Narcotic Programs (Narcograms)
Image from Steve Bowers

SNAPSHOT: Narcograms

After six hours of tapping Kronic Jade battled her way out of the fight room. The experience had been incredible so far; her mind sang with euphoria and self confidence, waves of pleasure bolstered by hate-filled pride occuring in time with every kick, every punch, every acrobatic dodge. Hundreds of partygoers also on the Kronic wavelength filled the vaulted arena, an orgy of violence so sophisticated and measured it felt more of a religious dance than crude combat. Jade didn't feel like bowing out but her medisystem was overriding her desires (a standard safety protocol), it being on the cusp of failing to keep her exhausted and battered body functional. Reaching the exit she tuned out of any vibe and felt her mental state begin to settle to something closer to the norm, still joyful at how the night was going but no longer filled with ecstatic rage. Wandering down a corridor she stopped in front of a mealfab disgorging snacks and drinks to the venue's clientele. Munching on a weedloaf packed with spiced bluemeat she ordered a wall to mirror mode. With every bite the gashes, scratches, bruises and burns on her tortured body knit closed and faded. She'd dressed appropriately for the night; a body optimised for rapid healing fitted with a heavily integrated medisystem. Her usual neb form would barely last half an hour tapping Kronic.

Finishing the nutrition packed snack she made to return to the arena when something in the reflection caught her eye. She'd not noticed that behind her lay the entrance to another room. In the mirror she saw a score of people sitting in a ring, gently moving their limbs in the air and across each other's bodies. Noticing the attention one of the seated sophonts smiled at her (or at least that was how Jade's exoself translated the gesture, the being in question lacking a mouth). Without any obvious communication the ring expanded to make a space for her. Curious, Jade entered and sat, no one said anything but she perceived them all as radiating welcome and friendliness. "Hey, I'm Jade" she said, returning their smiles. "What wavelength are y'all on?" Wordlessly the person next to her gestured and a channel tag appeared in Jade's mind. It was for another venue wavelength, very different to Kronic but seemingly compatible with her mindtype. As she tapped it Jade gasped. She knew and loved everyone in the circle. She felt their minds as tribe mindware booted and wept for the beauty of them. Every movement and every caress became an expression of that pure kinship. For six more hours Jade tapped the wavelength of Agape, it would be a long time until she had a night quite as contrasted and fun as this one.

Narcotic Programs

Narcotic programs, more commonly known as narcograms, drugware or trip-code, are software protocols designed to operate via a biont's Direct Neural Interface or an aioid's processor to generate recreational psychoactive effects. Since ancient times humans and even many animal species (many of which have been provolved by Terragen technology to full sophonce) have cultivated and synthesised chemicals for the purpose of adjusting mood and mental state; for enjoyment or edification. The possibility of directly mimicking these effects on the brain with neural interfaces was apparent before the first DNI prototypes. When interface technology matured in the Interplanetary Age, narcograms were among its earliest and most popular applications. The methods used by narcograms of selectively stimulating and inhibiting neural circuits for mental state adjustment are not unique, indeed they fall under the general technology of psychoware. However unlike psychoware-utilising applications such as mental health monitors, tachydidaxy, A/VR plugins, behavioural neuromods etc. the defining attribute of narcograms is that the altered state are an end goal in themselves; something to be enjoyed or to enhance another recreational activity.

Unlike their chemical counterparts (at least prior to the development of intelligent delivery and dosage systems) narcograms are highly targeted on the brain, severely mitigating or even outright removing any other physiological side effects. A popular example amongst human clades is the alcohol-mimicking narcogram Virtuhol. This program replicates the cognitive effects of ethanol consumption without the causes of nausea, vomiting, diuresis (therefore preventing dehydration), elevated/erratic heart rate, sleep disturbances and a hangover. Whilst side effects cannot be entirely removed in every case (such as in situations wherein said effects are directly linked with the neural mechanisms for the intended effect) narcograms throughout the major empires are accompanied by medical protocols to quickly and effectively counteract any negative short-term or long-term effects. Whereas ancient man, luddites or retrohistorians may suffer from moderate to severe toxic response, pain, immobility and organ damage from recreational drugs even heavy narcogram usage is likely to cause little more than tiredness and minor cognitive impairment for a period of hours. In addition upon deactivation counter-programs can be run to induce an acceptable (if not always complete) state of sobriety in mere minutes, depending on the exact narcogram in question and how strongly it has been dialled.

