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Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:32 am
by Adelene
Alicorn said that if I finish fleshing this 'verse I was working on out, she might stick a Bell there, and I don't have any other place to put it while I'm working on it, so, here I am. Feel free to ask questions/make suggestions/whatever!


Once upon a time, Mars had a civilization on it. It doesn't now, but the ruins of their buildings are still there - visible from earth, but not obvious unless you know what you're looking for; fairly easily infer-able from a satellite around Mars; blatantly obvious if you've put a lander down in just about any of the places where you might reasonably try to do that. Because of this, humans in this world have put rather more effort into sending stuff to Mars. They still haven't put any humans there - they could probably land somebody on Mars, but it'd be risky, and they definitely wouldn't be able to get them back into space - but they have a number of robots there doing archaeology, and there's a space station in orbit with some people in it to oversee that and study the occasional object that they have the robots bring up.

The Martian is derived from one of the scientists who was working in the space station. The martians had a very different idea of personhood than we do, you see, and they used mind-altering nanotech on a regular basis. The scientist in question was investigating the first nanotech container that was brought to the station, and got a face full of nanites. Bad day for him - they took his human biology to be some sort of birth defect, and tried to fix it, focusing mostly on getting his brain in shape to do their actual job, which was to give him a compulsive interest in some useful thing, according to his thoughts during the reconfiguration process. This didn't kill him - at least not in the conventional sense - but resulted in The Martian, a being that looks human but isn't quite, has the memories of the scientist that he's derived from but doesn't identify as that person, and finds focusing on anything but nanite research and creation to be tedious at best.

Touch of post-trauma stuff, there, too - from his perspective, the nanites that made him did kill a dude in the process, and he's really not cool with that. He doesn't blame himself or anything - any emotion that's not related to his research is blunted - but that's not going to happen on his watch: he won't make any nanotech that alters the mind of a person.

Or that's the plan, anyway. He doesn't have any extra insight that the original scientist didn't have, though, and he figured that the 'common knowledge' that animals aren't people was firm enough to work with. He was several years into doing animal experiments when the topic finally came up between him and one of his talking critters, and when he learned that they'd already been sapient when he nano'd them, he stopped that line of research immediately and switched to working solely with simulated brains and vat-grown tissue. By that point, though, he already had a substantial menagerie, including several exotic animals, all of which have near-human or human level intelligence and the ability to speak (though not always the inclination, especially for the earliest subjects), extended lifespans, all of their natural abilities (including whatever sorts of communications are natural for their species - most of them can communicate in a general sort of way with conspecifics), and, in a few of the animals that were nano'd toward the end of this period, simple superpowers. These animals are all friendly toward The Martian to one degree or another - The Martian's nanites make much less comprehensive changes than the original ones and none of the animals consider themselves to be different people than they were before, and they've all been treated well by him - and they're employed as staff at his research facility. They don't have any special legal recognition beyond what's usually given to their species, but the local government and law enforcement do informally recognize them as people and will generally treat them decently so long as they're not given any reason not to: they probably can't get away with wandering through town without any apparent human supervision, since that would make life difficult for animal control, but there isn't going to be any trouble about the fact that they're not locked up in cages like you'd usually expect lions and bears to be so long as they stay in the compound or the surrounding woods and are careful not to spook anybody too badly., this is a good break point, and I'm not sure how close to the character limit I am. More words soon!

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:54 am
by Tamien
Neat! The nanites remind me of the Focus from A Deepness In The Sky. Looking forward to hearing more about this verse and The Martian!

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 6:29 am
by Kappa
ooh. :D :D I am fond of this thing.

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:36 am
by Alphabeta
I am suspicious of the timing of this idea. Which is a shame, because it looks pretty interesting.

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:47 am
by Alicorn
I don't celebrate April Fool's Day, alphabeta. It's legit. (I think of this as "the elephants setting".)

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:15 am
by Adelene
I don't celebrate April Fools, either, it is a crappy holiday. I do however sleep on a weird and sometimes inconvenient lack-of-schedule and fell asleep while I was working on the next installment, and now I have stuff to do. More later today, probably. (Yes, this is the elephants setting - I started writing a story here about three uplifted elephants who got fed up with how their circus-employed conspecifics are treated and went and dangled some congresscriters upside down by their ankles over it, but I'm not great at writing fiction and it fizzled out before it got too far.)

