Hacking in Corpfall and more #nanowrimo Worldbuilding

I’m relatively tech savvy, but I’m no student of computer science. I can open up a computer, and do just enough to make sure it doesn’t explode, but don’t expect me to explain to you why a computer’s components are doing what they are doing, or how it all works together. When it comes to writing about computers, I follow the rule of speculative fiction: stay consistent and don’t establish anything that will make your reader incredulous. I mean, no one can be 100% accurate about what technology will look like 100 years from now, so there is wiggle room to predict a lot of fanciful changes.

I like cyberpunk as a genre, to a degree. I’m a fan of the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, Neuromancer, Deus Ex, Netrunner, I thought Ghost in the Shell was okay. There are certain technological advancements that seem consistent across the genre, as a staple. In the same way steampunk absolutely requires terrible facial hair and gears glued to your clothing where it cannot feasibly serve a real purpose, cyberpunk has elements that seem to cross mediums and series. Cybernetic implants are chief among, powerful prosthetic limbs that can serve additional purposes, work better than natural limbs at times, and might be networked with technology that would seem impossible to shove into a human body. Another common advancement is the ‘Matrix’ or ‘Net’, the internet advancing to the point that it permeates society, and has its own weaknesses and accesses that can allow crafty individuals to assault even those who might be unassailable in the physical world. In a way, these two technologies tap into the cyberpunk themes of a world where humanity is vanishing, and an overwhelming drabness is sucking up everything that we once considered magical. Cybernetics represent chopping off what was truly human and attaching computer pieces that don’t quite do the trick, aren’t nearly the same. The matrix/net is an endless world for normal people to be trapped in, so far from reality that they don’t realize they are a shell of a human being living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

cyberpunkishConsidering the age of your average successful writer, and when cyberpunk started as a genre, you can imagine this was a constant fear at the time. People were going to strap themselves into the internet, and never come back out. Outside of a few addicted people here and there, this is rarely the case. The internet is a wonderful tool, and has now outstripped all other forms of communication. We use the internet to communicate real problems, beautiful realities, as well as our made up dreamscapes. I’m not worried about the internet, or what it will do to society. I know that it will continue to shock and change the system, but that this change will eventually just craft changes in how humans work.

In a previous Nanowrimo I wrote, called Update, I followed a pair of detectives that had to catch a murderer. The crisis was that the murderer killed a ‘Public person’, an oversharer who broadcasts every moment of their life from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep. Because of how much social media, the internet, and computers, were in every aspect of society, it should have been impossible for anyone to kill the victim. When I think about the cyberpunk world of this novel I plan to write, Corpfall, I imagine things have only grown weirder from there. When most people don’t bother having any privacy, when every crisis is broadcasts across the world, media and communication have to change. A cyberpunk world has no use for newspapers, and even news media has likely become a glorified Tosh.O (a trend you can already see in your local news, where whole segments are dedicated to highlighting footage from popular internet videos). Information is shared, but so is misinformation. Trends come up in a moment’s notice, with millions of people becoming aware of a new idea simply because others have latched onto it, but some of these trends are just as artificial and constructed as a modern day TV commercial. This is our future, maybe.

Still, Corpfall isn’t about normal people, it is about a super-powered agent and her hacker. Carlos “Tru” Fuller, who grew up hacking in Mexcity, is an expert at the process of tapping into the Net (as I chose to call it, because the Matrix creates its own emotional response that I cannot control). Like a rigger from Shadowrun, or a runner from Netrunner, he knows how to infiltrate, hack, and alter computer systems from remote locations.

Unfortunately, the Matrix of Shadowrun, and similar internet analogs, have always escaped my full understanding. Personally, when playing Shadowrun, I always focused in magic. I only understand hacking in Netrunner because it is the basic process that the abstract mechanics of the cards are representing. Other cyberpunk series I interacted with are of no help in this regard, like the new shadowrun game, or Deus Ex. At the end of the day, it seems like a bunch of keywords are thrown out there, and the reader/player is supposed to get the feeling that computer programs are fighting other computer programs in an effort to protect representations of data that people would want.

That is to say, in most of these cyberpunk futures, the process of hacking is visualized as something akin to a video game battle, and the winner gets to steal information from a computer. Which, if we think about it, seems absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, this is speculative fiction, and we have to understand exactly what might be happening here. In Neuromancer, the hacker Case had been ‘burned’ after a previous incident. The access nodes on his body, where he would interface with a ‘deck’ (or computer), were destroyed, making it impossible for him to fully connect to a computer. The idea is that for deckers like Case, you don’t just type a bunch of keys on a keyboard, the best hacking is done when your spinal cord has a direct connection with the computer. This means that you can perform more actions than made possible by any other input method, it means you can sense computer output directly as if it were another sense. To a decker/rigger/runner/hacker, when you are fully connected, the internet can become its own world.

When someone first invented this, it is likely that the first interfaces were boring and predictable. You could see squares that represented your files, touch them, read them, and probably type on a virtualized keyboard or ‘think’ commands to the computer. Entertainment would take it further, with users (who didn’t have the full implants, but other ways to sense this virtual reality) would want computer games and programs that take advantage of this new interface. Soon we have users who set up servers to be social, and games like Second Life or social MMOs already represent this sort of advancement. Soon, most internet users would be used to a VR interface, where an avatar of them represented even basic actions, like going to social locations or visiting digital ‘parties’. Of course normal interfaces would still exist, because you can’t always have a full avatar set up or the equipment that might require.