The social role and acceptance of narcograms, both generally and specific, has varied greatly across time and culture. In much of the civilised galaxy there are few restrictions beyond disseminating malicious code (such as Love-bombs, Suiciders or any Binding-like effects). Safety features in exoselves, medisystems and the angelnet can ensure a limitation in harm to the user and others in their vicinity (see DNI limitations). These features go beyond physiological measures into the behavioural; narcogram users that are close to performing a dangerous activity can have their impulses edited to change their minds and in some cases direct control of the body may be usurped from an impaired brain. Socialisation limiters are also common (and in some polities/venues mandatory); these oversight settings running in exoself and/or angelnet remain on alert for any imminent behaviour that, whilst perfectly safe, may be socially distressing for others in the vicinity or the narcogram user upon sobering up. Heavy use of these limiters can lead to situations wherein a sophont appears to act entirely soberly, when in actual fact non-sophont agents in their exoself are puppeting the body to appear normal whilst the mind enjoys whatever altered state of consciousness the user desires. Narcograms can also be configured to automatically activate in response to various environmental triggers. This is usually due to some local cultural ritual, for example: alcohol-mimicking narcograms may be triggered by the consumption of certain beverages that have been designed to appear and taste like traditional alcoholic drinks despite no ethanol content.

It is not possible to talk in anything but the most general of terms when it comes to how and when narcograms are used in the Terragen Sphere. Even within single systems there can be a myriad of cultural norms. Some narcograms may be linked to specific holidays, used for different ritual purposes, be deemed appropriate for solo use, only in a group, only with people of a specific relationship status (from close kin to strangers only) etcetera. Despite this wealth of diversity in the specifics there are some trends that have remained broadly true within the major empires. Narcograms as a communal experience is one of them and technology to facilitate this has existed for virtually as long as the programs themselves. A common Anglic term for this is "tapping the wavelength" or "accessing the vibe". Practically speaking a dynamic cocktail of narcograms designed to produce a specific sequence or set of experiences (often coinciding with other entertainment) will be broadcast within a social group or physical venue. These broadcasts are known as N-Waves and in most habitats of the terragen sphere a wandering sophont can expect to find several; be it the serenity inducing N-waves of a temple, a plethora of competing experiences in a recreation zone or just the ambiance enhancing broadcast of a person's home (the mental equivalent of well cared for decor, music and scents).

Notable Narcograms

Across the terragen sphere and all its variety of cultures, subcultures and mindtypes it is estimated that trillions of different narcograms exist. Local caches may only capture a few billion but comparisons across time and space reveal a small number of narcograms that remain staples. Local variations in use (particularly using multiple programs concurrently) and flavour, down to customised choices of the individual offer a seemingly infinite selection for the connoisseur whilst retaining a sense of familiarity. The following is a select list of just some of these popular narcotic programs:

Buzz: A mild stimulant that raises one's awareness of their environment and stimulates a feeling of energy and alertness. Buzz is often used as a quick "pick-me-up", a jolt to get one in the mood for socialising, productivity or generally pushing aside lethargy.

Chilljoy: A combination of relaxation, mild euphoria and slight altered perception Chilljoy is a favoured "pre-sleep" narcogram. Often used socially in conjunction with simple, passive entertainment some studies suggest use is proportional to intelligence augmentation. Consequently in many cultures the narcogram is stereotyped as being favoured by superiors to "wind-down".

Empathel: As the name suggests Empathel enhances feelings of empathy and love in a user, inhibiting opposing responses. Neural processes involved in identifying sophonts as friend/kin are manipulated into firing at lower thresholds, resulting in users being much more open to strangers. The narcogram is often used in conjunction with group mind software to enhance the experience of closeness. During the CompEmp era Empathel was often considered a gateway to empathic augmentation, a perception that many in the Communion of Worlds fostered to encourage the spread of such traits.

Ampermine: A powerful stimulant Amp, as it is more commonly known, instills high levels of energy, alertness, self-confidence and euphoria. Intensive recreational activities such as dancing, fighting or other competitive sports are common situations in which amp may be used. Use in conjunction with Empathel is also common, particularly in intensive team activities.

