Background notes on my Racetrack / BSG story-cycle

Eons ago, man lived in harmony with the gods in the paradise of Kobol. Eventually, the twelve tribes of man left Kobol, and founded the twelve colonies: Caprica, Gemenon, Picon, and Virgon;  Leonis and Tauron; Scorpia, Sagittaron, and Libran; Aerilon, Canceron, and Aquaria. 

For millennia, the children of Kobol bickered and fought amongst themselves. But one day, a man distraught for loss of his daughter resolved that death should not be the end. He created life outside of its natural order, and thus came into being the Cylon: A race of robotic slaves who would rise up against their masters, convinced that God—not the long-dead gods of Kobol worshipped by man, but rather the one, true God—loved them, the Cylon, the children of man, just as well as He loved man, His children.

War raged; by necessity, the Twelve Colonies united against their common enemy. At last, an armistice was concluded, and the Cylons left the Colonies to search of worlds of their own. We now live in the golden age of man; not since Kobol have the nations of man known the peace and harmony that we now enjoy.

No one has seen the Cylons in over three and a half decades.

So opens the first draft of the novelette component of my Racetrack Chronicles story-cycle, a fiction project on which I’m working, set in the universe of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica. This is the “official myth” of the colonies, the Colonials’ self-perception of their history after the Cylon War. Chronologically, I open six years before the Fall and follow Margaret “Racetrack” Edmondson thence down to, ultimately, the end of “Daybreak.” Three very, very, very short teaser ficlets are out; more are on the way; the first short-story is in private beta; the novelette and second and third short-stories should appear over the summer and early fall.

In the background of the last two, you’ll catch glimpses of the broader Colonial world as I imagine it. But the Racetrack Chronicles collection is all about Racetrack; it is narrow, personal, and specific in its focus. You’re going to know this woman a lot better by Christmas. Once it’s done, though, I intend to broaden my focus, hoping to write something that will flesh out my vision of the worlds. For the most part, my continuity follows the geography established in the QMX map of the colonies (with two exceptions explained below), but I want to take a few minutes to outline that world, as I see it, partly to stake my claim, partly to whet your appetite. 

In my reading, the twelve United Colonies of Kobol are not the Federation (“Star Trek”), nor even the Alliance (“Firefly”); they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies. They are tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica, and of course the silver chain of the Colonial Fleet, but ineluctably separated by immense distances and profound cultural and aesthetic differences. Communications are limited by the speed of light but the existence of FTL jump technology means that travel is not—and so most  information is conveyed on paper or digital media by FTL courier.

Not only are the worlds separated in time, they don’t line up: Fly from Aerilon’s southern continent (“Sporkshire” home to Gaius Baltar—no, it’s not literally called that, come on, but you know what I mean) to its northern continent (“Spireland,” home to Romo Lampkin and Abigail “Spitfire” Ainslie) and you go from Spring to Fall, but FTL jump to Caprica City, CA, and you end up in Winter. Colonial Day, the federal holiday, is thus early summer in Caprica City, but mid-spring in Falstone, PI, Racetrack’s hometown, and may well be midwinter  in Gareth “Nightlight” Lowell’s northern Aquaria, or high summer for Nicola Edmondson, esq., on Libran. Moreover, different colonies have slightly different gravities and different average temperatures. The diverse realities of life in the kind of society latent in the QMX depiction are the precise opposite of Star Trek‘s cloying uniformity. And that’s intriguing. 

The Cyrannus system in which the colonies are located comprises two pairs of binaries, the Helios αβ pair and the Helios γδ pair; sublight travel within each system is like long-haul flight IRL, and FTL jumps between systems are routine. But there is a constant flow of sublight traffic within each pair, and intra-pair travel takes about eight to ten days. There is also a flow of sublight traffic down the long axis between pairs (the “deep black”), along well-defined shipping routes (“Intercolonial Lanes”—the Galactica’s final pre-Fall cruise takes her parallel to “I9,” for example, en route from Helios Delta to Helios Alpha), a trek that takes between sixteen months and three years depending on speed. Because of the length of the latter, the lanes are packed with very large non-FTL ships, often serving as mobile manufacturing/processing platforms similar to the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien.

