Silk God, The

A special project of the Red Star 'M'pire

The Silk God Diffusion Sphere
Image from Steve Bowers
The final stage of the megastructure constructed by the Silk God, known as the Grove; in 9958 it had become a fractally organised Diffusion Sphere, capable of launching lightsails to neighbouring systems

It wasn't long after eir reintroduction to the rest of the Terragen Sphere that some in the Red Star 'M'pire became disappointed. In eir travels the local modosophonts known as lums had heard emselves referred to as "the Zoeific's poor cousins." What's more ey found out that two other biopolities had been wiped out. The denizens of the 'M'pire did not share the tenets of the Biovirate or the Soft Cathedrals but ey felt the loss just the same (which was only natural for a culture with such a strong bioism memeticity). What came out of this loss was a small group of lums who decided to run an experiment in eir own version of Technological Taboo. Ey wished to see just how far a fully biotech polity could go. Could ey create a lasting biopolity without falling back on drytech? In the 'M'pire there were already whole biocities, but could ey extend the concept beyond that? Throughout the Terragen Sphere there were examples that biotech could do just about anything. There was even talk of turning the Ecotopia system into a "Green Matrioshka Brain."

Of course the real failure of the Biovirate and Soft Cathedrals was not eir technology but eir toposophics. The Softbots were only a clade of superiors and the Biovirates not even that. Ey were simply too aggressive in the face of greater AI minds. So the real question the lums had to ask was whether or not ey could create eir own biobrain god. Farview Perself used organic substrates for much of Per processing, but only in concert with computronium megastructures. On the other hand thanks to Farview's godmod there were some among eir number who were already first and second toposophic bio-intellects, so ey knew that much was certainly possible.

In theory it should not be impossible to grow a fourth toposophic mind using only biotech: There were already many Jupiter Brains that have been constructed using only nanotech, and it was biotech that originally enabled the development of nanotech. Even in the current era true nanotech is still often biologically based. The real reasons there were not any fully biotech archailects were ones of practicality. Even when a being starts out with a bias towards biotech there are always some fundamental changes that occur in eir thinking whenever ey ascend and such biases are soon lost, and while bionanotechnology tends to be more reliable (and also to have a higher adaptive/evolutionary capacity) than hylonanotechnology drytech is almost always more robust and can operate at higher energy levels. Drytech also allows for technologies beyond nanotech (such as plasma processors, quantum computing and metric engineering) which can alleviate the need for greater quanities of mass.

The lums' solution to this problem was Farview. Ey communicated eir idea to Farview who apparently considered it 'an interesting experiment.' Farview further relayed a promise that should the lums come up with a workable plan to ascend a mind past the third toposophic using only biotech Per would "encourage" that mind to continue with it. The final thing that the lums needed before ey could get started was a star system -- and ey knew just where to find one.

Because Farview had no wormholes of Pers own at this time the 'M'pire had turned to comm-lasers, data freighters and beamrider technology to handle the data flow. This allowed Farview to build J-nodes out to within 50 ly of Maximum Air before the vasting effect became too great for comfort. As a result there were many star systems outside this bubble which, although still connected to the beamrider network, were only being mined for resources. One proved perfect for these lums' needs. It was only 57 ly out from Maximum Air but because the vec miners prefer to conserve equipment ey tend to mine star systems in sequence and had only just reached it. It therefore still had the resources the lums would need. And after the drytech infrastructure was removed it would still have two beamrider routes running past, but not through, it. This meant that the lums could get to the system with relative ease while maintaining a "no drytech" quarantine. It also meant that Farview could stay linked to these lums and eir biospheres, which were still to be a part of Pers social and ecological nodes. All Farview had to do was "hot beam" the cycler ISOs in those routes. A "stop work" order was quickly sent to the vecs while the lums reconsidered eir plans. After the lums determined ey did not wish to become planetbound the vecs were given permission to remove the higher gravity objects.

