Clade of provolved, sophont polyps which are rather like a cross between coral and sponge, created around 4500 A.T. by a Pan-Sophontist group on the ocean world of Vanora in the Pan-Sophontist League.
Each Iniliak polyp is a small hollow cylindrical creature with rudimentary eyes and a keen sense of smell. It can move through the water using peristalsis through the hollow of its body.
Iniliak are only sentient in the form of a colony of many polyps; individual polyps are not very clever at all (although far more intelligent than those of an unmodified coral-type organism). Each individual polyp is an independent living creature, entirely capable of surviving on its own. If it meets other polyps, however, they will link together in an essentially permanent fashion, both physically and by interfacing their nervous systems together, into a larger and more intelligent group-entity, find a suitable spot on the ocean floor, settle there, and begin constructing a coral-reef like structure (or adding to an existing one). As their reef expands more and more passing polyps will be added to it until the threshold into sophoncy is crossed. They are quite capable of controlling the growth and positioning of individual polyps so that they can shape their reef into anything they wish (and which it will support). This is often done to, for example, optimize water flow to carry in food and oxygen, and carry away waste. It is also done to farm plankton and other foods. Groups of Iniliak will co-operate in this.
Polyps grow in tubes into the reef, through which the polyps pump water with their bodies, and from which they extract food, usually plankton. The youngest polyps are on the innermost end and as they grow they push the older polyps out of the reef, exposing them to the water where they are usually eaten by passing (and, on Vanora at least, often sophont) fish. In most Iniliak sub-clades this removal of old polyps by predators is actually necessary to the continued mental health of the Iniliak, by removing their mental 'dead wood'.
Iniliak do have some ability to manipulate small objects without the need for technology, either using their outermost polyps or inside the hollows of their polyp bodies. They can in time, by this means, build larger objects from smaller components.
Each polyp in an Iniliak acts as a single element in what is effectively a biological parallel processing computer, with each one having both processing and memory storage. The neural structure generated by all of the polyps acting in concert is, like that of a human-type brain, multiply redundant and quite resistant to damage. Although each polyp does not live for very long (single-figure years at most) memory and so on is duplicated in multiple polyps and so little is lost as generations of polyps live and die. Because of this each Iniliak is effectively immortal, though over long periods of time all but the most fundamental - most used - of their memories will be lost.
Polyps usually reproduce only within a given reef, eggs and sperm being exchanged between polyps there, which grow new polyps from their inner end. As the basis of each reef is a collection of polyps randomly collected from the sea, inbreeding is rarely a problem. However, every so often fertilized eggs are expelled from the reef to hatch and grow in the ocean, where they can meet others to form new reefs.
However, Iniliak are quite vulnerable to very violent storms, earthquakes and other disturbances to the structure of the reef itself. If the reef is damaged it is quite possible for polyps to be lost into the sea, and in the worst case for the entire individual to be dispersed. Their polyps may eventually re-form into a new individual, mixing with other free polyps, but it is unlikely that the same polyps will ever re-form exactly the same individual.
Iniliak communicate with one another in two different ways. First, they can form temporary linkages between the polyps of the two Iniliak in question, allowing them to communicate almost as though they were parts of the same body. However, linkages between non-self polyps are quite hard for an Iniliak, and will not last permanently. Secondly, they can semaphore messages to one another by waving their outermost polyps. This allows communication to more than one other individual at once, and to individuals further away. Most Iniliak have especially high 'signaling towers' to increase the effectiveness of the semaphoring.
Being an extended entity, Iniliak think rather slowly. They also think in parallel, along independent paths, and it is not unknown for them to produce more than one solution to a problem, or more than one conclusion to a train of thought, both having the same priority in their mind. They normally select or combine these differing results to get what is, to them, the best result. This makes them quite valuable to research and other problem-solving groups.
Iniliak technology is usually in the form of mesoscopic or smaller machines that they control in the same way that their polyps intercommunicate. They will not use polluting technology due to their keen sense of smell.
Text by Tony Jones
Initially published on 14 September 2003.