Kakyu Interceptor Cruises Through Asteroids Picture

(I know, not the most original of designs. I apologize for nothing.)

One of the consequences of Project Vanguard is that it made TME operations in the Tinker's World system much easier to detect on the off chance of someone passing through. While the radiation, plasma, and debris belts of the system provided a great deal of natural electromagnetic jamming, jamming is only effective if it drowns out signal. With the signal-to-noise ratio becoming too great for the Security Directorate's tastes, the people paid to be even more paranoid than usual in the Industries began agitating for more resources to be diverted to defense. With Scheme Vanguard building up unused production capability and Vanguard Plus years away at best (and more probably decades, whenever the Board of Directors was honest with itself), opportunity and need aligned.

While TME Industries had produced effective aerospace fighters for years, aerospace fighters were suboptimal for TME's defense. Their overall logistic footprint made them expensive, and finding capable pilots--or producing them at local flight schools--could never hope to keep up with either demand or production. The Board of Directors deemed expending so much time and energy on a short-ranged tactical asset simply unacceptable, but recognized the company's burgeoning need for aerospace defense.

When put to the Research Directorate, the scientists were politically pressured to give the 'correct' answer essentially by the assumptions that were placed on them: hostile forces achieving orbit could be considered a 'loss' for the company, and therefore aerospace fighters, with no transorbital or interplanetary capability, could never intercept enemies before orbit without extremely expensive and expansive base stations scattered throughout the system. Combat-effective small craft rarely outgunned heavy aerospace fighters half their mass and were therefore cost-ineffective.

The solution space closed around assault DropShips, with exactly what to be built being dependent upon how much TME Industries was willing to pay. Proposals ranged from 'battle barges' with just enough acceleration to intercept heavy DropShips to 'interceptors' that could outfly most medium aerospace fighters. The latter range of the continuum piqued the interest of both management--due to cost--and engineering--due to cool factor--and so, in 3054, the oddly-named and relatively short-lived Pop Occulture design team found itself tasked with developing what was becoming known as 'The Interceptor.'

Pop Occulture was generally considered creative but uninspired, which management figured would be a bonus as far as The Interceptor went: the Security Directorate wanted something that worked and wanted it quickly; they didn't want something insanely fancy an indeterminate time in the future... except for Vanguard Plus, but that was understood. Pop Occulture could be trusted to ponder it a little, maybe sift through the old Terran Hegemony libraries for some inspiration, then come up with something that would fit the bill. The end product would inevitably be heavily influenced by some extremely obscure in-joke, but that was a perfectly acceptable risk as far as management was concerned.

As expected, the Pop Occulture team followed their usual modus operandi of hitting the libraries. The Tinker's World culture databases were dated centuries before any of the Industrialists were ever born, but unfamiliarity breeds novelty and quite a few of the records in the archives hadn't been seen by anyone in Human Space in hundreds of years--even on Blessed Terra. Pop Occulture came across, of all things, recordings of a puppet show produced in the early spaceflight period long since consigned to the dust of ancient history. How it had survived for so long when more iconic creations of the era had since disappeared or become poorly understood folk mythology across the Sphere could only be attributed to being disregarded and forgotten for so long.

Still, there it was. The engineers found it, and watched it.

And they had their inspiration.

Pop Occulture would eventually disband and influence later projects such as the Ubico and Dravec, but in 3054 they were still a jolly band with no professional shame. "Inspiration" in this case became "plagiarism" and the idea of a DropShip with a detachable, independent nosecone parasite fighter or small craft got ingrained in their heads. Certain aspects of the inspiration required complete revision; apparently the creators of the show weren't aware that sharp leading edges were bad for hypersonic flight. Still, the basic idea was sound and so the design team went forward with system simulations.

In space, it is very easy to turn one vehicle into two vehicles. It's also not too difficult to make one atmospheric-capable vehicle into another atmospheric-capable vehicle and a space-capable vehicle. Making both atmosphere-capable--without devoting too much mass to vectored thrust equipment and relying too much on advanced flight software--is somewhat harder. Then there are operational envelopes to consider: splitting the craft up in space while coasting is fine. What about under thrust? How could the parasite subcraft escape while under thrust without melting its mothership? What about detaching in the atmosphere?

In simulation after simulation, the Pop Occulture team kept coming into the same problems: either one or the other craft couldn't fly, limiting their utility, or the entire system was massively overweight (which usually meant that the mothership couldn't fly in the atmosphere, making its design completely irrational). They didn't even begin to consider the logistical difficulties of maintaining a small craft that was actually the nose of a larger craft, lacking the sort of access that a dedicated small craft bay would allow. They also didn't quite want to.

