Aruan, Clade

Image from Luke Campbell


Of the many clades of gastropods provolved by the famous, or infamous, Malacologists of New Duibbat, clade Aruan is among the best known. The clade's original claim to fame was that intended by the faction of Malacologists who first created them in the early 60th century AT: they are very close to the smallest viable size for a fully mobile sapient being who has a purely biological brain, without the bionano or other technological augmentations that make human-equivalent sophonce possible in some of the other small provolves (such as the Aruan's sibling clade, Cymbium sapiens). A young adult Aruan who has just attained full sophonce weighs no more than nine kilograms exclusive of the shell, and is roughly equivalent to a lower-end human baseline in mental capacity, though larger and older individuals can make a more impressive showing. That is not, however, what the clade is known for today. While some cultures and communities of Aruans still dwell quietly together with their creators and with their numerous sibling gastropod clades in the habs of the Wallace Dyson in the Utopia Sphere, the majority have gone on to make a mark elsewhere in the Terragen Sphere and have engaged in significant self-provolution in the centuries since. A few of these have become notable in provolutionist and pan-sophontist circles for reasons entirely different than those intended by their creators.


Clade Aruan was derived from the genome of a variety of marine gastropods, including various chank, cone, conch, and moonsnail species, and of course the clade has many splices from more active mollusc species (cephalopods and certain predatory pelagic gastropods) and some novel genes not found in any baseline mollusc. These additions aside, the primary template was taken from the Burning Library Project's records of baseline Syrinx aruanus. This species, a native of the shallow tropical waters of the Pacific ocean along the northern and western coasts of Old Earth's Australia, was a predator on polychaete worms, and was the largest extant species of gastropod prior to the Great Dying. Aruans are only slightly larger than their distant ancestors; when they first achieve adulthood and human-equivalent sophonce they are typically 45 centimetres long from spire to siphonal channel and weigh less than 9 kilograms exclusive of their shell. Adults continue to grow, though, and are more typically up to 20 kilograms in body weight and over 75 centimetres on length. Some of the largest individuals may be over a metre long.

Like the species from which they are derived, baseline members of Clade Aruan have a long buff-coloured trumpet-shaped shell with a long forward-projecting siphonal canal. Most individuals and subclades have retained this rather plain appearance, though some have modified themselves and have spectacular markings. The long siphon is both the intake for their respiratory system and a sensory organ with an extremely good sense of touch, taste and smell. Aruans are unlike their ancestors, though, in that the bronze-coloured eyes on their cephalic tentacles are large and extraordinarily keen. Also, unlike any baseline gastropod, they have four manipulative tentacles, each tipped with a number of fingers, on the forward part of their mantle. Though these tentacles are not particularly strong they are very sensitive and nimble. The tentacles and the visible portions of the mantle are typically a mottled brownish colour. Aruans have a very solid operculum and can withdraw entirely into their shell behind it. At need they can make the seal between operculum and shell nearly airtight.

Like some other provolves derived from predatory gastropods, baseline Aruans are venomous and have an extensible proboscis armed with a number of specialized radular teeth that contain a potent mix of neurotoxins. The dosage delivered by a typical Aruan is fatal to nearly any baseline Terragen animal that masses less than 200 kilograms, though Aruans themselves are somewhat resistant. Some more aggressive individuals and subclades of Aruans have since gone on to expand on this basic ability with biological enhancements or even with cyborg implants that work on the same principle, up to and including destructive nanotech or software "poisons" that affect inorganic opponents, and delivery systems that do not require direct contact. While not quite the "Aruan Sting" depicted in some popular fictions, such systems can be remarkably effective. For instance, Aruans carrying such enhancements were among the few biont survivors in the infamous Mechanist-inspired Clean Sweep Riots that took place in the habs of the Enkatsu system in the late 9500's.

