Monday, November 13, 2017

Spacecraft Mods

While fully fleshed out mechanics for operating spaceships in a combat scale are yet forthcoming, below is a list of some possibly modifications to most forms of spacecraft which should work in any campaign featuring them more heavily, without getting too into the mechanical nitty gritty. One can use any or all of these ideas as they like - as normal use common sense deciding which attachments make sense to stack with one another. Like most things, robotic enhancements and even armor mods can probably be installed in most vehicles without too much adjustment.

For purposes of categorizing, this concept uses (read: steals) a "Silhouette" system. A given spacecraft has a Silhouette based on it's rough size category without needing to get into specifics, similar to Size Traits for morphs. Something human-sized is a Silhouette 0, which also includes all Personal Vehicles. Very spacecraft, either autonomous or intended for small occupancy, including Fighters, Interceptors and RKVs and most other drones are Silhouette 1. Small spacecraft, designed for local transit with small crews/passengers and cargo are Silhouette 2 - this includes GEVs, SLOTVs and Outsystem Skimmers. Medium ships that are larger and have more rounded capacity numbers, but are still of a fairly average in that size and capacity are Silhouette 3, such as the Courier, Mining Tugs, Salvage Ships and the LLOTV (and probably the Hab Lifeboat). Silhouette 4 is fairly large, longer-range ships, including Bulk Carriers, Transports of both kinds and Destroyers. Silhouette 5 is for the very large ships of incredible bulk or capacity, such as Scum Barges, Factory Ships, LaFrance Rigs or Battlecruisers. Silhouette of a target ship may affect cost of a mod, or some mods may be limited to ships of certain Silhouettes.

4CI SUITE
"4CI" stands for Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence. Essentially, this modification acts as a Tactical Network node for the spaceship. It involves dedicated computing and communications equipment, which hooks up to every friendly ship in the vicinity, feeding in and organizing sensor information, positioning data and tactical data. This is all done on encrypted machines and frequencies for better security. It coordinates this data into multiple feeds and interfaces it with the normal functions of the ship. It allows for secure and fast sharing of tactical data to coordinate multiple ships, and can be networked with individual crewman's Tactical Networks as well. Typically, because of the vast amounts of information being collated, 4CI modules utilize a dedicated crewman, or one or more supervising AI. This is usually installed in command or flag ships, but might be placed in any ship coordinating others. [Moderate]

AFTERBURNER
While this type of modification is often called "Afterburners", this may not be true in the strictest sense. It does, however, follow the same principle - it increases the thrust of the engine slightly by consuming a higher amount of fuel. Suitable for short bursts, this can slightly improve acelleration, and is mostly used by smaller ships with tighter maneuvering profiles, such as security patrols or other orbital operators. It improves the thrust of a ship by about 10% (amounts vary based on type of rocket motor) but has a considerable impact on the fuel efficiency of the ship. Silhouette 3 or less only. [High]

AMENITIES SUITE
A common modification to passenger ships, though sometimes placed on long-haul cargo ships. This gives a ship a full set of amenities for a pleasant space travel. It includes proper storage and preparation facilities for proper food, one or more VR couches for simulspace access, dedicated wireless networks for visitors, and high output environmental systems for clean and pleasant air conditions. They also often include additional recreation spaces, media libraries and convenient interior spaces. These help passengers relax and have a stress-free time on a journey, and help crewmen unwind. It grants crew members a +10 on certain Social skill tests with people who are using the Amenities, and may prevent requirements for stress tests on a long journey. [Expensive]

BATTERING RAM
While ships are not often in close enough quarters to come into physical contact, this can be a quite dangerous situation. To alleviate this fact, some ships are equipped with frontal armor to protect the ship. This is most common on light military and security vehicles, and on pirate ships (who may engage frontal contact as part of a boarding maneuver). Additional armor plating on the fore of a ship is also rarely a bad thing. A ship with a battering ram is considered to be travelling half as fast when calculating a head-on collision, and reduces any damage crew and passengers take from such an impact by half. It also grants an additional 10/10 armor against any strikes from the front. However, the added weight will upset the maneuverability of most ships, giving them -10 Handling. [High]

BOARDING UMBILICAL
Boarding ships can be quite complex. Most ships have reinforced external airlocks to protect them from accidental decompression, with secured interfaces to prevent sabotage. For pirates and security ships, this presents a problem to board ships without authorization. In this case, they typically use a boarding umbilical. This flexible attachment unfolds from one's own airlock with a maximum reach of several meters, and uses nano-grip material to hook on to the ship. This creates a temporary pressure seal and attaches the two ships. This also has a specialized cutting torch on the end, designed to cut through airlock doors. It will burn completely through the door in about 3 Action Turns. It can attach and breach hulls directly as well, but this takes much longer. One can attempt to wrest away from the boarding tube, assuming they have power, with a -20 Pilot check. [High]

COLD GAS MANEUVERING JETS
This modification replaces the type of fuel used in a ship's normal maneuvering and RCS systems with highly pressurized, super-cooled gasses. The result is that the ship can control it's maneuvering without expending large amounts of heat, and thus is less obvious to sensors. While "hiding" in space is very difficult and mostly a matter of time and relative positioning, this modification can allow small maneuvers while remaining relatively hidden, or fail to draw the attention of many observers. The only downside is the cost of the system, and the fact that installing it is likely to raise a few eyebrows. This grants a -20 on tests to notice the ship when using just maneuvering thrusters. [High]

