Strings on a Shadow Puppet: a description of the HMS Hunter

Space Operas and Military Science Fiction novels often focus on the technical aspects of the worlds they are set in.  While Strings on a Shadow Puppet certainly does this to a certain degree, there are a lot of infodumps and technobabble that I left out in favor of focusing more on the characters and other elements of the setting.  Even so, I do have an Encyclopedia Sophensis, as it were, that I work from that includes some more technical descriptions of the world.

That being the case, and as that I am still recovering from my operation (Hydrocodine!  Whoo hoo!)  I thought I’d post my entry for the ship that serves as the setting for much of the novel, the HMS Hunter.  Indeed, before deciding to call it Strings on a Shadow Puppet, the book had the working title of HMS Hunter for the longest time.  In the end, I thought the title I chose said more about the book than simple the name of a ship would, but still, the Hunter plays an important role in the novel, and I thought that some readers might like to see a more technical description of it, this one a bit in the style of a Janes’ Fighting Ships kind of an entry.  To that end, it is a bit long winded with a number of compound sentences (and indeed some comma splices) that are intended to make it read a bit like a technical manual. [1]

Excuses aside, here is a description of the Spectre class of reconnaissance and assault warship (e.g. The HMS Hunter, HMS Stalker, HMS Jaeger, etc.).

Spectre Class Stealth Ship –


HMS Hunter Operations Deck - Draft

HMS Hunter Operations Deck – Draft

The Spectre class stealth vessels are designed to be small, maneuverable and fast, but most of all, they are intended to provide a low observable platform for both space and atmospheric operations.  The hull of the Spectre is streamlined, allowing it to operate within atmospheres. The overall atmospheric maneuverability of the ship is, however, somewhat reduce in favor of its stealth capacity.  All Spectre class ships present a long, sleek profile which is roughly shaped like elongated diamond in plan, with the bows forming the longer portion of the design, and the aft being squatter in shape. However, when engaged in atmospheric operations the vessel extends its delta-shaped retractable wings from its port and starboard side, forming the more classic wedge or ‘arrow head’ shaped configuration usually shown in images of the ship. This appearance gives the vessel the infamous, bat-like appearance commonly associated with such stealth-operational atmospheric craft.

The Spectre class vessels have configurable camouflage hulls, allowing them to alter their color scheme and provide differing appearances to optic sensors. In normal operations, however, the hull is generally set to a matt-black, sensor absorptive configuration that, combined with its angular hull design, drastically reduces its sensor footprint, effectively making it invisible in space operations.  Indeed, outside of an atmosphere these ships are practically impossible to pick out even with active sensors unless they use their maneuvering engines.  Inside an atmosphere they generally considered more difficult than most any other stealth vehicle to detect.

The general layout of the Spectre class is spread across two decks.  The lower deck is the longest and widest in shape and is home to gunnery command, the four cabins that serve as crew quarters, one lounge/galley/mess for relaxation in off duty periods, central engineering where the ships drives were located, two ships holds for personal weapons and supply storage, and an armory that includes practice/shooting facilities for combat drills that utilizes holodynamic walls to provide a sense of distance and depth.[2]

HMS Hunter Draft diagram, Command Deck

HMS Hunter Draft diagram, Command Deck

The top deck normally consists of the bridge and the modular bay.  Spectre class bridge configurations are frequently described as more of a cockpit than a true bridge, as that it is relatively small.  Even so, it is designed to provide more than adequate room for a side-by-side workstation for the single pilot and nav/com combination that is recommended for effective operation of the ship in a combat environment.

Each workstation on the ship is configurable to the individual crew’s preferences, but includes i/o ports[3] for direct networked interaction between the operator and the ship, as well as a holodynamic user interface and a mechanical backup in case of prime control failure.  Most crew use some combination of the three.

