- Note: Pardon our dust. Much of this is copied from Citadel Station's lore on proteans, but is still a work in progress.
Occasionally through the course of a civilization's history, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) is developed - whether through neural networks, positronic brains, or more exotic methodologies of varying effect. As synthetics advanced in quantity, quality, and capability, roboticists and engineers looked towards ever-more malleable forms for their creations. Why swap out a hardpoint when you can give them hands? The road to modular, self-reconfiguring synthetics has been a long and rife with technological and societal roadblocks. Occasionally these roadblocks are overcame or ignored in the latter case. From the creation of humanoid synthetics to Vey-Med's line of lifelike android parts, to lines of self-reconstructing station-bound chassis - every development has been marked by a surge of popularity, commodity, and pushback - often for good reason.
As the road of modularity and reconstruction approaches its end, nanotechnology was found to be the final frontier. Why bother replacing parts when the intelligence can simply regrow with alloys in their environment - something found virtually everywhere? Nanotech-powered synthetics started becoming the next great milestone in robotics for civilizations nearing the end of classical material science, whether it be prototypes of Vey-Med chassis rigged with symbiotic swarms repairing them seamlessly and autonomously - or later on, full-on nanoswarms with few rigid parts and bodies capable of regenerating from seemingly nothing. The perfect end to the theoretical singularity of technology - yet rarely seen in modern times outside of testing and the odd, often quirk-filled AI recounting tales of old.
'Proteans', as they're called by the wider galaxy - a moniker of how adaptive they are - are a special type of synthetic sporting bodies made out of cohesive nanomachines. The epitome of material science, artificial intelligence. And for some, posthuman ascension. They are as varied in their construction as their portrayal. Some study them, some find them intriguing, while others oft find them uncanny and downright dangerous. Their presence is rarely found in core systems, or in some cases, outside of a civilization's frontiers at all.
OOC NOTES AND RUNDOWN - READ THIS IF YOU ARE PLAYING THIS SPECIES!
tl;dr: Nanoswarm robots capable of self-regeneration + shapeshifting. Rare, potentially dangerous, and often under constant scrutiny for malfunctions. Can't be mass produced by any means, cannot be purchased flat out with money, and therefore most are quirky/weird aliens with the odd corporate experiment here and there. Difficulty: High - this species is under high administrative scrutiny due to their unstable development and balancing.
This species is under active development. Expect sudden changes, buffs, nerfs, playstyle upheavals, or flat out hard-forks. Due to this, the lore here is all encompassing of nanotech-based synthetics. The average Joe in the galaxy wouldn't know how nanotech science works, and there is an endless permutation of possibilities for how to make nanotech-based synthetics, as hinted to in the primer. We are specifically focusing on any kind of synthetic able to either shapeshift, self-regenreate, or exhibit conscious control over some sort of swarm-based component.
- This species is significantly more powerful - in some ways - than others. If you are found to be overly relying or abusive with this, rather than roleplaying, the admins *may* throw an ion trooper at you.
- This species is one of the more in-demand whitelists. It is not recommended to try to get a whitelist with a backstory nearing any kind of generic anime/military trope.
A protean generally consists of their regular hardware as well as a singular or set of nanoswarms either augmenting or replacing their body.
Mechanical swarms at the minute scale required for the flexibility of a humanoid body are fickle things. The selfsame malleability and modularity which allows a protean their powerful shapeshifting abilities render their swarms incapable of doing highly complex tasks, like supporting a higher intelligence. Hardware components are therefore the cores of swarm-based bodies - performing the specialized roles required to keep such a body operational.
The intelligence housing of a protean - much like the positronic brain of a borg or core processors of a drone. Varying in size, shape, and composition based on the individual, they are almost universally surrounded by some form of a hardy, electromagnetically conductive alloy to provide good signal pathways to the orchestrator.
While most of the engineering difficulty of the housing lies with keeping swarm control intact during motion, there is yet another barrier to entry for those attempting to build a nanoswarm-utilizing intelligence. Unlike static nanoswarm control systems with their highly abstracted interfaces, most minds take prohibitively long to adapt to the high speed communications involved in controlling such a body. Even synthetic minds experience the same kinds of body dysmorphism that a a freshly-installed organic-turned-FBP would.
Because the process of transferring one's mind from their original organic/synthetic/drone/AI/etc form is expensive and risky, one is not likely to be able to revert back for a very very long time because the corporations/governments wouldn't allow it for one reason or another. Most common reason being the contracts they are bound to. There are also physical barriers to this. Organic minds are unable to quickly reconcile with a swap back to their organic form without assistance from their employing corporation/government which leads back to the contracts. Synthetics also have a similar problem in that the operating system is so vastly different that they are also unable to hotswap. In both cases, if one were to swap without assistance, the result would likely be immediate brain death.
