Friday, February 19, 2010

Facilis Est Descensus...

Libra 21, m0039

On a Meizi-class Mars Interplanetary PSV which is just beginning the burns for its injection into Mars orbit, Jianwei Chen, a passenger, receives a message from his new posting - the EU embassy in Port Lowell. He was expecting to take the elevator straight down from Deimos to the planet's surface, but he is now instructed to remain on Deimos station for a couple of days. It seems that one of his new team-mates, Adele Florence, will be arriving on a Mochi-class independent-operator PSV from the Belt in that time, and as, technically, a legal minor, she really needs to be escorted through to Port Lowell. Anyway, this will represent the first opportunity for them to become acquainted.

Libra 23, m0039

On arrival and disembarkation at Deimos, most passengers from the PSV turn right towards the elevator terminal. Following an augmented reality tag, Jianwei turns left, taking the tunnel to Deimos's one hotel, instructing his implant AI as he goes to make sure that his luggage is being correctly routed. It is; confirmation comes in particular from the utilitarian trunk with attached tags that proclaim it, at every opportunity, to be EU administration property, travelling under diplomatic pouch privileges, not to be opened by any unauthorised party.

In the next couple of days, Jianwei samples what few pleasures Deimos has to offer, taking a particular interest in the local workers' restaurants. The invention of the spherical wok, for use in free fall, does produce some interesting cookery, but the practicalities are complex; the slightly more expensive restaurant which has a centrifuge track running around its circular perimeter, with automated cooking conducted as woks hurtle around that, perhaps achieves better results overall. Various solutions have been attempted to the problem of human taste responses changing in free fall, he notes, with varying success.

December 31, 2099/Libra 24, m0039

Vajra, a full-sapient AI and citizen of the Faroe Islands, shuts down on the mainframe in Brussels, Earth, where he is currently instantiated, in the process triggering a pre-set transmission protocol. From his point of view, he is immediately reactivated in what he realises must be a Virtual Reality environment; he and one other inhabitant are on a platform hovering above a floor made up of glowing squares, occupied by a cluster of what look like utility cybershells - but stupidly cute cybershells, moving clumsily on tracks or wheels and with cameras that look like mammalian eyes.

The other occupant of the platform turns to him. "Hi," it says, "you must be Vajra..." it extends a hand to shake; its digital avatar resembles a humanoid shell, albeit a clumsy and ill-designed one made up of angular silver-painted components. However, it immediately recognises its mistake, as Vajra's avatar has no hands to shake. Rather, it is a hovering form based on the traditional Indian vajra.

"I'm Quentin," it says. "I handle logistics for the embassy. I'm afraid that we haven't got the humanoid shell that you requested quite sorted yet, but it should be ready in a day or two. I thought that you might want to take a look round now you're here, though. We can provide you with time on a few mainframes and access to some external cameras."

"Thank you," Vajra replies.

"No trouble. Your team are on schedule to arrive at Deimos in the next couple of days. You might want to go meet them there. We can get you time on the Deimos and elevator car systems."

Vajra thanks him again. Quentin gestures towards the floor below them. "Do you play?" he asks.

"I... could" Vajra replies. Quentin transfers a set of rules for RoboRally v.17 as well as some briefing data relevant to his new work. Vajra departs to take a look around Mars.

Libra 25, m0039

When Florence's PSV docks, Jianwei makes arrangements for his luggage to be transferred to the elevator car on which they'll be riding, and heads to the arrivals hall, where the local AR systems guide them to each other. She is s strikingly attractive if heavily-furred Felicia bioroid, whereas his appearance is much more nearly baseline human. As they greet each other, Jianwei's personal implant AI, "Aunty", requests permission to manifest in AR, for convenience, suggesting that she adopts miniature form to avoid cluttering up his field of view. Likewise, "Dougal", the AI running on Florence's slinky implant, speaks in her inner ear.

"You seem to be trying to initiate a new professional relationship. Would you like some help with that?"

