Starships and Space Vehicles in the Empire of the Thirteen


The first thing that you notice about imperial starships is that they're usually really tiny. I don't know how they do it, but they're able to build faster, more powerful engines about a fraction of the size of the top-of-the-line Terran models.

I used to pilot a merchant vessel for a French shipping firm; the vessel was a quarter of a kilometer long, and that's relatively small for Terran standards, at least where Jump-capable ships are concerned. The first Imperial vessel I've ever seen was a small scout ship -- they call these missionary ships, or something like that. It was no longer than forty-five metres in length, and could keep speed with anything that Earth has ever built.

One of the really nice things about imperial tech is their invention of artificial gravity. As a result, I've never seen an imperial ship with a spin habitat, the way most long-distance Terran vessels have.

Imperial ships are also frequently capable of atmospheric landing; the scout that I mentioned was shaped like a nice, streamlined wedge, and could cut through a planetary atmosphere with ease.

I tell ya, I was born on Earth, and I'm a big fan of good, old Terran ingenuity. But I'll take one of them imperial birds, any day.

Basic Concepts

Space travel is a fact of life at the dawn of the 24th century, and there are two major starship technologies to consider: native Terran starships and imperial starships.

Terran Ships

All things considered, Earth is still fairly new to faster-than-light travel, and a great deal of interplanetary commerce within the solar system is still accomplished using slower-than-light freighters. Faster-than-light liners and battleships require huge hulls, primarily because of the high fuel requirements for their primitive Jump engines.

Almost all long-range ships have some kind of spin habitat -- a section of the ship that spins to produce centrifugal force, which emulates gravity. Without exposure to gravity, the human body loses bone strength; thus, a spin habitat is a necessary health benefit.

Military vessels often carry smaller fighter craft like the Star Hornet, and many ships often have tenders or docking vessels, but the Terran realm has not yet been able to build a Jump-capable ship that can enter the atmosphere.

Surface to orbit shuttles remain an expensive way to transport people and cargo between a planet and a Jump-freighter. Some of the more-established worlds like Earth and Poseidon have space elevators attached to an extremely strong cable, or "beanstalk", which runs between the surface of the planet and a tethered asteroid. These elevators take almost a week to reach orbit, but are considerably more cost-effective.

All Jump-capable ships in the Terran realm are owned by either large megacorporations or by governments. The expense of operating a ship is too high for any smaller organization or private individual to support.

Imperial Ships

In the Empire, starships have evolved over a period of hundreds of years. Although Jump-capable ships are still inaccessible for the majority of the population, many people have been able to finance the purchase of a starship as a new business venture.

Several innovations can be found in Imperial ships. First, the engines are considerably more efficient; they require less fuel, and as a consequence, the ships can be built considerably smaller. Second, the invention of artificial gravity means that imperial ships don't require fragile spin habitats. Finally, imperial ships are often streamlined for atmospheric landing.

In addition to artificial gravity, the imperials have also discovered thruster-plate technology; basically, they've created a thruster that can propel a ship forward without the typically large reaction mass requirements. This invention violates the laws of physics, as they're understood by Terran scientists, but the thrusters work.


The following lists standard sensor types:

  • Passive Radio: Ships tend to give off radio waves with slightly more energy than their surroundings. However, passive radio detection takes a long time as computers have to continuously sift the incoming data and then plot the most likely position of a target from this data. Also, ships that are "running silent" will deliberately shut off critical systems that produce this radio "noise".

  • Radar: Radar is useful for detecting any large object by bounding a radio wave off of it. Radar is an active sense, meaning any other ship can generally detect the radio emissions of the detecting ship.

  • Ladar: Ladar uses a tight beam of light to track objects. It is virtually impossible for anyone other than the target to detect the ladar beam.

  • Infrared: Terran ships that use plasma thrusters are continuously ejecting superheated matter into space. This matter radiates a great deal of IR radiation which can be detected by passive IR sensors.

  • Visual: This is an exremely unreliable detection method, but when all else fails, view screens and telescopes can be used to pinpoint moving dots of light that could correspond to the visible eminations of plasma thrust.

  • Gravity: The Empire has developed the ability to detect the graviton emission of starships, and can generally determine significant details about a ship with sufficient readings.

  • Neutrino: Fusion and fission power plants emit neutrinos, which can be detected by imperial-technology neutrino sensors.


Transponders are radio broadcasters that continuously broadcast ship recognition information. Both the Terran Realm and the Empire of the Thirteen have developed transponders for both commercial and military vehicles; however, the frequency ranges and information encoding mechanisms are completely different, making it difficult for one government to understand the broadcasts of the other.

Transponders can be turned off if the ship is in danger, however, this is generally illegal within well-travelled commercial flight lanes. Other than temporarily turning off the broadcast, it is illegal to tamper with a ship's transponder.


A variety of weapon-types are available for starships, including:

  • Missiles: Conventional warheads, laser missiles and X-ray missiles are all generally available. Nuclear warheads are restricted, and only used by military vessels.

  • Lasers: Beam lasers that are powerful enough to cut through starship hulls are a common weapon.

  • Plasma Blasters: These weapons fire a charge of ionized plasma at the opponent.

  • Kinetic Energy Weapons: These weapons use magnetism to fire projectiles at enemy ships. These weapons are ineffective over long distances.


Both Terran and imperial ships use hydrogen as fuel for the on-board fusion plants, although some older Terran ships still make use of fissionables. Refined hydrogen is available at space stations and ports for a fee; hydrogen is also available from water, or gas giants, although it must undergo processing to remove contaminants.

Ships generally have two fusion reactors. One is a micro fusion reactor which powers the ship's electricity needs, plasma drives or thrusters. The other is a high-power-output reactor that is dedicated to the Jump drive; this second reactor, when activated, consumes a huge amount of fuel to generate a liminal field.

Copyright © 1999 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated April 4th, 1999.
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