CONTAINMENT CELLS
Also called a "brig", Containment Cells are fairly straightforward - secure holding cells for transhumans. Space travel is the epitome of physical travel, thus people will often have to deal with people in physical instances on these trips - or even arrange a physical transportation of them. This can be done with a containment cell. It involves hardened rooms which are shielded from wireless transmissions, and hardy enough that they should resist smuggled tools for an extended period. They contain cameras and microphones for constant monitoring of prisoners, and can be reconfigured for other sensors as well. They feature a secure, wired intercom on the outside for interrogation as well, and a space for one or more security guards. They may also be equipped with other security measures, such as a nonlethal portal denial system or anesthetic gas. Without too much trouble, one can use them as quarantine cells as well. Installing Containment Cells reduces passenger capacity by 5, and makes 5 secure cells. This mod can be purchased multiple times, each time adding 5 more cells and reducing the passenger capacity by the same amount. Military ships may already have Containment Cells installed. [High]

DRONE RACK
An incredibly common modification on ships of all sizes (and even on smaller air or ground vehicles), this simply adds an internal storage bay to hold and maintain drones for use by the ship's crew - which can be deployed internally or externally as needed. A typical drone rack holds up to 6 bots (less if they are particularly large) and contains all tools needed to maintain them. A single bot can be deployed from the rack as a Simple Action by anybody with proper controls and authorization. This upgrade can be bought multiple times, each adding more racks for drones, to a maximum number of the ship's passenger amount +6. Silhouette 2 or larger only. [Moderate]

ECM SUITE
Electronic Countermeasures are a major part of spaceship combat, and many other spacecraft operations. This suite when added to a ship gives it powerful radio antennas, signal boosters and other equipment to jam radio transmissions and other sensor systems in the immediate area of the ship. It also can double as ECCM equipment when needed. As is typical with many of these add-ons, ECM suites usually require a dedicated crewman or AI operator to utilize properly. A ship equipped with an ECM suite gains a +20 on Interfacing tests to perform universal jamming (p. 262), and a +10 on all opposed interface tests related to Radio Jamming (including Radar Jamming). [High]

EJECTOR SEAT/ESCAPE POD
One of the most common modifications to ships, a way to exit a ship quickly if it should be disabled or destroyed. Ejector Seats are simple, but more risky. These typically shed the canopy or cockpit on smaller vessels and eject just the pilot and other operators with a thruster unit, equivalent to a thruster pack. It is also equipped with a drag chute if deployed near a planet with atmosphere, but does not have full re-entry shielding. More commonly, larger ships will attach an Escape Pod instead, which is basically an better armored and pre-inflated Emergency Bubble. Escape Pods can launch with a Simple Action, and have an AV of 10/10 in addition to all the normal functions of an Emergency Bubble. [Low] for Ejector Seats, [Moderate] for Escape Pod (cost is per seat/pod)

EXTERNAL DOCKING CLAMPS
Most ships are equipped with standardized airlocks, or flexible soft-locks to dock with other ships and stations. This serves most purposes, but can be a little awkward when attempting to move with or even transport other ships (or external attachments such as cargo containers). In this case, many ships attach external docking clamps. Reinforced, secured and usually utilizing a pneumatic or magnetic grip, they will safely hold the docked object until released by the carrier ship. A ship can hold something at maximum 1 Silhouette less than itself in a clamp. Docked ships and items cannot usually interact with or transfer directly to the host ship. This mod can be installed multiple times. [Moderate]

EXTERNAL ORDNANCE LAUNCHERS
Sometimes nicknamed "pack n' racks", this is one of the most common weapon systems installed on spacecraft. This system is a prebuilt, preloaded set of disposable launchers for Seekers, usually in packs of ten. They are designed to be modular and easily fit on any configuration of spaceship. Once all the seekers are deployed, one simply removes the rack and purchases a new one. Armed spaceships are a touchy legal area, but when operating in packed space regions which may involve pirates, aggressive governments or other unsavory persons they have a great range and damage potential. The only complication is that one cannot reload in the middle of a combat without going out onto the hull and replacing the rack. For an additional cost, the rack can be put on a turret mount for a 360 degree firing arc. [High] (includes missiles) [High] again for the 360 mount

FALSE TRANSPONDER
While there's no such thing as a "universal" ship registry in the Solar System, most traffic control offices can and will be in touch to check up on ships, and law enforcement will but out bulletins on suspicious or criminal vessels. This can be a problem, because most ships are equipped with unique registry or serial numbers by the manufacturer to keep track of the ship and as a standard safety measure - even if this is just as simple as a slightly more prominent form of device ID. These are also very important to IFF systems used by government ships. Modifying these transponder codes is universally illegal, and even in anarchist habitats is seen as anti-social. But this doesn't stop those who do dirty deeds from making the modifications. With some tech and a little work, most ships can not only disable their transponders (mostly an obvious sign you're doing something shifty) or more commonly install false transponders which display altered details about the origin, history and ownership of the craft. It's relatively cheap to install a singular altered transponder, those with contacts and cash will spring for a special rolling transponder which can alter registry and authorization codes as needed, so long as it can be securely updated. A ship with an altered transponder imposes a -30 to Research and other tests to track it's (accurate) history and flight plans. [Moderate] for a single transponder, [High] for rolling

FLAK CANNON
"Flak" is a term derived from the name for point defense and anti-aircraft weapons (in German). While the technology is an outdated system, principle of point-defense still apply and it is a very cost effective way for small or civilian ships to defend themselves from attackers while not being interpreted as "militarized" These cannons use high-caliber fragmenting shells, usually on proximity or timed detonation to explode into small clouds of high-velocity shrapnel. This is highly destructive to small targets like enemy missiles and AKVs or other drones, and will damage the micrometeorite protection of many smaller ships, reducing their hull integrity. Flak cannons are usually built into turreted systems, which are controlled manually or remotely. They are also typically Linked weapons (see below). Flak ammunition costs [Low] for 1000 rounds, and has the Proximity quality, and cannot be combined with other Kinetic/Smart ammo types. Note that the damage listed below is the typical profile. For spaceship weapons an appropriate multiplier (x2, x5 or x10) should be applied based on the size of the ship using the gun. [Moderate]
AP -4 2d10+6 DV SA Ammo 1000

