Skeleton Crew

Halloween or Día de los Muertos would probably be a more appropriate season for this one than the time around Thanksgiving, but as someone who builds Ice Planet battle fleets at the height of a Texas summer I seem to have a bit of a thing for unseasonal building.

Yes, it’s a skeletal space fleet. I told you everything’s cooler in space.

I’m not sure whether these ships are crewed by the undead or just an interplanetary tribe with a strong skull-and-bones fetish, but if you’re dealing with zero-gravity and vacuum then it really doesn’t matter what your ships look like. After a certain technological point it becomes “why not?”

So, a skeletal fleet.

I built the large ship first and then scaled down, with the tiny vessel next and then the intermediate one that looks like it’s got some Klingon in its ancestry. It’s sort of bizarre how much I want to build with white exactly when my daughter is using most of our stocks of that colour, but bloodymindedness is something of a personal trait, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, it’s a little frustrating. Maybe she’ll let me break up her model soon, and then I can go back to wanting to use grey and blue. Or green; I haven’t used green as a major colour in a build for what feels like ages.

Anyway, enough of my random musings on colour choices! I built a skeletal starship, then turned it into a small fleet. The big ship is called the Orcus, after the Roman god of death; the smaller ships are the Vulture and the Scarab. Don’t ask me to make any more, because I really am out of white now.

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Spacedoc

Following on from last time’s Q-Mech and the introduction of my fan-made Neoclassic Space rescue theme Q-Tron, I’m continuing in that line.

One of the obvious needs of a rescue service is some sort of ambulance or medevac vehicle able to swiftly transport injured minifigures to a treatment facility.

Frost’s beautiful space ambulance notwithstanding, I decided that a tracked or even wheeled ground vehicle was probably too slow. His vehicle’s big enough that it might be bringing the treatment facility to the patient, but I elected to go a different route: this is CareFlight in space.

I’ve chosen to use the term “hovercraft” for my antigravity-powered space ambulance despite the fact that this isn’t your mama’s ground-effect vehicle. There are reasons for that; mostly because the old Res-Q theme (1998-1999) had a hovercraft (in the conventional sense) and I wanted to reference it. If it were a Star Wars build it would be called a speeder; other franchises call them skimmers or antigravs; but “hovercraft” seems just as reasonable if you ask me.

For all I know, the twin trans dark blue windscreen elements actually came from a 6473 Rescue Cruiser set; I did get them from Bricklink, after all.

Unlike the Rescue Cruiser, though, the Q-Tron Rescue Hovercraft isn’t actually a twin-cockpit design. I know what it looks like, but the left-hand “cockpit” is actually a patient transport pod with a stretcher.

There’s not much room in there for paramedics to get to work straight away, but this is the future. They probably have medical stasis fields to preserve the patient during the flight. With futuristic medical technology to work with, I’m sure the poor injured Blacktron astronaut will be just fine.

I made good use of some of this household’s Star Wars set elements by making the pilot an alien; also I recombined some red and white Classic asronauts into something that looks like it would pass as a Q-Tron spacesuit. The fact that the Rescue Hovercraft is a single-pilot vehicle doesn’t exactly bode well for that stretcher, but I couldn’t really crowbar a copilot into the right-hand cockpit without causing problems. Star Wars-style miniaturised antigravity to lift the stretcher à la Han-Solo-frozen-in-Carbonite might be a possibility, but the thing has conventional handles. Apparently the future isn’t quite that advanced. The other main option was a robotic medical orderly that could be stored or transported in the back somewhere. The hovercraft’s propulsive system didn’t leave any room for proper hatches, so you have to pretend he goes in there somewhere, but I decided to build Mobot (Medical Orderly Robot) anyway. Zane’s Titanium Ninja head makes an excellent Mobot head (or would if not for the second face on the back), but I wish I had a minifigure of C-3PO’s white colleague from Bespin to be the body. Threepio himself is the wrong colour and battle droids are the only other robot minifigs I have, so I had to adapt a clone trooper body for him.

