The Science Of Planets: The Flat Map

The Science Of Planets:  Why Is The Map Cluster Flat?

Greetings, students.  In case you missed the previous lesson, I am Elder Kh’preng, Servant of the Web, former envoy of the Crystal Confederation, and your instructor in this series of introductory classes on the science of the Nu Era.  Again, I’d like to remind you of my policy, that questions are not permitted during class.  If you wish to ask me something in private, just pass through the web outside my office door during the posted hours.

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of warfare in the Echo Cluster, at least to atmospheric pilots, is that interplanetary travel is represented two-dimensionally, and that there is no real measure of depth to any given sector.  Space, as we all know, exists in three dimensions, so a map of a star cluster, for example, ought to be shaped rather like a ball.  Thus runs the reasoning.

And of course it’s not true, not even slightly.  While local space — this classroom, for instance — can indeed be measured using a three-dimensional coordinate system, with X, Y, and Z axes roughly along the wall intersections at any corner, this is merely a representation, an estimate that works for us in our daily lives.  In any sense beyond the strictly local, space has (depending on one’s model) around nineteen dimensions of which we are presently aware, and viewed as even pragmatic spacetime it cannot be navigated using fewer than five.

The finer aspects of this are far too specific for this class; they are details no commander ever need be aware of save only to acknowledge that they exist.  Even for those few of you who will take part in inter-sector travel over the course of your careers, the most you may be required to understand is the Milne approximate model of space, wherein the infinite universe is contained within a finite yet expanding sphere; this is rendered non-paradoxical by the concept of variable radial length contraction combined with coordinate time as a constant.

If this confuses you, don’t worry; as a sector commander, you will never be required to understand what I just said.  Merely accept that it’s true and move on to more important subjects.

During my early days as an instructor, when I still permitted questions, there were five that were always asked about sectors.  They were:

  1. Why aren’t there any stars?
  2. Why does each sector contain 500 planets?
  3. Why does any planet have a total capacity of, at most, ten million Colonists?
  4. Why are sectors flat?
  5. Since minefields are flat, why can’t I just fly over them?

The answers are all simple, and can be summarized by the precept that I just mentioned:  As a commander, you will never need to know why.  Just accept it and move on.

But if that were enough to satisfy you, you wouldn’t be in my class in the first place.  So, here’s a bit more detail.

1. Why aren’t there any stars?  There are stars.  You just can’t see them on your maps.  The reason for this is simple:  You don’t need to see them.  You will never visit them.  They do not impact your lives as sector commanders.  The sole exception to this is the formation known as the “Star Cluster”; these are marked as navigational hazards, which to you is all they are.

2. Why does each sector contain 500 planets?  Sectors can contain more or less than 500 planets.  In point of fact, the object shown on your maps as a “planet” is, in reality, the usable contents of an entire solar system; there can be any number of actual planets within it.  The navigational marker on your maps is labeled after the name of the chief world within that system.

But of course any arbitrary section of space can contain any number of usable systems.  You simply don’t see them because there are systems within the bounds of any sector that are unmarked.  Sectors are defined by Senate cosmographers for the purpose of delineating the area of a war; only those systems chosen as suitable for warfare are permissible for colonization and exploitation.  The rest are simply not shown on your map since you won’t be stopping there.  There are usually around 500 selected simply because that’s been shown to be an efficient number for the purpose of determining a victor.

3. Why does any planet have a total capacity of, at most, ten million Colonists?  Planets can support massive populations.  Any world not actually molten can support life; some worlds support populations in the tens of billions.  The term “Colonist” refers to the militarized support staff under the control of their commander; likewise, a single “Native” is only that portion of the native civilization that is accessible for exploitation.

The actual truth of anything represented on your maps as a “Planet” is, you may recall, an entire solar system.  It can contain multiple inhabited worlds a vast civilian population, and fleets of merchant ships flying between the worlds.  That these exist is immaterial to the duty of any commander, as neutral trading vessels that carry none of the materiel of war are permitted to be molested in any way.

4. Why are sectors flat?  Sectors aren’t flat, not at all.  They appear this way, and can be represented thus on a map, due to certain fundamental truths as to their nature.  Your classic sector, for example, exists as a virtual planar cross-section (actually, a curved surface) relatively perpendicular to a radial vector oriented to Galactic Center.  In part it is laid out in this fashion because the harmonics of standard high-performance interstellar drives can only function at supraluminal speeds in areas of constant transgravitation.

This is not to say that travel is impossible through areas of regular transgravitational flux; on the contrary, small courier vessels and massive colony ships alike make the journey regularly.  Tiny shuttles are impervious to transgravitational perturbation only if their power plants are below a certain critical mass; colony vessels represent the combined industrial production of entire sectors, and the price of the ultra-dense dwarf-star shielding on their reactors is not an obstacle.  No vessel that could possibly be risked in combat would ever use such a power source; it’s far too expensive.

So what appears as flat on your maps is actually gently curved.  In some cases the apparent plane is, in reality, a virtual Möbius cylinder in static phase space; these sectors are known as “spheres” and permit continuous navigation.  Other sectors exist as a cluster of planets at a large distance from a black hole; the IR radiating from the accretion disk creates a limited region of life-supporting planets, with the map simply the intersection of the spherical surface of that region with a globular cluster.

It should be remembered that not every potential sector is worthy of contestation.  Dwarf clusters with only a dozen or so systems will never attract more than one or two factions, and any war there is likely to be brief and bloody.  On the other extreme, any ultra-massive conglomeration of star systems is impracticable of warfare due to its internal transgravitation, which entirely prohibits rapid interstellar travel by normal means.

5. If at this point you’re still wondering why minefields are two-dimensional, circles rather than spheres, you are in need of some remedial education.  Immediately after class, please report to Airlock Six-Phi on the engineering deck.  The inner door will only be open for ninety seconds, so don’t be late; once it cycles, that’s it.

Now:  Are there any questions?  No?  Ah, good — you are capable of learning.


(NOTE:  Several people contributed to this article.  Substantial contributions were made by Whisperer and Joshua.  Any mistakes, of course, are mine.)

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