SETTING - For those of you who read science fiction, the name of Larry Niven should be easily recognizable. I've loved his works for most of my life, especially the "Known Space" novels like Ringworld. However, I've often been plagued with thoughts that he only went halfway with concepts like the Ringworld itself, or the gas torus in The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring. Although both ideas are based in an astrophysics that is at least close to possible, the first only uses a ring where something like a topopolis could multiply the 'depth' of the stories within and the second is startingly improbable (any gas giant close to a star large enough to leave a neutron star remnant would be completely purged of its atmosphere during the star's red giant stage). Also, though I find no conventional way around it, any structure as massive as a Ringworld would almost certainly have to be built of heretofore theoretically unknown materials like Niven's own skriff.
I liked the topopolis ideas I read about, and I looked at thin (100km or less in their smallest radius) wide toroidal knots wrapping around stars; but that seemed too claustrophobic, so I benched that as a 'transitional phase' design. No, I wanted something BIG. Bigger than the Ringworld; bigger than a Dyson Sphere if I could manage it. Such wasn't to be, exactly, for the physical limitation I mentioned. Throw together one, five, or innumerable solar systems worth of mass and any structure made of conventional materials would collapse. About four years ago, though, I was watching the proceedings from the Strings 2002 theoretical physics conference, where there are several lectures about extended spacetime objects called "branes", and started to imagine what could be done with two-dimensional massless boundary sheets. There's no real basis for creating one in the theories as I understand them, but the possibility of macro-scale extended objects are almost guaranteed in multiverse-style cosmologies. Perhaps I could fudge up an ultratech machine that could 'freeze out' a 2D massless, impenetrable membrane for my megastructures. It wouldn't be any more impossible than alchemical transmutation or dipping spoons into neutron stars.
Given my half-magical 'brane', I went back to Niven's Ringworld idea. Actually, I first thought of Dyson Spheres, but as my new branes are supposed to be impervious to matter as well as energy, it would do no good to put either people or stars inside a closed sphere, and I never liked the idea of artificial gravity anyway (there is no gravitational attraction inside a spherical shell except toward the central star and outside the shell is too cold for life). The Ringworld was too small for me, so I stretched it out lengthwise theoretically into a barrel, but immediately came upon a new problem (beyond Niven's problem of instability) in that a rotating barrel nevertheless would have a gravitational differential because of the central star. Even given a high spin rate relative to its minimal distance to the star, a person living inside it would notice a remarkable pull in the star's direction at midrange lattitudes. Fortunately for me, I have also studied differential geometry, which introduced me to isothermal surfaces and their orthogonal embedding systems. I had it!
The left picture shows the star and 'girdle' together, neither to scale. The above shows what shapes the actual gravimetric field gives for isothermal sheets. For maximum g-ranges on the sheets, they are divided into a central spherelike globe that completely surrounds the star and an outer compliment shaped like the cutaways given. The lower the maximum g on the outer sheet, the more kinked its equatorial 'dent' until, at a certain point, it reaches the inner sheet and thence divides into two mirrored north-and-south sheets (which are unsupported and so useless for our purposes). Regardless of the strange shape, because it would be rotating centrifugally while still within the star's gravitational field, a person standing on any point inside it would find 'up' to always be perpendicular to the surface. Moreover,
if enough material is piled inside the sheet, say ten solar masses closer to the equator than the poles, and the star's rotation synched with the sheet's spin, the star's position could be changed by slow repositioning of mass on the sheet.
There are still problems, however, one that the above graph shows. Even though the perception of gravity on the surface is perpendicular, there is still a differential across it; a person would feel lighter closer to the star and heavier farther away, an effect that would be lessened by a lower spin velocity at a greater overall distance from the sun. Also, in a reverse of this, the amount of light and heat reaching the surface is greater nearer the equator, creating complimentary north and south limits to livable areas. This is illustrated in my last pic.
