by Keith Morrison
©2007 Keith Morrison

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   Stop the presses! I have to correct something I said way back in the first part of this multi-part epic almost a year ago, concerning a difference between life on Gayajan and that in the real world on Earth: Specifically, my statement that real life was not able to handle ionizing radiation for use in life processes. How wrong I may have turned out to be! Just recently, researchers have indicated they may have identified a type of fungus which uses a melanin compound (the same sort of thing that gives human skin its color) to capture and use radiation being emitted from the debris inside the Chernobyl reactor. Judging by what little is known right now, this isn’t some kind of mutant; instead, it’s a (rather insignificant, normally) fungus which is taking advantage of an environment where one of its minor, usually secondary, tricks allows it to flourish. The jury is still out on whether this will turn out to be true, but I’m hoping it is. Life is cool.
   Anyway, back to the imaginary world…

Part Four

   And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And Deity caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and Deity took a stem cell sample from one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And from the stem cells, which had been taken from man, did Deity make a woman, and Deity brought her unto the man.
   And Adam said, “Whoa dude, nice! But, uh, could you make her a little bigger up top, if you know what I mean?”
   And Deity closed her eyes, squeezed the bridge of her nose, and counted to ten before she smote Adam with a supervolcano or something equally spectacular.
The Book of Norso-mri, Chapter 3

   At this point, we’re going to take a survey of intelligent life. The first problem is the obvious one: How do you define intelligence? It’s not an easy question because, well, the word itself means different things. Cognito ergo sum, so I recognize intelligence in me and others of my own species. With just a little leap I can recognize intelligence, albeit at a lower level than my own, in our closest relatives.
   It gets a little foggier the further away from us on the evolutionary tree we get. We think we recognize intelligence in cetaceans. Dolphins and orcas certainly act intelligent in some ways, yet we run into the problem of determining the difference between actions based on abstract thought (what we’d probably agree was intelligence), and actions based on very sophisticated interactions of ‘programmed’ instincts which can imitate intelligence but not replicate it.
   The difference is easy to understand if you play multiplayer computer games. Most players of realtime strategy games such as Command & Conquer will tell you they have no difficulty in distinguishing between a computerized ‘opponent’ and a human at the other end of the network. Even the highly sophisticated programs that challenge master chess and poker players, however good they are, have one rather significant problem: That’s all they’re good at. Deep Blue might kick your ass in chess, but its chess skills are more akin to high-level instinct. It doesn’t really think about what it’s doing. If you limit yourself to dealing with it purely on chess, well, it can come across as very intelligent. Ask it its opinion of the new season of 24, and it doesn’t even have the capacity to respond.
   So getting back to the dolphins, it’s entirely possible that some of the things they do which look like intelligence are merely instinct, and we’re seeing patterns that don’t really exist. They could be like Deep Blue; since we can only deal with them on one level, what they do looks a lot like intelligence. If we could really converse and understand them, we might find that the sum total of their thoughts are ‘Food good’.
   No, I’m not going to get into the philosophical discussion of whether we, ourselves, are intelligent rather than a deluded assemblage of instincts. That kind of navel-gazing gives me a headache. So I’m going to do what scientists can’t; I’m arbitrarily defining what’s intelligent, and what’s not.
   How can I do this thing? Easy: It’s my world. So the breakdown of levels of intelligence are as follows:   

