An Apocalypse Package is a miniature automated factory and education unit designed to rekindle technological civilization in case of a worst case scenario.
- It is intended to prevent another Long Night.
- It is a rumored preparatory measure of the IISS to bypass or quickly recover from the Collapse.
- Some Terrans who have never seen one call it a Santa Claus Machine, a Replicator, or a Molecular Assembler. Those who have seen one in operation know it is far too slow and labor-intensive for what those names imply.
- The technology is an instance of what most of Charted Space calls Makertech.
According to the legends, a standard apocalypse package displaced 10.0 tons (up to 35 tons if the included 25 ton collapsable fuel tank was folded out), including its own fusion power plant (running from said fuel tank or on external fuel), fuel processor, refinery, smelter, and production plants.
Each week, it could take in 4 tons of asteroids (previously prospected for the presence of ores, though preferring to do its own mining rather than letting mining drones or laser drills pre-process the asteroids), usually supplemented by life support waste products from its crew, for an eventual output of 0.8 tons inorganic goods (spare parts, weapons, tools, vehicle components, et cetera) and 1 ton organic goods (food, medicine, et cetera). Certain goods could only be produced at a lower rate: for instance, instead of the ton of organic goods, an apocalypse package could produce a 10 person-month supply of anagathics (which collectively massed less than a kilogram) or 1,000 doses of most other pharmaceuticals (several kilograms) in a week.
The AAB had long kept digital archives of much of its knowledge base, for ease of shipping between its branches, so it was a simple matter to equip apocalypse caches with a copy. "Simple" did not mean "cheap": this accounted for the majority of an apocalypse package's MCr50 cost. Likewise, "cost" does not mean "value": a functioning apocalypse package found and sold to a major polity during the Collapse might have fetched thousands or millions of megacredits.
The main drawback was the limited production volume. A single apocalypse package could (with sufficient mass input) produce enough to keep one person and ship alive forever, but it could not quickly equip an army. While one apocalypse package was capable of creating another (consuming its entire output over a 6 week cycle), each package required the attention of a sophont for at least half of each day to achieve full production rate. Getting a significant production volume by creating many packages thus required a large crew. This was partly a limitation of TL-15, and partly a deliberate design choice, to try to limit how much this could enable TEDs who kept their populace ignorant: 8 doublings (taking most of a year) would result in 256 packages needing 256 crew who could learn technical skills (and other skills, for instance how to hide small production projects such as weapons) from their equipment, each one of whom might thus be a threat to a dictator who refused to share power. Reaching that much production capacity would suggest a minimally acceptable form of governance, and that much production capacity could start churning out more labor-efficient factories in a reasonable amount of time.
Supposedly, this was a useful guard against Virus. Any package that was infected, would be unable to do much without assistance - and unlike a vampire ship, could not credibly threaten to turn off life support or otherwise harm any sophont who did not interact with it. However, an infected humanoid robot would have both the intelligence and manipulators to render the necessary assistance, though this would require the instance of Virus in the package and the one in the robot to work together, which was a problem for many strains of Virus.
Automating the process of creating more apocalypse packages required at least TL-16, but societies able to sustain TL-16 usually already had everything an apocalypse package could offer. To them, an apocalypse package was inefficient relative to the other construction capabilities they had, at most kept in reserve to build specialized manufacturing facilities (such as factories that built factories, for instance to jumpstart a new colony). While some might argue that infection with one of the rare sane and cooperative strains of Virus - in both the package and a robot that could tend the package - would accomplish the same thing, many polities recognize such strains as sophonts anyway, thus disqualifying this approach as "automation" not in need of sophont labor.
As the Black War phase of the Rebellion commenced, planners in the AAB and IISS who had been meeting on Reference grew concerned that this war might tear apart the Third Imperium, leading to another Long Night. As it turned out, they were far more correct than they realized. Allegedly, they commenced construction of miniaturized automated factories to carry the seeds of civilization to distant parsecs aboard the Library class of ships designed for just this purpose, wait out the war, then return to re-seed civilization. Supposedly, design of these ships fell behind their ability to construct new factories as the Black War ground down local shipyards, leaving several in 1130 when Virus appeared, after which they dispersed their remaining factories by other means or destroyed them, and ceased manufacture before any Virus strain could infect one.
It is known that there were abstract plans for similar measures at earlier crisis points during the Third Imperium, which this could have developed from. The reported triggers to actually put these plans into action were the Black War starting in 1122, and the development of a synthetic anagathic formula that could keep their guardians alive indefinitely (which was not possible before TL-15). The degree of specification in these legends lends much credence to them; at the same time, subsector-wide navies have been mobilized over the merest whisper that an apocalypse package has been located, suggesting the rumors may have been blown out of proportion.
Rumors & Allegations
According to an alleged specification document (which is vague in many areas, indicating either a fake narrative or very minimal testing of the system), the factory is a TL-15 approximation of TL-16 “semi-dry” nanotechnology (non-biological nanomachines in a controlled environment), using already existing advanced “wet” nanotechnology (genetically engineered microorganisms, which the factory could produce itself in a few months once constructed) to construct a series of fractal manipulators. This technique would allow for simultaneous additive and subtractive manufacturing methods (in addition to providing material refining capability) at the cost of rapid heat generation, a concern that was noted in the report concerning shipboard usage, but not as a concern when placed in conjunction with a viable heat sink. Such a heat sink, with a high enough thermal conductivity combined with a decent thermal capacity and emissions rate, could easily double or triple the designed output. Additional sections of the document (assuming it exists) indicate a procedure for usage and initial setup, which involves a twenty week period to construct additional factories, assembly bays, cooling systems, and material storage, then merging them to provide a factory capable of ten to sixteen times the initial capacity. A separate alleged document deals with the computer system, stating that it was constructed in an peculiar manner: while each subsystem is highly capable, their interactions are mediated by a sophont to prevent their standard interactions from crippling the manufacturing process. This is likely too good to be true, as it would indicate a defense against Virus or another hostile AI, but it is possible that any such blocks are software only and are simply a result of the computers being built of “plug and play” systems.
- Nano Science / Nanotechnology (Nano-)
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