Truly Future

I’m reading through the Traveller books. The interesting thing I notice the most is that the technology is limited. Aside from FTL, the tech is equivalent to what could be possible in fourty to sixty years from now. It’s possible that I could live to see it all happen.

Specifically, things like Nanotech is kept out of the books intentionally because they would end the need for trade. In reality, things like the internet have eliminated the need for a lot of the commerce that used to happen in physical locations. 3D printers have the potential to greatly alter physical trade too. If you think about it, more and more trade is becoming information. And there seems to be very little limit to what information is available for free.

Another thing that frequently bothers me about space opera settings is that, unless we’re missing something important, a starship would be able to destroy a planet with relative ease. Either through kinetic energy, relativistic effects or the immense amount of power it would wield.

What would humans be in 100,000 years? Assuming humanity isn’t going to be wiped out by some world altering event, would we even recognize ourselves? I think games like Sufficiently Advanced probably reach the far end of the kind of progress I’m thinking about. The average space opera wants to hit a nearer term level of advancement than that though.

Games like Eclipse Phase do a lot to touch on near term advancement. I’m dubious about being able to encode a human’s brain into computer data as it’s portrayed though. After all, the human brain is the most complex object in the currently known universe. We can’t get close to the complexity of a single cell yet. The brain is orders of magnitude harder to replicate. If we could emulate a human brain, it would be at best, a rough approximation.

So what am I thinking of as a level of technology? We can almost print human organs on demand. We can already print plastic, metal and concrete with only raw materials a printer and a design. What about printing food? What about recycling genetically altered bacterial cells into food or even organs to extend out lives. Food becomes a non-issue.

This would alter medicine greatly. Loss of limb is no longer an issue. Print a new one. Spare parts a plenty.

What of disease? Persistent disease is, to our scientific knowledge an issue of genetics, either a viruses’ genetics, the bacteria’s or ours. In theory a mastery of genetics would go a long way to eliminating most disease.

The other thing it would mean is humans would have a huge knowledge of the nanotech structures that genes code for. Already scientists are hijacking biological structures for use in nanotech. Why would that slow down or stop?

What if a nano reactor could provide for you, nearly any type of cell or virus you wanted in a matter of hours? Then the 3D printer could arrange them for you? Why not print your own living organisms? Want that perfect cat? Pull down the file, use some algae as raw material and in a few hours, there it is. Again, the problem remains for reconstructing the brain of the cat. But maybe if you could approximate it, you could get close enough. But why would you limit yourself to approximating the programming of a cat? Why not eliminate the behaviors that you don’t like, or don’t have a purpose in a human dominated environment? Maybe you could mix and match different animal behaviors into your cat.

What if you printed a wi-fi circuit into it’s skull and you gave it a parrot’s vocal cords. . . What if your cat could talk to you and tell you what that web page says?

At what point is it a replicant of an animal? At what point is it a robot?

What happens when you start printing human bodies and putting in approximations of human brains? What about human sized animals with human brain approximations? What about getting rid of all that human behavior that proves problematic?

If anything, the limitation would be the size capacity the printing speed and resolution of your printer. How important would that technology be to the average home? Would you dedicate an appliance the size of a refrigerator to it? Almost certainly. What about a room? You’re not making anything in the kitchen anymore, why not?

What about printing an Elephant with human programming and the ability to do advanced calculations, linguistics and a wi-fi chip? Give it hands while you’re at it. Could it become a kind of internet appliance? An online entity that uses it’s huge brain to protect your online presence?

On a totally different front, let’s examine the implications of a star ship. Any vessel capable of traveling at near the speed of light, must be enormously powerful. Where would we get this power? There’s the current nuclear power sources but they’re dangerous and very difficult to replicate at the moment. Maybe nanotech could be used to make uranium easier to mine and concentrate but that’s still dangerous and toxic and problematic. LENR reactors, if they’re actually possible to make, would be one source of energy that would be far safer.

