GURPS 4 Babylon 5
World: Science and Technology
Pseudo-science to provide context
|Techno-babble that doesn't sound as ridiculous|
In keeping with the television series, the science and technology is like an extrapolation of the modern world into in space and a few 'miracles' to allow space travel. Like all sci-fi, the effects of new technology will be shown, ranging from life-changing to silly but it will not be showcased. The science and technology will be comprehensible and technobabble will be kept to a minimum. Players can use tricks, such as setting off fire sprinklers, but there will be no deux ex machina. Everything follows from modern day, scientific principles or the pseudo-science described below. There nearest you'll get to 'bouncing the the particle beam off the main deflector dish' inventions is making a roll to go faster in hyperspace. This is Babylon 5, not Star Trek.
Psionics: Psionics is the study of psychic abilities, such as telepathy and ESP. Although trained psychics or 'teeps' consider psionics to be a fine craft, it is little more than a collection of accidental discoveries.
Theory of Collectively Guided Evolution: Most races have been able to reliably restore lost limbs or senses for centuries. What military scientists could not understand was why enhancing function via cybernetics, rather than merely restoring it, led to all manner of psychological problems yet the same enhancements via external devices merely required training. It was not the interface with the nervous system as restoration worked fine. The willingness of the subject made no difference. Downgrading installed cybernetics to human levels allowed the problems to be treated. Enhancing animals, even at an early age, similarly failed, in proportion to its intelligence. New born puppies installed with artificial, night vision eyes soon freaked out when they opened their eyes but the control group with torches strapped to their head easily learnt to navigate in the dark.
The Theory of Collectively Guided Evolution was devised to explain this, which claims that the sentient species of an ecosystem collectively guides the evolution of all members. All the possible, random mutations are possible futures of the ecosystem. The mutations that are envisaged and observed by the members of the possible, future ecosystems as useful are more likely to remain in the single, remaining future when future observation collapses the others, much like possibilities are collapsed in Quantum Theory. This includes all members, from the immediate to the far future, that inherit the ecosystem. In other words, as soon as an ecosystem exists, the mutations of its members and, thus, its development is set by all its future members. However, as the present state determines what future possibilities are even possible, an ecosystem is a vast, feedback network across time and space, like subatomic particles in a Feynman diagram. The dynamics of this network is the subject of much speculation and mathematics but it is driven by genetics and chance. It is not known why future possibilities must be linked to genetics.
Body images, capabilities and their interaction with the environment is part of this understanding and artificially enhancing a sentient being alters its body image. As new, future possibilities are created, the altered being's capabilities are genetically impossible for it and cannot exist in any of the futures yet the being does actually continue to exist with its understanding of its enhanced capability. The being's mind is caught in a paradox between an understanding that can and cannot exist. Some other ecological understandings of the subject end up giving way, leading to symptoms such as loss of social skills, poor perception, lack of self-drive or delusions. Restorative cybernetics merely restores a capability that is possible and doesn't suffer the contradiction. External devices are part of the environment, not the self, and do not violate the collective understanding of native capabilities.
The holistic nature of this theory does not sit well with more typical, reductionist scientific theories and most cultures largely regarded it as pseudo-science claptrap when it was first devised. However, the theory predicts that if alien races exist and contact with them is commonplace, the separate ecosystems will become integrated and the past evolutions will become linked and altered by each other. As most races devised this theory before contact with other races, this prediction was tested by such contact. All space faring races have a greater similarity between, ecologies, species and biochemistry than other models predict, despite radically different gene bases. With only a few exceptions, it seems humanoid skeletal and muscular anatomy is commonly understood to be useful by the interstellar collective, along with similar amino acids and atmospheric composition.
Data Crystals: According to The Theory of Everything, the molecular bonds of a crystal can be energised with surreal energy states, which can be inspected and can only be changed be overwriting it or gross, mechanical shock. This means that information can be recorded in certain, transparent crystals, such as quartz, with a laser of correct frequency, unless overwritten or the crystal smashed or near melted. The physical format is fixed by the material, not the recording device, so it is physically compatible with any data crystal recorder. Combined with standard, interstellar, encoding formats, the data crytsal is the universal recording media for documents, databases, video playback etc. However, a fixed capacity of 100 GB is still smaller than datachips.
