Part of a series about the Stellar Alliance.
Tech Levels often help members of one civilization understand the difference in technology in another civilization. Alliance legislation has referred to the scheme below, but other authorities have defined other schemes.
- Tech Level, a rough guide to the technological capabilities of a civilization and the sophistication of their artifacts.
- Relative Tech Levels, i.e. difference between the average for interstellar civilizations and a particular TL.
|TL||RTL||Description||Earth History / Other Civilizations|
|0||-5||Stone Age||< -3000|
|1||-4||Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval||-3000 … 1450|
|2||-3||Age of Sail, Industrial Age||1450 … 1950|
|3||-2||Information Age, Space Age||1950 … 2200|
|4||-1||Interplanetary Age||21001 … 2300|
|5||0||Interstellar Age||2300 … 2400|
|6||+1||Alliance Age||2400 … ????|
|7||+2||Transhuman Age||Transhuman Commonwealth|
|8||+3||Teletransport Age||(Outer Ones?)|
|9||+4||Sufficiently Advanced Technology||Dominion of the First|
|10||+5||Weakly Godlike Entities||Ylem Wraiths2|
|TLs||RTLs||Medicine||Robots / AI||Space Travel|
|0-2||-5..-3||humors, miasma||automatons||science fiction stories|
|3||-2||scientific medicine||computers, NLP||rockets, EM comms|
|4||-1||cyborgs, cloning||AI3, early AGI4||ion thrusters, fusion drives|
|5||0||limb regeneration||true AGI4, TCR 35||hyperspace drives, jump drives, early warp|
|6||+1||gene resequencing||artificial people||warp 2+, exo-particle and hyperspace comms|
|7||+2||body reshaping||transhumanity||sustainable warp 10+, transwarp, station-to-station teletransport|
|8||+3||mind transplants||virtual people||teletransport projectors, hyperspace teletransport6|
|9||+4||reconstitution||incorporeality||portals? time travel?|
|10||+5||true immortality||transcendence||infinite self-teletransport, higher dimensional travel|
Exotic Particle Technology
The discovery of “exotic particles” – subatomic particles that travel between hyperspace, regular space, and purely theoretical dimensions – revolutionized Alliance technology. Other, older civilizations like the Draconian Empire and the Yozarian Plutocracy have struggled to reverse engineer Alliance exo-tech, but have consistently come up short.
Communicators use exotic particles to bypass the limits of electromagnetic communication, notably the speed of light and interference from other electromagnetic sources. Communicator links still go down, but usually due to an issue at either end rather than the vanishingly small number of possible sources of interference.
Exo-Weapons at once manage to be deadlier and kinder. An exo-pistol set to kill can bypass armor to flood organic tissue with lethal doses of ionizing radiation … or create electrical microcurrents to put the target to sleep. While the exo-beam itself has no range limitations and even non-local effects, the targeting technology uses low powered lasers and radar to find and lock onto a target. Even so, a ground-based exo-cannon can hit a target several kilometers away, and in space an exo-beam can reach thousands of kilometers. The only defense against an exo-beam is a gravitic force field or a warp field.
Fabricators in the 25th century seemingly conjure objects out of nothing. In fact it’s an insanely complex process involving vast computational resources and slightly more source mass/energy than the object being “conjured”.
See below for the history of less complex and wasteful fabricators.
Multi-Sensors use exotic particles to make science fiction dreams a reality. A handheld multi-sensor can map out the terrain for several kliks (stopped only by solid rock), deduce the composition of all matter, detect motion within a few klicks, reasonably extrapolate the existence of living beings from a combination of detailed motion sensors and the presence and distribution of organic compounds, see inside a living body without harmful EM radiation, and so much more. Fleet away teams need only a communicator, a multi-sensor, and an exo-weapon for just about any mission.
Space-borne sensors do the same, but on the scale of planets and solar systems. Somebody has to conduct a planetary survey, but the process takes about a day to create data that will be analyzed for years to come.
Fabricators – machines that can produce any object
3D Printers: A technology stretching back to the 21st century, a 3D printer creates an object using easily manipulated materials: plastics, ceramics, plant-based threads, etc. The result may be decorative and even practical, but generally will not stand up to extremes of temperature, pressure, or stress.
