Relativistic Kill Vehicle

Commonly referred to by the abbreviation RKV, a weapon which obtains its destructive power by being accelerated up to a significant fraction of the speed of light relative to its target.

Details

Perhaps the technological successor of the venerable atomic warheads from the Nuclear Dark Days, RKVs take advantage of the fact that as an object approaches the speed of light its kinetic energy asymptotically approaches infinity. For instance, a mere one kilogram mass traveling at 90% lightspeed carries more destructive energy than the largest thermonuclear weapon ever built by industrial humans (the Soviet Tsar Bomb, with a maximum yield of 100 megatons). When used against a planetary target an RKV can destroy anything from a city to most of a continent.
Individual RKVs usually resemble long cones or cylinders of dense material, small enough to fit inside an average living room but massing several tons. For deployment they are loaded aboard a ship with a propulsion system capable of reaching near-lightspeed velocities. In the Second Interstellar Period this was usually some form of gamma drive since the highly-collimated exhaust would make it difficult for the target to see the carrier vessel's approach. Militaries developed all manner of ways to ensure RKVs were delivered to their targets with minimal chance of interception and minimal time to prepare, ranging from starships periodically flying past enemy systems to be redirected if needed, to attempting to fire RKVs through a wormhole at a planet on the other side, to entrusting a secret cabal with control of the system so enemies could only guess at what level of warfare would trigger a relativistic response.

History

Relativistic arsenals were maintained as deterrence weapons in the Second Interstellar Period, a policy which perhaps inevitably led to their use in planet-devasting conflicts which escalated into the Age of Strife and its following centuries-long dark age. For this reason, the Stellar Compact enforces a strict ban against the construction or deployment of RKV weapon systems.
Item type
Weapon, Other
Significance
Strategic deterrence weapon of mass destruction


Cover image: by Vertixico

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