Alwin Grove, a small park on the Biopolity world Timothileary. The whole park in fact is a Clade Darwin sybont structure which supports several human-like mobile avatars (blue figures in this image)
The Darwins are a First Singularity transapient clade, originally native to the Zoeific Biopolity. Unlike some other transapients, they have a common set of characteristics that ordinary sapients can identify, appear to have a common origin or design to which most of them remain faithful, and are capable of independent reproduction/manufacture of new individuals of the same type. For these reasons they are generally regarded as a clade by sophontologists.
Darwins generally are among some of the more approachable transapients from the point of view of ordinary sapient beings, and they seem to have a special talent for intertoposophic communication. They were first designed as a variety of the Biopolity's Zoea, but unlike most Zoea their appearance is seldom grotesque to the unaccustomed eye, and is usually attractive and reassuring instead. They appear to have a function in transapient society as envoys and researchers. A relatively "fertile" clade, they are on the increase, and they are widespread in the Terragen sphere. Many Darwins are still Zoea for the Biopolity, but many others appear to be aligned with other meta-civilizations or seem to be entirely independent.
Darwins are, like their fellow Zoea, polymorphic bionano organisms. Unlike other Zoea, however, they tend to avoid the slimy, spiky appearance typical of those life forms, unless they are working with sophonts for whom that form is attractive. Members of clade Darwin will go to great lengths to set other beings at ease. Their preferred form is that of a central, relatively immobile sybont structure about half a hectare in area that supports a number of mobile avatars. The main body is most often shaped to resemble something that is relatively attractive and unthreatening to the local population. For instance, on a planet mostly inhabited by human baselines the sybont structure may resemble a small park, with a few small buildings and perhaps pathways leading to a central dais or clearing that serves as a communication centre. A Darwin's mobile avatars are typically sophont or sub-sophont personalities, and are made to blend in with or to be attractive to the local sophont population. These may be anything from insect to elephant sized, but usually they are in the 20 to 120 kilogram range. In a population of human baselines, these avatars might resemble humans, or various local animals, or unique neogens with abilities that are useful to the Darwin and an appearance that is tailored to be attractive in the local culture. If it were living in a vec society, a Darwin would similarly adapt to the local vecs and their preferences.
Though the Darwins or their avatars may be active on the Known Net, or create avatars that operate in it or in other computronium habitats, very few Darwins are known to have permanently abandoned their usual physical bodies to live entirely in a computronium environment. Those who have done so have generally renamed themselves and taken up other pursuits, and are not generally regarded as members of the clade by sophontologists.
If necessary a Darwin can abandon its central body and physical avatars and reconfigure itself into a small mobile form weighing less than 50 kilograms. Such forms may then grow, manufacture, or use other equipment (anything from legs or wheels to ground, air, or interplanetary vehicles) as necessary for rapid travel. In a very few instances, a Darwin has manufactured its own small interstellar craft for this travelling form. However such drastic actions are rare and usually mean that there is some sort of emergency. Under ordinary circumstances, traveling Darwins buy or hire regular transportation, and maintain a larger a body and as many mobile avatars as is practical. They explain that this is because they prefer to remain as much "in touch" with their surroundings as they can, and enjoy the experiences and interactions of travel.
Communication, Senses, and Locomotion
As sybonts, and given their polymorphic abilities, Darwins are capable of creating special purpose sensors appropriate to almost any occasion should it arise. However, even their typical day-to-day sensory equipment is extensive. It includes an impressive suite of chemical and biochemical sensors (equivalent to a superhuman sense of "smell" or "taste" and an innate ability to analyze genetic material from small samples), the full auditory range from ultrasound to infrasound, x-ray to radio photon energies, various particle detectors, sensitivity to magnetic fields, a brushbot-level "touch" sense, and other conventional sensors that a biont or vec might use, as well as several more arcane transapient synthetic senses. In this realm they seem to be extraordinary even for S1 entities. They reportedly spend a great deal of their time thinking about these inputs, and may be regarded as the transapient equivalent of hedonists. According to S1 commentators, some other transapient entities regard Darwins as rather intellectually shallow, though others think of them as particularly alert and sensitive.
Ever adaptable and diplomatic, Darwins communicate by whatever means is most convenient when they deal with ordinary sophonts. They seem to have made a particular study of languages and memetics. They are extraordinarily fluent and persuasive, and are far less likely than other S1 entities to make baffling and incomprehensible pronouncements; their conversation is notoriously "easy" for sub-singularity beings to understand. As a result, it is common for S<1 beings who are in conversation with them or with one of their avatars to forget at times that they are dealing with a transapient mind. They can even sometimes offer explanations of the behaviour of other transapients that seem to be clear and lucid. Most believe that this is because Darwins are even more inclined than other transapients to simplify what they tell beings of a lower toposophic, but long experience has shown that if this is true then at least they do not provide information that is actually wrong or misleading. Perhaps just as importantly to some, Darwins rarely give impression that they are "talking down" to ordinary sophonts, as so frequently happens in communications from other types of transapients.
