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Date of reception: 12 October 1988

Love and light, my Terran friends. This evening I wish to offer to you a brief commentary on the technology of the United Worlds Alliance, to give you some small understanding of what your science can become if you apply your great abilities to it with as much "gusto" as you devote to seeking to expedite each other's demise.

Let me begin with energy, since that seems to be a major topic these days on your world. Our primary power sources are what you call (often with ill-concealed dismay) "nuclear".

Without doubt, I have just caused any number of eyebrows to raise. "The Alliance uses nuclear power?" Yes, we do, as well as limited-load solar and (rarely) hydroelectric. However, for large-scale applications, we rely on the immense energy in the atom.

We tap this energy, not with the relatively inefficient technique of fission, but with hydrogen fusion and matter-energy conversion (anti-matter), the latter generating truly prodigious power in confined spaces.

M-EC is the energy source for our smaller interstellar crafts, where its compactness and high output are vital factors in addressing the needs of ship mass and space requirements.

Where size is not a significant factor, such as in the power systems on planets, we prefer fusion energy. Also, the cost of creating enough anti-matter to energize our "high-tech" societies would be prohibitive (it's a very long, complex and expensive process, although using it once it's made is a fairly simple matter). Even with Universal Economics, there are some things that aren't financially justifiable.

We do, as I mentioned, use solar energy, but because we are aware of its inherent limitations, it is used primarily in areas away from the supply network, where low demand and tolerance of sunlight's interruptions make it the method of choice.

Hydroelectric power is nowhere as extensive elsewhere as on Earth. We can seldom find an argument adequate to convince us to impede the natural flow of rivers and flood vast areas of land in order to generate electricity.

This is not to say that it doesn't exist elsewhere in the galaxy. Rather, any world becoming an Alliance member is provided with our power technology. If such a planet had hydroelectricity, in most cases it's abandoned and the dams are then dismantled, allowing full recovery of the flooded lands and the return of the rivers to nature.

We find it difficult to fathom that your environmentalists promote hydro-power when its ecological effect is so vast and devastating. However, we leave that matter to you to sort out.

Returning to nuclear energy, we strongly advise your science to seek practical fusion energy. Although we have no aversion to fission power as an interim source, fission is much less efficient, and relies on materials that are comparatively rare and costly.

At the moment, however, your world faces the choice of nuclear fission or fossil fuels for several decades at the least, until fusion energy comes into its own in the next century.

Given that decision, there's not the merest question that fission power, for all of its limitations, is far and away to be preferred. It might not be the best that's available, but it's the best that you have for now.

My next topic is the drive systems in our spacecrafts. We do not use any form of rocket propulsion, including your proposed ion drive systems for flights to the stars. Rather, our ships employ nature's own energy fields, gravity and magnetism, primarily the former, as magnetic fields of adequate strength are usually not present.

The magnetic system operates in much the manner of a linear motor, with the ship being the "rotor" and the planetary field being the "stator". As noted, without a substantial field with which to react, this is an ineffective system, and has been all but abandoned by the Alliance.

The gravitic technique is not as simple as it might seem. It must first be explained that at any given point in space away from nearby masses, the net gravitational field is zero. Yet, at that point and at every point, the combined gravitational flux from every atom in the universe is present.

The reason that it isn't normally sensed is similar to the reason that despite Terran air pressure of 15 PSI, amounting to literally tons of pressure on the area of the average human body, one is completely unaware of it. The pressure is equalized inside and out, and it is omnidirectional (coming from every direction simultaneously). If one considers how the ears "pop" with rapid altitude changes, or how a strong wind makes walking difficult, one can then understand the effect of unbalanced air pressure on the human body.

In a similar manner, although the totality of gravity from all the mass in the universe is present at every point in it, we do not feel it because it pulls equally on every atom from every direction. It is only in the nearness of a concentration of matter, such as a planet, that an imbalance in this universal field is created, and the effects of gravitation are felt.

Imagine, now, a ship drive that fully negates the pull of gravity in one direction. The effect is that of the gravitational force of the entire universe pulling the other way, with the vector being directly opposite the center of the negated area. It is not an exaggeration to compare the force on the spacecraft to that in the proximity of the event horizon of a black hole.