Another possibility would be energy teleportation. If you were able to tap into a star, you could have Yottawatts of power available. The equipment that drew power from the star would be enormous. Maybe making a “jump” would require authorization from the teleportation plant. Maybe getting a backdoor or an inside man is the secret to an off the books star voyager? This kind of facility would be the backbone of an interstellar society.

In the end though, ships that travel between stars would realistically outstrip our current concepts about power. Gigawatts would be puny power measurement for minor ship functions. The engines would dwarf our current power use measurements even with something like vacuum engineering to create a warp drive.

With that in mind, as long as we’re not talking about dimension hopping and going into a “hyperspace”, which has no basis in any physics we currently understand, the ship is traveling as a physical object and dropping a one ton mass out of your warp bubble onto a planet is going to do a lot of damage. Firing a Yottawatt laser would have planetary implications too.

That isn’t even venturing into the realm of artificial gravity. If gravity manipulation is even possible. An artificial gravity field would be capable of ripping the atmosphere off a planet, causing seismic shockwaves or immense tsunami waves.

Even simpler is towing a decent sized rock out of an asteroid belt and dropping it on a planet.

Starships are bad news for planets. Obviously a planet would have to mount it’s own defenses and formidable ones at that. What form would they take? They’d have to be extreme to protect against a vessel traveling faster than light since you couldn’t actually see them coming. They’re outrunning the light that would tip you off. The best you could possibly do is try and stop the rocks they’re dropping on you.

Would the elite, leave the relative hazard of living on planet and live in their own starships? Would living planetside be for the poor huddled masses? If we were no longer tied to the Earth for food, what would prevent people from just heading off in some random direction in a generation ship and forgetting the rest of the human race? It would certainly be a tempting option for some.

The other possibility is that FTL is possible by worm hole or jump gate. A possibility that is made all the more fascinating considering some speculation that quantum entanglement may actually be the physical manifestation of worm holes. We just didn’t know that’s what we were looking at.

In the end, future technology is likely to move in directions we can scarcely imagine. Our current technology looks very little like what was envisioned for us sixty years ago. An “accurate” portrayal of a space faring society is likely to be far different from anything imagined in our past up until now. What would a young Wernher von Braun say if he saw fiction written that accurately described our current technology? He’d probably dismiss it as too nearsighted in some ways and too fantastic in others.

Everything Is Light

My leg shook. I had let the shadow of the tree rest on my leg too long. I felt the cold creeping up my calf. It felt like poison.

We are creatures of the light. Where the light always shines, we emerge. Where the shadow continually falls they emerge.

He probed the edge of the forest. His smokey black form danced slowly between the trees. Just my presence here enraged him. Him a creature of shadow, amidst the shadow. He wanted to reach out and destroy me but the light of the clearing made him draw back. All the time I stood in the light, I grew stronger and as the light brushed against him and he pushed into the clearing he was growing weaker. Soon though, that would change. The sun would soon dim and set over the horizon. He would grow stronger and I would wane.

If I timed it exactly right, just before the setting sun, I could defeat him. Then I would have to make it quickly through the forest to the village below.

Normally the creatures of the dark are hungry, solitary creatures, gobbling up each other to become stronger. But this cauldhin beast was somehow different. This one bellowed out a low deep call that penetrated the trees. In the darkness a second smoke beast, a cauldhin, danced to the edge of the clearing.

They stood together, not attacking each other, not gobbling up the other. They stood on the edge of the clearing and patiently waited for the sun to go down.

One cauldin at it’s weakest would be manageable. Two would extinguish my light. The only thing left to do was to start a fire. The trees are partly of the light and partly of shadow. They turn light into darkness, digging their roots into the ground where it is always dark.

I drew my sword of forge hardened light and cut through some branches. Breathing light into them they flamed up. I relished the light as the sun began to set but a small fire  is not enough to hold back two smoke beasts. They edged closer and closer, jibbering and drooling black shadow. They were two and now the fire and I were two for fighting them.