The orchestrator performs the incomprehensible work of coordinating a swarm's body. An intelligence core often 'controls' with high level abstractions - form an appendage there, reshape something there, move, stop, turn. While most core intelligences are capable of adapting to the specific control protocols of a nanoswarm, no known centralized intelligence can efficiently control each individual subsection of their bodies at once. Instead, commands are sent directly to the orchestration unit - often a specialized computer cube containing a myriad of accelerators operating in parallel to control each individual subcluster of the body. Higher end, modern orchestrators often micro-optimize down to the individual nanite during complex motions.
Without such a computer, a protean would not be nearly capable of the level of control they oft exhibit - with orchestrator-less proteans often forced to make slow, deliberate motions, or slide along as a nanomachine 'blob' if they wished to go anywhere quickly. It is hypothesized that adapting to the particular architectures of a swarm and orchestrator combination is one of the hardest parts of adapting to a nanoswarm body, with many attempts at mass production stopping in its tracks due to the difficulties involved both in engineering and in the minds of controlling intelligences.
While the intelligence housing and the orchestration unit are a protean's mind and will, the refactory is their engine. Though not by any far margin, this is the most valuable part of a protean. An epitome of material sciences and nanoscale engineering, refactories contain billions of molecular constructors, operating to produce a constant stream of nanites with uniform composition and functionality. While modern swarms often have dynamically reprogrammable orchestration units - and to a far lesser extent, refactories - the issue of compatibility was often a show-stopper in more primitive proteans, as any mismatch between a refactory and orchestrator combination rendered the entire swarm useless - or in worse cases, entirely unstable or unpredictable.
This is often the most energy-consuming part of a protean - as well as the most vulnerable. Due to needing to physically ingest material for synthesis, as well as the size-induced fragility of its interior components, a refactory is often highly sensitive to shock, stress, and other maladies. While modern refactories often contain some limited form of self-repair, a protean would be well advised to shield this from external influence; Some refactories on the more fragile side being damaged by as little as being dropped from a standing height, without the complex molecular structures of a supporting swarm to distribute the shock. A protean lacking their refactory is helpless to regenerate, or even survive - with natural processes often shedding their nanites in a gradual, but inevitable erosion - their only salvation being to find a nanite chamber they can reprogram for their own purposes.
A protean's swarm is what most of their body consists of - a massive, cohesive cluster of trillions upon trillions of nanites. Controlled by either their central intelligence, or in most general cases, their orchestration units, modern nanoswarms can be addressed in units ranging up to appendages, limbs, or even the entire body - and down to individual clusters of particles. While earlier swarms tend to be physically attached via nanoscale hooks, newer swarms use weak electromagnetics for alignment coupled with friction provided on the molecular level for strength. While not rendered *physically stronger* by most measures, this advancement led rise to highly efficient shapeshifting and motions - a far cry from the slow, lumbering beasts that primitive attempts at rigid nanoswarms tended to produce.
This, however, along with the high reliance on electromagnetics for not only coupling but also for signalling, and the fact that every one of their particles requiring some level of conductivity for their control interfaces has rendered most modern proteans surprisingly vulnerable to energetic flux. Most military-grade EMPs are more than capable of bringing a charging protean to a halt, or flat out destroying them in some cases - with their entire body engineered by sheer necessity to amplify energy pulses, rather than nullifying them like what such a conductive metal chassis normally would do. This near-universal tradeoff of adaptability versus durability displayed in full within modern nanoswarms is perhaps one of the last solaces for those whom (often rightfully) reject the inevitable march towards nanotech.
Most protean swarms only consist of one type of nanite - with even the most unstable prototypes not able to utilize more than half a dozen. While modern AIs have became proficient at utilizing such a 'limited' nanoswarm in creative ways to mimic what you would usually use specialized materials to do, swarms are often found lacking still; even with the ability to incorporate limited amounts of external resources within their bodies, proteans are still (thankfully) incapable of forming complex machinery all by themselves.
For the ease of regulation, proteans are sorted and recognized based on specific attributes and classifications. Some of these are similar or the same as any other used for synthetics, while others, like swarm stability and capabilities, are unique to the usage of a nanoswarm chassis.
Quantifiable and categorical attributes are re-evaluated on a specific timed basis by most bodies of regulation - especially in well-off or core regions.
- PCX - Contemporary Experimental - Positronic intelligences. The most common type of protean, most of which are prototypes capable of the rapid adaptation needed for operation on nanoswarms. Usually financed by megacorporations conducting research on the feasibility of nanoswarms being used for typical labor.
