As part of the reports feeding back from the Recon Team, I’m making a few tweaks to Renegade Legion to remind readers of how the battlesuit AIs work, and about how hairy the Hardits are (very!). I’m putting in some brief (2-page) Infopedia entries at the start of new Parts of the book, which I’m posting here for you to enjoy, comment on, or ignore at your pleasure 🙂
– ACE Battlesuit AIs
At the heart of the Armored Combat Exosuit (ACE) series of battlesuits is the plate holding the suit’s artificial intelligence. Indeed, the AI is literally at the suit’s heart, spending most of its existence submerged beneath a heavily armored band around the wearer’s chest. The AI’s plate can surface through the armor for removal, either for storage, evacuation from a damaged suit, or to be inserted into another device.
The AI’s role is to marshal the constant stream of sensor data and control the suit’s myriad functions while advising and assisting its human wearer. Some liken the relationship to the AI taking on the role of an army of veteran NCOs, while the human inside plays the role of junior officer: in command, but not so much in control. Ceaseless training between the human, the AI, and the suit they are paired into pays off when the AI starts to anticipate the commands of its wearer, and to emphasize the most critical threats and opportunities in the wearer’s helmet visor.
The anticipation can become so effective that many people have questioned the need for the human wearer at all, but there is an unshakable psychological need in the AI to play a supporting role to its human commander. To the AI, making decisions independent of its human’s orders is unthinkable, although the AI will take temporary control if its human is psychologically or physically unfit.
Some believe the suit AIs are grown from the souls of fallen comrades – or implanted with the mind and personality recordings of dead Marines. It is difficult to verify the truth of this as the means of construction are a carefully guarded secret.
Marines often use the word ‘telepathy’ to describe the way they communicate with their AIs. This is also difficult to prove one way or the other, but what is certain is that AIs communicate with their humans through multiple channels and with a great deal of redundancy to weather extreme conditions and the constant threat of cyber-attack. The link is deepened by wetware implants in the Marine that are designed specifically to interface with the AI. The result is a deep symbiotic link that is so intimate that the human often cannot be sure whether they are communicating by sub-vocalizing, or thinking words, or indeed whether an idea originated in the human or the AI mind.
When first introduced to each other, the AI will quickly adapt its personality to complement its wearer, shifting its temperament to match the human’s. For example, with a Marine who has just suffered a devastating loss, the AI may appear empathetic and caring, even maternal. If a danger appeared unexpectedly, the same AI might instantly switch to yelling at its wearer in the cruelest of manners in order to get them to move out of danger.
Over time, though, the AI will settle into its own personality, and will struggle to switch tone so rapidly. The final personality is a reflection of its wearer’s, an alter-ego. For some humans, this means an AI who acts like an identical twin, because their psychological need is for an ally who thinks like they do. For others, the AI acts like an ever-critical drill instructor, because their need is to be told what they already know they must do. These are just two simple examples. In practice the relationship with their suit AI is more complex and intimate than most humans ever experience with the men and women of their own kind.
Through cyber-attack or physical damage, it is possible for an AI to be rendered inactive. The wearer of a battlesuit will have trained to operate the powered armor without AI assistance, but even the best can do so at a fraction of the efficiency of the AI. Some facilities are completely impossible to replicate. For example, a Marine aiming and firing their SA-71 carbine will be used to their AI adjusting the precise position of the weapon and activating the motive power in the suit to compensate for recoil not dampened by the carbine itself.
The reverse can also be true. If its wearer dies, some AIs can control the battlesuit with a dead or unconscious human inside. Even these AIs must fight a constant battle against insanity that they will lose as soon as any immediate crisis has passed. Two pieces of evidence suggest this slip into insanity has been designed in. Firstly, an AI who believes their partner to be fit and well can be stored indefinitely in a dormant state separately from its human (even Marines don’t wear powered armor all the time). Secondly, a few rare examples of centuries-old AIs have been uncovered that are sane enough to be successfully paired up with multiple new human operators.