Some aspects of Aruan internal anatomy have no analogue at all in baseline gastropods. For instance, they have a closed circulatory system, and of course most of the neural ganglia are fused into a single very large brain. However, the provolution team that created them held to a version of Authenticist Provolutionism, and was at pains to leave as many aspects of original gastropod physiology and anatomy in place as possible. This decision was to have significant repercussions in the later history of the clade.

Communication, Senses, and Locomotion

Aruans have a very keen sense of sight. Their highly developed eyes can function both in the air and in the water, and in very bright or very dim lighting, and are sensitive to colours over a very large spectral range by daylight. They also have extremely high definition and an ability to resolve items that are very small or very far away; comparable to a human equipped with a mid-grade set of binoculars or a hand lens. Their chemical senses are also sensitive and wide-ranging, though more so under water than on land. As for touch, an Aruan's entire soft body is exquisitely sensitive. However, Aruans are nearly deaf by the standards of humans or other vertebrates, unable to detect typical sophont speech or pick up more than the loudest and lowest frequency noises. Communication with beings whose language consists primarily of sounds requires translation devices. Aruan languages themselves are extremely subtle and rich, and unlike some more typical Terragen modes of communication they allow multiple channels of information, but their natural range is very short, since gesture and touch are major components. Most Aruans make extensive use of an aquatic version of utility fog to make up for this deficit; the rare prim or lo-tek Aruan societies make heavy use of written materials and frequent close personal contact.

Aruans do not have any great physical strength in their tentacles, though they can manipulate even tiny objects with great skill. The muscular foot has tremendously powerful suction, and operates over a very wide range of surfaces. An Aruan who is in a hurry can crawl along at a "sprint" of 50 metres per hour. Though this is 500 to 600 times slower than a more typical sapient biont such as a human, an Aruan can scale vertical surfaces or even move upside down, and is of course entirely silent. Though they typically move about underwater, Aruans can also crawl on land, though they must leave a trail of mucus if they do so and take care not to dehydrate themselves if the environment is not moist. Naturally, just like other sophonts, Aruans use vehicles if they are in a hurry or if the environment is hostile. The most common choice for casual jaunts outside their home habitats to interact with other clades is the "snailcar" common to so many gastropod provolve clades: a small low-profile multipurpose amphibious vehicle that provides the occupant with a comfortable interior environment, is able to move on land or through the water at speeds comparable to those achieved by vertebrate bionts, and can interface with larger or faster modes of transport at need.

Lifespan and Reproduction

Like their ancestors, Aruans have male and female sexes. A female selects and copulates with a male and later lays a string of two to five eggs in a gelatinous case. In Aruans the individual eggs, and the small snails that hatch from them, are much larger than those of any baseline gastropod. The female, and in most Aruan societies the male who mated with her, tend the eggs before they hatch and guard and guide the hatchlings through a very long childhood. Due to their small size young Aruans are not capable of full sophonce until they have grown somewhat. Though they are certainly sentient and have developing personalities they do not achieve borderline sophonce until the age of 5, and do not achieve human-equivalent intellectual abilities until they are nearly 25 years old. In the time since the baseline clade was created, some Aruan subclades have taken measures to shorten this time, but many others believe that the long development period and slow onset of sophonce produces greater personal depth and individuality, and the parents and the community in general support this slow development. In many traditional societies, the transition to sophonce and the later transition to adult-level intelligence are marked by special coming-of-age ceremonies. These may be followed by a variable number of additional rites of passage as an adult continues to grow in physical size and mental capabilities. Baseline Aruans continue to grow, more and more slowly each decade, for the first three centuries of their lives and even those who choose to live as prims, without medical interventions of any kind, can live for up to a millennium before they begin to show any signs of age.

