[Cosmosdex] The Fictional Encyclopedia

[Cosmosdex]

Zygote
         

The Home of Sleep

Zygote
“One of the greatest tragedies of this chapter of history is that the accomplishments I describe--lasting harmony and mutuality of labour hard-won by a thousand successive eras of struggle and growth--are already widely regarded as myth. Consequently, the destruction to which my generation will be the final witnesses has been accorded a value little less than zero in the reformist's political account book: an insignificant loss. The idea that there existed even a possibility of averting this spiral of genocide, desolation, and nepenthes will be scorned by the wise, materialist scholars and historians of a future that is now being paved over our bodies.” — Periwinkle Crown, "How the Dead will be Overwritten"

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Dominant Residents: Notail
Other Residents: Gong-an

Fauna: Native life creates rich temperate, tropical, desert, and ocean biomes comprising millions of species. Land animals larger than insects are rare.
Weather: Winds of varying strength and occasional storms. Liquid water cycle generates clouds of atmospheric vapour that precipitate. Recent polluting industrial activity has created thick masses of drifting intercontinental smog and frequent acid rain, particularly in the southern hemisphere.

Danger Level: Low
Purpose: Home planet of the gong-an; burgeoning industrial hub within the notail empire.

Original Creator: austell ♡•


Physical Description

The more that Zygote is explored, the more Zygote changes. The continental structure of the planet is perhaps the only thing that can be expected to remain constant for the future: its deep blue-green oceans, its wreath of white clouds, and its plentiful, distinctive native flora are scheduled to soon disappear.

The planet's continents take up about 41% of its surface area. While most of this is natural land, deliberate intervention over long periods of time has induced volcanic activity to construct a number of "land bridges" between continents, winding chains of close-set islands joined by huge arches. Tectonic drift has altered the shape of these bridges over time, creating "zig-zag" breaks in some areas that can be seen from orbit; throughout these changes, the bridges continue to be maintained. Another notable feature is the triple-ridged crater in the middle of one of the planet's oceans, the mark of a series of interesting celestial impacts, now overgrown by coral. The planet also exhibits ice caps at its rotational poles. Its remarkably slow rotational period, one day cycle being roughly equivalent to ten standard months, allows patches of ice floes to form in the oceans during nighttime.

The majority of this landmass--largely excepting mountain ridges and some desert regions--is covered in a solid layer of diversified, fibrous flesh, all comprising one huge organism: the Wu Xin Cai, a conscious, sapient mould of dreaming gong-an that both supports and is nourished by the many ecosystems dwelling on its surface. The gong-an are a sapient species native to this planet: mobile and independent in their juvenile forms, they tend to this planet-spanning dreaming colony and to the many forms of life that dwell upon it, and after a certain age they fall asleep and merge with it both physically and mentally.

The work of the gong-an has shaped most of the planetary landscape. The Wu Xin Cai forms the basis of nearly every ecosystem on land, and wherever one travels in nature, one is likely to see landscapes dominated by its body, which coats the earth like a woven tapestry of rich green fur, criss-crossed by streams and rivers, and swelling up here and there in the shape of great mounds or other, more fantastic shapes. Its distinctive "braided" texture comes from a process in which gong-an weavers tease out the fibres of the colony and thread them around and through pockets of rich soil, which feed the colony with minerals and other nutrients. Often, the fibrous flesh cups itself around expansive plains of packed earth from which dense vegetation grows. Some of these "gardens" are rich forests or jungles teeming with wildlife, while others contain wide fields used to grow crops or insects. These will always be tended and maintained by communities of gong-an weavers, and are best left undisturbed.

A number of features will be found scattered across the gong-an colony. One will most often see tall structures of colony-flesh that have been grown deliberately into the shape of living complexes, flood dykes, landmarks, irrigation networks, navigation arrays, or other buildings whose purposes may not be immediately clear. These gong-an structures are generally reinforced and decorated with wooden timbers and panels, although construction materials and methods differ greatly by region. Usually, both the buildings and the surface of the colony surrounding them will be carved with intricate, painted reliefs that depict the history and identity of weavers who live there, who were born there, and who have gone to sleep there. The Wu Xin Cai also sprouts tall tree-like fruiting bodies, which will often be clustered in areas with favourable climates. These bear the shining, rounded eggs from which new gong-an are born, and are usually accompanied by a number of grown structures and a group of dedicated teachers and caretakers.

