12 Feb 2017

gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I'm working on a setting for a science-fiction novel. Essentially I want to recreate the feel of travel in the Edwardian era. Travel taking days or weeks, constant danger, and poor communications.

The germ of this idea came from reading about the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau, two ships of the Imperial German Navy sent to reinforce the Turkish fleet in the opening days of the First World War, before England entered the fight on the French side. The two ships had to run a gauntlet of Royal Navy vessels, constantly seeking to outwit the English, and dealing with damaged boilers and lack of safe harbors.

No imagine the same scene in space. A task force sent to support an ally, but having to evade an enemy force while both sides wait for the order to be given for open hostilities to commence. I figure it would have the same tense feel of a submarine/destroyer conflict, but rather than not being able to see the enemy, the suspense would be in figuring out where the enemy is going.

To create this tension, I'm setting up some base rules for how ships work.

1. Hyper-drive equipped ships can reach speeds of up to about 1,000c, or 1,000 times the speed of light. However, maintenance and fuel requirements rise sharply in drives designed for the highest speeds. Such high speeds require larger and more complex engineering spaces, reducing the effective carrying capacity of the hull. Most ships cruise at 200-250c.

2. Entering or exiting hyperspace requires a local gravity field of at least .000006g. Which in our solar system is roughly at the orbit of Saturn. Entry and exit can be pushed in high fields, but it's hard on the equipment. Ships trying to push deep past the hyper rim can be forced out of hyperspace without warning. This has been difficult for some people to get, but it's simple. Hyperspace entry and exit needs at least a minimal gravitational field to work. Theoretically, you could enter h-space from a planet's surface. However, "current" engineering limitations means that trick will end in a huge explosion. Ships therefore will enter normal space at or near the minimum gradiant, or "h-edge" to reduce stress on equipment.

3. Hyperspace is damaging. Ships and people in transit begin to suffer effects of hyperspace after several days of travel. Early symptoms of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome (HAS) are headaches, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea, and vision or hearing issues. The longer a trip continues, the more severe the issues become. Extended voyages can result in permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Electronic systems on ships are also disrupted, though they can be better shielded. As a result, starships tend to have more redundancy in electrical systems and larger crews than we would expect today as they can't trust automated systems as much as we do.

4. Additionally, ships exiting hyperspace are subject to "terminus shock." This is a sudden attack of HAS, causing everyone on a ship emerging from hyperspace to be stunned or nauseated for as long as several minutes. Those already suffering from severe effects of travel can be killed by this shock. The deeper a ship goes past the hyper rim, the more severe the shock. Ship's systems already suffering from damage from h-space exposure can fail spectacularly due to terminus shock. It is customary for ships to run diagnostic tests on everything after exiting h-space.

5. Speed and distance increase the severity of negative effects of travel. The pilots of high-speed couriers tend to have short careers and amazing health care plans. Astrogators (the space travel version of a navigator) will need to plot courses that minimize their time in hyperspace by juggling speed and the distance to be traveled. Which means controlling access to certain stars will be quite lucrative as trade will funnel through them.

Now, interstellar communications. Faster than light (FTL) communications exist, but they are limited. The power and plant requirements for a true FTL sending station are massive. The systems that can afford them usually build sending stations on asteroids or moons close to the hyper rim. These stations tend to be heavily fortified against attack.

The sending system itself has limited bandwidth. Messages tend to be telegraph-short. Anything longer than a few hundred characters will take an extremely long time to send and consume vast amounts of power. Governments and big corporations tend to use codes whenever possible to reduce the sending costs.

Stations can broadcast or aim a message at another station. Directed messages will suffer some signal spread as they propagate, but the effect is minimal. Messages move at about 10,000c, so a message sent from Earth to Æsir, a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani, 10.475 light years away, would arrive in just over nine hours. A ship traveling at 250c would make the same voyage in a bit over 15 days.

Larger ships can carry receivers. This allows them to get messages even when moving in hyperspace. Due to the limitations of the media, these tend to be three letter code groups, like used today with ballistic missile subs. Warships are issued code books (that are updated on a regular basis) used to determine what their orders are. As an example:

RQD (All 3rd Fleet Units)
YYT (War Plan Case Ocher)
SNW (Rendezvous Wolf 359)

In which case every ship of the 3rd Fleet would open their safes, pull out Case Ocher, and plot courses to Wolf 359. It's possible to issue different code books to different organizational units, so while YYT means war to 3rd Fleet, to 2nd Fleet units it means "Eat your veggies" and SNW mean "null message group."

I'll be doing more on weapons and tactics. I want to know my universe before I start writing in it.

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