Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ghosts of the Mind

Sorry for the spotty updates lately. Work is awful in a word. I'm barely making my re-enlist roll and trying to stay long enough to make a few rolls on the mustering out table.  But enough of my botching. You want more Ghost Drive? You got more Ghost Drive!

First a recap: Nonbiological Entities (NBEs) are what more primitive cultures refer to as ghosts or spirits. We lard evidence for them being the souls of the departed though some cultures maintain they are that and more. We do know they are life forms composed of psionic energy and several types of exotic matter existing in our three space as well as FTL space. Most people contain and use them to make their starships go. they usually have telepathy and telekinesis. Some do not but we don't bother with them in general unless you can 1)give them orders and 2) get them to give your ship a push. there are rare cases of them possessing precognition, clairvoyance, healing abilities and other fun parlor tricks. Outside a drive system they rapidly run out of energy and must subsist on heat and electrical power.

That in itself can let them raise Holy Hell. But the worst is yet to come: possession. NBEs can already make mental contact with humans though few do in a friendly manner. those that manage to psionically assault and knock out a human mind they can move for a while.

The Ghoul Cultists regard possession as a state of grace and usually allow the possessed to stay possessed. Attendants make sure the person and his rider are not interfered with (even if they're piloting your ship into the sun) except in extreme cases (like it's the High Cleric's yacht they want to pilot into the sun). Those killed by their riders are given full honors and their dependents allowed a decent stipend to live on. It beats the low passage lottery unless you're the one with a ghoul on your back (or onboard the ship they've stolen).

In centuries past many have tried to explain criminal or stupid actions by claiming possession. Even in pre-spaceflight cultures this is not an ironclad defense as you will see.

There are three types of possession that correspond roughly to the three types of NBEs and their power levels. Haunts are relatively weak things and do not usually drain the mental energies of the possessed. If they do try to possess in a desire to grow in power or experience the results are pretty obvious. The possessed is uncoordinated, erratic and inarticulate. They may be moved immediately to violence or suicidal acts as the Haunt panics but can't disengage itself. The possessed often has hysterical strength and stamina and is resistant to pain though not tun weapons. This is a First Stage Possession and the easiest to deal with.

 Second Stage possessions are usually engaged by Overt NBEs despite their name. The possession ratings came out after the names had stuck. The Overt NBE is usually smart enough to sit back and enjoy its new home for a bit and get a feel for things. The victim might experience accidents: dropping things, hitting the wrong button or tripping as well as experience fleeting visions. With an experienced NBE there will be a couple of incidents over the course of a week to ten days.

If the NBE is discovered or figures out what it wants ("He ate ten kilos of spray Cheez?") it will throw caution to the wind and go for it. this is just too bad if it decides that it wants something inside that nearby asteroid, your ship will make a dandy single use drill, and it happens to have possessed someone with access to the bridge controls. Possession is hard to mistake at this point. Possessed victims have cut or bitten off limbs (sometimes their own) to escape captivity and their desires will fall under the bat-shit-crazy category.

Third Stage possessions are the most insidious, long lasting and dangerous. A upper end Overt or worse Poltergiest will be smart enough and experienced enough to keep the clumsy accidents to a minimum. First stage symptoms will usually small tics and stammers that are easy to mistake for jokes or affectations or exhaustion. The possessed person will experience restless sleeps as the NBE moves about and test drives the new vehicle.  The more clumsy NBEs will cause bouts of sleep walking and be found out quickly.

As the NBE's hold over the person deepens they will grow tired and listless as their mental energies also go to 'feed' their new driver in whatever way they do. Some Third Stage victims have become comatose without warning or died quickly after experiencing a 'wasting disease'.

In the final phase of a Third Stage possession the NBE has conditioned the host to do as ordered and worse has access to the host's memories and skills. This stage is almost impossible to detect. It's one reason survivors of an NBE rampage who are rescued days or weeks later must endure a long quarantine. The NBE is pretty much in control but a back seat driver at this point. The host feels like they can break free whenever they want but are just waiting for the 'right moment'. Poltergeists have maintained this level of possession for years or until the host's death.

There are three steps to dealing with possession: detection, expulsion and containment. It is vital that a crew be ready to enact any and all steps immediately.

Detection can be by mechanical means psionic scans or a sharp ear and ear. The initial stages of possession do cause minor tics, unusual stress patterns in a victim's voice, and changes to eye movement. These are usually too fleeting and infrequent for all but a master in face and body reading to detect. Ant hijacking safeguards requiring voice identification, retina scan or high end facial recognition programs will sometimes pick them up. A savvy Steward will also pay for himself at this point as he's usually serving meals, taking requests and constantly exposed to everyone. Passengers are relative strangers and have less of a data base than crew however and possessed passengers may be able to pass themselves as clean for a while. Androids or robots can also perform quick scans as they go about their duties.

Several medical tests exist that can point out a possession victim. A specialized brain scanner designed to detect psionic energy can be used. If a formerly mundane subject is suddenly reading like an active psionic there's your trout in the buttermilk. The good part about this form of detection is the scan chamber can also be a containment system. The drawbacks include the size and cost of the machine and the difficulty of getting a possessed person into one. Note some ships have made use of a fake scan chamber for passengers. If you ask a guest to hop in for a read and he freaks the chase is on! Note that it is difficult to distinguish some claustrophobes from demon haunted madmen at this point. Lawsuits have resulted.

Several blood tests can detect the hormonal spikes in a person's blood if the medic has baseline readings and can take several tests over several hours or days. The results will also take a day or longer to process. The upshot is the possessed person may be running around loose at this point or a innocent person may be confined and fuming and threatening litigation. A major hospital or sick bay on a capital ship could rush the test results and most military ships have baseline endocrine readings for their personnel with random testing.

Psionic scans are the easiest way to detect a possessing NBE. There are cultural drawbacks to this. Except for the clumsiest of NBEs you're talking a deep scan meaning a persons darkest secrets are laid before the psionic. Some psionics have less flattering terms for the flood of memories and both parties may regard the procedure with the same joy as being forced into a sex tape with those extra kilos you put on during long trips. Likewise people have rights in such cases and a scan performed without sufficient reason will result in something ship captains fear as much as death or NBEs; lawyers.

Expelling the NBE is fairly straightforward. The ship psionic (usually boosted with whatever performance enhancing substances the doctor can muster) will psionically assault the victim and the NBE. There's really no way to separate the two. The NBE is at a disadvantage here because physical attacks like electric shock, tranquilizers and a good beating will disorient the host and the NBE leaving it vulnerable.

The simplest way to force an expulsion is by shoving the victim into a low berth. Frozen sleep will at the least immobilize the victim and prevent further harm. It will also drain the warmth the NBE uses to survive and force it to flee. Many ships have a special mow berth that also has a small containment unit. By this point most NBEs will comply and return to the main containment chamber. Stubborn ones will face a disposal team at the next port of call who are less than gentle. Again forcing a person into cold sleep without reasonable cause will have repercussions.

Some drugs and therapies will also force an NBE to flee (some people categorize the therapies as torture.) This is necessary when the psionic is possessed or incapacitated or the sleep tubes offline. Both are prime targets of NBEs. Sudden trauma like being shocked or thrown into an ice bath can break a possession. Some drugs will also disorient an NBE or empower a victim to break free. None of these are sure things but better than nothing when a loved one or vital crewman is under possession.

Many alien species regard possession with even greater fear and loathing than ours. As one diplomat put it possession puts everyone the vicnity in danger of one of the most dangerous life forms known ... and an NBE as well.