The First V.I.R.S.("verse") [CURRENTLY IN PROGRESS]
"Dialogue in italics are thoughts of characters."
"Dialogue in italics and bold are spoken by the Biononymous while wearing the uniforms of their cult, which layers audio effects on their voices such that they cannot be identified by the sound of their speech."
"Dialogue in bold is without an associated character is narrative text or sound effects, not spoken by any character."
STORY and LETTERING
GRAPHIC NOVEL TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 1 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 1 ILLUSTRATOR and COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 1 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 2 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
Miguel Soler Montellano
CHAPTER 2 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 2 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
Kuang-Ting (Emma) Cheng
CHAPTER 3 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 3 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
Miguel Soler Montellano
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 3 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 4 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 4 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 4 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 5 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 5 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 5 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 6 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
Priyanka Das Rajkakati
CHAPTER 6, PAGES 1-8 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 6, PAGES 9-12 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 6 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
CHAPTER 7 TITLE PAGE CONCEPT ARTIST
CHAPTER 7 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM 7 ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
DREAM SEQUENCES ILLUSTRATOR AND COLOURIST
"Real science is as amenable to exciting and engrossing fiction as fake science, and I think it is important to exploit every opportunity to convey scientific ideas in a civilization based upon science but somehow unable to communicate what science is about…I think it is not an exaggeration to say that, if we survive, science fiction will have made a vital contribution to the continuation and benign evolution of our civilization."
–- "Growing Up with Science Fiction", by Carl Sagan, 1978 .
Humans have engaged in storytelling since the beginning of our history as a species, and every culture around the world has at its core a rich collection of stories. To this day, we create and share stories in countless formats.
Stories help us remember and pass on complex information, gain perspective on difficult situations, and expand our capacity for empathy. The wide-spread success of stories as effective tools for good communication, powerful connection, and deep insight lead many to suspect a fundamental connection between storytelling and the evolution and development of human brains [2-24]. Humans are very social beings, and stories demonstrate an incredible power when it comes to coordinating human ideas and actions.
For instance, the Golden Age of Science Fiction (1930s to 1960s)  had an enormous influence on current research programmes and engineering goals. Many adults who currently work on space exploration, robotics, or brain-computer interfaces grew up in a culture fascinated by the fictional stories of authors like Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark. The science fiction genre thus expands the toolkit of storytelling to include simulations of incredible futures, as a way to grapple with the knowledge that there are things we don't even know we don't know, and to imagine how we might face it.
How brains face the unknown and the unexpected has been the core motivation behind my PhD research and the research vision of my advisor, Dr. Adam Kampff. For the last 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with him and the amazing humans of the Intelligent Systems Lab . Together we have developed a diverse range of tools and strategies to study how brains build expectations about how things "should" work (often called our "model of the world"), and how brains adapt when new information or experiences break our expectations.
Studying reactions to the unexpected under traditional laboratory conditions can be quite challenging, given that laboratories were originally intended to be settings where one reduces and simplifies phenomena in order to examine them in greater detail and under tightly controlled conditions. This is not necessarily a useful strategy to apply to the study of how we deal with the unexpected. Communicating our findings can be even more challenging, as our insights often ride the boundary between science and philosophy, and our explanations tend to work best when prefaced with lengthy historical or experiential contextualization.
Given these challenges, my advisor and I realised that our research needs to be communicated with a more compelling format than the conventional academic article - the current tensions and distrust between academic scientists, policy makers, and folks on the street makes that clear. Turns out, we weren’t alone in our way of thinking! Other PhD candidates have taken creative approaches to their thesis or dissertation to make their research more accessible , and there is a growing interest in using and understanding the potential of graphic novels, comics, and other forms of visual narrative "to engage audiences who are currently underserved by other channels of science communication." 
So I threatened to write a graphic novel of my thesis, and Dr. Kampff called my (not quite) bluff.
 Sagan, Carl. "Growing Up with Science Fiction." New York Times Magazine (1978): 24. https://www.nytimes.com/1978/05/28/archives/growing-up-with.html
 Heider, Fritz, and Marianne Simmel. "An experimental study of apparent behavior." The American journal of psychology 57.2 (1944): 243-259.
 Cozolino, Louis, and Susan Sprokay. "Neuroscience and adult learning." The Neuroscience of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 110 81 (2006): 11.
 Gonçalves, Óscar F., et al. "The narrative profile in Williams Syndrome: There is more to storytelling than just telling a story." The British Journal of Development Disabilities 56.111 (2010): 89-109.
 Nigam, Sanjay K. "The storytelling brain." Science and engineering ethics 18.3 (2012): 567-571.
 Brownell, Sara E., Jordan V. Price, and Lawrence Steinman. "Science communication to the general public: why we need to teach undergraduate and graduate students this skill as part of their formal scientific training." Journal of undergraduate neuroscience education 12.1 (2013): E6.
 von Stackelberg, Peter, and Ruth Eira Jones. "Tales of our tomorrows: Transmedia storytelling and communicating about the future." Journal of Futures Studies 18.3 (2014): 57-76.
 Andersen, Mark B., and Andreas Ivarsson. "A methodology of loving kindness: How interpersonal neurobiology, compassion and transference can inform researcher–participant encounters and storytelling." Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health 8.1 (2016): 1-20.
 Aldama, Frederick Luis. "The science of storytelling: Perspectives from cognitive science, neuroscience, and the humanities." (2015): 80-95.
 Zak, Paul J. "Why inspiring stories make us react: The neuroscience of narrative." Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science. Vol. 2015. Dana Foundation, 2015.
 Wright, Robert P., and Jacqueline M. Dziak. "Storytelling as a primary leadership tool." 2016 IEEE Aerospace Conference. IEEE, 2016.
 Curtis, K. E. L. L. Y. "The Neuroscience of Stories and Why our Brains Love Them." (2016).
 Briant, Katherine J., et al. "The power of digital storytelling as a culturally relevant health promotion tool." Health promotion practice 17.6 (2016): 793-801.
 Yuan, Ye. Pictures, Pantomimes, and a Thousand Words: The Neuroscience of Cross-Modal Narrative Communication in Humans. Diss. 2017.
 Friesen, Jan, John T. Van Stan, and Skander Elleuche. "Communicating science through comics: a method." Publications 6.3 (2018): 38.
 Olitsky, Stacy, et al. "Constructing “authentic” science: results from a university/high school collaboration integrating digital storytelling and social networking." Research in Science Education (2018): 1-24.
 Suzuki, Wendy A., et al. "Dialogues: The science and power of storytelling." Journal of Neuroscience 38.44 (2018): 9468-9470.
 Lindahl, Carl. "Dream Some More: Storytelling as Therapy." Folklore 129.3 (2018): 221-236.
 Armstrong, Paul B. "Neuroscience and the Social Powers of Narrative: How Stories Configure Our Brains." English Language and Literature 64.1 (2018): 3-24.
 Beachman, Lisa. Psychological perspectives on narrative and storytelling. Diss. Auckland University of Technology, 2018.
 Yuan, Ye, Judy Major-Girardin, and Steven Brown. "Storytelling is intrinsically mentalistic: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of narrative production across modalities." Journal of cognitive neuroscience 30.9 (2018): 1298-1314.
 Green, Stephanie J., Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, and Heather Mannix. "Uniting science and stories: perspectives on the value of storytelling for communicating science." (2018): 164-173.
 Horváth, Gyöngyvér. "Visual imagination and the narrative image. Parallelisms between art history and neuroscience." cortex 105 (2018): 144-154.
 Terry, Sharon F., and Anne Marie Westreich. "A Role for Storytelling in Improving Consumer Understanding of Genetic Testing." Genetic testing and molecular biomarkers 23.1 (2019): 1-2.
 Farinella, Matteo. "The potential of comics in science communication." Journal of science communication 17.01 (2018): Y01-1.
Table of Contents
They are the Architect and Engineer
who longed for space, longed for space
to hold the Planet dear,
the Architect and Engineer.
Gentle Farmer and First VIRS
who longed for space, longed for space
to see the ends of the Universe,
Gentle Farmer and First VIRS.
-- "The Beginning", by T. Sorriso, 2245 --
From "Heartsongs of the Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars",
Dream 1: Nostalgia
"A long time ago..."
"before the Orbiters lived in the sky,"
"before we hid underground to survive The Burning,"
"we all lived together, on the surface."
"We could all breathe the air,"
"drink the water,"
"feel the sun."
"We were all..."
Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Calm Before the Storm
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'The Space Consortium Fights World Hunger'; Classification: Unclassified."
"In 2040, The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) successfully deployed their first space elevator. Four years later, the ISEC announced successful completion of initial operations for their first “Galactic Harbour”, a transportation infrastructure that would enable a full transition from planetside to low, medium, geostationary, and high Earth orbit. Global enthusiasm for the commercial and industrial value of Galactic Harbours led to the establishment of the Space Consortium (SC), a collection of individuals, organizations, and governments dedicated to scalable, inexpensive, and reliable access to space."
"In 2047, the United Nations awarded the SC a 10-year grant to build orbiting farms in collaboration with the U.N. Green Havens, areas of the world set aside to preserve Earth's agricultural traditions and provide biodiversity sanctuaries. Under this grant, the SC and the Green Havens conducted research into exo- hydroponics (plants useful for space travel) and permaculture in low gravity. Food grown in space was brought planetside via space elevators, now called the Space Ferries, in order to fight the global food shortage. Thus, the SC played a major role in improving the quality of life on Earth before The Global Water Crisis..."
Chapter 1 Cast
PhD thesis: "Cultivating Electrophoretic Mycelium Yeast to fabricate living organic semiconductors"
CEO of Morei Textiles, Codename "Mama Bird"
Bio-materials Scientist, ramen connoisseur, and operatic metal enthusiast
Animal technician, Veterinarian, and SCUBA diving instructor
Laboratory Manager, Marine Ecologist, and avid seabird watcher
Research Assistant, B.Sc. in Nutrition, and cryptocurrency hobbyist
President and Director of Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública
Research Assistant, B.Sc. in Animal Husbandry, and red/white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Research Technician, B.Sc. in Biophysics, and home-brewed beer enthusiast
Developmental Physiologist, Geneticist, and capoeirista
"April 7, 2066: Mae Jemison Memorial Arboretum"
"Orbiter population: 8,063"
"It was a day of hope and wonder."
"The Space Consortium was opening their third space farm, and the news feeds were drowning in videos of the glamorous ribbon-cutting event..."
We see beautiful, important people draped in gorgeously fashionable and unspeakably expensive formal attire, made with synapic thread fabric programmed to fluidly change colours in response to the lights, the music, and their wearers' moods.
"...of the Orbiter home pods that synchronised their velocities with the new arboretum..."
In the viewing port of the Arboretum, we see a huge mass of gathered Orbiter home pods, floating in synchronised orbit next to the Arboretum.
