Science Department (often written as SciDept or just Boffins) is the loose organisation, largely informal, that exists for the promotion of what the British Space Empire refers to as “progress”.
While it includes a number of Royal Societies, fellowships, departments and so on, most of its members are individuals who, by choice or court order, live a long way from everyone else.
In the modern era, it is fairly easy for a devoted enthusiast to learn a good deal about the scientific arts. Many children will have grown up with fun rocket-making or atom-splitting Young Scientist kits. A knowledgeable adult with a shed of his own (or her own, although it does tend to be his) can work miracles. Or just blow himself to pieces.
The greatest scientists of the Empire are household names. Who could forget Prunefield the Illuminator, Doctor Keith Apocalypse, Professor “Pincers” Chatterjee, or even Peaches Muldoon, the inventor of the self-calibrating death ray, whose unfortunate demise is still remembered in a twelve-mile radius?
In these times of need, the Imperial Army is often presented with all sorts of brilliant, war-winning concepts and prototypes. Many of them end up being remote tested on the top secret Space Station X, itself allied closely with the Service. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of the proposals are not entirely new inventions but refinements on existing designs. This may sound disappointing, but in reality, the testing process generally involves getting robots and tanks to fight one another. Arguably, this sort of improvement could be carried out by the Empire’s logic engines, but in fact they are usually pre-occupied with existing problems and prefer to be a safe distance away.
Organisation (or lack thereof)
The lack of centralised control has some surprising benefits. For one thing, if a boffin goes off on a wrong tangent (this happens quite often) he will not waste the time of others doing so. Furthermore, the wildest ideas can yield the most impressive – if unintended – results. The only risk is that the scientist will blow himself to bits before he can pass his good works on.
Most boffins are individual experimenters, often referred to as shedmen. They tend to inhabit fortified buildings, often perfectly located for the precision observation of thunderstorms. Décor usually consists of abandoned cogs, tattered blueprints and formulae scrawled on the walls and floor like cabalistic symbols. Although the shedmen shun society, preferring the company of assistants that they have bolted together, visits from other inventors, even the notoriously slapdash M’Lak technocrats, are generally tolerated. However, it is advisory to ring before turning up. Hirstory recalls the Edenite strike team who attempted to assassinate Lady Edith Creosote for “witchcraft and heretical thought” and steal her research, who found themselves at the sharp, uncomfortable end of a range of pincer-equipped robots.