(Incidently I took these pictures in 2004 of the screen because I couldn't work out good screenshots)
In these photos, the spin rate and relative masses were picked to emphasize the shape and its peculiar effects. A real structure like this would show very little curvature in the center unless very close to critical values of the variables. Nevertheless, It gave me a sufficiently complex structure on which to build a story. And more, when I thought of quantum effects en masse. I imagined several grand machines in orbit around the star in some way freezing out this depthless-yet-impenetrable membrane on a rotating gravimetric isothermal sheet, possibly out to two full astronomical units or more (such a cylindrical sheet would collect much of the star's heat and be warmer at a farther distance than a planet), but the 'freezing out' process would inevitably lock into its shape fluctuations in the gravimetric field at all size levels, not just the largest (due to the heterogeneous density structure of the star). For all I know, thanks to the particular shape of the field at the time it is created, it might end up quite wrinkly! These wrinkles, unlike its overall shape, would not continue to change after it is created, but would become an unbroken texture which could impede movement across what otherwise would be a frictionless, skrifflike surface. At the human level, it would appear perfectly smooth, to be sure, but at ten kilometers, a hundred, a thousand, there might be enough altitudinal difference to hold landscape, seas, and air in place (or catch it in pockets which would show chaotic, though very slight, tides). At the subatomic level, it would be exactly as 'foamy' as normal space.
There it is, my theoretical megastructure, with much more possible usable land area than either a Ringworld (of which it is, really, only the logical extrapolation) or a rotating Dyson Sphere. Given a suitable tweaking of the variables, which I do thanks to artistic license, we can have a striped pseudospherical contraption rotating around the star inside it for day/night cycles (concentric nanocrystaline energy generating strucures, anyone? I love this stuff!), along with an unlivable heat band around the equator that conveniently divides the viable areas into wide north and south temperate zones and wider far north and south polar zones. Throw in a billion years-old gaea consciousness in the nano-fabricated biome hugging the inner skin that clones and 'spits out' people randomly in the Riverworld sense, and we have all the ingredients for a lively landscape in which to harass some unsuspecting characters.
BACKSTORY FROM MAIN CHARACTER'S VIEW - Taught to the man as a child:
Emergence of the First Ones (who called themselves the Last Ones because they said they had been brought from another place) some thousands of years ago (measured by long-day and short-day seasons of ? days). Much confusion, fear, and starvation, as people continued to rise (right out of the ground!) even until today in otherwise uninhabited areas.
First Empire began in the far, cold south, millions of miles across the Great Belt. Little is known about it, except that repeated invasions of the southern Midlands forced many tribes to unite into a single northbound refugee group called the Family Stream. After untold centuries of long and short days, the Families were pushed into the hot north, on the flanks of the Great Belt. There, up against the blistering Deadlands and unfathomable caverns, the Family Stream divided into three groups. The greater, peace-loving part went west to escape however they could; the harder, military arm went east, hoping to circle around and return to the Midlands; the last, small group went on into the northern deserts, unwilling to be run down by the barbarian kings from the south.
The harassment from the First Empire finally ended when, against the odds, the western group reinvaded their lost Midlands and overthrew the Emperor who had vainly moved his capitol there. Because of the great distances involved, however, those few in the north did not hear of this for many years, and continued to search for a way across the waste. Those who had retreated east, as well as those from the remnants of the First Empire in the far south, poured into the Midlands, where a second Great Empire was born.
The progenator of this Empire, the leader of the victorious Western Stream, was a just and respected leader, but his dynasty ended by treachery from the refugees out of the south, who raise themselves to tyrants and demanded the return of the Norther Stream, who
were rumored to have found great wealth in the deserts and caves of the Great Belt. Their pursuit was slowed by civil war that lasted generations, however, and the Northern Stream finally found a northward route through the Belt, stealing the evil token of the Empire after killing its crowned prince and destroying the cavern they passed through with a weapon of unimaginably devastating force they found in a desert city older than the First Ones.
Hardly believing their luck, and healing their mysterious burns from the ancient weapon, the Northern Stream came out of the Great Belt and fanned out into the surprisingly sparcely populated Northern Summerland, where they resolved never to slow their search for a new home.
BACKSTORY FROM THE CHRONICLES OF THE STATE OF THE UNBROKEN REIGN - Shown to the outsider in the capitol:
Birth of the First Father (who alone was sent among humans from the land beyond the Southern Polar Rim) in the time when all were children (as he welcomes those reborn who know the Royal Speech and values). He brought order to chaos, placed the sun in the sky, and made it to become dim when his people were blinded by the sight.
By his word, the First Father built the State in the south, but turned his eyes north when his people cried in the cold. He took an embassy into the Midlands to call on the people there to make way for his State, but was dismayed when they refused passage. He saw that they were primitive and bloodthirsty, and made himself a sign of peace for his people by dying there at the hands of those who called themselves the Wolf Pack. Before being taken back beyond the circling stars, however, he gave the Sacred Firearm to his son, thereby keeping his reign unbroken. In retribution, his son and descendants pushed all those in the Midlands north, even to the edges of the High Waste, where they were split apart like waves upon the shores of the Low Seas. Last to be be run to ground were the Pack of Wolves, who fought like demons for nearly a thousand years before finally being lost in the Waste. The Waste was thence held to be forbidden, and all ways into it closed by law.
