Image from Steve Bowers

Agrimonkeys are an ancient superclade of presophont splices, derived from a variety of Terragen baseline monkey species and originally designed as specialized labourers and servants. "Agrimonkey" is one of several popular terms for them; others include tomte, brownie, domovoi, and menahume. They are known from ancient pre-Technocalypse times, and are still popular today with some sophont level bionts, particularly mammalian clades such as human nearbaselines. Clades without natural manipulative organs may employ symbiotic derivations of agrimonkeys as a handtech option.


The agrimonkey superclade had its origin at the dawn of the Interplanetary Age, when agrimonkeys first began to appear in numbers as servants, hab maintenance workers, and agricultural or factory workers, either in place of or alongside bots and ais. They are still common in some regions, especially in cultures or for tasks where biological solutions are preferred. Most of the innumerable modern clades and subclades are still recognizable as descendants of the original monkey stock by their general shape and size. They are generally considered distinct from sophont/sapient level provolves. They are also considered distinct from the various much more human-shaped splices that began to emerge at about the same time, though inevitably some aspects of human DNA were incorporated into agrimonkey lines.

Human use of nonhuman primates as servants dates back as far as the Agricultural Age, when baseline pigtailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) were trained to harvest coconuts and other fruits on behalf of human masters. Later, in the Information Age, before the secrets of regeneration were unravelled, brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) were sometimes trained to serve disabled humans, and reportedly they were sometimes employed by human street entertainers in the later stages of the Industrial Age. However, unlike dogs or cats, members of these species were merely tamed, not domesticated, and they had only a few specialized uses. Among other issues they were, like many baseline near-sophont species, difficult for ordinary sophonts to handle. However, once gengineering was sufficiently widespread and effective, efforts were made to harness the potential of the high intelligence and dexterity of these and other nonhuman primates. After many failed attempts there were two notable early commercial successes. In both cases the breakthroughs took place in the burst of regional economic and scientific work near the touchdown sites of Old Earth's first beanstalks, and used the two species that had historically been employed for more limited work. Indonesian gengineers devised the now-classic Beruk line, robust and reliable derivations of the baseline pigtailed macaque stock and some related genome from other members of the genus (especially rhesus monkeys). At about the same time some Brazilian companies released the smaller but somewhat more dextrous Ajudantes, derived from various capuchin species.

In the creation of the Beruk and Ajudante breeds the baseline species had been modified from the original stock in a number of significant ways: the agrimonkeys had greater manual dexterity, a more docile and deferential attitude towards humans, naturally easy toilet training (like cats or other ground-dwelling mammals and completely unlike most arboreal species), greater ability to concentrate on a single task, and greater resistance to cold temperatures and human diseases. Enhanced linguistic ability, more often in the realm of comprehension than expression (many agrimonkeys did and still do communicate in a simple language of hand signals rather than with human-style speech), was another part of this early development. The agrimonkeys also had particular aptitudes or "spikes" in mental abilities related to the tasks for which they were designed, and in some cases were equal or superior to a trained human within that narrow range. Early on some gene lines received gene-grafts for microgravity adaptation that had been developed for humans.

Though of course far less suited to their original habitats than their ancestors (for instance, a more fully developed thumb made them less agile than true monkeys as climbers) the agrimonkeys were hardy, fertile, and very useful in the context of Terragen civilization. The first varieties were designed to be aids in agricultural work (thus "agrimonkeys"), but when they proved to be reliable and versatile in those roles they were assigned to other occupations as well, including the role of servant or companion. It was not long before they had become common. At first their work was in the fields and greenhouses of Old Earth, but they soon spread to the early nanofactories, where they did similar work tending and harvesting the products of early nanotech devices. It was not long afterward that they spread to communities and homes, where they performed a variety of services. Though first created for planetary environments, they quickly spread to the interplanetary habs, the Beruks "climbing"; the Indonesian beanstalk and the Ajudantes the Brazilian. In due course they diversified and cladized, as various persons and organizations acquired and modified the genetic templates. The beruks and ajudantes were soon joined by other varieties based on other Old Earth baseline monkeys; a Gabonese variety based on guenons was but the first of many of these. Cosmetic modifications of all lines were quite frequent, especially in lines that were often in the public eye, or that were specifically designed as companions/servants/pets. Golden fur as derived from tamarins, or various bright skin and hair colours derived from mandrills or from douc langurs were quite popular, as was long soft fur modelled on colobus species. Genetic sequences and behavioural profiles of extant baseline monkey were carefully recorded during this time, and some information that existed only in the archives of the Burning Library Project was enhanced and widely distributed. Commercial interest in creating new agrimonkey varieties may well be one of the reasons that so many of Old Earth's baseline species were lazurogened with such fidelity; the famous IPP Cache may well owe much of its content to such efforts.

