August / September 2012 Lite Challenge: Sector 883 Exile - Bottle Nebula Improvements
OK, I don't get enough chances to enter the competitions, so I want to make this count. This will be before & after, a prison, using the limited palette and outline from last month, and though I did enter the cloud-based map, I think I'll use clouds somehow. All I can actually enter is this one, but hey, four times the challenge is four times the fun, no?
For an interstellar Botany Bay to be plausible, it has to be pretty affordable to transport prisoners and/or there has to be a need for the prisoners to be at the destination and/or those doing the imprisoning need to be a whole lot more merciful than human beings :-). Otherwise, simple execution would be the sentence of the day.
I have several methods of fictional faster-than-light propulsion up my sleeve - a picture of some ring nebula or other a few days ago later made one of them seem applicable. The ring nebula was an incomplete donut - or since nova/supernova remnants are 3-D, must've been an asymmetrical globular gas shell. There was a gap, anyway. Now that I have this convoluted idea, I can't recall where I saw the photo. Oh, well .... maybe I can blow up my own star to get the right effect. Simulated, of course.
So for starters, here's a nice interrupted ring of a cloud, freshly snatched from the sky above my place of work but a day or two ago. I'll be working at maybe 3000x2300 since that's the original, but no sense in wasting space on showing you that full size - it's going to look a LOT different when done.
Then blurred a bit, to keep thresholding from generating too many one-pixel dots, and posterized, with the limited-palette shape overlaid, suitably sized and rotated for a rough shape match on one end of the ring, I get so:
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Again - smallified for now. I promise, it'll get more interesting. I'll say that the levels of posterization represent isoferrous apparent density from one stellar insertion direction. That's gobbledygook to you, but it WILL makes sense. Of a sort. Mwa-ha-haaaaaah...
How in the WORLD does a planetary nebula equate to a prison? Therein lies a tale. You see, once upon a time, the various peoples of Sector 883, Tansarius Arm, Thisgalaxy had to either ship their not-quite-capital-crime felons off six sectors up-arm, or mindwipe them. Sector 819 had a nice spatial rift that such undesirables could be thrown through, to live out their somewhat-reduced lifespans farming sneeb lilies under a few kilometers of ethane on the conveniently placed other-dimensional planet there. Humane (or "pzortane", as the majority sector inhabitants were pzortish), but a bit costly. And mindwiping is so... so... gauche. Just shouldn't be resorted to by nice civilized types.
But the rift got zipped shut. <Shrug> ... it happens. And still gauche, mindwiping had (perhaps more to the point) gotten expensive. So when the Rentsz!'an Combine offered the use of a planetary nebula in their stellar back yard, why, right-thinking and economical Pzorts of all shades jumped right up and said "Jeepers! Let's do it!" Now as every schoolchild knows, a type-three planetary nebula rather inhibits spineship transport. Stops any self-respecting spineship COLD, as a matter of fact. Has to do with the small concentrations or iron ions in the third shell layer. So once anybody transported into the Rentsz!-a-Prison Nebula, they would be permanent inhabitants. Nobody could get in to effect a breakout, since THEIR spineship would get stuck just as thoroughly. Inmates could certainly drive out using base-astro propulsion, but it would be their great-grandpzorts who got free, so who cared?
There turned out to be just this ONE little problem. Teeny, weeny, inconsequential problem. Hardly worth mentioning, until page 955 of the lease. The shell was incomplete. Broken, not enveloping, cracked, wide-open kind of incomplete. From sector HQ the thing looked perfect - rather a pretty bauble in subdued mauve. From several of the directions prisoners would be shot into exile from, though, the asymmetry was enough that some transport drones missed entirely (how Sector 902 came to have an ugly spate of Nestrobbers), or impacted the central neutron star (considerably more gauche than mindwiping), or riccocheted. All that created fuss, expense, and gauche-ness of an appalling degree, so something had to be done. The Lessor was not liable (Combine lawyers are good). So Johnny Anasandapurtnathran's Stellar Renovation Force was hired, and in short order (mere decades) the hole in the sky, as it were, was patched.
