Category: World Building


Homecoming coverThe Bounceabout is the crew’s nickname for exploration ship XP-13. Why? Well, to explain that I need to explain a bit about how faster-than-light travel works in my universe.

I know, it’s not really possible to go faster than the speed of light. But how do you have an interstellar plot if you cannot assume simultaneity, which is ruled out by relativity? So I am making the following assumptions:

1. Electromagnetic radiation does indeed travel at the speed of light.

2. Esper talents (telepathy, telekinesis, levitation, teleportation) are instantaneous, as are their mechanical versions such as sub-light communications and jump gates. However, they are subject to distance limitations.

3. Interstellar travel is accomplished via “jump points” (you can call them wormholes if you prefer) which can be flagged with sub-light beacons. Transit between two jump-points is reasonably smooth if the exact positions of both are known.

4. Unflagged jump points can be detected via electromagnetic radiation, but of course if a jump-point is five light-years away, what you will detect is where the jump-point was five years ago. Transition to an unflagged jump point (location not precise)  is (a) rough and (b) tends to do strange things to artificial gravity fields and force fields. As a result of this, exploratory jumps are taken in free fall with all people on board physically webbed into place – and they need to be!

The practical result is that while travel within the known parts of the Confederation is fast and reliable, the expansion of the Confederation, depending on exploration, is slow and the Confederation itself has a very strange shape.

In Homecoming, even Lai quickly comes to call the XP-13 the Bounceabout!

I’m doing my A to Z blogs from my books, both characters and background information. For characters I’ll introduce them quickly, say what point of time they’re talking from since their situations change drastically through the books, and let them talk. Background information will vary according to what I’m talking about. All of these blogs will be scheduled to go live just after midnight Alaska time.

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World Building logoIf you’re looking for the World Building Blogfest Excerpt, scroll down or click on the logo to the left. However, Jarn’s Journal is also a part of the history of my science fiction universe, and is the basis for several holy books — much modified by priests, of course!

Year 5 Day 24

You’d think that by now I’d know that I haven’t a shred of artistic sense in my body. No, I had to try to decorate myself. Giraffe and Meerkat are too much in awe of me to laugh in my face, but Songbird could not suppress her giggles.

“Fine,” I said. “You decorate me. But I absolutely am not going to wear that mask and leopard skin!”

feathers, MorguefileShe fingered my skin, covered with splotches of the red-purple dye. “Can you get that off?”

Rather sullenly I felt out the structure of the dye and teleported it away. It took me a while – I’m not exactly expert in that kind of work – and while I was working at the problem, Songbird was drawing with a stick on a patch of dirt. She finished and began chewing a twig about the time my skin returned to its normal dark bronze color.

“Now, do you have more of that color? It’s different from any I’ve seen before. We’ll say it’s a holy color, just for you, and set it off with white.”

I handed her the rest of the shellfish dye, and she dipped the chewed twig into it and began painting a curving design on my inner thighs, the least visible part of my body. Gradually she extended her design over the rest of my body and face, now and then asking me to remove the dye in some small area she had painted by mistake. “There,” she said. By then it was night, and I went to one of the small glass windows I had made and looked at myself. The reflection was distorted, of course, but I was very definitely not an animal. And it was clearly adornment, the red dye and the white clay in a pattern that followed my body with symbols I had come to recognize.

“You do need a headdress,” she said. “Feathers, perhaps? I could braid them into your hair so they make a crest. And I should touch up the skin color, especially the white, just before the celebration.”

I rolled my eyes a bit, then thought of the sap. “Could you scent the feathers with this?”

At least it is better than the gear I have had to wear the last two gathers, and the sap should cover some of the other smells!

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Food

World Building logoAs a purely practical matter, food is very important to R’il’noids using their esper talents. These talents are not used without effort. In particular, the laws of conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, and conservation of angular momentum apply to levitation, telekinesis, and teleportation. Although much can be accomplished by counterweighting (moving an external mass in such a way that the net change in energy, momentum and angular momentum are zero) the energy required for esper work is considerable and R’il’noids and the R’il’nai are notorious for always being hungry. This is particularly true of Healing, where the energy used cannot be offset by counterweighting. The rule is “carbohydrates before intense esper work; protein after.” Failure to comply can lead to hypoglycemia (insulin shock) and loss of consciousness. Espers normally carry tubes of honey.

