Trope-a-Day: Eldritch Starship

Eldritch Starship: Oh, there are a few.

Take esseli starships, for example. Unlike the link!n-Rechesh (who would be another fine example), they know better than to try to grow fully organic starships, so from outside the hulls and drives look relatively normal. Then you go through the airlock, and it’s all flesh, all the time, with heart-valve doors, neuron-cluster control interfaces, food-secreting glands, recycling intestines, and suspicious organic gurgles everywhere. Mining ships have refinery stomachs and tentacles.

Múrast starships are carved out of ice bodies, with the necessary technology fitted within, and then refrozen. Which is all very sensible when you consider their favored environment, but doesn’t explain why they always carve them into baroque cathedral-like structures rather than anything more utilitarian.

And then there are the seb!nt!at, who as creatures of nuclear forces that dwell deep within stars, do not build their starships out of matter in any conventional sense.

Starfish Aliens build Starfish Starships, basically, just as far as physics will allow.

The tortured structures built by rogue mining drones and other wild mechanicals are about as Gigeresque as it gets, though.

 

 

Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Reproduction

Bizarre Alien Reproduction: …are you sure you really want to know?

Well, first, if it’s done on Earth, by anyone, it’s probably used somewhere. Mere external fertilization, et. al., is relatively mundane. The temísi, say, are quite straightforwardly parthenogenic. For exotic – well, then we’re getting into how the vlcefc reproduce by having their motiles spin a new brain-web, something that any number from one up can do together. Or the esseli literally building the next generation in their gene-labs. Or the codramaju simply coming together as X individuals and coming apart as X+n individuals, any of whom may contain various different bits of the minds of the original X. Or…

And that’s before people come up with clever ideas like bigenetic organisms, in which – say, a plant and insect are mutually engineered so that the plant can grow insect eggs and the insect lay plant seeds, thus enabling them to mutually spread each other in early-stage ecopoesis, and contribute to a more stable ecological web overall.

Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Locomotion

Bizarre Alien Locomotion: In many variants on the standard walking, flying, and swimming, certainly. Eliéra’s bluelife includes its tubefish, for example, which move via peristaltic pumping of water, not swimming as we know it.

Among sophont races, the chfssssc swim through solid rock thanks to what one might call an active metabolism, the ciamél turn into vapor in order to move, the codramaju ooze along on pseudopodia, the d!grith brachiate along artificial vines, the esseli use whatever locomotive organs they happen to have today, the galari have built in maglev functionality, the kaliatar can coil themselves up and roll like a mythological hoopsnake, the seb!nt!at may well be there already, the vlcefc are webs carried by their motile castes, and that’s just scratching the surface…

Trope-a-Day: Biodata

Biodata: Something common among the esseli, the eldrae who colonized Kythera (Thirteen Colonies), the mezuar, and other wearers of the masters-of-biotechnology hat, with particular note to the Kytherans’ cortextures, immense computers grown from cultured neural tissue, and the Genetic Memory of the esseli, which both is and has been turned into a general-purpose technology for encoding arbitrary data onto DNA plasmids.

Plus, of course, the identifying, copyright, and GRM information encoded into virtually any product of biotechnology…

Trope-a-Day: Drink Order

Drink Order: It’s always hard to give solid answers when it comes to these things, but maybe we can have some generalities.

The most common (non-alcoholic) drink on Eliéra is esklav, from the bean of Esklavea sendaren, a shrub with no exact Terran analog. It’s close to coffee but not quite so harshly bitter, with hints of cinnamon and chocolate in its flavor. Served traditionally in small cups (or diluted in large mugs) with brown sugar, cacao chocolate, and cream. And contains both caffeine and theobromine, along with a number of other alkaloids of similar chemical structure. People drink a lot of this. It’s what keeps the world working.

Also popular in various regions:

On the Cestian continent, cider (of a variety of varieties) is most popular, followed up by mead and beer, the latter especially in the Alatian port-towns. Selenaria started out mostly wine-drinking and has excellent vineyards to the south and along the foothills of the volcanic Makerforges, but beer made rapid inroads during the Era of Steam and Steel, as more compatible with operating heavy machinery after lunch. Currently they’re big beer producers because they’re also big grain producers.

North of there, in Veranthyr, cider is the day-to-day drink, but they make a variety of liquors from fruits of all sorts which are classically deceptive. Taste sweet, and harmless, and delicious, and moreish. And then you fall over.

Up in the Silver Crescent, they drink strong black beers, mead in the lowlands, and whisky, varying from whisky smooth as golden nectar to rough firewhisky best drunk with a dollop of the local honey mixed in unless you enjoy having the lining stripped off your throat and sinuses.

