Friday, July 21, 2017

Monster-Ecosystem Apocalypse -- Infodump (or: Welcome to the doppel-verse)

Meta Note: I can't remember if it's 16 or 18.  If you're someone who has had trouble because of text size combined with using a device that doesn't make it easy to customize text size, tell me if this size is good.

I didn't expect that what would get me out of my no-writing funk would be a game in a genre I don't even like, but I'm certainly glad I decided to take the risk of buying it because it's given me so many ideas.

The explanation for "Monster-Ecosystem Apocalypse" is that it's not always just zombies or vampires or werewolves (has anyone made a movie of the werewolf apocalypse?) sometimes it's the new mother nature taking over.  Thus earth life as we know it is being supplanted by . . . um, is there a word with a meaning like "kaiju" but without the regional implications and less focused on "Really, really fucking huge"?

And I imagine a metal street light that looks like it's been crossed with a tree (branches and such) as an example of one non-"I kill you" instance of the new mother nature.  Anyway, exposition dump in the form of an induction lecture into the group that fights against the new mother nature:

* * *

Given that the current regime doesn't place education as a high priority, I'm going to assume that you know nothing other than how to understand the language.  This isn't because I think it's true, it's because that way I'll be sure not to leave anything you don't know out.

Try not to fall asleep because some of the points in this little lecture will be important and I'm not planning on announcing them by waking everyone up.

So, you're all here to learn more about doppels, because when I think of monsters that might cause humanity to go extinct, I always think they should have a cutesy name.  People do that with the strangest of dangerous things which may explain why there's currently a petition to rename really sharp broken glass shards “those sparkly-warkly thingy-wingies.”

Is that true? Probably not, but I wouldn't categorically rule out the possibility.

So we'll start with the basics.

“Doppel” is short for “Doppelganger” which in turn comes for the term “Doppelganer Cell”.

When we first encountered anything Doppel-related they were single celled life forms.  They were also unlike anything we've seen before and based on their make-up would appear to have a different origin from all other life on earth.  They don't have DNA, the organelles within the cells are things we've never really figured out, and the cell walls do things that seem downright impossible.

I see a hand, pronouns and your reason for sticking your hand up.

Ne, nir, nem. About being unlike all other life on earth, you don't subscribe to the alien invasion theory, do you?

No, I think that there are much simpler ways to attack a planet than seeding it with a few Doppelganger Cells and waiting for them to kill off all native life.  That said, we truly have no idea whatsoever where they came from.  It's possible that they simply arose naturally.  Life on earth was produced once, there's no reason it couldn't have happened a second time.  Or it could be that life as we know it came about second, but they were dormant until something woke them up.

Certainly there was time for life to evolve before the earth was hit with another planet in the collision that created the moon, and if anything could have survived such an event Doppelganger Cells could.

The idea that they come from space, not as an attack, does have some merit given that they clearly don't have a common origin with other earth life and they're more than capable of riding a meteor down to earth's surface without dying in the process.

While many think they might have been the result of experimentation, perhaps to create a weapon or terraform hostile environments, I find that extremely hard to believe given that no one was prepared for them and they were not initially found near any labs.

What's important is not where they came from, but what happened when they arrived or were awakened.

Now, I was talking about the origin of the name.

The Doppelganger Cells got their name because it was discovered that they could mimic any cell type they came into contact with.  Humankind rejoiced at the discovery of what they thought was the ultimate stem cell, something that could be whatever was needed, not just for people but for anything.  A Doppelganger Cell could take on the form and function of a human nerve cell or a spider's eye cell, or any other cell with ease and speed.

It was believed that they would revolutionize medicine and bring about an end to injury and disease.

It's likely a very good thing such research never made it to human trials.

The scientists working on them found that if they put them in a Petri dish with, say, a heart cell, the Doppelganger Cells might take on the characteristics of a heart cell, or they might take on the characteristics of the plastic making up the Petri dish. They also might do a bit of both.

Thus the realization that they weren't merely able to take on the exterior form and function of other cells, but rather that they could pretty much perfectly duplicate anything that isn't smaller than they are.

To put that into perspective, the finest grain gunpower has a significantly larger particle size than the average Doppelganger Cell.  Think about that for a moment.

We'll come back around to it.

The scientific community has no idea how they're able to copy . . . everything –our lack of knowledge might, possibly, have something to do with doppels running roughshod over the world and destroying most labs in the process; not to mention a significant portion of the scientific community– but the important thing isn't how they can copy things, it's that they can do it. They reproduce by absorption and take on the characteristics of whatever they absorb.