The twin antigravity spindles use a piece I never thought I’d use in anything other than its designed role: the hemispherical “ball” from the cup-and-ball cannon mounts I acquired fairly recently. But it works quite well, I think. Similarly, the diagonal “wings” at the back started out as a design reaction to the fact that I really didn’t want to break up the Q-Mech yet, and most of our remaining white brick and plate elements are being used by my daughter in a largeish character head build (some kind of animated dwarf skeleton called Sans from something called Undertale, or so I’m informed). That the wings exist at all was a reaction to probably not being able to do it the way I would otherwise have, but I rather like them, and they make a great place for those Q-Tron logos I designed.

Storebought white stickers, a little imagination and a red pen helped complete the Q-Tron look, because if I’m creating an actual fan-made Neoclassic theme I might as well do a thorough job of it, right? Overall it’s not as good as the Q-Mech, but I’m mostly pleased with this.

Q-Mech

Everything’s cooler in space.

This could just about be my LEGO building motto, but it’s nonetheless true. Astronauts are cooler than regular pilots. Star Wars is cooler than Earth wars. Space aliens are cooler than illegal aliens. You get the point.

Anyway, the various classic LEGO Space themes gave us a world where humans are in space, big time. The original Classic prototheme was a sort of semirealistic basic exploration theme; Blacktron gave us a criminal or rebel element; Space Police introduced us to law enforcement in space. M-Tron showed us the world of space haulage, or possibly mining or manufacturing of some form, and Ice Planet gave us arctic research in space. The year-to-year subthematic overlap placed all these incarnations of LEGO Space in the same universe, so it’s quite evident: in the LEGO future, humans are living and working in space.

LEGO City is the modern “real life” theme, giving us brick-built versions of everything from waste trucks to pizza parlors. However, there are plenty of other adjuncts to the modern City and earlier Town themes, such as the jungle subtheme, the airport subtheme and the construction subtheme. Ice Planet’s obviously a prequel of the Arctic subtheme, Police and Space Police go together, and I’ve played with the idea of space construction (witness this spacedozer). The idea of a Jungle Planet or a Modular Space City or a Volcano World space-based subtheme is a pretty good one, but that’s not what I’m doing here.

No, this build takes its cues from a variety of older City and Town subthemes; most notably the Coast Guard and Res-Q subthemes, but with a bit of the LEGO Fire Service thrown in.

I’ve seen excellent models of space ambulances built by other people, and the airport subtheme is cosmicised every time someone builds a starliner or personnel shuttle, but to my knowledge I don’t think I’ve ever seen a space rescue build.

Taking my nomenclative cues (no pun intended) from the old Res-Q line (1998-99) as well as the various classic Space themes, I’m calling my LEGO Space Rescue Service “Q-Tron”.

This, then, is the Q-Mech.

Selecting red and white with trans blue transparent elements and grey structural highlights as a colour palette both high-visibility and distinct from the various early Space themes, I thought about building a large emergency recovery vehicle-type rover with towing hooks and winches and so on, but I really wanted 6-8 large Technic-type wheels and the only colour I’ve got in sufficient quantity is gold. And that doesn’t work with my chosen colour scheme.

So, more or less done with spaceships for the moment, I decided to build a mech instead.

The Q-Tron rescue service mech is a large (ish) humanoid mech able to navigate rough terrain and provide heavy backup for the Q-Tron emergency response teams. Relatively generic and adaptible, the Q-Mech is used in a variety of space rescue roles wherever large amounts of extra strength are required, including moving debris in the wake of planetary quakes or landslides, crash recovery and cavern bracing.

The mech’s clawed hands are capable of considerable delicacy despite their size, and are frequently employed Jaws of Life-style in crash recovery situations.

The Q-Mech contains a powerful onboard atmospheric scrubber and liquid oxygen tank which can be plugged in externally to those of a vehicle or space habitat in the event of an environmental systems failure. The twin nozzles on either side of the cockpit can handle external hoses, though they are multipurpose in design and also function as part of the mech’s fire suppression system.

