Monday 8 August 2016

The technology and curious data of ‘Cosmic Egg’

Recently I posted a look at the technology in my story Lazarus Soldiers, from the Tales From The Universe anthology. Fellow author Ricardo Victoria takes up the gauntlet to unpack his story Cosmic Egg from the same collection.

Taking on the challenge raised by Leo who depicted the amazing technology featured in his short story ‘Lazarus Soldiers’ in this blog, it’s my turn to do the same with my own story, ‘Cosmic Egg’. Now full disclosure, ‘Cosmic Egg’ is not exactly a pure, hard science fiction. It is more like science fantasy (if you have doubts what genre that is, think Star Wars or the classic cartoon Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors). That’s why some of the ‘science’ of the story veers more into fantasy/magic than hard science. That fact has made the story a harder sell, but what’s life without challenges? Also, the story is set in the same setting but a generation or so later to that my current work in progress - my novel Tempest Blades. Let’s say that ‘Cosmic Egg’ is a sequel of sorts that came before the actual story. With that say, let’s dive into the matter at hand.

A little context beforehand

‘Cosmic Egg’ features two of the three main species of my narrative universe: humans, which are more or less like you and me, with a few differences, and samoharos, a humanoid race of sentient lizard like people. 

The samoharo are subdivided in two races that share common traits that allowed them to intermingle. The type A are larger beings, up to two meters tall, their reptilian features owing more to a humanoid iguana or gecko with long hair, long fangs and slit pupils. Their tails are strong enough to smash a tree. The type B is shorter, a mix between an iguana and a turtle due to the shell-like structure at their backs. They had also hair on their heads, but usually were shorter and traded the lack of long fangs with more humanlike eyes and blinding speed. Both types are warm-blooded. They have their own language (for which I'm inspired by Mayan), religion and are fond of humans, seeing the younger species as ‘younger siblings’.

There is a third species, the freefolk, who are near-humans (they can actually reproduce with humans), and whose genetically modified traits allow them to feel and manipulate the thaums (an elementary particle, akin to gravitons and bosons and that carry the force needed for quantum entanglements and other quantum effects) to manipulate reality in a way we would call ‘magic’.

Doing that alters their physiology and they don’t travel to space unless it is really needed because the methods used don’t sit well with their bodies.

The three species currently live (at least in the Tempest Blades universe) in a world named Theia (none of them are native of the planet by the way), a goldilocks zone planet, slightly bigger than our Earth and with a warmer climate. Its atmosphere is covered by a thick ionosphere, with a violent streak of electric storms that has posed challenges to both long-range telecommunications and launching ships to space exploration.

This is why a ship like the Firefox (renamed Fireraven in a new edition of the story) has certain characteristics that make it unique.

The Fireraven/Firefox: the titular ship of the story, one of the first of its class. It’s a long range exploratory vessel, built with the best technology of the three species. It was designed to explore the nearby galactic quadrants in an autonomous way, able to refuel itself without having to return home for years. It is powered by three massive energy cores, following samoharo design: the first two are fusion gravitational engines that provide power for the general functions of the ship as well as sub-light impulse. The third core is used mainly to feed the backup life support systems (which on their own have several redundant subsystems) and the Stringspeed device, ‘The Puncher’. 

This core works through a system similar to a particle accelerator collider of matter-antimatter. Its energy output is similar to the other two, but can’t provide it for extended periods of time, storing the surplus energy for the backup systems in regenerative batteries. The synergy of these cores provide the ship with modular artificial gravity for the crew (which is a good thing in case of a fire or to avoid ill effects from extreme g-forces) and to make the ship lighter than it really is when flying inside the gravity well of a planet - a sort of anti-gravity or repulsion system. 

The propulsion is provided by ion thrusters (as in space inertia can get you anywhere with the right thrust), capable of moving the ship up to 45% of light speed. For FTL travel, there is the Puncher and the Stringspeed (see below). The hull of the ship is made of a series of alloys based in material modified at molecular level thanks to nanotechnology, roughly arranging the molecules of materials such as titanium into crystal structures similar to the diamond ones. Embedded in the hull, there is a wide array of sensory systems to provide the crew with as much information as possible of the surroundings, up to gravimetric waves and quantum interactions. The ship's external form is modeled after the body of a giant raven with six wings (hence the name) and has no edges, everything is rounded. This is to avoid the internal atmosphere putting pressure on the structure. 