"No!" she snaps.

"Well, could I at least put myself into your public AR? In miniature form?"

Florence allows that. Hence, there now appears to be a tiny elderly Chinese lady, with a collection of scrolls and bottles, sitting in Jianwei's shoulder, and a near-cylindrical artificial but furry form - perhaps a puppet of a dog - circling Florence's head. Introductions are extended to the two AIs.

The two travellers make their way to the elevator car, which proves to be an adequately comfortable but essentially budget-class passenger module. As they arrive, onboard systems inform them that Vajra has been installed on the onboard computer, and with their consent, his avatar too appears in their AR view.

The two organic beings find their accommodation - minimal bunks, but adequate for the two-day trip down - and sit down together to compare notes. The task for which they have been recruited appears to be to provide active, mobile consular services for EU citizens on Mars, taking some of the load off the current embassy staff; Jianwei is a professional member of the diplomatic service, Vajra can provide surveillance and general computer resources, and Florence is trained in personal protection work. They then briefly exchange life stories.

Jianwei is ethnic Chinese, but a British citizen by birth; his family have been resident in the UK for generations (on both sides). They are cautious by nature, and he has the first significant genetic upgrade in the family; an Alpha. Unfortunately, this may have had an unexpected side-effect; while very bright, he lacks the mathematical abilities which have been present in the Chens for so many generations that everyone assumes that they are at least partially genetic. Hence, he didn't follow the family tradition of going to work in the computer software or engineering industries, but took his interpersonal skills to the EU diplomatic service. However, that is full of very experienced people with no plans to retire very soon - so when the chance came up of an assignment to Mars, he took it as one of the few unobstructed paths going. Aunty was a parting gift from one of his relatives; although only low-sapient, she is an exceptionally capable medical AI.

Florence, on the other hand, has a more dramatic history, having been extracted from a vat in the wake of a Royal Navy raid on a criminal enterprise in the asteroid belt a couple of years ago. It appears that she was being prepared as a companion and bodyguard for a Martian Triad boss, but fortunately, the raid came before the conditioning could go too deep. The Navy and the EU government gave her sufficient therapy to live as a free citizen, and she has since been wandering the system. Although she went down the well as far as Earth orbit and Luna, experience on a few stations there with sufficient spin showed her that she didn't relish full Earth gravity levels, and she briefly returned to the Belt before reports from Navy intelligence and Rust China convinced her that the Triad boss who she had been scheduled to call Master was now completely removed from the picture, and hence that Mars, the world for which she was shaped, was now safe enough for her. Somewhere along the line, her therapy or education involved somebody with an odd taste for recovering mid-20th-century children's television programmes from the depths of the Web, which explains where the name and usual avatar appearance of the fairly standard LAI in her implant came from.

Lastly, Vajra admits that much of his own history is unknown even to himself. He was first instantiated in Thailand, and he has some reason to believe that he was classed as property of the Thai military and that he worked for them during the Pacific War. However, large segments of his memory have been comprehensively (and apparently voluntarily) edited out - perhaps even self-edited - before or during his move to the EU, where he informally claimed asylum. (The current Thai government hasn't objected to him leaving the country, at least not formally or overtly, but living in the EU certainly makes him a lot more legally secure than he would be in Thailand.) He is assisted by a non-sapient program he calls Samadhi.

By now, the elevator car is moving downwards towards the planet, and the sense of acceleration has been replaced again by free fall. It was morning, local time, when they departed Deimos, and by the time everyone is settled in and introductions are done, a visit to the elevator's common area, a bar-restaurant, seems in order. That gives them a chance to observe the other passengers on this run; aside from a few low-level business types, mostly Chinese and mostly so quiet as to be almost invisible, there is a group of slightly odd-looking passengers, all Mars-adapted ethnic Chinese, speaking mostly Cantonese and generally with a blue collar air about them - and a pretty rough bunch at that, perhaps, favouring cosmetic biomods such as flickering luminescent cells on the skin of their arms - and also favouring loud partying in the bar, with plenty of old-fashioned alcohol. Jianwei notes that one of them seems to have poor fine motor co-ordination, spilling a fair amount of his drink.

