How Unlikely Are We?

“The difficulties of interstellar travel are widely underestimated.  Within the stargate plexus, even simple ships — capable of only relatively low accelerations, capable of being built by cultures little more capable than those which have developed orbital flight, and requiring no extraordinary skill for a single sophont to pilot and maintain — can travel between star systems in a matter of weeks or months.  The capital and operating costs of such ships are high, but are not out of reach of a small consortium or well-off individual entrepreneur.  As such, worlds and cultures throughout the constellations connected by the plexus have blossomed, spreading civilization across the Associated Worlds and out into the Expansion Regions; and those cultures and their people which possess basic spaceflight capability can indulge freely in interstellar travel freely for colonization, trade, exploration, even tourism, at costs which are low enough to keep it from being the exclusive preserve of an elite, wealthy class.”

“Further, the stargate plexus binds the Associated Worlds together, in what may be an even more significant way, by acting as a carrier for the extranet.  While not instantaneous, since the Luminal Limit still applies between gates in the same system, communications can cross the entire width of the plexus in a matter of weeks rather than centuries, and most delays within polities are mere hours or days, even if not ameliorated by broadcatching, caching, and the use of AI and fork agent-proxies.  While light-lag and other delays and inconveniences in communications maintain separate cultural regions even within individual systems, as well as across the Worlds as a whole, that such communication, broadcast of media, and free exchange of information are possible and within the ready grasp of almost anyone in the Worlds with access to any sort of terminal does a great deal to create a common metaculture and understanding from core to Periphery.  (An effect which is only enhanced in those polities whose citizens have access to and cultural mores permitting the use of mindcasting to travel as data, at extranet speeds.)”

“All of this is to forget that in order for this to be possible, the stargate plexus had to exist already.  Let us examine how unlikely this truly is: the construction of artificial wormholes requires simultaneously an advanced scientific and technological culture, enough wealth to invest in the construction of multi-trillion-exval stargates and the new industries required to enable their construction, an adequately long-term viewpoint to make such investments seem viable, an existing lighthugger technology able to transport the distal wormhole terminus to its destination, and, most unlikely of all, such a multi-millennial genius as Imogen Andracanth to make the particular breakthrough permitting controlled wormhole inflation and stabilization without first possessing a mature ontotechnology.  Of all the thousands of civilizations known in the Associated Worlds and beyond, only two have ever made this discovery independently – the Empire, and the Voniensa Republic.”

“Without these miracles – I do not believe that this understates the case – could an interstellar civilization be possible?  I will not say that it would not; it would be possible to imagine a loose confederation of worlds, or a meta-empire, held together by slow light-bound trickles of information and low-speed lighthuggers bearing high-value data, supremely precious low-mass cargoes, and the occasional colonization mission – at least among the immortal or extremely long-lived.  But with only lighthuggers available – ships the size of mountains available only at high capital cost, requiring millions of tons of antimatter and deuterium to fuel at the cost of billions of exval, with large and skilled crews making much longer commitments in terms of wall-clock time and even more yet in empire time, no thriving, cosmopolitan association such as we now enjoy could have come into being.”

– Linde Valentinarius, An Overview of the Flowering

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