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R'Foxxans, The

Symbiont Bioborg clade with a wide range of biotech augmentations

R'Foxxan and Periscope
Image from Steve Bowers
This R'Foxxan is using a Periscope augment to improve eir sensory range

The R'Foxxans are a polity of superbright symbiont bioborgs that emerged from a mix of the various nearbaseline humans that colonized the ACAF-37274637-8633 system in the Sagittarius Sector.

B'Elmesh

Although the R'Foxxans control the whole system, and even have holdings in several others, the centerpiece of their civilization is B'Elmesh, a planet they terraformed shortly after the colony's arrival. This planet, originally an AreanTundral subtype with icecaps on the poles that merged with a frozen ocean on one side, was originally called "Red Fox" by the AI of the first colony ship because je thought the red and white patterns of the surface resembled a fox playfully rolling around on its back. But after terraforming any such resemblance was lost and the planet was renamed "B'Elmesh" (meaning simply "Home World" in the R'Foxxan language). However the colonists retained the name R'Foxxan for themselves as a remembrance of their Landing Day. [All other names used in this entry will be a direct translation.]

Water covers 40% of B'Elmesh but most of it is concentrated in the (now liquid) ocean on one side. The ocean was the result of an impact that also formed the planet's moon and gave it its final rotation period of 26 hours, it is therefore deep with no natural islands and centred on the equator with enough distance from both poles that thermohaline circulation is very weak and overpowered by a stronger surface gyre around its perimeter which keeps most nutrients out of its centre. Also, because of the high levels of dissolved silica in the water and its often lower temperatures, the colonists decided to seed the ocean with sponges rather than corals. These have formed a reef around the ocean's perimeter that filters out the nutrients before they can diffuse much beyond the gyre. The result of this is that the mid-ocean is barren except for a few semi-automated OTEC-aquaculture operations.

This concentration of water on one side of the planet has also produced a large desert on the other side. Strong winds frequently sweep over this Great Red Desert and raise large, mineral rich, dust storms.

History

The first R'Foxxan colonists, a small group of the region's plebhu, had no strong bioist views when they landed, and still don't, but when their solettas had melted just 4% of the planet's ice they discovered they weren't the first to set up operations on this world. Buried in the ice was a cache of Soft Cathedral terraforming biotech. The colonists soon surmised that the Softbots were in the first stages of their own terraforming operations when they received word their clade was in its final war with the Sagittarius Sphere, whereupon they cached their technology so they could go back and join the war effort. Other caches were quickly uncovered and the colonists found that enough of the millennia old systems had survived their long stasis to be of aid to their own terraforming efforts.

Once the terraforming of B'Elmesh was complete, the R'Foxxans decided to maintain the Softbots' terraforming biotech, and any other Softbot technology they could later acquire, as a living museum to the lost empire. To preserve the Softbot biotech and keep it free of post Sagittarius Periphery War contamination, they decided to set up their museum off-planet. Fortunately B'Elmesh had a sizable moon; a dry, airless body with a surface gravity of only 1 m/sec^2 but still one they could work with.

The R'Foxxans decided the best way to display the Softbot terraforming tech without contamination was to put it to work as the sole biotechnology on the moon, however this posed a problem: The Softbot biotech they wished to showcase did not incorporate more recent advances and designs like those of the vacuum adapted variant of the Canopy Plant - the Space Canopy. The airless world would have to be given an atmosphere the original Canopy Plant could process, and that atmosphere had to be composed of heavy gases so that it would not escape from the weak gravity field. This was done, and in the Current Era, Cathedral, as the moon came to be called, has two atmospheres; the remains of the thick non-breathable atmosphere the R'Foxxans gave the world above the Canopy Plant (composed of a mixture of CO2, sulfur hexafluoride and some fluorides of xenon) and the breathable mixture the canopy created below itself. Floating above the canopy are some "Landis balloon" type fullairs which serve as the staging point/homes for those R'Foxxans who wish to live on Cathedral.

