, solar activity was now stable, but, yes, it would be watched...

Because of the Others, all Convention star-ships now did their best to be less predictable. An extra week for zig-zags and significant detours was scant price for avoiding possible Taggli raiders. And, yes, the Convention's under-staffed 'Astrophysical Survey' gleefully embraced any data collected.

So it was that a routine trip by 'City of Tulsa' approached 'Chaparral' some-what widdershins, this time dog-legging around 'Ember', a loose binary just under a light-year towards 'Galactic North'. The 'Red Dwarf + White Dwarf' pairing had 'common motion' with the 'Chaparral' system, perhaps a common origin, but seemed 'un-bound', not a distant 'ternary'.

The star-ship brought grim news of the Others, but worse news of 'Ember': This apparently innocuous neighbour was a 'Recurring Nova'. The Red and White components' long, long elliptical orbits had gradually, inexorably brought them close enough for their magnetic fields and solar winds to interact. The Red's solar activity was growing, each flare transferring matter to the White. When sufficiently fuelled, that would go 'Nova'. Comparing 'Drive' log subtleties from the ship's in/out legs, there were indications of ejected dust-shells at several distances, so of several ages. Ominously, the age of the inner, hence most recent, was a fair match to Chaparral's ocean's demise.

Seems Chaparral's few solar astronomers had neglected to 'watch their six'. Even a few nights studying 'Ember' confirmed much more activity than previously seen, plus a 'Coronal Mass Ejection' that would have strained even a 'City-Class' ship's Fields. And, activity was increasing geometrically. Much sucking of teeth ensued. Arguments were still raging until the night 'Ember' flared white, a naked-eye object from dusk unto dawn. Even bigger flares followed at irregular but progressively shorter intervals.

As 'Ember' was a light-year away, these happened before 'City of Tulsa' made that pass, thankfully during a gap. Adding this 'rear-view' data to Tulsa's gave a spread of models, variously ominous. Worst-case extrapolations suggested a full-on 'Nova' in three to five years, give or take...

But, Ember was almost a light-year away ! Surely that was a safe margin ? What to do ??

Opinions split three ways.

1 ) Ignore, but shield settlements to be sure, to be sure.

2 ) Dig in, but shield shelters to be sure, to be sure.

3 ) Be NOT There.

Most folk on short-ish contracts, such as miners, made it clear they'd either not renew, or invoke their 'Force Majeure' provision. Yes, being nice folk, a lot would happily help excavate, supply and equip shelters, but they'd not stay for the 'Main Event'. Similarly, many recent settlers opted to leave.

Then, hasty research suggested that merely shielding surface settlements might not suffice. If, and it was a nape-prickling 'if', Ember's 'Recurring Nova' was at the high end of such, 'Chaparral' might spike in sympathy. So, strike Option #1.

More recent settlers opted to leave. They'd no inclination to sit out a 'troglodyte' decade or three, emerge to a distressed landscape.

The pioneers and early settlers who'd 'broken ground' on this planet were not to be un-housed by a mere 'Recurring Nova' in a neighbouring system. They'd dig in like Trilorn, wait it out...

So, the miners' rock-tugs ferried their 'Heavy Excavation' equipment to Chaparral's Tepuis and the 'Big Dig' began.

The astronomers estimated a few hundred metres of solid rock would provide sufficient shelter against even worst-case scenarios. Proviso was 'solid'. The upper and outer regions of the Tepuis were 'karst', riddled with caves and tunnels. Shelters had to be further in, both vertically and laterally. Smaller Tepuis did not make the 'cut'. Even some of the larger failed this triage, either due quirks of geology, or because there were only so many 'Tunnel Boring Machines' to deploy...

Upside, these were not the gargantuan 'worms' from the history books. Yes, there were still great nose-wheels with rotating teeth, but they simply freed rubble, which was briskly 'sucked' away using piped 'Drive Fields'. The hard work was done by pulsed lasers and microwaves, sorta 'fire-setting', spalling a myriad flakes. Removed rubble was fed more microwaves, moulded with glass-fibre reinforcement, baked to tunnel lining segments, laser-glazed to seal.

At each site, three five-metre wells were sunk, for ventilation, rubble removal and lift-shafts. Around these spiralled a seven-metre bore, far enough out to give a 1:10 gradient. 'Spoke' tunnels allowed access to the shafts.

