Tag Archive: R’il’nai

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.

Quite a few comments last Sunday expressed confusion over Zhaim. I thought I’d explain something and give a snippet from Tourist Trap, my now-published book and winner of the Garcia Award for best fiction book of the year.

The R’il’nai and some of the R’il’noids in my fiction are able to strip memories from their minds into computer storage. All but Roi have done this in fairness to the “new” Zhaim, so Roi alone has the memory of Zhaim before Marna imposed an artificial conscience on him. He also seems to be the only one who has retained the memory that Marna said the treatment should be repeated every quarter century. The snippet below was well over 200 years before Rescue Operation in story time, when Roi was only 18.

The woods lightened ahead of them, and the mist lifted as they entered a clearing. Roi glanced around quickly, looking for something they could use as shelter. Nothing but grass and sodden wildflowers. He checked the compass and headed straight across, hoping the Mastodon River wasn’t too far away.

He heard a thunderclap behind him when he was halfway across the clearing and spun to face it, fearful he knew what it was. Zhaim stood before him, a triumphant leer on his handsome face and a beamer swinging toward the party.

If you want to see other bits from both Tourist Trap and Rescue Operation, click Index above and then Six Sentence Sunday.

There are lots of other great authors on Six Sentence Sunday. Click on the logo to find them. They’d all love your comments.

The #aliens in my book, the R’il’nai, are in many ways very much like us. You probably wouldn’t notice one on the street. This is not too surprising, as Homecoming makes the assumption that they, as well as advanced primates, were our ancestors. They do differ from us in several important ways, and much of the background story of my novels is the interplay of these differences in a society that includes both.

The first and most obvious difference is life span. The R’il’nai are not immortal. They can be killed by injury or disease, and at the time of Homecoming, this has brought them to the edge of extinction. But they do not age. Potentially, they can live for millennia. This long life span is shared by many of their part-bred descendents, and in fact some of the R’il’noids in Homecoming could have witnessed the building of the first Sumerian cities.

There is a cost. Long life span is possible in a stable population only if the birth rate is very low. R’il’nian women ovulate only about once a century, and are fertile for only a few hours then. Since both hips broad enough for child-bearing and breasts to feed infants have costs, these are present only during the few years immediately surrounding ovulation—for most of her life, a R’il’nian woman is as straight-bodied as a boy, though sex is still important as a part of bonding with other R’il’nai.

This in turn has implications for child-rearing. While R’il’nian children are assumed to mature slightly slower than Human ones (adult status is 64 years of age) the full period of a child’s dependency on parental care is considerably less than the normal time between a woman’s fertile periods. “Marriage” among the R’il’nai was considered to be for the child’s benefit, and was normally dissolved when the child was fully mature. In fact, it was considered immoral for a R’il’nian to have more than one child with the same partner.

Another side effect is that the R’il’nai tend to be very conservative, their evolution is very slow, and creativity and innovation are rare and highly prized. This is one of the major reasons they are attracted to and value Humans.

One of the difficulties this brings to a society which includes both R’il’nai and Humans is the problem of attraction between individuals with very different life spans. The love affair between Lai and Cloudy was doomed not only because of her genetic status, but because she would grow old and die while he remained relatively youthful.

Homecoming deals with some of these problems—not in the sense of solving them, but in looking at some of the problems they produce in the Confederation and in life on Central.

Do we really want to eliminate aging?

R’IL’NIAN (LANGUAGE): The inherited language of the R’il’nai. The R’il’nai could understand it and speak it as soon as neurological development had progressed to the point that they were capable of the concepts, usually shortly after birth for understanding. Non-R’il’nai are incapable of some of the sound discriminations needed.


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