Pets

velvet snake
Image from Steve Bowers
a Velvet Snake, a genetically modified leg-less ferret pet

Owning pets is an activity that is quite common amont intelligent beings in the Terragen Sphere. For the purpose of this writing a pet is a creature of lower toposophic level than the owner that is kept for purposes that are not strictly practical. Pet ownership among humans had its origins in practicality, of course; the first pets were probably domestic dogs that descended from the tame wolves that assisted primitive hu in their hunts. Dogs and cats (the most common pets on Old Earth) also served other purposes — tracking, guard duty, pest control and detection of contraband, to name a few. It was not until keeping animals became cost effective that true pets came into existence. Once caring for an animal was cheap enough that the common person could afford to keep animals that didn't pay for themselves there was a distinction between pets and working animals (though some pets are both).

The main difference between a pet and a working animal is that the owner ("owner" can refer to a group of people, i.e. a family) keeps the pet primarily because e derives pleasure or some social benefit from its presence. Some are amused by their pets' antics, others actively play with their pets and still others enjoy the companionship of a lesser creature (which can't really make conversation, but neither does it contradict its master's opinions). Exotic pets may serve as status symbols. Sophonts in some warrior cultures keep dangerous creatures as a sign of their bravery. None of these purposes precludes keeping a pet for practical reasons, but in no case is any practical consideration the main reason for having the creature.

For humans and many derived or related clades and the medical advantages of having pets are well documented. Stroking a pet significantly lowers heart rate and blood pressure for humans and most hu-derived sophonts. Many splices, provolves and even xenosophonts enjoy similar rewards. Such benefits are not limited to bionts. In vec Clades where the young have to learn motor control and crucial life skills (instead of simply downloading the knowledge from adults) playing with a pet can aid the development of those abilities. An AI might debug aspects of its core program by interacting with a subsapient alife. Cyborgs benefit from pet ownership more than any other sophonts do — playing with the right pet can simultaneously relieve stress and increase mechanical efficiency. Pets are also of great benefit to po in adapting to their new lives. An alife pet can speed the acclimation process for uploads, while biont or bot pets ease the way for AIs and virches who download into physical bodies.

The master-pet relationship is most commonly seen between sapients and subsapients (or sometimes presapients), but those are not the only variations possible. Modosophonts understandably find the idea that transapients may regard sapients as pets disconcerting. Sapients can take some comfort in the knowledge that, to an AI god, an entity as vast and powerful as a Fifth Toposophic arhailect is no more than a dog or cat is to a baseline.

The pets that sophonts keep are stunning in their variety — there are thousands of naturally evolved species that are suitable, and there at least as many species that have been engineered for the purpose. The following paragraphs describe just a few of the most common pets in the Known Galaxy — with the obvious exceptions of the dogs and cats (modified and otherwise) that Terragens continue to keep as pets to this day.


Some Typical Pets

Cherub

Cherubim are one of the more unusual types of pet in that Terragens aren't the only beings who keep them. There are even reliable reports of ahuman sophonts in the Solipsist Panvirtuality who own cherubim. Some psychologists claim that cherubim have appeal similar to that of Pet Humans.

The cherub genome has contributions from both primates and birds. A cherub looks like a tiny (15-20 centimeter tall) human, usually female, with feathered wings. The wingspan is about 150% of the height. The broad shoulders and deep chest accommodate the flight muscles, but the rest of the body is quite slender and the bones are hollow. Cherubim are highly proficient fliers who can hover, dart backwards or sideways and make 90° turns at speed. They get the energy for this frenetic activity from a high-carbohydrate diet of fruit. This rather specific diet means that they can only survive in the wild in places where fruit is available year round. The average life expectancy of a cherub is 20 years. Cherubim usually reproduce by parthenogenesis, but one birth in 50 produces a male (in some avians sex determination rests with the female rather than the male; the genes that allow this are present in cherubim). This ensures a minimal level of genetic diversity in local populations. Cherubim are oviparous, and the young hatch from rubbery soft-shelled eggs. A healthy female can lay one egg every year.

The main design feature of cherubim is attractiveness, at least by hu standards. Their faces are universally beautiful and their skin is flawlessly smooth or covered in down (depending on subspecies). They have a wide variety of skin, hair, eye and plumage colors. Many subspecies also have genes for bioluminescence; the entire skin glows softly, which complements the iridescence of the hair and feathers. Cherubim have high flutelike voices with which they utter complex musical calls.

