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Old 04-15-2019, 08:13 PM   #1
DataPacRat
 
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Default Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

The Forerunners were around TL10, and left behind a lot of goodies for the various up-and-coming TL0 species. Manna, residential trees, pharm plants offering just about every drug in BioTech or UltraTech, microbe colonies producing shiny bugstones, and more.

I'm currently eyeing the pages in Biotech that allow for a Proteus Virus that's a Genetic Surgery Nanovirus offering the Mutation Repair genetic surgery, with the options Plague and Species-Crossing; sure, it would have cost somebody $5M to initially create, but once it's started spreading, any critter or person who gets infected will, after 4 days, be reset to the prime age of youthful maturity.

This is the sort of thing that can have /consequences/ for a setting, whatever TL the current crop of locals might have. Assuming that it's some number of thousands of years since the Forerunners went away, and that the local ecologies haven't crashed in the meantime, what sorts of Proteus Plagues are likely to still be kicking around, in one reservoir or another?
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Old 04-16-2019, 10:18 AM   #2
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

Are you looking for ideas on things the Forerunners might have left behind that might still be active? Or maybe ways the beneficial-plague might have changed?
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Old 04-16-2019, 10:35 AM   #3
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

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Originally Posted by kdtipa View Post
Are you looking for ideas on things the Forerunners might have left behind that might still be active? Or maybe ways the beneficial-plague might have changed?
"Yes." :)

I've been thinking more on this myself, which has let me expand a bit on the foundational worldbuilding - pinning down the Forerunners' goals more precisely, and how that would have affected their choices in setting up the ecologies. (Ie, the existence of something parallel to an Institutional Review Board to check the ethics of the available approaches, and to suggest more-ethical alternatives when those don't reduce the odds of the project's success, massively narrows down my search-space. :) )

For example, in order to avoid certain runaway effects that would wipe out any keystone species, they'd have wanted to constrain evolution from nudging things too far out of balance; so they could have chosen to reduce the mutation rate by improving every critter's resistance to radiation damage, by making a Cross-Species Plague Proteus Virus that repeatedly applied the "Radiation Damage Repair" genetic-surgery. I'm currently trying to think through the implications of Proteus Viruses that reduce evolution rate by reducing general turnover of individuals by enhancing individual longevity, but I keep running into the fact that human instincts are terrible about how critters respond to odd evolutionary pressures. (Ie, when some scientists predicted that applying a certain pressure would lead to individual critters reducing the number of offspring they had, they found the actual result was to induce cannibalism.)

From a completely different perspective, I am sufficiently amused by the consequences of a particular Proteus Plague going out of control and giving every last critter around a marsupial pouch (Proteus Virus: Skin Transformation Virus: Payload 5) that I'm probably going to have that have happened. :)

I'm also thinking of tweaking Proteus Plagues so that the main carriers are limited to small environments - eg, a small lake apiece - and secondary carriers are non-infectious, so that there'll be at least one site PCs can go to experience the effects of the Metabolic Reset genetic surgery (ie, a fairly literal fountain of youth), and have incentive to go exploring for new sites with as-yet-undiscovered and possibly useful effects.
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Old 04-16-2019, 01:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

Most people and likely many other complex organisms have a mental map of what their bodies are supposed to be. And they become quite stressed when it doesn't agree with what their bodies are.
I could see even the most benevolent obviously good alterations causing mental trauma and indirectly physical trauma due to self destructive behavior or outright self harm.

It is interesting to imagine what a careful TL 10 society would implant to restrict what in our TL is literally impossible to constrain.

You could invoke alternating generations, where only every other generation exhibits natural or altered traits.
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Old 04-17-2019, 07:06 AM   #5
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

I think evolution would be harder to constrain than what you describe. To begin with, intelligence can determine how likely to survive an individual is, and give it a higher chance of reproducing than the unintelligent individuals that die off. And it's not just intelligence. Balance of fight or flight is another mental trait that can have unpredictable effects on ability to reproduce. Ability to get along with others versus solitary tendencies is important too.

And Mutations improve the ability of species to survive. When a people migrate to another region that has different animal species and different food options, the ones that can digest the available foods will survive and procreate while the ones that have difficulty digesting the food there will die off. The mutations that allow adaptation are what make life thrive. I think limiting mutations is likely to cause species to die off faster.

I don't think it's possible to control a planetary environment long term with controls set in place at one point in time and nothing after.

You mentioned keystone species... but while human influence in the real world is destroying species (like bees) that are necessary too fast for ecology to recover on its own, a planet left to go on without that kind of intervention seems to progress quite well on its own. If a keystone species is heading toward extinction, the whole system bends around them. Other species might step in to fill the role. Or species that depended on the keystone species die out too, and other species that can survive without will flourish.

I think trying to control a planetary ecology over the long term is likely to have too many variables to account for.

If I was a Forerunner looking to create a foundation for a world that is inhabitable and idyllic, I would start with a world who's sun still has billions of years left; a world that is at the beginning of its being in the inhabitable zone of its system; a world that had a notably stable orbit; and a world that already has a life supporting ecosystem that's as close to what I'm looking for to begin with.

After that, if my goal is to give my own species or humans or whatever the best chance of survival and thriving on the planet, I might avoid beneficial plagues entirely. Without the plagues to help them, they have to help themselves. The individuals capable of doing so will survive and the most survivable traits will be passed on.

If you were forcing me somehow... I might consider something that can fix birth defects in the womb. Longer life is nice I guess, but eternally young seems a bit much. Can you imagine a society where a group of people that don't die of old age get into power and then keep that power? The Super-Rich people who actually run the United States would run it forever, and things wouldn't get better. Longer life = okay. Eternal youth = bad.

