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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Space suits in Vast Worlds are a fact of every day life, and like any device that is used by a lot of people in commercial applications it has undergone some serious changes from the rather primitive suits of the early twenty first century. Survivability, manageability and ease of use, all have been improved massively and as your suit is the difference between life and death in any dangerous situation, people just don’t skimp on these pieces of kit.

Most ships will have two to three types of suit onboard: fight suits, vac’ suits, and re-entry suits, and there is also a fourth common suit called an environmental.

Flight suits are the commonest type. Simple gas bags with internal reinforcement they are worn at all times while in vacuum in case the ship suddenly loses pressure. If this happens, seals will clamp down at the wrists and ankles and the occupant has ten seconds[1] to put on a helmet. Because on larger ships you may be a significant distance from a helmet the suits also have the equivalent of a plastic bag in the collar which can be pulled up and pressurised[2], though it is advised you get a proper helmet on as soon as possible as the bag helmets are prone to popping. Gloves and pressure boots are also advisable, but you have a minute or too to put these on before losing functionality so they are less vital.

Fight suits generally only have an hour or twos worth of oxygen and have no facilities for temperature control or extended use. Hence, they can not be used for more than a half hour in hard vacuum, but in a depressurised ship they can function for more than long enough to get all the holes fixed.

For external work most ships will carry vacuum suits, also know as hard suits[3], these are generally much bulkier than flight suits and designed for extended periods of hard vacuum. On board radiators, several hours of oxygen, manoeuvring jets and safety lines are all pretty much standard, and most will also have additional add-ons like inbuilt toolboxes and heads up displays. They do require quite a bit of training to be operated effectively however, so generally the only people to use hard suits are mechanics fixing something on the outside of the ship, and increasingly civilian ships are being designed so that they can be fixed from the inside.

Re-entry suits are similar to hard suits in form, but wildly different in function. As can probably be inferred from their name these suits are designed to safely enter an atmosphere from orbital velocities, and they consequently are used as the space age equivalent of lifeboats. Most are quite simple, boasting only an ablative heat shield and a basic parachute. The more complicated will control your entire descent and feature a reusable shield and the sporty models actually have nanofiber wings to allow for a little extreme entertainment on the way down.

Environmental suits cover the occasions where you have anything but vacuum on the outside. Spacesuits are notorious for springing leaks, seizing up and generally attempting to kill you if you try and use them in anything but vacuum or normal atmospheric conditions so environmental suits fill the void. Just what they are hardened against varies very much on where they are being used but the more general protections are against high pressures[4] and corrosive conditions[5].


[1] This varies depending on the rate of atmosphere loss.

[2] Ironically they are required by law to have a danger of suffocation notice on them.

[3] Whether they are hard because they have a supporting exoskeleton, or actually rely on skin tight panelling to avoid depressurisation is very much a design feature.

[4] E.g. Formahalt

[5] Venus.

Cybernetics

Technically, cybernetics is defined as any human machine interface, from leaver to neural implant. For Vast Worlds, cybernetics generally refers to the wiring of the nervous system into machines, these ‘Wired’ people as they are known, can have a wide range of abilities depending on just what they have been enhanced with. Broadly speaking cybernetic implants boil down to three broad categories.

Communication: The ability to send or receive information from a computer and this can be as simple as having a mouse tracker in your finger. Generally though cybernetics are a little more complicated, with systems wired into the nervous system, a virtual keyboard that responds to twitching certain muscles, or thoughts in the brain, for example. At higher levels of development[1] these systems become highly integrated, with some having the equivalent of entire limbs worth of neurons dedicated to their cybernetic enhancements.

The lead in 2100, Hawk, has a primitive version of this kind of interface, being wired directly into the ships radar. This gives him an unparalleled level of perception of the surrounding space and, with a few other systems controlled cybernetically, his reaction times are visibly shorter. While he is already a pretty damn good pilot, this pushes him into the near supernatural band for the era[2].

Conjugation: Wired with these types of implants can, at any level substitute their own thinking for an artificial source. This can be as simple as a calculator implanted in the wrist, to entire data farms dedicated to powering your thought processes[3] and individuals with the latter are scarily smart. People with conjugative implants tend to react faster than their unaugmented fellows, make more logical decisions and push the boundaries of what is physically possible. Later in the timeline, conjugative implants become pivotal to becoming successful in society, and form a critical class boundary which, not surprisingly, leads to serious social tensions with the highly Wired[4] being outnumbered hundreds of thousands to one.

Augmentation: Also by a dictionary definition, this should apply to all cybernetic implants, but tends to be used as a term for the physical alterations that are wired in. These are just as varied as the neurological implants, ranging from replacement limbs, to artificial wing sets and full firearms. Most augmentations are low key, and run off body heat (though sometimes glucose or other such chemicals) so it is rare to see someone who it obviously a cyborg. Due to physical limitations of the rest of the body, all but total cybernetic reconstructions tend to be close to the human norm[5] so you will not see someone able to throw cars; you may find people able to throw you. There are unaugmented that can throw people however, but they will generally look like they can toss you like a rag doll, whereas a good augmentation will be very low key and take you completely by surprise.

