Before we discuss history, we must discuss time, for that is the canvas on which history occurs.
Unfortunately, although we are used to thinking in terms of days and months and years, those are Earth-specific terms. On a different planet, Earth-centric periods will have little meaning, and its own rotational and revolutionary periods and those of its satellites will be more useful. Then we throw in the fact that wormholes connect across both space and time, so that a trip from Žemyna to Homestead will take you hundreds of years into the future, and the return trip takes you hundreds of years back in time.
And this is even before we throw in how time slips between planets when considering relativistic time dilation due to different speeds and gravitational potentials.
Fortunately, all the weirdness of different time rates and going backward and forward in time can be ignored by the average person. This is because you never need to go from Žemyna to Homestead, or back, across the vast gulfs of interstellar space. You just take the wormhole between them. All you ever need to worry about is the coordinate frame that goes across the wormhole. When considering this reference frame, you're not hopping all over the place in time. If it takes ten minutes to cross the Žemyna-Homestead wormhole, when you get to Homestead the clocks will read ten minutes later than they did when you left Žemyna. By coordinating their time-keeping across the wormhole network, Žemyna and Homestead and all the other worlds of the Verge can agree on a common time to coordinate their activities. This is all travelers ever need to worry about, and they can then ignore all the relativistic weirdness.
But you still have to deal with each planet with its own day/night cycles and yearly periods that are incommensurate with those of the other worlds. Early on, the coordinating bodies of Earth introduced Coordinated Network Time (CNT) as the official time system to use across interstellar space. This time measurement system divorces itself from traditional Earth-centric days and years and uses the base SI unit of time – the second – with metric prefixes to give a planet-agnostic standard.
A time in CNT is represented as, for example, 6G 311M 347k 211.19s CNT - meaning 6 billion, 311 million, 347 thousand, 211.19 seconds from time zero.
In everyday conversation, 1 gigasecond (Gs) is called a "gig", 1 megasecond (Ms) is a "meg", and 1 kilosecond (ks) is a "click".
Times before time zero CNT are represented with negative numbers. This system avoids complications like leap years, a missing year when going from BC to AD, figuring out how many days hath September, and other such nuisances.
The current time in the Verge is nominally set at 6G 820Ms CNT.
When The Bump in the Night struck, the Verge lost contact with the standards institutes on Earth that kept and distributed official time. For a time, the worlds of the Verge kept their own versions of CNT with the clocks that they had. Before long, a standards committee was established, and a new CNT was set up for the Verge Republic network.
Each individual planet also uses its own time system for its internal affairs. These are based on time units more convenient to that planet - the periods of rotation (days) and revolution (years) of the planet and of its natural satellites (months). For periods of time shorter than a day, some worlds have adopted metric time but the majority use hours and minutes. Most people can convert between metric and traditional time without much difficulty.
When on metric time and no convenient planetary cycle approximates the Human diurnal cycle, the default is to use 100 kiloseconds as a "diurnal" - the time of the Human sleep-wake cycle. Although a bit longer than a terrestrial day, most Humans and Pannovas can easily adapt to it and, in fact, often appreciate the little bit of extra time they have before going to bed (or waking up).
|Network Time ||Earth Standard Time
| 1 s || 1 second
| 1 ks || 16.67 minutes
| 1 Ms || 11.57 days
| 1 Gs || 31.69 years
| 1 Ts || 31,690 years
| 1 Ps || 31,690,000 years
| 1 Es || 31,690,000,000 years
| 60 s || 1 minute
| 3.6 ks || 1 hour
| 86.4 ks || 1 day
| 604.8 ks || 1 week
| 2.4 - 2.7 Ms || 1 month
| 31.56 Ms || 1 year
| 3.156 Gs || 1 century
Gummis and Mants each have their own methods of time-keeping. The Gummi base unit of time is approximately 5.7 seconds and is counted in base 8. Mants have a baroque system of time-keeping that other sapients have a hard time keeping straight.
|The Physics and Tactics of Intra-Network Wormhole Warfare
- Wormholes connect across space and time, not just space.
- Nevertheless, you can't use wormholes to build a time machine.
- A consequence of this is that interstellar wormhole networks form branching, tree-like structures with no closed loops.
- You can try to steal nodes (worlds) from a neighboring branch by forming a closed loop. The weakest link will break, and if that link is in the other branch you will have stolen the nodes left stranded by the break. This is called a causality attack.
|When you project a wormhole from a metropole world to a colony, you almost always exploit relativistic time dilation to reduce the perceived time to reach the colony from the metropole. For example, if the colony—metropole distance were 100 light years and the wormhole was projected at 99.9999% the speed of light, then it would take 100.0001 years for the wormhole mouth to reach its destination in the reference frame of the metropole and the colony. But due to relativistic time dilation, in the reference frame of the projected wormhole mouth it only takes 0.1414 years. Since you can look through the wormhole, you will see that 0.1414 years after launch, it arrives at its destination. At that point, you can go through and get to your new colony – you only need to wait about a month and a half to feel alien soil under your feet, rather than a century.
In the metropole's reference frame, going through the wormhole takes you 100 light years away, and 99.8596 years into the future (going the other way, from the colony to the metropole, takes you 100 light years away and 99.8596 years into the past)*.
One might think that these time warps would let you engage in all kinds of time travel. It is easy to see that the metropole—colony situation described here doesn't allow these kinds of shenanigans. For practical purposes, you only have a time machine when you can go back to the place you left at a time before you left. And you can't do that here. Go from Colony to Metropole and you go back in time 99.8596 years. Go back to Colony through the wormhole, and you go forward in time the same amount, plus any time you spent on Metropole, so you get back after you left. If you go back through flat space-time, it will always take at least 100 years since you can't go faster than the speed of light so you also get back after you left. No paradoxes for you!
However, it is easy to imagine situations where a wormhole, or a configuration of wormholes, does make a time machine.
Imagine that there are two colonies, Colony A and Colony B, each 100 light years away from Metropole, and 100 light years away from each other.
