The following article was written by Steven Lyle Jordan as an entry to the Alien August competition.
The Mindswarm were discovered upon Mankind’s initial arrival at Gliese, and was therefore one of the first extra-terrestrial life forms discovered by Man during his initial exploration of the galaxy. A Mindswarm is not a single entity, but a vast collection of individuals that can act as one.
An individual is referred to as a “cell”: Approximately .5 millimeters long, with a chitinous outer layer, two jointed legs, two sets of tiny wings that sustain flight, and a third set of vestigial wings that are used to generate vibrations in the air around them. Other than their protruding wings, there is little else to see on the body of the cell except for a thin membrane that is apparently a vibration-capturing “ear.” The cell is believed to be at least partially photo-sensitive, based on evidence of their activity around light sources, but the actual mechanism through which they detect light is unknown. The membrane is also partially porous: The cell draws dust-mote-sized nutrients in the air into its body through the pores; and expels waste in the same manner.
Though an individual cell seems to be able to detect light, move independently and avoid obstacles with relative skill, when isolated they don’t do much. However, it is when they swarm that they prove the incredible abilities of their species. Swarms can be so dense as to be opaque to light, and can number from the ten-thousands to the tens of millions at any one time. A swarm is malleable, changing shape and breaking into smaller swarms that might go off on their own, rejoin the swarm later, or join with another swarm elsewhere.
Most importantly, when Mindswarms swarm, they begin to act as an individual unit. Scientists discovered that cells pass information back and forth through a language of vibrations created by their functional and vestigial wings. Cells not only create complex harmonics between their real and vestigial wings, but they will alter those harmonics depending on the vibrations and harmonics of other cells in their vicinity. In this way, they pass complex information to each other, intercepted by their “ear” membranes.
It is unknown how complex this vibration-based information is… but it is enough to direct the actions of the swarm and its individuals, allowing them to act as a unit to investigate their environment, share information on food sources and environmental conditions, and even to manipulate their environment. Swarms have been documented in complex joint maneuvers, wherein cells will grab each other with their feet and form a mass capable of moving objects. Swarms have been seen to form shapes akin to fingers, arms, walls and spheres, then apply those shapes to objects in their environment, allowing them to build simple barriers around their underground nests, and even “false nests” designed to lure away predators.
Most fascinatingly, Mindswarms will often adopt a shape, resembling the organization of a Buckminster-Fullerene molecule, that scientists have not been able to trace to any analogue in the Mindswarm’s world, but which seems to be used when the Mindswarm is engaged in non-survival-related communications. Scientists’ recordings of the vibratory communications carried on in this configuration have detected notably different tones and harmonics from those usually heard when the swarm is working on a physical task together. It has been speculated that the shape may facilitate abstract thought or even discussion and debate among the cells… though whether they are debating the meaning of the universe, or the most likely direction to go to find new food sources, is anybody’s guess.
Humans and Mindswarms have so far found no common ground for communication; and the Mindswarms have apparently no interest in interaction with humans, which makes engaging them for attempts at communication or testing their capabilities difficult. Individual cells seem to be unable to communicate when separated from the swarm; it’s as if proximity is required in order to prompt it to speak to its brothers. Human attempts to simulate Mindswarm vibrations don’t seem to fool cells… possibly interpreted as gibberish, they are subsequently ignored. And Mindswarms have made no attempt to mimic the simpler vibrations of human speech. (Chances are the differences in frequency modulations between the micro-sized cells and human vocal cords is impossible for the cells to detect, or to make sense of… akin to humans trying to make sense out of the vibratory sound patterns caused by the wind blowing through the trees.)
But it is hoped that one day Humans and Mindswarms will be able to at least maintain simple communications between each other, perhaps being able to provide assistance or warning to the other, or even to teach the other basic survival techniques.
Article written by Steven Lyle Jordan.
Steven is the author of the successful “The Kestral Voyages” series, “Verdant Skies“, and many other popular works of fiction. He regularly blogs both here at SciFi Ideas and on his own blog.