Interstellar Infrastructure

Interstellar Infrastructure

In this setting entry, we discuss the infrastructure used in space. This deals primarily with travel (the Celestial Way and Dirac Jumping) and interstellar communication (Way-Ansibles, Astrotelepathy, and the Astronet).

The Celestial Way

The Celestial Way (also referred to as Hyperspace or Warp Space by some) is the main form of superluminal transit used in the known galaxy, including by the Federation.

The Celestial Way is essentially a type of folded dimensional overlay that sits alongside our own universe. It is not tangibly ‘in’ real space, nor is it completely separate. Space in the Way matters far less than it otherwise would, allowing for immensely higher speeds within the Celestial Way: physical objects passing through the Way reach a maximum average speed of 20 light years a day.

The Way is organised like a network, where each star system is a node or a stop, connected to other systems with lines. This makes the Way act like a great interstellar road or railway system: in fact, the Federation explicitly uses railway terminology like ‘Lines’, ‘Junctions’ and ‘Stops’ to make it easier to understand the fundamentals. The Defectors call the main network of known space the “Inner Galactic Web”.

Entering the Celestial Way requires a special ‘Celestial Way Key’ or C-Key for short, a device that taps into the ‘signal’ of the Way. The C-Key can send a signal, causing the Way to ‘spike’ into real space, allowing an object to enter. Once on the Way, the C-Key can be reactivated to depart the Way. However, it is generally easier to drop out than it is to enter, and the signal to depart is easily jury-rigged, meaning stranding in the Way is practically impossible. This means that the Way is a fast, reliable method of superluminal travel that can be discovered and exploited by most spacefaring species with adequate technology.

There are some caveats, however:
The Celestial Way does not connect every star. Thus, those for whom the Way is their primary mode of superluminal travel are restricted in their voyaging by the pre-determined route of the Way. In fact, our system seems to be near the end of a fairly thin part of the network.

The Celestial Way is fast, but its effect slowly weakens the closer it is to the centre of a gravity well as the spacetime warping of gravity interferes with the Way. Or in other words: at a certain distance from a star, the Way ceases to work properly. Thus, to enter the Way, a craft must be a certain distance away from the star. For our sun (Sol), that distance is 600 AU, or 3.4 light days (the distance light covers in 24 hours). This area is known as the Null Zone, and the boundary is known as the Null Terminus.
One can enter the Way within a Null Zone safely, but to far lesser effect. This is known as ‘Celestial slipstreaming’, and is analogous to ‘skipping’ along the surface of the Way. This method is terribly slow: objects moving at this speed manage between 200 and 250 AU a day (roughly 100,000 times the speed of light, or 30 billion km a day), meaning that a craft entering the Sol System will drop out of ‘proper’ Way 600 AU from the sun, then must spend several days actually travelling to its intended location. Furthermore, entities travelling via slipstream are visible within real space, and can be detected and attacked (which often results in a drop from the slipstream).
The Way is wide enough that, if one is going from Star A to Star C, via Star B, one can simply curve around Star B instead of being caught in its gravity well.

Finally, the Celestial Way can be unreliable. Although most of the network is considered safe, some parts of it can fluctuate erratically. This often means becoming slower, or dropping a ship out of the Way temporarily. Sometimes, a Way-line can deactivate entirely. These events are usually heralded by obvious phenomena days in advance. Rarely, however, a line has simply shut off, stranding vessels in the great nothing between stars, where the crew either starve or enter cryogenic stasis. Sometimes, however, a line can suddenly appear where there was no line before. Because it is theorised that there are multiple great ‘networks’ of the Celestial Way that used to be a single network until line decay separated them, the sudden appearance of a line can herald the arrival of new, powerful states that throw the delicate balance of interstellar diplomacy into chaos.

Way-Line Stations

A common practice throughout the Inner Galactic Web is the construction of Way-Line Stations. These stations are built in star systems near the system’s ‘end’ of the Line, and are used to direct and control it through an array of specially attuned C-Keys. These stations can force unauthorised vessels on the Line to be redirected to enter the star system, thus yanking it into real space once it hits the Null Zone. Furthermore, nothing in that system can leave via that Line without express permission of the system. This allows a Way-Line Station to act as a lockdown and inhibitor, forcing enemies to enter the system instead of bypassing it and, once there, trap them unless they can destroy or capture the station itself.

Dirac Jumping

Dirac Jumping is the use of an AT Field ‘Dirac’ effect to create a new pocket dimension, enter it, and then collapse it with the exit point being different to the entry point. It allows one to travel vast distances in an instant.

Because Dirac Jumps are reliant on an AT Field, only Great Ones and Evangelions are capable of making them at truly astronomic distances- even then, this taxes their biology, requiring a cooldown period, or else risk internal damage.

