Battle of the Planets belongs to Sandy Frank Productions. I've borrowed it for fun, not profit.
Thanks to my husband for beta-reading.
The time is the fairly near future, just after the start of the war with Spectra. In TV terms, the series has just started.
Seven years ago, the US division of ISO announced the first successful test of its jump-drive technology. Spaceflight to other planets in our solar system became practical, the main time taken being getting out of the planet’s gravity well, and the world expected research bases everywhere with sensible gravity and temperature, and rapid progress towards interstellar travel.
It didn’t happen. Interstellar jump flight just isn’t that easy. Before making a jump, you have to tune the jump-engine precisely to the local conditions (radiation, gravity fields, particle flux) before engaging it and making the jump to the end location. (Engage the jump-engine any other time, and you get all the visual and physiological effects without the jump. Can you see where this is going yet?!) Since you’re in a moving ship, as well as these conditions not being constant with time, what you end up with in the general case is a highly complicated set of non-linear simultaneous equations to solve. Or you’re limited to jumps between points with particularly stable local conditions where you have a known solution.
ISO rapidly realised that traditional pilots weren’t cut out for the job at all. What they needed were fast, instinctive mathematicians able to look at the rapidly changing equations and see where the solutions lay, and jump-pilots able to interact with the new technology fast enough to make the jump while the solutions were still valid. The speed you can jump at is determined by how close your solution is to the real answer, i.e. a) how good an answer your jump-calculator gave you, and b) how good your jump-pilot is at implementing it. These skills couldn’t be trained unless they were already present – they had to find people with innate talent in one or both. Communications were, if anything, a worse problem – for reasons nobody really understood, a communications technician could only successfully transmit their own live speech. And the lower registers came out so garbled as to be incomprehensible. It was no longer a matter of just anyone talking into the radio but required a female specialist.
And there were more problems. Jump-flight itself is physiologically stressful. Only a limited subset of people can handle jumps at all – even for them, it does weird things to their brain chemistry, so drugs of any sort and jump-flight don’t mix.
Cerebonic implants had been developed, falling into two basic types. One which could regulate the chemicals produced in the brain to a certain extent, making jump-flight bearable. The second acted as a communication link, transmitting the electronic impulses associated with the jump-pilot’s intentions (or the comm-tech’s) far faster than any physical link could. In effect, a direct neural link between brain and console.
ISO considered everything at their disposal, and ended up with three possible solutions for their jump-teams.
- Very large ships with shielding to protect the crew from the effects of the jump-field. Anyone can travel in one of these, they would be ideal for base-building or colonisation, not so good for exploring. And they’re just too big to manoeuvre as fast as a smaller ship can.
- One-man ships, fast, good for local exploration or going to a known location but not what you’d choose to send on an interstellar exploration. Unless you have a pilot capable of doing his own jump-calculations, you have to jump between stable points.
- Small team ships, big enough to carry extra equipment but without shielding. Needs crew all of whom can handle jumps, a jump-pilot and a jump-calculator. And a communications expert, unless you want to be out of touch.
ISO chose the third variant, and decided a crew of between four and six was optimal. They continued to have major problems finding suitable individuals, not least because adults almost always rejected the cerebonic implants, and eventually decided to test teenagers with the lure of a scholarship and a place on the space program for those found suitable. And guess what? They found some, just a few. And then they found themselves under attack. And three years later, they have one team capable of putting up a fight, and are desperately searching for candidates for a second.
If you haven't yet read Rumours of Death and Reconstruction, you might want to stop here, since the information below contains some spoilers.
My team consists of:
Marek Jaruzelski. G-1, codename Eagle. Polish father, a Soviet bloc fighter pilot who disappeared mysteriously many years ago (go on, say you’re surprised). American mother, now dead. Uses a Western form of his first name and his mother’s surname, Mark Jarrald, for simplicity, much to the disgust of the Eastern bloc ISO representatives. Mark’s the jump-pilot. Officially, he’s a member of ISO’s most junior security team 7, the team made up of those waiting for a permanent assignment.
Jason Alouita. G-2, codename Condor. Australian-Italian, his parents died in a car crash when he was young. Jason’s a superb instinctive mathematician, the instantaneous calculator for the team. According to his profile, he should also be a better jump-pilot than Mark (but that’s another story). In his spare time, he drives for a racing team run by ISO engineering personnel as part of their research program. They think he’s just another ISO security operative and are well used to having to find substitutes at a moment’s notice for various of the team, not just him. Jason’s also officially on ISO team 7.
Kate Harmon, known as Princess. G-3, codename Swan. English, her parents are alive but believe her to be dead. Princess is the communications expert, and also the backup jump-pilot. She’s made a point of being able to do every job on the team she possibly can in an emergency – if they ever figure out how to sort the communications problem for a male voice, she reckons they’ll have a man in her place inside a week unless there’s a compelling reason to keep her. And she’s a crack shot with a rifle provided it’s a stationary target [I confess, this is a serious Mary Sue-ism. I’m a better shot with a target rifle than 95% of male competitors, and I see no good reason why she shouldn’t be, too.] Officially she works for the ISO communications department.
Keyop. G-4, codename Swallow. Russian, from the far east of the country. Doesn’t remember his parents, and the Russian ISO reps are remarkably unforthcoming about his ancestry, exact age, and lack of surname. Suffered damage to his speech centres during the cerebonic implant process and stammers badly as a result. Officially he’s still at the ISO academy, where future security team members are trained.
Tony Harper, known as Tiny. G-5, codename Owl. American, his parents are alive, separated, and with younger second families to worry about so have little interest in precisely what it is he does for ISO. Tiny’s the team medic – he always planned to be a doctor, but since the war started he simply hasn’t had time to complete his qualifications. Officially he’s a medical student, interning (I hope that’s the right term) at the ISO medical facility.
[And all the team members also fill the same roles they do in BotP, of course]
Security Chief Anderson is the team’s controller and has been since the start of the war. He was in charge of their training program before that. He gives them their orders and they answer to him. He didn’t bring them up from childhood, and isn’t their medical doctor (even as a 10 year old I had a real problem with this concept). He’s in charge of a team of controllers, technical specialists, medical staff and others who know the team’s true identities.
Among those who crop up repeatedly are:
Dr Chris Johnson. Chris is G-Force's medical doctor and is in charge of the medical bay inside the black security area. He's been with the team since day one, and has always been in charge of the cerebonic implantation program at ISO USA.
Colonel Ivanov. Ivanov was the head of ISO Russia for many years - a desk job in a non-combat situation, despite his senior rank and an impressive military reputation up to that point. Mark was given to him to bring up when his father disappeared (the role filled by Anderson in canon). He's still heavily connected with ISO Russia, but these days he's based at ISO USA as Anderson's deputy.
Major Grant. Grant's outwardly a typically British military officer. If G-Force bring back someone for interrogation, it'll be Grant who does it. They won't enjoy the experience. He doesn't tolerate mistakes or weakness, and tends to assume that anything which goes wrong is someone's fault. He and Jason really don't get on. He's Anderson's other deputy - if Anderson isn't on the other end of the Phoenix's communications during a mission, it's either Grant or Ivanov.
Commander Matti Nykinnen. Nykinnen's in charge of Security Team 7, so as far as the rest of the world's concerned, he's Mark and Jason's commanding officer. He does know who they are - Anderson was forced to tell him after he put together a set of clues and came to entirely the wrong conclusion. He doesn't know the rest of the team.
Why do some of my characters only have surnames? Well, I've been playing in this universe for a long time. When you're 10, adults in positions of authority don't have or need first names :-)