Science and Technology

General Considerations on Science and Technology

The Vergeworlds setting is intended to be hard superscience. A very limited set of scientific miracles are allowed beyond our current understanding of the way the universe works, but the setting makes an attempt to rigorously explore the implications of those miracles, and how they interact with what is already known about the way the world works. Vergeworlds allows two miracles: wormholes and affectors.

Wormholes are valid solutions of Einstein's field equations in general relativity. No one knows how to make one, but if they could be made a number of really smart people have put a lot of thought into how they would behave. Vergeworlds leverages that previous work and incorporates it into the setting.

Affectors have no scientific justification. There is no hint that something like this can exist. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. An alien view of the universe could potentially come up with scientific principles different from anything Humanity has achieved. Affectors allow many of the flashy conceits of space opera – hovercraft, tractor beams, force shields. But every attempt is made to rigorously work out what would happen if they were used, limitations, and unintended side effects. For example, if you can see through your deflector screen that means light can get through it. Therefore, don't expect it to protect you from laser beams.

Human Technology

Unique among known technological sapients, Humans did not directly copy Antecessor technology. They got by on their own wits and ingenuity for tens of gigaseconds (multiples of three centuries) until encountering the Gummis. Although they are now cooperating with Gummi engineers to merge Human and Antecessor tech, what they accomplished in the meantime has been remarkable.

A brief history of life

Life in the broad sense is fairly common. Microbes can be found living nearly anywhere there is liquid water and a source of energy. They arise spontaneously under suitable natural conditions in a relatively short time span on geological scales. Near-biotic complexes undergo rapid optimization to a local fitness maximum that incorporates a near-universal biochemistry base, including a lipid bilayer membrane, proteins assembled from the same set of amino acids, double-stranded DNA as a template for assembling proteins, RNA serving an intermediate role in DNA transcription, ATP for energy transfer, proton pump respiration, and metabolism of fats, sugars, and amino acids. Even the chirality of amino acids and sugars is specified in this fitness maximum due to minor effects of the weak nuclear force on chemistry.

The near universality of life can be obscured, however, by the artificial transport of living organisms that occurs when a sapient species discovers wormholes and spreads through space, a process known as panspermia. Two major groups of microbes, the archaea and bacteria, are found throughout the Local Group (and perhaps beyond), and nearly all complex organisms are the product of a long-ago symbiosis of these two groups to produce eukaryotic cells. Life forms beyond these basic classes can be found, but typically only in isolated refugia within a sea of bacteria and archaea. On Earth, the remains of clades of life from indigenous abiogenesis are evidenced by the presence of certain varieties of virus, adapted to a parasitic role after being out-competed for other niches by the alien microbes.

The most well-known of the panspermia events in the Local Group of galaxies occurred between -18Ps to -16Ps CNT (570 to 510 million years ago), when the Antecessors were active. Where Antecessors went, animals and fungi followed. Escaped pets or pests, in the form of worms and bugs, became established on worlds throughout all galaxies so far explored. On Earth, this invasion was known as the Cambrian explosion, a sudden proliferation of complex life in the fossil record. The native Earthlings – gelatinous, sessile, quilted mat-like creatures called Vendobionts – were quickly eaten into extinction by the more advanced true animals that took over the planet, and a world-wide ecosystem of bacterial mats was (literally) overturned by burrowing action of the animals.

It is noteworthy, however, that the Vendobionts were not the only native Earthlings. Another group, the plants, evolved independently on Earth as well and came to share the planet with their invasive animal neighbors. Other worlds have no true native plants. Some will have evolved their own large, complex autotrophes (creatures that synthesize their own food from ambient energy present in the environment). On others, animals or fungi will have evolved to take the autotroph role - usually by undergoing symbiosis with some variety of photosynthetic microbe. Since the expansion of Humanity throughout the Milky Way galaxy, however, plants have been spread far and wide.

There is no evidence of further panspermia events involving Earth after the disappearance of the Antecessors until the expansion of Humanity into the galaxy. This means that while many worlds will have chordates and arthropods, only Earth has vertebrates or insects or arachnids or crustaceans, except insofar as those phyla have been spread by Humans. Despite the hugely popular flights of fancy propagated by entertainment media, there is nowhere in the galaxy that you will find non-avian dinosaurs or alien cat-people that are curiously compatible with Human reproductive biology.

Biological Science

The study and understanding of the underpinnings of life has allowed Humans to manipulate the basis of life itself.

Genetic Engineering: Gene editing tools allow engineers to modify living organisms, or even create new organisms de novo. Crops and livestock can be modified to survive under harsh environmental conditions, produce higher yields, resist diseases, and be more nutritious. Algae and bacteria can be created to grow in bioreactors and produce useful pharmaceuticals or chemicals. Novelty pets can be built, gene by gene.

Gene drives are genetic modifications that are designed to quickly spread through any population of sexually reproducing organism. The modification ensures that it is passed on to all of the modified organism's progeny, rather than just half as would be expected by Mendelevian genetics. In this way, a given genetic modification can be introduced to an entire population after several reproductive cycles. This tool can be used to drive populations, or entire species, extinct – for example, by ensuring that all offspring are male. In practice, designing an effective gene drive is expensive and a lot of work, and populations eventually evolve resistance to a particular gene drive so that to gain complete coverage a coordinated and sustained campaign must be waged, so it is only used when there is a strong motivation. But it has achieved some notable successes, such as the complete eradication and extinction of the malaria mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae complex) and yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes genus).

Before The Bump in the Night, it was not uncommon to modify the Human germ line. At first, it was used to prevent genetic diseases from being passed on to the next generation. As time went on, it was used to enhance one's offspring, in an attempt to make Humans stronger, more enduring, or smarter. It is arguable how much these latter efforts succeeded, as the more obvious changes tended to come with side effects that reduced the fitness of the child. In time, Human genetic engineering was being used for nothing more than vanity and decoration – point years, exotic-looking eyes, furry skin, bumpy foreheads, tiger or zebra stripes or leopard spots, even striking blue or red skin could all be found in various populations. Since losing contact with Earth and the rest of the Earth-rooted network tree, this frivolity had largely passed. Interbreeding with the base stock and each other has diluted these exotic genes so that they are less common, but you still have occasional populations made up of designer appearances.

Agriculture: As described in the previous section, most food crops have been modified to better thrive in their environment and produce higher yields. Pests can be fought with gene drives or targeted diseases engineered to attack only the problem species. Most farming and ranching is performed to a large extent by robots, with sapient beings acting as overseers of the robot fleet. While a lot of farming is done in traditional fields outdoors, in some areas it is beneficial to grow food in enclosed, environmentally controlled buildings to maximize yields and reduce water use, fertilizer runoff, and exposure to pests and diseases. Conversely, many people living in urban areas tend a small plot or hydroponics garden to have fresh local food they grew with their own hands.

