[WIP] How FTL Works

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–Sorry to break format, this isn’t really WIP for the next page, but I thought I would use this opportunity for a bit of world-building infodump. Lots of handwaving and metaphors. If you don’t care for this sort of thing, fine by us. We have a page in the hopper for next week, though!   –SquidDNA    —

So hyperspace is this weird universe which sometimes intersects our own universe, which is how it was discovered when Zefram Cochrane threw a ball for his dog to fetch and it vanished (the ball AND the dog), or similar.  It does not make sense to us because it possesses dimensions our own does not. Most of the time, hyperspace is accessed by the use of a massive quantity of energy in a very specific way– the fuel bricks.

how FTL works

Mostly, we use the energy stored in a fuel brick to puncture the barrier between this universe and hyperspace long enough to inflate the hole with conventional space. This forms a bubble which the ship enters and then pinches off behind it, causing it to explode away like one of those seed pods that does that. This bubble of conventional space continues hurtling through hyperspace until it smashes into the barrier again. Because of this, the course is more or less committed to upon entry to hyperspace as the course is mainly ballistic. There is a certain amount of “give” when plotting trajectories because for the most part you’re going to wind up within a million kilometers of your target or such due to minor variations in orientation and velocity on your departure.

It should be noted that while the inflated pocket of conventional space does contain conventional “time” as well, minor asynchronicity is often observed: usually a difference of up to a millisecond, although rarely on the order of a kilosecond. ITT notes that rumors of asychronicity in the megasecond range or higher have never been substantiated, although this is likely due to the inherently mysterious nature of the derelicts which generated the rumor. That is– it is often hard to determine (especially when ITT swoops in) whether a derelict spent abnormally long subjective-time in hyperspace and only left a megasecond ago, or left a gigasecond ago and traveled a subjectively long path. Reasonably, both can be true, but ITT usually engages a lot of handwaving and keeps the details secret in the name of transportation safety.

So-far neglected by the authors of this webcomic, one of ITT’s GROTG-mandated duties is to maintain a current chart of safe hyperspace trajectories (typically generated using brute force with survey drones.) Thus, regular navigation among the stars is done by jumping from one star system to another along these established trajectories. There are not discrete jump nodes, but local hyperspace topography frequently prevents immediate re-entry after collision at a system “boundary.” That is– more often than not, you have to do some puttering around within the star system before you jump out again (although intra-system jumps are a thing.) Corixon six is one of many exceptions, which contributes greatly to its popularity as a station– as we have seen, one need only reach a certain distance from the station and planet and you’re good to go. Do not confuse this with a “minimum jump radius” however– it’s easy but misleading to think of it this way. Gravity wells do shape the topographical boundary between hyperspace and normal space, but the unpredictable shape of hyperspace contributes as well. A ship might be clear for a jump 1Gm from a planet in one direction, but be mired in normal space for 1 Tm in another (and be different again when the planet has moved in its orbit a Msec later!) Again, these conditions are well plotted and regularly surveyed by the ITT, so navigators know what to expect.

The most exciting, dangerous, and secretive research ITT undertakes is related to the possibility of navigating while in transit because it could revolutionize our approach to interstellar travel. While the majority of safe jump trajectories don’t exceed 8 parsecs, and some may be as far as three times that,  it could be possible to travel thousands of parsecs in a single jump by carefully changing trajectory mid-flight. (For those readers not versed in base-60, a “parsec” is about 31 Pm. {OKAY FINE A LITTLE OVER THREE LIGHT YEARS.}) See above for why this is dangerous.

With regard to fuel bricks, allocating the necessary amount of fuel is sort of like weighing a very clumpy material. You put in a few large clumps and then a few smaller ones until you have enough. Under less frantic circumstances you would see an engineer casually grabbing a few lumps of fuel brick with tongs and throwing them into a receptacle (see: illustration! sort of.)  For this reason, a very large fuel brick is considered to be practical for use on some of the longer trajectories, but it would be wasteful to use it for a smaller jump: fuel bricks cannot be split, and are completely expended upon use. For this reason larger bricks are almost never seen.

Fuel bricks are themselves objects* from hyperspace which had been made to partially manifest in our universe, and can be stably transported within it. Brick “refineries” are positioned in star systems where the boundary between this universe and hyperspace is especially weak. Bricks have a very strong affinity for hyperspace, and as such contain a tremendous potential energy within this context. For those with a predeliction for metaphors, one might think of dropping a sizeable rock through a sheet of ice formed on the surface of a tidally warmed ice moon, and then diving through the hole that was made before the exposed water has time to refreeze. Fuel bricks return to hyperspace and drag ships along for the ride, pulling them along a trajectory that sends them sailing until they smash out of the “ice” again.

* – Some speculate that fuel bricks are not objects in hyperspace, but are instead portions of n-space which have inflated the “gap” made during their manufacture, similar to the bubble of conventional space created during a jump. Unsanctioned research on bricks is considered vandalism and sometimes terrorism, so these ideas are merely speculative.

–Okay, hope you had fun there. Oh, also, some of you will recognize the “fuel source” in this illustration as a Wizzard. Pure coincidence. —