NGC7027Physical meetings of the Inner Council are always accompanied by high-calorie finger food. Tastes vary, but the food usually has plenty of sugar or honey, often combined with fruit, cream and pastry. After a meeting, some kind of rich soup is in order.

Most food preparation is automated, but there are restaurants with human-prepared food, and experts who develop new dishes and the programs to prepare them.

Individual planets vary greatly in their cuisine and the ingredients available. Marna on Riya lived mostly on wild fruit and nuts, fish, and the produce of her garden. Several of those plants (tika berries, haro nuts, pala fruit, frostberries) were later introduced to Central. Falaron (Terraformed form Earth during the Pleistocene) offered auroch steak and roast peccary. Ethnic restaurants from all over the Confederation abound on Central, while the people of Eversummer, where all imported animals died off very early and the native animals are toxic, live mostly on yams, legumes, cassava, fruits, nuts and grains. (They also eat their dead as a religious rite, and Marna suspects that this developed partly because their diet lacks complete proteins.)

Drink

NGC3021, photo credit Hubble GalleryNon-alcoholic beverages include a wide variety of fruit juices and herbal infusions, some with considerable caffeine. (This includes what we would call coffee and tea, both imported from Earth.) Chocolate was imported from Earth quite early, and is used in a variety of beverages. (I know, chocolate is not native to Africa, but the people who followed Jarn found possible food plants on a number of continents.) Milk and cream from a variety of mammals is used in beverages as well as sweets. Of course water is drunk almost everywhere, though in some places (such as Eversummer) pretreatment is needed.

Alcoholic beverages are even more varied. Just about anything with carbohydrates can be used to make an alcoholic beverage, and is on some planet or other. Wine from grapes is probably the most popular among the R’il’noids, and here a peculiarity of their metabolism must be mentioned.

Most R’il’noids have an enzyme in their saliva that breaks down alcohol even before it can be swallowed. Alcohol taken by mouth literally cannot intoxicate them, though most enjoy the complex flavors and aromas of fine wine. In fact, alcohol serves as an excellent fast energy source.

At the opposite extreme some ethnic groups completely lack the ability to metabolize alcohol. One such is the Clan, a starship-based culture spending their entire lives on starships, and making a living by trade. Clan members are notorious for having no head for drink, and can become addicted to alcohol very easily. I have one character from this group, and his taste for alcohol is part of the plot of Tourist Trap.

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Religion

World Building logoThe R’il’nian religion is based on “do no harm to other sentient beings, and cause no pain to non-sentient living beings”–and their definition of “sentient” is “intelligent enough to recognize consciously that some day they will die.”

There is no one religion in the Jarnian Confederation, though there are certainly planets which could only be described as theocracies. Many of the religions are based to some extent on Jarn’s Journal, but the priestly interpretations of that journal vary enormously. A fair percentage of the interplanetary disagreements that the Confederation is called on to mediate are based on religious differences.

For instance, quoting Lai (R’il’nian) in Tourist Trap, when he is asking his R’il’noid son Roi (telepathically) if he wants to go along and observe:

from http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/nebula/pr1996038b/web/   Remember the problems we’ve been having with the Kablukolelli cluster?
   Roi had to stop and think for a moment. Kablukolelli was a cluster of stars, four of which had inhabited planets, within a few light years of each other. For some reason he had never fully understood, the cluster had proven a magnet for extremist groups. Each of the four inhabited systems had been settled and entered the Confederation separately, so Lai had the right to force arbitration of their differences—which were considerable.
At least you can do something, he thought. Not like Goodnews, where it’s all internal affairs. What’s the problem this time?
Funeral customs, his father replied wearily.
Like the people on Eversummer eating their dead? Roi asked. Marna said they’re very reverent about it; they just figure that something’s going to eat the body, and the most honorable stomachs are those of the family. Cremation’s next best, but they do not like it. He remembered what Marna had told him of the token funerals for the epidemic victims.
Right, Lai said. The Kailonites do that, too. The J’koan consider that the only reverent way to treat the bodies of the dead is to give them back to the soil of the planet, the Folaanni go for cremation and the Lirrilo feed the flesh to a local water animal, tan the skins, and mount the skins and skeletons to keep in their homes. They all treat the bodies with reverence, and mourn for their departed friends and relatives. But the residents of each planet look at the other three planets and think sacrilege, abomination, and disrespect for the dead. Traders and embassies have been attacked, and it’ll turn into a holy war if it isn’t stopped. So I’m going to have to go out there physically and force a little sense into their heads.”

