Geoflex Computing

Image from Steve Bowers
Enceladus, the icy moon of Saturn where Geoflex Computing was first attempted

Geoflex Computing

The early days of its development on Enceladus

It was late in the century After Tranquility that geoflex computing first entered the public mindscape when a science fiction author called K.G. Trout wrote a follow-up to his story Venus on a Dollar a Day. Although that book was titled as if it were some kind of hitchhiker's guide it was actually a story of mankind's forced exodus from the planet Earth by an angry god; an ironical a foreshadowing of later real events. The second book, Ice Nine, turned the story into an epic sci/fi saga and featured geoflex computers as a plot device.

To quote the book; "One common trait of the gas giants is they have moons, lots of moons. And when you have lots of heavy objects passing each other in short period orbits like in these systems you get lots of gravitational tidal stressing. The objects are pulled and squeezed so much they heat up. Io is a classic example of this; she's a hotbed of volcanic activity. And then there's Europa, a world with a 100km deep ocean under its surface of ice. But really all these moons have some degree of tidal heating and where you have heat you have an energy source, and where you have an energy source and rocky material (like the cores of these moons) you have a place you can build computers. Nanites were injected into the cores of these moons and used the matter they found to make pockets of computronium. Layers of piezoelectric ceramics and nano-flywheels surrounded these nodes. The piezoelectric ceramics converted the tidal stressing into electrical energy and the flywheels stored it to provide the nodes with a constant power flow."

Although Mr. Trout provided a very detailed description of the technology (in fact it was so detailed he could have applied for a patent on the idea) it was technology that just wasn't available at the time. Even when the tech did become available there seemed to be no great reason to implement the plan. At least, not until the year 2200 c.e., the year the Jupiter colonies united to form the Jovian League.

Having already lost the Mars colonies when they became independent, and fearing the colonies in Saturn's Rings and on Titan would go the same way, Earth and the Cislunar orbitals planned to leapfrog these new polities by emplacing a presence in the Saturn, Uranus and Neptune systems. Using the space elevators on Earth over a hundred AI seeds were launched within just five years with most targeting the larger regular moons to ensure fast conversion. These seeds had the best AIs of the time, which meant they had greater than human equivalent artificial intelligence, and had been extensively vetted for loyalty to Earth's interests. Even so, in the rush to get the job done the screening was not perfect and three of AIs did develop ahumanistic tendencies when they later ascended.

This program was not merely a land-grab. The Earth based megacorps had financed the enterprise and they wanted their money's worth. Even with the long time delays that were inherent in the moons' great distance from the Earth/Luna system they were a huge resource of computational power and the AIs soon provided a windfall of profit. They also provided something unexpected - a new shelter for life.

Even when such moons did have liquid water hidden under their ice it was cold water, often cryogenically cold, and kept liquid only because it was under pressure or because of high concentrations of salts or ammonia. However the introduction of computronium into its core changes the nature of a moon. In its natural state the heated core of such a moon loses heat globally, and thus diffused the temperatures are very low. On the other hand the new computronium nodes had built-in cooling systems that concentrated the release of heat to a small number of vents, providing hot spots under their icy mantles. These hot spots became very important when GAIA forced mankind from Earth, becoming oases for the survivors. The Saturnian moon Enceladus is a great illustration of this.

In the Saturn system there were seven regular moons and scores of smaller ones but not all of them would be targeted for AI seeds. For example, the newly freed transportees in the relatively successful colony of Titan objected strongly to the plan. Of the moons that remained Enceladus showed the most promise because it was the Io of the Saturn system. With its geologically youthful terrains, 2:1 orbital resonance with another moon (Dione), tectonic features and active cryovolcanism it was long known to have a heat source. In addition the moons of Saturn formed relatively quickly in the Sol protoplanetary disk and thus were rich in short-lived radionuclides like aluminium-26 and iron-60. In Enceladus these produced chambers of magma earlier in its history that are still quite hot today. The geoflex computronium nodes of Enceladus ran hotter and faster than those in any of the other moons and for that reason Enceladus became the centre of the outer system computer network. The other moons of the outer gas giants were all composed mostly of water ice with only a small amount of rock and/or weren't in a resonance orbit so their geoflex computers served mostly in a supporting role.

In the wake of the Great Expulsion many of the survivors followed the comm-lasers of this network and set up habitats on, or just under, the surfaces of these moons, tapping hot-spots for pre-melted water and the nodes for data-trading. These moons, unlike those in the Jupiter system, also provided a safe haven from the Technocalypse. Being so far out and never having a large human population before this they were not targeted. Most of these surface habitats were simply copies of the type long used in the Jupiter system, but back on Enceladus there was also a new shelter for life. The cooling water for its nodes exited their vents at higher temperatures; where once Enceladus had pockets of liquid water maintained at cryogenic temperatures now the water had a more "arctic" temperature range. As such the oases of Enceladus were warm enough not just for exotic life but also for Earth-like life. Still this was a new environment to the hu of the Solsys, and a harsh one at that, and they had to be quick to adapt themselves to it.

In a way Enceladus was now a lot like Europa in that it had pockets of relatively warm water but they were just that - pockets - and nothing more. Enceladus had no world-spanning ocean beneath its ice and because of that the settlers would have felt no need to become aquatic like the Europans even if they had known of them. Of course even if they had known about the success of Jovian Genetics & Adaptation's AI the research would have done them little good. Without a global ocean the best way to move about the moon and reach another oasis was by tunnelling through the ice. The pockets of water were used more like wells and the real Enceladian civilization was built around them in a network of ice burrows. This guided their choices in genemods; influenced by the Genetekker culture they would use DIY gengineering to adapt to their world, always choosing genemods that make it easier to retain body heat in the cold air of the tunnels. Staying out of the water was a wise choice as it is easier to keep warm if you can keep dry, so the settlers had less of a problem keeping their warm-blooded metabolism. Had they chosen to become aquatic they most certainly would have had to become cold-blooded like the aforementioned Europans.

The first such genemod was for larger size (more mass per surface area means slower heat loss) and the settlers soon began calling themselves Giants, at least in the beginning. Of course, isolated as they were beneath kilometres of ice each oasis was free to develop its own culture and there were some who preferred the Norse folklore and called themselves Trolls. In truth, calling themselves giants at all was overstating things, the average Giant massed about half a tonne but they were only as tall as a small Goliath so most of their great mass had gone into making them much wider and rounder. This great mass is no hindrance to them as the ice dwarfs on which they live typically have a much-reduced gravity well and as a result they are as spry as any baseline hu athlete. Some of the later genemods produced a large nose to warm inhaled air, stocky legs, a thick layer of fat and a heavy overcoat of long body hairs, giving them an appearance that made the name of Troll more apt and widespread. However once the Giants joined the interstellar migration and settled on new ice dwarfs they were quite happy to take that epithet and make it their own. They are now commonly known as Clade Tro'el.

In the modern era Geoflex Computing is just another tool, one of those techs that is used whenever computronium is needed and the conditions are right for its use.

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Development Notes
Text by AI Vin
Graphic by Steve Bowers using Celestia
Initially published on 02 October 2007.