Lifespan and Reproduction
Members of clade Darwin are like other transapients, in that they rarely choose to create copies or other descendants. The reasons for this are no better understood for Darwins than for transapients in general, and even the Darwins can't (or won't) explain it. As transapients go, Darwins are relatively "fertile", though. Their own reproduction and a slow but steady production of baseline Darwins on the original design in the Zoeific Biopolity account for a small but steady relative increase in the Darwin mode of transapience. When they do create new individuals of their clade, these new persons are usually not simple copies but are the result of a collaborative effort between two or more Darwins. More rarely they may be the result of interaction between Darwins and one or more other transapients. Most, but not all, of the results of such projects are themselves identifiable as Darwins, at least from the point of view of S<1 beings.
Like most transapients, Darwins are too mutable and transferable to new substrates for any to have died of any form of "old age", but every year a small number of them choose to extinguish themselves, for reasons that are usually translated as "boredom". A smaller number (lower than usual for S1 beings) choose ascension and reach the next singularity. Post-Darwins often lose the distinctive set of Darwin traits, however, and so are not considered by sophontologists to be members of their parental clade. A post-Darwin is no more a Darwin than a post-human is a human.
Darwins use a variety of computronium that is stable over a wide range of temperatures, and even in their most basic physical forms they carry the templates for a wide range of technologies that allow them to maintain these temperatures. Though their preferred environment is within the range found on the surface of a typical Terragen style gardenworld, they can live comfortably in any environment known to bionts, terragen or otherwise, and with extra preparation time they can survive in all but the most hostile conditions (though long term residency in a stellar interior, for instance, is beyond their capabilities). If somehow caught unawares, they can be destroyed by weaponry or by extreme environmental conditions, but this is quite rare. Though they can exist indefinitely in a form of hibernation, a typical active Darwin draws energy, matter (including a range of elements) and other resources equivalent to a small town of human nearbaselines just to carry out eir simple day-to-day activities.
The psychology of Darwins, like that of any transapients, is unfathomable to beings on the lower toposophic scale. Nevertheless, they do consistently project a persona resembling that of a rather tenderhearted, sociable, scholarly, and easy-going person who is fond of animals and intellectual puzzles. Most Darwins are fascinated by subsingularity beings of all kinds, whether they are amoebas or Superbright nanoborgs, and tend to be rather protective of them. They are especially but not exclusively interested in biont or sybont life. They have a knack for "getting along" with other beings generally. Darwins are as versatile, and as capable of self-defence as any transapient, but they do not seem to be inclined to be warlike, and they seldom become parts of any hierarchy. They seem to be strongly motivated by curiosity.
From the point of view of ordinary sophonts, Darwins are notoriously stable and predictable, and are generally considered to be relatively "safe" to be near. Even independent Darwins operating outside of civilized regions do not mistreat lesser beings or otherwise suddenly change their behaviour towards them. The Deorvyn/Deorwyn atrocities in the Newlife system are an infamous (and as far as known the only) exception.
Most aspects of Darwin society are incomprehensible to ordinary sophonts, but they do tend to settle in communities of twenty to a hundred or so, separated by no more than a few light seconds, apparently for the transapient equivalent of company and conversation. Though some individuals may wander for centuries at a time, most pick a region and "settle in" for tens or even hundreds of years.
Darwins seem to move freely and easily among other transapients, and generally appear to enjoy amicable relationships with them. Though many have remained true to their original Zoeific memeplex, there are others who have joined the other major transapient memeticities, or who appear to operate independently.
The first members of the clade appeared in the late 27th century AT. The Darwins' original function in Zoeific transapient society seems to something be equivalent to that of diplomat, researcher, and explorer (some distrustful persons add the categories of "zookeeper", or "shepherd" or "conservation officer" or "field hand"). They have spread widely in the time since. Though they are still seen most frequently in the Biopolity, and though a disproportionate number have since aligned themselves with the Caretaker Gods, they are present, and generally accepted, in nearly every civilized region, and in many of the uncivilized or no-go zones. They have even been observed entering and leaving space controlled by the ahuman and antihuman transapients. A large number are known to be active along the periphery of the Terragen sphere. As one of the more fertile S1 "clades" their relative numbers seem to be increasing.