Raising Caine – Snippet 16

Chapter Twenty-Two

Bioband’s valland; GJ 1248 One (“Adumbratus”)

As Caine worked his way to the head of the legation, Yiithrii’ah’aash continued on into a grove of immense, hypertrophied bushes which were simultaneously reminiscent of pointy mushrooms and very squat Christmas trees. “These are one of our most effective biots for inducing xenobiots to become receptive to our own flora. And ultimately, to our settlers and other fauna.”

Trent Howarth looked around, puzzled. “Isn’t this planet already inhabited by Slaasriithi?” He glanced meaningfully at the ambassador’s shorter, thicker assistants.

“What you see, Mr. Howarth, are pioneer inducers of change, not colonists. Their life work is to shape the environment by fostering symbiotic or cooperative relationships between the indigenous biota and our own. Where that is not possible, we will establish preserves of our own biota by crowding out the native ones. These plants excel at that task.” Yiithrii’ah’aash gestured toward what Riordan was already thinking of as a cone tree. “By using their canopy to capture all the light and water that would normally find its way down to the ground, and by selectively sharing the resulting resources with our own — or receptive exogenous — biota, the trees claim the area beneath them for our exploitation. We introduce our own biota into it, and then work at inducing further mutations to maximize the harmony between the two families of bioforms.”

Phil Friel’s soft voice rose from the rear of the group. “You keep using the word ‘induce’ when you speak about changing an organism. Since you seem to have a wide command of our language, I’m wondering if that repetition is not merely intentional, but important.” Tina Melah glanced at the quiet Irishman with unveiled admiration. Of course, Tina didn’t seem to bother with veils of any type.

Yiithrii’ah’aash purred. “Indeed, we use the word ‘induce’ quite purposefully. It describes how we prefer to transform biota; to provide the correct environmental circumstances and monitoring to encourage natural change in a desired direction. Creating change by using sudden force, whether by traumatic stimuli or mechanistic alteration, rarely produces stable environmental blending.”

They left the grove of cone trees along a path that straddled an irregular border between day-glow green lichens struggling out from beneath the Slaasriithi plants on one side and a diffuse violet moss pierced by intermittent black spikes on the other side. Caine tried to recall an analog for the latter flora, but the only image that came to mind was of sea urchins trying to push up through a carpet of violet cotton candy. The ground between the two masses of plants was a tangle of runners from both, many of which were brown and lank: die-off where the two families of vegetation met, fought, and died.

Oleg Danysh squinted along their probable path, which remained in the shade of the brightside wall: the high terminal moraine that sheltered both the indigenous and exogenous biota from the steady red-gold light of GJ 1248. “It seems, Ambassador, that you mean to follow the contact margin between your own imported species, and those native to this planet.”

“Very astute, Dr. Danysh. In addition to keeping us in the shade of the ridgeline, it allows us to visit where we are making our greatest progress to transform the native life. And so, it offers you the best opportunities to learn about us.”

“Well, about your work as planet-changers, at least,” Tina Melah drawled.

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s head turned back in her direction; he did not slow his forward progress. “You may find, Ms. Melah, that the latter reveals the former more profoundly than any other behavior of ours. What we do here is no different from what we do everywhere.”

“Even on your homeworld?” she wondered.

“Especially on our homeworld,” Yiithrii’ah’aash emphasized. “We seek to reconcile and blend different species, taxae, individuals. It is the great challenge and conundrum of life, wherever it exists, that stability is only achieved by acknowledging the inevitability of change, and is only preserved by working with the forces of entropy to create a dynamic equilibrium in the natural order.”

Gaspard aimed his chin toward the rose-tinted cream sky. “And if those endeavors reveal the nature of the Slaasriithi best, which behaviors would you say reveal humanity’s nature most clearly to you?”

“We have not known you for that long.” Yiithrii’ah’aash might have sounded evasive.

“True, but you have had reports on us from the Custodians while we were a protected species, and you have had access to a full compendium of our history and media for almost a year now. Surely you have some sense of which endeavors reveal the most about us.”

“I do,” Yiithrii’ah’aash admitted slowly. “Human nature, we find, is best revealed in endeavors characterized by uncertainty, innovation and crisis. So, we find depictions of your exploration, and of rescue operations, particularly informing.”

Caine waited for the third category of activity and, when he did not hear it, asked outright. “And war?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash slowed slightly, swiveled his head back at Riordan. “Yes. Most especially, war.”