In a situation with virtual reality internet, that is always growing in scope and features, every user would be experiencing something different. Based on their hardware, operating system, software, output devices, input devices, you have millions or billions of people seeing slightly different version of a space. This would require a sort of ‘agreed upon reality’ system within the programming, where different hardware would need to come to consensus on what they ‘should’ be trying to show to their user. If three computers know they have entered a social room that is based on feudal Japan, they would do their best to portray that, but the general idea of ‘feudal Japan’ might be all that the users can agree is in common.

Hackers also use this virtual visualization. It would help people like Fuller react properly to output. Sure, a computer that is tracing another computer doesn’t need to waste extra power to represent that as a hunting dog, this might be completely on the part of the hacker’s computer. Two hackers entering the same space might not even see the same ‘programs’ trying to attack them. But likely, because the sysops and programmers also grew up in a world that relies on this same virtual reality, they would program a baseline visual aspect to their internet countermeasures. A simple program wouldn’t need much more than to be an arrow shooting out, or an axe slicing down. These work to deter internet users who don’t know what they have gotten into, or are way over their head. It is the new symbology, like giant stop signs when a website is blocked, or the disruptive sound of a computer giving an error message. Few programs need to have complicated symbology, and usually those programs would be intelligent enough that their appearance would make sense. Examples of these would be human shaped guardians, or hunting animals.

So when Fuller hacks into another computer, he attaches to his deck using implanted interfaces in his skin. He can use a less clean method, but this is his preferred way to do it. His computer creates a virtual interface, and he may even have a comfortable ‘home’ environment there to do basic functions. When hacking, his computer interfaces with the net, and the whole of the internet is represented almost like a vague world if he wants it. When he connects to an internet address, a computer or server, that space may have a pre-set visual setting that his computer will try to adapt to. If he connects to a server and it is coded to represent itself as a cozy house, this would be communicated to Fuller’s deck, and his avatar would materialize in a house. This is done automatically to help him understand what the server is trying to communicate. This server could just be a cozy party, and it would be visually confusing if he was seeing an empty box with blips of information while the server was trying to represent a room full of men smoking pipes and talking about sports. If he were to be hacking the server, he would use programs he had installed on his computer to attempt to pull hidden information out of the server, or take control of the server’s functions. Because programmers create program visuals to reflect their function (usually), hacker programs that deconstruct or disrupt these functions can usually take on appearances of their own, and sometimes the theme of destruction matches the visuals (like using a virtual axe to represent a program that hacks at simplistic digital barriers that might often be represented by doors). In reality, these are hacking scripts assisted by their creator to destroy a digital space and mine it for information. The details of what happens to these constructs aren’t important, the results of the data are. The door may look like it is in splinters, but the important part is whether the hacker can now bypass the barrier and get to the other side. This seems obvious when I think through it, but the important part I need to remember is that the visuals don’t mean that hacking is a video game, Fuller or whichever hacker still need to be an active part of the process. Not everything can be done with scripts, or our hacker isn’t all that impressive.

There are other aspects of the technology that I should investigate, like AI, but I’m already reaching 2000 words. This investigating has already helped me a lot, and I might still be able to think about what happened with AI technology in my world before November hits. So maybe I should just be patient.

Advertisements

#Nanowrimo worldbuilding and the new nations

As I expected, thinking about the New Nations of my cyberpunk novel has been the hardest part of my pre-National Novel Writing Month preparations. There is a lot that I could go over, and at the same time I don’t really have an urge to go over any of it. I’ll tell you why, it isn’t always important.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love world building. I spent some time just before work today telling strangers on the internet about the family and relationship habits of a made up fantasy world I created for two Nanos ago. When it matters, I enjoy digging into random details that the reader may never fully understand. But when it comes to some details, they are both not important to the story, and not constructed of elements that I understand enough to construct well. I’ll explain more as I jump in here.

plainfuture

The ‘New Nations’ as they are called, are three (sometimes four) trade organizations that serve as the primary form of government for several world powers. They are, in order of importance to the story, NAB (the North American Business Authority), WEB (West European Business Securities, sometimes OEB for French speaking countries), and SAB (South American Business Authority). The fourth is the UAT, or the United African Treaty. These are world governments in that they create laws, execute those laws, and govern over the citizens of their regions. It was important that they function enough like a world government that the reader doesn’t have mindless questions about that, but at once I didn’t want them to just be the world governments we know today.

Really, I want them to be like strange megacorporations. The new nations are here to help the people, they saved the world from the Corp war, when megacorporations fought openly with mercenary armies, when citizens were cannon fodder for their schemes against one another. When the new nations materialized, there was cheering in the streets, and a new age was born. People stopped starving on street corners, you became less likely to die in random gunfire between mercenary armies, and your block was less likely to explode at random. These are all good things. But the new nations didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Leaders came together and decided that a new government was needed, but the world was too advanced for the old method of nation forging. They couldn’t just fight a guerilla war, or write a sternly worded letter. They needed assets, infrastructure, and support from billions of people.

So the new nations were created in a business deal. Smaller corporations, some just below qualifying as ‘mega’, and others just too weak to compete with the largest megacorporations, bought into the new nation idea. A president would be elected, but these would be nations that would have a board of directors. Those with the most money in the country, the wealthy who were at risk of losing a lot, were given that chance to sit in what would be like a new house of lords. Sure, their power to govern is checked by the other branches of government, but money has an obvious place in running the government, instead of hiding in the shadows.