The vacuum of space serves as an effective fire suppressor for most types of fires, but there are still various chemical agents in use which contain enough stored oxygen to combust even in vacuum.

These deadly “vacuum fires” cannot be controlled with traditional methods of fire suppression, but the Q-Mech uses powerful “dry-foaming” flame-retardant chemicals to encase and absorb the energy of a vacuum combustion event.

I think my favourite part of this mech is the sloping windscreen interface. A little finicky to put together (it more or less exploded a couple of times during construction when I squeezed too hard), it’s one of my better approaches to a mech cockpit. And the nozzles hide the way it’s done quite well.

I think this may be one of my better mechs yet, even though I’m not really using advanced joint techniques on it. I’m not convinced I could scale up the joint techniques I’ve seen to something this stocky and robust. Still, I’m satisfied with the way I’ve disguised the nature of most of the joints.

Because I wanted to show it in action and still had the Black Horus built, I ended up with a situation in which I have a downed enemy Blacktron pilot being rescued by the Q-Tron mech. A little weird, but emergency services people don’t ask you whose side you’re on before they get to work. They just get on with it.

So this is my space rescue mech. I have an idea for a Q-Tron rescue hovercraft (ie antigrav) as well, and I may well build that next. Stay posted…

Just A Cockpit With Engines

Balancing out my last Blacktron space fighter, I decided to build another one in the Classic Space prototheme’s secondary palette.

XK-7 Space Fighter

Then, too, I had some ideas for a double-cockpit fighter with a rear-facing tailgunner, like the Star Wars Rebel snowspeeder.

The execution of the cockpit is fairly old-school and simplistic. I’ll admit it could be better done, but I didn’t realise when I started building how many of the household’s white bricks were in use on a model of the head of a some web-comic character made by one or other of my daughters. I could have gone with regular Classic Space colours, but I don’t have two matching trans yellow windshield elements of any type I wanted to use, so I decided to go ahead and build in white anyway. It doesn’t make that much of a difference.

The mass of cockpit area is pretty extreme on a ship this small, so I’ve tried to go for broke on the cockpit interiors, with actual pilot’s chairs, a rack for the airtanks, fancy controls and computer support. I’m not often this detailed in my cockpit modeling, but with so much of the model the otherwise blandly conventional blue windscreen cockpits, I really had to.

The other place I’ve been really experimental is with the engines. The ship is practically nothing but a cockpit with engines, so there isn’t a lot of other place to do anything, but the twin drives show some semi-experimental down-side-out technique that is a bit fragile but which I rather like the look of.

The wings, similarly, are diifcult to keep in place when swooshing, but I like the way they look.

The undercarriage was a necessity because of the way the engines hang down below the bottom of the cockpit section. It’s a little primitive in front, and a little weird in back, but it does the job of raising the engines off the deck.

All in all, while I’m not quite as satisfied with this as I am with the Black Horus, I’m viewing this as a fairly successful technique testbed.

Unusually for me, it doesn’t have a name. I’m out of inspiration for names (a rarity for me), so this is the XK-7 space fighter. Long live meaningless numbers!

Battle Stations!

Scenery-type builds aren’t something I do a lot of. I have some ambitions in that direction, but I always feel like I’m stymied by lack of appropriate pieces.

Flight deck of the Liberator

This model, for instance, would be vastly improved by being properly tiled, but my stocks of tiles are small and not conducive to paving large areas. Getting hold of a supply of 6×6 and 2×4 tiles is on my list, but it has to compete with all the other stuff I want. It hasn’t happened yet.

You’ll remember a few posts back me raving about some forgotten starship from an obscure 1970s TV show? Well, I decided to have a crack at building the flight deck.

Flight deck of the Liberator

Even the show’s terminology was different. Star Trek would have called it the bridge, but in Blake’s 7 it was a “flight deck”.

Its unique auditorium-like design with those various control-station pods was dramatically unlike anything Trek ever came up with, but it works. Every one of the crew has a good view of the viewscreen and can see what’s going on, unlike TOS’ Enterprise, which had several of its bridge crew facing banks of flashing lights or staring into microscope-like devices.

