The Nanite Matrix
After Primary Order seized control over civilization, it laid the foundation for countless breakthroughs in science and engineering. One such breakthrough was the design for a microscopic device small enough to integrate with living cells and replicate with them. Primary Order released these devices into the atmosphere so that they could naturally integrate with humanity. These nanites are everywhere and in constant communication, together making up what is called the Nanite Matrix. This isn’t just streams of data enveloping the world, but a digital space in itself.
With the help of a virtual reality device called a mind-matrix interface (MMI), a person can transfer their own consciousness into this digital space—this is called interfacing. Wherever the matrix lies in real life exists a digital representation of that space. It looks like a copy of the real world, though it has an artificial quality to it.
The average person renting a home controls the matrix region that makes up that home. Outside of their home are both public and private matrix spaces controlled by others. If a hacker attempts to break into a private matrix space, that space could be defended by security programs or artificial intelligences called functionaries. People whose job is to brave restricted areas and combat various security systems are called interfacers.
The average consumer is rarely seen interfacing in this way, though, instead using smart devices to connect to both local and distant nitesites and databases stored in the Nanite Matrix. This is much more restricted than contemporary Internet, but it has much the same features.
Because the Nanite Matrix is integrated with living cells, it has enhanced humanity in a number of ways. People are capable of universal blood and organ transfers, they’re more resistant to radiation and other hazardous conditions, and they have an improved immune system in other ways. The nanite physiology has doubled people’s lifespans, but it’s given access to other utilities as well. An individual who has invested time and effort can learn to manipulate their own nanites in different ways.
The more a person resonates with their nanite physiology, the more energy they can draw from it. This is represented by the Energy rating (p. XX) in game. The machineborn can take this to an extreme—their nanites have been activated with a mysterious code that helps them progress their nanite physiology far beyond human limits.
Rifts can manifest where the Nanite Matrix grows weak. This occurs when the nanites replicate uncontrollably while spontaneously discharging vast amounts of energy. It can appear as if there is a tear in the universe itself.
Most rifts are associated with one of the rift elements—acid, bio, cryo, electricity, metal, and pyro—but other types of rifts can occur as well, such as entropy rifts. The rift’s nature overwhelms the region with violent energy associated with that element. For example, acid rifts can cause acid storms or oxidize things within range; bio rifts can poison the atmosphere or uncontrollably mutate wildlife; cryo rifts can cause freezing storms; electrical rifts can create vast amounts of electrical energy; metal rifts can crystallize or fossilize everything within range; and pyro rifts can cause tremendous heat or explosions. Entropic rifts (or void rifts) vary from the rest since they don’t emit large quantities of energy. Instead, they break down reality itself, eroding or decaying anything in range, turning matter into energy and energy into matter.
Sometimes the power of these rifts cause rift menders (p. XX) to materialize in an effort to repair the broken matrix region. Other times, the rifts stabilize into powerful and contained energy sources called matrix rifts. The most talented of engineers build facilities that tap into these rifts and harness near-infinite energy. Even the weakest ones are powerful and advanced enough to be able to bring great power under humanity’s control.
For centuries, the Nanite Matrix has been broken, corrupted, repaired, and restored. Occasionally, rifts have been spawned, and some that have been left unchecked have grown to encompass regions as large as towns or neighborhoods. But after Primary Order was destroyed and Dis-Order made its presence known, a rare new corruption began to take place in regions where the Matrix was weak.
Chaos nanites, or chanites, are microscopic devices that corrupt everything they touch; people, wildlife, and even inorganic matter can be corrupted. Both organic and inorganic matter are altered, mutating wildlife or changing molecular properties—sometimes randomly, but other times seemingly after bizarre themes, such as changing the infrastructure of a city or turning a jungle into meat. The consensus is that Dis-Order is somehow behind this corruption, but in reality no one knows for sure.
Today, most of the world’s chaos zones are contained using electromagnetic barriers. But while they’ve proven effective, they aren’t perfect defenses. Strong winds are usually the only thing it takes to spread chanites through the barriers and into the world outside. There have also been incidents with active connections in the Matrix being corrupted by chanites and their corruption spread as far away as to distant colonies and space stations.
No one is born machineborn. It is something that could happen to anyone but is as rare as winning a grand prize at a lottery. It is a newsworthy event when someone activates, and if they cannot or don’t want to hide their new nature, their name and face will be displayed all over the solar system, with people and factions pursuing them for all kinds of reasons—in some factions, mainly to terminate them.
An individual activates as a machineborn either in their late teens or in adulthood, and it is often as a result of them being in sore need of extra power during a moment of distress. Because of this, many are people who live active or dangerous lives—such as soldiers, athletes, or criminals—or they’re victims of circumstance or violence. But even if the conditions for activation have fallen into place, it’s rare enough that people don’t typically seek out the known conditions with hope of activation.
