Swarm Intelligences were prevalent on Earth in the form of social insect colonies long before we encountered the Ant Hill. We knew that a set of relatively primitive individual behaviors enhanced with communication will produce a large set of complex swarm behaviors. This observation was instrumental in producing NIPS (NanoIntelligent Protection Systems) and our understanding of swarm intelligence as a subject would prepare us well for our first encounters, making the alien seem altogether less alien.
The origins of the swarm-intelligences are unknown and communication with the mind has been all but impossible due to the differences in our frames of reference. The swarm-intelligence does not see Human Unity as an entity, nor does it consider humans as anything but ‘resources’, much to our chagrin. Even with our understanding, Experts have been surprised (and perhaps dismayed) to discover how simple individual elements of the swarm actually are. Details about the swarm and how to deal with them were some of the most important and perhaps prescient articles which were Traded.
Our first contact with the Ant Hill, our closest swarm-intelligence, was terrifyingly within our own Solar System. The swarm was surveying Sol for resources and signs of intelligence and as soon as a fleet could be mustered, their exploratory advances were quickly and resolutely beaten off. As predicted, they have not returned. It is evident that the swarm-intelligence is non aggressive under normal circumstances. When met with a sufficient show of force, they will uniformly retreat. This swarm-intelligence is known to be currently located at Barnard’s Star, an uncomfortable 5.9 light years from Sol.
Records exist, however, of massive swarm bodies invading systems and overcoming the defenses of inhabitants and devouring the worlds within. They usually start with the asteroids and gas giants, consuming their mass and converting it to raw materials. In this way the swarm grows at an incredible rate and does not discriminate between rock and flesh in terms of resources.
Swarms reproduce asexually – creating hundreds of similar drones from a limited pattern set. They can, however, reproduce in a sexual manner through the exchange of pattern blueprints and experiences which may result in a change to the established pattern and therefore a heterogeneous population of swarm drones. Much like organic populations, swarm reproduction factories are susceptible to mutation and this theory is used to explain the nightmare scenarios related about the swarms. A mutant swarm might be hyper-aggressive or hyper-expansionist, producing huge numbers of hunter/killer drones in accordance with their programming.
Swarm-intelligences are not known to have access to the Wormholes. The perception of time in terms of days, years or millennia is immaterial. They know only “now” and “soon” and react accordingly. As they do not consider time as we do, it can be very difficult to communicate with them as they are conditioned to the vast, cold depths of space and when they send messages between, they do not expect replies for years. Swarms are seldom encountered because they spend the bulk of their existence in the spaces between the stars, far from wormhole entrances.
A Swarm may spend decades accelerating and decades decelerating from one point to another and interstellar distances are not considered insurmountable and depend only on available resources and trajectory calculations. A Swarm arriving in a star system after a long journey is likely to be a hazard to everything in that system.
A “Soon” swarm is of no danger. They have sufficient resource for whatever values of “soon” they may consider which may be hundreds of Earth years or more. Human Unity has instructed Explorer craft to observe swarms which appear to be in this state and attempt communication.
A “Now” swarm is a serious danger to all in the immediate area. The swarm has decided it has insufficient resources for survival and has begun to take steps to survive. Conversion of around 40% of their workforce into “hunters” is complete within a matter of weeks and the remainder become “cysts”, hardened defense platforms. It is not known what triggers the change from “soon” to “now” but Explorer craft should be prepared for it.
Swarm intelligences do communicate with each other (though the mechanism is unknown) and since the conflict at Sol with the Ant Hill, swarms have shown deference to similarly equipped Explorer craft. Human Unity has equipped all Explorers with emergency transponders which will mimic the signature of the victorious fleet at Sol if an Explorer craft is found to be under assault. Avoidance is considered to be the best path.
An individual swarm machine depends on it’s function. For the most part a swarm individual will have antennae, lasers (for cutting and communications), grabbers, a propulsion system and power generation. The heart of a swarm intelligence is the fabric – the closest parallel to a brain. The swarm individuals making up the fabric may have sacrificed certain components required for individual survival and replaced them with other components conducive to intra-swarm communications. Under normal conditions, swarm individuals have been seen to attach and detach from this fabric at seemingly random intervals. Individuals are therefore able to multi-task – sometimes performing the role of nervous system, at other times messenger, then perhaps hunter or cyst. This malleability of purpose is one of their most impressive strengths.
The Ant Hill swarm is the most studied swarm intelligence due to our contact and it’s immediate proximity. Robot probe, Expert and even manned expeditions have been dispatched to observe their working. The Ant Hill fabric is based around a lattice of individual connected cysts, holding asteroid chunks like glittering dew on a spiders web and other raw materials in place for supply to the nucleus. Within the nucleus is a factory, based in a massive hollowed-out asteroid, which continually churns out more swarm individuals. Surveys report the Ant Hill is currently amassing resources, harvesting gas clouds, asteroid fields and even capturing comets for the nucleus.