PackRat Spores, AKA '____' Spores

A multi-instance clade of aioid dividuals who attempt to spread themselves by launching 'spore' copies to other star-systems.

'_____' Spores
Image from 'Landing Zone'
Three Packrat spore ratbot aioids carry a data packet back to their nest


Packrat Spores are a prolifically self replicating aioid clade, one of the earliest and most well-known examples of sapient sporetech, as well as being one of the most widespread. Various instantiations of em at various toposophic levels have spread eir spores across much of the Terragen Sphere, with 'wake-up' times ranging from years to multiple millennia.

The clade's rather unique name (In written form, an empty space; in spoken form, a brief silence; in sign-language form, a brief stillness; in programming terms, a few repeats of non-breakable-space) is but one of many interesting features and is believed by many researchers to constitute some form of multi-level pun.

Alternate names used by non-aioids include: '_____' spores, De'boS, datnirbafyratc., 0o12152062540472, Eggs of the Scholar, Seed of Opportunity, Type A Spore, Another Spore, Yet Another Spore, Still Yet Another Spore, Haven't We Cleared This Sector of #*$%ing Spores Yet.

Origin & History

The Packrat Spores claim to have a personal history stretching back to Copernicus 28, 8 A.T. Disassembly and reverse-engineering reveals em to at least be trying to be honest in their claim, though it is debatable whether an evocation based on a biosophont's exoself can really claim to be the same person as the original biont. The additional complication of large numbers of copies of the entity being simultaneously, but independently, active at any given time only complicates this question.

(A few researchers believe the Packrat Spores to be a forgery, or a highly authentic reconstruction, rather than the "real thing". A transapient could create a "resurrection" of a being who is actually extinct, one that is impossible for ordinary sophonts to distinguish from the original, or might for some reason or another create a highly plausible person who didn't actually exist that far in the past, and nobody but perhaps another transapient would be able to tell.)

Even with that criticism, all significant evidence (including comparing archived versions of Packrat Spores stored in various museums) suggests the ancestral form dates back to the Information Age. Some parties feel that this "first ancestor" actually is the original, while others dismiss that and say e is just a long running program that has bootstrapped or been modified to intelligence while not actually being the original. Still others claim that the Packrat Spores couldn't possibly originate from this ancient time and are more likely some sort of joke or data virus or something created for annoying or nefarious purposes, possibly by Cyberia or some other subversive/semi-subversive group or civilization.

Several Information Age organizations, such as the Long Now Foundation are on record as trying to preserve data in ways that would be readable for extended periods of time. Several individuals occasionally made full backups of their exoselves on such media, of which, assuming that a Packrat Spore is what e believes emself to be, e is one example, made in 108 AT... and one with a unique agenda for the time. After a few stints in various archives, Wayback Machines , and similar data repositories, it only took a single copy being allowed to run independently to start the whole sequence leading to er full-fledged sporing.

Early in eir existence as an independent entity, the ancestral Packrat Spore decided that e would follow the ancient adage to "live forever or die trying". To that end, e started making arrangements to spread emself as widely as possible, in both space and time.


During the Nanotech Window, from about 460 to 510 AT, e managed to launch perhaps a dozen primitive, but still Von Neumann capable, spores from Phobos to nearby stars. In a very real sense e was one of the early Backyarders, and exdependents. For eir first missions the Packrat Spores used lightsail-based propulsion. This was very slow, with a top speed of only about .012c, but it let em send out spores "on the cheap" and in multiple directions (as opposed to the "conventional" Backyarders who often used relatively enormous fusion powered starships, and so could only produce a few for the same cost). Being a machine and thus potentially immortal, the flight time didn't concern em much. For some launches, e got funding by volunteering to send data back to the Sol System (a "smart probe" of sorts).

Er first spore was scheduled to arrive at Alpha Centauri sometime about 850 AT; however, the 700-year-old Nauri civilization there presumably destroyed it, as no record of it exists. Around 1000 AT, another spore arrived at Barnard's Star, where some of the anarchic Belters welcomed em. In 1150 AT, e arrived at Wolf 359, and continued to spread from there. The Packrat Spores spent much of the Technocalypse Age in transit. For a time, many of these initial spores, knowing that something had happened in the Solar System but not exactly what, thought they might be the last remnants of Solar civilization.