The beer tends to come from microbreweries. It’s not that there aren’t large breweries, but those tend to be microbreweries-in-spirit, the sort of places that we might call minibreweries, because (a) it is hard to scale beer production without losing experimentalism, quirkiness, and the attention to detail that stops it from turning into rat piss, and (b) it is even harder to convince people that you can brew non-rat-piss beer on a large scale.

Taking a brief look at some other species, dar-bandal favor beer almost universally, typically heavy stouts and porters with the yeast unfiltered – and don’t forget to lap it up, it improves the bouquet. Anything kaeth particularly enjoy drinking is certainly flammable and probably radioactive, so use caution. And ciseflish drinks are served around 80 K, so warm-blooded oxygen-breathers need not apply.

Esseli drinks are always innovative and delicious, but unless you’re accustomed to and comfortable with biotechnology, do not ask what they were secreted by.

 

Trope-a-Day: The Unpronounceable

(Sorry for the delays in the next part of Darkness Within, folks – having some trouble getting it to gel in my head.)

The Unpronounceable: Quite a few, due to all those species that don’t use spoken language the way we understand it: as mentioned previously, esseli names are DNS strands, myneni names are made of sounds only a synthesizer could love, galari names are modulated EM radiation, and then there are the sonar pings, electrical waveforms, patterns of bioluminescence, complex aromatic chemicals, neural-gestalt-expressed qualia which are very, very hard to parse for anyone of different brain design, etc.  All of that is before you get to the really simple problems like different larynx designs.

It is somewhat averted due to the Eldraeic language being designed as a lingua franca, and thus possessing multiple different phonologies for its alphabet, including several designed for different ways of speaking, including sonar, bioluminescence, EM codes and DNA encoding, so in theory it should be possible to transliterate names encoded in those ways into something pronounceable and adequately unique, even if it doesn’t resemble the original all that much to the ear or other organ.

In practice, not so much, or not without your speech organ hurting, or not in a manner that’s agreeable to the person named.  But you can try, at least.

Appearances Matter

Gabriel Fonseca asks if there’s anywhere that contains detailed physical descriptions of the various species of the Eldraeverse. Well, sadly, there isn’t right now, but for your visualizing pleasure, here’s some descriptions of most of the ones I’ve mentioned recently, anyway:

Ciseflish

In their home environment, the ciseflish superficially resemble the Terran mole in shape (approximately), specifically the star-nosed mole; that said, they’re six-limbed amphibians, who switch between hexapedal and bipedal locomotion at will (the former for speed, the latter for sociability), with breathing vents/gills (they work either way) located at the base of the throat, large sensitive eyes to handle low light levels, auditory tympana rather than ears, and tentacle-like chemosensory “nasal” protrusions that also serve as tasting organs. They’re about 4′ tall, and covered in short, downy fur, ranging in color from pale cream to dark, earthy brown. Oh, and they’re trisexual; the dominant ‘matriarch’ sex is somewhat larger than the other two.

But none of this is visible for the majority of people who meet them elsewhere, because the ciseflish are from Ólish (High Verge), a cold world with more in common with our outer-system moons than with Earth. They’re amphibians in oceans of liquid propane and other hydrocarbons, breathe a thick, cold, high-pressure atmosphere that’s heavy in ammonia – and as such that fur has a lot more in common with hydrocarbon polymer plastics than keratin – find free oxygen acutely toxic, oxygen-breather temperatures furnace-like, and as such are generally only seen off Ólish or their colonies through heavy, pressurized, refrigerated environment suits.

Despite the inconvenience, though, there’re quite a lot of them offworld, because they really, really love money and trade.

Codramaju

The codramaju are weird as hell.

The closest thing we have for comparison is the slime mold. Only a codramaju is a 6′ long (typical adult not multitasking right now), bright ocher, motile slime mold with various pseudopodia and temporary organelles attached. And the best part is, that’s not even the weirdest thing about them: that would be that personal identity is extremely fluid among the codramaju, who happily divide and recombine (including with bits of other codramaju), changing identity along the way. They can form temporary group minds by joining together, which they use for high-grade computation. That’s also how codramaju reproduction works; the combining of lots of bits contributed by many codramaju. And their speech is entirely chemical – either by direct merging close up, or by releasing spores at a distance (hope you bought that option for your translator).

They make a great example of exactly how little “warm-‘blooded’ oxygen-breather” means in practice, in terms of commonality.

D!grith

The d!grith, by contrast, are relatively conventional warm-blooded oxygen-breathers: they look something like small tailless apes with canine muzzles and cat ears, with all four arms having essentially identical “hands”. Dark-skinned, they have fur in winter or perpetually cold environments, but not the rest of the time. Natural brachiators, they found the microgravity environment quite congenial, which contributed to their painless interstellar expansion and large merchant marine.

