Insect Tech

...or, Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Bugs...



30th October 1999 Additional thoughts...

       Here's yet another exercise in Lexx Archeology....

       What do we know about the insects? There are a lot of second hand references, but they are generally not that helpful.

       What we learn from passing references throughout the two series is that Humanity, lead by the Brunnen G, fought a series of genocidal wars in the Dark Zone against the Insect Civilisation and eventually emerged triumphant. They apparently brought superior resources, but the humans brought greater flexibility. The insects were apparently wiped out completely. Or not so completely, as we find out in Gigashadow and Mantrid.

       From evidence in the series, this takes place 8,000 to 15,000 years ago. In any event, well before the Brunnen G leave their homeworld for the Light Universe.

       This is very nice, but it tells us little about the Insects themselves. The point of view of the legends is a human point of view.

       Our direct experience of the insects themselves comes from Gigashadow and Mantrid.

       In Gigashadow, we see the last surviving insect reveal itself. It's fucking monstrous, the size of a planet. It's been running the Divine Order for thousands of years and using humanity as a tool for its rebirth. It communicates, and is clearly intelligent.

       And apparently, it's been feeding on humanity. The cleansing amounts to shoveling the human race into its gut in anticipation of its great awakening. Even so, considering its immense size, the entire population fed to it in the cleansing can only be considered a snack.

       The Gigashadow is able to exist in hard vacuum, and to travel through space under its own power. It's able to chase and catch the Lexx. In appearance, it's remarkably compact, a titanic aphid or weevil, with a large segmented body and relatively tiny limbs.

       With Mantrid, we're introduced to a dormant Larva which is nevertheless the size of a small bus. When reanimated, this insect is capable of levitation or psychokinetic flight. Its spell in hard vacuum doesn't seem to have damaged it.

       Physically, the larva doesn't appear to have long legs, or antenna or large body structures of any sort. This is more or less consistent with the Gigashadow.

       What can we infer from this?

       Well, let's consider the adaptations. The small limbs may be a reaction to gigantism. As the weight and mass grows, the limbs grow smaller, more compact, to bear the weight. Long spidery legs, would simply snap.

       Alternatively, they may be vestigial. We're clearly shown in Gigashadow and Mantrid that insects don't need legs to travel. Even within a planetary gravity, a larva can fly around easily. It's more likely that the limbs have devolved towards uselessness, now functioning for purposes of manipulation.

       The Insects are clearly adapted to live in space. Vacuum, hard radiation, doesn't seem to bother them significantly, and their method of locomotion is tailored for space travel. Their bodies show no aerodynamic adaptations, or streamlining for planetary atmospheres. Rather, they tend towards a "fat" look clearly reducing surface area as much as possible.

       Essentially, the more streamlined shape, the longer and thinner, the more and longer feelers, tails, legs, claws and antenna, the more surface area is exposed. In cold climates, animals reduce their surface area, with small ears, short faces, shorter thicker limbs, Eskimos become short and rounded, etc., to reduce surface area and heat loss. In hot climates, animals will enlarge surface areas, ears grow large as in elephants and desert foxes, Watusi grow tall and lean to disperse heat, to make it easier to cool.

       In vacuum of course, every inch of surface area would bleed heat and energy into space. As well, internal pressure might be more difficult to maintain. Adapting to space, logically, the most efficient thing to do would be to reduce the surface area of your body. Goodbye long limbs, tentacles, protrusions, etc. Hello to a heavy, compact body which, in a pinch, you can roll into a ball.

       Of course, this hypothesis may not hold. The Spider Thing from Web/Net had an immense surface area, compared to its mass. And the other spacegoing insectoids we've seen, the Lexx, the Stingers, even the Moth don't really conform. It's possible that with the right insulation, and adaptations to maintain internal pressure and temperature conditions throughout, a spaceborne creature could take any form.

       I suspect that the Insects probably started off on a planetary system, somewhere, but they've left that far behind to become perfectly adapted to a spaceborne existence.

       Of course, according to the evidence in Gigashadow, they still have to eat. Is there any conflict between space borne creatures having to chow down on tender succulent meat things? Not necessarily, the insects were inherently biological creatures. That presumes that they were made up of long chains of molecules, held together probably by carbon and silicon. In this respect, it may have been much easier to cannibalize and adapt long chain carbon molecules and amino acids painstakingly constructed by other life forms, than to build their own from scratch. This is more or less what herbivores do to plants and carnivores do to herbivores.