The wormholes to both colonies go 99.8596 years into the future when traveling from Metropole to either colony. Now Colony A sends a wormhole to Colony B. The Colony A wormhole also goes 99.8564 years into the future when going from Colony A to Colony B. This means if a traveler at Colony B went through the Colony A wormhole he would go back in time 99.8564 years. Then going from Colony A to Metropole he would go back in time another 99.8564 years. Then he could go from Metropole to Colony B and go forward in time 99.8564 years. The net result is that he ended up back where he started nearly a century before he left.
It seems that nature really doesn't like time machines. Here's why. Think about what happens when the Colony A – Colony B wormhole has gone just far enough that a light signal going through the wormholes can get back to where it left just as it is leaving. Now, since the propagating signal and the newly transmitted signal are both leaving at the same time, you have double the intensity. So this doubled intensity signal goes around and meets itself again, quadrupling its intensity. And so on. At this point, just as the configuration is on the verge of becoming a time machine, it becomes a perfect resonator for light signals, which then build up to arbitrarily high intensities until something breaks and you don't have an incipient time machine any more.
Now clever people will try to come up with ways around this - like putting a lead shield in the way of the signal's path. It turns out these tricks don't work. When you pull quantum mechanics into the picture, what get amplified are virtual fluctuations in the electromagnetic field and those can go around and anything it is possible to go around and through anything it is possible to go through. And it's not just light. All other particles behave the same way, so even if you somehow got the wormhole past the point where light would destroy it, it would be ruined by all kinds of other quantum fluctuations. You can't beat nature. And nature doesn't like time machines.
The consequence of this is that if you have closed loops in your wormhole network, it is really hard to keep time machines from forming. There are tricks you can play on a planet, but all interstellar wormhole networks form tree-like branching patterns without closed loops for just this reason.
But you can exploit this no-time-machine property. It is called a causality attack. If you are on one branch of a wormhole network and want to expand a bit but are blocked by a neighboring branch, you beef up all your wormholes and then send a wormhole to the neighboring branch. Something will break, but if it is a wormhole connection in the neighboring branch that is the weakest link, the network will break there. Now you have just stolen all the nodes (worlds) in the network that had been cut off by the break, and you can get to them using the wormhole you just sent.
In the Human expansion into the Milky Way, these sorts of attacks were common between the Americans and Chinese, Americans and Europeans, Europeans and Indians, and Indians and Chinese. This jockyeing for territory was considered just the way things were done, and generally accepted back on Earth. The American president might engage in trade negotiations with the Chinese premiere the day after a causality attack stole a dozen American worlds and all their colonists for the Chinese, with little more than lodging an official complaint.
The colonists, on the other hand, usually get pretty pissed off about such things.
* To be all technically correct and pedantic, I'd have to note that when I say you go forward in time by something like 100 years I also have to specify the reference frame in which it holds. Then I'd need to say something about how relativity means you can't have events that are simultaneous in all reference frames, and therefore cannot have any universal time (because, say, going from 1:00:00 AM to 1:00:01 AM in two different places would not universally be seen as simultaneous by all observers). And then this would get confusing, and people who skipped physics in college to focus on comparative philosophy or English literature wouldn't know what was going on and their eyes would glaze over. So I'm not going to do that. Even though that's how it really works – the Verge is fully compliant with Einstein.
No one knows when life first evolved in the Local Cluster, but by -100Ps CNT (3.1 billion years ago) there is evidence that sapience had emerged at least once and had spread to many of its galaxies. The evidence is tenuous, for geology, space weather, impacts, and other ravages of time have erased most of the evidence. Perhaps the best argument for this early dispersal is the genetic similarity of microbes across the Local Cluster in two main groups, the bacteria and the archaea. Wherever you go, you find life related to these simple microorganisms.
The most prominent and consequential of these ancient dispersals were a species known as the Antecessors. It is not known what they called themselves, or even much what they look like. From the remains of their long-abandoned spacecraft, they seem to have been about the size of a grizzly bear, and walked with a horizontal posture, also like a bear. Beyond that, we are unsure. What is known is they inhabited the entire Local Cluster from approximately -18Ps to -16Ps CNT (570 to 510 million years ago).
Where the Antecessors went, you find the fossils of what are assumed are their pests and feral pets. Deposited across the galaxies, these simple worms and bugs evolved to become the major movers and shakers in the ecosystems of countless planets.
Oddly, the Antecessors seemed to have largely eschewed life on planets, visiting terrestrial rocky worlds only rarely. Most Antecessor relics are spacecraft, orbiting some class K through F sun in distant elliptical orbits, or bases among the icy comets and micro-worlds circling the star beyond the reach of its planets.
Of significance are two important elements of Antecessor technology – the affector field and the wormhole. Affectors exert a force on baryonic matter (the stuff that makes up the normal stuff in the world around us) at a distance. Using affectors, you can make deflector screens, repulsor-lift vehicles, tractor beams, and other devices that operate based on a controlled force at a distance. Wormholes connect one region of space-time to another, allowing a shortcut between points that would otherwise be very far apart. The discovery of Antecessor technology has been key to the history of two of the major sapient species of the Verge.
No one knows why the Antecessors disappeared. None have ever been encountered by any existing sapient species, and no artifact of theirs has yet been recovered with an estimated age of less than 16 petaseconds (510 million years).
After the Antecessors, there is archaeological evidence of various sapient species who have taken to the stars. Universally, their spans of time in this universe are much shorter than that of the Antecessors. The reason for these rapid extinctions is still a mystery.
|Antecessors and Earth
| The existence of animal and fungal life on Earth is clear evidence that the Antecessors visited our planet. Their time would correspond to the late Ediacaran through the early Cambrian, and their escaped pets and pests were responsible for the so-called "Cambrian explosion". However, no one has found any Antecessor artifacts or buildings on Earth. In the time before The Bump in the Night, there was increasing evidence that they might have visited Venus far more often than Earth. In fact, the Antecessors may have been in some way responsible for the runaway greenhouse condition of Venus, the halting of Venus's plate tectonic cycle, and the extreme overturning and resurfacing of Venus's entire crust.
It all started on a nondescript beamline at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A post-doctoral researcher working deep into the night on her shift at an experiment noticed something funny in the data. It was late, but she dug into it a bit more. What she found would change the world.
It was a stabilized wormhole. The first example, found that night in California, was only about a micron across. But after physicists poked and prodded and worked equations, they soon found out how to make them bigger. Big enough to fit a person through. Or a train car.
