»Headcanon: Space Madness
Space madness is a well-documented deterioration of the processor, typical to shuttles and other mechs who spend the majority of their time in space. Despite its name, space madness does not always affect space-fairing mechs. Any function that requires that a mech spend a majority of their time isolated from others is at risk, though processor makeup does play a factor in the onset and speed of the deterioration. There is no ‘cure’ once the process has begun, but with proper management and therapy, some of the damage can be reversed.
Cybertronians are social beings, and they require some degree of interaction with others to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Whether this is a significant amount of joors in conversation per rotational cycle, or a few words exchanged every couple of orns depends on the Cybertronian’s personal processor makeup, and no two mechs have the exact same social requirements.
There has been some research to indicate that the companionship of a non or semi-intelligent animal can help stave off the deterioration, but the surest prevention method is the companionship of an intelligent individual. For this reason, deep space exploration (and close space travel that will take over ten stellar cycles) is always assigned to a team of at least two mechs. Not only does this increase the chance of survival for both individuals substantially, but it provides a crucial source of social interaction in a situation where it may be vorns before the team meets another intelligent life form.
There are five stages of progression in space madness. Note that the earlier the deterioration is caught, the sooner treatment can begin before there is too much damage to the processor. Not every mech will exhibit every symptom, and not every symptom will remain within the same ‘stage’. It all depends on a mech’s specific situation and mental makeup.
Stage 1 symptoms: clingy, jittery, overly affectionate, lack of personal maintenance
The first stage is the mildest, and is also the easiest to repair. A mech may exhibit symptoms for vorns before he recognizes his behavioral patterns for what they are, and most of the time space madness is not even considered by the patient until stage two behaviors are observed.
Stage one symptoms include being jittery, overly affectionate, highly clingy, and tending to allow personal maintenance to slide. Mechs may interface or initiate physical contact with near strangers when they would otherwise act more reserved. The reason is because a mech’s sub-processors and spark must be ‘convinced’ that their surroundings are in fact genuine and not a fabrication by a glitching processor. Immersion in a highly social location, such as a restaurant or club, is also common.
Stage 2 symptoms: tremors, social avoidance, decline in speech, difficulty paying attention
There is no set rate of progression for space madness. Therefore, stage two symptoms may begin to appear any number of years after space travel has begun. The most common symptom is mild tremors in areas of fine motor control, specifically the hands, as the pathways become over-sensitized and bombarded by signals from the processor. There is also a decline in the ability to form coherent sentences, with speech being peppered with binary or a mild stutter. This is a processor issue, not a vocalizer glitch.
Another symptom, though one that is not as obvious, is a tendency for the affected mech to avoid social situations, where in the previous stage they may have sought them out. The mech still desires social interactions, but becomes easily overwhelmed when faced with more than a handful of other Cybertronians. This can also exacerbate the tremors and vocal glitches, which in turn makes the mech even more unwilling to be around others for fear of being seen as defective.
Stage 3 symptoms: decrease in appetite, increased tremors, mood swings, paranoia, continued breakdown of speech, emotional shutdown
Stage three can be marked by the beginning of physical deterioration of major processor pathways. The cause of this deterioration is not was well understood, and attempts to repair or replace damaged components does not stop further breakdown.
Due to the processor damage, the mech’s speech will continue to deteriorate, and is often compounded by a disjointed thought process. The mech may also experience violent mood swings and paranoia, becoming even more withdrawn from their companions. An inability to empathize starts to develop.
A mech’s fuel intake may drop by half, leading to the shutdown of one or more of the reserve tanks as the frame attempts to conserve energy. The tremors that marked stage two will have increased, and may prevent the mech from attaining the necessary amount of recharge. This compounds a general decrease of self-repair nanites, leaving the mech vulnerable to infection and damage.
Stage 4 symptoms: core temp. regulation trouble, aggression, auditory hallucinations, delusions
The processor breakdown that marked stage three continues, and deterioration of the memory cortex and sub-processors can be noted. At this stage, the personality component can begin to show corruption, leading to often violent outbursts with no obvious trigger. The mech may show signs of strong, unfounded delusions, and auditory hallucinations are not uncommon. Careful monitoring should be exercised to prevent the mech from harming themselves.
Deterioration of internal systems can be noted as nearly all of the self-repair nanites are depleted, leaving the frame unable to repair the damage from day to day stresses. Regulation of core temperature begins to fail as well, putting sensitive circuitry at risk for burning out.
Stage 5 symptoms: spark fluxes, visual hallucinations, memory cortex breakdown
The final stage of space madness does not last long, maybe a handful of stellar cycles. At this point the Cybertronian is far beyond repair, and it is only a matter of time until they extinguish, either naturally or by their own hand.
The memory cortex and personality component are nearly completely inoperative, leaving the mech only a shell of their former self. The processors have degraded to about fifty or sixty percent, and the individual is prone to reacting strongly to visual and auditory hallucinations. There is little to no recognition of their surrounding environment.
At this stage the spark begins to show signs of damage, and fluxes can leave the mech in crippling pain for joors. Stabilizing the spark externally may buy them some time, but attempts to revitalize self-repair will be generally unsuccessful.
Management of symptoms depends strongly on the stage at which space madness is caught, and the mech’s individual requirements. Companionship is always recommended, whether it be of just one mech or a small group. Some symptoms, such as the tremors, can be alleviated by externally stimulating the affected components, and regular maintenance by an experienced medic can keep systems operative longer. There is some evidence that having a bond with another mech can help stave off total madness for longer, but it is not a reliable solution.
It bears reminding, however, that there is no cure, and no exceptions. Once a shuttle breaks atmosphere for their first mission, it is only a matter of time before symptoms begin to appear. It is for this reason that all shuttles are programmed with the knowledge of how to recognize these symptoms, in themselves and others.