[Aside - The insects are silicon-based.... Flare]

       Other life was probably the most nutritious and efficient form of consumption. But, with much less efficiency, the insects could probably browse on the pseudo-organic soups found in comets, and around the gas giants, and even munched on carbonaceous chondrite asteroids. They may have done so anyway to supplement their diets and supply elements not available from the organic beings they were chomping down on.

       We can safely assume that the insects were not restricted to one solar system, otherwise its not much of a war. If so, this means that they were capable of moving between star systems in search of food. They probably traveled through space in pods, like titanic whales. The nature of their diet probably meant that there would either be enough food (a planet) to support a whole population of them, or there'd be none at all. If that's correct, then there'd be no reason for them to be solitary.

       Or perhaps a better description might be cosmic locusts. Given no natural enemies, until us, long life spans, unlimited range, and an insectlike reproductive capacity, I could see them chewing a vulnerable solar system down to the bedrock, and then moving on. This would be a pretty unhappy thing if you happened to be a human colony in their path.

       How big did they get? My guess is that the Gigashadow was probably a giant among its kind. If they were truly space borne, then there would be no physical limit to their growth. Their growth would only be limited by their ability to feed themselves. We can assume that the Gigashadow, lying quiet for ten or fifteen thousand years, being fed by an entire human empire, probably consumed more food than it could have gathered on its own. One would also assume from this that the Insects were immensely long lived.

       Nevertheless, the Insects, full grown must have been immensely huge. The larva was close to the size of an elephant. Certainly they were much larger than whales. Definitely bigger than the Queen Mary. Probably an accurate size range for mature Insects would have been something on the order of larger asteroids and smaller moons.

       It is probably not useful to speculate too much on their biology. What was protoblood, and how did it figure in their biochemistry? Unknown, but one assumes that it must have had a significant purpose. How did they manage to fly, on planets without wings, or through space without visible propulsion? Not a clue. One might say telekinesis or psychokinesis, but these are just words. One thing, though, it's quite likely that whatever organs of energy they had which could propel asteroid sized bulks on interstellar voyages, it would make quite a good weapon.

       Possibly, this "telekinetic" ability may have helped gather or obtain food. Actually, in Gigashadow, didn't the Insect manage to extrude a tentacle of 'essence' or perhaps of its own body, into the Lexx.

       Were they intelligent? You couldn't tell it from the larva, but definitely, I'd have to give it to the Gigashadow. Of course, the Gigashadow had spent several millennia sharing its essence with humans, so arguably it might have picked up some of us. There's no evidence of tool use or tool manipulating capacity with either the larva or the Gigashadow, so we can probably assume they were nontechnological.

       But then, if you're the size of a planet, can live in space, pass between stars, and chase down a ship as fast as the Lexx, what do you need technology for?

       So, what exactly was the Insect Civilisation, if not a technological one?

       I think the answer to that lies in the Insect Essence, that black, particulate cloud. Essence figures strongly in IWHS, Gigashadow and Mantrid. What do we know about it?

       1) In Mantrid we're told it's the insects equivalent of a human "soul" or a computer "program." Without it, the Insect cannot become fully alive. It is the motivating force/mind life energy of the Insect.

       2) The essence is transmitted from one insect to another through their transduction organ.

       3) The essence, or part of it, can be transmitted to a human, where it will control the human.

       4) The human host of an Insects essence can pass itself from one human to another, but apparently a sort of residue remains behind in the bodies and brain of the previous host.

       5) The human host appears to have some remarkable abilities, projecting bolts of energy, a power of flight, the ability to animate a body without a brain, the ability to create their robes out of shadow, and the power to steal memories.

       6) The Gigashadow has the ability to suck back all of its borrowed essence from the Predecessors. The Larva, similarly, seems able to suck all (?) of the essence from Kai.

       What inferences can we draw from this? First, I think that the Essence was a channel to carry and pass not just "life force" or even "motivation" or "personality", but also knowledge and information, even memory. In particular, selective transmission of memory.

       The newly invested Divine Shadow, inhabiting a brain which had been wholly or partially wiped clean, needed no education. Rather, he was instantly in possession of his faculties and powers. He knew who he was, what the Lexx was, what he was doing and how he was going to do it. He knew about the prophecy, and about Kai down in the vaults. Interestingly, the other Divine Predecessors don't know about Kai. They have to be told by the Predecessor who's killed Kai. This indicates, strangely enough, that the knowledge of Kai seems to have leapfrogged over a bunch of predecessors. As well, it seems that the Predecessors in Gigashadow have no clear idea about what the coming of the Gigashadow means. That suggests that the essence can take memory, copy it, store it as well as confer memories; that is, it seems able to selectively edit.