For that reason, we do not hazard total negation. Our technology creates a partial shield to cancel a fraction of the flux opposite the direction of travel. The imbalance causes motion, and depending on the percentage, it can be very rapid and abrupt motion.

Why, then, do the occupants feel nothing, given the enormous "G-forces" created by right-angle turns and full reversals at high speed? Why does a skydiver in free-fall, accelerating at 32 feet per second squared, feel nevertheless weightless? The reason is that gravity pulls every atom at once, with no external force to resist it, at least until the parachute deploys.

When one travels in an auto or an aircraft, the force that accelerates that person comes from the seat, and inertia resists the force. Our ships do not propel themselves, but rather are propelled by the unbalanced external force of universal gravity.

This force attracts every atom of the ship, and every atom inside it, with equal strength, regardless of the direction, or how abruptly that vector is changed. The same energy that turns the ship 180 degrees at 50,000 MPH will turn its occupants just as quickly. The net effect is no sensation whatever. A passenger could be standing on one foot when the reversal occurs and not even sway to the side.

The penalty we pay, since as you say, "there's no such thing as a free lunch," is in the amount of energy that is expended in generating the shield at the desired intensity. This power is used at approximately the same rate as it would be were the ship to perform the maneuver on its own.

Let me explain that. A helicopter hovering at a certain height requires a given amount of power to maintain that station. A "saucer" of that same mass, utilizing G-shielding, would put almost as much power into the shield as the helicopter does into its rotor. I say "almost" because air friction and other mechanical energy losses in the helicopter have no equivalent in the saucer. However, the force actually supporting each would be the same.

As for velocities beyond that of light, this requires far more complex systems that "warp" space to increase the absolute velocity of light within the "bent" space, relative to "normal" space. In fact, the actual velocity in warped space does not exceed that of light within that space, although in comparison to normal space, the speeds can be many multiples of light.

Gravity drive also operates here, because gravitation, being the effect of matter that has existed since the beginning of time, does not involve propogation velocities. Also, because mass in the universe is constant, the totality of gravity does not change. In short, it's the force, not the source, that drives our ships. It is a very powerful force, to be sure.

The third facet of Alliance technology that I wish to discuss is communications. Let me say that what you call "telepathy" is inate in every human being anywhere, but the ability of the individual to use it depends to a great extent on how it is enhanced within the first two years of life. The areas of the brain that control psychic activity tend to atrophy unless they are nurtured almost from "day one".

In large part, this is a social rather than a scientific matter. If a society has not traditionally been psychically oriented, it offers no aid or encouragement to those seeking to advance this ability in the children. Indeed, in many cultures the concept of being able to "read minds" is actively suppressed, and considered repulsive and somehow unnatural.

In fact, it is as natural as sight or breathing, and many "lower" animals actively use a rudimentary form of this ability, down to the level of insects. Much of what is considered "instinct" is actually telepathic rapport on a fundamental basis, a "gestalt" of many separate, unthinking brains united into a whole that is capable of elementary thought and decision-making. The swarm "instinct" is evidence of this.

Would there be any great benefit in creating a society that supports psychic development? There are several races "out there" in whom the mental faculties are acutely developed. These races have advanced their psychic power to the exclusion of any other form of inter-personal communication.

Meeting one of these races is, however, unsettling. There is an inate alien-ness about them that no amount of surface humanity can conceal. They have no personality, no individuality, no human uniqueness. Wonderful though they are, these beings evoke unease.

They are merged into a totality that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the same swarm mentality as insects, vastly more wise and intelligent, but nevertheless lacking those singular traits that make John different from James and Lin-Erri from Astra-Lari.

Most of all, they have no privacy. In becoming a communal mind, they have sacrificed the right to isolation. One may fear the pangs of loneliness, but envision a world where one can never be alone. It's far more fearsome, indeed.

Do we of the Alliance use psychic communication? To an extent, yes. We do bring our children into it, but we do not allow it to become the sole means for them. A civilized world depends on much more than absolute truth.

This is possible only when social communication is mainly external, where the human foibles that render our minds and our thinking less than perfect can be counteracted by the graces of good manners, kindness, diplomacy, and tact.

Do we rely on psychic energy? Not at all. It has applications, but only for matters of informality. In all our official and important inter-personal communications, we use purely physical means, based upon various approaches to "radio", as you call it.

