Chromebook 2: In-Character Review

Roger Burton West
12 October 2001

Chrome Book 2

A critical evaluation

Dr Caitlin Tremaine

(Transfomed from audio-visual presentation. Setting is the interior of a medical-variant AV-4, with huge piles of equipment on every available flat surface; the side door is open, showing a cityscape. The view is from a 360 camera in the centre of the vehicle. As each gadget is discussed, it (or a picture) is held by the speaker; it is then either thrown out of the door of the AV or placed in a box marked "Possible Purchase".

Tremaine: Zdrast'ye, gaspadini! Buddy of mine just dumped this new catalogue on me, thought I'd take a look and give some feedback. First, anyone out there doesn't know me, where you been all this time? OK, I'm Cat Tremaine, medic for a TT pickup squad - Team Nighthawk - in Chicago. Just so you know, we've got a 98% career recovery rate. Anyway, the squad got together on this one, so each bit got evaluated by the one who knows the stuff.

Wyndham: I'm Al Wyndham, and I handle security for Nighthawk. My other team-mates are Sal Bentley, insane pilot...

Bentley: ...Mornings only, by appointment...

Wyndham: ...John Spruance, co-pilot and net support...

Spruance: ...and part-time railgunner...

Wyndham: ...and Max Zhalov, medtech.

Zhalov: Dobriy dyen'.

Tremaine: So, let's get on with it. We start off with a whole bunch of pretentious quotes from guys who probably never existed, and it's straight into the cyberware.

Dynalar's back with still yet more cyberfingers. These ones are a tad more useful than last year's - can you believe it, some people actually bought the lightpens? There's your micro vidcam, gas-launched minigrenade, airhypo and track bug launcher. Plus some stuff that's been on the streets a while, the quick change mount and the thumb lighter. I personally know a lady who's had a home-built one of these for over three years, and you can bet she's not getting any royalties. As for the QCs, you know how delicate the arm and hand ones are, right? These are worse. Maybe better call them the "slow and painstakingly careful change mount"? No, doesn't scan.

Wyndham: Then there's Kiroshi's optishield options. OK, more stuff for a lump of polycarbon no-one ever uses. Gimme those QC eye mounts any day.

Now for the winch. Yep, a one ton winch you can stick in your cyberarm. The makers reckon you can get away with muscle/bone lace, but I'd say the linear frame is a working minimum. How often have you needed to pull one ton sideways, anyway? And it doesn't even work on the hand, you get a - wait for it - a hook.

Next up is custom cyberhands. The six-finger job looks real neat, until you try to pick something up. Reckon on a week's downtime getting used to one of these. The double jointing could be useful, though.

Anchoring cyberfeet. What can I say? Good thing it's a cyberleg option, or we'd be getting a whole bunch of broken legs. As it is, expect lots of dislocated hips and broken pelvises as people try to use these to avoid getting knocked over. Oh yeah, I do hope someone tries to use one of these in LEO... in a suit... on the outside of a pressurised habitat...

Then we have the quick-draw arm holster. I don't plan to use one again after it threw my holdout off the side of a building. Guess they reckon they've improved it since then.

The same cannot be said for the kill display. It's basically a light tattoo that says "KILLS: 25" (or whatever number you want to type in). Izbaviy Bog, are people going to pay good money for this?

Spruance: Slightly more useful is Cyphire's tri-dart launcher. Three darts between the fingers, short range I guess (they don't mention it), but it has to be better than the eye dartgun. Hell, these ones even hurt you before the poison hits!

The wetdrive access link is a solution to a problem that never happened. Seriously, do you know anyone who couldn't access his drive before? Everyone I know got some cabling and worked it up themselves. For anyone who doesn't know one end of a 4860 from the other, you can now pay two hundred bucks and have someone do it for you.

Zhalov: The colour gland control is another matter, and this one's getting passed on to the truth-in-advertising boys. I don't want to get into medtechnicalities, but this one is not going to work. Period. Get cyberoptics or shift-tacts.

