The Wicked Side of Cyberpunk
Despite the fact that Cyberpunk is in and of itself inherently wicked (in the "awesome" sense) there are some technologies and ideas that really stand out from the rest. These are the technologies that grab us and make us cringe to think about, ideas and fragments thrown off from that bleeding edge where existing science collides with the realm of gritty and dark possibility. These are the ideas that prove to us that nothing has a wicked side quite like Cyberpunk.
One of the defining factors of Cyberpunk is cybernetic implants, but circuitboards and clunky metal bits aren't the end all and be all of implanted augmentations for the human body. Consider the lab-grown skingrafts that worked as experimental insulin patches in the early nineties, and now take it a step further. Imagine a full recoating of the dermal surface with a graft or a "skinweave" of engineered cells that can do anything from filling the body with specially-tailored chemicals to generating it's own exterior coating of poison, color-changing pigment, or even organic superlubricant. Improved organs are a possibility too- imagine a digestive tract upgrade that allows for the digestion of things like gasoline and broken glass (Hey, with the right culture of microbes, anything is possible) or lungs that can glean air from water or nerve gas without any ill effects. But lets take it a step further even than that- imagine being able to get anything you wanted in a body, and then imagine the cosmetic and fashion fads that would start. That's right. Think tails, bizarre-colored eyes, lavender skin, reculturing of the bacteria in sweat to produce a specific scent instead of the dreaded sour tang of B.O. Going into a bar in the city would be like walking into a scene from Star Wars- we'd have all the aliens we'd ever need right here on earth.
Moving a little further inward, there's a lot of fun chipware you could theoretically wire just into your skull. Right now we're limited to cochlear implants and a few transmitters that can move a cursor on a screen, but in the world of Cyberpunk, anything implanted is possible.
So where do we go with this? Cellphones for starters, probably. A new law recently enacted in California requires drivers to use hands-free headsets, and with everybody running around with their bluetooth nodes riding on their ears, I think it's only a matter of time before the same technology becomes subdermal, or better- connected directly to the brain. But that's just a start- think about your own mind, and all the things you'd change about it if you could. Like what? Well, how about better memory? If Microsoft or Apple made a chip that could give you a photographic memory with flawless recall, how much would you pay for it? Chips that add languages and skills might work too, and with direct access to the brain, why not make games that interface directly with the mind. Companies are already testing brain-interface controllers for video games, so what's to stop us from going the extra step and putting a virtual screen where the mind's eye is as well. Tired all the time? How about an implant that keeps you at your peak level of comfort and performance until you choose to put your body in sleep-mode? For some people, there's definitely an appeal to being able to pick and choose upgrades for one's brain in the same way we upgrade our computers- the possibilities for improvement are only limited by your imagination. You might even go to drastic levels with it- think stripping the sheathing off the myelin and re-sheathing it with something hotrod that cuts reaction time in half. Oh yeah.
The World of Subdermals:
We're there, we really are. Think of all the things that could be installed just under the skin, or just between layers- programmable holographic or LED tattoos, RFID chips that allow you to simply run your palm across a scanner at the store to transmit your credit card and pay, the aforementioned subdermal cellphone, or heck, anything you keep in your pockets or your purse in today's world. Already, RFID technology has advanced to the point that with a single implant, we can wirelessly unlock doors we've been granted clearances for (the house, the car, the office at work, etc.) interface ourselves with GPS tracking (making it easier to get directions when you're on the road or find out where your kids are at and why it's taking them so long to get home) and get help the instant something goes wrong with us health-wise. Of course, there's a darker side to all this (Your RFID clearances to your bank account, credit, vehicles, etc- everything could be revoked, and it wouldn't be hard to figure out where you are at all times) but that's where creative countermeasures will come in. The hacker kids of what may or may not be our cyberpunk future will be the ones who mask their RFID signatures and disappear from the grid altogether, living invisible in a massively virtual age.
