Singular Feats of Nanotechnology

   Singular is a hard-science reality: hence their nanotechnology suffers from real-world limitations. You won’t find it going to a gray-goo scenario without viable power sources and practical countermeasures, it can’t instantly reconstruct matter (the process is more like a fast-growing plant), it requires external power inputs, it requires extensive – and highly skilled – programming, it can’t add mass from nowhere, render people impervious to injury, or resurrect the dead. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful – it is both incredibly useful and incredibly versatile – but it’s not a universal cure-all. In terms of the Manifold it suffers from an additional limitation: it’s structure approaches the limits allowed by natural law – components and data storage at the point where a few bits of stray radiation, quantum creep, or almost unnoticeable variations in natural law – all too common in the Manifold – can cause serious problems. In most places outside it’s realm of origin, it often requires the expenditure of a magic point to get it to work properly.

   The S-Nanite Technology is actually – at least in concept – relatively straightforward: the most difficult part is creating the first generation of nano-assemblers. After that, you simply use them to assemble more – although careful external computer-screening of each generation for mutations is HIGHLY advisable.

   Nano-Assemblers are essentially robotic versions of living cells: they have computer cores or nuclei, atomic assembler systems reminiscent of ribosomes, motivators/manipulators or cilia, internal transport systems resembling the endoplasmic reticulum, carbon nanotubules and electro-contractile fibers which provide a “skeleton” and “musculature” akin to a cytoskeleton, storage chambers resembling vesicles, an oily working fluid or “cytoplasm”, and polymer capsules or “skins” resembling cell walls (these are roughly intermediate between plant cell walls and animal-cell membranes – making basic nanite “tissues” tougher than animal tissues, but not quite as tough as hardwoods) with molecular-transport systems and “gates” which mimic the operation of a plasma membrane. However, unlike cells, S-Nanites do not undergo mitosis and do not have internal systems for breaking down damaged components like a cell’s lysosomes: such functions are handled externally.

   Like cells, nanites are limited in their power-generation and -handling abilities, by their waste energy dissipation restrictions, by their limited sensors, communication systems, and information processing capabilities, by difficulties in replicating processes that require extreme conditions or unstable intermediate steps, by their limited ability to handle hard radiation or electromagnetic interference, and by their relatively low operation speed. They’re extremely convenient and versatile – but a great many operations (notably almost anything on a relatively large scale) can still carried out more far quickly and efficiently by more specialized macroscopic equipment. Still, also like cells, nano-assemblers are nearly unmatched in versatility.

   There is, of course, a price. While the molecular electronics of the computer core can output instructions far more quickly, and are far more readily programable, than cellular DNA, their data storage is far less stable – making them (and whatever they’re building) prone to “mutation” – and they cannot pack information with anything approaching the density or redundancy of DNA. While their lack of “junk” DNA helps make up for this somewhat, nanites are invariably far more dependent on information-sharing and/or external computer support than organic cells. Secondarily, like living cells, nanites cannot host all the possible subsystems without bulking themselves up to unacceptable sizes: while generic nanites can be reprogrammed and rebuilt to fulfill more specialized roles – tearing down and rebuilding atomic assemblers, micro-handlers, power storage systems, communications filaments, and similar structures as needed – this takes a fair amount of time. It’s normally more efficient to use a mixture of more specialized nanites dedicated to particular tasks – chemical processors, data storage and processing nodes, sensors, micro-manipulators, transporters, and so on.

   Cellular Replacement is the peak of nanite technology: once again, the concept is simple: you simply inject the nanites into a body (whether living or dead) and instruct them to begin replacing the organic cells in the body with themselves acting out the same roles. Naturally enough, this works best if the subject is in a fairly static state to make the replacement process simpler. Once the organic structure has been completely replaced, it’s easy – or at least relatively easy – to put the body into suspension and instruct the nanites to carry out more drastic physical transfigurations. Of course, much of the complexity lies in the analytic functions: a successful replacement relies on mimicking everything a cell does, under various conditions: this requires a complete breakdown on the recipients personal genome, developmental path, and current chemical environment, as well as an ongoing translation program to dynamically reprogram each individual nanite appropriately to compensate for the changes they’re causing in the chemical environment of the body during the replacement process. The computational power required is gargantuan, requiring a massive external mainframe even with the component-packing densities available to molecular electronics.

