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Sunday, May 5, 2013
Traveling the Strange Stars
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Archaic Oikumene is the hyperspace travel network. Though the means of the network's engineering—even much of the basic science science behind it—has been lost, current civilization is still able to make use of it to travel the stars faster than light. The rediscovery of a lost node is a major find, potentially introducing uncharted systems to interstellar civilization.
In the present era, the topology of the network appears to be much simpler than in ancient times. In most cases, nodes only connect to one or two neighboring nodes. The technology behind the nodes is at least partially psionic in nature. Specially trained psi-sensitives (or specially gengineered sniffer animals) can detect inactive nodes. Re-activating one requires brute-force hacking and psionically transmitted passcodes. Experts in hyperspace net architecture believe there is a quantum encrypted strata that at one time connected individual worlds—maybe even individual citizens. This higher end network is inaccessible in the current era.
Active nodes have exit and entrance gates fitted to them and terminal stations, located a safe distance away. Most of these structures date back centuries; a few even to the Oikumene. In civilized areas (particularly those once under the control of the Radiant Polity) tolls are often charged for network access and every ship passing through must have an identification transponder. So-called “black gates” exist, hidden in out-of-the- way systems that provide access without going through the public nodes. Military controlled gates sometimes exist, built near and accessing public nodes, but are given priority.
The conduits through the hyperspace are like latticework tubes of exotic matter. The distance between two points in normal space has very little to do with transit time through hyperspace. Instead, congestion and poorly understood conduit properties ("bandwidth") play a greater role. Terminal traffic control authorities try to manage congestion, but nodes deliver faster travel times to other destinations regardless—and this can vary over time.
While starmaps tend to represent the network as composed of simple lines between nodes, the internal workings of the network are considerably more complex. Most cultures rely on advanced computers to perform the rapid and complicated computations necessary for navigating hyperspace, though, some cultures have engineered biologic minds with intuitive abilities in these areas.
The poorly understood relationship between psi and hyperspace has led to more than a few fringe and paranoid memes, as well as legitimate scientific inquiry. So far, no theory is satisfactory. Psi-sensitive individuals tend to find hyperspace travel a bit uncomfortable. Many report the strange sensation of being watched.