If you are a Sci-Fi fanatic, you no doubt heard about slipstream and how this is the “fastest” known travel method in the panverse (a.k.a. omniverse). You probably heard from Star Trek: Voyager or maybe you are playing the MMORPG Star Trek Online, which also features slipstream technology.
Or perhaps, you thought that the it was first imagined in another of Gene Roddenberry’s creation, Andromeda, where slipstream is the core and backbone of the storyline – without such, there won’t be a story to tell. The same can be said in Halo series where slipstream travel is an integral part of the plot.
But what exactly is slipstream anyway? Did you know that slipstream isn’t exactly “faster-than-light”? If in normal space, space-time is inseparable, inside slipstream, time is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the technology of the ship to traverse slipstream successfully, otherwise, it will exit anywhere in the panverse (and in any time).
This is because slipstream is based on quantum mechanics and on string theory we know today. Here’s a good excerpt from the Andromeda Director’s Bible about slipstream technology, though fiction, but in some ways or another sheds some light on this, in my opinion, not-so-farfetched mode of travel.
Take note that this excerpt mainly focuses on Andromeda but if you read the slipstream versions in Halo and Star Trek, they’re similar if not the same.
While humans were still playing with fun new inventions like the wheel, the Vedra made a startling discovery. The Slipstream. The Slipstream is an extension of our reality, an additional dimension that’s integrally intertwined with our own. According to an application of quantum physics called string theory, everything in our Universe is connected to everything else. And the Slipstream is a place where those connections are visible.
In the Slipstream, small and weak connections (those linking small and weak concentrations of matter, such as the link between you and your jelly donut) look like strings, gauzy bits of cotton candy fluff. But large and complex and strong connections, like those between huge concentrations of matter, say planets or suns, form gigantic, pulsing ropes, writhing monstrous tendrils with the diameter of a skyscraper and the length of the universe.
The Vedrans also discovered something even more exciting. If you enter the Slipstream, you can harness the energy of these cords and ride them from one star system to another, like the Universe’s largest and most unbelievably convenient rollercoaster.
The only problem is that the strings are in constant motion, crossing and recrossing each other in a hundred different places. So to get from one star to another, the pilot of a ship in Slipstream has to constantly choose between divergent paths in the stream. And the right path changes from moment to moment. Faced with such randomness, all a pilot can really do when it’s time to choose is guess.
So, here’s what happens when a pilot reaches an intersection. Before the pilot chooses, according to the physicist Erwin Shrödinger (you can skip this part if you want, we’ll meet up in a few sentences), both paths are simultaneously right and wrong. In other words, they both manifest the potentiality of being correct and incorrect. It’s only when the pilot chooses a specific direction that this potentiality collapses and one path becomes right, and the other wrong. But the cool thing about being an observer in a quantum reality like the Slipstream is that the act of making a decision alters reality. So when you guess that a certain path is right, in Slipstream space, 99.9% of the time, you guess correctly.
In other words (start back here if you skipped that last part), human pilots in Slipstream have to guess where they’re going, but because of the nature of Slipstream space, they’re mostly always right.
Unfortunately, Artificial Intelligences don’t guess the way we do. They don’t follow their guts. They don’t hope they’ve made the right decision. They really do just pick randomly. In Slipstream, this is not a good thing. It means they’re only right 50% of the time. Thus, computers can’t pilot ships through Slipstream. Even the Andromeda, a sentient ship, can’t pull it off. She requires an organic pilot, or she can never travel between the stars.
Okay, nice theory, but what does it look like? Good question. What we see when the Andromeda travels through Slipstream is this: The Andromeda reaches a point in normal space where the Slipstream is accessible (as far from gravitational sources like suns as possible). Then she shifts, distorts, and suddenly she’s someplace else, riding along a bunch of gigantic glowing ropes like an out-of-control roller coaster on a rail. When the ropes twist and wind, the Andromeda rotates and spins on her axis. When she reaches an intersection, she whips off at wild angles along new tracks, whizzing along to her destination. Finally, thanks to a series of monumentally lucky guesses by her pilot, the Andromeda arrives at her destination and shifts back into normal space. It’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on fast forward.
One interesting thing about moving through the Slipstream is that travel time has almost nothing to do with the distance between stars. If you’re lucky and the Stream unfolds just right, you could get from here to the next galaxy in minutes. But if you’re not lucky, and things get hairy, the same trip could take weeks or even months. About the only rule is that the more frequently a certain path is traveled, the easier and more predictable the journey becomes.
Most of the time. Unless it’s not.
What is Slipstream technology? by Yuki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Legal Notice.