LibidoIt: A complex program that adjusts sexual arousal and orientation to facilitate erotic activities between partners that would not normally be as attracted to each other or the activity in question. LibidoIt works by enhancing or diminishing reactions that are already present, not only working on personal responses but also social attachments (i.e. diminishing feelings of jealousy). Radical adjustments to these characteristics go beyond LibidoIt and require more sophisticated psychoware intervention.

Morph: Requiring stringent use of safety protocols to prevent becoming trapped in hedonic solipsism Morph is a simple narcogram: it stimulates pleasure and inhibits all other sensations. Rarely a social program Morph is often used for intense personal experiences of absolute pleasure.

Alter: One of the most varied of the notable narcograms Alter adjusts both one's sensory and mental perception of the world. Hallucinations and altered states of consciousness can range from minor to so radical that access to the memories of the experience is impossible upon return to a normal mental state. Some long term users of alter embrace this and live segregated lives in which subsequent uses of the narcogram return them to the same mental states. It is not uncommon for this to lead to toposophic augmentation or migration into virches with drastically different physics models to the Ril.

Deify7: Often shortened to "D7" this narcogram plants an axiomatic belief that the user has obtained the seventh toposophic level; rising to a supreme god-like state. A user's perception of the world is adjusted to make them feel all knowing and all powerful. All evidence to the contrary is rationalised away; any failure to achieve goals is reinterpreted as what the user wished to happen anyway, learning something new can be perceived as the user creating that knowledge for the universe at large. D7 users can range from entertaining to irritating to be around (at least in a sober state) but milder and more specific variants of this narcogram have been used in religious ceremonies for millennia as ways of feeling kinship with an archai.

Winnow: Combining the analytical tools of medical psychoware Winnow takes the user on a guided experience through their conscious and subconscious minds. Formative experiences, idiosyncratic traits and deeply ingrained associations are revealed in all manner of abstract scenes. Packaged as a narrative a user of Winnow will journey through a dream-like world where they will be educated on (and often confronted with) the workings of their mind. Whilst primarily a very personal experience Winnow is often used socially with groups exploring one individual's mind for the purposes of self edification and to provide new perspectives on said individual. Some variants of Winnow are ultra-tech derived and the changes a user may feel upon completing the experience can put them on the path to self-improvement and even ascension.

Focal: Popular in groups this narcogram provides a temporary fanatical obsession over one concept, object, place or person. The subject of Focal may be designated in advance or randomly selected. Users will often seek knowledge on and discuss in depth their thoughts, feelings and reactions to a subject to an intense degree. Rather than being productive the purpose of the program is to grant appreciation of something novel, walking the users through the phase-space of interpretations of their given subject of fascination. Running Focal along with Amp and Alter are common for the increased energy and altered points of view that can be gained. It is not uncommon to find hobbyist clubs or religious centres to operate Focal N-Waves for their patrons.

Feral: Developed for use by sophonts and clades who wish to reconnect with a (real or imagined) primeval past, feral suppresses higher brain function and stimulates primal instincts associated with predators or prey. Novel behaviours and capabilities are often installed to restore faculties lost in the course of evolution or to provide faculties that were never present in a clade's lineage, such as: enhanced sensory awareness, extreme patience for ambush hunting, combat skills etcetera. Many game reserves broadcast feral variants on multiple N-Waves to enhance the experience of guests who may also apply cosmetic alterations/augmentations to further adopt the role of an animal fighting for sustenance and survival.

Aide Memoire: Also known as A.M. or Flashback this narcogram is particularly favoured among the long lived. It operates by careful lowering of the threshold for conscious recall, increasing the number of memories that are brought to mind upon each sensation. To prevent a user being overwhelmed by a bombardment of memories it randomly selects amongst the associations made and pushes this long forgotten memory to the forefront. At this point A.M. switches to suppressing any more memories and instead uses mild hallucinogenic techniques to make the user relive the memory. Taking a hit of A.M. can be a fascinating experience in self discovery for many sophonts as life experiences they have not recalled in potentially millenia come flooding back in high detail (so long as the memories are still stored somewhere in the mind/exoself). This minor act of self discovery often leads to a new appreciation of one's current lifestyle.
Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Ryan B
Initially published on 05 December 2018.