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The majority of the revolutionary technologies in Vast Worlds are derived in no small way from the Derelict. In fact, most of them are direct lifts from the derelict, with the only appreciable changes being scale, and in some cases material. It is a source of constant bafflement that the technologies work at all when scaled up by about a factor of five thousand or so, but has no one has any idea how they work, no one really asks questions. Actually, that’s not true, a great many people ask question, none of them have gotten answers yet and it generally assumed that the Derelict makers were so far advanced they were using a understanding of to which we have no reference. Kind of like giving the Greeks a fusion reactor and seeing what they make of it. They won’t even grasp the fundamental principals; let alone what it is supposed to do or how to build their own.

Vast Worlds humans are a little luckier, as while the invention is complicated, the mechanical functioning of the machines is actually rather simple. Threads of nanoscale fibres run through the panels[1] and these appear to resonate if a sufficient current is passed through them. Depending on the thread density, composition, and the sheer amount of wattage you pump through them, you get a variety of different effects. At least, you are theorised to get a variety of different effects, the actual complexity of the panels, and the difference a single thread out of alignment can make, means that, while that there have many attempts to try something other than the alignments found on the derelict, they haven’t yet produced anything more useful than finely engineered scrap metal.

Gravity Panels

Gravity panels, or grav’ panels as they are usually known are one of the more commonly used technologies in Vast Worlds, and like most of the derelict based technologies completely mysterious in their function. In effect, when a large current is passed across them, a pseudo gravitational field is projected above, and only above, the material. In addition it was also cancel out all perceived gravitational effects and the effects of acceleration. This is probably the most infuriating facet of the panels, as no one is even close to explaining how or why it works, but it at least appears that, while you are on the panel you have a constant acceleration of 1.2 G[2] towards the panel. In physical terms however, you do not exert any force on the panel, and it none on you, so both will obey classical physics in all cases, but somehow you can still walk, run or jump around on the panels and feel as if you are firmly rooted on the ground and you and the panel will act as if connected.

By this point, most people who actually use the grav’ panels eyes have glazed over, so I’ll skip straight to the practical upshot. Basically, you perceive yourself as within a constant gravity field, you aren’t, but all evidence will suggest you are accelerating towards the panel. Also, other sources of acceleration will be totally annulled[3], and this includes everything from the engines firing to weapons impact. It also means that while they are functional, all shock and shakes are imperceptible and you don’t get that star trek phenomenon where everyone’s glued to the floor except when someone shoots at you.

Random Fact: Grav’ panels inexplicably hold charge, giving them a residual gravity effect even when the power connections have been severed. This can last anywhere up to a few weeks depending on how long the panels have been being run. It can be displaced by an E.M.P.

Authors Note: The grav’ panels are one of the many technologies that hold their origins in the video game version of the Vast Worlds setting. They are still useful as they allow for some of the more bone crushing manoeuvres the ships can pull, and this gives me far more flexibility with the action sequences.

Null Panels

Null panels are some of the odder panel technologies, though mostly because humanity has some idea how it works. Essentially, in an area around the panel it is physically impossible for high energy particles to exist, and so all the energy is lost as heat to the material. A simple pipe network built into the panels allows water to be rapidly boiled and used to power turbines which just goes to show; even in the future space ships are steam powered.

Practically, this means that a layer of panelling around an energy source will result in near perfect absorption, though not conversion, of the emitted energy, and this will work with anything from a fusion reactor to a candle. In addition, as it prevents the escape of practically all particles, it is perfectly safe to run a nuclear reactor a few feet from the crew quarters[4].

Theoretically null panels have a variety of other uses, they would make near perfect hull panels for example, as they are completely opaque to radiation, though they are so expense to produce the cost of such a thing would be astronomical[5]. They could also technically safely contain a nuclear bomb, though the amount of heat transferred into them would melt the panels at anything but extreme ranges. Other applications involve solar panels and scientific equipment.

Random Fact: Judging from the layout of null panels on the Derelict, the derelict builders used null panels to protect them from hard radiation. This is odd as a ‘jump’ does not create such high energy particles but it’s an unsolved mystery. Interestingly, the water flow system was adapted from heat sinks built into the original designs.