In exchange, the new nations did several things that were missing since the corp wars. The world is made up of many people who cannot protect themselves or their assets. The poor, the homeless, those who are making just enough to get by, the sick, the odd, the oppressed. The world was dangerous for these people when corporations were the ones in control, and were more likely to take advantage of them than help them. When you are a megacorp and you can either feed the poor, or give them an experimental slop that will feed them but might also give them life destroying side effects, you have to think of the bottom line and torture the homeless. With the new nations, a super welfare net was created. The world was at a state where the homeless could be housed in cheap dorms, the sick can be kept marginally healthy with cheap drugs, and the poor can be given just enough cash to pour it back into the system. Everyone is supported, on the backs of the system. It isn’t the prettiest solution, which is why Corpfall has nicheads and dorms, people given enough money to buy ‘scrip drugs and lounge around their one bedroom ratholes instead of even trying to be productive. It is meant to play at the nightmare scenario of every republican presidential candidate in the last few decades. The new nations bleed money, and only through support from their board companies and business efforts can they ever make enough to stay stable, and maybe not even then.

The primary new nation in the story is NAB. NAB is divided into three zones that I mention, based on internet backbones. Westboard is centered on SeaVan, the megacity that developed out of Seattle and Vancouver crashing into each other. While SeaVan isn’t the biggest city in the West (that would probably be SanSan in the Southwest), it is a cultural center, and the weather is nice. Southboard covers much of the American South, and the biggest cities I mention there are SanDall, San Antonio and Dallas megacity, and Mexcity. Mexcity, you might guess, is the future version of Mexico City, and has grown to consume most of what was Mexico. Eastboard has Boston, which is still just Boston, but now bigger and better than ever. NAB is known for being the most creative of the new nations, a wildcard among them. While many say the brightest creators are still in Asia, NAB has created new medicines and technologies that rival the old markets (aka, East Asia, India, Russia, and East Europe). NAB, more than the other new nations, has a poverty problem. There are a lot of people in North America, and the economy was already hurting when the corp wars began. With the new nations, and old habits, NAB has certain holes in its support net that leads to an oddly large number of its citizens taking advantage of the support net.

I might not stick with all of those ideas, especially considering where I want to go with SAB, but it is worth typing out.

WEB, or OEB, is Europe. It is effectively the European Union, but in the future. My first thought when I considered WEB, was a very American thought. Who is better at high taxes and welfare states than Western Europe? WEB is the king of welfare, but not in a bad way. When it comes to helping their citizens, no one does it better than WEB. Among world nations, they have the strongest lock on their megacorps. It is to the point that many would say, “There are no Megacorps in WEB”. The corporations there are taxed, controlled, fined, and sued into submission. For this reason, WEB has few players in their megacorp game, most companies choosing to relocate, or never trade in the WEB market, despite the large pool of customers there. WEB doesn’t have a poverty problem. When people are poor enough to be put on welfare, the administration makes it a motto to have a ‘personal touch’, as much as you can in such situations. They try to turn over every person who falls on hard times, and make public cases of those who have become successful members of society. Of course, this also means that WEB is a leaking ship. As a nation, they tax so much that it almost seems easier to fail than to succeed, at least then you will know for sure where your meals will come from. The system, compared to NAB, is easy to work and hard to fail out of. WEB is known for their service work, with many citizens simply serving in office jobs that support other citizens of WEB in an endless cycle of customer service.

WEB has their own version of the Billion Dollar Babies program, that was started after NAB. In comparison, it is much more spy-like, and it is likely that they spent a lot less per agent. Less cybernetics, less intensive training, more specialized.

spaceelevator

SAB is the last new nation I’m going to talk about here. Their territory starts south of Mexcity, and heads to the tip of the South American continent. You can imagine that the center of SAB is Brazil. This is true, but not just because Brazil is already powerful. SAB is the problematic cousin of the new nations. SAB is rich. Because space flight is best done close to the equator, the new nation with easy equator access was the most successful, and SAB is overflowing with space trade, space experiments, and contracts with the old governments. SAB is also a tourist haven. Combined, SAB has the least control over their markets. Some say that SAB is still being controlled by the megacorps. They take trade deals, they give tax breaks to certain corps, and they allow for some special rights and privileges to some businesses. SAB can also be a dangerous place, with people vanishing in the literal tourist traps that dot the region. On the other hand, SAB has money to burn, and they sometimes use it well. It is also said that no one gets sick in SAB, and it is the richer America. They use their money to achieve results, creating massive infrastructure projects that keep their people employed, and business flowing into the region.

SAB isn’t thought to have a babies program, and they usually use third party mercenaries to fight crime. Whether this is better or worse for them is up for debate.

Like I said at the start, there are reasons this was difficult for me. Geography, while once a favorite subject of mine when I was a kid, is no longer my strong suite. I have trouble deciding major hubs of activity in other regions, especially because I don’t know their background enough to know why cities would grow or combine, and which would shrink or be enveloped. Paris is probably going to be a megacity, but would London grow or just become an artifact of the Britain that was? What about Sao Paulo, is there a city nearby it could merge with to be the megacity of SAB? I need to research, but then again I don’t know if I need to research more than what is necessary to namedrop the megacity.

