ADAM-06: Rampart, we’ve got trouble here. Subject is showing no activity and has entered total failure. Doses of cordrazine and alpha-hyrdramine have had no effect.
RAMPART: Copy, Adam-6, you need to get here right now. We have a stasis unit and emergency team standing by.
ADAM-06: On our way, Rampart, we are in need of some kind of stopgap measure or we’re not going to make it. Subject is slipping away fast.
RAMPART: Understood. Keep everything as stable as possible and we will try to salvage what we can.
ADAM-06: Roger that. Have the backup systems standing by, we’re going to have to work fast to make sure we get all of the data out before total synaptic failure sets in and the chemical links decay. This is gonna be messy.
ANNOUNCER: There are only two kinds of people: those who have backed up their valuable data and those who wished they had. (image of brain matter being flushed by an orderly) Don’t let your valuable data go down the tubes. Don’t flush your brain, find out about backing up your system.
— from an ad by Cortex Systems, makers of bio-drive backups
The Big Brain Revolution
The greatest change to computer technology in the 21st Century has been the innovation of bio-drives, biological brains used as a computer storage and processing medium. The use of biological components in computers has vastly changed the nature of computers and the computing/information industry. With bio-drives it is possible to record literally gigabytes of complex holographic information and retrieve it quickly on home computer systems. The possibilities for forgery and information exchange boomed virtually overnight and the United States government was forced to react with typically draconian measures. Computer crimes are considered very serious by the feds, and “slashing” (computer hacking) can earn the death-penalty in some cases.
A bio-drive system will usually consist of the wetware, support hardware, some kind of computer system and various software. The central component of a bio-drive is a brain. Normally this is a human brain, often one that has been exchanged with one of the major manufacturers for an artificial brain. Some artificial brains are also used in bio-drives, but many users consider “real” brains to make more effective bio-drives. Others counter that pre-used brains can often contain garbage data that isn’t properly erased in formatting the drive. Some smaller bio-drive systems, especially for more portable systems, make use of animal brains, especially dog, cat and rat brains, which respond well to programming and reformatting protocols used for bio-drive systems.
Bio-drive brains usually come from legitimate sources like accidental deaths, organ donors and trade-in for artificial brains, but there is enough demand for new bio-drives to keep prices fairly high and sustain a lucrative market in black-market wetware. Brain jackers use robots and other technology to “rip-off” victims for their brains that can be reformatted and sold as bio-drive matter. This has even led to a revival of “head-hunting” among some primitive tribes in the inner cities where primitives will capture the heads of enemies and turn around and sell them to brain-jackers while they are still fresh and viable for use in bio-drives.
The biological matter is contained in a plexiglass or armored plastic shield filled with a nutrient fluid suspension. This fluid serves the dual purpose of providing biochemical support for the bio-drive and cushioning the delicate tissue from bruises and concussions from rough handling. Even so, bio-drives are delicate enough to be damaged by a great deal of rough handling. Concussions can result in wetware damage and data loss if portions of the tissue are damaged. The bio-chemical support systems of the drive are designed to prevent this as much as possible.
The drive is wired into an interface system at the base of the container. This interface features a standard universal data port that plugs into most commercial computer systems. A computer with the correct bio-drive system software will be able to access the drive for data storage and use its memory capacity as dynamic RAM for running programs and performing other calculations. Such systems are very fast-operating but have been known to be quite “quirky” at times.
Dead men do talk
One of the innovations of bio-drives has been in dealing with people. In the 21st Century, the brain has lost its special status as the repository of all that is unique and human. Brains are routinely sold and exchanged for artificial replacements that let the owner be happier and better adjusted. Many citizens are abandoning the burden of their original brains for chemical pleasure and the opportunity to watch better TV shows with special effects designed just for their model of brain. Human-cerebrum bio-drives are fairly common and the ability to interface with the human brain makes it just another computer storage medium.
This has led to some uses for bio-drive technology that weren’t necessarily intended by the original designers. It is possible to attached a deceased brain to a bio-drive system in order to download and preserve the information contained in that brain. Organizations with access to bio-drive installation facilities have no concern about keeping prisoners alive for interrogation when they can just as easily kill them and take whatever information they want from their brains via computer. Keeping the head and brain intact for recovery is the only real concern. Mercenary “head-hunters” working for certain corporations and criminal organizations often take the heads of victims, cyrogenically preserved, back to their employers for interrogation and data filtering.
One new wrinkle (so to speak) in the bio-drive field is the production and use of bio-drives that have been genetically engineered or altered from their original design. The study of the brain and the field of noetics (the potential powers of the brain) has led to the development of many of the alpha-wave enhancements used by vets that allow them to perform such noetic feats as reading minds and causing objects to explode with a focused pulse of alpha waves.
Some of these modifications can be incorporated into bio-computer systems to provide those systems with some extraordinary abilities. ABM corporation has developed a complex bio-computer system with the Mind Probe Enhancement that has a fairly decent rate of success in picking up the alpha wave emissions of other brains around it. Rumors about of work in progress on a bio-comp system with the Control Enhancement that will allow it to mentally dominate other people. Several other enhancements are being studied as possible developments for bio-drive systems. Corporations are also studying the effects of using the brains of boosted vets with alpha-wave enhancements in bio-computer systems, but preliminary evidence shows that the previous enhancements seem to make the later bio-drive unstable and less reliable, perhaps because of a stress-factor similar to metagenic feedback syndrome.
Slashers are computer experts who specialize in breaking into bio-drive systems and getting access to their data illegally. They are named for “slasher-flicks,” gory films of the 20th Century, and combine some of the techniques and attitude of 20th Century hackers with a knowledge of biology, psychology and linguistics that allows them to get the job done.