And the map at hand depicts the situation before and after the job, being an attachment to the SRF bill showing the improvement in catch zone and retention percentage.
I bet the crowd appreciates the use of the past 2 challenges (clouds + prison) making this a 3-in-one challenge.
I use the clouds from the filter of photoshop, never though of using real ones. I'm starting to think of a lot of photos that I took; textures of the city and walls, wild and forest. Guess I'm gonna start my next map from one of these. Thanks for the inspiration!
And, I can see you win this challenge already... grrrr
And now, prettified from earthly cloud to stellar nebula we have:
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That's with a backdrop patched together from pieces of a Hubble photo, once I figured out how one does masking in PhotoPlus. The nebula has transparency based on a grayscale of the cloud, mixed with a bit of a flame texture. That gets the color close to the muted tone of the limited palette - no way to exactly hit it with a photo for starters.
I maneuvered a bright star midway in the ring - that's our assumed remnant of what went blooey (technical stellar cartography term).
So far that's picture, not map. Mappification to follow.
Then this is the equivalent "Isoferrous Apparent Density" from the desired insertion vector. See the darker reddish color - that's the only bits that can catch a prisoner vessel with good enough odds. Hit a lighter density, and *zing*... felons scattered in some random direction instead of safely corralled. Trust me the folks who live downrange DON'T like getting such undesirables delivered to their doorsteps.
There'll be another view showing the apparent density, and much better "catch" configuration from the direction the project was *sold*. Always, always, always inspect the merchandise from all directions. >tsk<
So what was the JASRF solution? Straightforward, if expensive -- they "stitched" the needed ferrous apparent density into place across the surface of the 3-d solid that "should have been". I.e. they idealized the nebula, for the specific purpose of prisoner-drone capture, from the direction such ships needed to be "shot" into the nebula. Here's the injections of plasmic ferritionated dispersal packets in their initial form (after a two-year-long emplacement sequence). Remember the scale - from this direction the visible nebula spans almost three light years. Each of those little star shapes is an impressive engineering event all to itself, albeit a very diffuse one. The JASRF ships used had to each make thousands of microjumps to set minelike charges, each in turn which scattered plasma-form iron-ion-bearing packets over volumes the size of a modest starsystem. The charges were ripple-ignited, providing a spectacle broadcast on entertainment and engineering networks well beyond Sector 883. Too bad the result had to be captured on instruments - there's no visible effect yet, even near-in. That central neutron star no doubt has to irradiate the additions for many centuries before they'll be lit up as nicely as the original display.
Over the next dozen years, the effective density spread thusly:
By T+30 years, the outermost dispersal packets had been activated, and the ensuing spread left this configuration:
It's not that the spread of each of the gazillion ions has slowed, rather that now the very diffuse clouds have intermingled sufficiently as to act like one continuous zone. Even then, JASRF of course couldn't employ anything near the quantity of iron as the original supernova spewed -- only from a specific direction do the blobs of plasmic ferrionation overlap enough to "look" dense to an incoming spineship.
Now, the observant reader will note all Johnny's boys (and freebs and sniii!kts and nallovenes) did was make a big donut out of an incomplete one. (Not a big ball out of an incomplete one - they only stitched part of the vast surface). But not so fast, there, pardner. The operative effect in a nebula such as this having a high likelihood of stopping traffic isn't outright density, nor even apparent directionalized density. Instead, the effect on a spineship stems from passing through an aperture in n-space -- the whole middle of the torus-appearing target becomes a "sweet spot" catch basket. Horribly inconvenient for an interstellar liner; rather better for a convict-disposal scheme.
Last edited by jbgibson; 09-15-2012 at 03:29 PM.
And here's what that means in terms of fixing up the nebula to be able to catch those incoming criminals adequately:
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The project planetoids are the real destinations for the criminal types -- all three orbiting dwarf stars within the supernova effect zone, each has acquired plentiful exotic-element lithosphere components. On two, the convicts live out their lifespans in happy, satisfying, productive labor, scraping the surface with low-powered bulldozer-style scrapers. In a mere five or six centuries significant piles will have been stacked up. By the time the nebula's dispersal has diminished to the point it's less effective as a prison, some 1.5 to 2.5 millennia hence, most of the good materials will have been made available for harvest. Galactic governance *does* take the long view.