HANGAR BAY
Another incredibly common modification for larger ships, this adds an internal bay where small craft can be stored and deployed rapidly. It can only built in ships Silhouette 3 or higher, and the bay can only contain vehicles of a Silhouette less than or equal to the host ship's Silhouette -2. The bay holds a maximum number of Silhouettes as the host ship (I/E a Silhouette 5 ship with a Bay can hold 5 SIL 1 ships, or one SIL 2 and a SIL 3). These ships can launch and dock as a single Complex Action, and the Hangar contains all necessary tools and equipment to maintain the complement of ships and restock them with their own fuel and ammunition, in the case of armed Fighters/AKVs. Many military ships, such as the Destroyer, already have hangars. Cost starts at [Moderate] for Silhouette 3, and goes up by one for each increase in Silhouette

INTERNAL HEAT SINK
Heat dissipation is one of many things which makes stealth in space difficult. Almost any heat level will stand out against the background. Some steps can be taken against some of the things which release heat, though not all of them. The Heat Sink is one of these. Using special advanced materials in a shielded location the sink can absorb waste heat generated by certain systems of a ship and effectively store them for a period of time. This can't mask active sensors or primary engines (which basically radiate their own heat from the ship), but can mask the heat of morphs, power systems and other internals. How long it operates depends on the size of the sink and the ship, but it's usually a couple hours. Eventually the heat sink will become so hot it either causes a catastrophic failure, or is able to be detected through the shielding material. At this point, it either needs to vent heat (a long process due to radiation being such a poor method) which takes about 10 times the amount of time it was operating, or the sink to be ejected and replaced. When active it gives a -30 for a ship to be detected via infrared or similar sensors, but only when not actively scanning or using primary engines. [High]

LINKED WEAPONS
Spaceship weapons are incredibly powerful, but due to their size and nature, they do not always have the ability to fire rapidly at scale like personal weapons. To alleviate this, one usually links weapons up, building pairs or quads of weapons - often in turrets. Linking a weapon requires paying 50% of the original weapon cost (if not sure, it's [High]), linking it a second time for x3 is that 50% again, and so on. A weapon linked once (so two weapons) can do either +1d10 DV or +10 to hit, but uses twice as much ammo. Triple weapons (linked twice) does +2d10 or +20 to hit but uses x3 ammo, and quads (linked 3 times) can add +3d10 DV or +30 to hit, but uses x4 ammo per shot. This allows weapons with slow rates of fire to put more shots down range for more effect on target, but uses much more ammunition from storage - and so is usually only the choice of hardcore ship operators. [50% of Weapon System]

LUXURY CABINS
Physical space is at a premium in the Solar System, especially in Space. This means people value it, and ships can find providing this space helpful. Luxury cabins are larger, single (or couple) occupancy with fine internal features such as dedicated thermostats, air handling, luxury beds or grav couches, personal refreshments and more. They are the pride of any ship they are installed in, and a perfect way to relax even in a tin can flying through the void. Anybody who stays in a Luxury Cabin heals one more DV when healing naturally, and heals one more SV from all sources. This limits the amount of space a ship devotes to passengers and crew, however. Installing it halves the normal passenger capacity. [Expensive]

MARINES MODULE
Marines, sometimes called "Security" or "Tactical" personnel are not uncommon on military or police ships - and may be utilized by pirates or militias. They provide internal security and can be used to board and interdict other ships. This mod increases a ship's passenger capacity by 12, by adding space for up to 12 marines to bunk and keep their equipment and be ready to move at a moment's notice. However, these quarters are cramped and spartan, and staying in them for long periods may cause Stress tests. Can be combined with a Hangar Bay to store Battlesuits or other vehicles for the marines to use and deploy in combat. A ship must be SIL 3 or higher to install this modification. For each SIL over 3, a ship may install this modification an additional time, adding more space for another 12 marines for each new purchase. [Expensive]

MEDICAL SUITE
Due to the nature of space travel, medical emergencies usually come with other problems, but it's possible to get serious injuries in long-haul flights or daring maneuvers. In this case, it's good to install the Medical Suite. This comes with at least one Healing Vat (more in larger ships), a set of pharmaceutical makers with common medical blueprints, an exam room with diagnostic equipment, and a fully-robotic surgery suite. It even comes equipped with a standard medical AI which can provide basic medical instructions and attention. In a pinch, it can also double as a coronary and forensic pathology lab. Installing this reduces passenger capacity by 10% (Min 1). [Expensive]

MILITARY TARGETING COMPUTER
Civilian spec ships do not typically come with weapons, and even when weapons are installed, they do not normally have the same equipment used to target and coordinate those guns. This can be solved with some (expensive, illegal) modifications. This makes sure to add appropriate gunsight cameras, configure sensors for proper range-finding and a variety of other features to make sure added guns can be as accurate as possible. Using a Military Targeting Computer adds a +10 to all Gunnery checks to use mounted weapons, similar to a Smartlink system. Most military ships come with this already installed. [Expensive]

MULTIPURPOSE ARM
Since the Fall "spaceships with hands" makes some people wary, ships can benefit from an extendable armature. This mod installs a flexible arm onto the ship, of appropriate length and scale for the size of the ship. The arm can fold up and stow inside the ship. The end of the arm can have a variety of relevant attachments for for it. It can be a gripping arm to grasp cargo, debris for salvage or EVA morphs, it can be a large cutting arm for salvage or boarding, drilling or excavator arms for digging or a winch arm for towing, and more. Some have even modified the arm to hold a gun, but this is wildly inefficient. [Moderate]

