Wormholes & Portals
Passages through interdimensional space that make interstellar travel possible.
“What is a wormhole, anyway?” Corethi asked. Yathar said, “In a really simplified nutshell, it’s a passage through interstellar space, formed by the gravitational Airts of stars, which runs between the systems. They limit access to Otherplanar contact while you’re in one, so it might limit the amount of food we can conjure—though that does seem unlikely for such a simple prayer. But I’m not a priest so I don’t know for sure. And it takes some skill to sail one. No offense meant, but most of us aren’t rated starhands. I don’t know if we can do that.”
WormholesWhen interstellar Airts form a strong enough connection between one star system and another, it becomes possible for a Star-Pilot in contact with a starfaring engine to fold space. The link between the two is called a wormhole. Wormholes make interstellar travel possible.
PortalsPortals are the openings to wormholes. Unlike Airts, they are visible to the naked eye within a few light-minutes by the warping of background space and their interior illumination. Entering portals is a difficult process of navigating deep whirlpool Gravity Wells so most captains prefer to have a seasoned Star-Pilot at the helm when they make the attempt. It is possible for ships to be torn apart, or to get stuck in the event horizon of a portal's gravity well.
He stared hard out the forward window, which opened on to the fo’c’sle and Queenie’s front view. Shaundar had never seen anything like the churning, nebulous rainbow light that streamed past them in all directions like a water tunnel. It radiated its own incredible luminescence. Studying it, Shaundar could see eddies of individual colours whirling around each other like river currents. They were following one such current, which was snaking and blue, plunging through the other rainbow swirls.The experience of travelling through a wormhole is significantly different from the experience of travelling along a typical Airt. It is perceived by starfaring crews as a rapidly-moving tunnel of visible rainbow light, which provides more than enough illumination to operate a ship topside. The keel of a starfaring ship moves beneath the surface of the tunnel wall, which means the ship's rudder is primarily used for steering. However, Airts still blow through the tunnel, and enchanted sails can still make use of them for propulsion and directing the ship through this parallel dimension that exists outside of traditional three-dimensional space.
“Go ahead, Lieutenant Sunfall,” the Captain grunted as he and the Exec stared out at their quarry with predatory eyes. “The explosion was in the chapel, sir,” he reported. “Damage was primarily to the altar, which was destroyed. We got the fire out before it could spread. There was a lot of smoke but I don’t think it’s enough to foul the air. Sorry I wasn’t fast enough on the candles, sir.” The Captain looked at him and smiled. “Shouldn’t have been your job, Lieutenant. You would have been abow in the helm room; which, to my recollection, is at Queenie’s other end. Actually, we didn’t do too badly for an unplanned wormhole entry. Now I would like you to go around and collect everyone’s flints and matches so we don’t have any more accidents.” “Av, elan.” “Oh yes, and since you are one of the few who currently has nothing to do,” the Captain said with a wry smile, “I would like you to commandeer anyone else who is idle and some spice grinders from the kitchen, and I want you to grind us some tobacco.” He tossed Shaundar his tobacco pouch. “Then I’ll teach you how to take snuff, pollywog!”For some reason unknown to spacefarers, sparks and explosions in a wormhole are significantly enhanced. The strike of a match could create a localized fireball. Use of any flame or electricity in a wormhole is extremely dangerous. Most seasoned ship captains strictly forbid their use, relying on magical light for illumination belowdecks, preparing cold food, banning smoking, and locking up powder rooms and forbidding all access.
“Forward weapons, loose!” called Captain Yvoleth. Queenie bucked as all her weapons, save the lower abdomen ballista and the stinger, fired. Shaundar noticed that and remarked on it. “We’re in a wormhole, lad,” the Captain explained. “The crew on the keel can’t see to fire until we’re in the system because it’s under the surface of the river; which reminds me: Lieutenant Oakheart! Slow to minimum accel!”Any part of the ship below the surface of the tunnel walls--traditionally, any part below where the "water line" would be on a traditional seafaring vessel--is difficult to operate in a way that it wouldn't be in normal space. Unlike water, the "light" of a tunnel's walls cannot drown or suffocate a sailor, but it is impossible to see anything clearly in the brightness of the light. It's strong enough to damage the eyes, and has been known to cause blindness with prolonged exposure.
