(Historically 2200-2250CE, 2540-2710CE, 5000-5500CE maximum)
The Vacuum Era began the Interstellar Age and marked the emergence of the macrojump technology that made interstellar settlement and government practical. While machine intelligences enabled interstellar voyages, they also proved powerful enough to manage an interplanetary society without the need for organic guidance. Citizens of stable societies of the period could enjoy extended lifetimes free from worry over basic needs, though often without any driving purpose.
Advanced nanocomposite "living" materials evolved into animate matter during the Vacuum Era, gaining the capability to morph, move and act intelligently and independently in an essentially life-like manner.
Fabrication chambers continued to decrease in size and cost, with personal fabrication boxes of two cubic meter capacity emerging as luxury items. All manufacturing processes consisted of inputs of energy, data and raw materials, reformed in a vacuum-sealed fabrication chamber, with fabrication rates increasing to one tenth of the chamber's volume per hour.
High energy processes allowed economic creation of collapsed materials, or "white dwarf" alloys, providing "dead" but extremely strong materials for armor and specialized construction. Some experimental molecular materials became available during the period, but construction techniques utilizing a single macro molecular structure remained expensive and limited to fairly small scales.
Powerful regulated electromagnetic containment fields became versatile enough for use as building materials and could provide "force field" doorways, airlocks and protective shields, though constant power requirements limited practicality and safety in sustained structural applications.
The development of vacuum distillation, the ability to coax power from space itself by harvesting transient particles, revolutionized power generation. Vacuum distillers scaling down to thirty tons mass could draw positrons out of empty space and store them for use as antimatter fuel. Early distillers were capable of rendering six times the energy required to extract the vacuum particles. The "free energy" provided by this process quickly replaced fusion power for large scale generation and allowed cheap production of the anti-matter required for effective macrojump interstellar travel.
Antimatter storage and power units, where legal, provided a high density power source, annihilating positrons in reinforced chambers for a variety of high power applications.
Fusion power plants continued to serve major roles, providing vehicular and small scale power. Compact portable fusion reactors were suitable for nearly all vehicles, shrinking to fifty kilograms in mass and utilizing extremely efficient shielding and heat management systems.
Energy Absorption and Storage Panel (ASP) units continued to provide small scale power needs, reaching close to their theoretical maximum performances by increasing energy storage capacity by fifty percent over Quantum Era levels.
Affordable fusion powered personal vehicles of the Vacuum Era were capable of hypersonic and orbital flight, and more expensive models were capable of transorbital or limited interplanetary travel. Ground vehicles ceased to exist except as curiosities. Effective hyper-string pseudo gravity (HSPG repulsor) vehicles also remained exotic curiosities, as fusion powered rocket propelled vehicles proved more cost-effective as aircraft. Deep tunnel vacuum tubes continued to provide cost-effective transcontinental transport across existing networks, but the construction of new links was a unwarranted expense.
Triphibian vehicles serviced underwater destinations, but water surface transport was restricted to sport vehicles, as hypersonic aircraft were cheaper to operate, even for bulk transport applications.
Most aircraft were capable of orbital flight. Some HSPG replusor craft began to service orbital stations, but traditional scram engines and rockets remained a less expensive option for most short routes deep in a gravity well.
The HSPG thruster unit, capable of reactionless propulsion outside a gravity well, was introduced in the period, but its utilization was limited by required external interfaces and its inability to function without additional repulsor or conventional rocket propulsion within a steep gravity. Therefore, HSPG thruster powered interplanetary vehicles remained equipped with fusion, plasma or ion landing thrusters or retained no capability for planetary landings. During the Vacuum Era, HSPG thruster and fusion rocket vessels continued to coexist, with the simpler and cheaper fusion rocket dominant in short run roles and the HSPG thruster gaining dominance along longer routes in outer planetary systems.
Gravstar technology for interstellar travel improved during the period, with
vacuum distillation-equipped gravstar vessels able to reach six times light
speed. However, the era provided the technical requirements for the development of macrojump
drive, a instantaneous form of interstellar travel that advanced during the era from prototypes
capable of twelve light-years transitions to production models capable of twenty
light-year jumps. Macrojump remained expensive, requiring
large quantities of antimatter to initiate the jump, and hazardous, with
each transition causing significant stress on materials, electronics and Humans. Vehicular and personnel frailties limited vehicles to no more
than two or three jumps per week and limited effective operational ranges to less than
two hundred light-years for most vessels.
Note: After the Mech Plague, Vacuum Era vessels were also restricted to no larger than fifty-five meters in diameter by superconducting conduit limitations.
Sentient quantum computing nodes became more flexible and smaller in the Vacuum Era, making vehicle-sized sentient machines cost-effective, though humanoid-class robots were still too small for a truly sentient core module. Sentient machines provided support for starship jump computations, but could not remain active during and after jump transitions, limiting the development of practical fully automated starships.
Coupled with more compact fabrication chambers and sentient computing cores, living machines of over one hundred cubic meters size could self-replicate from energy and raw materials. These first practical "von Neumanns" were bulky and usually heavily regulated, preventing accidental uncontrolled replication.