The ship has a total mass of 500,000 metric tons, ten decks, and 187 rooms. It nominally carries a crew of 50 but can be operated with a skeleton crew of 8 and can carry passengers to a total of 200 very crammed beings in case of emergency. Among the rooms available are a cantina with a well-supplied kitchen, hydroponic gardens, meat growth vats, med bay (with equipment for both types of samoharo, humans, freefolk and near human races), a xenobiology lab, the Akash Archive storage room, a whole engineering deck, astrometry and physics observatory, viewing gardens, water and oxygen recyclers and generators, AI housing, crew rooms and living spaces to practice sports and other leisure activities. The command deck is in the upper levels, next to the captain and pilot rooms. It has as well four hangars: two for terrestrial and aquatic exploration, one for the midrange drones and one for the three combat fighters it has stored. It also has workshops and labs to give maintenace to all the equipment and the ship itself.

The Fireraven is a research and exploration vessel, but that doesn’t mean it is not capable of defending itself. Along with the combat fighters stored in it, it has a rudimentary cloaking system (can cloak almost everything but the third core signature energy residual radiation), railgun missiles with variable loads (ranging from thermonuclear to ions), coherent energy beam cannons and three main cannons that are for mining asteroids and planetary surfaces but under the right protocol can be used as a main weapon to obliterate most known materials. It also has a cryo-sleeping chamber for the whole crew and the main AI can be detached from the underbelly of the ship as escape for the crew. Finally, it can deploy communication buoys to open a transmission channel to Theia. Its design is based on an earlier samoharo mining ship, modified for combat, named the Figaro (featured in the Tempest Blades novel), as well as the original generation arks of the samoharos. It adds all the combat features of the brand new human air fighters (as humans are more vicious warriors than even the samoharos who pride themselves of being a warrior race) and the advances in data storage and power coupling crystals of the freefolk.

Rumour has it that there will dreadnought class ships built by the time the Fireraven returns home to serve as a defensive armada for Theia. Just in case.

Stringspeed: this is the Faster-Than-Light method developed by the species in my story (it doesn’t mean there aren’t others though). Stringspeed parts from the idea that you can’t travel FTL in the regular universe due the well-known physical constraints. But the universe is formed by several upper and lower dimensions neatly folded and compressed like a napkin made of several planes. These dimensions or planes are the result of living in an N-string universe where the cosmic strings ‘vibrates’ at different frequencies. These planes, depending how high or low you go, follow similar but not identical physical rules and thus it is possible to transverse them to travel long distances in a few minutes. Accessing those planes however is tougher due the energy conversion and different rules. 

What the Stringspeed engine in the Fireraven does is shunt the ship through a ‘puncher’, a device that punches a hole into time-space to allow access to what’s called the ‘travel plane’ while wrapping the ship in a bubble, similar to the Alcubierre cube with a portion of the local reality fabric. Since these planes are not exactly conductive to matter and lifeforms as we conceive them (but might possess their own version), generating the bubble is a necessity to ensure the viability of the travel, the integrity of the ship and the survivability of the crew. Once the ship is in the travel plane, which due to its proximity to our own plane of existence doesn’t differ that much in terms of rules, the ship maneuvers the bubble along cosmic string of lesser order, using them as tracks to reach point B from A, using the idea that quantum entanglement happens because these strings connect points of reality on the upper and lower planes of the ‘napkin’.

When the ship arrives at its point of exit, the puncher device uses the energy contained in the bubble to return the ship to our plane, reducing the risk of expelling gamma rays that are byproducts of the Alcubierre cubes. Traveling along these tracks is difficult due to the disorienting nature of the travel plane, the gravity shadows of massive objects such as stars and singularities and the quantum uncertainty properties of the cosmic strings that collapse once the pilot chooses one to follow. 