ONBOARD RESOURCE REFINEMENT
Space travel is fairly time consuming, and by it's nature requires physical resources - which are finite. To better manage these resources, some ships are equipped with onboard facilities to gather and process resources, which are gathered via external workers or drones. This facilities include both fabricators and conventional technology to process various materials, such as prepare or refine many types of fuel, process or recycle additional oxygen, seperate organics and even grow plants or clone meats, and process raw metals and rocks into more usable, pure materials. Other than intake, refinement is mostly automated and runs at all time power is available, but does not fabricate finished products, just the refined materials. Ships can use this to repair and refuel, or even just as part of normal trade or resource gathering for the hab. Some ships are already installed with these facilities. Installing this reduces passenger capacity by 25% (Min 1). [Expensive]

PHYSICAL COUNTERMEASURES
Even in this advanced computer age, physical deterrents still work for many offensive or even sensor systems. This modification installs launchers which can release flares, chaff and decoys to throw off guided weapons of several varieties and targeting systems. Releasing Flares is usually a Free Action. These countermeasures add a -30 to all guided weapon attacks (such as Seekers) and removes the benefits for using Smartlinks/Homing Ammo for the rest of the Action Turn. It may also add penalties of -10 to -30 to certain sensor tests for the rest of the Action Turn. A ship holds a number of uses of Countermeasures equal to it's Silhouette x10. Restocking flares is a cost of [Low] per 10. [Moderate]

PIRATE BROADCAST ARRAY
Governments and corporations will engage in certain broad area jamming or radio censorship to block certain information from getting out or in. They may also take over certain frequencies for government use. To combat this, criminals and anti-establishment types often use pirate radio, and specifically use specialized radio arrays. This modification installs a large, high-definition radio array. This array automatically scans radio frequencies for ones which are opened and not jammed or blocked, and can boost its own signal to push through jamming or weaker signals it picks up. It also has directional, tight beam radio and laser communicators for more covert comms. The array also has tools to decrypt and listen in on military and government frequencies. In a pinch, this system can also hook up to QE comms or neutrino farcasting rigs, but this has it's own practical concerns. [Expensive]

RAM SCOOP
Aka, a "Bussard Collector", this system long proposed by sci-fi authors and rocket scientists, is finally practical in the AF 10 period. This system involves a large collection scoop on the front or sides of the craft intended to draw in hydrogen or other particles in the vacuum for conversion into fuel. Interstellar hydrogen is rare, but it can be gathered in amounts near gas giants or just in areas of the solar system (or other solar systems for gatecrashing vehicles). The scale requirements to indefinitely power a ship are mind-boggling (multiple hundreds or thousands km across), so instead most ships install this as an efficiency measure, extending their operation time and lowering their operational budget. Ram Scoops work best powering MH or Fusion-based ships, but could theoretically pull oxygen or other gasses from an actual planetary body as well. How much efficiency a ship gets from a scoop depends on where it travels and at what rate. [Moderate]

REDUNDANT SUBSYSTEMS
Ships are very delicate things, and can be destroyed or disabled with very small amounts of damage to the right places. To combat this, some ships who experience rough conditions regularly (often combat) will install redundant failsafes and systems in excess of the typical safety measures to harden the ship and make it more reliable. This means minor damages to specific systems will be less likely to cause failures or detract from normal ship operations. This modification increases the ship's Wound Threshold by 2. It also grants Hardware: Aerospace tests to repair the ship a +10. [High]

REINFORCED SECURITY
For many people, spaceships are their livelihood. This means getting them damaged or stolen is a serious risk, as ships can be quite an investment. For this case, their owners may enhance the security of their ship. This modification hardens airlocks, improving their AV and DUR by 25%. It safeguards major passages with portal denial systems, and may integrate bug zappers. The exterior of the ship incorporates at least one lockbot unit to protect the entry way. Additionally, to start up the ship requires passing an electronic authorization, usually biometric or token-based, but sometimes a keycode. Wireless networks are also shielded and guarded from the outside. [Expensive]

SHIP CYBERBRAIN
Like most devices, a spacecraft has a sufficient computer system to run an AI or infomorph in its computers. However, this may not be particularly comfortable place for infomorphs for an extended journey. In this case, ship crews will install a Ship Cyberbrain. This system is somewhere between a normal cyberbrain and a Habitat Cyberbrain in power. The Ship Cyberbrain allows certain levels of parallel processing, allowing up to two Multitasking implants. Operating such a brain is somewhere between jamming a vehicle and sleeving into a habitat, including allowing access to appropriate junctions of a Habitat brain where relevant. A ship can install multiple brains to house multiple infomorphs. [Expensive]

SMUGGLING COMPARTMENT
A common modification, known to smugglers everywhere. This hides compartments in the normal cargo space of the ship to make them hard to find. This does not increase the cargo capacity of a ship, just gives it spaces to hide it's cargo. These compartments are at a -30 to detect, and even if found may be secured. [Low]

SOLAR SHIELDING
Modification to the external plating of a ship designed to make it more durable in high-temperature conditions, notably relatively near the Sun or other stars. This modification drastically improves the the heat-resistance of the ship, roughly equivalent to solar adapted morphs such as the Sundiver. It includes magnetic shielding as well as heat absorption and radiation systems. This also gives the ship +10 armor against energy attacks only. [Expensive]

SUBMERSIBLE
Despite many comparisons between the two, spacecraft are not submarines. Containing atmosphere against low pressure of vacuum is a different engineering question than preventing high pressure conditions from crushing objects of lower pressure. However, conditions may arise where a ship wishes to enter a body of water, or a high-pressure atmosphere such as of a gas giant. This modification greatly strengthens the structure of the ship to resist higher pressures than normal, to a maximum of 100 atm of pressure. It also installs limited Submarine mobility systems to move while underwater. This can be installed multiple times to increase the tolerance by 100 atm, to a maximum of 1,000 atm of pressure. [High]