       This seems to be a useful adaptation. If not for an effective editing function, each newborn insect would soon be burdened with millions, even billions of years worth of memories. Hardly feasible or useful. Selective transmission of memories would also give senior members an advantage over juniors, it's probably not desirable to be eaten by your children while you can still reproduce and thrive.

       The essence appears to be divisible. The Insect can pass its essence on to multiple descendants, rather than just a single one. This is not clear, but it can be readily inferred from multiple clues. The fact that while transmitting through humans, a bit of essence always appeared to remain behind. The last Divine Shadow dividing his essence and sending a part of it with his body against the Lexx crew. The last Divine Shadow's brain sending parts of its essence into both Yottskry, and we find, Kai. Logically, it would make no sense for an organism to pass all of its life essence into a single descendant. Biologically, it would make more sense to retain enough to keep on living and reproducing on its own, and to be able to pass essence to multiple descendants.

       Most controversially, more powerful individuals appear to be able to steal Essence from weaker ones. What biological utility is here? Possibly it functioned as a form of social dominance. A powerful individual insect might remove or siphon essence from weaker individuals, and then replace it with their own. This would ensure a more docile group of followers.

       For weaker individuals, there would be a competitive advantage in being able to draw memory and motivation from other individuals. It would expand the pool of experience available and help the individual to better obtain and define its identity.

       The transmission and exchange of essence, voluntary or involuntary, would form the basis of insect society. It could be almost beautiful, like the complex stately songs of humpback whales, these cosmic giants drifting through the Universe, exchanging and developing complex symphonies of essence. Or savage confrontations where they would literally struggle to suck each others souls out.

       Within the insect society, the 'essence' would probably occupy an exalted place. Literally, it's their soul. A substance or object which in humans is only a theoretical construct, is literally the building block of their society, mergable, divisible, transmissible, infinitely malleable. It would not be surprising if the Insects own name for themselves and their race were the "Divine Order" or some similar term associating themselves with the Divine.

       Of course, as we've speculated, anything in their path would see them as about as far from Divine as you could get. It's likely that they used their exchanges of essence to define and explore feeding territories. But within those feeding territories, humans and human civilisation would simply be lunch.

       Of course, this picture leaves a number of questions about other insects. What about the Lexx, the Stingers, the Moths, and even the Cluster Lizards. Where do they come into the picture? And who originally adapted or incorporated these insects into human technology?

       The later generation of insects may have nothing at all to do with the galaxy spanning Insect Civilization. It's possible that these other insects were modified in inspiration of the Insect Civilization after the war. Or were created using spliced genes from the great insects. I'm assuming here that the Lexx itself is an adaptation of some sort of significantly less powerful prototype. But it may be just as likely that the Lexx and the Moths are recent creations.

       But, let's consider this: Every dominant species, is always accompanied by a host of opportunistic species. Humans have cats, dogs, cattle, horses, sheep, rabbits, rats, seagulls, cockroaches and a whole armada of plants and insects, some of which we deliberately cultivate, others who just find it easier going in the environments we create.

       The Buffalo of the great plains, and the beavers of the woodlands made their environments hospitable to a variety of other animals, birds, insects, etc. Even ants cultivate aphids. Many plants sport fruit designed to be eaten and for the seeds to be passed through later. In the case of Mauritius, the Dodos were essential to the life cycle of trees there, without passing through the digestive systems of the Dodos the seeds couldn't germinate. These animals were either parasites, opportunists or symbiotes, the phenomenon is well established in nature.

       It's possible that the Insect Civilization was a multi-species coalition. Robert Aspirin has written a novel, the Bug Wars, about one such coalition. It's also possible that the Insect Civilization had a lot of "hanger on" parasite, symbiote or opportunist species that it carried with it. Let's face it, when your prime Insect is the size of a big asteroid, creatures like the Stingers or Cluster Lizards are effectively microscopic.

       These other, smaller life forms may have profited from the chaos caused by the Insects. Or they may have been actual symbiotes, performing services for their hosts, such as grooming, or helping to gather food. The Insects may have ignored them, or actively controlled them.

