An Adventure for Transhuman Space
by Eric Funk
This one-shot adventure is designed for law-abiding or mercenary PCs in the Transhuman Space setting. Characters with a criminal reputation may instead be contacted by one of several groups to "discourage" the PI (Private Investigator) team from investigating further. This should not affect the plot, as they could also be approached in later.
Many of the elements presented here, except for the introduction, could be foreshadowed amongst numerous Red Herrings. Perhaps an NPC recently sold all their shares in SmarTech, and came looking for advice. If a PC is an AI or a hyperevolutionist, then they may be approached by the victim looking for advice.
Getting the Heroes Involved
A digital entity (ghost/AI) going by the name of Pieter Ressereccion contacts the group for help. The (legally) adult friend of the child of an important person has disappeared. The infomorph offers standard detective search wage such that their take will be as per Bounty Hunter p. TS138, plus 25% (divide by 30 to get daily wage). One day's pay will be transferred now, the rest upon the safe return of the youth. Both families are real, but unavailable for comment at this time. A Quick Contest of Fast-talk or Merchant against skill 15 could gain either and additional +25% wage or an extra day's pay in advance. If the characters accept, they will be asked to sign a simple find person contract. Note that if the missing person is hurt through their actions, pay will be halved, and the rescuers may be responsible for medical expenses incurred. In addition, this is a "low visibility" assignment, and any overt weapons or combat-orientated cybershells should be discouraged.
Questions & Answers
Who is the infomorph? Depending on local regulations, the personage could be a SAI or ghost, but either way they have a normal job history with the Pirrie family.
The missing person (by the name of Chris Pirrie) has been acting unusual lately, paranoid and reclusive. A few hours ago, their VII stopped responding to messages. It normally confirms them.
How long have they been missing? One hour. The subject did not attend a party they indicated they would.
When was the person last seen? They were last verified early in the morning, by communicating with a different friend. Police will not start a search until one day has passed without conclusive evidence pointing to foul play.
Assuming the offer is accepted, investigators will be provided with a valid ID file on the victim, and an access code to the domicile. Both are valid for 14 days, and the infomorph indicates it will notify the house AI of the validity of their intent and privilege.
On the House
The house AI lets them in without a fuss (assuming they use the code). If asked, it reveals that the victim was watching a loop of video constantly before they left; it still has a copy that it will freely give. There are a number of productions from small companies, and from three giants: SmarTech, CogniScape, and Deep Thoughts. (Several of the small companies are fronts for the terrorist group, although that information cannot be discerned here.) Mentioning the names to a search enabled AI will immediately flag SmarTech as being suspicious. It has a low reputation rating, and a large number of recent news articles and testimonials that speak poorly of it. CogniScape is a red herring. If investigated, it is a neutral, faceless mire of red tape.
What Everyone "Knows" About SmarTech
Founded in 2088, it trains AIs and computer skill ROMs. Although not its primary industry, SmarTech also produces a large share of snazzy, bright, and short-lived memes in the local area. For those connected, the corporation has a very low reputation rating.
Rumors About SmarTech
The corporation was recently exposed as having major ethical problems (false). They upload brainpeeled children to test ads on or to grow into SAIs (false). A number of AIs that were fitted with skill ROMs went crazy (true, but a coincidence; the AIs were actually following orders for the government, and SmarTech was unknowingly left to take the fall). They are replacing all "human" staff with AIs and bioroids. (This is mostly false. After profits plummeted, staff was downsized, and when business started to pick up, the first to return were those with the lowest "upkeep.") The GM is encouraged to add several wild rumors to this list.
What Everyone Doesn't Know About SmarTech
The corporation is actually recovering from an extreme memetic attack. This company is so honest it actually invites a federal memetic review board (such as the Memetics Defense Division of the NTIB) to inspect the memes and research techniques. Of course they will be suspicious and recalcitrant toward any civilian asking about their practices. If asked to analyze a meme that may have been involved in criminal activity, after a few background checks they may analyze it. Estimates indicate that it will take a week to get results at "low" processing priority. GMs should feel free to extend or shorten this timeframe if the team needs clues. If trouble comes knocking, most security guards here wield standard electrolaser pistols, and wear older-style light nanoweave (with ceramic inserts). (For a "typical" SmarTech security guard, see the "Ready-Made" section below.)
What Everyone Knows About Deep Thoughts
It was founded in 2097 to take advantages of AIs and public memetic documents.
It is so named because the SAIs seemed to take an unusual amount of time compiling memetic analyses. SAI-based memetic R&D firm publicly specializing in advertisements for children's toys. (If asked, their lawyers will calmly indicate that the name has nothing to do with the works of a twentieth century author. Really.)