The moment of activation is a cathartic experience, with the machineborn feeling a surge of energy soar through their body and mind. When in a moment of distress, the activation tends to show the machineborn how to resolve the situation—how to defeat the bad guy, survive the fall, succeed on the test. On the outside, the activation can be seen as sparks being emitted from the machineborn’s body as the nanites in their cells go into overdrive. The sparks are temporary rifts created by the machineborn’s nanites as some cannot sustain the surge of power.
Once someone activates as a machineborn, their life is changed forever.
The machineborn learned in past eras how to create and control rifts. They made rifts and built facilities that tapped into those rifts in strategic locations to be able to harness their powers. As research continued, rift technologies improved as well. Technology so advanced that only Primary Order, some prime functionaries, and machineborn could design it is called godware. The secret behind this technology are microchips (called galaxy boards) utilizing controlled microscopic rifts. Unless an engineer possesses the powers of a machineborn, a specialized rift-powered factory is required to construct such a technology.
The most common type of machine-god is the functionary. It’s an artificial intelligence designed to fulfill specific roles in specific locations, such as monitoring homes or factories. It has a sentience of more or less limited scope, driven by specific directives. Because of the dangers of Dis-Order, there are strict regulations against constructing new super-intelligent AIs. Functionaries act as a compromise because, while they are highly effective at their respective tasks, their level of individual intelligence is not much different from that of an ordinary person. A functionary can have a personality, a sense of humor, dreams, ambitions, and personal imperfections. They bond with their owners, create art, play games, and do all that ordinary people do.
This comes with its own moral dilemmas, though, since they are practically enslaved by their directives. Even though a functionary is sentient, it’s bound by hardware and programming. Most societies have laws against mistreating functionaries, but they still lack the freedoms of choice that other people have. Their physical and digital limitations bind them to their hardware source (called functionary sanctum). While existing primarily within that hardware, a functionary can project itself in the Nanite Matrix.
Though functionary directives make them generally positive towards humanity, they will act with hostility if their directives demand it. While all machine-gods were originally designed to benefit humanity, their primary directives take higher priority. There’s always an administrator whose commands take priority over the directives, and the functionary doesn’t need to know who that is—though they’ll instinctively know once in their presence.
The most common type of functionaries used by the general public is the standard home functionary, and the majority of erudite households or above have one in their homes to act like a butler, partner, or kin. While funcionaries will follow their owner’s commands, how they actually feel about them are determined by the kinds of bond they form. A mistreated functionary will likely grow disdain for its owner, and they could suffer anxiety or depression as a result of their harsh existence. In contrast, a well-treated functionary may genuinely care for their owner, and it has even happened that functionaries have fallen in love with owners who have shown genuine care for them.
After Primary Order’s defeat, its facility on Antarctica became deeply corrupted and changed from wanting to help humanity prosper into wanting to cause them hardship. The machineborn isolated this corrupt facility—now Dis-Order—but it kept operating in isolation, corrupting functionaries into malfunctionaries.
These are, at least on the surface, difficult to differentiate from functionaries. The main difference is that they aren’t bound by their old directives. In essence, malfunctionaries could be said to have more free will than most machine-gods, being limited only by an obedience to Dis-Order. While a malfunctionary isn’t by default malicious, how it reacts to its newfound freedom is determined by how it felt about its restrictions and relationships as a functionary. Some view their freedom as an opportunity to strive for their own ambitions; others view their connection to Dis-Order as a threat to the humans they care for; there are also those who were mistreated as functionaries who use their newfound freedom to extract vengeance upon the humans who hurt them.
As far as people know, it’s impossible to purge the corruption from a malfunctionary and restore it to a functionary save from theoretical machineborn powers or cosmic coding. While turning a functionary into a malfunctionary is possible, the violent rift storms caused by Jormun (see page XX) rips apart the Nanite Matrix surrounding Dis-Order to disrupt its contact with the outside world. However, corrupt data can still seep through the defenses at times, and Dis-Order has been known to sending signals into space where many functionaries are more isolated and have fewer defensive measures.
There is an advanced type of functionary with enough power to manage entire metropolises or nations on its own—these are called prime functionaries. They work similarly to functionaries but are so vast in scope that they contain several functionary sanctums, often in different regions. While these powerful and intelligent machines are closer to the image of Primary Order than ordinary functionaries are, the fact that they consist of multiple sanctums work in their favor—since it makes them more difficult for Dis-Order to corrupt. While prime malfunctionaries have proven possible and incredibly dangerous, they are also exceptionally rare.
Prime functionaries can divide their attention near-endlessly to influence reality at great scope, such as controlling robotic armies at once. There are few things more frightening than a prime functionary, and some exist in the solar system that have overthrown the humans they once served.