They passed these tricks along to the engineers. Starry-eyed, technical minded men and women set on making the world a better place through the power of technology, they worked out how to project and maneuver the ends of the wormholes, hold them stable, minimize their failure modes, and make them reliable enough for mass transit.
Soon the major cities of the globe started connecting together.
No longer did cargo or passengers need to move across the lonely expanse of highways, or suffer the indignities of air travel, or cross the waves on container ship monstrosities. Cargo would be loaded into intermodal cargo containers and set on a flatbed, passengers loaded into a train car, and set down the track through the wormhole to their destination. The fossil fuel industry, still scraping by on selling Diesel and jet fuel, was devastated. Economies were ruined, and new economies were born. Military strategy quickly changed – why maintain supercarriers and foreign bases when you can just project a wormhole to the combat theater? And non-orientable wormholes allowed free, non-polluting power to an energy hungry world.
While Earth was undergoing its upheavals, the eyes of mankind were set somewhat higher. The first interplanetary wormhole was projected to Mars. But Mars was a desolate, dessicated, radiation-blasted wasteland with an asphyxiatingly thin atmosphere and caustic, toxic dust. No one wanted to go there. The other planets in the solar system were no better. So the wormholes started going to the stars.
Many countries jumped in the extra-stellar exploration game. Brazil, Iran, South Africa, Korea, Israel, England, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Russia. But it was four countries – the United States, China, India, and Europe – that came to dominate the exploration of the galaxy. For the incontestable physics of the wormhole was that it cannot form closed loops, since nature will not let causality be violated. A wormhole network must resemble a branching tree. Earth was its root node, and though the many countries set out twigs and branches, the four major nations outpaced them, surrounded them, and closed off further growth into the galaxy. These formed the major boughs of the network tree.
The Indian bough stretched toward the galactic center.
The Americans dashed toward the rim.
The Chinese set out spinward of the Indians, with the Americans to their spinward border.
And the Europeans claimed the remaining quadrant.
In their dash to claim territory and deny space to their rivals, they settled sparsely.
Selecting only the choicest of worlds to colonize, they leapfrogged ever onward in a scramble to end up, when the dust settled, with control over as much of the galaxy as they could for a more leisurely settlement and exploitation at later times.
Since they set off toward the rim, the outgoing wave of Americans soon crashed against this extra-galactic void. Rather than spreading radially outward, they moved along the galaxy's edge, beginning to encircle the magnificent spiral of the Milky Way.
They called these far-flung colonies on the edge of nowhere the Verge. Wild settlements, reminiscent of the myths of the Old West, with hopeful farmers and wildcat miners, crazy mountain men, criminals, confidence men, and folk fleeing the constraints and crushing pressure of civilization for reasons of their own. Honest folk formed small communities, traditionally minded, proud, fierce, and independent.
And these communities grew. And grew. And grew. As more people came through to farther flung colonies, many stayed to settle, do business with the would-be homesteaders, and make a life for themselves. Meanwhile, the ravages of climate change were still affecting the Earth, for despite the death of a fossil fuel economy the injuries already wrought took time to heal. Refugees from flooding, drought, wildfires, and the wars they spawned looked to make a home for themselves among the stars. So the Americans, with a history of welcoming immigrants of all kinds, soon had people of all backgrounds in their expanding territory, all pouring through the interstellar station at Spokane, WA with their hopes and dreams and what belongings they could salvage.
But the wars were not limited to Earth. At the boundaries between the great boughs, each country could try to capture territory already claimed by another. If you made a closed path, and your wormholes were stronger than theirs … well, its the weakest link in the chain that breaks. So it was not uncommon for one country to break off a part of the network of another and claim it as their own. If their newest acquisition did not quietly submit, then you send in the troops. If possible, the original nation would try to recapture their wayward fragments and knit them back in place. The fighting could be fierce, and the Americans at the spinward edge of their bough soon came to distrust and fear the Europeans, while those on the trailing edge held the same regard for the Chinese.
We now turn our attention to that branch of the network that linked through the world of Jefferson, on the American bough. A Chinese causality attack broke the American connection to Jefferson and allowed their own wormhole to connect to Garcia's World from Jiàngluò. This began two decades of Chinese occupation and colonization of this branch, until an American response re-opened the Jefferson wormhole and broke the Chinese connection. But it was not the Jiàngluò – Garcia's World wormhole that broke, but the wormhole from Zhǎngshān to the rest of the Chinese bough. This left the Americans with two extra worlds that were almost entirely ethnic Chinese, with Chinese culture and outlook and a sudden sense of alienation, embitterment, and anger at their conquerors.
It also left the originally American worlds with a significant Chinese population, who suddenly found themselves demoted from despised overlords to feared outsiders.
This, in itself, was just a sad if typical local history of a small part of the Human expansion into the Milky Way. What happened next was unique in the history of Humanity. Contact was lost with a scientific station at Kartanum. Then an outpost at Austen, the origin of the wormhole to Kartanum, fell silent, as its wormhole to Gateway closed off. Then Gateway was lost, and Homestead. A rapid response team was sent to Žemyna to force open the Žemyna-Homestead wormhole or, failing that, to prevent the "wormhole plague" from spreading any farther. For 50 megaseconds (a year and a half), engineers tried unsuccessfully to prise open that shut gate. Then, unexpectedly, it opened from the other side. The U.S. Army pushed through a battalion of troops to discover the colonists of Homestead in desperate battle with an alien invasion intent on eradicating them. A ploy by a small band of partisans, leveraging captured alien's technology, had disrupted the gate-clamp preventing the wormhole from opening.
The Army engaged these insectoid beings, established a beachhead at New Clarkston, and called for reinforcements. Soon, a brigade of Army soldiers were deployed to Homestead, made contact with the resistance, and pushed the aliens off the planet before re-taking Gateway, Austen, and Kartanum.
What they found was horrifying. All Humans on these three worlds had been ruthlessly exterminated.
This was Humanity's first contact with another space-faring sapient species. We had encountered the Mants.
It is difficult to reconstruct the early history of the Zox Hierate. It is shrouded in myth and official obscuration. Definitive sources, if they exist at all, are probably only found in secret libraries on Mantheim, and which have now in all likelihood been destroyed by the Squirm. Historians of the Verge are left with trying to interpret myths and legends and obscure artifacts and forge them into a cohesive picture. Here, then, is the consensus best guess for the rise of the Zox and the Mant expansion into their home Triangulum galaxy. Keep in mind that much of this is uncertain, and many scholars hold diverging opinions.
