Project Infinity, the Starship Infinity, the Pegasus Rift, the arid world of Maia...
It was all a scam.
None of if was real.
Project Infinity was at it's heart, a massive and highly illegal dream tank simulation. The people who volunteered to be explorers and surveyors were selected for their base skills, and how close to average they were, along with a deficiency in virtual design and engineering. No need bringing in people who were trained in artificial reality design. There were a large number of sub-projects inside of Project Infinity, and it was these subordinate projects that dominated the functionality of the system.
SP Aurora was a simple endeavor, how long can a person remain in an accelerated dreaming state while retaining their mental and physical health.
Project Infinity, from start to finish, lasted close to four years. During that time nearly 7000 people were subjected to extended periods of dream immersion in a closed environment. During that time, some victims were forced to experience between 80 and 120 years of dream experiences. Hundreds suffered permanent brain damage, paralysis, untreatable psychological trauma, and even death. Aurora demonstrated the limits of how long a person can remain in a suspended state, how fast their brains can be clocked, and how to keep long term artificial environments stable. More than 80% of the victims of Project Infinity have PTSD or some other psychological condition stemming from their experiences and long stay inside the machine.
SP Mayflower was a social conditioning experiment exploring how people would react in various situations on a long duration spaceship voyage.
Mayflower was a gauntlet of disaster, mishap, and incredulousity. The crews of the various Infinity simulation ships were given obstacles to overcome, internal and external. This ranged from diseases, to religious extremism, to catastrophic failures of ship components. Most of the scenarios were used to create training simulations for long term missions in real space, or discretely published as human dynamics studies. Some were done as basically tests of cruelty, such as forcing a crew to face starvation or cannibalism, facing mutinies and inhuman treatment, and worse.
SP Pinocchio is one of the less offensive aspects of Infinity. The experiment took the kakugrams of the 7000 applicants of the original mission and used them to populate the system, turning them effectively into programs. The normal human users had no idea if the figure they were interacting with was another human or a simulation.
The goals of Pinocchio were two-fold. The first was to create algorithms that would allow for an artificial environment to be populated with NPC avatars derived from flash copies of people's minds, rather than having to write their code out manually. In this aspect, Pinocchio was vastly successful, as the NPC codes could be spun up, given a few core modifications, and then be dumped into the system. By the end of the simulation, there were hundreds of thousands of simulation NPCs occupying the Warworld Maia, and the vast majority of human users had no idea how much they were outnumbered by simulations. This would prove traumatic after the dismantling of Infinity, as many victims were emotionally devastated by the fact that only .012% of the people they knew actually existed.
The second goal was to see how large of an artificial environment could be created, and how many users were required versus how many simulation users to maintain that stable environment. The number generated was staggering. A very small number of people could anchor a much larger simulation, with Maia being mapped out to have tens of thousands of square miles of surface terrain, hundreds of ships, and a staggeringly large virtual population.
Lazarus introduced the Cortical Stack technology, which allowed people to be 'raised' from the dead in a new body. This technology doesn't exist, but the project explored the social and psychological ramifications of having the technology to be raised from the dead.
Considered one of the more cruel aspects of Infinity, Lazarus repeatedly 'killed' the users, simulating a death experience complete with pain and other sensory inputs, followed by a reanimation sequence where they were 'uploaded' into a new body. Experiments were made by uploading victims into simulation bodies that did not match their own, putting victims in situations that were suicidal, but their stack would be recovered, and even in scenarios where they were forced to face and kill themselves or others knowing that they would be reanimated, and then showing what people who had committed criminal acts would do to make sure said crime remained a secret. This technology changed the way war was fought on Maia, with the stacks becoming a commodity, and slaves being considered a spoil of war. With resurrection, unlimited war became the norm, taking hostages pointless, and friendly fire was no longer considered an issue, with some of the high scoring soldiers using themselves as targets in missions.
After being removed from the Infinity system, many victims were traumatized by the fact that some of them had done horrendous things, or had been the victims of unthinkable crimes, and that it had all been a simulation, and they had never died. There was a spike in suicides among the test victims, as some accepted they were free of the system and by killing themselves they would be free of all of it. Others refused to believe the project was a lie, and killed themselves hoping to reboot somewhere else in the Maia simulation.
SP Ares was a series of military experiments where the unique nature of the Warworld Maia was exploited. Many prototype weapons and conceptual weapons were introduced through Standard Template data, and the Maians would extract said data and would start making said weapons, then taking them into war. These conceptual weapons were typically rejected by the program because any flaw was very quickly found, and then quickly exploited. The handful of weapons and tactics that were proven viable in the Warworld were likewise vindicated when they were introduced to the real world.
While relatively mundane, SP Ares commanded a large amount of resources, and was the leading source of funding for Infinity and the Maia servers. Also, almost all of the Ares information has vanished from all the Infinity records, leaving no trail behind for investigators to follow. The backers of the project don't want their involvement known, but given the size and cost of the facilities required, it is suspected that these military complex backers are powerful and influential.
The End of Maia
It would be gratifying to hear that Infinity was discovered by the authorities, that it's masterminds were taken into custody, and that reparations were paid to the victims. Unfortunately none of those things happened. After nearly four years operating, Project Infinity achieved it's goals, and the backers send work to shut down the facility and severance pay packages to those men and women who ran the machines.
There is an ongoing federal investigation into the people and parties behind Project Infinity. 7000 cases of fraud, kidnapping, crimes against humanity, and a litany of other charges are piled up. There was a strong public outcry for justice, and the daily discourse was only able to blunt it, rather than completely redirect this outrage. The crimes committed under the aegis of Project Infinity have produced artificial reality coding that is used by hundreds of thousands of people. The weapons and armor of Maia are used by security contractors and mercenaries around the solar system. The CogNet base code has been found to contain fragments of Maian code.
The investigation itself is going poorly. Between ineptitude and outside interference, the investigators have done well enough finding their way home in the evening. It is suspected that the military industrial complex is involved as well as more than one intelligence agency.