Sidebar: Fixed Wormholes

(An in-universe explanation as to why the Empire, et. al., prefer to use their special – i.e., yes, per here, space-magic enhanced – wormhole technology.)

A common question among newcomers to the field of spacetime engineering, especially as it applies to wormholes, is the reasoning behind our use of dynamic wormholes (i.e., those that are created, used, and collapsed in the course of a single gating) rather than static wormholes, permanently inflated to allow passage and held open by exotic mass-energy “frames”. This seems, to these questioners, more elegant: being less wasteful in terms of energy (although the cost of maintaining the unstable exotic mass-energy frames should not be undercounted; the analogous Andracanth ram is not designed for continuous operation), and requiring nothing on the part of transiting vessels.

Sadly, this is prevented by the interaction of static wormholes with relativistics. Transporting a wormhole end incurs the time dilation of relativistic flight, such that one can travel through the wormhole to the destination system, in the reference frame of the transported end, years or decades before the wormhole end is delivered in the reference frame of the sender; sometimes, indeed, while the linelayer would still be visible leaving the origin system! This means, in effect, that outgoing travelers through the wormhole are stepping years or decades into the future, while returning travelers are likewise passing into the past, vis-à-vis flat space-time.

While this has interesting astrophysical and galactopolitical consequences (amply dealt with elsewhere), it alone does not cause issues from the point of view of infrastructure; since a return through flat space-time must require (per the Luminal Limit) more time than the wormhole’s time differential, the block universe is preserved.

However, it is easily demonstrable that the only topology which guarantees this is a pure directed acyclic structure, or tree, in which only one path is available to outgoing and returning traffic.

This is undesirable from an infrastructure point of view, since it greatly limits the capacity of the network given the bottleneck links near its core; forces all otherwise cross-link traffic, even between nearby systems, through a single distant core node (likely to be, as a strategic aside, near to if not within the builders’ most important star systems); and causes both of these issues to expand geometrically with scale.

More importantly, while there are a few primarily theoretical exceptions, almost any alternative structure containing cross-links (and therefore cyclic structures) enables certain routes to function as closed timelike curves, allowing particles, even virtual vacuum fluctuations, to return to their origin point at or before the time of their entry into the route. Such a path doubles the intensity of transiting particles with each retraversal (which all occur effectively instantaneously), thus creating arbitrarily high peak intensities, in turn resulting in the catastrophic resonance collapse of at least one of the wormholes along the critical path. Quite apart from the loss of route, the energies involved in this collapse along with those likely to be liberated from damaged stargate systems are such as to pose a significant hazard to the systems containing the mouths of the collapsing wormhole.

(This is also, as we will see later, perhaps the most important reason for the Imperial Timebase system being intertwined with stargate control systems at a very low level, and for the various sequencing and safety protocols encoded therein. While the wormholes used for gating are ephemeral, it would be possible – without coordination – for a simultaneous set of openings to form such a closed causal loop, which would then undergo such catastrophic collapse.

Bear in mind that, while we are able to lock the emergence of dynamic wormholes onto the empire time reference frame, the natural phenomenon of drift (q.v.) along t axis guarantees nonidentity, and as such this does not immunize loops of such wormholes from the catastrophic resonance collapse phenomenon.)

Since the point of collapse is controllable to a limited extent by the “strength” of the links along the CTC route, this effect is also weaponizable by hostile powers with wormhole capability (a causality attack, recognized by the Ley Accords as one prohibited form of causal weapon).

For these reasons, Imogen Andracanth’s team considered the static wormhole to not be viable as a large-scale interstellar transport technology.

 

– The Stargate Plexus: A Journeysoph’s Guide

Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

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.

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

Trope-a-Day: Casual Interstellar Travel / Casual Interplanetary Travel

Casual Interstellar Travel / Casual Interplanetary Travel: It’s a little complicated.  Technically, yes, you can travel interstellarly fairly casually, since while you have to drag one end of your wormhole at subluminal speed to wherever you want it, interstellar travel to places where you have one already is pretty damn casual.  Step through and you’re there.  Ping.

Of course, wormholes and their associated stargates are Really Damn Expensive, and so is interstellar travel to anywhere that isn’t on the stargate networks involving as it does the many years relativity demands of you even in lighthugger starships, the great expense of said lighthugger, and for that matter, the even greater expense of the thousands or tens of thousands or even, for the largest luggers, hundreds of thousands of tons of antimatter you need to fuel the thing.

Further, and to subvert this slightly, while there’s casual interstellar travel, what there isn’t is casual interplanetary travel (speed-wise; it’s much more casual cost-wise).  No-one’s invented a convenient magical gravity drive that lets you whip up nigh-instantaneous thousands of gravities of acceleration (while there are vector-control drives, neither acceleration nor delta-v are any better, and indeed usually worse, than equivalent reaction drives; blame conservation of mass-energy), so getting anywhere in-system, including out to the stargate, still takes days or weeks, and for interstellar travel, that means on both ends of the wormhole.

This is resubverted for those with the right metaphysical attitude, because if you don’t go into quivering neo-Luddite theofear at the thought of having your mind separated from your body and transmitted elsewhere to be reinstalled in a different one at the far end (and granted, that’s not exactly most people outside the rampaging postsophontist neophile civilizations), then you can just mindcast where you want to go (assuming of course they have the right receiving equipment, which is by no means guaranteed outside the aforementioned civilizations).  Which is substantially quicker and counts as fully casual interplanetary/interstellar travel, because photons and (especially) tangle move a lot faster than your own personal meat/rock can be transported.

Workin’ On The Star Road

“Gentlesophs,” the silver figure at the front of the room said.  “Congratulations on your transfer to Kalcír Station.  If you don’t know me, I am Istry 0xC89ABB62, Chief Security Officer, and I’m here to give you a personal reminder of the security regulations pertaining to Kalcír.”

“Kalcír Station, which houses the core of the distributed intelligence that runs our stargates, expansion linelayers, and traffic management systems, is the single most important asset that this company has.  As a result, security there is extremely tight.  You are all to be congratulated on passing our corporate loyalty check and sophodynamic analysis at the highest possible level.”

“In any case, as such, there will be no communication permitted, or indeed possible, during your month on-shift at Kalcír, except via the dedicated tangle lines to Ring Dynamics corporate headquarters, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Conclave Presidium.  After this briefing, you will have a final opportunity to communicate with your family and associates before being transmitted to the station.”

“Likewise, no information media may be transmitted to or from Kalcír Station, and after your shift, your memories of your time on Kalcír will be sequestered under the rules specified in Addendum G to your Ring Dynamics work contract.”  It smiled, thinly.  “While we maintain a fairly extensive entertainment library on board, don’t read anything you won’t regret reading twice.”

“Finally, Kalcír Station is located, as you may have heard rumored, in deep space at an undisclosed location.  This location will not be disclosed to you, and I must advise you that despite the memory sequestration, attempting to discover this location during your time there is a violation of corporate regulations punishable by immediate termination of contract and current corpus, again as per Addendum G.”

“If you will now proceed through the door on my left, my assistant will verify for each of you the initial half-payment of your adverse-conditions bonus.  Thank you for your service to Ring Dynamics.”