It’s Not Quite a Smeerp

So, some worldbuilding notes on the nature of greenlife…

It’s easy to make the assumption that it’s just Earth-life in every way, especially since I tend to use the Earth-parallel names for things to create a sense of familiarity.

But a thing worth bearing in mind is that the Precursor genetic-distinctiveness harvesting vessel Incomprehensible Draconic Screeching collected its samples of Earthly life, the ancestors of Eliéra greenlife, around 360,000 years before present time.

This is, in short, before the domestication of anything, plant or animal, a process which has a lot to do with how modern plants and animals appear and, in some cases, behave. So while greenlife is from the same biochemical family as Earth life, it’s been through various different paths of descent that often result in a rather different organism.

Let’s talk some examples, starting with plants.

  • The múleth, or apple, is actually one of the least odd-looking cases, even though it wasn’t domesticated here on Earth until 10,000-4,000 years ago, mostly because it was being domesticated for many of the same traits. Thousands of cultivars exist; it’s just that none of them are the same cultivars. The most obvious thing, as you would see upon picking up a children’s book which includes the equivalent of “A is for Apple”, is that the modal Eliéran apple isn’t green; it’s golden. Green apples are a small minority among the cultivars. There are also more than a few purple apples, which while they do exist on Earth, are confined to one rare cultivar from a particular Tibetan region.

  • Oranges, on the other hand, don’t exist. The sweet orange as we know it today is the product of a deliberate post-domestication cross between the mandarin and the pomelo, and doesn’t show up in our history until a couple of hundred BCE, in China, not making it to Europe until well into the common era. Naturally, they have a whole lot of fruits bred out of the primordial citrus they did have (given that the genus Citrus is infamous for its hybridization), but while there is a rubescent citrus serelléth (“bloodfruit”) that is very popular in the fruit dishes and juicers of the Empire, it’s not a direct counterpart of our sweet orange. The closest direct counterpart you’ll find is something like a pinkish mandarin.

  • And then to grains. There is corn (by which I mean maize), but it wasn’t domesticated until around 10,000 years ago in Mexico, and even then, it looked nothing like the fat yellow kernels found in your local grocery store, which are entirely an agroindustrial creation. While the maize that was developed on Eliéra by the Aictectep shares some of the traits of our cultigen – insofar as those traits were necessary steps in turning it into a useful food plant for a civilization – the red-and-purple spatter-patterns, etc., of the primordial teosintes it was developed out of are retained in the Eliéran version, for example. (You can see a particularly good example on the planetary crest of Ponratectep (Talie Marches), being rather more prominent than even that world’s famed fire opals.)

  • One of the most immediately recognizable grains to our eyes would be rice, among other grain crops. It is, after all, amazing what grass varietals can do, and how robust they are. It is not as close a cousin to Oryza sativa as it might appear – and it is often rather more colorful that we could expect, compared to most of our commercial rice – but it’s very close to the same grain.

    What we might not expect as the number of cultivars of an offshoot species which has developed salt sensitivity to the point where it can be grown in, and even prefers, coastal salt marshlands and even floating seawater paddies.

    (And, of course, in very familiar-looking grasses, there is dyanail (“bamboo”), although the number of cultivars and engineered varieties in the modern era would be quite something to see.)

  • Coffee, on the other hand, does not exist either (it doesn’t appear in Earth records until the 15th century or thereabouts, unless you credit the 9th-century attribution of the legend about Kaldi’s buzzed goats). Esklav, while drunk like coffee, isn’t coffee; while Esklavea sendaren probably does share part of its ancestry with Coffea spp., they’ve both diverged a lot since then. It also has qualities that suggest a partial ancestry descending from Theobroma, but since the closest relation that bears to Coffea is that they’re both eudicots, it suggests someone’s been mucking about in their genomes along the way, and that’s not just the radioactivity.

    At least some cousin of Theobroma cacao managed to make it through close enough to be recognizable, even if the product doesn’t taste quite the same and is somewhat lighter in color.

  • And now to animals. Let’s start with man’s best friend, the dog, who might kind of be the same as eldrae’s best friend, the bandal.

    Well, sort of. See, the dog was domesticated in human history no later than around 15,000 years before present, but no earlier than 40,000-30,000 years before present, which is the point, we believe, at which they diverge from their now-extinct wolf ancestor (not the grey wolf). This ancestor doesn’t turn up in the record until around 129,000 years before present, which is still a good long way from 360,000 years.

