Virtual Safari Cyber Zoo Park

A Nice Place To Visit for Transhuman Space

by Aaron Kavli

"The call of the wild from the comfort of home."

There are countless amusement parks and tours that allow people to delve into various fantasy worlds via InVids, slinkies, and telepresence. As entertainment industries scramble to find the next popular wave, new ideas come and go with varying levels of success.

In 2089, the idea of a zoo where visitors actually get to live as the animals was put forth by Biotech Euphrates as a means of opening up another genetic market. The idea was that people and ghosts would upload into animals with puppet implants, and experience the wild only as wild animals can. Objectors claimed that obviously this wasn't possible without removing a visitor's intellect, but memetic surveys found the idea could become popular and lucrative.

The idea required a large area of wilderness with a modern and wealthy consumer base, friendly to such ideas. The US was deemed the best area for the trial "cyber-zoo," and the Colorado state government was approached. An agreement was hammered out between the Colorado Division of Wildlife and State Parks, Manticore Biotech (who had more pull in the US), and Ardano Entertainment. Construction on the Virtual Safari Cyber Zoo (V-saf) was started in 2091 and finished in 2095. The main complex is some 30 miles southeast of Castle Rock, Colorado, in the Pike National Forest.

The grand opening was a massive success. There was indeed a market for the "reality" of living in the wild and visitors were happy to leave their homes and experience something novel. V-saf was able to skirt laws concerning bioroids and uplifted animals by using neither. Instead wildlife was cloned and left to run free in the 200,000 square acre park. As long as patents and environmental laws are observed, which Biotech Euphrates, Manticore Biotech, and the Colorado Attorney General all ensure, this is perfectly legal.

Despite its legality and commercial popularity, the V-saf was not without its detractors. Preservationists and animal rights activists immediately began to protest -- and in some cases sabotage -- V-saf's operation. They claimed that the fence installed to mark the boundaries marred the beauty of the forest and that the activities were cruel and unusual to the helpless animal clones. The neighboring state of Cibola vehemently objected to the V-saf in both the Colorado and Washington congresses. Many Native American groups in Cibola objected on spiritual and environmental grounds. The protesters and vandals only ensured V-saf kept a sizable security force to keep them at bay.

Those Wild and Crazy Sapients

V-saf offers various packages to its visitors that involve controlling wildlife via telesense (for humans) or downloading (for infomorphs) with puppet implants. Online connections from around the world are available, but V-saf also has a swank hotel that offers excellent food, more mundane wilderness experiences, and high class pampering for those who can afford it. When resources are limited, on-site customers have priority over online ones. All of V-saf's hotel rooms have high-end equipment for InVids, slinkies, and telepresence.

A single, no-frills room with only basic services, a bed, and cleaning will run $150 a day. Larger rooms that include meal service and more comfortable accommodations cost $250. Suites cost upwards of $1,000 each day, and include gourmet meal service, a cybershell attendant, preferential treatment and comfort on all other levels, unlimited slinky access, and a courtesy courtesan. Presidential, Celebrity, and VIP suites can cost over $5,000 a night, with any (legal) service the customer wants available. Online rates are $20 an hour, and emulation customers are given a sizable data node residence for $100 per day.

Most services, such as courtesans, slinky rental, and food are available on a per-payment basis for those buying lower-end packages. V-saf has a series of popular animal slinkies, taken from customers, which are available for viewing. These include controversial animal "snuff" slinkies, allowed as no sapients were hurt. V-saf staff constantly monitors the puppet implants and records the images from the slinkies. Particularly interesting or exciting hunts will be purchased from the customer for $100 to $500 dollars at the staff's discretion. Slinky vids not sold are destroyed for legal reasons; visitors cannot take them home.

V-saf provides a complex network of transmitters scattered throughout the park, usually hidden in trees, that allows telesending and slinkie links to be constantly monitored. Each animal has a slinky and puppet implant, which allows V-saf customers to control the animal and lets staff record the experiences. When an animal is not being controlled, it is left to run free.