  1. True Intelligence. Entities in this class can reason abstractly, have a sense of self, have motivations outside those of basic needs, and can override at least some of their instincts.   
  2. Pseudo-intelligence. These entities are like a so-called ‘expert system’; they mimic intelligence, and can often fool you, but given enough time one can see that they give rote responses. They are all instinct, have no true sense of self, and can be manipulated if you’re clever enough to work out their rules. Think of them as computer programs. Of course if they’re sophisticated enough, their program might be able to take into account that someone could try to manipulate them. Given enough sophistication, the difference between true- and pseudo-intelligence becomes, for practical purposes, irrelevant.
  3. Semi-intelligence. A semi-intelligent entity has some reasoning ability, but it’s limited. They’ll be seen as clever but are lacking something—the capacity to override instinct, for instance. Examples we’d be familiar with would be the corvids (crows and ravens), many primates, many cetaceans, and so on.
  4. Non-intelligence. These kinds of entities are what we’d consider ordinary, run-of-the-mill animals.
   So let’s get on to the critters: The first group we’ll look at are the gods.
   What the gods are is something of a mystery (except to me, but I created them so nyah). What is clear, is that they are entities of vast power. They can do things with etheric energy that humans can only dream about and not understand, and almost seem to be the embodiment of that energy. They operate under their own (non-comprehensible) rules and have their own goals and objectives. The main feature that humans (and others) are concerned about is that they have personalities. And powerful creatures with personalities are scary things.
   As far as is known, there are only a few dozen gods. Their interaction with the world ranges from very distant and almost abstract, as in the major monotheistic religions on Earth, to very involved with mundane affairs as/when it suits them (think classical European myth). Common people have a spectrum of opinions on the gods, ranging from “yep, they sure are gods alright”, to “they’re very powerful entities, but not, you know, God gods”. Whatever the case, everyone accepts them as being on top of the heap.
   Next down the hierarchy are the angels. Angels are believed to be pseudo-intelligent entities, created by the gods to deal with the normal interaction with the world. Unlike the gods, angels can be controlled (usually by a god granting someone that control) and are the source of power for the most powerful magicians. Think of these angels as the stereotypical genie you read about in stories, but without the fake harem costume. As mentioned when discussing pseudo-intelligence, some angels are sophisticated enough that they are, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from an intelligence and may be considered gods by some groups. Nevertheless, they are clearly constructs. Someone is always trying to find a way to control the most powerful angels, on the theory that that gods are merely even more sophisticated versions—and controlling an angel leads one on the path to controlling a god.
   Getting down to the more mundane level, our main protagonists are the humans, the kejakians (i.e., dragons), and the muro.