Note: names given are latinized translations, and may have little resemblance to the Mant pronunciations.
The Zhitkat Directorate, ruling body of Mantheim, was in the latter stages of decay and collapse; with ennobled hives enjoying a decadent existence ever more isolated from the developing anarchy and desperation of the rest of the world.
Into this spectre of collapse came Tzachi, a young hive with a talent for linguistics and scholorship, with patronage from some high ranking military factions. Several Tzachi researchers had come across an Antecessor compound with both a library and light industrial facility, still in working order despite the passage of geological eons. With characteristic hard work and penetrating genius, and the assistance of Antecessor translation software and autofacs, these Mants of Tzachi managed to acquire several pieces of advanced Antecessor technology and basic scientific and technological knowledge.
In the hands of their military allies, this allowed the Tzachi-faction to outmaneuver and outgun the other aristocratic factions - wormhole phones, disruptors, deflectors, and repulsor cars can have a devastating effect on an army to whom state-of-the-art technology is semaphores and arquebuses.
Perhaps more importantly, the Mants of Tzachi proved to be inspiring and charismatic, giving the huddled, terrified masses of Mantheim reason for hope in a glorious future as revealed by this gift from a long-vanished race, and rallying the support of the planet's populus.
The ensuing revolution was quick, and after the various societal convulsions had died away and the blood was washed off the walls, Tzachi Muk the First was proclaimed emperor to general support and enthusiasm.
Thus was born the Zox Hierate.
As so often happens, the initial euphoria faded and life went on. Those in power maneuvered to keep their power, establishing institutions to ensure their continued reign. Part of this included the near-worship of the Antecessors, with a priesthood overseeing the library and the emperor at their head. Thus was revealed wisdom distributed to the masses, and if this wisdom included teachings on a properly ordered society that, perhaps, might not have actually existed in the archives, who was to say otherwise? With a rapidly increasing standard of living, the promise of social stability, and plenty of opportunity for child hives, who would want to?
What follows is a long history of expansion. Wormholes were sent to neighboring star systems, then to their neighbors, and their neighbors' neighbors in an ever-growing tree. The expanding network spread through the Triangulum galaxy and the Zox became ever more set in their ways. They encountered no real competition. The few planet-locked sapient species they encountered were easily overcome - either exterminated, confined to reservations, or simply bypassed if their worlds did not offer the Mants much promise - at least until such time as the Zox decided they really did want that world after all. Over the centuries, their galaxy was settled. The frontier faded away into civilization, and the Hierate started seriously thinking about how to come to grips with changing their policies to accommodate this.
|The Physics and Tactics of Warfare Between Separate Wormhole Networks
- It is difficult for an attacker from one wormhole network to capture worlds from another network in a timely manner.
By destroying the wormhole to a conquered world, the defender can greatly slow down the attacker.
- The best way for an attacker to attack across a broken wormhole is to exploit any back doors that also link back to the same world.
- The Squirm used the wormhole communication system of the Mants and Gummis to get around broken wormhole links.
- Humans don't use wormholes for communication in the same way, so Squirm have been known to clandestinely abduct Humans, infect them with a mind-control parasite, implant a miniature wormhole in them, and set them loose to return home before beginning their invasion, in order to prevent a broken wormhole from stopping their advance.
|We have already seen that when a metropole projects out wormholes to colonies, the connection from the metropole to the colony takes you considerably forward in time as well as through space. For example, if the metropole and colony are 100 light years apart, going from the metropole to the colony will take you nearly a century into the future.
Now suppose the Squirm capture the colony. The metropole will want to immediately break the wormhole to the colony. They can always project another wormhole if they want to counter-attack, which will connect across the same time-lag … from the point of view of the colony and the metropole, only as much time will have elapsed as it takes for the wormhole mouth to travel there (0.1414 years, in the above example). On the other hand, if the Squirm want to advance onto the metropole, they will need to project their own wormhole. But they're already nearly 100 years ahead in time compared to the metropole – projecting their own wormhole back the other way would result in connecting to a time coordinate nearly another 100 years ahead of the colony's time. This gives the metropole two centuries to prepare for the invasion. Two centuries of industrial output and military buildup, to fight off an invasion force which the Squirm only have a month and a half to prepare for. Therefore, the major objective of the Squirm will be to capture the wormhole before it can be destroyed, and clamp it open. Otherwise, their invasion of the metropole will almost always fail.
In the wars of the Squirm with the Zox and the Gummis, the Squirm were able to exploit a back door. Both the Zox Hierate and the Gummis used Antecessor technology, including ultra-miniaturized wormholes. These tiny wormholes were used for wormhole phones. A phone connected to a base station via a wormhole, allowing nearly instantaneous communication between the phone and the station.
The station can then route your call to any other wormhole phone connected to the same station, or to other stations using wormholes between stations.
The station ensures time-balancing via time dilation of either end (using miniature cyclotron-like devices based on affectors) or, in extremis, lengthening the wormhole throat. This avoids causality-related collapse in a wormhole-rich environment.
Taking a wormhole phone through another wormhole automatically avoids issues with causality and allows you to communicate instantly across interstellar distances, since the phone wormhole picks up the exact same time lag as the transit wormhole as it goes through. This made them popular with travelers. When a Squirm captured a phone a traveler was using, however, this gave them a wormhole link back to the phone's station which they could enlarge and send an invasion through.
Humans don't use wormhole phones. They use microwave transmissions and fiber-optic guided lasers. At first, this stymied the Squirm in their war with the Humans of the Indian bough. They hit upon an insidious solution, though. They developed a mind-control parasite that infected Humans and Pannovas. Before beginning an invasion, they would covertly locate a Human (Pannovas were very rare in the Indian bough) from a different world, abduct him or her, infect him or her with the parasite, and implant a miniaturized wormhole. The parasite instilled an overwhelming desire to return home. Only when the target arrived home would the Squirm invasion begin, providing them with a concealed route to different Human worlds.
