Trope-a-Day: Portal Network

Portal Network: The stargate plexus, which is the collection of all the stargate pairs in the Associated Worlds.  Pretty much every civilized system, except for really newly discovered ones, which may not, has at least one stargate in it.  Overall, the network vaguely resembles a spiderweb – the nodes being clusters of a few dozen systems (called constellations) linked together by a cluster of short-range wormholes, then hooked to neighboring clusters by longer-range wormholes.  The stargates themselves serve both to maintain the wormholes and act as communications relays for the extranet. Unlike many SF universes, these aren’t precursor gates; the system was established by the current polities, although only a few of the largest powers in the Worlds can manufacture their own gates – the Empire (and more specifically Ring Dynamics, ICC), and the Voniensa Republic (who make a point of maintaining their own state-run Portal Network – the Empire’s network, which forms most of the framework on which the Associated Worlds are based, they generously let the Accord of Galactic Polities treat as a common-carrier system, in exchange for, shall we say, consideration?) being the biggest two.  Almost everyone else piggybacks off theirs under the aegis of the Accord. While expansion used to be manual and painstaking, with improved automation making the Mark III Stargate more or less perpetually autonomous, most of the expansion of the network these days is being done by von Neumann wormhole-layers with only a little guidance from head office, so there are connected yet unexplored systems out there in the Periphery, and it’s entirely possible that the arrival of a stargate in their outer system, rather than that of explorers, will be many species’ first introduction to Life Out There.

7 thoughts on “Trope-a-Day: Portal Network

  1. Have you considered the acausal interactions that can result from someone taking a torchship through a gate, and then riding the torch back to their origin? There also will be all sorts of acausal things possible when the network starts forming loops (simplest case is having two systems with portals build a 2nd portal and then drag the two new ones to each other via torch). And then it will be utterly impossible to avoid acausality when two different portal networks start growing into each other. That would make diplomacy and interaction with the Vonnies even harder. (But the, IIRC, you’ve already mentioned one war with them where both sides are correct in saying the other side shot first.)

    • Well, certain aspects of what it does to causality, yes. (Indeed, if you take the Relativistics & Temporal Mechanics 201 course at any of a number of participating universities, they’ll fly you out on a lighthugger and bring you back through a ‘gate just so you can see a practical demonstration of effects preceding causes.)

      Herewith my personal literary compromise with both relativity and causality and the way these may combine in reality, Visser-wise, to prohibit wormholes:

      In the Eldraeverse and in practical gating, this is what the “reference frame trap” operation you and your blue box perform as part of entry is for; since there’s nothing preventing wormholes from linking parts of spacetime separated in time as well as space, this operation ensures that your wormhole’s exit point is locked on the timelike axis to the “empire-time preferential reference frame”, as defined by the consensus of stargates – thus preserving the sequence and association you left in when you arrive, maintaining chronological consistency.

      You don’t strictly have to do things that way; the universe, I postulate, isn’t terribly strict about local causality. So by careful manipulation of this, so-called “skew-frame maneuvers” – or by the combination of FTL with STL transits, as you mention – you can perform some time-travel-like operations and jiggery-pokery with the information-content of your future light-cone, like setting up predestination paradoxes, knight’s-move oracles, all that sort of thing.

      But the universe does enforce global causality – inasmuch as while it doesn’t care if you loop, fold, or reverse the order of causal chains, it does insist that they all be consistent; so it won’t let you try to set up – or stumble into – a grandfather paradox or some other inconsistent causal state. The usual failure mode in these cases outside pulp fiction is emerging from your attempted jump as a light-year-long smear of particle exotica. (Pulp fiction, of course, holds that getting this wrong can result in anything from ending up trying to sell your cargo to the dinosaurs to having your extropy sucked out by the ice giants from the end of the universe. This probably never happens, but it’s not like anyone would be coming back to tell you about it, anyway.)

      All of which is to say – while you can pull off some fancy tricks with causality if you’re very good, so far as five nines of everyone is concerned, you should listen carefully to the nice safety systems trying to prevent nature’s consistency protection mechanisms from swatting you like a quantum bug… 🙂

  2. That makes sense. Interestingly, global causality will be maintained if you intentionally or accidentally jump far forward and then never attempt to “return to your own time”. I suppose that you can’t jump farther forward than the destruction of your destination gate, but still, one might expect to see crazy-enough people try jumping forward a year / decade / century / millenia / eon, and thus one would somewhat regularly see wannabe Buck Rogers showing up, looking for adventure, tourism, improved tech, a cure for their incurable illness, etc.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not all that suitable for long-term forward jumps, for other technical reasons. Hm –

      ‘Kay, explanation. According to my conphysics of stargates, the thing that lets you steer wormholes at all is the pair of matched, tangled singularities in the core of the gate pair. If you fire up the Andracanth ram with just a regular kernel in place of the tangle-twin, the wormhole you inflate is both randomly targeted and unstable. (The attempt to build a fittler out of that killed a lot of folks, both before and after the wormhole breakthrough; in fact, it can never work, both for internal reasons of conphysics and external literary reasons of not-wanting-FTL-to-work-that-way.)

      The aiming is, in turn, not all that precisionist a process. A nominal jump with a good pilot will bring you out somewhere within 1,000 miles, spherically, of the destination gate (the “drift”). Keeping the drift down to that is the purpose of all the calculations the blue box and the stargate do together to compute your transit. Particularly relevant here is that this isn’t a sphere, it’s a hypersphere, and covers t axis as well as xyz. 1,000 miles being about 0.005 light-seconds, the exact same nominal drift will toss you out within about 1/200th of a second of the empire-time pref-ref frame.

      The drift calculations are acutely sensitive to various factors: the local stress-energy tensor, for one thing, which is why you really don’t want to try running a stargate downwell or near a large planetary body, and what makes them additionally sensitive to (errors in) the mass of the transiting body; the velocity of the transiting body (why “running jumps” are considered dangerous); and so forth. These effects start out minor for smaller errors in computation, but rapidly get chaotic as the error increases.

      Skew-frame maneuvers are basically intentionally doing these calculations wrong in certain ways, to use those minor effects to shift the locus and volume of the drift hypersphere. This can be used along t, to enable small amounts of time-travel jiggery-pokery – enough for minor predestination paradoxes and to make knight’s-move oracles and so forth work – or along xyz, used by people like blockade runners to take their emergence hopefully well outside the monitored incoming-traffic zone. On that small and limited scale (whose exact parameters I’m keeping under my hat for now), that’s only moderately unsafe. Push it into the chaotic zone, on the other hand, and what comes out’ll be reduced to incoherent particle hash every bit as effectively as consistency protection would have done.

      (The Doylist reason for this piece of conphysics, of course, is that if it _was_ possible to push skew-framing to light-days, light-months, light-years, light-decades, light-centuries, etc., some clever bugger would bring up the possibility of building a single stargate-pair locally and using skew-framing to turn it into a general-purpose any-destination fittler. Even if it was only possible along t axis, you could strap one to a lighthugger and pull off the travel-back-in-time-by-your-journey-time trick, and I wanted to eliminate those possibilities, et. al., right off the bat.

      So would-be chrononauts are advised to stick to the standard techniques of nanostasis companies and lengthy relativistic voyages to get to the future…)

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