Bypassing Lightspeed

The origin point of a trans-dimensional wormhole is visible in this image. While Trans-D gates do not have event horizons, the disruption of space distorts light passing between the gate and the viewer. This image is based on a Hubble Space Telescope image of the Pleiades Star Cluster taken in 2004 and available for download at http://bit.ly/1Vfzz61. Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory

Objects with mass cannot travel faster than 300,000 kilometers per second, the speed of light in vacuum. Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity described this cosmic speed limit in the early 20th century. Physicists had hypothesized methods of bypassing the speed of light barrier as early as the late 20th century, but no one developed a working theory until Waqar al-Basri, a professor at the University of Baghdad, developed his theory of trans-dimensional travel in 2072. The Global Defense Force invested heavily in applying al-Basri's work, and after 16 years and more than $500 billion spent on research and development, they had developed the first operational trans-dimensional drive. The device shortened travel times between Earth and Mars from weeks or months to minutes and, later, made possible the first human visits to other stars.

How it works

A trans-dimensional, or Trans-D, drive creates a negative-energy space at a nearby point, stabilizes it with negative-mass particles, and extends it through upper-dimensional space to a target point near a programmed destination. A trans-D portal differs from a theoretical Einstein-Rosen Bridge in that extending the wormhole to its destination and traveling through the wormhole take a non-zero amount of time to an outside observer. The amount of time required for travel is roughly nine hours per light-year, so a trip from Earth to Alpha Centauri would take about 36 hours. However, from the traveler's perspective, it takes no time at all to reach the destination, because the traveler spends that time in upper-dimensional space.

This time requirement makes travel through a Trans-D gate a one-way trip: a ship equipped with a Trans-D drive opens a threshold, travels through it, and closes the wormhole behind it. A wormhole kept open long enough could, in theory, be used for two-way travel, but no one knows what would happen to something traveling the "wrong way" if the wormhole were to collapse in mid-transit — and no one wants to find out.

The chief limiting factor in trans-dimensional travel is the amount of energy required to create a gateway. The cost is manageable for short distances of a few light-years but becomes prohibitive beyond 15 light-years and impossible with mid-22nd-century technology beyond 20 light-years.

Strategic applications

Military strategists have attempted to find ways to exploit Trans-D technology, with limited success. Trans-D drives recapture and reuse the exotic matter that stabilizes the gateways, which limits the maximum range for creating the origin point of a gateway to within a few hundred kilometers of the drive. In addition, instabilities within upper-dimensional space result in a level of imprecision for the destination: this usually works out to no more than a few hundred kilometers per light-year, but that's enough to throw off any application that depends on a fine level of precision.

Trans-D gateways are easily detectable up to a minute before they open due to the amount of energy involved in their creation, which makes them impractical for any operations that require stealth. And while scientists have not discovered any means to prevent a gateway from opening once it begins to form, they have developed devices that can block Trans-D drives from creating gateways within hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.

One destructive, if impractical, application involves disabling the Trans-D drive while it is holding a wormhole open. Without the drive's computers controlling the exotic particles that hold the gateway in place, both the origin and destination portals collapse into a microsingularities — which shortly thereafter release their energy in explosions several hundred times more powerful than any 20th-century nuclear weapons. Such an explosion would vaporize anything within several hundred kilometers, including the ship that had held open the gate, but would also obliterate anything within several hundred kilometers of the destination portal.