I’m also not a business expert. I didn’t even think about Megacorp interactions with New Nations until earlier this week. What happens if a Japanese company wants to do business in NAB? Do they block them out on principal? Do they let them in but control everything they do?

I used an example to decide this one. take a company like Domotek, an entertainment megacorp centered in Japan. They create toys, electronic entertainment, interactive objects, anything that can have a cute mascot on it, Domotek does. They are powerful, so powerful that everyone knows their brands, and the world buys their toys, apps, microtransactions, all day. Except the new nations are supposed to control megacorps, so how do they do that? Well, with Domotek, they likely would tax their products heavily since they are a foreign company. They would hold Domotek to regulations and standards that would block some of their other products (please, no toys that explode, contain poisons, or will degrade into hazardous materials). They would limit the amount of land Domotek could buy to business property, which would stop them from pulling schemes they can do for cheap in other regions (in Japan, Domotek might be free to buy up land, build housing on it, and then pay factory workers with housing instead of a living wage). The end result is that while Domotek might sell their products in NAB, the prices would be high, and some cheaper products might never hit the shelves or be rare. This would make the new nations feel different from their neighbors. Even with electronic products, the new nations might limit access to certain sites and products (which would cause a huff with those against censorship). While a game in Japan might be big that scans child brainwaves, adapts to their whims, but also tends to brainwash the kids a little to like more Domotek products, this could be banned or censored in NAB for the protection of the citizens under a special act.

In the end, this creates a set of countries that ‘feel’ clean, but mostly because they are pushing the problems elsewhere. Less bums on the streets, we built giant apartments for them to sleep in. Less drug addicts, because they are all addicted to this one particular drug that helps you get off of other drugs. The new nations feel ‘clean’, but the seeping wound is right there under the surface, and it isn’t nice when you run into it.

Anyway, I think that is enough thought about that, it was good to work it all out. Now I can move on to thinking about technology, and how I want to represent hacking, computers, and future tech.

Megacorps and #nanowrimo Brainstorming

Megacorporations are a difficult topic. They are so common in cyberpunk and near-future fiction that I don’t think we really think about what they actually represent, and what they require to be a reality.

Lately I got into the card game Android: Netrunner. The game simulates a fight between a ‘runner’, a hacker/lowlife, and a megacorp, a faceless entity creating evil schemes to take over the world. In that game the corporations perform actions that don’t so much represent one person, but an unimaginably large bureaucracy that doesn’t stop to consider what it is doing to the individuals in the world, unless those individuals put a spanner in the works that bring the corp grinding to a halt. I think it is a wonderful representation, and the game really helped me understand why megacorporations work so well in fiction.

Weyland-yutani

For a megacorp many of us might be familiar with, think of Weyland-Yutani, famous for their depiction as ‘THE COMPANY’ in the Aliens franchise. Weyland-Yutani is willing to send living people, cutting edge technology, and brave soldiers, to their deaths for the sake of a little more information and a possible profit. Weyland-Yutani doesn’t care that 5 people die terrible deaths, or that they have passed on information to an alien race that might one day destroy all of mankind. That will be someone else’s problem. The important thing is that they might make that much more money. As long as no one can connect the horrible crimes to the Weyland-Yutani brand, they won. Even if someone can connect it back to their brand, they could pay to make that go away. That is a megacorporation.

When a company gets that large, control has to become weak. There are different minds at different levels of authority, all trying to perform actions that they consider the most profitable to themselves, and to the company they work for. So these massive companies can seem a little scatter-brained, and really, the vast majority of those working in the company would have no awareness of ‘evil’ actions taken by their employer. Others within the company might think the actions are just, like a security director that thinks killing a gang of 20 men would save the thousands of employees who were being financially threatened by the gang raiding one of their outposts. Or a medical researcher who believes that letting a virus loose in a dorm with a hundred tenants is okay if it means saving millions when they have the cure. Megacorporations create distorted senses of morality within them.

In my Nano novel, Corpfall, Megacorporations got out of control. JIL, one of my named megacorporations in my timeline, is considered the perpetrator of one of the worst crimes against humanity. They destroyed a space station with a city on it. So many people died, that the backlash would be felt across the world. JIL was a ruthless corporation, and I imagine that many of the other megacorps that competed with it had to be equally brutal. They were part of the Corpwar, which means they hired and maintained attacks against other megacorps, actual physical violence that took to the streets of cities that the corps had constructed when the world relinquished governance to them.

JIL is dead now. It is less important what sort of corporation they used to be, and more important what happened to them. They were dismantled, their CEOs tried for crimes against humanity, and they were the head on a spike to warn the world that the ‘New Nations’ of the world meant business. Likely, JIL is an acronym, maybe an acronym that stopped functioning as one as the corporation grew in size and took on more subsidiaries and departments. JIL would have been a name so well known, but so powerful, that no one could imagine life without it. We don’t have a lot of those in reality. We have competitors to Microsoft, Time Warner, PepsiCo, and even if we love or hate their products, we could imagine a world without them. JIL would be bigger than that, maybe they were in the center of technologies that changed the world, like cybernetics, food, or transportation. Transportation would be an interesting one, since it would mean they could have built a space elevator, efficient space planes, or reached our neighbor worlds. Destroying a company with that much power in transportation would have a radical effect on normal people, especially if the company was then split into competing powers after years of being an advanced near-monopoly. Sort of like the baby bells (sorry for non-North Americans who may not understand that reference), these smaller JIL companies would take what they were handed, and then mostly sit on it for vast profit, only advancing when absolutely required by the market.

