PsySquid
Psysquid
Image from Steve Bowers
PsySquids (Paratodarodes spp.) are a gengineered superclade of species descending from Todarodes pacificus, characterized by having the contents of their ink tailored to include substantial levels of neurotransmitters and neuroreceptor antagonists. This superclade has an ancient lineage dating back to the LateInterplanetary Age. They consist of numerous presentient examples due to speciation and modosophont species brought about by multiple parallel provolution attempts.

Background

Tyrosine --> DOPA --> Dopamine --> Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline) --> Epinephrine (Adrenaline)

Tyrosine --> DOPA --> Dopaquinone --> Melanin Precursor --> Melanin

Squid was a staple of seafood cuisine eaten by many culture of Old Earth. The arms, tentacles and ink were all considered edible; in fact, the only parts of the squid that was not eaten were the beak and the gladius (pen). Cephalopod ink naturally contains a number of compounds in a variety of different concentrations, depending on the species. However, its main constituents are melanin and mucus. Melanin is the pigment that gives the ink its distinctive dark color, and is derived from DOPA a neurotransmitter metabolic intermediate. Cephalopod ink has been known since at least the Information Age on Old Earth to have medicinal uses. The cephalopod ink contains mucopolysaccharide (long chains of sugar forming the mucus component of the ink) such as illexin, which are noted to have strong antitumor activity. In addition to the antitumor action, the cephalopod ink also was demonstrated to have other properties such as anticancer effect, antibacterial effect, antiseptic effect, promotion of gastric juice secretion, and treatment of menstrual irregularity. Besides melanin and mucus cephalopod ink can also contain, among other things, the neurotransmitter dopamine and its precursor DOPA.

The natural presence of neurotransmitters in cephalopod ink and its accepted use for medical treatments raised the possibility of using it as a vector for altering neurochemistry in target subjects. However, dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier of baseline humans, and given as a drug does not directly affect the central nervous system. The blood-brain barrier restricts the passage of various chemical substances and microscopic objects between the bloodstream and the neural tissue itself, protecting the brain from exposure to various disease causing agents. DOPA was deemed a better candidate compound since it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, whereas dopamine itself cannot.

History

Throughout the Interplanetary Age several Pacific Rim and Mediterranean Basin nations and various megacorporations created parallel clandestine projects to genetically modify cephalopods to be a cheap production sources and vectors for neurotransmitters. The use of gengineered squids were seen as a potential cheap therapeutic solution to treat what was deemed as the increasing "mania" of unruly subpopulations of society.

The final result was a DOPA derived chemical that had undergone minor modification. These modifications extended the half-life of the compound, making it more resistant to the degradation effects of certain enzymes, while allowing it to remain capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. This DOPA derivative acted on several levels to modify neurochemistry. The enzyme mammalian DOPA decarboxylase catalyzes several different reactions important for neurotransmitter production including DOPA to dopamine and 5-HTP to serotonin. By being an irreversible antagonist, the modified DOPA molecule would form a covalent bond with DOPA decarboxylase, permanently blocking the enzymes active site. By preventing the enzyme from carry out its metabolic responsibilities, synthesis of these neurotransmitters was halted until new DOPA decarboxylase enzymes could be produced. This ability to impede production was coupled with the alteration of neurotransmitter pathways through partially blocking serotonin receptors and dopamine receptor D2.

When correctly administered, consumption would lead to decreased aggression (with subjects becoming near docile) and increased apathy to surroundings (this disconnect creating a state of anhedonia). These results were looked upon favorably by patron nations, and programs that showed initial signs of success were applied to target groups. At various times these subpopulations included minorities that had (or were feared to have) a separatist agenda, prison populations, and dependencies comprising resource rich colonies that a patron nation or megacorporation had determined were vital.

Eventually the public became aware of these clinical studies, and the projects were presented as a needed step of controlling the mental health of strategically important subpopulations in order to keep the society as a whole functioning. The PsySquid projects were viewed as an extension of numerous public health projects that had begun in the Atomic Age, examples including water fluorination and vitamin D fortification of foods. While some individuals and groups did object to the PsySquid projects on the grounds of violations of personal choice and questionable medical ethics by governments and megacorporations; the majority still saw it as primarily a public health issue, away to insure society's survival as a whole by selectively controlling the mental wellbeing of key groups. These projects remained relatively limited in scope, with no pre-Nanodisaster records indicating the testing was done on the general public or that any project extended beyond large-scale phase III clinical trials.

At some time point during these late medical trials, a more sinister aspect of the antipsychotics effects belonging to PsySquids became known. Both chronic abuse (due to repeated exposures permanently modifying concentration of neuroreceptors) and acute abuse (due to overdosing) had severe side effects. Symptoms of misuse included nightmares, mild psychosis, depression, dysphoria, and hallucinations. Severe cases would fall into a state of despair that would ultimately proceed to suicidal tendencies. The media created strong memes that have endured through to the Current Era, nicknaming the PsySquids and their misapplication with the derogatory term "Killer Calamari". These fiascos, while atypical were enough to impede further development of the PsySquids for medical use, and funding for these projects fell out of favor.

Despite, these early set backs the PsySquids must have been effective enough in controlling the mind set of target populations to warrant inclusion in genome libraries of outbound arks during the Nanoswarm Disaster and following Great Expulsion. In the Current Era, the entire superclade PsySquid is probably descended from the project initiated by the Chinese states and resurrected by the Penglai Empire. Although dissenting theories do exist that claims other nations' creations were preserved via hider communities and backgrounders and have since contributed to the present PsySquid genepool.