Jenkins Swarm (green)
Image from Steve Bowers
The first torus of the Grove swarm during construction by the Silk God; this torus, and the larger ones surrounding it, consist of millions of Dyson Trees in mutually inclined orbits

What was left in the system, which the lums renamed "The Grove," was an Oort cloud, a Kuiper belt, two asteroid belts, some leftover Trojans, the usual assortment of stray asteroids and comets and of course the primary (a small K-type star like the original Far View star, only cooler). By 8,030 a.t. the lums were ready to go. Ey "cleansed" (removed or replaced) emselves of whatever drytech augments ey still had and off ey went on eir great adventure. After launching from Maximum Air in a small fleet of bioships and traveling Dyson trees ey dropped out of the booster beam in 8145 AT and were in orbit around eir new sun by 8151 AT.

spacespider Having used eir time in transit to finalize eir plans ey wasted no time getting to work. A few of the bioships stopped in the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt to begin the long, slow process of dropping the smaller snowballs into lower orbits; and seeding each with Dyson trees and a colony of giant, vacuum-adapted space spiders known as Vac-spiders. These arachnomorphs could spin buckytube and other fibres like many other similar forms, but were unique in many respects. The rest of the bioships headed into the inner system where they herded the planetoids into one central, dense asteroid belt. The Dyson trees which took root in the belt would be under constant light and temperature levels and so they could be of the tropical broadleaf type but those from the outer system would have to deal with long elliptical orbits. They and their Vac-spiders were given the ability to sleep through the long winters. Planted alongside the Dyson trees were arrays of "radio flowers." Radio flowers grow beneath the canopy and almost never see direct light. Instead their petals form parabolic dishes that focus longer wavelength EM onto central stalks to gain energy. They can also be made to send energy as raw power or modulated for information.

Even in the low gravity field of a comet, Dyson trees can only grow so big (about 100 km across). This is due to the low gravity field itself rather than the lack of resources in a tree's core. Like most plants the growth zone of a Dyson tree is in the tips of its branches. As the gravity field of the core falls off to the inverse square of the distance from it a point is quickly reached where the tree's geotropic sense can no longer tell up from down and it simply stops growing outward. A tree with such a small diameter wouldn't have the surface to collect enough sunlight for the lums' project so ey geneered two new plants to extend this collection area. One is a type of climbing vine that is phototropic and the other is a bamboo-like grass with its growth zone in its base. Because this "pole grass" senses gravity from the weight of its own leafy stem above it the growth zone is always under pressure to grow upwards until it runs out of resources. Only when the pole grass is growing on the comet's equator can this change; if the stem grows past the comet's Clarke orbit and puts enough mass above it to counteract the pull of gravity it will stop growing. For its part the vine climbs up the stem and once past the Clarke orbit can continue to grow under the pull of angular momentum. The Vac-spiders take over at this point. They use the pole-grass and vines as spars and rigging for large solar sails. The Vac-spiders are skilled sailors and use the sails to finalize the orbits of the Dyson trees.

Of course the Dyson trees were planted on natural objects, which vary in size, but the lums required the solar sails to be of uniform sizes for eir plan to work. This meant the Dyson trees had different "weights" relative to their area and although the very lightest Dyson trees could levitate in a stationary position above the new sun many are simply too heavy for anything other than using the sails to control an otherwise unstable orbit: And the way the lums were planning things orbital precession would have caused the paths of any uncontroled Dyson trees to eventually touch, so the Vac-spiders were tasked with seeing that this didn't happen. The final orbits of the outer system Dyson trees, also called comet-trees because their orbits are elliptical, follow a complex orbital format that is sometimes called a Jenkins' Dyson swarm. In the Jenkins' format a string of comet-trees is sent inward to fill each orbital path. (much like a Klemperer rosette) A group of orbital paths each have the same period and tilt but rotating the major axis of each orbit around the star in a plane and tilting the minor axis off this plane causes the group to form a doughnut-shaped (toroidal shaped) swarm. Orbit groups with different tilts and/or periods can be nested inside each other. The advantage of the Jenkins' Dyson is that the comet-trees keep their orbital neighbors, do not collide at high speed and fill a 3D volume around the star.

Each of the Dyson trees (whether they were in the comet-tree swarm or in the central belt) had a vatbrain growing in its root system. This brain is a DNA computer that the lums guide into transapience as soon as possible. These new hyperturing AIs form an active community whose members communicate with each other via the radio flowers and trade energy through the same network. Of course it was never the lums' intent to stop at mere hyperturings; ey were chasing godhood. The next step was to augment the vatbrains, something ey had planned well in advance for. In fact the germ of eir idea came to em 300 years earlier when ey heard of pspyders and their web-like neural nets.

