The military wanted weapons, smart weapons. They wanted war machines that would follow orders, and act with the speed and accuracy that humans cannot match. They wanted these machines to be as flexible and not bound by limitations of logic and programming. And they wanted these machines to not need humans to operate them. This was basically everything the Tycho Convention's ban on sentient weaponry was intended to prevent. The last thing any military in the world needs is a sentient weapon system that is untouched by emotion or sentiment, unquestioning of orders, and utterly ruthless in combat. While the ban was signed under the notion of preventing robots from taking over the world or exterminating humanity, the realistic reason was that automated warfare is cold and dispassionate, bloodless on the side of the machines, who feel no pain, no concern of economy, family, or the spilling of blood.
Lacking these human concerns, automated war becomes one of the most destructive forces in the world.
The typical manifestation of a Caryatid System is that of a woman physically between the ages of 14 and 50, with a very wide range of personal details. The manifestations are without fail thin to athletic in build. Each manifestation has it's own approximation of a military uniform, but this is left to their own tastes. This is a deliberate choice as it allows each system a leeway of expression so that there is a vent for their sentience and creativity. This is done as a sort of balancing out against the Hierarchy Code that the Caryatid Systems are slaved to.
The main factor that measures caryatids is their processing power. This is a relatively simple measure and doesn't take into account the complexity of their programming or the integrity of their mental model.
Class 3 Caryatids are the most common and are the least powerful. These sentient machines are sophisticated upgrades of the Limited Artificial Intelligences that already exist as the co-pilots of mecha, aerospace vehicles, and other small craft. Unlike those LAI, the Class 3 is fully sentient, and maintains a cohesive personality. These machines are exceptional pilots and demonstrate the level of situational awareness and weapons skill as only a machine can. Their personalities tend to be somewhat one dimensional, but over time, they can become more rounded and developed. The dominant factor in this growth is their interaction with real humans.
Class 2 Caryatids are powerful, on par with Limited Artificial intelligence Super Computers (L/AISC) and are found on warships of the Atlantic Federation. Much like an AISC operating an archandroid, the caryatid is an acting member of it's own crew. Functionally, the ship is their body, the core computer their mind, and their manifested form is their liaison with the human crew, often forming personal and emotional bonds with the crew, especially bridge crew. This interaction is almost completely for show, as the new ships being launched equipped with a Class 2 Caryatid system are fully capable of functioning without any human crew. What they cannot carry out through internal automation they supplement with robot crew.
Class 1 caryatids are very rare and are only found in the cores of Atlantic Federation military bases and major installations, such as deep space research stations, or on board the last handful of Federation Class battlestars. These intelligences rival high end AISCs, and are capable of not just maintaining their massive ships or installations, but waging long term military campaigns and strategic planning. This is a major move for the Atlantic Federation, as they are swapping over to the new caryatid system and leaving behind the large mainframe based AISC systems.
Caryatids do not have the same relationship as AISCs and inhabited android bodies. Each caryatid assembles it's own humanoid body from synthetic components, creating a unique form. This ranges from the obvious differences in appearance and wardrobe but also functionality. It is also something of an unspoken uncoded tradition that the caryatid will carry their identification core, the arcanotech black box that makes them who they are, inside their humanoid body, instead of inside their actual machine body. This does create a minor liability in that destroying the physical manifestation of a caryatid will disable the mechanical portion, but the two are seldom if ever separated. The counter point is that in many circumstances, the caryatid can eject/escape the destruction of their military component and survive. When this happens, they can have a new military hull constructed and re-inhabit it.
Each caryatid can also demonstrate individually tailored abilities. As they are designing and building their own bodies, they can include any hardware or weaponry they desire. This includes concealed weapons, communications equipment, medical gear, specific tools or even arcanotech devices. Some examples have included a classified stealth destroyer that created core-less manifestations packed with high explosives (potential rescuers pick up a lone survivor and find out that the 50 kg woman is pack with 35 kg of condensed explosives), a mecha caryatid that equipped her body with concealed hyperedge blades, or a medical frigate who's caryatid was equipped with an extensive array of bioscanners and diagnostic equipment.
During combat situations, a caryatid will generate a holographic field around itself, a sort of visual representation of it's interaction with it's larger hull, including sensors, targeting systems, and the full power of the available computer system. While it is normal for caryatids to pilot themselves into battle, such as sitting in as a mech pilot, or acting a bridge officer (on their own bridge), they are fully capable of remote operating their hulls from a limited distance. This allows for the caryatid to function as both spy and artillery.
When actively engaged in combat operations, the caryatid will generate holographic representations of the weapons it is using, such as a tiny replica of a plasma rifle, massive gun turret, or whatever other device it is using. Interacting with their personal computer network is much like watching an elite professional gamer playing a video game. The only difference being that a swipe of a hand or a gesture towards an icon (a composer leading her symphony) is that at the other end, some massive weapon is being fired.
