Ton-E-mite Mounds

Image from Steve Bowers
Ton-E-mite mounds use architecture and reflective surfaces to maintain a constant energy flow

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 movable 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 worshipping 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.