[ Traveller | TCS | The Journal of Kyatifa Ahroun a Malek ]
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We found another derelict today, a dead ship whose impossible drives do not obey our Laws of physics, and thus, do not work. This one, mercifully, had no crew aboard. Had they warning, I wonder, before the Final Disaster struck? Or were they merely stranded groundside, unable to return to their ship, but equally doomed? What must they have thought of this last, most awful perversion of their universe?
We have only bits and pieces of history from before the Collapse; so much was lost. No one really knows how long the Collapse was; centuries, at least. The Collapse we call it here in the Cluster; the Aslan Borderers call it Whethwyrt, "when the universe was corrupted"; I have heard other terms: the Greater Maghiz, Nightfall, the Darktime, Endtime.
What was the Collapse? What history we have tells of war, war on a scale unimaginable to any now alive, war between empires. Some tantalizing fragments hint of civil war or rebellion, but nothing conclusive. Was the Solomani Rim a rebel province or a rival empire? No one knows.
There was war, invasion, lawlessness -- apparently for an extended time. But that alone would not have caused the Collapse, though it must have weakened them, set them up for what was to come. Perhaps the War was the "First Disaster" of the Cynilogic Teachings. The Second Disaster was the Stardeath.
Stardeath -- the supernovae of two giant stars "in the course of one lifetime". From what we now know about jumpspace, we have reconstructed what must have happened -- but to our ancestors, with their flawed theory of jumpspace, it must have been an appalling violation of reality. For the stars...moved. Two spinning gravitational singularities were created from those supernovae, and they altered the shape of jumpspace -- as in the distant past, supernovae created the Great Rifts and the Abyss-Rift. And thus, stars still fixed in realspace moved, realigned themselves in jumpspace.
This was a devastating blow to the Imperial Civilization of our ancestors; already the vital economic ties between worlds had been weakened by long years of the War. Now the stars had moved, throwing interstellar trade and communications into chaos. Is it any wonder that worlds abandoned their distant neighbors and turned inward, relying on their own self-sufficiency rather than unreliable interstellar trade? We presume that this retreat from the stars explains the outposts found stripped and abandoned; for those who left the outposts were still able to leave, to carry off what was valuable. But it wasn't the Stardeath that killed whole worlds, leaving vast megapoli inhabited only by the dead and stone-age savages.
The Final Disaster is still hard to comprehend; conjecture based on Imperial ships and machinery, the Cynilogic Teachings, and the strangely erroneous bits of technical literature still remaining from the Imperial period. One ship could have been dismissed as a fluke, a failed prototype -- but not all of them. There is a common thread in much Imperial machinery -- all based on the same principles, all in agreement with Imperial engineering texts -- all wrong. They not only do not work -- they cannot work.
Gravitics: the basis for contragrav, anti-acceleration fields, thruster plates. In the ancient Imperial Civilization, the basis for those and many other things -- all now impossible. The very physical constants taught in Imperial texts are wrong -- and thus all else is wrong. We were lucky; those flawed texts were discovered by archaeologists only a few decades ago, long after we had redeveloped gravitics from first principles -- merely knowing that it had been done once, therefore we could do it again.
I know of worlds that never redeveloped gravitics, because they had the help of that fatally flawed Imperial engineering data. I have heard of a world (Alsace) whose scientists believe gravitics to be impossible, because the legends of the ways it was used by Imperials are clearly fantastic -- they "know" the universe doesn't work that way. Their archaeologists have various questionable theories to explain the few derelict Imperial ships discovered in their system -- the funniest one is the explanation that the derelicts weren't real ships at all, but votive offerings to the gods of space, to invoke magic by building a deliberately impossible drive. Another one of their explanations is that the Imperials used a sufficiently advanced technology that important details are invisible to us. This would almost be believable, except that I have read copies of the surviving Imperial engineering text, and understand what they thought they were doing. And those Alsatian archaeologists have never had to explain a "cemetary world".
I've seen one, a cemetary world. A world where everyone died as all the vital machinery failed at once. Power stations went dead or blew up, vehicles, gravtrains, spaceships suddenly fell dead from the sky, and all the other machinery failed as power died. Machinery like life support on methane atmosphere worlds -- sure, there were emergency power supplies -- but how fast can you figure out what's fundamentally wrong with your power plant, redesign and rebuild one from the ground up -- especially when half your tools don't work anymore either, and the ones that do work are using your scarce emergency power? And do you evacuate a suddenly hostile world when none of your vehicles move? You can't walk to another planet!
Then there were the habitable worlds, the ones with survivors -- if you can call them that. The die-off must have been horrendous, when all the supports of civilization ceased the function -- no food transported, food production diminished to miniscule amounts, no water supply save unsanitary natural rivers, no public sanitation, no manufactured goods, no nothing save what bare hands can produce and bare feet can carry. After the starvation, rioting and disease killed the megalopoli, a handful of survivors took up a hand-to-mouth, stone-age existance in the wilderness. With no education available, no source of information (the databanks are all dead, remember), they had to reinvent everything from first principles. A few of them have managed spears and fire. Most of them are club-wielding savages who eat raw whatever they can catch, including each other. A very few lucky ones have achieved a stable, though primitive civilization; all such have traditions of one or more Teacher figures who brought/preserved important technologies like dirt farming, fire, building, animal domestication, etc. Our archaeologists have found the ruins of an Imperial Scout Service base on one such world; they guess that Imperial Scouts either came from worlds like ours, or had training in primitive survival.
Our own traditions agree with the archaeologist's findings on the cemetary worlds -- somehow, the Laws of physics affecting gravitics changed overnight. We still don't know how or why; we may never know. What worked before, became impossible; and what works now would have been impossible then. Proud Imperial worlds whose technology was based on gravitics died overnight.
And worlds like ours, that have regained the stars? Traditions and archaeology have show us that our ancestors' worlds were on the fringes of Imperial Civilization at best. Home worlds of outsiders, worlds restricted from participating in Imperial Civilization for one reason or other -- all worlds that had to rely on their own less-developed technologies, technologies not based on gravitics but on magnetics, chemistry, mechanics, atomics, etc. The bases for our own ancestral civilizations were not affected by the Final Disaster; we survived and grew.
Much was still lost; many worlds had some dependence on Imperial technology, but not enough to destroy them. We fell back, but picked ourselves up and continued on. In some areas, we have equalled or surpassed the vanished Imperials -- in redeveloping jump theory from first principles, we acquired new insights that somehow escaped the Imperials. So I assume, for no jump-capable Imperial era ship has been found smaller than 1400 kl. Instead of jump torpedoes, they appear to have used a network of unwieldy 1400 kl craft for communications. We don't know if they understood the relationship between spinning singularities and the shape of jumpspace; there's not a good sample of Imperial jump theory available.
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