Page in work!
(This page is a mishmash of several levels of knowledge:
- Things that the authors are discussing but haven't agreed on yet,
- Things that we 'know' because they have been published in various Swarm Cycle stories,
- Things that 'everyone knows' if they are characters in the stories, and finally
- Things that only the authors know, as they have to be able to write intelligently about how the Sa'arm act.
That last category is the most awkward, as that data can only become 'known' if an author writes a story where the Sa'arm actions make it clear. Okay, that leads to one final level of knowledge:
- Things that the humans have learned by observing Sa'arm that happens to be incorrect because there were unknown factors forcing the Sa'arm behavior.
A prime example of this last is when two separate gestalts meet as in what happened in the middle of the 3rd Battle of Earthat. The authors know what happens because The Thinking Horndog has told us, but several stories have been written about this incident and the humans don't react appropriately because they don't understand what is going on inside the gestalts.
I'm trying to sort this page into those categories. -ZM)
"Sa'arm" is the name given to the race that is invading the spiral arm that is home to the Confederacy. (Sa'arm was simply a word that meant 'Dangerous Creatures' in the business language of the Confederacy. It is believed that the prefix Sa' means danger, or dangerous. Starfiend) Details of their ships can be found here.
Sa'arm 'units' are around two meters (roughly seven feet) tall. They are tripeds with three arms and three eyes. They are tri-laterally symetrical with a defined front facing. Physically, they resemble armored lizards in that they are cold-blooded and fully armored, but it is not an exoskeleton. Thinking Horndog's Mercury Incident established them as having greenish-white blood.
Their internal armor is sufficient to repel common human projectile weapons. While rigorous experimentation is not possible to the non-Confederacy humans on Earth until the landing in Africa, early Confederacy forces on Tulak are able to run enough tests on live Sa'arm to establish that the 5.56 NATO round with 1700 foot pounds will not penetrate their armor at any range. The 7.62 NATO with 2400 foot pounds will penetrate out to 200 meters or so if it strikes within 10 or 15 degrees of perpendicular. As this meant that any shot not hitting the head or center of mass does effectively no damage, the Confederacy abandoned firearms for infantry, instead developing various energy weapons as well as larger firearms for vehicles.
The Sa'arm orient with one leg forward and two to the sides and rear, making them extremely stable against impacts from in front. Each arm is above a leg, with the front arm shorter and lighter for delicate work. The two side/back arms are longer and more massive, such that they can hold an object across their front with their two larger arms and hands and work comfortably with the third.
They have bullet -- or mushroom -- shaped heads with three eyes, two oriented more or less forward and one -- not as well developed -- for watching behind. The third eye seems to be only capable of detecting movement. Thus, a person standing perfectly still can watch a Sa'arm unit as long as it is not facing them. Once it turns, the unit will probably spot the watcher. The Swarm are tunnellers, so they probably see and discern well in low light and shadowy situations. One wonders what strobes and flashbangs would do to their eyesight.
The communications link between the 'units' makes them somewhat like an individual cell in a much larger organism, but with a collective consciousness that is aware of the existence of each cell.
It has been proposed that each arm ends in two opposing pairs of fingers. For the forward arm, all four fingers are individually controllable and can be used for fine work (turning a screwdriver, pushing a button or trigger, etc). For the two back arms, the fingers are stronger and not as dextrous; they are generally used together. (The big reason for this proposal is to give them "Base 12" numbering)
It is assumed that, if they are natural, they developed on a Hell world where the armor and the 360 degree vision was absolutely required -- and where the constant roar of various energies made the development of a sound detection sense a liability. It is also commonly believed that the Sa'arm are a manufactured life form.
(Note to authors: As of this writing (2/20/2016), the below "Reproduction" section has been passed around on the authors' email list, argued over, modified repeatedly, and at last gotten at least grudging acceptance. Even TH has blessed it. However, there are not yet any stories that talk about this so we can't call it 'canon' yet. We don't know how it really works in the stories. -ZM)
- All Sa'arm (that we've captured bodies to examine, that is) are genetically identical. Ergo, the mechanism they use for mutation control is remarkably resistant to damage.
Either they were designed for this, or they came from someplace with a very high radiation flux that required this for stability. How could they have evolved into what they are today, without being able to mutate? Another point for the "designed as miners, now independent" theory.
- An adult unit can form one egg at a time, when 'activated' by an internal signal controlled by the gestalt. The egg is laid 20 days after activation.
- The egg as laid is roughly 6" or 15cm long and "hatches" in about 120 Earth days.