My sword cut into the smoke black as they danced, swirling around me and my ally the flame. In the distance there was the howl of creatures of the dark. More were coming. How could more be coming? Dark ones don’t even tolerate the trees. They gnaw at their trunks and bite their branches off. How could more be coming?

The cauldhin wrapped around my sword arm and bit into it. The darkness flowed into my veins like icy rivers. I breathed light onto him, giving up some of my very own life light to get him to release me.

My sword arm, weakened by the darkness could scarcely lift itself. I switched hands.

Then one of the cauldhin leapt onto my faltering fire, it must have hurt immensely telling by the shrieking howl it made but the fire was out. My ally gone and my arm useless.

The smoke beast’s jibbering went from excited to frenzied but then to fearful. Some great rainbow of light was coming up through the forest. It’s strength was not unlike the sun for even at a distance I could feel strength returning to me.

A form like a man entered the clearing. His clothing like sapphire stone, his hair writhed like a fire and his eyes like the fire of a furnace.

I ran to him and he past me. With his bare hands he crushed the smoke beasts.

Thank you my lord! I cried out.

He smiled at me touched my arm and blew into it, restoring me to health.

The creatures of the dark are gathering, come and follow me and we will push them back under the ground.

I thought of my family in the village, would I ever see them again if I followed this man? Even so, something great had been offered to me, I could not refuse it.

I am your disciple my lord. I knelt.

Come then, there is much work to do. I cannot stop until everything is light.

My Self Inflicted 24hr Game System

I’ve been in a writing doldrums for a month or so. Then yesterday I had a few thoughts suddenly start buzzing around in my head and wrote them down.

The Energy System is a generic game meant to be applied to different settings. I’m shooting for something that can be played in a half hour. Because of that, the game doesn’t focus on individual actions by the characters. It focuses on the results. So rolling the dice isn’t about throwing a punch, it’s about the whole fight.

I have a setting in mind for the system where I’ll have more character generation, skill and equipment examples.

Energy System

Thrum

I turned back for a moment as we rode away from the floating blight. The blue white glowing and billowing  forms pulsed slowly as the sun descended in the orange red sky. We would never again see the blight as a sanctuary.

We rode as fast as our track sleds would carry us. We entered the burnt forest, what was once a deep green and cool sanctuary of life, was long ago scorched and charred by the solar storms. Every ten years, our sun sends out a belch of burning plasma that sears the planet. It was the first weapon that the invaders used against us. It destroyed all the great cities of man, all his great works. These things were before my time but I’ve seen the pictures.

Our only sanctuary is underground. Our city was built in an spent salt mine. It had been converted to a science facility full of seed banks and data storage. So when the first solar storm destroyed the world above, great minds were preserved below. They slowly rebuilt, developed the Blades to defend against the Skree, and repopulated.

But we’ve grown too large for our salt mine. The hope was to get a new colony in place before the next storm. They have not been successful. Our mission to report on the progress of the colony will be a troublesome report.

The charred and twisted trunks of the ancient forest give some protection from the Skree. As fast as they are, they don’t seem to be able to maneuver well. We opened our throttles all the way and traveled single file, launching over hills and stumps.

We scanned the terrain diligently for anything out of place. A Thrum disguises itself, sometimes as a large rock, sometimes as a stream of water but often as a tree. If we’re lucky, the Thrum will get it’s disguise wrong.

We weren’t lucky. From all around, the sound of a great drum sounded. The sound grew greater and greater in a rolling tone that could be felt in the chest and head. Rapidly, it grew louder than any other sound.

Up ahead, one of the burnt trees split opened and peeled it’s outer husk away. Inside, glowing purple and pink, thin unimaginably strong filaments poured out. We turned to scatter away from it.

“Blades! Blades!” I tried to call out, but I couldn’t even hear myself screaming the command. I fired off my first blade at the filaments. The chemical laser swept over them, burning through some.