EMP Recovery: The electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear blast can induce massive, electrical currents in electronic and electrical circuits. This was enough to burn out the microelectronics of previous eras. To counter this, the the base of the microchip is infused with sharp, metal spikes, which drain the electrical field from the more delicate microcircuitry, all connected to a relatively thick, metallic film. Depending on design and build quality, as well as EMP strength, the residual field may still disrupt the microcircuitry but it's not enough to burn it out and usually resets in seconds. Although originally developed by the military, civilian circuits have long since been replaced to prevent terrorists using EMP grenades.
Tachyon Radios: The concept of tachyons, faster-than-light particles, being able to transmit information was previously thought to be a violation of causality.
Quantum Computing: As microprocessors continued to shrink in circuit size, quantum effects became noticable and limited further miniturization. The breakthrough in computing was exploitation of such phenomena where atoms would represent qubits, which were a superposition of every state between up and down at once. Entangled together, a register of qubits would perform every, possible calculation at once until the act of observation stops it and forces it to (usually) collapse into the correct solution. This can solve mathematical problems that would normally take years or centuries. Only certain applications, such as encryption and voice processing, lend themselves to such shortcuts and most of a microprocessor is still older, serial computing circuitry. The skill of a programmer is representing as much of a problem in terms of quantum calculations as possible.
Natural Language Commands: With just one person's voice varied so much by mood, stress and conversation subject, let alone different accents, dialects and tone, only supercomputers could cope. Quantum computing finally allowed the mass processing needed to reliably understand natural language. This understanding is still limited as such computers aren't sapient and depends on the computing power. Shout "Help me!" at a personal communicator and it'll probably quote its current connections whilst a household computer will detect the panic and contact the police. The command "Police!" spoken at a personal communicator will correctly interpreted as it knows it's a communication device but exclaimed in a room, a household computer will be uncertain if it overheard an expletive and ask for confirmation. Commands are best if they're explicit, such as "Phone the police!" Ambiguous commands, especially queries, are often misinterpreted. Asking a mainframe to find an anomolous report will often drag up irrelevancies, such as references to a pet dog or unusual number of quotations, though skilled operators and reseachers can phrase commands properly.
Zero-g Monocrystal Metals: The zero-g of orbital space stations makes growing single crystal, superalloy metals from a seed crystal much easier and more machinable. This expands the application and commercial viability from just generator turbine blades to rockets, hull plating or fusion reactors.
Cell Cloning Surgery: Damaged skin and organs can be stitched up but this does not help a critically, underperforming organ or creates a permanent scar. Hormones can speed cell growth but this only happens on the damaged surface, which takes weeks. When the patient is too critical to wait or scar tissue is unwanted, the appropriate cells can be grown much faster in vitro, by a cell cloning machine. Such machines are standard in most operating theatres. Portable versions resemble a large, glass box with mini-waldos and a control panel. Superior, non-portable versions resemble a small, display cabinet and allow multiple growths, use more sophisticated scaffolds for non-homogeneous growths and have a larger, more specialised range of hormones and nutrients.
Operation begins by the surgeon scraping cells of the same type into a Petri dish of nutrients and telling the medical technician what size and shape he wants for the cells. As the initial batch of cells replicates, he selects a plastic, bush-like scaffold, trims as needed, connects various points to tiny tubes using the waldos and flashes an internal, ultraviolet lamp to ensure sterility. After ten minutes, the 'seed' sample of loose cells is extracted by syringe and dropped onto various parts of the scaffold. Hormones and nutrients are pumped into the bush, which is a capillary. The cells replicate on the internal surface of the bush to form part of an organ or a piece of skin. After half to three hours later, the growth is transferred to the patient. The skill and art of the surgeon is attaching the growth so the existing, capillary system can connect properly. After a few weeks, the scaffold disintegrates and capillaries grow to take their place.