Containment at the first labs to study doppel cells failed well before anyone noticed, entire sections of some labs –the walls, ceilings, floors, equipment– had been converted by the time containment failure was discovered.

Thank whatever gods may be that they weren't in bioweapons labs.

Anyway, that's a pretty good primer on Doppelganger Cells, doppel cells for short. Some call them “D-Cells” but I'm told that that can lead to confusion because it was supposedly the name of a type of battery before the change. I have my doubts.

Calling them “DCs” is out for some sort of intellectual property rights reason, but my rant on how copyright law surviving the collapse of civilization when much better things did not is a different lecture entirely.

Beyond their ability to take on any form or function, you should be aware of one simple fact: the doppel cells have never fundamentally changed.  From when we first encountered them to now, they are either exactly the same or close enough that we can't tell the difference.  They have not evolved in the slightest.

Yes, person with the hand up, pronouns and question.

She, hers, her; the doppels aren't single celled, so how can you say they haven't evolved?

I can say it because it's true.  Your question is a good one, though, and gets at the heart of the matter about what all this means.  The Doppelganger Cells have not appreciably changed since their original discovery.  Each one is a mono-cellular life form capable of mimicking anything it touches to the point of being functionally identical when they wish to be, and that's the same as it ever was.

While doppel cells haven't changed, doppels, without the word “cell” affixed to the back end, have changed drastically.  Originally the cells and the doppels were one in the same, but by the time scientists were panicking about containment loss in testing labs, researchers at the area where doppel cells were first discovered came across the first confirmed multi-cellular doppels in the form of what they first believed to be a new species of earth worm.

It wouldn't be discovered until much later that those worms, like all doppels, were not truly individual life forms but instead colonies of doppel cells.

I see a hand, pronouns and questions.

They, their, them.  All multi-cellular life is made up of a conglomeration of individual living cells; why should it change things to know doppels are made of doppel cells?  We all probably knew that without being told.

That's true, but the distinction is incredibly important.  If I cut off your hand –composed of living cells, as you note– and no charming surgeon shows up to reattach it while sweeping you off your feet, what would happen to the cells in your now-severed hand?

They'd die.


That's what it means to be part of a singe life form.  The individual cells depend on the whole to stay alive and without it they can't survive.  Some things can regenerate a whole new individual from a severed body part, but even the most starfishy starfish of all starfish-kind can't boast that if you removed just one of its cells that cell would be able to survive and thrive on its own.

Dopple cells can.  When they're cut off from their colony, they don't die. They wait around a bit to see if the colony will reestablish contact, and if it doesn't they simply move on and do something else. Some of you have doubtless witnessed when a severed doppel limb appears to dissolve.

Since the cells are no longer part of a colony that needs them in that form, they stop taking that form.  The formless mass of cells collapses and spreads out across the ground like some sort of spilled fluid, and usually becomes indistinguishable from the ground itself.

Even when the colony is destroyed, the vast majority of doppel cells making up that colony survive.

We're getting a bit ahead of things though, and I'm kind of surprised I haven't seen a hand on this particular matter.

I've said that the cells reproduce by absorption.  They come into contact with a material, they absorb it, a process we don't really understand happens, they spit out a new cell created from the absorbed matter and displaying its properties.

This is how they learn to mimic things.

I've also said that they can mimic any material we know of, provided it isn't smaller than they are.

Further, Doppelganger Cells are a material we know of.

So hasn't anyone wondered why doppel cells aren't in a constant war of trying to absorb each other?  The number of cells in a human-sized doppel is 14 digits long, and each of those cells is in contact with other cells. So why isn't there a multi-trillion sided war going on within each doppel of that size in which each cell tries to absorb the ones around it?

I see two hands, nail polish was first up. Pronouns, then questions comments or concerns.

He, his, him. Isn't it as simple as them knowing not to attack each other?

It is that simple, but then the question becomes, “How?” and that's very important. First, though, the person without nail polish.

She, hers, her. I've seen doppels eat other doppels so doesn't that mean doppel cells do feed on each other?

Not quite.  When a doppel feeds on a non-doppel the digestive process involves breaking up the material so that it all can come into contact with, and be absorbed by, doppel cells as quickly as possible.

When a doppel feeds on another doppel the digestive process is significantly different, even though it seems the same from the outside.

The ingested doppel cells are not absorbed to be used as raw materials for new doppel cells.  They are instead converted to serve the new colony they find themselves in.

