Science and Technology

Science in Imperial Space is mostly limited to natural history and archeology uncovering the geological and biological conditions and history of the planets used by the settlers. There is little or no basic research. Mathematics, physics, astronomy, and chemistry are received as fixed bodies of lore. The life sciences and planetary sciences are heavily merged with technology.

The level of technology, though relatively static, is very high.

Public Technical Policy

Imperial worlds have a strong tendency to centralize their technical resources; non-Imperial worlds use more distributed technology. Worlds that have changed political state often have mixed or intermediate approaches to public technology.

Imperial centralization is clearly a tool for centralizing power, though this is seldom remarked on publicly. Contrariwise, planets that do not wish to be inviting targets for an acquisitive Empire stay decentralized unless that conflicts with a homegrown strain of totalitarianism. On an Imperial world, public transit, recycling, power (broadcast), communications, and data processing are centralized in each city, in a monopoly owned or licensed by the Imperial government. On an independent world, such things are distributed in individual ownership or in many competing agencies.

Hyperdrives

At least since the arrival of the New Terraformers, starflight in the Terraform Reach has been by overdrive. This is a combination of gravitic flight and the older tachyonic hyperdrive. It can be used for both FTL and STL travel. Most ships have two drives, a primary drive for FTL and a secondary drive for STL and backup. (Maneuvering for landing or docking is still done by TK or reaction beams.)

Overdrive moves a ship smoothly through the light barrier and beyond in a quasi-Newtonian manner, stopping at a superluminal velocity proportional to the power level. The ship itself is inertially insulated and remains effectively in the launching reference frame. Oddly enough, these conveniences make it more difficult to time-travel with overdrive than with the older hyperdrive.

Overdrive involves converting a large amount of mass into the energies and energy-like tensor components of a field of stressed spacetime, the drive envelope. When the drive is shut down, the drive envelope largely converts back into fuel (usually chasmium or hydrogen) but some is wasted as low-frequency gravitic radiation. Fuel is also lost in flight. This means that overdrive ships must be refueled periodically. Ordinary operating energy can be supplied from batteries, charged by minor bleedover from fuel conversions.

Teleportation

The old tachyonic hyperdrive survives as the core of teleportation systems in the Reach. These systems require both a sender and a receiver and are limited in range to a few hundred thousand kilometers (planetary, orbital, or cislunar range). Most systems provide capsules for passengers, since the sender must aim the cargo at the receiver and, in the case of a miss, the cargo flies out into interstellar space at many thousands of times the speed of light.

Propulsion

Reaction drives are quite obsolete in the Reach and used only for toys. Even gravitic motors are confined to supplying cabin gravity in spaceships, for the most part. Most vehicles rely on mechanical TK or on tachyonic reaction beams.

Power

Fusion and ferric reduction are still in use, though performed by nucleonic TK. Pinhole-effect generators supply cities and similar large installations. Maxwell and tachyon-cycle generators supply vehicles and small installations such as rural homes. Power is transmitted as electrical current, through light-pipes, broadband hv (which includes the broadcast power systems used in the Empire), or by TK transfer.

Communications

There are two separate technologies for communication: network, and beam & broadcast.

Network communication is almost entirely implemented by psionic mechanical telesthesia (MT). Communication is limited, not by physical distance, but by expense, which varies with the number of routers one must pass through, the number of tokens one buys (highly variable in cost and pricing schemes), bandwidth (text, voice, graphics, TV, 3D, VR, or TN [teleneural]), and connect time.

The Reach comm web is very old, many parts dating back to the Old Settlers. It has been re-routed, repaired, neglected, left to automated maintenance, and built over, layer upon layer, through Old Settler history, New Terraformer expansions and wars, Raider upheavals, and the many dynasties of the Empire. Net archeology is a perfectly real and valid discipline in the Reach, with no lack of subject matter, despite the fact that the archeologists have been working almost as long as the net. There are always forgotten paths, routers, and data banks waiting to be re-discovered. Many of them are still quietly in use, below the level of human attention.

Beam and broadcast are by hyperbeam/hypercast (tachyonic EM radiation) or by psibeam/psicast (psionically induced advanced potentials of partial-sum photons). Hypercast is the older technology, cheaper and more robust. Psicast replaces tachyphore, and is easier to use over large distances than hypercast or tachyphore. (Tachyphore used hidden-variable fields.)