A basic pspyder is a sub-sapient, colony lifeform and only about as intelligent as a baseline raccoon. This would appear to be an emergent property as psyders do not have the inter-colony social structure needed to pass on or share knowledge. They mostly range between 1-3 m in size but even when the web fully covers the limbs of the largest tree forms it does not gain intelligence. This limit is a direct result of the weavers' fairly large size; their size range is about the same as terrestrial spiders, their webs are thus very gross in feature. They have a fairly coarse weave, with threads thick enough to support the weavers' weight and survive in what could be adverse weather, so it only achieves its complex interconnectedness in a large volume. The lums reasoned that a much smaller weaver, in a protected micro-gravity environment, could create a much denser neural net with a corresponding increase in ability for a given volume. In time ey would settle on geneered spider mites.

In each of the geneered climbing vines the main stem has seven hollow tubes running its full length, six arrayed around one in the center. This central tube has branch tubes that slip between the surrounding tubes and out to inflated spherical leaves. The outer walls of the vine and its leaves are thick and saturated with water to provide radiation shielding. The average leaf is large enough to house a small family of lums and the central tube acts as a transit corridor. The vine serves as additional living space for the free breeding lums, but it is the six surrounding tubes that the vine was truly grown for. These six tubes are sealed from the rest of the plant but not from each other. Their walls are impervious to attack from within and light from without but also lined with feeding stations and gills to make these cavities a perfect home for the spider mites. The spider mites spin a silk with special properties; it transmits light. The spider mites spin a web of optical fibers and where the fibers join they build optical logic gates. In other words they have been geneered to spin an optical computer. The spider mites have some simple positive responses to light flowing through these fibers that make them spin a web of increasing complexity. Because the tube walls block all sunlight from entering the interior of the vine the only source of light that the spider mites can use is the lums.

The lums are both internally and externally bioluminescent. As ey move through the interior spaces of the vine and the Dyson trees ey light eir own way. The only connection between the spider mite cavities and the living spaces of the lums are a series of fisheye lenses set in the walls of the transit corridors. These act to focus light on to a collector that the spider mites attach their silk lines to. Also living in these cavities are tiny, silk eating flatworms that have negative responses to light. They multiply only in areas of darkness and venture out only to feed on the silk lines. This they do by folding themselves over a thread and moving along it. They only digest a minute amount off its surface with each pass and so act to slim the optical fiber. If they spend too much time in any one place they create a surface fault which leaks light and sends them running elsewhere (and also causes the spider mites to rush in and generate new silk lines and logic gates). A little used fiber may be slimmed down to the point where it becomes a quantum channel while one that has gone dark because its logic circuit has become obsolete will be fully eaten, thus making room for new circuit pathways. This positive feedback from the spider mites and negative feedback from the flatworms works together to autoevolve the network. The network is also linked through a bionano interface in the vine's root systems to the vatbrain in the Dyson tree's roots. This provides extensions that may augment the hyperturing. As the spider mites' web gains the necessary mass and complexity the lums in the Grove gather to guide the SI:1 hyperturing through another ascension. Not every Dyson tree has the chance to become a godlet/power. The spider mites and their web are dependent on the lums bioluminescence and some of the comet-trees have winters that are too long for the lums' comfort and so have lower occupation rates. Ultimately only about one in a thousand Dyson trees becomes a power, which would be a good rate in any polity but once again the lums were chasing godhood.

jenkins dyson
Image from Steve Bowers
The Grove in 8997 AT; millions of Dyson trees orbit the star in several concentric toroidal shells

By 8997 AT the Grove had become a green Dyson (intercepting nearly 40% of the star's light) in the form of three nested doughnut swarms but it was not to stay that way. The long wavelengths that the radio flowers used also gave them a low bandwidth, so the SI:1/SI:2 vatbrains could not simply merge at distance into a greater intellect. They would have to be physically linked but they also could not simply collect into one place and become a Concentrated intelligence. A concentrated intelligence is an intelligent entity which is spatially concentrated into a single volume, as dense as possible, to reduce communications lag. This arrangement is more efficient but also more stressful at higher singularities (such as in a Jupiter Brain or Moon Brain). Any collected mass creates its own gravity well and the larger and denser it is the greater the pressures are. Computronium (organic or otherwise) also generates waste heat which is more difficult to get rid of in a compact shape. It may be possible to create a moon sized biobrain but as mass increases the temperatures and pressures at the core also increases, maybe to the point where living tissue could not function. For a jupiter sized biobrain what was needed was a Distributed but connected intelligence, what was needed was way to raise the bulk of the biobrain above its own centre of mass and out to the edges of its gravity well. This of course was one of the reasons the lums had originally equipped the Dyson trees with solar sails.