There is also one human on the elevator staff - the bartender, a slim woman, probably Caucasian with a significant genetic upgrade, favouring baggy trousers and a vest-top. Her head is almost completely shaven, and decorated with a (presumably temporary) tattoo of a double equilateral triangle design. She is under the supervision of a low-sapient management system (who addresses her as "Triangle"), as it seems, and proves amicable and competent enough in her work.

At some point during the afternoon, the rowdy party on the far side of the room progresses to a perhaps inevitable stage, as one of the group throws a kick at another - quite a competent blow, by the look of it, but alcohol damps the brawler's appreciation of action and reaction, and he comes spinning across the room. Jianwei and Florence attempt to get out of the way, but not very successfully; Florence in particular was apparently looking the other way at the critical moment, and the brawler cannons straight into her. Whether it's her bioroid nature or just sheer reflex rowdiness is unclear, but the fellow apparently decides to take offence at her, goes into a combat pose, and starts throwing punches. She holds him off for a while, although he is clearly a trained fighter; meanwhile, his drinking buddies gather around, but seem disinclined to join in, even before Jianwei sidles up to one of them and drops a polite hint about the unwisdom of enlarging this incident. Vajra, who is watching everything through the bar's cameras, notes the bartender speaking rapidly to thin air; doubtless, she has access to the elevator's privileged management systems.

Deciding that her opponent isn't going to see sense, and unable to get any purchase on him (she's not a trained grappler), Florence begins trading punches, and finds that she has an adequate edge here; in fact, the first solid blow she lands, a full karate punch to the ribs, puts him out of the fight with cracked ribs. At about the same moment, the barkeep decides on a simple and classical way of asserting authority, and mimes firing a shotgun into the ceiling. She doesn't have a shotgun, of course, but the bar's sound systems provide a very convincing emulation of the noise, so the results are just about as good.

Jianwei takes charge at this point, organising the defeated fighter's friends to transport him to the elevator's medical facilities. In the process, he notes that both this fighter and some of his friends already show signs of recent injury and high-tech medical treatment. The friends seem impressed by Florence's rapid defeat of "Chow"; it's beginning to look like they are dedicated, possibly even professional, members of Mars's renowned martial arts sub-culture. A little more research reminds him that impaired motor skills, as displayed by another of the group, may be the result of a botched NERV drug treatment - a quick and too often dirty way to boost nervous system functionality. One possibility is that this group were travelling from a more or less illicit tournament on Deimos or somewhere else in orbit.

Meanwhile, Florence falls into conversation with the bartender, who seems happy enough that the brawl was resolved quickly and relatively cleanly. She asks what brings Florence here, and Florence - whose job is, after all, not a matter of any official secrecy - is open about going to work as a troubleshooter for the EU embassy.

Libra 26 & 27, m0039

The rest of that day and all of the next pass quietly - the martial arts group seem a little chastened now. Everyone can admire the breathtaking view, and on the next morning, they are all treated to the slightly disconcerting sight of the surface of the planet seemingly suddenly hurtling up towards them, although the elevator decelerates gradually and safely to a landing. Everyone disembarks, including the bartender, who is now toting a simple shoulder-bag, and our heroes are pleased to discover that there are no local authorities awaiting them. Presumably, given that the recordings from the bar cameras will show clearly that the person who started the fight was the one who then suffered significant injury, and that they are travelling on consular passports, the local cops have decided that launching any sort of formal investigation would be more trouble than it's worth. Or perhaps the martial arts group have connections. Anyway, they pass through immigration with no trouble.

