What was the 3rdNet?

The 3rdNet was the third iteration of networked information systems, following the Petroleum Era's Hypernet and preceding the CogNet. As a point of reference, the first iteration was the 'Internet' and lasted from the 1970s in its infancy through the 2030s. The Hypernet was built around much higher speed transmission systems and had greater importance placed on military and drone applications. This would last until the shutdown of transcontinental systems at the end of the Petroleum Era.

The secret of the 3rdNet is that it was unrestrained arcanotechnology and it created a neural bridge between the user and their interface system and functionally what was the Dreamlands of Lovecraftian mythos. Users were already in a superficial sleep state to use the tech, and the equipment was geared to use sleep/alpha waves to carry its data. By running through aphasic space, aka the Dreamlands, aka Subspace, the network was technically capable of exceeding the speed of light for data transfer. How much faster? Somewhere in the vicinity of warp factor 2.6, or 20x the speed of light. By creating nesting rings of 3rdNet simulation and linking them, this could be maxed out to around warp 6.1, or 400 times the speed of light. Attempts were made to create a triple ring system, which would have been 8,000 times the speed of light, or warp 9.999. Attempts to create these systems failed, as the receiving rings were not robust enough to withstand capturing data moving faster than the expansion speed of the universe.

Exploiting this feature of the 3rdNet, data systems, and its trinary-based computers (capable of I/O/? computation) were so fast as to appear prescient. Real-time communications through the 3rdNet were possible as far away as Mercury or inside the asteroid belt. By using the nesting ring system, text and data could be sent to even the deep system in a matter of minutes. This is in strong contrast to the radio systems that previously took hours to reach the deep system, and years to reach beyond the heliopause.

Problems

There were significant and substantial problems with the 3rdNet. Many are recognizable as bad sci-fi tropes, aka if you die in the simulation you die in real life, trapped in a dream, and while I dreamt a monster stole my body. Users could die while using the 3rdNet. Not casual users, but 'cybernauts' and others who did immersive diving into the net back before CogNet systems and S3 rigs were commonplace. Death at the hands of a simulation, or a horror found in the 'buffers' meant that the user would flatline. After a certain amount of time, flatlines would be unplugged and their bodies would either be placed on life support like vegetables or be allowed to wind down and suffer biological death. It didn't really matter, either way, the mind, the will, the spirit, the soul, whatever name you want to apply to the animating force of a sentient being, was gone. A few unplugged people came back, and almost all were profoundly changed.

Another limitation of the 3rdNet was its reliance on organic components.

The 3rdNet started with regular equipment but found that the system ran better the more people were plugged into it. The scientists realized the unused portions of the user's brains were being used as buffers for the 3rdNet, and that even the quantum chips that ran the hypernet were not sufficient for the task. This led to the push to develop organic memory cores, genome computers, and even subsidizing users to log into the 3rdNet and just be logged in while they were asleep. The side effects of prolonged contact with the system made this last effort a dangerous one.

Prolonged Effects include Zrcado Syndrome, Electromagnetic Sensitivity, technological psychosis, recurring nightmares, PTSD, border personality disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia, dementia, and fugue states. These could be mitigated with therapy, medication, limiting exposure to the system, and in severe cases, nerve stapling. One of the reasons the Glassenheim Foundation had for the creation of their horrific magnathean program was to simply grow larger and larger brains so they could be used as 'pylons' for the 3rdNet.

The wide-scale growth of the 3rdNet infrastructure hinged on organic computing. Cloning technology and a certain blind eye turned to subsidized organic memory core processing facilities in 3rd world countries allowing for a rapid increase in the number of large data matrices to be put into service.

Deep Diving

By using sensory deprivation tanks and early versions of S3 systems, the 3rdNet could be dived. These self-described cybernauts would link their minds directly to the system and explore it. On paper, this should be patently impossible, because a computer is a computer, not a swimming pool or a lake. In practice, cybernauts were able to discover an incredible alien world inside the 3rdNet, lurking behind the code. Mortality was high, many cybernauts suffered severe mental trauma, and some were radically altered by what happened on the deep dives.

The Bowman Initiative was a modest-sized cybernaut research group tasked with exploring and mapping the incredulous claims of other cybernaut teams. It was believed that many of the artifacts they were claiming to find were a sort of mass hypnosis, or group psychosis, like that shared by alien abduction survivors, bigfoot hunters, and ghost haunting victims.

"It's there, it's there, and it's all real."

"Could you be more specific Mr. Clark?"

"I don't know. We saw the silver staircase. I looked at it, and it was real. Not an artifact or hallucination. Check the logs, we took independent notes, no one said what they saw but we all noted it. The stairs were silver but were marked with the logo of ATLAS technologies. I think the staircase is the server, and we found ATLAS 17. The last group described a different staircase, and I think they found a different server core than the one we were using."

"Everyone is using the same insertion point."

"Yes, but it's a fluid system, just because you use the same terminal doesn't mean you're routed to the same server. I think we are accessing nightside servers. That's why the network works so well for us now."