In addition to traditional staples like grains, orchard fruit, vegetables, beef, pigs, and chicken, agriculture in the Verge includes a substantial amount of aquaculture (farming seaweed and ranching fish and shellfish) and insect farming (most commonly crickets, mealworms, locust grasshoppers, and the Blaptica dubia cockroach). Synthetic foods are increasingly available, produced from algae or bacteria grown in bioreactors and processed into nutritious imitation foodstuffs or novel taste sensations. Meat from tissue cultures is also popular on many worlds, although it is largely limited to ground meat products like hamburger, sausage, and chicken nuggets. In principle you could grow a sirloin steak using the same methods used for regenerative medicine, but the cost would be prohibitive.

Medicine: advances in genetics, understanding development, and the nature of life mean it is possible to cure most diseases and recover from most non-lethal injuries, and in much less time than natural healing would take. Known infectious diseases have preventative vaccines or cures. Cancers can be fought and largely eradicated. Lost body parts can be grown in the lab and re-attached, providing full functionality after several megaseconds (months). Many metabolic, autoimmune, and lifestyle diseases can be cured or mitigated, from diabetes and dementia to chronic lack of exercise.

Diagnosis is greatly enhanced by advanced MRI and ultrasound scanners, as well as rapid, convenient tissue chemistry assays and on-demand gene sequencing. Combined with an expert system AI, a portable tool the size of a large book can identify most diseases and injuries.

Increased medical technology means that most people can be active and healthy for at least 3 to 4 gigaseconds (100 to 130 years), with expected lifespans on the order of 5 gigaseconds (160 years). Before The Bump in the Night, medical technology on old Earth had advanced to the point where it was thought that aging no longer led to death and disability, but the Verge has yet to return to that level of accomplishment.

Naturally, Humans have the greatest understanding of Human biology. Pannovas are sufficiently biologically similar that they can benefit from the same medical advances. All known sapient species are descended from the same worms and bugs distributed by the Antecessors, so some aspects of Human medicine work on other species. However, much does not and figuring out how to extend these gifts to the other sapients of the Verge is an area of active research.

Computers and Electronics

Computation uses a combination of molecular scale classical computing merged with quantum processors. Classical circuits use a combination of electrical signals, light, and plasmons to convey signals and perform logic steps needed for computation. The performance of classical computing has plateaued for some time, with only incremental progress over the gigaseconds (decades). Most improvements have come from building quantum processors that can handle more and more qubits.

Machine learning algorithms allow computers to perform many tasks that were once the exclusive province of organic sapient beings. They can reliably recognize objects, respond to and use natural language, learn from their mistakes, and master skills involving uncertain information with complex changing rules and conditions. So far, although computers are remarkable at solving particular tasks, no computer has been made or programmed that has true volition and free will. They do what they are designed to do, although with machine learning they may do it in surprising and unexpected ways. A computer program may fool the naive into not realizing it is a computer, but with experience most people can recognize the tell-tale giveaways except in contrived situations.

Computation works to assist people in doing their jobs, freeing them from tedious and mundane tasks to allow people to contribute what they are best at – creativity, ethics, common sense, and high level decision making. In this way, computers greatly increase the productivity of a person for cognitive tasks, so that one clerk or researcher or police inspector can do the work of what used to require tens or hundreds of people.

Energy Storage and Generation

Energy storage in the Verge typically uses a persistent supercurrent around a toroidal superconductive solenoid (a doughnut-shaped loop with electric current running around the doughnut tube going through the hole in the middle and then back to the outside circumference). This stores energy in a magnetic field that is entirely confined within the solenoid. The interaction of the generated field with the current that creates it acts to blow the solenoid apart, so the limit on the stored energy is set by the material strength of the support structure holding the solenoid together. Carbon nanotube high-tensile fabric is generally used for support – with adequate safety margins, this solenoid energy storage can store up to 20 MJ/kg. It can charge or discharge nearly instantly if required, with nearly 100% charge-discharge cycle efficiency.

The same technology can also be used for explosives with an order of magnitude higher yield than nitrated organics such as TNT, PETN, or nitroglycerine. The support structure of an over-energized solenoid is intentionally breached, allowing the field-current interaction to violently fling the particulate remains of the solenoid to produce a powerful blast and fireball. The detonation of a solenoid explosive is distinguishable from that of chemical explosives because a bright blue-white arc flash is produced at the moment of detonation.

Grid-scale energy generation usually uses non-orientable wormholes to produce antimatter on the fly and react it with matter while containing the dangerous penetrating radiation within the wormhole's contorted space-time geometry. This has long ago replaced nearly all other generation mechanisms for municipal electricity production without the pollution of burning coal or hydrocarbons, the long-lived radioactive waste of fission, the annoying intense neutron radiation of fusion, or the ecosystem-destroying impoundments of hydroelectric dams (although dams are still used for flood control and water storage – and where this is needed they may also include hydroelectric turbines to produce electricity as a side benefit). A rare alternative uses the near-critical collapse of a wormhole filled with boron-11 enriched boric acid to initiate proton-boron fusion, although these reactors tend to be even more finicky than those based on non-orientable wormholes.

Despite clean and cheap grid electricity, many people also produce their electricity locally. This is more common in rural areas where the penetration of the electric grid is lacking, and where the people tend to be more bloody-minded independent and less trusting of centralized organizations. Heterojunction photovoltaic cells allow durable solar panels of around 60% efficiency at turning light into electric energy for relatively low cost. Micro wind turbines and free-flow hydro turbines are also used as an alternative for when the sun is not shining in areas with access to regular winds or reliable water currents. Excess energy produced during sunny days or periods of high winds is stored in superconductive solenoids for later use.

Lasers

Humans are the only known sapient species to have effectively exploited stimulated emission as a technology. Amplified light by stimulated emission – lasers – are ubiquitous within Human technology, with far ranging applications including sensing, communication, displays, computation, and data storage. This allows remarkable control over the properties of light, from diffraction-limited beams to complex visual holograms.

The most dramatic application for lasers is as a directed energy weapon. Human lasers are notorious for being able to shoot right through deflector screens (although affector-reinforced material armor is effective against them). The laser weapons of the modern Verge have still not caught up with the frightening effectiveness of those of old Earth, such that projectile weapons and disruptors are still competitive against them in direct-fire applications. Legacy weapons in good working order from before The Bump in the Night can sell for astronomical prices.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing in the Verge is mostly performed by automated factories, which print, shape, grow, and surface treat pieces to be assembled by robots when they are not manufactured in place. Smaller versions of these assemblers are common in most houses to make incidental tools, pieces, and devices; but industrial scale assemblers can make mass produced goods more cheaply. Convenience may trump price when you need a spatula or an odd-shaped fitting for your deck, but for large, complex, and expensive items most people buy retail.

Material Science

One of the biggest changes from mid-21st century technology is that metals are rarely used as structural materials. Most structures are made out of exotic carbon allotropes or blends of nano-structured light elements engineered to optimize a particular set of material properties. These super materials are both much stronger and significantly lighter than steel. This gives, for example, automobiles that not only are lighter and more efficient, but whose fenders bounce back to their original shape without damage after a minor collision.