Star-forming region, s106 (Hubble)(The R’il’nai, by the way, teleported the dead bodies of their people into the local sun.)

Goodnews? That’s a group that entered the Confederation as a single entity, so the Confederation can not force them to accept Confederation arbitration. Religious disagreements are rapidly escalating toward civil war.

Culture

Again, there is a great deal of variation from planet to planet, and the variation of cultures (and particularly of sexual mores) provides some of the tension in my fiction. One of the requirements for acceptance into the Confederation is that any free person is free to emigrate. However, planets may set any limits they want on immigration. There are generally several new colonies eager to take immigrants, but the more desirable ones may require substantial premiums. Planets are encouraged to set limits to population, the limit depending on the ecology of the planet. For most planets, the limit is around a billion. They’d consider the Earth’s population totally unsustainable on a time scale of millennia.

V838Central, the administrative capitol of the Confederation, has a society in which slavery is accepted, but slaves are entertainment rather than labor. (Computer extensions provide most of the labor.) Anything goes sexually as long as pregnancy is impossible (and most citizens and all slaves are reversibly sterilized before puberty.) However, before the sterilization can be reversed, the couple planning pregnancy must demonstrate that they can and will care properly for the child. Citizenship is not automatic, but depends on the demonstration of a useful skill, and only citizens can reproduce. Although there is no legal protection for slaves, there is also no prejudice against freed slaves, who can become citizens.

The rules are a little different for R’il’noids (those with more than half of their active genetic material R’il’nian-derived) or those with enough latent genetic material of R’il’nian derivation that they could produce R’il’noid offspring. R’il’noids are relatively rare and desperately needed, and the Genetics Board exists to encourage matings that might produce R’il’noids with the needed traits (primarily conditional precognition and the ability to recognize Maung parasitisation.) Unfortunately they tend to rely on an objective measure, the Çeren index, which measures the raw fraction of active R’il’nian genes, but not what they code for.

At any rate, they can and do encourage matings that they feel are genetically desirable regardless of whether the people involved like each other. Many children of these matings are reared by foster parents, but these are carefully selected and generally have demonstrated ability to rear children successfully. The majority of R’il’noids are sterile or have very low fertility, so there is generally no shortage of foster parents. In other cases one or both parents assist in rearing the child. In any event there is no financial hardship in rearing a R’il’noid child; the costs are assumed by the Confederation.

Hubble1Roi’s friend Coryn is a good example of this. His mother, Vara, really wanted no part of his father, Derik, but the genetics Board insisted. Derik was nearly sterile and is very fond of Coryn, but Coryn rarely gets a chance to see both parents at the same time. In this case he feels loved by both and they are careful not to fight over him, but he wishes they’d get together.

Pure R’il’nian women were generally fertile at a far longer interval than the time necessary to rear a child to adulthood, and actually considered it immoral to have more than one child by the same father. But a couple normally stayed together long enough to rear their child to full independence. Part of the sexual mores of Central are derived from this pattern, and both serial monogamy (the R’il’nian pattern) and group marriage are common, as are short-term liaisons strictly to produce a child and test-tube fertilization.  (At least prior to Marna’s work.)

One peculiarity of Central society may be noted: ideas of modesty revolve around the perception that hiding a part of the body (for reasons other than protection) draws attention to it. Thus they would regard our swimming suits, for instance, as being extremely indecent, while nudity is quite acceptable for swimming unless the water is cold enough that some thermal protection is needed..

Even a relatively small fraction of R’il’nian genes is enough to prohibit slavery, and the abolition of slavery is a hotly debated topic. By the time Roi is grown, the Inner Council for the Jarnian Confederation is generally against slavery, but they have absolutely no authority over the rest of Central. It is the elected representatives of Central who must make that decision.

Holidays

There are an enormous number of religious holidays, but these vary with religion. There are, however, secular celebrations tied to the calendars.