the other Megacorp I already have partially defined is Mailer-Bronson. At the end of the novel, Ashleigh and Fuller break into Mailer-Bronson, searching for a crucial piece of hardware that has been hidden in a sub-basement in their building. MB for short, Mailer-Bronson has the sort of hyphenated name that is supposed to imply a long history of other companies merging together. MB is old, a corp that survived the corpwars by being complacent. When the other corps fought against the government, Mailer-Bronson bowed, and was spared. Now they are one of the strongest remaining Megacorps. The only interactions with Mailer-Bronson are in an office building, so they could be any kind of company. Maybe, based on the first half of their name, they could be related to communications technology. Similar to Cisco as we know them now, a corporation like this would be wired into absolutely everything, and in a cyberpunk future, they would be absolutely essential for the future to continue functioning. Of course, that means they would want to cut out any business that might threaten their future, and aggressively research any future technology that might slow them down, then repress it until they are ready. That means technology like advanced high speed communication (like some sort of faster-than-light communication tech that could work for space stations).

Mailer-Bronson has a major stake in NAB, and maybe other world governments. For MB to continue functioning, they use NAB for protection, and invest in the government to keep that protection active and strong. Mailer-Bronson would be famous for their low number of violations of the NAB charter, a company that plays by the rules, but mostly because they always have a hand in writing the rules.

Of course, I should consider why I want interactions with Megacorps at all. I think that a common theme in modern society is the idea of the faceless corporation trying to crush down any and all opposition. They use underhanded tactics to get what they want, even buying politicians, or social support. In the future, this wouldn’t stop completely. The idea of a cyberpunk future is that corps eventually win, and the future becomes dark when your politician can actually wear the logo of the company that bought him, instead of that just being a clever joke in liberal memes. In my Corpfall novel, the timeline is supposed to be so far forward that this period of time has ended, and now the government tries to bring these companies back in line. The new nations would try to stop corruption, violations against human rights, civil rights, and the environment (what is left of it at that point anyway). So megacorps would be forced to have faces again. These faces would, in most cases, be constructed and false. Buy social media connections, buy spam to drill your ideas into consumer heads, buy fallguys to make sure that nothing is ever really your companies fault. Buy the prettiest people to accidentally use your product while their picture is being taken. Some of these actions wouldn’t be illegal at all, it would just be the future of advertising and media. Except, all of that megacorp money has an influence on normal people. They would think like the corps want them to think, to a degree. They would be a hodgepodge of all the campaigns they were hit with, a walking jumbled commercial. It is an interesting concept.

Another idea is that in Corpfall, the biggest megacorp of all IS the New Nations, and our main characters work for it. They are likely evil, no one within seems to realize what they are doing, and they sacrifice people to get the tasks they need done. The most shifty group in Corpfall is definitely the NAB, and they do have a large number of investors from corporations and old money. They stopped the hackers, but made them ‘Intelligence Agents’ they could shove into office buildings. They stopped the gangs of street samurai working runs for megacorps, and then turned around and created the Billion Dollar Babies to do the same for them. Maybe that is why I’m having so much trouble thinking about Megacorps, my largest and most well thought out Megacorp… isn’t.

I think I need to think about the new nations, and the old. NAB, SAB, WEB, UAT (the United African Treaty), and whatever happened to Asia. I can do that next, which might give me some time to think about what technology I should expect across the globe.

The Corpfall Babies and #nanowrimo worldbuilding

The Billion Dollar Babies were part of my original concept when I wanted to write a cyberpunk story. I had a previous story idea. The concept was of a future world where superheroes were occasionally found and molded into government agents. Not perfectly original, but something I would enjoy writing. The main character was a young girl that was discovered to have superpowers as an infant, and was sold to the government. From there she was trained, a billion dollars or more sunk into turning her into the perfect hero. When she became an adult, she wasn’t quite normal, because of her stunted childhood. When she meets another hero, one who doesn’t work for the government, her life and expectations are torn to shreds.

That original story would have likely ended as a romantic drama, not my best concept. The character in it, became Ashleigh, Billion Dollar Baby #A.

I didn’t have a lot of ideas for the babies when I started, I just knew that instead of known cyberpunk concepts, like street samurai and razor girls, I wanted someone who was clearly full of cybernetic implants and technology, but had the full support of the government (in retrospect, this character is the Major from Ghost in the Shell, screw me). Ashleigh was ‘donated’ as an infant, her parents willingly releasing her for government experimentation when the NAB (North American Business Authority) was still young. She was kept in perfect form, physically, mentally, for the training that would come when she grew older.

When the Babies program continued, others were added. It was established that the second generation of babies came after Ashleigh.

“I love you, Ashleigh,” Ciel said, “You know how much I love you. You were the world to us. When we first got in the system, you were everything we wanted to be. Strong, smart, that perfect discipline.”

24 other babies were introduced to the program, each noted alphabetically, ‘A to Zed’ as Ciel says. They alternate in gender, and differ wildly in their personalities. But each of them is a well trained agent that helps the NAB police their dangerous world. The established names so far: Ashleigh, Benito, Ciel, Derrick, Elise, Frank, Marsha, Naota, Reagan, Yvonne, Zander.