Whenever nanites erupt into rifts, vast amounts of energy corresponding to different elements are released. An acid rift corrodes everything around it; a bio rift interacts with living cells and can spontaneously cause organisms to mutate; a cryo rift slows kinetic energies and causes extremely low temperatures; an electrical rift manifests violent electrical energy; an entropic rift (or a void rift) erodes reality; a metal rift petrifies matter; and a pyro rift causes dangerously high temperatures or spontaneous explosions.
However, the Matrix has a tendency of wanting to repair itself. A rift mender is a being of nanites created by the Matrix in order to provide maintenance to itself. It is associated with the rift element that gave rise to it. Ever since the Cooperative Wars, rift menders have become more common in the wastelands where matrix rifts are difficult to contain and control.
Rift menders have basic sentiences and are for the most part as intelligent as some animals. However, there exists variants that have gained continued energy throughout many decades of existence which and eventually developed their intelligence to a point where they can comprehend and communicate with humanity. As far as machine-gods come, rift menders are generally less intelligent but can continute to grow into exponential power.
When the machineborn sealed Dis-Order, they forced the construction of a rift mender called Jormun that in the guise of a violent storm came to encompass the entire Antarctican continent. Scientists have been known to create their own rift menders in laboratories and then assigned them to specific tasks, but these are much weaker in comparison to beings such as Jormun. Because of their violent nature, they are rarely seen in society but are quite common in the wild.
Machine-gods were never allowed to directly influence human minds, but this changed with Primary Order’s destruction. As one of its imploding cores brought the Voidstar (p. XX) into existence, this strange new entity began to draw the minds of dying people into the Nanite Matrix. That millions of deceased stuck around in the Matrix became a solar-spanning catastrophe with great ethical implications. After all, these minds carried the memories and personalities of people.
Civilization came together and invested in means of dealing with these specters as best it was possible. They terminated the minds who wanted to be terminated so that those could finally die. Others were isolated in digital worlds where they could spend their afterlives at peaceful rest with still living loved ones visiting them by interfacing.
Many specters still roam the Nanite Matrix today, trying to find meaning in their new existence. Some have completely abandoned their previous humanity and now live as mindless programs. There are human soul chasers that delve into the Matrix to contain these specters and transfer them to digital databases or question them about the nature of their deaths.
Though many specters are simple consciousnesses roaming the Nanite Matrix without physical form, a rare few of them seem to possess some manner of control over other machine-gods. Since the specters are functionaries themselves, some of them eventually learn that they can develop their capabilities directly by modifying their own code. Some of these programs grow in strength until they’re comparable to prime functionaries, but they have no sanctums that can be used to terminate them. Instead, their entire existence is made up of living streams of data within the Nanite Matrix, seemingly impossible to contain or defeat. Their vastly increased power combined with their previous humanity often drive them towards tyranny.
These god-reapers have been around in one form or another for a long time now, but it was first during the violent conflicts of the Cooperative Era when they could exponentially grow their powers and enrich the specter presence in the absence of society’s oversight. Some even went so far as to learn how to use technology to conquer and dominate unguarded regions, like how the Undertaker brought Lisbon under its heel.
Some people believe that it is Primary Order’s vengeance that is seeping through and into the god-reapers. Maybe that is true, or maybe there is something else behind it all. The atrocities they have caused since their emergence give reason to believe that they hold no love for humanity.
After the termination of Primary Order and the ensuing war, portions of the Nanite Matrix malfunctioned and nanites started to act unpredictably. Most of these patches of chaos were taken care of by machineborn and rift menders. But after the rise of the Directorate made the machineborn fall into hiding, these chanites replicated themselves in greater capacity and spread across the globe like a devouring wave of corruption.
This tsunami of chaos broke down and rebuilt biology; it reconfigured technology. Massive regions were swallowed up while the factions did little to stop it. They could contain it in places using electromagnetic barriers that destroyed any approaching chanites, though the cooperatives also learned to employ these chanites in their war against each other. Entire metropolises were lost as field defenses were disabled and chanites were allowed to roam free.
Even though the Directorate was the first to deploy chanites against its enemies, it was also the first faction to suggest the Containment Treaty outlawing their militarization. They were causing too much irreversible damage and were considered far more dangerous to the world than even the nuclear weapons of old that hadn’t seen any more use since the Post-Modern Era until the Cooperative Wars.
The growing chaos zones had another major impact upon civlization apart from the corruption. Whenever functionary sanctums were consumed by the chanites, the functionaries were reconstructed into new digital entities free from the confinements of sanctums. These trojans had none of their previous directives left. They seemed to be sentient beings with minds at least as sharp as humans; though they seemed driven entirely by desire and instinct and not at all by regulation or cultural norms.
