The Tiles are a bioengineered species that are dominant patrons of an uplift-bonded polyspecific civilization in a region of space adjacent to the Human Archipelago.
It is postulated that the Tiles were created around some pre-existing biochemistry and basic physiology. However, the current design of Tile bodies is so vastly removed from any possible proto-Tile species that they must have been uplifted by some earlier species.
The identity of the Tiles' patron species has been largely forgotten by the galactic Archives. A further mystery is that the artifice required to create such an obviously unnatural species borders on the transcendent, and yet the Tile bodyplan incorporates no elements of transcendent machinery. It is postulated that the Tiles were created by some transcendent patron as a work of art.
The bodyplan of the Tiles is based on a large number of modules or tiles that perform various functions, such as storage, sensing, locomotion, manipulation, thought, respiration, digestion and reproduction. Each type of tile is capable of bonding with most of the other types by using a biological 'universal connector' that links circulatory, nervous and skeletal systems. The tiles are shaped in such a way that they can only bond aperiodically.
An 'individual' Tile consists of as few as ten or as many as several hundred tiles. The Tile body is mostly a flat layer twenty to thirty centimetres thick. The layout has approximately evenly spaced legs, with feeding and manipulatory tiles around the edges and sensory organs scattered over the upper surface.
The primary means of TIle communication is through the rapid modulation of biological lasers. This system is almost a direct connection between the two nervous systems, enabling transfer of thoughts and images as well as simple words. Use of a specific language is secondary to this means of communication. However, formal languages are extremely useful for the storage of information and so the Tiles have adopted the use of several of the trade languages used by earlier polyspecific cultures.
To enable communication with the many species they have encountered in their exploration of the Galaxy, the Tile bioengineers have shaped many varieties of specialist tiles. These can be used to communicate by sound, gesture, touch or even scent. Specialist brain tiles are trained to translate Tile thoughts into many languages.
It requires about four brain tiles to make a Tile the intellectual equal of an average human. The intelligence of the Tile increases more slowly than linearly with the addition of more brain Tiles. Tiles with more than six or seven brain tiles tend to be unstable, as the component tiles often hold incompatible beliefs. Random selections of eight or nine brains invariably combine to form insane Tiles. It is only by carefully selecting its components that a Tile can remain sane with this many or more brain modules.
The general nature of the tile connections means that individuals are able to exchange elements of their bodies fairly freely, as well as fuse with others or fission themselves. This impermanence of individual patterns means that notions of individuality are hard for Tiles to understand; Tiles are continuously crystallized out of the greater Tile civilization and then redissolved. Brain tiles with similar outlook and personality are able to form longer-lasting units, but even these brain tiles will eventually be separated and recombined into new patterns.
It is possible for a Tile to separate a subunit consisting of a brain tile and attached support tiles to perform a specific task. With time, however, the daughter Tile will diverge in personality from its parent. After long enough the fission daughter may even elect to fuse with a Tile that is not its parent.
Tiles are explorers. They have spread across large regions of the Galactic Web, seeking out protosentient species to uplift, and novel organ concepts to incorporate into new tiles. At any time the Tiles have five or six active uplift programmes and a dozen or so mature client species highly involved in their exploratory activities. Currently the most powerful of these clients are the Phorexis, a species of amphibious vermiform hermaphrodites.
The future of Ad Astra