Friday, September 27, 2013

The Autodidacta

Clark Nova in Bug Form from Naked Lunch

The machine-bugs known as the Autodidacta are rare and highly prized artifacts found on a number of different fallen worlds. On Earth in the era of the upright men, they were known as Clark Novas. On Barsoom, they are called Psychic Telegraphs. On the bethorm of Suphis II, the machine-bugs are called  Bhartel-braneae.

Autodidacta have several uses, including:

  • The psychic transmission of messages from one bug-machine to another
  • Text messaging with local spirit world entities (e.g., genus loci, demons, the souls of the dead, hungry ghosts, elementals, and the like)
  • The inscription of spell-scrolls using spells and psychic sutras known to either the Autodidacta, or the typist-caster using the machine-bug. 
Autodidacta know many rare spells, spell variants, and psychic sutras. They are wont to barter for special and often perverse favors in exchange for typing out the rare spell forms that few living casters know.

Autodidacta are made from the brain cases of Thysanurians, a vile invasive species also known as the Scroll Gourmands. They have become a particular menace in the deep jungles of the equatorial continent of the world Suphis II, where they strip the bark of the Axis Mundi trees to harvest the trees' quantum liquor.  On most worlds, Thysanurians will mainly be found in libraries, scroll collections, scriptoria, record-houses, and archives.

The process of creating an Autodidacta from a Thysanurian begins with setting a cage-trap. For example on Suphis II, the Peelers Guild hangs cage-traps from the upper branches of the Axis Mundi trees. When the Thysanurian embeds its mouthparts in the bark of the tree to begin harvesting quantum liquor,  a trap-cage drops onto the unsuspecting bug.. The traps are typically mechanical impalement cages, which capture the thorax and abdomen of the bugs while leaving the head exposed.

Once the trap is sprung, a Peeler immediately decapitates the bug. Then one of the Peelers' proprietary psychic sutras is immediately be cast, enabling the preservation of the Thysanurian's consciousness and memory at the moment of its decapitation. Other spells and psychic sutras are then used over a period of several months to reshape the Thysanurian's head and mouthparts into the keyboard, mechanisms, and receptive orifice of the Autodidacta.

Similar processes are used on other worlds. It is rumored that the Library of All Worlds in the city of Everway has a pair of half-completed volumes called The Antennae of the Machine Heads which catalogs numerous ways to create Autodidacta. Fair warning though: many of the pair's formulae are misleading or dangerous to use.

Once properly formatted, each Autodidacta has the ability to communicate psychically in one set-language. This is the language in which it will communicate through its receptive orifice as well as type texts. The language used is the one that Thysanurian was thinking in at the moment of its decapitation. Almost invariably, the language will be one of the ancient and obscure tongues used in spell texts and list-books that the Thysanurians enjoy and consume, including: Glissendo, Partikali, Sufic, Hypostatic, Sunuz, Premarain, Glopnik, Ka-chem, Krellic, Old Martian, Altrusian, Afuera, or Ur-Skartarian.

More rarely Autodidacta are discovered whose language is an extremely ubiquitous one such as The Prate, Cruft, or the Common Tongue. Autodidacta using set-languages that are common go for particularly high prices. They are easier for the less scholarly advanced to use. On at least one occasion, the discovery of two language paired Autodidacts (collectively known as an Ansiblette) ignited a series interstellar regional brush wars that lasted for decades.

To use an Autodidacta, a person must have a working knowledge of the set-language that is spoken and typed by that particular machine-bug. Check the keys of the machine-bug for clues to the identity of the language. Next, a powder derived from the meat of the aquatic black centipede (a retiring and very toxic denizen of riverine jungle areas and tidal pools of many worlds) must be gently and thoroughly applied to the receptive orifice of the machine-bug. Application of the powder will charge the Autodidacta's otherwise quiescent mind and mechanisms for a sufficient time to complete one desired task (i.e., transmitting a psychic message to another Autodidacta, text messaging a local spirit, or inscribing a spell that either typist-caster or the Autodidacta knows onto specially prepared scroll paper).

Repeated episodes of exposure to the powder over a short period of time (i.e., several times over a few hours), may provoke a ecstasy in the machine-bug. In its ecstatic state, an Autodidacta will type sheet after sheet of text, reproducing an entire book (i.e., one the Thysanurian had previously consumed) over a series of hours. It is rumored that the Chief Librarian of the Library of All Worlds has sequestered hundreds of such machine-bugs in the legendary and stasis-locked Azure Chamber buried deep within the Library's bowels.  Hundreds of Autodidacta are kept in a powder-crazed Recursive Epiphany, generating tome after lost tome for the Librarian and his closest allies. The Library's Acquisitions department has been charged with recruiting new Spherewalkers to discover new sources of the black centipedes whose powdered meat is required to fuel these ecstasies.

The Autodidact are of course inspired by the Clark Nova typewriters featured in William S. Burrough's classic novel Naked Lunch. Read the book. See the movie.

The Thysanurians are the brainchild of Hereticwerks; check that blog out for many other out-of-this world creations!


The Autodidacta
Scroll-inscribing Machine-bugs (neutral)

  • High Concept: Typing Machine-Bug
  • Trouble: Addicted to a rare poison  
  • Aspect: Would you care to bargain for a more powerful and exquisite spell that I just happen to know?
  • Aspect: Nibbles on books and scrolls when you're not looking
  • Aspect: Wizards and priests would kill for my favors
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: 0
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Text Message - Once per session, the typist may send a text message to a local spirit and receive a typed response channeled through the bug-machine
  • Back Catalog - Once per session, the machine-bug may type sheet after sheet, reproducing the entirety of a lost book.
  • Inscribe Scroll - Once per session, a magic user or priest may use it to type a spell scroll for a spell they know (or may bargain for a special spell that the Autodidacta knows) 
  • It's Just A Machine - +2 to Sneaky Approach when trying to go unnoticed amid other old machines and table junk.
  • Psychic Telegraph - Once per session, the machine-bug may transmit a message to a machine-bug anywhere else in the same world.


  1. I absolutely adore this wicked new creation and whole-heartedly approve of your further development of Post-Thysanurian genomistry. Wonderful stuff! Love the 'Ur-Skartarian' in the languages you included as well...but you missed Metalunan, Lemurian, Aklo, Esperanto and Enochian, though maybe you didn't actually miss them...this makes me think that I really ought to post my bit on weird languages. Bujilli still has a couple of language-slots left to fill...

    1. This post actually inspired me to work on one about the languages of the Empire setting. There are some interesting ones there, some of which are referenced in the list (and as you surmised, the language list above is a far from an exhaustive list of the set-languages used by Autodidacta)!