Authors Note: Oddly enough, null panels were one of the later technologies to occur to me. Yes, I’d introduced a way to get additional energy out of the fusion reactor, but I hadn’t thought about the mechanism. The null panels were invented as a way of explaining the increased efficiency and so I could keep my old ship designs, as they mitigate radiation as a factor.

The Jump Drive

Now bear with me a moment, I’m about to start explaining a FTL drive here, so first leave your disbelief at the door and settle down, this may get a little confusing.

Put very simply, the Jump Drive acts as a vector multiplier, meaning that you are effectively going a multiple of your original direction, and so will arrive at the same destination as if you hadn’t turned it on, just a lot faster. Sounds reasonable? Good. Now come the complications. No one actually knows how the jump drive works[6], so the multiplication factor is rather high, estimated at something like 109 or above, and, paradoxically, the only way of reducing this is to pump in more power. Now imagine that after a certain point this actually causes ships to spontaneously combust so going at anything other than breakneck speed is impossible, and this means you have no way of avoiding any obstacles out there, you’ll begin to understand why jump engineers are generally considered to be some of the smartest people in the galaxy, or at least, the ones that pay the most attention to detail.

The typical Jump will take place in about .5 of a microsecond, which is actually somewhere bellow the level of human perception, and even a supercomputer would have a hard time doing anything meaningful in that time. Hence, Jumps are meticulously planned, and occur at the highest level of acceleration as going slower would at best buy you a millisecond, which still isn’t good enough to do anything if you miss-jump. Because of the law of vanishing returns[7], the high level accelerations mean that the least amount of fuel is expended, and this can actually be quite a lot given it takes an small fusion power plant to even fire one up[8]. On shorter, in-system Jumps, the acceleration will be dialled down a number of notches so that you don’t overshoot by a couple of light years, but the core principals are the same, and ironically, the time period.

There are a few other quirks of the Jump Drive. First, you never actually go faster than light, but nor do you bypass the intervening space. This has baffled just about everyone who has ever used a Jump Drive, and even with some of the most delicate equipment known to man, it was impossible to ascertain any change in perceived velocity, or even acceleration[9]. Now, this leads to a few interesting effects. Firstly, it is fully possible to crash into something, though this is unlikely as space has quite a low density. If this something smaller than the mass within the field impacts, it either passes into the field if extremely small (diatomic molecules is pretty much the limit here) or is converted into energy for larger objects[10]. Secondly, anything with no mass can enter the field with impunity, so the field tends to gather any light that happened to be going the same general direction as you pass through space tends to congregate at the front of the field. It can not escape, as every time it does the ship overtakes it and it immediately falls back into the field, and this leads to a ‘Jump Flash’ after a interstellar trip, as all that light is released in a single bust[11]. Finally, the Jump Drive is not limited to being used in specific areas, only being used carefully. This pretty much annuls any chokepoints you could get in space, and means that interstellar travel is theoretically impossible to control, as all the required technologies are on the open market.

To actually make a jump, you have to consider a massive number of factors, namely:

  • Your velocity
  • Your distance from other local objects[12]
  • The local gravity well/wells
  • The masses within the solar system
  • The masses between you and the destination
  • The masses around the path to your destination[13]
  • The speed of the solar systems, both your arrival and destination[14]

Depending on how far, where and how often the jump is made by others, commercial jumps can take anywhere from a week to a month to plot, and that’s including the time to reach the edge of the system[15]. Jumps will generally be plotted from an orbit, mostly to save fuel, and, as the value of acceleration is not changed, while speed is, you will exit orbit immediately[16].

Random Fact: Jump drives, and in fact most of the derelict technologies, do not obey the standard laws of thermodynamics. In this case, the energy fed into the jump drive is not emitted after use. It appears to simply vanish into the ether.

Authors Note: Ah, the jump drive. Probably one of the oldest ideas in Vast Worlds, and I’m fairly sure I just came up with the function on a whim one day. I’ve never actually been able to find a source of inspiration for it, or for its manner of function so I might be so bold to say that I came up with it with no inspiration, though I might at least have known about the already established methods ;). Actually, there are three different FTL drives I’ve come up with for Vast Worlds, the jump drive for the humans, the ram drive for the derelict makes, and the drift drive for the Ewts, though the Ewts never actually develop such a thing in the canon. Anyway, the drive is the corner stone of nearly every event in Vast Worlds, from trading empires to the interstellar wars and without it the book would be very slow and dull.