There are navigational charts (generating new ones is one of the missions of the Fireraven) but most of the choices are carried out by pilots using their ‘hunches’ assisted by computers that do most of the logical, quantum calculations. To be chosen to be a pilot for stringspeed vessels means to have certain genetic traits that allow to ‘feel’ whether these quantum entangled cosmic strings end in the place one wants to go. Ships usually carry at least four or five crewmembers with such genetic traits. In the case of the Fireraven, Michael, Scud, Roanna and two more crewmembers possess such abilities. Still, doing it by feeling generates much stress on the senses of the pilots, thus the need for the Artificial Intelligences.

AI: The Artificial Intelligences used in the Fireraven are of two kinds: the regular ones that control most systems of the ship and are just highly developed software; and the main AI of the ship which  is a semi-empathic brain with quantum neural pathways of third generation. Sounds like a mouthful, even coming from Scud. 

Basically, the AI is a quantum computer modelled after a human/samoharo/freefolk hybrid brain. The neural pathways are meant to emulate the way biological brains generate neuron connections. 

This allows the AI to learn and improve, as well as to develop faster calculations than a biological brain in real time, while allowing it certain degree of ‘human guessing’. It makes it a more flexible AI than the ones used regularly for industrial purposes on Theia, as those more commercial ones are very limited in their applications (they are either limited in terms of usability and available actions or go mad, like the clockwork golems littering some parts of Theia after the Great War). 

However, these features created an unexpected effect: the AI has personality. It acts similarly to what you would expect of a very schizophrenic brain trying to deal with multiple sensory inputs. In the case of the Fireraven AI, it has the personality of a child, a very eager child wanting to learn everything even if could get it into hot water, which is the crux of the dilemma posed by the story.

The first prototype of a semi-empathic AI was created by a human decades ago of the story, by mapping his own brain before passing away and the AI ended in the hands of a samoharo (both featured in my novel). 

The samoharos used the concept and improved upon it with their biotechnology, mixing characteristics of human, samoharo and freefolk to allow the brain housing the AI to be able to process all the sensory inputs, mathematical calculations and other activities that a space travel might ask for. Developing these AIs is a long and expensive process, thus they are limited use only for space ships and special missions. So far, there are only five in existence.

Drones: the drones used by the crew of the Fireraven are not dissimilar to the ones we use today, except from a few differences. For starters, they are made of the same alloys of the hull of the Fireraven, with sensors embedded on their fuselages. They can measure and record different types of inputs, depending on the mission, including most of the full EM spectrum and under certain circumstances, quantum and particle interactions. 

Housing all those sensors, the communication systems and the power source limit the capacity of data storage of the drone, reducing their range to that of a reliable transmission, as they broadcast their finding in real time to the mother ship. To allow for better handling, the drones are piloted through neural connections and feedback with the pilots. This means that the pilot, rather than controlling it with a yoke or a pad, controls the drone with thought. The pad used is only to register the intensity or the force needed for certain actions. 

As a result, the drones are nimble and can improvise. However, this system has a drawback: the connection is both ways so if the drone is damaged or destroyed, the feedback is felt by the pilot. This doesn’t result in actual physical damage to the pilot, but can leave neurological and sometimes psychological trauma. 

For example, there are documented cases where a drone lost a wing and the pilot reported losing all the feeling and response of the corresponding arm, as if it had been cut from his body, needing several years of therapy to correct that. 

Stringspeed pilots in general and Michael in particular have showed higher resilience to block such feedback, at least to a certain extent, leaving them only with migraines and seizures. Drones can be used to attack too, but since the possibilities of destruction are bigger, to avoid injuring the pilots, their control is transferred to the regular AI of the mother ship, in extreme cases to the main semi-empathic AI.

Akash Archives: These are basically the compilation of all the knowledge and lore generated by the three species in Theia, compiled in data crystals through quantum engravings. In Theia, it’s usually resting in the Aethernet, the equivalent of our Internet. Since web connectivity in the far reaches of space is not exactly available, the Fireraven and similar ships carry a copy of the archives in the special databank.

This is all for now. I hope you liked this sneak peek to the world building I’m doing for the TBverse of my novels and most short stories and may be be interested in more details about the setting. Thanks for reading. :)

Tales From The Universe is available on Amazon. You can follow Ricardo on Twitter at @Winged_Leo.

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