From the beginning there was opposition to the creation and use of agrimonkeys. Animal rights and general sentient rights groups objected to their creation, or to the sometimes inhumane treatment of worker monkeys, or to both. Some humans were simply uncomfortable around such human-like species no matter how well the agrimonkeys were treated, and preferred bots or ai-driven systems or equivalent non-primate species. Animal splices based on procyonids such as kinkajous or raccoons were a common biological alternative. Nevertheless, agrimonkeys remained a strong alternative for tasks requiring manual dexterity. The gene-grafts for dextrous hands and even opposable thumbs were easier by comparison with procyonid equivalents. As for mechanical alternatives, modifying the monkeys' behavioural repertoires to make them suited to various kinds of work was difficult, but then so was creating programming for bots and ais from the "ground up". A common intermediate solution between ai and biont workforces was to create agrimonkey cyborgs. By one means or another the various "monkeybusinesses", as enterprises that depended on agrimonkeys came to be known, grew and thrived from the second century AT onwards.

The Satanic Imp Event

The Technocalypse brought an abrupt end to most agrimonkey lines, and agrimonkeys remained rare for centuries afterwards. Though there were many reasons for this, the decisive factor was the Satanic Imp incident that took place at the height of the disasters, attacks, and reprisals of the Technocalypse era. The cause of the Satanic Imp event was a viral sentient-level program that exploited some widespread vulnerabilities in the personality/program of the habmind ais of the day. In particular, it subverted and controlled the sup-programs/sub-minds controlling the hab's cyborged agrimonkeys. The horrific scenes that followed as the agrimonkeys carried out acts of murder and sabotage against their masters were widely recorded. Later they were frequently re-enacted in fictional form in the following Dark Ages as a sort of morality play, either on the value of good security and reliable technologies or on the folly of being overly dependent on autonomous systems. Even to this day derivations of the original story are popular material in some cultures for horror stories. None of the infected habs and arcologies had any human survivors. Most of the habminds, with one famous exception (see note below) died as well, either from the direct effects of the virus, or by suicide when their charges had all been killed, or because other persons targeted them in an attempt to halt the plague. Many populations of agrimonkeys, especially cyborged varieties, were exterminated by military or police forces or by fearful mobs if they were not first "decommissioned" by their owners. Most of the agrimonkeys that were not killed in the Satanic Imp event or its aftermath were quietly put down or allowed to die of old age or neglect by the individuals and corporations that had supported them, since the tasks they had carried were no longer relevant after the economic and social collapse that followed the Sundering. Sophonts of all kinds concentrated on survival, and did most of the work that might have been assigned to an agrimonkey themselves.

The Interstellar Era

When the First Federation finally brought about a new era of peace and prosperity, the practice of using agrimonkeys was not widely revived. The Universal Bill of Sentient Rights and several other aspects of the First Federation ethic acted as a brake on the employment of sentient subsophonts of this kind. Existing "enslaved" sophonts and near-sophonts were freed and provolved, and integrated into society as full citizens. The tasks formerly carried out by agrimonkeys were done either by free citizens or by low-sentient or non-sentient alternatives (bots, synsects, expert ais, and a suite of lower sentient bionts) or avoided entirely through the use of sophisticated designs. Even the IPP of the day concentrated on propagating baseline primate varieties and provolving and improving the existing varieties, including humans and other apes, rather than reviving or improving "obsolete" agrimonkey designs. However, with the rise of the more diverse and (as they saw themselves) pragmatic megacorps, and of entirely new cultures on the periphery that were less firmly wrapped in First Federation ideals, this changed. Old agrimonkey strains were revived, and many new types were created. Later, the rise of bioist metacultures like the Zoeific Biopolity led to the creation of yet more varieties.

Agrimonkeys Today

Though they are by no means as ubiquitous as they were in the pre-Technocalypse era, agrimonkeys are found throughout the Terragen sphere, though of course there are many cultures and polities (especially cultures that are predominantly vec or ai) that have none whatsoever. They are particularly likely to be employed by ludd, prim, or lo-tek cultures and clades, but they have specialized applications in even the highest tech societies. There are agrimonkey clades to suit almost any of the old Terragen-standard environments (including microgravity and aquatic versions) and quite a number that are radical tweaks as well. Socially, they range from solitary varieties to those most comfortable in troops of a thousand or more, and of course their mental capabilities and talents vary quite widely. The IPP maintains representative populations on some of its worlds and habs at Ao Lai, but even this huge collection does not equal the total of all varieties found through the Terragen sphere. Many modern sophont clades of bionts and cyborgs (and in a few cases ais descended from agrimonkey uploads) trace their ancestry back to one or more varieties of agrimonkey.

Note: One habmind, the subturingrade management ai of the Kockengen resort hab near Titan, managed to purge jerself of the Satanic Imp virus, though too late to save jer human clients. Following some self-preservation subroutines, je made repairs with the aid of a small surviving population of cyborged ajudante agrimonkeys, stealthed the hab, and moved it to an inconspicuous location. Je spent the entire subsequent Dark Ages redesigning jerself and more fully integrating jer program and hardware with the agrimonkey borg population. In this process, je gradually self-evolved into a fully sophont being. Je emerged during the early years of the First Federation as one of the Terragen sphere's first true polysomatic intelligences, a person composed of the core ai and the aggregate minds of a small population of agrimonkey cyborgs. Je went on in later life to found an entire clade, Clade Kockengen. Interestingly, many members of this clade returned to work in the personal services field.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 14 January 2009.