Microflora Engineering: When a new, space faring race meets its first alien species, it's usually concerned about unknown, infectious diseases. Such races are surprised by the similarity between native and foreign microbes and, thus, can handle them just as well. This includes the microflora found in the intestines, mouth, eyes etc. Pre-space flight models predict contact with alien microflora would cause numerous incidents of irritations, inflammations and digestion problems but incidents were only thrice that of pre-contact incidents, rather than one thousand times. Nowadays, native microflora engineering, using genetic modification or selective breeding, reduces this to native levels. Health departments study alien microbes and issue updated microflora. These are delivered in routine, medical procedures, typically in pill or drink, and alter the patient's microflora population.
Prosthetics and Cybernetics:Sensory or motor functions lost through injury, such as missing eyes or limbs, can now be reliably restored through artificial devices, such electronic eyes or robotic limbs. Armies often show the effectiveness of such treatment to allay recruitment fears and war weariness. Enhanced versions are not possible, however.
Super Heavy Elements: All races previously thought Uranium, with an atomic number of 92, was the heaviest, stable element whilst higher, atomic numbers can only be synthesised in a laboratory and decay in hours. The Theory of Everything predicts elements with various atomic numbers between 158 and 277 are theoretically possible and stable. A few atoms created in a particle collider proved a few of the lighter elements but the heavier ones can only be found in systems near super novas. Few races researched much into Super Heavy Elements as they're hard to obtain and chemically uninteresting.
Races become very interested as soon as they discovered jump gates, which require a particular element. When the Human race was discovered by the Centauri and given an old jump gate, they studied it and identified the requisite Super Heavy Element as the fortieth of the series. However, no scientist had bothered to name that element, so the media took the name of the first element in the series, Quantium, and appended '40' to it. The correct name is Galtonium but 'Quantium 40' stuck. Alas, the other elements have few exploitable properties and are regarded as waste.
Theory of Everything: This physics theory successfully marries the radically different models of Quantum Theory, Relativity and classical physics with its own, radically different model. It is even more surreal than its predecessors but its many, successful predictions makes it the pivitol, scientific breakthrough of TL9. The model presents a mechanistic, albeit complex, perspective but driven by randomness. This is at odds with the Theory of Intelligence Guided Evolution or the inexplicable nature of psionics. Despite its grandiose name, it is widely regarded as a useful model for engineers but a simplification of the true nature of the Universe, which is still ineffable.
Energised rocket fuel: The Theory of Everything states that molecular bonds can have many more and surreal energy states than Quantum Theory suggests. Correct manipulation with varying electromagnetic fields and microwaves allows such states to be energised, packing hundred times the energy density of normal aviation and rocket fuels. Such states cannot be exploited by chemistry except for rapid oxidation but this is enough to make routine space flight viable.
Fission Generators: Fission reactors are more compact than pre-space flight versions and can be run with minimal supervision until they need refueling every five years. However, the problems of radioactive waste means they only see service in small outposts on barren moons or planets.
Fusion Reactors: Exploitation of the Theory of Everything reduces the toroidal ring of a fusion reactor from the size of a city to a large building. Pulsed, ultraviolet lasers, as well as dumping thermal energy, emphasise the wave-like properties of the helium plasma electrons, thus forcing the nuclei to be more wave-like and increasing the chances of them 'tunneling' the immense energy barriers of fusion. With temperatures of 500 million Kelvin, it takes a week to power one up and an hour to power down. Only security-cleared, trained technicians are allowed near them.
Talent Spotting: Teachers, by observing participation in virtual reality games and handwriting and text analysis, are better able to spot talented, though not necessarily gifted, children at an earlier age. It is widely regarded that a third of children develop an interest in an area of expertise, not just a skill, and encouraging this is particularly effective. This creates specialists with more transferable skills, allowing the greater, employment mobility and flexibility needed for a space faring race.
Tailored Computer Teaching: In a space-faring society, teachers may not be on-hand. For children between schools, teaching continues by interactive software and virtual classrooms run on any household or shipboard computer. The remote teacher regularly inspects use of the software and adjusts accordingly. This can also be applied to adult teaching but for adolesants, mobile parents are encouraged to leave the children with relatives or in a state sponsored boarding school.
Hyperspace and Jump Gates: The Theory of Everything states all sorts of bizarre, coexistent universes are theoretically possible. Detecting if they even exist is what no one can figure out. Sometime in antiquity, a race must have discovered that hyperspace shortens interstellar journey times and invented jump gates for ingress and egress but that race is unknown. Fortunately, any young civilisation advanced enough to travel their own system can scan the jump points formed by jump-capable, visiting ships a few dozen times then build one themselves. Once the original race invented jump gates, they couldn't have maintained that secret for long.
