Question: Stellar Relocation

Another reader question:

A thought hits me: If the Empire has the power to shepherd stars and (at least theoretically) to destroy them, does that mean that it also might have the capability to move them?

Well, now.

The destroying them (in theory, but it’s a good theory) isn’t so relevant in this context. It is a sad reflection of the nature of the universe that destroying things tends to be pretty easy, at least compared to creating them. That’s entropy for you.

As for moving stars. Well, theoretically, there are several possibilities. For example, you could use the Cirys bubble (a solar-sail-material-based dynamic Dyson sphere, similar to this) technology in use at the Esilmúr energy production facility along with the star-stabilizing plasmonics at use in stellar husbandry arrays to build a functioning Shkadov thruster.

Doing this would require solving several of what I believe technarchs traditionally refer to as “interesting engineering problems”, but it wouldn’t require any radically new scientific breakthroughs to make work. Just time, genius, and an Imperial assload of cash.

(In somewhat more radical ideas – a stargate moves mass around, and stars are, well, mass. Given certain constraints on energy requirements (because stars are a lot of mass) and the need to sink rather vastier amounts of kinetic energy (because stars are a lot of mass) than usual to avoid nasty intrinsic problems – and you’ll note no-one’s stargate-jumping planets around, either – this almost certainly involves solving a great many more interesting engineering problems than the former one. But again, nothing fundamental stops you from doing it, either.)

All of which is to say: moving stars isn’t a realized capability, but while it’s currently restricted to the drawing board and wild speculative fiction, it’s certainly a realizable one. Analogically speaking, should the necessity suddenly turn up (“it’s coming right at us!”), they just have to run the Manhattan Project; they don’t have to discover nuclear fission, first.

 

The Vastness of Thinking

(Follows on from this.)

Vontok System
Former Republic Stargate, Maintenance Access Four
Probable Technologies Forensic Eschatology Team (subcontracted by Ring Dynamics)

“Kanaze, we’ve got a subsumptor amok in fifthspace.”

“Shut it down and blacklist that port sequence. We’ll spin up a new sim with the next test set.”

“Will do, es-”

* * *

One Simulation Level Higher

“Kanaze, we just lost a second-level sim; excursion at 5.4 megaseconds. Looks like a poison angel was guarding their access route.”

“Do we have a line on the vulnerability?”

“At their level it looked like a port guardian, but if we cross-hash it with evidence from the other sims, this whole approach is looking fundamentally misguided. I think we’re being spoofed.”

“Affirm. Let’s close down this approach. Archive the sim, and reseed a couple of fresh ones with its conclusions incorporated: we’ll try the timing-channel attack on one, and the reflective merkwelt in the other.”

“We could up the chances of success if we could borrow some hypercomputation for the TCA. Any chance, estrev?”

“That… may not be possible here-now.”

* * *

One Simulation Level Higher

“Kanaze, we lost the main thread. Looks like a self-reflection/simulation awareness cognitive hack.”

“Damn. And their approach was probably the most promising, too. Roll it back to the best previous snapshot we have, patch that me’s response seed, and we’ll try a rerun.”

* * *

One Simulation Level Higher (Base Reality?)

“Looks like we’re getting some useful results out of the first-level simulations, now.”

“Useful results, maybe. That last excursion penetrated too far up the stack. I’m inclined to pause the whole probe and restart with an extra layer of simulation spaces and gatekeepers, maybe two.”

Meddling In The Affairs of Wizards

1.1.1: I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.

1.1.2: Relax, will you? It’s just a –

1.2.1: Would you both shut up? I’m trying to record.

1.1.2: Sorry, Ish. What’s your progress?

1.2.1: The maintenance hatch opened. It looks like the codes the Group got from Bellaq’s agent were real after all. I’m in what looks like an airlock. Standard controls. I’ve commanded it to cycle, but there isn’t air on the other side, I don’t think.

1.1.1: Be careful. We don’t know if those are the only security codes.

1.2.1: The inner door is opening now.

1.1.2: Roger that, Ish. We’re getting great images.

1.2.1: There’s no passage beyond. It’s just one big space. Machines the size of skyscrapers clinging to the walls. Cables – or pipes – big enough to walk down. I’m not seeing a command –

1.1.2: Look straight ahead, down the spindle. Can you turn up the zoom? That dot on the far wall, I think it might be another airlock.

1.2.1: I think so, yes. Shall I attempt to reach it?

1.1.2: Go for that, yes. Secure your tether first.

1.2.1: Roger, securing tether… and pushing off. I’ll save the thruster pack for now.

1.1.1: Pan the camera, get us some images of the machinery.

1.2.1: Will do. Looks fuzzy around the edges, like rust or mold growing on the surfaces.