Rayy Guns

Rayy guns were first invented by an American scientist Professor Benjamin Rayy in 2159, though most historians agree that it almost certainly came from the derelict and Rayy is merely a cover story. Never the less, the weapons are licensed to only a few American weapons manufacturers and are the weapon of choice for the American armada. They work by focusing a high power beam of neutrons, travelling at near the speed of light, onto the targets hull with a focus of about half a millimetre per kilometre[17].

Practically, this creates a highly coherent beam[18] that dumps a large amount of heat into a very small area of the target. This gives high damage and near perfect accuracy, but the effectiveness decreases at longer ranges, partly due to attenuation of the beam but also at it becomes harder to keep the beam steady on the target, and any wobble means you essentially have to start heating the area all over again and ships dissipate heat rather fast due to the number of systems dedicated to such tasks.

The actual time it takes to do anything more than superficial damage is largely dependent on the armour you are firing at. Commercial hulls will last only a second or so before vaporising, standard battle armour will last about three, re-entry class plating will give you up to five seconds, and a polymer designed specifically to counter rayy guns could give you ten seconds or so, though if you sit still in space combat for ten seconds you’re a dead man anyway.

Rayy guns in 2100 are still in their infancy, though that doesn’t stop them shredding unsuspecting ships and easily outclassing any other guns with only the plasma cannons coming close. By 2200 improved target pathing abilities more than make up for the lead time, and necessitate ablative shielding to protect against them, that or crazy good piloting. In The End Time Wars, rayy guns are used as a planetary bombardment weapons[19] pumping terawatts of power into an area no larger than a football pitch and sustaining this until the surrounding area boils. These probably should be banned by international treaty. But would you argue with someone who’s capable of vaporising a small country?

Rayy guns have no appreciable ammunition expenditure, consuming heavy element dust such as lead or uranium due to the abundance of neutrons. A single canister of such dust sometime lasts an entire war before needing to be recharged, as the ratio of energy to neutron is so high. Most of the destructive power comes from the energy output of the reactor, and this, not to mention having to cool the barrels, is one of the major limitations to the rate and sustainability of fire.

Random Fact: No one’s yet figured out how the rayy guns accelerate neutrons, as by most laws of physics, they should be pretty much inert. Most would just shrug and call it derelict technology.

Bonus Fact: Rayy guns are used as the primary accelerator on the 2289 high energy spaceborne platform (HESP)[20].  

Authors Note: And still more technologies creep in from the game setting. It was originally the intention to have each faction (see, this is why I even have factions) having their own specialist weapons. This fell by the way side at some point as I chopped and changed the setting, but still there are a couple of weapon groups, of which rayy guns make up their own unique section. The less technologically superior factions tend to used mass drivers, such as chemically propelled bullets or rail/coil guns.

Plasma Cannons

Plasma weapons are the weapon of choice for the Chinese empire, and are undoubtedly derelict technology. This being china however, there is no elaborate cover story, like with the Americans, they simply deny it and refuse to answer any further questions.

Anyway, the plasma cannon uses an envelope of super heated plasma, straight from the reactor core, or sometimes produced behind the barrel, and hurls it towards the target. A single, negative charge is used to hold the plasma in a coherent sphere[21], how this charge is generated, or why it isn’t vaporised by the plasma is a state secret, and most people are content to let it slide for the sake of keeping their sanity[22]. The envelope is magnetically accelerated towards the target, with a cruising speed of a couple of kilometres per second, and on impact the field breaks down, dumping most of the energy into a half metre of hull plating, usually vaporising it[23].

Damage comes mostly from the heat, and the electromagnetic effects surrounding the plasma. This is reduced sharply with range, as the plasma does escape from the envelope, and this gives the plasma cannons a very short effective range, at about five kilometres, though at less than one kilometre they will beat rayy guns for damage[24]. The high cycling rate, resulting from the direct feed from the reactor, gives them a truly withering rate of fire, before you have to let the magnets in the cannon cool.

Like rayy guns, plasma weapons are fairly useless against the planets surface as the atmosphere strips away the plasma, but unlike rayy guns, this effect is so severe you would need an inconceivable amount of energy in the shot to actually make an impact. By that point though, you’d have put enough energy into the atmosphere already to start boiling the sea, so it’s moot, and none but a few of the End Time fleets actually have that kind of energy output.