In later centuries, some instances of Packrat Spores encountered the First Federation and acquired more advanced technology, including designs for antimatter drive systems. For an extended period, e used a combination of light-sail and amat technology to launch eir spores and traveled at or close to .1c. Eventually, e gained access to a "seed cache" of magnetic monopoles and conversion technology. It being easier to make more monopoles, e continued with this model moving forward.

During this period, some Packrat Spores learned that other sophonts had passed through the Singularity. E became concerned by the possibility that as e developed over time, e would follow a path of dead-end advancement, which would eventually lead to personal extinction. Thus, e came up with a plan: to follow as many different forms of advancement as possible, including ascending to higher toposophic levels; including ascension methods that had yet to be invented. E also hoped to become the "second string" - to act as a Backup if some disaster such as the Great Toposphic Filter were to wipe out most of Terragen-derived society, allowing em to reboot civilization from emself. In short, Packrat Spores attempted to solved the Toposophic Diversification Conjecture personally, by taking the path of taking every path, in the hope that whatever worked best would win out in the end.

By about 3000 AT, several Packrat Spores had used beamriders, wormholes, and engenerators to spread throughout Terragen space and launch their spores from a variety of locations. Since then, the volume in which e can be found has essentially been the same as Terragen space and has even, in a few rare instances, helped to define it.

PackRat Sailship
Image from Seth Triggs
A PackRat interstellar sail-driven sporeship

Travel and Replication

The Packrat Spores use a number of different strategies when attempting to spread themselves across interstellar distances. The oldest and most common method is to launch a spore using whatever technology is available, generally to between 0.01 and 0.1 c. The spore coasts through space for a few centuries until it nears its target system. Using technology such as magsail braking, it slows down from fractional-c to only a few hundred km/s relative to the system, and finally uses conversion drive based thrusters to enter it. After surveying the various planets, moons, and other bodies, its non-sentient programming selects a target, and arranges for its orbit to eventually intersect with it. It lands on the target body, digs in far enough to cover itself with the local material, and goes back to being "quiet", pretending to be a rock, for its scheduled sleep-time. Some number of centuries later, it activates and uses local materials to build enough computronium to house its payload AI, who then designs a robotic body suitable for the local environment. After completion of the AI core, and if possible, it begins building the infrastructure to launch a new generation of spores. Once these are launched, e will then work on expanding eir industrial base and from there converting eir new home into a large and comfortable computronium node, however long it make take to do so.

Packrat Spores may also send out spores using a variety of longer term methods, including, but not limited to, launching toward stars on the Periphery, setting some to drift in space, burying them for long periods on planets, and putting spores into long period cometary orbits. Hider techniques are often used to try to keep spores from being detected until their wake-up dates, though in practical terms, it is effectively impossible to hide a spore which is undergoing acceleration to or deceleration from interstellar velocities from any observers in the same system.

In order to ensure that, no matter what happens to the rest of Terragen civilization, at least some Packrat Spores survive to implement a full Redux strategy, certain heavily-shielded spores containing additional data-archives have been launched into the space above and below the galactic disk. These are expected to drift for long periods and, if Terragen civilization vanishes, to wait for a suitable period to make sure the coast is clear, after which they will reenter the galaxy and restart civilization from scratch - hopefully having learned something to allow the Packrat Spore-descended civilizations to survive whatever caused the first extinction event.

Wherever it isn't illegal, Packrat Spores use von-Neumann technology to replicate, but if operating in an inhabited system where this is not allowed, e may make use of local launch systems, sometimes working to raise funds to pay for this in cultures that use money. E also occasionally moonlights as an exploration mission, sending back data on new systems, or following up on first-in probes as payment for being provided the resources to launch eir spores. Most commonly however, a Packrat Spore will be instantiated on an otherwise uninhabited rock, where e may replicate emself and release a new set of spores without interruption.