   First up the ones we’re most familiar with, the humans. As I mentioned earlier in this series, humans are recent (in a geological/evolutionary sense) arrivals on the planet. Gayajan doesn’t have an easily understood relationship with Earth when it comes to time; indeed, Gayajan thinkers who know there is an Earth and humans came from there can’t work out the relationship. This is because the human arrivals from Earth (not as many as in the first days, but a few still come through now and then) don’t arrive in chronological order. Someone from 1945 could have been a revered historical figure 1,500 Gayajanian years ago, whereas a family from the upper Paleolithic could have arrived on this world last week. The initial involuntary colonists represented a population of approximately 18,000 people covering ninety centuries of human history, from 7,000 BCE to 2,300 CE.
   The Gayajan historians and philosophers who study such things believe that the gods who brought humans to the planet intentionally created this mix to give the humans an advantage, mixing ‘primitives’ (who have practical knowledge of how to survive in primitive conditions without infrastructure) and ‘advanced’ cultures (who have the knowledge of what’s possible given the right tools, and some idea of how to get there).
   Gayajan’s present-day humans are still recognizable as the species you and I know so well, but with some differences from normal human types. They began with small and isolated initial populations, and that’s a perfect setup for otherwise- rare combinations of genes to spread around, or for a species genetic pool to be arbitrarily reduced, removing gene expressions from the isolated population. This is intuitively obvious: Suppose aliens grabbed 1,000 people at random from different places on Earth. All other things being equal, after a few centuries we’d expect the resulting population to look a lot like the founder population. If the original sample of 1,000 people was taken from the streets of Beijing, for instance, we’d expect their descendants to look a certain way.
   On the other hand, suppose the 1,000 people grabbed were taken from the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. All of a sudden it’s not so clear what the descendant population would look like, is it? You might very well get a subsequent population where epicanthic folds, dark skin, and red or blonde hair are considered normal. Combine that with Magical Bioengineering™, and all bets are off.
   In the case of the humans on Gayajan, the initial set of 18,000 ‘colonists’ were distributed across the breadth of the continent of Thlaraj in small groups. The resulting isolation of these groups made it even more likely to get novel combinations of features. The result is that ‘racial groups’, to the extent they exist on the planet, don’t really correspond with the analogous groups on Earth. It’s not unusual to see very dark-skinned people with light hair and blue eyes, for instance. By and large, given the other lifeforms they have to deal with, not to mention the reality of magic that can radically change appearance, most Gayajan humans don’t attach much significance to ‘race’ other than what they might personally find attractive (much as someone might be preferentially attracted to redheads, for instance). I’m not saying that Gayajan is a bigotry- and racism-free paradise; rather, it’s just that when you have obvious Non-Baseline-Humans roaming around, there’s plenty of other reasons to hate someone else than mere differences in ethnicity.
   Due to various incidents of etheric manipulation, there are several recognized subspecies of humans. These subspecies of course have their own names—but since I haven’t yet worked out all the details of Gayajanian linguistics, I’ll use semi-generic descriptive labels for those I describe below, not what they would actually be called by the people in the planet.