Hyperspace is a hostile universe with no features except for randomly fluctuating gravity and electromagnetic fields. Its dull orange colour, as well as the gravity, comes from vacuum energy that only physicists understand. It follows a topology and a relationship with real space that only a navigator understands. Navigation without guidance is dangerous as ships can drift off course due to gravity fluctuations so that even jump-capable ships merely jump in the middle of deep space. Exploration consists of a massive ship, making it less subject to gravitational drift, that jumps into real space at random till it finds a solar system then back tracks home.
System-based jump gates form the basis of safe, hyperspace navigation using tight-beam, radio beacons aimed at other jump gates that ships follow. Even then, due to the peculiar topology and energies of hyperspace, the tight-beam does not form a straight line and meanders over time, so a ship going too fast can lose track of an abrupt, direction change of the beam. Thus, the speed of hyperspace travel depends on maneuverability and sensors, rather than raw, forward thrust. Beacons from a jump gate can typically only deviate 28° from each other and usually have a range of 15 parsecs for major spacelanes and 5 parsecs (16.3 light years) for backwater lanes. As a result, most gates only point to one other gate. Major space lanes use multiple tight-beams, so if a ship loses one signal, it will usually run into another. If a ship does become lost, it is expected to stop and request for help using its tachyon radio. A pivoted transmitted will be aimed until the signal is re-acquired and the journey proceeds. This usually attracts a 1000 credit fine but is always used for VIPs. If the gate doesn't have such a beacon or it fails, a rescue ship will arrive in a few days and attract the target to it.
A system-based jump gate typically consists of four, parallel, half-kilometre structures forming a tunnel big enough for a spaceship and housing ten field generators each and up to twelve radio beacons transmitting down the tunnel and into hyperspace. Each generator houses pulsed, ultra-violet lasers, much like fusion reactors, emphasising the wave like properties of the Quantium 40 electon structure and the nucleus with it. The result is a strong nuclear field, normally confined to atomic nuclei, bigger than a spaceship. This is creates a connection between real space and hyperspace strong enough for the navigation beacon. Also, a mass bigger than a car will partially collapse the field into a jump point by its presence, which drags the mass from real space into hyperspace or vice versa. This process cannot be stopped, much to the annoyance of border patrols and policemen. The field is reformed, ready for the next jump after 15 seconds for major space lanes to 10 minutes for backwaters. Jump gates in a system interfere with each other according to the distance between them, requiring more power and maintenance. Jump gates in backwater lanes are powered by solar panels and parked in orbit around different planets, creating additional travel time between time. Single gate systems are similarly powered with the gate in orbit around a colony or outpost. Gates in minor space lanes are powered by fission reactors and orbit a gas giant. Those for major space lanes use fusion reactors in orbit around important outposts or colonies.
Ship-based jump gates use the same principle but must form the jump point in front of them and require much more power.
Phased Plasma Generators: Just when it seemed Reflex armour could reduce the casualties of war, someone copied the principles of fusion reactors into a gun. PPG weapons use pulsed, ultraviolet lasers to eject microscopic quantities of 1000 Kelvin helium plasma at subsonic speeds. While many people think the plasma is a red-hot ball (this would dissipate instantly), it is actually forced to be a tightly focused ray. The ray can resonate with and traverse the structured, electron fields of crystalline materials but fares worse with more complex materials. In other words, it can penetrate metal and ceramics without leaving a hole and dumps its energy as it penetrates flesh. Fortunately, modern Reflex can also react against PPGs but the armour piercing properties can't be stopped.
Whilst Reflex armour has relegated ballistics sidearms to specialist, military applications, criminals discarded ballistics in favour of PPGs to avoid incriminating bullets and gun shot residue. Forensic investigators are reduced to sniffing for ozone and checking PPG clips and barrels. It is also eliminates hull breaches in spaceships and domes. When a fire fight starts, people in adjoining rooms must still learn to duck.
Reflex Armour: See UT172. This provides substantial protection against bullets making them almost obsolete and some against PPG shots.