The Blake's 7 Super Test

Blake's 7 Super Test
Blake's Legacy
Blake's Progress
Naming Blake
"Avon: A Terrible Novel"?
Birth Of The Federation
The Blake's 7 Formula
To Kill Or To Stun
The Blake's 7 Drinking Game
Blake's Chicken
Blake's Parrott
Technobabble decoded


The Protonic Glare Shield

A Tediously Long-winded Explanation For Spanners About How This Odd Doohickey Works.

Avon invented the protonic glare shield in Act III of Blake's Legacy as part of his scheme to recover Orac from Gauda Prime. It's a powerful but rather messy and unreliable method of blinding the detectors of enemy craft.

The first thing that should be understood about the protonic glare shield as a concept is that it is not, technically speaking, a shield. It's just an electromagnetic power-wave which is only called a shield because it's projected by the same system which operates the neutron (or radiation) flare shield.

The second thing that should be understood about it is that it's not entirely protonic either. The "glare" bit of the title is accurate but the rest is just sloppy.

The neutron flare shield is projected around the frame of the Liberator to keep its more sensitive systems and crew from suffering dangerous radioactive exposure whenever the neutron blasters are fired. It requires only token power to operate, and, theoretically at least, is formed by a thin band of protons and electrons drawn from the plasma energy core of the ship. These particles absorb any wayward neutron radiation from the ship's weapons.

In protonic glare mode it functions similarly, but with two major differences:-

Firstly, rather than forming a shield which remains a very short fixed distance from the ship's surface, the glare takes the form of an expanding spherical wave of protons and electrons which spreads from the full diameter of the Liberator in all directions. This creates a very powerful but short-lived distortion field which causes no physical harm, but through which radio and sub-beam signals cannot travel. This distortion field lasts until the particles have spread so far and so thinly that they cease to have any effect. It should be remembered that the distortion field affects ALL ships within it, including the ship it originated from.

Secondly, each protonic discharge uses up far larger quantities of plasma energy, which means that afterwards the neutron flare projectors need to refill before they can be used again, either for a flare shield or for a protonic glare. The distortion field invariably dissipates before the projectors have had enough time to refill adequately, leaving the ship more vulnerable to attack for a brief period of time, usually around five minutes.

NOTE: A ship powered by Dr Plaxton's photonic drive e.g. Scorpio, would not be able to project a protonic glare shield, as the stardrive uses light rather than plasma and as such, no protons or electrons would be provided.


Kyben's Eye Patch

Similar to Space Commander Travis, the misfortunes of War left Rak Kyben with only his right eye. Also like Travis, Kyben chose not to have plastic surgery done to repair his face, although for slightly different reasons. With Travis, it was just macho pride. With Kyben, it all happened when the Galactic War was at its height, and he decided that with troopers on the front line getting arms and legs blown off every day, it would have been wrong to waste precious synthi-skin on himself when he wasn't even dying, and could make do with an eye-patch.

At first, Kyben's patch was much the same as Travis' - just a sheet of metal fastened to his face, holding it together and concealing some pretty horrific scar tissue. After the War, however, Kyben took over as the new Head of the Medical Division, and knowing that a half-blind surgeon was not going to give the best impression to the rest of the Administration, he had a psycho-responsive mechanical eye fitted into the patch.

The mechanical eye doesn't pick up images on the same wavelengths as light, but detects through infra-red, giving Kyben somewhat broader vision than his colleagues. There is also a tiny laser device built into the frame of the patch just below the eye. This is very weak and virtually useless as a weapon - it actually inflicts less damage than an ordinary punch, and its primary function is merely for treating tumour/cancer patients in surgery.

The lasers are projected through a tiny focusing crystal in the eye itself. If the laser device is switched off or damaged, the patch will only be able to project light. However, the psycho-responsive nature of the patch's mechanism (the artificial optic nerve diverts through the hypothalamus directly into the brain) allows Kyben to reshape or recolour the light into anything he pictures in his mind as somewhat rudimentary holograms.

A major downside of the patch is that Kyben must use the holograms and, more particularly the laser, sparingly, as they have no internal power source and so draw power directly from his own body energy. Overuse can lead to anything from dizziness and blackouts to extreme hunger and exhaustion in a very short space of time.