So why create 25 super agents instead of, well, a whole super force? Well, for one, the Babies are expensive (hypothetically, a billion dollars each). They are also a specialized force. If police officers are needed to stop a riot, that is as easy as calling in public or private police in the area. Ashleigh is better for spy works, wetworks, or deniable operations. In the opening of Corpfall, Ashleigh takes down a room of thugs to chase down a CEO that is attempting to avoid persecution for his crimes against the people. A full force might have alerted him early, where Ashleigh wasn’t detected until she was already in the building and ready to climb the stairs.

The babies also have technology in them that helps them infiltrate and spy on the powerful megacorps that they are required to keep in check. Ashleigh displayed several extra senses, heightened hearing, lightning reflexes, and impossible strength. She is also more durable than any normal human, and her training also makes her a master of manipulation and infiltration. The babies also have one final advantage that is already established, they are a cybernetic insertion point.

Every baby is a walking advanced network. If you need a hacker in the building, and a network is blocked from external intrusion, a baby can walk your hacker right into the building and help bypass those defenses. These ‘Cyberspace securities officers’, or just hackers if you aren’t being PC, keep a close eye on the baby they are connected to. In the case of Ashleigh, she has a full ‘simulated stimulation’ suite within her body, meaning she can broadcast exactly what she hears, physical feels, sees, all of her senses directly to someone connected to her. This is called ‘simstim’ in cyberpunk terms.

The babies we know so far are a weird mix of characters that naturally popped up in the story.

Special Agent Ashleigh Anderson is our main character. She starts the novel strict, a by the book agent that focuses on completing her missions. She is accompanied by her hacker, Carlos Fuller, who is a bit of a slob and joker. Ashleigh is the original baby, and for that reason she holds a special place in the program. She is usually kept divided away from her fellow babies.

Special Agent Benito Sandoval is her ‘little brother’, and number B of the second generation. He is a large swarthy gentlemen, full of energy, constantly poking fun at their situation.

It was annoying enough dealing with one Fuller, but Benito had his own Fuller-esque moments. She felt like she was babysitting.

Benito operates like an alpha male, and likes being the strongest and most attractive person in the room at any time.

Special Agent Ciel is number C. She is small compared to the others, and holds an old grudge against Ashleigh for events in their childhood. As Benito put it, Ciel used to have a ‘crush’ on Ashleigh, and it is implied they used to be closer than any of the other babies.

Elise is number E, and she was stricken from the records of the program. She appears in the novel briefly near the end, attempting to take revenge on the rest of the program. Elise is an example of what happens when a baby doesn’t have the government maintenance that is expected. Her body is falling apart, and it is implied that several of her implanted abilities, like advanced vision, have suffered catastrophic failures.

Four babies have died. Yvonne and Reagan died in the line of duty, supposedly. On the other hand, Elise escaped the program, and Derrick was killed by Ashleigh while they were still in training. Derrick’s attempt to leave caused a rift among the babies, with Elise and Ciel siding with Derrick, while Ash held to the only thing she has ever known, her government handlers. The death of Derrick destroyed the relationship between Ciel and Ash.

Other small details of the program. Commander Paulson is the military officer that was in charge of the program, and Dr. Long was the researcher on site at Fort 22, their ‘home’. It is implied that all of the babies hold at least some grudge against these two. Dr. Long is said to have a long sordid history, but it isn’t expanded on. Also, the whole program has been expanded, with many new young agents being introduced at the end of the novel, more than were ever in the first and second generation.

That is what there is to know. The question is, what else haven’t I covered?

There are many babies that I haven’t named or detailed. Frank, Naota, Yvonne, and Reagan, are all names and that is all. Naota went on a mission to China. Yvonne and Reagan graduated but died at some point. Not much more information is necessary. If they aren’t going to be in the story, they don’t need a full life. I would rather focus on the babies that are likely to appear.

Benito is a tricky character. I played him as a relationship foil between Ashleigh and Fuller. Benito is the big strong sort of man that Ashleigh would actually like, compared to Fuller. Both men are vague minorities (supposedly both are hispanic), both men are goofballs, and both men don’t respect Ashleigh’s personal space. There are other possibilities with Benito that were not important to the story. I imagine that his attached hacker is male. Benito and Ashleigh, as the ‘big brother and sister’ of Fort 22 have played ‘mom and dad’ to the others. If there was any chance of a romantic connection between a baby and Ashleigh, Benito’s natural competitive attitude would make sure that he instead insisted on being the one who was romantic with Ashleigh. For that reason alone, I think that Benito and Ashleigh ‘dated’ as much as any strange implanted super teenagers could while they were in the program. Benito is physically impressive, and capable in martial arts and athletics, even when compared to his fellow Babies.

Ciel is the awkward character. She only appears to begin the drama about Derrick’s death. She also introduced the possibility that not all of the babies are loyal to the government. Ciel is loyal to the other babies, not the government. She takes care of her siblings, even if they have turned evil, like Elise. She is a skilled shot, and works best in teams. Ashleigh calls her a ‘Bonder’. It is also implied that Ciel had a real crush on Ashleigh, which creates an odd relationship dynamic among A,B, and C. Ciel and Benito obviously still interact amicably, but if Benito won’t let anyone be close to Ashleigh but him, he doesn’t seem to consider Ciel a real threat. Adult Benito doesn’t seem to fight for Ashleigh’s affection anymore, so this odd relationship triangle could have resolved itself in the past. For now, Ciel is best described as small, angry, and loyal. All of these factors play into her interactions as personal hang ups.