During the planet's long, long nights, the colony radiates a steady warmth that gradually melts snow and ice in temperate climates. Because of this, most forms of life that would otherwise suffer from the cold instead remain active on its surface, although many will alter their behaviour. The colony also emits light from the bioluminescent bodies situated deep beneath its surface: this light penetrates through it, and causes the colony to appear translucent. In many places, the thick spore clouds released by the colony during nighttime are visible as clouds of pale fog, and may irritate the lungs of some visitors.

Infrequently visible across the surface of the linked continents are enormous patches of land, frequently hundreds of kilometres across, which are unclaimed by the Wu Xin Cai, excepting certain "islands" from which weavers seem to passively monitor the environment. These contain a number of less populous, but more diverse biomes than can be found on the colony itself. The gong-an consider these areas protected, and refrain from large-scale interference or development within them.

Apart from the Wu Xin Cai, various kinds of very large plants and fungi seem to form the basis of most surface ecosystems. Although many complicated biomes of life can be found on land, there are few creatures much larger than an insect, the gong-an and some selectively bred reptiles and land molluscs being the main exceptions, and genetic biodiversity, while high, is lower than what may be found on planets of similar background and age.

The planet's water bodies, meanwhile, exhibit equal density and often greater variety of life. Invertebrate jellyfish and large, sedentary cephalopods dwell in landlocked seas, grazing on plankton and large, bulbous plants that sail down the river in the form of fruit and take root in seabeds. Buoyant rafts of kelp and coral drift across the surface of the ocean, carrying colourful saline lagoons on their surface; some of these bear signs of once having been used as sea vessels by the gong-an, although this practice gradually faded once air travel was achieved. Schools of starfish cling to the underside of large self-propelled bivalves, which breach the surface in fierce combat rituals: the presence of these suggests that there may be more large, active sea life in the ocean depths that no visitor has yet seen.

Recently, a new kind of landscape has begun to occupy Zygote. Beginning from the notail settlement at Bounty's Landing on the larger of the two southern continents, a rapid process of conversion has been taking place for a hundred years. The notail administration has spread aggressively across the surface of the planet, harvesting the Wu Xin Cai for resources, spreading diseases to kill off wildlife, and uprooting the dirt bed that they have destabilised in order to lay foundations on the sturdy, barren bedrock underneath. Notail settlements on Zygote are highly guarded and require permits for entry. While the factories, power plants, and other faculties of industry they have erected are sophisticated and strictly maintained, the living quarters that surround them are simple, bare, and often ramshackle due to low population and a push for rapid expansion. Paved roads and cargo trains run between most settlements, but only a few proper cities currently exist on the planet's surface.

The settlements and the area around them have been largely purged of native life, although some persist in zoos or research facilities. Gong-an weavers are frequently found working here, but are not permitted residence within secured areas or access to higher-order jobs; the majority take up residence in segregated slums on the outskirts of towns. Areas cleared and settled by notails suffer from considerable pollution levels. Solid and liquid waste is roughly confined to dumps that each town excavates, fills, and then abandons, but decreasing air quality is a more serious concern for visitors, with a variety of pollutants being likely to aggravate breathing difficulties in many species. Brief visits are unlikely to cause long-term health problems, but workers expecting to remain on the planet for a year or more should consider the probability of acquiring or exacerbating an illness. Although notails are not themselves greatly affected by atmospheric pollutants, considerable lobbying from extraplanetary organisations has prompted the notail administration to supply most commercial structures with air-conditioning units, including some regularly-spaced rest stops, though these are small and strictly regulated: there is a charge for entry, and an additional fee per hour spent inside to discourage loitering.

From space, the effect of notail occupation on the planet is visible as a network of circular, dull brown blotches--expanding wastes cleared of local life--which by now cover two thirds of the initial landing site, as well as significant portions of most other continents. Clouds over the region are frequently darkened by thick trails of smoke, and a number of satellites and a few growing spaceports hold geostationary orbits above population centres. Further information on the progress and possible future of notail expansion is provided in the history section.

