My Space Opera’s Far Future: An Age of Navigators?

Girls' Night Out black hole digital painting

Having been on a Star Trek kick recently, my mind has turned to space-operatic exploration and discovery, and how that will be affected in the far future of my space opera sci-fi setting. The propulsion technology of my science fiction setting is truly powerful, after the events of “Warp Dawn” allowing any shipmaster to open up a wormhole to anywhere in our universe, and perhaps beyond, allowing virtually instant travel.

This is a variant of the “jump drive” concept; the only real constraints on space travel in my setting are the time required to recharge after the power expenditure of a jump (though even this doesn’t stop Perun of Atlas already in “Warp Dawn” from making a jump per day) and, much more importantly, the ability to navigate to exactly where they want to go.

Travel in Space Opera

The wormhole drive of my setting contrasts with the two most famous space operas, Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Trek’s warp drive is especially slow by space-operatic standards, taking, as shown most prominently in Star Trek: Voyager, 70 years to cross 70,000 light-years between the Delta Quadrant and Earth, 10,000 light-years per year; to cross the void to the Andromeda Galaxy would take 250 years.

In Star Wars hyperspace rather than warp drive is used, and the speed of that is immensely variable depending on local conditions; on well-mapped hyperspace lanes, however, it seems that the whole galaxy can be crossed in a matter of hours. Assuming 48 hours (2 days) to cross the galaxy, and that the galaxy is 100,000 light-years across, that’s 50,000 light-years per day. At this rate the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy can be bridged in 50 days, though this assumes a prime hyperspace lane could be mapped to it.

Much faster than warp drive, though the next-generation quantum slipstream drive introduced in Star Trek: Voyager deserves honorable mention, capable of traversing 300 light-years in an hour. At that rate the galaxy could be traversed in 14 days, and Andromeda could be reached in 11 months.

In my setting, however, distance is irrelevant. Whether it’s to the next planet or billions of light-years away it still takes just a couple minutes, as implied in “Warp Dawn”. Indeed, in “Warp Dawn” the protagonists actually do go to Andromeda in a couple minutes, followed by a jaunt to an unspecified galaxy so distant the Milky Way can’t be seen with the naked eye anymore.

Navigation: the real Wonder of the Wormhole Drive

Although this is a minor point in “Warp Dawn”, the inventor of the new drive, Perun of Atlas, also known later as Perun the Wormhole-Maker, by many accounts made much more of a breakthrough with the navigation system than he did with the actual drive itself. As depicted in that novel one only has to select the target, assuming it’s already in their star charts (though even then one can select a vector and distance), and the ship can home in on it autonomously.

It’s not revealed in text exactly how the navigation system works, but I envision it opening up micro-wormholes and peering through them to get a more exact reading of the vector and distance required to reach the exact destination desired, iterating as many times as needed.

Artificial versus Natural Intelligence in Navigation

Obviously as depicted in “Warp Dawn” all this is automated, though as part of my worldbuilding I assume by the early to mid 4th millennium, the time “Warp Dawn” takes place, that artificial intelligence never surpassed human intelligence, and that for centuries the secular trend has been for the gap to widen in favor of natural intelligence, in large measure due to biological enhancements such as genetic engineering.

Nevertheless computers are good enough to navigate on their own, but I can’t help but wonder if superior navigational prowess might be in high demand. After all, in “Warp Dawn” whenever they make an inter-galactic jump it’s either to a location where exact coordinates aren’t too important (e.g. when they want to see the Andromeda Galaxy face-on close-up) or coordinates close to a landmark easily visible from afar (e.g. when they go right next to a supermassive black hole).

It is well possible that navigators who are human, alien, or genetically-engineered descendants thereof might provide superior performance compared to computers in getting where you’re going, much like the Spacing Guild’s navigators in the Dune universe, but obviously it’s not too important except perhaps at far-out intergalactic distances.

Distance and the rise of human Navigators

And with a jump drive, and humans and allied aliens no doubt spreading to galaxies as distant as they can find, experiencing all the wonders of the cosmos for themselves, distances will inflate very quickly. Why not set out to galaxies millions of light-years away, billions of light-years, or even orders of magnitude greater distances? Indeed, a premise of my sci-fi setting is that our universe is effectively, if not actually, infinite, so trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, or even more light-years may be involved very quickly, with human and allied alien colonies spreading far beyond the visible universe.

Given that, truly titanic distances might separate major human colonies, and so making a direct jump between them might demand the talents of actual persons as opposed to computers, which might be an interesting limitation of the technology to explore in a future story, namely that a few million or perhaps a few billion light-years is as great a jump as the computer can handle, with people being able to make far greater jumps if they navigate manually.

Thus a class of navigators might develop, or perhaps navigatorial education and training might become widespread. Either way the life of a top-grade navigator might be an interesting avenue to explore; there could even be entire religious cults (in the classical sense) devoted to wayfinding through the cosmos with wormholes, yet another variant on the space monk concept.