       Is there any biological utility to having an assortment of "hangers on"? As a matter of fact yes. Consider: An insect swarm descends on a life bearing solar system, chews it to the bedrock, and moves on. What remains? An assortment of opportunistic plant and animal life forms, abandoned, excreted, forgotten, to spend decades, even centuries building up a tasty viable ecosystem until the Insects return for their next meal and chew it to the bedrock again.

       Indeed, the Insects probably introduced life into barren solar systems they passed through, creating wild gardens for future feedings. Think of it as pollinating or seeding the Universe. And where life existed previously, the Insects first visits would ensure that the second and subsequent visits would produces a life crop which was more to their tastes and diets (to the detriment of the native ecology, but hey, they were doomed anyway, what with the Insects passing through).

       Possibly some of the hardier and more opportunistic plant and animal species might survive the Insects onslaught and wind up being carried along to other worlds, to eventually become part of the new Insect created ecology. Species from a dozen worlds might eventually compose part of a fast, radical, dangerous new ecology to sprawl across world after world. This new ecology could conceivably become a garden for new larvae unable to bridge interstellar distances until the parents return.

       It is entirely possible that Cluster Lizards were a form of Insect Parasite. If so, their presence on the Cluster would have been a giveaway to anyone knowledgeable about the Insect Wars. But would anyone have imagined that a great Insect still survived.

       Admittedly, this all sounds quite farfetched. But the mechanisms proposed: Opportunist species accompanying or following after dominant or trailblazing species, ecological colonization of new or barren territories, and incorporation of new opportunists.

       The north American grasslands ecology was based in the buffalo literally destroying their pastures, chewing it down to the roots, and churning the soil into mud, and then moving onto other pastures and not returning for a few years. Barren volcanic islands are colonized by plant and animal species. The introduction of a new species into an ecology can be devastating to the entire ecology. Essentially, the mechanisms proposed for the Insect Civilization are well established and understood in modern ecology, and lead to a viable and self sustaining system.

       There are alternatives. For instance, the Insect Civilisation could have been essentially raptors, devastating world after world and moving on without ever looking back. This would make for a smaller less organized, more dispersed Insect population. It seems less viable, but the Universe is a big place, and such a slash and burn and move approach could work.

       Another alternative, the Insect Civilization was concentrated on feeding off the gas giants and ice balls of the outer solar systems. This doesn't seem to accord with the evidence of flesh eating we've seen, but it might provide a viable self sustaining ecology, which wouldn't obviously conflict with humanity.

       Undoubtedly, there may be other viable models of Insect society and ecology. But for now, even with the extremely limited and indirect evidence available, I think this one is most likely.

       All in all, the vision of the Insect Civilization is of stately pods of ancient armoured leviathans, cruising through the Universe, constructing and exchanging complex symphonies of Essence, engaging in duels of soulstuff, harvesting their gardens and sowing seeds in their wake. It sounds almost heavenly, if you're an Insect.

       Being a Human, not so hot. You're minding your own business, when out of nowhere, a swarm of gigantic monsters drop in, devouring whales, forests, seas, and millions of people, causing havoc, wrecking the world, and when they finally depart, left behind is an armada of ravening smaller monsters and plants to finish off the handful of demoralized survivors. It's likely that so long as the Humans knew their place, as a valuable source of nutrients, the Insects had no problem with them.

       So where did the Human/Insect technology come from? A couple of sources, probably neither palatable to the post-Insect wars humanity.

       It may have been that early on, before the War began, the Insects would have permitted, or perhaps not bothered to notice Human researchers following them from place to place, even travelling with them, within their pods. Enterprising humans might have seen opportunities in some of the parasite/symbiote/opportunist species and begun to modify them.

       Alternatively, consider you're on a devastated world prowling with Stingers and Cluster Lizards, your technological base has been devastated. Perhaps survival rests in learning to tame and adapt the very species that are devastating your planet. The invaders, by nature, have to be flexible to survive with the Insect Civilization in the first place. It is entirely possible that some groups of humans even became effectively another parasite species, travelled with the Pods, and even fought on the wrong side in the Insect Wars, utilizing "curious" technology. Certainly, the Insects must have determined that they could control and manipulate humans at some point.
       Why the war? It was inevitable. The lifestyles of the two races clashed. The Insects, without caring very much, would sooner or later have devastated every human world, leaving behind their own nightmarish flora and fauna. The Insects had to go. From the Insects point of view, the idea of any species challenging their exalted position as the Divine Order of creation was blasphemy and obscenity. From the very beginning, it would be them or us.
       Hmmm. Looking this over, it feels like I've strayed pretty far afield. I'll just note that while I've speculated, at times quite wildly, I've tried to anchor my extrapolation in what we actually know of the Insects, and in known principles of biology and ecology. The Insects may have been alien beings, but I'd argue that even their alienness was still subject to biological constraints and likely to follow ecological principles. As such, I consider the speculations valid, until such time as the Beans tell me how I got it wrong.