History

Like many life-bearing planets with molten interiors, Zygote's history has been tumultous. Near-constant seismic and volcanic activity and a volatile climate cycle have both shaped and culled the life on its surface until quite recently on an evolutionary scale. Although some speculations suggest that life only began to spread on land less than a billion years ago, it is also possible that a number of mass extinctions is responsible for the relative lack of biodiversity among the planet's terrestrial organisms at present--particularly the lack of large land animals. Some of these mass extinctions may have come from extraterrestrial sources: much speculation has occurred, though even native records have yielded little information, on when the triple-ringed crater in the middle of the ocean was formed, and what kind of force would have been likely to strike in the same place so many times.

Relevant to this discussion is evidence which suggests that, at one point, the planet was tidally locked, with permanent day on one side, permanent night on the other, and a narrow twilight band to which most life was confined. A very large celestial body colliding with the planet, or in this case, several very large bodies, is one of a few likely causes of the change in its rotational period. Analysis of the sparse, scattered mineral ring which surrounds the planet provides tentative support for this hypothesis.

While this would certainly be among the most traumatic events that the planet has seen, it is certainly not the only one. Within the eighteen million years of clearly recorded gong-an history, the planet has endured a moderate ice age, three periods of critically low atmospheric oxygen content, hundreds of supervolcano eruptions, dozens of large meteor impacts, and the mysterious, sudden loss of its two moons. The gong-an's influence appears to have softened the extinction effect of many of these phenomena: an estimated 25% of species that existed in the wild 18 million years ago have genetically viable populations of descendants today.

The gong-an species is supposed to have emerged from genetically similar ancestors about 19 million years ago. Their remarkable robustness, adaptability, and ubiquity has apparently restricted their genetic drift since then, although some within-species genetic variation does exist, and some benign mutations have become common in certain regions. Gong-an originated at some point on the tropical continent, and their civilisation developed parallel to their exploratory capability: over the course of a few thousand years they spread from one continent to cover most landmasses on the planet, and the first regular intercontinental trade routes were established roughly ten thousand years afterwards.

At this time, in the wake of a recent plummet in global temperature, vegetation was unusually sparse across the planet: temporary deserts dominated. In these conditions, the gong-an colonies' symbiotic ability to enrich the environment and fuel ecosystems was exceptionally valuable: the development of comprehensive farming practices based on the colonies occurred more or less independently across the globe, and catalysed the ecological ubiquity of the gong-an, as mentioned above. They became involved in nearly every ecosystem, and gradually developed interdependent relationships with local life.

Local history indicates that, as the gong-an proliferated across the planet's surface, many of the isolated tribes, or "nations" they formed engaged in competition for certain scarce resources, including water, fertile land, and young weavers capable of work. As trade flow and agriculture developed, these resources became less needed, but conflicts continued to occur over energy sources, technology, and more complicated sociological issues, until the Days of Weaving Together, covered in the gong-an page, elsewhere in this encyclopaedia, which saw the first and last existentially threatening wars among gong-an. After this, the gong-an rapidly spread rich vegetation across the landscape, and biotechnological advances resulted in a gradual decline in the population density of active weavers, as fewer and fewer were needed to maintain and protect a certain area of the now-united Wu Xin Cai. Land bridges, built up from the seabed to support immense "roots" that bonded colonies together, also became the vehicles of trade and communication; overall activity on the surface decreased.

This is not to say this period was not ecologically or geologically eventful. The Wu Xin Cai was in its early periods devastated, and nearly split, by a major earthquake that affected one of the six continental land bridges, which at the time were far narrower, collapsing large segments of undersea infrastructure and creating microtears in the root itself. Since this time, additional bridges have been raised, and it is speculated that the gong-an still presently engage in undersea monitoring and exploration activities.

Around 16.5 mya, records note the construction of a wide network of caves within the flesh of the Wu Xin Cai. Reliable information on the contents of these shelters is not currently available, as the entrances of most have been sealed over by new growth, but local accounts note that they were used to preserve small living populations of weavers and other wildlife in the case of devastating tropical cyclones, exceptionally long winters which freeze over the colony's surface, or more serious and long-lasting climate events. Many other structures with similar hypothesised purposes dot the face of the Wu Xin Cai in the present day.

