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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 1

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!

Ix Ship Yards, Niops IX
Niops Association, 2 March, 3155

“We haven’t settled on a final name yet,” Brigadier Zeb Kindarps stated plainly as he and his companion floated in the station’s observation deck at the subject of the hour. “They tell me we’re still another two years from completing enough repairs for her to move under her own power, and there’s debate in the Council of Chairpersons whether we want to honor the original Star League by keeping her original name, or give her a true Niopian name.”

The Kowloonese trade representative, Vincent Ng, nodded. “So, she’s probably a good four to six years from being ready for shakedowns, and the Council figures they have time to argue about it.” He stared a bit closer. “Downgrading the armor?”

Brigadier Kindarps nodded. “No tooling for better armor. We work with what we can. Armor protection will drop by 30%, but the Cruiser class has a tough spaceframe, so she’s got that going for her. One of these days, we’ll be able to build better armor, and at that point we’ll bring her home, and refit her back to her original armor loadout. Maybe even better.”

“Still,” Vincent replied, “this has to be ruinously expensive for the Association to do. Is it worth it? Your Saturn and Independence class projects seem to be going well enough, building up the numbers for local defense. The Niops Association seems to be one of the few interstellar nations not interested in coveting thy neighbor’s territory or belongings, and even though you’re not building a new WarShip here, refurbishing that old rust bucket is going to get people’s attention.”

“Good,” Kindarps replied emphatically. “It damned well should. But, before I answer you, you’re not getting cold feet about selling us tooling for the subcapital weapons, are you?”

Ng laughed. “No, your money, or is it Interstellar Expedition’s money, is certainly good enough, and like I said, the Niops Association doesn’t seem to be expansionist. Besides, you’re far enough from the Commonwealth that I don’t think you’re going to get us into trouble, and it looks like, despite how many your old beer keg is getting, most of your subcapital guns are still slated for your system defense ships.”

“Right.” Sighing, and relaxing a bit, Zeb turned from the window to Vincent. “The Niops Association can continue to build Independence class ships until we’ve practically dotted the system, but the fact remains we can probably never build enough to keep either of our neighbors from invading us again if they really wanted to take us over. And while from a policy perspective I accept that neither the Marian Hegemony nor the Free Worlds League is really intending to do so, I’m sure both have plans for that eventuality. Hell, with the Marians, they’d just be updating their old plans from when they did it last time,” he replied, biting down his bitterness.

“Just playing devil’s advocate here,” Vincent noted, “but a single ancient cruiser isn’t going to stop them from invading.”

“Not if it’s here, no. At least, not if it stays here. Then it becomes a known quantity, just another thing to account for when planning your invasion: sure, it’s harder to kill than an Independence class, but that’s just a question of quantity. If it’s not here, though, and you don’t know where it is, you have to worry about it hitting you back. That’s why I suspect we’re going to rename the ship in the end, just to make that clear.”

“Do I want to know?” Vincent asked, confusion and amusement seeping into his voice.

“Probably not, but here’s a list of proposed names, anyway,” Zeb replied, handing over a compad.

Vincent scanned the list. "NMS Beer Keg of Science, amusing…Hold My Me and Watch This?” he laughed, “that’s pretty funny, actually. Ultimate Ship the Second, well, Niopians do have a twisted sense of humor…Relativity Experiment, okay…Shippy McShipface, yeah, somehow I'm not surprised...Bright White Light, that sounds a little too Blakist to me…Unfortunate Implications…huh…Physics Package…isn’t that…?”

“Another name for a nuclear weapon? Yes.”

“Will your cruiser there be carrying a nuclear loadout?” Vincent asked suspiciously.

Zeb smiled, taking the compad back. “I can neither confirm nor deny whether the as-yet-unnamed Niopian long-range exploration refit of the Cruiser class cruiser will carry tactical or strategic nuclear weapons capable of being deployed by either of its two types of capital missile launcher.”

“Exploration cruiser,” Vincent asked flatly.

Zeb nodded. “Indeed. Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to be doing that, anyway, because expanding scientific knowledge is still a popular idea in the Niops Association, regardless of why else we might finally be refurbishing that ‘old beer keg’,” he noted. “But that fleet admiral of yours is one of the driving forces behind this whole project. Word gets around, Mister Ng, and so Niops has decided it truly is time to explore brave new worlds, seek out new life and lost civilizations. And if we end up having to boldly nuke where no one has nuked before, well, we’ll be ready.”

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