Dynalar returns, with more subdermal armour - perfect if you don't really need to stop anti-tank rockets. Multiple layers let you pick your own protection. Oh yeah, and they've finally got round to protecting the skull as well.

Tremaine: Then we have the subdermal viewscreen. I suppose there might be someone out there who needs one of these, but he'd better not apply for a place on my squad.

Zetatech bounces back from last year's disappointments with the bodycomp. Once they make it modular-upgradeable, it's going to be worth looking at.

Nanooptic upgrade: now that's more like it. Two-way extended spectral range and improved lowlight, on a biological retina base. Still too expensive, and it can't compete with real optics, but worth a look in a few years' time when the costs come down.

Cyphire: I like this company, but now they've produced retractable vampires. Hate those things. Still, if that's what turns you on.

Bentley: The nanotech whizzkids have come up with yet another dubious idea: total body plating. Looks like a ceramic exoskeleton - no, scratch that, looks like a lobster. Slows you down, makes you more obvious. Oh yeah, drives you insane too. All this just to stop bullets? Gimme that old time metalgear, it's good enough for me.

Cyphire almost redeems itself with the remote eye. Not as much use as a real remote cam, but great for weirding people out. Wirehead claims he can hotwire it to walk around on its own, and that could get interesting... but remember, you're blind in one eye while this thing's in use. One to avoid.

They've finally released new skinweave in different toughnesses. OK for the covert ops types, I suppose.

Tremaine: On to the Equipment section. Talk about a miscellaneous jumble of stuff. We start with a pair from Biotechnica: the "Nutrisupplement" (you too can waste away from a month on this "complete" food replacement), and the "Nymph perfume". I guess they never heard of the Geneva Convention.

There's a lot of stuff in here that's been on the streets for a while. Example: Geotech's environment scanner. Radiation and biocontam alerts, plus a pO2meter, just like the one you've been using for years. Wow.

Zhalov: Nikkon-America's released a new camera pod. Instead of the "Mr Lopsided" headmount versions, we now get a shouldermount cam. Could be useful.

SecSystems is flogging that tired old electrostatic "protection field" again. Well, if you have no cyberware, carry no electronics, and never come within two metres of anyone, this could be for you. As usual, they don't mention the slight problem about turning it off. If you can avoid touching any metal for about five minutes afterwards, no problem. Oh yeah, please wear one of these in the rain. We could use the work.

Spruance: The Mead Electronic Notebook has to be a misprint. Six megs of RAM and a thirty meg drive? They did better than that in the '90s! Battery only lasts twelve hours, too.

Good old DataTel. You can always trust them to come up with something truly "original". A portable vidphone. What a nice concept. How useful it is to let someone see your face when you're setting up a little work on the side. A little bird in AT&T tells me that 95% of vidphones in downtown locations have never had their pickups turned on.

Wyndham: Microtech brings up its "virtual reality BBS". Now, I'm no netter, but even I know what a BBS is. This is a customised computer for making VRs.

Spruance: By the way, you should definitely not even think about ripping the software by zeroing out sector 0x5784, and running it on a real computer. Remember, software piracy is fun... that is, theft.

Zhalov: The Frostech portable cryo case is "perfect for Trauma Team members", says the blurb. What, you mean we need to carry body parts in vehicles which don't already have freezedown facilities? I never knew that. Guess this could be useful to other people.

As could the electropack, a supercap and mains socket for running your non-portable devices on the move. You definitely shouldn't charge it for three hours and then drop it off a tall building onto people you don't like, as that could be dangerous.

Tremaine: Well, thanks for that minor safety hint. Kiroshi's remote cybercam is a lot more use than that Cyphire cybereye. Two klicks' range of full video; it's a bit large, but that's the only problem. Oh yeah, the signal is not exactly scrambled.