The design and function of the battlesuit AI still holds many mysteries. Nonetheless it is certain that the Marines would not exist in their modern form if not for the intimate link to their suit AIs. In this, the sometimes cantankerous AI is the ultimate best friend of the Marine, even more so than the SA-71 carbine.
Hardits are short fur-covered humanoids (approx. 1.5m-1.7m tall) who are common throughout the White Knight Empire, where they often specialize as miners and engineers. They have a wolf-like appearance with a pronounced teeth-filled snout and acute sense of smell. Over short distances they employ a bandy-legged bipedal waddle. For longer journeys they will shift any equipment they wish to hold from their hands to their gripping tails, and then proceed on all fours. They are capable of trotting for very long distances so long as the atmosphere is not too oxygen-rich for their needs, or they are equipped with breathing apparatus.
Threats & Weaknesses
Hardits, especially female ones, are notorious xenophobes, despising all other species with such a vehemence that a Hardit should always be considered a potential enemy, whatever the circumstances. Understanding their vassals’ phobia, the White Knights have kept Hardits in self-contained settlements, isolated from each other and particularly from other species. This is usually successful in preventing Hardits from giving trouble to other species. After all, according to the Hardit mindset, staying at home is preferable to going out and conquering the galaxy, because doing so would force it to interact with so many disgusting non-Hardits. On the other hand, Hardits who are goaded into action by a perceived threat, and Hardits who merge (often bloodily) into larger communities can rapidly escalate into military threats.
Hardits distrust advanced electronics and AIs, perhaps as a natural extension of their xenophobia. This often leaves them weak militarily because this rules out the use of many key military assets. However, this advantage cannot be relied upon indefinitely because Hardits have such natural talents as engineers and innovators that they can rapidly evolved home-grown counters to your military advantages.
As soldiers, Hardits have several physiological weaknesses.
* Hardits are not good at moving and firing a handheld weapon. For example, a Hardit soldier rushing to a new position in a firefight, would first transfer its gun to its tail, move on all fours to the new position, and then transfer their gun from tail to hands before it could fire. The tail is also a vulnerable body part as it is difficult to provide armor while leaving the tail flexible. A Hardit soldier with its tail shot off cannot fight effectively.
* Hardits are prone to hyperventilation in most atmospheres unless provided with breathing equipment. The Hardit homeworld has a low-density, oxygen-poor atmosphere.
* Hardits are particularly prone to the disabling effects of bright lights, especially in the ultraviolet range.
In this Infopedia entry, we state assumptions about Hardit culture and physiology, but you should always consider that the Hardits who interact with humans and other species are usually the very lowest in Hardit society. There may be important aspects of Hardit culture that we have never encountered.
There are two principle Hardit genders, although there have been reports of more complex gender configurations. Males are slightly shorter, lighter in build, and with a more triangular snout. Other than during mating season, the two genders barely tolerate each other, and live in separate communities.
The mating period lasts for approximately one week out of every two Earth-standard years, each far-flung Hardit community synchronizing to their own local cycle with uncanny accuracy. The males who approach females first have about an evens chance of either securing a reproductive advantage, or dying from the claw wounds inflicted by an unimpressed female.
A tentative understanding of Hardit culture suggests that there is an overarching elite ruling class comprised of a very small number of alpha males. Beta males – which comprises the vast majority of that gender – appear to be lower in the social hierarchy than any female; they occupy the most inhospitable locations and carry out the most dangerous professions. And yet, most interactions with humans are from low-ranked female Hardits. Perhaps carrying out a role so odious that it is not assigned to males is the ultimate punishment for Hardit females. The truth is, we just don’t know. Perhaps the only thing we can say with certainty about Hardits is that, despite living near them for centuries, they have an unending capacity to surprise us… and that their surprises are usually unpleasant.