This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue.
Cloning technology has been both perfected and largely bypassed in the 30th century. The conceit of making exact duplicates of someone never quite managed to pan out, and most uses of cloning technology have been surpassed by vat-grown organics and 3D bio-construction technology. This is not to say that the technology is never used, however. Some groups (like the Joshuas) use it extensively for their population needs, and there are places where offshoots of the technology (like synthmeat production) have built on the prior existence of this technology. There are two major areas where cloning technology is still important: Medicine/bio-replacement and Bio-Con (Biological Construct) growth.
Normal medical cloning technology does not produce entire bodies; instead, genetically neutral tissue, bone marrow, etc., is grown in vats. When a person needs a cloned replacement for whatever reason a unit of the material is taken, gene-modified to match the person’s DNA, and then either grown to form in a cloning tank or injected into the damaged organ and used to repair or replace it in nano-surgery. In cases such as significant injury, where the person has suffered massive damage, whole organs or limbs will be formed in the clone tanks and then implanted by a nano-surgeon.
For more routine procedures, pinhole surgery will be used where the replacement material is injected into the body and nanites injected with it build the new organ in place. Slow-grown or medical cloned tissue has a lifespan to match that of normal people; replacement parts will last as long as the person does and benefit from longevity treatments in the same way as the rest of the individual.
With limbs, it depends on the nature of the injury, but generally everything from the point of injury out is replaced. Where the limb has been severed due to injury, a new limb will often be built first and then attached by nano-surgery in a single procedure. For less severe cases, for example where the bone is repairable but there is massive loss of muscle mass, the bone will be repaired in place and then cloned tissue will be added in strands.
Modern medical clone banks hold large tanks of lung tissue and heart
tissue and muscle tissue etc. They also produce cloned bones for general
sizes and for every major bone. Things like finger or toe bones can be
effectively constructed, provided with proper skin, muscles and
ligaments within a few hours and thus ‘ready-made’ fingers and toes are
not normally stored.
Larger bones can take a few hours to ‘grow’ (although the technique used is actually 3D organic construction) and up to a day to properly fit with surrounding tissue (that has been DNA typed via retrovirus to the patient). Since bones are unique to each individual, they always need to be adjusted to fit, a process ironed out over time and managed with nanotechnology (which often requires no actual surgery to adjust once the initial procedure has been performed).
The slowest, but absolutely necessary, part of the process is the human intervention of the specialists and physicians. In cases where large numbers of people need to be treated at once, cybernetics are generally used to allow the people to function while waiting for the cloning tanks to catch up with the needed volume. This is generally a question of available processing equipment and experts to provide the best possible outcome.
Many veterans of the largest battles of the Mutant Wars ended up with cybernetic parts since the thousands of casualties from the biggest battles far outstripped the clone stores available. Many of these veterans became used to the metal parts and refused to switch them for clone parts later in the war when these biological replacements became available.
Cloned medical material, from skin and teeth to internal tissue and specific organs, takes anywhere from hours to days to grow to usable form. Some of this material can be batch-produced to provide for many patients. This means that a clone tank can produce, and then store, cubic meters worth of lung tissue.
Then when someone needs a replacement pair of lungs due to long term damage (from inhaling some form of atmospheric contaminant on a mining world for example) they can visit a medical center for replacement treatment or opt for slow non-invasive treatment.
In the case of a quick replacement the person will be scanned and the exact dimensions of his lungs when healthy is determined. Lung tissue is then shaped to the required dimensions while a retrovirus injection modifies the tissue’s DNA to match the recipient. Once these are ready the person reports to a surgery center and a nano-surgeon can remove the damaged lungs and put in the new cloned lungs in less than an hour.
Where the person opts for a slow non-invasive replacement, they report to the nano-surgeon every few days, DNA matched lung tissue is injected into the damaged lungs and nanites rebuild small sections of the lung each visit. This process could require anywhere from five to ten visits over the course of several weeks, but this does avoid the need for full surgery.
Vital organs are generally not batch-produced due to the many problems associated with individual fitting and DNA matching (which can be done afterwards, but in the case of such an important organ as a heart or a liver, surer and slower is better than a “proximate solution” that “may take” even if the chances are extraordinarily high (99%+) that no problems will present. No one wants to be in the 1% failure category and most healthcare facilities are cautious even at this high rate and thus slower growing methods are preferred.