The modular bay is of course designed to be fitted with a variety of modular components based upon the ships’ specific mission.  Most commonly the ships are set up with extensive sensor, navigation and communication arrays due to their frequent use as surveillance and/or ECM vessels, but a number of other modules could also be fitted in place.  These included additional weapons bay, accommodation for two more crew members, a stasis-berth module capable of carrying 16 crew/marine/passengers, and a variety of other combinations.

This was one of the bits of concept art I came up with the my book, back when it had a different working title and I was going to use a pseudonym.  As you see over the next few days, the value of a real artist is beyond the technical skill, but in vision.  The art that follows shows why you use a professional artist.

This was one of the bits of concept art I came up with the my book, back when it had a different working title and I was going to use a pseudonym. As you see over the next few days, the value of a real artist is beyond the technical skill, but in vision. The art that follows shows why you use a professional artist.

Primary access to the ship is gained through the aft personnel airlock, the rear ventral airlock (with retractable docking clamp), and/or the larger dorsal ‘baydoor’ airlock, all of which are normally covered by outer hull plating during flight.  This plating can be retracted, however, to allow for immediate access and/or drop capability.  The act of opening the dorsal bay during atmospheric flight makes the craft extremely difficult to handle and so is not recommended by the manufacturer.

The standard power sources for the Spectre class vessel is a combination of two aft mounted Hyporia Manufacturing, K-class fusion rockets with a single Prime Distributor’s Ltd HO model fusion power plant set between and above of them. The fusion rockets are generally known to require a good deal of maintenance, but if properly tended to can produce a constant high yield, frequently measured in excess of 4.67Gs, for extended periods.  These are, of course, the ship’s principle mode of high speed locomotion in extra-atmospheric operations, but the large fusion tail produced by the rockets are highly visible even to the naked eye.  As such, they are considered unsuitable to most of the ship’s stealth oriented deployments.  Additionally, they produce highly toxic radioactive output if used within atmospheric environments.

To solve the issue of low-observable locomotion the ship is also fitted with mid-yield reaction mass thrusters capable of a maximum output of 1.22G’s, and standardly used at between 0.4 and 1G of thrust.  While this is slow for many combat operations, the detectable output of this system is negligible, and reaction material can be gleamed from the waste products of gas-giant fuel skimming processes.  As a result, it is ideal for most reconnaissance operations and any stealth assault missions the ship may be asked to carry out.

For atmospheric operations a set of two Hyporia turget engines can be deployed from the ventral side of the wings, allowing reasonable atmospheric handling.  The turgets are, of course, capable of being power by the fusion reactors, and as such provided a speedy and stealthy solution to planet-side missions.

At this point one should note that the Hyporia K-Class rockets were well known for their capacity to be capable of being sealed to the outside environment and used as standard fusion generators.  While they did produce power in their unsealed rate, if used while sealed, they did not produce the fusion plume, and instead provided a useful secondary power source for the ships in question.  This allowed the HO fusion power plant to be used almost solely to power the Essar-Rosenthal drive (‘jump’).

The one shortcoming of the Hyporia engines is that while they could be turned from power-plant to fusion rocket in an instant, the reverse is not true. If used as a fusion rocket, it is required to shut down the engines for a period of no less than one hour before the outer hatches can be closed.  This is then followed by a 20 minute restart process.  Fortunately, normal operations mean that the Spectre class ships remain in stealth mode, using the Hyporia engines to power the reaction mass thrusters (or the turget engines if on lurker duty[4]) and then rapidly open the fusion rocket vents to obtain high-g accelerations while striking at their enemy. Obviously, such an attack run style of assault sacrifices the stealth ability of the ship, both during the run and for the one hour cool down period afterward.  It also strongly limits the Spectre’s capacity to operate within atmospheres rapidly after the fusion rockets have been used, though this limitation can  be somewhat overcome through use of the HO model fusion power plant. Most commanders, however, tend to prefer to keep the power plants in reserve for the Essar-Rosenthal drive when possible, and maintain their stealth capacity throughout a combat.