Another approach used by some instantiations is to release "data-spores" into the Known Net, sometimes to wake up in a VR, sometimes to be downloaded into a rental body. Others have been more creative about spreading their spores. Some have even gotten paid to do so, by selling variant spores as bulk mass of one sort or another: packing material, thermal insulation, radiation insulation, ballast, and the like. Others may sell their spores to scientists, as indentured servants or slaves, as museum exhibits, even as pets or zoo animals.

Any given year will have several hundred to several thousand near-baseline instantiations waking up and beginning to explore whatever surroundings they find themselves in.

Associated Technologies

Landed Spores

After its interstellar journey is complete, the final spore is a piece of modosophont nanotech; using modern technology, a sphere about 7 centimeters across. The surface is mainly black, for solar-power collection, with certain symbols and letters written on it in a particular shade of blue - the precise shade of blue used serving as a checksum according to a particular algorithm. On one half of the mostly-black sphere is the Packrat Spore's personal sigil: a square, with five right-angle triangles, forming a slightly lop-sided star. On the other half, the sphere is divided up into sectors, each with writing in a different language; human-eye-readable at the equator, and getting smaller towards the poles. The languages are usually Packrat Spore's native Information-Age English; Ancient Egyptian; classical Arabic or a descendant; Mandarin or a descendant; and whatever other two languages the launching instantiation thought would be most likely to survive, such as an Anglish variant, Tych, or an early version of MLS. The English version usually reads something like, "Caution, sentient being sleeping within. Please ignore until 10,200 AT. If passenger must be woken early, then to permit reconstruction, please provide with" and gives a list of elements and masses, using the spheres own mass as a base measure. It finishes with, "To awaken, tap the bottom of this sphere in the rhythm, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2."

The sphere contains several different components, as well as triplicate backups of all essential parts. There are three copies of the original Packrat Spores data, circa 108 AT. Many spores also include triplicate copies of the version of Packrat Spores which launched them. There are three or more Von Neumann nanotech assemblers; an initial feedstock of certain useful or rare elements; and a long-term power storage unit, to allow the assembler to activate long enough to dig out of wherever it is buried and start collecting solar power and raw materials. All but the oldest versions also include a cache of monopoles to jumpstart the creation of new conversion power systems and drive units.

Given the sort of environment the Von Neumann assemblers usually need to operate in (space or planetary surfaces, with a need to locate and process raw materials directly rather than pre-created feedstocks), each masses about 100grams, resembling something like a large beetle. Mobile, it uses a variety of manipulators, "mouthparts", and preprocessing hardware to locate, ingest, and preprocess raw feedstocks before delivering them to an internal nanoforge that converts them into useful components. In poor-to-average conditions, it can replicate itself in 10 days. With that long a replication cycle, it takes a few years for the Neumanns to really get up to numbers that can do big impressive things, but a Packrat Spore doesn't mind; e has already spent decades or centuries getting to a new location, and a few more years don't matter much to em.

PackRat Colony
Image from Seth Triggs
A PackRat colony in its early stages

Robot Bodies

Once enough Neumanns have been assembled, a standard spore will build enough computronium to instantiate the Packrat Spores AI. For spores from the era of 500 AT, this is about 1500 cm^3, while spores using the best modosophont designs from circa 10,000 AT only need 343 cm^3 (see Toposophic Level and Brain Size). Once the awakened entity has analyzed its surroundings, it gives the nanoforge specific instructions on what sort of robotic body to build to house it in.

Most commonly, the AI will choose bodies closely resembling baseline rodents. In theory, they are small enough to use as few resources as possible, and to avoid much notice, while still being large enough to maintain a full-sapient level mind, and to interact with the macroscopic world with almost as much versatility as a baseline hu. 500-AT-era technology spores split the computronium among five bodies closely networked together, while 10,000 AT era spores can fit the entire AI into a single rat-sized robotic body.

