A setting-design question from Chris

I’m wondering if we should have some kind of rationale for WHY the only available slipdrives are the organic-tech one of Consensus. Are they simply the most advanced technology or is there something about the nature of Consensan tech that makes them suitable for efficient, multi-ple-jump slipstream travel?

Given that we decided the previous star-travelling civilisations used organic technology (because, I think as Hedge said, this allows their great works to have rotted, leaving no or very few convenient/clich├ęd artefacts laying about) a reason for all advanced stardrives to tend towards living tech seems preferable to me.

Idea include:

  • Reintegration: mechanical systems take longer to recover after a jump (stealing an idea from Niven in “A Mote in God’s Eye”), whereas living systems manage it relatively easily.
  • Consciousness: having a mind/sense of self might be necessary for the “reintegration” mentioned above; this would explain the reverence we decided the Consensans show to their living ships, even though they are intelligent only in very focused ways.
  • Healing: perhaps slip-jumps damage a ship’s drive. If the drive systems are incredibly delicate quantum-mechanical technobabbletronics, actually repairing them in-flight may be impossible (and perhaps opening the “black box” of the engine destroys delicate, physics-breaking states). Early jump systems would therefore be single-use, or have, at best, really short safe lifespans. Living systems can self-repair between jumps, as they are capable of healing (using biological regeneration and/or nanomachines) without opening the closed systems.

I like the last idea best, as it’s easiest to explain/define in relatively hard SF terms.

Actual background ramblings

The slipstream is a natural phenomena that connects points in conventional space-time via normally inaccessible dimensions outside time and space. A slipdrive permits a vessel to access enter the slipstream and pass between two distant sets of spatial co-ordinates without passing any of the intervening space – and, crucially, without passing through the dimension normally experienced as time. As a result, slipstream travel is instantaneous.

The physics of the slipstream are understood only by Consensus, but the captains and engineers across the cluster who fly retired Consensan ships on missions for states, corporations and syndicates have a working knowledge of the mechanics of slip-travel.

Most significantly, a slipstream jump can only be initiated within approximately 0.3 AU of a “slipknot”. Every known star system in the Cluster seems to have a pair of slipknots, one 5 AU above and one 5 AU and below the plane of the elliptic. Very primitive slipdrives require ships to be within approximately 1 million kilometres of the knot before the jump is possible, but few such drives remain in existence and actually using one for travel in the modern era would be considered madness – inefficient, and potentially damaging to a priceless antique.

Slipdrives require a small amount of energy from a ship’s reactors to prime them for a jump, but the energy required to move the ship between star systems – and correct its angular momentum, so that its velocity is the same relative to the destination sun as the one left behind – seems to come from the slipstream itself.

The process of jumping generates tremendous heat, some of which is converted into useful energy and some radiated into space. The more modern a ship the greater the proportion of the thermal energy that is converted into power.

All slip-ships in use in the Cluster are living, organo-mechanical entities produced in the Consensus system. Their organic computer brains possess hyper-intelligent but incredibly focused minds; the question of whether or not these beings possess true intelligence or free will is moot, as they have no desires beyond fulfilling their role as the best – and only – entities capable of faster-than-light travel in the known universe.

The slipdrive and brain of a slipship are so closely linked as to be indestinguishable. It may be that there is some fundamental quality of the slipstream that make organic, intelligent technology more suitable than other forms of hardware for slip-travel. This would explain the predisposition of pre-Consensan cultures to develop quasi-living technologies before their Cyclical fall, as well as the difficulties encountered by proto-Consensan ships during the New Wave era.

Alternative FTL technology

Non-organic slipdrive technology was used during the New Wave period of expansion from what is now called the Consensus System. These slipdrives were so unreliable that they appear to have been effectively single-use systems, requiring virtual rebuilding between jumps. This is why the proto-Consensan civilisation was not able to maintain contact, let alone control, with its colonists, and lead to the eventual abandonment of interstellar travel for at least a century.

Early Consensan slipdrive advances improved the robustness of the technology, but every ship completing a jump was effectively disabled by the stresses of the transition and the phenomenal heat produced. Over several centuries hybrid organo-mechanical systems were developed that reduced heat build up and the physical stress of jumping until the modern, fully-living drive system was born.

Some believe that the Terre who first colonised the Cluster had access to radically superior FTL technology. If this is the case no physical evidence for its existence – and no theoretical support for its existence – has been forthcoming.


Consensus CRGFolkard