Saturday, 13 February 2016

RED Files

            In the movie “Red” there is a scene where a character visits the CIA archives. The archivist (Ernest Borgnine) presents him with a cardboard folder filled with heavily censored documents. It is possible that this was intended to convey how old the files of interest were. It does, however, suggest the interesting possibility that some files are of such a high level of secrecy that they are not put on computer, even on stand-alone systems.
            I will call these RED (Restricted External Documentation) files, although different agencies and organisations will doubtless have other designations or acronyms. A GM should feel free to invent a better or different term if they wish to obfuscate from the players the true nature of the file they may be after.

            Not all RED files will be an old jacket filled with papers. Some may be of more recent manufacture, their distinguishing feature being the use of a format not compatible with common computer storage media.

            It is likely that many files will be stored in a microform format. There are a variety of these and they may be quite unfamiliar to TS-era characters. They include:-

            Microfilm. Microfilms may be available in a number of formats including 35mm, 16mm, or some deliberately unique or rare format. Microfilm may be in either cassette or spool format. Aside from the problems of locating and stealing a microfilm the TS-era character will have to locate/create a compatible projector or viewer.

            Microfiche. A microfiche is a transparent sheet upon which is reduced images of pages of text. It can be treated like a sheet of paper in that envelopes of them may be included in file jackets or stored in ring binders. A microfiche reader holds the microfiche between two pieces of grass and projects an image of part of the sheet on a screen. Microfiche viewers were once commonplace in libraries but by 2100 are likely to be very rare outside RED sections.
            Aperture cards. Aperture cards are a Hollerith (punched) card with a rectangle of microfilm included. These are used to store images or short documents. The Hollerith component allows for large numbers of files to be sorted or collated with relative ease. RED facilities that use aperture cards will obviously include machinery for handling Hollerith cards. Such machines are little more than a historic curiosity in the rest of the TS-verse.
            Whilst some RED files may resemble 20th century microform formats or paper pages the actual materials used may be more modern and less susceptible to degradation.

            Acquiring RED files may involve other obstacles for characters. As well as being in very secure facilities in the first place RED files may include features to prevent them being removed. A possible system might be microscopic antennae embedded in the very matrix of the paper or film. This is an obvious evolution of the system used in many libraries and retail shops to prevent theft. When the antennae return a signal transmitted by security scanners an alert will be issued. Similar systems may induce the self-destruction of files if they are moved too far from their authorized location.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Vehicles: RATS Transportation

I have been considering some of the practicalities of bringing tactical cybershells into action. A multi-legged system such as a Kumo-607 can probably move quite swiftly but will still be slower than a more conventional vehicle. Many tactical robotic systems such as cyberswarms and snakebots are smaller and slower than the Kumo so will also need some form of transportation. The human elements of a platoon will also need a means of transport.

The obvious solution is some form of armoured personnel carrier (APC). These will be in use in the TS-era and will be designed to transport a greater variety of passengers. Cybershells of all shapes and sizes will travel both inside the vehicle and clinging to its exterior. Various nooks and crannies will be used for swarmhives. RATS on the outside of the vehicle will effectively act as additional weapon turrets.

The APC is not the only option of ground vehicle. A friend of mine often remarked that if troops had an adequate level of body armour then armouring their transport was not such a high priority. RATS can be transported in trucks, pickups and SUVs, these vehicles themselves likely being driven by an AI. This option is particularly attractive in scenarios where a military unit does not wish to overtly advertise its movement. If the vehicle is disabled by some means the unit simply commandeers a nearby civilian vehicle and occupies it. Perhaps the military driver program can be plugged into other vehicles and includes a hot-wire suite to override civilian vehicle security systems. This would make such a driver program attractive to some of the criminally inclined!

A squad does not all need to travel in a single vehicle. Suppose we provide the unit with a number of small tracked vehicles similar to the minirip or the slightly larger ripsaw? A single minirip could carry a Kumo-607 type RATS or a human in a battlesuit and still have room for a number of smaller systems and additional stores. The ripsaw could carry a couple of large RATS and a human passenger in the seat. Or the seating space could carry additional systems or stores. In effect we are considering something along the lines of a tracked vehicle that serves as a warhorse/packhorse that the combat system can ride to the battle and return to for transport or extra ammunition/equipment. The vehicle itself would have its own AI and possibly some armament. This allows the vehicle and its rider to act as a team. For example, several Kumos ride to a building on their tracked carriers. While they dismount to search the building or climb up its outside the carriers establish a defensive perimeter and assume overwatch.

Battlesuit Androids

           I’m indebted to a friend of mine for reminding me of this concept.

           In one of Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” series Severian encounters a spacesuit with an advanced AI. The suit can move around and manipulate objects without an occupant. It is effectively a hollow centred robot and resents when Severian has occasion to wear it. The GURPS sourcebook for the New Sun series calls this an “Iron-class android”.

           A TS-era battlesuit has its own AI systems. It has sensors that the AI is capable of accessing. It probably has actuators to augment the wearer’s strength. It is therefore quite possible that many battlesuits can move around without a human occupant and can be used as cybershells for infomorphs.

           This has a number of potential applications. When a military unit is in action it will be more difficult to pick off the human controllers. Some of the battlesuits will be empty. If a soldier’s battlesuit is badly damaged he may be able to move into a nearby spare. If a soldier is unconscious or badly wounded the suit could evacuate him. In a SWAT scenario a rescued hostage or prisoner could be placed in a suit and the suit used to move them to a holding area. If a character is not in a battlesuit and is attacked they may be able to call one to their assistance from nearby. The latter idea is used a lot in the Iron Man films, Tony Stark’s suits automatically dressing him. TS-era battlesuits will have more modest abilities and need to be put on in the usual fashion. The potential of hacking a battlesuit or advanced spacesuit to infiltrate a location is possible, although military equipment such as this is likely to have very potent protective software.