The forerunners to the Amphista were part of a suite of bubblehab creation and maintenance systems. The design called for a mobile generalist bot, intermediate in size between the u-fog and nanoforges on one end, and the macroscale architecture on the other. The bot would have to be able to access both the interior and exterior of the hab, and move nanoforged components about quickly. The designers settled on a serpentine form, with a modular interior and manipulators on each end. This design suite, sold by Bluedome Habs, a subsidiary of Cygexpa, proved to be popular, and was used on a number of colonisation efforts throughout the 3000s AT.
The Amphista emselves derive from the Cytherean world Iribos. The colonists of Iribos placed great value on novelty and discovery, and wanted to move beyond the standard bubblehab designs they were originally supplied with. They increased the intelligence of the proto-Amphista bots to add a degree of creativity when creating new habs and new landscapes.
The modification turned out to be so popular that another one followed, allowing them to work on other habitats. Soon the proto-Amphista were designing and building rotating habitats, singlehabs, freespheres, and other, more exotic habitats. They were half engineer, and half landscape architect. By this point, the proto-Amphista were subsophont. Individual experiences shaped their creative output, and they were able to make judgement calls about what combination of novelty and familiarity would most please the new inhabitants.
Some time later, they were modified again, this time as personal companions. They were intelligent enough to serve as fascinating pets for nearbaselines. For a brief time, there was a fad for using them as messengers, to carry gifts between the colonists. Some artists, particularly sculptors, sometimes collaborated with Amphista. During this time, their intelligence was enhanced again, bringing them to the edge of presapience - and occasionally past it.
A century later, the Amphista fad was beginning to fade. The old habitat design suites were becoming obsolete, replaced by new, more integrated systems, and it became more popular to have a human artist design a new hab. The Amphista were recognised as too intelligent to terminate, and were eventually relegated to a few dozen orbitals, their skills unwanted.
A few decades later, a representative of Silicon Generation arrived by Lightway, and declared eir intention to "rescue" them. As it turned out, the most intelligent of the Amphista had been able to scour the Net and get in contact with Silicon Generation. The colonists were all too happy to be absolved of responsibility for the awkward sentient rights issue they were skirting, and soon after the representative returned to Silicon Generation with the Amphista in tow.
There, they were provolved to full sentience by their fellow vecs, in accordance with Bot Marxism, and became one of the hundreds of clades living a self-determined and productive life around Cog. In the Amphista's case they continued to build exotic habitat designs, either for the fellow vecs, or as open-source designs shared over the Known Net. They quickly spread across the Inner Sphere, building their distinctive structures in many systems for a range of clients.
The Silicon Generation was badly affected by the First Vec War, and as a consequence a significant number of Amphista left the Inner Sphere to find opportunities further afield.
The Amphista's designers settled on a flexible, serpentine shape. That structure is stronger than ufog, but is highly adaptable, and can change its characteristics rapidly. This allows the Amphista to function well in a wide range of environments and situations.
Amphista vary in size from 2 metres long and 10 centimetres wide to 10 metres long and 50 cm wide (for a relaxed individual). Smaller and larger examples are sometimes produced for specialised uses. The skin is usually a dark, iridescent grey; it consists of a thin but tough integument (the composition of which can be changed according to environment - the original Amphista were built to withstand a Cytherean atmosphere). The integument covers a thick layer of braided muscles and tension batteries, which in turns covers the brain. At the core, beneath the brain, a cavity runs the length of the body.
Both ends narrow gradually to form a "mouth" composed of six mandibles that provides access to the inner cavity. The mandibles are as flexible as the rest of the body; they peel back to open, and are capable of gripping a variety of objects; by coordinating their efforts, Amphista can manipulate objects singly, in pairs, or in groups. Sensors and bushbot limbs sit inside on the inner surface of each mandible, enabling fine control.
An Amphista can carry a variety of modules inside its inner cavity. Common modules are containers of slaved ufog (or other modular bots), nanoforges with appropriate feedstock, additional power storage, and sometimes smaller Amphista.
Communication, Senses, Locomotion
Two lines of eyes run down each side of the body, capable of picking up everything from far infra-red to soft X-rays. The number varies — Amphista can grow and adsorb these eyes at will. They have a limited ability to pick up longer wavelengths using the entire length of their body.
They are very sensitive to sound. By physically tapping the walls or floor, an Amphista can get a good idea of its surroundings. And if two Amphista in the same structure can't link by laser or local net, they will often communicate by tapping messages to one another.
The inside surface of the mandibles are sensitive to a wide range of chemicals, and have additional specialised eyes so they can focus on whatever they are working on.
The Amphista body allows many types of locomotion, some of which can seem comical from a human perspective. Travelling across a flat surface, they may move by sidewinding, or link their two heads and roll. Faster but less efficient, they can leap, twitching to throw themselves tens of metres into the air (An Amphista sprinting this way can reach a speed of close to 60kph, and to a baseline observer looks very odd indeed.) Their skin is capable of using geckotech, so they can easy scale vertical surfaces. Though considerably denser than water, an Amphista can swim by inflating its inner cavity with air until it is buoyant. In freefall, they can move by peristalsis, inhaling with one mouth and exhaling with the other.
Lifespan and Reproduction
To reproduce, Amphista use a womb-forge interior module. Any number of Amphista may come together to become parents. During gestation, the womb module is traded between them. The newly-generated offspring absorbs elements of the parents' personalities, randomises and combines then to generate the novel mindstate of the new individual.
Amphista are unusual among aioids in that they begin life as infants. The infant Amphista spends the first five years of its life in a highly receptive state, during which it studies the habitat it lives in and the work its fellows produce until it is ready to start adding its own contributions.
Amphista are well suited to a wide range of environments. Their original designers ensured they were protected against the corrosive atmosphere of Cytherean planets, and since then they have enhanced their abilities further. Given access to the right elements, an Amphista can always generate a new integument to protect themselves (fluororsilicones are a common choice).
Psychology and Society
Amphista see themselves as artists and engineers in equal measure. A creation must provide some value beyond aesthetics to be valuable; it should be a pleasant place for its inhabitants, and it should be functional. From the other side, it should transcend a slavish adherence to engineering specs and the laws of physics.
Following from this, Amphista are both creative and meticulous in their creations. They are patient, never cut corners, and devote as much thought to effective maintenance as to creation. When they are contracted as engineers, they may spend a great deal of time studying the clade's psychology to create the right interior environment. Many are serious students of Clade Patternism, and they are known to appreciate the challenge of designing multi-clade environments.
On an interpersonal level, Amphista are usually described as friendly but slightly withdrawn, preferring working on their projects to personal niceties. Like many vecs, they seem slightly obsessive by human standards
Amphista are naturally co-operative. The default social group consists of those individuals working together to build and maintain a single hab. They share ideas and seek a consensus solution that uses the creative input of all members. Maintenance tasks are divided by rota, assigning the appropriate number of individuals to each task.
Fission of a hab-group occurs when some members have creative differences with those around them and leave to start work on their own hab. There is no acrimony in such a split. Rather, the Amphista see it as an occasion for joy and sometimes even celebration. The two hab-groups may have a close relationship for decades thereafter.
Given their desire to feel useful and their self-image as designers and engineers rather than inhabitants, Amphista rarely form single-clade societies. Rather, they associate with a wide range of other clades. An exception to this is the Vulpecula Tectural Tendency a small interstellar polity on the periphery associated with Silicon Generation, which consists of Amphista who colonise new worlds, build megastructures, and leave them open for other colonists.