As the 21st century reached its midpoint, the Baby Boomer and Generation X demographic groups faded into history, and Earth suffered what came to be known as the Great Population Collapse. Low birth rates among First World industrialized nations during the beginning of the century resulted in a “Youth Vacuum,” and many nations found themselves without enough able bodies to fill the ranks of their armed forces. Women were integrated into frontline combat units in the 2020s, and mandatory conscription was instated in the majority of the world’s various militaries, but to little avail.
Unmanned vehicles and man-sized robots were one answer. They proved vulnerable, though, to electronic warfare, jamming, and faulty software. An increase in low-level conflicts and asymmetric warfare made the use of expensive techno-weaponry and the First World’s fewer sons and daughters a cost too high to pay, especially in light of diminished returns. Something needed to be done.
A solution proposed by Industrial MacroGenetics, one of the larger biotech mega-corporations, was a manufactured organic combat unit. The same technology that had enabled organic tissues and organs to be rapid prototyped for transplants and other medical purposes also enabled a simplified human soldier to be grown in a matter of weeks. With some extensive modifications, IMG proposed that a better soldier could be made, not trained, for far less expense, and without putting real humans in harm’s way. The world’s civil rights organizations, major religions, and populations were horrified. The world’s militaries rejoiced.In the year 2048, IMG unveiled the first, and ultimately most reliable, of the manufactured troopers. Various other companies and governments produced different versions and variations, but the IMG Model Nine proved to be the most efficient, stable, and combat-worthy example of a rapid-prototyped organic soldier. While IMG was able to deliver on the combat abilities of the Model Nine, their price per unit ended up quadrupling from the original target price, making the Nine able to be purchased and utilized by only the wealthiest of nations and companies.
To look at one from a distance, a Model Nine appears to be human, but something is “off.” You don’t know what pronoun to use when describing it, so “it” will have to do, since all genitalia and other sexual traits have been edited out. Nines can’t breed or copulate, nor do they have hormonal surges of excessive aggression or emotion.
The head is too small. The forehead slopes excessively, and the face is flat with the barest hint of a nose. Mentally, the IMG genegineers rigged the Nines be able to receive orders, follow them to the letter, and report back to command upon completion of the mission. They were also specially coded to follow only a designated platoon or team leader, usually a human officer who was trained to work with them. This ensured that the manufactured soldiers were capable of combat, but not rebellion. The baseline Nine model has the equivalent of an IQ of 85. Just enough to defend itself, take orders, and perform the mission, regardless of personal sacrifice.
Fear and questioning has been edited out. A Nine will assault any hill, attach a magnetic mine to any tank, fire into any crowd of civilians, as long as the right person is giving the orders. They are not suicidal, but simply programmed to obey, even at the expense of their own lives.
Initiative and abstract thought has been dialed back to be included in only the special command/law enforcement models. A Ninety Nine, or command version, is able to lead a squad or team, act as a human officer’s platoon sergeant, or write a traffic ticket. Ninety-Nines are even more expensive than standard models, but are a vital link in commanding manufactured troopers when officers are not available, or have been killed.
Like their designation, Ninety Nines test around the 99 IQ level, similar to a normal human. Greater empathy, initiative, and intelligence have been grafted into the 99s, and they are the most “normal” of IMG’s offerings. They can carry on a conversation in clipped, rudimentary phrases, evaluate an atypical situation, and can formulate attack plans and orders. 99s are the most susceptible to questioning orders, though, and are regularly screened for rebellious traits.
Physically, a Nine is tall, but the proportions are too lean to the human eye. Growing them in sub-Terran gravity fields, namely those in orbiting or colonial laboratories, also lends to the Nines’ lanky look. The average height of a Nine is around 6’4”, or 193cm, though they tip the scales around 210 pounds, or 95 kilos. The musculature is smooth, covered by a light layer of fat for energy storage and insulation, and toughened skin like a light leather coat. A Nine does not have a rib cage in the traditional sense, more of a fused rib “shell.” Their bones, especially the rib shell and skull, are tougher and more reinforced than normal humans, since the organic printing/manufacturing process lends itself to weaving in carbon polymers while the troopers is being grown.
Nines are built for movement under heavy loads, with broad shoulders and enough strength to surmount any battlefield obstacles they may encounter. They aren’t musclebound supersoldiers, though, since excessive muscle mass requires more logistical support in the form of nutritional resources. Nines can operate on a minimum of food and water, even if cut off from supply lines. IMG sells a fortified carb/protein foodstuff that looks like pelletized cat food. It is usually supplied in large bags such as those used for wheat or rice. This barely-edible mix has been labeled “Niner Chow” by human soldiers that have dared to taste it. Despite normal humans’ disdain for it, IMG sells a similar product to colonists and the military in powdered, dry bulk, and “wet” canned form. Nines are happy with whatever you put in front of them, as long as it’s semi-edible.
Customization is available, though it drives the price of a Nine even higher. Minor physical characteristics can be tweaked, mostly climatic adaptations such as dermal coloration or hair for insulation. Most clients settle for the base model Nine, which has stood the test of time in countless battles on dozens of planets and colonies. Their average service life is about thirty years, at which point they are often broken up for spare organic parts if an organic printer is not available to keep other Nines operational.
Nines have become fairly common wherever there is conflict, they are not the perfect solution to completely replace human soldiers. The expense of the organic printers needed to build and maintain the Nines has come down over the generations, but remains an intimidating investment, even a hundred years after their introduction. These costs are rather minor issues for the largest governments and wealthy corporations, but Nines are far more expensive than most poor settlements can afford. For many colonies that have more population than wealth, organic-born life is cheap, so they continue to utilize normal human soldiers, with varied results.
Religion also plays a role in limiting the use of Nines. There are many creeds and belief systems that forbid the artificial creation of life, considering it an abomination. Nines and other created beings are often outlawed on such planets. Some religious groups and theocracies are so vehemently opposed to organic constructs that the mere presence of such “aberrations” results in their immediate seizure and destruction.
When armed forces incorporating Nines are defeated, the victors will usually have the manufactured troopers destroyed. An advantage to the sophisticated coding of the Nines means the enemy cannot use them against their former owners. Specialists with expensive organic encryption gear have the ability to reprogram Nines, but the process is long and brutal, can only be done in laboratory conditions, and does not always result in a trooper with its former combat capabilities.
Freelance Human officers with Nines still coded to them are coveted assets. Some of these officers are survivors of decimated units. Others are thieves who have “appropriated” company assets. Rarely, a Command Ninety Nine will go rogue, and abscond with his band of Nines. Regardess of how he comes to possess them, a mercenary officer who commands Nines also commands top dollar for their use.
Most human soldiers view Nines with a begrudging respect. They call them a wide variety of names, from the respectful (“Rockribs,” “Synths”) to slurs (“Pinheads,” “Meatbots,” “Biobots,” and Dumb Ass CAnnon Fodder, or “DACAFs”). Most troopers just call them Nines. The Nines’ inability to yield or surrender, to have little to no sense of self-preservation, makes them a formidable foe, and human units that find themselves going into combat against manufactured troopers often draw double or more of their usual ammunition loads, since they will often need it.
To conclude, Nines should not be seen as cardboard, disposable assets. Rather, they are a sophisticated organic system that keeps a normal human out of harm’s way. In a solar system where life is becoming increasingly disposable in its own right, though, the costs of producing and maintaining Nines may ultimately be their undoing.
Special thanks to John Bear Ross and Jeff Racel