“What has the body of a cat, the head of an owl and the feet of a monkey?”
Many military cybershells take animal-like forms. Many militaries and agencies make use of “reconnaissance CATS” (Cybernetic Autonomous Tactical Systems), cybershells the size and configuration of house cats. These are used in an infiltration, observation and reporting role.
The cat body form is well suited to running, jumping, stalking, crawling and climbing. Its small size (SM-3) allows it to utilize routes or hiding places inaccessible to baseline humans. The reconnaissance cat can run faster than a biological cat and for extended periods since it will not tire while it still has power. Reconnaissance CATS are fast enough to range ahead of a mechanized force. Reconnaissance CATS can swim, and unlike biological cats have no reluctance to do so. Infiltration may be by watercourses, the reconnaissance CATS having no need to breathe. Reconnaissance CATS may be deployed by drop canister [THS 3e p.101].
The Westforge Neko 5 series may be considered to be typical of this class of cybershell, although it is better equipped than some models in service.
The feet of a reconnaissance CATS are more prehensile than those of a biological cat. Their prints could easily be mistaken for that of a monkey or racoon. Many reconnaissance CATS carry a selection of simple tools, such as screwdrivers to unscrew ventilation grills. The fingers have retractable claws that are chiefly used for climbing but they may be used for other purposes such as digging. Many models include some form of adhesive pad in their feet and can climb smooth walls and traverse ceilings or the undersides of walkways.
Broader, alternate feet may be fitted for operations on snow or loose sand.
Many models of reconnaissance CATS lack tails. Others, such as the Neko 5, have long, fully prehensile tiles that can be used to grip branches or tow objects. The end of the Neko 5 tail has a video pick-up that can be used to look around or over obstructions.
The Neko 5 has a “second tail” in the form of a long, retractable antenna that is used to communicate with other units or relays such as a comms-crab. The reconnaissance CATS often has a SIGINT role, recording and retransmitting any radio traffic in the area.
Many reconnaissance CATS are dressed in a shaggy “catsuit” patterned with a variety of brown and grey fibres. This camouflages the recon unit in two ways. When the reconnaissance cat is stationary it makes the cybershell very difficult to spot. If the unit is seem it may easily be mistaken for a wild animal.
The head of the reconnaissance CATS mounts an assortment of high power, multi-spectral cameras. These are the primary means of observation and recording. Sensitive audio pickups are also fitted and the reconnaissance cat may monitor other parts of the local EM spectrum. A laser system is fitted for range finding and target designation. The optical systems usually have a coincidence rangefinder mechanism too. This is used when the laser rangefinder might activate defensive sensors. The laser may also be used to dazzle threats or security cameras.
The “jaws” of the Neko 5 mount two devices. The Neko 5 “purr” is an head-mounted electric lock pick and turning apparatus. This is effective against many mechanical locks. The Neko 5’s “bite” is an extendable insulated wire cutter powerful enough to cut the shackles of small padlock.
The reconnaissance CATS is not designed for combat and any weapon systems fitted are intended to allow the recon unit to break contact and escape. The Neko 5, for example, incorporates a discharger tube that is usually loaded with a bursting PFOG munition. The cybershell’s head swings up out of the way before the grenade is fired towards a threat.
The reconnaissance CATS may use its claws, wire cutter and tail against attempts to seize or restrain it.