Both Riya and Central use calendars that start with the northward equinox. The lengths of their years and days were similar but not identical in length to Earth’s or to each other’s. The Central year was slightly more than 364 Central days, and was made up of 12 30-day months plus four days outside the months: Yearday (northward equinox), Northday (northern solstice), Feastday (southward equinox) and Southday (southern solstice.) Of these, only Yearday was tied firmly to the solar calendar, and an intercalary day was inserted as needed at the end of the year to keep Yearday at the longitude of the Confederation administrative complex on the northward equinox (vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.) All of these days outside the calendar were planetary holidays

Each 30-day month was broken into six fivedays. One day of each fiveday was a rest day, but which day varies widely. Probably the first day of a fiveday was most often used as a rest day, as was the case at Tyndall. The school year started the first day of the fifth month, 1 month after Northday. The two school vacations started with Southday and Northday and ran for a month each.

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Species

World Building logoIn order to understand the history of the Jarnian Confederation, we need to be introduced to three different species: the R’il’nai, Humans, and Maungs.

The R’il’nai are very human-like in appearance and environmental requirements, the major differences being that their facial features are set somewhat lower than ours, and their eyes have metallic veining. Most have well-developed esper abilities (teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy, and conditional precognition being the most important) as well as empathic ability (ability to actually feel what another is feeling, including sensory input.) They have an advanced science and an inherited language, but tend to be lacking in creativity. Artists, poets and musicians are very rare, but highly valued. Less obvious is the fact that they do not age, and have an extremely slow reproductive rate. (Women are fertile a few hours per century.)

Veil Nebula, hubbleHumans, at the time of the early history of the Confederation, were using learned language and living in hunter-gatherer groups, really extended families. They had developed a great deal of creativity, mostly expressed at that stage by personal adornment, which they regarded as what set them apart from animals. (This was about 125,000 years ago, our time.)

Maungs were a symbiosis, adapted to much higher gravity, denser air and somewhat different atmospheric composition than Humans or R’il’nians. They were not in competition for living space; a Maung would find Death Valley chilly and with the air far too thin, while a Human would find a mountaintop on a Maung planet a little warm for comfort. They were valuable trading partners to the R’il’nai, with the main items of trade being “spices” (often medical) which grew in the conditions preferred by one species or the other.

Physically, the Maungs were around the same mass as Humans, but much different in shape. The simplest description is an animated six-legged footstool with tentacles arising from a stripe down the middle and between the legs. Some of these tentacles carried eyes, others were grasping organs. Communication was via changes in skin color and pattern, and the central nervous system was within the body, not in a separate head.

There were other star-faring species, but they come into history only through a general agreement: intelligent species were to be left strictly alone until and unless they developed interstellar flight on their own. Aggressive species almost always destroyed themselves in the process of getting to the level of science needed.

Jarn

Starburst Cluster, HubbleA young and rather impatient R’il’nian starship designer, Jarn, designed a new ship and took it out for testing. Being young and thinking he knew better than his teachers, he neglected a few basic safety features. The result? A crash landing on Earth, during the penultimate interglacial, with Jarn managing to get to Africa alive. (His story is being blogged on Fridays, and accumulating on my author site.)

Jarn met early humans, and eventually yielded to the requests of their leaders to share his godlike powers by sexual congress with their female leaders and the mates of the male leaders. He resisted at first, but finally gave in as by everything he knew, there would be no offspring.

Wrong.

They were rare, and many were sterile, but a very few of the People (as they called themselves) began showing unmistakable R’il’nian traits. Jarn had with him a major computer library and by that time was very homesick – could he teach his descendants enough that they could build a starship that would get him back home?

It took over a thousand years, yet not one, but a fleet of starships eventually followed Jarn back to the planet, Kentra, that he called home. By then all Humans carried some of Jarn’s genes, and those who chose not to go with him became our ancestors. Those who followed Jarn were granted a planet by the R’il’nai who, however annoyed they were with Jarn, held the Humans blameless. They did, however, promise the other starfaring species that they would be responsible for the new species that had not really reached the stars on their own.