At around this point, meanwhile, Vajra receives a message from Quentin, telling him that the humaniform cybershell that he requested is now available there in New Shanghai, in a shipping warehouse across town, and including an address to which he should transfer. Vajra follows standard protocols, and finds himself in a packing crate otherwise full of biofoam™ peanuts. He emerges and makes his way across town to join the other two on a maglev car bound for Port Lowell.

As they settle down on the comfortable carriage for the day-long run, all three of the group receive copies of the same Web message. This consists first of links to two postings elsewhere on the Mars Web; one is a brief and chatty politics-gossip blog mentioning that the EU embassy is apparently setting up some kind of troubleshooting team of unclear capabilities and mission, while the other consists of some good-quality video footage of the brawl in the elevator bar, but with the faces of the various participants neatly blanked out. (The fact that one was a Felicia would have been hard to hide, though.) This is simply marked as an interesting instance of a martial arts enthusiast meeting his well-merited match. The two posts are not linked in any way, except that both clearly come from the same poster. This may be why the message also contains a single line of text and a signature.

You owe me!
-- Double Delta. 

The new team look at each other. Tomorrow, they actually start work...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Notes: EU Diplomacy on Mars

Our heroes will be working for the EU Embassy in Port Lowell, on Lake Candor. Strictly speaking, this is not a true embassy; the EU is a supra-national federation, not a sovereign state, and no community on Mars has recognised sovereign status itself - so there's nobody to be an embassy from or two. Rather, the EU has requested and received the right to establish consular-level representation in most of the national colonies on Mars, including full diplomatic privileges for a limited number of staff.

So the establishment where the PCs will report is, strictly speaking, the Central Consular Services Office, which reports to the Office of External Diplomatic Relations, part of the External Action Service, in Brussels. Colette Schmidt, who runs the CCSO, is officially the Head of Central Consular Services. However, virtually everyone refers to the office as the "EU Embassy" and to her as the ambassador, in everything except the most formal documents (and message headers which no one reads). About the only people who will make a systematic effort not to do so are those who are aggressively opposed to any sort of independence for the Martian colonies - allowing that a power like the EU has ambassadorial representation there is giving away too much. Of course, this in turn might annoy people like Ms Schmidt, although a professional diplomat would never show offence at someone else being formally correct.

Anyway, her privileges are pretty much exactly those of a full ambassador, and her position in the EAS bureaucratic hierarchy is appropriately high - though whether going off-Earth at her level is a clever career move or career suicide is doubtless a nice question. The CCSO performs almost all of the functions of an embassy, including trade negotiations and, everyone assumes but is too polite to say, a bit of intelligence gathering, with the added advantage of not suffering real-time telecommunications/VR oversight from home, unlike embassies on Earth in 2100. It also has full extraterritoriality - but then, given the ambiguities of "common courtesy" land ownership law on Mars, that's pretty easy to claim. The major EU powers (the UK, France, Germany, etc.) have some kind of independent consular representation on the planet, but even they are often happy to leave things to the embassy, and less wealthy EU members with only a handful of people on Mars are happy for the embassy to handle this sort of business.

Of course, functioning as both a consulate and an embassy means that the CCSO has a lot on its plate, and Ms Schmidt's memos of the last year or two suggest that this is becoming a bit of a strain. This is why she requested the budget and authority to set up a mobile consular services team "without portfolio". Now the team exists, its primary task will be to take a load off the rest of the consular staff's backs. It clearly doesn't help that there aren't actually that many people in the Port Lowell establishment - fewer than twenty full EU citizens, including three infomorphs, plus of course a lot of lower-level infomorph support. Most of them have some kind of diplomatic status, but it's hard to arrange this for additional people, if only because someone has to convince the USA, the Chinese, and preferably at least a half-dozen other powers to accept things. The OEDR swung this for Chen, but would take a bit of convincing to make the effort for anyone else. After all, a lot of work for the EU on Mars is undertaken by people other than consular staff with no formal immunities.

