Amber Zone - McGuffin

Last Updated 18 January 2004.

1999 #2207

Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 15:12:35 PST
From: Leonard Erickson
Subject: McGuffin

I've come up with an idea for an invention/artifact for players to discover. It'll get them really going, but in the end prove a lot less useful than they'd hope. (Unless you want to let them turn some of the limits into strengths, which I don't advise).

Basicly, they'll find a small non-starship drifting somewhere. If they are like most players, they'll want to salvage it. This should be in an area where humans or some other race has had jump drive for a long time, and "lost" technology at least once. Say an area where the Long Night happened, or someplace near the Darrians, and thus affected by their tech loss after the Maghiz. The idea is for this to be an example of a "lost" technology...

Something doesn't seem right once they get to digging around in it. The first thing they'll figure out (other than the fact that it is old, but not "Ancients-old") is that the fuel tankage is almost nonexistent. There's enough to run the power plant for a good while, but not enough to run the manuever drive for more than an hour or so.

Further digging will revel the following:

  1. There's an odd gizmo attached to the fuel tank;
  2. If any of the party has Naval Architect or some other skill relating to the design and construction of ships/small craft, they'll realize that this ship is either a custom design, OR it was a standard design and heavily modified later...
  3. There is no trace of a crew aboard, it looks like the ship was new, and practically unused. There are some odd instruments and recording gear up on the bridge;
  4. The recordings can be read, with some difficulty allowing for equipment differences.

Basicly, the ship was sent out as a "test drone" for the gizmo attached to the fuel tank. It was being controlled remotely and suddenly the control signals quit coming in. It's been drifting ever since.

The recording starts with the ship near an asteroid, in (one of) the system's asteroid belts. There are enough distinguishing details that it may be located after a long search.

Upon locating the asteroid, it's obvious why the signals stopped. There's small crater right where the main airlock for the base was in the recordings...

The odds against such a hit are astronomical. But the folks on that base seem to have set a galactic record for bad luck. Nobody made it into a suit in time.

The players will discover that when they explore the base, which is somewhat messed up by the blast wave that propogated down the corridors from the blast.

They'll be able to recover "paper" records and view many of the electronic ones that haven't "gone bad" over the centuries.

The "gizmo" is a teleportation device! But, as they'll find out when they dig deeper, it can't teleport objects, only atoms and (simple) molecules. Well, you can try to teleport an object. Push it through the "send" field and it all comes out the "receive" field (think of the "field" as being a sheet stretched across an open frame). But it comes out as monomolecular dust... Not terribly useful.

The test being run was an attempt to see if it can at least be used to remotely fuel ships.

This ought to get the attention of most players. :-)

There are more limits. Enough to make it not terribly useful in most cases. But few enough that the players can waste all sorts of time and money trying for a breakthrough.


  1. Atoms or molecules only. Big complex organic molecules tend to break down into their component molecules in transit (ie protiens tend to come out as amino acids, complex sugars and starches tend to come out as simple sugars, etc);
  2. Transport occurs at light speed. So if the ship is a light second away, it'll receive the fuel a second after it is sent;
  3. The "field" is one way;
  4. Momentum/energy is conserved. So if the ship is moving relative to the sender, the fuel arrives with the velocity of the sender, not that of the ship. Likewise, if the sender is deep in a gravity well, it has to supply extra energy to send to a receiver that isn't in the well. Doing the reverse means the molecules arrive with a kinetic energy (temperature) appropriate to the energy difference (several km/s = thousands of degrees!);
  5. Sender and receiver can't stay linked if one is in jump and the other isn't. Nor can they link two ships, both of which are in jump. It may be possible to re-establish a link after coming out of jump in a different system, but being speed of light, it'd take 3.26 years per parsec of distance to do so. Why bother?

Limit #4 may be worked around after some research (so the velocity/energy differences can be handled as power input or output at the sender/receiver. None of the other limits are "fixable".

The "best" use I can think of for this would be building a sender into a unit that can float deep in a gas giant and allow receiver equipped ships to refuel from in orbit instead of having to skim. This will require some of the "workarounds" for limit #4. Or else a strongly armored "receiver chamber" to handle the gas feed coming in at orbital velocity (and slowing the ship as it does).

BTW, and idea that is bound to occur to someone is setting up a send field across a doorway, as a booby trap. It should work. Just consider the the sort of mess that will come out the far end. On the positive side, there will be no way to ID the victim. DNA and other unique marker chemicals are too complex to surivive teleport. They'll get broken into a soup of individual codons and sugar molecules. But it will be obvious that a large terran lifeform has been sent thru. Presence of stuff like polyester precursors may be enough to indicate that clothing was present, and ditto for traces of other artificial materials. Still, you may be able to show "reasonable doubt" to a jury.

There's another set of possibilities, but I don't recommend allowing these unless you want to change your universe beyond recognition.

The idea here is to consider limit #1 as an advantage. Why grind up ore when you can just teleport it and get it ground as fine as you could wish. Of course, this is not suitable for gem ores! Or any other "crystal" type material.

That much, the players could use without changing the universe much. Just don't let them wonder "Is it possible to teleport just one kind of atom/molecule?".

If you allow this, things will change in all directions. For example, build a "frame" big enough to shove an asteroid thru and just send specific elements on each pass.

And it gets worse from there. I won't describe other possibilities, since if I can ever come up with a decent story line, I plan on writing about the invention of this sort of field teleporter and the uses it can be put to, along with the side effects to culture.

Leonard Erickson (aka Shadow) <--preferred <--last resort


Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2000 08:09:41 -0400
From: Brian Quirt
Subject: Re: McGuffin

> The "gizmo" is a teleportation device! But, as they'll find out when

This is similar to something discussed in a Larry Niven article ("The Theory and practise of teleportation" or some such). I can remember a few good ideas from there for its use....

There are probably other uses, but those will wait for awhile....

–Brian Quirt


Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2000 08:11:14 EST
From: Gary
Subject: McGuffin

In a message dated 3/28/00 8:32:23 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
>If you allow this, things will change in all directions. For example,
>build a "frame" big enough to shove an asteroid thru and just send
>specific elements on each pass.

Square the energy requirements for each increase in the field size?

Make the sending part of the thing powered in the test rig by a second power plant taken off of a 500k battleship for a sub-garden hose nozzle, that should make it enough out of reach so as not to change very much of UTU, while still making the corps very interested, as well as the Navy for battle riders or fleet refuels. Outside dependant worlds in a system would also love this for air and water, and be willing to pay the high price, and even after the thing got passed around everywhere they would still need food, meds, and goods that the players could ship.


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