Early Confederation

Star birth in the Carina nebula, credit Hubble GalleryHumans accepted this guardianship of the R’il’nai for two reasons. First, the R’il’nai resolved disputes between planets. Second, it turned out that the Maung reproductive cycle was potentially deadly to Humans. The Maungs were a symbiosis of an insect-like, highly intelligent nervous system and a mammal-like body with an incomplete nervous system which required the insect-like symbiote to develop intelligence. Death of the mammalian body released the next generation of insect-like symbiotes. Maungs already complete gave off a signal that prevented them from being infected by the insect-like symbiote, and R’il’nians gave the same signal. Humans did not, and the symbiote acted as a true parasite in Humans, eventually taking over the brain. The R’il’nai could detect and cure infections if they were caught early enough, and agreed to do so if the Humans would allow them to mediate disputes

Kharfun Epidemic

Infant Stars, HubbleThe Humans, with their high reproductive rate, began to colonize many more planets, but the system worked until about 10,000 years ago, when a flu-like disease in Humans proved deadly to R’il’nians and many of the early hybrids that were often leaders in Human society. A treatment and a method of immunization were found, but there was a drastic reduction of the already low R’il’nian population and virtually complete death of the early-generation hybrids who often took leadership roles on the Human planets.. There simply were not enough left to act as mediators and protect the Human planets from the Maungs. At the request of some Humans, Human-R’il’nian hybridization was again tried, this time deliberately. The successful hybrids, called R’il’noids, took over the guardianship duties. A governing system developed with two Councils of R’il’noids taking over much of the day-to-day running of what was now called the Jarnian Confederation, though the R’il’nai retained veto power. Individual planetary systems were left strictly alone unless they asked for help (mostly medical or natural disaster related) or attempted to attack a neighbor, and a wide variety of planetary governments developed.

By the time of my first novel, Homecoming, there was only one surviving R’il’nian.

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Since my fiction is set on a number of planets of the Jarnian Confederation, no two quite alike, I’ll describe the most important ones for the stories I’ve published. Two others, Horizon and Rakal, will be in my upcoming trilogy, and T’Kun and Mava are in a barely-started book on the first Kharfun epidamic.

Central

Central, the administrative capital of the Confederation, is an Earth-sized planet circling a very sun-like star. There are two major continental masses, both extending from above the Arctic circle to below the Antarctic circle. Axial tilt is about 24°. The broad climate zones are similar to Earth’s: equator wet flanked by seasonal rain belts, deserts along the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, rain shadow deserts on the lee of mountain ranges, prevailing winds easterly near the equator and westerly at higher latitudes. Mid-latitude continental climates are highly seasonal. There are no polar ice caps as neither pole is isolated from the oceanic circulation, though there is considerable permanent ice on the higher mountains.

Map of Central

Crude Lat-Long map of Central. Numbers are: 1.Lai’s home 2. Derik’s home 3. Seabid island 4. Rollover Archipelago 5. Tyndal school 6. Jelarik’s home 7. Zhaim’s home 8 Trade City

Central was originally a R’il’nian planet called Kentra. As the R’il’nai dwindled in numbers the larger continent, and then the northern part of the smaller one, were increasingly given over to humans and some R’il’noids. In theory the southern extension of the smaller continent is owned by the R’il’nai, but in fact many R’il’noids have homes there.

One thing the R’il’nai insisted on: a large fraction of each ecosystem must remain natural. Thus Central is largely a natural world, though there are very advanced cities. Most of the action in my novels takes place outside of the cities.

The flora and fauna make up a very mixed ecology. The planet was Terraformed (or rather R’il’n formed) a couple of hundred thousand years ago. Since then many species from Earth have been added, along with a large number from other planets, including Riya. The R’il’nian ability of conditional precognition has managed to keep out those species that would be disruptive. One species, the Akeda, is modeled on the terror bird that was a major predator at one time in South America. These are six foot non-flying birds which are the top predators in some areas.

I drew the rather crude map some twenty years ago.

Riya

Riya, like Central, is an Earth-like planet with Earth-like climate zones. Most of the action takes place on a subtropical volcanic hot spot island, Windhome. (Think Hawaii.) The main peculiarity of this planet is that there are no mountains of any significant height in the southern hemisphere, but there is a continental extension into the extreme north with mountains that are snow-covered year round.