Once again, in the case of emergency situations cybernetics are employed to keep the patient alive while the organ is grown/built. Nerve strands are generally woven into skin or organs as needed using nanotechnology and the basic nerve strands (which are indeed grown in huge lots). Some high-end bio-replacements do grow nerve tissue specifically, and some physicians do claim that these make for better matches, but this is far from proven.
Body Work (Bio-Cons)
Traditional full-body clones or Bio-Cons are produced in individual cloning tubes where a single body is grown over the course of roughly five years to an equivalent physical age of 18.
This technique requires less skilled labor even though it takes more physical space, time and nutrients (which on the whole, are less expensive). These Bio-Cons are modified both in terms of their gestation and development (allowing them to “age” to adulthood in five years or so) and have no higher brain functions. Only the most basic automatic functions (such as heartbeat and breathing) are performed by the Bio-Con. Other portions of the brain do not develop.
Normally an individual grower (these are referred to as clone-farms) will have three or more Clone-lines they use. These are often referred to with names like “Cindy” or “Bob” or “Michelangelo” that are registered trademarks. Some of the largest growers might have twenty or more lines and use entire growhouses.
Many growers trade these clone-lines back and forth, so that on a given planet, there may be twenty to two hundred clone-lines (depending on the age of the colony and so-forth) available.
While individual Bio-Cons can certainly be cosmetically altered, either in the final stages of development or ‘aftermarket’, more often they are not for economic reasons (most AI don’t care). Once taken out of the tube and prepared (implanted with the necessary hardware), the cloned body is known as a ‘shell’.
Due to the speed that these full body clones are produced; shells have a much shorter lifespan than normal sentient humans. Shells age quite differently from humans and begin to suffer degenerative effects after only 15 years or so of post-tube use. Note that this is time spent in use, not their chronological age. Even with heavy use, there is about 20% of the shell’s lifespan spent in cold storage, sometimes much much more. A typical Digital Entity that uses a Bio-Con does so infrequently. Thus, if they store them properly they might get 20 or 30 years of use from them before aging sets in. Bio-Con shells are generally considered to have a maximum ‘post-tube’ life expectancy of 20 years (use-time) or so. They are sometimes replaced before this due to the cellular degeneration. Shell aging does not quite look like the aging of a human. A 19-year old shell might look remarkably similar to the shell that emerged from the tube, although viewers often remark that the Bio-Con is somewhat “tired” looking. Shells can be face-sculpted as well, which leads to generally youthful-looking shells for the most part.
In game terms, shells suffer aging effects beginning with their fourth term of use. Roll for aging as normal, but double the penalties associated with failed checks. Combat and high durability models start aging after 12 years/three-terms and suffer triple the effects of aging.
The Care and Feeding of your Bio-Con
Once the clone body is decanted, control interfaces are installed along with data storage and processors to house the AI or uploaded personality. The body becomes a shell. When an AI or Ghost is uploaded to the shell the whole thing becomes a Bio-Con.
Bio-Cons are just like regular humans. They tire when they are exercised, they hurt when they are injured, and they need food and water to keep them going. The problem is that while a natural-born human or uplift understands that these things are necessary and indeed has lived with these conditions for all their life, a Digital Entity generally has not.
Some AI just starting to use Bio-Cons can “run them down” very easily, because these sensations are new or unique for them (or because they consider their goals to be more of a necessity than ‘organic maintenance’). The AI who is a first-time Bio-Con user is more likely to just turn off the sensory input for hunger and get on with the task they need to finish than to take a break for feeding. Most new-owner AI also find the eating process to be endlessly tedious, although some find the taste and texture of foods endlessly fascinating.
Resting the Bio-Con is another tedious kind of activity. Most AI will cut their feed to the Bio-Cons during this time. A minority have found that naps are actually kind of pleasant. Hibernation couches are commonplace; the Bio-Con rests inside for 8 hours or more a day and the system helps extend the useful lifespan with a mixture of vitamin and hormone supplements in tailored doses. Studies show that Bio-Cons who are given regular upkeep in hibernation couches drop their effective use-age from 20-30%.
