Image from Steve Bowers

Popular virtual environment found across the Zoeific Biopolity, as well as in cybercosms in the Red Star M'pire, Terran Federation, NoCoZo, and Sophic League.

Virtuality Overview

The Gridwood presents as a white luminous void filled with air in which ‘gridwoods’ float in freefall conditions. Each gridwood consists of a three-dimensional multi-level cubical lattice of interwoven arboreal structures known as girdertrees. Each girdertree is roughly ten kilometers long and a kilometer in diameter with a thick crown of leaf covered branches growing from either end. Girdertrees interweave their branches together in groups of four to form square cells, or ‘gridglades’ as they are locally known. Individual gridglades in turn link up to other gridglades to form each face of a cube ranging from 3000 to 10,000 kilometers on a side. A slightly smaller cube of foliage is nested within the outermost cube using a smaller number of girdertrees, and a yet smaller cube is nested inside that one and so on right down to the innermost core of the overall gridwood structure. So-called ‘linkroots’ grow inward and outward from the trunks of some girdertrees to connect different cubical levels together, and allow transit between each level without the use of flight (although many gridwood lifeforms are able to fly to at least some degree).

The trunk of a girdertree makes up the bulk of its mass and is partly covered by an entire ecology of symbiotic and parasitic life forms interspersed with large areas of bare bark. The dual crowns of each tree range from two to four kilometers across and the combined crowns formed at the connection points of each gridglade form ‘woodland nodes’ four to ten kilometers in diameter. These nodes host the bulk of the gridwood’s ecology and are also where the majority of the sophont population of the virch can be found. Various towns, villages, and virtually all major cities are located in and around the woodland nodes, although significant populations make their homes on the trunks as well.

Mature gridwoods are usually separated by distances ranging from several thousand to several hundred thousand kilometers. While the outer layers of a gridwood are well lit by the surrounding void, a combination of dust, pollen, debris and the sheer mass of air refracting and absorbing the ambient light results in the inner levels rapidly giving way to regions of twilight and then deep shadow. These deeper levels are intermittently illuminated by a combination of reflected light bouncing off specialized girdertree leaves and various bioluminescent organisms that favor such conditions.

By local ruleset, a .5G gravity field operates at right angles to each girdertree trunk and extends outward for a distance of several hundred meters before giving way to the general freefall conditions of the overall environment. A similar field can be found in the nodes, but is oriented so that ‘down’ is toward the center of the node where the main connecting branches of each girderwood tree come together. Many of the flying lifeforms of the gridwood are adapted to moving from gravity to freefall and back again, and may undertake migratory journeys around or within a gridwood, or even between different gridwoods as part of their lifecycle.

Culture and Travel

The inhabitants of the gridwoods spend much of their time on extended explorations of the deeper levels of their home gridwood. The gridwood virtuality operating system includes a powerful creative biology generator, often resulting in different gridwoods being home to their own unique ecologies. Voyages of exploration or adventure to nearby, or even exceptionally distant, gridwoods are not uncommon and the constant motion of the different gridwood trees through the void means that new trees, and new potential adventures, are coming into travel range every few years. In addition, new gridwood trees are spontaneously generated from the void once or twice a decade, apparently sprouting from empty space and rapidly growing to full size in less than a year.

Individual gridwoods may host anywhere from one to dozens of cultures. Cultural milieus may range from ultra-tech cities extending along buckyfiber cables strung between girdertrees to idyllic low-tech villages nestled in the branches of a woodland node. While some cultures set no expectations about the appearance and lifestyle of their members, others encourage a certain degree of commonality among the population, resulting in a number of virtual clades. Examples include, but are by no means limited to: The Golden Hives, who present as human-insectoid hybrids (specifically human-honeybee hybrids), the Three Rings Clan who appear as air-breathing arboreal octopoids, and the Nyeida Fei who look to baseline eyes like compact multi-colored swarms of bioluminescent insects.

Travel within and among gridwoods is only loosely regulated by the virch ruleset and can be carried out via almost any method a sophont can imagine. Standard virtuality teleportation, aircars, flying carpets, hot air balloons or blimps, chariots pulled by swans, levitation, or wings of various types and sizes are all commonly seen choices. Actual speed of travel is largely left up to the individual, except in some population centers where local regulations or rulesets are imposed to maintain environmental consistency or avoid annoying the residents.

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Development Notes
Text by Todd Drashner
Initially published on 29 February 2016.