Vechidai, Vechai

Large, limbed or skirted, vehicles or weapons platforms. May be self aware (vecs) or piloted

Vechidae
Image from Steve Bowers

Pronunciation: "VEK-kid-eye"
Singular: Vechidus
Plural: Vechidai
Vulgar Ergot: Vechai
Vechidai are limbed or skirted vehicles, often used as weapons platforms.

Overview

Since even the Renaissance period of Iron Age Old Earth, mankind has attempted to condense military power into smaller and smaller packages. On the ocean, man succeeded in creating powerful ships of war for the relative level of technology; these ships were the height of technological advancement for their day. Unfortunately, man was unable to do the same level of power condensation for land-based weaponry. Modern Vechidai can trace their roots back to the middle Industrial Age of mankind when the first construction of tanks began but did not reach a form similar to what we see today until near the end of the First Federation, when modern Vechidai designs first became possible and popular.

All Vechidai have a similar design philosophy in that they have a main body in which the nanofacture plant, power plant, main computer and other critical elements are housed. Locomotion is provided either by legs either with 2, 4 or more legs, or a variant of nanite based drive. Lastly, weapons, sensors and manipulators are positioned in "limbs" of various designs and types that keep weapons away from the sensitive main workings of the Vechidai itself. Only small Vechidai utilize 2-leg locomotion. The larger the machine, the more legs that are used, or a Nanite based drive train is employed. Vechidai never use wheels, or tracks.

Some Vechidai are actually giant Vecs with no need for a pilot, while others will have some sort of cockpit built either attached to the main body based on a head/neck assembly, or built into the main body, similar to a vehicle cockpit. Self-aware Vechidai are more popular in hi-tech polities, for they are more manoeuverable and durable and do not require space for a pilot and life support systems.
Pilot based Vechidai are often 5 to 10 tons heavier than Self-Aware Vechidai.

Over the millennia, Vechidai have slowly dropped weight till they have reached their modern range of up to 100 tons, but are most commonly found in the 30 to 60 ton range. Their armor often consists of Diamondoid, Pandifico, and other super-strong composites. Vechidai can also range in height from small "battle armor" sized that are under 10 feet in height to the deliriously high 150 battle platforms that stalk some of the stranger environments found in known space.

Uses

Having a powered exoskeleton has proven to be quite useful for mankind's expansion throughout space. Vechidai have taken some steps to further There are four main uses for Vechidai which then scatter into hundreds of small sub categories: Military, Sport, Exploration and Industrial.

Military is the most commonly known use for Vechidai. They are in many forms of entertainment, from games to programs and more. These Vechidai are used as a mobile support base of operations for smaller units to resupply from as well as fight independently or in small or large-scale actions with other Vechidai. These Vechidai carry a variety of weapons, defense systems and electronic packages. They also provide fire support for and against orbital, atmospheric and surface operations. These are usually the largest and most powerful of the Vechidai.

Sport Vechidai are almost always small, and very common in the civilized galaxy. Hobbyists build, customize and race these Vechidai similar to other vehicles that garner the same kind of hobbyist attraction. Although not commonly used as a daily use vehicle, they are considered very popular for "off-route" uses and can be found plying in the most rugged terrain, that is usually very dangerous for those unprotected. They can be also used for daily transportation use in hazardous environments that require enhanced movement. The short statured Clade Sesha cybertweaks of Sesharia have been using similar limbed vehicles for many millennia, both for sport and transportation; these vehicles were developed more or less independently on that isolated world.

Some sport style Vechidai have been adapted to military usage. Although made obsolete for military use in higher tech societies by Borgs and standard military Vecs, small Vechidai of this variety are excellent stealth and guerrilla tactics units for those who do not have or cannot afford such technology.

Exploration Vechidai benefit from their expanded mobility. The leg and nanite based drive trains allow for a greater variety of surfaces and environments to be investigated. Although they have replaced many strange vehicles used in the past to handle odd environmental challenges, they have barely scratched the surface of exploratory surface vehicles. These are often heavily armored and lightly armed as well. Although they are usually larger than sport Vechidai, they are still quite small and lightweight. Some types of exploration style Vechidai are very small, for use in spelunking and other tight quarter exploration with features that assist them in getting through areas considered impossible by many.

Industrial Vechidai are the most commonly seen Vechidai. They are often employed in heavy lifting, and moving of materials, working on mega-scale construction projects and hazardous manufacturing environments. They usually have a combination of nano and normal manufacturing tools at their disposal, allowing them to perform well in a variety of environments. Industrial style Vechidai also replace robots and Vecs for heavy work on worlds with anti-robot or pro-bioid beliefs.