- Rather than the contained swarmling destroying and discarding the shell, the shell softens and develops ten holes and two rings. The upper three holes become eyelids, the only solitary hole becomes the mouth, and the middle three and lower three allow the proto-arms and proto-legs respectively to extrude. The two rings become the upper and lower annular breathing valves. Intake at top, output at bottom.
How the 'shell' knows when to harden and thus prevent further growth is unknown. Or maybe there's a mechanism that shuts off growth first, which then triggers shell hardening. Either way, this process implies that the swarmlings do NOT have that bony armor yet, and thus will be a lot easier to kill. A single small bomb in a nursery should kill all except the adult 'nursemaids'. From this it follows that the Sa'arm will protect their eggs and their nurseries.
- The swarmling becomes a single-purpose eating machine for almost two years while it grows. As it grows, the old 'eggshell' stretches, then hardens to become the bony 'armor' capable of deflecting many injuries.
- Approximately 2 years after hatching, the unit reaches full growth, stops eating to grow, and is available for any task needed by the gestalt.
- The unit is ready to produce its own eggs soon after full growth, so that's (~2-1/2 years) the generation period.
None of this is stuff that the Confederacy knows, although by Year 14 we are getting clues. We won't really _know_ until we capture Marie Celeste several years later and start doing real research. On the other hand, the _authors_ need to know this, if they are writing stories that involve the Sa'arm reproductive cycle, as in stories about the Battle for Earth or some proposed stories about raids on Sa'arm-held planets.
The Sa'arm are a distributed intelligence. Each ADULT unit contributes a small net gain in the gestalt's total mental ability. Each IMMATURE unit contributes a small net loss, since the gestalt must provide control processing for the unit but is not yet gaining anything back. Note that the Confederacy's understanding of the Sa'arm starts at nothing and only gradually grows. ZDD's story "Mary Celeste" provides a controlled experiment where researchers can demonstrate the below intelligence levels, but that story is set ~year 20, long after the majority of Swarm stories. The Sa'arm know this. An author needs to know this. Most characters don't know this:
1 Sa'arm will eat what's in front of it, whether appropriate or not. A single Sa'arm is _dumb_.
3 Sa'arm will be able to recognize food or not-food and operate their food-processors, if they are functional.
8 (or so) will have the intelligence to recognize that their food-processors are out of base stock and to re-load the hoppers in those processors.
10 can act as an "independent" crew in a minor vessel if there are others usually nearby. Typical Sa'arm Bomber or Courier crew.
30 can make functional decisions. This is the minimum 'gestalt' capable of planning in the sense of time-based cause and effect. Typical Sa'arm "Vacuna" Scout ship crew.
90 can make rapid tactical decisions. 90 to 100 is the minimum number of units that a mature gestalt will assign to any task that may require decisions. 3 Vacunas, 9 bombers.
If there are only 4 or 5 survivors, they will breed. That's instinctive, and on a planet with abundant natural food sources this will rapidly raise their numbers to where they can think. However, "Mary Celeste" points out that if food is limited because they are on a ship, they aren't smart enough to reload the processors, so breeding makes them run out of food _faster_, since there are more mouths to feed but the young aren't yet contributing as much to the group mind as running their body consumes.
In parallel with their intelligence is their knowledge base. In a discussion on the email list about racial memory, TH said:
"If it is big enough – and always has been – a Sa’arm can remember everything it and it’s ancestors ever did, said and had for breakfast. But it’s a matter of storage capacity. If there was a period when the numbers shrank beyond a certain level, the resulting gestalt won’t have it – and won’t recover what was lost just by sizing back up – it’s going to have to re-learn things. That minimum number required to retain everything gets bigger over time, so it could get to be REAL hard for Big Daddy Numero Uno to bud himself a full replication of his entire knowledge base – if he’s still around. Since in many cases units left behind during a migration die in place, poisoned by the environment they destroyed, he may not be."
We as authors need to remember that this is background info about the Sa'arm. We authors know this, and can use it to help write stories about the Sa'arm side of the war. However, there is no way for a story character to know this short of running experiments like "allow 3 Sa'arm survivors from a crashed ship to develop into a complete colony, leaving them alone for 20 years". In a total war of extinction, fighting over rare habitable planets, that ain't gonna happen. Ergo, our characters will never know this.
On the other hand, as the war continues we will occasionally re-visit smashed Swarm systems and we will find where sometimes the survivors have rebuilt but their tech is different from "whole" Swarms. The emergent survivor Swarm has had to re-invent any technology they could not salvage and reverse-engineer, and sometimes their solutions will be different from their ancestors.
