Very recently a strange phenomenon was discovered in the Undernet region in an area known for it's heavy virus infestation and instability. In this hostile environment, several programs and A.I. units have managed to survive despite terrible program damage and heavy viral infection. These super resilient fragments were labeled Z-Data, as in the last in a strain, and were later identified as data-virus hybrids. This should not be possible. Under normal circumstances a program with the kind of viral damage the Z-Data possesses would simply fall apart. This fact has led to further investigation as to how the Z-Data manages to exist in it's state of undeletion, but as of yet no solid answer has been found.
Due to its partially viral nature, Z-Data spreads by touch and its effects are both incredible and disturbing. On the webways, homepages and other areas of Net Travel, Z-Data saps the color the color from objects, leaving entire environments as varying shades of colored grays. These colors are released periodically as flashes of light or steadily over time, painting the sky dark green, dark red or gray, often accompanied by thick fog or wispy mist. 'Illusory' damage is prevalent as well, with vast sections of walkways seeming to vanish suddenly when in reality nothing has actually occurred. This illusory damage manifests itself in multiple manners as well; some examples include static noise, like that from a television on a channel with no reception, blurred terrain or objects, and hastened aging. Just why the Z-Data has this effect is still speculated, but it's assumed to have some relevance to the idea of 'end data', or rather how the data should appear at the end of its lifespan. This doesn't account for everything of course, but as of now it's the best explanation being offered.
Z-Data's most frightening affect is against intelligent programs. Called Z-Forms (actually a misnomer as Z-Data Life Forms can't quite apply to artificial intelligence, but a convenient title none the less), these remnants of the destructive combination of alien data and viral matter into their core programming are shadows of their former selves. Once a sentient being comes into contact with Z-Data, they become infected by it. If untreated, the infection will grow until it reaches maturity and the entire organism is rewritten, becoming a Z-Form. Physical changes are much like with the environmentally anomalies seen above. Hastened aging, illusory damage and bleached coloring are common. What's more, hosts often take on gruesome or frightening characteristics as well. Ghostly bodies, shrouds of darkness, oozing wounds, the list goes on. Just why they do this, like many items concerning Z-Data, is unknown.
While it's impossible to say for sure what goes on in the thinking processes of a Z-Form, studies show that there's most definitely damage done. Z-Form behavior closely emulates that of many viruses, although perhaps more closely follows that of a rabid beast. This is believed to be caused by the violent introduction of foreign data into a sentient being's psyche. It would be too much to handle, resulting in the primary psyche shutting down and being replaced by the invader, or so we speculate. Further, we believe that it may be possible for the host of the Z-Data to retain it's intelligence, but one can imagine what it would be like to have two combating personalities in one body.
When near a Z-Form, combat is inevitable. With the presence of Z-Data, however, simple combat isn't enough. One must also be weary of becoming infected and becoming a Z-Form themselves. Z-Forms retain at least enough intelligence to command the weapons they once used, although they do not do so well. They're highly inaccurate with long ranged weaponry and what's more, they're quite slow to react, limiting their dodging capabilities. This is made up for with their incredible resilience. Defeating a Z-Form is by no means an end to the battle, badly damaged Z-Forms have been known to reform with only partial damage to their systems, some times even coming back after having been defeated a second time. Monitoring systems indicated that where one subject should have been terminated, it instead stood with 50% system damage. It was downed another 6 times before the Z-Data was finally destroyed. We estimate that even more hearty subjects exist. And let's not forget the danger of the Z-Data infection. Once touched by a carrier of the infection, the Z-Data immediately transfers a portion of itself to the victim. The Z-Data then slowly eats away at the host's systems until the victim's central processing abilities are overwritten or the infection reaches its final stage. In either case, the end result is the creation of a new Z-Form. Additional wounds from Z-Forms quicken the transformation process, so one must be incredibly weary around multiple Z-Forms.
There are measures one can take to lessen the danger imposed by Z-Data though. Eliminating their regenerative abilities is possible; one must only destroy a Z-Form with fire to make sure it stays destroyed. While we do not know why this is true, it's been proven through multiple case studies that a fire attack will keep a Z-Form down for good. Handling the Z-Data infection is also possible. Powerful curative items will completely defeat the infection in its early stages. Early treatment is highly recommended. The longer the virus festers, the more difficult it is to remove. Near it's end stage, before it reaches maturity, the only options available are to either use a high quality recovery item or to be removed from the Net and enter a state of hibernation for user repairs. Should one not possess the means to leave the Net or a powerful recovery item and the virus is nearing it's final stage, the host should remain as still as possible. Activity is what makes the virus grow, as if it were feeding off of the energy produced by our own actions. It might be possible to be rescued in this way; if nearby marauding viruses don't delete you first.
Stages and symptoms of the infection are as follows.
Stage 1. The Host has recently been infected. Discomfort, slight pain, and nausea.