The SecSystems detention collar is years out of date. On command, it can shock or drug its wearer - or if the wearer moves more than ten metres from the remote. Nothing about how you stop the guy wasting you and taking your remote, so I guess that never happens.

Wyndham: SecSystems have also produced a portable maglock - just fix it to the door of whatever scumhole you find yourself spending the night in, and no-one will be able to open it. So they'll come through the walls instead.

New computer models from Zetatech, EBM and Microtech. Nothing revolutionary, but they seem to work. Telectronics have a "Black Book" police comp that looks interesting... Lazarus has a chopped version he's planning to sell back to them as a medcomp.

Microtech's new language processors look like a good idea, and for programming they're OK - but let's face it, programmers use the 'face if they're any good.

Spruance: Just another Macalike, designed to get computers into the hands of people who can't use them. And why is it they keep telling people they can't netrun with these desktops? Let the weefles try it, they're going to anyway.

WorldSat's Flopscreen has everything going for it except the name. For once, make sure you get the branded version - it has edge connectors for auto-tiling.

Direct Dataware's transferred some of the easier skillsofts into utility programs. Fine if you like that sort of thing. They're cheaper and slower than skillsofts, and the range is still restricted.

As for Datatel's "Treasurer" datawatch - thanks for the tip, guys. What's the betting we get a whole lot more cases with missing left hands?

Tritech has an aftermarket add-on that's well worth looking at, pulse hardening for computers. True, it's not too hard to do yourself, but it does save time.

Tremaine: Kiroshi's HUD monocle is fairly useful, I guess. Just make sure you don't use this one (#2) if you plan to see anything outside the yellow spot. As for "endorsed by Trauma Team medics", we use the full visor version - it gets you a 3D display, and doesn't screw your focusing.

Datatel's got some new modems, which do pretty much what modems usually do. Not so exciting.

Spruance: Slightly more interesting are Zetatech's hardware / software computer upgrade packages. Lie detectors, bug detectors, medscanners, drug analysers, all sorts of neat stuff. As usual, the fun ones aren't in the catalogue.

Next up is the "Hybrid" wearable computer. Forget the base model, go straight to cyber or forget it. But once that's done, you've got the accessibility of an implant with the convenience of a portable.

Their MedicWear deserves special attention, as it's non-cyber but still worth using. Recording HUD goggles, earphones and mike give a full hands-free operating paradigm, but they still give you a trackball in the armpack. And a satellite link in the backpack. Once you dump these, you have something that's actually possible to carry around, and pretty useful.

Zhalov: The "MedicGear" armour is another matter. Most medtechs I know use something like this, but they work their own ways of doing things. Now, I like armour, and the shell in here isn't as tough as MetalGear, but there's no upgrade path. If I want to move the drug injector to the right arm, too bad. Nice kit, and if you trained someone on it as their first pack they could be pretty good, but not for the experienced medtech.

Spruance: Back to my side of things, with a load of interesting bugs and jammers. I still reckon voice stress analysers are overrated, but could be useful. One thing, you can't be totally safe from laser mikes with window tremblers. If there's something fairly flat in the room, your eavesdropper can bounce the beam off that and ignore your window tremblers. Draw the curtains too, tovarishch.

As for the Omega phone tap, well - it does the job, but do you have any idea what the penalties are like for owning something like this? 1,400 Euro doesn't even begin to describe it.

And I'm sorry, but there's no way you can track the receiver of a broadcasting bug without a vanload of electronics. And even if you could, it'd only be a relay point.

Bentley: Arasaka's "Executive Briefcase" might be worth a look if you really need something like that, but the real "executive" gets his PA to carry his case these days.

As for WorldSat's "linear beam commlink", what do these guys think they're on? Remember the laws of physics? Move swiftly on to Arasaka's comms scrambler, useful if you do that sort of thing.

Tremaine: Telectronics' ScanMan is much more interesting. It still can't handle body sculpting, and personally I'd always use a genesample as well, but it's a nice shortcut for IDs.

