Worm drive was the method of interstellar travel employed by the Gatebuilders, Founders and Heshar in their prime. It leverages Plank-scale porousness in space-time to propel a vessel at superluminal velocities by manipulating quantum hyperspace. Unlike macrojump or microjump, the worm drive process utilizes a continual field generated by a vessel's hull to tunnel through the quantum foam. As a result, a worm vessel is able to move at variable speed and does not require a spherical field, greatly expanding design considerations. Worm drive represented to Humans and the Grand Federation the pinnacle of technical achievement. Worm drive technology was lost to the Grand Federation after the Consolidation Wars, reintroduced by the Heshar, and lost again in the centuries following the Heshar Fall. Human and Alimeen researchers worked throughout the 38th Century to develop worm drive at facilities in the outer Alimeen, Centauri and Solar systems. They finally succeeded in producing a workable prototype, the XP-1, at Proxima in 3804 during the Second Federation War. By 3809, the first worm drive warships entered the Imperial Navy fleet, and were a major factor in the armistice ending the war in the following year.
In the course of the 39th Century, worm drive technology quickly spread to the Grand Federation and Khald'aron realms, and by the close of the Fourth Federation War in 3854, most of the Human fleet was worm drive based. Nearly all starships constructed in Human Space after 3835 were worm drive driven, and by 4100, nearly the entire inventory of Human and Grand Federation military, commercial and private fleets utilized the worm drive. Incremental improvements during the Imperial era eventually doubled drive performance, but worm drive vessels proved to be especially susceptible to the Mech Plague, which infected both their active quantum field (AQF) hulls and their advanced navigational intelligences. Despite heroic efforts at shielding and eradication, worm drive manufacturing came to a halt before 4780 in the remnants of the Empire and by 4800 in the Grand Federation, Dragon Sphere and Khald'aron Republic. The last working worm drive vessels succumbed to the Plague or maintenance failures before 5300.
A worm drive requires the practical implementation of Plank-scale quantum engineering and the materials and computing power of a very advanced technological civilization. Specifically, a worm drive requires an active quantum field outer hull, usually a heavily nanoed quantum fluid surrounded by a solid quark shell. The controller that enables guided superluminal travel must solve twelve dimensional quantum field equations in real time and manipulate the quantum fluid based on desirable results; this requires at least one hundred times the computing capacity of a Mode IV microjump drive computer and considerably more cognition; it is impossible to build a worm drive navigation computer that is not also fully sentient, though normally this is obscured from the crew of the vessel by a very single-minded personality. A worm drive vessel also requires highly efficiency quantum distillers or dark energy panels for power generation, as it requires a comparable amount of energy per unit of speed as a microjump vessel.
The following table details the various classes of worm drive technology:
|Worm Drive Parameters||Days per|
Class is the rated capacity of the worm drive generation system - a vessel can travel at any speed up to its rated class maximum; only Class A through E reached production status in Human Space, though Class F courier and fast frigates were utilized by the Ministry of Defense and the 3I in the last few decades before the fall of the Empire. Factor indicates the multiplier of the quantum accelerator state, where the "base" number is 4,219 times light speed. Max Speed is the maximum worm drive speed in C. This speed is traditionally expressed in ly/day or light years per day. Year indicates the date of introduction of a particular worm drive mode during the Imperial Era. The days per columns indicate the days required to cross 100 and 500 light years, respectively, at continual maximum speed travel. These numbers do not take into account periodic downtime for system maintenance and tuning - actual best values will be 3-4% lower.
Worm drive vessel sizes are normally expressed in cubic meters of enclosure, ranging from the smallest 35 m3 single person short range vessel to the nearly 20,000,000 m3 enclosure of the Death Skull Hellking class. The major costs for vessel construction are proportional to the volume enclosed for control systems and to the surface area for hull systems, leaving designs furthest from the spherical more expensive to construct, but of comparable costs to maintain and operate as less radical designs of the same volume.
Worm drive is much more flexible than previous forms of interstellar travel, as mentioned above, a worm drive vessel operate under a throttle at any speed from effective zero to its maximum rated level. Additionally, the worm drive AQF hull maintains a seal between the vessel and the "frothy" space-time the vessel creates to tunnel though normal space-time; this results in a lack of limitation in vessel geometry, allowing for many of the outrageous designs developed in the Jenan era and beyond. It also removes restrictions on the size of interior spaces, allowing for open spaces such as the large weapons ports of the Skull and Death Skull class Hellking vessels and grand ballrooms incorporated in luxury liners.
As with other superluminal propulsion, the worm drive can only operate in a low gravitational field environment. Like the microjump drive, safe operating distances vary as an inverse square based on the mass of nearby bodies, expressed by the following table indicating gradients for stellar and planetary objects:
Here, mass is the standard Sol, Terran or Jupiter mass of the nearest body, km is the safe operating distance in kilometers, and AU is the safe operating distance in astronomical units. This gradient is often expressed as 9.055 X 10-12 terra/kilometers2. A worm drive will not initialize within the safe operating limit, and will spontaneously terminate operations upon reaching an unsafe gravitational gradient. A forceful emergence at the gradient limit can cause serious maintenance issues, including a potential hull breach, requiring a major overhaul at AQF certified facilities.
Worm drive travel imposes no biological stress on orgasms and has little psychological effect. A worm drive passenger can even look out a transparent hull and see stars passing at high speed without obvious Doppler effects, much as on a microjump drive voyage, only without the multiple image trails. However, if the shielding of an AQF system suffers a major breach, near exposure to the quantum fluid, apart from its near absolute zero temperature, can cause serious hallucinations, insanity or permanent brain damage.
A worm drive vessel requires little daily maintenance from its crew. It is a sophisticated autonomous being, able to perform the myriad calculations required to keep it operational and capable of supporting life. The AQF hull alleviates most thermodynamic considerations, dumping excess heat into the quantum froth. Periodic maintenance and recalibration at a certified facility should take place at least annually, but military or deep science vessels can operate for up to three years without a major overhaul, giving a class E deep space vessel a theoretical operating range of nearly 22,000 light years and giving credence to stories that the Founders reached the Galactic core 70,000 years ago with the equivalent of Class G vessels. Most stresses on worm drive vessels are self healing or require routine maintenance to correct; a worm drive vessel that avoids excessive forceful emergence and repeated hull breaches can remain in operation for hundreds of years, barring Mech Plague infestations.
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