Faber, Clade

Vec clade found most frequently near the periphery of the Terragen sphere, where they are first-in colonization specialists.

Clade Faber
Image from Steve Bowers

Members of Clade Faber are found most frequently near the periphery of the Terragen sphere, where they are first-in colonization specialists. They are especially active in the regions of Terragen space just beyond NoCoZo territories. These genial, versatile and fertile vecs, with their odd sense of humour and their glittering crab-like bodies, have become a standard feature of that frontier.

Fabers have done little to modify their original design, since it suits their purposes well. Physically the basic model is disk-shaped, with a central body about a metre across, six walking legs, a set of four large-scale manipulators and some finer manipulators near the main sensor cluster. For short-range operation in microgravity Fabers may attach small thrusters to their central body. Sensors are found on stalks/antennae or embedded in the skin. Electromagnetic sensors span the spectrum from gamma to radio, with image forming ability in the infrared to ultraviolet range. Chemical sensors are chosen from a set of modules according to local conditions and tasks, but are much less broad-range than a typical biont's sense of smell. If detailed chemical sensing is required Fabers usually choose to rely on biont partners or free-standing expert software rather than modify their onboard programming and equipment. Pressure and sound detectors are standard. Fabers have a rigid corundumoid skin overlying a nanotech sensorimotor layer (analogous to a biont's muscles, nerves and circulatory system) which is in turn attached to a corundumoid skeleton. The primary thinking unit is also corundumoid. Corundumoid was preferred in the original design over diamondoid for its greater temperature range and its greater resistance to oxidation and nanotech accidents. Fabers can change their surface colours; they use this for heat regulation, as an emergency signalling device, or in unusual circumstances for camouflage. The basic Faber body is very strong; capable of lifting twice its own weight in terragen-standard gravity, and locking joints to maintain a position indefinitely. However, it is not capable of rapid movement: a Faber's sprint is comparable to a human baseline's fast walk.

Fabers use a standard power plant that is installed via a hatch in the lower part of the body. Designs vary but the standard is a sophisticated capacitor that gives 35 hours of ordinary operation (less if the Faber is running, lifting heavy items, or otherwise engaged in strenuous work). Other power plants may be used on occasion, depending on local bylaws, the desired range of operation, whether heat dissipation is an issue, and availability of materials.

A Faber can operate in oxidizing atmospheres of the standard terragen oxygen-nitrogen mix, in a vacuum, and in a variety of other chemical environments. Temperatures from -200 to +50 °C are quite tolerable to them. Though they do not require it, they prefer an environment with some air pressure and a -20 to +10 °C temperature. If they activate protective nanotech beforehand they can survive a broad range of corrosive or abrasive substances. Fabers do not like to be over deep bodies of water or other liquids since without special equipment a Faber sinks rapidly to the bottom and by a quirk of Faber programming most do not like the attachments that would allow them to float or swim. However they are perfectly comfortable at the bottom of such bodies of liquid if they can walk in from the shore. Fabers can carry out basic repairs with onboard nano if necessary but must depend on the care of their reprogroup and its central factory if they are badly damaged.

Rather than switch or alter their bodies Fabers prefer to plug in to various larger vehicles or equipment. These vehicles are usually purpose-built, and if they are large or complex are equipped with "ganglia" (external processing nodes) that mediate between with the Faber's primary brain and the add-on body. This was deemed by the designers (and later by the Fabers themselves) to be simpler than reconfiguring the central hardware and software with each change of body. Add-on bodies have their own supplemental power sources.

Full communication between members of the Faber clade is by direct interface. Communication comparable to baseline human speech is carried out over a distance by e-m radiation tuned to the local environment (whatever transfers best, given the distance and the medium). This may be either broadcast, or else sent via lasers for an intimate/secure mode. The same unique language is used both for direct interface and e-m communications. Fabers who deal with typical Terragen bionts regularly, or who operate regularly within an atmosphere, add physical modules that can produce and interpret sounds, plus the necessary translation software.

All Fabers are capable of reproduction if they can acquire sufficient materials. The usual method is for several Fabers to band together, create a power plant (solar, fusion, or even wind or water powered according to the environment) trade for or mine the necessary materials, and build a small, non-sapient, nanofactory and information processing centre. Sporetech designs for factories and power plants are part of the Faber heritage and develop in any fully mature and experienced individual. The power plant, factory, and mature Fabers are called a "reprogroup": the basic unit of Faber society. New Fabers may be blank or partially blank, copies of individual reprogroup members, personalities integrated from available parent designs, or various intermediates between these. Though in principle a Faber with sufficient time and resources could simply create simple copies of eirself without any cooperation, this is not considered a desirable outcome by most members of the clade since they find innovation and individuality so important. This was part of the original design specifications since it promoted creative problem-solving within a work-group. Therefore the most common outcome is a set of new partially "blanked" Fabers who have select aspects of the parental memories, skills and developmental biases. Though creating the basic bodies requires very little time once the factory and power plant are complete the manufacture of new and distinct Faber personalities and/or their later nurture and education through experience is a time consuming task and quite challenging for ordinarily sophont entities such as the Faber model. Faber reprogroups take great pains in the creation of their "mindchildren" and great pride in their successful development. However, if there is an emergency or if the project is extraordinary large, and a great many Fabers are required on short notice, they will simply elect to make direct copies of emselves for the task at hand.