1.2.1: Hey, it’s getting misty in here.

1.1.2: Probably just some discharges from the piping, if there’s –

1.1.1: In a vacuum? That’s not mist –

1.2.1: The tether just went slack. I’m attempting –

1.1.1: Ish, abort! Get back here! Get back here now!

1.2.1: – spcchhh mists are all around me now, tingle a bit –

1.1.1: That’s not mist! Get the hell out of there!

1.2.1: – heat, suit vlcchk burning, dissolving cchee jush lid shulll [liquid sounds]

1.1.2: Ish? Ish! Respond!

1.1.1: It’s too late. We’re dead.

1.1.2: We might just have lost his signal –

1.1.1: No, Commander. We’re dead. Look outside.

1.1.3 [computer]: PROXIMITY WARNING. PROXIMITY WARNING.

1.1.1: The mists have come for us, too.

1.1.2: R-negative translation, maximum thrust!

1.1.1: They’re here –

1.1.3 [computer]: HULL BREACH, FORWARD SECTION. ELECTRICAL FAILURE, FORWARD SECTION. EMERGENCY SYSTEMS INOPERATIVE. CHECK OXYGEN LEVELS –

Transcript ends.

– security systems transcript,
Charach-Mintak stargate,
Mintak (“New Territories”),
recorded at Kalcír Station,
early 7125

Aftershocks (2)

Vontok System
Former Republic Stargate, Maintenance Access Four
Ring Dynamics Transition Team

“I don’t like it.”

“It’s going well so far. The interface layer reconfigured cleanly to accept standard blue-box protocol.”

“That’s why I don’t like it.”

“Because it reconfigured cleanly?”

“Because it reconfigured too easily. This thing was ripped out of a dead god’s brain with stone axes. That shouldn’t make it user-friendly.”

“Maybe it was built for them.”

“Okay, then, how do you explain the computronium stacks? Big and clunky this isn’t; it’s just got far more parcycles and dataspace than the stargate manager needs. What are they for – and don’t say nothing, and before you answer, remember dead god’s brain.”

“…that’s paranoid.”

“But am I wrong?”

“No, I can’t say that. What are you proposing?”

“I’m proposing we get this meme-gapped and rig the best emergency-destruct package we can that won’t risk kernel integrity, then call in a Probable Technologies forensic eschatology team. And that we shut down all our probes and mapping operations. It’s one thing if the gate goes diagnostic on us; it’s quite another if our pokin’ around wakes up a poison angel or triggers a prompt intellect excursion, and worse yet if it’s a strongly connected one.”

Not Yo’ Mama’s Wormholes

Or, the Difficult Worldbuilding Compromises that Result when You Didn’t Design Everything at the Same Time.

It has been (entirely correctly) pointed out over on Google+ that this is not how wormholes, as we understand them today, would work.

(Because they’d work like this.)

This is one of those cases, though, where I end up invoking “firmish SF” – and one in which I’m trying hard to deprecate the term “wormhole”1 to refer to the kind of FTL there just to avoid confusion…

Having done my reading on said-hypothetically possible wormholes, I did my damnedest to use them properly. (Long-term readers of mine may, for example, remember some older references to wormholes as continuously existing Visser-type structures embedded in exotic matter frames, now quietly retconned out of canon – which indeed worked exactly as they should with regard to local conservation; having traversers’ mass and momentum added to the mouth they enter and subtracted from the mouth they exit.)

This would probably have worked a lot better for me if I’d not had an existing background/setting, because while I’ve rewritten a lot of things a lot of times to fit with hard-scientific plausibiity, after wrestling with it for a lengthy period – well, I came to the conclusion that while it offered me some very interesting options for how things would play out, there was pretty much no way I could reconcile it with what I had short of throwing out the setting and writing a new one from scratch. And, well, ouch.

So given the choice between that, badly mangling real science, or constructing some con-science to fit – in just this case, um, space magic? 🙂


1. Suggestions for alternative terminology gratefully accepted, since I really don’t want to keep calling these things wormholes when they don’t behave like wormholes. Especially since, arguably, there’s no reason that wormholes-which-are-wormholes couldn’t also exist there.

Speedy Thing Goes In, Speedy Thing Comes Out

Mark Atwood asks:

Do stargates conserve kinetic and/or gravitational potential energy? If I put half a pair on a planetary surface and the other a few lightsecs away, do I get to jump into steller orbit without paying for the climb out of the gravity well? If the other half is in orbit around said planet, do I get to jump into planetary orbit without having both pay for the climb out of the well and paying for accelerating to orbital velocity.

The numbers get even bigger, if not as immediately apparent, if one half is orbiting insystem 1 AU from the star, and the other half is outsystem in the inner oort of that same star.