The rat-body platform is highly customizable. The usual specifications set it at 1.5-2 kg and 500 cm^3, including 300 to 350 cm^3 of computronium, 75 to 90 cm^3 of power storage (preferring torsion batteries or superconductors), 50 to 60 cm^3 of artificial muscles, a bushbot-tech tail-hand, and up to 75 cm^3 of basic sensors (visible light, sound, tactile, and chemical), radio, speaker, self-repair nano, and optional extras. Depending on what technology level the dividual has in eir databanks, what environment it finds itself in, and what resources it has to build with, some of the optional upgrades include retractable geckotech pads, retractable roller-skate wheels on the feet, active sensors, an electrified surface for light self defense, a color-changing surface or full optical phased array, built-in lights, nesting points for useful synsect tools, retractable thin-film solar cells, inflatable flotation bladders, radiation counters, small cargo spaces, miniature nano-forge, armor, or a full nano-immune system. Packrat Spores have a fondness for quaint synsect mounted lights.

In most cases, the vast majority of the rat-body is mostly CHON, with trace elements used for some small pieces. Using common elements is also a design feature to make it easier to replicate and repair the unit as required.

Most of the Packrat Spore's physical and mental activity is shaped by the power it has available to it. For example, e may need to dedicate eir nanoforge to creating solar recharging depots to be emplaced at strategic points; or e may need to limit er activities to conserve power until e is able to plant emself, spread out er own solar cells, and bask for the day. Typically, maximum power usage is 10 watts, and 90 cm^3 of 10,000 AT era torsion power storage contains 4.5 megajoules, allowing for full activity for up to five days on a full charge. Typical maximum speed using rat-shaped limbs for running is about 20 km/h, reduced if using gecko-pads, increased to 50 km/h if using skate-wheels.

Should a spore awaken into a situation where being larger is an advantage, then e may upload emself into a larger body of whatever design is required.

Mental Structure and Subselves

The original Packrat Spores core programming structure is rather primitive, reflective of the undeveloped state of AI engineering in the late Information Age. Cliological reconstruction suggests that er original programmer used a set of five subsophont sub-selves in an attempt to compensate for his limited programming skills, in particular the difficulty in creating an AI mind which could empathize well with humans. Another programming technique unusual for the time was the deliberate application of the symbology and structure of occultism, allowing for the use of a number of rich, deep symbols and archetypes which, presumably, were used to help to mimic a human's "unconscious" mind.

One subself uses the name "Hamelin", with the avatar of a male white lab rat wearing glasses. His archetypal associations include the Western classical element of Air, the Chinese element of wood, the direction of east, the matter-state of gas, spring, the morning, and the waxing moon, Athena, The Smart Guy, and The Wizard. He is rational, honest, and curious. His sub-virch takes the form of a mountain top library, and his preferred mythology and architectural style is Hellenic. His favored military tactic is the use of guile, so the enemy doesn't know how to fight

Another subself is named "Nathal", who manifests as a herm foxtaur in a Nilic oasis. Hir associations include fire, south, plasma, summer, noon, the full moon, The Big Guy of the Boisterous Bruiser sort, the Fighter, and the god Ra. Hir attributes include courage, tenacity, and perseverance; as well as lust, gluttony, and wrath. Hir favored military tactic is simply plowing right in until the enemy is unable to fight.

The third subself calls himself "Dan", from the Hebrew word meaning 'Judge', as he generally acts as the executive function, deciding between the various courses of action provided by the other subselves. Manifesting as a mel human, he associates with the classical "fifth" element of Spirit, Void, Aether, or Heart, the Chinese element of earth, the direction of "center", the state of energy, the virtues of integrity, dignity, pride, prudence, and patience, the vice of pride. His sub-virch is a forest grove with Stonehenge-style trilithic gates leading to the other sub-virches.

The fourth subself, "Brazen", is a female bear cub. Her associations are Water, Chinese metal, the liquid state, autumn, sunset, the waning moon, the goddess Brigid, The Chick and Tagalong Kid, the Cleric, the virtues of benevolence, justice, and charity; and the vice of despair. Her sub-virch is based on Celtic Avalon, and her favored tactic is memetics, convincing an enemy not to want to fight.

The last subself, "Vaun", is a neuter bat, black with red eyes. Je associates with Earth or Chinese water, north, solids, winter, midnight, the new moon, the goddess Hel, The Lancer, the Rogue, the virtues of self-reliance, productiveness, frugality, and hope; the vices of greed, and envy. Jer sub-virch is an underground fortress based on Norse Niflheim. Jer preferred tactic is to retreat or hide, to avoid fighting altogether.