Wireless Brain Hacking:
In today's world, most people have to heavily safeguard their computer with firewalls and scanners and virus checkers just to keep it at a marginally low risk- in tomorrow's, (especially if we're talking about chipware implanted into or connected to the brain,) we might be looking at the same kinds of things to keep our minds safe. It's totally plausible- people hack cellphones and PDAs wirelessly all the time. But then, why would anyone want to hack someone else's brain? Well, why not? Anything from simple amusement to stealing data and passwords could be the motive- the brain is the data storage and control center of the body, and unlimited access to it could allow for easy mining of any kind of information sought by a hacker, as well as the ability to make the body do whatever the wireless puppet master desires. Moving beyond the obviously malicious possibilities of such access, consider also the ability to use this wireless connective ability to create networks, either between equal people (working as a unit) or between one master and several cloned "slaves" built or grown to serve such a purpose. Imagine a police force composed of brainless clones controlled and coordinated to super-human efficiency and skill by a single controlling mind holding the reins of the entire network. This kind of technology also sets us up for things like mental collectives, which connect cybernetic culture entities like Star Trek's Borg.
In the everyday normal world we live in, law enforcement typically carries small arms, semi-automatic pistols and revolvers with the occasional piece of heavier gear (like the AR-15). The military carries stuff that's only a little better, and the urban, suburban or backwoods stockpiler is almost as lethally armed, but none of them carry snub-nosed super-high-velocity rail-pistols that run fifteen rounds through the breech in a second. Sure, it's theoretically possible, but it just isn't practical- yet. With subdermal armor, brain jacketing and other implanted ways to protect the body being also theoretically possible, taking out the trash of the future starts to look a bit like disabling the terminator. This is where the overkill weapons come in. The prerequisite? It has to put out enough oomph to turn a guy in bermuda-shorts and a hawaiian shirt into hamburger or worse, in a single squeeze. Think drum-barrelled, large-bore automatic shotguns, think plasmatics and particle accelerator coils- we're talking heavy ordinance that's gone the way of the cellphone- more and more in a package that weighs less and less. Memory plastics and getting tricky with monowire fall into this category as well, and you'll find whole sections on both below.
This is a staple of the genre if anything is, mostly because there isn't much that's more wicked than a wire so thin that it separates flesh (or anything else) at the atomic level with very little force. Think lightsaber, only more effective, more efficient, and without all the heat and fireworks. A line of this stuff stretched across a hallway at neck-level is enough to do in anyone unlucky enough to sprint through, but it's good for so much more- whips, hacksaw-like blades, even projectiles in guns. That's right. Think monowire nets stuffed in shotgun cartridges (slice and dice) or trailers on conventional rounds (lodges itself in the wound and makes things a lot worse both for the victim and the unfortunate doc who has to figure out how to fish the stuff out of the wound.)
Imagine, if you will, a pill-sized piece of hard plastic that, when exposed to an electric current, instantly expands out (and hardens into) another shape, something far more dangerous, like a blade. Sound impossible, or even just a little unlikely? It's not, and there's a lot that can be done with it. Just think how frightening it would be as a bullet- when the round leaves the barrel of the gun, it's just a round of plastic, roughly pill-sized. The trick is to put a tiny electric trigger in the head of the round that's pressure sensitive, effectively shocking the memory plastic into action the instant the bullet hits something or enters flesh. Think sudden, rapid change, like from a compressed pellet to something the size of a dinner plate and the thickness of a piece of paper with a razor edge on it. Suddenly that little bullet is a big problem, and if that isn't wicked, I don't know what is.
Not just robotic flu-in-a-can, this stuff has a lot of wicked potential. Think about all the things that can go wrong with the body, pick one that's especially gruesome (like cancer or AIDS,) and now imagine a molecule custom designed to create that condition. We're talking little molecular machines or factories, man-made viruses and bacterium that can cause the body to rot from within in a matter of minutes, nanites that follow and systematically destroy every inch of nervous tissue in the body, with excruciating results, or something even simpler, like a coma or a migraine in a can.
Creatively Non-Lethal Weapons
The opposite end of the spectrum from Overkill weapons, creatively non-lethal stuff is just as fun. What will protestors meet when the riots of the future get out of control? We're already looking at a lot of scary tech coming in off the horizon involving microwaves that boil subcutaneous water or make the nerves feel like they're on fire, but there's still so much more that can be done with it. Think paintballs filled with mace, clouds of brain-stunning nanites, tazer pellets in shotguns that spread and deliver a charge on impact. Like Overkill weapons, these things will have to be versatile enough to make a difference when the armored cyberjunkie comes out to play, but without being deadly or strong enough to do much more than make that aforementioned guy in bermuda-shorts and a hawaiian shirt give up and run away. How do we do this? Focus on the skin, the eyes, the nerves- the constants, because it doesn't matter how much armor you've got between your organs and your skin, everyone has a non-lethal weak spot.