"...and of the tiny, mouth-watering hors d'oeuvres made from succulent crops grown at the two older space farms, in carefully filtered water and pristine soil..."
"...for the world was becoming too dirty, too extreme in its weather, to support industrial planetside farming..."
"...and many people, on this historic day, were starving..."
"São Paulo, Brazil"
We see Majhee walking briskly through the crowded streets of São Paulo. Everyone is wearing what looks like light-weight full-body hazmat suits, flickering a bit as the synaptic thread, or SynTh in the material absorbs dangerous radiation in the air. All hoods are up, breathing masks and googles are on. The air is hazy with smog, the sky a smeared grey-blue, and the mid-morning sun pale. As Majhee passes shops and cafes, the daily news appears in hologram-like projections that occupy the ceilings or hover at standing-head-height. Other humans have tiny projections coming from subdermally implanted chips in their wrists, palms, ears, or foreheads; these projections surround their wrists, palms, ears, or face with a sphere of light, called their "bubble", which either sonify or visualise entertainment, memories, mental models, dreams, news, and scholarly publications.
A lot of the news is about the new space arboretum, but most of the individual bubbles are focused on news about planetside climate disasters:
"...the Colorado River has dried up completely and many are migrating east to escape the severe drought..."
"...aggressive water-borne disease has placed most of northeast India under quarantine..."
"...massive strikes in Port Harcourt today to protest government inaction in the face of skyrocketing air pollution in the Niger Delta..."
"...hundred times more likely to be diagnosed with illnesses caused by sun radiation than even just ten years ago..."
We see Majhee walk past a large research facility, metal and glass architecture dully gleaming in the smoggy light, labeled "Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública".
translation: National Laboratory for Biosciences and Public Health
The front of the research facility is teeming with protesters, who chant "Não sirva aos tiranos em órbita!" and "Educar crianças humanas, não máquinas corporativas!"
"...fifth day of violent demonstrations at the Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública protesting the public research institution's collaboration with the Space Consortium..."
Majhee sneaks into an alleyway to enter the research facility via a back door.
"...who recently announced the first ever patent on a device made with the traditionally open source synaptic thread technology, commonly known as SynTh..."
Inside the research institute, we see a receptionist sitting behind a sealed glass window. Next to him is a decontamination chamber that all must pass thru in order to enter the research facility.
"...the SC's actions have been publicly condemned by many researchers affiliated with the LNBSP..."
LNBSP = Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública
"...including Dr. Suh Majhee, who was the first to cultivate stable thread-worms capable of spinning SynTh..."
Majhee: "Mornin', Paulo!"
Paulo: "Majhee! How's your head?"
Majhee takes off her hood and googles - she is pretty and youthful for her 37 years, if it weren't for the many lines of worry and grim determination on her face. She shakes out her hair, cropped short in a bowl pixie cut. Clearly having many troubling thoughts, she begins taking off her SynTh hazmat suit.
Majhee: "Not great, but I'll live..."
Paulo: "Did you go to the hospital?"
Majhee: "No, it would have taken all night to see a doctor..."
Paulo: "Doesn't the LNBSP give you private health care?"
Majhee: "Yes, but I'm not covered for injuries that occur off the work site...and technically, I was outside the front gates when the oxygen tank hit me."
Paulo: "Seriously?? The SAMU should've just reported it as a worksite injury!"
SAMU = Serviço de Atendimento Móvel de Urgência (Mobile Emergency Attendance Service)
Majhee removes her boots and steps into the decontamination chamber.
Majhee: "Well...everyone's hungry...can't think when you're hungry."
A floating digital page reads the following:
"Open SynTh Exchange"
" 'Applying Tesla’s Theory of Wireless Energy Transmission to SynTh bactoFETs??' "
"Asked 2.5 years ago Active 7 months ago Viewed 40k times"
"It's been over 10 years since body mods replaced smartphones...we should have better wireless charging for SynTh bactoFET components by now! I just finished reading Nikola Tesla: On His Work With Alternating Currents and Their Application to Wireless Telegraphy, Telephony and Transmission of Power, and I see many parallels between Tesla's wireless energy transmission and the 'synchronized SynTh' effect. Would love to discuss further with anyone interested in collaborating." "Keywords: Tesla, synchronicity, textile interactions, replication work" "Posted 11 Aug 2063 at 13:42 by QueenBee42"
Majhee stands in her office, seemingly floating in the center of a giant transparent bacteria made of light. The light model of the bacteria is exquisitely detailed, and a section of the nucleoid is blown up for closer inspection. Majhee's fingers are raised in a well-practiced yet complicated gesture. Her face is darkened with barely contained rage.
Off panel: "...and you shouldn't even be here right now, not after that hit to the head last night! Majhee, could you at least look at me when I'm talking to you??"
We see Marcia Netto, Director of the Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública, in Majhee's doorway, looking exasperated. Majhee sullenly turns from her digital bubble.
Marcia: "My point is... our sponsors are just trying to make the best of our situation right now. I agree, Space Co has changed a lot in the last 12 years...but ending the collaboration now will cripple every lab in the building, including yours. At the end of the day, we need to stay on good terms with Space Co."
Majhee angrily turns off the giant bacteria of light with an impatient gesture as she turns to Marcia, furious.
Majhee: "Sure Marcia, more than those protestors outside need clean air and affordable food?"
Marcia loses her patience.
Marcia: "Majhee, we are just a research institute. How are we supposed to police the largest international corporation on and off the planet??"
Majhee: "Marcia, we work at the biggest research center in Brazil. If we can't stand up to unethical behaviour, who can??"
Marcia: "Majhee, if Space Co can't work with us, they'll just go to some other institute. We don't actually have any leverage."
Majhee looks away miserably.
Majhee: "Well...if the sponsors want me out, fine. I'm not taking back anything I've said against Space Co."
Marcia: "To be honest, they can't seem to decide whether to hate you or love you. You're the youngest scientist in the world with two U.N. grants..."
Majhee, dryly: "Are you saying I have redeeming qualities in the eyes of our prestige- and money-hungry overlords?"
Felix, a scientist in Majhee's lab, appears at the doorway.
Felix: "Hi, sorry to interrupt...can we get Majhee please? Lab meeting was supposed to start an hour ago."
Majhee: "I know, I'm sorry, I'm coming. Marcia, I'll give you a call later."
Majhee, Felix, and other members of Majhee's research group sit or stand in a cluster at one end of their lab benches in an upper floor of the research institute. The wall nearest to them is a floor-to-ceiling window, showing the dusty sky-line of São Paulo. The sun sits in a reddish hazy sky, just past the midday zenith.
The circle of researchers: Felix Grael, a pale but handsome man in his late 20s, raised in Rio de Janeiro by Swedish immigrants who have since returned to Europe, his face lined with fear and sadness, head in hands as his elbows rest on his knees; Kai Oliveira, a much older woman of Japanese-Portuguese descent, grey-haired and hook-nosed, stern-faced and sitting stiffly in her chair; Beatriz Cavalcanti, a tall woman in her 30s, a Brazilian of Italian descent, mouth set in a grim line even as her hands squeeze Felix's shoulders in a motherly, comforting gesture; Breno Leite, a dark, thin man in his early 30s, born and raised in the streets of São Paulo by his young Brazilian single mother, who worked every day of her life before falling ill in order to send her son to university; Nova Jatobá, a young graduate student in her mid-20s, descended from indiginous Brazilians from deeper inland, her plump face lined with exhaustion; Iara Gracie, another young grad student in her mid-20s, who was born into an old Brazilian martial arts family but chose the life of a scientist instead; Vec Barbosa, a portly Brazilian man of West African descent in his 40s, hands resignedly folded over a substantial beer belly, face troubled and sad behind a rather bushy yet neatly-trimmed beard.
Beatriz: "So...it's back?"
Felix, defeated: "Yes...they think it was the liver transplant..."
Beatriz, gently: "Felxi, do you want to go home? We could cover your flight..."
Felix: "Are you sure?"
Vec: "Of course!"
Majhee, to Felix: "And let us know if your father's doctors want access to our tissue database."
Felix: "Thanks...I know my mom will really appreciate having me at home..."
Suddenly Felix screws up his face with anger and frustration.
Felix: "But...Bea, we're so close--"
Beatriz: "Hey, family comes first, and that's ok."
Felix: "But Kai's hands--"
Kai looks down at her lap with hard eyes.
Kai: "I'll manage long enough for you to set up a splicing station in Sweden...but we'll need you to be quick..."
Kai hands Majhee a letter covered in legal jargon.
Kai: "This was in our mail pile this morning..."
Majhee: "From Space Co? '...challenges arising from our pursuit of exclusive patents ... we write to inform you of a forthcoming publication embargo on research concerning SynTh-spliced photon-harvesting biofilms...IN 6 WEEKS'??"
Nova: "I'm convinced they're lurking in the OSE forums."
OSE = Open SynTh Exchange
Kai: "Well, outrunning Space Co to every application of SynTh was never a long-term sustainable plan, Nova..."
Nova: "So what do we do?"
Majhee, angrily: "No more low-hanging fruit. We sprint to finish the biofilm paper...then I say we put everything we've got towards developing the SynTh-hybrid skin idea!"
Nova: "Yes!! Self-cleaning and self-mending fabric, here we come!"
Iara: "But Nova, so far we've only ever managed fabric that changes color and texture...and Breno's confirmed that Space Co's patent on SynTh batteries cuts us out. We need a different source of fuel."
Felix: "Bastards! They would've taken at least another 5 years without us or the OSE!"
Breno: "Lucky for us, 22 failed experiments trying other sources of fuel are already up on the OSE..."
Majhee: "Kai, Vec, Bea? What do you think?"
Kai: "Let's punch these corporate windbags in the teeth! I'll go start the kettle...gonna need lots of tea and ramen for this..."
Vec: "I'll help Nova kick Space Co out of the OSE forums."
Beatriz: "I'll get Felix his flight."
Iara: "Breno and I can start reading the failed experiments. Majhee, wanna join us?"
Majhee quirks an eyebrow.
Majhee: "Sound great, Iara. Everyone...you're all amazing. Thank you for massively improving my terrible week."
We see now the protesters outside, their desperate, hungry faces. They hold signs and wave flags with slogans like "Não sirva aos tiranos em órbita!", "Educar crianças humanas, não máquinas corporativas!", and "Alimentar humanos não foguetes!"
translation: "Do not serve tyrants in orbit!", "Educate human children, not coporate machines!", "Feed humans not rockets!"
Majhee: "Now, 22 failures...that's quite a lot of information..."
"2 months later: Massachusetts, USA"
We see rolling countryside, vibrant with autumn colors, behind a low row of concrete warehouses, labeled "Morei Textiles".
Off-panel, secretary: "Hey Iúna*, the folks from the World Health Organization are here."