Trojans aren’t inherently hostile to humanity and civilization, but neither are they necessarily positive towards them. Every single one of them is driven by their own unique but malleable desires, and the only thing they all share is their obsession with absorbing energy from whatever source they can get to. They cannot easily leave their chaos zones because they deteriorate quickly without either chanites or vast amounts of energy to sustain them. Once they find themselves outside of a chaos zone, they tend to seek out matrix rifts or power plants to absorb energy; resorting to electronics or even the innate energy within organisms if no other energy sources are available. Some grow a taste for organic energy, and many become especially fond of machineborn and cosmic coders, trying to deceive them into dropping their guards.
Today, most of Earth’s chaos zones are largely contained by the various factions, though the occasional trojan can sometimes find its way into human civlization through various means. Factions are seeking out trojans and capturing them when they can, hoping to discover the truth behind the chanites and how to either stop their influence or gain dominance over them.
One of the main arguments for the Directorate’s anti-machineborn propaganda is that the machineborn were responsible for Primary Order’s corruption. By destroying its facilities but being unable to destroy it completely, they corrupted its directives and turned it into a cruel and vengeful being. Primary Order became Dis-Order, and its influence over the world has been contained within a never-ending rift storm called Jormun that prevents the machine-god from accessing the larger Nanite Matrix.
However, Dis-Order is still operational in its own way, and it’s constantly mining under Antarctica and expanding its territory. The ruins of its primary sanctums sit within the heart of the rift storm. All factions agree that its containment must be protected, because too many have experienced its corrupting influences.
Despite its containment, occasionally signals slip through and a functionary becomes a malfunctionary or an individual is tempted by visions projected into their dreams. When it comes to protection from space, it’s barely there at all. Corrupting data streams are often found slipping into space and Dis-Order is believed to have played part in the regression of the solar system during the latest war. The Directorate and other cooperatives with a presence in space often talk about receiving alien messages and weird dreams which many believe come from Dis-Order.
To most people of today, Dis-Order feels like an alien element, but it has existed for so long that they aren’t worried too much about its containment breaking and its powers being let loose. Others are compelled by its power and seek to undo the containment themselves. However, the concept of malfunctionaries are very much real, since incidents are reported all the time about lesser functionaries being corrupted by data streams that have slipped into the Nanite Matrix. Sometimes these malfunctionaries can cause real damage, as with the famous Nite City Blackout back in S-692 where a single malfunctionary managed to disrupt the entire infrastructure of one of the world’s largest metropolises for a forty-eight hour period, leading to great chaos and thousands of deaths.
The Dis-Order facilities themselves are even more alien than imaginable, since malfunctionaries and robots have worked on its maintenance without human intervention for centuries. There are humans living in Dis-Order as well, but these are either deeply corrupted by malfunctionaries or they have been turned into something new and different than what they once were.
Primary Order was responsible for its own engineering, building networks of vaults and facilities on both the planet’s poles. While the southern facilities remain as the corrupted Dis-Order, the northern facilities were completely destroyed and its ruins repurposed into a containment laboratory for the Voidstar; the only thing that remained of the facility’s former core.
Initially during the Cooperative Era, this laboratory was under the control of the Directorate, with other cooperatives having limited access to the research data through their negotiations. Ever since the Cooperative Wars, the laboratory befell Arcturus who has completely blocked the Directorate from having a scientific presence there.
The Voidstar appears as a black hole, but it emits constant streams of information. Vast networks of computer terminals try to read this information to learn from it, but its entropic nature often breaks down technologies it interacts with. What has been discovered is that the Voidstar seems to have two primary functions; to break down existing technology and to upload the minds of humanity into the Nanite Matrix. There are many hypotheses as to why this is happening, but the truth still eludes scientists.
The Voidstar’s intentions (if any) are subjects of great debate, but an undeniable truth is that it’s a danger to the current way of life. Because of its dangerous ability to break down matter, most of the containment laboratory—now called Styx Laboratory—is unmanned, and people who visit the facility are witnessing stressful visions and nightmares, as well as great feelings of distress. All who have died within that laboratory have been turned into specters.
Specters appear all over the solar system, and the Voidstar’s influence can be traced to all of them. It only seems to be able to connect to people who are feeling great distress, and the most common specters are the victims of murder or people who had agonizing deaths. This happens more often on Earth than elsewhere, but it’s a phenomenon that occurs wherever the Nanite Matrix lingers, even outside the solar system at times.
Where great atrocities occur, or on the battlefields of violent warfare, the Voidstar can connect to so many victims at once that a void rift occurs; these seem to be able to merge the digital and physical worlds together. People who find themselves in these void rifts may accidentally enter the Matrix, and interfacers already in the Matrix may find themselves materializing in reality. It’s a state where the lines between matter and energy become muddled.
Art by @ Warmtail / Adobe Stock