The scanner gate is the same thing we've seen for years at airports and hospitals, with a new name and a new price tag. Just watch that cyberware scanner, and don't hook it up to the audible alarm!

Spruance: Vision IG-Algorithm glasses? Give me a break! Hire a netrunner, it's cheaper and you don't look like a grep.

Zetatech's DeckMate plugs into your cyberdeck processor core to let you use it as a brain-damaged normal computer. Why they think people don't just put a main board into the cyberdeck and chipglue them together - like this one I made earlier - I have no idea.

The Armdeck's not such a bad idea, though. Again, modular is better, but for something this hard to spot you might not mind the limits. Once people start rebuilding them on the street, things could get interesting.

Bentley: DPI's "Black Box" (original name, huh?) gives you instant backing music, in the style of your choice, as long as you don't mind playing the songs in its memory. Bring on the adaptive AI processors, it could be worth using in five

years' time.

They've also brought out the dance bracelets, instant music from body movements. Great for annoying people on the masstrans.

Washburn's "Soundmachine" guitar is limited but fun. <Strum> Strictly for the wannabes, I'm afraid. Now, one of these is more useful, a slightly chopped Fender Starcaster - I can even play acoustic. OK, you need to carry a pack of amps and computers as well as the guitar, but the sound quality is <strum> rather better, and you get more than a hundred beats in memory

Wyndham: There's a whole new range of sneaksuits coming out, but the top one has to be Militech's M96 "Ghostsuit". Remember, you can usually only fool one person at a time, and it won't handle IR. Apart from that, go for it.

If you're a little short of cash, you could use the older M73 "Mirage Gear". It works on presets rather than adaptive camouflage, but it's still handy.

If you can't afford that, there's always the Gibson sneaksuit. This is best used in conjunction with the M96, because this one does have IR suppression. Orbital and aquatic versions are also available.

Bentley: Finally in the new armour section, there are the armoured stockings. Well, what can I say? They work well under more conventional armour, but on their own they won't stop serious firepower. They're also a little stiff, but it's easy to get used to that. And if these ladder, you have a very weird lifestyle.

Zhalov: Holography seems to be back, with new model screens and holotanks released onto the market. One application they don't mention is full-body imaging - we use a small one to integrate the medscan results, and back at HQ they use the large models to put together the NMR, X-ray CT and quarkspin scans into a single useful image.

The Mindscape holo imager is not as useful as you might think - it works best with a headware computer you can use to buffer the images. Otherwise, work on one small section at a time and save often!

Spruance: I've used a fair few remotes in my time, so I took a look at the new models for possible TT use. Well, they're OK if not exciting, and the Militech tiltrotor is definitely worth a look. But if it doesn't fly, forget it.

Except, of course, for the RDAK Spider. I reckon the Boys in Black have been watching a few too many twencen flats, but I must admit it does seem to work. Not fun.

Wyndham: A whole rack of phone upgrades have just been released, mostly pretty useful. We managed to get a model with everything, and as you can see, it's a little less portable than it used to be. Backpack, anyone? Quite a few game and video upgrades coming over, mainly for 'faced VR systems. Remember, these things have only been on the market for two years, and we still don't know the long-term addictive effects. Still, if you don't mind a slightly charred brain, go right ahead.

Now, on to my personal favourite: the weapons. Tsunami's Ramjet Rifle is nice for sniping, and has a lot less kick than most. Be careful with maximum range - the rounds tumble and decelerate almost as soon as the fuel runs out.

I hate to do it, but I had to take a look at the 13mm polymer one-shot. If you are this desperate for a gun, go to Biotechnica and sign up to test experimental nerve gases - it's probably safer.

Militech's "Cyborg Rifle" uses a .300 Winchester round, but gives you a clip of thirty. Strictly for the augmented, this thing is seriously heavy and quite badly balanced, and as a result pretty slow to aim. Personally, if I need this much firepower, I use my old .460 Weatherby - you only get three rounds, but you usually only need one.