Pop Occulture management did its best to provide air support against increasing cries for status reports but, in December 3055, things came to a head with a direct visit by the Director of Security. She demanded to know where the hell her Interceptor was; any other design team would at the very least be crashing scale remote-control models into the countryside by now.

She was informed, in all seriousness, that the nose cone kept falling off and they couldn't make it work.

Unsurprisingly, she requested clarification.

When it was delivered, she carefully and patiently reminded them that the Security Directorate did not want two spacecraft for the price of one. It wanted one spacecraft. It needed one spacecraft. One spacecraft used less pilots, and it was really just that simple. One spaceship, fewer pilots, less complexity, more guns.

This solution had entirely skipped the engineers' minds.

With patience to become legendary amongst TME, the Director asked to see which design studies were within weight and flew as a combined craft. When shown the summaries, she looked them over, frowned, and pointed to one. Collective rumor has it that she picked at random; at the very least, that is how the story is always told.

Her selection, actually the smallest of the bunch, would eventually evolve into the Kayku. Its mass increased from five hundred to eight hundred tons to improve the armament, make it a little more livable, and increase its endurance to five weeks. Of utterly simplistic construction--a cylindrical fuselage, conical nose, delta wings and canards with no aerodynamic transitioning and purely standard armor--the Kakyu proved easy to manufacture though its maneuverability in transatmospheric flight was restricted to aerodynamically-assisted brute force. Said brute force was provided by a fusion torch that took up more than forty-five percent of the Kakyu's mass which could easily manage three and a half gravities of acceleration and, with the throttle fully open, could pull five and a half gravities. The vestigial canards on the nosecone kept the ship dynamically stable, and the large canopy (with internal armor shutters) provided superior visibility to most other assault DropShips. If that was insufficient, the 'navigation deck' on the dorsal hull was almost a true bubble canopy manned by a weapons officer who could replicate the functions of "the guy in back" in jet fighters of the era of the original puppet show.

In terms of armament, the Kakyu mounted as primary weapons twin Gauss rifles in the nose and twin Thunderbolt-20 class heavy missile launchers on retractable side-launch rails in the forward fuselage. Twin large pulse lasers in each wing gave the Kakyu respectable capability in a dogfight, and twin large pulse lasers mounted in blisters on the aft fuselage allowed it to outgun anything it couldn't outfly.

The Kakyu's heavily reinforced internal structure allowed it to mount nearly seventy tons of standard armor, protecting it better than many DropShips far larger than it. This durability actually laid the foundation of its utility as a dogfighter; even if it was a greased iron brick being dropped towards a nuclear-powered electromagnet, it was a brick with a massive fusion torch complete with secondary drives on outriggers at the ends of the wings. It could force itself through maneuvers in the air that would have torn more lightly built ships apart and, with armor slats engaged under its canopies, shrug off fire from the aerospace fighters it would be most likely to face.

The first Kakyu-class--uncreatively named TME Kakyu--took to the skies in February 3057 with some fanfare, soon followed by several more sister ships for shakedown cruises throughout the system. Pop Occulture had been disbanded five months earlier after the completion of the Kakyu's critical design review, partially in consequence of their year-long dithering with parasite craft. The Kakyu would prove to be the team's only notable success.

Operationally, the Kakyu suited its role quite well as a relatively inexpensive monitor. An advantage to its sturdy and simple build was that it was amenable to modification and refit; the Kakyu-A standard mounted more advanced armor and used the mass savings to invest in heavier Gauss Rifles and add anti-missile systems. Unfortunately, it was considered obsolescent by 3075 due to being too small to mount sub-capital weaponry, though it still continued to be produced and flown in the anti-fighter role as the Kakyu-B incorporated Clan technologies (including heavy Hyper Assault Gauss rifles and Advanced Tactical Missile launchers) to optimize it for that function. While arguably designed and built as a not-for-profit project, it was never organized under the NFP Directorate and versions were offered for sale in standard catalogs. Interest was rare and take-up rarer; it is certain that the Kakyu program never turned a profit.

Finally, in a coincidental case of life unintentionally following art, while TME Kakyu was always first in line for upgrades, her sister ship TME Fireball, the fifth constructed, always seemed to be the only one within response range of incidents and therefore had the most storied record.
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