Halvere impatiently tapped his fingers on the console as he peered through the rain-streaked bridge viewports, his mouth pressed into a tight frown. Beyond the rhythmic strokes of the wipers, the ship’s bow and “A” turret were obscured in a cloud of steam as the armored deck plating, only moments before baked under the bright sun in northern Calandra, was now doused in the cool rain in central Valdon.
The ship shuddered and pitched ominously as random bolts of blue-green lightning arced downward from the gate threshold and danced across the silvery runes of the hull matrix. With each shock, angry waves of energy coruscated through the roiling clouds in the sky above as the powerful harmonics of the gateway clashed with the disrupted local Etheric field.
Halvere took a deep breath. Magitechs might consider interspacial gating to be routine, but no matter how many times Halvere had experienced it, there was nothing routine at all about the bow of your ship being effectively a thousand kilomets from the stern, held together by nothing more than a temperamental plane of magical force. Passing through a gateway was the longest few minutes he could imagine.
The Gateway Submatrix – Traveling without moving
Skycruisers provide the Coalition Air Navy with a great degree of firepower and tactical flexibility, often altering the outcome of an engagement by merely being present in the battle space. However, the ponderously slow speed of these massive vessels makes it difficult to predict where and when to allocate this increasingly rare resource. To facilitate the need for rapid deployment over a vast unpredictable front, properly equipped skycruisers employ inter-spatial gateways to travel distances that would otherwise take weeks.
Taking advantage of the immense power output of modern SERA reactors “gating” generates a temporary dimensional link between two distant points, allowing the ship to travel to nearly any location on the planet in moments. This technology gives the Coalition a tactical edge, but its use comes with several inherent limitations and a considerable degree of risk.
Firstly, in order to gate, a skycruiser must have a gateway sub-matrix embedded into its primary hull matrix and reactors powerful enough to generate the necessary magical field. Nearly all military vessels are thus equipped as are a limited number of authorized commercial ships, particularly fast transports and some high-priced commuter vessels. The technology is mainly limited by cost and risk value. The dangers posed by gating often outweigh the potential speed gains making many captains prefer settle for less risky, if slower, modes of propulsion.
The gating procedure itself varies in complexity depending on a number of variables, most notably the distance involved, local etheric conditions, and knowledge of the destination.
To begin, the ship’s navimancer must create a gateway plot. The gating sub-matrix inscribed on the vessel’s hull is a complex open runic phrase that forms the basis for the gateway techniq. Missing from this open phrase are the key runes for location, destination, and tuning of the vim usage. After plotting the necessary runes, the navimancer attunes himself to the gateway matrix and, via spontaneous channeling, manually inserts the necessary runes to complete circuit. The ship may then shunt power from the reactors through the matrix and energize the gate. Once the gate is stable, the ship sails through to the destination, then closes the gateway behind it.
The safest gates are pre-plotted, linking a fixed departure point and destination. These types of gateways are often used along common trade routes and are the type most often used by civilian ships. Military ships will use these routes on occasion but also possess extensive and classified navigation charts for site to site gates, particularly military installations and areas of strategic value.
If such pre-plotted coordinates are unavailable, the navimancer may delve the Etherum in an attempt to gain a mental fix on the destination. This specialized form of scrying allows the navimancer to remote view the target destination and assess the local conditions. This helps to reduce the guesswork in calculating an accurate plot. To assist with this delving, all Coalition redoubts and major cities have a nav beacon, an etheric resonator that emits a unique harmonic signature which an experienced navimancer can use to home in on a target location. The beacon also serves as a focus for the delving attempt and allows the navimancer to sense the local etheric conditions, rather like an etheric weather report. This can be extremely valuable, particularly in areas prone to variations in etheric stability. Whenever such beacons are available, a prudent navimancer will almost always delve them in advance, even for a pre-plotted destination, if only to avoid unnecessary surprises.
This prudence is well-founded. Opening a gateway into an unstable region or dead zone is risky at best and often devastating. In most cases, any attempt to open a gateway to a dead zone will simply fail as the lack of ambient vim at the destination will simply break the spell form before it completes. On rare occasions, however, just enough vim is available to allow the gateway to form. Once constructed, such a gate will then rapidly draw vim from the origin side in an attempt to balance the ambient vim, much like pulling the drain plug out of a tub of water. This torrential flow of vim will render the gateway extremely unstable and trigger intense etheric storms on both sides. If the vessel were to enter the gateway it would instantly find itself with insufficient ambient vim to power its siphon reactors. The result would be a disastrous shutdown of all the ship’s magical systems, shearing the vessel apart in the collapsing gateway and sending whatever was left crashing to the ground.
Opening a gateway to an unstable region is only slightly less dangerous. Such a gateway will normally form but be very unstable. Similar to a gateway into a dead zone, this will usually generate etheric storms that can disrupt EDAR readings, rendering the vessel effectively blind until it passes the threshold.
Other risks from gating stem from the incredible amount of vim required to form such massive magical spell forms. Despite many safeguards, when pushed to their limits, SERA reactors can hyper-resonate and suffer burnout just like any other booster. Burning out a vimstone the size of a large tree generates enormous backlash which will invariably destabilize other stones in the array. Known as a cascade failure, this uncontrolled vim reaction can destroy the reactor and potentially much of the ship with it.
Additionally, gateways are immense and highly inefficient spell forms. Burning vast quantities of vim generates a tremendous etheric vortex that can be detected by EDAR systems and vimsensitive creatures for hundreds of kilomets on either side of the gateway, effectively broadcasting the ships location, destination, and possibly even its identity to anyone that may be listening.
For this reason, and also due to the ambient instability caused by the use of magic-infused weapons, when a vessel is required to gate into a combat zone, it is standard procedure to set the destination well out of combat range and move to the target zone under normal propulsion.