   Ethergens are humans who were designed to have an extra organ which allows them to generate their own etheric energy by concentrating ethericactive elements within their own bodies, based on similar organs possessed by native Gayajan lifeforms that also produce their own etheric energy. During the three-way cold war (which later grew catastrophically hot) between the Darjin Empire (human), the Krema Union (ditto) and the Sasshish Empire (kejakian), ethergens were developed by Darjin as a race of warrior-slaves who could use their inherent abilities to match those of the kejakians and offset the Krema superiority in technology. After the Second Global War, and the destruction of most of the advanced civilizations, several isolated garrisons of ethergens survived. They are generally distrusted by other humans, who see them as living weapons and reminders of what had happened before. All ethergens have glowing yellow eyes, engineered in them specifically to mark their status. Ethergens are otherwise physically indistinguishable from baseline humans, and the two subgroups can interbreed; the existence of the etheric organ is a recessive trait, so roughly 25% of mixed children will have the organ, 50% will not but will carry the genetic potential, and 25% won’t have the genetic potential at all.
   Meretrii were created as a caste of prostitutes in the Krema Union, by one particularly loathsome etherigeneticist named Hodan Atiksun, at the behest of some equally loathsome members of the hierarchy of the Kreman High Church. Their scriptures required them to abstain from sexual relations with human women—not to mention any relations with non-humans, as a matter of course—but said nothing about females who were deliberately created for that purpose, as such beings were believed to be without free will. Can you say ‘loophole’? Thus, the meretrii were designed around Atiksun’s personal fetishes: Slightly shorter than the average human woman, but with exaggerated sexual characteristics and proportionally larger facial features; an almost nymphomaniacal personality; and a highly developed sense of empathy that allows them to understand their masters’ quirks in order to please them. As an added bonus, they could reproduce—but the children were always female and meretrii themselves.
   The project was considered highly successful and the meretrii, euphemistically called ‘church attendants’ although everyone knew what they really were, gained huge popularity among the more corrupt members of the High Church priesthood. In time, as the meretrii population grew, they were granted as gifts to important businessmen, government officials and others that the Church wished to be on good terms with.
   Roughly a century after their creation, the project backfired in a truly spectacular fashion—or perhaps a better description might be ‘working as designed’. While it’s true that high intelligence and insights into psychology make for ideal sexual partners, those qualities are also good for plenty more than just exotic bedroom sports. The meretrii were usually considered no more than furniture and ignored when business was going on, but they knew almost every dirty little secret and weakness of the upper levels of Kreman society; how the economic, political and religious systems worked; and, in particular, how to ruthlessly exploit that knowledge. And when the meretrii did just that, it scared various elements of Kreman society badly enough to trigger the Kreman Civil War, which, in turn, sparked off the Second Global War when both the Darjin and Sasshish intervened in order to take advantage of the situation.
   Following the war and the subsequent darkness, the meretrii emerged as active, and free, members of the emerging societies, using their natural skills to specialize in trade, diplomacy, espionage and (oddly enough) law enforcement. Their highly developed innate sense of psychology, in addition to their better-known talents, make them very efficient interrogators; and they’re just as ruthless taking advantage of the misconceptions people have about them as their multi-great-grandmothers were long ago.
   The other major varieties of humans include:
   Aquarians. Amphibious, capable of breathing air or water, formerly slaves meant to operate the fishing fleets of Krema.
   Elves. Designed by Kreman etherigeneticists as assassins and another variety of sex-toy that went horribly wrong.
   Polars. Very large, hairy and ridiculously strong humanoids meant to work in the arctic mines of Das-ren and high mountains of more southern latitudes, also a product of Krema. Did I mention that I don’t like Kreman society that much?
   And, finally, bodymirrors. Fully hermaphroditic, able to appear as either male or female and imitate another’s appearance, meant as spies; originally developed by a Kreman who sold the idea to the Darjin and Sasshish. Bodymirrors are especially hated and generally killed when found out. This is not as unreasonable as it appears, since their usual method of existing is the old-fashioned bodysnatcher strategy.