Visitors are allowed to choose from bears, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, antelope, and beavers. The three predators are the most popular, but ecological requirements dictate that there are more prey animals. The beaver, with its unique environment, is also popular. Most customers are assigned an animal randomly each day, but there is the option of bidding for certain animals. These bids can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars for bears and mountain lions, but these positions are not in the same pool as other customers, so one doesn't have to be rich to be able to pick a favored animal (but it helps). Those with suites and special arrangements can reserve a particular animal for up to three days at a time. Regulars to the V-saf call themselves lycs ("likes"), shortened from lycanthrope.

Once the visitors are loaded into an animal, anything goes. Customers range from wildlife enthusiasts who try to fully emulate the animal's life in nature, to those who are only interested in the more violent aspects of wilderness survival. Some simply like to chase down and eat (or be eaten by) other animals. Visitors are allowed to do anything with the animal body including mating (the clones are sterile), hunting, hiding, killing, dying, or whatever. No regard is given to the cloned animal, as they are easy to make.

Some regulars have formed into herds or packs (much like old online "guilds"), and run together whenever they can. Some packs are quite competitive and hostile to one another. All hardware is designed to prevent damage from the claws and fangs of animals, so emulations are safe until they leave the animal's hardware should their animal be killed. Despite the general Amerindian opposition to V-saf, there is a growing number who use V-saf as means as a form of the "dream quest."

SAIs are common customers, trying to experience life in all its forms. V-saf turns a blind eye to US SAI customers, as long as they pay. Foreign SAIs, who are often considered citizens in their native country, are offered legal protection and are treated as foreign dignitaries. Many are reluctant to go to US soil, where they are considered property.

The customers can experience the animal's pain if they wish, but both fatigue and hunger are felt to help them experience life in the wild and help remind them to take care of their animal's body. All emotional experiences are from the visitor, of course, and all the animals are mute. This makes trying to communicate with one's pack, if desired, reliant on expressing emotions. AIs are available which will aid in handling the animal, explaining habits and natural behaviors, and understanding the physical needs of the body.

On the V-saf side, experts constantly keep track of the ecosystem. A balance must be kept between predator and prey populations, and visitors must be prevented from doing lasting harm to the Pike National Forest. The park employs a number of Ranger Parahumans that act as observers and biologists to keep things running smooth. They do their best to keep out of the customer's way, but each wears a transmitter that will instantly shut down any animal that approaches within 15 feet for safety reasons. V-saf staff can also shut down or control any or all of the V-saf animals. When an animal is shut down, any emulations will return to their data node at the hotel.

During the first year of operation, V-saf allowed human hunters to go after animals with human intelligence. Unfortunately the "prey" killed two of these hunters, and legal concerns forced the park to discontinue this service. It is rumored by some that very wealthy, and trusted, customers are still allowed to do this, but V-saf has declined to comment.

The Safari Complex

The main hotel and operations center of the V-saf park is located some 30 miles southwest of Castle Rock, Colorado. The 200,000-square-acre park is completely fenced in by an unobtrusive (as possible) electric fence. This is to keep the visitors within the legal bounds of V-saf's reach, to keep protesters and hikers out, and to keep native wildlife from interfering (or being eaten) with the park's ecosystem. The fence is patrolled by stinger bioswarms and small, birdlike airbots.

The main complex itself is designed to look like a hill, covered with trees and even an artificial stream, located on the eastern end of the park. Semi-transparent windows allow viewing from within, but look like natural features from the outside. Overall the building has 24 stories (though the outside landscape makes it much taller) and 1,500 rooms. The rooms are in ascending quality; cheap ones on the lower floors, suites at the top. Basement levels contain all of the staff facilities: ecology monitoring stations, kitchens, parking, security bunkhouses, cybershell storage, data nodes, and the business office.

