But they do have one item that certainly acts like magic: time crystals.
These innocuous-looking crystals are found most frequently near the boundaries that divided the world after the Upheaval. They are deadly to touch directly, and react explosively with metal objects, but if handled carefully, two crystals that match in strength and direction can be used to create stable bubbles that enclose an area that then exists at a different rate of time. When the crystals are moved far enough apart, the field harmlessly dissolves.
The crystals can either slow or speed time, and they have some remarkable properties that continue to confound current scientific understanding of physics and energy. A candle within a slowing time bubble is perceived to be casting light and releasing heat energy for an impossibly long time, while the candle itself seems to burn very slowly. Where does this extra light and heat energy come from? There is no extra fuel expended, and no extra oxygen used, as far as scientists have measured. The Empire calls this "If Energy," and has no proven explanation for it, although many theories have been proposed. Such theories include controlled deconstruction of tiny building blocks of matter (atomic energy), "aether friction," and "borrowing from alternate realities."
Loose crystals may be collected by time miners at some old shard boundaries, found scattered upon the ground, but more are found 'emergent', hanging in the air. These crystals are sometimes spotted in a place where the light glints slightly 'wrongly,' or there's a little a little shimmer to the air - or a fully-formed crystal may ready to pry from the sky. They cluster in veins in rare places, and dislodging one crystal carefully may reveal another behind it. Wiggling the emergent crystal carefully free makes it solid, and at some point, it answers to gravity and has weight. Time miners use long stone or wooden tongs to pry out crystals, and use ladders and scaffolding to reach crystals that are high above the ground. Time mining is done by convicts and the very, very desperate (as it is lucrative), and it comes with many hazards.
Human physiology is such that it has difficulty with the field that the crystals produce, and it will appear to violently age someone who touches them. Standing too close to a bubble will cause nausea in most individuals. These fields are also explosively reactive with most forms of metal. This, in addition to the fact that they are fragile and may shatter if dropped (creating tiny shards of hazardous crystal!), makes them exceedingly expensive because of the care needed to handle and transport them.
There is one other hazard of the time mines that no one has been able to explain - miners will sometimes die, and sometimes go violently, brutally crazy, becoming a danger to themselves and anyone around them. These incidents seem to be random, and scientists call them 'anomalies.'
In the seventy years since time crystals have been in use, they have become more commonplaces. Most housing units have a 'slowbox' or 'Timekeeper' for the storage of perishable food, and iceboxes have been largely replaced. Time crystals are used extensively in transportation, agriculture, and sanitation. The mines, still rare, are becoming more efficient (if not safer), and producing new crystals of exceptional size and clarity. New techniques in extraction are proving to control their strength, and new appliances and clever machine are being introduced to take advantage of their strange properties. The economy of the Empire is partly based around the government monopoly of the time crystal mines, and some dissenters claim that the government is making "undue" profit on the mines and crystals.
Where do time crystals come from? How are they related to the anomalies that are becoming problematic in other areas of the Empire? The Empire is about to find out more about time crystals in a hurry... and it's not going to all be good news.
This week, Torn World is participating in the Worldbuilding Blogfest - a bloghop, hosted by Sharon Bayliss, focusing on worldbuiling. Each day, we'll look at a different worldbuilding aspect as it relates to Torn World.