"Elaborate."

"It's simple. I know the data processing centers are in Indonesia, in India, and Indochina. Don't look at me like that, it's not a conspiracy theory about where the processing centers are, it's just a secret. The ATLAS facilities are in South Vietnam, and that is where we were being routed through. That's why we found what the expedition agreed to call the Golden Kingdom, and why the overall architecture resembles that of Angkor Wat. I think that the B team was diving at a different time of day from us, so if we want more information on the Silver Towers, we need to dive closer to later afternoon, so the EuroZone servers might pick us up instead."

"What happened to Dr. Tully?"

"Tully met a woman on the other side, and I think she was a vampire or a ghost."

"Neither of those things are real."

"What was Tully doing when the Reflex team took him down?"

"That's classified."

"I was there, and I wrote a good chunk of that classified report, spare me."

"He was biting people in the neck, gouging out and eating their eyeballs, and somehow slipping through mag locked doors without the cameras or motion sensors detecting him."

"He was infested by whatever she was. He vanished with her, but he mentioned having sexual fantasies about Asian women. Something inside the net seduced him and rode his signal back into his body. This entire thing is too dangerous to continue. We have to shut it all down if we are being honest.

"What makes you so sure of this?"

"I found it."

"What?"

"We found the River of Sorrow. It's there, behind the staircase and the jungle, and cities made of gold, where the monkeys have human faces and laugh and tell stories, beyond the mangroves where the trees walk and talk to each other, which would be just weird, but they talk about the war. The trees remember the Sino-American wars. They talk about airplanes and napalm and Agent Orange. There is a river there, and it opens into the biggest fucking waterfall you've ever seen. As the water goes over the edge, it turns red in the sunlight. It rains blood. It's the blood of all the people who are dying, the blood of the dead and damned. I saw faces in it, heard the voices in it as the water crashed down into a terrible pit."

"And this is why we have to shut the net down?"

"No, the River is why we need to be better people, why we need to stop wars and murder. The reason I am sure of it is that I had a long conversation with Dr. Chayefsky. I know, he's been dead for a year, I remember reading when they took his body off of life support. His spirit is still alive, and he's been living inside the dream for twenty years his time. He is a king there, and the golden city is his. He's built it."

"The Russian cybernautic theorist, Gregor Chayefsky, is living in a golden city, on the other side of a staircase built by ATLAS electronics, and spoke with you."

"How long was I flatlined?"

"Almost two minutes."

"For me, it was almost three days. I was inside the golden city for three goddamn days. Chayefsky showed me the sky, his library that he's been working on for two decades, his four wives and fourteen children. He is a king there, wealthy, and powerful. He's been fighting someone we know very well."

"I'll entertain this, but not for much longer."

"He's been fighting Monat, the Ever Eager, but we know him better as Edgar Jessup."

"Edgar Jessup has been dead for three years. When they pulled him out of the sensory tank he was a wildman and wounded three scientists and killed an intern. It would have been worse if he hadn't had a brain aneurysm that dropped him."

"That wasn't Jessup, that was something else, something skin riding him. Jessup is a demon lord in the dream, and the only things stopping him so far are Chayefsky's soldiers holding the golden walls, and for some reason, there is a turnstile at the top of the stairs and Chayefsky says that Monat cannot go through it unless someone else turns it for it."

Failure, and Critical Mass

The 3rdNet ran spectacularly for decades. The longer it ran, the better it performed. Immersion technology grew, and there was a hook of danger in it. There were safety protocols and biomedical monitors that could extract a user if things seemed abnormal. Usage was monitored, and where there were breaches or problems, they were handled. The powers that were could accept this level of risk because their industrial and military infrastructures were rooted in the 3rdNet Ansible system. Nations without the 3rdNet didn't have reliable communications, and those that did have it, but lacked access to creating the nesting ring structures, ansibles, were limited to the speed of radio waves or light pulses through fiber optic lines. The demands of the system grew, and creating new nodes was costly.

Seeing as they were made of organic brains.

The end of the 3rdNet is well known. There was a catastrophic cascading collapse of the system, and the 3rdNet servers didn't just go down, they died. The organic material was found literally dead inside the support tanks. Some showed burns, others showed advanced atrophy, and some were just a barely organic slime left floating at the top of the amniotic fluid. The official blame is laid at the feet of the GOZER virus. According to records, the virus severely damaged the actual wetware of the system, and while there are theories about who created and unleashed the virus, the consensus is that they were the worst hit by it, and suffered the most extensive damage.

Across the planet, tens of thousands of people died.

It would have been more, but there were multiple scheduled outages at the time, so only a fraction of people were online compared to normal use, and many of those users who did perish were listed as being illegal users. They were tapped into black feeds, and backdoor feeds, and ignored the general service restrictions. A number of the fatalities were listed as accidental. A number of aerospace craft, bereft of ansible support, crashed. Their pilots were not able to control the machines even for the short amount of time it took for internal systems to reboot. Some buildings suffered serious problems, doors locking or unlocking, utility systems becoming unreliable, and a few smart weapons arming themselves and going off.