The main entrance is a large cave-like structure on the east side, with the only gate for ground cars into the park, and a landing pad for air cars. The lobby is where everyone checks in, and takes up the entire ground floor. There are many social and entertainment areas, including the large "Wild Thing" bar and grill. This bar is where many packs meet in person to plan out their adventures, share tales of the hunt, and kick back a few beers. The meat of cloned animals killed during the course of activities is available in meals, and is quite popular among the "hunters" of V-saf.

The host of V-saf is a powerful SAI-8 named Critter. It takes care of all reservations, monitors the activities of, and acts as administrator for, the complex. Critter can manifest itself on any of the V-saf computers, and has a large (but "cute") bear-like bioshell with a pleasing voice box modification it uses to greet visitors.

An electric fence surrounds the "Hill" complex. No animals may approach the main facility, preventing any visitor from running amok inside. V-saf offers aircar shuttles to visitors for a minimal fee, with pickup and drop-off at the Stapleton International (in Denver) and Colorado Springs airports. The Hill is designed to be fireproof as great forest fires are not uncommon in the area. In the case of such a fire, all the animals are loaded with AIs and brought within the hill to protect them.

There are approximately 300 employees (human, bioroid, and bioshell), not including the courtesans which are independent contractors requiring approval by V-saf management, at the site; 100 of them are hotel staff: cooks, cleaners, clerks, and attendants. Another 150 are technical staff; ecologists, rangers, electricians, geneticists, programmers, and the like. Due to violent protests and the possibility of an "Animal Farm" rebellion scenario, V-saf boasts a sizable security force of 50 men and another 50 police-armed cybershells. The security force is also trained to act as firefighters, but they are neither overly skilled nor well-equipped for the task.

Adventures in the Wild

V-saf offers a number of adventure ideas, as well as providing a good vacation spot for simple roleplaying sessions, or the chance to change pace in the high-tech setting of Transhuman Space. The following are some adventure seed ideas, aside from obvious ideas for "West World"-type, future-amusement-park-disaster ideas, such as someone hacking the system so visitors couldn't disable their pain input.

A Wolf in the Fold

The PCs have tracked a xox or other wanted emulation to the V-saf complex. It has taken residence in one of the predators. The party is to capture or eliminate the emulation. They will likely need the park's cooperation to disable the transmitters so the ghost can't flee. This will, of course, mean they can't track the location, and they will have to hunt down the animal and kill it to retrieve the data node within. It might be safer to figure out a way to hunt the emulation using the animals. The criminal mind may have xoxed its self and occupy a whole pack of wolves!

Chief Sitting Uplifted Bull

V-saf has a laundry list of critics, among them Amerindians from the state of Cibola. They would be very interested in gaining access to the inside of the V-saf complex, or even the wilderness park. Once in they might hunt down and kill the clones, upload destructive viruses, or just carry out random vandalism and sabotage. As known protesters, they will need help infiltrating the park and ask the PCs for help. Somehow the coconspirators will have to bypass security to get them inside.

A Werewolf in Colorado

The Colorado Wildlife Division has been getting reports of unusual attacks. Three hikers have been killed by what appears to be a wild animal. The culprit is actually a customer of V-saf that has managed to escape with an animal, and is controlling it remotely. Hunting down this predator with human intelligence will be difficult. The PCs could be hired by the state, families of the victims, or even V-saf who wishes the animal returned or destroyed discretely. Finding the human perpetrator will likewise be difficult.

SAI Gone

A visiting SAI customer has gone missing. The SAI is the assistant to a powerful foreign CEO and contains important information. A rival corporation has conspired to capture and brain hack the SAI. Once the SAI was downloaded, a pack of controlled wolves killed it. A bit of premeditated sabotage prevented the SAI from escaping the animal's data node. The wolf pack cannot hurt the data node with their teeth, but has dug it from the carcass and hidden it until they can get away. The PCs could be hired by the park to help retrieve the data node quietly, or the SAI could have contacted them before its animal was killed, fearing the inside man would only pinpoint its location. Perhaps the SAI is one of the PCs. They will have to find the data node, deal with the wolf pack, and escape with it intact.

Article publication date: December 6, 2002

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