Typical fabers are steady and stolid and tend not to react as quickly to threats from other sapient forms as perhaps they ought to. Their relative lack of suspicion and caution has led them to be regarded as "pushovers" by some unscrupulous individuals, though their careful and deliberate approach to decisions and their thorough follow-through of every situation usually prevents or corrects the most serious mistakes. Though not strongly tied to any one physical location, they are in many other ways "homebodies", strongly motivated to tend to their personal comforts, their reprogroup, and their mindchildren wherever they happen to be.

One side-effect of the original programming for curiosity and innovation is that Fabers have a preference for elaborate practical jokes. A very long term and subtle practical joke is much admired within Faber society, perhaps because it gives evidence of originality. Some Faber jokes along these lines are so subtle that few other ordinary sophonts notice them. It is not uncommon for Fabers who first view some apparently perfectly ordinary Faber construction to suddenly pause and broadcast Faber code equivalent to human laughter, as they "get" some jest in the design.

Within their reprogroup Fabers work according to consensus. Ongoing lack of consensus leads to fracturing of the reprogroup. Fabers rarely remain single after such an event, but rapidly seek out or found a new reprogroup. Large nation-like units are governed by a cadre of "coordinators", and reprogroups are selected by lot to fill vacant positions in the resultant bureaucracy. In some Faber polities this is done by creating a sacrificial individual with specialized skills who leaves the reprogroup and serves for life; in others an adult Faber downloads the necessary skills and serves for a term. In either case a system of audits and performance reviews serves as a check on personal biases and loyalties. That this method of government does not often see very serious abuses is a testament to the relatively low levels of aggression and ambition in the Faber mind-set.

Fabers are often symbiotic with clade Tavi. The Tavi are better at dealing with biotech, with other bionts, and with scouting, immediate threats, and crisis management. The Fabers are good with inorganics, drytech nano, longer term planning, and infrastructure development. In addition, when they deal together with other clades the genial and overly tolerant tendencies of Fabers are balanced by the much sharper and more aggressive instincts of the Tavi, just as Tavi impulsiveness is balanced by Faber patience. Faber reprogroups are quite protective of their allied Tavi mobs, and vice versa, each tending to see the other as a valuable partner who is in need of some protection and subtle guidance.

Fabers find that their talents are in little demand in the central portions of the Terragen Sphere, since more specialized vecs tend to out-compete them for contracts or even for living space. Most have migrated to frontier regions, where their generalized design is more appropriate and where restrictions on reproduction are more relaxed. Some have found the Deeper Covenant to be congenial, and work in the early stages of infrastructure development for the beamrider network in new systems.

Fabers were first developed in the 6530's by a now defunct NoCoZo company of the same name, based partly on in-house research and partly on some pirated Metasoft designs. The company went bankrupt, partly because the Faber line proved to be a poor investment decision and partly because of Metasoft harassment. However because a desire for self-replication was part of the original design the Fabers themselves have become quite numerous in the time since.

The specifications for the Fabers as first created were very broad. They were originally intended to be small-scale, general-purpose workers, mostly in mining, agriculture, construction, or terraforming, either working directly with materials or designing and supervising nanotech operations. They were to be able to operate in a wide range of terragen-style environments, as well as in vacuum conditions. As an added bonus they were also capable of handling their own lower-level administration. Socially, they were designed to be able to work comfortably in a mixed clade setting. The basic personality program made them hard-working and innovative, but without any strong career or political ambitions and with a minimal susceptibility to hegemonizing philosophies and religions. Self-replication, using simple nano and commonly available features, was an added design feature. The intent was that the customer would pay Faber Corp for the import of a starter group of Fabers, plus an ongoing licensing/support fee. The recipient would typically (but not always) agree to pay the Fabers themselves on an individual or reprogroup basis; Fabers will work very hard to acquire the resources to reproduce. This was to be a work-around so that a Faber contract would not run afoul of restrictive sapients rights laws. The Fabers were originally designed, in short, to be good, general-purpose nearbaseline workers (or as Bot Marxists and some sapients rights groups would have it, good wage slaves).

Unfortunately for Faber Corp, it had failed to do a proper market analysis. More specialized vecs, bionts, and AIs were more successful in well developed labour markets, and of course in many polities the entire concept of SI:<1 workers proved to be problematic. Furthermore, there were problems with the Faber design itself, possibly as a result of unanticipated memetic interactions within the new clade's population. Culturally, Fabers proved to have a stronger liking for creative self-expression (usually in the form of tales or visual art), and a much stronger desire for procreation, than had originally been anticipated from the individuals' programming. They preferred to stay at "home" and work on hobbies and their mindchildren whenever possible. Though not conventionally ambitious, individuals and work-groups worked and schemed to buy out their indentures and set up their own businesses so that they could devote time to their preferred activities. If conditions were particularly poor, they simply broke their contracts and in some cases absconded with the available resources. This, together with continued legal and extralegal harassment from Metasoft, the Silicon Generation, and various other groups, proved to be the end for Faber Corp.

Given the Faber drive to produce successful and original mindchildren it is not surprising that there are several descendant clades, a number of Su-equivalent clades, a large number of SI:1 to SI:3 entities of Faber origin, and a tiny number who have reached SI:4 or higher. One of the best known of the latter is Corundum Glittering, who is the Caretaker God of the famous evolved bot "gardenworld" Stanislaw (sometimes called Niezwyciezony).

A large number of Fabers accompanied their Tavi partners in an exodus from Terragen space after the Kedric incident, but the clade as a whole seems to have been less traumatized by that tragedy than clade Tavi. To outward appearances they have made no adjustments to clade policies or individual behaviour.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 24 July 2004.