"No, no, no!" Dan Colton shouted, slamming the thruster control on his EMU backpack fully forward. Directly ahead, a truss beam swung out of control, another EMU clinging to it like a bug on a girder, jets firing frantically as its occupant tried to wrestle the beam under control.
"I've got it, Cole," Chris Brody's voice rang in Colton’s helmet. Colton shook his head. Damn kid, about to die from a rookie mistake.
No, he told himself. Not on his watch.
"No, you don't have it!" Cole jetted behind the beam and fired his grappler with a flick of his wrist. The grappler head shot out from under his seat like a startled rabbit, trailing a thin wire as it sped toward the beam forty meters away. It struck and instantly riveted itself. Cole applied the momentum brakes, then felt his thrusters firing, slowing the beam. A perfect shot: the grappler had snagged it just off the center of mass, stopping it in mid-flight and killing its rotation before it killed Chris Brody. Cole let out a slow breath.
"Sorry, Cole," Brody said. "Once it was moving, I just couldn't stop it."
Cole reeled himself to the beam, detached the grappler head, and stowed it back under the seat of his EMU. He didn't respond. Let the kid stew a little; it'll help him remember. Once he assured himself the beam was more-or-less stationary, he jetted over the top of it and found Brody waiting for him on the other side, still grappled to the beam and nearly pinned between it and one of the power satellite's main trusses, probably afraid to move for fear of killing himself. Cole suppressed a grin. He couldn't read the kid's expression through his gold visor, but he could imagine it—he’d worn it himself a few times.
Stories of fighting captains and admirals fill histories and novels alike but, though ships and fleets may win battles, shipyards win wars. A nation's navy is merely a snapshot in time of its maritime military power, while a country's shipyards constitute its strategic, forward-going strength. Shipyards repair damage so that ships can fight again, replace ships lost in battle, and incorporate new technological advances and battle lessons learned. In fact, at any point in time few ships in the fleet contain all the latest technologies, but a shipyard must have every one of them and the tools to add them.
Shipyards and the Shape of the Ancient World
This is nothing new. For example, the First Punic War (264 - 241 BC) was at base a naval conflict as Rome sought to end Carthage's dominance of the Mediterranean Sea. Rome began without much of a navy, but captured a grounded Carthaginian galley and used their shipyards to build a fleet (some sources say one hundred ships in sixty days). They knew they were better soldiers, but that their enemies were better sailors, so they incorporated a new tech: the Corvus. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. Roman "Corvus" Boarding Ramp (Image courtesy of Look and Learn: http://www.lookandlearn.com/)
Imagine the Carthaginians' dismay in the next battle (Mylae) when odd-looking vertical boards pivoted on their masts and suddenly plunged down onto their decks, locking the ships together (Corvus is "crow,” named for the steel "beak" on the bottom) for a century-strong boarding party of Roman legionnaires to storm across. The result was a great Roman victory, including the capture of some thirty Carthaginian ships. Unfortunately, the Romans soon lost that fleet, but built another. They continued to repeat the process, implementing new techs as they went. In fact, it would be the fifth Roman fleet that beat Carthage and forced them to sue for peace. Thus, the Roman shipyards ultimately won that war.
One analogous situation in science fiction would be Walter Jon Williams' excellent Praxis series. In the opening novel, a multi-thousand-year-old space empire falls into civil war. The fleets of the two sides suffer almost mutual annihilation in the very first battle. From there, it is as much the race between shipyards as it is the space battles that decide the conflict.
An even more dramatic case from history was the Venetian Empire. From the Middle Ages until about the time of Columbus, Venice dominated the Mediterranean through a combination of military power, trade, and diplomacy. A key player in the Venetian success was the Arsenale shipyard which—by using parts prefabrication and assembly line practices on a scale that would not be matched until Henry Ford—could build a warship in a single day. Indeed, Venetian officials would invite visiting dignitaries to witness the process for themselves. (Footnote 1) The Arsenale shipyard was so intimidating that it actually prevented wars!