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Appendix D

The Octos

          The octo is the founder of the space-faring Jopian civilization, which has roots dating back more than 80 kilujopes (nearly half a million Earth years). There have been extensive modifications to the original octan genome, and many subspecies and biological-synthetic hybrids have been developed, but the basic genetic template has been preserved to this yad. Most modern octos are born and raised in a (semi-) traditional manner, then undergo bioengineered modifications later in life.
          Octos are social herbivores, evolved from creatures at home in the bush thickets floating 512 kilurets deep in the Jopian atmosphere (the octos originally defined the kiluret so that this depth was numerically equal to 1,000 in the base-8 counting system). In their long history, octos have rarely hunted or preyed on other animals; they are by temperament manipulators, not predators. Octo precursors fashioned simple nests in the thickets from the plentiful leaves. The earliest octos learned to cultivate and modify the plants to form protective burrows. They later selectively bred bush species with greater bulk, as well as more buoyant hydrogen bladders to support the additional weight. This allowed development of progressively more sophisticated living structures. In ancient times, after an octo died, the body was ceremoniously cut into small pieces, and fed to the home thicket. In this way critical nutrients were returned to the plants, and helped maintain their health. Remarkably, the practice continues today among many clans, although it is no longer necessary, since supplements are readily manufactured from off-world sources.
          The octo is named for its eight appendages. A mature adult appears superficially similar to an Earth octopus. It has a squat cylindrical trunk about two-thirds rets across and one-third ret tall, topped by a bulbous head of matching width and height. The head can twist some 45 degrees in either direction. Three thick, suckered tentacle-legs, each nearly one ret long, extend radially from the trunk base. Two are located on either side in "front," and one in the rear, to help stabilize the trunk in an upright position. They are strong, and also used for locomotion and heavy labor. Behind each front leg is a pair of slender, suckered tentacle-arms, roughly one and one-half rets long. The forward arm on either side divides at the end into three finger-like tendrils. All four arms are agile, and employed mainly for manipulating objects. A single willowy tentacle-arm about one ret in length is located between the two front legs. This arm divides at the end into two finger-like tendrils, is remarkably dexterous, and used for fine work. A small mouth with a chisel-like beak, adapted to eating plants, is centered on the body underside, between the tentacles. An anus is located just above the rear leg. A pair of breathing slits occupies the front of the mid-trunk area.
          Unlike the octopus, the octo has a (limited) internal skeleton, composed of both cartilage-like and spongy bonelike material. A flexible but supportive central spine extends from the head down through the trunk. There it trifurcates into a weight-bearing, semi-rigid tripod, oriented with one leg in the forward direction. The tripod connects to a supporting bony ring, about one-half ret wide, at the trunk base. The upper body is held upright against Jopitar's relentless gravity by muscles attached to the various bony structures. The three tentacle-legs are anchored to the basal bony ring.
          Two optical eyes are set on either side of a "face," on the forward surface of the head. These eyes are sensitive to a band of infrared frequencies, covering the range of common thermal emissions at the depth of the floating thickets. Infrared vision is dichromatic; octos perceive two infrared colors. Eye parallax provides a sense of depth.
          Octos also have a pair of large acoustic eyes, located on either side of the face just below the infrared eyes. Each eye is covered by an array of sonoreceptors sensitive to both the amplitude and the phase of incident sound at select frequencies. These frequencies encompass three primary acoustic "colors,” spanning the frequency range from about 500 to 5,000 kiluhartz (or 250 to 2,500 kilohertz).
          The acoustic eyes can operate in either of two modes. In passive (or continuous-wave) mode, the eyes simply detect high-frequency sound arriving from the environment. Ever since they emerged as a technology-driven species, the octos have utilized ultrasonic illuminators to facilitate this mode of vision. Images are reconstructed by the octo nervous system based on the incident pattern of sound amplitude and phase within each color band. Phase-based imaging and eye parallax both contribute to a sense of depth.