In the Verge, all polities forbid taking wormhole phones through wormholes. Human technology is used exclusively for inter-world communication (usually routed through the main transport wormhole). This is one of the few Human technologies the Zox will use. Even the Gummis, with their lack of most authoritarian political organizations, form public health and safety committees that enforce this ban – usually with the enthusiastic support of the public since Gummis remember all too well the devastation of the Squirm. In the Verge Republic, Transit Law and FERA are responsible for detecting, tracking down, and neutralizing parasite-controlled travelers.
Transit Law is also tasked with identifying and neutralizing covert Squirm operations before they can capture and infect citizens.
Local law enforcement and health authorities also act to prevent and intercept infected people in their jurisdiction before they can become a threat.
It is worth noting that if two distinct networks connect to each other with more than one wormhole, it will form a closed loop. This initiates a causality attack, and the weakest link within that loop will break. This may well result in some of the worlds changing which network they belong to.
The Gummis used this tactic extensively in their war with the Squirm. This allowed them to break pieces off the Squirm network and defeat them piecemeal, isolated from assistance of the concentrated force of the Squirm armed forces.
The answer was obvious. Send wormholes to Triangulum's sister galaxies to get more elbow room for a while. So in due course relativistic wormholes were launched at Andromeda and the Milky Way.
What they found there shook the Hierate to its foundations.
First, they ran into the Humans.
The initial Zox wormhole to the Milky Way arrived in a star system full of airless rockballs and distant gas and ice giants with frozen moons. Using this as a staging area, Zox wormholes were dispatched to various likely colony sites.
This expanding front soon came across the growing frontier of the American bough, and wild frontier towns and research institutes encountered the initial Mant expeditionary front.
Not used to dealing with alien sapients with technology any more advanced than chipped stones and sticks, the Mants tried to overwhelm the humans with brutal force.
That's when they found out that transparent deflector screens offer no protection against lasers.
While the Mants achieved early success against tiny outposts and fledgling colonies, the Human's own wormhole network allowed the rapid response of armed forces to the scene.
The Hierate fell back on doctrine, sending more troops and fighting vehicles to the front.
Humans were not used to actually facing Antecessor technology, and the psychology of meeting the technology of what were viewed as alien space gods came as quite a shock.
Nevertheless, the Humans soon rallied, and their more flexible doctrine and education played a decisive role.
Human officers adapted to the Zox tactics while the Zox kept using pages from the same playbook.
The Zox were pushed back, out-maneuvered, and out-gunned.
A de-facto neutral zone was soon established at the Mant wormhole to the Human colony worlds.
This encounter forced the Zox to come to grip with several uncomfortable facts - they were not the undisputed masters of the universe, there were effective ways of doing things and methods of technology that were not in the Antecessor library, and the universe could be a dangerous place. It took some time for these messages to get to much of the Hierate – the regional governor in charge of the expansion into the Milky Way was reluctant to report this embarrasing failure – but when it did the Zox were profoundly frightened.
The official policy was to limit contact as much as possible.
A select few ambassadors were allowed through the Zox wormholes, Humans were not allowed out without minders, and the Hierate officials reflexively tried to shut off any cultural contact between the Mants and Humans.
In the meantime, a race occurred along the outer rim of the Milky Way, as both Humans and Mants tried to colonize worlds before the others could get to them.
For some time, it looked like things would go on in this fashion, likely restricting the Zox to a narrow crescent of the galaxy's rim. This changed when the Mants ventured further into Andromeda and encountered the Squirm. The Squirm attacked the Zox relentlessly, driving them out of Andromeda and then pursuing them into Triangulum. The Zox rapidly lost ground, their wormhole systems crumbling under the assault, and Mantheim itself was overrun.
The flood of refugees soon overwhelmed the gatekeepers of the wormholes leading from Vox space to the Verge. Shattered remains of hives and even lone surviving Mant individuals managed to find their way through, willing to take their chances with the strange and frightening Humans rather than face certain violent death at the hands of the Squirm.
The Zox regional governors and diplomatic contacts refused to admit to the Humans that anything was wrong. "All normal here, thank you very much. Now mind your own business". The refugees told a very different story.
It became clear to the Humans that the Zox were becoming increasingly desperate.
It was not known how much longer they could hold out, nor what they might do to escape. The Human settlers prepared for attacks by fragments of the shattering Zox Hierate trying to flee to safety by capturing Human worlds, for a massive influx of Mant refugees once the social order broke down and the Mant masses could not be held back at the border wormhole gates, or for the Squirm to come swarming through.
One of the difficulties of studying Gummi history from a Human's perspective is that it is really boring. Gummis naturally get along, and they don't form authoritative power structures. So there are no kings, no warlords, no wars, no great empires struggling for dominance. Just peace and exploration and a sort of cultural homogeneity as the ever-curious Gummis travel among themselves and intermingle their ways and beliefs.
That said, there are several events of note in the Gummi's expansion from a planet-bound industrial society to a galaxy-spanning colonizer.
Gummis began their interstellar presence after happening upon an Antecessor outpost circling their star on a distant and inclined orbit. They managed to figure out how some of the equipment worked, then repulsor launched several wormholes to nearby stars to see what was out there.
The findings of the initial explorers fired the enthusiasm of the Gummi populace, giving rise to a vigorous exploration of their galaxy, a small spiral galaxy on the outskirts of the Local Group called NGC 3109.
To the Gummi's delight they encountered several pre-technological sapient species, some of which the Gummis were able to teach the trappings of technological civilization and which accompanied the Gummis to the stars.
Soon they had hopped to the neighboring Antlia Dwarf galaxy and sent wormhole probes to nearby Sextans A and Sextans B galaxies.
At Sextans A, they encountered trouble.
An implacable and rapacious species attacked without warning, mercy, or respite.
At first, Humans who learned this history called these beings the Brood - but, disturbingly, it turns out they already had a name.
The Brood pushed the Gummis out of the Sextans galaxies, smashed most Gummi settlements in Antlia Dwarf, and began to assault NGC 3109 directly.
The Gummis fought back.
Along with their more aggressive and war-like entrained allies (the Pirang and Tweechi), they developed the weapons and tactics and expertise that eventually began to turn the conflict around.
It was a long, brutal, scorched-earth war, but in the end the Gummis and their allies began to reclaim world after world, and eventually reconquer the territory they lost and overrun the Brood strongholds.