The biota differs from Earth’s. The local fauna have evolved from six-limbed ancestors, with the extra pair of legs evolving into anything from wings to feeding arms. Flora often gives the appearance of branching down into the ground. However, this native flora and fauna has been blended with species imported from R’il’n. (Homecoming.)

One species imported as pets, and surviving in the wild only on isolated islands without predators, are the tinerals. They have a vague resemblance to feathered monkeys with wings. They grow throughout their lives: flying in their youth, but the wings acting only as a weather cloak as they become larger. They are singers with voices much like our musical instruments, and an instinct to harmonize.

Mirror

This planet is in the very early stages of evolving land life. In contrast to most planets, where living things are either all dependent on left-handed proteins or all dependent on right-handed ones, Mirror developed two totally independent ecosystems, one right handed and one left handed. When Marna and Lai are forced to land there, they go to a great deal of trouble to avoid contaminating the planet. (Homecoming.) There are animals in the oceans, including a mass of tentacles with threefold symmetry that Marna identifies as a possible food source, but the land (or more accurately the shore) has been colonized only by algae and land corals in the spray zone.

Falaron

Falaron was Terraformed as a vacation planet around 75,000 years ago, with most of the ecology transplanted from Earth in the Pleistocene. The action takes place around 45° North latitude, from coast to coast of a continent spanning several time zones. From West to East, the terrain is coastal forest, forest-clad mountains, more rugged mountains, a high plateau, more mountains with an apron down to a high scarp, plains with a climate ameliorating from rain-shadow near-desert to open woodland as the travelers move east, a fault scarp damming the river the party is following, a canyon cut by the river through the higher ground, and finally forest with open meadows to the east coast. (Tourist Trap.) Animals include mammoths, mastodon, longhorn bison, small wild horses, a miniature variety of horses in small canyons, and flat-headed peccaries, all real animals which left fossils during the Pleistocene ice ages.

Eversummer

Named (as Marna correctly deduced) by a publicity agent, this planet, though Earthlike in many ways, has no axial tilt and a very low-eccentricity orbit, thus no seasons. To quote from Tourist Trap:

“The planet, with its rotational axis almost perpendicular to its orbital plane, had no seasons.  The poles were bitterly cold, glaciated wastelands where the sun forever rolled around the horizon.  The equatorial belt was an unchanging steam bath, the permanent home of daily tropical thunderstorms, varied by hurricanes along its poleward borders.  The desert belts, inevitable result of the conflict between the planet’s rotation and its unequal heating by its sun, were broad and sharply defined, with no transition zones where the rains came seasonally.  The temperate zones, between desert and polar ice, were swept year round by equinoctial storms, varied only by occasional droughts.  No monsoons, no seasonal blanket of snow to protect the dormant land, no regular alternation of wet and dry seasons.”

Native animals are toxic, and Marna must determine why.

Horizon

Horizon was introduced in Horse Power as a planet recently terraformed from bare rock for stock rearing, specifically for silkies. This made-up species is a blend of cattle and sheep, producing both gourmet meat and a fleece that makes a luxury cloth. They are sensitive to ultraviolet, but Horizon is a low UV planet. For the same reason it has attracted colonists with fair skin, who are also UV-sensitive. The ecology was planned for stock rearing, with no large predators (foxes are about as large as they come) and few native herbivores beyond the rabbits introduced as an emergency food source. Gravity is slightly slightly less than or Earth or Central.

I’m still working on the Horizon War trilogy, but one of the plot points is the disaster that could be created by the introduction of pumas on land and great white sharks in the oceans.

Rakal

This planet will be mentioned several times in the first two books of the Horizon War trilogy, but is only visited in the third book. It is a steam-bath planet, especially near the equator where the action takes place, with jungle, part of which is prone to seasonal flooding. (Parts of the Amazon basin, but warmer.) Sample native animal? A predator the castaways call a One-arm and others call a Kraken. It has a flattened, bulbous body with a mouth and a single long tentacle with poison hairs, and attacks by attaching the body to a tree and grabbing prey with the tentacle. I’ll probably post its attack on January 10, as part of the Year of the Snake blogfest. I may also use a character’s first view of the planet as my excerpt Friday, but I’m still waffling on that.

