A ship's shield is it's first layer of defence against incoming objects and/or energy. It is generally undetectable by camera drones, although the shield gives off energy when it is being boosted or hardened.
A ship's shields have two primary functions:
How Shields Do Not Work
Shields are not physical objects and do not have mass. If they did, it could be transferred to the hull and armor, which would negate the point of shielding in the first place. Similarly, impact between two shielded vessels or between a shielded object like a station and a vessel does not damage either one at all. If shields had any sort of mass, this would not be the case.
Absent mass, shields may be energy sheathes that directly absorb incoming fire, passive diversion and dispersion by means of overlapping active generation of magnetic and other EM fields, and active nullification that detects threats and uses energy to nullify them.
Of these systems passive diversion and dispersion is the least likely. The problem with this system is that it would have an upper limit, beyond which attacks would simply pass directly through without being diverted or dispersed. Below such a limit, however, no attack would compromise the integrity of the system; shields can and do drop and eventually cease to have any effect on incoming fire, despite the weapons being used against them being small. However, by the same token, the use of this system makes excellent sense for shield hardening; it will refract incoming energy and divert projectiles from striking the shields in such a way that their full force cannot be transferred, but it will not actually stop them.
Active nullification is also unlikely for the reasons mentioned about shields having no mass. An active nullification system would have to discharge energy to divert impacts of both ships and weapons. Since no drop in power available to shields occurs if you ram two ships into each other, this is clearly not happening.
How Shields Do Work
Shields are, instead, absorptive energy fields. They "collect" energy directed at them above a certain threshold; if they simply collected all energy, a shielded ship would be unable to see out and would appear as a "hole" in the background of space. They have an upper limit to how much energy they can store at once. Explosions are the least-effective method of dealing with shields because they are naturally ineffective against materials that do not heat up or suffer from kinetic effects and suffer the worst of all worlds. Similarly, pure kinetic and thermal energies suffer minor degradations because both are wasting some of their power on things that do not affect the structure of the shield. Pure EM radiation on the other hand is crippling, as it interacts directly with the shield and will all be absorbed. Some wormhole environments offer further demonstration of this phenomenon, crippling shields with intense amounts of hard radiation.
The maximum limit represents a simple problem: the more energy the shield absorbs, the less one is able to "see" through it. Eventually a ship would go blind, an easy target to enemies as it glows on any form of sensors but totally unable to see its opponents to retaliate. This amount of stored energy could also interfere with the ship's ability to return fire, diverting or damaging its own outbound fire. Before that point is reached, the shields are turned off to enable the ship to see and fight its enemies. Since dumping all that energy into space at once, uncontrolled, could result in damage to both the ship and any nearby allies, it must be stored internally in large capacitors; hence shields reduced to zero still must radiate energy slowly to "recharge".
Passive shield recharge represents natural radiation of stored energy, and can be improved by adjustments to the shape of the shields to give them greater surface area without greatly increasing volume. Active shield boosting is the manipulation of the shields to force energy back out into space, visible to camera drones as the distinctive blue pulse. Shield hardening is, as discussed above, the use of backup passive diversion and refraction systems, using many overlapped fields, that divert some of the incoming energy for minimal cost in power.
The lack of reaction to ship or station impact is simply explained: as any energy field so powerful must, a shield will have electrical, and hence magnetic, charge. Two ships on close approach will detect each other and change their shield charges to opposite the armor and hulls, causing repulsion in the other ship. The shields are not affected by the this, and ship armor and structure is tough enough that the stress of repulsion does not compromise it.
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