Stage 2. Early infection. Pain, inability to focus, and lethargy
Stage 3. Infection has reached juvenile stage. Pain, weakness, mood swings, hallucinations, and migraines.
Stage 4. Pre-maturity. Severe pain, severe migraines, body numbness, intense hallucinations, severe mood swings, depression, loss of motor functions, sudden lapses of consciousness and blindness.
Stage 5. Maturity. Destruction of identity, creation of the Z-Form.
As you can see, the process is not pleasant in the least. Again, early treatment is highly advised, as by Stage 4 the process is all but irreversible unless one takes drastic measures. Stage 5, on the other hand, is irreversible; nothing can return a Z-Form to their original state. I highly recommend that all of our operatives be issued multiple fire weapons and recovery items or else be paired with Fire and Recovery type Navis. I'm also requesting additional funds to continue studying Z-Data and the Z-Forms. There's most definitely something very big in all of this, everyone in the project can sense it. We still have so many questions to have answered, like why environments infected with Z-Data don't spread the infection or why many viruses absolutely refuse to attack Z-Forms, even sometimes cooperate with them! I beg The Council to continue the project, there's still so much to be learned here. I'd bet my life on it. And have no doubts, we will learn to control the Z-Forms, and soon. We can control virii already; this is just one more step.
Z-Form is a template that can be added to any Virus or Navi. The following changes are applied.
Health — 150% Normal
Attacks — Any attacks that deal less than 20 damage are lost. Healing abilities and non-passive defensive abilities are lost as well. If an attack would rely on speed or intelligence, it is likewise lost. Otherwise, attacks remain the same but with new modifiers (See Special Qualities). The unit gains the following attack:
Slam — 20 Damage. A physical attack using the entire body. Scratches, bites, punches, kicks, anything that they can get in. Z-Data Infection (See Below).
Special Qualities — All long ranged attacks have reduced accuracy. Unit can use no defensive abilities unless they're passive. Unit has 0 dodging capabilities, will attack relentlessly. All attacks, including projectile attacks, have the Z-Data Infection ability.
Z-Data Infection — Any attack a Z-Form uses carries Z-Data. Upon striking, the data infects the target and begins to convert the victim into a Z-Form. For each attack that lands on a target, give them an Infection Counter and gain 1% Infection. For each action that unit takes, free actions and dodges included, the unit takes one point of damage and 1% Infection per Infection counter. Recovery items will restore health lost to Infection Counters but will not reduce Infection Level. If a recovery item is used that is restores more health than the current Infection Level, however, the Z-Data is purged, removing all Infection Counters and reducing the Infection Level to 0%. Note, damage is calculated after actions so removing the Z-Data via healing would prevent the damage from occurring. So, for some examples...
Navi — 150 Health, 1 Infection Counter, 1% Infection
3 Actions Later
Navi — 147 Health, 1 Infection Counter, 4% Infection
Navi — 150 Health, 2 Infection Counters, 2% Infection
3 Actions Later
Navi — 144 Health, 2 Infection Counters, 8% Infection
Navi — 100 Health, 1 Infection Counter, 9% Infection
Navi - 110 Health, 0% Infection
Navi — 50 Health, 5 Infection Counters, 55% Infection
Navi — 100 Health, 5 Infection Counters, 60% Infection
Notice above that using the Recov50 did not remove the Counters as the Infection level was above what the item was capable of healing. Looks like this guy might not last much longer... Navis may chose not to act so as to stop the virus from mutating any further, but this puts them at the mercy of whatever foes they face. Having a high Infection Level has multiple effects that are all cumulative, as in the previous effects also work with the higher ones. So long as your Infection level is high enough to get one effect, you get all the ones lower than it as well. The Infection effects are-
Stage 1 - <25% - Nothing
Stage 2 — >25, <50% - Reduced Long Range Accuracy
Stage 3 - >50%, <75% - Reduced Dodge
Stage 4 - >75%, <100% - -1 Action Per Turn
Stage 5 — 100% - Loss of Character Control
Stage 5 is essentially game over. Hopefully no one will ever get to that point, but, well, it's certainly more exciting knowing it's there.
Super Resilient — Besides their increased ability to take damage, a Z-Form also has the ability to regenerate and stand after taking even the most critical of damage. Should a Z-Form ever be reduced to 0 Health, the moderator flips a coin (or rolls an even sided die, whichever). On heads (or an even number, for die roll), the Z-Form stands with 50% of its total health. If it's reduced to 0 health again the moderator still makes the Super Resilient roll and will continue to do so until getting tails or rolling an odd number. The regenerative powers of the Z-Data can be negated if the Z-Form is destroyed by a fire attack.
(I've got a few more things I'd like to do here. First, make it so it isn't a horrible character killer for long lasting fights (like getting to battle 20) and secondly creating some items for it. I've got a few ideas, just haven't implemented them quite yet, hoping to get a little feedback first to see if this is a plausible idea. I'm also considering introducing an Advanced Z-Form template to make Z-Form bosses. In any case, thanks for reading!)