Alternate, more head-on view, from Season 1 Episode 13, when the crew acquire ORAC.

In addition, Liberator‘s flight deck doubles as a sort of crew lounge area. With most essential functions under the control and direction of the ship’s computer Zen and a vastly smaller human crew, the lounge element meant that there was a place where the crew could relax and still have near-immediate access to the ship’s systems in case of sudden attack by Federation pursuit ships.

Also, Blake’s 7 was produced by the BBC in the ’70s, which means very low-budget for such a high concept, and putting the crew lounge and the flight deck together meant they only had to build one set.

Anyway, I built the Liberator‘s flight deck, including the armatures of the manual flight controls at the central pilot’s station. It’s rather studdy, and it should really be dark brown or black rather than grey, but it’s ok for a first try, I guess.

Minifigure head and hair availability mean that I need to build the non-racially-diverse early crew, with Blake (in the lounge area), Avon (lower right), Vila (lower left), Jenna (pilot’s station), Cally (upper right) and Gan (upper left). The fact that Gan’s still alive and the box-of-flashing-lights supercomputer ORAC is on his table place this in the first half of Season 2, because ORAC wasn’t acquired until the final episode of Season 1, and Gan was killed off halfway through Season 2.

Tnat’s another thing Blake’s 7 did better than the original Trek: main characters weren’t immortal, and deaths had consequences. It took at least 2 episodes for the crew to get over Gan’s death; they weren’t all happy-happy back-to-normal the next week, or later that same episode, like when a Trek redshirt got offed in order to prove the situation was serious. Of course, Liberator‘s crew were civilian rebels rather than pseudo-military like Starfleet. I guess you could argue the Redshirts signed up for getting shot at or eaten by monsters.

Each of the crew had a sort of role, but not exactly an official military-type one like Communications Officer or Chief of Security. They were more like the team roles in a quest party in an adventure game, but not quite that, either. Blake was the group’s leader (though Avon would occasionally dispute this, he usually followed anyway), the one with the real burning desire to take down the Federation. Avon I described before as an anti-hero; he was also the crew’s resident computer genius. Since most of the crew were convicts, he had been placed on the shuttle to the penal colony for a massive computer fraud scheme. Vila was an expert thief, something of a loveable coward, and smarter than first appearances. As he said, “there isn’t a door I can’t open, if I’m scared enough”. Jenna was an expert pilot and Blake’s other chief lieutenant. She’d been sent to the prison planet on a smuggling charge, and was one of the more committed to Blake’s cause. There were fan rumours of a romance between her and Blake, but you never saw anything on screen. Cally was an alien and a telepath (though she looked human), and the only one of the original crew not acquired from the group sent out to the penal colony Cygnus Alpha. And Gan was the team’s muscle; a massive bruiser of a guy, but one with a cybernetic “limiter” implant that made him unable to kill.

Anyway, here it is. The flight deck of the Liberator. I hope you like it.

Black Horus

Blacktron Black Horus-class heavy fighter

The Blacktron Alliance space fighter designated the Black Horus-class is a jump-capable heavy fighter designed for long-range combat operations without carrier support.

Quite a large vessel for a single pilot, the Black Horus‘ mass is considerably less than it appears from the ship’s dimensions, due to the open-framed, near-hollow design. The design is in part a reaction to Federation targeting software, which tends to target the visual centre of a detected spacecraft; in the case of the Black Horus this can result in the beam passing right through without impinging on the physical structure.

The class is well-armed, with twin heavy lasers forward and a pair of large antimatter accelerators at the wingtips. A small bomb bay containing fist-sized neutron detonators allows planetary strafing runs, sometimes earning the Black Horus a “space bomber” designation.

Much of the craft’s mass is concentrated aft between the four curved wings. This centre of mass includes the plasmatic realspace drives, a small jump engine and galactic coordinate calculator, as well as antimatter reactors and reaction mass. The antimatter accelerators at the wings contain their own self-contained antimatter sources for firing; they do not use general reaction mass.