Spruance: S&W have brought out the "Tri-Star", a shot pistol designed to fire a triplex #000 shell. Quite nice if that's what you like. Perhaps more generally useful is the webgun from Pursuit Security, a nice general-purpose immobiliser. Options include a taser link to the web, and a web made out of detcord. And I thought I was sick...

Wyndham: I'd really like to know what Rheinmetall's EMG 85 is doing in this catalogue. Let's face it, this is a military tank-killer, and the rounds are wasted on single human targets - and at 240 euro per shot, smart missiles are cheaper. A weapon without a home. Can I adopt one?

Tremaine: No. Also from Europe, the multi-magnum, a quad pepperbox 10 gauge shotgun. Heavy and impractical, but kind of fun.

Wyndham: Less fun is Techtronica's EMP cannon. These things are hideously dangerous, and often lethal - and that's just to the user. Especially if some unkind person has punched a pattern of microscopic holes in the waveguide, so that it feeds back into the rifle. About six inches back from the muzzle is best. Not that I'm recommending anything illegal, of course.

Bentley: Nova's Citygun is a neat gimmick - cassettes of seven rounds in a revolver format - but the gun itself isn't anything special. Stick with the automatics.

Wyndham: Colt and Mauser get together to bring us the M2X, another military weapon that seems to have snuck in. It fires 20mm rounds, and has a kick like a linear frame.

As does Militech's AM- 3. Why do they put these things in a civilian catalogue? This is a 30mm recoilless rifle, stretching the limits of "man-portable". At 100 euro a shot, you'd better be accurate, and preferably body plated.

Militech also bring us the Urban Missile Launcher. This is what's making toys like the railgun and the AM-3 obsolete - a rack of twelve generic missiles will run you only 600 euro, and even the HEAPs only cost 200 each. You can even hang a single missile under a rifle.

Zhalov: Militech's PDU-3 is basically a reversed limpet mine. Kind of fun, especially if you plate the underside of your AV with them.

Wyndham: Tsunami's "Airhammer" is a poor solution to a major problem. It's a gas-propelled dartgun, designed for use in orbit, but the same fragmenting round that makes it so safe in a pressurised habitat makes it virtually useless against hard-shell armour. Just use an autoshot and have fun, that's my motto.

Spruance: Techtronica have finally realised that you can send more things than heat down a laser beam. The "Volt Pistol" sticks a few hundred volts where it'll do the most good. Fun.

Wyndham: Unlike Arasaka's "Nauseator", an ultrasonic riot control machine. Long-term effects include persistent headaches, disorientation, and mental illness, but the Boys in Black don't care about that. (Yes, these things happen to the operator as well.)

Bentley: On to the hand-to-hand weapons, and we start with the "IMI Chain Knife". I have severe doubts that this has ever seen the inside of Israel - the Mossad agents I've known have more of a sense of style. Nice for the gangboys.

More my speed is the Kendachi monowhip. They've finally solved the end-cap problem that made the earlier models fall apart after a few weeks, and if you know how to use one of these, it's money well spent. The monowire is also available separately. Just make sure they cut it to length for you.

Wyndham: At least that's a sensible weapon, unlike the "Spawnblade". When you hit someone with it, you can trigger the memory plastics and expand the blade inside the wound. Yep, this leaves you disarmed while in hand-to-hand combat. One to avoid.

The taser wallet is a fairly good idea, but most of the pickpockets I've known would put the wallet in their own pocket before they got two metres away from you. Nice try.

Mystic Technologies have brought back the old Spetsnaz spring knife. As I said, I'm not in favour of disarming myself in hand-to-hand. It's also pretty inaccurate.

Zhalov: The gas spray is something I've been waiting for for quite a while. It's only got a two metre range, but you can load it with just about anything. One to play with.