          In active (or pulse) imaging mode, short bursts of high frequency sound are emitted from a bellan – a special organ centered on the lower face, but connected to the respiratory system in the trunk. Echoes received by the eyes are interpreted visually. Autonomic timing of pulse reflections offer a complementary perception of depth that is more precise than that in continuous-wave mode, though the field of view is narrower.
          At the outer edges of the acoustic eyes, on opposite sides of the head, is a pair of ear-like receptors sensitive to sound intensity and pitch over a broad low-frequency band, extending from a few hartz to several kiluhartz. These organs give octos a sense of hearing. The aural wavelengths are much too long for vision; such sound is heard, rather than seen. In addition to ultrasound, the bellan can produce modulated audible sound. This allowed archaic octos to communicate using sound, and later to develop speech. Octo hearing is less tuned than that of reys. Finer tuning offered no advantage to octo ancestors, so it did not evolve.
          Because there is no natural day-night cycle at the depth of the floating thickets, the octos did not develop an innate regular sleep pattern. They nonetheless do require rest and sleep, to restore various body and mental functions. Octos tend to sleep most of the time when food is scarce. When food is plentiful, they sleep or rest roughly one-third of the time, at irregular intervals. Since the introduction of timekeeping, rest periods have become loosely tied to a routine yad-based cycle of activity.
          Octos traditionally live in social units known as hives. A hive can also refer to the physical structure within which a group lives. Traditionally, this comprises an autonomous thicket, which has been modified into a tangle of tunnels, rooms and halls. The foundation plants have been bred over time for desirable properties, and synthetic components added. Early hives relied exclusively on the hydrogen bladders of the thicket plants for buoyancy.
          There are three octan genders: male, female and neuter. Females bear young and care for infants. Males protect vulnerable females and infants, and help support and acculturate the young. Neuters are incapable of reproduction, and traditionally perform much of the manual labor required to establish and maintain a hive. Early octan history is marked by widespread discrimination against neuters and (to a lesser extent) females, and by the struggles of these groups to attain social and political equality. In the modern era, many well-known scientists and engineers are neuters.
          The male octo has a special tentacle-like organ used for reproduction. It is slender and lithe, about one-half ret long, and normally coiled in a small pouch just above the forward tentacle-arm. During reproduction, the male inserts the tip of this organ into an egg-bearing gestation sack in the same location on a female, and deposits gametic cells. Following fertilization, a single embryo develops in this sack for about one thom. At that time the still-tiny infant, less than a centuret in size, crawls into an adjacent external pouch, where the mother nurses and cares it for. The young octo normally stays in the pouch for an additional eight thoms, before it begins to leave for short periods of time.
          Hives were originally patriarchal; male ancestry defined hive identity. A member was identified by a unique given name, plus a surname reflecting the hive's founding father(s). This custom was practical in ancient times, when movement between hives was restricted. Octos retain a very limited ability to "swim," and generally dislike leaving the security of a hive. Only when thickets happen to pass near each other is an unassisted crossing even feasible. Genetic evidence suggests that females were mainly responsible for the meager traffic between primeval hives. To this yad, females tend to be somewhat less fearful of open spaces than males and neuters.
          The invention of floating ships by anonymous octos in the clouded past changed octan life forever. The earliest vessels were probably held aloft using the buoyant hydrogen bladders of isolated plants, but eventually heated synthetic hydrogen balloons were developed. Transports soon passed from hive to hive. As octos became more mobile, hives became less patriarchal. Today, an individual octo is identified by a special given name and distinguishing number, plus a surname representing the birth hive, usually with no reference to male ancestry. Males, females and neuters are equally likely to travel between hives, normally in the comfort of a snug powered vehicle.
          The earliest hives were quite independent and self-sufficient. Because octos are communal by nature, most property was collectively held. Private ownership was limited, mainly personal effects and living quarters. Over the millennia, as technology developed and travel between hives became more common, many hives specialized. Some banded together to form agricultural hubs, while others turned to manufacturing specialized items, or became education or administrative centers. Markets based on exchange credits gradually replaced bartering networks, and regional governments were born. The original purpose of these trans-hive associations was primarily to facilitate and regulate commerce, but ancillary functions were added over time. The governments generally supported themselves by imposing a small tax on individual transactions.