3D Forges: An advance over 3D printers, a 3D forge uses heat-hardened metal through a mixture of pouring hot metal in a mold and carving the metal with a laser or force shears. This type of fabricator is used to quickly produce weapons and landing ships, but is better suited to build components of larger ships.
Food Fabricators: One of the great inventions of the 23rd century, the food fabricator can synthesize any organic molecules one desires. It cannot create living tissue, and compared to vat-grown meat fabricator meat tastes bland and molded, but as it converts any organic feedstock to any foodstuff, the Food Fabricator alleviated hunger in the Solar Alliance within a month of its introduction.
Nanofabricator: While the Rio Disassembler Attack brought nanotech into disrepute, one cannot discount the effectiveness of millions or billions of microscopic machines stacking atoms one by one. Its major drawbacks, apart from its (now undeserved) reputation for “gray goo” outbreaks, is that only a weakly sentient AI can control the process. Because the Olympus Mons Treaty of 2391 requires oversight of even weakly sentient AI by the Artificial Sophont Collective, one therefore must have a Synthetic approve each device.
Matter Fabricators: Using exotic particle technology one can have the same effect as a Nanofabricator by constructing an object with virtual particles then instantiating it all at once. While the information required to construct a hot cup of tea boggles a human organic mind, sufficiently complex mentators – sub-AI computers – can handle the load. Likewise the power load is immense by any standard, but starship power or ground-based power plants of the 25th century can provide enough power to construct virtually anything … that fits within a cubic meter or so.
Larger matter fabricators that construct shuttles and ship’s boats must build a ship in parts and layers. While quicker than manual or automated assembly, the process can take hours or perhaps days depending on the size and complexity of the ship.
Holographic technology of the 25th century is both advanced and ubiquitous.
Holo-Displays: Just about any device that had flat-panel displays in the 21st century has holo-panel displays in the 25th. The viewer feels like they’re peering into a tiny window, especially as they tilt the display to take in angles of the room. Holo-displays have only the thickness of heavy paper, so “smart paper” and “scrolls” (rolled-up display peripherals) are cheap and common.
Holo-Cameras: Complementing holo-displays, the holo-camera records and stores the full 3D viewing arc of a scene, not just the fixed rectangular or circular views of yore. While 360° views require special cameras, 180° or even 270° views are simple point and shoot devices.
Holo-Projectors: Using light and colloidal nano-drones one can create a ghostly free-standing image. The complexity of projecting such an image, however, restricts it to entertainment purposes. Most business and military communicators use viewscreens.
Holo-Environments: A combination of holo-projectors and force-field projectors can create a virtual environment that fools the mind into interpreting huge vistas in what is actually a medium-sized room. The Alliance Fleet has restricted such environments aboard ship due to several accidence and repeated instances of “virtual reality addiction”. Fleet Admiral Neukirk encourages crewmen to take advantage of shore leave to go “outside”, and Vice Admiral Takrolvelan suggests repurposing cargo holds and other unused ship space as gymnasiums and sports fields.
While hyperdrives7 and jump drives8 can cross the stars in a reasonable span of time, the Alliance standard is the warp drive.
First hypothesized by Miguel Alcubierre, Solar Alliance technicians built the first practical warp drive in 2419. The very first drive could only manage Warp 0 – about 20% the speed of light – but Warp 1 – the speed of light – was not too far behind. Each Warp Factor multiplies maximum effective speed by a factor of about five. Current ships have a cruising speed of Warp 6 – about 1 LY every 3 hours – but can attain Warp 10 for short bursts. Note that a ship can move slower than its current warp factor by lessening the imbalance in the warp field, or turn on a dime by changing the direction of the imbalance. Warp factors merely determine the maximum speed at a quantized field strength.9
Warp drives generate a “warp field” which bends space around the ship. By causing imbalances in this field, the ship moves in a specific direction. Unlike hyperspace or jump drives, the warp drive skims the interface between “realspace” and “hyperspace”. Most interstellar dust, gas, and debris “ghosts” through the starship. Larger objects or devices with their own warp field, including warp drones10, warp mines, and warp torpedoes, can collide explosively and often fatally with the ship.
When the warp field turns off, the ship stops moving at relativistic speeds and becomes subject to Newtonian physics again. Without a warp field most starships must rely on comparatively weak and slow ion thrusters and antigravity fields to nullify part or all of a planet’s gravity.