Bio-Con shells can be tougher than normal human bodies (and can take more damage for a short time) but they tend to suffer long term effects from injuries far more than normal human bodies do because of their shortened lifespan. The shells age more rapidly and expensive procedures are necessary to overcome serious injuries.
Combat model Bio-Con shells can be extremely tough; in heavy armor they can take hits that would drop a small vehicle. However they have an even shorter lifespan and are extremely expensive. Other specialized shells are available as special orders but if something unique is required it needs to be ordered up to five years in advance.
In game terms, AI need to have a Remote Piloting 0 for basic Bio-Con use and maintenance. Referees who notice that the Bio-Cons are getting heavy use should make regular checks before the Bio-Con starts having problems. Ghosts and Dups are generally much more adroit than AI at piloting Bio-Cons, and generally need no extra skills to manage their Bio-Con’s needs.
In combat, standard Bio-Cons have two additional points of Endurance for damage-absorbing purposes only and otherwise take damage as normal, but they do not suffer from the “knockout” rule even if this option is used for the other characters.
Also, 15-20 minutes after a combat, the Bio-Con regains d3 (if only one characteristic was damaged) or d3+1 (if two characteristics were damaged) characteristic points as the proximate shock fades. Minimum retained damage however is one-half the damage taken, rounded up; e.g., if a Bio-Con takes three points of damage in combat, 15-20 minutes later they can only restore 1 point of damage from “shock loss” since half of 3 (the damage they took) rounded up is 2 and they must retain at least that many points from the combat damage. Had the Same BioCon taken 6 or more points of damage, they retain at least 3 points from the wounds later as the “shock-loss” fades.
For Combat/High-Durability Bio-Cons, the additional points of Endurance they can absorb from damage are equal to one half of their End characteristic. An End 10 Bio-Con has five extra points of damage they can absorb. The amount “regained” after 15-20 minutes remains the same however since it is the same thing (reduction of “shock” because of the control the AI has over the body).
The Bio-Cons of Ratan
Ratan uses a number of Bio Shells for many roles and entertainments; the Vegas sex industry uses many entertainment shells; and the re-enactment armies use thousands more.
As a result of needing many thousands of such shells the Monument Corporation has built up one of the largest cloning industries in the confederation. As a sideline they quietly export cloned medical tissue and parts to the surrounding sectors and turn a tidy profit doing so.
In 2978 as the result of a terrorist hacking attack the GrossBerlin central traffic control net was taken down. The resulting chaos as grav vehicles stacked five lanes high across more than a dozen routes lost central control and crashed into each other and the surrounding buildings left more than 2,000 permanently dead and well over 20,000 injured. Because of the nature of the high-speed crashes many of the casualties were amputations and internal organ replacements. Even the medical facilities on Terra/Sol were unable to handle so many so fast and emergency requests went to Ratan.
By shipping every single unit of cloned medical material on the planet Ratan could handle almost a thousand casualties. But with that they were still short over a thousand people’s worth. To make up the difference they harvested an entire generation of shell bodies for parts and flagged these cases for replacement within the next few years due to the shorter lifespan of the shell clones.
By doing this they were able to handle every single casualty but then found themselves short an entire generation of shell clones. To make up the loss an experimental technique was tried where entire bodies could be built from freshly grown clone tissue. Rather than spend the months needed for bone growth and considering that they would need to replace over a thousand peoples cloned limbs over the next year due to using shell parts they settled on using synthetic bone structures and using nanite surgery to build up organs and muscle structure onto the synthetic skeletons. These units could be produced very fast but had massive problems. They needed regular transfusions of clone blood since they had no bone marrow; they also needed daily doses of drugs ranging from blood pressure regulators to anti biotics.
These “Flash” clones, so called because they could be produced “in a flash”, had much shorter lives than even the Bio-Con shells. With care, a flash clone could last 8-9 years; the ones used to replace Ratan’s lost generation of shell generation lasted half that time.
However, the tissue could be cloned in months and the flash clone bodies could be built in a matter of weeks after that. In bulk and using the production line cloning facilities on Ratan they are fairly cheap, cheap enough to be single use expendable if need be.