Battle of Erson
Image from Anders Sandberg
Metasoft Vechidai at the battle of Erson

Locomotion

Vechidai, being surface vehicles, use 2 main modes for locomotion, legs or utility fog skirts. The decision on which form of locomotion to use is often based on weight distribution, environment, and mission. The heaviest Vechidai must rely on nanite skirts to support their bulk, while smaller Vechidai may choose a legged format of locomotion. The smallest of Vechidai use exclusively two-legged locomotion, with the pilot's legs are contained in them, similar to an exoskeleton.

Vechidai that are at least vehicle sized, will use normally 4 to 8 legs, with some very large Vechidai employing up to 100 legs in a caterpillar or centipede style system. Although these latter versions are rare, they are not unheard of. Legs are often of insect, arachnid or crustacean in design, but jumping leg styles are rare, and are confined to low gee worlds.

Utility fog skirts, technically known as Nanite drive trains, are used in vechidai known as Scrub Slugs that can traverse extremely difficult terrain, are very heavy, or both. Two forms of locomotion may be used by vehicles with nanite drive trains; The Cascade Drive, which moves the Vechidai by a combination of gravity, "hydraulic pressure" and wave action, and The Lariat Drive type which produces forward momentum by throwing out "tentacles" of nanites to grab surfaces in front of the Vechidai, and pull it forward on its nanite skirt.

Nanite skirts are very fluid and flexible. Resembling a cross between, crude oil and powdered sugar, they often glitter like silica but may adopt any colour including translucency or even appear invisible if phased array optics are used. Such a vechidai may appear to be floating above the surface if the phased array is well-tuned.

They can be punctured, scattered or even completely cut in half, and reattach themselves with minimal effort if the remaining skirt attached to the controlling main body can touch it to re-power and regain control. The grip strength of the skirt is also strong enough to be able to survive extreme environments of wind, pressure and heat. The Vechidai can hold on to a stable vertical surface or hang upside down from a strong vehicle or geologic formation as well. When conformed into a hull for movement on liquid, the skirt commonly is of shallow draft and flat bottom. A Nanite drive train, depending on its refinement and style, can allow a Vechidai to become amphibious by creating a hull out of the skirt strong enough to provide displacement and buoyancy.

Offensive Weaponry

Weapons on military Vechidai are as varied as that carried on spacecraft. Vechidai, with ample amounts of matter, and the installation of nanofacture suites tend to favor Muskets, Dusters and Squirts, since ammunition is quickly replenished regardless of local materials, and is more efficient than pure energy weapons. Standard nanofacture outfitted Vechidai, which are more common, rely more on larger power plants and reactors with energy weapons suites. Although rockets and missiles are used as well, they are usually tactical weapons and for larger or special targets.
Nearly all Vechidai carry Nano-warfare suites. In the post swarm age, it is considered foolish not to have at least a small onboard Nano-warfare system. Delivery methods can vary greatly, but for controllability, Squirts and Dusters are preferred. Some use large Nano-warfare payloads on missiles as well.

Although they are capable of carrying NBC (Nuclear, Chemical, Biological) weaponry, Vechidai have rarely been used in such warfare; there are strong taboos in most cultures against these weapons (for many reasons).
Vechidai often employ drones, manufactured from their Nanofacture suites. These can be used for scouting, stealthy attacks, quick FASCAM minefields, and other various activities. The forms of these drones varies dramatically by polity, military, mission, unit and Vechidai.

To help discourage orbital bombardment, often one or more weapons capable of engaging high orbital targets are installed on Vechidai. Some are specifically tasked for this mission, while others will sometimes completely forgo this weaponry. Weapons are mounted in external limbs rather than inside the main body. These limbs, often articulated arms or tentacles provide extra flexibility in the field of fire, plus preventing serious internal damage if a weapons array is destroyed. Ammunition is often stored outside the main body and off the hull. Thanks to nanofacture, destruction of a weapons pod is not a serious injury to the Vechidai. Often in a few hours, it can reassemble a new pod and be back in action quickly. Some Vechidai will "holster" their weapon pods in protected sockets that allow for modification of weapon pods, as well as carrying a larger array of weapons safely. Weapons for the most part on Vechidai are scaled to remain in tune with their combat environment. This means Vechidai do not carry "planet-busting" devices, or global weapons of mass destruction that wipe out everything from horizon to horizon. This form of weaponry is shown to work best from orbit.