These are, of course, among the assorted professionals and consultants which the EU happily provides to assist communities of other nationalities on Mars (or among their families). The diplomacy involved can be delicate - everyone realises that these people are, ultimately, agents of EU influence, and it's not hard to guess that some of them are on some kind of government retainer, but getting too flagrant about it is bad manners, and being chucked out of a community for espionage or similar is highly inconvenient to say the least - but Europe does have people of some kind in a lot of places, and no one is really shocked by the idea. After all, everyone on Mars seems to have at least two jobs if you look closely enough. The EU also has official consulates in most of the larger cities on Mars, although some of these are literally virtual - infomorphs installed on local computer systems, able to provide aid on request - and in some cases, there are people whose overt second job title is "Honorary Consul".

Hence, administrative and diplomatic business on Mars can seem both entangled and very informal, especially by the standards of a hundred years ago. Remember that the prevalence of AI assistance has flattened a lot of administrative hierarchies considerably, while the Web speeds up communications and permits many tasks to be undertaken by people on the other side of the planet. On the other hand, the EU embassy has clearly been infected by the Martian philosophy that a job should be done by the nearest person who's qualified to handle it, and sort out the permissions later. The PCs' task is to be such a nearest person, as often as possible.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our Heroes

ref. CCS0-1-2732-47
Diplomatic Encrypt level 2 - self & authorised support AIs only
Subject: Consular Reaction Support Requirement
Earth time as packet headers (relativistic adjustments apply).
Source Language: English.

from: A. MacRoberts, Admin-3, OEDR, Brussels. Validated by ERITHACUS-2.

to: C. Schmidt, Head of CCS, EU CCSO, Port Lowell.

Colette -

Okay, you'll be pleased to hear that we've finally managed to swing the budget for that no-portfolio consular services team your people insist that they need. We've approved the team memberships - two organics and a full citizen AI. Yes, just three for now, but when the new year appropriations come through, we'll see what more we can swing. Hopefully, this lot will establish the principle, and the case for expansion will make itself.

The two organics are already in transit, and the AI will transmit when the office is ready to go. Budget includes a humanoid shell for it, although hopefully it'll be happy on your static boxes most of the time. (It tells me that material things are a distraction, unquote.) Specification is attached, along with Personnel dockets for all three - review at your convenience.




ref. CCS0-1-2732-48
Diplomatic Encrypt level 2/Personal - self & authorised/private support AIs only
Subject: Consular Reaction Support Requirement
Mars time as packet headers (relativistic adjustments apply).
Source Language: English.

from: C. Schmidt, Head of CCS, EU CCSO, Port Lowell. No local support validation.

to: A. MacRoberts, Admin-3, OEDR, Brussels.

Adrian -

Please tell me that this is a joke.

We ask you for a qualified support team so we can actually do the job that you've sent us an AU to do, we tell you precisely what our requirements will be - and you send us this?

Please recall that I made it clear that our specifications were not a negotiating position. We have a clear analysis of what this task requires, and our last three or four unfortunate experiences should have illustrated the point perfectly well. If you want reliable EU practical and memetic representation on this planet, you have to be prepared to pay what it costs to pull our people to safety when things go messy. It's not just about finding lost luggage for idiot Eloi tourists, despite what some of the accountant systems in Appropriations may think. But I also seem to have neglected to say that we are not, repeat not, organising some kind of witness protection programme here. It's strange; why didn't I see that anyone might think that?

Of these three, Chen is at least appropriately qualified, and his academic background is impressive, I'll grant you. But he's junior in service and inexperienced. The other two are just trouble magnets. I'm always happy when the UK RN pull another of their showpiece raids out in the Belt - even if it does make certain of the Chinese citizenry on the ground round here slightly less kindly inclined towards our people - and I'm happy to hear that EUEICC's tame medics agree with the British evaluation of Florence's, quote, relative stability, unquote - but that doesn't oblige us to hire her. Can't she work the memetics circuit back down there on Earth or something? And if MedServ are so happy about her state, how come they're insisting on continuing monitoring by their local people?