A word on canon

For purposes of the Racetrack Chronicles continuity, I accept three levels of canon. The A-canon is the word of the gods; it comprises only the show itself, as aired—that is, everything said and shown in the Miniseries and the four seasons, including “Razor,” but excepting “Hero.” (The latter is so riddled with errors and continuity headaches that I have written it off as a dream sequence.)  B-canon includes things like the show bible, the QMX map (linked above), etc., webisodes (“The Resistance” and “The Face of the Enemy”), extended cuts and some deleted scenes. B-canon materials are presumptively binding, except insofar as A-canon materials contradict them, whether explicitly or by necessary implication, as I’ll discuss in a moment. Finally, C-canon includes statements and commentaries by the production team, most deleted scenes, the dailies (should they ever emerge), interviews with actors, novelizations, Edward T. Yeatts’ “Lords of Kobol” series, and “The Plan.” C-canon materials are not binding, per se, but receive significant deference. 

Long-grass math on the geography of the colonies

Now we’re going to talk math. I think it’s pretty interesting math, but if that frightens you,  feel free to skip this and move on to the next subhead if you don’t want to know the long-grass details that undergird the geography that I’ve summarized above.

My vision of the Colonies is influenced by but not beholden to a slightly harder sci-fi ethos than the show depicts. Let me say up-front: I’m not interested in writing science fiction, and while there are certainly science fiction stories to tell in the BSG universe, the stories that I want to tell are about people. I don’t care how the FTL drive works; I care about Margaret Edmondson and showing you how she evolves from a damaged young woman from rural Picon into the Racetrack we know and love on the show. 

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the background setting in which those stories will occur is science fiction, and we must tip our hat to science. I start from several canonical facts and the QMX map linked above. Let’s start with what canon tells us: As Colonial Heavy 798 leaves Caprica, Billy reminds Laura that there is a thirty-minute comms delay between them and the Galactica, and the pilot says that their flight-time from Caprica to the Galactica is “approximately five and a half hours.”

Consider what this tells us about the Galactica’s position. The comms delay puts her at approximately thirty light-minutes from Caprica. That’s because the maximum speed for a communication signal is the speed of light, with one exception: Quantum-state communications are conceivable, but since they would be instantaneous over any distance, the existence of a delay means that Colonial wireless isn’t based on QS. On a Sol-system scale, assuming for sake of argument that Caprica’s orbit is roughly analogous to Earth’s, that puts the Galactica about five light-minutes inside the orbit of Jupiter, which is consistent with what we see on screen. (This hard limit on communications speed combined with the availability of instantaneous FTL travel felicitously explains why, in a modern, technological society, the Colonial Fleet would rely heavily on hand-delivered, hand-signed paperwork, and adds what I think is an enormously interesting texture to the continuity.)

Now consider what it tells us about velocity. First, we have to clear away an obvious difficulty: We can conclude that Colonial Heavy 798’s flight doesn’t include an FTL jump, for two reasons. One, because if you’re going to make a jump, you’d just plot the jump from Caprica’s orbit to wherever the Galactica is. Two, because they have a Viper escort for the trip home; while it’s conceivable that the trip back to Caprica is longer than the outbound flight, it can’t include an FTL jump and it can’t be longer than it’s plausible to imagine sitting in a Viper cockpit. Thus, the reasonable assumption is—no FTL jump.