SURVEYOR SUITE
This modification installs a set of planetology based sensors for surveying asteroids and planetoid objects, commonly for mining or exploring ships. It includes ground penetrating radar, a variety of spectroscopy sensors and many other methods. It also has internal lab equipment to analyze samples gathered. This can accurately detect the composition of bodies, gas clouds and other materials. It can also map both surface terrain and sub-surface areas and convert them into digital maps via normal mapping software. This is like using the mapping software, and will produce analysis of temperature, topography, elements and radiation, etc. As usual, the Surveyor Suite usually requires a dedicated AI or crewman to operate properly. [Moderate]

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hunter-Killer Grenades

Hunter-Killer Grenades: Also known as HK grenades or "spider grenades", this modification to the normal grenade is a curious and insidious one. Related to Smart Mines (p. 163 X-Risks), but much more portable and flexible, this system is basically a little four-legged drone which can mount a standard grenade to it. This enables the grenade to be moved around and placed without just needing to throw it, and more precision than seekers at close range. The drone can walk up walls using grip pad material, and can detonate via any normal grenade methods, and be controlled either by a primitive AI or by remote. This AI can be told to do a variety of things, such as "search and destroy", move to specific locations, wait for someone to approach, etc. Additionally, due to the grip materials, the HK grenade doubles as a Sticky Grenade. [Low], plus Payload cost.

Activating a HK grenade is as simple as triggering a regular grenade. Just dropping one on the floor is a Simple Action, but throwing it is an attack roll as normal. The drone then moves at a rate of 4 meters per round, and detonates when it is triggered remotely or otherwise meets it's detonation condition. If attempting to latch on to a specific person or object, the Grenade can make one Unarmed check to grapple per Action Turn at a rating of 40. One can shoot an HK grenade, and they do not dodge, but do count as Very Small targets (-30). Dealing any amount of DV to the drone will cause it to explode where it is currently. The drone is armed with a basic microphone and 360 camera to navigate with. The drone only has enough battery life for 24 hours, and then will need to be replaced or linked to wi-tricity.

HK grenades are not necessarily more effective than throwing regular or sticky grenades, but are more intimidating, and offer more opportunities to be clever. Some one perfectly skilled in lobbing grenades will not get much use out of them, but those who set traps or maybe need some help getting grenades on target may find them useful. Due to their propensity for use in sabotage or covert attacks, HK Grenades are illegal in most habs.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Case TARKIN DOCTRINE

Cetus
Type: Artificial Satellite
Primary Star: M3V (Red Dwarf)
Gravity: .75 g
Length: 2,500 km
Atmospheric Pressure: 1.5 atm
Atmospheric Composition: 2% Water Vapor, 3% Methane, 10% Carbon Dioxide, 15% Oxygen, 68% Nitrogen, 2% Argon
Temperature (Mean): 2 C
Day Length: N/A
Orbital Period: Variable
Satellite Of : Jonah
Gate Access: Cinder Gate

The short version is: We know what Cetus is. Questions of who, why and how elude us. And we're not entirely sure we want to know. The Cetus Gate was discovered by a routine check of library addresses for the Cinder operation, to ensure that nothing particularly dangerous was waiting just a quick wormhole away. While Cetus is probably very dangerous, it's probably too large to come through the gate. Initial reports indicated the discovery of an artificial structure, a bit like Wormwood, but this one clearly artificial. The walls were formed of some exotic polymers and carbon nanomaterials. It also seemed to indicate a gravitic force like a small terrestrial planet, and has an oppressive, humid atmosphere (which is, in turn, toxic to humans by default). The first assumption was that it was a structure built by an alien species to hold the gate. This both is, and isn't true. Long periods of scouting using drones and sensors have indicated what Cetus really is. This was confirmed by a scout team of Sentinels who were not pleased by what they saw, and several of them requested to be restored from backup after the mission. Firewall has classified this as Case TARKIN DOCTRINE. 
The long version is that Cetus is like a thing out of an old twencen sci-fi series. It appears to be a massive "ship" or artificial satellite, a couple thousand kilometers long (meaning it would cover a noticeable chunk of small planets like Mercury). And what this ship does is, for lack of a better term, eat planetoids. The sentinel team discovered this by finding what appears to be an observational window on the fore of the ship, and witnessed it's process. Currently consuming a dwarf planet Firewall has codenamed "Jonah", Cetus was named after the legendary sea monster (despite the fact that astronomically, it does not appear to be anywhere neat the constellation, Cetus). The ship is roughly cylindrical, with one end forming a giant "mouth", and the other end is a narrower port which seems to function for ejection. Exact details are hard to get however, as there does not appear to be a way to access the exterior from the passages connected to the gate, or the central span running through the ship. These interior passages almost seem like they were created by an organic algorithm, and seem to have some kind of arterial function - but nothing passes through them except the dense atmosphere. They have variable size, the largest being 4 or more meters across and roughly tubular in their own right, others are smaller than one meter and have undulating interior surfaces. The polymers the ship's interior is made from inhibit penetrating sensors, including X-rays, though passive electrical sense indicates some kind of power infrastructure which moves through the area around the tunnels. 
How it works, though, is probably the most unnerving (read: terrifying). As far as can be told through the observation windows and sensors, Cetus is powered by some kind of exotic gravitational drive. It latches onto and eats planets via a gravitic bessel beam technology, not dissimilar to the alien bots Firewall has been calling "Slouches" but on a much larger scale. It generates a shearing force in excess of the planetoid's own gravity and simply begins drawing up pieces of it's crust and then interior. Once inside the core axis, Cetus seems to seperate out what it wants, burning it as fuel or otherwise storing it, then matter it isn't interested in is discarded out the rear via repulsion beams. Since exterior instrumentation is not available, we can only make minimal optical guesses but it looks like Cetus prefers volatiles, rare metals and carbon compounds. The ejecta appears to be, oddly enough; radioactives, noble gasses, and certain metalloids, as well as other compounds we can't identify. Cetus appears to be able to propel itself through a combination of riding "tides" of gravity and somehow pushing itself using it's own manipulation. It's gravitic axis is also evenly cylindrical - even if you stood on the front, you'd be pulled down (or "up" if you were on the apparent underside) toward the center. Best guess for how the gate came to be inside it is that one of the bodies it "ate" had a Gate on it, and as we know they are particularly hard to destroy. The gate is almost like a parasite, or an infection on the interior of the craft. 
Details of Cetus' age, construction, creators and so on are all a mystery. Based on what can be seen from "observation windows" in the surface, there are several debris fields in this solar system which could be consumed planets - as many as four or five, depending on their size. From this range and our limited windows of observation, there also appears to be a partially destroyed terrestrial planet, possibly of previously Earthlike dimension, closer to the star, in what might have been a habitable region. It does appear, based on simulations of the debris clouds, that Cetus has a limited speed at which it can impulse itself around the system and has a cap on how much power it can use - this means that it probably cannot easily jump itself out of the system, nor defy conventional physics to arrive in another solar system in a timely manner. Based on this projected speed, it has been in this solar system for a few centuries. This, of course, makes the question of how it got into it's system a bit of a mystery nobody particularly wants to answer. Nor do we want to know how Cetus knows where to "feed" next. It has no wireless transmissions or any particular readings which indicate a central intelligence point or command center. And the only thing audible inside the ship itself is the steady, pulsing thrum of the bessel engine working. Firewall has developed several contingency plans should Cetus or any new subjects for Case TARKIN DOCTRINE be found to be an imminent threat. This might be hard, however, as the exterior is projected to be very hardened and the gravitic drive seems to warp local gravity which might deflect projectile energy. 
In conclusion, Cetus is existentially terrifying, but unlikely to cause any Transhumans other than my research team any serious problems - it's just further evidence we're small fish in a very, very large pond, and Cetus probably isn't anywhere close to the biggest fish. 
Though some of my pragmatics colleagues on Cinder have wondered if a TITAN world-brain project like Iapetus seemed to be would be able to do much vs a TARKIN DOCTRINE subject...
-Blue Mab, Firewall Crow

