Art by, Artem1s
Common Jobs: counsellor, nutritionist, agronomist, farmer, unlicensed crew
Likes: Friendly faces, warm sunlight, regular work hours
Dislikes: Social and emotional isolation, sterile environments, mass murder
Attack Method: Shields torso and head with expendable limbs. Prefers escape, but if cornered, may attempt to strangle or restrain an attacker with a multitude of arms.
Gong-an cultures are wide and varied, but few involve entities that could be construed as gods, except perhaps the Wu Xin Cai itself. Their spirituality commonly relates to the dream-realm in which all gong-an share.
The gong-an are a parafungoid species with three life stages. Apart from their egg stage, there is the active juvenile stage, which the gong-an call weavers, and the immobile adult, or colony, stage, which the gong-an call the dreaming. Most readers are unlikely to encounter either egg or colony gong-an in their lifetime, so weavers will be the focus of this section.
A weaver gong-an is born fully formed and capable of movement. They have an ovoid head ringed with many small, lidless eyes all around its circumference, and more eyes clustered on the front, set upon a limbless torso of similar size. Passing through the centre of the torso is a slit-shaped orifice through which the weaver breathes, and speaks in their flute-like voice. The weaver's body is dark, smooth, and slightly leathery. It varies between brown, red, and green in shade: a weaver may have uniformly coloured skin, but gradients or patches are more common.
Extending from the weaver's neck are 14 to 18 graceful, tentacle-like arms, joined by pale webbing, and each up to a metre in length. Four or five of these arms are squatter, stronger, fingerless limbs that the weaver uses to support themself and move. Three arms end in buoyant, brightly-coloured balloons ringed by petal-like gills, which are held outwards in a fan shape and provide a photosynthesising surface. The rest of the arms are long, quick, and dextrous, and end in sets of four tiny fingers, which are faintly bioluminescent and well-suited to catching the small insects that weavers habitually eat. Weavers usually coil these arms around their torso when they're not in use. When a weaver wishes to exert force on an object, they may twist their arms around each other and push on them with one of their stronger "legs".
The weaver's arms recover quickly from small injuries, and can grow back even if severed. Their head and torso, which contain vital structures, have less capacity for regrowth. Although it is unusually difficult to wound a weaver in a way that is immediately fatal, serious wounds can easily render them immobile, though intermittently conscious. Unless they receive medical attention or are further injured, they may remain in this state for weeks or months before eventually succumbing to thirst or starvation.
While sleeping, a weaver coils their arms up into a tight braid, except for the photosynthesising limbs. Their body becomes feverishly warm, and they begin to emit a gentle light from their head, somewhere behind their eyes.
Weavers commonly wear warm cloaks of cloth, or sometimes animal leather, that cover their torso and their coiled arms, and are dyed in colourful patterns. Most of these cloaks have deep folds sewn into their interiors where possessions and tools are kept. Weavers may also wear decorative cloth sleeves on their arms, and bands of metal hung with precious stones. Corrective casts may also come in the form of metal bands. Jewelry that pierces the skin is commonly worn on the torso, particularly studs and rings but sometimes larger, more complex latticeworks that enter and exit the skin in multiple places. These are not restrictive, since the torso is largely immobile. As weavers age, they are likely to carve complex reliefs into the flesh of their head and torso that reflect varying aspects of the life that they have lived. Since these are both important and permanent markings, they are usually cut by traditionally qualified weaver artisans. Few older weavers lack these carvings, but some opt for smaller, less prominent ones to avoid certain stigmas in spacefaring society.
As weavers age, their torso and head gain mass, their weight-bearing limbs thicken, and they walk more slowly and closer to the ground, until they eventually stop moving for good.
The bodies of dreaming gong-an have mingled with the earth and flesh they rest upon, their skin giving way to filaments of nerves, lymph ducts, and capillaries that bond with the body systems of the other gong-an who rest there. Their organs, unneeded, dissolve, their function assumed by huge nodules of specialised tissue within the dreaming colony.