Beam and broadcast communications are necessary to ships, since overdrive blocks ordinary network telesis (exceptions being elaborate and expensive). Also, beam and broadcast allow contact with people for whom you have no net address, not to mention such useful features as anonymous sending and receiving.

Common bulk storage is the data pin, a matchstick-sized object capable of holding several hundred terabytes ("Ts") of data.

Common interface forms are screen, diptych, tablet, and comm ornament or card; less common are visor, contact lenses, VR desk or cabinet, VR suite, and TN contact ("telepatch," used in splice jobs).

Interface forms closely reflect social status; the less intrusive they are, the higher-class. Thus, personal conversation and hardcopy, especially when suitably introduced, are best; then remote contact with people; then voice-controlled contact with media; then diptyches and tablets; then comm ornaments; then visors; then VR; then TN. A delight and preoccupation with technically advanced machinery is a mark of the bourgoise technical classes, suitable in an aristocrat only as an eccentricity or as a condescension required by duty.

Mass media is the communications form of proletariat. It is free or very cheap through much of the Reach. ("Bread and circuses.") It includes all the forms we are familiar with, plus interactive TV (callable programs and selectable viewpoints), and visor VR.

Cybernetics

Computer technology in Imperial Space has long been able to produce citizen-class machines, but the residents of Imperial Space very seldom do so. Nor do they usually endow their computers with humanesque personae. Empire culture prefers its machinery competent and colorless, and most of its neighbors follow suit.

Common cybernetic devices include autopilots, autodocs, autobarbers, autoguards (or "monitors"), autochefs (or "electric butlers"), voicewriters, lie detectors, secretaries, and databases. Voice input is very common. Voice output is less popular; folk of the Terraform Reach prefer written or graphical displays, including vocabularies of icons and ideograms for rapid, private, or professionally cryptic communication.

Teleform Technology

Teleform projectors are psi-tech devices using mechanical TK to perform the equivalent of ectoplastics by projecting solid images.

Early teleforms were formed from ambient air. They were rigid and inert chemically, thermally, and electromagnetically.

The mechanical properties were soon expanded. Later, the non-mechanical ones could be added. Later still, the teleforms were formed from a projected magnetic field.

Simularies and Teleform Housing

An obvious application for teleforms is rapid custom tailoring of the environment, indistinguishable from a breakthrough in virutal-reality interfaces. Such an environment is called a "simulary." They are part of the media industry, but not an overwhelming part. They have limits: They take up much more room than earlier forms of virtual reality, they are expensive, and the programming is enormously complex, especially if the simulated environment is to be safe.

People can live in a simulary-style environment, and this was a fad when simularies were new. However, good simularies are very expensive, and the flickering alteration of surroundings is inconvenient, as is keeping track of what's real and what is simulated. Simulary architecture eventually divided into three markets: upscale curios, conveniences for restricted environments such as spaceships, and low-budget housing (not using top-of-the-line teleforms).

Teleform Cybernetics (Robots and Telepresence)

A robot can use teleforms to have a shapeshifting body, but the market for this is small. Usually, an ordinary body is quite sufficient and much cheaper. Also, the durability of a teleform is proportional to the power used to project it; sufficient power supplies for the adventurous life a teleform body implies are also expensive, and often bulky.

Teleforms can be used for telepresence. This is a common application, usually used for work in dangerous environments. It is seldom used for communication a palpable equivalent of a telephone. It is much more expensive, in hardware, software, and bandwidth, and a simple calling card or video link is much more often sufficient.

Cascade Teleforms (Hyperelectronics)

Advanced teleform projectors can project entire working machines including computer system, sensors, TK tractors, hulls, ergoplasm, other advanced teleform projectors, etc.

Applications are obvious, especially for the military. The ideal is a machine the size of a briefcase that expands itself into a war robot, figher craft, or battleship, or into any of a selection of military vehicles, and can repair and alter itself quickly, within very broad limits.

So far, the ideal is elusive. Hyperelectronic devices tend to be energy hogs and to be very unstable under physical insult hit them and they go poof, or more often, given the energy densities involved, go boom. But every century or so, someone tries it again, getting a little closer each time.

Solitonics

A "soliton" is a single wave, as contrasted to a wave train. In this context, it is a cascade teleform that includes teleform projectors used to continue projecting itself after the original projector is turned off.

