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REPLICATING AUTONOMOUS TRANSMIGRATORY SPACECRAFT

For many years, rumours of the infamous 'replicators' filtered only through the outskirts of the thinly spread unreg community. Anyone who heard the story would merely smile and nod, while anyone who claimed to have seen a berserker drone was assumed to have Space Madness and could be safely ignored.

This is no longer the case.

The von Neumann machines now known as 'RATS' are devices that have one purpose: to make more of themselves. Whatever original mission they may once have had has long since been forgotten, this is now their primary (and only apparent) objective. Their origin is likewise unknown, but evidence indicates that they have emerged from somewhere significantly Rimward of the vague, constantly shifting borders of unregistered space.

Each class of RATS appears to have a different task designed to make this primary purpose more efficient: probes to scout an area to detect the largest concentrations of raw materials; miners to facilitate speedier acquisition of those raw materials; reapers to acquire raw material from threats. There are also rumors of other classes, from great hulks to tiny things the size of a person.

When a region is fully harvested of usable materials probes are sent out en masse to locate new resources, and when a suitable one is detected the process begins once again.

In the event that probes do not find enough raw materials within some set amount of time, it has been recorded that larger classes of RATS will be cannibalised in order to reuse their own base materials to construct whatever classes of RATS are necessary for the most efficient propagation of the swarm.

It is theorised that the vast hulks we have termed 'assimilators' may be a stage in nest formation, as they are extremely rare and have currently only been seen briefly in regions that soon develop a high swarm presence.

Information gained from damaged cores have shown that the RATS possess a complex learning algorithm that utilises emergent behaviour to find the most efficient solution to a task. Despite many claims to the contrary, they are in no way sentient or self-aware, but are instead idiot savants of the highest order that can reach the optimal solution to a problem in a frighteningly short space of time, resulting in new designs of RATS that are able to avoid previous problems.

While singularly they are barely a minor nuisance - a few probes easily dispatched by even the most novice of pilots - the RATS travel in swarms of millions and a single probe seen means that hundreds of thousands of miners, reapers and more are close by, unseen. Encountering even a fraction of an active swarm is something to be avoided if at all possible.

KNOWN SWARMS:

ALPHA-15-02-05-MD - The first 'major' swarm detected, original EAOS scans indicated over one and a half billion individual RATS units, but in 2317 the swarm broke the two billion mark. It is currently moving coreward parallel to interalliance space on a course which does not intersect with any beaconed sector.

BETA-16-09-10-TA - The second 'major' swarm detected, original EAOS scans indicated approximately one and a half billion individual RATS units. Currently being tracked as it moves on a circular path through an oort cloud with a potential risk of course corrections leading towards Mutuality space. Due to several careful 'pruning' efforts over the past few years from Tandem Pact patrols, EAOS task forces, and Accord Peacekeepers, current scans report barely one billion individual units.

GAMMA-12-05-17-SC - The third 'major' swarm detected, comprised of approximately three billion individual units. It is currently heading away from inhabited space towards the Kiron Nebula, located antispinward and 'down' of inhabited space.

There are at least a dozen 'minor' swarms monitored by the Tandem Pact, EAOS, and Accord of Free Worlds. Minor swarms comprise of less than one billion individual RATS units, with varied courses. Several minor swarms have been eradicated by a combined effort of careful 'pruning' while others have been cannibalised by larger swarms as they intersect. Smaller swarms often merge to form larger swarms, which may lead to the creation of further major swarms.

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