A dreaming colony is a hardy mould that does not get sick or age. It absorbs and incorporates all organic matter that decays on its surface. The largest, oldest and only current dreaming colony is most frequently called the Wu Xin Cai (roughly, 'field of five hearts'): a planet-spanning mass of furry, solid flesh interwoven with rich, grassy soil. Its upper surface is dark green with chlorophyll, underneath which lie advanced biological structures that can run kilometres deep, bonded by dense biological networks. Here and there these immense organ nodules break the surface as mounds or hills, and here and there the colony has been encouraged to grow upwards into complicated shapes--spires, arches, beacons, domes.
In some places the solid flesh gives way to ropy lattices that crisscross rich, cultivated forests, jungles, or crop fields. At night, enormous bioluminescent shapes shine from beneath the colony's translucent surface, in the light of which it is possible to see the mist of faintly glowing spores that the colony releases on the wind.
Weaver gong-an behave similarly to many animal sapient species. They eat a variety of insects and fruit, preferring cooked or prepared food, to supplement the energy they gain from photosynthesis with their three leafy appendages. They digest food by holding it in their tiny closed fists as it is absorbed, and cannot eat anything that is too large without cutting it into smaller pieces. They are more active during daytime and in bright conditions, require nutrients and water, but can survive for some time without air, and sleep at night.
The proportion of time a weaver spends sleeping is influenced by their age: young weavers start sleeping around the age of five for maybe an hour at a time, while older weavers can easily sleep for more than eight hours. Weavers close to transitioning to their dreaming state may spend only three or four hours awake per day.
While asleep, weavers do not strictly lose consciousness. Their awareness is if anything heightened: they are perfectly lucid, experience time differently, and become conscious of their bond to the dreaming colony where they were born. They can commune with that colony in their dreams, receiving comfort, companionship, and guidance. This connection is as profound and vital as any family bond, and important to a weaver's mental and emotional development: it has been shown that if they cannot sleep regularly and deeply, their health will steadily deteriorate. As a weaver ages, this vital bond deepens and grows, as does their heightened mental faculty while asleep. If part of a weaver's birth colony dies or is cut off, they often feel it even when they are awake, not quite as pain but rather as a sense of intense numbness, pressure, or impending doom. In especially severe cases this can leave a weaver with a lingering and implacable feeling that they should be dead, even if their birth colony is still partially intact.
If a weaver physically touches and communes with a dreaming colony other than the one it was born to, they can begin to cultivate a similar link to this second colony, which with time surpasses the old bond and replaces it.
The consciousness of the dreaming colony on the gong-an home planet, the Wu Xin Cai, is so vast that it is impossible to commune with it all at once. Weavers generally find that they have the closest bond to consciousnesses that were integrated near the place where they were born, but there is no true isolation of identity in a dreaming colony, and over a weaver's lifespan their dreaming fancy will generally take them through the ocean of the Wu Xin Cai's mind to experience vastly different perspectives, and to sense the ultimate joining of them in understanding. The Wu Xin Cai contains dense nerve networks, including a few highly specialised, deliberately cultured masses of grey matter which are dedicated to performing astounding mental feats of calculation and inference. All weavers have access to these powers while they are asleep--this is why electronic computers have never found widespread use in gong-an civilisation.
Despite having this profound connection, or perhaps because of it, weaver gong-an tend to be social, welcoming, and gregarious towards other people, often making great effort to form lasting bonds with their coworkers and peers. Gong-an who spend long periods of time without any positive relationships in their life will begin to suffer from deteriorating mental and physical health, including symptoms such as depression, suicidal thoughts, heightened risk of cardiovascular disorders, and poor or dysfunctional sleep patterns, which tend to exacerbate all other symptoms. Conversely, healthy social connections with multiple peers have long-term health benefits, decreasing the risk of acute illness and mitigating the negative effects of even very serious health conditions.
When a weaver gong-an grows old and dreams deeply, they will usually seek to return home, to join their body and mind to the colony that birthed them. Their metabolism will slow, they will move less and less and sleep more and more, and eventually they will stop altogether, transitioning into their dreaming phase, and knitting their mind together with the minds of the colony beneath them. The gong-an describe this process as very different from the death suffered by the organisms around them, and indeed say that the children born from a dreaming colony are budded off from the same communal consciousness that they join when they dream.