Research-minded generals dream of solitonic bullets, guns, fighter ships, tanks, and robot soldiers, but so far solitons have inconveniently limited lifespans and are even more unstable than "ordinary" (or "isotonic") hyperelectronics.

Medicine

In the Reach, rejuvenation has been supplemented with senestasis, a process of advance psionic biotech that halts aging. Since senestasis requires no repetition (unlike rejuvenation, which must be repeated every ten years or so), it is much more economical and public health authorities almost universally prefer it. Actual rejuvenation has become a luxury, a kind of cosmetic surgery.

However, senestasis does not completely halt wear on moving parts, such as joints, teeth, and skin. These eventually need minor rejuvenation, regrowth, or bionic replacement.

Most significantly, senestasis does not "kick in" until some point in the life-cycle that can not be easily predicted (and there is little incentive to make the prediction). Most people stop aging between 40 and 50. Very unlucky ones stop at 70 or do not stop. Very lucky ones stop at 20 (and even then wear and weathering set in).

The social result is that people will look somewhat aged if they (1) are too poor to afford cosmetic rejuve, or (2) want to look "distinguished" (in which case they usually dress well enough to avoid being mistaken for the first case), or (3) are completely indifferent to or contemputous of the vanity of youthful appearance.

Senestasis is the most elaborate form of psi-tech medical technology in the Reach. It is the peak of a series of treatments (called "guard scores") that enhance resistance to various kinds of insult to the body.

A rare but well-known score is emergency suspension (technically "cryptobiosis"), in which a sufficiently low oxygen level in the brain triggers a form of suspended animation. Blood becomes viscous and flesh becomes leathery. The body becomes resistant to heat, cold, and outside chemical action. Emergency suspension is incompatible with any other guard score.

Common scores include resistance to:

impact
pressure
vacuum
heat
cold
low gravity
high gravity
radiation
dehydration
suffocation
starvation
electrical shock
specific classes of psychoactive chemicals (e.g. alcohol, opiates)
specific classes of poisons (e.g. heavy metals, neurotoxins)

One can take only one or two of these guard scores in addition to senestasis, or three or four without it. After that, the psionic patterns begin to interfere with each other. There just isn't "room" for them. [A game-balance consideration.]

Infectious disease is not a significant problem to Imperial Space medicine. Imperial Space medicine is at its most active and most advanced dealing with allergic reactions to alien biochemicals.

Genetic Engineering

Strong social pressure inhibits genetic engineering of humans beyond the level of reversible cosmetic mutation. It is too strongly associated with the low-class Old Settlers. (Many Old Settler races are transgenic.) Animals and plants of Earthly origin can be gene-tooled freely (though neo-beasts do not exist in any numbers). Native organisms and Old Terraformer organisms are harder to fiddle with.

The early Old Settlers created many transgenic species to fill out the impoverished biota. These include large predator and prey species based on domestic animals such as cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, rats, mice, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and geese. In retrospect, not all of these look like good ideas.

Psi

Imperial Space science is perfectly aware of psi and its physical basis, but the practice of psychic skills is actively discouraged by the Empire, since it is impossible to regiment in the imperial tradition. Under the most anti-psi emperors, it is outlawed; under the least anti-psi, it is merely frowned on except for a few "court magicians" in imperial pay.

It is easy to discourage psi development, since the more advanced powers take a great deal of effort or rare talent to develop, and the more basic powers can be emulated by psionic machinery, with much less effort and training. Instead of clairvoyance, use a psicorder; instead of telepathy, use a lie detector or subvocal comm; instead of TK, use a hand tractor; and so on.

Outside the Empire, other governments of the Reach sometimes encourage psi exactly because it is an imperial weak spot, but the level of achievement remains only moderate in most cases (with interesting exceptions like the Quishonnes).

Old Settlers, in or out of the Empire, use psi more freely than the general population, and the general population thinks the Old Settlers are even freer with it than they are.

Time Travel

No governments are easy with time travel, because it entails foreknowledge. The governments of the Reach are no exception, and any time-traveling activity of theirs is kept most secret, and probably to a minimum. The fact that overdrive is harder to time-travel with than hyperdrive means that there is also very little civilian time travel.

Time travel requires either an old-style hyperdrive ship (which must be custom made) or making selective leakage in the inertial insulation of an overdrive ship (which is tricky and dangerous, especially if the ship was not designed for it; such a feature an inertial valve would be another expensive custom job).