Dar-bandal

Uplifted bandal, which is to say dogs. Bearing in mind that the bandal is already larger (due to some dire wolf ancestry as well as regular canis lupus) and higher-foreheaded (due to consistent breeding for smart) than the Earth dog, their uplifted cousins are even more so: imagine a human-sized Aussie, and you’re in the ballpark. Their forepaws are modified for greater manipulatory ability, but unlike, say, Traveller’s Vargr, they’re still quadrupeds. The uplift engineers at Family of Species, ICC, have no interest in turning every species they get their hands on into imitation monkeys.

(Not that they’d put it that way, since there aren’t actually any members of the ecology Terrageneae, order Primates anywhere in the Associated Worlds, with one heavily-engineered exception, but it comes to the same thing.)

Dar-célmek

The dar-célmek are uplifted rats, descended at a few removes from the local cousins of the brown rat (rattus norvegicus) – or, to be more precise, they’re rat kings, because rats are already remarkably smart for their size, and while they were able to engineer them to be partially-uplifted smart rats, there just wasn’t enough mass/volume available to push them all the way to sophoncy.

Not to be thwarted, then, the uplift engineers cyborged them using nanocyte technology (i.e., grows naturally, and is hereditary); a dar-célmek is a gestalt sophont composed of one mind spread across 12 to 48 rats. The individual members look like thin rats with opposable thumbs on their paws, metallic threads running along their tails (the antenna for their wireless gestalt link), and infrared lenses next to their eyes. They can’t speak naturally, but can communicate over the network, and in any case, most of them have a few members wearing a modified ring imager as a collar of sorts to let them project sound and image when they need to.

Eldrae

The eldrae, being that aforementioned heavily-engineered exception (and that’s the baseline species, I mean, not counting any of the engineering they’ve done to themselves since), are hominins. Or to put it the other way around, humans to such extent as they are known (from a few very old fragmented fossils recovered from Precursor uplift facility waste dumps) are Pseudoeldrae archaea on their taxonomic charts.

Granted, they’re hominins engineered to the point where they use amino acids we don’t and bleed indigo, but the gross physical morphology is close. They’re just very tall (6′ 8″ to 7′ 8″ average, both sexes), thin (160-240 lbs., with narrow hips, long limbs, and long fingers and toes), pale (copper to pale blue due to an immune system that basically obviates eumelanin), with pointy ears, angular facial features, a selection of psychological differences, and, oh yes, a remarkable tendency not to age and die.

Of course, the big problem for us is that they’ve been optimizing themselves for literally millennia at this point, so from a human point of view, its only those eldritch differences that stand between us and being punched hard in the superstimulus. Which would be problematic.

Esseli

No-one remembers what natural esseli used to look like, or at least if the esseli genetic memory still has it stored somewhere, no-one’s talking.

What they look like now, on the other hand…

Well, nominally, they look like big fleshy blobs with eyes and tentacles, which is the brain, a protective wrapping around the brain, and its sensors/manipulators. But, you see, they got that way by being master biotechnologists, and over the course of centuries have both stripped their physical form down to a minimum, and also then built it back up again by inventing whole suites of modular plug-in organs and symbiotic bodies they can put on and take off like other people change their pants. An esseli can look like anything, depending on what it’s doing at the time and how its personal taste runs – even more so than the people who have to rely on mere mindcasting to swap bodies.

The esseli are also notable in that the form of genetic storage and the form of memetic storage they use are identical: it’s all DNA. Thus, while esseli are entirely capable of conventional speech (in any number of modes, depending on which organs they have installed right now), when they want to convey lots of information, they just pass appropriate plasmids around.

In the esseli educational system, you literally drink knowledge.

Galari

It came as something as a surprise to (exo-)biologists that the first species they met was about as silicon-based as it could be, being a race of living crystals.

It turns out, of course, that that’s not exactly true. They’re carbon-silicon hybrids: the galari crystals live in symbiosis with wet carbon-based pseudonanoviruses which reshape the crystals. Over time, this mutually evolved to the point where the crystals, with their silicon-based intelligence, directed the viruses and the viruses reshaped the crystals.

So, the actual sophont galari are, at least the ones who travel, rounded roughly-tetrahedral crystal spindles, somewhere between 2′ and 6′ along their long axis, and come in a variety of gem-like colors; looking carefully at them, one can often see faint pulses of light as a byproduct of their cognitive processes. They don’t require much in the way of nutrition for material replenishment, as a rule; rather, they’re ergovores, soaking up and storing charge derived from the light of their homeworld’s hot, bright sun, or from a convenient broad-spectrum EM lamp. They communicate using bioradio.

