Vehicles and Transportation
Arcatia’s vast archipelagos, turbulent seas, and low-hanging, impenetrable radioactive cloud cover have forced transportation technology down a number of unique channels.
The vast majority of people and goods move across Arcatia on the high seas, where craft take one of three basic approaches to avoiding early admittance to the ocean floor. Hydrofoils use their nonexistent drag and exceptional speed to outrace and maneuver around storm systems, conveying small quantities of cargo to their destination either incredibly swiftly or agonizingly slowly as they take hundreds of miles of detours around turbulent waters that threaten their incredibly shallow draft and low displacement. Semi-submersible Gyroships place an internal pressurized hull inside a skeletal gyroscopic engine armature, sustaining the great pitches of the ocean, streams of ionizing radiation, and partial submersion without risking capsize or stranding of mobility systems above the water. Finally, outright submersibles just hide from the ravages of the surface, though they risk exposure to rare undersea hazards like radioactive thermal vents and semibuoyant wreckage, as well as the more realistic threat of ‘running blind’ due to acoustic interference from seismic action.
The largest cargo carriers often tend towards more conventional hull designs for simple reasons of cost, though catamaran, outrider, and tri-hull designs to increase stability are common, as are systems to allow ‘decoupling’ of damaged hull sections as well as pressurization and depressurization of internal compartments.
Hovercraft are popular but somewhat less common choices, and require their captains to plot courses near flat land (a rarity in the rocky islands of Arcatia), industrial landing platforms, or ice floes so that they can ‘ground’ themselves to avoid sinking in violent seas. ‘carryall’ gyroship armatures for common hovercraft designs are relatively common in the largest shipping fleets and in ESIS, which employs a number of hovercraft combat vessels.
Ground Effect Vehicles bridge the gap between naval vessels and aircraft, and account for the second largest aerial vehicles on the planet. GEVs can reach much greater speeds than even the fastest hydrofoil at 300-400 knots, and are the go-to choice for wealthy Arcatians looking to flit between cities and even nations without risk of being caught in a storm. Unfortunately, their fragile construction means nearly every GEV unfortunate enough to make contact with an undetected or ill-tracked storm system is lost with all hands. The difficulties the Arcatian atmosphere imposes on long-range missile guidance make such large GEVs less useful for combat applications, where smaller carrier-borne GEV ‘interceptors’ prove more useful. Since ground effect vehicles require immense amounts of power, light weight, and almost exclusively operate on a strict pre-planned course, their energy of choice comes from vast arrays of hydrogen fuel cells, leaving them in peril in the event of mechanical issues or course changes. Even so, they are the safest way to cross Arcatia at speed.
The abundance of nearly mile-high structures and imposition of a low flight ceiling makes lower-speed VTOLs from Helicopters and Tiltrotors to nuclear ramjet, hydrogen (both liquid and fuel cell) turbofans, arcjets, and internal pulse-detonation engine craft the standard. Capable of speeds anywhere from 100-400 knots, VTOLs range from tiny single-man survey choppers and unmanned drones to hulking many-engined affairs capable of hauling fifty armored men skyward. They do, however, tend to be constrained by shorter operating range, resulting from their inability to mount a proper nuclear reactor or other long-term power source. While urban and civilian sporting aircraft often rely on battery power alone, military and industrial vehicles utilize a more complicated arrangement of fuel cells backed up by Radioisotope Generators which are used in a ‘hybrid’ configuration to maximize fuel cell efficiency when cell power is available (preserving a small trickle to keep batteries at peak charge) and take full electric power (in conjunction with the batteries) when a cell array is drained, giving the vehicle some additional maneuvering time, albeit less total drive power.
Lighter than air craft are also common in niche applications. Lenticular helium aerostats can be seen hauling cargo through Arcatia’s towering cities, where significant winds are less of a problem. Some drones and weather instruments also use more conventional helium designs. While particle membrane heating is not yet advanced enough to allow efficient lift, it IS quite capable of arresting fall and can be seen on a number of aircraft and lighter than air vehicles. The gargantuan Congressman aerial city is perhaps the apex of lighter than air technology, combining a number of innovations to keep its multiple-kilomete silhouette well above the ground.
Ground shipping outside of the Maglevs, AMP Rails, and Pneumatubes that stetch across supercities like delicate, haphazard webs is almost unheard of. Some small extra-city settlements used tracked crawlers and large-tired rovers to ferry people and cargo between distant areas or move heavy machinery, and a few more stable islands have trams running between especially far-spaced facilities. The eastern bounds of the Unity are a notable exception, where permanent ground roads and massive multi-track maglev lines run towards the more tectonically unstable west, where loads are transferred to massive all-terrain crawlers, hulking mobile factories, and conventional naval shipping.