SIDEBAR: TARKIN DOCTRINE SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT
OP NECRONOMICON EYES ONLY
Well, it cost us a few asyncs and some resources, but the little "think tank" circle operation was a success - in a sense. We've got new intel about Cetus which might be useful. For opsec the six members brought in will use codenames, Alpha through Zeta. 
Gamma was the most immediately helpful, probably should have tipped me off. He was able to make predictions about the pattern of the arterial passages which we verified with mapping drones. He also said that it seemed like the structure was based on a mathematical principle, but not an original one, it was mimicking something else. No way to prove it, but might be relevant. He said he was going to try and walk the passages to see if there were any more clues. Could hours later we lost his signal. Turns out he smuggled in a plasma cutter and tried to get into the walls. All that was left was a blackened corpse, just a carbonized shell. We didn't tell him we knew it had a self-defense mechanism like a bug zapper. 
Alpha was the most cryptic. She kept touching the walls with her bare hands, speaking in bad poetry. Something about how Cetus would eat the stars, and through it flowed the blood of planets and it being a life-drinker or something. She seemed to think Cetus was partially organic, or had an organic mind in it. Well, she called it a soul but claimed it was something she could sense, psionically. Unfortunately somebody else will have to pick her stack for more details, as after a while she seemed to break. She got a nosebleed and started ranting about the "Worldeater's brood" and that it's sire would come hunting for those who "bled it" and it "feasted on civilizations melancholia". Since she was getting violent and disturbing the other operatives, security dropped her and took her back to the gate. 
Beta and Zeta weren't very helpful, but at least stayed reasonable. I guess this was outside their normal areas of expertise. They marveled a lot at Cetus symmetry though, but also on it's non-symmetrical portion. I'm not sure how much is supposition and how much was Psi, but they both agreed it was probable that Cetus was designed, at least, by an organic race or if it was built by an alien AI, they were clearly mimicking something known to their own creators. Possibly something aquatic? They couldn't agree between themselves if it was some kind of war-machine or just a ludicrous mining drone. 
Delta has straight up vanished. Security has been advised to treat them as a risk if they run into Delta. Supplies in particular are being closely watched. I expect drones will find a corpse in a few days unless they can acquire some water. What exactly was Delta's MOS again?
Epsilon stayed close to me most of my survey. She insisted on telepathically linking to me, and it was an... unusual experience. Never felt like that outside of infomorph working groups. Her insights flowing straight to my mind helped me concept some things, but I think she was probing for something from me as well. I lost track of her while disposing of Gamma's body. Last we got was a transmission which appeared to emerge from the core axis, where the gravitic beam was. The message was about as useful as "my god it's full of stars" and is cut off part way - we think she was destroyed by gravitic shear. I've had forensic drones trying to find out how she accessed the core area, something we haven't been able to do, but have so far not been able to find any sign of her. It was progress in a sense, but I can't figure out what data she had to make it on her own. Do I have it and just don't know it?
I think I need some time off the case, too. I've been dreaming about Epsilon. She tries to speak to me, but I can't understand her - it's like we're trying to talk underwater. Last night, I took some stuff which is supposed to help make dreams lucid - I tried to speak back. But when I did, I tasted the liquid we were in, it tasted like blood. I still couldn't understand, or be understood. Don't know what it means. Then my dream got esoteric: I dreamed of sharks made of starlight swimming through the Milky Way. Their stomachs were singularities, and their teeth were plasma. They kept swimming, devouring all the smaller, more sedentary fish they came across. Only the fish were alien worlds, with architecture and technology like I'd never seen. But they could not stop, because something was hunting them. The only thing I can think about the dream is "What the fuck scares sharks?"
-Blue Mab, Firewall Crow

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Neo-Shinto

As discussed previously, Shinto is a spiritual and religious practice native to Japan, which has stayed with Japanese cultures in the diaspora through the System and perhaps a bit beyond, as it has some applications which are considered more "cultural" than "religious. However, similar to the Buddhism it is sometimes syncretized with, there have been evolutions of thought and belief connected to Shinto, especially where technology is concerned. While small, these new belief strains have interesting interpretations which may have more interest and concern for Firewall.