Ammunition is usually redundant for plasma weapons, as they are fed usually with the reaction mixture of the engine. In larger vessels where such pipes would be a hazard and prone to battle damage, a secondary super heating vessel is placed behind the barrel to supply the plasma, and this does need to be fuelled by a nearby tank. Usually this is a hydrogen mixture, though in the later guns 2200 and onwards, a short lived fusion effect can occur and so deuterium is used to increase damage.

Random Fact: Production of plasma cannons is a closely guarded secret, but this rarely stops other individuals possessing such devices. By the early twenty third century there are enough fragments of data on the web to build a cannon, and likewise with rayy guns.

Authors Note: Plasma cannons are one of those ideas that are in the background, but rarely in the actual book, mostly because the Chinese territories are a good distance from the British where 2100 is set. Given that the weapons are a state secret, you rarely see them anywhere but on military vessels, and Chinese military vessels have no jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. That said, the ship my lead flies is a civy’ ship with a plasma cannon, but I don’t actually think the owner knows when or how it was come by and Hawk’s learned not to ask by this point.

Rail Guns

For completeness, I’m putting the rail guns here as they technically used a composite lifted from the derelict to stop the rails welding to the slugs. As rail guns are a real world technology, I’ll just go over the mechanics in brief, but basically, a metal, or material in a metal casing, is placed between two conducting rails. The current, when applied, will pass through the slug, accelerating it by a massive amount and giving an in atmosphere muzzle velocity of kilometres per second[25].

For the purposes of Vast Worlds, this gives rail guns a long engagement range[26], good accuracy, and the equivalent of a couple of kilos of TNT in kinetic energy. Thanks to the grav’ panels, rail guns are a less effective weapon than some hoped as the shock damage is mitigated by the dampening effect, but that doesn’t really do anything to help the new hole in the hull[27]. Also because of the grav’ panels, ships can pull off some rather spectacular manoeuvres, which means that targets are prone to dodge in the handful of seconds it takes for the slug to reach them[28]. Still, rail guns are devastating when they impact in the right location, just hitting that right location is sometimes more luck than judgment.

Rail guns come in a variety of sizes, from the ten gram anti-tank rounds, to the hundred kilo orbital eliminator, and many increments in between. The sheer versatility of the rail gun makes it the standby weapon of choice for most of the factions and the Commonwealth uses it almost exclusively. Against rail guns the best defence is internal bracing, keeping on the move and maybe getting a whipple shield.
Sadly for Vast Worlds, rail guns reach their peak at about 2100/2200 and after that they are slowly outclassed by other weapon designs, though often remain as a fallback or civilian issue gun[29].

Random Fact: Rail guns are one of the few weapons that are actually automated, with most ships having a few rails (or at least coils) to deal with the larger pieces of chaff out there[30]. These tend not be as accurate as having an actual gunner, especially when the target is actively dodging.

Author’s Note: It’s funny how often rail guns appear in Vast Worlds, because they are traditionally the British faction’s weapon (again, old game ideas creeping in there) they are quite prevalent in the area of space, being used on fighters, as rifles and Kit even has that anti-tank gun I mentioned, though I’m not sure as to why.

[1] All the Derelict technologies that haven’t been classed as military secrets tend to function with these fibres; most of the others were mainly manufacturing tips rather than anything really exciting, so I’m not going to mention them here.

[2] Actually its more accurately 1.2142 G, but no one’s constructed anything big enough for that .014 to make any difference

[3] Up to about twenty too twenty five Gs depending on the panel.

[4] This relative safety is partly why nuclear reactors have been licensed to private individuals, you do need to have taken a maintenance course to use one, but they have become notoriously lax in recent years.

[5] Later in the time line, null panels are used for battle armour, as they negate a lot of the potential damage by a nuclear weapon detonating nearby. Again, expense generally prevents them being used in all but top of the line ships.

[6] Given the amount of tinkering that has occurred to make it function, it’s debateable if the Derelict makers would understand how it works. A fact not widely known beyond the Jump Engineers and one they would like to keep quiet.