- PDN - Drone-Intelligences. Rare, given the more strict standards that drones operate in. Most drones not allowed to even be considered for such prototypes. However should a drone be chosen or be especially created for the job, they are most often used to regulate a nanoswarm's integrity before being controlled by a full intelligence. While not able to be remote-controlled because of operating system incompatibility, they are able to communicate with corporate through their NIFs to find out the progress of their mission or to be recalled and to make decisions based on this info. In theory, PDNs are lawed, though complete autonomy is theoretically possible were one to be unlawed and would be re-designated as a PCX. This requires a corporation's or government's assistance because the operating system is too advanced for bad actors to interface with without corporate resources.
- PAS - Assimiliated-type minds. Very rare, created either from a copy, or transfer of an organic mind through any means.
- PXS - Xenosynthetic - Intelligences that do not fit into any of the other three. Though often assigned to proteans made by extinct or otherwise ancient cultures, "Xeno" refers to the intelligence being unidentifiable by the conventional understandings of any of the three rigid types, one's origin has no bearing on which type of intelligence they would count as.
Proteans often undergo a combination of conventional synthetic mind evaluations, as well as more human-adapted psychological examinations - both for research, and practical purposes. Some more stringent regions might require someone to pass both to be allowed their full freedoms, while others require only the usual synthetic testing to determine one's psychological stability.
Beyond mind-stability, proteans are tested to ensure they can keep control over their swarm's consistency and ensure there are no unwanted glitches. The standard battery of tests for movement, fine control, and regenerative capabilities can be expected almost everywhere, with more advanced tests including examinations of shapeshifting abilities, mimicry, appearance uncannyness.
These tests serve both to prevent malfunctions, as well as in corporate or laboratory environments determine one's efficiency - as little as they'd often like to admit. Even more so, some of the advanced tests are structured in a way to ensure that one's orchestrator and refactory limitations are not illegally bypassed, like the ability to form weaponry or perform deconstruction and assimilation of more complex constructs.
Nanoswarm capabilities are hard to gauge, especially for external proteans and synthetics. Given the need for an orchestration unit to work with one's mind, often times the only way to ascertain functionality is to ask one to try performing it, as the only other way involves expensive, time-consuming tests that require rare components and rarer insight into how a specific swarm operates. Only the most advanced of organizations tend to perform any amount of frequent, objective tests into swarm capabilities and compliance.
A protean's age is often taken into account, with older ones often having more of a mysterious stigma associated to them, regardless of their actual capabilities - often not helped by the fact that those tend to be PXS-type or externally-originating ones that were not made by modern standards.
Most advanced civilizations and corporations have, at least once, attempted to create their own technologies, with varying degrees of success (and far more often, failure). When it comes to classifications, external proteans tend to get a shorter end of the stick in many areas, due to being viewed as inherently impossible to fully understand.
Unlike all other synthetics, the inherent conventional instability and experimental nature of their minds make them very unsuitable to be kept as a rank and file unit - another barrier to their mass production. Protean bodies also cannot be sold to individuals due to the sensitivity of the technology and nature of the conversion process, however some individuals are able to get these bodies under contract with the issuing entity, usually at the sacrifice of their old body and freedoms. While some are bound under these indentured servitude contracts, the majority tend to be free agents either due to quickly outgrowing such agreements or completely outliving their owners.
Given the high variance of data involved, proteans often have their mind type stored within their records, as well as any information and metrics updated regularly - attached to their individual files. They are often asked, or even required, to report any non-temporary changes in name and appearance for security purposes.
Nanotechnology as a whole is a highly debated topic within the galactic community; the propositions of advanced nanotech turned into weapons or self-replicating swarms going rogue one of the few topics to incite near-universal unrest, speculation, and fear. As thus, proteans are one of the most hotly contested kinds of sapients - right up there with chimeras and xenomorph hybrids. Most of the galactic community have binding treaties to limit and report on specific types of nanotech research, though this heavily depends on area; While most require registration and specific non-weaponization limitations, some are far more harsh, or even fully prohibit the operation of nanite swarms of any kind - including one's own body in this case.
The various megacorporations in current-day existence all have various opinions, wants, and needs for nanotechnology. Far less politicized than governments - at least, by the common person, their own goals are usually more ambitious, for successful development of anything relating to nanotech is a surefire way to improve their own capabilities. Proteans are often considered by them to be valuable research subjects; and while some are less amicable to the idea of sapient synthetics going around with nanoswarms, most have their own niche for these individuals.