          Octo population density and material culture during this period were severely restricted by the limited capacity of the thicket hydrogen bladders to carry extra weight. Technological innovation consequently tended to emphasize the development of strong, ultralight materials. Electricity was discovered, and harnessed using remarkable low-density silico-organic conductors, semiconductors and insulators. Wireless systems soon enabled direct communication between distant hives. But the invention of electronic devices only fueled the octo appetite for more material goods and lift capacity.
          The weight ceiling was finally lifted some 75 kilujopes ago, when scientists learned how to manipulate the zero-point energy of the vacuum. It then became possible to generate and control a localized pocket of (pseudo-)negative energy, commonly known as a Drac bubble. By coupling a Drac bubble to an ordinary object, the effective combined mass could be made arbitrarily small (but not negative). Using Drac generators, the structures and population supported by a hive’s buoyant hydrogen bladders could be greatly expanded.
          Harnessing Drac bubbles was not easy, however. When a bubble is created or destroyed, mass must be shed or accrued. While it is theoretically possible to direct most of the associated energy flow through sequestered channels tied directly to the global vacuum, the process is tricky, and the quantity of transferred energy can be enormous. Energy may spill from overloaded vacuum channels, with catastrophic consequences. Even when the energy is successfully channeled, the surplus or deficit in the surrounding vacuum must flow outward or inward at the speed of light, and is not diluted instantaneously. A small portion of the energy is inevitably expressed through gravitational waves, which temporarily distort local gravity. These vacuum energy fluctuations and gravity distortions can damage physical structures. Exposure of organic creatures to threshold levels can produce medical syndromes analogous to radiation sickness. The historical record alludes to several disasters, in which entire hives were accidentally destroyed by the new Drac technology. Most modern Drac generators are designed to limit energy flow rates, in order to minimize local disruptions, and avoid energy spillover/rebound phenomena.
          As society grew more complex, small groups of octos became frustrated with the inefficiencies of communal ownership, and began forming private businesses. These firms gradually acquired their own assets, and competed with the collectives. This rivalry motivated many collectives and private enterprises to form strategic alliances. Eventually the planet became divided into several nation-states. Although competition among the states could be fierce, most disputes were settled through diplomacy. Octos are inherently inimical to physical violence, so overt warfare was extremely rare.
          In ancient times, most octos felt it important to communally provide for the basic welfare of all members of a hive. This evolved into a general sense that all members of a society should be ensured a basic level of food, shelter, and medical care. In most nation states, such support was sustained through additional taxation. Ultimately a more general notion emerged – that all citizens should by law be granted equal rights and opportunities.
          Drac technology eventually opened the door to space travel. By equipping a sealed transport vessel with a Drac generator, the bulk of the vessel's effective mass could be reduced arbitrarily, down to almost zero. Buoyancy could then be controlled, providing lift to the top of the atmosphere. From there, small ion drives could rapidly accelerate a low-inertia ship to high speeds, into interplanetary space. An era of suolar system exploration ensued. Most heavy manufacturing was moved off-planet, to sites on nearby moons and other solid bodies. Nation states merged, and an integrated political and economic system evolved.
          Automation brought a radical reordering of society. In time, machines performed most hard labor. Advances in computer and bionic engineering wrought even more dramatic change. Sentient creatoids were developed, and replaced most non-sentient machinery. Transfer of octo consciousness into synthetic brains and bodies was perfected, leading to a whole new class of synthetic individuals, or synons. For a variety of political and psychological reasons, the creation of totally new sapient consciousness was forbidden; synon awareness could only be fashioned from extant organic templates. Many synon candidates opted for synthetic bodies analogous to their original organic forms. Octo-like synons became known as synocts, while synons with spacecraft bodies were called metons. All synons were eventually granted full rights as sapient beings.