Defensive Systems

The most obvious forms of defense shown by Vechidai are Fog Shields. These bubbles of military grade Utility Fog form around the main body, sometimes hugging the hull tightly, other times, they create large, elaborate multi-layered spheres for defense. These can develop different properties for dealing with various weapon types. Vechidai also use very powerful Electronic Counter Measure, and Counter-Counter Measure Suites (ECM, ECCM). These are designed to not only jam and block electronic signals, but also to hack into attacking weapon sensors and try to destroy the threat by destroying and corrupting software. Some packages are designed specifically to usurp or shut down Nanite or Synsect attacks. They are excellent at scrambling, or feeding false readings back to sensors, creating ghost images, and even fake enemy visual transmissions. Camouflage is often active in nature, working to cloak the Vechidai's appearance on most EM scanners. These quite often appear quite invisible until attacking or attacked, where the active camouflage may not be able to compensate for rapidly changing light conditions and patterns. Often the foot will allow damage to pass right through it, with minimal disruption, preferring to keep a more fluid form.

Since the Vechidai has a large nanofacture plant built into it, the machine is often self-healing, allowing it to recover from terrific damage. Some even will use spore or seed nanotech to "rise from the dead" in a matter of hours, days or weeks, causing incredible damage if the lines of combat have left them deep in enemy territory. Due to this fact, total obliteration and "sterilization" of a Vechidai is extremely important to opposing forces. The employ of "phalanx" systems and other active defenses, such as anti-missile rockets, interception beam weapons or other projectiles are near universal in some form or another. Some use beam weapons of this sort to spoof or scramble "dumb" munitions such as heat-seekers or HARM style munitions. Others actively detonate or destroy incoming threats. On occasions, clouds of caustic blue goo are used to eliminate slower incoming threats like drones. To prevent mines and other buried threats to the drive train, the Vechidai can put forth hard "probes" from its nanite drive, causing enough shock to detonate mines by thin, but powerful and heavy vertical sheets of nanites slamming into the ground, and then being reabsorbed by the foot.

Control/Piloting

Like most autowar style systems, many are controlled by sapient intelligences similar to that of Vecs. If military variants are autonomous sophonts, they often live lives similar to that of the ancient clade from Terra known as "Samurai". Transapient Vecs, also often adhere to variants of that code as well. Most sentient Vechidai personalities follow their functionality. Rarely will a mind be uploaded to a Vechidai, as they are often ill suited for life in that body. Most often it is a mind originally created for this kind of life.

If the Vechidai is designed for control by an independent pilot, the cockpit is usually well protected, deep in the hull. A baseline mind, cannot pilot without an expert system handling the basic functionality of its nanite drive train. Often, baseline controlled Vechidai are viewed as a waste for they cannot take full advantage of the power of the drive train. To help combat that, most will upgrade the expert system to a Transavant "co-pilot" that will handle many of the intricacies of the drive train, movement and defense, leaving the pilot to handle general piloting, and offense. Sentient Vechidai often utilize the Godweb to lead a more typical lifestyle. Often running avatars and other entities from afar while their main body is in a repair bay or mothballed. This has gone a long way to prevent madness and potential difficulties with groups of Vechidai attempting to exert power and prevent the madness boredom can bring on the hyper-intelligent.

Territory/Travel

Although rarely seen inside the peaceful Inner Sphere, Vechidai can be found on occasion in the Hinterworlds, and more frequently in contested zones of the Outer Volumes. In the frontier, they are common in contested space, and on worlds under siege and in war zones. They most often travel by specially designed Orbital Assault Carriers, that are specifically designed to handle dropping large vehicles safely, as well as handle the mental and physical needs of the Vechidai units. Rarely, do they travel mixed in with mechanized infantry of any type, since their nature automatically draws heavier fire due to the level of their threat if identified in descent to a planet's surface. When not in a military unit, they will travel with their main body in cargo storage like any massive vehicle, and use an avatar, or AI remotes to interact with the rest of the crew and passengers on a ship. On planet's surface, they often cannot travel in large cities, due to weight, and size restrictions and will resort on their Avatar as well, often being stored at the local spaceport or transportation hub. Some spaceports that see high traffic in these huge machines will actually have "hotels" or storage bays for them to be stored while they conduct business in system.

Society

Similar to a Clade, sentient Vechidai, especially military Vechidai, have a very tight social status and society. They often will prefer to work with each other if business opportunities permit, and will remain in touch via the Godweb. Some are artisans, stockbrokers, scientists, researchers, explorers, and many other professions. Often, if dealing with an avatar, one may never know that the main mind is a Vechidai. Most prefer to keep that a secret, due to the popular opinion of them, as a terrifying war machine that can control continents by brute force. Many memes portray them in a less than generous light. Other transapients rarely feel threatened by them, unless they are an opposing force, the same way they are rarely threatened by any physical danger that worries most of their baseline charges.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Michael Boncher

Initially published on 23 October 2004.