In their natural state, they were sessile, leading to their immensely patient, philosophical, contemplative culture. The technological galari, however, invented vector control-based “effector belts”, enabling the smaller members of the species to move around and participate in galactic culture.

Kaeth

The kaeth are draconiform, or pseudosaurian if you prefer, 6-7′ tall bipeds. You could think of them as looking something like 4th ed. AD&D’s dragonborn, except the back is more humped, the eyes more widely set, and the legs digitigrade. Kaeth blood gleams like mercury, and their skin, or rather scale, tones are dietary-dependent variants on a dark gray-silver, both of which have to do with just how rich Paltraeth (their homeworld) is in various heavy metals, which their biology makes good use of – kaeth bones are strong as girders, and kaeth skin is basically naturally-grown double-lapped composite scale mail. (A typical kaeth masses something upwards of 400 lbs.) On top of all of that, kaeth evolution has provided them with natural weapons in the form of fang and claw, redundant, highly distributed organ systems, fast healing, and strong immunities, which should tell you something about just what a happy fun place Paltraeth was to evolve.

At least before the asteroid strike.

Kalatri

See previous post.

Lanect

The lanect are a warm-blooded, fleshy (i.e., so not classically insectoid) race whose bodies are nonetheless contained within a bony (not chitinous) segmented exoskeleton; they’re bilaterally symmetrical bipeds with four manipulating arms, with four-clawed hands, and recessed multifaceted eyes. The exoskeleton of worker-caste lanect is smooth, scars aside; those who claim the status of a Warmark in lanect society carve designs into their skull to signify this.

Of course, that’s the baseline lanect – given the vicious meritocracy that comprises lanect society, they do not hesitate to apply genetic, surgical, and (especially) cybernetic modifications to themselves using any technology they can buy or steal in the interest of greater personal success.

Linobir

Imagine a bear.

Now imagine it hexapedal, hermaphroditic, furless – with grayish, leathery skin – and bulging with the kind of muscles befitting a species that evolved on a planet with three times Earth’s gravity.

Now imagine it being possessed of a baseline temperament that makes an actual grizzly bear seem the sweetest, politest, calmest, most peaceful person you know.

That’s a linobir.

(There’s a reason their racial stereotype is “brute squad”. This hurtful stereotyping is often protested, exclusively by people who’ve never actually met one.)

Mezuar

The mezuar are purplish-blue trees, wood and leaf, and entirely sessile. Specifically, an individual mezuar is a grove of said trees, due to the requirements of sophoncy on a relatively low-energy plant metabolism (their roots grow together and intermesh their “nervous systems”). They thrive very well on their homeworld, the mezuar forests having successfully domesticated virtually the entire animal ecology of the planet to attend to their requirements.

Myneni

The myneni are a blob of nanomachines in a bag.

Well, yes, so is just about everything living. Unlike most species, however, the myneni are a blob of undifferentiated, general purpose nanomachines inside their integument, with no dedicated organs (if they need some sort of specialized organ or sensor, they whip one up on demand and dissolve it when they’re done). Not having any skeleton, their natural shape is a spheroidal blob with a slightly flattened base, but they can manipulate their internal plasm to take on any variant shape from a puddle to a tree, and generate limbs at will. They come in a wide variety of colors, but these don’t appear to have any particular significance, biological or cultural.

Nsang

The nsang are bullet-bodied and headless (their “eyes”, actually light-sensitive skin cells, cover all sides of their upper body), trilaterally symmetrical with long, folding arms and legs, the former tipped with three-fingered hands. A beak-like mouth is to be found between each arm-leg pair.

…this actually makes them pretty average by warm-blooded oxygen-breather standards.

Seforn

The seforn are quadrupeds, with gleaming, jewel-like skin (contains no actual jewels, much to the disappointment of people who have obtained seforn moltings), who possess a mouth and trinocular eyes in a partially-merged head at one body terminus, while.respiring through slit-like openings along the sides of their body. A ridge crest runs down the seforn back, thought to be an evolutionary leftover originally intended for thermoregulation. Monosexual and parthenogenic, they depend on an in-built process of gene-shuffling to produce genetic variation.

Even the poorest seforn will always be well-dressed. Denying a seforn access to the seforn equivalent of a quality business suit invariably causes them intense psychological distress, much to the puzzlement of sophontologists everywhere.

Skrandar

Well, no-one’s exactly sure quite what the skrandar looked like, since they weren’t exactly communicative even before they blew up their sun, and there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence left afterwards. From what there is, it is generally believed that they looked something like a cross between an alligator and a migraine.