To the Gummi's disappointment, they never were able to learn much about the Brood way of life. They never surrendered, and even when captured after being restrained, sedated, or stunned they would struggle ceaselessly upon recovery until they battered themselves to death or died of exhaustion. As far as the Gummis could tell, the Brood were an entirely military species that existed only to conquer and destroy. They found no evidence of art, leisure, or compassion; just an overwhelming dedication to an expansionist military juggernaut.
Oddly, they found no evidence of where the Brood had come from - no homeworld, no evidence of old settlements, no evidence of their existence before the Gummis encountered them.
Sobered by their experience, the Gummis proceeded to cautiously send wormhole probes to galaxies deeper in the Local Group. Of considerable interest was the closest of the large spirals - the Milky Way.
The third world they visited had a growing colony of humans. Fortunately, given the recent experiences of both species with first contacts going bad (with the Mants of the Zox in the case of the Humans), the meeting was peaceful. Friendly relations were established, and the explorers traded blinky hovering gadgets for ice cream and hats.
Soon, many curious Gummis were visiting Human worlds to learn about these strange creatures that (from a Gummi point of view) had sticks inside them and walked on stilts.
Many Gummis immigrated to settle on Human worlds, and a smaller but not insignificant number of Humans emigrated to the Gummi's planets.
A Menace Revealed
News reached the Verge of an encounter with an alien species deep in the Indian bough. An Indian expedition was attacked and wiped out, then strange beings came swarming through the wormhole to slaughter everyone at mission control. From there a flood of these things crawled forth and began to wipe the planet clean. The swarm invaded four worlds, killing every sapient, until the authorities decided to purposely break the wormhole connections to the infected branch.
Footage of the aggressive alien species caused alarm bordering on panic among the Gummis and Mants of the Verge, because both of them recognized that alien. To the Mants, they were the Squirm, which had ravaged their homeworld and was relentlessly advancing across their home galaxy. To the Gummis, they were the Brood, which they had defeated at great cost in a war that stretched across galaxies. And now it was attacking the Humans.
The respite from breaking the wormhole to the Squirm-infected branch lasted about 300 megaseconds (10 years) – unfortunately, the distance spanned by that wormhole was not all that large compared to many. The Indian Armed Forces were waiting and ready when the Squirm assault finally came. But unexpectedly, the Squirm were able to assault several worlds in that branch at once. At first, Human scientists thought this was fundamentally impossible. Only later was it discovered how the Squirm achieved this feat (see box The Physics and Tactics of Warfare Between Separate Wormhole Networks). With Squirm rampaging far behind their lines, the Indian Armed Forces were outmaneuvered and largely destroyed. The Squirm began their advance down the Indian bough. Earth itself seemed to be in danger, and Humanity faced an existential threat.
A Bump in the Night
What Made the Bump?
Short answer - no one knows. But there are many ideas, some of them more sane than others.
- The Squirm did it. They used some sort of causality super-weapon. By breaking up the wormhole network into pieces they could attack each one individually, concentrating all their forces into a network fragment while the inhabitants can only fight back with what they have on hand.
- Earth did it. They used some sort of causality super-weapon. They did this to thwart the Squirm and save Earth from invasion and Humankind from extinction.
- The Gummis did it. They used some sort of causality super-weapon. Gummis had a history of skilled use of causality attacks against the Squirm and used this to keep the Squirm from entering their section of the Local Group again.
- The Antecessors did it. They used some sort of causality super-weapon. Maybe because they were upset at all of their children fighting and wanted to bring peace, unity, and a new age of enlightenment to the Local Group.
- It was all a conspiracy. There never was an Earth, or Mantheim, or Gummiland. History is all a lie, designed to ensure our servitude to the hidden masters that run the Verge.
- A naturally occurring wormhole, or a very strong alien wormhole megastructure, passed by the edge of the Milky Way. Scientists have analyzed the pattern of network fluctuations and have narrowed down the range of possible trajectories such a wormhole could have taken. The main argument against this is that it seems an awful coincidence that The Bump in the Night happened just as the Squirm were closing in on the Verge from two directions.
At 3G 138M 098k 194.354 532s CNT, automated monitoring systems on wormholes throughout the Verge logged a sudden onset of instabilities. This signature is common to causality attacks, but this time it was not confined to one wormhole cycle – it affected all wormholes, everywhere. Larger wormhole-connected distances, however, were more susceptible to its effect. Within microseconds, the wormholes connecting Garcia's World to Jefferson and the rest of the American bough, the Colonial Authority at Capital to the Triangulum Galaxy, and Gummi Space (via Grummer) to the NGC 3109 galaxy, all shattered. It is thought that this limited the extent of the wormhole connected region in the Verge enough that the oscillations could no longer build up to the point that the transit wormholes could be damaged. Nonetheless, many smaller colonies connected to the Verge with smaller, weaker wormholes were broken off. The main pulse was over in a few tens of microseconds, although ringing could be detected for milliseconds afterwards.
This is the event that would later be called The Bump in the Night.
The Verge had suddenly been cut off from the rest of the universe. The immediate damage was minor - each broken wormhole produced a high-speed jet of debris that blasted out about ten wormhole diameters (several hundred meters), but transit wormholes were designed with this failure mode in mind and damage to other facilities was minimized. While this was tragically fatal to anyone actually in the wormhole at the time, most people simply read about this on the news and society seemed to go on.
But serious damage had been done. The Verge worlds were no longer able to trade with the wider universe for the things that they needed.
Rustic backwaters like the Verge didn't have the industry to build aircars or microchips of produce fertilizer or all the other stuff that society needs in order to run.
Further, a lot of people kept their money in off-world banks. This was money that they could no longer access. Businesses could no longer pay their employees.
People with health issues no longer had access to vital medications manufactured off-world.
What they had was a lot of cropland - more than enough to feed everyone a hundred times over, mines for minerals they could no longer use, and a lot of equipment that could no longer be repaired or replaced when it ran out.
At first, people expected a rescue wormhole would be sent. Or maybe Chinese occupiers would come through the wormhole that initiated the causality attack. But that never happened. No one came. The Verge was cut off and completely alone.