Weavers are rarely seen without their panflutes--delicate wooden instruments that they use to produce startlingly deep music and communicate over long distances. Weavers are highly capable of mimicry, and their flutes are often modified to help produce those sounds and pitches that they cannot: with this added faculty, a weaver can learn to imitate nearly any verbal language.
On their home planet, which they call the Home of Sleep, the gong-an have more than a hundred different spoken languages, but there is just one language spoken with the panflute--with a few dozen regional dialects. This is regarded as a kind of lingua franca among them: if you are visiting the planet, and you can play a panflute, it may be polite to learn a few common phrases.
A number of social systems that resemble gender percolate through the various gong-an cultures, but none prevail so strongly that they are important to remember when interacting with weavers offworld. If the reader is interested in the details of these systems, further reading is encouraged. Spacefaring gong-an will frequently conform to the naming and pronoun systems of a culture they live in for a long period in order to fit in better, as well as adopting the appropriate gendered presentation and mannerisms. Some weavers adopt these aspects of personal identity wholeheartedly, and carry them with them ever after.
The home planet of the gong-an is partially land and partially liquid water. As aforementioned, the landmass is largely covered by the Wu Xin Cai, which is the keystone of most of its ecosystems. Weavers on this planet often form loose groups and communities that dwell on the surface of the colony and commune with it closely, but all of them tend to it--weavers get their name from the way they braid the flesh of dreaming colonies around fertile, nourishing soil.
One may note that the population of weavers is quite small compared to the large area covered by the Wu Xin Cai. Weaver tribes exhibit little hierarchy, with informal judgements of seniority often being used to settle petty disputes. Larger disputes between tribes do not usually occur, and when they do, weavers disengage freely from conflicts, commune with their families within the Wu Xin Cai, and seem to soon have the matter resolved. There are no records of a violent conflict on the planet for more than a thousand years prior to their discovery. It is suspected by some that the Wu Xin Cai contains the majority of gong-an social organisation, history, and activity: otherwise, few reasonable explanations exist for the degree to which weavers are able to negotiate with each other, develop technology, plan settlements, forecast events, create art, and shepherd the ecosystem and climate of their planet on the globally coordinated scale that they do.
Further evidence for this supposition may be found in that spacefaring gong-an weavers do not seem to be able to resolve conflicts in this mysterious manner, except sometimes with each other. They usually assimilate into the hierarchies of their work environment and surrounding cultures, and if they are kept under considerable mental pressure or in toxic social environments, they may develop unhealthy methods of handling conflict, harmful to others or to themselves.
The surface of the Wu Xin Cai is not barren: much of it is covered in carefully cultivated plant life--forests, jungles, and crop fields manipulated through a multitude of advanced methods to be useful, healthy, and diverse ecosystems. While the weavers eat the plentiful insects and fruit that thrive in these conditions, and some communities even hunt animals on occasion for reasons of tradition, they produce far more food than they personally need. When animals and plants die, their decaying corpses enrich the soil and feed the Wu Xin Cai, keeping it well-nourished.
In addition, there are a few continent-spanning gardens where the Wu Xin Cai's body is sparse. Each of these is monitored by one or two dedicated weaver tribes, and they contain a variety of wildlife that, according to local accounts, had no place in the Wu Xin Cai's cultivated ecosystems. For millions of years they have been watched as they live, evolve, and adapt.
Weavers widely alter and manipulate the surface of the Wu Xin Cai using techniques advanced and perfected over millions of years. By pitching sturdy frames and casts on its flesh, and by playing deep melodies on their mysterious panflutes over the course of months, they encourage it to grow into unique, complicated shapes that serve a variety of uses--sturdy foundations for buildings, irrigation channels, navigation guides, shields against strong wind or bursting rivers, and so on. These, along with the natural mounds of the Wu Xin Cai and the tall, tree-like fruiting bodies that bear the gong-an's shining eggs, lend the planet unique and striking vistas that any tourist will appreciate--while it lasts, that is.
One of the gong-an's oldest visible art forms, that is, ones not entirely invented and contained within the consciousness of the Wu Xin Cai, is the intricate network of carved symbols and reliefs in the Wu Xin Cai's bare surface. Generation after generation of weavers has added story after story of accomplishments, traditions, and significant events to its surface, creating tapestries of time and life that sometimes stretch for kilometres. Nowhere are these thicker than at the bases of the tall, swaying egg clusters where newborn gong-an gestate and develop out of the Wu Xin Cai.