The forward cockpit contains control systems and life support, as well as a set of small manoeuvring thrusters allowing a severed cockpit section to function as an emergency life pod.

The pilots of the Blacktron Alliance’s Space Flight Corps tend to view Black Horus flight crew as unimaginative plodders, and certainly the craft are not as agile or sexy as the lighter Nighthawk space superiority fighters. However, the Horuses‘ combination of strengths together with their individual jump drives give the craft something of a following in the Space Fight Corps, and Black Horus pilots tend to view their Nighthawk counterparts as hyperactive adrenalin-junkies.

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It seems like a while since I built a minifigure-scale Blacktron space fighter, but this blog’s post history shows that it was only a month or so back. Nonetheless, I got inspired for a space fighter. What’s the point of having Blacktron astronauts if I never build anything at minifig scale?

Obviously, there’s a lot of TNG-era Romulan Warbird in this ship’s design inspiration, but the D’deridex (stupid name)-class Warbird is one of the best-looking ships from the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe.

The general configuration seems to work just as well scaled down to space fighter size as it does in a massive (for Trek) war cruiser, and even though I initially intended a rounded cockpit shield I rather like the more sharklike, aggressive angular windscreen.

With that much Warbird in its ancestry, it needed an avian sort of name, but every raptorial name I tried on it didn’t seem to fit. It doesn’t look like an Eagle, a Goshawk, a Peregrine or a Kestrel. Vulture didn’t seem right, and neither did Osprey. Black Horus, though, seems to fit. Named after the hawk-headed Egyptian god of the morning sun, its solar, light-referencing background seems at odds with Blacktron darkness, but this is the Black Horus.

The ship has undercarriage which sort of retracts. The front undercarriage pads fold down sideways, while the single rear landing leg retracts into a recess in the hull. It’s not the best undercarriage in the world, and it makes the ship sit at a slightly odd sloped angle, but it technically has retractable undercarriage.

Likewise, the Blacktron insignia may be a little wonky-looking, but it’s sort of home-made. They are a couple of element 4297079 (the triangular sign with clip) that I’ve added black triangles to with a dry-erase marker. Which is about what I bought those for, and no permanent damage to the bricks.

Morituri te Salutant

We who are about to die…

So I built a Roman gladiator.

Well, technically gladiator denotes a warrior that fights with a gladius, or Roman short sword, and this guy is armed with a trident, but the word has come to refer to any arena fighter from the Roman era.

This type of gladiator, fighting with a trident and a weighted net, was called a retiarius. Apparently based on a type of ancient fisherman, the retiarii‘s mobile, hit-and-run style of fighting placed them towards the bottom of the various gladiatorial styles’ pecking order. The crowds apparently favoured styles that would get in close and trade blows, not hang back and jab with a spear.

Technically, retiarii didn’t wear helmets and were armed with daggers as well, but I didn’t find this out until after the model was complete. However, I probably would have taken the historical liberty of putting a helmet on my gladiator anyway; I don’t think he’d look nearly as good without his helmet.

For once I’ve made a more effective kilt or loincloth-type wrap rather than just put up with the problematic wasp-waist of balljoint connections. Between that and the knee-high boots, I’ve managed to effectively hide the balljoint connections on the legs quite well. The arms, less so. The black and grey parts are supposed to represent gauntlets, but they work only so-so. Especially the hand grasping the trident, which proved incredibly difficult to make work without being totally oversized. A Bionicle or CCBS figure hand would be just the trick here, but I don’t have one. What I’ve done is probably as good as I can manage without. Hopefully it’s not too much of a distraction.

The other hand, the one grasping the net is better. The forearm still looks a little funky, but the three fingers grasping the rigging element of the pseudo-net actually looks fairly naturally posed.

The post title, of course, is the Latin for “We who are about to die salute you”. It’s not a very seasonal creation in terms of the one celebrated by the majority at this time of year, but the first of November is All Saints, and so many of the First Century followers of Christ were put to death in the arena that it makes a sort of sense. Yeah. That’s my excuse.