Highliner-class Fast Cargo Transport
The Highliner-class (alternatively known as the Archon-class) Archon Ranulf, and her sister ship Archon Gulbrit, are owned and operated by DiGroat Holdings, LIC, a consortium of trading clans and corporations based on Grote/Glisten/Spinward Marches. The vessels were laid down at the Bilstein Yards at Glisten in late 1106. Work was suspended briefly on both at the outbreak of the 5th Frontier War, only to be started again after they were transferred to the subsector fleet reserve for "the duration of hostilities". Completed in early 1108, they served in a capacity as bulk transports for the rest of the war and were returned to DiGroat Holdings after the armistice. Neither vessel saw action, operating well behind the lines and usually in convoy.
A souvenir of their naval service is the two 50 dton weapon bays found on both vessels. Converted from cargo space during their initial construction, the Imperial Navy normally installed repulsors and nuclear dampers in the bays. DiGroat Holdings declined to have the bays converted back into cargo space, instead referring to the bays as "special cargo areas". The Navy also installed a back-up power plant aboard each ship. These were also not removed.
Since the end of the 5th Frontier War both Highliners have been in constant use. They handle the consolidated freight and passenger loads for the many trading companies in the consortium. Each of those clans or corporations operates small free traders along carefully planned trade "loops" in areas inside and outside the Imperium. While these traders do handle normal freight and passenger traffic for dozens of backwater systems, they also engage in a great deal of speculative trade. Archon Ranulf and her sister ship transport cargoes between Grote and the several entrepot worlds that act as the hubs for these trade "loops". The Highliners also transport rotating free trader crews in low berths, bringing replacements out and bringing those whose time is up back home.
Security is a major concern for these vessels. In their holds, the highliners will have a selection of trade goods that represent a good deal of any clan’s working capital. Drugs, both recreational and medicinal, rare alloys, precious metals, gourmet foodstuffs, and luxury goods of all types are part of a highliner’s cargo. Just as important are the hundreds of clan members and employees, all travelling by low berth to their new assignments or returning home. A large percentage of the financial and sophont capital of any consortium member can be found aboard a highliner.
The Highliners supporting trade loops within the Imperium; Grote clans have traders working as far afield as the Corridor and Reft sectors, are usually leased, LASH-type freighters. Because they operate within the Imperium, security isn’t deemed as high a priority as elsewhere. These leased highliners travel along known traffic routes to their destinations, relying either on local defenses or a small escort. Supporting the trade loops outside of the Imperium is another matter entirely and that is where Archon Ranulf and Archon Gulbrit enter the picture.
Some Grote traders work in the Foreven and Far Frontier sectors. Others range rimward of the Trojan Reach in Aslan space. Supporting and supplying the ships in these areas can be trying, to say the least. Neither Archon remains in the Grote system for long. Accompanied by a squadron of Gazelle- and Outrim-class escorts, the Archons travel rapidly between Grote and the entrepot systems. The itineraries and flight paths of these vessels are shrouded in secrecy. It is rumored that certain navigators know only certain parts of each course.
The Black Ship convoys, as these flights are generally known, rarely refuel at starports and then only in trusted systems. Instead, the Black Ships refuel at a variety of locations in the vast outer reaches of each system they pass through. These could be gas giants, Kuiper belt objects, long period comets, the larger bodies in Oort Clouds, or any other location where hydrogen can be found. The navigational information found in the rutters used by DiGroat Holdings is said to rival that used by the IN and IISS. A Black Ship convoy could pass through a system without the locals ever knowing they were there.
Positions aboard a Highliner and her escorts are restricted to carefully vetted personnel. Most are either clan members or contract employees with decades of service. Highliner crews lead a hectic life. Turn around times in the entrepot systems and Grote can be measured in tens of hours and not the days merchants usually plan on. Crews normally serve in rotation, making a round trip to an entrepot world, turning the Highliner over to another crew, and then crewing the next ship to arrive. Because the pool of vetted personnel is limited, some crewmen serve aboard on consecutive voyages. The only time a Highliner is in one place for any length of time in during annual maintenance periods. This maintenance and crew rotation usually takes place at Grote or, more rarely, Glisten.