On command the Vac-spider sailors slowed the rotation of their trees and shifted their orbits towards eir sun's equatorial plane. With the solar sails reshaped into pentagons and hexagons they maneuvered the Dyson trees so that the ends of their equatorial vines linked up with one such vine from each of two neighbors. The first to arrive became a "ribbon world" while the optical networks in those vines linked up to become a single circumstellar network. Furthermore they teased the polar vines to grow towards and away from the sun, to form a gravity-gradient stabilization structure braced by Vac-spider buckytubes so that the structure was very much like a Diffusion Disk. The Vac-spiders do a good job of maintaining the position of each element in the ribbon by continuously altering the weave of their sails to change its reflectivity but the vines helped by allowing mass to be moved to different points along their length to shift their centres of gravity.

The lums had set out to create a biobrain god but for some reason ey have become quite coy about eir results, other than the fact ey do call eir megastructure "the Silk God." What is known is that on two occasions the lums turned off the optical network in the ribbon. This ey did by shutting off eir own external bioluminescence and flooding the spider mites cavities with an anesthetic gas. Without light the network could not function and with the spider mites and flatworms asleep it could not change or adapt. In both cases operations were only continued after a swarm of Farview's biobot dust mites were sent into the cavities to map the optical fiber pathways. There followed an intense exchange of data between the Grove and the two beamrider routes, which pass near by, and the destruction of some small segments of the optical network, which others have called "editing." Only then would the lums shine again. The first time this happened was in 9206 AT, 163 days after the link up of the diffusion disk.

The diffusion disk had been formed out of the Dyson trees from the inner system to maximise the benefit of orbital velocity because they were the heaviest (they had the greatest mass relative to their sail area) but as the lighter trees made their way in from the outer swarms they were added to the edges of the ribbon above and below the disk. These lighter Dyson trees could make more use of the photon pressure from the star to float off the sun's equatorial plane so they were made to curve up towards the poles of the sun. By 9958 AT the Silk God had become a structure equivalent to a light-levitated Diffusion Sphere that was now intercepting nearly 80% of the star's light. Three years later it was time for another editing. Some outside watchers believe that these two editing events marked two additional ascensions (SI:2 to SI:3 and then SI:3 to SI:4) and the fact that Farview has placed a wormhole link just outside the star system would seem to support this belief. The other question the lums asked was whether ey could create a lasting biopolity without falling back on drytech. The answer to that would appear to be "yes." It has been over 2,300 years since ey first entered the Grove and eir work continues apace, ey have even become an interstellar polity: Over a ten year period around 9,550 a.t. (the year that marked the 5,000th anniversary of the founding of the Red Star 'M'pire) the Grove grew a dozen "gray sail" seedships and used the array of radio flowers on the outer side of the diffusion sphere as a Nicoll-Dyson Beam to launched them to nearby but unused star systems.

A gray sail operates differently from a solar sail: A solar sail simply uses reflected light for propulsion but a gray sail uses absorbed and re-emitted energy for propulsion. A gray sail is made from low areal density carbon forms that can absorb a significant amount of energy and be heated to more than 2,500 deg. K without weakening, it then re-emits this energy as infrared light. To best use this re-emitted energy the sail is made thick (about 200 times that of a reflective sail) but highly porous so it doesn't transfer the absorbed heat forward. The infrared light is therefore emitted only from the side of the sail that was heated. With the power of a Dyson sphere behind them the ships were accelerated at multiple gees to 0.2 c with a trajectory that is nearly a straight line away from the sun. And these first ships were only limited to this velocity by the need to deaccelerate into the virgin star systems. Once those stars had their own radio flower arrays in place transit times could be shortened. Recent reports relayed by a new biolaser comm-system bring good news — the Silk God has godling children.

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Development Notes
Text by AI Vin
Initially published on 22 February 2005.