Notail explorers first investigated the planet when emission scanning revealed the aftereffects of a recent supervolcanic eruption on the surface. However, when the exploring fleet's scouts arrived in orbit, they found little trace of the expected ash and sulfuric ejecta, either atmospheric or in the soil, and the local climate was essentially normal. Cross-referencing emission dating with local records points to a volcanic event about 500 years prior to notail arrival--the gong-an seeded water vapour clouds with precipitation catalysts, causing the greater majority of ejecta to fall to the ground in a small area surrounding the eruption, and leaving the rest of the planet largely unaffected. The cleanup of this volcanic mud was finally completed about 30 years into the notail settlement period; repopulation of the caldera zone never occurred, due to decreasing weaver populations, and growing restrictions in their ability to travel and work the land freely.

The first notail vessels alighted in the area now known as Bounty's Landing, established contact with the gong-an (see the gong-an entry for information on species relations), and named the planet, which the gong-an then and now call the Home of Sleep, with its official name: Zygote. Shortly after, they began clearing the landscape of life, converting it into food, biofuel, building materials, and other resources that could be used to develop infrastructure. After a brief period of attempted negotiation, and by some accounts violent resistance, the notail security army began to systematically clear gong-an weavers from settlement areas as they spread across the continent. The Wu Xin Cai began to be harvested, and all life on its surface uprooted, leaving solid, lifeless rock beneath.

Although directly harvested areas are the most affected by these actions, of course, there have been more widespread impacts. Enormous clouds of smog soon began to drift west along the path of global winds, covering more than one continent. Across much of the planet, acid rain frequently falls, desiccating the soil and killing the plant life that depends upon it. Air pollution affects many vital insect populations, and a number of large inland lakes and rivers have become inhospitable to life, being overtaken by toxins and alien bacteria or algae that sap oxygen from the water.

In addition, the planet's global temperature has risen by a sudden, alarming 1.5 kelvins over the past century of notail habitation, leading to a list of effects too numerous for this document to easily cover. Frequent, severe tropical storms and rising water levels have left large areas of certain continents damaged by flooding and strong winds, even negatively affecting notail settlements, particularly on the southeastern continent. Further reading is encouraged for those who wish to explore the trajectory of the planet's environment, although the notail administration has classified large segments of it.

Notail presence has spread rapidly across the planet's continents, with at least a foothold being established in all large landmasses not more than ten years after arrival. Wide, paved concrete or asphalt roads were first constructed to join settlements, but both sea and air transport infrastructure were generally implemented almost immediately afterwards. Most transport systems thus far have been industry-focused, with cargo planes and ships forming the majority of vehicles. Small airfields and sprawling slums grew to attend towns as they spread, with construction generally centring around local processing facilities whose contents were shipped to industrial centres to be fully utilised. Within growing notail wastelands, small artificial bubbles housing farms of local plants and animals have occasionally been constructed, but historically these ventures have been short-lived, as governmental plans call for the eradication of most of the planet's non-microscopic life, any species classed as "disruptive" or "potentially disruptive".

Because so much of Zygote's settled regions is devoted to industrial activity, most notail settlements offer little to visitors, whether on business or visiting for pleasure. The planet's primary tourist traps are a few towns on the northern edge of the mostly-untouched tropical continent, including one just large enough to qualify as a city, under the name "New Homothallia", advertised for its magnificent views of unspoiled wilderness.

Notail intervention, both direct and indirect, has so far removed nearly all life life from about 19% of the planet's surface. This is in line with the notail administration's official 200-year plan, which was released to the public by an anonymous source about thirty years ago. This plan discusses a number of methods intended to entirely transform the landscape of Zygote in a process the notails describe as "terraforming". It is the source of the predictive figures which estimate the total eradication of the Wu Xin Cai within the next 50 years.

Lesser-known details of the plan include: steps to tow a nearby star into proximity, boiling the majority of liquid water from the planet's surface into space; a total lockdown of non-notail migration and associated media blackout to minimise damage from large-scale protests and other public actions against the administration; and a brief description of the ideal end result of the 200-year plan, summarised as follows.

