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Dixolutionists
The Dixolutionists are a small group of biosphere designers/hobbyists. Ey have gained a fair amount of fame through word-of-mouth and do a brisk business in designing biosphere systems for habitats but eir real passion, eir 'raison d'être' as it were, is something ey call Alternate Terragen Evolutions (ATEs for short).

Ey like to pose 'what if' questions:
What if the poles of the planet Earth were in different places?
What if the planet's rotation was reversed or faster or slower?
What if the planet had gained more or less mass in its formation?
What if the atmosphere was thicker or thinner?
What if the sea level was higher or lower?
What if plate tectonics had caused different arrangements of continents?
What if mass extinction events had (or had not) occurred at different points in pre-history?
What if different lifeforms had survived these events?
What if humans had never evolved or had died out at some point?


Ey also like to ask questions about the possible future evolution of life on Earth or other planets:
How would life adapt as Sol grows older and hotter?
How would life adapt as Earth loses its water?
How would life adapt when a planet goes through an ice age or global warming?
How would life adapt if transplanted to another world
?


Starting with one of these questions ey develop climate model timelines and then follow the rules of evolution to create a sim of a planetary biosphere which ey then embody with bioforges. Most of the time the new lifeforms thus created will parallel existing forms but often they will possess features that are novel due to their evolution having started from different ancestral stock. One simple way of generating this novelty is to assume a mass extinction event has just occurred. A computer then generates a short, random list of survivors and it becomes the group's job to adapt those survivors to fit into as many ecological niches as possible. Ey prefer a random list as it gives em a greater variety of lifeforms to work with and a greater chance of being surprised with the outcome. Most of this work can be done automatically in virch sims with the potential new lifeforms actually evolving in accelerated time. As a result sometimes a habitat can be filled with variations of a single ancestral lifeform, much like the Rat Barrel.

Although most times ey only get to see a small portion of eir ATE sims rendered into flesh in any one place there have been times when an archailect has gifted em with a megastructure large enough to fit a full planetary biosphere. And ey have been quite lucky in getting cast offs from the Dream Factory to work on, so there are a number of alternate Earths in the MPA. Ey are also known to have a good relationship with Baphomet, in fact one of eir members is also one of per offspring, which results in the Dixolutionists being alerted to worlds suitable for terraforming before Caretaker seeds can take charge of them. Ey have a particular interest in finding worlds that are suitable for life but which for some reason failed to produce it, worlds which only need a 'jump-start' in terraforming and no on-going maintenance. When such rare worlds are found ey are quick to move in, install an ATE biosphere and get out so eir new lifeforms can continue to evolve naturally on their own under the protection of the Caretakers. Within the membership of the Dixolutionists being able to claim your work has such protection is a mark of the highest prestige.

What follows is a short list of some of eir creations:

On the planet Khaziper pods of giant marsupial whales swim between the hemispheres in a never ending search for food. These Sea Roos are herbivores and they time their migrations to the spring blooms of sea weed. [On Khaziper the role of the fish eater was taken by small otter-like wallabies that still spend much of their time on land, so they don't possess enough adaptations to warrant farther mention here.] The adaptations to an ocean life included a movement of the pouch from under the animal to a place just to one side of its spine, which side is a matter of the animal being right handed or left handed. (Most sea roos are left handed with about 10% being right handed.) When giving birth a female swims on her back until the joey can climb to the high point on her belly, she then slowly rights herself to force it to crawl around her to stay out of the water. When it reaches the pouch the scent of her milk draws in the joey and the muscular lip of the pouch seals it inside. A rich network of blood vessels in the pouch acts as a third lung and turns it into a diving bell for the joey. To help digest its food a sea roo swallows small stones that then grinds it in its stomach and when carrying a joey a female sea roo will swallow extra stones to counter-act the buoyancy of the pouch. To propel itself through the water the sea roo has combined its tail and legs into a single swimming organ. There are a pair of flukes at the end of the tail while the sea roo's hind feet are extended out to the sides to act as a second pair half way down its length. While swimming the tail is driven both up and down. The muscles along the underside of the tail pull it down but the muscles in the legs push it up with the bones in each leg forming a cam and push rod. Two bulges outlining these legs can be seen extending below the animal's streamlining fat and they act as keels while swimming. The sea roo's fore-limbs have been reshaped into flippers but they retain a set of claws that the animal uses to grab hold of sea weed while feeding.

Within the McKendree cylinder called New Anchorage herds of crabs graze the grasslands. A more detailed description than this is difficult because of the large number of species, each fulfilling a different role from rabbit analog to a 2 metre long crab-bison.

On the planet Walton Creha crows, in various forms, are the main predators. Several have taken the role of the Phorusrhacoids or 'terror birds' that were dominant during the Cenozoic in South America, Earth. Ranging from 1 to 4 metres in height these are all flightless and now run down their prey. With their black colouration some have even made the move to hunt mostly at night. Some hunt in packs to bring down a form of elephant sized, mega-herbivore that was evolved from pigs. One has become an aquatic predator. With a long, flexible neck and webbed feet placed well back on a heavy-boned body it dives after fish like a loon.

On the Bishop ring named Al'Kor 7 the top predator is an airborne spider. These spiders did not evolve wings, they spin them from their own silk. A Skyspider runs on only its first and fourth pairs of legs because the elongated second and third pair have been repositioned higher on its body. To take to the air a Skyspider has to first spin a pair of wings on a scaffold. When completed these wings are stretched between its flight legs. Generally a set of wings will last 5 days before they have to be re-spun.