Newborn gong-an weavers emerge from their eggs with all their arms wrapped around their bodies in a tight braid. They come into the world with all their adult faculties and a set of ingrained memories, beliefs, and revelations from the dreaming colony that gave birth to them. If they only knew language, they would be able to describe visions that not even the oldest and drowsiest weaver can dream about: no weaver is closer to the dreaming consciousness than a newborn who cannot yet speak. As newborns learn, the gestalt of knowledge that they were born with greatly influences their preferences, ideals, and desires, and they usually pick up a few skills that interest them very quickly. This doesn't determine how a weaver will spend their life, but it does form the foundation on which they build their identity.
More recently, and at an escalating rate since the discovery of the gong-an's home planet, it has become more common to find weavers emigrating offworld, seeking passage and work on visiting ships. Given the conditions that have developed on their homeworld, this is unsurprising. This generation of spacefaring gong-an weavers are largely characterised by their industry, ingenuity, and practical knowledge base of advanced agricultural and horticultural sciences, acquired during their planetary upbringing. They are prime recruiting targets for crews of all kinds, delivering a consistently high quality of work across most tasks that they are put to, and working for far less than the wages most species would accept, as well as being more willing to accept disadvantageous, asymmetrical contracts, such as indentured servitude.
The only concern an employer need account for is the relatively high rate of pre-existing mental health conditions among these spacefarers--particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), generalised anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. According to a survey on about 1,000 gong-an who have been in the intergalactic workforce for at least one year, there is an approximate 31% chance that a spacefaring weaver suffers from one or more of these illnesses, with a comorbidity rate as high as 61% by some estimates.
The reasons for this tendency towards poor mental health are numerous, naturally, but it is far from impossible to identify a few key causes.
Although the traditions of the gong-an accurately record events going back for hundreds of millennia, at a certain point they begin to disagree. This point corresponds roughly to the period that the gong-an call the Days of Weaving Together: before this point, the planet allegedly held a large number of separate dreaming colonies, which were as frequently in conflict as they were in trade. They varied in size, age, customs, technologies, and degrees of unity--but no accounts can substantively state exactly how or why without dispute.
A common thread is a legendary figure of uncertain identity, who constructed, or oversaw the construction of, land-bridges between continents using drills and magma. Using a splicing instrument which is, supposedly, still buried beneath the surface of the Wu Xin Cai, two colonies from different continents were merged for the first time across one of these bridges, whereupon the bridge-builder lay down on the surface of this running-root and never moved again. However, some time after their death, a violent event occurred--the actors in this war vary from version to version, and it is unclear whether the conflict took place within or outside the minds of the dreaming colonies. The result is consistent, however: the bond between the colonies was physically severed, causing the colonies to become "withered", the meaning of this is unclear.
Before this point, hardly any coherent narrative can be found; whereas after it, a largely singular narrative begins to emerge, in which the multitude of colonies across the planet gradually aggregated using the bridging techniques that the bridge-builder pioneered, finally forming five groups that isolated themselves jealously from each other for a period of four hundred years, with occasional fierce conflicts provoked by territory intrusions.
This national stalemate was broken only through a kind of spiritual epiphany, difficult to translate, from which the gong-an take their present name. This moment of gong-an struck the heart of all five dreaming colonies at once, proving the presence of a subconscious link between them that transcended physical boundaries. Something about the nature of this discovery rendered possible the dissolution of enmities that could not previously be reconciled, and on an artificial island the Wu Xin Cai was united for the first time. This marks the beginning of the calendar used by the weavers, which increments time by the local day, approx. ten months by standard measures.
Subsequent accounts cover the approximate eighteen million years between the Days of Weaving Together and the present time, and together depict several surges of technological advancement, political conflict and negotiation, research, industry, expansion, and constant revision of policies and relationships. Among the tempest of social growth and alteration, the measures the gong-an have taken to endure climate shifts, mass extinction events, and crises of varying kinds appear as suddenly but briefly conducted planet-wide projects, made possible by an almost universal confluence of will. The gestalt of entities that dwell within the Wu Xin Cai today, if the gong-an are to be believed, bear little resemblance to the separate political and cultural bodies they once were, and the fruitful geoculture that tends to the planet is a product of aeons of peaceful cultivation and growth.
