Friday, November 11, 2016

"Drat. It's armored with collapsium."

From H. Beam Piper's The Cosmic Computer:
"The armor was only a couple of micromicrons thick, but it would stop anything. It was collapsed matter, the electron shells of the atoms collapsed upon the nuclei, the atoms in actual contact. That plating made eighth-inch sheet steel as heavy as twelve-inch armor plate, and in texture and shielding properties, lead was like sponge by comparison."
That, fellow Travellers, is collapsium. None of the Classic Traveller rules sets describe what starship hulls or vehicle armor is made of. That's fine, referees can make stuff up that works for them. But why not use a substance that has some SF pedigree, like Piper's super-strong metallic shielding? It's the sort of stuff you encase your ship's fusion power plant or jump drive in.

The only reference to this type of material I could find was in Striker, as shown here:

Taken from the Design Sequence Tables in FFE 005: The Classic Games

It's an indirect reference, but at least we can take it as guidance that collapsium begins to be available at TL-12. It is also seven times as tough as steel, but twice the weight. While that doesn't jive with Piper's description, it makes sense from a play perspective. A vehicle that heavy can't move.

Piper's novel gives several references to the production and utilization of collapsium.

Such as here:
"There was a collapsium plant, with its own mass-energy converter. There were foundries and machine-shops and forging-shops and a rolling-mill, almost completely robotic. . . . The rolling-mill was good enough to turn out eighth-inch sheet material which when plated with a few micromicrons of collapsium would be as good as a hundred feet of lead against space-radiations,"

and here:
"They sent them [robots] inside the collapsium-shielded death-to-people area [of a nuclear furnace]"

and here:
"They even found refrigerators and freeze-bins full of meat and vegetables fresh after forty years. That surprised everybody, for the power units had gone dead long ago. Then it was noticed that they were covered with collapsium. Anything that would stop cosmic rays was a hundred percent efficient as a heat insulator."

Collapsium is not completely indestructible, however:
"Sure. There are collapsium-cutters, at Port Carpenter, on Koshchei. They do it with cosmic rays."
"But collapsium will stop cosmic rays," Zareff objected.
"Stop them from penetrating, yes. A collapsium-cutter doesn't penetrate; it abrades. Throws out a rotary beam and works like a grinding-wheel, or a buzz-saw."

You can use it as shielding against any kind of electromagnetic radiation, and of course much lower-energy attacks like kinetic strikes from guns or missiles. Collapsium gets plated onto things to protect the contents. Secure vaults, isolated computers or dangerous persons/things can be surrounded in collapsium and nothing is getting in or out without enormous energy and effort.

How much does this stuff cost, anyway? The Striker table suggests it is seven times as expensive as steel. The Bk3 Trade table says steel [entry 2-1] goes for Cr 500 per ton. That would make collapsium Cr 3500 per ton. I'd estimate it at a lot more, given how hard it must be to manufacture, or to alter once it's made.
"In spite of the shielding that covered the actual work, there was an awesome display of multicolored light; it was like being in the middle of an aurora borealis. What was going on where that tiny rotating beam of cosmic rays was grinding at the collapsium simply couldn't have been imagined."
So instead, I suggest classifying collapsium as a "Special Alloy" [entry 2-6 on the table] at a much more restrictive Cr 200,000 per ton. Plus, given its qualities, some governments might restrict access to the stuff so Armed Groups can't build themselves impervious armored vehicles. Also, given its weight, one ton of it wouldn't take up very much space, or be able to cover much surface area.

If the PCs do manage to acquire some of this stuff, probably they'll also want to try using it as armoring for themselves or for vehicles. Referees should point out as it states above that a few micromicrons hold the mass of 12" armor plating. 
A suit of medieval plate armor could weigh up to 25 kg, and collapsium is seven times heavier, 125kg. There's no way that would be wearable armor, given the encumbrance limitations on PCs.  For you folks who dig science, a micrometer is 0.000001 meters, or 1/1000 millimeter. That's 10 to the negative sixth power. Micromicrons are a non-standard unit, perhaps 10 to the negative seventh power. Very little volume, but a whole lotta mass.

What else could be done with collapsium? How much trouble could it cause for the PCs, or could the PCs cause with it? Imagine the common break-in scenario, where the PCs are asked to liberate a Thing from a Place. What would they do when they discover that the Thing is kept in a locked room lined with collapsium?

Collapsium cutters are also introduced at TL-12. The unit, with its own fusion power plant, masses four tons (mass, not displacement) and costs Cr 50,000.  This figure does not include any means of moving it, such as a contra-grav cargo pallet.

Share your ideas in the comments.

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