Despite the great importance of the power-plants and engines, it is the Essar-Rosenthal drive that most engineers considered the soul of the ship. The Spectre class ER drive is manufactured by Hammonrie-Manufacturing Inc.  Capable of high yield responses, the Omicron model ER drive is able to project a 4X field, making it capable of a 0.423 parsec jump. This makes its interstellar capability among the fastest in the Empire.[5] Thus, even considering the jump-recovery period, the Spectre class vessels are capable of travelling 3 parsecs within one week, which makes them ideal for rapid and long range scouting and reconnaissance missions.

Though initial trials encountered a series of problems with the interface between the Hyporia Fusion Rockets and the Prime Distributor’s Ltd HO model fusion power plants, these were sorted out soon after the vessel was put into operation.  Since then, the Spectre class of vessels have proven to be almost as versatile as the Phantom II’s class, but with a considerably higher degree of low-observability that has proven them to be more useful in the roles of reconnaissance and surveillance. While the limits of their low-observability configuration made them less well armed and slightly slower than other vessels of a similar tonnage, it has also made them very difficult to track and almost impossible to initially detect when rigged for silent-running. This combination of stealth capacity, significant weaponry and ability to perform long-range solo operations make the Spectre class vessels ideal for rapid strike missions, lurker patrols and missions behind enemy lines.

[1] Note, the diagrams included were pretty rough drawings that I did for my own logic before writing the book.  They do not exactly match the configuration described in the book and are not canon.  Indeed, even while writing the text, I thought to myself that these were too rectilinear, without enough odd spaces that would be necessitated by the ship configuration.  Still, it gives the reader a general idea of what I was thinking.

[2] Combined with direct feed and other virtual reality elements, these practice halls are extremely good at simulating situations such as ground based combat, boarding parties, and other personal combat environments. Ship-to-ship simulations are generally performed using the actual duty stations of the crew.

[3] Sophyan Naval protocol requires that no sensitive ship systems can be controlled through wireless communications, with the sole exception of repair robots that work through a tight system of short range Line of Sight (LOS) communications systems, except in extreme emergencies where short range radio comms may be used at the discretion of the CO and Chief Engineer.  This protocol exists in order to remove both the possibility detection through stray signals and more importantly, and the possibility of the ship systems being hacked.

[4] Lurker Duty – the act of hiding inside the atmosphere of a planetary body in wait in order to observe or attack another ship.  Normally this is reserved for operations inside of gas-giants, utilizing the denser elements of the atmosphere to hide the ship from both passive active sensor arrays.  It frequently involves the ambushing of a ship or subcraft in the process of refueling.

[5] Maximum ‘jump’ capacity is, of course, 0.62 parsecs and normal passage is 0.1428.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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8 Responses to Strings on a Shadow Puppet: a description of the HMS Hunter

  1. Vikranth says:

    I think I have learned a thing or two about designing your own spaceships.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Thank you, but I’ll note it’s really just based on a cross between an f117 and varying lifting body designs.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Indeed, if you ever wanted to play with 3d models of it , I’ve got some basic 3d cad models we could share.

        I wish I was caple of some of the modeling you show on you’re site, and I love the after effects stuff you do.

  2. diannread says:

    Good to know I’m not the only one with pages of notes on my technology and such! I think it comes with the territory.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I agree, no technical notes means you end up breaking you’re own speculative physics.

      I’d love to see your tech notes ever think of publishing them as a freebie?

      As a total off topic aside, I’m quite enjoying the Serge Chronicles. The only problem is its getting in the way of my own writing.

      • diannread says:

        Actually, I think I have more notes on my alien cultures; I really enjoy anthropology.
        I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the Sergey Chronicles so much, but please don’t let them interfere with your writing! 🙂 I hope your recovery is proceeding smoothly and quickly, too.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Oh don’t get me started on alien cultures! I have seventy five pages on the Billanobians, and their human! The huge number of biological and cultural diagrams and descriptions I have for my different species are silly really, but that is the fun bit too.

        As for you, I’d say your notes pay off. Very solid non-human special societies thus far.

      • diannread says:

        Thanks, Thomas!

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