Off-panel, Iúna: "Thanks, I'll be with them in a minute."
We see the inside of a warehouse, where long rows of industrial looms weave SynTh textiles. Their combined activity generates a gently deafening "WHIRRRRR". Iúna Morei, a tall shapely American woman of Portuguese descent in her early 30s, lustrous wavy brown hair pulled up into a ponytail, an infant with thick black hair strapped to her front, walks briskly and confidently towards a group of humans waiting near the main entrance of the warehouse.
Iúna smiles and yells as she waves towards her office door, just next to the entrance to the warehouse and labeled "Iúna Morei, CEO".
Iúna: "HELLO! SHALL WE STEP INTO MY OFFICE?"
Iúna: "Thanks for bringing the new protocols from São Paulo."
Dr. Kauffmann: "You know, you'd get these updates a lot faster if you'd just get a body mod..."
Iúna: "Dr. Kauffmann, I must admit that I'm adamantly opposed to body mods and SynTh implants...but I am very grateful that you've taken the time to travel all this way from DC."
Dr. Kauffmann: "It's alright, we were in Boston this morning anyway... besides, I wanted to thank you in person. No one beats your MERV* ratings... I've got your organzas in every window of my house."
MERV= Minimum efficiency reporting value
Iúna: "Just doing what we can. What's happening in Boston?"
Under this dialogue is a view of Iúna's desk. We see sneak peek's of the new splicing and voltage-treatment protocols visualized with light, a floating sphere controlled by a thick piece of SynTh canvas, stretched on a semi-circular frame that, when Iúna stands inside of it, places the canvas at about hip height, easy to reach while standing.
Dr. Kauffmann: "They're prepping for a huge wave of refugees."
Iúna: "Really? From where?"
Dr. Kauffmann: "Los Angeles. A police raid last night turned into a fire that's spread halfway up the coast of California. It's so big it's blowing over the mountains into Arizona..."
Dr. Kauffmann: "Apparently the targets panicked and tried to destroy the evidence...and the suburbs are just filled with plastic furniture, which are basically solid petroleum, and it all just hit a flash point...I'm sorry...do you know anyone over there?"
Iúna: "Yes, I...I'm sorry, I need to make a call...thanks again for bringing over the new protocols."
Dr. Kauffmann: "Of course. We'll see ourselves out."
Under this dialogue we see close-up views of the baby strapped to Iúna's front. The child is a little less than one year old. The strapping is an intricately folded piece of SynTh cloth that can amplify the baby's heartrate, breathing, and digestive sounds.
Iúna: "Haven Tahoe, have you been able to contact Haven Joshua Tree?"
Iúna's Biononymous contact at Green Haven Tahoe: "Negative, Mama Bird."
Iúna: "How is Tahoe?"
Tahoe: "Fire hasn't gotten further than Fresno, but we're getting ready to offer sanctuary."
Iúna: "...was it...Portzy?"
Tahoe: "...no one else had a body mod, Mama Bird..."
Under this dialogue, we see Iúna, who is now outside, and her baby is no longer strapped to her chest. Instead, her face is covered in a thick veil and she wears what looks like a heavy, full-sleeved and full-length apron. SynTh circuits flash within the weave of both Iúna's veil and apron. She stands, facing west, arms flung out wide, back straight and tall, legs apart, boots planted firmly in the frosty grass.
Iúna ponders for a moment, her face furrowed with grief and concentration.
Iúna: "Tahoe, I change my mind. I vote for registering as a religion."
Iúna: "Portzy was right - once schools require head mods for every student, once jobs require body mods in order to apply...people won't have any choice. They'll need body mods just to survive."
Tahoe: "But then how are we any different from the cults??"
Iúna: "We make ourselves different...besides, guess what that group in Brazil published last week??"
Iúna: "SynTh biofilm!!"
Tahoe: "...Sorry Mama Bird, I don't follow. Why should I care about biofilm?"
Iúna: "Remember the mechapet idea? It's possible now!!"
Diagram 1: Major Neural and Glial Cell Types
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2095-007..."
Neuron Classification by Structure
-- Unipolar --
Unipolar neurons have only one "neuronal process" (extension, branch, appendage) extending out of their cell body. Many primary sensory neurons, which are the first step in translating chemicals, light, or vibrations from the outside world into neural signals, are unipolar cells. In addition, unipolar brush cells have been found in the brain and brainstem.
-- Bipolar --
Bipolar neurons have two long processes that extend from the soma (cell body). One process carries info towards the soma (called "dendrite"), and the other carries info away from the soma (called "axon"). Many non-primary sensory neurons, which filter or amplify signals from primary sensory neurons, are bipolar neurons. Bipolar neurons are found in the eye, nose, ear, and spine.
-- Pseudounipolar --
Pseudounipolar neurons are a type of sensory neuron in the peripheral nervous system, whose somas are located within the dorsal root ganglia of the spinal cord. These neurons have a single, long axon that splits into two branches: a "peripheral branch" which goes to the skin, joints, and muscles; and a "central branch" which goes to the spinal cord. Pseudounipolar neurons develop from bipolar neurons.
-- Multipolar --
The soma of multipolar neurons is surrounded by many small, branching dendrites, and one long axon. Multipolar neurons function as motor neurons and interneurons, and they are found mostly in the cortex of the brain, in the spinal cord, and in clusters of neurons (called "ganglia") controlling and sensing the internal organs.
-- Anaxonic --
Anaxonic neurons have many processes extending out from their somas, but no axon can be differentiated from the dendrites purely based on structure. These neurons effect the fidelity, strength, and lifetime of signals from other cells. Anaxonic neurons can influence the electrical excitability of other neurons, and almost all central nervous system neurons born in adulthood seem to be anaxonic; however, these neurons are still very poorly understood. Anaxonic neurons have been found in the brain and special sense organs of vertebrates, and in the central nervous system of invertebrates.
Major Glial Cell Types
A.k.a. "neuroglia" or "glial cells", these cells of the nervous system have four main functions:
- surround neurons and hold them in place
- supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons
- electrically insulate neurons from each other
- destroy germs and remove dead neurons
-- Macroglia of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) --
Schwann cells provide myelin sheaths (which help neurons communicate faster and farther) to neurons in the PNS, eat germs, and clear cellular debris to help PNS neurons regrow.
Satellite cells surround neurons in sensory, sympathetic, and parasympathetic ganglia; are interconnected by gap junctions; and are active when there is inflammation and pain.
-- Macroglia of the Central Nervous System (CNS) --
Astrocytes (or astroglia) are the most abundant macroglia in the CNS. They remove excess potassium ions (K+) from around neurons; link neurons to a blood supply while helping form the blood-brain barrier; recycle chemicals used for communication between cells; and talk to each other using glutamate, GABA, and adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP, a molecule used for energy by all living cells).
Ependymal cells (or ependymocytes) line the spinal cord and the ventricular system of the brain to create the ependyma, a part of the blood-CSF barrier. They are involved in creating, secreting, and circulating cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF).
Oligodendrocytes coat the axons of neurons in the CNS with their cell membranes to form myelin sheaths; a single oligodendrocyte can serve up to 50 axons.
-- Microglia --
Microglia are much smaller than macroglia and can change shape in order to move around the entire nervous system. They multiply when the brain is damaged, and constantly sample their environment in order to direct immune system responses to damage or danger in the nervous system.
Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 2: Where Thunder Goes When It Dies
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'A Beginner's Guide to SynTh: Introduction'; Classification: Unclassified."
"Synaptic Thread, commonly called ‘SynTh’, is spun by the bacterial superorganism Electrophoretic Mycelium Yeast, commonly called ‘thread worms’. When cultured with lactic acid bacteria, thread worms decompose the silicon dioxide found in most sand to produce thread-like mycelium structures (’raw SynTh’). As it is being spun, raw SynTh generates bursts of electrical activity, inducing the fibres of the SynTh to self-assemble into sections that mimic the properties of classical electronic components (resistor, transistor, capacitor, etc). Later, externally generated electrical activity can change the properties of these sections. Thread worms can also spin SynTh of varying ‘grades’, defined by the density of pores in the SynTh’s cell walls. In higher grades, the cell walls have many pores, allowing organelles, nutrients, and ions to flow freely throughout the fibres. These grades of ‘flex-SynTh’ can be reconfigured almost indefinitely; however, they require frequent feedings to maintain. In cheaper grades of SynTh (‘static Synth’), the cell walls have fewer pores, limiting reconfigurability but also reducing sand consumption..."
Chapter 2 Cast
Born in Seoul, Korea
Born in Fortaleza, Brazil
Born in São Paulo, Brazil
Born in Nova Mutum, Brazil
Born in Florianópolis, Brazil
Born in São Paulo, Brazil
Iúna Serrano Morei
Born in Watertown, USA
Head of the Environmental Monitoring Team for the Thermohaline Circulation Observation Collective
Nova's younger brother
Beatriz's husband, father of Nicola and Nerio
Son of Beatriz and Demetrio Cavalcanti
"October 19, 2067: Ushuaia, Argentina"
We see a bustling harbour town, everything about it small and cute except for the occassional warehouse factory or modern high rise office building - these were clearly very recent additions to a place that otherwise hadn't changed very much in many hundreds of years.
"When spinning a personal supply of SynTh, you can easily feed your thread worms by running down to the beach once a week with a soup bowl."
"Industrial SynTh production, however, requires much more silica."
"Sand mining was out of the question...wouldn't do for Space Co to be seen destroying delicate coastal ecosystems or picturesque beachside communities..."
"So they turned to the next biggest source of biogenic silica: deep-sea deposits in the Antarctic."
We see close-ups of the wildlife at Cabo de Hornos with tumultuous ocean and raw, mountainous landscape. Off in the distance, we see a tiny speck on the horizon - a deep-sea silica mining rig. A tiny plume of smoke, looking both innocent and foreboding, curls up from the rig.
"Ocean Acidification Monitoring Station, Havana, Cuba"
Researchers stare in horror at the read-outs of their remote monitoring systems, displayed using a room-sized INFO-SPHERE. A hurricane rages outside. On the info-sphere blinks an ominous, large "6.9", tagged as "pH, Ocean Surface".
Technician: "Dr. Molina! Dr. Molina!"
Dr. Molina, already looking harried, sticks their head into the room.
Dr. Molina is a descendent of Hilda Molina.
Dr. Molina: "What is it?"
Dr. Molina: "My god...the acidity--!"
See the articles "The Science of Abrupt Climate Change: Should we be worried?" and "Future ocean acidification will be amplified by hypoxia in coastal habitats" for more information.
"Thermohaline Circulation Observation Centre, Orkney Islands"
UN rep: "Dr. Fischman, are you saying the slow down isn't reversible?"
Another UN rep: **"And if ocean currents stop entirely, the UK and northern Europe will freeze??"