Dreseco, overwhelmed by the rolling drumming collapsed off his sled. The filaments immediately found him and started dragging him in, peeling first away his armor and then his flesh.

I watched the horror unfold in seconds. I fired my second Blade and struck the armor still in the clutches of the filaments. The shape charge detonated and damaged the filaments and prevented Dreseco’s body being desecrated any more by destroying it in the blast.

I have never seen a Thrum thrash around so violently. I couldn’t be sure but I think that I deprived it of it’s prize. The filaments thrashed out in all directions.

The sled suddenly grew lighter, as I looked back, I saw Feneshi being lifted away from the back of my sled and torn apart.

I cried out his name and almost turned back. I wanted to avenge him, to do something but no, there is nothing that a man can do to a Thrum.

We sped a way, regrouped and continued on. There was no time for tears.

Skree

Eachigo died without honor. The Skree penetrated his back and then leapt to Gamelo. The Skree move faster than any man can react to. Our blades flashed over Gamelo’s head in a vain attempt at intercepting it by chance. It was to no avail, the Skree pierced his chest, killing Gamelo and detonating the shaped charge in his armor. Two dead for one Skree. If Eachigo hadn’t turned to run, his shaped charge would have killed the Skree and Gamelo would have lived.

I called to my squire. “Boy! More blades!” Feneshi, my squire was a good lad. He pulled the blade cores from his belt and snapped them into their holders. “More juice too.” I reminded him, as if I needed to.

“Yes sir.” He replied and quickly ejected the power core from my back and put in a new one.

Then we heard another one coming. “Stand back Feneshi!” I cried as I pushed him down. My first blade blazed but the blight that hung in the air was getting in the way.  The other knights fired their first blades off. By fortune, one of the beams sliced into the approaching Skree, cutting it in half.

“We have to get out of this blight forest! They never used to chase us into the blight!” I called out. “Drop anything we won’t need, leave the spent blades and cores. Maybe we can retrieve them later but I fear there is a Thrum here.”

The men’s faces turned white at the suggestion. “Surely sir, not in the blight. How will we travel?”

“It’s only been a matter of time before they learned about us coming here. It will make bringing back the new colony even harder, even more will die on the trip. The floating blight slowly kills off anything that comes near to it, so I for one have never been comfortable coming here. If the Skree and the Thrum don’t kill us, the blight surely will.” I shook my head. “You’ve left the extra supplies? Good, lets move out. We’ll travel through the burnt forest. It will give us some protection. Keep your ears sharp”

Zecho took my shoulders “Bachui, I’ve followed you for five years and I trust your judgement, but the Thrum love the burnt forest. Wouldn’t it be better to travel through the plains where the Thrum don’t have anywhere to hide? Yes there will be Skree, but we have a chance of defending against them. With a Thrum, a hundred men would not be enough and we are now six.”

I put my hands on his shoulders in return, looking him in the eyes. “I understand your fear Zecho but we will have to move slowly through the plains so we can hear the Skree coming. We may be able to out run a Thrum. There’s a better chance that at least some of us will make it back to the city and report to Lord Hishi while there is still enough time to act. If we take too long, then we have failed our mission. It has to be the forest.” I surveyed the faces of the knights and the squires. It was an unpopular choice and I feared that they would not follow but a look of determination slowly came over their faces as they nodded to indicate their support.

“To the forest then” Zecho said with a face of stone.

Star Punk

Star Punk

Star Punk

For 2013 24hr contest entry, my game is a space opera without limits. In Star Punk the players get to collectively define major technologies of the game setting. There’s no limits to what the players are able to choose as their traits. Go munchkin on it or create some kind of balance to your abilities. It’s up to you where the game goes.

To create the pocketmod, print out the page and then fold it according to these instructions.

This is my first game to include a full index! Only the rest of the game is only seven (actually 6) pages. Hey, it was part of the contest to have an index.