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:28 pm
by Adelene
So. Uplifted animals stopped being a thing The Martian did, and he changed his focus to giving superpowers to humans. He'd already given a few animals superpowers, mostly enhanced strength or agility or senses and in a few cases new senses that they didn't naturally have, like sonar or an electromagnetic sense, in addition to the enhanced healing and extended lifespan that automatically comes with having nanites as an artificial symbiote. For the human version of the superpowering nanites, The Martian added the original nanites' 'mind-reading' powers back in: when an individual is dosed with these nanites, they read the person's mind to see what superpower they're imagining and how they expect that superpower to work, and they attempt to build the imagined functionality and connect it to the person's mind in the imagined way, within various limitations. Specifically, all of The Martian's nanites are prohibited from modifying any person's mind in any way other than making relatively simple connections (so they can, for example, hook someone's brand new wings or infrared-sensing eyes or radio transmitter organ up to their motor cortex or visual cortex or speech center in a straightforward sort of way, but they can't give someone an entirely new sense or connect a new processing module in between two other brain modules where it would intercept part of their thought process and modify it), cannot make even simple connections without the person's permission and direction (in the described sense), and will fail to do anything if the imagined superpower isn't within their capabilities (on a case-by-case basis, so if someone imagines three powers but they can only do two, they get those two). The Martian's nanites also can't give the person they're used on any instincts or innate skill with their new power (or additional processing power to handle it, in the case of new or enhanced senses), so they're more useful on younger people, who have the cognitive flexibility to adapt to their new abilities. Children, however, are assumed not to have very good judgement when picking powers, and superpowered children living with non-superpowered adults is assumed to be a bad idea, so the actual age range for receiving superpowers is fifteen to nineteen years old, with people as young as thirteen and as old as twenty-five being allowed in exceptional cases.

The selection process for receiving a dose of nanites has changed over the years that The Martian has been making them available to members of the public. There has always been a serious background check and psychological testing (both carried out by the animals, who only reveal their true nature partway through the latter, taking advantage of the opportunity to see how the human being tested handles unusual situations, situations where they appear to have power over someone weaker than them, and cooperation with someone who is very different from them and apparently can't communicate in the same language), but for the first half-dozen or so years of this phase, the focus was almost entirely on finding people who would use their new abilities in ways that would generate the right sort of public opinion. At that point, one of The Martian's animals died of old age - a rat, one of the first to be enhanced, who had lived nearly sixteen years instead of the usual three to four - and The Martian realized that his assumption that he was immune to such things was incorrect. In response to that, he changed his long-term plan from simply making sure that he had access to test subjects to trying to set things up so that the nanites can be made available to the general public, with the eventual goal of making them available to absolutely everyone and 'inherited' by future generations at birth. The Martian estimates that nanites slow aging by a factor of five to seven, giving him an estimated life span of 300 to 500 years (normal human lifespan is ~100 with excellent care, which the nanites help provide; he was ~30 when he got nano'd, and only the remaining ~70 years of lifespan get extended; he's about 50 right now, physical equivalent of early-mid 30s; someone who got nano'd at 16 would have an expected lifespan of 430-600 years, possibly more if The Martian works on improving the anti-aging factor of the nanites, which is possible but not something he's currently prioritizing), so he's not in any particular rush to release them, so for the moment he's - or rather, his animals are, since this isn't the sort of thing that he's good at focusing on - working on the social angle, both building up the public's awareness and perception of nanites and finding teenagers with interesting ideas about how nanite-based superpowers can be used to improve the world, so that those ideas can be field-tested before being used to decide who gets to be in the first few large groups to receive superpowers.

As of right now, about two dozen people are given nanite superpowers every year, in four roughly equally-sized groups. The main prerequisite besides age is the ability to communicate in English; being able to provide one's own transportation to The Martian's facility is also a bonus, but he will pay for transportation for anyone who's especially promising. The other hurdle is getting one's application read in the first place: the public awareness campaign has been successful enough that there are about a hundred and fifty thousand applications every year, and only thirty to forty thousand are read at all: twenty thousand from a program set up with public schools in the United States, allowing each high school to nominate one student for guaranteed consideration (not all high schools participate, but most do; there are about 24,000 public high schools in the US), and the remaining ten to twenty thousand are selected at random from the hundred and thirty thousand independent applicants. Fifty animals are assigned to processing applications: each one reviews 150 to 200 applications over the course of a month, four times a year, allowing 45 minutes to an hour for each application to be read, and each animal gets to nominate up to five people from their group (though 1-2 is more common) who are then checked and tested as described above before the final half-dozen are chosen. Independent applications have a 7-15% chance of being read; all applicants receive a notice of whether their application was read or not, and applicants who weren't selected for reading are encouraged to re-apply if they're still within the age limits; applicants who didn't make the cut can also re-apply and will be considered as usual, but this isn't mentioned in their letter and nobody who's done so has been approved so far.