Wyndham: There's a whole load of ammo and grenades, but nothing new there. So let's go on to the comedy section. There's a mod here which calls the police every time you pull the trigger. Useful, huh? Another mod sets off a microcamera each time you fire. Just imagine the parties - yeah, here's a very blurred view of the muzzle flash off my .44 Magnum, this one's the flash from my rifle... What d'you mean, they're serious?

Spruance: Slightly more useful is the security chipping option, good for people working in crowded areas.

Wyndham: Finally, there's a bunch of maniacs converting guns to plasma propulsion, using a sub-megamp current and fluid propellant. Have fun, and make sure your insurance is paid up.

Tremaine: Well, that just about covers the hardware. There's a section on teams and agencies, but <smile> our contract doesn't let us talk about them. What we can talk about is total body replacement. Frankly, I am not impressed. Granted, you can do stuff that meat can't handle, though with some of them it's only a slight edge. Only problem is, you're permanently out of your original body. And they're hard to customise what Max said before, about the MedicGear armour, applies even more here. Sorry, guys, but voluntary total replacement is strictly for losers.

Spruance: Well, the audience response monitors say you don't believe us, so we'll take another look at this stuff. Okay, for a start we're looking at totally non-modular systems - you get what the designer thought you might need, not what you really want, and you can't change it.

Bentley: But hey, let's get specific here. Okay, the "Copernicus". Compare this with a guy in a worksuit - where's the advantage? OK, he can stay out for a while. Counterbalance that with the fact that he can't take the damn' thing off - even inside the habitat. So we're talking about maybe three hundred pounds of metal and propellants trying to live inside a man-rated environment? You can tell where he's been by the trail of bent grab-handles...

Wyndham: And how about this "Eclipse" covert ops body? So what do you do if anyone does see you? "Excuse me, officer, I seem to have got lost, have some cash" can work if you look human, but in this thing you're saying "please arrest me" without even moving your lips. And how about when you're not on covert ops? How the hell do you get a waiter in a restaurant when you blend into the background and can't make any noise above a whisper?

Zhalov: Then comes the "Enforcer". Well, isn't that considerate they've pre-sprayed it with bullet holes. Hey, you're looking at fifty-five grand here - spend that much on a single cop without the bodmods, and he'll be even better! Or spend a grand or so on getting armour and guns for each of fifty-five separate cops, and they'll be even more effective...

Tremaine: That body has the same problem as the "Brimstone" - who thinks up these names anyway? Those light bars on the shoulders can really screw up your peripheral vision, and you need the anti-dazzle. Gee, they don't supply anti-dazzle on this optimised firefighter model.

And guess what? Looking down the spec here, I can see a pain editor. Well, yes. After all, something optimised for a hot environment is really going to feel pain from heat, isn't it?

Bentley: Then there's the "Wingman" pilot conversion. Now, I'll admit they might have a point here, in the g-tolerance in particular - but why bother with the body at all? I'm not going to tell you that the Army is wiring pods directly into aircraft, because I'd be giving away military secrets.

Wyndham: On to the "Samson". You can do anything a guy in a hazmat-rated powerlifter can do. Well, I'd leave the meat behind for that. Sure. And the "Dragoon" is even worse. You get to be a combat god, at the trivial price of being totally insane while you do it. Look, these things have two advantages over power armour: one, their reflexes are better, and that's just a matter of implementation; two, they can last longer. Studies show that, even with the most stable people in the world, 65% become clinically insane when you stick them in one of these things. And is it worth it?

Tremaine: Well, it looks as if that's the basic problem here. Sure, these things are impressive. Sure, they'll do the job. But they're just not cost-effective. You don't send in a Dragoon when a suit of power armour will do the same job, more cheaply, and without the "bystander collateral damage" that the Army doesn't like to talk about.

And that about wraps it up. There's a section on vehicles, but nothing too impressive; then the catalogue ends with a rack of exotic conversions. Fine if that's what turns you on.