Dr. Fischmann: "I said it may not be reversible, and yes...we will freeze. See this video of the Greenland Ice Sheet 15 years ago, just 8 months after members of the Paris Agreement first switched to marine currents for electricity."
A room-sized INFO-SPHERE creates photonic representations of several government leaders around the world. Dr. Fischmann, a tall, hook-nosed woman with incredibly built thighs walks through a 3-dimensional video recording of rivers and waterfalls pouring off of a glacier into the fjords surrounding it. Overlayed with light are labels with meta data and more in-depth treatments of certain phenomena being shown in the video, appearing when one of the photonic representations of government leaders move their gaze over that part of the video.
The meta-data (see "Chapter 3" on the right of the page):
- global sea surface temperatures have increased to 1.7 deg C above pre-industrial era temperatures
- sea levels have risen 0.64 meters since 2020
- average temperature on the hottest day of the year has increased to 2.2 deg C above pre-industrial era temperatures
- average temperature on the coldest night of the year has increased to 7.7 deg C above pre-industrial era temperatures
note: biggest usage of coal right now is currently for fuel, only 20% is for electricity- did the world switch to renewables in time?
The videos switch to another view of the same glacier, now noticeably reduced, but a slightly different coastline. The glacier doesn't seem to be melting anymore, and enormous, thick chunks of drift ice clog up the sea like a traffic jam.
Dr. Fischmann: "This is what it looks like today. All of the glacier melt is extending the West Ice further south than ever before..."
Now the meta data shows:
- Gulf Stream has slowed by 65% since the late 1950s
- Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has been declining at an average rate of 0.9 Sverdrup (a million cubic meters per second, the standard unit for ocean circulation) per year since 2004.
- useful image: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/348/6241/1255575/F1.large.jpg?width=800&height=600&carousel=1
Dr. Fischmann: "We believe this greater incidence of pack ice is blocking major currents that run through the Denmark Strait."
Gov official: "So then, we need to clear the ice?"
Dr. Fischmann: "We need to stop the sea turbines immediately. Our original predictions about their impact on the marine ecosystem have turned out to be rather optimistic..."
(cite this article and the wikipedia page on thermohaline circulation)
"São Paulo, Brazil"
The orderly protest crowds in front of the Laboratório Nacional de Biociências e Saúde Pública are gone, replaced by utter chaos. Everyone on the street is now wearing industrial filter respirators and knee-length rubber water boots - the streets are ankle-deep in polluted, acidic ocean water. Rain, highly dosed with nitric acid, pours from the sky. We see Majhee, fully dressed in protective gear and a breathing mask, weave her way through a crowd and rush into the front door of the research institute.
"6 months ago, when NO2 poisoning landed half of the city in hospitals, Felix's father died..."
"...3 months ago, when the shops began to open only once a week, Breno moved with his mother back to her hometown, just north of Brasilia..."
"...and 53 days ago, hours after the birth our first mouse spliced with raw SynTh, Iara's body was found on a rooftop in Centro..."
Kai, Beatriz, Nova, and Vec are in the same area where they were having a lab meeting, last we saw them - now they are frantically packing lab equipment and SynTh cultures, and copying research notes then deleting/shredding/destroying them. Off to one side is an unfamiliar older man and a teenaged boy keeping two very young children out of the fray. The teenaged boy looks related to Nova. The two young children look related to the unfamiliar older man and Beatriz, one looking about 6 and the other looking about 3. The little one has short hair, tied into a puffy short ponytail at the very top of her head; the older one has long straight hair that just brushes his shoulders; they both stare at the frantic activity with wide eyes.
Majhee: "We need to finish packing now."
Vec pulls aside Majhee and gestures towards a post-operation chamber with a lab rat inside. Vec looks incredibly troubled.
Vec: "Majhee, what do we with Amelia??"
Majhee: "What's her condition?"
Vec: "No grand mal today. She's got a light fever, and she hasn't moved much at all, but her heart is racing..."
Majhee places a hand on Vec's shoulder.
Majhee: "Shit...just like the others..."
Vec: "The Synth is still too aggressive, it's obliterating their gut flora..."
Vec looks emotionally wrecked.
Vec: "I'm sorry...but I don't think I can keep her alive much longer."
Majhee stares at the pouring rain outside, the streets below awash with sea water, lost belongings, and garbage. People with insufficient protection from the nitric acid heavy rain are screaming and bleeding. After a long silence, Majhee speaks softly.
Majhee: "Even if you could... how do we transport a epileptic transgenic rat through acid rain and flood?"
Majhee: "Give her 3 milliliters of Sodium Pentobarbital, and send all of our data to Sweden. Felix will have more time."
Majhee turns back to the rest of the room and greets the older man with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He gives Majhee a tired smile.
Majhee: "Glad you're here, Demetrio, how are you?"
Demetrio: "As well as one can be, given the situation."
Majhee hugs the teenaged boy.
Majhee: "And Amana, you alright?"
Amana looks terrified, and nearly crying from the effort of keeping his cool in front of the smaller children.
Amana: "Dr. Suh, where are we going?"
Majhee squats to be eye level with the two little children, and gathers them and Amana around her. Demetrio crouches behind the two little ones and places a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. Majhee smiles extra brightly at the little girl.
Majhee: "So! Nicola, Nerio, we are going walk very far, to a mountain with a flat top, like a table! But, on the way, the rain is lava, and the air is lava, so we need to keep the lava off of our skins, no matter what. Do you understand?"
Nicola squeels and smiles shyly, raising her arms and hiding her face in her father's knee. Nerio nods somber-faced, one hand on his father's other knee.
Majhee shifts her attention to Amana.
Majhee: "Amana, do you remember our last lab retreat, when we went SCUBA diving? You're gonna help me bring the wetsuits up here."
"On August 12, 2067, safety valves on the Space Consortium's deep-sea silica harvesting rig in the Antarctic failed to activate, spewing partially distilled volcanic fumes into the southern ocean currents. The disaster belched a cloud of hydrogen flouride into the West Wind Drift, mixing the highly corrosive gas with an already damaged atmosphere, and lowering the pH of an already acidic ocean."
In volcanic fumes, silicon tetrafluoride forms hexafluorosilicic acid, which can further hydrolyze to hydroflouric acid.
"The accident killed 32 people and sank the harvesting rig into the sea. The SC hesitated to publicly disclose the incident for a whole week, as highly volatile chemicals belched unchecked into the Antarctic Convergence."
"10 days later, an earthquake of magnitude 9.2 erupted just off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Both sides of the Pacific Ocean were devastated by the tsunamis that followed. At least 32,000 humans died, another 60,000 were injured, and millions more around the world were left without electricity, drinking water, sewer service, or health-care facilities."
"News of the disaster triggered panic. People fled underground, trying to hide from the poisonous gas and acid rain sweeping across the globe in large and increasingly frequent cyclones."
Over a backdrop of the "Earth as a marble in space" image, showing intense cyclonic activity, we see:
- Majhee leading her research team as they get their first glimpse of the Mato Grasso Plateau, all of them completely covered in neoprene and goggles and breathing masks and rubber boots.
- Iúna and her son João queue in line to beg asylum in caves in Vermont to escape the poisonous atmosphere. They are both well covered in Iúna's best SynTh textiles. Other people aren't so lucky.
"Amid the chaos, the more privileged planetside humans fled into orbit."
A huge crowd of desperate people try to shove themselves onto four enormous Space Ferries attached to the same elevator cable, but it's clear that even these behemoth vessels will not fit everyone in the launch station. The Space Ferry launch station staff try to maintain order but everyone is in a hysterical panic. Three of the Space Ferries have already closed their doors, their energy cells glowing as they prepare to climb up the SynTh-spun elevator cable.
There are nearly 10 additional empty launch tracks but they are all empty.
Person in the crowd: "Why aren't the other ferries coming back???"
The last Space Ferry begins to close its doors. People totally lose their shit.
PA: "Please step away from the safety barrier! Please STEP AWAY from the safety barrier!!"
"Afraid to take on more refugees, the SC shut down the Space Ferry service, 'until further notice'."
"That 'further notice' came 18 years later, when the Orbiters returned to Earth to declare themselves, 'The World Government'."
Diagram 2: Chemical Synapses and Electrical Potentials
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2095-007..."
A chemical synapse forms when the membranes of two cells come very close to each other without touching. At a synapse, neurons can very precisely exchange chemicals called neurotransmitters with each other and with glial, muscle, or gland cells. A synapse includes a pre-synaptic membrane, the tiny gap between the membranes ("synaptic cleft"), a post-synaptic membrane, and the surrounding astrocytes. The interaction of chemicals with cell membranes can trigger electrical activity.
Electrical activity occurs in cells when charged particles called ions move back and forth across the membrane. When the collective charge of these particles is more positive or more negative on one side of the cell membrane, this cell has generated an electrical potential. Nervous system cells can experience three kinds of electrical potentials: the Resting Potential, Graded Potentials, and Action Potentials.
Nearly all cells in animals, plants, and fungi maintain an electrical state called the Resting Potential, when the inside of the cell is more negative (between 40 to 80 millivolts more) than the outside. Nervous system cells maintain this state by using sodium-potassium pumps in the cell membrane to push 3 sodium ions (Na+) out of the cell and 2 potassium ions (K+) in to the cell for the cost of 1 molecule of Adenosine Tri-phosphate (ATP). This creates an “electricochemical gradient”, as ions always try to spread out when they are around too many of their own kind.
Electrically excitable cells (i.e. neural, glial, muscle, and gland cells) generate Graded Potentials when chemicals interact with their membranes. During graded potentials, ions typically cross the membrane using ligand-gated ion channels (a.k.a. "ionotropic receptors"), holes in the membrane that open when a chemical attaches itself to the hole and acts like a "key" that "unlocks" the hole. Even very small amounts of chemicals can trigger graded potentials, which make the inside of the cell slightly (between 1 to 15 millivolts) more positive or negative depending on exactly how many and what kind of ion channels are opened.
Different kinds of graded potentials can start, stop, or change a cell's release of chemicals. Graded potentials are mostly used by neurons in sensory organs ("receptor potentials") and by neurons that make very short distance connections within regions of the brain. Some organisms, like the worm species Caenorhabditis elegans, use only graded potentials.
Other organisms, including some plants, evolved to also use Action Potentials ("nerve impulse", "spike", or "when a neuron fires"). When the flow of ions across a bit of the cell membrane makes the inside of the cell much more (at least 15 to 25 millivolts more) positive than the resting potential, voltage-gated ion channels (membrane holes that open based on the local electrical potential) open to let a rapid rush of first Na+ into the cell (”influx”), then K+ out of the cell (”efflux”). This fast and large movement of ions across one area of the membrane also opens voltage-gated ion channels in nearby areas, triggering a traveling wave of action potentials across a long section of membrane. This makes action potentials essential for cells to communicate quickly over long distances (i.e. between regions of the brain or between peripheral neural circuits and the brain).