A cherub is roughly as intelligent as a monkey and is even easier to train. The cherub temperament can best be compared to that of a human child with severe attachment and approval issues. The animal is very affectionate with and obedient to its owner and will be subdued when the owner isn't present. With anyone but its master a cherub is wary; it will not willingly let itself be handled in its owner's absence. Older cherubim may even pine to the point of starvation if their masters die or abandon them.

Dolphinet

The dolphinet, or pygmy dolphin, is the single most popular pet among sophonts who live on or near an ocean surface. At an average of one meter in length it is approximately one-third the size of an unmodified dolphin with a corresponding decrease in mass. Most dolphinets are based on the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), with the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) a close second. There are dolphinet variants of other species, but they are rare.

Dolphinets have all of the traits and abilities of their parent species except for those qualities that are directly related to scale. For example, dolphinets cannot swim as fast as their full-sized relatives can, nor can they hold their breath for as long a time. The reduction in mass does reduce their requirements for food and open space, however — this makes dolphinets much more economical to keep. The combination of presapient intelligence and friendly temperament makes dolphinets very easy to train. When properly cared for a dolphinet can provide its owner with companionship and devotion for over 30 years.

One might think that provolved dolphins would object to dolphinets being kept as pets, but this is not always the case. For the most part dolphin provolves' attitudes toward pet dolphinets are much the same as those of humans toward pet monkeys — some loathe the very thought, others see nothing wrong with it and still others keep such pets themselves. Just as humans don't see monkeys as fellow humans, sapient dolphins don't see dolphinets as members of their species.

Eudaemon

Eudaemons are a broad class of subsapient alife. Their original purpose was to serve as digital watchdogs — they kept the homes of their AI masters clear of viruses and hostile alife. Over time some AIs found that they actively enjoyed having eudaemons around. Modern species still perform the function for which they were made, but now they are also optimized for interacting with their owners.

Having a eudaemon gives an AI another important benefit. The pet's ability to recognize its master lets it know when the owner has been infected with foreign code (assuming that the eudaemon is not subverted first). Most eudaemons are programmed to call for help if their owners suffer serious file corruption, and some can even activate medical utilities on their own.

Heqiis

A heqiis resembles a Terran slug. A typical specimen is 14-22 centimeters long and 4-6 centimeters in diameter. The creature has deep blue skin mottled with bluish-purple spots. The heqiis is one of the few pets that xenosophonts are known to keep.

Before they evolved sapience the Muuh were subject to infestation by a variety of parasites. The subsapient ancestors of the Muuh developed a symbiosis with primitive heqiisseh — the symbionts cleaned the larger animals' armor of clinging parasites and fungus analogs, in return for which the Muuh protected the heqiisseh from predators (including other Muuh). This relationship continued through the Muuh's presapient phase and into their early history as sapients. Advanced medical technology and good hygiene all but eliminated the need for heqiisseh, but by then the Muuh had become used to their presence.

The modern heqiis is extensively gengineered and is often used as a grooming aid. After bathing in a nutrient solution a Muuh releases some heqiisseh onto eir armor. As the animals graze their modified feet and slime secretions polish the armor. Another variant has slime that contains a mild solvent instead. By painting on the armor with nutrient solution a Muuh can entice the heqiisseh to carve a design into the armor — some Muuh make their living as armor carvers using this technique. Most Muuh keep heqiisseh for the simple comfort of their presence; the weight of a few heqiisseh on eir back somehow makes a Muuh feel cleaner.

The average life expectancy of a heqiis is eight years, which is extremely brief for beings as long-lived as Muuh. Heqiisseh breed quickly, however. Muuh owners tend to become attached to families of pets rather than individual animals.

Nanopet

A friendly utility fog can make an excellent pet. With much of its processing power devoted to intelligence and affection for its owner a nanopet is a superb companion and playmate. The first nanopets were personal protective gear (basically highly localized angelnets), but designers found that making the machines more user-friendly made owners more comfortable with them — and thus more likely to buy them. Nanopets are especially popular with parents of young children, who feel more secure knowing that they can provide their children with pets and defense against playground accidents — and bullies — at the same time.

Rhabi

A subsapient bot makes a good pet for a vec or cyborg, and some bionts like them too. A rhabi's body consists of a central disk surrounded by six evenly spaced three-jointed legs whose span is roughly twice the diameter of the body. Size varies between subspecies; the smallest have bodies only 20 centimeters across while the largest are over two meters in diameter.

