Superpowers: A Rough Passages Q&A #2

Second in a so-far 2-part series. An intrepid reader sent me some excellent  questions about the alternate history setting for my Rough Passages stories. This is my way of providing answers. You can read Part #1 here, or read on for the second set of questions.

Do sports exist?  Are there professional leagues?  Have new powered sports been invented?  Telekinetic soccer for example?  Are there Null-only leagues?

Sports definitely exist, amateur and professional. I’m sure there are many hybrid sports whose details I haven’t thought through yet.  A critical point to remember here is age. Most professional sports are hard on the body. Even the super-powered are aging.  They can be super-fast but still have arthritis, super-strong but have bad knees.

Yes, there are non-powered-only leagues (can’t discriminate on R-positive status directly, that’s illegal!) ) and open leagues. Most NPO leagues keep things simple by implementing upper age limits, setting strict regulations on allowed weight/height etc, and allowing legal blood-test challenges after results much like our world does blood-testing for drugs.

I assume there are Nulls resentful of powered individuals entering the work force.  Say a crane operator being upset a telekinetic is moving steel beams on a construction site.

Yes and no. One particular super-powered telekinetic might get a good job moving steel beams, but they’re never going to put crane operators out of work — there just aren’t enough telekinetics out there total compared to the market, plus individual idiosyncrasies mean there’s no economy of scale. Six workers can all use one crane on six shifts. One TK is still only one TK. And hiring six with the same power ranking…not nearly as easy or cheap as training crane operators.  (What Mercury Battalion does with the recruits coming in and rotating out only works because they drill constantly toards the goal of adaptive improvisation. )

Plus there’s no guarantee that any given TK has the other job skills & licensing that would make them employable in construction (or wherever.)  Or that they have any interest in doing the work that would best fit their new power. If they’re a banker making $100k+ a year, f’rex, or already in retirement, or are a sole caregiver with a working spouse…yeah.

Of course there is resentment and discrimination, but most of it is more “freaks hogging all our public services, getting preferential treatment, living high off the guvmint hog while I have to work harder” than about stealing jobs. There would be more resentment & economic disruption if powers could be scaled predictably or appeared in younger people, but they don’t.

Do monkeys exist?

If you mean primates like capuchin monkeys/chimpanzees/gorillas. yes.

How good are air elementals at purifying air? Can they release air from rock or water? Can water elementals purify as well?  Can they break the bonds of oxygen and hydrogen?

The catch-all “It depends on the individual” again comes into play with elementals. (What can I say? It’s a theme.)

The Department of Public Safety officially refers to elemental talents as “materials affinities.” “Callers” or “movers” are more common than “makers.” They all have an ability linked to a certain material. How much and how far they can call or create, what they need to create it, The mechanism of how they handle their focus material (for example by purifying it) and how well they handle it– all these factor into the power ranking assignment.

There are minimum thresholds for every ranking. The top power ranking has no upper limit.  Some of the strongest 1A air elementals have been observed creating gasses in airless vacuum chambers. (Creating it from what? See the earlier question about physics and defying the laws thereof.)  Breaking the bonds of oxygen & hydrogen…well, yes. That is one thing a prime water elemental might be able to do, but it also isn’t how they would think of what they were doing.

Can Earth elementals strengthen rock?  Are differing rock types easier to work with, say granite versus sandstone?  Can they do delicate work?  Are there elemental sculptors?  Can they shape glass?  Or is that the purview of pyrotechnic artists and glassblowers?

I bet you know the answer to these at this point. In order:

  • Yes, some can.
  • Different people have affinities for certain stone types. Others have affinity for all things sandy. Or soil. Or “stone” as a concept. Or magma…
  • Some can do very delicate sculpting. Some can only do delicate work. Some can call gem stones from the depths of the earth’s crust and facet them without tools…
  • Aaaahh, glass. Beloved of air, fire and earth elementals. Workable by all…those of suffiient power ranking, of course.

Television, and satellite communication exists.   Is this just being handled in the background in your stories?

So far, yes. Radio, television broadcasts, cable, computer & network development  have all proceeded along timelines similar those in our world. The main differences come in control & distribution. Cable & bandwidth communications of all kinds are considered nationally-critical utilities and are regulated & controlled as such.

 

That’s it for now. I hope you all have enjoyed the information as much as I enjoy sharing it.