Time Distort

To break the light barrier is impossible. To travel so fast that you overtake light is to overtake the speed limit of the physical universe, and therefore cannot be done. Never mind speeding fines and points on the license, there are some traffic laws that simply cannot be violated, no matter how irresponsible a driver can be.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves how the Liberator appears to be able to manage it all the time, and by many thousands of scales. And not just the Liberator. Practically all the spacecraft in Blake's 7 can fly faster-than-light as easily as Linford Christie can run faster than Matthew Le Tissier. Avon once sneered at Jenna when she insisted it was impossible to cross the antimatter interface, "That's what they said about the light barrier." He's got a point there. They said it about travelling outside the Earth's atmosphere, or about crossing the sound barrier. They said it about flying at all. They even said it about breaking the twenty-five miles per hour barrier back when the steam train was invented  -  they were convinced that the human body would disintegrate! Looked at in that light, FTL-travel sounds perfectly feasible, and the doubters just sound like party poops.

The difference in this case is that the man who not only claimed, but also proved beyond reasonable doubt that it is impossible was none other than Albert Einstein, and it'd be a brave man who'd claim to know better than him! What's more, the evidence he provided was in a theory that proved that one of Sci-Fi's other great dreams, time travel, is perfectly possible, so you can't accuse him of being a spoilsport either.

I'm no expert in this field, but I do understand enough of the basics to work out how the argument goes. It is within the laws of physics as we currently understand them (which admittedly is hardly at all), but way outside the current limits of our technology (which is also hardly anything at all), to travel into the future by simply travelling very quickly. Time slows and space shortens exponentially around any object as it accelerates, so travelling around the sun at, say, 75% of the speed of light, would mean that time has passed significantly more slowly for you than for everyone else on Earth. The entire process of getting there, doing the orbit and getting back would probably take you about an hour, but by the time you got back to Earth, you'd find that several hours had passed for everyone else instead. Therefore you have, in effect more than in fact, travelled into the future. All you'd have to do to travel further into the future is travel faster or for longer. This is not really time travel so much as playing tricks with time dilation, but with such similar outcomes, the differences are so slight as to be negligible.

This theory of Special Relativity has passed every reasonable test that it has undergone since Einstein published it a century ago (after studying the long-standing paradox that no matter how fast a physical object moves, light always appears to travel approximately 300 million metres per second faster, without variation). Some years ago for instance, scientists set two clocks to the same time right down to a fraction of a nanosecond, then put one on an aircraft and sent it around the world at 966 miles per hour. When the aircraft got back, the clock on board was set to an earlier time than the counterpart that had stayed behind. It was only delayed by a few millionths of a second because, while 966 mph may be fast on Earth, compared to the speed of light the plane might just as well have been standing still, but it was still significant. There were no noticeable malfunctions of any kind at all. Both clocks were as perfectly in synch as was measurable by Man when the experiment began, and their power supplies were absolutely equal. And yet when the experiment was over, they were no longer telling exactly the same time, because time had slowed down, albeit just barely, for the one on the aircraft.

So remember next time you're on a plane heading for that well-earned holiday in Gran Canaria, you're actually increasing your life expectancy, if only by a few nanoseconds!

This is the crux of the matter. Time and space become compressed with speed, and it is here that the argument for time travel, but against faster-than-light travel, emerges. It is self-evident that all we need to do is to keep increasing the speed potential of the aircraft we build and we will achieve time travel  -  we've been heading in that direction without even meaning to ever since our ancestors first learned to run. In fact, the above experiment arguably proves that we've already achieved time travel without noticing. As our aircraft and spacecraft become faster and faster, we can start to really exploit the phenomenon.

But the problems of controlling it soon set in. Travelling into the future is easy, but let's say you take this to an extreme and travel so fast that you wind up about twenty years into the future. The world will be rather different from the one you call "home", so what if you decide after a while that you want to return to the time you set off from?

This is where FTL travel comes into the equation. The theory goes that if you travel so fast that you actually cross the light barrier, time will have slowed down for you so much that you will, in effect, overtake it and start travelling back in time. So just carry on travelling beyond the light barrier for long enough and you'll wind up back, not just where, but when you started out.

There are numerous reasons why this theory doesn't quite click, not least that we may be getting our effects muddled up. My suspicion is that doing this would only cause the dilation effects to become more extreme  -  you would just go even further into the future and at an even faster rate, but more peculiarly when you arrive not only would you not be older, you'd be even younger. Not a negative effect perhaps, but not the desired one either. The bottom line is that the reversal effects would not be on the universe at large, they would be on you.

On the other hand, even if we got the desired effect, you've still got to consider the knotty issue of reaching the light barrier itself. If we take it as read that below the light barrier time runs forward, and that above it time runs backward, doesn't that mean that on the light barrier, time stands still? In which case, as soon as you reach it, wouldn't you be held in stasis? You wouldn't be able to accelerate, you wouldn't be able to decelerate, you wouldn't be able to do anything, as by definition no event is possible within stasis. Time would be standing still for you. You'd be trapped in nothingness. You wouldn't be able to move or feel or even think. You might carry on existing in space but you would cease to exist in time.