Physiology & Augments

The effectiveness of Soft Cathedral biotechnology gave the R'Foxxans an interest in developing their own. This interest never expressed itself as a Bioist religion like the Softbots had, but it did give them a respect for the history of biotechnology and its practical applications as well as guiding their augmentation efforts. They eventually determined to develop their own biotech, even as the majority of their technology remained drytech. This effort has been complicated over time by the arrival and eventual integration into R'Foxxan civilization of several different types of nearbaselines, most recently including some "small" Goliaths (Homo gigantopithecus tantillus), as well as a diverse assortment of non-human sophonts.

Nevertheless, with dedicated effort and determination, the R'Foxxans have been able to merge all these disparate groups into a single civilization, united as a single polyphyle by the fact that all sophonts, no matter what their origin, use some form of bioware. Their culture uses two different and separate classes of biotech augments that were either developed or discovered locally: The R'Foxxans on Cathedral have chosen to use Softbot Parasite Processing to become superbrights while those on B'Elmesh have chosen to develop their own bioborg augments for the same purpose. In addition, some of the original colonists and many of the later arrivals brought their own biomods with them, including a small collection of biaioid vecs. Even their AIs now operate, in part or in whole, on biological substrates.

R'Foxxan Augments

The R'Foxxans first effort to augment themselves was the easiest one. Several of their number already had nanobones and it was a relatively simple task to cultivate some of eir bionanomachines and make the augment available to all. Of course nanobone have a well known problem of generating levels of waste heat that are dangerous to living tissue so their second effort was to use the increased intelligence the nanobones gave them to gengineer a safer alternative. To start with, the R'Foxxans knew they could reduce the heat generated by switching to larger scale biomesotechnology, reduce heat intensity by distributing their processing substrate over a wider area, and remove heat more easily by placing their processors closer to the surface of their bodies. They chose to harvest some of the mitochondria of their own cells and repurposed them to work as a bacteric processing node in their skin.

Mitochondria are often called the power plants of the cell because they produce most of the cell's ATP. A mitochondrion does this through a series of actions that pump protons out of its inner matrix to its intermembrane space and then allowing these ions back in through the ATP synthase. An ATP synthase has a rotating structure which the R'Foxxans were able to turn into a rotary switch that could channel electrons down different nanowire pathways, both inside the mitochondrion and out to neighboring mitochondria. [Bacteria often naturely grow nanowires as a way to shed or share electrons, reaching out to form an electrically integrated community.] The R'Foxxans used the large lipid droplets found in the adipocytes of their hypodermis to house clusters of thousands of mitochondria as subnodes which were linked to other clusters in neighboring cells, forming a large distributed network. With this intelligence augmentation (IA) in place the R'Foxxans could relegate their nanobones to mostly a memory storage role.

The R'Foxxans' next phase of augmentation came about as a result of their Softbot museum. As word of their find spread it attracted history and biotech researchers from all over the Terragen Sphere, and one of these was a woman from Arcadia who had a melder symbiont. The R'Foxxans were very interested in the melder, and even though their own IA was already more powerful and more versatile they could foresee other ways of using such a lifeform. They collected cell samples and eventually designed a heavily modified version that, instead of enhancing the ability to calculate probabilities, functions as an organic Touchlink. The body of the new melder generates and modulates low frequency electromagnetic waves which can be transmitted through the biological tissue of their host to any biobot or remote in physical contact with the R'Foxxan while the tendrils that it inserts into the users brain now act as a DNI. One problem of this bio-touchlink is its limited bandwidth so the R'Foxxans most often use it in concert with a periscope. With both in place the R'Foxxan can develop an extensive external consciousness, an exoself.

Knowing that bioborgs often end up needing to increase their ability to take in food and oxygen to meet the greater requirements of their augments the R'Foxxans set about solving these problems before they actually became a problem. To increase their O2 intake the R'Foxxans created two closely related species of neogens called Tubular Worms: Their bodies surround an empty space that is open at both ends. The first type of worm is short but wide and has a one-way valve in its hollow interior. One of these worms is placed in each of the lung's primary bronchi. In a typical installation they are placed so that air can enter but not leave the left lung and air can leave but not enter the right lung. Getting air out of the left lung and into the right is the job of the second worm type. This second type of tubular worm is long, thin, and has a network of smaller capillary-like tubes lining its hollow. These worms are used in great numbers and each has to be placed with its head on the right lung and its tail on the left, with both latching onto, and piercing, an alveolus. This creates a unidirectional flow of air through the lungs similar to that found in avian lungs. Organs in the head and tail of this worm pierce the blood vessels and allow the smaller tube network to fill with blood. Furthermore, these organs are shaped so that there is a ram effect at the head and a siphon effect at the tail so that the blood flows through the worm counter to the flow of air, also similar to what is found in avian lungs.