About one hundred years ago, the gong-an planet was found by a notail explorer fleet, which set down in the plain now known as Bounty's Landing. For a brief period, contact was cordial; the explorers were curious about the ubiquitous weavers, and queried them intensely. However, in the span of less than a month, the notails decided they had gathered all the information they had any interest in, and took to action. Nyx came to the gong-an. The Neo came to the gong-an.
A brief explanation of their logic may help in understanding the following events. After cataloguing the weaver's settlements and gardens, notail researchers interrogated them and performed a cursory examination of the Wu Xin Cai. Although they observed that it retained many of the tissue properties of the weavers, including the mode of photosynthesis, it did not respond to external stimuli, and exhibited no signs of willful motion.
This examination did not extend far enough below the surface to find the very active and responsive muscular nodules, since researchers assumed that the Wu Xin Cai was an undifferentiated mass of flesh and could not contain complex structures. Curiously, later discovery of these nodules did not alter notail policies or beliefs about the Wu Xin Cai.
In accordance with these findings, the research conclusions ruled the colony inert and comatose--that is to say, dead flesh. To quote the public report: "As of this writing there exists no dependable evidence to substantiate the wild claims of the primitive populace that the microscopic substrate of this planet's soil is in some way conscious and sapient. This report recommends that no further credence be given to their superstitions, or to what vivid and imaginative legends they may invent, as it is clear that our understanding of their planet's ecosystem has in this short time already surpassed theirs in clarity, accuracy, and soundness."
A crucial result of this ruling was that the Wu Xin Cai did not count for population purposes. The total number of weaver gong-an living on the planet at the time was less than ten million. Combined with their apparently low resource consumption, comparative to the bounty their gardens produced, this did not qualify them to possess the planet, despite their joining the species pact. Ownership of the planet, and therefore the right of use of all its land and resources, therefore defaulted by interplanetary law to the notails.
It has been mentioned that the gong-an call their home planet the Home of Sleep. The notails named it Zygote, and this is its formal name. Notail writings also popularised the name by which the gong-an are still known in much of the universe, that is, 'celestelids'; this is regarded by the gong-an as a slur, due to the historical context of its use.
Further notail research in time uncovered a number of other properties of the Wu Xin Cai's tissue--most prominently, its high energy density. The establishment of the notails' first settlement was helped along greatly by this finding: immense slabs of the Wu Xin Cai were cut out and fed into improvised generators, proving to be a very effective solid fuel source and, if properly cleaned, a satisfying and flavourful food. This harvesting process is the primary use to which the notails put the Wu Xin Cai, and has greatly accelerated their expansion across the planet's surface.
No part of a dreaming colony can survive on its own, and these large slabs of flesh quickly begin to rot as their immune system shuts down, emitting a foul odour. This served to affirm the belief that the colony really was composed of dead flesh; notail research remains the most respected source of knowledge about the gong-an, and is the origin of their current reputation as superstitious, unpredictably violent creatures that fetishise corpses.
As the verdant colony is torn from the planet's surface, new towns, factories, power plants, and other structures are set up on the barren rock beneath them. Notail records state that their initial harvesting attempts were met with armed violence from weaver tribes: this is why the settlements are heavily guarded, and tourists are prevented from leaving the premises without a pricey escort. Gong-an accounts do not always categorically deny this, but largely record detailed attempts at dispute and peaceful protest.
Talking points have historically included: that the Wu Xin Cai sustains weavers, bears their buildings and crops, and produces their children, and is therefore necessary for their livelihood; that some of the structures on the surface of the colony must count as buildings and others as historical sites or works of art, which should not be torn down; and that the harvesting of the Wu Xin Cai is unsustainable, and leaves the planet impoverished. Unlike the violent attacks that notails cite to justify their actions, none of these protests have yet caused the notail administration to change its policies or behaviour in the least, and few public actions been even remotely effective at raising awareness beyond the planet's surface.
