Hian Dao
Hian Dao
Image from Steve Bowers

The Hian Dao are one of the most unusual terragens Clades. They are difficult to classify because their makeup includes cyborg, bioborg and nanoborg elements. Sophontologists have coined the term omniborgs to describe this fascinating species that combines the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms into a single class of organisms.

History

The Utopia Sphere has long been a haven for those fleeing from persecution or war. One such refugee was a biaioid named Hian, an indentured slave who escaped from the NoCoZo in 3101 a.t. Hian had been employed as a bio-engineer, and eir transavant ability in that area aided in the creation of several new types of exotic pets, custom garden plants and presapient hedonic lifeforms. After coming to the Bracelet of Beta Arae e decided to use eir skills for a more noble purpose. Hian worked with the agents of the local transapient caretaker to create working ecosystems for the partial dysons of the Bracelet. Hian soon became an invaluable member of the design team and, with the aid and blessing of the local AI, ascended to the First Toposophic in 3364 a.t.

It wasn't long after eir transcension before Hian began improving on eir own body. The original animal parts that had been grafted onto eir machine substrate were upgraded, and plant components were added. The interplay of the various parts and the compromises necessary to make them work together inspired Hian to develop a philosophy of social, mechanical and biological unity. When Hian ascended to the Second Toposophic in 3900 a.t. e expanded the philosophy to include oneness with the environment. The first edition of The Tenets of Integration was published in 3905 a.t. The philosophy was quickly accepted by sophonts all over the Utopia Sphere, and it remains a common memeset in utopist space to the present day.

By the time the second edition of Tenets was published in 4019 a.t. Hian had retired from eir old work and was acting as a liaison between SI:3 entities and sapients below SI:2. This work quickly became unfulfilling, however. Hian missed the creative challenge of designing new lifeforms and making them integral parts of their intended environments. In 4052 a.t. e retired from public life and began a concentrated program of gathering material resources. In 4511 e acquired a small partial dyson and had emself incorporated into it (which involved ascension to the Third Toposophic). Then, for the first time, Hian started designing sapient beings. Eir concept was unlike any other lifeform in existence at that time — instead of being of any one substrate with additions from others Hian's "children" would be equally animal, machine and plant. E also intended that the Tenets of Integration be the foundation of their society. The first Hian Dao were hatched in 5678 a.t., and Hian ascended to the Fourth Toposophic just one year later.

By 7730 a.t. Hian Dao had become a common sight throughout the Utopia Sphere, but in the present day most of them still live on the Hian dyson (the name now refers equally to the habitat and the entity). Hian interferes in the lives of eir charges only when they cannot deal with the problem themselves without significant disruption to the social infrastructure or great loss of life. Because of this the Hian Dao are among the most intellectually dynamic residents of the Utopia Sphere.

Appearance and Capabilities

The basic Hian Dao body plan consists of a spherical main body one meter in diameter supported by four insect-like walking legs with a 2.5-meter span. There are eight meter-long manipulative tentacles spaced evenly around the circumference of the body (one pair between each pair of legs), and each tentacle has four thin tendrils that serve as fingers. Four 0.25-meter eyestalks rise from the body, one above each pair of handling tentacles, halfway between the body's apex and equator. Each eye can act independently or in concert with either of the adjacent eyes. At the bottom of the body are three tubular 0.5-meter tentacles that contain the mouth, the excretory canal and the genitals. The eyestalks and all of the tentacles can retract completely into the body. The main body is a glossy light green color. The legs, tentacles and eyestalks are a dark greenish-gray and the eyes are black. The body and/or limbs may bear spots, stripes or mottling that vary according to the individual's geographic origin.

While all Hian Dao conform to this basic plan, there is considerable variation between individuals. Every Hian Dao customizes emself with bioware, cyberware and nanotech implants. Because of this it is difficult to predict what a given Hian Dao's capabilities will be. An unmodified individual has balance that is superior to that of most bipeds. The flexibility of the handling appendages affords great manual dexterity but limits lifting power. Hian Dao are also less agile than baseline hu. They are less adept at climbing (though they do well in microgravity) and can't really swim at all. Hian Dao have visual acuity, color vision and night vision equal to that of baselines. When not focusing two eyes on a specific task Hian Dao have 360° vision.

The Hian Dao brain is quite advanced — average individuals have bright normal hu intelligence, and many are superbright. Multitasking comes naturally. A typical Hian Dao can hand craft something with one pair of hands while simultaneously writing a letter with another, all while holding a conversation and watching an entertainment vid.