Its Good to be Root
The natural tree structure of wormhole networks has significant consequences to the economic, political, and cultural evolution of the resulting societies. To get between distant parts of the network, all trade is forced to travel down its branches to the main trunk and to the root node before going up a different trunk to reach its destination. The wealth that is funneled through the root serves to enrich the influentials of the root world, through taxes, tariffs, and forcing merchants to use their services.
The nexus location of the root world makes it a natural center of administration. This is reinforced by the ability to more effectively respond to events and exert control elsewhere in the network. Where the root world was not initially a significant place of government, it often becomes one.
The central location of the root makes it attractive to businesses, as it gives them easier access to more markets. This draws not only wealth, but also talent in the form of skilled employees.
These latter then demand a strong system of education, both for the benefit of the businesses and for the employee's offspring.
The concentration of wealth produces disposable income that can support artists, who cater to the need for entertainment of the highly educated crowd.
As a consequence, the root world becomes a place of learning, arts, and sciences
All of these effects accrue to a lesser extent to worlds near the root node, particularly those that lie on major branch points. This encourages colonies to expand the network around them so that they themselves become a more central location and produce a lucrative flow of trade through their ports.
The root world and more centralized locations also support this, as ultimately it results in more wealth passing through them as well and further enriching their citizens and power brokers.
The wealthy and influential are thus encouraged to support the status quo, and those who are not yet wealthy have the promise of one day being wealthy under the current regime.
In this way, alternatives to the dominant paradigm are either neglected or actively suppressed even if they were not disadvantaged by physics itself. Proposals to create closed loops by, for example, sending the mouths of a wormhole through the wormhole network itself in order to automatically correct for the induced time lag tend to receive little support (admittedly, they would also result in either long and arduous space journeys or the need for frequent rebalancing of the wormhole links along the loop with all the resulting delays and inconveniences that would entail, while simultaneously increasing the chance of a catastrophic collapse).
The first task was for the local authorities to prioritize their efforts. Electric power, at least, was secure in the short term – generators based on non-orientable wormholes use only negligible amounts of hydrogen for fuel, and hydrogen is readily available nearly everywhere.
But if the generators were to break, society would be plunged into the dark ages.
Likewise, you need to get personnel and equipment where you need them, so the transportation fleet was critical. As were sewer systems, municipal water purification and distribution, power transmission, hospitals, waste management, telecommunications, records access, emergency response, and various different parts of the infrastructure that lets society run.
States of emergency were declared. Small scale fabricators and machine shops were pressed into service making sure vital parts didn't run out. Innovators and tinkerers began to figure out ways to supply necessary goods that were in short supply.
It was vital to get an economy working again. While the Zox could continue issuing imperial chips and the decentralized Gummis could just go on using their individually issued promissory work certificates, the Human worlds needed a currency not backed by an institution that was completely inaccessible. Individual world governments began issuing currency, initially under the promise that, once contact was restored, it could be traded for U.S. dollars. This did not last long until the Human governments across the Verge agreed on a common, trans-world monetary system to ease trade and finances and speed recovery.
All the tractors and logging equipment and boring tools and other products of heavy industry could not be fully duplicated. The Verge simply did not have the technology and industrial base to produce instruments of the precision and sophistication that were made on Earth, or Mantheim, or Gummiland. So, as these began to run down, the people of the Verge began to manufacture cruder replacements. Replacements that were good enough to get the job done, if maybe not as efficient and definitely not as comfortable. The new batteries didn't have the same capacity, maintenance needs were increased, they needed to be controlled by sapient operators, and don't expect to have a music player in the cabin with you.
Soon, these efforts morphed into dedicated factories. Meanwhile, most of the scientific knowledge of Earth and Mantheim and the Gummi civilization were stored in libraries and local universities around the Verge. People used these to figure out how to start up chemical production facilities, bio-reactors, microchip fabricators, and other capital needed for an industrial society.
The wormholes within the Verge were still working. Keeping them working was vital. When breakdowns occurred or parts wore out, clever men and women (and Pannovas, Gummis, etc.) figured out how to jury rig the equipment to keep it going. Elegant sealed slabs of molecular-scale control circuits became tangled masses of wires and ducts and whirring fans. HUD readouts and digital displays gave way to blinking indicator lights with toggle switches labeled with tape and marker pen. But the wormholes held. Each world could allow its industries to specialize in what they were best at, and trade with the other worlds for what it was most efficient for those worlds to make.
Over hundreds of megaseconds (multiples of 3 years), the available level of technological development improved. Computers with useful displays became integrated into products, re-configurable auto-facs started supplying well-engineered machines, and user safety and convenience increased. Perhaps more importantly, these were now being mass-produced, and became available to the people at affordable prices. The Verge was still not at the level of Earth before The Bump in the Night, and it probably would not be for a great many gigaseconds (multiples of 30 years) to come.
But the immediate crisis was over. People now had washing machines and clothes to wash in them, robots and aircars, and all the other niceties of civilized life.
The Colonial Authority of the Zox Hierate had kept order in Mant Space throughout the chaos following The Bump in the Night. Initially significantly weakened, as they pieced their society back together they saw the opportunity to wipe out the pesky humans, now disorganized and cut off from their Earth protectors. They launched an attack across the wormholes from Rhuzzit to Gateway. Warned of the attack by a Mant defector hive, the Gators were ready along with impromptu citizen militias volunteered from several neighboring worlds. The defenders managed to fight off the attack, with heavy loss of life.
The Human and Pannova worlds of the Verge realized they were threatened by multiple adversaries – both the Zox and the Squirm – and needed each other for mutual defense. All the worlds except for Zhǎngshān agreed to form a republic for self protection.
A constitutional assembly was called, and after a period of discussion and debate a Constitution of the Verge Republic was written, signed, and agreed to by the governments of its member worlds. The constitution was largely based on that of the United States of America, with important concessions to Jiàngluò to ensure the protection of their culture and language.
The Gummi worlds were invited to join, but in typical Gummi fashion they elected to remain without a strong central government. 300 megaseconds (a decade) later, a different political party on Zhǎngshān came to power and formally requested admission to the Verge Republic*. After debate in the House and Senate, this request was accepted and Zhǎngshān was given full status as a Republic world. This move has been controversial on Zhǎngshān ever since.
