Edit: See bottom of the post for answers to some great questions I got!
The Short Version:
How do I make perpetual motion machines that utilize the following things:
- Bundles of weightless energy that bounce around like pool balls, exerting force on physical objects and disappearing after a while
- Force fields of arbitrary shape that can contain these bouncing things indefinitely
The Long Version:
I'm trying to create a steampunk world where steam power has been replaced by a reliable and well-understood source of magic.
The name I've chosen for this magic is chiros (pronounced KĪ-rôs), and it is a supernatural force that mirrors some of the laws of electricity. I'm trying to figure out how it might be harnessed as a source of power for a world similar to 19th century England.
Here are the rules governing chiros! It's a little weird but bear with me.
Chiros is typically found in two forms, which we will call valent and core. I'll explain both of these in turn.
Valent: Chiral Projectiles
Valent chiros is the most common kind, and what I expect to be powering most of society at the time. It is a boomerang-like magical projectile that can be emitted from a device called an Azoth. It interacts with and can impact physical objects, transferring energy and causing damage. Chiral projectiles tend to be "sharp", and can cut skin if you're not careful.
They behave somewhat differently from normal matter. After collision with an object, chiral projectiles do not tend to lose speed in the way that a physical object would. Instead, some of its energy is dissipated and it becomes a somewhat weaker force--the next thing it impacts will be hit less hard, etc. In a loose sense, conservation of energy is preserved but not conservation of momentum. We can assume here that the speed of valent chiros remains rather constant--a low-energy chiral projectile won't necessarily be going much slower than a high energy one. (I can be pretty flexible/hand-wavey on this issue though.)
A chiral projectile released into a room will bounce around like a pool ball knocking into things until it uses up all of its power and vanishes. We can assume the heat generated from this is negligible. It is not affected by gravity or electromagnetic forces.
Valent chiros, unless it is dissipated, must always return to its source. So when you "throw" it, it returns in an arc like a boomerang. You can "absorb" the returning chiros safely using a material called an Alkahest (which I won't go into here) but if you fail to do so properly it can hurt or damage who/whatever sent it out. It is thus not recommended you try chiral projectiles at home.
Core: Chiral Objects
The other form chiros is seen in is nicknamed "core". It's a standing wave structure formed by oscillating a steady stream of valent chiral projectiles through a source at ultra-high speeds, so that it creates a force field similar to a solid object. Unlike valent chiral projectiles, these chiral objects can be touched and handled like regular objects, but have no apparent mass.
Chiral projectiles do not lose energy when striking a solid chiral object. They will not damage the force field in any way, and all collisions will be perfectly elastic--in other words, no chiral energy is lost.
This provides us with one useful way of containing chiral projectiles. "Cages" made of core chiros can trap fast moving projectiles for an indefinite amount of time. (Physical containers can be used to hold valent chiros temporarily as long as the object isn't worn down and the projectile doesn't run out of energy). Of course the valent chiros will still "try" to return to its azoth, but since it's trapped it'll just bounce around in vain. Poor little projectile.
(Note: Ignore the fact that the picture shows a hand instead of an Azoth device. The technology actually comes from creatures called daimons that can manipulate chiros with their bare hands, so that's what we're looking at there. I left my iPad at work so I cant redraw it right now.)
Core chiral objects can theoretically be made into any shape, although there are limitations based on the geometric complexity, aspect ratio, and distance from the azoth.
(Ignore hand again)
Chiral objects must remain in contact with their Azoth core at all times. You can think of the Azoth as a sort of accelerator that the resonating chiros has to pass through at every cycle in order to keep going.
Unplug the Azoth from its power source (human blood :D) and the chiral object will disappear. (In the first chapter, one of the main characters demonstrates this at the local Institute of Chiromancy by "unplugging" a core chiral box that is holding a bouncing valent projectile. The box vanishes instantaneously and the projectile flies free, bouncing crazily around the room and mildly alarming the students.)
The exact mechanics of how to make certain shapes is not explicitly given, but we can assume devices can be made that will reliably project a certain geometry.
Whew. Okay, you made it through. Here's my question.
What steampunk-like devices can be adapted to use chiros to power society?
How might one make a machine that converts this force field / semi-perpetually bouncing energy into work or heat? I imagine you could make solid chiral push-rods that push things around (given you had enough blood to power them), but I'm no mechanical engineer and my imagination is a bit limited. Likewise, I know a projectile bouncing back and forth in a tube could drive a piston, but I'm hoping you guys can help me get a little more creative than that. Unless a piston is by far the most efficient way to do things?