Good question, though.

The answer to the question is obviously that there's a limiting property that keeps doppel cells from absorbing things they aren't meant to absorb, chiefly other doppel cells, but most doppel species aren't particularly interested in wasting energy converting the ground every time they take a step and so they also have the same property on their exterior.

Without boring you on the details, many of which are sketchy anyway, the limiting property essentially says, “Don't absorb this,” or “Don't absorb beyond this point,” in a language doppel cells understand and obey.

That limiting property, some people like to call it LP, is the basis for all of our anti-dopple technology.  We can't kill doppel cells, we can't--

Hand held high and waving like you need to use the bathroom: pronouns and question.

They, them. If what you say were true, why would we even be here?  We're supposed to fight the dopels.  Seems like a lost cause if they can't be killed.

Let me take that interesting and engaging question and break it into several vaguely related points that I can then address individually.

Fight?  Yes.  Kill?  Sort of.  Stop?  No.  Exterminate?  Not a chance in Hell.

What you'll be called on to do if you don't back out, and we'll get to the big reason why you'll want to back out, is to take down doppels, not dopple cells. Your job will be to disrupt and extinguish the colony, but the cells themselves will survive.

They'll eventually form into new doppels, and we'll be no closer to getting rid of the doppels than we were before, but hopefully you'll have put off human extinction by another day.  Do that every day and we never go extinct.

Doppel cells are extremeophiles.  Extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme pressure, extreme acid . . . none of these things will kill them

It is beyond our current ability to eradicate a cell that makes up a life form capable of drinking lava for the Hell of it and then possibly spitting it back out again as a weapon when that very same cell can also survive as close to absolute zero as we can reach, under intense radiation, and in pretty much every other scenario we can think of.

What we do here, and what you will do if you decide to join, is disperse cell colonies.  You fight the doppels, not the cells that make them up.

How you fight the doppels is something that most people don't really realize.  It's not a secret, it's just that almost no one thinks to ask.

Actually, before we get to that, colonies have one or more “nerve centers”.  They're . . . not actually made of nerves.  Most of the time.  Sometimes they are sort of nerve-esque, but not always, and the point is . . . um, let me start over.

While an individual doppel cell can be, for most purposes, anything, that doesn't mean it can store all of the information needed to create and run a colony that looks and acts like a single living creature made of various parts composed of various materials.

We're not entirely sure what causes doppel colonies to become self-aware.  One theory is that it happens when they've simply absorbed too much information for the colony cells to efficiently store without a central database which is dedicated to collecting, storing, and disseminating the information.

Another is that it happens when they absorb a living thing with self-awareness.

Another is that it just happens randomly.

Whatever the case, any doppel you encounter that's walking, flying, swimming, or otherwise moving around under its own power will have some system of cells specifically dedicated to running the colony.  It tells these cells to be feet, what that means, what they should be made of, how to take on that form, and so on.

Cut cells off from the so-called nerve center or centers for long enough, and the now-isolated cells revert to just being cells, not part of a larger structure.  That's when they seem to dissolve.

Nerve centers can be highly sophisticated, but also highly idiosyncratic.  It takes a lot of information to know how to make an entire body, how to run it, what materials the body is made of, what their properties are, and so forth.

On the other hand, knowing all of that doesn't mean that they're particularly smart.  They have the potential to be very smart, but thus far no confirmed doppel has made use of that potential.   Many doppel species didn't last long, instead getting quickly devoured by others.

No confirmed doppels seem to have high level reasoning, and this can be visible in the forms that they take.  I once witnessed a tarantula based doppel adapt after absorbing a tank.  It was within the power of the doppel to duplicate the tank so exactly that even the tank's mechanic would never be able to tell it was a duplicate.

And if some human operator were to get into the doppel-tank, and not be absorbed, they could use it as a tank which would function like a tank.

It didn't do that.

It was fully capable of recreating the tank down to the smallest detail; it had no concept of how a tank operated or why the details mattered.  It saw that the tank “stood” on its treads, so it classified them as feet.  It saw the treads were held in their shape by wheels.  It totally failed to grasp the concept of spinning wheels driving the treads to move the tank.

Instead the result was a giant armored spider doppel that walked around on eight legs each of which was apparently composed of wheels that didn't spin covered in treads that didn't tread.

And I said that I'd get back to the gunpowder.  While in a colony, individual doppel cells have no sense of self-preservation and the nerve centers can grasp concepts like burning, exploding, and “dynamite go boom.”