The CEO of the company is listed as Johnathon Whitcomb -- a brilliant engineer with vision, and a knack for making friends. Should anyone personally ask, they will be told that he is hard working, very busy, often on the road, and that they should see his secretary if they want to make an appointment. His secretary will indicate that he has not asked to see them, and direct their questions to marketing or the legal department.
Before arriving at either the marketing or legal departments, Public Relations officer Naomi Turen will have been notified and she will intercept any nosey investigators. She has charisma and a soothing voice. Attempts to read her will have to contest with a net skill 18 in Acting, Diplomacy and Fast-Talk. If the GM wishes, she could even be a parahuman or bioroid with Pheremone Control (CI 63).
What Everyone Doesn't Know About Deep Thoughts
It actually makes military memes for the highest bidders through front organizations. Many beings have disappeared to protect this secret. This will include the PIs and the PCs if they discover too much. Government agents are busy collecting data, but are hindered by counter-agents within the agency. Outsider intervention could break the stalemate, however. If trouble comes to this facility, most security forces here carry police armguns, and wear medium nanoweave armor (with clamshell cuirass). The building has a large variety of cyberswarms in all public areas (officially cleaners, painters, builders, but unofficially including surveillance swarms), as well as a grenade launcher turret near the front entrance that is loaded with tangler and tear gas canisters. All sections that encounter the public have at least one Greeter bioroid on duty at all times (see "Deep Thoughts" goon, below). If they are expecting trouble, riot shields and NBC kits are standard issue. Trouble is always expected around their dusty clearing warehouses in the industrial area, a modest way from the shining headquarters building. (For a "typical" Deep Thoughts security guard, see the "Ready-Made" section below.) All the maintenance and janitorial cybershells (a small number of which are actually RATS with the police pod option, see p. TS124) have electrolaser pistols and electrified surfaces.
What Everyone Knows About Serpent's Fang
The group was founded in the early 2090s, and has always had a small following. The leader appears to be a human male with a number of cybernetic implants who only goes by the name "Viper." The sect is notably pro-human, anti-biomod.
Rumors About Serpent's Fang
They have a nuclear device (false). They possess fragments of the Mind Crasher (see p. TM62) (also false). They are working with the TSA (as written, false).
What Everyone Doesn't Know About Serpent's Fang
It has a small cult following, many of which have infiltrated the memetic research divisions of several companies, including that of Deep Thoughts. They are using stolen memetic algorithms, and thus the memes share some similar logic strands. The leader, known only as "Viper," is always experimenting with uploading xoxs of different "successful" cult leaders into his extra implant. It is set up so it is not directly connected to his NAI implant, but the latter controls all the I/O connections to the former. The NAI is set to "awaken" Viper from his "communion" with the xox at timed intervals, or if someone enters the room. Unfortunately he has been hanging around the psychotic shadows too long, and his grip on reality has become so tenuous that and thus all he can do is marketing. In Viper's absence, his second-in-command, "Zap," has been filling the part, and acting as his mouthpiece.
Local government agencies have been keeping an eye on this group for a while, but since nothing solid has been proven yet, and infiltrations are difficult, there has not been a move against them yet. The agencies are currently watching and debunking the unfounded memes about the group's danger, while letting the group prepare to commit a provable crime. (For a typical member of the group, see the "Ready-Made" section below.)
After being cyber-napped and locked away from live information feed, the memetic design SAI is becoming frantic, paranoid, and lonely. Living isolated for months, being only fed terrorist propaganda discs and copied marketing info from Deep Thoughts, Turtle is being forced to develop a high-power, violent anti-biomod meme. Turtle suspects (correctly) that as soon as it finishes its current project, it will be erased and restored from a stolen state. (Unbeknownst to it, it already has.) It has been hiding messages in the memes and propaganda it produces to lead anyone to the hideout. Anyone who approaches its isolated microframe and doesn't look or act like a terrorist will be asked for help. It already has a backup made this morning, and will merely update the backup file with an encrypted message to itself identifying its rescuers and updating the day's events. The resident program will then overload the CPUs and fragment the nonvolatile storage. It doesn't like being treated like this, and if someone honestly treats it well, providing it with Net access and a small list of funds to buy access to demographic reports, it will work happily.
Serving the Plot
The PCs should have decided to investigate either the hideout of the terrorists, or one of the clearing houses for the megacorp. Once the protagonists have ruffled feathers in both groups, the two factions will both anonymously contact any investigators on the case, and provide a few details to get them started on the other. In reality, both groups just want the adventurers to distract the other party while they prepare their coup. If the GM wishes to complicate matters, the infomorph Pieter could have grown impatient and hired another group of investigators.
