Vir's Archive

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Little Robots, Big Setting Issues


TDE is set in 2191, and considering that time point its necessary to think about nanites and their impact on the setting.  Nanites are a bit of a problem, I think.  I want to keep TDE grounded in the real world, and as I have mentioned earlier, just shy of transhumanism and the singularity.  Nanites could potentially break those goals - especially if taken to the conclusion other SF has flirted with.

Often in SF, Nanites are the stand-in for magic. They can do literally anything and represent unlimited possibilities.  They are presented as a technosoup panacea to the setting's ills.  To give credit, a lot of SF authors and writers explore some really challenging aspects to society using nanites as the leverage.  There is some cool stuff that has been done in SF, but my concern is that nanites can and would overpower TDE's other tech if allowed to run rampant as in other SF settings.

There is also the problem that I just don't see the unlimited possibilities of nanites.  I do think they will be a powerful tool -- but a cure all?  No.

The problem with nanites is their dispersed nature.  For nanites to be really useful, they will have to network with one another at a bare minimum, and likely still need wireless communication to a larger memory core to operate.  In civilian situations, this wouldn't be a problem in most cases.  Industrial and manufacturing applications seem especially likely to use nanites.  Medicene would alos really benefit in TDE with advanced nanite intervention -- heck, anything that involves lots of delicate work would be good for nanites.

For TDE, where the focus is on the military and espionage, nanites are less than ideal.  Nanites would be vulnerable to outside intervention - just like modern bluetooth is ripe for hijacking.  nanites would be too small in most cases to have the robust operating and system requirements to function only on on-board/internal processing.  As a result, nanites would have to be in near constant communication with each other to create a dispersed or hive-mind processor that builds on the community to make it more powerful than the isolated processing power of a single (tiny) nanite.  Nanites would also likely need outside communication with other computers to do ost advanced missions and applications 

In a hyper-connected world like TDE, having the equivalent of bluetooth serving as the communication process for millions of microscopic robots is a recipe for really bad news.  Nanites would be very vulnerable to malicious hacking.  Since I expect combat hackers to be a core mission for some of the PCs, the utility of nanites would be limited in a combat environment.  They would just be too vulnerable. Even non-combat applications like industry and manufacturing are probably very aware of how vulnerable nanites are to outside intervention and limit their exposure to outside contact.

With those limitations in mind, I've been brainstorming what the applications of nanites would be in TDE.  This is what I am thinking:

- Surgery: Fusing even the smallest bio-connections like nerves would be pretty routine.  Just about any wound, no matter how severe if serviced by a trained surgeon with a full suite of technology - could be solved.  Biomods and advanced cybernetics - anf complete body rewrites would all be possible due to nanites.
- Field surgery: An aerosol can full of nanites that can communicate with a portable med database would be super useful.  Really nasty wounds would still be difficult to solve in the field, but with enough time nanites could at a bare minimum stabilize the nastiness of combat injuries.
- Construction: Most industrial construction would use nanites.  They would be particularly helpful in reinforcing any defects as well as detecting those defects in the first place.
- Field repairs: If someone isnt in the middle of a firefight, nanites would be useful to help with any basic repairs.  Spray some on a broken rifle, go and do something else (like return fire) and come back a minute later to see the rifle repaired.  The key to this is to understand that in a firefight the nanites might be hacked and the rifle might not get repaired -- which is an acceptable risk for most soldiers.  Nanites would be especially useful in this application for vehicles, who could have nanites deploy to repair damages as they occur.
- Recon: Chances are at some point using nanites for reconnaissance is going to fail due to passive defenses (ECM, Black IC, active hijacking) -- but the risk/reward is pretty high.  In a situation where the recon must happen, nanites would not be the preferred tech.  Instead, hardened drones would be preferable.
- Shields.  Yup, shields.  I was thinking that capital ships would use nanites for all sorts of passive defensive applications - including orbiting around the ship to interdict incoming fire.  As combat draws close, the utility of nanites would decrease exponentially as hostile combat hackers and ECM could interdict the wireless comms needed to operate nanites.  But from a distance?  Yeah, nanites would be wonderful for reducing the ability of weapons to do damage.

The conclusions I come to reinforce the use of capital ships.  Capital ships could and would house a lot of specialized nanites, processors, and comms equipment to really make those nanites kick ass.  Between active shielding and combat repairs, capital ships would also have the resources to make nanites really useful at the large scale.  Teleoperation of nanites would maximize their utility - which would best be served aboard capital ships where multiple teleoperators could be housed and protected behind armor and long-range antennas.