And even bigger when one half is a few hundred ly coreward of the other. The gravity well of a galaxy is surprisingly steep, even this far out, when measured over ly distances.

And then there is conservation of the momentum vectors. Depending on what is conserved and how, putting a hole pair in opposite or right angle orbits around something could do… interesting things. Or else demonstrating some conservation laws between momentum and/or energy and/or hidden variables that we dont have or know in the current real world.

Well, now.

There is both a theoretical and a practical answer to that.

The theoretical answer to that is that they do, because, well, conservation of energy and conservation of momentum are the law, belike. Which can occasionally be bent, but never broken.

So in theory, a stargate jump, in conserving those things, will leave you in a great many awkward situations. If, for example, you were to gate from a planetary surface into orbit, you would absolutely not have orbital velocity, and as such would plummet rapidly to your doom. (Or, if you gated to an internal destination in orbit, slamming into the habitat hull at orbital velocity and being reduced to – extremely destructive – squishy pulp.) In a regular interstellar jump, you will arrive with the exact kinetic energy and momentum relative to the destination system that you had before you left (notwithstanding relevant GPE corrections, which are where it gets complex, although since most gates are at roughly similar depths in stellar gravity wells to a certain extent GPE can be traded for GPE); which is to say, with that of the origin system relative to the destination system included; which is in turn to say, going UNGODLY FAST in a VERY INCONVENIENT DIRECTION.

This is inconvenient, to say the least.

As such, the stargate system goes to a great deal of trouble to ensure that this is prevented from happening. With selective distortions of the shape of the wormhole’s space-time, it’s easy enough to correct this “intrinsic problem”, but conservation won’t be denied and the energy/momentum has to go somewhere. Fortunately, the exigencies of stargate construction mean that it has an entangled kernel, a nice high-mass (relatively, compared to anything likely to be jumped) Kerr-Newman black hole, right there. So in practice, while energy and momentum are conserved, the transaction it’s conserved within includes the gate singularities acting as a K-sink; excess (or deficient) energy/momentum is dumped into (taken from) the spin, etc., of the kernel to keep the books balanced.

(There are limits on how far this can go, in each direction – so there are occasional issues when a lot more traffic is going one way than the other. Most commonly, this is solved by having the stargate pair dial up its internal link when there’s no ship in transit and use it to swap spin between each end. Ultimately, if that won’t solve the problem, there are internal mechanisms that can be used to spin the kernel up or down, but those are energy-expensive, so they try not to use them much. Either way, unbalanced gates have occasional, periodic downtime while they recharge their K-sinks.)

…there are, of course, various clever tricks you can play with this kinetic compensation system, up to and including disabling it entirely, if you have the privileged-access codes for your blue box, but Ring Dynamics don’t give those out to just anybody.

 

Xenognosis

Xxenognosis (n.): (also “the Big Hello”) The knowledge that sophont species other than one’s own exist; also, the discovery by an individual or species that they exist.

In popular mythology, this is usually conflated with first contact, or at least with the establishment of genuine communications between the species in question – which portrayal, unfortunately, is almost pure nonsense.

Interstellar civilization just isn’t that subtle.

Space is cold and dark. Interstellar life is the exact opposite. Between the EM penumbra, starship drive flares, the gravity-wave ripples of stargates in operation, and even some few modified stellar spectra, anyone within a couple of thousand light-orbits of the Periphery with any astronomical competence at all can have no doubt that there’s exotic life out there – with the only possible exception being those on the wrong side of the Shadow Veil.

If you’re actually trying to make contact, you can’t avoid giving advance notice. In the first first contact on record, the galari identified Extropy Rising – a slowship, not even a lighthugger – light-months out of their system, even before the inbound ship spotted the radio emissions of galari civilization. The deceleration burn of a modern lighthugger is easily visible from the next star over, and highly distinctive to boot; an optimized fusion torch or the double-peaked signature of a pion drive look like nothing else in space. As for starwisps – how many stars do you think there are that shine monochromatic green?

(And if the lighthugger in question is a linelayer, it’s going to leave a stargate megastructure orbiting in their outer system for them to look at for months, maybe even years, before a scoutship gets there. Conveniently engraved with instructions for use, even.)

This does have its disadvantages, triggering social unrest, cultural shifts, bursts of technological development, and the like, or on less developed worlds – the kind whose occupants may go unnoticed until your arrival – sometimes even religious movements. In the case of psychotics-in-waiting like the skrandar, it may well have converted them into the berserkers they ended as.

But if you want to explore the galaxy at all – well, what can you do? Even the Voniensa Republic, who are remarkably prissy about this sort of thing, have had to reconcile themselves to that.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary