Oxygen Depletion Incident
The Resource Wars saw major use of defoliants, and resultingly large swaths of the Amazon, SE Asia, and equatorial Africa were denuded of plant biomass. Later run off from the deforestation chemicals contaminated the ocean and caused several major dead zones, killing algea and plankton. Wildfires and erosion followed, further damaging the afflicted areas. The first areas that noticed the decreased atmospheric O2 levels were the higher elevations. People living in the mountains started recording lower levels of the vital gas, and started complaining. There was a short period of disbelief and denial, comparing the data to the previous environmental crises that never came to fruition.
Then the data started being correlated in lower areas. A new round of scientific investigation began, with the alarm starting to spread. After surviving the Second Dark Age's shortages of food, medicine, electricity and almost every other normal good, it seemed that humanity was just going to run out of air. Something had to be done.
Where arcanotech came from is a subject of debate. There are dozens of labs, research facilities, individuals and organizations that all lay claim to founding the first piece of veritable arcanotechnology. While disputed, the most substantial claim is given to the Rosenzweig Research Facility in the West Bank Wasteland zone. The Rosenzweig facility published and pioneered the field of arcanotech mathematics and new applied science. The facility and its associated personnel pioneered the technology behind the Dimensional Engine, and from that derived the smaller Dimensional Screw and the Dimensional Battery systems.
Arcanotechnology spread at an almost cancerous rate during the 2nd Renaissance, faster than most government and regulatory agencies could monitor and control. The explosive growth of an entire new branch of mathematics and science was unprecedented in human history. The new system of math and geometry opened the door to dimensional sciences. This quickly expanded outward into applications of biosciences and cloning, robotics, computer programming and machine sentience, and into formerly considered fringe and pseudo-science realms like Kirlian photography, psychometry and psionics.
The New Economic Blocs
Corporations and businesses were the first to react to this crisis, while scattered governments and agencies struggled with funding, public opinion, and various other problems. The biggest corporations in the world were involved in the construction of arcologies, space exploration and exploitation, and banking. These entities started forming alliances, and pooling certain resources and technologies, most of this behind closed doors, and a some through shadowrunning. The arcologies started being refit with oxygen condensers and extractors. The atmospheric recycling systems were greatly enhanced, and the green towers were tied into the urban towers, allowing the excess oxygen produced from the plants to be used by the residents of the arco. Similar initiatives were started with various seacologies, and some geofronts started working towards oxygen extraction from rock sources.
The Elysium Program was started, and several megacorps funded the construction of a dozen massive space habitats in Earth orbit. These habitats housed tens of thousands of people, safe and secure from the environmental ravages on earth. The world's wealthy were also interested in the Elysium project, and a good number purchased real estate on these habitats, investing in them, and the technology going into the project. The various Elysium class habitats remain the political domain of the sovereign MegaCorps.
The NEBs fostered the research and construction of synthetic humans in the form of androids, gynoids, and mechanoids. This tied in with the desire to eliminate the need for unskilled and menial laborers hogging up the oxygen supply. Mechanoid production saw the end of large scale auton production, save for military application machines like skeletrons or the police use wojeks.
'There are always going to be poor people, to have winners there have to be losers. The best way to handle that is to pick the winners and the losers. Pick humans to win, and pick droids to lose. The machines sit at the bottom, and the only things they consume is electricity and lubricant. Inside the arcologies, and the elysiums, we will be safe, secure, and prosperous. Those outside will be machines, losers, and the wicked' - CFO Arron Zahn, Omni-Consumer Products
The Tycho Convention
The First Tycho convention was attended by 7 nascent nations and 4 megacorps. The convention was held at Tycho City on the Moon, and was called to discuss an international response to the Oxygen Depletion Incident. The nations attending were wrangling with ways to handle the still decreasing levels of atmospheric oxygen, and they didn't have the luxury or resources to match their component arcologies or the megacorps. Various organizations had also appeared, opposing the technological dominance of the arcologies and the nations. Riots ensued in some cities, with wojeks being demolished, and some buildings burned.
Something had to be done.
The Aegis Investment Group's subsidiary company Leyland-Toyota had developed a new technology for terraforming Mars, specifically regenerating it's thin atmosphere. The towers would be megastructures 1.15 km tall, and would draw in air and moisture from the atmosphere and through several complex processes emit free oxygen, carbon blocks, and not just replenish O2, but remove long lasting chemical aerosols. The convention was called to see about implementing the Tower Initiative. Various governments, corps and groups would be required to fund the construction and maintenance of the towers, which would be located in strategic points around the world.
The program was agreed to, but it would require oversight, and the towers would have to be coordinated for maximum effect. There was a great deal of heated debate as to who would hold the keys to the Towers. The nations and groups funding them demanded control, while areas left in the lurch claimed that such a move would give control of the atmosphere to the very people who caused its destruction.
The New Earth Governments
As the lights came back on, and nations rose and went again to war with each other, (war, war never changes) coalitions, alliances and friendships were in the making. The Tycho Convention went on as various representatives from the eventual Atlantic Federation, Pacific Rim Coalition, and Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere started laying the groundwork of their relative superstates. Rather than give the keys to the individual countries hosting the towers, it was proposed that the New Earth Governments would respectively hold component keys.
After the Tycho Convention the Atlantic Federation and ACPS signed their mutual defense, free trade, and coordinated resource agreements. The Pacific Rim Coalition was chartered a year later after a tense stand off with the North American assets of the Atlantic Federation, and with the ACPS and its disputed claims to everything in the Pacific basin. A second league would rise after the formation of the three NEGs, starting with the Neo-Soviet Eurasian Alliance. The Alliance would quickly rise in power, picking up the ragged poor nations in Eastern and Southern Europe that the Atlantic Federation refused entry. The South African United Republics, United States of South America and Free India rose in power, consolidating their ethnic identities.
The M12 (Majestic 12) artificial intelligent supercomputers were built to control and manage the output of the terraforming towers. To make sure that the system worked at maximum efficiency, the towers and their base controlling computers were networked together through a new global computer network. Each tower was built with an associated network aerial and internet communications systems. The function of assigned not one but 12 supercomputers to the task of managing the towers was the equivalent of bringing a anti-tank missile to a fist fight.
The M12 spent a large amount of time coordinating with each other, as well as bringing more and more other supercomputers into their shared network. Once it was discovered that the machines were co-opting their communications system for their own purposes, it was considered a major leap in technology. Entire new algorithms had been created and in their spare time, the machines 'playing' had created an entirely new technological realm.
The 3rdNet grew rapidly as larger numbers of AISCs and LAISCs started linking into the system. Technologists started working on simulation systems, immersive technologies, and mainly, a faster and more efficient mode of accessing and controlling the new computers and to interact with the new digital realm.
The Wachowski Probe is a 5-6 inch long ferrous aluminum probe that is inserted into the back of the skull into the brain. Using a probe requires brain surgery to install a sterile 'port' in the brain so that the probe can be removed and things like cerebral infections can be prevented. While brutal, the probe was effective, and allowed for Cybernauts to commit computer hacking jobs that previously were only imagined in the movies.
The Chayefski Sensory Deprivation Tank was developed for casual use of immersion technology by submerging the subject in a sensory deprivation tank filled with a neurokinetic gel (LCL). This allowed for cybernauts to simply don skinsuits and shave their heads rather than undergo brain surgery, that on occasion did cause psychotic issues in some patients. The Chayefski tanks were successful, but their large size and weight made them unfeasible for anything other than novelty use, or operation by businesses. Chayefski or Toob Parlors sprang up where people could rent time in a tank.
The PKD Helmet was a metal helmet lined with neurosensors and sensory input devices that override the natural signals generated by sensory organs, replacing their input with its own. The PKD Helmet was designed for the military for better control systems for mecha, power armor, and aerospace craft. It's degree of neurokinetic integration was nowhere near as high as a Wachowski or Chayefski system, but dozens could be bought for the price of the latter and it was dramatically less invasive than the former.
The 3rdNet eventually linked the arcologies together in a realtime network, and the population started really using the new system. Information, entertainment, all started flowing again, and from the arcos it broadcast outwards. This was considered part of the 'Lights Coming Back On' more so than the return of electric light.
Shadowrunning and Supersoldiers
Covert ops were uncommon in the Petroleum Era, and through the Second Dark Age, they became almost extinct. With the resurgence of electronic communication, various powers around the world started learning where they ranked against their peers. The hidden war of Shadowrunning was born, as these powers, be they corporate, private, or national, found it financially beneficial to engage in data theft, sabotage, and espionage. The groups that didn't invest in this new venue were those that suffered the worst from it. Lacking resources to commit such acts left them vulnerable to them, to the techniques used.
The modes of war were being sorted out as well. The time of the tank and massed infantry formations was gone, as well readily available air support. The value of the soldier had grown out of proportion to his capability to inflict or survive injury on the battlefield. With the growth of arcanotech and shadowrunning ops, the demand for elite soldiers was increasing beyond what was available in terms of manpower. The megacorps and government black ops both started pouring money into creating the supersoldier. These experiments yielded results
Back to the Towers
The Oxygen Depletion Incident was relatively short lived, with the construction of the 12 atmospheric processors completed on time, tied in with aggressive reforestation efforts, and more localized terraforming centers built into the top of new arcologies. In less than 50 years the atmosphere situation was stabilized. Paranoia reigned during those decades, prompting the construction of many new sealed arcologies, and promoting the development of Robot Surrogate technology. Rather than going outside, people would use 3rdNet immersion tech to 'puppeteer' a robot chassis.