So, the bottom line for nanites in TDE is that they would be super useful tools, but in combat they would have limited utility.  As an offensive weapon they would be severely limited, but in passive support roles they would come into their own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where we at? A Summary of Content.

A lot has been going on behind the scenes - some art, lots of discussion, and way too much Playstation (when I should be writing).  So, as things evolve, its time to recount where the setting stands (I am doing this to loud, angry music... so this might be a little aggressive):   Sorry in advance, this is going to be a wall of text....

The Planets:

Mars (the Martian Democratic Polity): The titular good guy.  It is the largest (in terms of size) single political entity in the System.  It commands a large military, a sizable economy, and a vibrant political landscape.  Mars recently won its freedom from the UN and Hegemon interests and now stands as the first planet in the system, outside of Earth, that controls its own destiny.  Now that things have started to settle down from the war that won its freedom, Mars has a lot of economic and political issues to contend with -- a deeply divided political system, a demagogue-to-be in a leader, an economy that must struggle to find equilibrium, and a series of hostile governments all around it.  Despite it all (or maybe because of it),  Still, the march of history seems to be on Mars' side.  

Mars is ready to take the fight for freedom and political self-determination to the other planets.  There are many throughout the System that were sympathetic to Mars' war with its Imperial Masters.  Pockets of resistance sprang up as Mars and the hegemons fought, and for the most part, those resistance movements and political alliances were ruthlessly put down by the OCRI crimson helmets.  However, those movements bought Mars the time and space to fight the superior forces of the Imperialists by distracted its enemies and redirecting critical resources elsewhere.  Many non-Martians paid for Mars' freedom with their lives -- its time for Mars to repay its blood debt and return the favor.  

Earth (a series of nation states and hegemonic alliances): Earth has been through some rough times, and emerged difficult and angry.  Not long ago, the population of Earth crashed in the most devastating loss of life since the bubonic plague, leaving the planet and the people a wreck,  It recovered years ago, but the demands it places on its colonies to support the people of Earth are increasingly difficult to manage.  Earthers are known for being affluent and prone to excpetionalism - usually at the costs of the colonies.  

Earth is not united, but it is powerful.  It is a mosaic of nation states and competing interests held together by custom and procedure (in this case "procedure" refers to the UN).  Many of the most powerful nations banded together into like-minded blocs to help exploit the riches of the solar system.  These blocs became the Hegemons, and have been the driving force towards colonial settlement of the planets and, ultimately,  the rapacious demands of the Earther economy.  

Earth has no one central government, though the UN passes for something similar (but much less efficient).  

Luna (The Lunar Colonial Administrative Zone): Until recently the moon was nothing more than a backwater - an industrial hell of mass drivers, stand-along servers and broadcast centers, and low-grade He3 harvesting.  Luna never got the attention Mars did, and served as the forgotten stepping stone towards colonization of planets further out.  

That all changed when the war with Mars erupted.  Suddenly, the economic engine that made Earth function was cut off.  Agricultural and industrial supplies from Mars cut off rapidly, leaving the Earth economy teetering on the brink of disaster.  The conservative and risk-adverse leaders of Earth decided to play it safe, and rather than wait for the Mars crisis to settle down, they started to use Luna to fill the gap left by Mars.  Its been an imperfect bootstrap effort, but it has paid significant dividends for Luna -- the up-and-comer of the System.  

Luna is quietly ruled by an OCRI Colonial Administrator   

Mercury (The Papal State of Mercury): Mercury is a political oddity born of a number of unlikely events.  Long story short, Mercury is owned by the Vatican and administered as a holding by the Holy Catholic Church.  It is the engine that powers Earth - with significant resources and installations dedicated to collecting and beaming solar and fission energy to Earth where it is recovered and utilized.  Mercury is also the hub for the small, lucrative, but heavily regulated trade in antimatter.  

Oh yeah, Mercury also has evidence of extraterrestrial life.  The Church has thus far taken a hands-off approach to the research of the fossilized extraterrestrial life, but that may not last.  

Luna is managed by a Vatican-appointed Cardinal that is quietly supported by a pro-Hegemon mercantile cartel.  It is formally an OCRI colony.  

Saturn (The Saturn Colonial Administrative Zone) : Saturn is the home of the avant garde of the Solar System.  Once in competition with Jupiter for the lead in the volatile trade, it eventually lost out to its Jovian rival.  This was for the best it turned out, since it forced the Saturnine factions to turn to alternative economic models to keep up its once robust growth.  Now, Saturn is the home to the influential Commonwealth of Interstellar Interests (see below) and the home of a number of powerful SCEs that push the boundaries of science and economics.  If it can turn a credit, its probably happening on Saturn -- with alarming little regulation or oversight even on the most dangerous projects.  