These problems are just personal theories I concocted myself, and have almost certainly been disproven by far better informed people than me. Much more importantly though, and this is where Einstein steps in, it does not appear to be physically possible to travel at or beyond the speed of light for purely physical reasons. It comes back to this point about space compressing around an object as it moves faster. As space compresses around the object, the object itself compresses as well, and therefore its mass increases too. The heavier an object is, and the faster you want it to go, the more energy you must apply to it. Moving at light speed would mean that its weight has increased to the brink of infinity  -  or so Einstein tells us at least  -  so to make the object go any faster, you'd need to apply an infinite amount of power to it. Without Belkov's infamous Feldon power crystals, that appears to be totally impossible, and even if it could be done, any object exposed to such an amount of energy in one go would almost certainly be annihilated by it  -  a phenomenon I refer to as super-friction.

So how did they manage to break the light barrier in the Blake's 7 universe?

Well, we're heading into the unknown, and therefore the unlikely, but it's interesting to note that most things that scientists discover are pre-empted by science fiction writers, with the scientists initially dismissing the ideas as unlikely. So what kind of an obstacle is unlikelihood?

For what it's worth, I have every doubt that travelling back in time will ever become possible, at least by this method, but then that's not what we're looking into here. We're looking for FTL travel, and for that I have an idea. This matter of compressed space and time may be the problem, but it could also be the key to the solution.

In any situation where space is becoming shortened and compressed, all energy acting within it would become compressed as well. It is therefore entirely conceivable that it would increase the rate of power output accordingly. That would mean the faster a ship goes, the greater the thrust exerted by the same amount of power. As the mass reaches infinity, the power output could reach infinity as well.

Well, it's only an idea, and I don't have remotely the maths to go into the mechanics of it and see whether it holds up. Too bad, but let's assume that it works, as at least it fits the scenario we have in Blake's 7. We still have the other issues to get past. How do you cross the light barrier without getting trapped in stasis? For that matter, how do you increase speed to such an enormous degree without experiencing any kind of unwanted time dilation, or super-friction damage? There's no point in trying to get somewhere in a hurry if you find that by moving faster you just wind up speeding up everything else around you, and the paradox of racing against the clock is that when you go faster you reduce the amount of time available. In general terms today, we move so much slower than light that the dilation effect is totally unnoticeable, even when you're looking out for it. When you're dealing with supersonic speeds, or more particularly, supraluminal speeds, it's a totally different ball game.

This is where we bring in the murky Time Distort drive. We hear references to it all the time in Blake's 7, and even one of the commonly used speed scales for star travel is named after it.

How they developed it I have only sketchy ideas for  -  probably some trick with artificial antigravity  -  but keeping all the above business about time dilation in mind, it seems very likely to me that it was invented as a method of counteracting Special Relativity. As far as I can tell, it was the development of a drive that would generate an artificial singularity  -  a "bubble" if you like  -  around the ship where time and space cannot compress, no matter how fast the ship's motion becomes. Therefore the ship would not become infinite in mass, would not require dangerous amounts of energy to keep moving, would not absorb super-friction, would not be trapped in stasis, and would not be propelled forward through time at an increased rate.

This is not the only possible interpretation of Time Distortion of course  -  Neil Blissett for instance sees it in almost exactly the opposite terms. The idea he puts forward (and he is by no means the first to suggest it, so he is far from alone) is that no spaceship, even by Blake's time, will ever be fast enough to cross space in a practical time for its crew, so the Time Distort drive was invented simply to give the illusion of travelling faster by artificially slowing down time inside the ship, and thus reducing the amount of time that journeys appeared to make.

This idea has been used in other stories  -  for instance the recent space combat game X Beyond The Frontier  -  and it fits in with the terminology used in episodes of Blake's 7 like Spacefall, Moloch, and Stardrive, so it is every bit as legitimate as my interpretation. But there are a few reasons why it doesn't quite ring true to me. For one thing, with the amount of space travel going on in the Federation, there would be a lot of people living extraordinarily disjointed lives, quite out of keeping with everyone else's. For instance, the Liberator crew seems to spend an awful lot of time running from the Federation, most of which would be in Time Distort mode. Servalan meanwhile, spends an awful lot of time at Space Command HQ or on Earth, therefore not in TD mode. And yet there seems to be no noticeable deviation in the speed at which time passes for all of them. Look at the amount of time Blake was on the run after the Galactic War, not much of which was likely to be on spacecrafts. We know that Avon and the others must have spent about half of that time travelling on Liberator and Scorpio. Roughly three years had passed for them by the time they found Blake on Gauda Prime, and as far as we can tell, it was about the same for Blake.