Environmental Requirements

Like the species on which they were based, baseline Aruans are most comfortable in tropical marine waters, at a salinity, pH and oxygen tension comparable to that of Old Earth's oceans, and a steady temperature of about 30° Celsius. However, their creators did give them the ability to survive, if not thrive, in a much broader range of environments. They can live in fresh water for months, or even longer if they take mineral supplements, and they can survive on land for hours or even days depending on how moist the environment is. However, temperatures more than 5 degrees above or 10 below the ideal are fatal to an Aruan if they persist for any length of time. Though extreme temperatures are difficult for them to deal with, other adverse conditions are not. At need, an Aruan can retreat into his or her shell, sealing off the gap between the operculum and the shell itself with a nearly airtight secretion, and wait for conditions to improve. Some spacer clades have enhanced this ability to the point that they can survive for a period of time in a vacuum. A famous case of this occurred during one of the minor skirmishes between ordinary sophonts during the Oracle War, when a group of Aruan traders managed to save themselves by feigning a hull breach on their spacecraft during the destruction the Rakuen IV habs, and then bravely doubled back to pick up other survivors when the attackers moved on to other targets.

Aruan equivalents of parks and recreational areas are replicas of intertidal sand or mud flats planted with marine grasses. Their settlements and dwellings are mazes of complicated and often shifting structures that resemble a colourful technological version of a coral reef, often as an arcology projecting above these "parklands". The structures of an Aruan reef/town are typically reconfigured on a regular basis, and Aruans usually make extensive use of aquatic utility fog technology. Aruan-only settlements do not typically grow larger than a few tens of thousands of individuals, and most are smaller yet, the size of a small village, though Aruans seem to be quite comfortable as minorities in extremely large multi-clade cities.

The Aruan diet includes large quantities of meat. While many are satisfied with lifelike replicas of their "natural" prey (polychaete worms, gastropods, small crustaceans, and the occasional small fish) fresh from the nanofac, others have an impulse to hunt their own live food, much to the disgust of those sophonts who adhere to a strict interpretation of the Universal Bill of Sentients' Rights. Actually obtaining a sufficient volume of food from natural sources to support an Aruan body, which has a much higher metabolic rate and a hugely larger brain than that of any evolved gastropod but is no better equipped to obtain that volume of food than any ordinary snail, is quite a challenge, but it has been accomplished on occasion. The most notable case was that of the Aruan population on the Lost Colony of Hightide, whose entire technological base was destroyed by hostile ai viroids but managed to survive for five generations with only Agricultural Age technology by carefully farming some rich intertidal zones until the colonists were finally rescued. Admittedly they were living on a world terraformed specifically to Aruan tastes, but it was nevertheless an accomplishment that won the admiration of Semperists across the Terragen Sphere, and was the subject of a widely popular semi-fictional documentary.


A young adult Aruan is comparable in general "intelligence" to a human baseline, and the largest and most experienced Aruans are somewhat similar to human superbrights in their capabilities, but there are some significant differences. Though optimized in every way for high-level cognition, the Aruan central nervous system is still much smaller than that of a more typical sophont, and in moment to moment conversation an Aruan can seem a little sleepy and slow on the uptake to more standard clades. Where the Aruans excel is in the depth and creativity of their thoughts, and in their extraordinary attention to detail and planning. Aruans explore and prepare for multiple contingencies, and are well known for finding novel solutions. Though of course there is huge personal and cultural variation, Aruans by and large have a rather aggressive, exploratory and sometimes disturbingly predatory attitude towards their surroundings, including any sentient beings. They like to hunt, and they like to compete, both individually and collectively. This is a strong drive in many members of the clade, though it may take the very civilized form of a quest for social, financial, or even spiritual mastery. In the NoCoZo, or other regions that allow or encourage mercantile activity, Aruans and Aruan-led corporations are often very competitive, and there are many Aruans in the legal professions.