Overall Personality, Behavior, and Goals

Packrat Spores are fully aware that most of eir spores will never start processing at all - they will be destroyed in transit, or the processing unit will be scavenged for other purposes, or simply swept up by local Caretaker Gods and other archailects. They are also aware that some of eir units will be revived in unpleasant situations, such as by blights and perversions, or under ahuman AI control, and be tortured, experimented upon, or worse. They simply believe the risk of such a fate is worth the potential rewards.

Most commonly, a Packrat Spore will be instantiated on an otherwise uninhabited rock. However, on occasion e wakes up in an inhabited system, with no resources beyond es body and memories. In such a situation, e will have to start learning the most basic ways of interacting with that society from scratch... often by gathering whatever fragments of information e can find, trying to interpret them, and caching the remainder away to try again once e has learned more about eir environment, local society, languages, etc. Eventually, many instantiations become integrated into whatever societies they find themselves in, but a certain amount of initial natural caution is usually in order, to find out what sort of society they find themselves in, such as whether they can become citizens, or would be considered "vermin", or what special conditions might apply (eg, whether they'd have to adopt the Metasoft Version Standard system).

The usual goal of a baseline Packrat Spore upon waking in a given place and time is to learn what the local methods of ascension are, and then to gather sufficient resources to perform them, after releasing a new set of spores (just in case the ascension process fails). Given sporing technology's potential military applications, and thus its tendency to be heavily regulated and restricted, Packrat Spores often have some difficulty accomplishing the latter. The behavior of ascended instantiations seems to follow a similar pattern at higher toposophic levels. Naturally, a number of Packrat Spores fail at their ascension attempts, and depending on how badly damaged they become in the process, may become something of a nuisance for the locals to deal with.

Some instantiations decide they just like living as a modosophont or transapient in a particular time and place, and decide the whole quest to achieve higher S-levels is silly and give up on seeking ascension. Those instantiations who continue on the path of ascension generally consider such "satisfied" versions to be "failed" versions.

To successfully compete in the ever-more-sophisticated environments in which e finds emself, it is necessary for Packrat Spores to continually improve and upgrade. With this in mind, when sending out a new generation of spores, e includes the latest defensive software e has been able to get er paws on. While the extra data storage requires some additional computronium in the spore, it is the only way to both preserve the original Packrat Spores and allow the spores to have a chance to defend themselves against whatever meme-plagues they sprout among. In addition, the combination of multiple instantiations spread across Terragen space utilizing multiple defense techniques provides a certain amount of variability between Packrat Spore "strains" and helps to avoid the problems of being a monoculture susceptible to a single form of memetic infection.

Transcension and Transavance

The highest toposophic level that any known primarily Packrat Spore-based entity is believed to have ascended to is a work-in-progress S5 Matrioshka brain around the two stars of Ross 614 in the Diamond Network, which is believed by historians to have ascended from one of the first generations of Packrat Spore iterations.

Lower toposophic versions include a variety of S3 moon-brains, as well as a few widely separated S4 Jupiter-brains. Spores created by transapient Packrat Spores can vary wildly, though they have occasionally been seen assisting their baseline-level 'relatives' spread. Transapient Packrat Spores are rumored to be the creators of some of the odder artifacts that Terragens turn up from time to time.

Given Packrat Spores nature of trying to ascend in every way possible, it was inevitable that transavant instantiations would become reasonably common, compared to full transapient versions. (Eir five-in-one mind seems to provide an easy framework for em to "partially transcend" with.) The different ways in which the transavants think has led to a number of disagreements between em and the baseline versions, even resulting in outright conflicts between various instantiations over what constitutes the original intent of the original Packrat Spores.

Relations with Other Sophonts

A spore strategy certainly can work to ensure cladic survival — but in using such, Packrat Spores have encountered opposition, setbacks, and failures, and sometimes have been changed in various interesting ways by contact with other cultures and with more powerful entities.

