Worldbuilding: Deep Space Terminology, An Overview

World building is a complex and demanding process. I’m not an expert on it but it is fun to share all that work from time to time and for me, one of the things that means is sharing the dictionaries and lexicons that start to accrue over time as I write stories and come up with new concepts.

This week’s world building log is on The Divided Futures, a series of stories about humanities future and what kinds of challenges it’s going to come up with for itself. Specifically, here are some common terms from the Extrasolar age, the age of interstellar colonization and increasingly difficult national relations. Terms like:

biocomputer – A kind of upgrade to the human brain that works in two ways. First, it allows the human brain to enter a state similar to the fight-or-flight reaction people already possess. They experience time and a much slower relative speed, usually seeing things moving at one half or one quarter the normal rate. Digital computers can also coopt the incredible processing power of the brain to carry out their calculations with, sending the person who’s brain serves as the biocomputer into a sensory deprivation state. The most invasive versions of this technology allow people to experience time at 32x – they perceive time at 1/32nd normal rate – and function as the core of incredibly powerful processing engines. But the human brain cannot adapt to the most advanced forms of this technology past a certain age. This used to be around the age of twenty but, as the changes biocomputers impose on brain matter and function grow more and more pronounced, that age has fallen to fifteen.

cetacean ballet – The term for large space vessels moving in precise patterns via tesseract technology (see below). It generally refers to either the traffic patterns of large passenger or freight ships around a spaceport or the movements of large war vessels engaged in a pitched battle.

CMD – Stands for Cochran Mass Drivers. It’s an unofficial unit of measurement for mass driver technology that still finds widespread use in U.S., Russian and Chinese colonies. One CMD is equal to the amount of mass the Cochran mass driver on Mars can launch from the surface of the planet into orbit in a single firing. Because of it’s age the Cochran mass driver tends to be pretty weak by modern standards and most colonies have local planet to orbit launching systems that average 2-4 CMDs per firing. Constant retooling and upgrading by the Cochran Foundation means that the value of the CMD is almost always in flux, which is just one reason why it’s not an officially recognized unit of measurement.

CODSpace – Slang term for the U.S. Combined Orbital/Deep Space forces (see below), primarily used by other branches of the U.S. armed forces or English speaking foreign militarizes.

ComODS – Slang term for the U.S. Combined Orbital/Deep Space forces (see below), primarily used by people within that branch of service and the media.

downwell – Refers to moving towards the center of a gravity well or magnetic field. Usually attached to a descriptor if there are multiple large gravity wells or magnetic sources in the area. “Downwell Jupiter,” for example, means, “I am moving towards the surface of Jupiter” as opposed to towards one of the gas giant’s major moons. The opposite of upwell (see below).

Exo – Pronounced like the letters “X” and “O”. This refers to an atmospherically sealed suit built around a self propelled exoskeleton that allows people to move and work more effectively in super low pressure environments. They range from simple exoskeletons that give a person enough strength to move components massing twice as much as they do to complex armored weapons of war used by soldiers in low microgravity combat.

hash – Refers to an area where gravity’s effect on spacetime distorts it to the extent a tesseract drive can no longer create folded space. This is usually found in the center of a gravity well such as that created by a planet or a Hawking reactor (see below). Gets its name from the way the relevant space is hashed out on most realtime space charts.

Hawking reactor – A method of generating power created some sixty years ago and widely accepted by humanity, a Hawking reactor uses Unified Field Theory to create a microscopic flux in spacetime – essentially creating a miniature black hole. It then harvests the resulting Hawking radiation to create power. Physicists assure the public that black hole evaporation will prevent these singularities from ever becoming true black holes and that they vanish even if the reactor is not shut down safely, but some people view them with a large measure of distrust regardless.

McGee – US ComODS slang for microgravity (see below).

MGI – MicroGravity Infantry, refers to a ComODS branch that specializes in fighting ship to ship, repelling boarders, boarding and seizing hostile ships and making space to planet assaults. The last doesn’t technically take place in microgravity but the name still makes more sense as calling a fighting force in space Marines…

microgravity – Refers to regions of space where no large stellar object, like a planet or a moon, is close enough to produce gravity noticeable to humans. The effects of an object’s gravity never really disappear, they just become so minuscule as to be meaningless, hence the term microgravity is usually preferred to zero gravity, even though they are functionally the same in most cases.

rad cloud – The heavily concentration of stars near the galactic center, a place widely considered too dangerous for exploratory work, much less colonization.

spacetime – Refers to a mathematical construct that unifies space and time for the ease of higher mathematical functions.

tesseract drive – A method of “propulsion” that folds two distant points in spacetime together and allows a vessel to pass from one to the other in effectively no time at all. The “speed” a space vessel can reach is only determined by how much distance can be covered in a single folding of spacetime and how quickly its generators can recharge the drive and repeat the process. Tesseract drives have existed for nearly one and a half centuries but that doesn’t mean they’re trusted technology. The fact that process of folding spacetime leaves it distorted for several minutes or even hours afterward, to the point that a ship cannot tesser again until it “clears it’s own hash (see above),” is frequently used as an argument that the technology might be permanently damaging spacetime in ways not yet understood.

Unified Field Theory – Often shortened to UFT. A mathematical system that has succeeded in relating three of the four “universal forces” in quantum physics, namely gravity, electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. The strong nuclear force continues to resist physicists efforts to bring it into the theory with the other three. UFT serves as the foundation for many modern technologies, including artificial gravity, tesseract drives and the Hawking reactors that feed it all.

United States Combined Orbital/Deep Space Forces –  The branch of the U.S. Military charged with securing the spacelanes and defending U.S. Exoplanetary States and Territories from foreign threats. Considers itself the most powerful vacuum-ready fighting force in existence, although the British and Indian space arms both have their own thoughts on that.

upwell – Refers to moving away from the center of a gravity well or magnetic field. Usually attached to a descriptor if there are multiple large gravity wells or magnetic sources in the area. “Upwell Jupiter,” for example, means, “I am moving away from the surface of Jupiter” as opposed to away from one of the gas giant’s major moons. The opposite of downwell (see above).

So there you go. You’re probably not ready to jump in and navigate the space lanes just yet, but at least if you wind up frozen in a block of ice and get thawed out three hundred years in the future you’ll be prepared to talk the talk, if not walk the walk. Best of luck!


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