   Nanite Programming normally requires appropriate skill checks to design what you want (such as electronics, chemistry, biochemistry, biomechanics, etc), a nanite programming check to translate the human-level specifications into something that the nanites can work with, and a computer programming check to set up the governing programs to make it work. If the situation is unstable – such as working on a living organism – you will either have to keep the work area in stasis somehow or make additional checks to compensate on the fly while the work is underway. A bit of luck (or, in a manifold environment, a will check) to avoid having individual nanite failures, data errors, and overlooked factors subtly or drastically warping your results is also in order.

Typical Difficulties:

Average (DC 20):

  • Creating moderately complex forms from amorphous materials such as glass, basic metal alloys, and ceramics.
  • Synthesis, purification or extraction of simple chemicals and low-reactivity elements, including most common crystals.
  • Dynamic repair of basic metallic armor and structures.
  • Bonding dissimilar surfaces.
  • Removing simple overlays from dissimilar surfaces (such as stripping paint).

Difficult (DC 25):

  • Creating extremely complex forms, interwoven, or layered composites from amorphous materials or applying surface layers of such materials to other items.
  • Synthesis of basic biochemicals and the extraction or purification of highly reactive elements and compounds.
  • Sealing simple wounds, bonding broken bones, and providing biologically inert structural repairs in living organisms.
  • Analyzing the detailed structure of deceased organisms.

Extraordinary (DC 30):

  • Creating extremely complex forms from complex materials or advanced composite materials such as basic duralloy.
  • Microscale etching and doping, such as the creation of classical computer chips.
  • Synthesis of complex biochemicals or biochemical support against toxins.
  • Removing particulate contaminations from complex surfaces or tissues (such as restoring paintings, curing black lung disease, or countering non-viral infections).
  • Analyzing the internal structure of living organisms without damaging them.
  • Providing short-term emergency life support for severely injured organisms.

Remarkable (DC 35):

  • Creating micro-scale structures (such as additional Nano-assemblers) or tailored duralloy structures.
  • Replacement of structural bone, cartilage, and similar structures with nanite composite structures in living creatures.
  • Removing cancers or other growths from living organisms.
  • Dynamic repair of complex devices.

Incredible (DC 40):

  • Creating large-scale microelectronic systems or singular military materials, including Wellstone.
  • Installing neural interfaces or reinforcing structures in living creatures (bulletproof skin, reinforced organ support).
  • Inserting new genetic material or reconstructing tissues and organs in living organisms, including life support while the process is underway.
  • Basic operations with exotic (nonatomic) materials.
  • Dynamic repair of complex devices in living creatures, such as cyberware and other implants.

Amazing (DC 50):

  • Replacing muscles and/or basic processing organs in living creatures (stomach digestive processes, kidney functions, peripheral nerves).
  • Internal construction of cyberware, neural interfaces, and neural augmentation systems in living creatures.
  • Genetic reconstruction, including treatment for massive doses of toxins or radiation.
  • Creation of small, animalistic, nanite-based “organisms”.

Legendary (DC 60):

  • Replacement of complex biochemical functions in living creatures, such as the liver and major glands.
  • Replacement of intermediate-level data processing tissues in living creatures, such as the spinal column or hindbrain.
  • Creation of large-nanite-based lifeforms or neural-network systems capable of supporting a soul or “true AI” (note that actually getting a soul into such a system is quite another matter).

Impossible (DC 70+):

  • Replacing the central nervous system in living creatures (note that only fairly drastic failures will result in death – but far more subtle problems are all too common).
  • Assembling a large-scale processing system using molecular electronics. Sadly, while such systems provide the maximum possible processing power for a given amount of matter, they are EXTREMELY vulnerable to quantum disturbances – and so tend to break down fairly rapidly.

   Having a laboratory, support staff, high-powered computer system, and assorted databases on hand is highly advised since – as a rule – the only way to achieve the upper-end results is to get as many bonuses for circumstances, assistants, and tools as you can possibly manage.

   Singular Nanotechnology is suitable for “hard science” d20 future games and settings. In settings which don’t pay attention to its technical limitations it will probably be far too powerful.


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