Saturn isn't a single political entity outside of the dominant Commonwealth government.  Saturnine space is populated by dispersed habitats, homesteads, and moon settlements - the largest of which, Titan, is the defacto capital of the planet (and home to the Commonwealth).  

Saturn has an OCRI-sponsored Colonial Administrator, but he has little real power. 

Jupiter (The Jupiter Protectorate): A confusing collection of petty kingdoms and isolationist communities.  Jupiter's settlement is actually nowhere near the planet, with all the habitats clustering around the Trojan, Hildans, and Greek asteroid clusters (conforming to the stable Lagrange points).  This makes "Jupiter" the most dispersed of the polities in the System.  

Jupiter was, at one point, the center of economic activity and energy production - back when chemical rockets were the primary mode of transportation   Those heydays are gone, however, and now Jupiter plays host to those communities that either could not leave, or did not want to.  The most notable exception to this is the large Jewish diaspora habs in the Hildas - serving as the new Israel since Israel proper was destroyed in a nuclear exchange with Iran in the Mid-21st C.  

Jupiter serves as the lesson to the rest of the System about the dangers of crossing OCRI and the Hegemons.  Before the war with Mars, the skirmishes and battles between OCRI and the Hegemons with various Jovian independence factions proved the might of the Imperial governments (even if it came at a high cost).  

Jupiter has a Colonial Administrator that serves as the closest thing to a central government.  Many Jovian habs remain under martial law.  The Jewish Hildas are very vocal in their refusal to recognize the OCRI Administrator and have not submitted to martial law.  

Venus (The Venus Colonial Administrative Zone): Venus is complicit in advancing the Imperialist agenda.  The planet is ruled by the iron first of its Colonial Administrator, a woman known to have committed significant human rights abuses upon her own people.  Venus is a active opponent of Mars, to the point where Venus hosts the recently ousted Martian interim President.  

Venus and its administrator gets away with its horribly oppressive and eccentric government (even in the eyes of many Earthers) because it is happily raped by Colonial interests.  Workers rights rarely get in the way of profits - and with corruption at an all time high, anyone with interests in Venus is getting paid handsomely.  Thus far, the opponents of the Venusian administrator have yet to get the needed traction to overcome Venus' economic inertia.

That may all change, however.  Two nomadic dwarf planets, nicknamed the Huns, are transiting into the inner system.  They were originally thought to travel wide of any of the planets - with the biggest disruption being to the tidal movements of Earth's and Mars' oceans.  The estimations were wrong, and the Huns appear on a direct collision course with Venus.  A massive evacuation program began once the calculations for the impact were confirmed into the 80% range.  That orderly departure is quickly braking down, turning into a full fledged humanitarian crisis as many desperate Venusians clamor for space on overloaded colonial cyclers.  

Ceres (The UN Administered Zone of Ceres):  Ceres is under strict military control of the UNSC and OCRI.  It is a mystery to much of the system with little known besides the fact that the Imperial fleet is home-ported at Ceres.  

Key Organizations:

UN/OCRI (The UN Organization of Colonial Rights and Integrity): A UN body given a large budget and wide latitude to operate and administer the off-Earth colonies so that they remain stable and profitable.  OCRI's mandate has steadily expanded over the years as it has become more difficult with each pasing year to manage the colonies.  OCRI now manages a giant bureaucracy throughout the System and an elite military intervention force.  OCRI is the default bad guy of the setting - ruthlessly opposing Mars' goals while advancing the rapacious interests of the Imperialist Hegemons.  

UN/SC (The UN Security Council): The UNSC is populated by members of the Hegemons, with each Hegemonic bloc maintaining a permanent representative and also rotating on members every four years.  The Security Council is the policy body for the UN Peacekeepers, a standing military force of notable size.  The Peacekeepers are the equal of most Hegemonic space forces and the enforcement arm of the UN and, more generally, colonial interests.  When the problem is too large for the elite forces of the OCRI Crimson Helmets to handle, the UNSC's Peacekeeper behemoth steps in.  