Unlike graded potentials, action potentials are only triggered once the inside of the cell is positive enough to open the voltage-gated ion channels (called "reaching the threshold potential"), always happen in more or less the same way, regardless of variations in the chemical signal that triggered them "all-or-none".
Both graded and action potentials can trigger the reseale of chemicals at the synapse by opening voltage-gated calcium channels in the pre-synaptic membrane, letting a ton of calcium ions (Ca2+) into the cell. The increased Ca2+ levels activate vesicles (tiny bags containing neurotransmitters**), which can transfer their chemical insides to the next cell in two ways. Some vesicles travel intact across the synaptic cleft, fuse to the post-synaptic membrane, and release their chemicals directly inside the next cell. Alternatively, vesicles can fuse to the pre-synaptic membrane and release chemicals into the synaptic cleft ("exocytosis"), which then bind to the post-synaptic membrane and trigger actions by that cell. The pre-synaptic membrane then collects the chemicals back into a vesicle ("endocytosis"); or, astrocytes collect chemicals from the synaptic cleft and eventually feed them back to neurons.
Back to Table of Contents
Jackets in June
just ain't my kind o' tune
for a plump summer.
the heat that it make,
decimate, glutton's pace,
bake and eat our cake
don't wanna wait,
won't be long 'til we're gone,
so be merry with the fates.
They itch for your blood,
they will make it flood
into cold coffers.
ensnares our minds,
you're inclined to be blind,
turn the other cheek
can't handle the weight
won't be long 'til it's gone,
now we're wedded to our fate.
to look beyond the haze
of money-makin' plays,
they eat the atmosphere,
don't know how to yield.
by the race to be a
they only keep us to bleed us
and feed their machine of
-- "Jackets in June", by T. Sorriso, 2245 --
From "Heartsongs of the Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars",
Back to Table of Contents
The Story, Part 2
Chapter 3: A Fearful Trill of Things Unknown but Longed for Still
Character designs: Asoka Morei, Iri, Eireena McLeland, Serena Ramirez
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'A Beginner's Guide to SynTh: Stitching with Synaptic Thread'; Classification: Unclassified."
"Using processes derived from artificial cell-fibre engineering techniques, SynTh can be molecularly 'stitched' to various inorganic substrates (such as metals, ceramics, glass, and plastic) in order to give them flexible electro-chemical properties. Organic substrates, such as textiles (woven from wool, cotton, hemp, flax) and paper, can also be stitched with SynTh."
"Thanks to the variety of SynTh grades, substrates stitched with SynTh (called 'hybrid materials') can display a range of environmental reactivity. Hybrid materials stitched with low grade SynTh act as 'set' hardware after initial configuration, able to run multiple software programson a fixed physical structure. These hybrid materials must be 'un-stitched' and then 're-stitched' in order to change their hardware configuration. Hybrid materials stitched with higher grade SynTh can be 'voltage-treated' (similar to field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) or field programmable analog arrays (FPAAs)) in order to adjust their 'flexible' hardware based on external conditions and context-dependent needs."
"In theory, the 'hardware flexibility index' (HFI) of hybrid materials can be extended even further. Substrates could be stitched with grades of SynTh flexible enough to allow the hybrid material to dynamically self-modify hardware configurations in response to external conditions and context-dependent needs. The exact choice of substrate and initial configuration constrain the space of possible modifications, but within those constraints, the hybrid material structure could react to the environment in a fully autonomous way, leading to what some might call 'autonomous morphing behaviour'..."
note: THIS LEADS TO THE ETHICAL CONUNDRUM, which the Orbiters are approaching with their bots as tools, keeping the Werewolves not intelligent enough to be autonomous; the Biononymous are creating symbiotes with the mechapets, but need to hold very strictly to a moral code that always associates mechapets to a human. BUT, if the Orbiters get a hold of the Biononymous tech, will they have the same scruples?
4 jagged panels. 1st POV of running, terrified, through a harsh and rocky landscape. Flash of memory: enormous fangs; cold, blood-red eyes. A farming village in ruins, fires consuming the large interconnected home structures and surrounding greenhouses. Dead bodies, mangled by the monstrous wolf-like creatures that are the size of a small elephant.
Asoka trips, falling face veil down in the dirt. Their mechapet, a synthetic creature made to look like a cuttlefish and brought alive using SynTh technology, chitters frantically from where it is wrapped around Asoka's neck, sheet-white with fear. Asoka's clothes are drenched in fear sweat, gloves muddy, face veil reflecting a face of terror and horror. Everything is covered in dust and dirt.
We see Asoka clench their fist, then throw up their head, struggle to stand, eyes wide with shock and fear.
"Earlier that morning..."
"June 7, 2116: Green Haven Howes, North America"
We see a fist holding a bunch of wheat straws, and another hand reaching for a straw. Children chant a game song:
"Spin the needle, spin the thread, keep the sunlight off your head,
wind will sting and water burns, everybody takes a turn!"
We see a group of children, covered head to toe is protective cloth, playing in the shadows of a small grove of trees, all wearing the compulsory clothing of their cult: a simple sleeveless shirt tucked into baggy trousers in the style of shalwar kameez; a light long sleeve jacket, loose and fastening up the front, covered in a variety of simple geometric embroidery patterns, sleeves cinched at the wrists; gloves tucked into the sleeves; head veil with identical cartoon schematics of a face embroidered onto each with synaptic thread; boots, with the trousers tucked in. Each child also has an SynTh mechapet curled around their arms, legs, necks; sitting on heads, shoulders; or eagerly following their heels. Some of the children have straws of varying lengths in their hands. One child, smaller than the rest of the other children, a mechapet shaped like an American Crow sitting on their shoulder, is holding a very short straw, and the face on their head veil is a definite pout. In the valley below, we see the hive-like bio-domes of the Haven.
Pippa, the smallest child in the group: "Aw, seriously? But I already did the orchards this week!"
Biononymous child holding the fist of straws: "Werewolves take you, how can you complain about being outside?"
Pippa: "But it's not fair, Io!"
Io: "Pippa, who told you life's fair??"
We see tiny gloved hands try to shove the short straw back into an only slightly larger fist of straws.
Pippa: "Take it back, let me pick again!"
A taller, lankier Biononymous child, a cuttlefish mechapet curled around their neck, steps in between them and calmly separates them.
Asoka: "Wait! Hey Pippa...if you help me with the orchards, I'll tell you how 'Majhee's Exodus' ends!"
Io, exasperated: *"Ugh, kids these days are so ungrateful--"
Asoka: "Oh hush, Io...you were barely two when Confinement ended..."
Asoka and Pippa effortfully roll two large plastic barrels on a grassy path up a steep, terraced hill, towards a long row of tall greenhouses. The barrels are heavy with water and the two children lean their whole bodies into the endeavor. The mechapets hold large woven shade-fans over the children's heads.
Asoka: "...and after almost a year of searching (watch out, rock), they finally found it...the Rio Hamza, the legendary (uff!) underground sister of the Rio Amazonas! The water was salty, but it was clean, and it didn’t burn--"
Pippa: "But (wheeze!) Soka (grunt!), how could they tell?"
Asoka: "You know the special thread (almost there!) that makes our surface clothes, the kind made by (ungh!) thread worms?"
Pippa: "You mean SynTh? I thought (mmff!) we're the only ones (hhu! hhu!) allowed to make SynTh..."
At the top of the path, slightly above the row of greenhouses, is a row of spigots with hose attachments. Asoka carefully places their barrel against a rusted metal barrel holder.
Asoka: "Vovó Iúna was forced to make SynTh a Biononymous secret, because if she didn't, the World Government would've taken the Havens away from us. But back before the Burning, Majhee was the first person to figure out how to grow thread worms, and she shared her recipes with everyone, for free!"
Pippa crouches in front of the barrel and struggles with the hose attachments.
Pippa: "Why would Majhee give away SynTh recipes for free? She could've traded for coffee, or a whole year of rides on the Space Ferries..."
Asoka gives Pippa a wink.
Asoka: "Maybe she saved secret recipes for people willing to push water barrels up to her orchards."
Pippa: "Didn't you tell me that before the Burning, people got water pumped directly to their plants in pipes?"
Asoka: "That's what Vovó tells me..."
Pippa: "And is it true that the pipes were also connected to chairs full of fish that would eat your poo??"
Asoka: "Ha, what?? Who told you that?"
Asoka: "Pippaaaa, I'm serious, don't listen to Io..."
The two children watch the water flow through the gravity-powered aquaduct system, gently scattering moisture onto the plants inside the greenhouse.
Pippa: "Soka...were you alive during Confinement?"
Asoka: "Technically yes? I was five when it ended."
Pippa: "What was it like?"
Asoka: "I guess it wasn't super different from now, except, even if you had the right gear you weren't allowed to leave the caves. I remember when Confinement ended...I could hear a lot of laughing and shouting, and then my dad ran into my room and started dressing me in new clothes...he was crying...later I realised those were my first surface clothes...and then we were outside. People kept falling over, and Vovó said it was because they'd been underground for so long, they weren't used to being out in the open."
Pippa: "Were you scared?"
Asoka smiles nostalgically.
Asoka: "No...we got in a line: me in front, then my mom, then dad, then Vovó, and we all held each other while we tried to name the stars, and none of us down."
Pippa: "You were out at night?? What about the werewolves??"
Asoka: "Pippa, I promise, werewolves aren't real."
Pippa, unconvinced: "How do you know? Io says werewolves were killing people at night, so the World Government made us stay underground while they set traps and drove all the werewolves into the Red Zone! But Io says that was stupid, because we can't go to the Red Zone and check if the werewolves all died, so they might come back..."
Asoka: "Ha! After I make Journeyhume next week, I'll go to the Red Zone and prove that there are no werewolves!"
Pippa: "But how? No one has surface clothes that can protect you in the Red Zone."
Asoka: "Then I'll make better surface clothes!"
Iri and Manut play, as Asoka turns towards a delicious smell floating up the valley towards them.
Asoka: "Ooo, smell that? They're making cinnamon rolls today..."
Pippa ignores Asoka, a serious look on their small face.
Pippa: "But if werewolves aren't real, then why did the World Government keep Earthers underground for so long? Do orbiters really hate us that much?"
Asoka: "Well, I'm sure not all Orbiters hate Earthers..."
Pippa: "Then why do they make life so difficult? It's not fair. Orbiters are selfish and mean."
Pippa: "I hate Orbiters..."
Asoka: "Aw, they don't have it that much better than we do. We have free water and air, and we have a big sky and trees to climb, hills to run all over...personally, I would hate living in an Orbiter pod..."
Pippa looks glum as the mechapets come over to comfort them.
