The flicker drive is the key technology which enables interstellar travel at faster than light speeds, making possible the existence of galactic scale civilizations which can maintain some sort of unity over the vast distances between stars. It has been discovered independently by many races, and indeed the society of contemporary races define the point of time when any rising intelligence acquires this technology as emergence, the minimum threshold required to join the Society. Because each species in the interstellar community has discovered and manufactures its own version of the flicker drive, there are differences in their efficiency and operating potential. Manufacturing secrets are jealously guarded and there are few examples of technology sharing in this critical area. It is known that different drives, operate at different frequencies with a range of different micro transitions, leading to a range of different pseudo speeds. The human flicker drive is the slowest in the galaxy. The Thinderin are believed to possess a particularly good version of the technology, but the Counter Xarctic Traders have the fastest and best amongst living species. Designers are aware of two levels of drive efficiency, known as protocol one and protocol two. Protocol two can only be used on low mass objects such as message or distress drones but it is between fifteen and twenty times faster than protocol one which must be used for all starships.
The flicker drive is an essential enabling technology amongst the interstellar species of the bubble and beyond. According to the best available intelligence of the BXR in a secret report commissioned in 2380, the estimated speeds of the major ship types available to each species are shown in the table at the bottom of this article. The "Psuedo Velocity" is in multiples of the speed of light and the "Bubble Crossing Time" is in Earth standard days, being a simple conversion of the pseudo velocity applied over the 400 light year diameter of the bubble, which gives a useful indication of the way all human space is scaled for purposes of travel, trade and potential conflict by the starfaring species. Note that these are estimated protocol one values. For message transmission via low mass drones that can use protocol two, the pseudo velocity can be multiplied between fifteen and twenty times. On this basis a Counter Xarctic Trader message drone, the quickest known unit, could cross the Bubble in a day.
Wake RadiationWake radiation is an interesting side effect which results from the transition into the pseudo-dimension. A short burst of light is emitted in real space with a frequency determined by the efficiency of the drive and the mass of the starship. This only happens on the outward transition and is not observed when returning to real space. In general, higher frequency wake radiation is given off by more powerful drives. Wake radiation leaves a retrospective light trace along the path of travel which is unique to each type of engine and allows observers to gain intelligence about the travel patterns of local starships. Whilst the radiation is normally harmless, in the case of the fastest known ships of the Counter-Xarctic traders, where the energy can be given off as X-rays, they must be careful to avoid engaging their Flicker Drives too close to inhabited spaces. Protocol two drives also emit wake radiation at high frequency but with lower illumination and less dangerous energy levels. Nevertheless, to avoid regular exposure, protocol two engines are usually only activated in shielded areas or at safe distances from the species using them.
From 2275 until 2485 the Strip Engines used in human Flicker Drive technology were built exclusively at the Luminal Forge on Io. This gave The Resource Management World Government a high degree of control over the operation of its early colonies which persisted into the time of The Solar Group. In 2485 the commissioning of The Great Hammer provided an alternative source of supply.
Each flicker drive depends on an underlying component which humanity calls the strip engine. The strip engine is a miniature, artificially manufactured black hole, charged and contained within a strong magnetic bottle. The tuning of a strip engine is at least as complex as its creation. It requires an information pattern builder, which primes the singularity with a precise dose of isolated virtual qbits. These can then be made to transition via stimulated frequency field changes, triggering the flicker effect. The flicker drive does not break earlier known physical laws prohibiting speeds faster than light, because a starship using the drive does not technically travel between intermediate points. Rather there is a meshing and unmeshing operation at each flicker, when the ship is decoupled from the local co-ordinate system and transitions into a pseudo-dimension where its spacial co-ordinates can be rewritten. A micro instant later, it rejoins our universe in the direction of travel, only to flicker on again as the journey continues.
The theoretical ideas behind the tuning of the Strip Engine and the practical means to accomplish them, relied heavily on work that had been done in the development of the G-lift engine and the breakthrough came from scientists working to improve the efficiency of the G-lift engine.