Superluminal Travel Primer

Preeminent scientists, historians, and philosophers of the Barystates were long troubled by the paradox of humanity's interstellar existence. All theoretical and laboratory evidence strongly supported the conclusion that faster-than-light transmission of matter or information of any kind is impossible. Yet, when Novani, Sibylean, Geminese, and Feronian scientists began exploring the dark skies, they found the scattered debris of ancient starships everywhere.

Due to characteristics of their design, tailored accessibility, and familiar but ancient script, it was easy to conclude these were the remains of The Bary’s past. The prevailing theory was that such high-technology detritus—each piece amassing at least several kilotons and impressive constructions in their own right—were the remains of colony ships capable of reaching relativistic speeds. Considerable interest grew among corporate and national entities in re-discovering and harnessing whatever awesome power could move an estimated several hundred megatons of mass to a significant fraction of the speed of light. But the only cleanly severed pieces of megastructure were in Empyrean hands. Barystates made substantial diplomatic efforts to convince the governors of the Commonwealth to open their doors beyond Port Angelice. Until recently, they stubbornly refused.

The Anomaly seems to have changed their calculus. In 79 CY, a clandestine expedition of ancient flotsam was conducted by the Saweng Corporation with the tacit support of the Feronian government. Whatever they found seems to have touched off something both wonderful and terrifying. In the wake of what can pithily be described as a gravitoelectromagnetic surge seen across The Bary, a network of topological solitons grew outward from the epicenter, engulfing the whole multi-star system at the speed of light. This mesh of aberrant space continued to grow radially from its origin, not unlike stress fractures in ice or glass. The Anomaly’s growth has continued unabated, and should that continue to be the case, it will permeate The Bary’s home galaxy 80,000 standard years from now.

For several years soon after, governments and their principal scientists kept the nature of these disturbances top secret. Such confidentiality was warranted: no one was sure what they were seeing. There were catastrophic theories being floated by astrophysicists, with one such frightening example being a vaguely plausible hypothesis that The Anomaly was evidence of a false vacuum decay, the verge of a fundamental rewrite of the very laws of nature that would exterminate all things. Others refloated the Big Rip scenario of cosmological eschatology. These fears were fueled further when the first wave of probes sent to The Anomaly were lost, and subsequent reinforced probes behaved in strange and unexpected ways. Mass hysteria was not something any head of state or intelligence officer wanted when so few facts were known.

Varied private interests across The Bary were less scrupulous. After examining a mass of data acquired by her employers at several points along The Anomaly, the Sebeki mathematician Isabelle Fahrid went public with her own findings. Damn the corporate confidentiality agreements! Fahrid’s result was so profound and her analysis so confident that no one would dare discipline her; and she was right.

Fahrid had rendered the noisy experimental data into a beautiful but unconventional mathematical function expressing a unique metric tensor. In 90 CY, she published her breakthrough paper, Exploring Anomalous Spacetime Manifolds. It was the first self-consistent description of superluminal translation in recorded history. In her celebrated thesis, Fahrid described the solitons as a dilation of primordial cosmic strings newly existing in a novel and latent metastable configuration. She hypothesized such a runaway effect may be induced by a sudden phase change: perhaps the enthalpy of The Anomaly.

While this didn’t solve the question of what The Anomaly was, it did explain what it left in its wake. Fahrid called these structures “Lambda lanes,” after the mathematical parameter used to denote the cosmological constant associated with dark energy, as the energy of the vacuum itself was hypothesized to play a role in their overall geometry. They are also sometimes called “Fahrid filaments” in her honor, another alliteration preferred by some voidfarers, particularly other Sebeki. The generic term for any of these structures is hyperlane.

In layman’s terms, hyperlanes change the viscosity of spacetime within their borders. When accessed by regular matter, a hyperlane bears mathematical similarities to wormhole topology. But in a hyperlane, ancillary flows are allowed. The lane can be accessed or exited at any point, with some special engineering considerations.

Hyperlane Properties

Hyperlanes exist physically as tubes in normal spacetime. They have a gigantic but specific amount of negative energy, and they lose this energy when a ship enters the walls of the tube-like soliton. Lanes shrivel and disappear once used up, ejecting any positive mass-energy within with the momentum it had when it entered. However, new lanes are forming all the time. They are particularly attracted to massive gravitational sources at either end, but they never directly intersect celestial bodies, and are only found in asymptotically flat space.