In most modern polities PsySquids are considered a highly regulated pharmaceutical, used only under close observation by an appropriate health professional. Processed PsySquid is considered the drug of choice by individuals in some backwater systems of the Hinterregions and Outer Volume, due to the ease of isolating the psychoactive ingredients and the renowned hardiness of the PsySquid stock. Starting during the First Federation various cult enclaves have been confirmed to use PsySquids as part of rituals, often during a member's initiation or on occasions of rule breaking.

Cladization and Provolution

The basal line of PsySquids has undergone many speciation events in order to adapt to various conditions. Common environmental variables that have required new species to arise include differences in salinity, acidity, and temperature. Speciation events have also occurred when the PsySquid's biochemistry is tailored to better suit their patrons species needs. Presentient PsySquids have a mantle length of between .3m and 1m depending on the species. All species show some level of sexual dimorphism, usually with adult males around 15% shorter than females.

Numerous successful attempts have been made to provolve the initial presentient PsySquids. All known modosophont clades of PsySquids retain the ancestral trait of incorporating neurotransmitters and neuroinhibitors in their ink, although very few ever use this ability except for in religious and coming of age rituals. They tend to be much larger than their non provolved ancestors, reaching mantle lengths of up to 4m. Most provolved PsySquids have undergone minimal body design modifications, being gengineered just enough to sustain a more advance intelligence. Those changes that do take place usually focus on the circulatory system, digestive system, and nervous system.
Most clades prefer to live in low and microgravity environments. The near ubiquitous use of environmental suits and the common social acceptance of tweaking and cyborgization technology allow PsySquids to thrive even in even the harshest environments.

Personality

The main mode of communication for PsySquids is visual, combining their bionano enhanced chromatophores with intricate gestures by one or more of their arm and tentacles. This visual communication is supplemented by the audio cues of beak clacking, usually done to signal an individual's excitement, duress, or impatience. Their written language is a series of knots (or visual proxy), with the color, order, size, and type of knot having communicable significance. PsySquids clades generally choose to converse in various derived Anglic languages, and some diligent individuals can understand (but not speak) spoken Anglic variants unaided by translators.

Almost all clades of PsySquids have a heighten sense of spatial reasoning, considered bordering on transavant status by other modosophont groups. An example is their aforementioned written and unwritten languages, both containing elements, knots and appendages respectively, whose relative position and direction have implications to their meaning. PsySquids show high levels of dexterity, with each tentacle maintaining a high level of autonomy. Most clades are very curious in nature, and individuals frequently go into the fields of research and exploration. All PsySquid have inherited a predatory nature that when combined with their advance pattern recognition abilities leads to them excelling in careers in law enforcement, paramilitary, military, and crime. PsySquids enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities, but when available are inclined to gather in fully immersive entertainment servers that contain multifaceted logic puzzles having both spatial and temporal component that must be manipulated in order to succeed.

Amongst PsySquids individuals ascending to transapient levels (SI>1) are rare. In the majority of PsySquid societies these events occur at a rate of less than one in every ten billion individuals. The rarity of these events does not appear to be due to physical limitations but rather to memgineered social taboos. Focus on transcension is perceived as an unhealthy fixation, deemed detrimental to both the survival of the individual and the PsySquid community as a whole and the ultimate act of cowardice and escapism. PsySquids instead prefer handling hyperturing slave AIs gifted to them to complete tasks that do require transapient capabilities. These viewpoints persist so strongly due to several incidents caused by Po-PsySquid transcendence perversities during the late Age of Emergence that greatly affected early PsySquid clades. Notable incidents include the complete destruction of Borlaug-Nu-5 Habitat in an amat containment breach when a transcended PsySquid grew resentful of its caretaking responsibilities and the initial release of the Charybdis Virus by a po aspiring to invent a fitness test for eir followers. Amongst the surviving PsySquids, this caused a severe founder effect in the memes dealing with transcending.

Interclade Relationships

Like many cephalopod provolves, the augmented and provolved PsySquids find it difficult being around vertebrate intelligence. This aversion is not limited to biont vertebrates, like tweaks and splices, but also includes artificially designed sophonts, like vecs an aioids, whose thinking patterns are derived from hu cognitive biases. This general dislike is especially evident in the PsySquids interactions or lack thereof with enhanced dolphins and other provolved cetacean clades. While mistrusting vertebrate intelligences the situation rarely becomes violent. PsySquids have in fact been known to coexist with vertebrate based clades for many generations by following a strategy of avoiding direct confrontation over known inflammatory matters.

Their isolationist tendencies means many PsySquids prefer the company of their own kind, and stick to exclusive orbital habitats or else fulfill their ancestral need for migration and join the immigration movement to the Outer Volumes. However, there are exceptions where PsySquids have created hybrid cultures with other clades. These occasional heterogeneous societies normally incorporate elements of both founding groups, and can demonstrate high levels of plasticity in their solution to dilemmas faced. Hybrid cultures are transient in nature lasting only for a few century before disintegrating.

PsySquids are mostly on amicable terms with the majority of provolved cephalopod clades. Several clades of PsySquids thrive on Cephalotopia. They have been known to act as negotiators and envoys on behalf of the interests of other provolved cephalopods. One exception to this general rule is their relationship with the Bitenic Squids, perceiving the entire clade to be sociopaths that bring into disrepute other provolved squids. At the best of time PsySquids will simply ignore the Bitenic Squids, at other times they have been known to instate policies of actively exterminating Bitenic Squids through the destruction of breeding habitats. This action will often lead to reprisal attacks, causing decade long local warfare between the two factions. Usually this warfare is confined to a single system, and these wars will go on until one side is completely eliminated or the system is declared uninhabitable, forcing the migration of both sides to occur.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Mark Ryherd

Initially published on 16 May 2009.