Behind the Command Island and to the right is a row of unglamorous but essential consoles devoted to the management of ship’s systems. They are known, prosaically as the “Systems Management Consoles” or, in ship’s slang, the “Union Hall” because, in the eyes of men who manage systems that relate more directly to destroying the enemy, men who manage the ship’s internal functions are “just plumbers and electricians.”
From left to right as viewed from the command island, the Systems Management Consoles are Computers, System Operations, Environmental Control, and Engineering.
Computers (CMP): The Computers officer is responsible for managing the ship’s computer systems, reporting the condition of those systems to the CO, addressing any issues relating to the transfer of data from off-ship data nodes or data storage devices acquired from outside sources, overseeing the maintenance and repair of ship’s computers (which is most emphatically NOT the responsibility of the Engineering Department–the Data Processing Department fiercely protects this bit of turf), and taking whatever action is necessary to protect the ship’s computers from being hacked or otherwise compromised by the enemy. The data processing architecture of Union Warships emphasizes redundancy and flexibility, providing warships with several extremely powerful data processing units, located at widely separated locations throughout the ship, devoted to different functions in ordinary ship’s operations but capable of performing each others’ functions in an emergency. The Cumberland‘s most important computer systems, which may seem extensive but which are far outstripped by those installed in larger vessels, are as follows:
1. The Mains. The ship is equipped with three redundant main processor cores and two redundant main data cores which are in constant communication with each other and which check each other for errors 20 times a second (triple redundancy is a fundamental design principle of human space flight, going back to the Apollo Command Module, which–for example–had three fuel cells and three Astronauts). If there is a disagreement over any computation between the computers, the computation is re-run. If the results still diverge, then the result attained by two computers is retained and the odd result is rejected–thereby making hacking extremely difficult as any hacker would have to penetrate all three cores simultaneously. The ship can operate normally on only a single computer core and a single data core. Norfolk insists that, to avoid confusion, the computer cores be referred to as Red, White, and Blue, and the memory cores as Alfa and Bravo. The men on fighting ships universally ignore this directive, referring to the processors by their centuries-old traditional names: HAL, SAL, and PAL and the memory cores as MAC and WINDOWS.
2. The Auxiliary. In the extremely unlikely event that all three main processors become battle casualties, the Auxiliary Computer, consisting of a unitary processor and data core, can take over all necessary computing functions (some lower priority functionality will be lost or delegated to other systems). During normal ship’s operations, the Auxiliary communicates with the Mains once every minute to update its data core. The Auxiliary is also equipped to take over the functions of the Navigation Computer, the Fire Control Computer, and the Countermeasures and Point Defense Computer should any of those units become battle casualties. Similarly, any of those computers can be reconfigured in less than ten minutes to function (in a severely limited emergency mode ) in the place of the Mains should all three mains and the Auxiliary become casualties. This unit’s formal name is the Auxiliary Central Processing Unit. Its traditional nickname is “Garfunkel.”
3. Navigation Computers. The warships of the Union Space Navy and of its predecessors have always been equipped with navigation computers separate from the ships’ primary computer systems, although the Mains and the Auxiliary have the necessary software and systems connectivity to take over navigation functions if the Navigation Computers become battle casualties. The Navigation computers not only compute the ship’s location in space, they are responsible for projecting its course through the galaxy, calculating courses and routes, and calculating the most efficient path through the web of jump points that connect star systems with one another. These computers contain an extensive navigational library encompassing the position of every known star and planet in three-dimensional space, all known jump points, the proper motions of all stars for which proper motion is known, and the orbital characteristics of every known planet, moon, asteroid, Kuiper Belt Object, or other astronomical body with a mass in excess of 500 kilograms. There are two navigation computers that operate in tandem, with either being able to perform all necessary navigational functions. The Cumberland is equipped with two Navigational Computers which, in normal operations, function in tandem. Because the units are located on opposite sides of the ship, their formal names are NavPort and NavStarb. Their respective long-standing nicknames, however, are Sulu and Chekhov. There is no dedicated auxiliary navigational computer, as the functions of this unit can be taken over in an emergency by the ship’s mains or its auxiliary.
4. Fire Control, Countermeasures, and Point Defense. Each of these functions is supported by its own separate, dedicated computer capable which, in the event of casualty, is capable of performing (with some reduction in functionality) its own job plus the job of any one of the other two. E.g., the Fire Control computer is capable of continuing to support fire control functions as well as taking over for either a damaged Countermeasures Computer or Point Defense Computer (but not both).
5. Captured Equipment. This section has its own pair of servers, completely isolated from the ship’s data and power infrastructure, designed to interface with and analyze equipment captured from the enemy as well as to communicate with other computing equipment which may contain any kind of malware. In an emergency, the Captured Equipment servers are portable and can be moved to locations where they can be connected to the ship’s primary data bus to take over the functions of any other computer in the ship (with significant decrease in functionality in the case of the Mains) after having the appropriate software loaded. During normal ship’s operations, these computers’ isolation from data infrastructure in normal operations prevents them from being controlled from the Computers Station in CIC.
A well-liked or respected Computers Officer is known as “Gates.”
System Operations (SYSO): The Systems Operations Officer is responsible for managing the ship’s non-computing, non-environmental infrastructure systems. It is often joked that this officer’s job is best described by listing the things for which he is not responsible: computers, atmosphere, temperature, engines, defensive systems, etc. This is an unfair jibe at a man who performs several critical functions. In particular, he supervises internal power and lighting, artificial gravity and inertial compensation, fresh water supply, sewage removal and purification, water recycling. The primary functions of all of these systems can be controlled from the SYSO console in CIC or can be directed by the SYSO officer by voice command to the personnel stationed in his Back Room.
The traditional nickname for this officer is ___________ Edison, where the blank is the name of the ship, after the name of many electrical power companies in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries, as in “Detroit Edison” or “Consolidated Edison.”
Environmental Control Systems (ECS): The Environmental Control Systems Officer manages the ship’s systems responsible for maintaining a breathable atmosphere, livable temperature, and an absence of substances and radiation injurious to human life throughout the ship. Under this officer’s management is a complex array of oxygen generators, reserve oxygen supply tanks, carbon dioxide scrubbers, air filters, catalytic gas purification beds, oxygen reclamation units, odor removal beds, humidity regulators, heating and cooling units.
The traditional nickename for this officer is Stinky, supposedly because the first sign that he is not performing his duties efficiently is a bad smell in the ship’s air.
Engineering (ENG): The Engineering CIC Officer, unlike most CIC officers, is not in charge of his respective department. Because the Chief Engineer, the man who is in charge, is usually in the Master Engineering Control Center or near some malfunctioning system, the man at this station primarily functions as a liaison between the Engineering department and the Commanding Officer or summarizing and reporting on the status of engineering systems. It is not a popular posting, as any “real engineer” would prefer to be closer to the engines and related systems. This position, however, can be crucial, particularly in combat, when the CO may need to have complex information regarding damaged engines and other non-nominal systems interpreted for him under extreme time pressure. He needs to know what his damaged ship can do and how fast it can do it, without having to figure it out for himself and without having to punch up a comm circuit to talk to someone on another deck to find out.
Some people have difficulty discerning the boundary between the responsibility of the Engineering Department and the Systems Operations Department for ship’s power, since the ship’s engines generate the power but the SYSO’s power distribution infrastructure distributes it. This boundary is easy to find in practice: it is the point at which generated power exits the first step down transformer where it leaves the engineering deck to be distributed throughout the ship. Power that is not routed to the transformer but that stays “in house” in Engineering to run Engineering systems remains the responsibility of the Engineering Department.