I have not been able to come up with the nature of their communication facility yet -- I'd like to see it as a neural net or something that extends for distances of up to a quarter million miles or so, (Mercury Incident had the range at 500K miles but 250K has been settled upon) based upon there being a large number of them available to generate it.
Long-range communication (as between systems) consists of literally transporting a specialized unit with an abstract of the current state of the current hive and any messages to the target hive for integration. (Catching couriers ends up being the way we get our live ones -- quite aside from disrupting their communications.)
The humans believe that the communication limit is approximately a quarter-million kilometers for a large hive such as a planetary one. We have not yet found a way to 'block' or even detect the communication link, so we assume that it is not electromagnetic in nature. There is a body of evidence that the range can vary, but we have no understanding yet of how or why.
One theory is that it becomes a bandwidth issue with range: inside a particular range (which may vary) communications is total, while outside of that range it is limited, until at the farthest possible range all that is communicated is existence; the two groups know that the other is there or, as we have seen, suddenly isn't there any more. Tactically, it is very difficult to surprise two different groups of Sa'arm unless the two attacks are simultaneous or they are very far apart. More than once human naval forces have attempted to attack two widely-spaced Sa'arm forces, only to find that the Sa'arm communications link is better than the Confederacy's timing and only the first group was caught by surprise.
Sa'arm Behavior Inside a Single Gestalt
A key issue that I have described but need to emphasize is their reaction mode. Any attack on a single Sa'arm results in immediate reaction from other hive members in the immediate vicinity. This could have ugly consequences, especially for a team trying to collect a live specimen. I'd planned to frame a story around this. (See Mercury Incident) A dead body would not be linked, and might fairly easily be transported out -- but a live one is his own GPS, detectable WELL beyond low orbit. Since every resource immediately available would be applied to the apprehension of the kidnappers -- not so much due to the value of the unit, but in order to determine the nature of the threat -- I envision not only the team failing to escape, but it's support vessel being destroyed -- or self-destructing to avoid capture.
Obviously, ground combat will be interesting, too. I saw teams with antipersonnel mines trying them out on the Sa'arm; one item being a simple Claymore mine with the trip wire replaced by a laser unit (just an episodic thing, but it would be something we could combine advanced tech with current hardware to make...). Tactics are all about hit & run -- don't be there when the reaction force arrives. Preferably, you set up a multi-stage ambush, drawing several larger and larger sorties -- perhaps culminating with a nice tactical nuke...
I didn't see the Sa'arm carrying weapons, as such, early on -- on most worlds, especially Confederacy worlds, they just landed and took over, ignoring the locals while they panicked, and creating their honeycombs of tunnels under the surface to support the surface hive structures -- more or less after the fashion of an iceberg -- most of their construction beneath the surface where they're going to be a bitch to get out. We'll teach them differently, of course. I saw them carrying a very sharp vibroblade-type energy knife or something to butcher pests with, but nothing more advanced until they discover that they aren't in Kansas any more...
The Sa'arm aren't big innovators, but they learned a long time ago to study the hardware of whatever livestock they happen upon. As a result, they have a varied arsenal -- but probably not much experience if any at using it. This can play into our hands as they field new weapons without an adequate understanding of their function and end up misusing them... Soronel
Sa'arm Behavior Between Gestalts
If a group of Sa'arm gets far enough away from the hive, they lose their contact and become independent. However, intelligence is drastically limited by the number of units available to the new gestalt. It may well be instinctive to follow previous orders where possible, then seek a larger gestalt to join.
It is known that Sa'arm systems send small ships containing at most three units -and often only one- to other systems. It is assumed that these are 'couriers' simply transferring memories from one gestalt to another. These 'courier' ships that are assumed to only go one place and then join another gestalt and thus are not required to be very smart.
The smallest ship used by the Sa'arm for independent operations appears to be the corvette or scout design we call the 'Vacuna'. Those few we have disabled without complete destruction and were able to inspect afterwards invariably were found to carry between 25 and 35 units, and the low end may be due to combat damage removing some units. We have tentatively listed them as carrying 30 units. Experience has shown that a single Vacuna behaves with little imagination or ability to learn.
It is far more common to encounter a group of three Vacunas working together. It is assumed that the roughly 100 units available give the scout group significantly more smarts, and the triads are easily recognized as responding more intelligently to changing tactical situations.