Serving aboard a Highliner is not a way to see the universe. These vessels travel as rapidly as possible, ghosting through the outer reaches of most of the systems they visit, and only briefly making orbit around any of the entrepot worlds. Pay is high for Highliner crews, as is the prestige associated with the job. Sophonts who have served only a few voyages aboard a Highliner are viewed as the elite and sought after by many employers.
Both the Archon Ranulf and Archon Gulbrit retained their 50 dton weapon bays after their naval service. While bay weaponry has never been seen installed aboard either vessel, knowledgeable observers also point out that the 50 dton bays never seem to be used for cargo space. Given the nature of their business, letting 100 dtons of prospective cargo space go unused seems rather odd. The most common theory has outbound Archons picking up pre-positioned bay weapon modules at some point outside of the Imperium, quickly 'plugging' the modules into their bays, and then using the 168 hours in jump to complete the necessary control, instrumentation, and power connections. Inbound Archons then reverse the process before entering Imperial space. How these modules were acquired or their exact nature leads to still further speculation.
EX-K3414G3-090300-77007-0 MCr 9,133.498 17.5 KTons Bat Bear: 5 A1 5 Crew: 126 Bat: 5 A1 5 TL: 15
Cargo: 6,011.000 Fuel: 7,700.000 EP: 700.000 Agility: 1 Marines: 30
Craft: 2 x 50T modular cutter, 1 x 30T pinnace
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops and On Board Fuel Purification
Backups: 1 x Factor 1 Power Plant 1 x Model/1 Computer 1 x Bridge
Architects Fee: MCr 91.335 Cost in Quantity: MCr 7,306.798
- 17,500.000 tons standard, 245,000.000 cubic meters, Cylinder Configuration
- 17 Officers, 79 Ratings, 30 Marines
- Jump-4, 1G Maneuver, Power plant-4, 700.000 EP, Agility 1 1 Power plant-1 Backup
- Bridge, Model/7fib Computer 1 Backup Bridge, 1 Model/1 Backup Computer
- 155 Hardpoints
- 50 Triple Missile Turrets organized into 5 Batteries (Factor-7), 50 Triple Beam Laser Turrets organized into 10 Batteries (Factor-7), 5 Dual Fusion Gun Turrets organized into 1 Battery (Factor-7)
- 50 Triple Sandcaster Turrets organized into 5 Batteries (Factor-9), Nuclear Damper (Factor-3)
- 2 50.000 ton modular cutters (Crew of 0, Cost of MCr 0.000), 1 30.000 ton pinnace (Crew of 0, Cost of MCr 0.000)
- 7,700.000 Tons Fuel (4 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance) On Board Fuel Scoops, On Board Fuel Purification Plant
- 70.0 Staterooms, 250 Low Berths, 6,011.000 Tons Cargo
- USER DEFINED COMPONENTS
- 2 special cargo areas (50.000 tons, Crew 0, Cost MCr 0.000)
- MCr 9,224.833 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 91.335), MCr 7,306.798 in Quantity
- CONSTRUCTION TIME
- 170 Weeks Singly, 136 Weeks in Quantity
The two so-called "special cargo" spaces aboard this vessel arouse speculation in shipping circles. Both spaces have limited internal access with the rest of the vessel, but each also have a large aperture on the hull.
Other observers point out the purported back-up power plant, which has no back up drives systems to supply. This odd power plant would produce more than enough energy to supply any type 50 dTon bay weapon known.
While bay weaponry is illegal in civilian hands within the Third Imperium, the Highliner's flight paths are generally outside of that polity.
Whether the Archon Ranulf and her sister ship are armed with bay weapons while beyond the Imperium is a matter for conjecture.
No Highliner has ever been successfully attacked or boarded, however.