Pippa: "Yeah, I guess so..."
Asoka smiles kindly and crouches to be face level with Pippa.
Asoka: "Tell ya what. I'll finish up here if you go save me a cinnamon roll for later."
Pippa beams with joy and gratitude.
Pippa: "Really? Okay!"
Pippa runs off, crow mechapet flying overhead.
Asoka takes a deep breath, hands resolutely on their hips.
Asoka: "Alright. Iri, my love...let's see what our plants need today..."
Panels show Asoka and Iri weeding the plants in the greenhouse. Have some nice botany spreads of future plants that have been genetically engineered to deal with a heavy NO2, CO2, and CH4 (Methane) content. The plants need to have ways of reducing their overgrowth thanks to the abundance of CO2 and they need to still sequester enough nutrients for them to be worth growing and eating. What do the 3 sisters (beans, corn, squash) need to change in order to still be a great trio?
As they work, Asoka mutters the next verse of the song from earlier.
Asoka: "Spin the needle, spin the thread, catch the sunlight, make it bread...plant the seed and sand the worms, everybody takes a turn!"
Asoka: "Well, that should do it for today!"
Asoka wipes their brow. Suddenly, they sniff suspiciously.
Asoka: "Huh, does something smell funny to you...?"
Suddenly Iri shrieks and goes completely white.
Iri begins loudly broadcasting in the generic synthetic voices used by the Biononymous outside the privacy of their home structures.
Iri: "THIS IS AN EMERGENCY BROADCAST FROM GREEN HAVEN HOWES, WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!"
Iri collapses into a grey puddle as Asoka rushes over, face veil revealing their terror.
Asoka scoops up Iri and begins running down the valley.
Iri: "GREEN HAVEN HOWES IS UNDER ATTA--"
Iri suddenly re-animates and broadcasts another voice not its own.
Iri: "Soka?? can you hear me?? Are you at the orchards??"
Asoka clutches Iri to their chest, aghast as they look down the mountainside with terrified eyes at the sight of enormous furred beasts, moving impossibly fast, tearing through their village...
Asoka: "Dad?! What's happening?? You're clear-casting??"
Iri/João (Asoka's Dad): "Run to the next Haven, don't come back! Can you hear me Soka?? RUN TO THE NEXT HAVEN!! RUN!!"
"Green Haven Clarksville, North America"
It's night. A village with a central housing structure identical to Asoka's home village, also surrounded by greenhouses, sleeps tranquilly amongst rolling hills and a soft, nearly full moon. A faint orange glow is visible in one corner of the central housing structure.
Serena, off-panel: "I'm sorry Asoka, did you say...werewolves??"
Inside, Asoka is kneeling, head bowed. They are wearing clean trousers and sleeveless shirt, but their feet, hands, and head are bare. Asoka's long reddish hair is tied back in a loose ponytail, and Asoka hugs Iri, who is cuddled up to Asoka in their lap. Before Asoka is a large steaming mug of hot tea, but Asoka hasn't touched it. Tears run down their face, past an upper lip that shows just the tiniest hints of fuzzy hair.
We see Eireena McLeland, High Priestess of the Biononymous and leader of this Green Haven, a tiny woman, silver haired, wrinkled face showing deep sorrow, sitting on a floor cushion and wearing an elaborately embroidered jacket. On either side of her sit two other adult Biononymous: a man and a woman, somewhat younger than Eireena. The man looks at Asoka, his dark face sad but gaining a gleam of curiosity and fascination when he shifts his gaze to Iri. The woman's face, half-hidden behind long, thick, gently curling dark hair, is one of calm contemplation.
They are all sitting inside a warmly lit room with a shrine centered along one wall. All of the walls are covered in tapestries, made with the finest of the Biononymous' textile and embroidery. The shrine is a figure dressed in the religious clothing of the Biononymous, legs folded into a lotus and one hand raised, akin to the Buddha, but instead of holding the palm forward, the wrist is bent and the palm is cupped, just enough to hold a bit of soil and a tiny seedling, just beginning to sprout. In front of the seated figure is a large black bird, carved out of wood and delicately painted, with long legs and a horn-like feather sticking out of its forehead -- a horned screamer, Anhima cornuta. The figurine is surrounded by non-combusting SynTh candles and scent-only SynTh incense, and mid-summer blossoms.
Asoka: "I knew you wouldn't believe me..."
The woman with dark curling hair, still lost in deep thought: "Oh, we believe you. Myself and other Guardians have also seen large wolf-like things...but only brief glimpses of creatures sulking in the woods...Fili's been collecting the reports."
The man: "But Serena, this is the first time I've heard of them attacking a Haven, or moving in such large groups..."
Eireena, to Asoka: "You've been very brave, my dear. Thank you for coming here, and sharing your story."
The fabric flap to this room opens, and another Biononymous adult enters, breathless.
Biononymous man: "High Priestess!"
Eireena: "Charlie? What's wrong?"
Charlie: "Apologies for the interruption, but World Government Peacekeepers have just arrived. They request an audience with you and the Captain of the Guardians immediately."
Serena, raises an eyebrow. Her eye has a hard glint.
Serena: "Immediately? This late at night? ...Interesting timing."
Eireena: "Charlie, please let the Peacekeepers know Serena and I will be with them shortly."
Charlie bows and exits. Eireena stands and looks down at Asoka, who is still kneeling with their head down, unable to look up or stand, tears streaming down their face.
Eireena puts on her face veil.
Eireena: "Fili, please set up a bed for Asoka in the infirmary. They are under our protection, and have sanctuary with us. I would also appreciate a review of your notes on these wolf-creatures in the morning."
Fili bows: "Yes, High Priestess."
It is the next morning. Asoka sits on the edge of their bed in the infirmary, a thick, sturdy floor mattress in the style of Japanese shikibutons, on top of a floor made of tiled tatamis. Asoka's bare feet are on the tatami, knees bent up under their folded arms, in which they rest their head. Their eyes are tired and puffy. Iri tenderly combs Asoka's hair with its arms as it cuddles in the space between Asoka's knees and chest. Fili pushes back the door tapestry to Asoka's room, carrying a tray of food. Fili is also barefoot and without his face veil or jacket.
Fili: "Hello. Did you sleep at all?"
Asoka, without looking up, straightens their back and lowers their knees into a cross-legged sitting position. They look too dejected to talk. Iri timidly peers at Fili from around Asoka's arms, which still hold Iri close.
Fili sets down the tray and sits across from Asoka, whose eyes have started to leak tears again. Fili looks at Asoka sadly, then gives a little smile.
Fili: "Raspberries? I picked them just this morning. And roasted kale and broccoli in a spinach wrap -- my speciality!"
Asoka doesn't react. Fili tries again.
Fili: "I was told to feed you plenty of protein...we're pretty far from your Haven, and you must have run the whole way..."
Asoka still shows no reaction. Fili's smile drops and he looks down.
Fili: "...even if you don't feel hungry, you should eat something..."
Asoka finally looks at Fili.
Asoka: "If you all already knew about the werewolves...why didn't you warn us?"
Still staring at Fili, now almost accusingly, Asoka reaches for a raspberry.
Fili: "I...I'm sorry...we didn't--"
Eireena enters with Serena.
Eireena: "Until you came to us last night, we weren't sure ourselves whether these creatures were real."
Fili hurriedly stands and bows.
Fili: "High Priestess!"
Asoka: "But you said you had reports--!"
Distressed, Asoka tries to also stand, but in the process knocks over the raspberries. At the same time, Asoka's stomach lets out an enormous growling noise. Asoka looks mortified. Asoka rushes to pick up the scattered raspberries. Eireena holds up a hand to stop Asoka and smiles wryly as Serena calmly gathers the rest of the raspberries, which mostly scattered in her direction anyway.
Eireena: "Once you've filled your belly with some food, I'll explain."
Serena returns the raspberries to their bowl. Asoka sits on their bed futon, obediently shoving a raspberry into their mouth, while Serena and Eireena settle onto floor cushions.
Eireena: "It's alright. Yesterday was a tragedy, and we owe you some explanations. It's true that we've seen the creatures you call werewolves, but never clearly, never in large groups, and certainly never within a Haven. What happened to Haven Howes is both terrible and new."
Asoka: "But then...how come we have so many stories about werewolves?"
Eireena: "Stories have a funny way of carrying truth in a basket full of convenient distractions...even though many Biononymous are convinced that stories of werewolves were rumours meant to scare Earthers into staying underground during Confinement...now we dress up those rumours and tell them to our children to keep them from wandering too far..."
Asoka: "So it's all just stories? Then why are you collecting reports on them?"
A panel of flashback: the salivating fangs, the terribly cold eyes, a sense of impossibly fast movement for something so large.
Serena: "At first we didn't. Even Guardians joked about it, made fun of anyone who claimed to see one...how could there be huge carnivores roaming a land with nothing for them to hunt, where there are barely enough insects and birds to pollinate the plants? But around year five of Confinement, we had a strange visitor, who claimed she'd been living on the surface...she was terrified, and begged for sanctuary...when we asked her why she was so afraid, she told us she was being hunted by werewolves controlled by the World Government. It sounded completely ridiculous, but the next morning, Peacekeepers showed up and tried to force their way into the Haven to search for 'a dangerous criminal'. By the time we got rid of them, the woman was also gone..."
Asoka: "Wait...are you saying...werewolves are controlled by the World Government??"
Serena: "We're not sure yet. Would you like to help us find out?"
Diagram 3: Major Neurotransmitters
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2097-011..."
-- What is a Neurotransmitter? --
A neurotransmitter is any chemical that is created and released by a nervous system cell, and which acts as a chemical messenger between a nervous system cell and another nervous system cell, muscle cell, or gland cell. When a chemical messenger is released in a synapse (places where the membranes of nervous system cells get very close to each other, allowing cells to very specifically and quickly target other cells), it has historically been labeled as a "neurotransmitter". When a chemical messenger is released into extracellular space that is not a synapse, where the targeting is less specific and reactions are much slower, these chemicals have historically been labeled as "neuromodulators". Some chemical messengers act as both neurotransmitters and neuromodulators.
-- Which Neurotransmitters are most often used, and Where --
Central Nervous System: Glutamate (excitatory), GABA (inhibitory)
Peripheral Nervous System, Somatic: Acetylcholine
Peripheral Nervous System, Autonomic: Acetylcholine, Norepinephrine, Epinephrine, Dopamine
Enteric Nervous System: Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Seratonin (often abbreviated as 5-HT)
A single neuron can release multiple neurotransmitters. Once released, neurotransmitters can act on the post-synaptic cell in different ways defending on the post-synaptic cell's receptors. Neurotransmitter receptors can be categorized into 2 broad categories: Ionotropic and Metabotrophic
Ionotropic receptors are protein structures in the cell membrane that form an ion channel pore, or a hole through which ions can cross the membrane. When a neurotransmitter binds to this receptor, it opens to allow ions such as sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), and/or chloride (Cl-) to enter or leave the cell. This movement of ions cause graded potentials that either
- depolarizes the cell, causing an excitatory response that makes it more likely that the cell will fire an action potential; or
- hyperpolarizes the cell, causing an inhibitory response that makes it less likely to fire an action potential.