Neo- or Techno-Shinto strongly integrates areas of technology, like many new strains or iterations of beliefs. Shinto itself has little commentary on technology, with some folklore saying kami dislike machines or electricity. This is most common in Japanese community clusters in the Outer System, and with AI and Infomorph groups as it promotes AI rights and fair treatment. Firstly, Techno-Shinto theorizes that much as kami personify the energy of natural phenomena, they too may also embody phenomena shaped by man - as we can alter the environment and create new natural order. To this end, an AI is akin to an artificial kami, the spirit which inhabits a system or aspect of the "natural" or artificial order of transhuman life. To get things done, one should be polite, respectful to AI and even make them appropriate offerings to put them at peace (though obviously many ALI are happy simply to perform their accorded tasks). To install an AI into something is to bridge the gap between technology and spirituality, to personify an item and it's natural energy and give it a way to interact with transhumankind. More complex and larger systems require more complex and higher order AI, akin to great features and natural phenomena having more potent and sacred kami. Mutterings about "machine spirits" is probably just an old joke.

Resleeving is a natural process of finding the Ego a new home, much like a spirit can be given a home in a shrine. Occupying the same space where an AI can go reinforced that the Ego can become more divine, and ultimately human minds and the divine spirit of the kami can be one and the same. So, resleeving and even instancing as an Infomorph is acceptable, even encouraged. Artificial bodies are shaped by humans controlling nature's rules to advance themselves. This can even extend to an approval of terraforming, nano-ecology and Reclaiming of Earth. Because it is relatively recent, however, actually identifying any Egos who have reached a "divine state" is still in the process of identification and distillation - for now it is one aspect of an evolving belief system.

Cleanliness and purification are still important to this belief system, but also includes mental and "digital" cleanliness. Perhaps drawn from how many members are infomorphs or AGI specifically, attitudes on mental health take cues from infosec thinking, due to familiarity with the risks of brain-hacking. Damaging or subverting AIs and Egos is an unclean and unholy act, and security methods and updates have almost ritual significance. Scorchers and other viral programs are also unclean of thought. Psychosurgery to cleanse stress, unwanted memories or "unnatural" thoughts and behaviors is similarly encouraged and to be performed with reverence. Firewalls and defensive programs are akin to charms and rituals. DRM is viewed akin to religious mysteries - it might be discouraged but is not outright antithetical. All of this blends to a very odd strain of thought to most outsiders, and even some insiders trying to grasp underlying beliefs. Their views on "classical" kami remain much the same, though many of them feel obliged to investigate "sacred bodies", and several Techno-Shinto philosophers have emigrated to the Sun as a result.

To Firewall, this nigh-deification of increasingly more powerful AI systems can be seen as dangerous. While they officially seem to regard the TITANs and their various physical and digital infection vectors in an almost satanic light, there is still risk from ASI if mishandled. Rumors abound that they have an ASI system, such as a Sibyl or Promethean class unit swarm the Eye. Their beliefs can also be shifted close to Techno-Creationist thinkers, if one continues the trend that a powerful AI is akin to a God, then perhaps the gods were powerful AIs? This is a thorny issue as well for many Sentinels and Proxies. Investigation of Neo-Shintoists is not easy, due to their small size, often remote communities and their emphasis on information security. Initial passes seem mostly harmless, however, an evolving train of thought which seeks to reconcile the spiritual and the technological - and man's place in an increasingly "unnatural" order.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shinto

Shinto ("way of the gods") is the indigenous spirituality or religion of Japan. It is a broad religion focusing on many ritual practices which many of the Japanese people participate in even if they do not belong to formal sects. It can be used to effectively refer to all "native" Japanese spirituality as opposed to external influences, such as Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. Koshinto ("Old Shinto") is a subset which refers to pre-Buddhist beliefs mostly taken from even more ancient indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan practices. It's practices are focused on the kami, spiritual or divine entities which represent the phenomena of nature, who are said to be many and are linked to physical places and elements such as rocks and trees. The way or path of the kami is the natural order of things, and through it humans should find the right way to live; with purity, sincerity and honesty.

Many of these beliefs and concepts are deeply cultural to various Japanese clades throughout the Solar System, even if they do not identify as explicitly religious. Wherever you go and find people of a Japanese background, language or cultural influence aspects of these beliefs such as certain festivals, rituals or various charms and amulets persist. Elements of Shinto and Buddhism are syncretized, contributing to the spread and retention of these elements among broader practitioners. And of course, most media libraries have complete versions of the historical works of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.