Superpowers: A Rough Passages Q&A #1

An intrepid reader sent me some excellent  questions about the alternate history setting for my Rough Passages stories.  Being me, I’ll be answering them right out here in public so everyone can see. I don’t consider the background information spoilerish, but I will also grant I’m the world’s worst person to judge that. Nothing here applies to any existing story, for what that’s worth.

There were a lot of questions. Here’s the first set.

For teleporters: how are power levels defined, as say in distance and weight taken along for the ride limits?  Do known (e.g. J) variants differ?

Teleportation does not lend itself to measurement metrics. This is the main reason it falls into the W series designation. “W for weird” began as a kitchen sink category for powers that couldn’t easily be defined or explained. Many powers originally considered W were moved into other designations as time went on — mostly assorted perception or telekinetic groupings. Of all the eclectic talents that remain on the Group W bench, teleportation is the least easily quantified.

A complex matrix of range/weight/precision is used to assign the main power rating, with the higher ranks restricted to those who do not require touch and can either teleport a lot a long way, or small masses very precisely. Variants focus on type of teleport mechanism (as best the teleporter can describe it) and any crossover or secondary rollover changes. (Like having wings, f’rex)

So a W1A teleporter could be one who can teleport your shirt off your back into the next room and have it arrive intact, or one who could teleport your house into the next city…but not to a precision location. Secondary and tertiary variant letters the author hasn’t bothered to hammer down would give interested characters in-world a pretty good at-a-glance idea of exactly what a given teleporter can do.

What about telekinetics? Are telekinetics & teleporters governed by Newton’s Laws of Motion?  Example:  Can Pullers stop inertia and or momentum?  Say pulling a person from a car going 50, or passenger jet going 450mph?

Telekinetics, pyrokinetics, teleporters, and most other people with physically-related rollover powers laugh in the face of principles like inertia and energy/mass conservation.

Well, some of them do. Some of the time. Such is the unpredictable nature of rollover. There are no hard certainties.  Most power designations are made based on observable similarities.  The devil is in the details.  One woman’s telekinesis might defy inertia up to a certain momentum or for a certain time,  while another’s might be totally without inertial limits. Most of the rollover orientation period is spent learning one’s new limits under experienced supervision in a controllable environment–often an internment camp far, far away from defenseless nulls.

Mistakes such as “Oops, I can run fast enough that air friction will burn off my skin” “Gosh my muscles are strong but my bones aren’t!” or “Wow, I can call fire out of thin air but my body isn’t fireproof,” are ones most people don’t want to make even once.

One big reason acceptance of oppressive practices like internment & monitoring remains so high is that everyone knows someone who knows someone who died at the unforgiving intersection between their new powers and Newtonian physics.

Do all, most, or few teleporters have innate spatial awareness?

Some. Not a majority, but it isn’t a rarity either. It’s more common in those who have to touch & carry their payloads than in those who can send/receive things using sensory input or pre-determined coordinates. If you want numbers…I do not crunch numbers.

How rare are double powered individuals?  Say person with both a W and a B series?

Rare. Very rare. Now, that said…

Many powers do commonly appear as sets, but one talent is almost always subordinated/linked to the more powerful one.  F’rex, a portal-caster who can sense magnetic forces wouldn’t be considered a double power.  They would be a W with a B variant. It boils down to perspective: the more powerful/obvious aspect generally gets designated as the series, with the secondary one considered a variant on that series.  Does that make sense?  It did to the frazzled, overworked people who came up with this system under battle conditions.

And unless physical changes could be called a “third” power (which people don’t unless there’s no second one)  no one manifests more than two talents.   Except Gaias. And Gaia rollovers are like unicorns. No one believes they really exist.

Can Doctors repair damage suffered from an injury years after the fact?

Nope. Some can regenerate flesh, but they would require a fresh injury at or larger than the original site…and whether the resulting healing restores the body to its original template or the new “healed” one depends on both the particular talent of the D-series healer and the individual being healed.

As one might imagine, the pain & trauma involved discourages experimentation. Most people would rather not find out the hard way that being re-injured will only get them a fresher scar. (Or worse…)

That’s all for this batch. More later!

I hope someone enjoys reading all the picky details as much as I enjoy sharing them.

Restoration Worldbuild header 2

Not with a bang

Playing with world-building snippets for my Restoration stories again…


The end of world was a global event, but it wasn’t an end. It wasn’t an event. It was a process, a slow collapse that only looks inevitable in retrospect. It was never seen as apocalypse even when cities burned and missiles flew. Perspective is tricky, and denial is a powerful force. If globalism was the theme of the twentieth century, the lesson of the twenty-first was that connections can transmit chaos as easily as commerce .