NOTE: Special thanks to Ashley, for some rather interesting discussions of the Insects essence.

       Based on my earlier long chain of assumptions, I have some additional thoughts as to why the Dark Zone seems to be in such bad shape compared to the former light universe, how the Insect War went, why the Brunnis sun went poof, and the strategy used against the GigaShadow and Mantrid.

       How do you stop an intelligent adversary as big as a planetoid? How do you win a war with a whole culture of them? Let's face it, your basic Saturday night special isn't going to do the job. The Bismarck won't be much use against anything but Insect Fleas, and they probably would barely notice a fusion bomb. And they'll eat a planet for lunch.

       So how do you stop them? What does it take to kill a pod of insects the size of large moons? Overwhelming firepower? Could any one world, any one population stretched across the thin skin of a planet come up with enough firepower to drive off an insect?

       In The End of the Universe Kai admits that the human civilisation was outmatched by the Insects in terms of raw power.

       How about this: Blow up a sun on them, and let them get vaporized with everything else.

       Think about this: if the Brunnen G had the technology to stabilize their sun, then we have to assume that they had the technology to detonate them. It's possible that the Brunnen G actually destabilized their own sun as a way of protecting their world from insects. Something along the lines of "Come for us and we'll blow us both to hell."               Conceivably it was a weapon of last resort for many worlds. An Insect pod, once it hit a world, meant oblivion for the human population. They'd strip it down to rock, and replace what was left with their own form of life. So, why not blow the sun and take them with you.

       How do you wage a war with Insects, when your weapon is blowing stars? Follow them, monitor their feeding patterns, and when they go in for lunch, blow the star. Of course, at some point, the Insects might well have wised up and decided to eliminate humans. The price of blowing stars would become wiping out human worlds as well.

       If the Insect civilisation understood the human strategy, the obvious response might be to start sending in Junior Insects to finish off planets. If the star blows, you haven't lost the entire pod. If Junior wins, you feast.

       The Brunnen G strategy might well have shifted from waiting passively, to luring or leading pods, even swarms of insects, into the vicinity of stars which they detonated. Possibly, they even detonated several suns, or whole galactic cores.

       Essentially, the Brunnen G used the same strategy that the Lexx used with GigaShadow, fleeing and luring it into a fractal core where it was destroyed, and with Mantrid, fleeing and luring Mantrid to the center of the Universe to precipitate a collapse.

       What would be the result? A vastly aged universe, with many worlds either vaporized or scorched barren. A huge amount of background radiation, excessive electromagnetic and long wave stuff bouncing around. Much less habitable for humans or electronic civilisation. A diminished human population. And for the Brunnen G, a sun that now requires maintenance to keep from blowing.

       If fits with the extremely scanty information that we've got so far on the Insect Wars and the pre-Divine Order history. The Dark Zone does now seem to be markedly less habitable than the Light Universe. This presupposes, of course, that human technology or civilisation was much greater then than it is currently, but if you go looking, there seems to be evidence that the level of human technical achievement, even human population has declined, since then. That perhaps humanity itself is in decline. There's no evidence that any modern civilisation could actually stabilize a sun. For that matter, the evidence is definite that the secret of eternal life, won by the Brunnen G, was eluding the greatest minds of the age, Mantrid and Brizon. Gubby's dream machine was also an ancient hand me down.

       Admittedly, it's conjectural.        But here's an interesting piece of extrinsic data. For Donovan, Gigeroff and Hirschfield, one of the inspirations and models for Lexx was John Carpenter's original film, Dark Star - a movie about a group of misfits in a spaceship whose mission is to go around detonating stars...

It seems more logical to me to create some form of mini-parasite (or virus) to infest and destroy the insects from the inside - it works very nicely on Earth. However, that would have spoiled the overall scenes of mass-destruction apparently so beloved of the creators/intended audience of the series.... Flare.

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© 1999 D.G.Valdron.

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