Meanwhile, materiel was organised for what might become a generation-long stay in the deep and dark. Stocks of trace elements, essential minerals etc were gathered. Equipment needed to repair equipment needed to repair equipment was carefully documented and shelved. Bio-samples from up-lands, coasts and lowlands were taken and stored against contingency to re-seed. Oh, and to study, of course, to help avert boredom.

The standardised shelter design had a lot in common with space habitats and stations. Recovering, recycling water vapour, CO2, trace Ammonia, sewage and other stuff was almost trivial. The big difference was you'd not have 'hot and cold' sides, hence no easy way to trap 'VOCs'.

The what ? 'Volatile Organic Carbon' compounds: The 'Human Stink' of 'B.O.', burps, farts' methane and such, plus equipment and material out-gassing etc etc. AKA, 'Phoo-yuck'...

Fortunately, star-ships also faced this problem. They delivered advice, designs, parts, spares, free-standing modules etc while collecting evacuees. They also delivered multiple donations of smaller mining equipment, sized for making the actual shelters, and all gratefully received...

Less welcome were Convention astronomers' urgent warnings that the 'Recurring Nova' might come sooner rather than later. There might be scant notice. Three automatic 'stations' were positioned near the edges of Ember's system, with message-torps waiting to carry 'First Alert'. Although these flew FTL, it was only by a factor of 3~~4, reducing the safety margin to but a few frantic months.

Accordingly, visiting star-ships 'City of Tulsa' and 'City of Fresno' delivered a lot of 'Evac Pods'. The same size as a Rock Tug's standard hab, tank or load, at least two hundred people could squeeze aboard each, with up to six hauled at a time. These thousand folk could be urgently ferried to orbit in a fraction of the time needed by shuttles. Further, with crowded pods clamped on, the star-ship could break orbit and run before evacuees 'locked through' to the ship...

When the first torps arrived, squawking alarm, the timing could have been much, much worse. 'Tulsa' had just delivered more equipment, was shuttle-loading scheduled evacuees. Some deep shelters were coming alive, excavations spreading laterally, their 'permanent' workers now resident, dependents moving in. HVAC etc tested, hydroponics and such begun, approaching 'break-even'. 'Field' Poles were in place to shield the well-head portals and further protect the deep shelters' cores. Great plug-doors were almost ready to swing into the various shafts and flank adits.

The torps' report was 'middling bad' rather than 'dire'. There'd be time for one more star-ship, so 'Fresno', with a 'Last Train' call. Bravely, a lot of workers volunteered to wait for that rather than down-tools and board 'Tulsa'...

Ember's sensor stations were positioned at different stand-off distances. Catching a 'Recurring Nova' as a 'local' astrophysical event was so improbable, the hope was they'd provide 'staged' data. And, yes, after the first eruption, which destroyed the inner station, the outer pair bore witness to a bigger second, glimpsed the onset of the paroxysm fronting the 'Main Event'.

These torps' cascade of data showed the schedule had changed unkindly. There would now be scant margin between the arrival of 'Fresno' and the shelters' lock-down. But, the workers did not panic or despair. They just worked longer, harder, faster. Worst case, they'd be joining the residents in the deep shelters, after frantically stripping those evac pods of their modular life-support systems.

It was, as a famous commander ruefully admitted, back in the days of musketry, a close-run thing. Happily, 'Fresno' arrived in-system about a week before the go/no-go deadline. In the few days before that star-ship reached orbit, surplus evac pods were stripped, the equipment donated. Three or four at a time, laden evac pods were hauled to wait in orbit, saving a few precious hours. Without delay, 'Fresno's work-pods and remote 'spiders' began docking, clamping them.

Time was so short that several cargo pods of non-essential 'goodies & gifts' for 'Chaparral' were simply left aboard 'Fresno'.

On the surface, the last air-cars, air-trucks and small Shuttles were hastily hangered, deep inside waiting Tepui adits. Two rock-tugs had been partly dismantled, fed inside. Larger Shuttles made one final lift, clamped to 'Fresno'. The system's other rock-tugs hauled the last evac pods to orbit. With those safely clamped, they, too, clamped to 'Fresno', which promptly hauled-ass, directly away from Ember.

Three days later, as Chaparral's deep shelters began their long, long lock-down, the star-ship reached Chaparral's g-well over-drive limit, went FTL...
 



 
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Post Re: Chaparral

#2  Nik 21 Jan 2023 02:06

"...directly away from Ember."

This apparently benign decision sets up a sequel...
 



 
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