For increased nutrient intake the R'Foxxans took a lesson from the Fastman lifestyle and used a biobot remote nutrient delivery system. First they designed a neogen (which can be thought of as a cat sized, egg laying, anteater) that could act as a pet and sleep companion for their children. Designed to maximize the comfort of a sleeping hu this "teddy" has a high body temperature, velvety fur, a pleasing scent, purrs like a cat, and lives as long as its owner. The teddies continue to sleep with their owners throughout their lives and when an R'Foxxan becomes a bioborg they are given additional duties. When its owner leaves childhood, and can become a bioborg, the teddy also matures and produces a clutch of six eggs. This first clutch develops normally so that their owner will have a small army of seven remotes to feed him/her when they become bioborgs.

Only one teddy will stay with its owner on any given night, allowing the others to go out and hunt for insects. By the time they return they have metabolized their meals into the albumen and yolk of their eggs. However teddies that are a part of a clutch do not lay complete, shelled, eggs. They instead store the albumen and yolk as a mixed fluid in their oviducts and deposit it into their owner's pouch while e is asleep: Using conventional bioborg tissue grafting the adult R'Foxxans construct a sealed pouch over their abdomens, line it with a new placenta and reopen/refurbish their umbilical veins & arteries. Having this extra source of nutrients does not stop an R'Foxxan from eating normally; it is only used as a bulk supplement.

To supply their bodies with any trace supplements or drugs they may need the R'Foxxans have devised a system that uses small plot pharming (gardens that produce drugs), hummingbird-like remotes to deliver these drugs, and a biobot that resembles a keyhole limpet to receive and administer them. The "limpets" have shells decorated with colourful patterns and are worn on the skin as living jewelry, the "hummingbirds" insert their beaks into the limpets' keyhole to regurgitate the drugs, minerals or vitamins they've collected while feeding in the garden and the limpets then filter and inject these supplements into their host as needed. Both the pouch and the limpets' injection sites are fully protected from infections by local lymph nodes that store genematodes. To tell these remotes and biobots what is needed the R'Foxxans use their own version of the melder.

These devices are the most ubiquitous augments on B'Elmesh and may even be considered the standard for the clade. Although there is no rule that says every R'Foxxan must have all of them they are used by most because they have been proven over time to be the most useful and they are unobtrusive enough that they retain much of their original appearance. There are other augments in use that are specific to different sub-groups, individuals, jobs, or lifestyles and many are even fully removable and interchangeable - being more like wearable muschines.

Among the more notable of these special augments are:

The Periscope: An augment that sits on top of the head. A periscope resembles the head of a small primate and in fact it starts out as something like a tree-dwelling, marsupial, galago. The joey of this animal enters its mother's pouch in such an undeveloped state it is little more than a worm but if left alone it will grow into its normal form and with a little IA it is well suited for work as an agrimonkey. However, if it is collected at this stage and implanted in another animal's skull its development takes a different path. A periscope has very large owl-like eyes, bat-like ears, and melder genes which allow it to insert tendrils into the R'Foxxan's brain so as to relay what it sees and hears. Connected to its host by a short but flexible neck the smaller head has 360 degrees of freedom and can lay down flat for protection. It has no mouth or nose, as it gets all its nutrients from its host, but it does have in their place an ultrasonic drum set in a forward-projecting megaphone to generate coded pulses. The periscope's ears, along with the megaphone, are used for echolocation and data transfers to/from surrounding transceivers. This last function also allows the periscope to act as the eyes and ears of the R'Foxxans' hyperturing planetary aiviser.

