Player's Guide to the Cortex
The cortex is a complex computer network that is comprised of nodes and access points called terminals. It’s primarily used as a communication network, but also exists for things like shopping, research, games, television, music, and many other things.
The Cortex is accessed in multiple ways.
Public Terminals – These are publically accessible touch-screen computer terminals that typically operate on a pay per minute basis. They’re activated by ident cards, and the activity on them is monitored by the Alliance.
Dedicated Source Box – These are privately owned data pads that have access to the cortex. They don’t require ident cards, but typically each one is licensed to its owner, so the identity is traceable without requiring the ident card. The Alliance also monitors the activity of these, though a little less closely than their public access counterparts since these are primarily owned by the wealthy.
Black Box – These are privately owned data pads that have had their identity credentials removed or obfuscated. They are difficult to trace and track, and the Alliance has great difficulty in monitoring their activities. Naturally, these are illegal, and possession of one is worth ten years in a penal colony.
Data Books – Digital encyclopedias and other materials can access the cortex either wirelessly or through a terminal to update themselves, or retrieve new information / texts. This activity is monitored by the Alliance as well, since there are a list of banned materials and texts that some ne’er do wells attempt to traffic through the cortex.
Note: Big Brother is Watching – The Alliance monitors the Cortex, that’s no secret, but it’s also true that they can’t watch everything. There’s a place on the Cortex called the Signal, and it consistently beats the best and brightest attempts at cracking its secure connections. Big Brother can’t watch you here, and your activities might get lost in the shuffle on the regular cortex, but through public terminals and other usage there’s always a chance that someone’s watching from the other side of the screen.
TV / Broadcasting – Movies, television shows, music, news broadcasts, and most frequently advertisements are available for your viewing and listening pleasure. Of course, unless you’re going to some of the darker parts of the Cortex the only things you can find are those on the Alliance’s approved list of acceptable materials.
Bulletin Board – Got a job that needs doing or looking for work yourself? The Cortex is very much the community bulletin board that you’ve been looking for. Of course there’s a lot of advertisements out there but anyone can post something on the Cortex (once it’s been approved by a government moderator). So if you’re looking to take on passengers, or looking for passengers, or what have you, the Cortex is an excellent place to conduct business or set up a meet.
Communication – The Cortex also acts as the means of conveyance for most forms of long-range communications. Short range radios or same-planet radios also work, but multiband and ship to ship coms tend to use the cortex. Of course the delay might be a few seconds to a few hours depending on what kind of communique you’re sending. Most forms of communications are called ‘waves’ when they’re transmitted over the cortex regardless of their actual form. They can take the form of text (much like emails), recorded voice messages, recorded video messages, or live real time video chats.
Research – The Cortex is a wonderful resource for information, but it is restricted in two senses: Censorship, and money. If you want to know something you’re probably going to have to pay for it, and there are some things the government just doesn’t think the people need to know. This is typically determined by the clearance credentials of the person using the cortex. If you work for the government or one of its agencies you can uncover a lot more information about someone than if you’re just a regular private citizen. However, matters of public record are typically available for public review regardless of who you are. So with a name you could probably find an address, or limited information about that person, but without higher or governmental credentials, you couldn’t find a picture or further information than simply where and how to contact them.
Google/Facebook/Youtube – There are versions of our modern Google, Facebook, and Youtube available on the Cortex, but they are corporately / government owned and heavily monitored. Typically, you have to be ‘linked’ or ‘listed as a friend’ to view someone’s personal cortex page, and the information listed there will be entirely dependent on what that person has chosen to share. Otherwise, information is restricted. Personal details of people – photographs and things of that sort – unless published publicly by the media or the person themselves – are typically only available to government officials.
The Signal – The portion of the Cortex hosted on private servers that consistently prove impervious to Alliance Security. Logging on is a difficult process if you’re not already a user, and being a user of the Signal is considered a federal offense. However, that’s never enough to stop some people, and the motto goes: You can’t stop the signal.
TV/Broadcasting/Media – All the contraband materials that the Alliance doesn’t want you reading can usually be found here (if there are any surviving copies). A lot of cultural works are hosted on private secure servers and available for download regardless of the illegality. However, having a copy of these materials on your own data books / in your possession off-cortex is a punishable offense.
Bulletin Board – Similar to the function of the cortex, this section of the Signal is typically used for community messages and forums, advertisements of services and goods, and many other things.
Communications – Similar to the function of the cortex, this section of the Signal can be used to send messages when you don’t want the Alliance reading, watching, or listening to the exchange. Again, communicating in such a way is a punishable offense, and typically such waves won’t be available until the user logs in on their own black box.
Research – The signal doesn’t try to keep tabs on the information of its users, anonymity is the name of the game, so profiles, pictures, and other similar information is never shared on the Signal. However, if you’re looking for information on the Alliance, its organizations, and their activities, this is the best place to get it. There are those who watch the watchmen, and they keep as detailed notes as possible.
Google/Facebook/Youtube – Not so much in the Signal, the whole point is anonymity and not keeping records / profiles on its users, but there’s plenty of videos and things of that sort posted if you know where to look.
Not all ‘websites’ are available in all places, or at least not without some difficulty. This is due almost entirely to the size of the cortex, because it spans not only a nation, or a planet, but also the systems and the entire ‘verse. How you ask? Well the answer is simple: Electro-magnetic waves amplified and conveyed by satellites, skyplexes, and relay stations. Fun for all.
The Local Cortex – Each Planet has its own cortex, run through hubs in its cities and towns without delay. It’s a lot like our modern day internet, complete with pictures of cats. Entertain the masses, and they’ll be too content to rebel. Bread and circuses, you know the routine.
Interplanetary – Interplanetary cortex access has a few seconds of delay as the signals bounce through skyplex franchises and relay satellites between servers. (A skyplex is an orbital platform that works much like a relay, monitoring, and broadcast station for the cortex).
Inter-System – The cortex can be beamed through the systems through a system of relay satellites that receive and transmit a tight-beam signal. These inter system satellites are what receive the signal that you transmit when you log on to the cortex from the black. This connects you to the nearest system’s cortex automatically unless you direct it to a specific destination. The delay between systems can be anywhere between minutes (on the border), or hours (on the rim).
The cortex can be hacked to provide information and powers as though the user was a higher ranking official then they are. The newest tech from the Core is usually linked to the Cortex as well, allowing you to take control of the newer ships or the various systems in space stations or buildings just by plugging into a terminal.
The restrictions here would be on older tech, not linked to the cortex this kind of tech would only be ‘hackable’ by hacking the hardware. And then there are the servers or databases that are not linked to the cortex. Banks, businesses, and government agencies keep most of their data on servers and databases that are not linked to the cortex for the very reason of making it ‘hacker proof’. That is not to say that no information can be gained from the cortex, but sometimes you have to be in the room to hack these kind of terminals.