"The fivefold goals of this period of administration will, if accomplished in timely fashion, prepare the planet Zygote for thorough exploitation and the establishment of many dedicated training and educational facilities that are currently restricted in availability except on Eukaryote. The extermination of local life, occurring naturally due to their inability to compete with true-home conditions, will pave the way for the importing of Eukaryote species, and the bedrock of the planet is an ideal foundation for construction on a scale that would be infeasible in most environments.

In many ways, due to its comparative tameness, low mutation rate, and conditions favourable for life, Zygote will become the superior site for the conduct of delicate experiments and the maintenance or protection of valuable resources from across our civilisation. However, it may be necessary to further restrict travel in order to ensure that this deceitful environment does not invite the weak and unfit, or grant them peace beyond their station—a decadence it has clearly inflicted on the local populace, inducing species-wide mental, social, and technological stagnancy for which we now exact the price."


It is unknown whether these plans have been revised in the 30 years since their release.

Locations

Bounty's Landing: The first and largest of notail settlements on the planet, and one of the two cities open to non-notail visitors. Accommodating facilities and various local services are available at the city and the spaceport that orbits above it. Beyond the city outskirts, aside from a few roads and railways, there is no sign of life in any direction. Bounty's Landing has fully working notail defences, which shield it handily from storms and the frequent flooding of a nearby dam.

New Homothallia: A smaller city, with a great variety of recreational services and comfort facilities. New Homothallia is home to a large number of costly tour activities, including safaris across the surface of the dreaming colony plains nearby. The climate is warm and tropical during the day, but pollution is fairly light, and the region is scenic. Beware of high prices and monsoon seasons, especially during the night, which may bring heavy, frequent blizzards.

The Prism on the Hill beside the Sea: Beyond the patrolled borders of notail settlements, there are a few especially remarkable landmarks on the surface of the intact Wu Xin Cai. The Seaside Prism, as it is sometimes called in this language, is one such landmark: a massive crystal cut in peculiar shape, embedded in a mound of colony flesh and surrounded by rows of colourful herbs. As a day passes, sunlight refracted through the crystal shines brightly on certain parts of the flat plains surrounding it, highlighting certain symbols. A nearby stationary weaver community, the Lake Wind Carriers, uses this prism to determine the times at which to conduct certain duties and ceremonies over the course of a day, as well as to track alterations in the planet's rotational period and orbit—and to forecast storms, although it is unclear how this is done. Periwinkle Crown, notable gong-an author and activist, originated from this community and has written about it in her books and other publications.

The Obsidian Pin: From what is estimated to be the exact centre of the vast, triple-ringed ocean crater, there rises a three-pronged pillar that seems to be made of dark glass, at least from outward observation. As local weaver groups discourage approach to this structure, little is known about its age or its purpose: it may even be a naturally-occurring artefact. Imaging from space, however, suggests that the pillar may be attached to a much larger undersea foundation, which may also be the basis of a number of coral reefs that rise just above the surface of the water in other parts of the crater. Unusually, a fairly large population of weavers seems to regularly visit the Obsidian Pin in large boats, despite there being no sign of a dreaming colony on any of the structures above or near the surface.

Special

Divided: This planet has two clearly delineated zones, one hospitable and lush with life, the other mostly dead. These are locked in a struggle that cleanly separates them, to the point that the two seem almost to be entirely different worlds. Spending a significant period of time in the dead zone will usually have a negative effect on your crew's health and morale, while spending a significant period of time in the life-rich zone will reverse this effect, sometimes improving morale or health beyond what they initially were.

Trivia

• The first organised protest on Zygote occurred five years after initial notail settlement. Only a few main actors have been identified, but the violent quashing of the event has set the tone for ongoing opposition to notail settlement of the planet, including introducing the slogan "the land will not bear you", which recurred across movements for some decades until the settlers made it clear they had no interest in being supported by the land.

• In addition to its tourism industry, Zygote is known for its unique cuisine. Nearly none of the supposedly local foods are gong-an recipes, however: they instead derive their claim of authenticity from the fact that they are made from local fauna and flora, including the cooked flesh of the Wu Xin Cai. Visitors who have an aversion to eating sapient beings are advised to steer clear of "native" dishes, as no ingredients list is provided unless asked for.

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