The Waldos: R'Foxxan handtech is based around a neogen that resembles a tailless scorpion with six claws. A waldo is typically placed on the underside of the forearm, facing the wrist, and holds itself there by wrapping its legs around the limb. From this location it can easily work on anything the host can position in his/her hand. Guidance is provided by touchlink. A waldo remains fully removable and may even be used at a short distance or in a confined space if the R'Foxxan also has a leash.

The Leash: The biological leash is fully grafted onto the back of the forearm so that it may propagate signals from the host's touchlink to a waldo as strongly as his/her own tissues. For this augment the R'Foxxans copied the biomechanical structure of a chameleon's tongue, but placed it in a housing that is as long as their forearm. As such, the leash can extend up to 1.5 meters. For accurate aiming the housing has its own pair of eyes and a small brain that can override the movements of the host's arm during launch of the leash. A leash may also be used to retrieve small objects.

Striders: The idea for striders dates back to the fabled seven-league boots of old Earth folklore but was first actualised during the Information Age as the various spring powered jumping stilts and shoes that were used for recreation and entertainment. As current era muschines, striders are more capable. In addition to spring-like tendons and an extra jointed "dogleg" extension of bone, a strider also has a nervous system and muscles to boost its power and make constant adjustments to things, like the spread of its toes. Striders are worn like knee-high boots and while wearing them even a pure baseline hu can run up to 45 km/h or clear 2 metre high hurdles in one standard gravity. Although designed to be fully removable, some R'Foxxans have found the striders to be so useful that they have made them a permanent augment, grafting them to their lower legs and replacing their own feet in the process.

Aquatic Augments: R'Foxxans love to play in water because submersion is a very effective way of dealing with the waste heat of their IA. The deep and mostly lifeless ocean of B'Elmesh provides few reasons for the R'Foxxans to venture beyond the sunlit shallows except to make passage by boat from one shore to another, and their aquatic augments reflect this.

The most basic aquatic augment is a strider modified to have webbed toes, but some R'Foxxans go farther by enclosing both legs in a dugong-like tail. They can also equip their lungs with symbiotic bacteria which produce an anti-adhesive pulmonary surfactant, so that they are able to reinflate them even after complete respiratory collapse during a deep dive. Many R'Foxxans have also placed pockets of myoglobin rich tissue under their skin which not only provides an extra store of oxygen but also streamlines their contours.

The R'Foxxan AI and Culture

Of course when the colonists came into the star system they had the usual assortment of aioids and expert systems to run their equipment and support them in their daily lives but the R'Foxxans had done most of the work of turning the star system into a civilization themselves. However, during the 8000s they began to notice troubling trends in the surrounding region. The previous centuries had already seen the Age of Crisis and the expansion of new empires but more worrying to them were the internal tensions developing in the nearby Sagittarius Cooperation. The R'Foxxans were feeling the need for the protection of AI rule.

The AIs

Fortunately for the R'Foxxans one of the aioids was a personal hyperturing aiviser. All they needed to do was repurpose it into a Planetary Aiviser and install it onto a new substrate that was more widespread. And the R'Foxxans already had access to a very large and powerful computing resource in the form of the BioGeoComputing layers beneath the surfaces of B'Elmesh and Cathedral.

It is true that a BGC, while ubiquitous and well protected, was slower than they needed it to be but the R'Foxxans had already addressed this problem to some degree. The R'Foxxans on B'Elmesh tend to gravitate to the shores of its ocean so this is where they needed the most computer processing. To answer this need they adapted their mitochondrial IA to work in the sponge reef that ringed the ocean. The bodies of sponges consist of a jelly-like mesohyl sandwiched between two layers of cells and the mesohyl proved to be a very supportive medium for their modified mitochondria. The sponge ring, while still spread out around the ocean, has a much higher density than the BGC and it's been calculated that even alone it has enough processing power to host several SI:2 minds. However it is currently unknown if, and doubtful that, any ascensions have taken place.

What is known is that their Aiviser has guided the R'Foxxans through the creation of a legion of dedicated superturings to act as subminds, agents (including their own version of "FedReps"), keepers, genies, etc. There are even several collectives of superturings operating in the BGC/sponge ring that use the power of their groupminds to control the more advanced ultratech that the Aiviser has also guided the R'Foxxans in creating. It is also known that the Planetary Aiviser has turned down all requests for an aicracy, advising instead that the superbrights continue to self-rule by their representative stochocracy - a system whereby members of government are chosen through lottery but the policies they follow are guided by polling.