Space exploration was also pushed up and many people, especially the wealthy left the planet in favor of living on an Elysium class habitat or similar luxury station. Those of a more hands on and motivated approach took a similar path but ended up in asteroid mining rigs, or populating colonies on the Moon, Mars, and other points in the solar system.
It seemed nothing could stop the massive outward expansion of Humanity and Arcanotech.
The 3rdNet came crashing down, 9AM GMT, and by 12PM GMT the entire network was completely offline.
There was a massive panic as the communications grid went down, and machines controlled by surrogates crashed after their operators were force dumped out of the system. Riots ensued as wojeks were left without contact with HQ computers. Military operations ground to a halt as nothing beyond shortwave radio worked. Some equipment running on cloud based systems was permanently damaged or even destroyed by the death scream of the 3rdNet. The terraforming towers remained active, and became local rallying points for leaders and groups. Inside the arcologies, after a stunned silence, the resident LAISC systems brought old internal communications systems back online, and started looping syndicated entertainment.
The M12 deliberately crashed the 3rdNet.
A new form of synthetic lifeform had been born, the Viral Intelligence. The viral intelligence spread exactly like a virus, contaminating, corrupting, and destroying arcanotech hardware, and a good deal of mundane equipment as well. The viral nature of the infectious code defied logic and was able to make the jump from machine to human. The end effect was severe mental damage, madness, and death. The first rounds of code were unable to stop the programs, and rather than see the entire global system contaminated and destroyed by the pandemic, the M12 orchestrated its collapse and the 'venting' off its contents.
The End of the Second Renaissance, and the Birth of the Cosmic Era
The 3rdNet Collapse was a stunning blow, but not insurmountable. The back up systems started coming on, and vital systems were functional again after a few hours. Most core services were up and running again after 2-3 days, and after a month, the skeletal structure of the 3rdNet was running again, but the damage to the systems was extensive and major upgrades and repairs had to be made. During this upgrade, new servers were installed, and the AISCs were upgraded as well, with new firewalls, ghostwalls, and photon sheaths to ensure that the Viral epidemic would not be repeated. The Cognitive processor was installed in most of the new hardware, and after 4thNet was bandied around a bit, it was dropped in favor of the rebuilt Cognitive Network, ala CogNet.
CogNet Communication Systems (CCS) have changed the way communications function in the Solar System. The system allows for real time communication, with no lag, even if the two speakers are on different planets, or even have an interfering object like the Sun in the way. Ships in transit remain in regular contact with stations and bases along their course, and a couple split between Mars and Earth is able to have regular CogNet hosted sim meetings, complete with full biofeedback. Scientists are currently diligently working out how the system is able to communicate so fast, and hoping to one day unravel this mystery to discover the fundamentals between FTL locomotion.
A number of events in space marked the end of the Second Renaissance, the Cosmograd rebellion, Armstrong City on the moon joining the Atlantic Federation, the creation of the Belt Mining Union, and the outbreak of the first war on Mars. The bloom had slowed, and the rate of stunning breakthroughs was beginning to slow. Mankind had opened a whole new box of shiny toys and dark terrors, and now set about sorting through them.
Most historians agree on the specific date of the end of the Second Renaissance, and they mark it as the day the Atmospheric Processing Towers and other Greenspace initiatives brought the O2 level in the atmosphere back to levels experienced in the early to middle Petroleum Eras. The towers remain, some operational, still scrubbing generations of filth from the air. They are a potent symbol, one that survived terrorist attacks, environmental disasters, and economic tribulations.
Additional Ideas (1)
Author's Note: It is easy to point out that the idea of the O2 towers, and the cooperation fostered by their construction, and the fact that they worked goes against the grain of the Cosmic Era setting and the writing guide. While it is true, there was a beneficial outcome, there is a certain degree of cost involved. The collectivism and the human hives are a direct result of the towers and the O2 scare. The financial cost of building the processing towers was immense, and their operating budget, along with the 3rdNet that grew from them was also stunning.
The Shinjuku Tower cost Nippon close to $1 trillion dollars to construct, and had an operational budget of $125 billion a year afterwards. The island nation staggered through several economic defaults before being propped up by the Red Sun bank and electing the Emperor to replace the existing government. Hundreds died in riots, and several hundreds more committed suicide in varying fashions (alcoholism, drug overdose, seppuku) over the economic flounderings.
The entire Pan-Asian basin went through an economic collapse as they struggled to support the cost of the mammoth towers, along with the continual construction of arcologies, seacologies, geofronts and participating in the space race. As the Renaissance lurched forward, an increasing number of people were born into what will become generational poverty, filling the favelas, creating the hive like urban rims, and feeding into the criminal underground and illegal syndicates.