CAID (The [Martian] Complexity Analysis and Intelligence Directorate): The very cutting edge special forces/intelligence body of the Martian government charged with forecasting the future and ensuring that future reflects Martian ideals of freedom and self determination.  CAID fuses sociology, predictive economics, and fuzzy analysis to develop the policy goals of the MDP - and has its own in-house special forces units to execute the missions required to ensure Mars' safety.  CAID is known colloquially on Mars as "Fatewatch."  Outside of Mars it is called a thinktank for terrorists.   

MIS (The [Venusian] Ministry of Internal Security): A hybrid Ministry with expansive policing and security responsibilities.  It is the enforcement arm of the Administrator and legendary for its ruthless (and brutal) effectiveness - against offworders and Venusian citizens alike.  MIS and its considerable military sub-ministry are major rivals to CAID and Mars.  

The Commonwealth: A loose confederation of polities, nations, and corporations tied together by the mutual desire for profit.  The Commonwealth is often confused for Saturn's government, and while its' HQ and many members are located in Saturn's well, it is not official government of Saturn.  The Commonwealth has members throughout the System, with allies and economic fronts on every planet and moon with a notable population.  Slow to act, when the Commonwealth does make a decision, everyone in the System pays attention since its economic edicts and sanctions can virtually destroy their targets.  Many Hegemons consider the Commonwealth a dangerous and unpredictable factor in Interplanetary politics.  


Flirting with Dominion -- The Trans-Oceanic Republican Alliance (TORA): What was once the US, UK, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland/Greenland, Singapore, and Japan.

Whats Old is New -- The Ansar Community – Progressive mostly-Sunni alliance hemmed in by the irradiated wasteland that was once the holy land and a UN-puppet that plays at being Iran.

The Oldest Guard -- The European Union – They finally have a real currency and stable polity - though Iberia and France left in the 2090s.

Playing at Hegemon – The Commonwealth of Independent States (CoIS): Pretty much just Russia pretending to be a hegemonic bloc – of course, Russia is BIG (and aggressive), so it can sorta get away with it.
Direct Action – The Chinese Imperial State (ChIS): China, the Koreas, much of SE Asia and large parts of C. Asia.  Corporatist and strong rivals of the ANCS.

Petite Bourgeoisie – The Africa Natal Community of States (ANCS): Violently anti-SCE.  Kenya and the Congos, southward.

Sovereign Corporate Entities: 

BR/BP Distributions Inc, Orbital Inc, The Access Group, Tata Lunar, Direct Intervention Ltd, Mercurial Power Inc, GrainFlowMars, Primary Source (Pvt) Ltd, Generalized Products, Deep Space Media, Saab Near Orbital, MGM/VGM Holdings, others... 

The Huns:  The Doom That Came To Venus.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brains on the Mind (Content)

I am finding that a lot of the setting development I work on focuses on just how far I am willing to allow the brain to be exploited.  As I stated earlier, TDE is a pre-singularity setting.  AIs are (mostly) nonexistent, and non-destructive uploads of cerebral activity is likewise limited to GM fiat.  Thus, one of the defining aspects of technology is just how far technology will go in allowing the brain/digital interface.


In TDE, if you want to do some crazy biological stuff, whether its a cyborg, bioborg, or something else entirely, you have to build it around a brain.  This is the genesis of AIHs - which are, basically, child soldiers in the body of 'roided out Schwarzenegger.  Child soldiers are really terrifying in real life.  Yes, there is the moral and ethical aspect of using children to do the fighting - but what makes them so desirable to really bad people is that the younger you get the more they are sociopaths with guns.  They don't have the world experiences to 1) think they can die and 2) care about other people.  That makes them horrifying on the battlefield.  For TDE, that makes the AIHs and their use very interesting plot elements.  What it means for the brain is that you have to allow the psyche to mature normally   Sure, the Martians augmented the proto-AIHs with VR and AR training, but the bottom line is that time was still required for the brain (and body) to develop (albeit at an accelerated rate).

For Saturn, their Moreau shock troopers are similarly limited around the need for a "normally" developed brain.  Since they cant just upload memories and training into a brain, it has to be grown - and in a form radically different than the human body, the Suturnines discovered that implanting the brain and allowing it to grow with the body is the best way to get a combat effective soldier.  Even then - even after having a human-origin brain grow organically in a non-human body - there are... complications.

Brain transplants are possible.  I figure they are a very common occurrence- and in some quarters, a booming business.  A vat grown brain, raised and trained, can be useful in some circumstances - especially if trained with AR - but it will still be limited

Information in the brain is stored chemically as well as electrically, so complete replication of a psyche is impossible.  Further, the sheer amount of data in an active brain is enormous - and in TDE, downloading all that information stretches the limits of most data storage devices.  Because the science in TDE has an incomplete understanding of the brain, attempts at uploading the brain (even with chemical augmentation  must upload all of the data in the brain - neuroengineers simply don't know which information in the brain is necessary and which isn't - so they have to try to capture it all.