Culture

The R'Foxxans are a very diverse collection of sophonts and their polity has an equally diverse collection of subcultures, however they do have one general metapsychology that is loosely aligned with that of the Negentropy Alliance - conservationism. That said, the R'Foxxans are not members of the alliance but they are on good terms with them; or at least they were the last time they were in contact with the Alliance. The R'Foxxan polity is somewhat isolated. They have no wormhole links and are not a part of any beamrider network. All communications and transport to/from/within the polity are done with interstellar comm-lasers and catapults, and the few conversion drive ships that originally brought them into the region.

R'Foxxan conservationism stems from their pride in their biospheric work. In addition to terraforming B'Elmesh and Cathedral they have built a large number of orbital structures. These are all of the smaller megastructure types (Stanford toruses, Bernal spheres and O'Neill cylinders); not because they lack the tech for larger habitats but because these smaller habs can be built with metals which conserves carbon for the ecosystems within. Smaller biospheres also require more care to maintain, thus (again) conservation.

To best protect these biospheres the R'Foxxan culture chooses to keep the higher concentrations of their civilization at a distance from nature. In the orbitals, cities are placed along the side walls or on the endcaps. On B'Elmesh and Cathedral, the smaller cities and their food production are mobile, taking the form of fullairs or floating atolls drifting with the ocean currents, there are even some walking arcologies wandering the more barren lands. Transport between these cities is by aircar, boat and omnicraft so no roads scar the land. Heavy industry is placed on asteriods. For light industry the R'Foxxans once used industrial ecology centres but now that ultratech is more wide spread they use a system of distributed nanofacs controlled by their Aiviser through an army of personalised superturing genies. The aioids do a much better job of conserving resources and eliminating waste with hyperturing guidance, and not just because of their highly efficient operations: The ability of the Aiviser to know exactly what the lower sophonts need and deliver it exactly when they need it has actually reduced the need of many to want more possessions. [As a result there has been a shift in the economic base of the R'Foxxans towards providing enriching experiences; arts & entertainments, personalised services, etc.] To further reduce the impact of industry synsects are used to collect the needed materials and they are programmed to favour collecting materials in suspension; wind blown dust, water borne particulates, etc.

Not all the planetary citizenry live in the mobile cities. For one thing, when the R'Foxxans dismantled the old industrial ecology centres on B'Elmesh their mining operations had left networks of underground chambers and transport tubes behind. These have been interconnected, made habitable and are now the largest cities on the planet, although for now they are under-populated. Far from being dank, dark holes in the ground this vast subsurface network is powered by a monopole boosted fusion reactor which provides an abundance of energy for, among other things, lighting. It is here, in this self-contained underground world, that the R'foxxans are experimenting with creating their own version of a nanotopia. At the other end of their society some R'Foxxans choose to live closer to nature, and if all they want to do is camp out they are simply pledged to the creed "take only memories and leave only footprints."

However there are a few who want to stay longer and use the land for something, living off the land as it were. To allow for this without encouraging it the government has brought back an old philosophy called Georgism; an economic ideology that holds 'everything in nature as belonging to all so a citizen can only own what he creates.' To become a landholder on B'Elmesh is not easy and the R'Foxxans would have it no other way. First, they are not allowed to own the land but only rent it. Second, they must pay a deposit in advance or provide proof they can pay rent for the duration of the lease. Third, the amount of this payment only allows the R'Foxxan to set the size of land they want to lease and the length of time they wish to hold it, the actual location of the land is left to chance - a lottery. Furthermore the R'Foxxan has to pay before they know what they are getting. It is this risk that keeps most would-be landholders away because although one could get prime oceanfront it is more likely they'll get isolated desert. Finally, although a landholder can in theory do anything they want to on their lease, what they do there must not be illegal, not effect the environment outside their holding (nor the BGC beneath it), and when the lease is over the land must be returned to its original state, at their cost.
 
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Development Notes
Text by AI Vin

Initially published on 13 December 2011.

 
 
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