During the span of decades comprising the Revision Years, governments toppled and economies disintegrated, businesses failed and took governments with them, social and political institutions crumbled and billions perished. Bastions of political stability were eroded by surrounding conflicts, and alliances proved as deadly as enmity.  No place on the planet went untouched by the upheaval.

Some sciences progress by leaps and bounds in times of conflict, but others cannot be maintained in chaotic environments. Most modern technologies rely on complex supply chains and  require engineering support that cannot be maintained in war zones. Many of the 21st century’s advances in materials sciences,  nanotechnology, genetics, biologic pharmaceuticals and other sciences  got lost during Revision. Projects were abandoned, data was destroyed by electromagnetic pulses,  and critical private records were erased or locked into forms no longer accessible by surviving equipment.

The handful of years encompassed by the name “The Revision Period,” will have an impact on human understanding of the universe for centuries to come.

 

 

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Where do superpowers come from?

Power: personal, unique power. Power is the centerpiece of every Rough Passages Tale. Who has it, what happens when people gain it, how it can and can’t change their lives, how the uncertainties and adverse aspects of power rollovers  make that world different than ours…this can be deep story stuff.*

How do those powers work? The short answer is: no one knows. That’s one of many things that makes writing about it interesting.

Everyone with a rollover powers taps into some kind of energy, but that’s where certainty ends. Some poz can see this energy post-rollover, other feel it, all are affected by it and use it one way or another, but what that energy is, or how it works?

It’s still a mystery.

Why? For one thing, it’s impossible for nulls to detect, so disbelief hampers research funding. For another, the phenomenon is less than a hundred years old. The scientific community is still at the stage of documenting, describing, and postulating mechanisms based on existing established systems.  Think radiation in the early 1900’s, electricity in the 1800’s, or chemistry in the 1700’s.

All the uncertainty results in a constellation of valid ideas, wrongheaded hypotheses, and wild-ass speculation.  It also supplies thesis fodder for doctoral candidates and researchers in every field of study from physics to psychology. Ambitious scientists dream of being the next Curie, Faraday, or Mendeleev.  And lots of them already think they have uncovered Major Truths that are dead wrong but fit the facts.

Want an example? (You’re getting one.) Take an observable fact: T-series trolls can ramp up their own abilities and provoke each other into radical physical changes by tapping into their powers near each other. At its worst, the feedback loop will drive them into a collective, destructive frenzy. They train hard to control this effect, called rampage, because a mindless stampede of berserk armored giants is hard on real estate and anything else that can’t get out of their way.

Let’s look at the current scientific model. Explanations for T-series power use are based on studies of pheromone communication and hormone-driven metamorphosis in other species. The model fits the observed data and is an accurately predictive tool…in most cases. Most importantly it allows for engineering useful tools like rampage detectors and assorted training devices. So everyone accepts it as accurate.

But as the Watchmaker of the world, I’ll let you in on a secret. Rampage and powering up aren’t triggered physically.  The model has cause and effect flipped. It’s a pure energy phenomenon, a matter of resonance and exchange from more powerful individuals to less powerful ones, one that has the effect of triggering hormone releases.

Is any of that information useful to you, dear reader? Probably not. But speculation is fun, and so is trivia collection. So I thought I would share.

The takeaway for today? Power is tricky. People are fallible. And science is a process.


*Paranormal personal powers are not the only kind people deal with every day. Power can come from social status, political position, cultural acceptance, and economic prosperity too. Upending people’s lives after they’ve spent decades establishing their place in the socioeconomic power structure that is modern society? Well. That makes for super-duper drama. And drama makes good fiction.


Oh, and the BOOKS! Here are links to the buyable stories. Because they’re awesome.

Extraordinary books2read.com/u/4N19e6
Powerhouse books2read.com/u/3kZ1VW
Nightmares books2read.com/u/3yPExv
Lockdown books2read.com/u/3GM2Xn

 

 

Restoration Worldbuild header 2

Breaking the future: chip rot

In the future history of my Restoration stories, the United States (and the rest of the world) is in the midst of new Renaissance. To have a Renaissance–a rebirth into enlightenment–there must first be darkness. Here’s an overview and a closer look at one of the destructive elements I used to break the world.