Comprehensive VR networks, integrated with thinskin suits provided better virtual and blended experiences, though these improvements were essential incremental enhancements of less advanced systems.
Enhancements to nanomed implants improved life expectancy by another three or four decades, but reached effective limits in cellular maintenance. Nanomed medical therapies continued to improve, allowing rapid reaction and cures for even unknown diseases and for moderate radiation poisoning and aggressive cancers. External medical intervention was only necessary when aggressive unknown agents or severe trauma required additional nanomed implant introduction and direction.
Regeneration therapies improved to allow up to five regenerations without permanent cellular or intellectual damage, doubling an already extended lifespan. Derivatives of improved regeneration nanomeds allowed for the complete recovery of individual's brain up to a full hour after death. Related brain interface improvements allowed the integration of eidetic memory modules and primitive memory reading or transfer units.
Simple genetic replacement techniques allowed wholesale genetic reprogramming of adult humans, utilizing specialized nanomed organisms to activate or modify dormant genes. A full body cellular alteration procedure required two months in an induced coma and could produce such genetic Variants as Merman, Belters, Mesomorphs, or Ions.
Antimatter munitions, usually delivered as stealthy submunitions released from near sentient drone missiles, became more affordable after the advent of vacuum distillation. Antimatter provided the ultimate miniaturization for weapons of mass destruction, but regulation, custom and countermeasures limited its war-fighting potential.
Smart projectiles fired from gauss weapons continued to evolve to counter increasingly miniaturized passive and active countermeasures. Neutral beam weapon, mostly high gamma lasers, continued to be the weapon of choice against well-defended targets, though high-powered positron cannons could overwhelm electromagnetic shielding and cause considerable damage to hardened targets.
Robotic warfare units still struggled against cyber warfare, lacking a human's ability to shut down sensors and fly "blind" if necessary. Robotic troop units improved in reliability but customarily required a human commander for guidance and oversight.
Personal powered armor became lighter and more sophisticated, evolving into a softsuit capable of supporting its soldier for up to a month in hostile conditions. Gauss and high gamma laser rifles were the main infantry weapons, though plasma and fusion rifles, powered by portable fusion reactors, became available in support roles. Beamed neural stun weapons were developed for non-lethal operations, but a shielded, helmet-locked softsuit or battlesuit provided complete protection against a neural stunner.
In the Vacuum Era, it became possible to live permanently removed or insulated from reality through blended sensory inputs and microns-thin skin suits, second skins that could protect, sustain and decorate the body. Though thinskin suits could not provide protection against vacuum, hostile atmosphere or extreme temperature without helmets and supplemental life support, a thinskin with morphable fashion augmentations could effectively become a permanent extension of a person. Implant-induced skin morphing became more robust and commonplace, allowing nightly transformations of facial features and skin characteristics, making personal appearance a matter of choice for large segments of the population.
Personal accommodations and appliances had life-like qualities, able to respond and change to the desires of owners. Personal vehicles capable of transorbital travel remained an expensive luxury item, but orbital-capable hypersonic personal transport was more readily available with the advent of household and vehicular fusion plants, most often fueled by electrolyzed water.
While interplanetary travel became affordable and routine, interstellar travel remained out of reach as a luxury for all but the richest, relegating macrojump travel to explorers, diplomats, entrepreneurs and settlers.
Improved nanomed monitoring, affordable by most individuals, pressed lifespan to beyond three hundred years. Regeneration therapies became safe and affordable luxuries for a greater segment of the population, potentially stretching lifespan past six centuries.
As sentient machine intelligence became more commonplace, the niches of Human employment continued to contract. With the exception of macrojump starship crews, very few tasks routinely required non-machine intervention, though Human oversight and failsafe remained desirable. Most individuals found employment either as part of mandated programs to limit machine dominance or as a form of hobby or study for which other individuals or organizations were willing to reward the practitioner. Long life, coupled with limited responsibilities, often led to social problems which included persistent depression, catatonic withdrawal and the spread of cult or religious movements attractive to those striving for purpose. Many of these conditions could be treated by direct brain manipulation, though legal restrictions on personality tampering often limited such treatments to the curing severe mental illness and overt criminal behavior.
A Vacuum Era society could afford to be organized in fairly inefficient manners to provide useful activities for its Human citizens to perform. Actual productive enterprises and activities could function without an organic input, but Humans in societies that turned over complete control to machines at best soon left themselves completely dependant on machine decision-making and at worst became parasitic drains on the machine economy.
Ironically, only organic pilots could function effectively immediately after a macrojump transition, making macrojump interstellar travel one of the few tasks for which machine intelligence greatly benefited from Human assistance. Though highly sophisticated quantum computing nodes were required to initiate a jump, and in fact co-developed macrojump technology itself, they were completely unable to function in the critical minutes after a jump. A Vacuum Era civilization required no organic population to evolve or continue, but it did generally require an organic component to become interstellar in expanse. Vacuum Era governments, though often decentralized by the costs of interstellar travel, could stretch up to one hundred light-years from their home system.
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by Geir Lanesskog, All Right Reserved