Individual doppel cells will blow themselves up for the good of the colony.  Which is why you may occasionally find yourselves being shot at.  Mass being pushed down a tube by an explosion is pretty easy to pick up.

Or maybe not.  Most don't have built-in guns.  But it can be picked up, is the point.

Now it's time to get back to the other thing that this was a tangent away from.  The non-secret secret.

The doppels are far less resilient than the cells. While the individual cells may be able to handle magma and not get burned, if the colony –the doppel itself– has been exclusively adapted to cold, attacking with heat can seriously disrupt the colony but only, and this is the key thing, if combined with the limiting property.

The same for attacking with blades.  Bullets are generally not recommended, but we do have our share of gun-like projectile weapons.

However we attack, whatever we attack with, we need the limiting property.  With it we can sever a limb, without it by the time the blade exited the limb the place where the blade entered would already be healed.

For our weapons to do any damage they need to tell the doppel cells “Don't grow here, don't absorb here, don't connect here,” because only then is a wound created.  That's the limiting property and what it does for us.  The problem with it is that the only thing we know of capable of producing it is doppel cells themselves.

Every weapon we use is composed, at least in part, of doppel cells.  We've just set it up so that the user is the weapon's nerve center and it will wait indefinitely for the user when not in use. Here's the big reason to back out I mentioned earlier:

You'll be composed partially of doppel cells too.  It's necessary to keep you alive when you come in contact with doppels.  It's necessary to survive some of the places we'll be sending you –unmodified humans would burst into flames or freeze in an instant and those are the light and fluffy examples– and it's necessary to be able to control your weapons.

In order to be a doppel nerve center, you've got to be part doppel.  Unless you want your equipment to start eating you, you need to be infused with doppel cells.  In order to keep the cells from devouring you from the inside out, you'll need continual injections to maintain the delicate balance of limiting property to doppel cells that keeps you human.

You cannot go AWOL.  It would kill you in a way that I don't even want to think about.  You can retire or transfer or whatever, but you'll need the injections for the rest of your life.  We call them suppressant.  We make you part doppel so you have a chance of surviving, then we spend the rest of your life suppressing that part so you remain human.

I . . . haven't seen any hands in a while.

Yeah, in the back, you know the drill.

She, hers, her.  So far the only example you've given of how the limiting property helps is that it allows limbs to be severed. We're supposed to kill them-- disperse the colonies.  How do we do that?

The limiting property stops the doppels from healing at super speed, though a non-lethal wound created using it will heal if given time.  In fact, most lethal wounds created using it will also heal given time, but scavengers are unlikely to give the fallen doppel that time.

The key is to treat the colony like a creature while it's moving, kill that creature however you can, and then –when it appears to be dead on the ground– remember that it's a living colony, not a dead creature, and rip out the nerve clusters.  Those are what tell the colony to act like a monster, and tell it how, so without them the colony is neutralized until it develops or is given a new never cluster.

However you can” sounds vague.

Many people have found that stabbing and slashing until it stops moving works well.

Given the nature of the doppel cells, and the way nerve clusters sometimes structure themselves around aesthetics over function, it isn't always as simple as “Stab it through the lung” because sometimes the lung is more of an accessory than a vital organ.

That said, they tend to set themselves up, loosely, based on non-doppel earth life, so given the appropriate –limiting factor equipped– weapons, you can often take down a colony in the way you'd take down a similar non-doppel creature.  Just don't be surprised if it takes ten times as long.

The most vital thing isn't how you take a doppel down, it's that you understand that you need to remove any nerve clusters once it is down.  And you need to be aware that the vast majority of that doppel will likely rise up to be a new doppel.  The fight is never-ending.

Also, there are reports on every form of doppel we've encountered thus far.

That's enough for this lecture, but I can assure you I have many more.


  1. Larger text would be preferred by me, thx.

  2. I feel like the different possibly origins could make good writing prompts.

    Also I really like the idea of life that developed before other life or before the moon collision. Fleshing that out would involve fascinating research...

  3. Are there humans on other planets? Are there doppels on other planets?

    and no charming surgeon shows up to reattach it while sweeping you off your feet,

    Wait, what? Is this a reference to something? Will there be a cute surgeon character re-attaching limbs?

    This reminds me of the Changelings on DS9, and also tangentially of this story, which also relates to the Confederate mess:

    nail polish was first up.
    How post-apocalyptic are we? Like, how difficult has it been for this person to keep/find/create nail polish?