Trapped Between Worlds
The Sword of Courage made the Outer Cloud of the Draconian System in twenty-six days. They would have made it in twenty-four but they were waylaid by inspecting the wreckage of an elven man-o-war. It floated listlessly in the rainbow Airts between portals in three pieces; thorax and head, abdomen, and one wing. The other was nowhere to be seen.If ships lose their Starfaring Engines or its helm (interface) while in a wormhole, they may be stranded for quite some time. Starfarers perceive time as passing normally, but sometimes they discover that strange effects have unfolded around them. There have been cases of stranded starfarers in wormholes for years, decades, and sometimes even centuries, although they only carried enough victuals aboard to last a few months.
Exiting a Wormhole Portal
By this time, the Vengeance was already considerably closer to them. So was the gaping hole of the portal. The colours swirled around it like water spilling into a bathtub drain.From the interior of a wormhole, a portal back into normal space looks like a dark hole with a rainbow whirlpool of light swirling into it. When one gets close enough, it's possible to see stars and other bodies on the other side. Exiting a portal is, if anything, more dangerous than entering one. Some Pilots gain the ability to manipulate Airts and gravity wells in such a way that they can temporarily collapse a portal, stranding sailors between worlds. Some of these unfortunates appear thousands of light-years off course. Some are never heard from again. If properly timed, a collapsing portal could tear a ship apart, or disrupt its temporal state. It could even do all of these things at once, scattering ship fragments across the spectrum of space/time.
Starfarers map the universe through stable wormholes, most of which have been thoroughly charted. But portals have been known to appear and disappear from time to time. It's unknown what happens to a starfaring ship that is in a wormhole when it collapses, because no one has ever returned to tell a tale about such an event. Wormholes only occur when the gravity well of one stellar object (star, pulsar, white dwarf, black hole, etc.) is linked to another by a powerful concentration of interacting Airts. Their portals usually appear somewhere in or near their Outer Clouds (what we call the "Oort Cloud" in the Sol system,) which represent the outer limits of a stellar object's gravity well. Scholars have no idea how far the connections of wormholes can reach. They are aware that once starfarers have gone through a wormhole, they might be able to see the star they just left in the sky of the new system -- or they might not. It's evident that some wormhole connections reach quite far indeed. Why, or how that works, is a mystery. As a result, starfaring cultures think of their astrophysical universe as systems interconnected by wormholes, not stars interconnected by galaxies, or galaxies interconnected by gravity.
Wormholes in the Cosmic Sea of TimespaceWormholes, according to gnomish scholar Alberdingk Onestone, connect not just two points in space, but two points in timespace. Consequently, it is possible that the star systems of Known Space are not only separated by vast distances, but vast differences in time. For all starfarers know, the Draconia they are familiar with might have existed billions of years before the Chrysalis of their experience coalesced into a planet; or vice versa.
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A Relativistic Disaster Averted
Queenie began to tack and scraped along the edge of the current so that she could approach the portal. Her sails and beams groaned in protest. Things seemed to be moving dangerously fast now as they drew nearer to the system. Shaundar had a moment of doubt as to their ability to maneuver into that dark lens. But then the portal was before them and Shaundar could see stars in it. “Captain!” Sylria cried out. “The portal is closing, sir!” Sure enough, the lens was irising shut. “PUNCH IT, Oakheart!” the Captain roared. Sylria leaped down the hatch. “Brace the mizzensail!” cried the Sailmaster. Within a few moments, Queenie leaped forward in a burst of speed Shaundar didn’t know Garan had in him. They skimmed through the collapsing rim just in time, narrowly avoiding a relativistic disaster. Sylria emerged from the hatchway, breathing hard. “Been saving that spell for emergencies,” she explained with a smile.
Airts are the currents of the energies of raw creation, having a special relationship with time, space, gravity & magic.
Gravity wells are a concentration of Airts that coalesce around large celestial bodies and starfaring engines.
What happens when you travel faster than the fastest physical thing in the universe? And what effect might that have on space and time?