    So while Bandal vocíëvis is definitely a wolf-like canine (family canidae, subfamily caninae, tribe canini, and probably-mostly subtribe canina, despite some likely admixture of Aenocyon dirus), you could make some interesting arguments as to whether it is or is not technically a member of the genus Canis. (It probably is; after all, Canis spp. were around well before the genetic harvest, and it is probably interfertile with C. familiaris, C. lupus, C. latrans, etc., because the Canis species are like that.

    In any case, they’re very good boys. Yes, they are. Even if they’re second or third cousins a couple of times removed.

  • “You think that’s cow you’re eating now?”

    If you order a steak *there*, you’re getting quebérúr. Now, quebérúr is delicious red meat, to be sure, but it’s doesn’t come from the domestic cow (first seen in the form of the zebu, maybe 8,000 years before present), or indeed from anything in the genus Bos, although it is one of the Bovina. The closest relative of the quebérúr on earth is its distant cousin the bison (Bison bison), as you might be able to tell from its distinctive humped back, but their common ancestor is back in the now-extinct megafauna. It is, in fact, a bloody big piece of pot-roast on the hoof, given that the typical quebérúr is around 3,500 lbs and 7′ at the shoulder; also known for their sharp, downturned horns, and thick, shaggy – like Highland cattle – black coats.

    Guess the radiation was good for them, huh?

  • The sevesúr isn’t exactly a chicken (domesticated about 8,000 years ago), either. Or a turkey. Or even a guineafowl. They’re certainly order Galliformes, superfamily Phasianoidea, and maybe even family Phasianidae, but further taxonomy is not available at this time.

  • And finally, we get to horses (domesticated on Earth on the Central Asian steppe, about 5,000 years ago). Well, sad as it is to say for would-be equestrians, none of the common riding animals on Eliéra are equines, or indeed greenlife. There are the cerrúr and the certárúr, both of which are bluelife hexapeds. The latter is a rather dull, plodding creature which one might consider analogous to a bluelife ox – mostly kept as heavyweight draft animals, and for leather and parchment, which can be repeatedly harvested from the skins they shed in spring; the former, while a intelligent and agile riding animal, has more in common morphologically with some of the larger species of deer than with horses, and is not terribly suited for any but light draft work.

So, this has been your quick trip into just how variant Earth-descended life got when you take it early and abandon it on another planet for a few millennia. Hope it was a somewhat interesting peek into the process of making exotic worlds a little more exotic.

Implying The Existence of a Thesis Attack

“So how did you get that scar, anyway? You never told me.”

“I told you I undertook advanced studies at the Inperial War College. I acquired it during my thesis defense.”

“How do you get that at a viva voce?”

“Professor-Brigadier Oríänoclés didn’t believe in half-assing hypotheses. His contribution was a short battalion of Longeye laser tanks.”

Meta: State of the Writer

So, I won’t reiterate the sad and rage-inducing story of the past few weeks, since I’ve done that in enough places and for enough times already. If by chance you haven’t seen it, you can find it on the Discourse here, forwarded along from Patreon.


While we don’t expect to get any of our stuff back (a) soon, or (b) in working order, good fortune and the generosity of kind friends has allowed us to start getting the most important parts of our network back up and running, and we’ve managed to restore our offsite backups from Azure, so that’s the main thing, although since full cleanup (“…I have my notes, now I just need to install the nodes to host the Kubernetes cluster to run the wiki stack to display them…”) not to mention fixing the damage done to house and home will still take some time, it’s not back to normal operation yet. But since I am posting some ‘verse-related things already, you can see that we’re a lot closer.

(On a related note, I don’t yet have posting access to the Discourse, since I was using 2FA with it and both my security key and the hardware running my authenticator app were among the items we lost. I’m talking to the hosters about it, and hope to have that back soon, but in the meantime I ask for your patience with regard to responding to your posts.)

On another note, as it happened, when the Feds so rudely interrupted our normal television-watching cycle, we were in the middle of Star Trek: Discovery, and not having our media server serving media any more, decided that the easiest thing to do was to switch to just marathoning that.

This was a good decision.