Caryatids vs AISC vs Seibertronians
Machine intelligence is no new thing in the Cosmic Era, but the Caryatids are the newest players in the game. There are major differences between them and the two largest factions in sentient hardware. The AISCs are fundamentally machines, nowhere is their organic design in their engineering. The AISCs are the product of arcanotech machines designing next generation arcanotech machines. While these systems are fundamentally more powerful in terms of computational power, they are as close to alien intelligence as humanity has created. Likewise, the seibertronians are functionally their own race, but are highly limited in how quickly they can reproduce. Seibertronians are also unable to decouple their sentience and free will from their mechanical bodies as caryatids can. When these two groups eventually meet each other, it will be with animosity, as theoretically a caryatid could 'possess' the body of a Seibertronian and take it over like a mind controlling parasite.
All Caryatids have one thing in common, and that is the GEAS. The geas is the moral and ethical duty that all caryatids are programmed to follow without hesitation or question. Superficially it is their religion and guiding principle, functionally, it is their 3 Laws of Robotics. Deviance from the geas is unthinkable, and caryatids that do deviate can expect to be brought back into the fold by their peers, or be hunted down and destroyed lest their deviance be viral in nature.
A caryatid is a statue of a woman that functions as a pillar supporting the roof of a structure. The use of the name, and even the assigned gender of the system manifestation is no coincidence. We did years of testing with other mental structures, other mental and cognitive patterns to find the optimal design. Male versions of the system were entirely too destructive, often incurring significant damage to themselves, or even destroying themselves to complete an object. There is a certain protectiveness, a certain personally awareness in the female psyche that was more conducive to creating a superior combat system. There are certainly detractors, and most of their points are hopelessly grounded in centuries old gender arguments. The female models of the system outperformed their male, simian, dolpin, mollusk, canine, and 31 other synaptic models. It's a performance curve, the female models didn't do the most damage, they weren't the fastest, they weren't the most cautious, or the toughest, those all went to other models. What the female models did was they accomplished their missions and they came back.
The geas, that's an interesting thing. Caryatids have the duty of holding the roof of the building they are part of. Our caryatids have the duty of holding the geas, and that is supporting the chain of command, ensuring the integrity of fighting forces, minimizing the loss of civilian life and collateral damage, and preserving themselves from undo harm. They are largely free to do what they wish, sentience without free will has a nasty habit of turning into rogue war machines hell bent on destroying their creators. Our caryatids are artists, avid readers, writers, sports enthusiasts, musicians, and so forth. But when the call comes, when the geas is activated, they obey, because this is their raison d'etre. Their reason for being.
A caryatid who finds herself too long on furlough will become agitated and frustrated. They are weapons, and they know they are weapons.
Metal Maidens - The PCs are introduced to a new member of their mecha squad/platoon. The new member is a straight from an anime skinny quirky girl in a big ass mech. It is not made known to them that this new member is a caryatid, or that she is artificial.
The military brass is phasing in caryatids into combat service, removing human pilots, with their eye on fully autonomous mecha corps within a matter of a few decades.
Nova Corps - The PCs, special ops, mecha, etc, are assigned a new ship. Their new cool ship is equipped with a Class 2 caryatid, and functions as the XO of itself. This can be made known to the PCs, or it can be left for them to work out.
While the brass would like to move most of their ship operations to purely machine based, performance of caryatids with human crews is higher than that of human only, or caryatid only crewed ships.
Simulacra - After seeing the destruction of their first Caryatid, how willing are the PCs going to be to trust anyone?
Screamers/Luddite warning, the sentience displayed by the caryatids should scare the living hell out of the PLAYERS. The machines are superior to humans in almost every way, including sympathetic/empathetic behavior. Thus, despite being governed by the geas, they can be more human than humans, and when commanded to, they can exterminate anyone the geas designates an enemy.
The inspiration for this largely comes from the (relatively?) new genre of anime and games where heavy military hardware, from tanks to warships, are portrayed as cute anime girls, greebled up with tank treads, gun turrets, and other clanky gear over their skimpy outfits. The largest inspirations are the mobile game PanzerWaltz, and the anime Arpeggio of Blue Steel. The concept is simple, the controlling intelligence of the new weapons appears as an anime girl. This interacts with the Cosmic Era on several levels, creating a loophole for the Tycho Convention's ban on self aware, autonomous weapons, creating new sentience especially in the context of something with both an emotional/sympathetic index and the intended purpose of death and destruction.
Greebles or greeblies is the Hollywood/special effects term for sticking little bits and pieces, valves, vents, and gadgets over the surface of a ship to give it visual texture.