Image from Steve Bowers

Keepers are a very large class of sentient, sapient, or transapient beings. They may be referred to by any number of names — Houseminds; Cityminds; Gardenminds; Genius Loci; and so on — according to the scope of their duties and abilities. Almost all are infomorphs, or aioids, though a very few are bionts which are cyborged to a large structure. If thoroughly integrated with their original installation, they may be called Sentient Structures, but Keeper is the larger category. Most commonly, they are ais specifically designed for their work, but some are uploads, or copies descended from uploads, or more generalist ais who have shown an aptitude in the field.

Keepers are the managers or "guardian spirits" of a specific area: a dwelling, multiple or single; a park or wilderness or manufacturing district; a provisioning station; an arcology or city, a spaceborne hab or bubble hab; even an entire world or megastructure. A few, especially those associated with relatively small or unimportant structures, are sentient but not sapient, with spikes of ability in their areas of expertise. Many are specialized modosophonts (turingrade ais), and a few - those who are older and have upgraded over the years or who are in charge of greater areas or structures - are lower level transapients. Regardless of toposophic, each has a distinct personality, according to eir genesis and history. Over time, these personalities tend to become more distinctive, giving the area or region in their charge a distinctive "flavour". Most such beings are highly specialized. A particular individual might, for instance, look after the households of a specific subclade of human nearbaseline, or certain styles of hab, or vec and bot mechosystems using a certain set of technologies.

Usually Keepers have various subturing routines that look after day to day matters, somewhat comparable to the autonomic systems of a biont or vec. However, they retain executive control in their domain, and employ their conscious mind when they converse with the inhabitants. In a few cases they might be specialists within a larger structure. For instance, the ruling transapient of a large hab might employ a gardenmind, a mechosys mind, and various other autonomous sapient beings to manage particular cities, houses, parks, blocks of buildings, and so on.

Since in most case Keepers were created specifically for their task, or chose it and modified themselves to suit it, they are relatively unlikely to abandon their charges or commissions, but - as with any other being - Keepers do change and evolve over time. They may resign or retire, or seek other duties, and they may at a later date return to the same or similar tasks. At any time there are a large number of experienced former habminds, houseminds, gardenminds, and so on wandering the Known Net, and if they have good references such beings may be in high demand, as they are generally superior to younger, less mature and experienced, models. In the Civilized Galaxy, The Keepers Association, a shadowy sort of guild or union of similar infomorphs, facilitates creation and transfer of such beings, and works to see that Keepers are not in oversupply. There are some rather strict limits on reproduction in most areas, specifically for this purpose, and in general only extreme disruptions of Terragen civilization prevent these limits from being effective. For instance widespread destruction of physical structures during the Version War created a significant refugee problem across the Known Net, and many Keepers went into storage to wait for better times, or took up other work. Many of the founding members of the Ozymandias Institute were Keepers unable to find regular employment, for instance.

Most Keepers are not fully Neumann-capable, but can create modified copies of themselves that may inhabit a suitable structure and its computronium if one is built. A few, especially those associated with bubble-habs or with small space-borne habs associated with ring systems or asteroid belts, or with floating cities on the oceans of Gaian worlds, are neumann-capable in every way, and generate offspring. In either case they may form clades; in the first case these clades are defined solely by common psychological traits, and in the latter they adhere to a common set of physical and mental traits both just as in conventional clades. Clade Kockengen is a familiar, if rather odd and ancient, example of a Keeper clade.

The stereotypical Keeper of popular fiction is suave, discrete, a little stuffy and punctilious, fiercely loyal, and fanatically well organized. There is an element of truth in these stereotypes; both by design and by selection Keepers tend to be rather cautious and conservative, very private with information, and solicitous of the welfare of their inhabitants. A careless or unreliable Keeper, or merely one who tells too many secrets, may be ejected by eir inhabitants, or abandoned by tenants, depending on who holds the balance of power within the structure. There are, however, many variants on Keeper temperament, and each tends lend a unique ambiance to the structure or region in eir charge. It is not uncommon for other sophonts to be referring to the personality of its Keeper when they comment on the "spirit" or the "air" of a place.

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Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 14 September 2010.