(Actually, I didn't even realise before that MedServ had local people round here. Foolish of me. I might have guessed some of those bright-eyed medics we keep lending to under-resourced Japanese factories or ad hoc Chinese 'former squads were actually working two jobs.)

As for "Vajra" - I'm entirely stunned. I'm sure that it's a terribly nice entity, and yes, the file says that our best consultants insist that its claims that certain areas of its memory have been completely deleted are entirely valid, and yes, we are currently on passably good terms with the current Thai government, who so far as we know have negligible presence on Mars anyway - but do I really have to reiterate the phrase Presumed Former TSA Military Asset? If EUEICC are really telling us all they know here (not all it knows, all that they know), I'll drink Martian coffee for a month. Though I'll probably be happier not knowing more.

You've presented me with a fait accompli here. I can't turn those two ships around, and the penalty clauses on those contracts would doubtless chew another slab out of my budget anyway, let alone the lousy memetics if I did what I probably ought to do here. Fine. We'll see how they do. But I want these comments on file.

Regards to Mielle and the kids,



ref. CCS0-1-2732-49
Diplomatic Encrypt level 2/Personal - self & authorised/private support AIs only

Subject: Consular Reaction Support Requirement 
Earth time as packet headers (relativistic adjustments apply).
Source Language: English.

from: A. MacRoberts, Admin-3, OEDR, Brussels.

to: C. Schmidt, Head of CCS, EU CCSO, Port Lowell.

Colette -

It's not as bad as all that, really. Believe me, we wouldn't supply you with a team who were being actively hunted by anybody. Florence was built to the order of a Triad boss who was comprehensively shut down by that raid - I'll attach the RN reports and the stuff we got from the Chinese, and you're welcome to validate through your own local assets, but in summary, they've got a body with a DNA match and no trace of ghosting, and anyone who was close enough to him to worry about and who's still standing is more inclined to thank us than to look for revenge. And if you want security for your team, Personnel say that it would take months to get anyone else up to her standard, even if we could find a volunteer willing to take an Andraste. (The ex-mil pool has been a bit thin lately; too much aggressive private sector recruiting.) Florence, on the other hand, has evinced little interest in visiting the inner system, and is deep-conditioned for Martian planetary ops; we'd have an Ethics inquiry on our hands if we tried to deny her the chance. When you've got a square peg, you look for a square hole.

And Analysis say that Vajra appears to have its former employers fully convinced that its self-editing was effective - we don't know the full story ourselves, of course - or perhaps just that, if it could and wanted to talk, we'd have everything it knew by now anyway. There is no evidence of Directorate interest in that direction. Vajra is just intent on pursuing its ... particular and personal concerns, and seems to think that Mars would be a good venue. Though I guess that putting a bit of space between it and Directorate interest for a few years may have struck it as a good idea.

And you've got Chen, who's bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and a ridiculously good fit for the job. With fogies like me sitting around in the upper offices, we've got to give smart laddies like him the chance to show what they can do. So we'll give him Florence and Vajra; either they'll introduce him to a dose of reality, or you'll get the sort of team out of this that you've been dreaming of. But if they do let you down somehow anyway, you'll have a good junior diplomat on hand there.

Mielle sends best wishes,



Friday, February 5, 2010


This blog is being set up as the place for me to keep the game logs for my new Transhuman Space campaign, which has the title (amazingly) "Europe on Mars". Because it's about agents of the European Union on the semi-terraformed Mars of 2100.

At some point, I'll put in some links to help interested passers-by find out what the heck I'm talking about, if they don't already know. At the time of typing, that's still on my to-do list, however.

I'll also leave this blog largely open for public comments, for now. I reserve the right to change this later, as seems necessary, but I really want my players at least to have the option to heckle. Should discussion threads start to annoy or bore me, however, I will delete and lock at whim. Keeping this thing useful means keeping it focussed.

But anyway - in due course, things will start to happen, I promise.