I’m going to embrace the controversy here, and take a moment to say that Discovery is probably the best Star Trek we’ve seen, bar none. In particular, from where we were – the very end of season two, on through seasons three and four – was exactly what I needed to be watching in our time of crisis and trial. Because when your real-life party has just been crashed by what amount to exemplars of the opposite, hope, and faith, and people finding the inner strength to rise above and be the best versions of themselves, and successfully navigating your way through – and finding the path to ending – the dark times surrounding you through your ideals and principles, and not by immediately tossing them aside like all too much so-called “gritty” fiction has its characters doing, is just everything you need.

In fact, one of the major reasons I call it the best of the Treks is because it is precisely when the world has gone to shit around you that it is both hardest and most important to cling to those ideals and principles that define you, and your response to that challenge that most defines you, and it does a brilliant job of showing it.

(Also Stamets and Culber and the rest of their found family are absolutely goddamned adorable and I will brook no dissent on this. But I digress.)

tl;dr I approve this. Add it to the semi-canonical Media Of Which The Imperials Would Approve list, too.

Also, just to bring some canon into this post:

“If there is to be a rapprochement between us and the Republic – and such a thing is, I think we must all concede, profoundly to be desired – I can think of no better basis than this: that they, like we, are a civilization that holds principle above expedience.”

– Talaïs Oravedra, Imperial Diplomatic Corps

On a final thought, before I move along; back at the start of the month, I had a conversation on Twitter with one of y’all (readers, that is) concerning a resisted urge to write a fanfic where they tried to pull that kind of no-knock raid crap on an Imperial citizen-shareholder. (“Because it would probably star a Sargas, and that’s not *quite* called for, objectively speaking.”)

To which I had to admit to having restrained a few vengeful thoughts along such lines myself, authorially. (It would be cathartic, at least, although also almost certainly dreadful crap which I would burn before anyone else got to read it.) It would also be very easy to conceive. Not like you’d even need a Sargas.

I mean, you probably can’t throw a rock without finding someone who thinks using an extra microgram of antimatter to power her bug-out transmitter is about right for visiting some places, and using terror tactics on someone with a spite charge that size is its own punishment.

I mean, I started writing for various reasons, but a big one is that I wanted to inspire people. I wanted to show them a realized dream of a better world, one where people listen to their better angels, not their worst impulses.

I can’t as yet. It’s too close.

But I want to write the story of how this sort of thing would be handled there. Where enforcing the law is a sacred trust that demands the nation’s best. Where everyone is treated with honor, and respect, and dignity, and kindness.

Even the very worst. Just because it’s the right thing to do, the civilized, decent, good thing to do, at whatever cost. In a world, in short, in which listening to our worst selves and calling it pragmatism hasn’t turned protection and service into a goddamned punchline.

Not Cosmic, But Incomprehensible

This was originally a prompt over on Mastodon, the original prompt being: “MC POV: Name one thing that is guaranteed to make you angry? Why?”. I liked the result enough that I thought I’d share it over here, as well.

“Make me angry? The cases that fall into, in our legal code, ‘destructionism’.

“Why? Because I don’t understand it.

“We get – I’d say a lot, but this is still Imperial space, so let’s say an anomalously high level of crime here. We get slash-traders, commercial fraud, thieves grand and petty, stowaways, dockside brawls, too-long-aboard-syndrome on and on, everything a major trade station attracts like flies. But even if you slice off the truly desperate who need a hug, a hot meal, and someone to walk them to the Eleemosynary Exodochium more than what most people think of as justice, I can understand most of them. They’re zero-sum crimes; desire and greed and unfortunate passions are things we all have, and they’re not even wrong in themselves, only in how some folk handle them. Even the murderers – I’ve never hated anyone so much I couldn’t stand to share the universe with them a moment longer, but I can understand how someone might.

“What I’ve never been able to understand about these people — these are people who set out just to make the universe a little bit worse for their existence in it. Destroy or desecrate things just so that other people can’t enjoy them. Go out of their way to ruin someone’s day, or week, or decade, not as a side-effect, but as the point of their actions. Hurt and smash and wreck not for greed or other profit, not even for revenge upon their target, but just because they can, and it – I’d say it pleases them to do so, but it is hard to imagine real pleasure coming from such. These I do not understand, and it is hard to temper anger without understanding.

“And that’s dangerous for me. I’ve escorted people who have done much more damage to arraignment, but it’s these who make me think fondly of — unapproved uses for airlocks, before I quash it. And that they can make me think that, even for a moment, that makes me angriest of all.”

– Jynne Cerron, Enforcer, Watch Constabulary
Mer Dinévál Countermass Station, Seranth