Elise was a villain idea that didn’t live as long as I expected her to. She is the kind of grey villain that I enjoy having in stories. Her motivation, to stop the Billion Dollar Baby program that destroyed her childhood, is just in itself. Her friend, Derrick, died while she was young. She escaped the clutches of the government, and now lives a miserable existence hiding from those she previously considered family. She hates the NAB, Fort 22, and even certain members of the program. Whether Elise was smart before she escaped, or only became a schemer after, is unclear. It is possible that her physical abilities failing on her required her to turn to mental efforts. She works together with another party to help her infiltrate a meeting of all the babies, and attempts to kill the third generation before they can be used by the government. Ashleigh doesn’t even believe that Elise is still alive before she shows herself, which shows just how skilled Elise is at staying invisible in a society that tries to monitor everything. Elise dies, but her history is still important. There is the implication that she managed to convince several babies to side with her, without NAB noticing. This includes Marsha. She unwittingly hires Fuller’s gang to do her dirty work, but it is possible that an AI may have lead to that unfortunate coincidence. The full danger that Elise posed may not be dealt with, because she represented the possibility of rebellion, and soured the minds of a new generation of Billion Dollar Babies.

Really, I want to see more interaction between Ashleigh and her family. In particular, I want to see how Ashleigh and Ciel talk when they aren’t ready to kill each other. There are also a lot of letters that haven’t been filled, and a few, like Frank, Naota, and Zander, that only have small notes about them. They Ashleigh’s feelings about the Billion Dollar Baby program have soured with the death of Elise, but she still stands with her handlers by the end of Corpfall. Likely, she will want to work with her family more in the future, and do what she never did before, protect them.

Also, the third generation are an interesting possibility. Whether these younger agents in training will become a problem, need protection, or develop into important characters, is yet to be seen. Ashleigh protects a young boy from the third generation, and watches another become a young leader.

Finally, the Babies project was created by NAB, but WEB (the government over West Europe) has a program of its own. In Corpfall, I wanted Fuller and Ashleigh to work together with an English agent at some point, but never got around to it. The capabilities and differences between them are worth considering. NAB and WEB are very similar, and French sensibilities play well into the kind of future I’m imagining. Still, invading privacy, hacking, and assaults, might not be as popular in WEB. Surveillance is already a larger force in Western Europe than it is in the US, but militant police action isn’t seen the same. It is possible that WEB agents work more like traditional spies, with less run and gun.

Still, their job is the same, to control Megacorps and make sure they don’t start a new corporate war. The connections between corps, their plots, and how they may be manipulating the government (and even the babies program) are all likely important plot elements for future novels. Which is why I will be covering Megacorps next time.

Let me know what you think with a comment, or just tell me I’m boring and talked too long. Either one will keep me going.

I Wrote a Novel Once

I had to make a decision yesterday. 

I started editing a previous Nano novel of mine, and the novel is a strange creation. When I made it, my assumption was that I would never try to publish it under my name. Because as I began November that year, my plan was to write a ‘Romance’ novel. It was going to be sappy, have bad relationships, and there would be ‘lewd’ content.

Image

Except, the idea rammed into another idea, driving at a million thoughts an hour. Being an atheist and all, I figured I could also make the romance novel all about religion. Genius right? I’ve read religious romance novels before, and fantasy romance, I even had a blog dedicated to reading bad romance novels.

Of course, I couldn’t just go with that concept. If I had just written a novel about some christian girl and her not quite christian enough boyfriend, I could be a bestseller on Amazon right now. Instead, I wanted to do some worldbuilding. 

I built my own religion. Altered Earth history, redefined society. In the end, the Nano novel became some strange animal. It still had lewd content, but it was from a male focused point of view (this doesn’t happen outside of gay erotica), it was first person, and the main character doesn’t just trip into a love triangle. I tried to write a romance novel, and failed miserably.

So I started editing my novel yesterday (I should get back to the subject of this post), and asked myself… is this still going to be about lewd content? I wanted to be fair to the lewdness, it is pretty nice. I can write one mean scene of a phallus entering a vagina. The story, as it were, became so much about the religion of the main character. The point was that he took on a special place in society, giving up the right to exist within the normal social order, to perform special rituals in his religion. So does it need the sex?

The answer I came to? Yes. I decided to own up to the sex I wrote, even if it means the novel never goes anywhere but my own computer. The decision was easy after I started editing, and looked at the opening lines. Knowing what I knew, about the main character, about the path he takes and why he does what he does, I found myself enjoying my own opening lines. Here, I’ll copy paste it here.

I grabbed her by the jaw and squeezed hard enough to make her wince. Her mouth popped open, and I leaned down low enough to take a look inside. It was exactly what you would expect, rows of perfectly brushed teeth. She was healthy, as far as I could tell.

“Move your tongue,” I told her. To make sure she got the point, I squeezed my fingers even tighter.

She let out a sharp sob and moved her tongue to the left, and then to the right.

Still needs some work, but I instantly returned to the character I wrote now years ago. More importantly, that he was a complete dickhole. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a character so hard to like. 

