Perfecting FTL travel was the beginning of the end for the Salient company.
Salient are another victim of the vast transformations in society brought about by the economic singularity of algorithmic growth, partly made possible by their own innovation–Salient “true”* FTL made possible the infinite permutations of instantaenous deep-space travel (versus the unreliable pseudo-FTL spacetime-bending, teleportation and sublight systems that had enabled the first waves of real human colonisation of space).
While Salient successfully maintained an exclusive control of the technology, and nobody has yet managed to copy it, they were victims of their naivety about capital, and how it can flow through barriers that can deter almost any other foe–meaning that suddenly it was unclear who “Salient” were. Complex strategic buyouts by other companies and the salami-sliced securing of bits and pieces of the corporation gradually gutted Salient beyond recognition. Now, of the original structure of the company, virtually nothing remains: none of the same research talent, shareholders, directors, or corporate structure. Like almost every other company in this galaxy, it’s a wave in a churning ocean of capital, disintegrating and then metastasising elsewhere in a continual chaos of ownership.
Most importantly, the fundamental understanding of the technology is gone. Salient FTL requires two elements: a Salient FTL drive, and a special kind of reactor core, designed specifically to work with Salient FTL drives, but which can be retrofitted into most existing spacecraft power plants and use conventional starship fuels (making them “Salient Compliant”). The small group of scientists and engineers who originally designed and built the prototypes of these two elements were silenced by the most cast-iron non-disclosure agreement of all: being quietly murdered by their own company when Salient technology started to look like it really was going to transform deep-space travel for good. In a tediously short-sighted move, it was decided that their knowledge was too valuable to be leaked to competitors, and they weren’t needed any more by the company. After all, Salient-compliant reactor cores and FTL drives were, as they are now, produced in fully-automated factories whose setup was supervised by the original creators. The control computers’ quantum encryption, airgapped data warehouses and high-precision work with deadly synthesised elements mean that there’s no real scope for reverse-engineering. The unique capacitors inside Salient FTL units disintegrate on being unsealed (as well as giving off a lethal dose of various types of highly-penetrating radiation) so it’s not like you can really take one apart and look inside either.
Sure, their brand is used by a lot of companies making peripheral technologies, through a complex palimpsest of licensing and subcontracting–much like cheap sportswear retailers might buy up the branding of a faded but beloved icon to slap on cheap clothing to enhance its apparent value. And, ultimately, all the tertiary peripherals work with the same reactor cores and drives. There’s a whole sub-economy of companies built around, for instance, the input/output controllers that regulate Salient FTL units and process the chaos mathematics that they require as an input. And indeed, some headway has been made by hackers in modifying the cheaper single-use disposable Salient-compliant reactor cores so that they can be reused a few times–though with decreasing reliability and increasing risk. Though this last achievement isn’t really a significant step forward in understanding the reactor core itself, but about defeating a self-destructing coolant system designed to artificially stop the core being reused.
The truth–and, really, the point here–is that nobody actually knows any more exactly how Salient-based FTL travel works. The knowledge, like so many other things, has been cast aside based on a short-term profit/loss calculation. It seems to be based on folding space in on itself and punching temporary, self-collapsing wormholes, but that’s certainly not a given, and even if it is, how the fuck do you even do that? Ultimately, if a reusable Salient reactor core fails, you put in a new one. If you hear that an FTL drive has gone supernova for no apparent reason, it’s really just a case of shrugging and hoping it doesn’t happen to yours.
*”True” FTL is something of a misnomer given that the poor understanding of the technology makes such comparisons unreliable–and if, indeed, it is wormhole-based, the craft in question would be moving through that channel at sublight velocities. Certainly though, it is the only technology that reliably gets your ship somewhere faster than it would if it went there in a straight line at the speed of light.