[7] This is a concept that has only been around since the invention of the Jump Drive, as the more energy you put in, the slower you go. This itself would force most physicist to tears, but they have long since given up on the Jump Drive, every since it was proved you could jury-rig it into a perpetual motion machine if you happened to fire it up in the right place.

[8] As a clarifying point, the Jump Drive does need some power to operate at all, and this is disturbingly high by modern standards. This is one of the many reasons that civilian ships can get away with carrying nuclear power plants onboard.

[9] There is a lot of hand waving here (not by me, by the cannon) about relativity. Suffice to say, such laws probably don’t apply when your observable acceleration could be measured in mega G’s and velocity some enormous multiple of the speed of light.

[10] This is less fatal than it sounds from the basic E=MC2 equation, due to the rather hard to model effects around the Jump Field/real space, boundary. Still, anything above a ton or so is enough to start breaching hulls, and people generally take offence if annihilate their satellites.

[11] This also causes physicists to sob, as it is taking energy from a low density area, and concentrating it into an area of high density. In other words, an anti-enthalpy device.

[12] Because at jump accuracies, even objects with as weak a gravity as satellites can throw you off by a few kilometres.

[13] This increases in inaccuracy as you attempt to jump further, and beyond about twenty light-years the only way you can ascertain this is an educated guess. With fuel consumption, it is one of the major limits on jump travel as longer jumps require exponential amounts of computational power.

[14] The speed of the galaxy should also have an impact, but this effect is mitigated by the amorphous jump bubble form being strongly affected by the local objects, and so relative solar velocity is one of the more important factors.

[15] As the jump is rarely directly away from the local sun, it is wise to jump as far away from the mass as possible to limit the distortion it has on your trajectory. A jump to outer planets is generally used to overcome this complexity.

[16] Theoretically this means it is possible to jump through, though not from, a black hole’s event horizon. No one’s been nuts enough to try this, nor is there a significantly large enough black hole in the Vast Worlds area of space to test it on.

[17]The accuracy and power is simply impossible using terrestrial technologies of the age, so it is generally assumed to be derelict technology

[18] This beam is all but invisible, except for a static scream on the radar as it ionises the gaseous molecules in space, but you’d need to be wired into the radar array to notice that.

[19] Something that couldn’t be used before as the atmosphere caused too much dissipation of the beam for it to be effective. Actually, pretty much any atmosphere makes rayy guns useless for long range combat, and so rail guns and nuclear missiles are used for planetary bombardment.

[20] This station was rather like CERN in its function, but instead of a circular ring, it used a single track, forty kilometres long to accelerate particles to energies infinitesimally close. The heat sinks and radiators the thing had at the collision site were actually more massive than the hold colliding array.

[21] Actually, it’s technically ovoid, due to the micro resistances in the interstellar medium, but those are slight enough for it not to have any visible effect. Besides, you can’t actually look at it without searing your retinas

[22] I find it quite disturbing how willing people in Vast Worlds are just to accept the near magical effects the derelict technologies produce without argument. Partly it’s probably just familiarity making the issue moot, (like how you don’t have to know the mechanics of a fridge to use one) but also its just resignation to the fact it cannot be understood. There are a disturbing number of cults worshiping the derelict makers, and most scientists who’ve ever studied the devices feel quite sympathetic to these people.

[23] Like with rayy guns, this does depend on what the hull is made of and designed to withstand. A good battle armour will take a half dozen rounds before it loses coherence.

[24] Ships that use plasma cannons tend to be have high thrust and low mass so they can rapidly close and stay in range. The Chinese Empire used fighters in combat for the longest of all the factions for this reason alone.

[25] For comparison, a pistol bullet travels at about three hundred metres per second. 

[26] Topped only by rayy guns.

[27] Combat Vast World ships will run depressurised when expecting a fire fight to prevent decompression doing damage or shocks spreading through the atmosphere.

[28] Technically, this shouldn’t be long enough for a pilot to react and get out of the way of the slug; however, most pilots will constantly alter their course during a battle to make sure no one gets a proper weapons’ lock.

[29] There is at least one instance of an End Time fleet being defeated by a rail gun equipped opponent. The End Time fleet was outnumbered ten to one, and inflicted horrendous casualties, but that’s not the point.

[30] Things like missiles, fighter or concussive shells.

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