So I followed my plan I made before. I read it, made an outline of it, I will edit the outline, and then I will rewrite the same scene blind. Then I will mash the best parts of the original and the new one. Here is the first outline I ended up with.

Mosi helps the Jelani house after the man’s death, and hears that Nia has moved in.

A. Introduce the main character at the Jelani house.

     I. Mosi inspects Zora physically. Harassing her to keep up the image of a Shaman.

     II. Jengo says a new family moved in. Mosi notes this.

     III. Jengo asks what to do, and Mosi gives instructions for a ritual.

B. Mosi goes home and checks his messages.

     I. Notes the details of his room. Boring walls, the big wood mask, bookcase.

     II. Checks messages, discovers message from Wilhelm. Realize Nia is here.

C. Mosi heals house Jengo

     I. Returns to Jengo house in Kifo outfit.

     II. Speaks to Jelani, and Subari. Notes Subari’s apprehension.

     III. Meets Zora in room and performs Kifo ceremony.

          a. Begins with bowl and incense.

          b. Says words to Kifo, and notes the goddess.

          c. ‘invokes’ the goddess with beak mask, fallen crane.

          d. Sleeps with Zora to help her connect to dead Jengo.

 

It felt weird boiling down about 11 pages in word into one little outline. I did it so often with essays, but I’m not an outline maker when it comes to fiction. Hopefully this won’t slow down my progress in this editing adventure. I want to stick to it this time. Because for some reason, the time that it is worth going all the way, is when I’m writing about a dude who goes all the way.

 

World Building and Me (But not you)

My body must feel National Novel Writing Month coming, because I have been brainstorming like crazy on different worlds and ideas. I love it, the idea that whole settings are brewing in my head, waiting to be unleashed on the page. Unfortunately, most of them fall flat, die in the notebook, and aren’t heard from for years to come.

According to Orson Scott Card (a bigot, but that’s not important here), this is a good thing. When we world build, we should always take notes, because you never know what will become a full-fledged story 5, 10, or 20 years from now. I’ve never considered myself that patient, but sometimes you don’t really have a choice. You create, through pure wonder and instinct, and then you let it rest until the full picture comes to you.

So today I feel like talking about world building, and doing some world building too.

I would say where I start, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The obvious answer is inspiration. When we see object, hear that sentence, groove to that song that triggers something in our minds. Often it is another media piece, which is why artists so often list others as inspiration. There is no shame in it, everyone does it.

For instance, my Cyberpunk story was directly inspired by me finally reading Neuromancer. There is no way around it. I read the novel, loved the concepts, and connected it with thoughts already within. The story took on skeptic/atheist undertones, with the main character not believing in a program so powerful that it was like a god.

Sometimes inspiration takes time, everything doesn’t click right away. That’s fine, as long as the idea can spin around in your head, it doesn’t matter how long it waits there. Soon it will absorb enough to become a full idea of its own.

From there, from the initial idea, I feel like there are a few approaches. It depends entirely on you, and what you want to do. As a writer, I’m planning on telling a story, but hell if that is the whole question. How long is this story? Is the story focused on one character? What is the scale of the story? Does the story stick to one time period? How much of the setting is important to the story?

I have a story about a married couple in a fantasy land who become cursed. The story is focused entirely on them, so only issues important to their daily lives need complete details. They aren’t nobility, so the lives and politics of royals are only so important. They are fairly affluent, so the scum life isn’t important unless they interact with it in the story. Only so much of the world’s history will relate to them, or even be known to them, so I can dial the clock 100 years in either direction and probably determine everything they would be aware of and that has influenced them.

These days I’ve been thinking about an RPG setting, which is a different undertaking entirely. With an RPG setting, the questions instead become player focused. What will the GM need to know? What will the players want to know? What will the ‘current’ timeline be? What major events have shaped the current timeline?

Unlike a story, the amount of knowledge required for an RPG setting is staggering. My RPG setting idea isn’t even complicated. It is a DnDesque universe where the different fantasy races occupy planets instead of regions of the same continent. Forest exploration is replaced with fantasy ship travel through the stars. Dungeons are stations left in space by long dead races.

The world building mostly did itself, but a lot of questions have been left unanswered.

After you know what questions to ask, it is easier to make a setting bloom. Once I know what I need to focus on, I can work my way outwards until the present, past, and future have all been covered in detail. It is also the easiest way to correct yourself, if something you create doesn’t quite fit with what you wanted.

If I am creating fantasy races, and I know I want one of them to be comically evil, I can go back and correct my history. The history was based on the present, so drawing the lines of influence, knowing which ideas changed what, is less of a burden. The 7th creation of the Ancient Ones was lost for their hubris (past), there are rumors the Shadow Kin are what is left of the fallen race (present), To this day they swarm the havens created by the Ancient Ones (present), looking for objects of power that can fuel their ascension. Etc, etc, fantasy jargon and silly race names.

The difficult part for me, is closure. I can note down a lot of different details, but I never quite feel like I’m done. There is always more to create, so when do I close the book and say I am finished? The answer given to me by plenty of teachers? It is never finished, just released. At some point you have to let your baby out the door, let it graduate, go to college, have its first drink, and make babies of its own. You can spend the meantime crying in your bedroom like a clingy parent.

Sometimes you draw the line, write the story, and then leave the rest for editing. That’s a whole other can of worms (or should I say wurms), and I’d rather not talk about it now.