Machine Drones


Given that humans now have the opportunity to walk the Darkstream, there are far fewer manufactured organic/living Machine operatives, and far more mechanical Drones. These exist to  destroy non-Machine life and take the resources wasted by breathers to further their own culture and ends. They follow orders from the controlling Machine, and make no pretension to be human in any way.

Drones are manufactured in a number of different patterns. Thus far, the following have been encountered.

  • Humanoid
  • Rollers
  • Tripods
  • Hounds
  • Spiders
  • Hawks

These can be programmed to serve in different capacities, depending on the stage of the conquest of a world, including:

  • Foot soldiers
  • Resourcers
  • Specialists
  • Logistics

Drones differ in their degrees of ability and strength, which effectively acts as a rank structure. Across all classes, as the level of the drone increases, so does its abilities, stability and degree of “reality”. From what has been ascertained during encounters with them, they are designated with levels from one to twelve.

  • Levels one to three are designed for use in normal Shadow.
  • Levels four to six are more advanced, and would have a decent chance in worlds like the Commonwealth and the Outer Reich.
  • Levels seven to nine could potentially be effective in locations as real as Sable, the Reich, Elementis or the Technocracy.
  • Levels ten to twelve are the Officer Drones.
  • Above them are the various Controllers, and ultimately the Machine itself.

The proportions of each within an invading or exploiting force don’t exactly follow the pattern of normal human rank structure. In general, the lower level models can be produced more easily than the more advanced ones, so, for example, the suppression of a normal Shadow will usually only involve the lower level foot soldiers, whereas a Commonwealth/Outer Reich equivalent would use a larger proportion of higher level drones, but these would take longer to manufacture.

Drone Models

Humanoid

Humanoid Drones are most commonly used on New Oceania, although they do sometimes act as a senior “officer corps” on conquest worlds. Human Drones are often sent in as an advance party, to soften up a world and reduce resistance before the other models come in. Usually the next to be depoloyed will be the rollers and the tripods, which have considerably more “shock and awe” potential.

Rollers

These are effectively the tanks among the Machine forces. At their base, they’re tracklaying vehicles, but they can come with a variety of attachments, depending on their specific purpose. They are either controlled centrally, or paired with Spiders for operations that need more finesse. The inter-city transports on New Oceania are Roller vehicles.

Tripods

As well as wielding the most devastating weapons among the various Machine drones (the “heat ray”), once a world has been taken, the tripods move in. These vary in size, and can wield a number of different tools. The appearance and function of the tripods seem to suggest that the Master of the Datastream has read at least one book: H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Unlike those tripods, however, Drones do not need organic pilots.

Hounds

These are more animal in appearance, usually with four legs (although this is not set in stone). They appear to have visual sensors at the “head”, but also usually also have a sensor array in the centre of the back. They work in packs of up to twenty, and pretty much attack and incapacitate or kill anything in their path, primarily using their study, sharp claws. They are often used towards the end of the invastion process, for clean-up.

Spiders

These are smaller than Hounds, and are usually used for ground-based reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. They are about a foot across, very fast, and have been confirmed to have Machine communications equipment built into their main carapace, although it is uncertain whether individual units can report back to base directly, or whether they report to a controller which then communicates with base. They can work either individually or in groups controlled by a more advanced model. Their level and control structure is similar to the hounds. Spiders are the other kind of drone used on New Oceania itself.

Hawks

These are used for aerial surveillance, and like other forms of drones, are believed to have differing levels of ability, depending on the model. They vary in size from around that of a kestrel up to that of a golden eagle, and are believed to include a full suite of Machine communications equipment. They are also programmed for attack as well as surveillance. Usually, hawks will operate alone, although it is likely that they also have different levels of reality and efficiency, much like the other models.

Known Drone Functions

Foot soldiers

Foot solders are are used as shock troops on worlds which the Machine is attempting to subdue. They are completely emotionless and consider life to be worthless. Their sole purpose is to conquer and destroy, and they have no mercy. They effectively have a hive mind which offers them a measure of protection against mental influence. As far as weapons are concerned, they usually have weapons which can be adapted for firing projectiles or lasers, depending on the Shadow of conquest. There are also reports that long or short blades are also embedded in the inner forearm or hand of the humanoid models.