Therefore, second: Let’s assume that we can average Colonial Heavy 798’s velocity as distance over flight time. Jupiter’s orbit is approximately 4.2 AU from that of Earth, so the math on Colonial Heavy 798’s speed is: ((149597870 * 4.2)-(18,000,000 * 5)/5.5, i.e. (628,311,054km-90,000,000)/5.5 i.e. 538,311,054/5.5 = 97,874,737km/h. For comparison purposes, that’s 387 times faster the current recordholder for fastest human-built widget, Helios 2’s 252,792km/h: Very fast. But it’s not implausibly fast by sci-fi standards; it’s only one-eleventh the speed of light, and there would be no significant time dilation at that speed. For sake of rounding, let’s say that the pilot’s got his foot on the gas, and that Colonial liners would ordinarily cruise at 96,000,000km/h. (Hard sci-fi would point out that the human body would liquify under a fraction of the thrust necessary to achieve these speeds in a gravity-well, but again: This isn’t hard sci-fi, and we can look past that for the sake of science fiction, let alone human drama.)

Now let’s consider scale. The QMX map supplies some  details. The long axis between the two pairs is .16ly, and we can average the barycenter of each star to its barycenter at the ends of each end of the axis at 65SU (1SU = average distance of the Caprica-Gemenon barycenter from Helios Alpha = 150,000,000km). So the stars in each pair are 130 * 150,000,000km apart—19,500,000,000km. If we’ve clocked Colonial Heavy 798 at just shy of 98 million km/h, let’s round up and say that the Galactica cruises at a nice, round hundred million per hour. That gives us an approximate flight time of 199 hours across the short axis—just over eight days. That’s close enough that you can easily imagine both “United Colonial Postal Service” and long-haul shipping doing it sub light, but also far enough away that you can just as easily imagine “Colonial Express” and “Pan-Colonial” jumping between systems. The long axis (the “deep black”) is 1,513,684,544,800km between barycenters. Sticking with our hundred-million-per-hour benchmark, the Galactica would take 15445.76 hours or 643.57 days to make the cruise, sublight. That’s longer that the standard sixteen-month deployment. (Why sixteen months? You’ll find out in the first short-story.) But keep in mind, that’s barycenter to barycenter, and it doesn’t take alignment into account. Again, this is close enough that you can easily imagine long-haul shipping  doing the trip sublight (imagine mammoth tylium tankers-cum-refineries! As I mentioned above, I’m picturing the refinery towed by the Nostromo in Alien), but far enough away that the commercial intercourse of the twelve colonies would demand regular FTL travel. The scale fits the universe like a glove.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that because B-canon must give way to A-canon, the same math demands two corrections to the QMX map.

First, I have to flip Virgon and Tauron. It seems reasonable to assume that the Galactica can go much faster than a liner, if necessary, at least in interstellar space, but there are limits on what’s plausible. Shortly after events are set in motion in the miniseries, Gaeta says that “the main fight is shaping up over here, near Virgon’s orbit. But even at top speed, they’re still over an hour away.” And Adama observes they can approach the fight unnoticed by keeping Virgon between them and the fight. That is a problem if Virgon is where the QMX map shows, even assuming optimal alignment (i.e. the Galactica is near the orbit of Zeus and on its way out of the Helios Alpha system bound for the Helios Beta system. I can suspend disbelief for a lot, but I can’t buy that the Galactica (which has to be thirty light-minutes from Caprica, i.e. in the Helios Alpha system) could sail at subluminal speeds to the Helios Beta system in an hour.

Thus, in my continuity, I take QMX to have made a typographical mistake, flipping the positions of Virgon and Tauron. Getting the fundamental building blocks right is what makes it possible for an audience to suspend disbelief and come along for the ride, and flipping Tauron and Virgon is the solution that does the least violence. Nothing canonically insists that Tauron is in Helios Alpha, and canon seems to require that Virgon must be. If Virgon is just inside the habitable zone of Helios Alpha and the Galactica is between the asteroid belt and Zeus, it becomes conceivable that if the fight is far enough toward Zeus’ orbit that it can plausibly be called “near” Virgon’s orbit, and if the alignment’s just right, maybe the Galactica could make it there in an hour? It’s still stretching it, but it becomes close enough that the objection is, like the objections to raw speed, fundamentally a hard sci-fi objection, and, once again, this isn’t hard sci-fi.