Surfaces can be engineered to have remarkable properties. Superhydrophobic surfaces instantly shed water as liquids simply roll off them with no adhesion or wetting. Self cleaning surfaces can act through superhydrophobic action allowing dust to efficiently be removed by the skittering water droplets, or photo-catalytically with ultraviolet light (from sunlight, for example) degrading grease, grit, and organic residue. Scratch and corrosion resistance are common. Other surfaces can be made instantly and reversibly sticky, mimicking gecko feet in adhering to a wide variety of materials and supporting significant weight. There are, of course, even other surface coverings that the sticky ones can't stick to, but these come at the expense of not allowing other surface modifications to be used.

Room temperature superconductors allow not only lossless transmission of energy, but high capacity electrical energy storage using toroidal solenoids.

Mining

Wormholes have made it easy to access other planets and asteroids. Metal asteroids, and the occasional planet lacking a crust, are rich sources of the siderophile elements – notably, gold, silver, platinum-group metals, tungsten, iron, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and molybdenum. With a solar mirror or NOW generator an entire asteroid can be zone-refined and the economical sections cut out and transported back to market via the wormhole (with the mass deficit made up by shipping an equal mass of slag, trash, or rubble the other way). The demand for platinum-group metals as catalysts has driven down the prices of other siderophiles. In the Verge, gold and silver are common and inexpensive. Gold or gold-silver alloys have replaced lead in applications where density or maleability are the driving considerations, since gold is both denser than lead and non-toxic.

The most valuable elements are the chalcophiles which are not also lithophiles or siderophiles in a different chemical form or oxidation state. These are most easily found on tectonically active terrestrial planets with oceans where geology and hydrology has refined and concentrated them over billions of years into patchy regions of valuable ores. These sought-after elements include copper, bismuth, arsenic, galium, mercury, indium, tin, antimony, selenium, telurium, tantalum, and zinc. When rich veins of valuable chalcophiles are found, entire mountains may be dug away or immense pits excavated deep into the crust to extract them.

Also valuable are the so-called rare earth elements: yttrium and the lanthanides. Despite their name, these are not rare. They are, however, difficult to extract from the surrounding rock and do not generally become concentrated into rich ores. Mining rare earth elements involves processing large quantities of rock, and consequently leaves behind a large expanse of tailings.

Robotics

Robots are common tools used by Humans to perform repetitive, boring, or dangerous work, work requiring high precision or strength, tasks requiring long periods of attention, or just for novelty. There are many kinds of robot, ranging from automated lawn mowers or vacuum cleaners to hover drones, legged light cargo transports, and sophisticated androids that can perform nearly any physical task a Human is capable of.

Much of the challenge of producing useful robots are the computational algorithms needed for even simple, everyday interaction with the environment. Robots of the Verge are able to sense and interpret their surroundings, navigate, and automatically plan actions to interact with this sensed environment. This includes grasping and manipulating objects. Robots are engineered using bio-mechanical principles for efficient motion; movement seems smooth and natural.

There are various methods of locomotion available for robots – legs, wheels, hybrids of legs and wheels, tracks, tilt-rotors, quadrotors, airfoils with propellers, hoverfans … any contrivance used on a vehicle can be used for a robot, and others besides. The most common are legs, wheels, and whisper quadrotors (quadrotors engineered for low noise levels).

Robots often need to manipulate their surroundings. Many are simply equipped with a specialized tool related to their job – a shovel, jackhammer, squeegee and spray-bottle, lawnmower and weed-eater attachment, and the like. Others have general purpose arms or flexible tentacles.

Actuation is performed by electric motors or elastomer muscles. Pneumatics and hydraulics are only used for special-purpose designs.

When one robot is insufficient, it is common to find robot swarms. These communicate with each other, and possibly a central controller, for coordinated collective motion and action.

Higher-level cognitive function is provided either by a drone operator or a computer. Computers allow for truly autonomous robots, capable of performing tasks without sapient supervision. See the section on Computers and Electronics for details on the capability of computers.

Much as computers enhance the productivity of people for cognitive tasks by offloading tedious and repetitive chores, robots can greatly increase the output of a single person in physical fields such as manufacturing, mining, forestry, and agriculture. A single overseer can give commands to dozens or hundreds of robots who will carry out the physical labor instead of sapient employees. Thus, even though the population of the Verge is much less than that of modern Earth (there has only been enough time for the population to grow to several hundred million people), they can exceed the industrial output of 21st Century Earth by a considerable margin.

Entertainment

People use a variety of technologies to keep themselves entertained.

Holographic screens can produce realistic three-dimensional-seeming images, but only if the line of sight to the image goes through the screen. The easiest way to do this is make the screen look like a window into the world you are watching. However, sometimes holo-vids have the images come out of the screen toward the viewer, although this is only effective if the viewer is more-or-less in front of the screen.

Media for holoscreens are called holo-vids. They can either be filmed with live-action holo-cameras or simulated with advanced computer animation. Passive entertainment is consumed by downloading a holo-vid onto one's computer. It is generally agreed that large screen displays and high quality speakers from a home computer give a better overall experience than trying to watch on a handheld, but boredom and lack of opportunity (or just sheer laziness) often result in watching shows on the small screen. Some people prefer to watch through their HUD goggles or glasses, setting them to screen mode to produce the illusion of a large screen in a blank area.

Virtual reality is also a common way to escape the drudgery of the world for a while. The ubiquity of heads-up display goggles or glasses makes the display easy – just sit back and let your glasses show you the story. More participatory games or experiences let you walk around the room and look at things. These are largely limited by the ability to fool your sense of touch, balance, and proprioception. Tools to do this, called haptics, exist. However, the main advances in this field have come with combining Human HUD and VR technology with Antecessor affectors and Gummi electro-odorants to give a truly immersive experience. For a true sense of immersion in an artificial world, you can enter a VR room, which uses a combination of holo-screens and speakers on all the walls, soli-displays and affector haptics that can be projected throughout the room, electro-odorants, and affectors that can fool your sense of balance and acceleration. Household VR rooms are becoming increasingly popular as their price comes down to affordable levels. A well designed VR experience is nearly indistinguishable from actually being there. The most difficult aspect to capture accurately is simulating the behavior of other sapients in the environment. While computers are getting better at this, there are still usually cues that can tip off the savvy observer.

Species that rely more on their sense of smell than humans do are not as able to fully immerse themselves in the experience without using Gummi technology (which they developed separately from the Antecessor tech they also cart around). The Gummis, with their alien technology, often watch shows on soli-displays (affector-field produced shapes that manipulate light through the matter trapped in them). Soli-displays are not able to offer the same depth and sweep of spectacle and scenery, but they can be touched. Gummis don't get a real sense of immersion without the proper scents in the air (or on the things they touch), so they have developed quite an industry of mimicking odors for entertainment.

For music, a lifetimes worth of tunes can be stored on a hand computer and played over speakers or earbuds. True audiophiles will invest in much more extensive sets of equipment, of course.

Transportation

Transportation beyond the wormhole network (see below) is handled by personal vehicles, mass transit, or walking (or, for Tweechis, flying).