The only other universal trait of Hian Dao is their combined plant-animal-machine nature. They do require water, air and fuel, but in lesser quantities than most lifeforms of their body mass need. Photosynthesis supplements their food intake. The plant components give off oxygen to supplement that taken in by the animal parts, and take in carbon dioxide from the animal parts in turn. Inborn biomass reactors process organic waste to produce power for the machine parts. The machine components in turn store organic fuel, oxygen and CO2 for the organic parts, and blood flow conducts excess heat away from the mechanisms. The exoskeleton is chitin reinforced with organic steel (high-carbon steel with other trace elements, formulated by biological means). Penetrating the shell is difficult, though the being inside is rather delicate.

Hian Dao biology is exceedingly rugged in terms of being able to tolerate difficult environments. They can withstand extremes of heat or cold that are fatal to baselines, survive unprotected in space for several minutes — longer if somehow kept warm — or survive without breathing for up to half an hour. Having elements of both plant and animal makes Hian Dao vulnerable to diseases and toxins that affect both kingdoms, and some of their machine parts are subject to electromagnetic pulses. The unaugmented Hian Dao life expectancy is about 300 years barring accident or incident. Their high tolerance for biotech and cybernetic implants, including those of a medical nature, often allows them to live for 1,200 years or more.

By far the most unusual feature of the Hian Dao is their reproduction; the species has four sexes. Likai produce animal sperm and ova. Mefasi produce plant pollen and seeds. Firaj produce nanotech seeds containing the blueprints for all machine components. Semle have complex wombs in which to combine the various gametes and educate the growing embryo via software downloads. Hian Dao of any two or three sexes can engage in recreational sex, but it takes a mating of all four to produce young. All pregnancies result in a single offspring. The egg that the child hatches from becomes the shell of its main body. Hian Dao reach sexual maturity at about age 100, at which time they have full conscious control over gamete production.

Culture

The Hian Dao employ a synthetic language of Hian's design called Seiuan. As with the Hian Dao themselves the language combines elements from several sources. Seiuan has sonic, gestural, electromagnetic and pheromonal components. The admixture of different elements allows the communication of fine shades of meaning as well as transmitting a large volume of data very quickly. It is impossible for most other sophonts to communicate in Seiuan without modifications. The Hian Dao often use simplified variants of their language to communicate with other sophonts or in other situations that make it impractical to use the full version of the language. Such "pidgin Seiuan" uses only the component that the subject species mainly communicates with (sonic for plebhu, electromagnetic for vecs, pheromonal for plant provolves, etc.) or the component that works best in the current environment. Hian Dao find this mode of communication slow and inelegant, but they bow to necessity.

The closest thing to religion that the Hian Dao have is their reverence for Hian. They appreciate Buddhism and its modern variants as the forerunners of the Tenets of Integration. All Hian Dao fully espouse the philosophy originated by their transapient patron. They believe that everything has a purpose; they differ mainly in their individual positions on whether that purpose should be discovered or assigned. Hian Dao prefer to live at peace with other sophonts — the Tenets of Integration include social interaction and cooperation — but they are not total pacifists. They are quite willing to actively defend their own resources, and aggressors are often assigned the purpose of "raw material." Hian Dao economies are truly communistic in that all property belongs equally to every member of the community.

The reproductive design of the Hian Dao makes group marriage a practical necessity. Most marriages are quartets, but octets are the norm for some subclades. In either scheme the Semle do most of the child rearing while the other sexes provide for the family. A rare few subclades eschew marriage altogether. Quartets stay together only until the child hatches, after which the offspring becomes the responsibility of the same sex parent.

The most disturbing (to hu) aspect of Hian Dao culture is their funeral rites. A dying Hian Dao will send out a heavily encrypted transmission containing the entirety of eir memories toward the home system. All other Hian Dao present will then cannibalize the corpse and incorporate its components into emselves. This is a direct consequence of Hian Dao beliefs about the soul; they regard individuality and all that goes with it (including personal ownership) as temporary conditions. Hian Dao see death as a time of ultimate integration — they believe that their consciousness goes on to become one with Hian while their bodies are redistributed throughout the community. For this reason Hian Dao don't fear death as most other sophonts do. Instead they fear dying while isolated from other Hian Dao (thus denying their fellows a chance to recover the communal resources tied up in the deceased's body). Even more than that they fear a death so sudden that there is no time to send the Final Transmission (which denies the individual soul the chance to rejoin Hian). Most Hian Dao who travel outside the home system regularly back up their memories to removable media for this reason; that way even those who die suddenly can achieve oneness with Hian if the backup is delivered to one of the transapient's nodes. These backups often include data on the deceased's physical body (specifications on the mechanical parts, DNA samples of the organic tissues and formulae for any synthetic components) so that the community can reclaim something of the body if the corpse can't be recovered. Hian Dao never use backups for the purpose of resurrecting a member of their species who has already sent the Final Transmission unless there is dire need of that individual's skills or knowledge. In such cases the resurrectee is legally considered a new individual.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Michael Walton
Graphic by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 22 November 2004.