Displaced and dispossessed weavers continue to be snatched up as cheap labour, necessary to support these rapidly growing settlements, as entertainers for tourists, and as experimental specimens; however, they are not permitted to run businesses or own land there. This is a likely reason why so many weavers seek passage on spacefaring ships, even under conditions that most free workers would find unacceptable. Some of these weavers hope that the resources, friends, or knowledge they acquire while travelling will somehow help them to improve conditions at home. A scant few may seek to join revolutionary causes. Others are only trying to escape increasingly oppressive and hostile conditions in the faint hope that the wider universe offers something better, if horribly temporary. Of these, a few have tried something that has not been done by gong-an in aeons--to go to sleep somewhere on another planet, and found a new dreaming colony.
These attempts face many challenges. A lone gong-an who begins to dream is unlikely to continue to hold ownership of their land, even if they are able to purchase land: because of the influence of notail perspectives on the public, they are generally regarded as legally dead, and even people who were friendly and supportive of them in life will frequently abandon their bodies, or fail to give them the care they require to survive and grow. Small groups of gong-an, where they can find each other, have a slightly better chance, but will generally face protests, complaints, and more violent forms of hostility from those who object to their practices on the grounds of widespread stereotypes and stigma. In addition, a colony composed of only one or two dreaming gong-an is horribly lonely: the isolation is a damaging burden to bear, and young colonies often end up far from healthy, unable to sustain the emotional needs of the weavers who commune with them.
For all these reasons, there is, as of the present time, no surviving dreaming colony except the Wu Xin Cai on the gong-an home planet.
When the notails landed, the Wu Xin Cai covered approximately 85% of the planet's arable landmass. Currently, after about one hundred years of exploitation, about 66% of this landmass remains covered; the rest has been destroyed. The rate at which this harvesting occurs has accelerated as notail industry has expanded across the planet, and official reports from the notail administration of Zygote forecast that harvesting will be complete before another 50 years have passed, speculating that industry will at that point transition to mining, drilling, and other forms of resource acquisition.
Technically, the harvesting of the Wu Xin Cai, the tearing down of weaver structures, and the ongoing desolation of arable land and vital ecosystems are not genocide, since there is no formal proof, that is, none published by an approved notail journal, that the Wu Xin Cai is sapient, and no weavers were directly targeted by these actions. Technically, the widespread poisoning, overworking, and outright killing of weaver labourers in settlements, the targeting of weaver migrants and protestors with biological weapons, and the progressive criminalisation of gong-an life and culture are not genocide, because these are all proportionate responses to reported aggression or uncooperative behaviour on the part of the gong-an.
This encyclopaedia is an apolitical document, and presents only known and verified facts. Regardless of the author's opinion, it does not offer moral judgements or suggest courses of action. With this in mind, it profits one to commit to memory the fact that genocide is not technically taking place on the planet Zygote, which the gong-an call the Home of Sleep.
As a closing note, it may be edifying to consider once again the quote at the top of this page:
"A society in which children are made wise, adults languish, and elders are devoured is thoroughly accursed: it has been forsaken by history and nature, and will never flourish."
While the graffiti artist who wrote this instance of it is unknown, the quote itself is certainly much older: it is widely considered to be the last thing spoken by the mythical bridge-builder, of many names, who first joined the continents, before they fell asleep and the colony which they had joined together as one was cut to pieces.
Communal Dreamer: All weaver gong-an sleep deeply, lucidly, and well, and can commune with their home colony in their dreams. Gong-an weavers can regain sanity and morale whenever they sleep for at least an hour, but cannot gain this bonus more than once a day. If a weaver sleeps for four hours or more, then they gain an additional bonus: upon waking, they appear to guess a challenge or conflict they expect to face and what sort of skill set it requires. If they encounter this challenge before sleeping again, they seem to be much more prepared, as if they have been given a boost to overcome that challenge. If a weaver sleeps for at least eight hours, it seems the boost is even stronger.
• In order to preserve the purpose of this document as purely informational rather than strategic, certain details, particularly ones pertaining to concealment, combat, and survival, have been omitted.
• Bounty's Landing, the original notail landing site on Zygote, is currently the planet's oldest and most populous settlement. Apart from having excellent scenery, the port is probably the best place to go for a captain seeking to pick up workers.
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