Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Brysshe Shelly, Ozymandias
Hardware Agnostic Progressive Ego Degradation, or Gisa's Disease
-Dr. Arie Brams, Firewall Crow
Medicine in 10AF would seem like wizardry to an early 21st century doctor. Besides the nanotechnology, med tanks, resleeving and backups, psychosurgery, and just growing bodies wholesale, a lot of things that used to be major problems just...aren't. Alzheimer's, dementia, and other diseases associated with old age just aren't heard of in this post-Fall world, at least, not outside of the Junta.
Of course, we've all heard stories of those centenarian hypercorp oligarchs, with their...quirks, but as a whole, we don't have to worry about slowly losing our minds as we age. At least, most people don't.
Hardware Agnostic Progressive Ego Degradation(HAPED), also known as Gisa's Disease, after the first known victim, is the modern equivalent of those old scourges of advanced age. It's root cause is unknown, it's impossible to diagnose before symptoms appear, and it's invariably terminal. However, it only occurs in individuals older than 100 years old, and those that study it believe it requires some form of mental trauma to trigger, though it's unclear if the trauma is the root cause or merely a trigger condition.
So why haven't you heard of it? Probably because it has an estimated incidence of less than 0.0005%. That means, if transhumanity has a current population of 1 billion, there's probably about 5000 total people who are currently suffering from, or are about to develop symptoms of, this illness.
Let's start with the history of this illness. From the scarce available records(Cognite has most of the information on this illness on lockdown, at least within the PC. Other records are sparce, if only due to the rarity of the condition.) we know that the first known case of HAPED was one Emily Gisa, a former American politician, and a member of the now defunct Gisa dynasty(the Gisa's were a family with ties to various political and telecom entities, and used their extreme wealth to pursue the typical power-player goals. There are no known extant members of the Gisa family that survived the Fall...however, I can pull on some discretionary funding if one were to be located and recovered). She suddenly fell ill with schizophrenia-like conditions, and was quickly hidden away by her family. Records stop there, however, shortly afterwards, HAPED was first characterized and showed up in medical journals, though most records were "lost" during the Fall.
Aether Jabber (Credit to Acatalepsy for writing this chat log)
[Major Tom] HAPED is one of those long term things that's not as sexy as exsurgent monstrosities or false vacuum collapse, but still falls under the category of 'x-risk'.
[Carson Granger] Given the disaster of the FUTURA project and humanity's low reproduction rate into the forseeable future...yeah, I can see it. A civilization of old bastards just dying off.
[MT] And not being able to build new people fast enough to stop backsliding. Or getting desperate in our efforts and deciding that building seed AIs to fix it might be worth it.
[CG] I get the idea. Still, seems a tad be premature for Firewall's concern.
[Petravoska] I have another angle, maybe a bit more up our alley. Report says that it emerged 10BF, right? I'm not sure I buy that.
[MT] Why not?
[Petravoska] For one, 10BF resleeving tech was just maturing. Given the low incidence and low population of centenarian transhuman, it's surprising to see such effective diagnosis and research, especially when accurate determination of HAPED is sketchy even now. For another, most of the original discoverers are now dead or conveniently out of contact.
[MT] So you're saying this is a...fake disease?
[P] Maybe. But if I was going talk about it...what other conditions do we know that seem to jump from ego to ego regardless of hardware, while being practically immune to conventional analysis.
[CG] You're talking asyncs.
[P] Yeah, I am. And on another note: it turns out the modern day research on HAPED is being done mostly by Cognite, and mostly by a "who's who" of FUTURA alums.
[MT] If we could get our hands on their research materials - and some of those egos - we'd know for sure.
[CG] Anyone up for a heist?
With the known history out of the way, let's move on to symptoms. HAPED starts out reminiscent of schizophrenia. Patients will suddenly start seeing things that aren't there, they'll express paranoia, and other typical symptoms. This is the key stage at which you can first diagnose HAPED. If the patient undergoes corrective psychosurgery, and they have HAPED instead of typical schizophrenia, symptoms will recur within one month.
At this stage, HAPED invariably results in ego death. Moving along the progression: after the onset of schizophrenia-like symptoms, HAPED will continue in a manner resembling dementia or Alzheimer's. First, memories and information will bleed into each other. Patients will have difficulty recalling specific details, will mix things up, will lose track of their thoughts in the middle of sentences, and will oftentimes suffer from behavioral problems. As it progresses, they'll become unable to distinguish between reality and fiction, before losing the ability to distinguish their own identity.
Finally, they'll suffer seizure-like symptoms, losing complete control of their mental faculties. Eventually, they'll experience a lethal seizure, resulting in complete ego death. These symptoms progress the same regardless of whether they're housed in a biomorph, or in a cyberbrain or infomorph instantiation. Additionally, there are known cases from born-transhumans, AGIs, and uplifts, so it's assumed it has something to do with the human neural patterns that all transhuman intelligences are based on.
Next, let's look at the underlying condition. While the cause is not known, we do understand the underlying mechanism by which this condition acts. As you live your life, your brain is constantly reshaping itself. Neurons establish new connections to each other, allowing you to form memories, skills, personality. In healthy individuals, this connection growth is modulated. In a HAPED victim's brain, however, this growth goes unchecked. It's almost like a mental cancer, as neurons continually form new connections, even in the absence of outside stimuli. The result is that memories are blended together, senses are overloaded, and eventually feedback loops are created which result in seizures.
Finally, treatment. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with HAPED, what do you do? Well, first and foremost, you need to lock down the affected ego, and put them into cold storage. There is no cure, but it only advances while the ego is instantiated. Secondly, if at all possible, you need to find a pre-centenarian backup. If they don't have one, they're screwed until a cure is found, but if they do, then there's hope. If they have recordings of their life, like most people do, then you can theoretically just have the backup play those recordings to get caught up to speed. It won't be the same, but the only way to treat it is to prevent it, and that's to go back to before they were vulnerable to it, and hope it doesn't recur.
Not as incurable as they think?
[Incoming Message Source: Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]
I wouldn't believe all the hype about this thing being completely incurable. I can't tell you where it's from, but my sources are telling me that Cognite knows exactly how to cure this...and how to cause it. Rumor is, there's an oligarch that recently came down with it...and then showed up completely cured at the next board meeting. Coincidentally, Cognite stock prices jumped up right around that same time. I don't know about you, but something smells fishy about this whole thing to me.
All together, this makes for a terrifying thought. Is this some strain of the exsurgent virus, or is it just a natural part of the transhuman condition, one that we never discovered simply because we died before it became an issue? Is it really as rare as we think, or is transhumanity a ticking time bomb, waiting
- While on a routine mission, your team meets someone claiming to be a member of the Gisa Family. Firewall has an open bounty for one of these guys, only problem is, they're starting to show schizophrenia-like symptoms.
- On a routine salvaging job, your team recovers a data archive, some old medical journals, though they're corrupted beyond usability. Now, you're being pursued by assassins. Your only clue is a single headline recovered from the journals: "HAPED: The New Alzheimer's?"
- Your team is contacted by a mysterious individual, requesting that you recover an Automated Transcendence Machine. Along the way, you start receiving messages, data dumps about HAPED. What's the connection between the two? Why were you hired to retrieve this machine? And are you about to unleash a monster?