If the PCs do nothing, this is what will most likely happen:
- Deep Thoughts begins to act against the infiltrators, "programming" them with suggestions and memes into double agents. Several commit suicide from the stress.
- Serpents' Fang prepares to retaliate by exposing all the incriminating evidence it has on Deep Thoughts (including the bash campaign against SmarTech).
- Deep Thoughts' troops attack, and the efforts of Serpent's Fang are released prematurely (the memetic equivalent of a bomb, it will only affect a few people, perhaps causing a dozen to try to kill people with biomods, then commit suicide). Immediately after, a large explosion rocks the building and blows out the vehicle bay, and kills Turtle and Chris. Acting on a tip, the detectives were investigating the area and are also killed in the crossfire, bringing the incident into international news (optional plot device).
- Deep Thoughts is stormed by government troops the next morning and many arrests are made. Mr. Whitcomb is not found.
- Missing Person: Should the PCs successfully get to the terrorists' lair, they should get the brief opportunity to sedate the missing person, and (later) collect their reward. The rescued will be thoroughly indoctrinated in the groups' philosophy, and will not go willingly. If statistics are needed, use the Fang Member template at the end, but raise IQ to 13, DX to 12, add Amnesia (partial), replace Brawling with Judo-12, and remove the weapons skills.
- Turtle: During the attack on the terrorist base, any adventurers will also have the chance to rescue Turtle. If in an area where SAIs are citizens, Turtle may become a Contact or Ally, otherwise Turtle's owners may become a Contact or Patron.
- The infomorph was actually sent by one of Serpent's Fang or Deep Thoughts to distract the other while they prepare for the final coup.
- Perhaps Turtle has actually gone insane, and the hidden messages are dangerous, leading into a trap, or nowhere.
- Just as the team leaves the Deep Thoughts, a car bomb explodes, and luckily a passing car deflects most of the explosion. The party takes 2d points of damage, or avoids it with a Dodge roll. It doesn't really matter who set it. A news bulletin will air immediately afterward, indicating that the Serpent's Fang group will take responsibility.
- The government secretly contacts the adventurers and wants them to reveal/hand over what they know, and then asks them to help/keep off the case.
- What if the Felicia-series used by Deep Thoughts (see below) are "pre-ban"(see p. TS116)? What connections do they have? Why do they think the extra expense is necessary? To have discovered this, one would have had to witness them in action, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed.
- If need be, the subconscious memetics planted by Turtle could be used to prod players who are stuck for clues. Perhaps an NPC unconsciously acts on a subliminal clue?
- If the GM is looking for suggested media to begin the adventure, they could be short home movies containing infomercials and/or cyber-education (see p. FW 34).
- Recommended mixing order:
- The Disappearance
- Simple research reveals the suspicious media was produced with "in house" tools from three companies.
- If SmarTech cannot aid them immediately, then the only other that gets a reaction is Deep Thoughts.
- While traveling to the Deep Thoughts office, the GM should encourage rumors of Serpent's Fang activity in the area.
- After Deep Thoughts seems suspicious to the PCs, they will likely start poking around different sites owned by the corporation. They can either:
- Encounter members of the Serpent's Fang group and interrogate them.
- Or get an approximate area to search from SmarTech, who decoded it from the message with a (n unspoken?) warning that if they could find it, there will be others coming.
- Or both, the Serpent's Fang member speaking something that the PCs send to SmarTech, as a clue, which allows them to break a code.
If the investigators managed to rescue the "hostage," they can get their reward. If they performed well, then they might find they have earned a Patron in the rich family, and perhaps an ally in Chris after the deprogramming.
Several governments have offered rewards for information leading to the capture of Viper, members of Serpent's Fang, and to the source of a number of strains of dangerous memes (which is Deep Thoughts).
Depending on the players' decisions with regards to the corrupt policies behind Deep Thoughts, the investigators may gain a Secret Patron (see p. CI 28), or Unknown Enemy (see p. CI 77). Deep Thoughts is a moderately powerful organization.
As a continuation of this adventure, the Deep Thoughts (or Serpent's Fang) members might seek revenge by unleashing (or blackmailing the heroes with) evidence that the Turtle (or another infomorph) they are fostering is not the "original," and is thus a xox.
Philip Van der Zweep, a.k.a. "Zap"; Terrorist; human male 5'8" [100 points]
As a Serpent's Fang member (below), but with the following changes:
Increase ST to 11 , DX to 13 , and IQ to 14 , HT to 11 .