Mava

This planet is mostly ocean, with only a small land area. Because the settlers realized early that only a limited population could be supported, production of babies was never a priority and a matrilineal culture developed with extended family structure. Recently at war with T’Kun. This planet is a home planet of a character in the Kharfun epidemic story, but all the action takes place elsewhere.

T’Kun

Physically, T’Kun is the opposite of Mava, with 90% land, and only a few saline lakes. It is a very harsh world, and many of the males die young. Partly as a result of this, a strongly patriarchal culture has developed with multiple wives and an idea that every woman should be nursing or pregnant — necessary to keep the population up, as most children die young. Again, only a very brief part of the action actually takes place on this world, but it is important in forming the character of one of the protagonists.

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/nebula/pr2005012b/As I said last week, the Jarnian Confederation acts only to prevent Human-occupied planets from preying on each other or on other sentient species, or to provide emergency aid. But it needs some structure to do this. The interaction of my characters with this structure provides much of the plot of my fiction.

Originally (and still to a large extent in Homecoming and Tourist Trap) the Confederation as a whole was ruled by the R’il’nai. As their numbers dwindled, the Councils were developed to provide the remaining R’il’nai with information and a part-Human sounding board. Membership was originally determined by tests to determine the fraction of traits R’il’nian-Human hybrids showed that were clearly of R’il’nian origin. Those with over seven-eighths R’il’nian traits were considered part of the Inner Council.

The Outer Council was composed of High R’il’noids, those with more than three-fourths R’il’nian traits, and was primarily an advisory, fact-finding and enforcement body subject to the Inner Council. Those with more than half R’il’nian traits were considered R’il’noid. R’il’noids were essential to the running of the Confederation and were subject to Confederation law but not to planetary law. This was primarily because of problems that had arisen in the past because of planetary laws (such as a ban on travel at the new moon, punishable by death) which prevented R’il’noids from carrying out their professional duties. At that time virtually all adult R’il’noids had the R’il’nian empathy at least to the extent that they could be trusted not to take advantage of their immunity to planetary law.

R’il’nian-human hybrids were rare, is spite of official encouragement for R’il’nian males to father offspring from Human or R’il’noid women. Such matings were often sterile. A R’il’nian scientist, Çeren, developed an in vitro fertilization method that greatly increased the production of crossbreds, and also developed a more objective method of ranking R’il’noids by the fraction of active R’il’nian-derived genes. The unintended consequences of both these developments (which were desperately needed at the time) set up the problems in my science fiction.

By the time of Homecoming the Inner Council was actually making most of the decisions to run the Confederation, though the only surviving R’il’nian, Lai, had absolute veto power at least in theory, though he rarely if ever used it. Barring that veto power, the Inner Council was ruled by a majority vote providing at least 5/6 of the Inner Council members were present and voting. Reconsideration of a vote already taken required a 2/3 plus majority. By the time of the trilogy veto power no longer exists, and this is how the Confederation is ruled and the Horizon War was started.

 Year 2 Day 337

I couldn’t find Storm Cloud’s group yesterday evening, or the evening before! I wasn’t  too worried about them; they were getting into an area where they could find ground melons, if not surface water. But I wanted to talk with Storm Cloud about the other groups I’ve seen, especially about the one with only a single survivor.

Luckily I remembered how easily Patches backtracked the hyena, and this morning I teleported her to the last place I’m sure was on the group’s trail, and asked her to find Songbird. She set off at once, though somewhat puzzled by my wanting her to follow such an old trail. I flew above her, coming back to earth often to rest my mind, and by late in the afternoon we had caught up with the group. Obviously they did not need water; they were camped not far from a lake.

“Storm Cloud,” I said, “I need your advice,” and I poured out my problems: Lion’s group, the lone woman who was regaining her strength but was a magnet for predators, and the three other groups I’d seen. (I’d spotted another while searching for Storm Cloud’s group.)

She was a little shocked at my asking her for advice – she is still more than half convinced I am a god. But she was able to identify all of the other groups I had seen when I described their clothing, and confirm that they should also be heading for the Gather. In fact, it seems the woman who barely survived was her mother’s mate’s cousin’s niece, and Lion was some kind of a relative, too.

Songbird had been listening, and she was wiggling in a way that suggested she had something to say. “Speak, child,” Storm Cloud said.

