ENTRY 000: Test Item
Transhumanity lives in a universe where alien intelligences and civilizations have already lived and died, leaving behind remnants for them to paw through, analyze, and reverse engineer. To prepare and train new generations for the task of cracking these problems, the scientists and philosophers of the Morningstar Constellation have opened a crowdsource digital artifact: the Test Item.
Based in part on real alien artifacts discovered on exoplanets, the Test Item is a complex software construct which thousands of users can probe, test, and interact with during each test-cycle. The Test Item programmers are volunteers that include some of the most creative, knowledgeable minds in the solar system, and each new incarnation of the Test Item typically incorporates bizarre physics, chemical composition, cultural influence, and xenobiological traces. As both a puzzle and an exercise in analysis, testers are encouraged both to cooperate and compete; posting significant breakthroughs on the latest Test Item (or even some of the archived old Test Items) generally causes enough interest for a small s-rep boost, and sometimes job offers from hypercorps.
Tangible benefits of the Test Item beyond education are few, but have produced some working theories on the physics behind the gate mechanisms and refinement in a few technologies like allotropic alloys. The conspiracy-minded point to statistical correlation of certain physical and cultural traits among past Test Items as evidence suggseting that the entire Test Item project is little more than a cover for actual testing of an alien artifact—or perhaps a cache of such artifacts!—in the control of the Morningstar Constellation. For most testers however, the Test Item remains little more than an ongoing intellectual exercise, and a challenge that prepares gatecrashers for what they might discover on the other side.
Using Test Item
The Test Item is a public MacGuffin; it does nothing by itself, little more than a complex three-dimensional software model of a hypothetical artifact that bends or breaks certain laws of physics, or combines unusual chemical and xenocultural elements. However, the Test Item functions as a focus for characters to interact—teams of testers will compete over specific theories and test methodologies, sabotage each other and steal data, try to hack the Test Item sourcecode or influence the programmers, lay wagers and try to collect them—and as such is a useful concept for the gamemaster that wants something with outrageous properties that cannot be easily stolen or abused because it is completely conceptual, with no physical existence. Of course, the conspiracy theorists could be correct for once, and some or all of the Test Items are real artifacts…in which case finding the originals the Test Items are based on would be a mission in itself.
- A highly-regarded merchant has purchased an artifact, but it afraid of damaging it through testing. The merchant hires the player characters to arrange for a digital simulation of the artifact in place of the Test Item, crowdsourcing his way to the best test strategy. The merchant doesn’t care how they do it—negotiating with the Test Item programming team, blackmailing them, bribing them, hacking the software, etc. are all viable methods.