Terminology Note: The citizens of the Verge Republic call themselves Republicans. This has no relation to the Republican political party in the modern United States, nor does it mean that they endorse the platform of the modern Republican Party.
Once people's bellies were full and they had some assurance of stability and employment, thoughts turned to what was lost. For Humans, this resulted in a period of turning back to the culture of old Earth - not just learning about it, but trying to live it. Before The Bump in the Night, the Verge Humans were proudly independent and tended to think of themselves as forging a new path forward. Afterward, they sought connection with their ancestral ways. This was the Earth Heritage Revival movement. People would learn the old languages of their people, try to work out the proper traditions, become devoutly religious, or even revive old religions long dead.
This period of searching and longing and introspection lasted several hundred megaseconds (multiples of 3 years) at its most intense, but never entirely faded. Humans still look back on Earth as a revered homeworld, a promised land where everything was, if not always better, at least seen through rose-colored glasses.
It was in this time that new wormhole projectors started to come on-line. Some wanted to re-connect with Earth, others feared that The Bump in the Night was the only thing that saved them from Squirm extermination and that contact with former Human or Mant worlds would just open the Verge up to a Squirm invasion. Eventually, the pro-contact faction had their way. A wormhole was sent to re-connect Garcia's World to Jefferson. Wormhole dynamics meant that when the wormhole arrived at Jefferson, some 24 gigaseconds (760 years) had passed on Jefferson since contact was lost, although only 1 gigasecond (30 years) elapsed in the Verge's CNT. The Jeffersonians had not fared well. Society had completely collapsed and people were eking out an existence at a stone-age to medieval level of technology, using whatever relics of the old world they could find and still use. The fact that Jefferson had not re-contacted the Earth-rooted network in this time was very discouraging (it would take much less time from Jefferson's point of view for a wormhole to be sent in the same direction as the previous one from the American bough, as opposed to the opposite direction from Garcia's World). Most people assumed that Earth, or at least the vast Earth-rooted wormhole network, was utterly lost. For the safety of everyone in the Verge, it was decided that no further attempts would be made to contact other worlds from that old network in the foreseeable future.
It did not, however, prevent people from exploring previously neglected worlds in the Verge territory of the Milky Way, or worlds that had previously been a part of the network downstream from Jefferson that had broken off during The Bump in the Night.
Yes, you can kiss an alien space princess
In the past gigasecond or so (30 years), there has been an increased emphasis on exploring solar systems within or near Verge territory. Many of these are lost Human colony worlds. Due to the rich variety of pre-Bump in the Night Humanity (see the subsection on Genetic Engineering in the Human Technology section), it would not be unusual for surviving humans to have exotic traits, like blue skin or pointed ears. The sudden shock of being cut off from the rest of civilization almost certainly led to extreme hardship and probably caused social collapse. A century (or several centuries, due to relativistic strangeness) of isolation is plenty of time for aristocrat-dominated societies and hereditary rulers to arise from the ashes.
And if the heroes happen to meet a beautiful alien space princess in distress … well, these things sometimes happen.
A probe wormhole has been sent to the Gummi home galaxy of NGC 3109. Since NGC 3109 is 4000 exameters (4.2 million light years) away, even when projected at a speed of 99.999% the speed of light it is not expected to arrive for 600 gigaseconds (19 thousand years). Worse, if it does arrive, it will be to a galaxy some 265 teraseconds (8.4 million years) after the one the Gummis left to come to the Milky Way. It is hoped the wormhole never arrives - it is mostly being used to detect if a rescue wormhole has been launched from NGC 3109. It will do this by breaking, since the two crossing wormholes will be in the process of creating a time machine. The probe wormhole was therefore engineered to be very fragile, since they don't want the rescue wormhole to be the one that breaks instead.
Several times since The Bump in the Night, the Squirm have attempted entry into the Verge. A wormhole from somewhere else (and no one knows where) lands stealthily on a planet, and Squirm make a hidden forward base. They will try to establish alternate wormholes to other worlds in the network, using microscopic com-wormholes and sending them through the existing transit wormholes by some means – all too often by using their mind-parasite trick. So far, the Squirm have always been caught before their plans could succeed, although on a few tragic occasions individual worlds have been lost. It is thought that after establishing a back door in this way (or perhaps several), the Squirm invasion would begin. Picket wormholes are currently being set up to rapidly detect future Squirm incursions, but the adaptability and malice of the Squirm should not be underestimated.
The Zox and the Verge Republic continue to be at loggerheads. Neither trusts the other. The Zox see the Republic as a threat to their traditions and world view, a challenge to their ultimate authority, and rightfully theirs to conquer. The Republic views the Zox as a dangerous and unstable threat, and guilty of massive violations of sapient rights. On several occasions, Zox diplomats have attempted to smuggle com wormholes across the transit wormhole from Gateway to Kartanum (en route to Gateway), presumably in preparation for an invasion. Occasionally, these smuggling attempts succeeded and were only caught some time after the fact.
In addition, the Zox have mounted many sabotage and espionoge missions against the republic. They recruit local agents by a variety of means - money, blackmail, threats of harm to the agent or their family, or playing on ideology or ego or old grudges or sense of adventure. These agents are involved in missions to undermine the Republic in various ways – such as assassination, destruction of infrastructure, spreading propaganda or misinformation, or collecting intelligence that could compromise Republic security.
In the Verge Republic, tensions between people of Chinese descent or culture and other ethnicities has largely vanished. China has not been a threat for a long time, and people have greater worries. One's ancestry from old Earth has as little bearing on Verge attitudes as being of Irish or Slavic descent has in 21st century America. People are proud of their Chinese heritage, and Chinese New Year is celebrated Verge-wide as much as Saint Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo.
It has been over 3 gigaseconds (a century) since contact was lost with the rest of the Local Cluster. Most people alive in the Verge do not remember The Bump in the Night. They consider themselves citizens of the Republic or the Zox, or inhabitants of Gummi Space. Earth, Mantheim, and Gummiland are distant if revered memories and the worlds they live on are home. This is the reality of billions of people living in an isolated island of the Milky Way. This is the Verge.
* This description is rather sanitized – there was considerable interference in the election and influence from Republic worlds. This has contributed to the resentment of many of the people of Zhǎngshān towards the Republic.
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