David Louis Edelman
Infoquake
'Infoquake' mass market paperback cover

On the Transportation System

In the waning days of the earth’s fossil fuels, many predicted that the lack of combustible fuel would cripple the world’s transportation systems and bankrupt the world’s economies. The truth of that prediction would never be tested, however, as the Autonomous Revolt occurred at roughly the same time as the last of the big oil wells ran dry.

Transporting people from place to place was not nearly as much of a challenge after the Revolt as the transportation of cargo. The civilizations of antiquity relied on intricate shipping, trucking, and airborne networks to keep goods moving and, more importantly, to prevent starvation. Without fossil fuels, these networks proved impossible to reconstruct.

The Reawakening (and Prengal Surina’s universal law of physics) brought with it nearly inexhaustible sources of clean, renewable energy. This in turn gave rise to a number of transportation systems that greatly expanded humanity’s options of getting from place to place.

The Tube

For the greater part of the Reawakening, the Tube has been the dominant form of terran transportation. Its tracks are nearly ubiquitous throughout the civilized world, allowing travel to almost any spot on Earth at a fair price. In many cities, local tube trains cover almost as much ground as the ancient asphalt roads. Longer express routes run underground in dedicated tunnels that allow for faster speeds.

The Tube’s success is mostly the product of two technological advances: the development of so-called “unbreakable steel,” which allows for unobtrusive tracks that are extremely cheap to install and maintain; and the ability to control inertia, thereby enabling rapid starts and stops.

For many years, TubeCo was the darling of the financial world. Its influence was so pervasive in government that the company was given a seat on the Prime Committee itself.

Since the advent of affordable multi technology, however, TubeCo’s fortunes have been declining. Local tube routes still have heavy ridership, but most fail to see the necessity of traveling long distances when they can multi instead. Offworld expansion to Luna and Mars has not lifted the company’s fortunes either, due to poor planning and the exorbitant cost of shipping. (The ineptitude of the Martian tube system has even given rise to a popular phrase, “as slow as a Martian train.”)

The recent stripping of TubeCo’s seat on the Prime Committee has lessened the company’s prospects even further. Many predict an imminent collapse.

Hoverbirds

Air travel has long been a staple of modern society, and the class of vehicles known as hoverbirds provides this service. Private hoverbird fleets run through and between all the major cities on Earth, Luna and Mars. Specially outfitted vehicles make runs up to the orbital colonies as well.

Personal air travel has never really caught on among the masses. Given the fact that the Tube is cheaper, safer and almost as quick, hoverbirds have long had a reputation as a vehicle for the business class. Private ownership of hoverbirds is considered an extravagance that few but the wealthy would need or afford.

Hoverbirds do have an important advantage over the Tube, however, in that they’re not constrained to going where the tracks are. The typical hoverbird both takes off and lands vertically, allowing direct transport to all but the most crowded and confined locations. So businesses have largely relegated their shipping and transport needs to the hoverbird sector.

The Defense and Wellness Council has also made heavy investments in hoverbirds, for obvious reasons.

Underground Transfer System

Faced with limited resources, the civil planners in the early years of the Reawakening struck on a pragmatic solution to their transportation issues. They would use the ancient sewers and data cable pipes to move cargo from place to place. Early underground transfer systems were rudimentary, often dependent on wind power, water power, and even manual labor.

But as technology progressed, so did the global underground transfer system. Heavy infrastructure investments during the time of Par Padron (late 100s YOR) brought the underground transfer system to the entire globe, where it has become one of central government’s strongest success stories.

In modern times, underground transfer has become a nearly seamless method of shuttling goods from place to place. The system is generally only used for local deliveries, given that there are much faster methods for transporting goods over large distances.

OrbiCo

Interplanetary shipping has proven consistently resistant to economization, despite the best efforts of generations of entrepreneurs. As a result, the quasi-governmental agency OrbiCo has been given a virtual monopoly on transporting goods through space. (Transport of personnel remains a viable — though not wildly profitable — business, and OrbiCo competes against a number of smaller rivals in that market.) The agency is heavily subsidized by the Prime Committee and has never remotely come close to turning a profit since its inception in 315.

Given the importance of interplanetary shipping to the offworlders in Luna, Mars, and the orbital colonies, OrbiCo has often been accused of taking bribes — or at the very least, of being very dependent on the whims of politicians.

OrbiCo freight ships tend to be very utilitarian in nature. Bandwidth restrictions on interplanetary flights are such that networks like multi, the Jamm, and the Sigh are not accessible on OrbiCo ships (except when in port).

The Future of Transportation

Marcus Surina famously declared that teleportation would provide an end to the “tyranny of distance.” Various multi network engineers have made similar declarations. And yet, three and a half centuries into the Reawakening, people are still traveling from place to place in large numbers.

Current trends indicate that Surina’s words may indeed prove to be prescient, however. Declining ridership on the Tube and the hoverbirds (and the still-dismal adoption rate of teleportation) point to a society that may one day live out its entire existence in virtual settings.

Conservation advocates such as those in Creed Conscientious warn that such an attitude can only lead to an eventual bandwidth crisis that could lead to universal disaster.

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Excerpted from “MultiReal” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2008 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.