Today we bring you an interview conducted by author S. Hampton, Sr. with the character Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra of John Steiner’s Flipspace series – specifically “Branching Out” which is the second mission in the series.
Colonel Ramachandra, please tell us a little bit of your background and how you came to serve in the Naval Aerospace Treaty Organization. I assume NATO is a descendant of the original 1949 organization, North Atlantic Treaty Organization?
“Yes, yes it is. Following the formation of the Pan-American Combine near the end of the twenty-first century, it was decided that NATO’s role should be redefined. Many of the newer member nations weren’t located near the North Atlantic. Also, the costs of maintaining modern air forces and navies overtook even the wealthiest of nations.
“I joined in January of 2159 and graduated in the Class of ’61. There were… complications in my life, which is why I entered the Aerospace Defense Response [ADR] in my late twenties. At first other cadets had a little fun over the fact I was ten years older than many of them, but near the end they started looking up to me a bit like I was their mother. I suppose that’s why my command style turned out the way it has.”
How long have you been in command of the ISS-454 Mockingbird? Is it a beautiful ship, or was it built strictly for functionality? How old is the Mockingbird? What are her full capabilities—at this time? You know as well as I do that no organization can resist upgrading and changing things.
“There are really two starts for my command. The first was being selected as the ISS-454 Mission Commander a little under a year before becoming CO of the Mockingbird itself. Once the ISV-71 Raven passed the test phase a year-long training phase started for myself and my crew.”
By the way, what is the ISV-71 Raven, and how does she differ from the Mockingbird?
“The Intra-System Vessel, Model 71 denotes the year that the test bed exited development as NATO’s chosen multi-role deep space platform. To reduce the minimum number of in-service designs, the Mockingbird and other Ravens were built to be undergo frequent remodulation for several simultaneous mission-specific functions. The Mockingbird and then the Magpie were the first and second of the line.
“The concept, as I understand it, was to ensure that NATO wasn’t forced to devote so many resources to successive waves of wholly untested spacecraft in order to maintain cutting edge capabilities. The talk is that the ISV-71 Raven could remain in service for sixty years at least.”
How long has Major Lamarr Fitch been your Executive Officer, and Chief Master Sergeant Carl Anders been the Chief of the Bird? Can you tell us a little of their background too?
“The Major’s career trajectory and life history aren’t what you’d call the straightest of lines. He’s big on fast cars, and he has a strong command of what the rules are in most any situation. Some of us on the Mockingbird are a little suspicious of how intimately familiar Fitch is with the law.
“As for the Chief? His early childhood was on the Kuiper Belt Object, Pluto. His parents, aunts and uncles, who were all living as an extended family in one habitat, managed to scrape together enough money to move back to Earth. It’s not easy living for most people under Remote Space Conglomerated Industries. I spoke with him about it during our Kepler 22 mission.
“Major Fitch likes to kid around with the Chief and others, though sometimes walks near the edge of undermining his own authority. I just hope he gets a better handle on that so that there isn’t a breakdown of unit cohesion and discipline.”
Were Major Fitch and Chief Anders simply assigned to the Mockingbird, or do you have a say on who your top people are? Individually, what are their greatest strengths, and how do they mesh with you, your personality and expectations?
“Selection for Ravens is only partly under my control. When the 1st Raven Wing was being organized we mission commanders were asked what qualities were best for XO and Chief of the Bird. That’s part of why our training lasted for a year. Much like the NASA astronauts of old, we grew familiar enough to read each other’s vocal tones and gauge underlying messages with greater concession.
How large is the crew of the Mockingbird, and how would you describe that crew?
“There are two circles for crew. Onboard, the original core was for thirty-five, plus AI, Maggie. There’s room for another fifteen extended personnel for certain missions, like our first rescue op. The groundside command numbers around two-hundred maintenance and support.
“However, as of the inclusion of two Flipspace Devices [FSD] on our Extra-Vehicular Frame, which we’ve come to call the FSD frame, our standard compliment was upgrade to thirty-seven. Our original flight surgeon was replaced by Captain Malcolm O’Connell, who also serves as SETI Team Leader. Under him is our FSD expert, Dr. Stanly Goddard and our genetics expert, Specialist Todd Nathanial Ash.
“O’Connell was a firefighter some hundred and fifty years ago, which includes his famous exploits dealing with Self-Propagating Organized Thermotrophs. He’s a C.A.R.E. patient who went through the Combat Augmentation and Recuperative Engineering program from the late-United States Army Medical Corps program.
“Stanly Goddard is what they call a Logician, which is someone with DNA computers in their neurons and wireless synapses throughout the nervous system. Their expertise and education are diverse and extensive, well beyond what most people could handle even as geniuses. He doesn’t use his PhD title, and instead prefers to go by Stanly, or Mr. Wizard.
“As for Todd Nathanial Ash… ehh, I wonder why NATO included him in my command given his notorious background. He used to be a genetic code writer for Runt Racing, which is where they breed animals to be under fifty centimeters tall yet strong enough to take a rider. He admits to being a Gacker, which is something like a computer hacker but with genes instead of software code. The Pan-American Combine security tribunals convicted him for bio-terrorism, and so they’re a little less than pleased that he was given an alternative to serving his full sentence. Frankly, I’m not thrilled by the decision either, but I’m told we needed his skills for any SETI scenario that might crop up.