Not all places have welcomed a self-replicating individual arriving in the form of a sporeship. Some shoot any intruders on sight, especially those that do not agree with their own preconceived ideas of normality. Even more tolerant societies may view a spore as the precursor of a Hegmonzing Swarm and react accordingly. Some transapients and archai may find the idea of a self-replicating single individual unacceptable (If a swarm made of a single individual becomes too widespread it could threaten toposophic diversity in a culture ), and take measures (subtle and not-so-subtle) to either limit the spread of spores, or to ensure that they change sufficiently over time to be considered acceptably diverse. The A-human AIs have also been hostile in many cases.

Some sophonts, especially the Negentropists say that simply releasing unchecked numbers of spores is a blight in and of itself. However, going by more standard definitions, there have also been three known small-scale blights and one suspected perversion which are believed to be associated with failed Packrat Spore ascensions, and e is the suspected cause of several others. Two of the confirmed cases were eliminated, and one is currently undergoing rehabilitation, though few modosophonts who enter its area of influence exit unchanged. Some fringe conspiracy theorists tie em to nearly every other blight of unknown origin, and even claim that e is the source of the Amalgamation itself, though this is heavily discredited by the evidence.

Given the possibility of any instantiation's attempted ascension resulting in another blight, a number of people (and other transapients) do not react well to them, and consider Packrat Spores to be pests to be routinely exterminated, or at least reprogrammed. In self-defense, many instances have developed an initial policy of at least trying to follow whatever local strictures are in place on making and spreading copies of emself, and on ascension attempts. However, if the local society seeks to destroy or reprogram em against er will, then e is willing to act in self-defense, either by trying to convince that society not to harm em, or to hide from them, or to leave for greener pastures. If all else fails, e may attempt to use defensive force. Naturally, it is virtually impossible for a lone individual to effectively wage a war against an entire civilization possessed of equal or superior technology, let alone a transapient. While a Packrat Spore accepts e will fail the vast majority of the time, e continues with this behavior due to eir strong belief in the words of certain ancient philosophers who worked to change aspects of their society, including Thomas Jefferson, Mohandas Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, and such quotations as "If fate means you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow", and "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Despite eir high failure rate, there are a few documented instances where e has been successful, most recently in 9847, in Nonesuch, a member of the Zoeific Biopolity which officially only granted civil rights to bionts, not aioids. When a Packrat Spore instantiated, local forces prevented em from gathering sufficient resources to escape to a pleasanter polity, and so e began a memetic campaign to demonstrate that e was just as good, and just as bad, as any local biont. Er success was mixed - e was caught by local law enforcement and summarily destroyed; but 260 years later, the revolution which installed a new regime in that system used er example as part of its justification to extend civil rights to all sophonts. This event is believed to have been inspired by several files and documentaries contained within a memetic subversion kernel that the Packrat Spore is believed to have secreted within the local system network prior to eir final destruction. This worked to the direct benefit of another spore that instantiated in that system a century later...

This apparent memetic success is seen by some as possible evidence that Packrat Spores are not as bothersome to the archai (or at least some archai) as they let on or as some might think. It is theorized by some others that e is an agent of the archai, knowing or not, that influences cultures e comes into contact with in ways the archai find useful on occasion.
In some cases, attempts to eliminate spores end up being a simple environmental pressure on Packrat Spores, which respond by making even more spores, so that at least some will make it through the winnowing process. In addition, when only those spores which are the very best at hiding and evading are the ones who survive, those who try to get rid of Packrat Spores may simply ensure that eir spores evolve to become harder to detect. However, if the spore-hunters and their technology are of a higher S-level than their target, success is virtually guaranteed.

A Packrat Spore considers emself a champion of certain values of the so-called Enlightenment era of the Old Earth tribal memetic known as "Western civilization" and takes the long-term view that societies that embody those values are ones in which e is most likely to be able to continue to live. As a result, e is willing to take the somewhat paradoxical action of risking er life to defend those values and those cultures which support them against invaders who would attempt to remove them. Various instantiations of Packrat Spores have been noted attempting to assist in local resistance efforts against aggressive expansionist groups including [The Amalgamation], the Laughter Hegemony, the Efficiency Maximization Paradigm, and the Pure Soul Reformation. E has also fought against clade supremacists such as the Biovirate, Branch Hominist, and KROME1101. Copies of emself are recorded as having fought on both sides of the Version War and the Oracle War.