Personal vehicles mostly consist of electric-powered wheeled vehicles. In dense urban areas, these may be scooters, motorcycles, or one- or two-person commuter pods. In more rural areas where the roads may be unreliable, off-road capability is common. To get between them, comfortable family cars may be used. Most personal vehicles have an electric motor at each wheel to allow all-wheel drive, and actively controlled suspension at each wheel for advanced traction control and improved all-terrain capability – if needed, the vehicle can "walk" with its wheels out of a sticky situation. Almost all vehicles manufactured in the Verge are capable of autonomous driving. Many people don't even know how to drive since their cars or pods do it all for them. The exception to self-driving cars are those manufactured for special sporting purposes such as racing or demolition derbies.

A popular alternative to the electric vehicle is the bicycle. The basic design has changed little in a dozen gigaseconds (400 years). Many bicycles are hybrids, using electric motors to either assist the rider or fully powering the cycle if desired.

Landed skycar with wings extended
Personal aircraft are common. Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) designs allow use of aircraft from residential driveways and garages. Small one- or two-person airpods are common for commuting, while aircars or airvans are useful for getting the family around. Most aircraft use electric powered ducted tilt-rotors for propulsion, and either hover on their rotors (using them as rotory wings at high speed) or incorporate airfoils in their design for increased efficiency. Early in the Verge's history, people often needed to travel across large distances of rural or uninhabited land that was not economical to connect with a wormhole or train tracks. Hence, aircraft have become a cultural phenomenon of Human Space in the Verge.

Mass transit is the usual way to get around in urban areas. Subways move large numbers of people rapidly between stations, and surface buses take them to local stops. High speed trains move people between major cities. Since the same trains can also go through wormholes in the planetary or inter-planetary networks, buying a train ticket is the way to go to get anywhere any significant distance away.

An 8 person skycar with folded wings.
If you do need to use a personal vehicle to go long distances, you can buy a ticket on a wormhole ferry. This is a specialized train car designed to shuttle cars across a wormhole. Fixed wing aircraft large enough to carry passengers are not able to fit through a wormhole, so most personal aircraft using airfoils are made with folding or retracting wings.

Walking is the time-honored way of going places, and has never gone out of style. It is necessary to get to places where vehicles can't go, like in buildings. Many people also prefer to walk for pleasure, exercise, or to experience fresh air and see the scenery. In principle you could move through a wormhole under your own power, but the lack of gravity in the throat makes that difficult and the need for decompression between ends often makes it unwise. Some wormholes do offer float tunnels with ladder rungs for the curious, adventurous, or who don't want to shell out the money for a train seat.

Wormholes

The wormhole has revolutionized many aspects of Human society. Fundamentally, a wormhole connects one region of space-time with another, often distant, region. It consists of two mouths - where physical objects can go in and out - and a throat between them. The throat is a space-time tunnel, entering a mouth takes you into the throat and traversing the throat takes you out the other mouth.

Terminology Note: Wormholes are often described as a type of faster-than-light travel. This is not the case. Sure, you can go between two places faster than you ever could in your own proper time if you had gone through flat space-time, but at no point are you actually going faster than light. A wormhole is a shortcut through space-time, not FTL.
Wormholes are regions of space-time, not fundamentally different from the space-time going down the hallway from your bedroom to your bathroom. When going through a wormhole, there is no teleportation, you're not broken down into constituent particles and re-assembled on the other side, there's no glowing barriers across the mouths or swirly special effects as you go through. In a mass transit wormhole, as you approach in a train car the airlock doors slide open and the train passes through the mouth and into the throat, which you see stretching before you. It looks like any other subway tunnel, with tracks and electrical rails for guiding the train. As you enter the wormhole, gravity fades until in the throat you are in a microgravity environment. The train chugs through the throat (possibly decoupling into sections if it is longer than the throat, because of the need for airlocks). Soon you see the airlock doors at the far end, which open and you pass through. Gravity is restored and you are someplace far away in flat space-time from where you started.

Space-time with wormhole geometries is what's called multiply connected. Practically, this means that there are two equally equivalent ways of measuring time and distance – through the wormhole, and around the wormhole through flat space-time in the normal fashion. Both are equally valid. Standing at the grand steps of the entrance of Main Thistledown Station on ┼Żemyna, in one sense you are hundreds of light years from Solace or New Carolina or the other worlds of the Verge. But in an equally valid sense, you are no more that a few kilometers away from any of the worlds directly linked to ┼Żemyna.

Wormhole mouths are physical objects. They have mass, and momentum, and angular momentum, and kinetic and potential energy. Fling it forth and it follows a ballistic path, launch it into space and it follows a Keplerian orbit, just like any other body. Mass*, energy, momentum, angular momentum, electric charge, and all other conserved physical quantities are conserved locally. This means that if you enter a wormhole mouth, that mouth acquires your mass and momentum and charge and the rest. When you leave through the other mouth, that mouth loses your mass and charge, and acquires momentum and angular momentum opposite of what you leave with. This has several consequences:

  • Wormholes must balance the mass going through them. A wormhole mouth's mass can never be negative – this would cause the wormhole to collapse. So over time, as much mass must pass one way as the other. Since transit wormholes have a total mass of hundreds of thousands of tons, you have a considerable leeway in this regards. Still, transit wormholes typically have pipelines going through them carrying ballast mass such as water. A heavy train loaded with iron ore would be balanced by a flow of water in the other direction.
  • Exploration wormholes, which are typically extremely small when projected, need to gobble up mass when they arrive at their destination before anyone can go through them. This can be air, dirt, gravel, or literally anything else - but if your first explorer masses 120 kg with his gear, you first need to suck in 120 kg of local material before he can exit. For practical purposes, you want to build up a safety margin of several times that.
  • You can't project a wormhole into empty space and expect to do much when you are there. If you want to put a satellite into space with a wormhole, you either need to launch a wormhole mouth that weighs at least as much as that satellite, or you need to find a massive object up in space that you can bring back to ground in exchange for the mass of the satellite you are putting up.
  • By conservation of momentum, when something leaves a wormhole mouth rapidly, the mouth gets kicked in the other direction. This means that you can easily turn a wormhole mouth itself into a rocket, by pointing a rocket engine through the wormhole. As usual, the mass of the rocket plume subtracts from the mass of the wormhole mouth (just as a normal rocket loses mass while it's propellant is being used up) while the mouth experiences the thrust of the rocket going through it. This makes the mathematics work out exactly the same as for a rocket. The difference is that you get to leave the engine back home. And the sensors, and power plant, and crew, and all the other stuff you need to make a rocket work. This is part of the way a wormhole projector works. After electromagnetically launching a wormhole mouth at high speed, the mouth is further accelerated, steered, and braked by using megawatt lasers focused through the wormhole as photon rockets.

    In an atmosphere, the mouth can suck in air on the side facing its direction of motion, the air can be routed to a jet engine back at mission control after passing through the throat, and the jet is then shot back through the wormhole to exit out the back of the projected mouth in order to generate thrust. This allows flying the wormhole through the air without decreasing its mass from the propellant flow going through it.

A wormhole is supported by a wormhole frame. Much of the mass of the frame exists within the wormhole throat, although you will need some support at any mouth ready to be used in order to hold it up and keep it in place. It is sometimes necessary to shrink mouth down to a much smaller size than the other, resulting in a constriction of the throat near that end. This can be done for initially projecting the wormhole or for time balancing and maintenance.