For those of us new to the world of the Mockingbird, what is Flipspace?
“It’s become a catch term for spatial rotation. Goddard would describe it as a Tesseract or a folding of space to conjoin two locations. Instead of flying through an opening those locations are swapped or flipped, which is where the term came up. The proof of concept was achieved on June 7th, 2173, when a cube of empty space-time was successfully switched with one that contained a sensor probe. While the 1st Raven Wing was officially reclassified as a Light FTL Ops Wing, modern twenty-second century science still hasn’t beaten the quantum barrier. Einstein’s universe speed limit still holds true outside of Non-Locality or NoLo transmissions and Flipspace events.”
Regarding the SETI Protocols, these are descended from the original SETI that was established in 1984 in California? What are some significant changes between the 1984 SETI and the current Protocols?
“At that time the focus was on detecting radio transmissions from what was then called extraterrestrial intelligences. When permanent human presence was established in the solar system and our reach extended to exo-solar planets the SETI Protocol reviews included changes to account for finding physical evidence of intelligent life or their technology. We’ve since learned that those earliest of radio transmissions from Earth degrade completely within just a few tens of light-years. Also, the prospect of waiting centuries if not millennia for an answer compelled later generations of scientists to reevaluate the practicality of radio communication between stars.
“With the SPOT phenomena that Captain O’Connell encountered and the artificial intelligence breakthrough much later, it was decided that clarification was in order. Now we have the term Natural Environmentally-Selected Intelligences to specify that a form of intelligence arose as a byproduct of physical processes wholly independent of human activity.”
Come to think of it, how has Earth changed since the early 21st century?
“The coastlines are quite different. Many Pacific Islands no longer exist, but in their place are oceanic structures that are called Mult-e-nomic platforms. They are centers for overlapping forms of industrial and business, much of it internet-related, which is why the odd ‘e’ in the name.
“You may have noticed a trend of nations forming leagues, unions and combines. That has increased a great deal and for many reasons. Many national governments realized that economics had become bigger than their countries could get a handle on alone. Also, as I described, aerospace and naval defense required increased international cooperation. Peacetime rivalries often bordered on animosity as high or higher than what they used to call a cold war. Stateless threats also have continued to proliferate.
“However, a lot of good has come with the modern twenty-second century. Brain death can be reversed in most circumstances. The nations of the world are starting to get a handle on reversing climate change, and oddly the oceanic oil drilling firms were instrumental in that regard. I hesitate to suggest that spewing greenhouse gasses was a good thing, but it forced us to learn terraforming techniques we might not have otherwise researched.”
Has mankind learned anything since venturing into interstellar space?
“The big shocker was discovering that more than one astral body in the solar system harbors life. Europa’s ice-covered oceans do shelter complex forms of life. While there are bacteria on Mars, we’re unable to distinguish if they’re indigenous or if the Jade Continuum contaminated the planet after declaring their independence from the former People’s Republic of China.
“I’d like to say we’ve tamped down our propensity for conflict, but in truth we just got better at accepting it. The Earth is further from risks of total annihilation, but that’s just the result of advances in precision warfare. As it turns out, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ greater threats were in the form of financial warfare, which has persisted as a common practice between powers not quite willing to call each other enemies. Captain O’Connell could probably tell you more about how the world changed, since he lived through most of those decades.”
Between you and us, what is your personal opinion of Remote Space Conglomerated Industries?
“I really wish that their executive boards could take a more humane approach. Despite Chief Anders’ experience, I refuse to believe that everyone in RSCI is bad. Maybe some kind of reformers’ movement could get started. To avoid undermining diplomatic efforts, I don’t think I should delve too much into their social makeup.”
Between Earth and interstellar space, is there someplace that is particularly close to your heart? If so, why?
“I was an aerospace intercept pilot stationed on the Leda Missile Base. Starting my day with the rise of Jupiter and some of its moons made sunrise on Earth a bit boring by comparison. When Leda’s orbit is just right you can see the thin ring that Jupiter has. While I sometimes miss seeing fields of green, Earth also reminds me of troubles I had before joining ADR.
Bearing in mind that plans always change, particularly when serving in a military bureaucracy, what are your plans for your future?
“Honestly, if the powers that be allow it, I hope to stick with command and Raven flight ops. There’s nothing– and I mean nothing, like directing a craft larger than old era cargo planes yet with an agility approaching that of a fighter! During Surface-to-Orbit there’s a point where the Planck engines of atmospheric flight shut off and before the fusion pulse-detonation engine kicks in. It’s just beyond the altitude where blue sky turns black and the stars no longer twinkle. It only lasts a couple of second, and right after you’re knocked into your acceleration couch at anywhere from three to five g-forces!
“I live for that quiet pause between. In more ways than one, you’re crossing between worlds.”
Thank you for joining us today.
About John Steiner
John Steiner earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College, where he is currently working as a tutor in math and chemistry. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts as well as military tactics and technology.
About S. Hampton, Sr.
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).
After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.
Hampton can be found at:
Amazon.com Author Page
Amazon.com. UK Author Page
Goodreads Author Page