Shrines are considered to be a physical home for the kami, and a place where humans may connect with them to understand them and gain their blessing. As such, the Fall is said to have been quite disruptive to religious practices and destroyed several shrines. Famous replicas have been built many places, such as on Luna or Mars, in the hope of granting many famous and important deities "new" homes. As on Earth, most of these are private institutions who rely on the congregation or other visitors to remain solvent. Japanese communities will use these shrines as a focus for many cultural festivals. There are quite a few Japanese settlements on Mars, and even some nomads of Japanese ancestry who also may practice elements of harmony with nature and ritual purity, and speak to kami they feel dwell in quite a few of Mars' natural landmarks. "Superstitions" and traditions of respect for nature and the terrain have even bled into some groups not of a Japanese cultural origin. Europa's unique landscape and Japanese influence has also led to similar practices arising. The belief that the most senior and important deity in Japan is solar does not hinder such practices.

Various talismans and amulets, too, remain popular. Shrines and shrine replicas are swamped with ema (wishes), usually by refugees and indentures. Personal amulets (Omamori) are available at your local shrine or Japanese cultural goods store, with the best being handmade and digital amulets (written with digital calligraphy) of lesser quality - and are carried by all manner of individuals who seek protection and good fortune. It was also common to integrate aspects of shrines into homes and other structures, including shrines on top of office buildings. Thus, household shrines are still common, and it is rare to find an operation run by Go-Nin which does not feature a sizable and functional shrine - usually to Inari or the Eight Lucky Gods. Some would say this is further evidence Go-Nin is "behind the times". Street gangs and mercenary groups of a Japanese background will also often use symbolism of the war god Hachiman or the storm god Susano-o.

Beliefs on the afterlife in Shinto are somewhat muddled and dependant on historical periods, and due to syncretism with Buddhism, most are content to follow some understanding of reincarnation, which makes resleeving an acceptable practice. Alternatively, it is felt that one only spends a short time in the land of the dead before being revived. Aspects of resurrection and apotheosis pervade Shinto, so finding a new morph can be seen as simply finding a new home for one's spirit on the path to becoming more divine. Those who practice or simply live near shrines will find their names etched as "family kami" should they permanently die, and they may be honored there or in household shrines. Dead bodies are unclean, however, and so tend to be disposed of with appropriate thoroughness. Those with sufficient piety and time will even perform proper funeral rituals to dispose of a previous morph and pray that any "uncleanliness" leaves the Ego when they are revived. Due to folklore that spirits do not care for machinery and electronics, Synthmorphs are not often the first choice of any practicing Shintoist, but only the most hardline bioconservative shrines bar Synths from entering their grounds. To counteract this belief, pious synthmorphs may even integrate elements of amulets or portable shrines into their shells. 


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Power Glove

Skinlink (p. 309 EP) is a wonderful but relatively new technology, using skin-deep nanobots to instantly build wired connections when one touches a device. This is relatively free of interference, and can be highly covert. However, installing such nanoware can be expensive, and may be prohibited in certain polities. It's also not very secure, as far as covert operative go - a direct wired connection into one's morph can be very dangerous when interfacing with advanced computer systems, such as those subverted by the TITANs. Use of skinlink also raises thorny questions of forensic science, possibly leaving fingerprints, skin cells or other trace evidence which can mean the need for an expensive morph swap. Luckily, similar to Fractal Gloves, there is an external hardware solution for those who are security conscious. 

Power Glove: Also called the "skinlink glove", this is basically a smart material glove that forms a wearable version of Skinlink, allowing the user to build a wired interface to a device simply by touching it. The glove then contains an interface on the back which can be wired in to Access Jacks or a Dummy Barrier, or create a wireless signal like a Grey Box. The glove has it's own power source, and thus can also double as a Shock Glove (p. 334 EP), though the glove itself may not come as a pair. Because the Glove is a device, it may be outfitted with it's own AI or security software to act as an additional layer between the user and the computer system, an can be disposed of if needed. [Low]

These gloves aren't common among your typical hackers or computer operators - they usually just spring for the Skinlink and trust in their skills. Instead, you see Power Gloves in the hands of operatives working highly sensitive and "hot" operations, like Firewall Sentinels, or in the hands of those who work for groups or governments which do not usually authorize costly nanoware in their agents, such as various Jovian intelligence agencies. Arming an operative with full-body nanoware is costly and hard to reverse, but a Power Glove can be thrown away if needed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Freezing Foam Grenade

The Freezer (p. 341 EP) is a pretty common weapon platform for crowd control, less-lethal action and generally trying to make sure people don't bother you. Their main drawbacks are that they are somewhat bulky, being two-handed, and they have a somewhat limited range of effect, at best working at up to 50 yards. But, the quick-hardening foam they use is a relatively in-expensive chemical compound, and can be re-packaged into other delivery systems with relative ease for additional options.

Freezing Foam Grenade: A type of grenade or seeker loaded with an aerosolized variant of the same quick-hardening foam used in a Freezer. When it detonates, it sprays the foam in a wide area, causing all in that area to need to make REF x3 tests or become trapped and unable to move, and makes this at a -30 if the attacker scored an Excellent Success. Like normal, the foam is permeable and allows those stuck to breathe if covered, but will block vision. Similar to a regular freezer, the grenade may also be laced with a contact toxin or drug to affect the targets, though many find Splash or Gas grenades more effective in that regard. Unlike a Freezer however, the grenade is too haphazard and short-lived to use to construct barricades or cover using the foam. The foam degrades over a period of 12 hours like normal. [Low]

Freezing Foam Grenades see a lot of use loaded as anti-riot rounds in large seeker weapons on vehicles, or occasionally as an alternate for Ego Hunters or cops to other methods of suppressing groups. They also make handy booby traps with various grenade triggers, and have the advantage of keeping the target around to examine or interrogate later. They might also be scaled appropriately and used from significant range to trap and disable armored vehicles which resist conventional projectiles, but paralyze their weapon and mobility systems. Due to their non-lethal nature, they're fairly easy to procure in most polities. Some people do not necessarily understand the nature of the grenade - and people have mistaken them for fire suppressants at inopportune times. The fact that the foam is not air tight means it does little to stifle most fires.