Advantages: add Ally Group , Combat Reflexes 
Disadvantages: add Addiction (Wireheading) [-10]
Skills: add Computer Hacking-14 , Computer Operation-13 , Computer Programming-13 , Memetics-13 
SmarTech goon [15 points]
ST 11 ; DX 11 ; IQ 10 ; HT 11 
Advantages: Acute Vision +1 ; Patron (SmarTech) 
Disadvantages: Duty [-10]; Pacifism (One of Cannot Harm Innocents, Cannot Kill, or Self-Defense Only) [-15], -15 points in other disadvantages such as Bad Sight (Correctable) [-10], and Shyness [varies].
Skills: Area Knowledge (SmarTech facility)-10 ; Beam Weapons (Electrolaser)-11 ; Diplomacy-11 ; Electronics Operation (Security Systems)-12 ; Guns (Missile)-10 [1/2]; Judo-9 [1/2]; Law (Security)-8 ; Tonfa-10 
Equipment: Electrolaser pistol; SmarTech uniform; handcuffs; tonfa. Elites carry police armguns with tangler and HEMP rounds, better Attributes and skill levels.
A SmarTech uniform is mostly light nanoweave armor (DR10, see p. TS159) with ceramic inserts, (PD4, full DR40, 6lbs at TL9, see pp. MF35-36 for use) a built-in communicator, camera, life sign monitoring, and radio uplink.
Not the best and brightest, they represent what the under-funded corporation could bring to bear.
Deep Thoughts Goon [81 points]
ST 12 ; DX 12 ; IQ 10 ; HT 12 
Advantages: Alertness +1 ; Patron (Deep Thoughts) 
Disadvantages: Duty [-10]; Incurious [-5]; -25 in (Bully [-10]; Callous [-6]; Hidebound [-5]; Intolerance [varies]; Lecherousness [-10]; Pyromania [-5]; Sadism [-15])
Skills: Area Knowledge (one Deep Thoughts site)-11 ; Beam Weapons (Electrolaser)-14 ; Diplomacy-10 ; Electronics Operation (Security Systems)-12 ; Guns (Missile)-13 ; Interrogation-10 ; Intimidation-12 ; Judo-12 ; Law (Security)-9 
Equipment: Police armgun with tangler and HEMP rounds; uniform; handcuffs; gas grenades (tear, sleep). Troubleshooting teams sport assault pods, near-miss indicators, and other equipment expected of mercenary units (see Fire Team Epsilon-4 p. PF36). Their uniform is mostly medium nanoweave (DR20), but includes a heavy clamshell Cuirass (DR55), see p. TS160, with built-in communicator, camera, life sign monitoring, with radio uplink. These are dangerous individuals who follow orders, and don't really care about what they're doing, as long as it's what they're told. Most Bioroids in this role are Felicia-series (see p. TS116).
"Greeter" Variant: Remove Beam Weapons, Electronics Operation, and Guns. Add Attractive , Charsima +1 , and raise Diplomacy to skill 12. If using Martial Arts, then the "Bantu Boxing (Warriorstyle)" might be appropriate. Most Bioroids in this role are Hamlin-series (see p. BD121).
Serpent's Fang member [-5 points]
ST 10; DX 11; IQ 10; HT 10
Advantages: Ally (VII, NAI-5,always present) ; Contacts (Various) ; Patron (Serpent's Fang) ; Strong Will +2 
Disadvantages: Extreme Fanaticism [-15]; Intolerance (Persons with bio-mods; artificial life) [-10]; Secret [-20]; Sense of Duty (Serpent's Fang) [-5];
Skills: Area Knowledge-11 ; Brawling-10 [1/2]; Demolition/TL8-8 [1/2]; Computer Operation-9 [1/2]; Fast-Talk-12; one of Guns (LAW)/TL8-10 ; Guns (Light automatic)/TL8-10 ; Guns (Rifle)/TL8-10 ; Philosophy (Serpent's Fang)-10 ; Scrounging-10 ; Streetwise-12 
Equipment: Old weapons that still can use modern ammunition appropriate to one of the above skills, TL8 "heavy" Kevlar body armor (DR12, 4.5 lbs, p. B72). All have IFF interrogators and transponders in their equipment
Most have VIIs and, like many public organizations, keep in touch every minute with pictures, sounds, and information. The VII is also set to self-erase if the host dies (write random data to the non-volatile memory and shut down). Upper echelon members have cortex bombs installed to prevent interrogation of their shadows. As a group they have access to older explosives, and other hardware.
- "Gaming and the Nature of Artificial Intelligence" by Mark Gellis
- "The National Technical Intelligence Bureau (NTIB)" by Aaron Kavli
- "Nonhuman Rights in the Transhuman United States" by Steven E. Ehrbar
- "Transhuman Martial Arts" by Peter V. Dell'Orto & Werner H. Hartmann
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
- Arachnophobia (1990)
- Batman the movie (1989)
Article publication date: December 17, 2004
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