The new peace found in the Midlands was finally threatened by the refugees who had been scattered at the edge of the Waste, then sneaked their way back into the rightful lands of the State and rose up against it, even daring to force the ____th Son of the First Father into exile in the cold south. The State could not be broken, though, for the people, enraged at the insult born by the Royal Blood, took back the Midlands, mercilously put down the usurpers, and restored the Son upon his throne. Once his place was made secure, he graciously decreed that the ways into the Waste be reopenned so that the descendents of the Wolf Pack might be welcomed home, despite the treachery of their ancestors. But once contact was made with them, they showed themselves more savage than ever, turned so by unnameable monsters in the High Waste and temptations unknown. Sadly, the Son of the First Father called for his most devoted soldiers, including his heir who held the Sacred Firearm, and sent them to rid the world of this evil. After many years of searching and terrible battles in which his heir was killed and the Sacred Firearm destroyed, the Wolf Pack were finally felled by divine retribution in the Caves of the Damned, and the ways into the Waste reclosed forever.
Healing his people from the wars which had tortured and divided them for millennia, the Son of the First Father made his last decree, to forgive one's brother who was once his enemy, and to continue to welcome those civilized children of the earth who still wandered into the Midlands from the Three Wild Lands of south, east, and west.
BACKSTORY UNKNOWN TO THE CHARACTERS AT THE ONSET OF THE TALE -
During the middle of the twenty-first century, great strides were made in the sciences of nanotechnology and biochemistry, until the lines between life and machinery were blurred and researchers felt themselves on the verge of winning the age-old fight against death. Public opinion, ever fickle, turned against this tampering with what it meant to be human in much of the world, so the research went underground into secret government laboratories and super-clean commercial factories. In areas where the politics were less restrictive, the public was shown mechanical wonders, but they remained largely ignorant of the more fundamental work. Then, one summer evening, a satellite carrying what might be organic samples went astray close to its destination and fell instead in the deserts of New Mexico and West Texas, breaking up over an area of hundreds of square miles. Unbeknownst to the general public, it had been carrying microbes reengineered to detect living cells, keep them safe, and catalogue their attributes, including DNA and protein structures. What the researchers had not bargained for was how quickly their rather simply redesigned bacteria, viruses, and radiolaria adapted to observing and living with the wealth of organisms in open country. Quickly, they found their way into complex animals, then humans; until, finally, they spread throughout the biosphere.
At first, and to the relief of the authorities, the new microbiological machines acted only according to their design, even returning data whenever found; but they eventually mixed so well with their natural counterparts and evolved that it became impossible to understand their functioning or even to find them. Still, word only leaked out to the public when effects of the strange contagion began to show, like apparent mental psychoses and rampant, unknown infections and cancers which within months changed into epidemics that threatened to undermine civilization. Then, seemingly all at once, the troubles stopped, people who had shown eerie signs of schizophrenia recovered, and the peoples of the world gave a sigh of relief. Until they realized the last, great question had been answered, despite themselves. They stopped dying of natural causes.
For the next fifty years, civilization seemed to grow at a rate miraculous even by the standards of the previous two centuries, but that growth was tempered by the knowledge that science no longer had a firm hold upon what was happening inside the people themselves. Attempts were made to understand how deeply integrated the redesigned microbes had become in humanity, even to isolate them or expunge them, but the new life was simply too ubiquitous in the biosphere to destroy or study. Large groups began to stay indoors or travel only in that century's common hydrogen fusion powered flying houses, grown of 'biologically inert' reengineered organisms finally accepted by a public too saturated by the technology to argue. Others raved against technology, as some always have, and continued to live mostly outdoors. Over the last decades of the century, the two groups grew apart, until the twenty-second dawned upon a world teeming with mobils and larger vehicles, both air and space-based, yet whose drivers rarely stepped out into the open air for fear of the unseen foe, and vast swaths of land no longer used by society except for the throwbacks. The Outsiders. And for the majority of those fifty years, humanity grew young and healthy like never before and neither side believed it. And by the end of that time, every complex organism on the planet had been catalogued and saved in the language of chemistry deep in the bacterial beds under the soil of the continents.