A rhabi has excellent hearing with a range of 1 Hz-65 kHz. Echolocation is the primary means of navigation. Vision is poor — little better than an unmodified dog's — but extends into the near infrared and the far ultraviolet. A rhabi has no sense of taste and only a rudimentary sense of smell. It can identify dangerous compounds (other than odorless ones) on a "known bad" list if trained to do so. The sense of touch is about equal to a cat's. Rhabis aren't particularly agile, but they can move quickly and have very good balance. Some subspecies can walk up walls thanks to geckotech built into their feet.

As pets rhabis are very like dogs; they are good for both guard duty and active play. Some law enforcement agencies use rhabis to detect contraband or track fugitives — the bots can operate in environments where bionts couldn't survive. A rhabi could never keep up with a dog of comparable size, let alone outrun one, but rhabis outperform dogs in terms of carrying loads. This makes the rhabi one of the only pets than can also serve as a draft animal.

Spiderpet
Image from Michael Capriola
Spiderpet;: a popular choice in the Zoeific Biopolity, especially useful for eliminating minor household pests.

Teratophyte

The teratophyte is popular among amateur gardeners. Most varieties are small enough to be kept as houseplants while the larger variants can only be kept in gardens or in indoor settings that are garden-like. The genus is the result of extensive gengineering to produce a plant that is both ornament and pet.

The base stock from which the teratophyte is derived is the Venus flytrap. They also have genes from lianas (for strong vines) and from acacias (for large hollow thorns). The plant retains the carnivorous habits of its parent species. Small species feed mainly on insects, but medium-sized varieties may eat small animals like rodents, lizards, frogs and birds. The largest specimens can take prey that masses up to 20 kilograms. Teratophytes have enhanced motility compared to unmodified plants; they can use their vines as grasping tentacles, albeit with reflexes less than half as fast those of a baseline. They often use their thorn-lined vines to catch prey. Some species live in symbiosis with stinging insects in the same manner that acacias do.

The trait that sets teratophytes apart from other ornamental plants is the fact that they have been partially provolved. They do not have full sapience — a teratophyte is about as intelligent as an unmodified cat — but they recognize their owners and can learn to follow simple commands. Some species can be trained to sound an alarm when they see an intruder; the plants shake their vines in order to rattle their thorns. Even the smallest teratophyte will attack a stranger who tries to handle it, and the larger ones will try to grab any unfamiliar person who gets within reach. Teratophytes are usually gentle, even affectionate, with their owners, but they have been known to turn on handlers who mistreat them. The lifespan of a teratophyte varies with its size. Small ones typically last for nearly a decade, while the largest can live for over 100 years.

Some people believe that powerful sophonts in the NoCoZo keep teratophytes that are large enough to eat plebhu. These rumors persist in spite of a conspicuous lack of proof.

Velvet Snake

Mustelids have long been popular pets among baselines, and modified mustelids remain popular with the descendents of Earth humans. The velvet snake is actually a ferret that has been engineered to be legless. The body is typically about 1.5 meters long and 12 centimeters in diameter at its widest point. The short fur is designed to be soft and silky without a greasy feel. Other modifications include a blunt nose, a lack of external ears and a long pointed tongue — these were added specifically to increase the resemblance to actual snakes. Most types of velvet snake lack the musk glands that distinguish natural mustelids from their often-modified daughter species.

Velvet snakes retain the intelligence and overall sensory acuity of their unmodified forebears. While hearing is reduced somewhat due to the lack of pinnae the animal has increased sensitivity to ground vibrations. The lack of legs reduces the creature's speed and agility, but velvet snakes are better swimmers than natural ferrets are. Velvet snake fur repels water thanks to genes from otters, and the presence of platypus genes makes velvet snakes oviparous. A female can lay one clutch of 2-6 eggs per year. With proper care and feeding a velvet snake can live for up to 10 years.

Velvet snakes are even-tempered and very friendly; they were designed to be so. Even when abused they almost never turn on their owners. This engineered passivity makes it difficult for them to survive in the wild. In nearly all polities where velvet snakes are common pets abandoning them is prohibited by social pressure if not by law.

Glidemonkeys, a popular Neogen pet based on a fictional flying monkey prototype
Image from Steve Bowers">Flinkeys
Image from Steve Bowers
Glidemonkeys, a popular Neogen pet based on a fictional flying monkey prototype

 
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Development Notes
Text by Michael Walton

Initially published on 02 August 2009.