Anyway, I think the most significant thing I would do to improve life for people in the long term is to leave behind a lot of information stores that have computers that can learn languages. When the evolving people find them, it will teach them things based on what they already know... but better. So, when fire starts being used to make steam engines, and they start with burning wood... the knowledge base can congratulate them, and then show them electricity and clean power sources. It would explain coal, and that using coal as a major source of steam power or electricity destroys the environment. Not looking to hide information. Just provide information enough to skip the bad steps.

Definitely provide enough information to avoid religions developing to the point of controlling people. No one needs to believe that they should donate money to a church for a place in Heaven (or whatever other invented place people might go after death). No one needs to believe that an individual happens to be chosen by a god and so that person suddenly has authority (Kings and religious leaders). I'd do everything in my power to spread knowledge so religions can't swoop in and mess things up.

Education with fact strikes me as an important thing to progress.
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Old 04-17-2019, 07:37 AM   #6
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

Do you know why the forerunners didn't just incorporate the natives into their space-faring society? That reason tells you a lot about your forerunners.
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Old 04-17-2019, 08:08 AM   #7
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

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Do you know why the forerunners didn't just incorporate the natives into their space-faring society? That reason tells you a lot about your forerunners.
The site is one of a number of offline civilizational backups, set to re-found a interstellar society to carry on the values of sophont beings if some outside context problem wiped out all the interconnected parts of their culture. While some of those backups were little more than 3D printers and libraries (including genetic libraries and the plans for biofabs), this backup was set up to maintain a population of sophont beings in something like the pre-civilizational steady state humans experienced from around 500,000 to 10,000 BC, while still being ready to be rapidly uplifted back to TL10. (The specific goal was to deal with the hypothetical threat of something that destroyed all of the society's computational infrastructure, and so the environment was intended to be one that could continue maintaining the sophont population even without active intervention, though interventions might still help.)
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Old 04-17-2019, 08:19 AM   #8
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

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Originally Posted by kdtipa View Post
I think evolution would be harder to constrain than what you describe.
Eyup. :) But I usually find that it's worth describing an overview before getting into the weeds of how all the various complications are dealt with.


Quote:
Longer life is nice I guess, but eternally young seems a bit much. Can you imagine a society where a group of people that don't die of old age get into power and then keep that power? The Super-Rich people who actually run the United States would run it forever, and things wouldn't get better. Longer life = okay. Eternal youth = bad.
I'm relying heavily on Graeber's "Debt: The First 5,000 years" for ideas on economic systems unfamiliar to modern-day people who take coinage for granted (ie, non-WEIRD ones focusing more on human capital and interconnected networks of mutual debts), which can greatly reduce the negative effects of significant economic equality. GURPS Low-Tech has a few words about gift-giving Big Men, potlatches, and the like; and even if some group is able to keep some other group from having access to a source-of-youth, a source of youth isn't a source-of-avoiding-death-by-getting-clubbed-on-the-head.


Quote:
Anyway, I think the most significant thing I would do to improve life for people in the long term is to leave behind a lot of information stores that have computers that can learn languages. When the evolving people find them, it will teach them things based on what they already know... but better. So, when fire starts being used to make steam engines, and they start with burning wood... the knowledge base can congratulate them, and then show them electricity and clean power sources. It would explain coal, and that using coal as a major source of steam power or electricity destroys the environment. Not looking to hide information. Just provide information enough to skip the bad steps.
I've been thinking of a cross between present-day SETI/METI protocols and puzzle-rooms. Eg, a set of engraved plaques that show a number system (eg, a modified version of Arabic numerals, with a dot inside one interior angle per number - eg, a 1 with a single serif on top; a 2 that's like a Z; a 3 that's a sideways W, etc - leading to a math problem whose solution opens a door to the next set of plaques.
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Old 04-17-2019, 04:01 PM   #9
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

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Originally Posted by DataPacRat View Post
... what sorts of Proteus Plagues are likely to still be kicking around, in one reservoir or another?
Any of the mythological transformations could be the result of a Proteus Plague:

vampirism
zombification
lychanthropy (of a wide variety of animal types)
dryadism (photosynthesis, etc.)

Less radically, you could have versions that work permanent genetic changes on subsequent generations, producing populations of cat- and dog-people, dwarves, ogres/giants, etc.

Taking a cue from the manga Ranma 1/2, you could have "naturally" occurring springs that take the genetic material of the first (or last) dead body thrown in them, and combines it with each subsequent person that drinks the water or bathes in the spring. So the Spring of Dead Girl makes males reversibly female or hermaphroditic, the Spring of Dead Cat produces cat/human chimeras or shape-shifters, etc.

In each of these cases, the idea is that transhuman diversity is a hedge against extinction (e.g., cat-people may survive better against the sudden appearance of nocturnal apex predators).

Edit to add: Depending on the amount of sample DNA required and the type of hybridization performed, the "cursed spring" version could be manipulated into a genetic Fountain of Youth -- as long as you're absolutely certain there isn't a dead fly in the water when you put in the cutting of your hair from when you were a baby. (It's probably a good idea to set a high mass threshold for just this reason.)

Last edited by thrash; 04-17-2019 at 04:16 PM.
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Old 04-17-2019, 08:22 PM   #10
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Default Re: Seeking suggestions for Proteus Plagues

Proteus plagues that can impact alien species (like humans) that they are not originally designed for require either superscience or TL12, as does any that cause gross morphological changes. Soft changes are a different story though, and relatively subtle changes could be quite possible at TL10, if they were designed for the given species.

For example, you could have a spring that changes the genetics of anyone who drinks from it give IQ+2, HT+3, Musical Ability 4, and Voice, allowing even an average person to become a musical genius and a superb singer. In the modern era, it would be controlled by secret Orphic Cults who see the spring as a physical manifestation of their patron diety, Orpheus.
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