   As mentioned in the previous column, intelligent native dragons (who we’ll call kejakians after their home continent) had spread across Anjor just when humans arrived on the planet. The kejakians hadn’t quite gotten to the stage where they’d been able to cross to Thlaraj.

   Minor digression: Why hadn’t the humans on Thlaraj spread beyond their own new home continent? Two reasons.
   One: They had better things to do. The few from late-enough in human history that their knowledge allowed them to realize that something very strange had occured, were trying to figure out what the hell happened; aside from that, all humans were too busy trying to survive.
   Two: Thlaraj is a big place, something like 8,400 km north to south and 4,600 km east to west. It’s roughly the size of Africa. Fair bit o’ room there for a small initial human population (Africa currently has about 900 million people and is not exactly wall-to-wall humanity, population activists to the contrary).

   The base dragon has six limbs, a trait carried by the kejakians who are upright, humanoid bipeds with two arms and a pair of wings. The wings themselves aren’t used for flying; the basal kejakians lost the ability to fly several million years ago when they adopted a terrestrial lifestyle in the forests of kejak. The wings, such as they are, are far too small for flight or even gliding and are used instead for communication and signaling. The interior, which can be folded and hidden, is covered in brightly coloured hairs which can actually be made to glow in darkness through the natural manipulation on etheric energy. This is also a holdover from their evolutionary history. Flying dragons really are too large to fly by purely aerodynamic means, so they evolved the ability to use etheric energy to assist them in flight.
   Kejakians have three toes and fingers, are covered in very fine hair of assorted colours (generally subdued compared to the garish display hairs on the interior of the wing), stand approximately 2 meters tall and have a long, whiplike tail up to 2 meters long that is somewhat prehensile and can be used as a weapon. That they otherwise look humanoid is remarkably coincidental… but then again, there are powerful entities who can fool with evolutionary processes on this planet, so perhaps not entirely a coincidence.
   The species are hermaphrodites, each having fully functional male and female organs. Mating takes place in a mass affair that’s part orgy, part brawl and part gang-rape. Groups of 20 or more kejakians will gather and start displaying. Usually about a third of kejakians (usually the younger adults) will assume a submissive posture and wait to be inseminated. The dominant kejakians will fight with each other for access to the most submissives possible, and then attempt to force themselves on other dominant individuals, the process continuing until only one kejakian remains un-inseminated. During the mating season (usually lasting six days), a non-pregnant (and thus usually a dominant) kejakian will instinctively attempt to force itself on any other un-inseminated individual it runs across. Dominant kejakians, in the absence of further challenges, will then have sex with the submissives inseminated by others (former dominants) as often as possible in order to give their sperm a chance to fertilize the submissive even though another kejakian was there first. The effect of this is that kejakians who initially assume a submissive posture, or who lose a dominance fight early in the mating combat, are forced to have multiple matings.
   As intelligent social creatures, various strategies can be seen in kejakian mating combat. Weaker kejakians sometimes combine forces to overpower stronger individuals before fighting among themselves. Some kejakians may stay away from the fray until there are only a few, tired, dominants left (although this means each individual cooperator has lower odds of fertilizing the submissives and spreading their genes, a balance that must be calculated). Others eschew combat; these guys try to inseminate as many submissives as possible, using hit-and-run tactics, before they themselves are dominated. In advanced kejakian societies, breeding is often tightly regulated to ensure that dominant members of society are never faced with a serious challenge in mating. At the end of the mating period, roughly 50% of the submissives will actually be pregnant.
   The instinct to avoid being inseminated while inseminating others is due to kejakian pregnancy. When pregnant a kejakian is naturally submissive to the dominant kejakians during the period of the pregnancy and for the early stages of the child’s life and unable to inseminate others. In effect, following a breeding season the hermaphroditic kejakians differentiate into dominant ‘males’, submissive ‘females’, and a large population of ‘neuters’. A ‘Female’ stays that way until the resulting child is old enough so that ‘she’ can quit the mothering role and gain the opportunity to be dominant in the subsequent breeding period. The dominant males remain more aggressive, and carry the desire to mate for pleasure (at will, rather than the instinctual need during the mating season), usually to misfortune of the neuters who become their victims.
   Kejakians are ovoviviparous (carry the egg inside the body until the infant is born). Remembering that the Gayajan year is 399.8842 Gayajan days long (we’ll call it an even 400), pregnancy is typically 300 days with a single offspring. Once born, the infant requires care for approximately 250 days, the ‘mother’ feeding the infant with a nutrient-rich fluid excreted from glands that empty into the digestive tract and are regurgitated. At the end of the 250 days the child can eat external food and the ‘mother’ is therefore able to participate in dominance combat again in the next breeding season. Put it all together, and being pregnant means being submissive for two years (as one mating season occurs during the period of feeding).
   The brute facts of kejakian reproduction have affected their societies. Their more aggressive civilizations (the Sasshish Empire being a defunct example) view conquest as not merely the control of the land, but of the people. When biochemical knowledge advanced enough that the kejakians could artificially stimulate the mating cycle, conquered populations were subjected to forced submission—often for decades—to be used for the pleasure of the conquerors. The rulers of some conquered nations would suicide when defeat was inevitable, in order to escape the fate they knew awaited them at the hands of their conquerors, which often was permanent submission.
   This mindset is so ingrained into kejakians that when they finally accepted humans (and other intelligent species) to be at least somewhat their equals, not mere animals, the same policies took effect. In a world where someone can be changed into a radically different form, minor issues like being another species… or the wrong sex… are mere trivialities.
   Since the reconstruction following the Second Global War, kejakians are as likely to have different approaches as the various human societies. Some have decided to treat other intelligent species as intelligent but outside the kejakian dominance structure; others want nothing to do with non-kejakians; others are actively hostile; and still others see the benefit of the old ways.
   Psychologically, kejakians are as intelligent as humans and, in many ways, very much alike psychologically. This has created a situation of cross-fertilization of ideas. Just as there are kejakians who are considering human concepts like permanence of male and female (considered repugnant by the majority of kejakians, regardless of their view of humans otherwise), some human groups look at kejakian society as something to be replicated their own way.