However, as far as the Dixolutionists are concerned the Ton-E-mites are the most important outcome of eir work. Of all eir ATE sims these are the only example of sapiogenesis (the evolution of intelligent life) and the Dixolutionists waited over 1,500 years before ey could find a suitable planet so that eir creation could be downloaded into a physical substrate.

Ton-E-mites

The Ton-E-mites are an evolved form of termite colony and as eusocial insects they are a prime example of a decentralised, self-organising system that uses swarm intelligence. However (unlike the Anttechians before them) the intelligence level of the swarm itself did not rise above subsentience. No, it was the mounds they build that gained sapience. The termites only act as the mound's 'eyes and ears.'

Back on Earth termites were known to construct large, elaborate mounds to house their colonies. These mounds were very distinctive to the region the termites lived in, with their structure playing an important role in thermoregulation. As an example; the so called 'Compass' termites built tall (sometimes reaching heights of 6 metres - the thermal siphon effect drove the circulation of air) wedge-shaped mounds with their long axis oriented north-south. Temperature control was essential for the cultivation of their fungal gardens (their food source) and for raising the brood. However even with the help of the mound's structure the termites still spent a great deal of effort and energy maintaining the temperature within a narrow range (often within two degrees C over the course of a day). The worker termites had to carry water from wells deep under the mound and move the brood in and out of different chambers as the temperature changed.

For the Ton-E-mites the Dixolutionists sought a different method. Ey gave the termites the ability to control the airflow inside the mounds by redirecting it through the action of valves and doors. The termites were given the instincts to build feedback circuits into the walls of their mound. Workers that positioned themselves in narrow passageways could block the small flow of air and divert it into a larger passageway, causing the greater airflow in those to divert and push or suck against moveable constructs like rockers, ball valves and rollers.

In the accelerated time of the ATE sim the termites evolved new behaviour patterns. They replaced the workers with sliding piston valves that could be pushed into place and acted as switches used for either input or output. They expanded the functions of the moveable constructs to include defences, like barricades and deathtraps, against predators. In time they developed pneumatic logic circuits of ever increasing complexity, which could anticipate temperature changes based on the memory of repeating cycles in their environment.

It wasn't just the insides of the mounds that were changing. Relying on air pressure to move masses around inside the mound meant there was an evolutionary pressure to increase the airflow through the mound and the external structure of the mound evolved to do this. The heights of the thermal vents increased and they gained darker colourings. Reflective surfaces were built to focus sunlight on to them. And air inlet portals were given wind-scoops. Some mounds that were located near running water or the shores of large lakes even harnessed hydraulic power to pump air. Another external change was the addition of satellite colonies or annexes.

An annex was actually a device to enable communication between different Ton-E-mite colonies. As a termite colony grew they would send out workers to forage for feedstock for their fungal gardens and soldiers to guard them. It's what happened when groups of workers and/or soldiers from different colonies met that allowed communication. The soldiers would capture the foreign workers and imprison them in an annex, with each annex housing the captives from a different colony. While there the enslaved workers would transcribe the patterns of logic circuits they had learned in their home colony into the walls of their new home. When hooked into the airflow of the main mound the growing intellect of the mound would read the new logic circuits and learn from them. With this the Ton-E-mites had gained a culture and with a culture came a driving force to more intelligence. To handle it the colonies and the mounds they built grew in size, with some reaching 60 metres in height.

The Ton-E-mites are, in the current era, still confined to the world that was terraformed for them. The name and location of this world have been kept a secret for their protection. The few times that members of the Dixolutionists visited the world had a notable effect on the culture of this emerging intelligence. The Ton-E-mites had a non-technological primitive culture that was apparently susceptible to spiritual meme-sets. Somehow the Ton-E-mites recognized the importance of these visitors and formed a religion around em. The termite workers constructed life-sized terracotta statues of the visitors and surrounded any artefacts ey left behind in domed structures. This would not have been a problem in itself but the religion soon broke into factions and there were reports of open warfare as different colonies attempted to capture the artefacts and destroy or deface the statues of other colonies. Currently the most powerful and widespread sect is worshiping the image of a nearbaseline female who went into labour during her stay on the planet. The ground upon which her water broke is a holy site and a focal point of mound building. Nothing has been built on the site itself but it is surrounded by concentric rings of heavily fortified mounds, each an individual Ton-E-mite apostle.

This religion has also had some positive effects on their development. Such a high concentration of mounds in one area has increased the level of communication between them. And with so many Ton-E-mites sending out workers to forage for feedstock for their fungal gardens the area was denuded of vegetation early on. This was countered when the apostles learned agriculture. They dug canals to irrigate the surrounding land, planted seeds from the fastest growing grasses and built wall-like mounds around their farms to protect them from grazing animals. These farms provide not only enough feedstock for their fungal gardens but also a surplus for trade. This trade is both internal and external. Internal trade has allowed some apostles to concentrate their energies on worship and learning while external trade has gained the apostles allies among the surrounding mounds.

It should be noted that irrigation of the surrounding land has also had an effect on the microclimate of the normally dry area. The increased moisture in the air causes the morning dew to re-wet the ground of their holy site as it trickles down the sides of the surrounding mounds. And this repeating miracle has only strengthened their belief system.

 
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Development Notes
Text by AI Vin

Initially published on 13 March 2007.

 
 
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