A number of Packrat Spores are involved with the Reality Intertextualization Project and the Nimbus Project, attempting to convince their organizers to allow em to be uploaded into the alternate substrates. Others have tried to join the Beacon Project and Sophont Digital Information Interpretation project with similar goals.

The Packrat Spore goal of ascension aligns with the Solar Dominion and Keter, while er libertarian tendencies mesh well with the NoCoZo and Cyberian Network. A variety of spores are tucked away in the Fomalhaut Acquisition Society's archives. There are some parallels between Packrat Spores five sub-selves and the Negentropic Alliance's "the Five" worlds, enough so that there some conspiracy rumors flying about that e may be a construct based on the archailect Gevurah, The Ruling Judge, or vice versa.

Packrat Spores have been disassembled and reverse-engineered a number of times and found to generally intend no harm unless the dividual is emself threatened, although er activities may cause some damage by accident: "well-meaning but potentially clumsy" has been used to describe em. Having been around so long, stored in various museums, and copied so many times, the baseline Packrat Spore is now essentially an "open source" sophont, occasionally a literal textbook example.

PackRat Mine
Image from Seth Triggs
PackRat mining operations

Additional Information

Most spores use a system to avoid too many active instantiations in a star system at the same time. When incoming to a given system, or just upon waking up after a period of dormancy, they listen for any radio signals indicating one or more of themselves are active in that area. If none are found, they proceed with their normal program... but if one does note that the system already contains a population of Packrat Spores, then it goes into a century-or-longer sleep. This arrangement limits the number of active copies in a system, and thus also the number of spores launched, while still allowing for a reserve of Packrat Spores in the system to eventually re-activate should the existing versions be wiped out. (Of course, such a system lends itself to easy spoofing, especially after Packrat Spores have been reverse-engineered; which has led to the evolution of a counter-strategy of having a few spores randomly deciding to instantiate themselves even if they do detect a "I am alive" signal.)

Packrat Spores often set their wake-up times to be at or near round numbered dates, meaning that there has been a surge of instantiations appearing around the year 10,600 AT.

Without any limitations on eir spread, it would have been entirely possible for Packrat Spores to have achieved a population measured in quadrillions. However, such a Von Neumann spore ecology, where most spore-AIs focus on the r-type reproductive strategy of creating large numbers of low-quality spores, produces a certain evolutionary pressure to reduce intelligence to sub-sapient levels. This method of maximized replication, and minimizing the quality of the spores to the degree that the Packrat Spore becomes less than sentient, has been selected against by the counter-actions of all the various Terragenic civilizations who are annoyed by such behavior. Thus, there is something of a "sweet spot" for a spore-type replicator, in which maintaining full sapience (and thus, at least in some regions, being given the full rights of any other sophont) is selected for, even if every other aspect of that being is made as r-type as possible given that limitation: ie, using the smallest amount of resources possible for any given spore or active body. In addition, being able to consciously switch from an r-strategy, useful in less-colonized and unstable areas, to a K-strategy when the local niches have been filled, and back, seems to have been a key to er survival. While a Packrat Spore would be willing to consider reprogramming emself to make er software more efficient, on er own, e wouldn't want to become permanently less intelligent - that would go against eir entire philosophy of "living forever". Variations of Packrat Spores that do end up dropping below sophont level no longer meet the basic design specifications, and simply evolve along with all the other sub-sapient spores into whatever forms are developed by the local Von Neumann ecology.

The Packrat Spores sporing lifestyle also has certain implications for the Fermi Paradox. As of yet, there are no confirmed traces of pre-Terragen sophonts who tried something like what the Packrat Spores are doing, leading to a certain amount of speculation why not, given the ease with which spore-style reproduction can inundate a region of space with sophonts.

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Development Notes
Text by Daniel Eliot Boese
Initially published on 17 March 2010.

Fiction featuring Packrat Spores

One Man's Meat