   Finally, the muro. No one is sure where the name came from; some historians suggest it originated several centuries before the Second Global War with human arrivals from Earth, although they still don’t understand the significance of the name. ‘Muro’ is the general term for various species that appear to be the result of mixing humans with characteristics of various other, usually non- or semi-intelligent, species. While the various human-derived variants mentioned above appear mostly like a baseline human, the muros are obviously different and frequently have very specific environmental requirements. Also like the variants mentioned previously, most were created to fill specific functions as servitor races.
   Major examples include:
   Centaurs. Almost, but not quite, what you’d expect from the name. The major differences are that centaurs are carnivores. A relatively small (human) mouth combined with a large body means you need energy-dense food with minimal processing, and that means meat. Centaurs also have a turbocharged respiratory system; air enters the nostrils continuously, is pumped by the lungs and exhaled through vents on either side of the neck, said vents having the equivalent of vocal cords and muscular walls allowing them to make noise. So a centaur speaks in stereo, not moving its mouth, and never has to pause to take a breath.
   Centaurs were created as mobile cavalry and herders. Their physiology making living in cities (which tend to go vertical) difficult, many centaurs since the Second Global War have formed nomadic societies roaming the open plains of Thlaraj and Anjor. Many of these are always on the move, living off the herds of horses they use as draft animals and as meat. Other humans often find this slightly nauseating, believing it’s similar to cannibalism, although horses and the centaurs are as closely related, on a genetic level, as humans and beef cows.
   Draconians. The result of humans losing wars with the kejakians, the draconians are humans altered by kejakians to look more like them for their amusement. Obviously initially all female, some male draconians were created to allow the species to reproduce to provide a ready source of slaves for the Sasshish Empire. After that Empire fell, most draconians, due to their human origin, were hunted down and killed by the kejakian survivors. However, enough survived to allow the species to continue. Draconians have the basic human body plan, although covered in scales, and with reptilian features.
   Mers: Your typical mermaid and merman. Not able to breathe air, the mers were meant to be better suited to marine life than the aquarians, but were considered failures as the amphibious aquarians had greater flexibility. Mers live in small family groups and will attack ships (if they are small enough) in order to capture the metals and other materials that they use but, being underwater, they can’t make themselves. Mers and Aquarians are mutually hostile and will kill each other given the chance.
   And, our last example of the wildness that is Gayajan: The satyr. Looking like the prototype from Earth legend, satyrs aren’t so much intelligent creatures as weapons of mass destruction—and they were created as such. Satyrs are more dependant on etheric energy than other intelligent species because they actually require it to be intelligent. In situations with low levels of ambient energy, they are no smarter than the average dog; with higher levels, they are easily as intelligent as humans or kejakians. All satyrs are male, and reproduce by mating with a female. Any female of the various intelligent species. Any female in the presence of a satyr is held in its thrall; when the satyr is in a low intelligence state, the female will actively protect it to the best of her ability. When the satyr has high intelligence, he can command the female as an absolutely loyal and devoted servant. Satyrs are driven to reproduce (thankfully, the odds of success are low, but that just makes them try harder), and therefore will attempt to mate with every female in its vicinity. What makes them worse (from the male point of view, as if the competition wasn’t enough) is that satyrs have the inherent ability to magically alter any male to female as well, adding her to his harem.
   The etherigeneticists who designed the satyr were trying for a weapon of conquest. Release a satyr in enemy territory, and through controlling the satyr, you control the population of the area. Need I mention it was the wonderful geniuses in the Krema Union who came up with this? Possibly inspired by the Sasshish Empire’s tactics, there wasn’t any opportunity to deploy satyrs in combat (thank God) before the Second Global War. When the meretrii learned of their existence, they attempted to have them destroyed during their coup. Being created as a thinking sexual toy was bad enough, but the possibility of being changed into an unthinking brooder for another creature was utterly abhorrent to them. Unfortunately, some satyrs escaped into the wild and were able to take advantage of the confusion of the post-war chaos to slip into the hinterlands. Some meretrii, feeling responsible for not having successfully destroyed them, formed a society of hunters who learned how to combat them and keep them in check. But there are always tales of some remote village whose residences have been mysteriously emptied, or of a crazed woman running out of the woods claiming to have once been a man and barely escaping from a monster. The number of satyrs currently in existence are unknown.

   Okay, that was long. Next up, a tighter focus I promise. We’ll look at how a society might develop when magic is an everyday part of life. See ya!

Chapter 1 -=- Chapter 2 -=- Chapter 3 -=- Chapter 4 -=- Chapter 5 -=- Chapter 6

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