Ionotropic receptors are involved in signals between cells that require quick responses, as they open and shut quickly (on the order of milliseconds).
Instead of creating an ion channel in the cell membrane, metabotrophic receptors, when activated, trigger the cell to generate intracellular signalling molecules called "second messengers" (the chemicals that activate the receptors from outside the cell are called the "first messengers").
Metabotrophic receptors take much longer to open that ionotropic receptors, and they also stay open much longer, on the order of seconds to minutes.
Back to Table of Contents
We don't need
the robots to feel for us,
if someone else breathes
no oxygen fills my lungs,
remember to feed
the organ that believes in the spirit of being kind,
hands and mind are mine to give to you.
We don't need
the robots to work for us,
if someone else sweats
I have not gained your trust,
remember we bleed
from underneath an armour pretending to save us time,
hands and mind are mind to give you.
-- "We don't need the robots but it's okay to love them", by T. Sorriso, 2245 --
From "Heartsongs of the Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars",
Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 4: The Sky is the Daily Bread of the Eyes
Character designs: Asoka Morei, Iri, Eireena McLeland, Serena Ramirez
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'A Beginner's Guide to SynTh: SynTh Splicing'; Classification: Clearance."
"In theory, SynTh can be genetically modified to integrate with living cells, using a process derived from the CRISPR/Cas gene editing system. The SynTh-spliced host cells would have modified organelles and cell parts, such as membrane proteins that can hold or transport a much higher concentration of ions at once, allowing them to generate very powerful electromagnetic events within biological tissue while safely dealing with any undesired thermal effects. To date, both flexible and fixed SynTh-splicing has only been successful in tissue cultures in vitro. However, reconfiguring spliced SynTh has proven easier than reconfiguring stitched SynTh. SynTh was spliced with living cells in vivo for the first time just before the Global Water Crisis. In 2076, a research group led by Dr. Majhee Suh published a protocol for growing biofilms using raw SynTh and Anabaena, a genus of cyanobacteria. It is rumoured that this same team also developed a method for splicing SynTh with eukaryotic cells, but all records of this research were lost during the Global Water Crisis..."
"June 28, 2116: Somewhere off the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea..."
We are deep underwater. An enormous Columbia-class submarine slips through the dark blue water, shadowed by a thick, dark blanket of plastic waste floating up above on the surface. A long thin cable full of hydrophones trails out behind the sub. On the side of the submersible are the letters "SSBN-831", the hull number of the USS Monterey, which has now been comandeered for use by the World Government Peacekeepers, the planetside branch of the World Government military. On the ocean floor below, a remotely operated underwater vehicle(ROV) has been digging up a submarine cable, no bigger than a garden hose, from the ocean floor and feeding it back up towards the USS Monterey, where the cable disappears into the bottom of the submarine. The ROV, surrounded by additional human industrial waste that has sunk to the sea floor, has just cut the cable. We see an exhilerated Iri taking its first swim in a real ocean, sending bubbles and ripples through the microplastics floating in the water.
We see the inside of the submarine's bilge, the lowest compartment of the submarine, knee-high with liquid drain-off from all parts of the submersible. On an oily pipe, we see two bootprints, and a ghostly hand print on the wall next to it. Thanks to the dirty water, we see an outline of the fully camouflaged Asoka, crouching on top of the pipe and trying to make as little contact with the water below as possible.
We catch a glimpse of Asoka's teary, miserable eyes.
We see Iri riding the ROV back into the submarine via an escape portal being used to let the robot in and out of the sub.
Iri, shimmering with invisibility, carefully sneaks out of the escape portal into the engine room. Suddenly, Iri sniffs -- a familiar and pleasant odor lies thick and heavy in the air.
We see the tightly packed engine room of a nuclear submarine. A Peacekeeper wearing the insignia of Culinary specialist ducks into the door while yelling out behind them.
Culinary specialist: "Let me grab the last batch of throttle spuds!"
We see an unattended pile of potatoes, individually wrapped in aluminum foil, sitting on top of a metal-plated surface in the engine room.
Next panel, we see 2 fewer potatoes.
For one surreal moment (panel), we're back on a hillside near Asoka's Home Haven. A gleeful Pippa runs with their arms outstretched, imitating a flying beast as Pippa's mechapet Manut flies overhead. Iri blissfully wallows in a huge pile of fallen leaves. The colours are an autumn riot. This daydream/flashback should take up the largest panel on the page.
Asoka: "Pippa, come jump in the leaves!"
Pippa: "One sec, I wanna get a cinnamon roll!"
Asoka: "No, wait, Pippa, don't go! Pippa!!"
Suddenly Asoka hears a "ZIIIIP!" noise above their heads.
A circlular cutout of the metal wall panel above Asoka gets pushed down into the bilge space as Iri appears with two aluminum foil wrapped potatoes and hands them to Asoka. Iri is trying very hard to look cheerful, and Asoka looks desperately hungry yet completely unenthused by yet another meal of potatoes.
Asoka, annoyed: "Use your words, Iri, we need to practice."
Asoka: "Great, another potato...don't Peacekeepers eat anything else??"
Iri disappears, and Asoka pushes the cutout of metal back into the ceiling. They take out what look like fabric tape from their utility belt and seal the cutout. After a moment, the fabric tape seemingly melts into the surrounding metal, and it was as if there had never been a hole in the ceiling.
Asoka begins to carefully peel a potato, face veil twisted into a resigned grimace.
"20 days ago..."
We are back at Green Haven Clarksville, the morning after Asoka arrived and received sanctuary.
Asoka: "What do you mean, help you find out?"
Eireena: "Asoka...what do you know about the Confinement?"
Asoka: "Confinement? Um...it started because the Pirate Lords kidnapped a Space University professor who killed a bunch of Exiles with unethical SynTh-splicing experiments...right?"
Serena: "Not just that. The Originals were using Exiles for risky work both in orbit and planetside, and forcing them to do it without proper gear or compensation...basically, space-age slavery. And the World Government was looking the other way while sending more Peacekeepers to the Underground Cities, and bribing Earther politicians to increase the Tithe and make it difficult for Exiles to come back to Earth legally. So when the Pirate Lords made their move, everyone and everything was already super tense. That's why it exploded into such a crazy authoritarian occupation."
Eireena: "That's how it started, but after that woman showed up claiming that werewolves are real and controlled by Peacekeepers, more and more Exiles arrived at Havens in the same state of complete terror, and we realised something else was going on...Some had run away from mining camps, but most were coming from these...archeological labor camps, where Peacekeepers were excavating some ancient, pre-Burning tech called 'magnetic storage tapes'."
Serena: "Then, just before the Truce, six runaways begged for sanctuary at Haven Laurel--"
Asoka: "That's the Haven that got invaded by rogue Peacekeepers!"
Serena: "Exactly. Those runaways had actually smuggled out a few of these 'magnetic storage tapes', and gave them to Haven Laurel's High Priestess..."
Eireena: "No one could figure out what's stored on them, but it's clearly important to the World Government...after Haven Laurel, we knew we needed a different solution for helping the Exiles, and protecting the Havens."
Eireena turns to Asoka and Iri.
Eireena: "Which brings us to High Pristess Iúna."
Asoka and Iri exchange a glance, surprised.
Asoka: "Iúna...you mean my Vovó??"
Serena: "Yes. Did she ever tell you about how she used to work with Majhee, before the Burning?"
Asoka: "Majhee...you mean, from 'Majhee's Exodus'??"
Eireena: "Exactly. Just before Haven Laurel, Iúna managed to get in touch with her again."
Asoka: "But...aren't they in the Red Zone??"
Eireena: "Yes, well...I think it's time to show you something. Come with us please."
Eireena leads the way, flanked by Serena and Asoka. Iri, feeling bolder, is now balanced on top of Asoka's head, who dutifully eats oatcakes and drinks juice. Asoka and Iri take comfort in the embroidered tapestry lining the hallways, depicting familiar shapes and patterns from the Biononymous textile lexicon.
They reach a large tapestry mural depicting The Burning, and the procession slows down to admire it. The mural shows the Space Ferries fleeing into orbit on their super strong and finer-than-hair space elevator cables, SynTh-stitched carbon nanotubes sparkling as underneath, Earth collapses into chaos thanks to violent cyclones, intensely pouring acid rain, blistering heat and drought, and toxic atmospheric chemicals. The mural shows everyone planetside, including the Biononymous, fleeing underground and crowding themselves into caves. The mural then shows the years spent suffering in this underground existence, unable to grow much, without any of the basics of civilization, crowded underground with too many people. So many people die during those years, from hunger, from restless violence, and from environmental poisoning.
Next, the mural moves on to when the Biononymous, led by Mother Bird, the First Weaver, are able to make their way back to Mother Bird's textile factories, and recover not only miles upon miles of top quality air-and-water-filtering organzas, but also the means to make more. This allows the Biononymous to create living and farming structures above ground.
The final scene of the mural shows the Space Ferries coming back to Earth, as the Orbiters return to plant the flag of the World Government on the planet. Eireen runs her hand along the World Government flag embroidered into the mural.
Eireena: "A quick stop here. You know this story, don't you?"
Asoka: "'Mama Bird'...Vovó..."
Eireena: "Her determination to continue her thread-worm research, even while stuck underground with no tools and no hope...she's the reason why we made it back to the surface in less than 10 years."
Asoka: "Vovó told me people aren't meant to stay in the dark their whole lives...our hearts belong to the sun and sky and trees...she said, no matter what, people would always find their way back..."
Serena: "She said the same about Majhee and thank goodness she was right! We needed a safe place for the Exiles, somewhere no Peacekeeper would dare to go..."
Asoka: "You mean, you sent Exiles to the Red Zone? But...how??"
Further along in the hallway, Eireena pulls back a part of the tapestry wall, which, to a naive eye looks no different from any of the other wall tapestries in terms of its function. But behind this tapestry is another small room. Inside is a tall wooden dresser. Eireena holds the tapestry open and gestures Asoka inside before her.
Eireena: "Please, step inside."
Serena opens the tall wooden dresser. Inside is an exquisite outfit of the Biononymous, embroidered in elaborate tiny patterns and dressed on a flat mannequin. Neatly folded in the bottom of the dresser is a utility belt on top of a large cloth satchel. Asoka looks closer and gasps -- there are tiny beaver and sugar maple motifs, the style of their home Haven!
Asoka: "Those are the markings of Green Haven Howes!"