One of the most sophisticated of these technologies is the "implant" network. This is a system that links all Alliance citizens, not in the manner of the "swarm" I mentioned, but rather via what you might think of as "personal telephones" placed directly into the brains of the people.

These implants, when within one of the planet-wide grids, on a ship, or in one of our bases, allow the people to communicate with one another, to tie into our many computer systems, and so on, anywhere within the Alliance.

By this means they can converse, learn, do research, attend conferences, and perform any other activity that requires that the individual be in full and reliable communication with others.

As well, implants are the sources of brain activity data that allow us to utilize our teleportal networks to full advantage, as I'll explain in a few moments. They also provide personal ID codes for security, such as for ship control and access to classified areas and information.

These devices are bio-electronic in nature, using organic materials that are invisible to any form of detection, and invulnerable to electromagnetic or nuclear radiation at any level that would not result in immediate death of the individual.

The "grids" that I mentioned are generated by a precisely-placed network of what you call transponders or repeaters, operating in a manner similar in concept to "cellular telephones".

The person desiring to communicate directs his implant to link with the system, which requires a mere thought to activate. The unit then transmits a coded signal that is received by the nearest relay, which acknowledges that the user is on-line. The individual then commands the computers to perform whatever linkup is desired and in a few seconds he or she is "in business".

There is no charge to the person for services accessed via the implant network. Communication is considered a fundamental right of everyone, and this technology addresses that right.

However, non-implant communication systems operated by private corporations do often charge fees. This primarily involves commercial, non-personal communications such as image or data transmission, visiscreen broadcasts, and so on.

Interplanetary and interstellar comms use "sub-space" radio as the medium for almost immediate access to the farthest reaches of the Alliance. It would be futile to explain the SSR technology, because you have nothing comparable to it, but it involves the principle we use in our starships.

Let me now use as my last topic what your science fiction usually calls "teleportation". Until the advent of implants, this involved scanning the entire body's atomic structure and transmitting the resulting codes to the receiving end, where the body was built out of "raw materials" in the precise likeness of the individual. This, on an uncommon basis, involved Point-To-Point Receiverless Transport ala "Star Trek", but with a staggering usage of energy, and only for life-safety or having no practical alternative to PTPRT.

While the system worked, it was by no means ideal. It required an enormous energy supply, even though the only thing sent out was data, just because there was so much of it. To send it all in a reasonable time made the use of million-channel data streams mandatory, and this entailed a full transmitter section for each transport channel.

As well, the body produced at the receiver was identical to the one that was transmitted, even though the environment at the receiver might well be much different. This necessitated conditioning periods for even moderate adaptation, and often the individual simply could not live there at all.

After a time, we decided that it was best to use our computers to create a body designed for the conditions at the receiving end, based on the data from the sending portal. This worked far better, but the algorithms that did the conversions were, to understate it considerably, extremely complex.

With the implants, an entirely new process became possible. At the instant of transport, the implant is queried by the transmitting portal, and the brain activity is the only thing actually sent out. At the receiving end, a body pattern is fetched from storage and is used to create the perfectly adapted physique at the receiver. The incoming data is then modified to exactly match the brain of the recipient body, and transport is complete.

At the transmitting end, if the return will be fairly soon, the body is stored outright to await its owner. If the trip is extended, the body pattern is scanned and stored, and then reduced to "raw material" for use by others. As storage facilities increase, this time frame is expanded, and ultimately there will be no "demat" except in strictly one-way journeys.

Since the data consists only of mental patterns to program the implant in the recipient body, the amount of it is spectacularly less than the earlier method required. The entire system is now many billions of times less complex, and that much faster and more reliable.

We call THAT progress!

I shall end this commentary on a few facets of Alliance technology with the hope that these words might ignite in some inquisitive far-reaching mind a small spark of inspiration that will flare up into a brilliant blaze of invention.

Nothing I have described is beyond your ability to discover and use. Your people have consistently displayed much ingenuity and creativity. These are a few of the characteristics that make you such a valuable prospective member in the Alliance. You are half-way to the stars. We'll be waiting for you!

Va i luce, and peace be yours.

I am ArKay.


2008 Robert P. Renaud -- all rights reserved