Navigators as Cosmographers

Much more important than raw navigation, however, will be mapping and charting these innumerable stars and galaxies, adding them to the vast body of human and alien knowledge, making the computer navigation more and more accurate over time, increasing the available jump distance by computer in the parts of the universe that are known. The people who make a business of this will no doubt be of the navigatorial class, but will be more like pathfinders or cartographers, or, as people of the future may call them, cosmographers.

Navigators doing cosmography and exploring uncharted regions of the cosmos for fun and profit might make for a compelling story premise. There might even be whole families of navigators, and love and romance between navigators, though I envision the bulk of navigators being men, so the latter might not be very common.

the “Adamas Nemesis Girl” strikes again

This might be another instance of women being along for the ride as lovers and mothers, a recurring theme in my stories. Well, what can I say? I like writing and thinking about women who focus on loving and mothering. And it’s not like they have nothing to do: cultivating their femininity and their skill at providing companionship for men might not be in style in our era (which even if it wasn’t an alternate history from 1900 onward would be long forgotten by the time of my space opera setting; how convenient!), but it’s a perfectly legitimate and even great aspiration for girls.

Indeed, I’m such a fan of this that in one of my upcoming stories of the far future the leading girl will become a courtesan and make feminine companionship into a career! I take care to make the “Adamas Nemesis girl” type mentioned in a previous post not too narrow, not describing every woman in my stories in cookie-cutter fashion, to ensure that the depiction of the fair sex in my stories is not too one-note.

The navigator concept might allay that somewhat, because unlike the vast majority of actually-existing “professional woman” character types I find the idea of a woman navigator to be fascinating and filled with potential.

Also filled with potential is the energy from an ascendant new class who perceives they were instrumental in liberating mankind from the rule of the Keepers of the Warp Gates, those who controlled the large fixed centralized installations that until Perun of Atlas came along effectively monopolized wormhole travel. This energy and enthusiasm for their place in the world could easily last for centuries after the events of “Warp Dawn”.

The Centuries post-“Warp Dawn”

With my courtesan story going to be set perhaps decades to a century after “Warp Dawn”, it might be best to set this navigator story some time after that, perhaps two or three centuries after Warp Dawn, after the navigator social system and space-colony infrastructure across trillions or more light-years has reached some degree of maturity but still has some energy of newness to it, much like how the solar system has an established but still recently-settled human presence in my near-future stories.

Keep in mind that because humans in the main are biologically immortal, i.e. ageless, it’s possible that even three centuries after their expedition in “Warp Dawn” Perun and Emma are both still alive, still together, and still having babies. Most likely they will still be fulfilling what they view as their destiny to explore the cosmos, so will roam through uncharted space.

The Power of high Fertility

Having babies for three centuries, at a rate of one every two years, implies they’ve had over a hundred children; the vast majority of these will have long since grown up and likely have gone out on their own.

Even if they haven’t, though, they’d have more than enough room for this teeming hoard. Their ship is miles in circumference and is a space habitat unto itself. Given that 6% or so per year, is the rate of population growth given “natural fertility” (which they all practice), that implies an expansion of 356 times per century.

At that rate three centuries of growth would yield a whopping 45 million times the population they started with; by three and a half centuries’ time there could be tens of billions of descendants of Perun and Emma! Yikes.

Tens of Billions living in a Fleet

The Mjolnir, their ship, would be totally inadequate, but even at a Paleolithic-style density of 1 person per square mile one Bishop Ring, a habitat 1200 miles in diameter, could hold over a million people. Tens of thousands of such rings could hold even the 40 billion figure. But it would be a monstrous fleet, likely straddling a width of millions of miles.

Even so, space is more than big enough to accommodate such a wandering horde, but I doubt 40 billion descendants of Perun and Emma will want to follow their ancestor like a calf following its mother. Over the course of everyone going their separate ways only a tiny fraction of that total will remain, likely a revolving door considering how easy travel is; people will likely be warping in and out all the time, and it’s even likely Perun and Emma will limit who even knows of their whereabouts at any given time so as to not be overwhelmed by guests. After all, they’ll want to gaze at the latest cool black hole all by themselves.

Galactic Cores in Focus

And speaking of black holes, it’s likely that humans of this future will, like other species, tend to congregate around galactic cores as the most interesting and bustling places in the cosmos. If there’s anywhere where uranium worlds and city-planets will be located it’s those locations.

Indeed, such a core is to be a major focus of a story I have on the back burner, inspired by my “Girls’ Night Out” painting I made earlier this year. I might also find ways to work my uranium world concept into the story I have in mind about the navigators, or perhaps the Girls’ Night Out story, or possibly a story involving the same characters as part of a series, e.g. the Girls’ Night Out story with the uranium world story as a sequel. Many possibilities await, and although I’m still engaged in the writing of my Ariel novel I intend to explore my far-future setting much more thoroughly in the near future.

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