“You could take me to see Uncle Lion,” she said. “I could tell him how you helped us.”

My doubt must have shown on my face, but Storm Cloud nodded. “I will give you a token.” She took off a shell necklace and handed it to Songbird. “Take great care of this, and bring it back to me safely, but this will tell Lion that you speak for me. When you return, we will speak of the woman.”

Did I have a choice? Songbird was the one person I was sure I could teleport safely, little though I liked reinforcing her love for being moved in this way.

Ever invented a disease?

I did, for my science fiction.

It’s called Kharfun Syndrome, and it plays a large role in the history of the Confederation. It first arose among Humans, for whom it was a flu-like but usually survivable disease. Many children got it, developed immunity, and went on to lead normal lives. But it became endemic in the Human population.

The early symptoms are mild – aches and pains, some muscle twitches – and that was as far as it got with a good functioning immune system. For those whose immune systems could not handle it, the virus gradually attacked the peripheral motor nerves, leading to violent muscle cramps which was followed by paralysis, and eventual death from respiratory paralysis. The peripheral sensory nerves were also involved during the active phase, with pain spreading inward from the fingers and toes.

The Human immune system, which is basically chemical in nature, could handle the virus. I’m not going to go into the full immune system here, and in fact there’s a lot we don’t know about it. But there are times when it goes wrong and attacks something it shouldn’t. Like the Islets of Langerhans in my pancreas (which is why I have type 1 diabetes) or the myelin sheaths of my sister’s nerves (Multiple Sclerosis.) Perhaps because of this the R’il’nai, who have a suite of esper abilities and could actually perceive bacteria and viruses and remove them without even being consciously aware of the process, developed an immune system based on esper, and the old-chemical-based system, while still present, became very inefficient.

The problem with Kharfun was that the virus causing it had evolved an ability to hide from esper perception.

As a result, Kharfun was originally 100% lethal to those whose immune systems relied on esper – all pure R’il’nai, and most of the hybrids with a large fraction of active R’il’nian genes. A method of reactivating the old, chemical-based immune system was developed after the disease spread from Humans to R’il’nai, but by that time a large fraction of the R’il’nai had died.

The disease had another effect on the R’il’nai – it reduced their already low fertility. They didn’t have a high birth rate to start with – R’il’nian females were fertile for a few hours a century. (They were usually receptive, but not fertile.) And the immunization had the same effect as the disease on fertility.

So 10,000 years after the initial epidemic, the R’il’nai are nearly extinct. This was the premise behind Homecoming (where Kharfun Syndrome plays a major role) and the society that led to Tourist Trap and the trilogy I’m working on.

My science fiction is based on two species, the R’il’nai and Humans, and their crossbreds, the Ril’noids, living together. One of the major differences between the two parent species is in life span. The Humans have what we would consider a normal life span. The R’il’nai, while not immortal, do not age beyond maturity. A number of my characters have been alive for millennia. Crossbreds can show either pattern.

This leads to all kinds of interesting situations in the society. How do the two species interact, for instance? How many Humans would want to marry someone who would never grow old? How does a R’il’nian act toward someone he or she knows will grow old and die while the R’il’nian is still young? This is in the background of all of my plots.

Here, however, I am addressing a different problem.

Most of the cells in our bodies are constantly turning over. I can imagine a creature that looks and acts human with a near-infinite life span, except for one thing. Teeth.

Tooth enamel wears, and unlike skin, it is not constantly replaced from within. Modern dentistry can do a lot to repair wear, but I’m having to have enamel repairs already. Young mammals are born with two sets of tooth buds, one that grows into teeth suited for the small jaw of a juvenile; the second set adult sized, and that’s it. People who lived thousands of years would wear out their teeth. How to handle the problem?

The R’il’nai would have to have an essentially infinite number of replacement teeth. When a tooth was worn out, it would be shed much as a child sheds its milk teeth, and replaced by a new tooth. How? They must have some tooth stem cells in their jaws, just as we have blood stem cells in our bone marrow. Assuming that a tooth would last for 50 or 60 years, this would mean that the R’il’nai and non-aging R’il’noids are teething roughly every two or three years. I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned that, but if a R’il’noid seems to be in a particularly bad humor, he or she may be teething.

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