I imagine the core chiral generated power would be a lot like plugging things into an outlet, while the valent chiros could be like a little portable "battery". But how would this work with the mechanical-only technology of steampunk England? (Assuming the whole electricity thing never caught on because of all this nifty chiros.) Are there maybe "impossible" perpetual motion machine concepts that can now become possible?
Clarification: I don't mean that we are necessarily creating energy from nothing, since you are technically using up ichor, an intangible essence. However, assuming you have infinite ichor, I'm wondering whether removing energy dissipation from certain actions would help us use designs that would otherwise fail because of that pesky second law of thermodynamics.
Thanks for your help, and for making it all the way through this! I'd appreciate any resources you can give me to help more tangibly "build" this weird infrastructure.
Edit: Answering some awesome questions
Is the emission of a valent chiros reactionless? Is the return of a valent chiros to it's azoth reactionless?
The emission of valent chiros and its absorption can be considered reactionless in the physical realm.
What are its inputs?
It's a bit complicated/hand-wavey. All chiros actually exists in two fundamental states: corporeal (tangible) and ethereal (intangible). Tangible chiros is what I've described here. Intangible chiros has no interactions in the physical realm, but is "bound" to either a daimon soul or, less perfectly, to a human soul. Daimon souls need no medium--they act as big chiral magnets--but human souls are bound to chiros with ichor, an element of human blood. If humans bleed, some of that ethereal chiros bleeds out of them.
What the Azoth and Alkahest do, respectively, is convert ethereal chiros into tangible chiros and vice versa. They can be considered catalysts in that they are not consumed--they just facilitate the conversion. Daimons can be their own azoth and alkahest, but humans need to use special magic devices to make it happen.
Now, the humans don't fully understand this. No one fully understands why an Azoth or Alkahest work the way they do. There was an unpleasant war between humans and daimons a few thousand years ago, after which someone discovered that a special material made with alchemy was able to emit the strange projectiles those daimons kept shooting. Interfacing with this and bending it to the human will with chiromancy took a while, especially since most of the humans died in said war. Nowadays, humans aren't even sure whether daimons really existed or whether they were just ancient peoples' attempts to explain this strange phenomenon. We're more focused on using it to make money and kill people, our favorite hobbies.
What are my options for automation? Can I just give it an instruction to continue emitting?
Yes. Especially if this could help me make cool machines!
Can I slow down the oscillation used to make a chiral object and rely on a strictly rotating output?
Great question! I could go either way on this, and the possibilities are interesting. So I think yes! Thinking about it, you would probably need to be able to exert some influence on its speed to use it properly, but there is definitely a minimum speed a chiral projectile can possess.
Can I preload blood into an azoth to maintain a chiral object?
You HAVE to! Azoths are usually powered by a blood tank/vial. How "good" the blood is as fuel is roughly correlated with how much, say, you'd want to use it for a transfusion. So old crusty dried blood? Nah, all the ichor is gone. I'm still trying to decide what to do about refrigeration.
Can I weld an azoth to steel?
Great question. The short answer is basically. One of the important things I glossed over is that the power to generate core Chiros can be "conducted" through materials much like heat or electricity, with different materials exhibiting a different chiral conductance. So Azoths are usually connected to a contact plate using superconducting metals/wires, and the chiral structure is projected from the surface of that plate.
Valent chiros, however, is unlikely to be spontaneously transferred from the air into a material without the use of some special catalyst. The humans are still working on it.
Can I change the apparent size of the particle?
Yes--the size is roughly correlated to the power, although not linearly.
Can I make it emit more than one particle at a time? Yes--this is how resonant chiral objects are made.
Can I change the direction it emits somehow, or do I need to put it on a turntable for that? Sure! I'm not picky about this, so if it opens up possibilities then go for it. I imagine it's easier/more efficient to make something that shoots in one direction and then aim it like a gun.
However big is the smallest azoth? Does it's size affect it meaningfully? That depends! I'm still building this world and that is a flexible parameter. I imagine there would be a size correlation.
Can I arrange to add energy to a valent chiros in flight, and if I do, can I make it go faster, or do I only get to add apparent momentum? Only if it goes through the azoth. I guess you would have to have some way of making it go faster if resonant structures are possible.
...And either way, is it's size in lock step with that apparent momentum? Could I choose to transmit the force of a bullet as a slow moving pillow the size of a house? Whoa! That is an awesome question! I actually laughed out loud at that image. I'll have to think about it, but my knee jerk reaction is no on that scale. I think higher energy projectiles will tend to go faster naturally, and there is a minimum speed at which they travel. I think we may go a bit soft magic on the specific technicalities of speed and momentum, so feel free to take some creative license.