Second, Ragnar must orbit the αβ pair not the γδ pair, again based on canon and inexorable math. Col. Tigh says that “the Ragnar station is at least three days away at best speed.” There is absolutely no way  that the Galactica could sail down the long axis in three days. If Ragnar is where QMX places it, then, assuming optimal alignment, she would have to sail the lion’s share of (1,513,684,544,800km – (110 * 150,000,000) = 1,497,184,544,800 in 36 hours. That would imply a “best speed” of 41,588,459,578kmh. That’s forty times the speed of light. Even if we set aside the physicists’ objections, the economists should have their hands in the air: If conventional engines could push a ship to FTL speeds, why would you ever develop a superluminal jump technology? It’s just not plausible. So applying math to canon demands a second correction of the QMX map for purposes of my continuity. The correction that does the least damage is to agree with their inference that Ragnar orbits a pair, and simply say that it orbits Cyrannus’ αβ pair rather than the γδ pair. That does it nicely—nicely enough that we don’t have to get too granular about the last piece of the puzzle: Assuming the same 110SU orbit, we can stipulate that the Galactica is no more than 16,500,000,000km from Ragnar. At the hundred-million kmh cruising benchmark we’ve been using, she would cover 3,600,000,000km in 36 hours, and it doesn’t strike me as so implausible that her maximum pedal-to-the-metal speed is four times faster than her cruising speed that I feel compelled to work out the precise math on that.

Notes on the fleet

The Colonial Fleet operates approximately 120 of its principal assets, “battlestars,” heavily-armed aircraft-carriers, plus numerous smaller warships including non-FTL littoral combat vessels, plus support vessels. While ships do sail solo, Battlestar Groups (commanded by an admiral) are anchored by larger Mercury-type battlestars, supported by one or more Valkyrie-type battlestars and a few destroyers and support vessels. All told, the fleet has in the vicinity of three to four hundred thousand men and women at arms, plus the permanent ground staff and admiralty. It is a lethal force run by men who have grown restful and indulgent, fattened by years of peace.

We know from the miniseries that the fleet comprises approximately 120 battlestars; for sake of argument, I say that they have 80 Valkyrie-types and forty Mercury-types. BSGwiki says that the Mercury-type has a complement of 2500, and it seems a reasonable guess that the Valkyries carry about 1600. That gives us 228,000 by themselves, and provides a maximum of 40 BSGs. But we want to include some slack, so let’s say there are 30 BSGs, each comprising a Mercury, two Valkyries, and support vessels. That leaves thirty battlestars (ten mercuries, twenty valkyries) available for solo assignments, plus special cases like the Galactica, and so on. At any given time, most of the fleet is at sea, on sixteen-month deployments, but between deployments they spend three months in a maintenance phase; offers are typically attached to a battlestar for a tour comprising two deployments and the down phase for training: The “front sixteen,” “down,” and “back sixteen.” (The commentary for “The Turning Point” will explain the math that drives that sixteen-month deployment.)

It seems reasonable to double and round the 228,000 deployed on battlestars to give us the total for the fleet: Call it a round half-million officers and enlisted, roughly the size of the U.S. Navy. And based on the U.S. Navy’s ratio of enlisted to officers (approximately 80% enlisted), we would expect an officer corps of around 100,000, which is small enough (especially when served by only two officer-candidate schools) that one can easily imagine that officers who went to the same school at the same time would recognize one another even if they don’t know (i.e. aren’t close with) one another, which accounts nicely for the little Apollo-Helo interaction at the start of the Miniseries.

So…

There’s a lot of writing ahead. The Racetrack Chronicles are my focus for the next several months, but I intend to spend a lot more time fleshing out this universe.