Although incredibly fast, the Dirac Jump is not as fast as travel in the Celestial Way, working out to be roughly a fifth as fast: an entity that Jumps will emerge at its location point to find that a day has passed per 4 light years crossed (although extremely powerful AT Fields can reduce this time considerably). Furthermore, this introduces the problem of ‘Age Drift’, explained below.
When an entity Jumps, to them, it seems as though only a second has passed between their starting the Jump and them arriving at their destination. In reality, significant time can pass based on the distance of the jump. If someone makes a 20 light year jump on Tuesday the 2nd of May, they will emerge in a universe where it’s Saturday the 6th of May. Over time, this bears the risk of those who often travel via Jumping to stay young relative to everything else- a terrifying possibility for some who have to watch their family age without them. That said, human lifespans are considerable (and a maximum age is unknown), so this remains theoretical for now.

Similar to the Dirac Jump is the Dirac Gate, which creates a stable wormhole between two points. Whilst fundamentally the same in function to a Jump (ie. Still 4 ly per day), the Federation has built Dirac Gate Stations, allowing a single Evangelion to effortlessly maintain multiple gates indefinitely. This allows the Federation to maintain stable links with systems not on the Celestial Way.

Interstellar Communication

This section covers the topic of interstellar communication, which is of critical importance for any interstellar state.

Way-Ansibles

The most common form of interstellar communication is the Way-Ansible. The Way-Ansible uses tiny devices, similar to the C-Key, to send information into the Celestial Way. The information is encoded so that it can only be deciphered by a specific other Way-Ansible, similar to dialling a specific phone number. Ansibles can be networked in ways that mimic most pre-Way communications technology. Most information transmission done this way is light-encoded, and sending light-encoded info through the Way is far, far simpler and quicker than physical objects: the Null Zone has no effect, and the information travels vastly quicker, at a rate of 100 light years a second.

Way-Ansibles are a cheap, effective method of interstellar communication, but it isn’t without its faults. The info travels along the Way, thus cannot be sent to places isolated from the network. Minor faults in the Way, known as ‘Waystorms’, can scramble and disrupt communications. Furthermore, it is possible to hack, intercept or jam messages. Although security methods exist, some militaries will only accept the absolute best standards- and fortunately, there is something for them.

Astrotelepathy

Astrotelepathy is the art of sending information psychically, but on an astronomic scale. Using telepathy requires an AT Field and sufficient training. This makes it extremely rare, but the benefits are numerous: Astrotelepathy is fast, reliable and impossible to intercept or hack. It is also difficult to jam effectively and doesn’t rely on the Celestial Way.

For most of the galaxy, Astrotelepathy is a technique exclusive to the Overseers and the Defectors, as they have been the only entities- besides Great Ones- to possess the AT Fields necessary to use telepathy. As a result, Astrotelepathy is common in the Overseer Empire, but for regions outside of the Empire, access to telepathy is unreliable. This is where the Defector Telepathy Guild steps in.

The Telepathy Guild is a special interstellar corporation run and operated by Defectors, who offer their services to governments and private citizens in exchange for a fee. By necessity the Guild is bound by strict confidentiality agreements, as well as being bound to act as a neutral party in all interpersonal and international disputes, even in disputes involving the Defector Fleet. The only exception is clashes with the Overseers: the Guild do not operate within the Empire and so are free to act in whatever way they wish against it. The Guild often used its funds and resources to aid and bolster the Deflector Fleet, even in peacetime, but since the Fleet’s exodus to Federation space, contact between the Guild and the Fleet has been lost.

Instrumental to viable Astrotelepathy networks are Telepathic Hubs: buildings or space stations built around a core of sigilite, which acts to harness, direct and amplify the telepathic powers of its astrotelepaths. The sigilite core can also translate psychic messaging into electronics-capable messaging, allowing a telepathic message to be converted into images, music, text, etc- allowing a Telepathic Hub to mimic a full telecommunications network. Sigilite is extremely rare in the Inner Galactic Web, mostly being recovered from ancient ruins with a few natural deposits being found. As a result, Telepathic Hubs are extremely expensive to build.

Unlike the rest of the Galactic Web, the Federation’s citizens almost universally possess an active AT Field; the Federation can also manufacture sigilite at will, allowing for the Federation to establish Telepathic Hubs throughout its territory. These hubs are essential infrastructure for systems lacking access to the Way.

The Astronet

The Astronet is an audio-visual-tactile telecommunications network that operates throughout Federation space. It was an outgrowth of the Earth-based internet, and functions in a similar way, although the scale and the infrastructural challenges are far greater. Supported by a combination of ansibles, Way-servers and telepathic hubs, the Astronet can be accessed anywhere within Federation space and allows one to communicate, view multimedia, and interact with others pseudo-physically through virtual reality tech.

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