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Returning to the subject of The Fused, my Ship hasn’t yet been fully drawn, but I thought I’d spare a moment or five to talk about Ship design. (It actually has a name, somewhere. Nobody remembers it, though, except probably the Ship itself.)

When I started out writing The Fused, I had a small collection of images lifted directly from a dream I had. The Ship itself wasn’t so much something that was fully envisaged, as simply the location where all the events took place: in effect, Lindsi’s world. As a result, over the course of writing the story, it’s been through a few morphs before settling into this final shape. (I’m still nailing down a couple of the proportions, but basically, the shape is solid.)

In the first vague conception, the Ship was much more stereotypical: vaguely ovoid, with the four Habitat Domes embedded along the sides, the pointier end pointed forwards and engines set into the rear. Main Corridor 1 was, under this conception, almost literally the backbone of the Ship. Then I started to think about it, and this presented a few problems.

  • Either some of the Domes had no view of space (and I’ve already specified that they all do), or the Ship needed gravity of different orientations in different locations.
  • Differently oriented gravity would make for some very confusing junctions.
  • The preferential “up” for the core of the Ship was unrelated to anything else, whether the gravity fields changed with location or not. It would be an entirely arbitrary choice.

Deciding that the Ship’s designers hadn’t wanted to faff about with multi-directional gravity, I then needed all the Domes to, essentially, be on a plane, or they wouldn’t all get to see the stars. The Ship went through a very brief period of being imagined as sort of stingray-shaped. However, that again gave it an entirely arbitrary choice of “up”, and simply didn’t seem like the most simple or resource-light solution given that it was built in space, and thus in freefall.

At around that point, I also realised that this Ship needed fuel. It’s a generations-long mission with no guarantee that its destination will be viable (it does have a destination, although again, people aboard don’t really know that), and while I did give it fusion power, even fusion isn’t free. You get through a lot of hydrogen that way… and everything on the Ship had to depend on the main fusion reactor, plus its auxiliaries. Everything. Up to and including any atomic synthesis systems they might have for creating the heavier elements that their fusion reactor won’t give them. With the best will in the world, the Ship will not be a closed system. They lose energy (radiatively, in the visible and the infrared), and they lose matter both when they use the attitude thrusters or the powerful main drive (used for accelerating and decelerating to/from interstellar travel speeds, which are still a lot less than the speed of light), and when they simply throw away waste they can’t recycle any more. Simply in order to balance the mass-energy equation (and therefore avoid carrying an entire journey’s worth of fuel), the Ship needed some kind of matter intake.

Space is big, and it’s pretty empty. But it isn’t entirely empty. There’s debris and things floating around out there, remnants of all kinds of past events… but more than anything else, there’s an extremely tenuous interstellar gas and dust: mostly hydrogen, but with other elements mixed in. The easiest thing by far to do would be to simply slurp up the interstellar medium and feed it to the reactor. And to do that, you need a ramscoop. A big one. (Essentially, a large funnel.)

So suddenly, all envisionings of the Ship needed to include a ramscoop. Which, mounted on the front of either of the two designs, began yet again to look a bit silly… and to be a decided waste of construction materials. The back of the scoop was just so much wasted space.

And at that point, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was make the ramscoop bigger. The Ship didn’t need to be going “forwards” by its own internal gravity, there’s no preferred orientation in space except that your main thrust has to point in the direction opposite the one you want to move. If I made the ramscoop big enough, it could actually be almost the entire body of the Ship, with the Habitat Domes all safely on the back of it — where they’d have an excellent view of the stars, be protected from forward radiation by layers upon layers of spaceship, and need no gravitational alteration at all. The main reactor (and auxiliary reactors) and main engine just needed a mounting, and since the Ship now has to fly “down”, in the direction the mouth of the ramscoop points, the logical answer seemed to be to stick a spire in the middle of it, essentially a big stick with the engine and reactor at the top. This kept the engine some distance away from the Domes in case anything went wrong, and had the double bonus of looking pretty and incorporating the concept of a spire, which appeared in my dream as inside the Habitat Dome and was originally shelved as it simply wouldn’t fit very well.

So that’s how the Ship got to the shape it is today. It’s essentially an almost flat cone with a spire at the point, at the top of which is a lump containing the engines and suchlike. The front, or “bottom” given that the artificial gravity points in the direction of flight, is fairly featureless: other than the observation stations on the rim, it’s pretty much impossible to look ahead with the naked eye. A variety of protrusions around the edge house forward-looking sensor arrays, and it’s likely that the Ship also has drones in formation with it, further away so their instruments can get an unimpeded view — without much in the way of friction, anything the Ship deploys needs no thrust to continue moving along with the same speed and course as its parent. The back of the scoop is full of interesting features, most prominently the four domes, like giant bubbles. In the exact centre, the spire on which the engine and reactor are mounted sticks up, another set of whiskery protrusions here monitoring the Ship itself.

And that, as they say, is that. Now to finish drawing the thing, and roughly to scale at that…