As discussed in the section "The Physics and Tactics of Intra-Network Wormhole Warfare", you need to be careful that your wormhole does not become part of a time machine. For interstellar wormholes, this means not forming closed loops. On a planet, you really don't have this option. On the other hand, on a planet you can move the ends via post or courier rather than using projectors, which avoids the extreme relativistic time dilation you get for interstellar wormholes, and the ends will be mostly synchronized in time. However, different latitudes of the planet will have different surface speeds from the planet's rotation, which produces different rates of speed-induced time dilation. Likewise, wormhole mouths at different altitudes will experience different rates of gravitational time dilation. As a result, it is necessary to occasionally bring the wormhole off-line and re-balance the time lag across the ends. This is done by shrinking one end down to microscopic size, charging it up by shooting a particle beam through, and then putting the highly charged mouth into a cyclotron to spin around at relativistic speeds. Once enough relativistic time dilation has built up to synchronize the ends, the mouth can be taken out and inflated. This is done every few decades to give sufficient safety leeway to prevent disasters.

Some of this rebalancing is occasionally also necessary for interplanetary networks. The time dilation of an interplanetary wormhole is so extreme that it doesn't take much to make a time machine. In particular, if a second wormhole is sent off from a colony planet in anything other than a straight line, light traveling along the flat space rout between the worlds can make one leg of the time machine. To avoid this, the original wormhole is given some rebalancing to reduce the time lag and allow the second wormhole to be shot out to its destination.

The atmospheric pressure on a shirt-sleeve habitable planet typically varies by several hundred pascals as you get different weather systems across its surface. A fully open wormhole exposed to this pressure difference would experience hurricane-force winds tearing through its throat. And that's just on wormholes connecting the same planet - interplanetary wormholes would have even worse problems with pressure differences. Not only would these winds be highly inconvenient, they would result in large unbalanced mass flows. Consequently, all traversable wormholes are equipped with airlock doors on both ends, and only one door is open at a time except in emergencies. This not only prevents passengers and freight from being blown out the wrong way, it allows operators more control over who enters and exits – a useful trick when you need to be careful about mass-flow balance.

Travel through wormholes can be rapid enough that the difference in pressure between different worlds can cause health problems. The greatest of these is decompression sickness – a problem that occurs when inert gases bubble out of person's blood when going from high pressure to low pressure. Decompression sickness can potentially occur whenever the total pressure changes by more than 4 kPa per kilosecond (15 kPa per hour), although with medication this rate can be raised to 100 kPa per kilosecond (400 kPa per hour). Commercial traffic between worlds generally occurs in pressurized train cars that will change their internal pressure slowly enough to prevent problems, and will generally supply decompression pills as part of the ticket price. If a long depressurization is needed, the train will usually pull off onto a side track to deperessurize before passing through the wormhole. The longest required depresurization time on the Verge for regular traffic between major worlds is the transit from Zhiroom to Whum, requiring an 8 kilosecond (2 hour) depressurization stop even with medication. These layovers prevent health issues for regular travelers, but issues will sometimes arise among stowaways in freight traffic or adventurers using the float tunnels.

Other acclimation issues take longer to resolve. Adapting to low oxygen levels or high levels of carbon dioxide can take days, and there is no acclimation possible to overcome nitrogen narcosis. Fortunately, medications are available to treat these atmospheric effects, and acclimation to a given atmosphere lasts for several days so that daily commuters between worlds can handle both atmospheres without trouble. For the dedicated traveler, gene surgery is available to build-in resistance to any of these problems.

Wormholes are pretty durable, but they can be driven to collapse, particularly when not doing so would force violations of physical law. Wormholes typically collapse only when the mass of one mouth is about to become negative, the wormhole is on the verge of becoming a time machine, or to extreme damage to the wormhole frame. In principle, it should be possible to get a wormhole to pinch off from both ends when it collapses, trapping everything in the throat region forever pinched off from the rest of the universe. This would result in both mouths turning into black holes and then evaporating via Hawking radiation. The entire mass-energy of the mouth would be converted to energetic radiation with suitably devastating effects on the surrounding countryside. In practice, this turns out to be very hard to do – collapsing wormholes always seem to find a way to expel their internal mass, often violently. But the final pinch-off happens when the wormhole has shrunk down the Planck scale after balancing its mass debt to the universe from both ends. This results in a jet of material shooting out of the wormhole, extending several tens of wormhole diameters and causing extensive damage over that region. Any object that was inside the wormhole when it collapses is going to be completely destroyed, but at least its matter is returned to the universe.

The frame of a traversable wormhole generally indicates the break point in the throat with an illuminated line going around it. This demarcates the mass associated with one mouth from the other. As massive object move down the throat, the line edges closer to the destination mouth. If the line ever reaches one mouth or the other, it indicates that the mouth has zero mass, and that's when the wormhole collapses. This is a simple visually obvious safety indicator.

Traversable Wormholes: Wormholes that people can get through are called traversable wormholes. These are engineered so that going through the wormhole exposes you only to nearly flat space-time, without the extreme tidal distortions of highly curved space-time that would tear you apart. The high-curvature regions are confined to the edges of the mouths (which typically have a circular profile) and parts of the throat. These dangerous regions are walled off by the frame, preventing access.

Wormhole Manufacture: Wormholes are originally microscopic in size when created, and both mouths are formed immediately next to each other in time and space. In order to do anything useful, the mouths need to be moved apart and inflated in both mass and diameter to allow the passage of macroscopic objects.

Wormhole Projectors: A wormhole projector uses a particle accelerator to launch a wormhole. First, a microscopically-sized wormhole mouth is given a high electric charge by passing a particle beam through the wormhole. Then normal linear accelerator technology allows you to fling the wormhole at a target. When en route on a long journey, the wormhole's telemetry will be monitored by mission control. Course corrections are made by shining a high power laser through the wormhole to act as a photon rocket. In an atmosphere, the wormhole can also act as a jet engine instead of a rocket by sucking in the air in front of it, feeding it into a jet engine back home, and then expelling the high speed jet behind it. This allows the wormhole to maneuver without expending its mass budget. Upon arrival it begins to take in mass from its surroundings, either sucking in air with fans, water with pumps, or extending robot limbs through the wormhole to collect nearby matter using grippers, scoops, or hoses with pumps. When robot limbs are used, you need to start small because of mass constraints, but as more mass is gained you can use bigger limbs to pull through progressively more mass until you have enough to send equipment and personnel through.

When making wormhole connections on a single planet, projectors are only needed in time-critical situations. Otherwise, you can just shrink down one wormhole end to a few grams and send it via post or courier.

Exploration Wormholes: When a wormhole first arrives at a new world, you don't need to immediately send huge amounts of passengers and cargo through. An exploration wormhole frame can be much smaller and less expensive than that of a transit wormhole. A wormhole frame that can let one person pass through at a time may have a total mass of just a couple hundred tons and cost about $10M, with a yearly maintenance budget of $100k.