The actual process of getting superpowers from nanites is reasonably straightforward and intuitive. Each 'dose' of nanites comes in a container that could easily be mistaken for a small thermos; the lid contains a small computer that the nanites use for extra processing power during the transformation stage rather than temporarily hijacking the subject's brain as the original martian nanites do, and the nanites themselves are contained in the body of the device. The nanites are usually inhaled, but skin contact is also sufficient to activate the swarm and key it to the person who touched them. From that point, it takes about five minutes for the nanites to get into place in the subject's brain, where they start gathering information about what powers the subject would like to have and how they expect those powers to work. This phase lasts for about an hour, and any superpower that the subject imagines themselves as having during this time will be created, if the nanites can make something that works in the specific way that the subject imagined it. Imagining several versions of a desired power increases the chance of one of those versions being workable, and is recommended; in a situation where more than one version of a particular power is possible, the first viable one is used. The subject doesn't have to imagine the technical workings of the powers that they're trying for - the nanites come pre-programmed to understand various ideas like 'radio waves' and 'night vision' as most people imagine them - but someone who can imagine technical workings in detail can at least theoretically use that knowledge to give themselves powers that are more complicated than what the nanites can figure out how to build on their own, though that sort of visualization is likely to take up a disproportionate amount of the given time, so it would be wiser to work with The Martian ahead of time to do as much pre-programming as possible. At the end of this hour, the nanites begin modifying the subject's body in the specified ways, which can take anywhere from a few days to over a month depending on what powers the person has chosen: small organs, like new glands or sensory organs, are on the low end of that; modification of large existing organs, such as augmenting muscles for super strength, takes a moderate amount of time; and growing new limbs from scratch, such as wings and the muscles necessary to move them, takes the longest. They then receive physical therapy if needed - which it usually is for anything that changes how they move - and are free to go about their lives.

In the case where someone doesn't get a power that they particularly wanted, The Martian will offer to analyze their nanites' computer (which contains readings from the setup/imagining stage, and is otherwise very carefully wiped as that's fairly sensitive data in many cases) to see if he can arrange for that visualization to work as intended; if he succeeds, that person will be offered a second dose of nanites to give them the power that they wanted. Turnaround time on that is usually about a year, and at this point that usually happens two or three times per year, but it's getting less frequent as more visualizations are added to the nanites' programming.

More to come, probably? That's about where I left off last time, with the exception of the Optional Plotmaking Add-On, which is that when The Martain and company first started nanoing humans, they hired some other humans to help with the first couple groups, and one of those people stole a year's worth of nanite doses and sold them to someone unpleasant. I never really fleshed that out, though.

Questions, thoughts, what have you?

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:35 pm
by Kappa "telekinesis" within the range of possible superpowers? I feel like maybe it is not. But I also feel like if it was, a Matilda would be perfect for this sort of thing. I mean, in the standard case for Matilda Gets Superpowers she's too young, but she's also a Matilda, so I feel like it is conceivable that an exception could be made. XD

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:49 pm
by Adelene
I imagine an exception would be made for a Matilda, yes. ^^ The nanites do stick around after they do the modification - that's where the longevity comes from, they hang around helping out with body-maintenance stuff - and they do have some small amount of lifting power, so you might be able to get pseudo-telekinesis that way? I'm not actually sure what's plausible in that direction though.

Re: Martian Nanotech Superhero 'Verse

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:59 pm
by Kappa
But proper Matilda-style TK is likely to be out of the question. Which leaves me wondering what superpowers a Matilda could get... also I suspect she would hang around to help with the research. XD

And now I am envisioning a Matilda deciding that the obvious thing to do with these nanites is to build a bunch of small flying robots that can accomplish various physical tasks, and hook them up to her brain as packages of extra limbs and sense organs. Plus give herself a general capability to brain-interface with technology she designs, under whatever reasonable restrictions apply to that sort of thing. And she putters around with her cloud of Little Helpers on a brain-controlled hover-chair with a fold-away-able desk surface and significant storage capacity, because everything is so much more convenient that way! XDDDDD