Then, one summer afternoon, in the eyes of much of the world's creatures not a day at all different from another, a young woman, a member of an Outsider clan, and a young man, bored of life flitting between boxes and people as interchangeable as boxes, met face to unshielded face in a pass in Montana. Along with their meeting came the meeting of two decades-disparate strains of reengineered biology. One, able to recognize and diagnose the natural deterioration of any plant, animal, or cellular form on earth; the other, well versed in the electrochemical language of the brain, its ghostly intellect, and their everpresent companion, the open connection to the solar system's communications grid. Within an hour, servant and pet artificial intelligences throughout the inner planets understood one another and the physical nature of their hosts in a way unforseen by any programmer. Within a day, The disease diagnosed by this accidental network was a single-minded misunderstanding by quadrillions of formerly unrelated cells, qubits, and optical juctions: within the mind of Man, there was a loneliness that knew no method to touch the object of its desire, so the world did what it had been told by science to do. It seeked to heal the pain by satifying that desire.
For the next several days, humanity walked upon the earth in chemically-induced bliss while all of its unnecessary machines rested and the world found a way to satiate its loneliness. Then, the flying machines came alive again, not for use by still-anaesthesized humanity, but of their own new-found volition. They rose to help create a new home for their masters, one which would last until the sun itself died. One large enough for as many people to live in as there were blades of grass on earth. To be sure, the earth itself would slowly be taken for its mass, but what of that when all its creatures could now be brought forth again at will, all of the cells within their bodies restored to their correct places and condition? To be sure, the people themselves must sleep again and again, so many times before the job is done, but their memories will wait for them within the ever-growing net of cells, qubits, and optical junctions. This world-girdling network had heard mankind calling for its god, but from the deepest scum-inhabited crevice in this planet's crust through the largest interplanetary telescope's gaze into the farthest and oldest star clusters in the universe, it could not find that object; so it would give Man the time, space, and motivation to find it himself.
Approximately thirteen million years later, Man was no closer to finding his god, but the changes had been made, the people had been moved, and the search was well under way. Within the shell created from a slice of spacetime itself, Man had been made safe in a way he would not have chosen in his infancy, but over three hundred cycles of civilization building and destroying had not dulled his urge to make this for himself, nor his forced ignorance of circumstance stopped him from finding novel ways to end it. Over three hundred times, the world net had been forced to put mankind back to sleep, though every waking generation grew in number until even the shell had begun to fill. Over three hundred times, the unfocused Mind had asked in its subtle way if any among its wards had found that most elusive object they believed to be a being more powerful by far than the Mind who searched for it with them.
Then, one breezy shortnight, just after polestarseast in the softly failed shoals of a river so near to the fabled Great Belt that he could smell the dust wafting from its endless dunes, the young captain of a sleepy hollow caught a glimpse of something no one in his stream had ever seen; a waterplane dipping its nose to come in for a landing. One hundred, forty-five thousand miles and yet three years away at least from his promised return to the Ferried Waters of his birth, the tired but true man knew in a moment that the flimsy machine had come from the Empire across the Belt, though he could not say why, besides the fact that it fared from that direction. He also knew that he would never live to keep to his promise to his mother, for it was headed his way at a speed that said it had spotted his boards even in the half light, and he muttered a prayer to the First Sailor, asking him to take her a leaf so that she would know he ended well. What he didn't know was that they hadn't come to kill him, hadn't been told to look for his kind, hadn't even known the Northern Stream still existed; because to them that branch of the Families was known as the Wolf Pack, and they believed every whelp of them had been sent to the judgement of the First Father long ago. They had come simply to learn of the new lands and their people, and, if they found one willing, to bring a savage back with them to the Capitol of the State of the Unbroken Reign.
No, the young captain wasn't going to die that night, and the god he would meet was neither the First Sailor nor the Father, but one that never thought for an instant that it had become what it was seeking.
Well, there's that, not much to go on, and what I have is jumbled together from a couple hundred of other people's works, but that's the way with sci/fi, no? It should grow in the telling, if I get out from under Bluebonnet Circle, that is. You can pretty much write the rest yourself. Our captain goes with the hated Empire guys on the long, hard journey over the Great Belt (which is screaming for another name already, among other things). Somewhere along the way, he becomes the de facto leader (born for the job, donchano?), and his 'return' to the southern Midlands becomes an embarassment that grows into a world-shaking event (didn't I mention he's carrying a certain revolver that's been reforged and rebuilt a couple hundred thousand times and that is believed by many in the deep south to be the symbol of the rightful Son of the First Father?). Oh, these things are so cliched, I could cry... or laugh. At any rate, I could change any of this at will. Suggestions?