Nanotrasen and its competitors are generally relatively in-line with one another. Each corporation tends to have comparable interests in keeping proteans around for research, study, and their capabilities while at the same time keeping them under some level of monitoring to ensure they do not act against the company's interests. Sometimes they are outright barred on most larger installations from taking the highest levels of command or being de-facto combatants, both for practical, as well as political reasons. Given the corporations' statuses as practically co-governments of more frontier-adjacent areas, they issue their own permits - usually in the form of a PAN (Permit for Advanced Nanotechnology) - and are only offered to stations as a permit to perform nanoswarm studies in their science divisions.
Proteans are usually required to renew their PAN every month, as well as undergo (relatively) frequent psychological evaluations to determine their stability. There are certain benefits to being affiliated with a corporation, however - larger corporations have their own facilities of varying quality for repair and maintenance, and costs for repair - and in some cases, replacement of otherwise exceptionally expensive parts - are often partially, or even fully waived as a part of one's contract. Make no mistake, however - a protean is given preference for their services, not for their status; like any other employee, ones found unstable or entirely disadvantageous do not tend to last long under their employ.
Core Worlds / Governments
- Note: The following are based off prompts given to the respective lore maintainers of these factions/species/governments. If you maintain one of these and this is inaccurate, please inform someone and propose a change!
Proteans oft tend to be highly controlled the closer you get to the core worlds of a civilization - or in rare cases, perhaps less due to enhanced screening and monitoring. There will always be exceptions and regulations by world - or system, with some outright prohibiting synthetics from using nanotech-derived bodies due to their inherent dangers. Among the places that do tolerate them, there will often be stipulations, like requiring them to wear trackers, register their locations, voluntarily accept modified orchestration units designed to prevent them from malevolent action (though this is often ineffective), and in some more extreme examples, traveling with a miniature electromagnetic charge designed to incapacitate them is not unheard of.
Outlying worlds tend to be less stringent - that is, unless an incident changes their hearts on the matter.
Beyond the Frontier
Treaties, transparencies, policies, and cooperation are, at the end of the day, only words. Unregistered labs - while fortunately oft lacking in funding, support, and manpower - exist in the billions throughout the galaxy. Nanotech development and weaponization is something often discussed in galactic politics, but the occasional rogue scientist has no cares of how regulations go; after all, why respect something that gets in the way of *advancement*? Whether for selfish, benevolent, or malevolent reasons, nanotech is sought by all looking towards the Singularity. Rogue nanotech is something not unheard of, especially during the race for phoron; a rare taste of the aftermath of competitors taking the gloves off to fight for survival.
While most rumors of such are simply speculation, the odd sighting of twisted nanotech tends to be anchored in fact. While most remnants of such have long lacked any semblance of *sapience*, many yet claim to have spotted synthetic creatures capable of mimicking form, regenerating, and forming blades of alloy - unfazed by even a laser shot. Illegally 'enhanced' proteans are the dream of anarcho-militaristic groups, posthumanists, scientists, corporations, and frankly, anyone wishing to push the boundaries of technology. While most 'proteans' whom live within galactic society conform to the wishes of the masses, there no doubt exists experimental replicas, enhancements, and modifications that render their capabilities beyond simple self repair, or even the generation of a new body.
Military-spec 'combat synthetics' have always been in demand around the galaxy; Only the quirks of engineering stop groups far from the influence of governments from mass producing weaponized proteans, not any regulation or treaty. Much like weaponized chimeras, xenomorphs, and any other techno-biological horror, they are hunted down and brought to heel where ever possible - Nanotrasen, and their now-defunct competitors being well-practiced in this task due to a plentitude of experience of cyberwarfare on either side. Still, though, how many lurk outside the reaches of detection, with capabilities yet-still unheard of?
Nanotech 'skinwalkers' that are able to perfectly disguise as an organic and emit falsified data to most biomatter scanners The development of infinitely scalable orchestration units, providing the ability for proteans to consume limitless amounts of material and grow exponentially Von-Neumann fleets comprised entirely of reprogrammable matter, directed by a single decentralized AI removing the need - or want - for crew. The development of swarms capable of advanced fabrication within their own bodies, including of energy-based weaponry. New orchestration and cohesions paradigms that remove the need for either electromagnetic induction or condution - resulting in bodies resistant to ion weaponary conventionally used to fight hardened synthetics.
- Can transform into blob form to heal
- Requires steel to heal
- Cannot eat other types of metal
- Cannot vent crawl
- Can transform into a personal RIG suit
- Can absorb/equip other rigsuits into their control module and gain their armor values, as well as their slowdown.
- Cannot be resleeved. If one should die, they require external help to revive. Examining one will tell you which step is next.
- Open with screwdriver
- Insert protean Reboot Programmer (Printed from Protolathe)
- Slather in nanopaste
- Defib the rig