Friday, January 15, 2016

The Starship Example: FTL, Stargates, and Rabbitholes

     I'm amazed and gratified by the response so far to the voyages of the Starship Example!  Wow, I mean, say you figured a constant boost, rectionless drive that doesn't violate the laws of physics, you get everybody's attention...

     So, to continue our discussion about Hard SF Space Opera via the good starship Example, we turn to the surplus negative matter mentioned earlier, which the Frigate saves for going FTL.  Faster than light travel, the one type of rubber science that just about everybody uses sooner or later.  Well, I'm not entirely immune to the allure of having more than one star system to play around in, especially since my Frigate can cross a star system in a week.  Fortunately, thanks to aready putting NegMat in my setting, I can manage to have FTL in my Space Opera without causeing Einstien to generate too much torque in his grave.
Those little black dots in the front?
Literally the keys to interstellar travel.  

    Physicist Matt Visser theorized (and mathed), that you can keep a wormhole open and stable long enough to travel through with a space craft if you inflate its opening with negative matter.  Since we already have negative matter, we can have wormholes.   This is not bad way to travel, actually - You can take a subatomic sized wormhole and shoot one end (after spinning it to near lightspeed in the LHC) across space, and even though it takes years to travel to its destination, you can use the wormhole in mere days, thanks to reletivity.  Of course, if your enter a 100 light-year long wormhole, you'll be 100 years in the future, but that's okay, as long as you can't talk to anybody in the past.  And you can't, because physics.
PHYSICS:  Making SF harder since 1686!

    So stargates are a thing in Hard SF Space Opera.  This gives us certain advantages - you have bottlenecks, which means invasion corridors and defensible points in space, which means you can force cool space battles and justify having Empires and all that cool stuff.

    It also gives us certain disadvantages.  For one thing, a stargate can be too defensible, which means the idea of tramp freighters and blockade runners go out the hatch.  I like  tramp freighters, smugglers and all that jazz, and unless I want an amoral neutral Spaceing Guildtn running the stargates, I'm out of luck. I also like being able to have a ship jump to lightspeed at random locations, not just through a stagate.  I want something...more.  In order to explain what I want and how it will work, I may have to get a little literary.

     You know the image of gravity wells, sitting like funnels, like lead weights in a rubber sheet? Now imagine that the weights are magnets.  These magnets attract each other, like gravity always does, and thus the bottoms of these ficticious funnels in space bend from true, toward one another.  The deep, deep wells of black holes pull more or less straight down in our rubber sheet, and like a particularly powerful magnet, it pulls the weights at the bottom of all the other little wells into it's pull.

    Please, remember, however, that this image is like the model of atoms that look like miniature star systems - it's a lie, where not a single part of the explanation is even close to fact.  But it puts the right idea in your head...

  Anyway, our totally false image of rubber sheet is not supple, it's rather brittle in places.  This creates rips and cracks around the deeps of a gravity well, where the stress of being pulled by deeper wells causes stress fractures in reality.  And these fissures usually connect - 

    - no, not wormholes!  Wormholes are rips in reality that were caused during the Universe's inflationary phase, which are tamed and bridled with stargates.  These are something else; natural yet unnaturally young, common around stars yet uncommonly useful.  These links between worlds are easily used, yet nearly impossible to find.  These are paradoxes in space, that open doors to new worlds.

    We call them Rabbitholes.

   So that's - ahem! - So that's the second form of FTL we'll be using in our Hard SF Space Opera.  Natural wormholes - Rabbitholes - between neighboring stars that can be opened by the reserve NegMat aboard our Frigate for just long enough for the ship to squeak through and pop into existance years later and light years away.  This gives us some more flexibility in how we get around the galaxy.  It also will take some flexibility away, however, because how now we have every star system in space linked in closed space-like curves.  That's important to know, because the thing about wormholes is that you can never built one going one way and one going the opposite direction.

    I'll explain.

     Say you have a wormhole that travels 100 light years from system A to system B.  It took thirty days to shoot it there, using a big centrifuge, and you can use it after thirty days to travel 100 years into the future, but so far away that the by the time the light from home reaches you, its a hundred years old and therefore you're seeing the preasent from your subjectiive reality.  All well and good.

    But. If you built a second stargate in system B to system A?  If you were to travel through, you would pass a hundred light years and a century into the future just like before.  If you were to pass through the first gate, from A to B, and then through the second, from B to A, you'd arrive two hundred years from the moment you originally left.

    This is impossible.  The wormholes most likely would not form at all in that condition.  At the very least, they would push each other two hundred light years apart to resolve the paradox.

     Don't believe me?  Ask Winch, he'll tell you.  I'll wait...

     There is nothing stopping you from pulling a wormhole though another wormhole, however, so a gate network could be moved into place through Rabbitholes, which would resolve a lot of the complications.  There are also reasons to do so.  Use of Rabbitholes is dangerous, unpredictible, and expends NegMat.  Use of a stagate would be easier safer, and as long as the tolls for the gate's use are less than the cost of NegMat, cheaper.  Take your pick - both make good fodder for stories...

    For my regular RocketFans, Rabbitholes will be featured in the next installment of The Gentlemen's Agreement.  If you haven't read this or it predeccessor, The Gentleman Scoundrel, you should - they are full of vitamins and insure good, strong bones and healthy teeth!

     The next time we visit our Frigate Example, we will discuss its Technology Level, and what that means for any stories it will feature in.  

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