Resourcers

These are the drones which move in once a world has been subdued, and start stripping that world of its resources. At the most basic level, resourcers will just do what they’re told, be it mining ore, smelting metal, etc. However, the higher level versions actually bring some skill to a process – knowing the best place to dig, how to shore up a building, etc etc – right up to the equivalent of project managers. The majority of basic resourcers aren’t actually humanoid – they are more often either tripedal or quadrupedal, depending on what is most efficient for the terrain they’re working on.

Specialists

Specialist drones have been programmed with considerable knowledge in a given subject, although as far as other subjects are concerned. Lower level specialists are generally lacking in any but the most basic knowledge of other areas, although higher level specialists have been programmed with enough information to be able to draw on other relevant areas.

Logistics

Once the resources have been stripped, it becomes necessary to transport them to the local hub for deployment for the use of the Machine. This is where the logistics drones come in. By far the largest number of these are rollers and tripods.

Living Creatures Linked to the Machine

Controllers

Controllers come in four levels.

  • Local Controllers: these deal with on-the-ground operations and keep whatever stage those operations have reached running smoothly. They report to the Secondary Controllers.
  • Secondary Controllers: these  are fewer in number (usually twice the number of Senior Controllers present on a world) but have higher access privileges and are able to adjust operations and the programming of the drones. They report to the Senior Controllers.
  • Senior Controllers: there is usually only of these Senior Controller present on any world, although this isn’t always the case. Senior Controllers organise all aspects of operations on the ground. On the Outside, the role of Senior Controller can be given to a member of the Council of Controllers, if the operations are particularly sensitive.
  • The Council of Controllers: there is only a Council on the Outside – on the Inside, their functions are effectively undertaken by Data Controller Dorian and the Master himself. Outside, Councillors work in tandem with the External Controller.

While Controller level Drones do exist, they have the disadvantage of being unable to vary their own programming, or that of the troops under their command. Therefore, the human Controllers often work in tandem with their Drone equivalents. Many Controllers are also Technomages.

There is no reason to believe that any non-human sentient creatures could not become Controllers, but as yet none have been encountered.

Technomages

Those few Talented individuals who walk the Darkstream have the opportunity to become Technomages who can use magic to interface with the Darkstream at a higher level than a mere initiate, and without the technological implants.

  • Level 1 Technomages are of equivalent skill to Masters of Magic
  • Level 2 Technomages have the equivalent of Doctorates. Their magic can be backed by the Darkstream, if desired, giving it added solidity.

Clones (aka Bleeders)

These originate as genetic duplicates of particularly interesting or choice individuals from either New Oceania or from worlds conquered by the Machine, both Inside and Outside. As they’re grown, the genetics are honed to make them more resilient than their straight human progenitors, or bring out certain traits, and they are conditioned to serve the Machine and the Controllers to which they are assigned. Moreover, they are linked to the Datastream as they develop: while this doesn’t give them an initiation to the Power, it does give them a permanent link to the Machine. They have the ability to learn individual skills or abilities.

These have all the weaknesses of a standard organic body – for example, they bleed and they need to breathe, eat, sleep and excrete – but they are able to pass in human society and are often used as agents or scouts. By their nature, there are multiple instances of the same model.

Shifters

Shifters are a sub-set of the more normal Bleeder clones, and are created from those with the shifting gene who have been captured on worlds the Machine is resource stripping. If the shifting is dormant in the genetic donor, the cloning process can activate it to ICM level. Once the clones are grown, they need to be instructed in how to use their shifting abilities to move beyond that. Were the Machine to have access to Pilot Technology, Shifter Clones would probably be able to initiate as Pilots, but this is currently untested. By their nature, there are multiple instances of the same model.

Hybrids

These are individuals who are assumed to be clones of various important people, but retain appear to have individuality and sentience and the ability to work independently. They retain some or all of the skills and memories of the individuals they have been copied from, but are clearly not those people. For they most part, they have initiated to the Datastream and have the ability to access the Machine at Local Controller level. It is not known if multiple copies of these can be built: as yet, only single instances have been encountered.

With respect to all three of the above categories, theoretically, there is no reason to believe that other non-human sentient creatures could not be cloned in this way.