With the brain, there just aren't many shortcuts.

One other plot element I want to introduce is "cemetery ships."  These will be a development of one of the Hegemons with a large space presence -- ships that are loaded with thousands of vat grown and artificially trained disembodied human brains.  The ship is stuffed to the gills with these brains that are linked in to a series of teleoperation systems.  The other thing on the ship?  Guided missiles and drones.

Instant 'zombie' spaceforce.

How bad would it suck to be one of those brains?  Bad enough a terrorist / freedom fighting organization has sprung up with the intention of sabotaging the use and production of the "drone-zombies."


Next up?  Militant neo-zionists with the closest thing to stealth spaceships.  Yeah, I am going there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Unbridled Science and More Supersoldiers, Dammit (Content)!

I've still be seized with Saturn - even after about a week of hiatus due to travel and general exhaustion.  Its time to catch back up.  

Saturn is becoming more and more of the avant garde location for TDE - the place where anything goes - as long as it generates a profit.  That makes them both predictable and unpredictable   Predictable in the sense that much of Saturn's movers and players goals are easy to anticipate.  If there is profit, and an easy way to get to that profit - they are in.  Point "A" to Point "B" - pick the shortest line and you have the Satrunines.  

I want Saturn to be a very tricky entity.  Its more unified than Earth and Jupiter, an economic powerhouse, and probably embraces the best and worst the setting has to offer.  On the surface of it, I think Saturn would be a solid opponent for the PCs to face off against - but thats too easy.  Mars needs an ally.  Saturn, I think, should become an uneasy ally of Mars - a relationship of convenience.  Still overseen by an OCRI Administrator, the Commonwealth has grown strong and rich.  The Administrator is corrupt and complicit in the leeway Saturn enjoys from its U.N. masters.

While not in open rebellion, the Commonwealth is very sympathetic to the Martian cause, seeing a System that holds Martian ideals dear as a more profitable (and unbridled) field for its members to advance their goals.  The U.N. and Hegemons stymie Saturn and the Commonwealth's growth - and if Mars offers an alternative, then the Commonwealth's board is willing to invest a reasonable amount of resources to hedge their bets. 

At the same time, their pursuit of profit and security has led the corporate council of the Commonwealth to approach to a number of creative solutions to their problems.  Where the rest of the System is uncomfortable with experimentation on AIs and digitizing the brain, there is bound to be someone in the Commonwealth (and likely in Saturn's orbit) doing some very freaky experiments -- looking for that competitive edge that simple cutthroat business acumen just cant compete with.  Saturn is the place for really freaky stuff (at least by the System's standards) - including uplifts.  

Now, there is a reason this stuff is shunned by the rest of the System.  In the case of AIs the implications are simply too dangerous for most of the system to be comfortable with.  There is a very heated moral debate going on in the System, and the conservatives are (so far) winning the argument.  The nail in the coffin (for the time being) is that the best scientists and programmers have come close (they think) to awakening an AI, but have not been able to to cross the threshold into full sentience.  The same discussion involves uplifts.  Bioengineers can do a number of creative processes with the flesh - copying designs found in nature, improving upon them, and developing entirely new processes.  However, the secrets of the brain remain elusive.  Copying/transferring full consciousnesses is impossible (despite a number of very well funded projects).  The farthest science has made it in 2131 is Direct Neural Interface (DNI) - a process where the brain can interface with digital media - and the key to the success of the JAMOR-V project.  As close as DNI comes, its not quite capable of making the leap to fully digitizing brainwaves and maintaining them in an artificial environment.  That last part of that last sentence is particularly important - the reality is that science, through the DNI has digitized the brain, but has not discovered how to keep brainwaves maintained outside of grey matter.  When removed from their natural housing (the brain) the brain waves rarify and dissolve, leaving a jumbled mess of static.  

While every major power (and minor ones) want to unlock true brain digitization, its Saturn thats exploring the various peripheral processes.  

I nabbed this pic from a site - credit to Max Elmbeg Sjoholm Emin.
Hope he doesnt mind.     
What does this lead to?

Saturn's answer to the AIHs?  

Dr. Moreu-like bioborgs, controlled by vat-grown human brains, of course.*

*okay, not "of course" but you get the idea.