Though it is a minority custom, there is a strong tendency for some individual Aruans and some entire societies or cultures of Aruans to equip themselves with lethal personal weaponry, to the maximum allowed by local law, their own resources, and their physical capabilities. Such weapons may even include an entourage of personal warbot attendants. Whether this is a natural extension of the clade's intrinsic weaponry, springs from some regrettable incidents of anti-Aruan bullying by members of larger and stronger clades, or is some quirk of the Aruan psyche is a point of debate. Some such individuals can be extremely dangerous if confronted, or even if merely annoyed. The stereotypical irascible, weapons-laden Aruan has been the butt of many a humorist (though usually from a safe distance) much to the embarrassment of more typical members of the clade.

Many Aruans are inclined towards Keterist, Zarathustran, or similar belief systems; relatively few are inclined towards religions or philosophies that require obedience to some external authority, as Solarism or like some of Old Earth's Abrahamic faiths do, or that encourage detachment and asceticism like Negentropism or Buddhism.


Aruans tend to form small self-governing enclaves consisting entirely of other Aruans, but not entire large polities of their own. Instead, they create niches for themselves within multi-clade societies. At the scale they prefer, they form loose consensual semi-democratic organizations among themselves, and resolve any irreconcilable differences within their community that cannot be resolved by persuasion or through competitions or formalized duels with emigration or exile under the umbrella of the larger society's rules.

Aruan visual artists exist, but are not typically notable outside their culture, and even Aruans tend to be more inclined towards the works of some more talented gastropod clades such as Cymbium sapiens. In the arts, Aruans are much more successful outside their clade as creators of narrative fiction. Aruan achievements are notable in the philosophical, commercial, academic, and legal fields. The impulse many Aruans have to "explore every nook and cranny" has given them prominence as explorers, either on the Periphery or in the Terragen Sphere's many poorly known backwater systems.


The Aruans were first derived in 5934 in habs of the Wallace Dyson in the Utopia Sphere by an Authenticist faction of the Malacologists of New Duibbat. Their early history was relatively unremarkable, but after a century or so a rift emerged within the nascent Aruan society over the issue of self-provolution. At one pole were those who found their form entirely pleasant and sufficient, and were content to make small tweaks, while at the other were those who were dissatisfied with the limitations of the Aruan form, not to mention the Malacologists themselves, and sought to make significant improvements. These improvements eventually became quite radical in some groups, with the production of cyborg and ai descendant clades, but the first major point of dispute involved biological improvements. In particular, there were those who found the torsion common to most major gastropod lines to be a major imposition, and began to question the utility of a shell in a civilized sophont. Torsion in particular was a flashpoint, since the primordial torsion of gastropods places the exits of the excretory and digestive systems near the respiratory system in the mantle cavity, right over the head. Eventually disagreements between the Torsionists and the De-Torsionists (or the "Shitheads" and the "Slugs" according to the least polite members of the two factions) became so acute that the De-Torsionists left the Wallace Dyson entirely and dispersed through the Terragen sphere. Interestingly, many retained a strong interest in provolution and provolution issues.

In the late 6300's, some De-Torsionist war-lawyers targeted their progenitors and managed, even within the relatively mild and benign legal system of the Wallace Dyson habitats, to sue the creative team responsible for clade Aruan in a series of aggressive lawsuits that were so successful that the Malacologists named in them were eventually stripped of all their local properties and forced to emigrate. To add insult to injury, the famous Aruan novelist and comedian Digsdeep Fractalsand made these unfortunate individuals the laughingstock of the Terragen Sphere in his "What Do you Think You are Doing?: Epimethius and Error", an uproariously and very true-to life send-up of the workings of a provolution team that was also a rather shocking and thought-provoking look at the entire enterprise of provolution, drawing attention to the very large number of botched and miserable provolve clades that are the result of careless or malicious provolutionists across the Civilized Galaxy. Some consider these memetic attacks on legal and cultural fronts to be one of the more powerful non-lethal manifestations of what has been called Frankenstein Syndrome.

To this day some Aruans are still very active in the ethical and legal issues that arrive at the intersection between the Universal Bill of Sentient Rights and the common urge to provolve, and are in particular conflict with the more radical and heedless Pan-Sophontist factions.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 20 December 2009.