(PS: I don’t know why my worldbuild stuff comes out in a boring, pseudo-academic writing style, but it does. Every time. #Sorrynotsorry)


The true costs of the Revision Years won’t be tallied for generations. Countless biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were created and released worldwide during those years. On top of those self-inflicted damages, natural diseases arose in the seething poisoned wreckage left after riots, uprisings, and insurrections.

Somewhere in that polluted patchwork landscape chip rot was born, and it is not hyperbole to say its birth was nearly the death of modern civilization.

First off, what chip rot isn’t: it isn’t a single-source problem. It isn’t one plague. It is many. The demon’s name is Legion, and that is why to date, more than forty years after its first catastrophic appearance, researchers are only beginning to successfully combat its root causes.

The name is a  designation assigned early on,  while it was erroneously thought to be a terrorist nanoweapon. Like many inaccurate designations (see “patient Zero” for the AIDS epidemic) it was catchy enough to stick in cultural memory long after its inaccuracy was exposed. Multiple groups claimed responsibility, but none of those claims held up under scrutiny–and the scrutiny was intense.

It’s easy to understand why early conclusions pointed to a manufactured or engineered contagion.  While the damage spread in ways that mimicked a virulent disease, the results made no biologic sense. And if someone did design a weapon to destroy modern civilization, it would probably look like chip rot.

Timing saved the world. If the initial disaster had hit a few years earlier, technological advances might have been erased along with much of the infra-structure required to rebuild it.  But chip rot appeared after the Global Restoration Conference. For all the havoc it wreaked and all the research shelved  in the wake of its appearance,  the crisis it caused was the making of many a fledgling government. It was exactly the kind of crisis citizens  could rally to fight together.

In that first incarnation, the organic frameworks used for common components throughout the electronics industry literally rotted away.  Another early chip rot plague targeted metal alloy materials, oxidizing and eroding disk storage and tape collections as well as processors themselves. Priceless decades of information dissolved overnight. A third wave went after materials commonly used in optical data transmission.

Computers were affected of course, but communications systems fell silent too, and power grids went down and stayed down for months when multiple units critical to the intricately-balanced  distribution systems lost their electronic minds. At its first appearance, hysteria and speculation added to the difficulty of addressing the issue. The silicon scares and the aluminum riots, for example, all did irreparable damage in their own right.

But ingenuity won the day–ingenuity, inspired guesswork, and  profligate use of component stockpiles to keep research going ahead of the destructive curve.

Detection marked the first breakthrough, a victory won even as the sophisticated laboratory microscopes used to locate and identify the contagion were lost. From there, the development of chemical identification tools and strict epidemiological protocols allowed for prevention and then containment. Humanity’s overall technological baseline slipped back decades– a century or more in many areas–but the foundation systems under the electronics had been built to last. Brute force engineering solutions were seldom pretty or maximally efficient, but they could keep the lights on and the water flowing.

All three initial variants of chip rot were caused by prion-like molecules that bonded with their target material and disrupted other molecular bonds. To date those variants remain the hardest to protect against and to eradicate when outbreaks occur. Its origin has yet to be traced.The time elapsed between first reports and total collapse of affected systems was so short it seemed to spring up everywhere at once, but recent epidemiological  research has narrowed the field to “somewhere on the Pacific Rim in the northern hemisphere.”

The particles at fault could be transmitted by unwitting users, contaminated tools and cabling, even through close proximity over a long enough time. Draconian measures are required to contain the spread when chip rot crops up, and it still does, and will, until someone finds a way to attack and neutralize.

And those forms aren’t the only types of chip rot, only the first and worst. Regional outbreaks of component failure are an inescapable fact of modern life. Thirty eight different transmittable biologic contagions have been identified since Restoration.

Battling chip rot is just a cost of doing business, one more hazard of living in the electronic recovery. Software issues are still common too, so malicious programming  is a constant danger as well. Often forensic investigation must be done in conjunction with with technical analysis  to determine the cause of a given system failure.

Biologic solutions which would have been obvious a century ago were rejected for ages for reasons that had nothing to do with rationality. All the other plagues released during the Revision Years put biological manipulation and genetic modification  firmly into the unthinkable taboo category. Those fields of research are so tightly regulated and circumscribed with legal restrictions that the potential losses far outweighed the possible gains–until quite recently.



 

The plots of Controlled Descent, Flight Plan and Novices all touch on the effects chip rot would have on the tech base–from the cost-effectiveness of retail gadgetry  to the availability of air conditioning.  Since Flight Plan’s plot is the one most closely tied to chip rot, that’s the title I’ll plug today.

Flight Plan. Available in ebook, paperback and audio.