Rapid Response Wormholes: This is a euphemism for a wormhole used for military assault. A transit wormhole frame is combined with a projector. The projector is used to rapidly place a wormhole mouth where you want it, then it is inflated and stuffed with enough mass from its environment to allow people and equipment to get through. These are commonly used to get troops from one part of a planet to another. They are less useful for inter-planetary warfare, due to the constraints of causality. The exception is when the projected wormhole uses an already established wormhole route - the projected mouth just goes through the other wormhole to its destination.

In addition to military operations, rapid response wormholes can be used for disaster relief, emergency response, and other civilian operations. Still, usually when a rapid response wormhole is used, something has gone very wrong.

Transit Wormholes: Transit wormholes are the workhorses of a wormhole network, holding the worlds of the Verge together and connecting their major cities. They allow the passage of trains carrying intermodal containers full of cargo and passenger cars full of people. A basic transit wormhole might allow a single track, capable of passing a cargo car with fully loaded intermodal container or a fully loaded passenger car (70 to 100 tons total mass, and about 30 tons of cargo). Its frame would cost about $5G with a maintenance cost of $5M/year, and have a mass of around 100,000 tons with a throat about 100 meters in length. Larger transit wormholes will have multiple tracks and higher capacity, and cost and mass proportionally more.

Non-Orientable Wormholes (NOWs): A wormhole is non-orientable when things passing through it end up with the opposite chirality. This means that everything comes through as if it had been mirror-reflected. Right-hand gloves come through as left-hand gloves, screws spiral in the wrong direction compared to convention, and a book would have mirror-writing.

Normally this seems like it would be rather boring and useless, but for an obscure constraint from quantum physics called the CPT theorem. This theorem, which holds for all physical phenomena, means that the product of the discrete symmetries of charge conjugation, parity transformation, and time reversal equals 1. Huh? What does that mean? Well, parity transformation is equivalent to a mirror reflection; so passing through a NOW means parity is inverted. This means that exactly one of the other two symmetries must also be inverted for the CPT theorem to hold. The thing coming out on the other end is still manifestly going forward in time so it must be charge conjugated, whatever that is.

Charge conjugation means you turn all particles into their antiparticles. So anything passing through a NOW emerges on the other end made entirely out of antimatter.

Clearly, you are not going to send people through a NOW. Not only would the person die, but they would devastate the surrounding countryside where they emerged. What these wormholes are useful for is making energy. Both mouths are suspended in a container of hydrogen gas. The wormhole is engineered so that the throat has constrictions at both ends but an expanded region in the center. Periodic oscillations in the mouth sizes allow in pulses of hydrogen from both ends, one end taking in considerably more gas than the other (the mouths alternate which one takes a big gulp and which one takes a sip). The mouths then constrict down to trap the gas in the central reaction chamber in the middle of the throat. The gas from one side annihilates the gas from the other, resulting in the production of a flash of energetic penetrating radiation. But the radiation cannot escape the reaction chamber (it's made of space-time itself, and particles must travel through space time, and this chamber is almost entirely pinched off from the rest of the universe until the mouths open again so there's nowhere for the radiation to go). Within milliseconds the exotic short-lived particles have decayed away and the gamma rays have been down-scattered via the Compton process to the point that what you have left is a very hot hydrogen plasma. Then the mouths open, the hydrogen plasma escapes, and more hydrogen is taken in. The hot hydrogen plasma is used to run an MHD generator or heat a working fluid for a gas turbine or otherwise used to do work that creates electricity.

NOWs are much more complex to manufacture and stabilize than the run-of-the-mill orientable wormholes. You can't let the frame from one end touch the frame from the other, or they annihilate and the whole thing goes boom. In addition to complicating how to hold the wormhole together, it also means you have much less leeway for imbalanced mass flows. Their delicate nature makes them impractical as a weapon. Although in principle they could be used to produce an antimatter stockpile to use in munitions, in practice there are easier ways.

Collapse Weaponry: You can engineer a wormhole to collapse in such a way to generate extreme pressures in the process. This is used militarily. One end is launched at one's enemies, or simply remotely flown at them using the jet technique described above (see the section on Wormhole Projectors). Then the wormhole is purposely collapsed. Many of the smaller fire-and-forget collapse warheads have both wormhole mouths in the projectile. The design of the wormhole incorporates two chambers. The primary chamber is adjacent to the mouth that is left behind, and the throat is broken at that mouth. As the wormhole begins to collapse, the primary chamber is nearly isolated and experiences extreme pressures.

This chamber is filled with boron-11 enriched boric acid, a white crystalline solid. As the pressure increases this results in proton-boron fusion, with the radiated bremsstrahlung trapped within the confined space-time geometry to re-heat the fusing fuel. The fusing mass is compressed for sufficient time that the reaction yield is nearly 100%, leaving a highly compressed plasma of fusion-hot helium nuclei with left-over hydrogen and oxygen. This all occurs in less than a millisecond. The net result is just a nuclear flash, thermal pulse, and blast wave with no penetrating radiation or lingering radioactivity.

Collapse weapons can be made at arbitrarily small yields, from pea-shooters that would just take out a residential house to terrible warheads that can lay waste to a large metropolitan area.

The wormholes of Earth: The Verge lost a lot of technical know-how after The Bump in the Night, or at least the capacity to reproduce it. In the time before they were cut off, Earth had a sophisticated planet-wide reconfigurable wormhole network. You could step into a booth, located in most homes or on many public streets, identify the booth you wanted to arrive at anywhere else on Earth, and a wormhole connection would immediately be made and you would be transported there in less than a second. This reconfigurable network did for travel and transportation what cellular networks and high speed internet did for communication. In principle, the Verge could have this to look forward to in the future, only using more robust com wormholes that are momentarily enlarged into transit wormholes for a more resilient network.

* Yes, yes. Conservation of mass and conservation of energy are the same thing. You are very clever to have noticed it. But non-relativistically, it is much less confusing to separate them. For most practical purposes it is more convenient to treat them as different things in a non-technical description.

Antecessor Technology

The Antecessors developed technological maturity hundreds of millions of years ago. Their science is mostly important because the Mants, Gummis, and Squirm all rely on variants of it for their own tech. The Mants and Gummis managed to reverse-engineer examples of Antecessor tech that they found; it is unknown how the Squirm came to acquire Antecessor technology.

Affector Limitations

Affectors are capable of affecting matter in many useful ways, but they are not able to do everything. For example

  • Artificial Gravity: Affectors cannot create true gravity. They can push and pull on matter, and with sufficient skin depth can apply a nearly uniform attraction or repulsion in a way that can simulate gravity over a limited volume, but no affector can make something weightless.
  • Inertial Dampening: Inertia (through mass) is a fundamental property of matter and there seems to be no way to modify it. Affectors cannot increase or reduce something's mass, or make it massless or inertia-less.
  • Stasis Fields: Affectors act on matter, not space-time. They can't slow down or speed up time (although they can prop open a wormhole, which in turn can perform some strange time shenanigans across the wormhole).
  • Interact With Light: Affectors only interact with matter, not electromagnetic fields. Light, and similar electromagnetic phenomena such as radio, microwaves, terahertz waves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays, pass through affectors as if they are not there. The matter an affector holds can interact with light in its usual fashion, which allows an indirect ability to modify light. Affectors also do not interact with other bosonic fields, such as the W± boson, Z boson, or gluon.