          About 72 kilujopes ago, the Xam propulsion drive was developed. This drive pushes against the vacuum itself – the underlying fabric of space-time, as it couples to massive objects such as stars and planets – and so obviates the need for propellant. The Xam drive, coupled with a new matter-energy conversion process, allowed for much higher maximum spacecraft speeds, from 0.1% up to 10% that of light. This opened the current epoch of interstellar travel.
          Jopitar is currently divided into several jurisdictions, overseen by a global Planetary Council. Each jurisdiction has a regional government responsible for regulating commerce, and for ensuring legal rights, security, transportation, education, and the general welfare of its citizens. Every citizen is issued a thomly allowance, including both vouchers and general financial credits. The vouchers are sufficient to secure basic food, shelter, and healthcare; they are issued to all persons, wealthy and poor alike, with no stigma attached. Vouchers are non-transferrable, and earmarked for specific purposes. The use of ordinary credits is less restricted. The thomly stipend is determined by a person's situation and special needs. For example, a qualifying student may be granted an amount covering tuition and extra expenses associated with an approved educational program.
          Most vouchers and credits are held and transferred electronically, through a global computer network; there is very little hard currency. Goods and services may be purchased from a variety of private and public businesses and institutions. All but the smallest commercial enterprises are licensed by the central government for a fee. A tax is applied to every transaction, in order to balance (long-term) state expenditures and revenues.
          Because vouchers provide for only the most basic food and shelter, most octos are motivated to seek additional income. Individuals may earn extra credits, by contracting to provide services either to licensed companies, or (to a limited extent) directly to other individuals. A person may also establish his own licensed business. All economic activities must respect a set of universal personal rights. These derive from long-standing octan ethical standards, similar to those outlined by the ancient philosopher Fleegello in his Principles of Natural Philosophy (see Appendix E, Part III).
          Jopians practice a blended form of representative and direct democracy. Terms of elective positions are staggered, and generally of one jope duration. Each calendar jope is divided into eight voting periods, with one eighth of all elective offices and any number of referenda decided during each. Every eligible citizen is assigned a personal interactive ballot at a central electronic voter registry, accessible via the global computer network. The virtual ballot includes a list of current elective positions, as well as referendum proposals and options. Only choices for which the citizen is authorized to vote are presented, based on relevant objective criteria such as residency, training and experience. Qualifications to vote for general representatives include only basic education and mental health requirements.
          A voter can designate up to eight candidates, in order of personal preference, for each elective position, and must specify the order of preference for each set of referendum options. Voters may register or modify preferences at any time throughout a voting period. Results are continually tallied, updated and posted, obviating the need for special primaries or polls. Political parties sponsor candidates, largely based on evolving voter sentiments. Choices become official only at the end of the final yad of a voting period.
          In order to encourage voters to express their true political sentiments, and to ensure government representative of a majority of the citizenry, a ranked vote counting procedure (instant-runoff) is employed. Candidates appearing on fewer than 50% of all preference lists for a given office are first eliminated; these contenders have no chance to win. The top-ranked candidates and referenda options on the modified preference lists are then tallied. If no individual or position garners an absolute majority for a given office or referendum, the selection receiving the lowest numerical tally is removed from all lists, and the vote recounted using the modified rankings. This iterative procedure is repeated until a single candidate or option acquires more than 50% of the updated tally. No voter is disenfranchised. If all candidates on a voter's list for a given office are eliminated, the voter still contributes one vote to a so-called null candidate. If the null candidate accumulates more than 50% of the total, a reelection is called, though this is extremely rare.
          Individual participation in society is strictly voluntary. A person can choose to withhold support from selected governmental programs. Relevant privileges must then be relinquished. Yet it is very difficult for an individual living in mainstream society to avoid broadly supporting the global and regional governments. These governments issue the legal credits used in the mainstream economy, and impose a non-specific tax on every transaction as a condition for its use. These tax revenues generally support not only the financial system, but most other government programs as well. Citizens can apply for dissident status, and receive appropriate partial refunds for taxes paid, but this procedure is quite onerous in practice. Dissidents consequently tend to congregate in isolated communities, scattered across the planet, committed to alternative forms of governance.