This is super helpful! One of the things I'm trying to do is figure out what parameters this magic force would have to have in order for it to be useful as a source of power, and these questions are really helping direct that. Keep them coming!
I need to know if the rate of blood consumption is affected by the return energy of the projectile. That is, does recapturing a projectile that failed to dissipate (say, because it's path of travel was extremely short) give it's spare energy back somehow, or is that undissipated energy lost? Excellent question. I am pretty flexible about how efficiently such a transfer occurs. With an Alkahest chirally connected to the blood source some of the energy is returned but it is necessarily lossy. I am still trying to figure out a good rate for blood/ichor consumption. I do know blood can be purified to have a higher concentration of ichor, which helps make devices more compact, but I'm trying to find a balance where the technology is useful but not overpowered. A tank of blood? A vial of blood? How far will a smear of blood get you before it dries? I need to feel out the various repercussions before I can tune these parameters in a reasonable way.
If I mount a chiral shield to a physical object, can I still rely on that apparently massless object to pass force onto it's mount? Careful here, or your chiral box is easy to make fly out of control forever until it runs out of blood Good point! The chiral object, when connected to a plate or source, acts like a physical extension of that object, so it would move when the plate moved and vice versa. Maybe massless is the wrong word for it--what I mean is that it's weighless, in that it isn't affected by gravity.
If you didn't tie down your plate well and used materials too light, you would indeed have it be knocked about until it ran out of ichor! However, even though the projectile doesn't dissipate from mere contact with the chiral object per se, the energy transferred to making the whole object (and all its physical attachments) move around would in fact consume the energy. That would be effectively an inelastic collision.
Hmm. Does that make sense from a physical point of view, or is that contradictory? There might be some loophole I'm missing here.
Does there have to be a closed loop? Do I have to have an alkahest to absorb the projectile, or can I skip having the alkahest altogether? It doesn't have to be a closed loop, and you can skip having the alkahest. The purpose of the alkahest is to safely and conveniently convert the chiros back into a non-damaging form, but there are a few that decide not to use it because YOLO.
In the absence of an alkahest, I can think of two possible options for how a projectile reacts with an azoth and haven't decided which to pick.
- Option 1: Without an alkahest, some of the power/ichor will be transferred back to the azoth, but some damage will occur and part of it will ricochet off.
- Option 2: A valent projectile will interact with an azoth just like any other physical object, causing damage. No energy is returned, no ichor is regenerated.
Does the alkahest have to be paired to the given azoth? If they don't have to be, could I pair them off by choice, or is it going to be heading back for the nearest alkahest? Great question. I didn't draw it very well but the projectile/beam will always head back to the azoth it was released from, regardless if an alkahest is nearby or not.
An alkahest however can be "paired" with an azoth by putting them in chiral contact using a conductor. In this connected state, they conduct their powers to one another act as a single unit, with the projectile being drawn to the center of chiral mass of the collective unit. I haven't yet come up with a good name for this conjoined device, so for now we can just call it an "Alka-zoth" for short.
(Thanks to @SeanBoddy for these awesome questions. A true engineer!)
When an alkahest absorbs a valent chiros, does it convert that to energy, or does the chiros disappear entirely? Does an alkahest escape damage because it converts the chiros to an intangible heat, or because it is rigid enough to survive the impact — e.g. a bulletproof vest resisting puncture?
When an alkahest absorbs chiros, if it's chirally connected to the azoth's fuel supply, (most of) the energy will be returned to the fuel. The alkahest acts as a catalyst that absorbs the chiros before it can ricochet back. As for whether some momentum is transferred to it, i can go either way!
How is an azoth instantiated? Does it require an initial ‘sacrifice’ of blood? When that happens, will it continue to emit chiros, like an open channel, or will it need charged? Azoths are the initiator that converts chiros into physical form. I can think of two possible ways to handle the charging thing, but am still waffling back and forth because I haven't thought of all the ramifications.
- Option 1: Each release of chiros requires some ichor (an intangible substance found in blood).
- Option 1: The Azoth is just a catalyst. Ichor (element in blood) converts the azoth temporarily into active form, but it will revert by itself over time so you need to regularly input blood in order to maintain a properly functioning catalyst.
So one of these options uses blood kind of like gasoline, and the other one kind of like...motor oil, I guess?