Each gestalt is independent. A pair (or more) may cooperate in some manner, but not closely. A possible example might be several Sa'arm systems each contributing several ships to a sort of 'combined fleet' if that is considered necessary to capture or destroy a particularly irritating set of natives. However, each contingent would be its own gestalt, budded-off from its parent, and if this tactic was decided upon each contingent would attempt to take over all other contingents. There would not be any physical action taken; the struggle would all be internal or mental and would happen immediately after any two groups approached within the limit of their communication system. No units are harmed in this struggle. After the two gestalts have merged, the surviving gestalt would have access to all memories of both 'parents' and would control all units from both.
(The following paragraphs are considered non-canon)
I have some ideas on Sa'arm communications and evolution. A gravitronic communication mechinism allows for the envisioned neural network, with the net being centered in the hive ship or a significat planet side congregation. Each unit is by itself non-sentient, only as a group can they achieve intelligence.
This can be discovered through such means as a malfunctioning gravity accelerated torpedo or by catching a hive ship near a binary neutron star system, where the rapidily changing gravitational field renders the entire hive unable to function and thus easy to capture as a whole.
I do not see such a race as having evolved naturally, instead they were a bio-weapon introduced into the apparent home world in order to destroy another race.Unfortunately as with so many things they proved to be more than their creators could control.
Let me know what you think of these ideas. deGaffer
The following was copied from an email from TH:
The idea that the Sa’arm is a manufactured race was always out there. I haven’t locked that one down, one way or the other – it’s a ‘never to be resolved’ situation. A full-up Sa’arm gestalt IS self-aware – but it takes size to get there. Individual units are NOT self-aware. Small elements caught out alone (even a few dozen, removed from the main gestalt) would be primarily occupied with basic survival for quite some time – and might not make it. A gestalt that ‘grew up’ that way would have large gaps in its knowledge base. It would not be a normal occurrence.
Also, as I have indicated at some point, gestalts are ‘self-centered.’ Solipsism is the basic philosophy employed. Thus, if a gestalt that grew from a tiny initial seed (very few units) in isolation came across another gestalt (we’re assuming that this is the full gestalt, not just scouts, which the other gestalt would absorb on contact) a conflict could result. In any case, the self-interest of each individual gestalt is paramount in its thinking – any cooperation would be in the face of a serious threat (i.e., us.) The cooperative effort to attack and subdue the Earth comes under the heading of ‘rooting out an annoying infestation’ – much like destroying a hornet’s nest in order to get rid of the things. And, ultimately, one gestalt will own Earth. They can only cooperate at a distance, using individual courier units. Two gestalts in close proximity are instantly at war with one another for unit resources when their fields of influence overlap – which can paralyze them both and the majority of the units in the overlapping areas of influence. Therefore, while they might be able to direct coordinated attacks using resources from multiple gestalts, such coordination is difficult and won’t be entered into lightly.
Large ships and small fleets will have collections of units aboard sufficient to operate independently, but perhaps not as efficiently as a human crew. Coordination would be difficult between units of relatively equal size, as any little shift in numbers could cause a unit – or a vessel or a fleet – to instantly shift allegiances. Courier communication assumes that the transmitter and the receiver are full gestalts that are self-aware and that a direct link between gestalts is not possible. Two task forces operating too close to one another would cause an active link to be generated between them and control would be homogenized to one gestalt – probably the one with the larger number of units in place. Inter-gestalt coordination would therefore be on to order of “You take the left flank and I’ll take the right and we stop here – BEFORE we meet in the middle.” And there would be considerable negotiation (read argument) over who GOT the middle. The double-cross would CERTAINLY be an option...
Let’s assume for a moment that two or three gestalts are in charge of the invasion of Earth. (Frankly, three is too many.) We have to assume that the ‘child gestalts’ in the Hive ships are by some agreement carefully proportioned and that they cannot control all of Earth upon arrival – they are not large enough to generate a control field that would encompass the entire planet on arrival. Each parent gestalt will be operating under the assumption that their ‘child’ will eventually assume ascendancy and control all of Earth. Each parent would PROBABLY have loaded the dice in some manner.
While this plays out, there will be certain cross-territory locations where the total gestalt coordination that would be normal in most instances will NOT be available on Earth, i.e, if we launch strikes from one gestalt’s area of influence into another’s and then retreat to the original location, we will gain from their lack of instantaneous control. The attacked gestalt would have to communicate this via courier – and some distance (and therefore time) would have to be involved, lest the gestalts come into conflict.
Hmmmm… Bet there is a story or two there.
(ZM 3/8/2015 - Isn't the above invalidated by the decided 250,000 mile range of their link? Such duality could not happen on a single planet. However, if there were two habitable planets in a single system....)