There is a school of thought that says that since they can be produced for less than a quarter of the cost of a Bio-Con shell and last half as long they could be used as budget Bio-Cons. However, Monument’s Legal and Scientific departments have advised against this. At this point the technology is wholly owned by Monument and lucrative licensing deals across the Known Galaxy beckon.
There is also the problem of the process itself. Many in the corporation fear making the techniques used to produce the flash clones public even in the most general of terms could have negative connotations.
The techs in the process call the flash clones Frankensteins because of the piecemeal way they are constructed. Visuals of the process are, to put it delicately, unsettling. What the public would call them may knock a few points of the share price of Monument, and even suggesting that may happen is enough to stop this idea dead.
At present Ratan produces slightly more than half of the medical clone material used in not only the entire sector but also in the surrounding three sectors as well, the clone tanks and facilities they have are more advanced than any outside of a Terra/Sol research lab. They also grow 48% of the Bio-Con shells; most of them are customized in some way and the “Made on Ratan” tag says quality of manufacture.
Terra/Sol produces the remaining Bio-Con shells but tends to concentrate on the regular models leaving the luxury end of the business to Ratan.
Flash clones or Frankensteins are produced in batches as needed with a lead time of six months or less. However, these tend to be used for special requests such as the battle of Waterloo several years ago when a customer wanted to play Napoleon and be able to meet any of his soldiers. Monument managed to field 18,000 clones on the day and while the bulk of both armies were Holographic, the would-be Napoleon was able to talk to every member of his entire guard if he wanted to and they were all flash clones.
Flash clones are much less durable than a standard Bio-Con shell. They come with a standard Endurance of ‘6’. They cannot be made with an Endurance above ‘8’ but the cost of going above ‘6’ basically negates any savings beyond time that the Flash Clone provides the buyer.
They also deteriorate much more significantly than a standard shell. Beginning after their first term (4 years) they must make standard aging rolls every year but double the penalties associated with failed checks. Beginning in their seventh year they must make an aging roll at a minus two. This modifier increases by one every subsequent year. Failing this check means the Flash clone has reached the end of its usable life.
How Does This Affect My Game?
To be succinct, drastically.
This technology allows for players to participate in ‘virtual tourism’. Basically, renting a Bio-Con allows players to explore an area remote from their current location. The only disadvantages are the deposit (these are players after all so the odds of them returning the rental undamaged are pretty low) on the rental and a potential time lag based on distance. Perhaps a -1 or more to initiative.
If you use Artificial Intelligences in your game, it allows them a more human form to use when interacting with the physical world. This makes it possible for an AI to blend in better with normal humans. The quality of the AI’s Bio-Con is only limited by their bank account.
The world of Bio-Shells is both scientific and cutthroat. A homebased amateur scientist (think of the Old Earth Trope of a guy developing the first computers in his garage) has developed a neuromuscular, nanite controlled process that increases the top end of physical characteristics (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance) that a Bio-Shell can be created with.
Needless to say, this is a major advancement that could make this person millions. But various underworld and shady corp types have gotten wind of their invention. The players are asked by our scientist to help protect them and negotiate the sale of their invention.
The Outer Belt of the VanKila Kiertotahti system contains a lot of scientific activity. A University of St. Mary of Mars Artificial Intelligence scientist has been researching an asteroid in the belt. He has lost contact with his Bio-Con which he believes has important data stored on it.
Apparently the Bio-Con was attacked by a group of humans (or pirates? The AI is unsure). However the Bio-Con was injured before the AI managed to hide it in a cave system on the asteroid and the AI had to put it into hibernation mode to preserve it. The players are hired to retrieve the Bio-Con. They will have to do it while avoiding or overcoming the group that attacked the Bio-Con.
On Terra/Sol a criminal organization has managed to develop a flash clone production facility. The produced flash clones have been invaluable to the criminal organization in robbery, protection and racketeering operations.
The players are hired by Monument Corporation to; a) Infiltrate and acquire the blue prints for the Flash Clones (they suspect they were stolen from them), b) Acquire any information they can on the source of the blue prints, and c) Destroy the factory.
Monument needs outside contractors for this operation to preserve deniability and because enlisting official help would also expose the blue prints to the Orions.