Safe navigation into and out of a hyperlane requires specially tuned erudium rods acting as gravitoelectromagnetic capacitors. These rods are embedded in a thin coat of superfluid helium-3. With enough energy, these 'hyperspace modules' (sometimes 'hyperdrives') are capable of punching a hole through an otherwise hazardous set of gravitoelectromagnetic boundary conditions that otherwise would shred a vessel. This 'module' or 'drive' must be energetic enough to cover the volume of the ship as it enters and exits a lane, a set of parameters which has only been found through trial and error.

In classical relativistic physics, velocities do not add, rapidities do. Exponentially ever more energy is needed to accelerate a gram of mass closer to the speed of light. Inside a hyperlane, this curve is roughly mirrored relative to the outside universe. More mass will bring an object down from higher superluminal speeds closer to the speed of light. If one could see the matter traversing a hyperlane from the outside, the energy wake would look similar to that of a tachyon.

The superluminal speed that is achievable in a hyperlane is therefore inversely proportional to a voidcraft’s total mass. Although it is difficult to determine the velocity that will be imparted on entry in the moment, the smallest manned vehicle may zoom from one end of The Bary to the other at 10,000c relative. More massive ships have slower average speeds, approaching the speed of light asymptotically. The largest freighters, carriers, and battleships achieve about 3.0c. A small yacht or strike vessel can travel across settled space in an hour. A freighter captain can head down the same lane in a week, whereas previous journeys were planned well in advance and took up to a decade.

Although the vacuum energy inside a hyperlane is different from that of the surrounding universe, it is not enough to render new laws of quantum physics inside that volume. It's considered safe for all forms of matter organic and inorganic to traverse a lane, so long as the hyperspace module does its job punching through the dangerous topological boundary. Some voidfarers report a variety of transient symptoms during hyperlane injection: from nausea to hyperkinesia or visual and auditory hallucinations. These symptoms vary by person. Complications abate with time spent in-lane, or upon egress.

A hyperlane’s structure is most often experienced by human eyes as a black void with occasional streaks of soft light (95%+), but some report the ability to see blueshifted and redshifted distortions of our known universe (~3%). A small minority of voidfarers report out-of-body experiences and other altered states of consciousness. It is a mystery what causes such wide variation in hyperspace sightings, but recessive genetic traits could be involved. More research is being undertaken in this area.

Upon both injection and departure, there is a blinding flash over the tube's local surface in many spectra, including visible light. It is not wise to look directly at a FTL transition.


The pragmatic ramifications of hyperlanes became public knowledge quickly. A flurry of activity ensued. Corporate interests retooled factories to produce prototype hyperspace modules and the supporting computer systems required for a safe transition in and out of a hyperlane. Public agencies and their most trusted corporations sent the first unmanned probes—now properly protected against gravitoelectromagnetic shear—to nearby systems and began drafting plans for interstellar colonies using the returned data. The Bary’s economy boomed.

But space, it is said, is a big place. Top secret classifications, misinformation programs, and overbearing public safety schemes warning of “dangerous space weather” were bound to be ignored by daring and inquisitive citizens. In 96 CY, Novani voidfarers Korbyn and Ishay Drax, a married couple, became the first humans in memory to set foot on an exoplanet. Violating an international moratorium on attempts to access Fahrid’s filaments with unproven parts, they successfully injected into a hyperlane in deep space, well beyond the reach of rapid law enforcement interdiction.

With their yacht, the clumsily named Dagger of Destiny, the Drax couple reached the closest unitary star system at just over 4 light-years distant. Once there, they re-christened its only rocky body Solace (from its previous astrophysical designation “Daniyah b”). They built a cairn on its surface, took samples, explored for several hours, and returned in mundane fashion. They made the journey in 80 hours, round-trip.

Upon return to The Bary, Korbyn and Ishay were apprehended, quarantined, and questioned by the Novani authorities. But they had planned for this. With camera drones and third-party verification, they broadcasted their exploits at every stage they could. Further corroboration would come four years later, when the transmission from their destination system reached Maridea. The Drax couple were celebrated as heroes. Korbyn and Ishay would not become criminals; not in the face of such achievement. They risked an unceremonial and certain death should any one thing go wrong aboard the Dagger of Destiny. Instead, they had proven safe faster-than-light travel would one day soon become trivial.

It is now 100 CY. Human beings stand at the precipice of a new frontier. And thanks to the eccentricities of FTL, it is likely smaller interests that will make the first leap, with flotillas of corporate interests trailing behind.