Affectors

Affectors use a principle still mysterious to Human science to create controlled forces on fermionic matter at a distance. Fermions are the particles that make up atoms (electrons, protons and neutrons), and some kinds of radiation. In this way, affector technology allowed the Antecessors to manipulate the world around them. Affectors also interact with other affectors, allowing complicated non-linear phenomena to occur that can be useful for control of an affector field.

At low intensities, affectors are invisible. High-strength dynamic affector fields tend to ionize air, leading to a purplish glow within the field volume for low levels of ionization or a bright blue-white glare for dense ionization. Affector emitters tend to glow blue. Since ionization produces ozone in a breathable atmosphere, which in turn can produce nitrogen oxides and smog, extensive use of affectors powerful enough to cause ionization can lead to air pollution. Consequently, intense affectors are often closely regulated.

Affector fields can have arbitrary shapes. Often taking the form of beams or sheets, they can zig-zag, form complex geometric patterns, and enclose odd-shaped volumes if engineered to do so.

Affector-Conductors: Affectors can manipulate electrons so they flow through passages in the fields without resistance. This allows efficient energy storage and transport, and forms the basis of all Antecessor electronics and computing.

Deflectors: A deflector is a screen that prevents matter from passing. It can be weakened or collapsed if it is hit sufficiently hard, but will quickly regenerate if pressure is not kept up. Deflectors are normally of sufficiently low intensity to be invisible, but adaptively strengthen when stressed so that they may show blows they intercept with a region of ionized air.

Deflectors will reflect all incoming neutron radiation. Consequently, it is best to check with a safety supervisor whenever bringing deflectors into a facility with fissile material. Enclosing plutonium or enriched uranium with a deflector screen is uniformly a bad idea.

A deflector that interpenetrates existing matter can make the matter much stronger and tougher. The matter will resist cracks, dents, cuts, abrasion, and impacts. By trapping the ejecta produced by an incident high energy laser, they can impede the laser's ability to blast through the material. Deflector reinforcement allows for resilient, high strength structures made with remarkably little material.

Disruptors: A disruptor breaks apart matter in its beam by stretching and squishing it (most disruptors stretch in one direction transverse to the beam while compressing in the other direction, and rapidly reversing the stretch-compress directions back and forth). They are commonly used in power tools and machine shops for shaping matter - a disruptor can easily drill and cut through most materials. By enclosing the disruptor beam in a deflector sheath, you limit damage beyond the radius of the beam - a well tuned disruptor can make cuts only microns wide.

Disruptors also make devastating direct-fire weapons. Neglecting the deflector sheath, the beam smashes anything it hits. Bones will be broken, organs ruptured, and tissues bruised and shredded. Rigid materials will shatter into fragments. Different species have developed unique characteristics of their disruptors since adopting the general principle from the remains of the Antecessors. Gummi disruptors are notable for their ability to collapse other affector fields. Those designs from the Zox library use concentrated "blaster"-style beams that flash the matter in their region of impact to plasma to explode it out of the way.

Repulsors: A repulsor pushes away on all matter within a certain volume. By Newton's third law of motion, that matter also pushes back on the repulsor emitter. Consequently, repulsors are useful for making vehicles that float some distance above the ground, producing low ground pressure, allowing the vehicle to cross difficult terrain or even water. They are also used for low-resistance bearings, lubrication of moving parts, and impact buffers.

The energy in an affector field increases with the volume they act over. Consequently, repulsor fields generally operate over the minimum volume needed for operation in order to keep energy costs down. Once a field is produced, it can be maintained with a minimum power expenditure, but interactions with matter are always going to be somewhat lossy requiring additional power draw to keep the field in place.

For vehicles than need to operate at altitudes where a repulsor cushion is not practical, the repulsors can be set to operate on a wing-shaped area to push directly on the air. This acts as a combination wing and propeller, similar to the rotary wing of a helicopter but much less noisy and of arbitrary shape.

Tractors: A tractor pushes or pulls on a distant object, or in many cases holds the object in a potential minimum that tends to restore it to a fixed location. Tractors find considerably use in industrial applications, moving heavy equipment, mass streams, or hazardous material. They are also useful for emergency response situations, such as rescuing people from several stories up in a burning building. Tractor-based launch beams are used for flinging payloads or placing satellites in orbit.

By Newton's third law, pushing or pulling on an object produces an equal and opposite force on the tractor emitter. So pushing on an immobile object will only end up pushing the emitter away. Trying to use a tractor beam to levitate or otherwise apply a transverse force to a distant object requires large amounts of torque. If too much torque is needed, it will just rotate the emitter and whatever it is attached to instead of moving the desired object. This latter effect is commonly mitigated by having the scattered tractor beam produce a repulsor cushion around the tractored object, resulting in it levitating a short distance off the ground. Lifting the object further than its repulsor cushion, or applying perpendicular forces, must still meet the requirements for adequate torque.

A tractor beam, like a repulsor cushion, takes energy to form, with more energy required the larger the volume occupied by the beam. Because of this, the force of a tractor, especially on distant objects (which require a higher volume beam), tends to ramp up over time as more energy is pumped into the beam. Once the beam is energized, the energy can be sapped away when it does work on the objects it is affecting, requiring more energy to be put into the beam to keep up the force. Alternately, the beam can be energized enough to do its job and the power supply cut off (except possibly for basic maintenance power). The energy in the beam can then continue to provide a decreasing force on the object over a considerable duration as the beam does work on the object but grows ever weaker.

Computation

The Antecessors used affectors to build the complicated logic structures needed for computers. They never seem to have developed quantum computers, but exploited massive parallelization of classical computation with the easily-reconfigured affector processors.

While the Mants and Gummis can make computers similar to those of the Antecessors, they lack the algorithm development that 2 petaseconds (60 million years) of existence afforded the Antecessors. Gummi-made computers typically make extensive use of com-grade wormholes that allow them to physically locate different parts of the same processor in different locations,

Material Science

The Antecessors made some of their equipment from substances that seem indestructible. It is made of normal hadronic matter, but reinforced by affector fields to make it remarkably strong and resistant to weathering. The hadronic component can be destroyed like any matter, by heat or mechanical force. But it is made of sophisticated self-repairing structures, somewhat akin to life, that put it back together in its original configuration. Energy demands are met with non-orientable wormhole generators, requiring minimal fuel. In this way some antecessor materials – including occasionally entire artefacts or structures – have been able to survive, nearly unscathed, for more than 16 petaseconds (500 million years).

So far, the Gummis and Mants have not been able to reproduce this self-repairing aspect of Antecessor technology, although they do use affector-reinforced materials.

Robotics

Antecessor robots are as much affector as matter, usually with several independent pieces floating separately connected with affector fields. With their self-repairing materials, many Antecessor installations are still maintained and guarded by their robots.

The sapients which have based their technology on that of the Antecessors do not always display this level of sophistication. The robots of the Zox are either monolithic in construction, hovering above the ground, or articulated with limbs attached to the body (but still hovering on repulsors for mobility). Gummi-tech robots are closer to that of the Antecessors, although they often have a tendency to go overboard with separating the individual material components into isolated units (the greater flexibility offered by very many parts allows the robots to navigate the twisting, confined labyrinths of Gummi architecture).