The other planetoid (pp2 as illustrated) has been provided with a rudimentary oxy-nitro atmosphere, and convicts of that lung type are doing their scraping in pleasant, bucolic surroundings, under the open sky. Pleasant if you enjoy bare stone and lichen, and small seas of sludge, but hey, they knew the odds when they committed raszenariation, or kidnapping, or murder.
How do basically unpowered droneships arrive at tiny specks within a vast catchbasin volume? Well, when a spineship stops in a nebula-effect "crash", the original pseudovelocity only gradually bleeds off. If applied to the right spinetips, said caught ship can be vectored anywhere within a light-year or so, giving the automated systems of these convict-carriers the ability to home in on the destination planetoids. For the two without atmospheres, arrival is analogous to docking, and the accumulating set of drone shells becomes the habitat for the residents. For the one that's had atmo added, the spines can be ablated sufficiently to allow a reasonably survivable landing, particularly if the sludgelakes, er, seas are targeted. Again, the ship shells are then used to provide accommodation, tools, and base material for sustenance-synthesis. The sustenance dispensers are tied to scraper-output on all three project planetoids, hence motivating the inmates to produce.
Next step - stitch these into one map sheet.
And the map sheet as presented - support documentation for the Johnny A. company's invoice to Sector Governance Services Purchase Administration. SeGSePuA requires a LOT of documentation - this is just exhibit one. The quantity required was fine with JASRF, since the payment they were billing for amounted to the GNP of a decent-sized stellar system for three years.
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Note the view from Sector HQ to the Bottle Nebula is out-arm, and a bit up-latitude, hence the scarcity of stars in the "as-sold" views. More trouble comes from the out-arm districts of the Sector, and the view from a typical incarceration sending starsystem has a wealth of stars visible - most "behind" the nebula. The polities of a good 700 inhabited systems and the Corporate overlords of another thousand or so sterile systems quite forcefully demanded that Sector HQ quit sending shiploads of hardened criminals their way, the 80-plus percent of the first few hundred shipments that skipped right through the Bottle prison. The JASRF work was expensive, but still wound up providing a secure destination for at least Sector 883's criminal element, and once operation is in full swing, possibly by contract to another half-dozen neighboring sectors. Job well done!
The as-sold views of the Bottle Nebula are from Wikimedia Commons - I didn't have a circular enough cloud to build my own from.
And if I have a chance I'll detail what I intend by a spineship. Don't think spine = vertebrae, think spines like a porcupine. Until I draw one, this looks similar:
... that's a Creative Commons attribution-licensed photo of an Echinops Spinosissimus flower on Flikr by a guy named Jeremy Vandel. Scale would be anything from forty meters across to 1500 meters, across the visible ends of the spine tips. Not visible, the spines exend monomolecularly from ten to 200 meters further out. The central hull could be as small as a five meter globe up to a good 800 meters for the big freighters. Convict droneships are simplified (no real engines, duuh) in the middle of that range, are automated, and tend to fall apart when tampered with. The government keeps one popular entertainment video or another in circulation at all times with some incidental footage of one coming apart at FTL... Makes impressive theater, and just as impressive meddling-deterrence.
In addition to before-and-after (the official theme) this does incorporate
muted colors & predefined shape (as well as I could do on the parts with photo based images),
and technically it's a side view too :-). Call the as-sold look "front-on", this is at about 105 degrees around to the "side".
So it's satisfying as well as insane. The overall mappishness is pretty simple - that suits the "executive summary" nature of the presentation. After all, we're talking an audience of accountants, division directors, and high-falutin' bureaucrats, not geographers. It makes the case pretty plainly "You guys were sold something broken. We fixed it. Pay up, please."
Last edited by jbgibson; 09-15-2012 at 09:53 PM.