The Ark Royal

The Ark Royal of His Majesty’s Starship is a 300 foot long, 5000-ton converted Morrison Class 7 space freighter. King Richard bought the ship and had it upgraded, specifically to convey his son Prince James on the delegation to the Roving.

Ark Royal’s initial weaponry consists solely of an anti-meteor laser, a standard fitting for all fusion-powered ships which has been upgraded into the terawatt range and which possesses specific targeting software. Unusually for a ship its size, it also has a landing boat of its own, Sharman: a Boeing-Tupolev-Honda 177 Earth-orbit reusable entry vehicle.

In the novel, we are told:

His Majesty’s Starship Ark Royal was a long, sleek ferro-polymer spindle three hundred feet long, its lines broken by the engine block at one end and the bulge of the centrifuge ring a third of the way down. At the far front of the ship was the anti-debris laser turret — the only armament that Ark Royal possessed. Aft of the laser was the forward airlock and then a stretch of hull, studded with the sockets that had held cargo containers in the ship’s previous life as a freighter, that swept back to the wide disc of the ring compartment, ribbed by heat-dispersal fins. To Gilmore on the approaching Sharman, with the remaining two thirds of the hull hidden by the centrifuge, Ark Royal looked like a giant metal mushroom. The centrifuge ring held the crew quarters, the wardroom, the gym …

The landing boat began to brake and slowly moved along the ship, and the remaining two thirds came into view. First came the boathouse — Sharman would fit snugly into its recess in the hull behind the ring, with only the wings of the arrowhead-shaped vessel protruding out into space. The boat, its reserve fuel tanks and Ark Royal’s engineering section accounted for all of the space between the ring and the engine block.

Finally came the engines themselves — a triangle of liquid oxygen rockets around the central core of the fusion pulse engine.

Ark Royal carries a crew of six and sundry AIs.

That is the ship that Michael Gilmore takes over. It is not quite the ship that arrives at the Roving…

The UK’s delegation ship was originally going to be the HMSS Raptor, for no other reason than that I like the word, it has a certain predatory ring to it and it’s a subtle pun on “Bird of Prey”.

(In Star Trek, a Klingon Bird of Prey has the range and fighting power of a Federation starship; is nippy and manoeuvrable; and yet is a fraction of the size. So, why does the Federation insist on lumbering around the Alpha quadrant in massive great starships that constantly get their asses whipped by these smaller, better ships? I feel a Star Trek rant coming on … but not here.)

But then, out of the blue, it occurred to me that Ark Royal has a far finer ring to it — and very well might be the name the United Kingdom gives its first starship, in the unlikely event of such a thing ever coming to pass. After all, I’d already decided the American ship would be called Enterprise, with a similar sort of logic. Ark Royal is an historical name with a fine pedigree.

And changing the name had the added advantage of pushing up the word count slightly.

Ark Royal’s landing boat, Sharman, is of course named after the first Brit in space — Helen Sharman.