Even at Warp 0 a warp bubble provides an effective defense against conventional space weapons. Unfortunately, at or above Warp 1 the same warp bubble prevents most fire, including exo-beams11, from leaving the bubble. To attack at warp speeds, a ship has only a few solutions:
Match the speed and direction of the target ship and merge the enemy’s warp bubble with yours. If an enemy ship actually allows this without evasive maneuvers, beware.
Fire warp torpedoes, which will match speed with the enemy ship, merge their warp bubbles with the enemy’s, and then explode. Unfortunately warp torpedoes only have energy for a few light-years of flight before they burn out and self-destruct. If the ship suddenly increases Warp Factor, they will miss.
Plant warp mines in the enemy ship’s path, then drive them toward the mines. This takes great foresight and strategy, but works wonderfully – once – if a captain can pull it off.
Fire warp drones with bombs at the ship, which it may not see or ignore, then program the drones to ram the ship. This trick sometimes works if the enemy isn’t paying attention.
Hail the fleeing or pursuing ship, then use the open channel to hack into their computers and shut down their warp drive. This only works if the enemy hasn’t read about the exploits of Captain Jemison Kirche.
Technology of Other Civilizations
The Algolian Spacers live almost their entire lives aboard a habitat ship without touching the surface of a planet. They export their air scrubbers and biomatter recyclers to other interplanetary and interstellar fleets including the Alliance.
Rumor has it that their other industry involves low-tech weapons made with high-tech materials – ceramics, plastics, even unique explosives – that do not show up on routine security scans. They keep most of these for the personal use of the Itleixu, Algolian organized crime.
The Dominion of the First
While the “dominion” of The First extends only as far as one of their ships' weapon ranges, the First still possess astounding and sometimes disturbing technologies:
- Ships the size of cities that can attain at least Warp 10.
- Buildings that seem bigger on the inside than on the outside.
- Medical instruments that can slice a person into pieces, keep them alive (and mercifully passed out), then reverse the process without leaving a single scar or mark.
- A harness that lets one of their species spread their wings, leap into space and fly as if they were wearing a warp generator. The harness also generates a bolt of energy “something like an Exo-Beam, and then again, something not like one.” (Quoting the report.)
Other reported technologies are too strange to believe.
The Draconian Empire’s Warp capabilities rival the Alliances, but they have yet to fully crack Exo-Tech. What they lack in science acumen they more than make up for in tactics of warfare, though: the homing and ECCM abilities of their warp torpedoes are phenomenal, and when they explode they produce not only superheated plasma and shrapnel but an as yet unidentified substance that erodes armor and outer hull plating.
Overlap with prior era reflects regression of Earth relative to Mars. ↩︎
Mysterious and unsettlingly friendly beings from another dimension. ↩︎
Artificial Intelligence, i.e. mimicking some features of human intelligence. ↩︎
Turing-Chen Rank categorizes artificial intelligence on a 0-3 scale. TCR 0 has specific intelligence but not sapience (“robots”), TCR 1 has sapience but limited general intelligence. Higher ranks have qualitatively more advanced intelligence. ↩︎
Turning the subject into a signal and “beaming” them from a sending station to a receiving station. Without a “projector”, though, the signal requires a station at both ends. ↩︎
A starship enters a tunnel through “hyperspace” between two points in normal space, effectively travelling far faster than the speed of light. Emerging on the other side of the tunnel in a reasonable amount of time requires up-to-date astrogation data and a little luck. The ship also emerges blind; the chances of running into an object not on astrogation charts is vanishingly small but not zero. ↩︎
A starship “jumps” from one point to another in normal space without apparently traversing any point in between. While not instantaneous from an external frame of reference, the ship crosses light-years in what appears to be hours or days. Its major drawback is that even the best drive can only go about 20 LY at a time before a day-long cooldown. ↩︎
Sometimes the helmsperson will refer to a fractional warp factor like 9.5. The ship’s warp drive is, in fact, running at Warp 10, but the field is “slowed” to 1 LY per 34s per LY rather than 1 LY per 15s. ↩︎
Multipurpose semi-autonomous robot probes that can attain warp speeds and perform a number of useful tasks … or explode. ↩︎
Exo-beam targeting requires realspace methods like radar and laser marking, which only move at the speed of light. Even if scientists could solve this problem, the calculations for tunnelling exo-particles from one moving warp bubble to another are literally unsolvable. ↩︎