Omega Day, the day 3rdNet failed, is listed as the most expensive day in Atlantic Federation military history. At the time, the Federation had seven first-generation Battlestars and two second-generation. After Omega Day, all nine ships were out of service. The AFS Farragut was so badly damaged by anti-ship smart torpedoes arming and detonating, that the ship had to be retired from active service and was eventually sent to scrap, and the build schedule for the 3rd second gen Battlestar was given priority.

More than three hundred battlemechs were lost to collateral damage, self-inflicted damage, or were just gone. Missing.

Omega Day and Gozer

Gozer was not a virus. Gozer was the official/unofficial name given to a Desolate One that had once been a high-level military officer involved in cybernautics, and cyber warfare. The officer officially died in the course of military research and wasn't thought about for eight years. During the 160 years (in the dream) the intelligence officer was spiritually trapped inside the 3rdNet and had been corrupted by a powerful entity in the dream. This fusion of mortal spirit and immortal entity became Gozer. As a Desolate One, Gozer was a nihilist, and a cynic, and their dislike of the Federation, organized religion, and socio-political trends were elevated to fanatical. Gozer spend several decades cultivating an army of Horrors inside the Dream and fostered dozens of apocalyptic cults. After multiple failed attempts at supported neonate Desolate Ones by opening gates for it, Gozer had a new plan. Rather than forcing an incursion into interphasic space, it would lead to a paramilitary occupation of the 3rdNet systems themselves.

It would gatecrash the system, and lead a ravening horde of other realm creatures to smash into the hosts using the system. Instead of a few dozen, Gozer would have tens of thousands of youma, cultists, and infant Desolate Ones at its service, and surely a brute force attack, at that scale would be enough. Desolate Ones to fight, cultists to find the arcanotech required, and then, using mankind's own forsaken tools, Gozer would lead a glorious invasion of the interphase earth and wipe it clean.

Devoid of life, devoid of dreams, devoid of organic organization vibrating with energy, the Dreamlands would fade. The gods there would shrivel and fade away. Gozer would sigh and blow away like dust in the wind. The sun would shine on a flawless blue jewel, streaked with the austere clean brown and white of snow and stone. No life.

Perfection.

A Violent Answer

Gozer obviously failed. The 3rdNet was shut down, almost all of the hardware was ruined beyond repair, and humanity survived. There was a GOZER virus, but it was not a terrorist tool, it was a nuclear option to shut down the 3rdNet in case of technological disaster. This was set up as a response to a footnote in the Neam Octillio discussing the compromise of basic data networks and how to deal with a hostile force taking it over and weaponizing it. When GOZER was created, it was assumed that the threat being faced would be a rogue AISC or something like a nanomachine virus that would corrupt the network and replicate itself through every machine attached to it. The countermeasure was a replicant nanovirus that attacked the 3rdNet at its most vulnerable point, the wetware.

At Omega Hour, the virus was activated. Extensive efforts had been made to isolate as many people as possible from the network when it crashed. Efforts were also made to ensure as many Gozer cultists as possible were logged in at the time. Of the tens of thousands who died, the majority were under the sway of various cults, either Gozer or allied to the Desolate One. Many of the people who participated in Omega Day suffered severe injury from machine feedback. They were holding the line, fighting Gozer's forces in the net, and stalling for time. Many were murdered by cultists, and more than a few rose from their sensory consoles snarling, coming face to face with special forces armed with power armor and automatic shotguns.

Omega After

Most consider Omega Day to be the worst event in the history of the Cosmic Era. Trillions of dollars in digital currency evaporated. Some firms only had virtual ledgers and their entire portfolios vanished in seconds. The globe entered a prolonged economic depression that lasted four decades before levels rose back to 3rdNet markers. Two generations saw long-term shortages, financial instability, and a number of serious wars. Eventually, the CogNet was brought online, and was one of the major factors that drove the economic recovery, though it took thirty years after its start-up to make up the lost ground.

The legacy of Omega Day was to show how vulnerable purely digital systems are. A serious solar storm, a failure of the power grid, anything that disrupted the function of dimensional cell batteries, and everything vanishes. More institutions started investing in hardcopy, and new forms of data storage. Crystal lattice archives were created and are made of quartz, they are cheap to make and nearly invulnerable. Other methods were created, down to printing hard copy and storing it in other locations. Many megacorps, following the devastation of Omega Day, have off-world and off-planet sites for long-term data storage. Some float in orbit and others are buried on the surface of other worlds.

Context and Usage:

To the denizens of the CE, Omega Day is something that happened a long time ago, like Pearl Harbor or the Great Depression. It was bad, really bad. Lots of people died, but then things got better. The CogNet works, the economy is mostly up, scandals are fairly low, and the only people who remember the 3rdNet and just how fucking wild it was are themselves now fossils and relics.

The heyday of the 3rdNet was very much in the vein of the Roaring 20s. And then the party ended.

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