They continued up the rough trail in silence.

* * *

As the legation descended into a shallow, bowl like declivity, a number of indigenous creatures — akin to eyeless, arthropod-legged horned toads — leaped up from the native sward. Their coloration changed rapidly from an almost pixilated purple-magenta pattern that blended into the violet of the cotton-candy moss, to a cream grey. They hop-sprinted on their stick-pole legs to a pond fed by the small watercourse that burbled down from the rear lip of the hollow. Leaping into the pond, they remained in the shallows — and promptly disappeared, their cream coloration now blending with that of the sky-mirroring surface.

Hirano Mizuki lagged behind to observe the arthropod-toads. “How do they see where they are going? Sonar?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendrils switched downward, stayed there. “No. That creature’s eyes, while individually rudimentary, are distributed across the trunk of its body. Our analysis of its ocular neurology suggests it has full three hundred sixty by three hundred sixty degree vision: not as acute as yours, but highly sensitive to changes in its visual field. It is very difficult to surprise them. Which is no doubt why they evolved their visual arrangement. It is their only defense against most of the local predators. That and their numbers.”

“Their numbers?” Nasr Eid echoed. “I do not understand.”

“A predator can only concentrate on, and eliminate, one creature at a time, Mr. Eid. The ubiquity of this species is an integral part of its evolutionary survival adaptation: it can easily absorb casualties which sate its predators.”

“Like rabbits,” Phil Friel observed.

“Sure don’t look like bunnies, though,” Tina Melah said quietly, using her confidential tone as an apparent justification for leaning in toward him.

“There are predators?” Gaspard’s assistant Dieter sounded more worried than curious.

“Most assuredly. Here at the contact zone between our exogenous biota and the planet’s indigenous species, we have particular need for the protection of our biological markers. The prey species learn quickly enough that the predators and larger creatures are perturbed by the scents and fauna of our transplanted ecozones. So the local prey species tend to gather at the margins of our ecozone, and may even flee into it to disincline predators from sustaining pursuit. This, of course, induces the prey species to form positive associations with our ecozone.”

Hirano Mizuki had not taken her eyes away from where the eye-gouging arthropod-toads remained motionless in the shallows. “It seems that you have done this many times before. Have you not, therefore, identified any of your own pheromones, or spores, which have the desired effect upon the local fauna?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash emitted a two-toned buzz-purr. “That is indeed a suitable question from an environmental planetologist. And yes, we have identified such species among our own flora. But unfortunately, the methods whereby our plants transmit the desired compounds does not have acceptable latency in this environment.”

“You mean, they die off?” asked Miles O’Garran.

“Eventually, but that is not the primary drawback. The difficulty is in how quickly our compounds are carried out of this sheltered spot of the bioband, which we call its valland. Obviously, during your descent, you encountered the winds that blow constantly from the bright face to the dark face of this world.”

“Hardly noticed them,” Karam grumbled. Qin Lijuan hid a smile behind a hastily raised hand.

“Those winds create downdrafts as they reach the rear, glacier-wall of the valland. The lowest air currents are cooled as they pass over bioband and sink. However, the speed of the wind also creates a following draft, and the combination of the two exerts mild suction upon the air of the valland, creating a faint updraft. This updraft picks up any light airborne materials, such as our spores and pollens, and carries most of them over the glacier into the dark side wastes.”

Karam nodded. “Yeah, that kind of meteorology doesn’t sound ideal for airborne seeds that developed on a world where they could spread around easily.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash nodded. “There is a second challenge that is almost as great for seeds that evolved in an environment where they might, as you said, ‘spread around easily.'” The Slaasriithi gestured to the panorama of the valland: distant white glacial walls toward the darkside, the tall, shadowing moraine beneath which they walked, and an irregular and light-dappled post-glacial terrain that stretched and rolled between them. “This biome is as long as Adumbratus’ equator. With the exception of some areas where the valland is disrupted by longitudinal, and thus transverse, mountain ranges, the vigorously biogenic part of this world averages less than one hundred kilometers in width. However, on most planets, plants evolve in an environment where there is global circulation of air and water; it is an ecosystem based upon radial patterns of expansion. Here, life exists within a narrow trench. Consequently, our species, which lack highly motile reproductory cells, are slow to spread, slow to take hold, slow to thrive. But even so, this world will thrive more profoundly because of them.”

“How so?”