Travelling through hyperspace in E-Space is commonly referred to as “brane-hopping,” and is loosely based on the so-called String/Brane theory. Briefly illustrated, our Universe is a “brane” (short for membrane) that floats in multi-dimensional space (called “Soup”). An ideal way of visualizing this is to picture a piece of cloth floating in water, or the egg in Egg Drop soup. Branespace allows a vessel to shorten travel by “hopping” from one brane wrinkle to the other.
Distance is an impractical measuring tool when travelling through hyperspace. Realspace linear distance between two stars do not compare to their relative orientation in the Soup. A more suitable tool for measuring is time. That is, trips are typically described in how long it typically takes to travel an optimized route between two loci.
Speed is likewise a difficult unit to measure. Two loci may be thousands of light years apart and yet be only a few weeks away through the Soup. Alternatively, two loci may be close, only a few dozen light years apart, and still take months to travel. Likewise, a well calculate route may reduce the normal hop time.
However, the general measurement for superluminal travel is the “pace,” and is discussed elsewhere in some detail.
Routes and Brane-Hopping
Most hops occur along documented and optimzied routes between two loci. A route is a path that cuts through the Soup. There are periods during a hop where a vessel cannot re-enter Realspace. While a route may be well known, there are ever-present fluctuations that make plotting a route impossible for most organic sentient beings.
Soup travel requires precision timing and interactions within the vessel and its immediate surrounding space. Due to this complexity, dedicated shipboard super-computers are required to manage all aspects of the Hop. When traveling along a known route, the hop-computer takes the baseline data from the route profile and compensates for varying local changes by applying various formulae. The effeciency by which computers are capable of processing a local hop vary throughout E-space history.
Route profiles are typically stored on planet-side computers controlled by governments and major NGOs. These organizations seek to track every route between all known loci. Ship computers cannot carry all known routes because of the amount of storage route profiles require. Additionally, route profiles are continually being updated by other vessels. Therefore, a route profile becomes stale over time as more vessels traverse that route and time progresses.
The birth of a new route is a dangerous one. Specialized mega-computers calculate the possibility of routes and crunch a possibile route profile. An unmanned route scout vessel determines the route’s accuracy by traveling the route. After a successful unmanned scout mission, a manned scout mission follows. Initial routes may be unstable and unpredictable, so while early missions may be successful, the route may deteriorate so quickly that subsequent missions end in abject failure. Only after scores of successful hops is a route profile declared stable.
There is one wrinkle in this process. Sometimes manned missions either do not report back, or provide falsified information. Motivations for doing so are legion. A crew may have discovered a highly valuable route and want to profit from it, or they may have infiltrated the scout group to steal a valuable route to another group. Additionally, they may report a fruitless route due to similar motives.
Environmental Factors and Brane-Hopping
While a route may be stable, it may still be a difficult route to travel. Factors contributing to difficulty of a route include a locus’ location within a gravity well, gravity bodies along the route–determined by the Soup and not Realspace; and “hop-pollution.”
Travel across the Brane into the Soup requires the use of gravitons. A locus’ proximity to a gravity body increases the difficulty of initiating the hop. It may be described by saying that a vessel is like a hot-air balloon that “fills up” on gravitons. Specifically, the ship generates a anti-murfian field, then emits gravatons. Localized gravatonic pressure may make this process more difficult. A strong gravity body along the route (especially black holes) may also upheave the gravatonic bouyancy causing a vessel to return to Realspace prematurely–with a possibility of not being able to resume travel along that route.
Hop-pollution describes the effect of too much travel along a route. As vessels hop along a route, they bleed off gravitons. How effective they are at controling this is depends on the era. As a result, over-use of a route may increase the gravitons along that route. This has a similar effect as a strong gravity body along the route–the ship may be pushed out of the Soup altogether. This phenomena has made some routes very dangerous to travel, having the effect of closing a once-stable route. Over time, the pollution may dissipate, reopening the route.
During a given period (e.g. First Expanse) a route is described as having a general difficulty. The varying factors discussed above will affect that route to give it a local difficulty for a given hop. This is discussed below.
Outcome States and Hop-plotting
Technology is likewise an influencial factor in a hop. At different periods, technology has varying capability in coping with the various environmental factors mentioned above. Computers have their limitations, and the quality of a hop-plot and local difficulty influences three “outcome states:” time, location and emergence.
[%25This is an ideal plot device. A vessel hop is an unopposed skills test. The applicable computer skill and a roll are compared against the local route difficulty. The GM is free to determine when the result is substancial enough to warrant a changed to an outcome state. When using Fudge, it may be that each level of difference affects a different state or a combination of levels compounds the effect on one state. The GM is free to determine the effects, or she may randomize the state affected. For example, using a Fudge die, ‘-‘ could be time, ‘+’ could be location, and ‘ ‘ could be emergence. The actual impact on the determined state is up to the GM.%25]
The route profile has an estimated trip time. A successful plot will fit within the bounds of that time. A very successful plot may reduce the trip time, while a failed plot may drastically lengthen the trip. Van Winkle ships describe ships that had a terrible plot that caused them to arrive years if not decades after they began the hop.
There is still debate regarding the effects of time when in the Soup. Some studies suggest that those who travel the Soup age slower or longer than they would in Realspace. Additionally, evidence suggests that time’s progression on a vessel may not coincide with that in Realspace, although only legends claim a vessel arrived before it left.
A successful plot should land the vessel near the intended target, perhaps within 1 AU of the intended location. Extremely successful plots could land precisely where targetd, and a failed hop-plot could cause the vessel to miss by tens of AU. Of course, once in Realspace, travel returns to a subluminal pace, so this can greatly affect a trip. There are cases where a crew would rather return from where they began and redo the trip than travel that far in Realspace, because it is faster.
Vessels do not typically snap immediately between Realspace and the Soup. Instead, there is a fading period when the ship switches to the “gaining space.” The normal period of a fade is about an hour, but the quality of the plot may influence this. An extremely successful plot could shorten the fade period to mere minutes. A poor plot could result in a long fade, or a ghost condition. This is an almost legendary condition where the vessel only partly fades into the gaining space by never fully enters. It is trapped in the Brane, sometimes forever.