Also, how come Avon was able to communicate with Tarrant at normal speed in Animals and again in Headhunter? How was Jenna able to speak from the surface of Cephlon to Blake at normal speed in Deliverance? Well, I suppose the clever dicks will answer that they just switched the drive off, but that doesn't seem very likely on watching the scenes in question. Furthermore, the theory does nothing to solve the previous issues of natural time dilation, and increasing it artificially doesn't sound like much of an answer to me. But then it might do bits of both.

So for the purposes of Blake's Legacy I've decided to stick with my own interpretation for now. I decided to use some of the technical ideas that Barry Letts came up with for The Syndeton Experiment and mangled them a bit so that they actually fitted into the Blake's 7 universe, so that at least we've got some kind of new foundation for how the Time Distort field is generated  -  the burning of Syndeton creates the radiation bubble needed to prevent space/time compression at high speeds  -  and took things from there.

To be honest though, it was such a rigmarole that I'm beginning to think that Letts had the right idea; just say that the Liberator flies in Hyperspace, pretend that it always has done, and just move on. Hyperspace is easy to explain away  -  just come up with some very obscure natter about artificial wormholes and tiptoe off quietly while everyone tries to figure out what you said.

            But I didn't.

            Silly me.


Speed Measurements

There are two known speed scales in the Blake's 7 universe, Time Distort units and Standard variants. The Time Distort scale is certainly the older of the two, and indications are that the Standard scale was simply invented to supplement it, as a nod to faster ships being developed as technology improved. Units on each of the two scales appear to be equal in value, but the scales start at a different point on the meter, so to speak. Different scales appear to be used depending on the sheer enormity of the speed involved. To explain;-

For a journey travelled at sub-light speeds, velocity would probably be measured in spacials per second, a direct descendant of miles per hour as used today. For a journey travelled above the light barrier, the Time Distort scale would be used. For journeys travelled at the high end of the Time Distort scale, the Standard scale could be used as a substitute, mainly to simplify terminology.

How fast Time Distort one would be in present day terms is very difficult to calculate, so it's probably best not to try (and it's hardly necessary anyway), but it's probably around one thousand times the speed of light. Time Distort two would therefore, as you would expect, be around two thousand times the speed of light. And so on. Easy enough so far.

Standard speed is more complicated to assess however, as the few references and points of comparison available in the series do not seem all that consistent, at least at first glance. (We should ignore the references made in Stardrive altogether, as they appear to suggest that Standard and Time Distort are completely identical, when clearly they are not.)

I take Standard speed simply to mean a legal blanket term for a civil speed restriction on non-military Federation traffic. Listening to the crew of the London in Spacefall, it appears that the likely top speed of an Administration ship is not far above Time Distort five. This would therefore be considered the standard cruise velocity for most Federation shipping. Time Distort six point three zero five, or whatever the exact top speed is, would therefore be expressed as "Standard speed" simply because it's quicker to say than fussing about with decimals, in the same way that we say pi instead of 3.141592653589 etc.

This scale is slightly more difficult to follow without practice. Whereas Time Distort two is twice as fast as Time Distort one, Standard by two is not twice as fast as Standard speed. Instead, it is simply the second Time Distort unit on the Standard scale, or to make an equation out of it...

Standard by two = Standard speed + Time Distort one

Standard by three would therefore be Standard speed plus Time Distort two, and so on. The proportion is the same, and each unit on each scale is a Time Distort unit, the two scales simply have different starting points, and that is the only difference.

Being a military dictatorship, Space Command's Pursuit ships would certainly have been able to travel faster, as is indeed confirmed in Hostage, where it is indicated that a Pursuit ship can travel at Time Distort ten. (Other classes of ship could presumably fly even faster, especially in later years.) For the sake of convenience, their crews would be free to switch to the Standard scale, especially when executing high speed manoeuvres.

In fact, Hostage has a number of useful references with which to make comparisons. Most noticeable was early in the episode, when the Liberator escaped from the ambush. According to Zen it was travelling at Standard by twelve. When the mutoids on the Federation command ship tried to assess the Liberator's speed, they estimated it was around Time Distort eighteen.

From all this, an approximate conversion scale is as follows...

Standard speed = Time Distort six point three zero five

Standard by two = Time Distort seven point three zero five

Standard by five = Time Distort ten point three zero five

Standard by ten = Time Distort fifteen point three zero five

Standard by twelve = Time Distort seventeen point three zero five

Please note that the three zero five after the decimal point is a number I plucked out of thin air. There would be a "loose-change" figure of some kind to make a second scale necessary, and this seemed as good a number as any. Basically though, to convert from Standard to Time Distort you would just add five and a bit to the numerical value.