Wormholes

Antecessor wormholes and their technological descendants are held open by affector fields. This makes them more flexible than Human wormholes. Like Human wormholes, you can use them to build traversable wormholes and non-orientable wormholes. You can project them, although this is done with affector launch beams rather than electromagnetics. However, there are a few other capabilities of Antecessor-descended wormholes.

Com Wormholes: The com wormhole allows rapid, long distance communication. A microscopic wormhole is formed and threaded with affector-conductors. The conductor is used to transmit messages from one end to the other. Since messages through a com wormhole do not travel through normal space, they cannot be jammed or intercepted (except by tapping the wormhole itself). Com wormholes can be used to communicate between mouths no matter the distance between them in normal space.

Since com wormholes are often used in a wormhole-rich area, specific features are engineered in to avoid causality related accidents. The wormhole throat is extremely stretchy. Instead of immediately breaking, the throat will stretch out to lengthen the time it takes for signals to get through. A com wormhole throat can be stretched out to several million kilometers in length before snapping, allowing on the order of ten seconds of leeway before nature puts down the boot. Meanwhile, affector fields will start spinning the mouth of a stretched wormhole in a tight circle at relativistic speeds, producing time dilation at one end to bring the entire wormhole distribution into causal compliance.

Despite being built for resilience, com wormholes are designed to fail quickly in the event a causality loop becomes unavoidable. They are meant to be carried with a person, after all, and a massive flux of quantum oscillations passing through that person is not going to be good for his, her or its health.

In practice, rather than two-way coms, a wormhole phone will send messages to a base station that links to hundreds or thousands of other phones. That station is also connected to the other stations on the world. Enter the contact information of the phone you want to talk to, and the station will automatically link you up. In the past, wormhole com phone networks extended across entire interplanetary civilizations. In the Verge, however, this is forbidden for security reasons (see section "The Physics and Tactics of Warfare Between Separate Wormhole Networks").

E-Wormholes: An E-wormhole is just a com wormhole used to deliver power instead of (or in addition to) communications. One mouth is kept at a power station, the other mouth connects to a set of electrodes. In this way, power hungry devices can get energy while not needing to cart around heavy batteries, and residences get electricity without needing to worry as much about outages from the transmission grid failing.

Pickets: Picket wormholes are com wormholes projected far away from the base world. They are meant to detect incoming wormholes. By forming a causal loop, the com wormhole stretches and then breaks. This alerts you to a possible incoming attack. Analysis of the build up of oscillations in the wormhole and knowledge of the location of the picket tells you the direction the wormhole came from.

Causality Scanners: A causality scanner is a com wormhole linked to a global com network. It intentionally scans its time lag back and forth, with feedback mechanisms to keep it right on the edge of becoming a time machine as instabilities begin to rise. In this way, it can detect wormholes linking within the space of the same network. It doesn't work if the other wormhole mouth is far outside the reach of the network.

Causality Weapons: A com wormhole can be shot toward or flown to a target, and then deliberately set to cause a causality loop. The resilience of the wormhole leads to an intense build up of quantum fluctuations in its immediate vicinity. Unlike normal com wormholes, these are designed to withstand very high amplitude signals, causing destructive results to the area around it. A well designed causality warhead can deliver a substantial portion of its mass-energy as a radiant pulse when it collapses.

Non-Orientable Wormholes: By holding a wormhole open with affectors instead of a material frame, much of the delicate nature of a non-orientable wormhole can be bypassed since you no longer need to worry about the frame annihilating with itself or with material that passes through it. This allows for compact, robust electrical generators that can use the pressure of the hot plasma and fermionic radiation acting on affectors surrounding or within the wormhole to directly produce electricity.

Pocket Universes: On at least three occasions, an Antecessor artefact was located in which a wormhole connected to what seemed to be a pocket dimension – an isolated universe of limited volume separate from our own and only connected by a wormhole. These pocket universes typically have no hard boundaries – instead, if you go far enough in one direction you just end up back where you started. To date, neither Gummis or Mants have been able to reproduce this phenomenon.

It is expected that pocket universes must be closely controlled to keep them from uncontrollable expansion or collapse. Therefore, it is also expected that the Antecessors could link to, and likely even create, entirely new universes. It would take hundreds of petaseconds (billions of years) for such a universe to settle down into a state suitable for suns and galaxies and planets and life – but with wormholes allowing for extreme relativistic time dilation, this might not require an excessive wait for those on the other side. Could this have been where the Antecessors went? No one knows.

Gummi Technology

The Gummis have developed technological capabilities to cover the needs that Antecessor affectors and wormholes cannot meet. This is largely confined to medicine and the life sciences.

Gummi Medicine

As colonial beings, Gummis are naturally resistant to severe injury. A Gummi's zooids can rearrange themselves to repair most damage, and clonally reproduce to regenerate lost body parts. Gummi medicine treats injury merely by encouraging this process.

Of more concern are various varieties of infectious illnesses, toxins, and inherited diseases. Gummi medical technology is able to cure many of these ailments, although it is not yet up to the standard of Human medical abilities applied to Humans and Pannovas. Since contact, Gummis have adapted many Human disease treatment methods, such as antibiotics and antivirals, and are beginning to roll out some gene surgeries based on Human genetic engineering applied to the Gummi genome.

Individual Gummi zooids will age and die, but the colony can replace its members and potentially live indefinitely. The main limit to Gummi immortality comes from replacement zooids which vary enough from the original founding stock that they do not contribute to the health, operation, functionality, and well being of the colony. These free-loading zooids can quickly reproduce and grow out of control, in a process akin to cancer in cellular life forms. With appropriate treatments and surgeries, however, the malfunctioning zooids can be removed. In this way, a Gummi with access to health care can have an indefinite lifespan.

The most advanced and notorious Gummi technology is their mind surgery. They have a deep understanding of how their ganglion zooids connect and cooperate to create rational thought, emotions, and store memories. By altering these connections, targeting specific ganglions, and inducing the production of new ganglions with the correct properties that are inserted into the colony, they can change a subject's personality and habits of thought, induce targeted partial or total amnesia, and add or remove behavioral traits. By mapping an individual's ganglion zooid connections, they can later "resurrect" a personality from that Gummi's still living body if it suffered sufficient trauma to damage or destroy its mind. Most Gummi mind surgery is elective, or undertaken with informed consent under the advice of a doctor. This can help a Gummi to overcome anxieties, depression, or phobias, gain confidence, heal from the Gummi equivalent of post traumatic stress disorder, or cure various mental illnesses. However, Gummis will also use this technology to rehabilitate criminals by removing the impulses that lead them to crime, or implanting inhibitions toward causing harm or loss to others. Many Humans find this practice disturbing, especially since Gummi judicial practice often has elements of mob vigilantism.

Recently, Gummi and Human researchers have found that the same network theory of cognition that applies to the Gummi mind also applies to minds of cellular-based brains. Research is being carried out on using mind surgery on other species, and some clinical procedures have been implemented for certain psychiatric conditions of Humans, Mants, and Pannovas.

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