Naturally, none of these states exists in isolation, and the more heavily Wired will have a mix of all three types of implants, giving some abilities far beyond the human baseline[6]. However, implants are almost universally costly, partly because of the invasive surgery you need to install pretty much anything, and partly because they are kept purposely elite by those who don’t want the masses boosting their intelligence. Hence, after a while, you get the 2200-2400 situation where people with implants control the money and the information, while everyone else is forced to make do with the table scraps. Rebellion is pretty much inevitable, especially seeing how small the highly Wired group actually is, and this is one of the many reasons for the End Time Wars.

Over the years there are many attempts to make super soldiers out of Wired and these projects are almost universally a success, but then collapse shortly after someone looks at the budget report. By several international conventions it is illegal to force someone to become wired as part of their job, though that rarely stops people accepting implants to receive a higher salary and quite a few of the more legendary pilots were Wired to a greater or lesser degree.

Random Fact: By 2400 over ten percent of the universal population are wired to some extent. Of this group, only one percent is however, considered wired enough to be part of the upper class.

Authors Note: Cybernetics in Vast Worlds are kind of like sports cars. They do exist, but the average person comes into contact with them on a fairly irregular basis. That said, while stories about the everyman of the street tend to be entertaining in their own way, most of the really interesting characters are anything but regular. In my stories certainly you will see a high incidence of exceptional people, though that includes both the good guys and bad. Still, what do you prefer, a normal person succeeding against all odds, or an augmented human struggling against something far greater?


[1] It’s pretty hard to pin down cybernetics to any particular era as, moving along the timeline, more people have the lower end stuff while the elite have an even greater technological advantage.

[2] Most of his more Wired descendents would see the stunts as child’s play, but they come from a time when being Wired and flying a ship is practically synonymous.

[3] In 2400 there are around one individual per million who’s brain only accounts for a fraction of their total thought capacity. Their forerunners are generally thought to have transcended organic possessing entirely and become the AIs, though anyone who tries to reach this lofty goal now finds themselves quietly lobotomised.

[4] So called LTFs (less than fifty [percent of their thinking power originating in their own brain])

[5] And some cheep prosthetics are actually less useful than the human default.

[6] A little elaboration here would be helpful. Cybernetics can be incredible powerful, but only within human design limits, not to mention the design limits of the implant itself. To quote comic books, good cybernetics would probably give you Batman level abilities, better than most, but not supernatural, and still just as vulnerable to a bullet to the head as everyone else. Top of the line stuff might get you to Spiderman levels of dodging gunfire and performing impossible acrobatics. Above that anything would be just custom work and you’d at best become a walking tank, which does raise the question, why not just buy a tank? At least then you could take it off after a hard day doing whatever it is you do with a tank. There are also a few issues legally with you being physically able to punch someone’s head off their neck.

Big update that doesn’t divide well coming Friday. Check back them.

Computer troubles, so I’m going to do a little on Bugs.

In the future computers will be exponentially more powerful than today’s computers, this is the current trend and Moore’s law doesn’t look like its going to run out anytime soon. However, this does not particularly imply that computers become easier to use, or more useful, and one thing that people tend to forget is that computer viruses also become more and more dangerous.

Bugs are the first sign of viruses becoming intelligent. Well, intelligent is a strong word, but as computers become powerful enough and gain enough memory to hide complex programs the first learning virus comes into being. These spread across the world like wildfire, as the existing anti-virus software was woefully inadequate to deal with a worm that could rapidly adapt itself into any static defence. Fortunately for the world at large the first Bug was by a script kiddie, who didn’t really think to include anything malicious in the code but it gave the world a scare and new breeds of active virus defence software hit the market in under a month.

This almost wasn’t soon enough, but even with the quick fixes the virus were still getting into a lot a systems and the next generation of Bugs began to combine their stolen processing power to generate even more exotic methods of system entry. Again this disaster was averted[1] by the timely invention of a distributed computing network to create vaccines to the viruses. But there in lies the war between the Bugs and the vaccines as every time a computer is liberated from the Bugs another falls due to another clever Bug overcoming a flaw.

A good chunk of the world’s computing power is tied up in this way, and this does reduce computers usability. It also poses a problem to anyone wanting to use computers on their space ship as you are separated from the ground based protection by your latency, but not from viral attack. This is generally countered by draconian firewalls and limited communications, and is why ground control and telemetry have become a thing of the past.

As a point of interest the Bugs in the late twenty second century started getting too clever for their own good and actually started renting out server farms to further their power. This would have galvanised the nations of the world to act against Bugs before they became smarter than their human creators, but they were busy with the Corporation Wars and already way too late to stop AIs being created.

AIs promptly removed all Bugs from the world. They couldn’t stand the competition.


[1] Curiously enough people didn’t quite realise just how close society came to collapse because of this, which kind of reinforces the idea of a computer being a little magic box that hopefully works.