The holographic bio-chemical storage capability of bio-drives has allowed computer security to become more sophisticated and complex and the work of a slasher is often to literally “psyche-out” a bio-drive system to gain access to it. Security protocols and passwords might consist of complex strings of random images, sensations and other forms of input in addition to traditional alphanumeric information. It takes another computer system equipped with a bio-drive to be able to even begin to work on slashing a bio-system.
Breaking into a system is a multi-stage process. First, the slasher needs access to the bio-drive and computer system. This is easy if the drive is physically present or the slasher can get physical access to it. Most systems a slasher would be interested in are not available but are connected to government, corporate or private computer systems that are out of reach. These systems can often be reached via modem if they are connected to the telecommunications network. Most government and corporate systems in 2021 are online, along with many private systems, but bio-drives with very sensitive information may be isolated from the system to prevent unlawful access from slashers. Getting access to a system can involve getting an unlisted comm number needed to connect to the system or getting physical access to it which can be a mission in and of itself.
Once the slasher has access to the computer system, they can begin working on getting access to the information they are looking for. The good information on most systems is usually passcode protected and may be linked to systems that will alert the owner of the data if the security measures are tampered with. Bio-drives are also considerably “smarter” than old digital computer systems and will generally pick up on attempts to break into them fairly quickly, triggering an appropriate alert or shutting down all access to the system until it can be restarted by someone with the correct command passcodes. Smaller bio-drives are correspondingly less “smart” but usually also contain less valuable data.
Computer security is rated as weak (Security Rating of 0-2), moderate (SR of 3-7), strong (SR of 8-11), or Very Strong (SR of 12+). Characters with the Computer Science skill can determine a computer’s security rating by examining and testing it for a few minutes. Most bio-drive systems have Security Ratings in the 8-15 range, depending on the sophistication of the computer system and the sensitivity of the information stored there. Bio-drives are the ideal systems for storing very complex or holographic information such as sensory data (video and audio clips, for example) or highly complex abstract information as well as data retrieved from other biological mediums (downloaded from another brain, for example).
The Digital Security specialization of the Computer Science skill is used to break into computer systems and to protect systems from such break-ins (see Underground, p.130 for more information). Once a character is in the system, the Programming specialization can also be used to analyze or alter information stored on the system.
Care and feeding
The biological components of modern computers, the “wetware” as it is known, needs to be specially maintained and cared for to keep those components “alive” and functioning. This prohibits bio-drives from being used for most very small computer systems like laptops and palmtops, but bio-chips are in use even in those system that incorporate some of the concepts of the bio-drive. Breakdowns in bio-drives usually occur through biological degradation of the actual wetware (the brain is not properly preserved or cared for and “dies”) or through flaws in the formatting and installation of the bio-drive that result in remnants of the memories or personality of the former owner being left behind on the bio-matter, which can result in access and program errors (like when you call up your home movie file and get a holographic representation of the first time the brain’s donor had sex as a teenager). Black-market bio-drives “acquired” by brain-jackers are especially prone to poor formatting and memory remnants that can damage or otherwise corrupt programs and stored memory.
The other strange side-effect of bio-drives is that their biological components makes them vulnerable to whole new kinds of computer “viruses.” Some biological viruses can damage bio-drives, although the drives are normally kept sealed to prevent this kind of tampering. Drives can also be compromised through neuro-linguistic viruses, strings of sounds or images that affect the very base-level of the brain’s structure and can cause the drive to “crash” or even reprogram it (very crudely, however).
These dangers to bio-drive security have led to the unusual field of “wetware technician” or even “computer psychologist,” a specialist who studies the effects of different conditions on bio-drives and their performance. Sometimes they are able to fix minor problems with bio-drive systems through a combination of computer programming and modern psychological techniques (understanding of the brain and how it works).
Squeak-Drive (Avail: A, Cost: $50,000): A squeak-drive is a formatted rat-brain that is used for storage with smaller systems like Packs (Underground, p.220). It gives the pack connected to it a Storage of 16.
Rover III (Avail: A, Cost: $100,000): The Rover III is a formatted dog-brain system that is used as a bio-drive supplement for many home computer systems and vehicle computers. It provides a Storage of 20 to any system connected with it.
ABM Cortex (Avail: B, Cost: $10,000,000): One of the standard bio-drives available on the market today, the Cortex provides a Storage of 150. It is about the size of a current (20th century) computer monitor and is connected to the computer with a set of shielded cables. The nutrient fluid suspension needs to be maintained by an authorized dealer every couple of months to keep the drive in optimum condition. (Trying to do it yourself may invalidate your warranty).
Brainjack Drive (Avail: B, Cost: $1,000,000): This is a cheap knockoff bio-drive like many you will find on the market. The manufacturer doesn’t provide technical support (and doesn’t even know you once money has changed hands). Knockoff bio-drives are often improperly or sloppily formatted and usually have a maximum Storage of 120 or less. They have also been known to cause various systems quirks and data loss from time to time as described above.
Double-Header Drive (Avail: D, Cost: $25,000,000): This type of cutting edge bio-drive uses multiple wetware systems that are linked together. It provides virtually unlimited Storage (ratings of 300 and up) for containing literally massive amounts of data. Such drives are only in use by major corporations and some government organizations like the FBI.
Security Slasher (Avail: E, Cost: $10,000*, Memory: *): This is a specialized skill software program that has the Digital Security specialization. This allows a computer running this software that is linked to another system (via modem for example) to attempt to overcome the other system’s Security Rating and provide access. A single Challenge is rolled for the software and a security slasher that fails to gain access to a system cannot attempt to do so again until it’s Rating is upgraded.
* Security Slashers have a Memory Value equal to their Units of skill and a cost of $10,000 per Unit of skill.