Asoka reaches with their hand, then hesitates.
Asoka: "...may I?"
Eireena: "It's yours."
Asoka lifts the jacket off the mannequin, reverently running their hands over the stitches, the weave, the hem. As Asoka does this, the cloth responds to their touch.
Asoka: "This is beautiful! Where did it come from?"
Serena: "Majhee had also continued her thread worm research after the Burning. Once Confinement ended, she and High Priestess Iúna began work on a new kind of SynTh material...one that combined Iúna's weaving skills and Majhee's experience against the much harsher conditions in the Red Zone."
Eireena: "It's called 'cuttlefish cloth', woven with flexible SynTh, designed to be voltage-treated by a mechapet. It will take some time for Iri to learn how to do it smoothly and reliably, but eventually, you'll be able to filter or blend into just about anything, as quick as you can think it!"
Serena's eyes twinkle.
Serena: "And you can wear it for days on end...it's powered by your waste products, gas, liquid, and solid."
Asoka: "Wait, what??"
Serena's eyes never waver, face inscrutable. We see an image of an enormous network of neurons clinging to a decidedly less sexy set of intestines.
Serena: "Why do you think we're so careful about what we eat? Your gut directly influences 500 million neurons...and now, it also powers your surface gear."
Asoka looks disgusted. Eireena hides her smile.
Asoka: "But wait, did Exiles get cuttlefish cloth? I thought only Haven Howes has people pair-bonded with mechapets..."
Eireena: "It's true. The surface gear we gave to runaway Exiles didn't require a mechapet...it was just good enough to get safely through the Red Zone to Majhee and her people..."
Asoka: "So then...does this mean...are we also going to the Red Zone?"
Eireena: "You may have to...your father's last message was in the clear...and the Peacekeepers this morning told us to report anyone seen with a mechapet immediately..."
Eireena: "Also...High Priestess Iúna sent a last broadcast to the High Council...she said, 'Send mecha to the red tape'...If you decide to go...the cuttlefish cloth can hide you well enough that you could hitchhike practically the whole way."
Asoka: "I could?"
Serena: "The Peacekeepers want food and silica from the Havens in Boston Harbor by next week. And their captain made a bad joke about going 'hunting' in places they thought humans would never go again..."
Asoka stares down at the cuttlefish cloth.
Asoka: "So then...werewolves are their mechapets?? And they're using them to hunt people??"
Asoka looks pained, eyes closed with terror, disgust, guilt, grief -- they are remembering the fangs, the impossibly fast movement, the sight of a delighted Pippa running down the mountainside towards death...Serena places a hand on Asoka's shoulder, gentle but grim.
Serena: "We think so. If you want to stay here, we'll keep you safe and hidden as best we can. But you might be safer in the Red Zone..."
Eireena: "It's the last place any Peacekeeper would look for an apprentice-- no, you're a Journeyhume now, and they'll never expect you to be hiding in the belly of their nuclear sub---"
The flashback is interrupted by a loud "CLANK" from off-panel.
We're back in the bilge, where Asoka, who had been crying with pain and anger as their clenched fists crumple the last mouthful of the second potato, looks towards the source of the very loud clank with curiosity.
We see Iri, a flat blob with eyes, clinging invisibly to the ceiling of the command deck. Below Iri, Peacekeepers stand at workstations that look like wide, shallow metal dishes. Immediately underneath Iri, a white-haired woman wearing the insignia of the Navigation Officer and a younger man wearing the insignia of an Operations Specialist consult numerous hardcopy charts and plots, which to an untrained eye, look like nothing more than large pages covered a mess of lines and numbers. They hunch over the charts and plots in a most conspiratorial manner.
Iri: "Map, map! Found map! Share my sight?"
Asoka pulls the fabric of their face veil back across their face and pockets the crumpled balls of aluminum foil that once encased the throttle spuds. They then start to move across various pipes, staying out of the dirty water below, moving towards the sound of the loud clank.
On Asoka's face veil, overlaid on top of Iri's view of the command deck, is the map that Asoka and Iri have been piecing together by stalking the navigation team throughout the trip. It shows the Americas, and a glowing blue line approximates the submarine's path down the eastern coast of North America. At the latitude of Gainesville, Florida, the line swings far out east into the ocean, to avoid the flooded remains of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the western most curve of the Caribbean Islands. Then the blue line hugs the coasts of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and finally, the Amapá state of Brazil, bordered to the southeast by a great river delta -- there the blue line becomes a tiny submarine made of light. That was their current location.
Asoka: "The Rio Amazonas...Majhee..."
Another loud "CLANK" interrupts Asoka's thoughts.
Iri: "New sound? Soka safe?? Share your sight!"
Asoka: "It's coming from over there..."
Asoka carefully places their feet to turn a corner. They look up and gasp.
We see Asoka's eyes, full of horror and terror.
We zoom out to see before Asoka an enormous open space, lined with pipes and floor flooded with bilge water. On several large metal platforms, safely above the water level, is a pack of enormous, sleeping Werewolves, no longer furred. Their gleaming metal parts makes it very clear that they are not biological creatures.
Diagram 4: The 4 Blood/Brain/CSF Barriers
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2098-010..."
The Ventricular System of the brain consists of four interconnected tunnels (called "cavities" or "ventricles") where cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) is produced and circulated. The ventricular system of the brain is connected to the central canal of the spinal cord, and creates 4 barriers between brain tissue, blood vessels, and CSF ventricles: the Brain-CSF barrier, the Blood-Brain barrier, the CSF-Brain barrier, and the Blood-CSF barrier.
This barrier consists of the arachnoid mater and the pia mater, two of the three membranes that cover the outside of the brain and spinal cord. The dura mater is attached to the skull, the pia mater is attached to brain tissue, and the arachnoid mater sits in the middle. Between the arachnoid and pia membranes is the subarachnoid space, filled with CSF. Bits of the arachnoid membrane poke into the blood vessels of the dura mater (Arachnoid villi) to allow CSF to exit the subarachnoid space and enter the blood stream, while making sure that blood cannot enter the subarachnoid space.
This barrier is created by tight junctions between endothelial cells of capillaries in the central nervous system. Pericytes wrapped around endothelial cells regulate blood flow and the permeability of this barrier. astrocyte cell projections ("astrocytic feet" or glia limitans) also wrap around and support the endothelial cells. This barrier separates circulating blood from the extra-cellular fluid surrounding CNS cells. It allows hydrophobic and small molecules to diffuse out of the capillaries and into brain tissue, while keeping out bacteria and large or hydrophillic (”water loving”) molecules.
This barrier is created by ependymocytes. There is growing evidence that ependymocytes can serve as “resevoir cells”, which can help grow new neurons. However, these cells are not considered stem cells, because they do not self-renew and can only grow new neurons a limited number of times.
This barrier is a pair of membranes that separate blood from CSF and CSF from brain tissue. It restricts the passage of blood-borne substances into the brain. This barrier modulates the entry of leukocytes and other immune system cells into the brain. A major component of this barrier is the choroid plexus, a branching network of capillaries, ventricles, and ependymal cells, which produces CSF and secretes transferrin, a blood protein that controls the level of free iron in biological fluids.
Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 5: Lilacs Out Of The Dead Land
Character designs: Asoka Morei, Iri, Minka Traoré
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'Planetside Environmental Report: The Red Zone'; Classification: Compartmented."
"The Red Zone was once called 'the tropics', a band of the Earth's surface bounded to the north by the Tropic of Cancer and to the south by the Tropic of Capricorn. Even in the heart of winter, 'the tropics' had over 10 hours of daylight, something that, at one time, made it irresistable to both colonists and retirees. They came for the clear blue waters full of iridescent fish and fascinatingly complex coral reefs; extravagant, multi-coloured birds-of-paradise and thrillingly powerful felines in enormous, lush forests; and rich soils teeming with plants that move and insects that wage war."
"But these jewels of biodiversity were far more delicate and fragile than they looked. By the time the Global Water Crisis hit, much of what made 'the tropics' so lovely and desirable was gone."
"For the next few decades, heavy downpours of acid rain drowned the beaches while boiling, humid heat tortured the dying forests. Atmospheric levels of CO2, NO2, and CH4 became toxic to most animals and plants. The tropics became a simmering, stinking hell, where along the coasts, deep layers of decaying plants sequestered nitrogen that the inland soil desperately needed..."
"July 1, 2116: the watery ruins of Manaus, Brazil"
We see Asoka and Iri, shimmering with invisibility, looking back over a rocky outcrop to the north of the flooded, abandoned ruins of Manaus, full moon big in the night sky, as they head into the forest, quick and nimble, carrying only Asoka's cuttlefish-cloth satchel. Below, Peacekeepers dressed securely in full-body protective gear, breathing masks, goggles, and helmets, unload vehicles, supplies, and equipment from the amphibious vehicles shuttling everything from the submarine and set up a large, noisy, destructive camp on another outcropping along the north edge of the ruins.
Serena: "...so it's as we thought. The beastly creatures that attacked Haven Howes are definitely not biological."
Asoka: "Yeah...maybe those were voltage-treated to look furry? No one ever fed the ones in the cargo bay, at least not for the last three days."
Serena: "Interesting. How often does Iri eat?"
Asoka: "Normally about once a week? More often during this trip."
Iri: "When we underwater, ate ocean sand every day! It tastes funny..."
Serena: "Makes sense...alright, you better get going. You're well south and east of where we normally send Exiles, but just north of you is a cave system called Gruta de Judeia - that's where the World Government satellites saw human activity. The Peacekeepers will almost certainly head there, but they won't start until they finish unloading the sub. Iri should have the location by now...once you're in the rainforest, even this relay through Haven Gainesville won't be strong enough to get a clear signal through...so you'll be on your own from here on out."
Asoka: "Ah. Ok."
Serena: "How're you feeling?"
Asoka: "Umm...kinda nervous. What if I can't find anyone?"
Serena: "Then find a tall tree or cliff with a clear view to the north, and voice-cast as loud as you can without going into the clear. I'll be listening for you."
Asoka stretches, trying to get rid of the stiffness of hiding in a bilge for over a week.
Asoka: *"Uff, time to work off two weeks of sitting and eating potatoes..."
Iri: "Warm up jog?"
Asoka takes off running, Iri clinging to their neck for dear life.
Asoka: "Nope! Gotta run!"
As Asoka runs, their face veil shows them overlays of annotations about the environment around them. This part of the forest is putrid and disgusting, everything rotten, dead, and sludgy.
In addition the annotations about the flora around them, Asoka's face veil shows two temperature readings, one for the environment inside Asoka's clothes, and one for the outside environment. The outside temp is currently 36.2 deg celsius, while the temp inside Asoka's clothes is 23.1.
Asoka's face veil also shows the atmospheric content in a dynamically changing pie chart. By the flooded ruins of Manaus, with its many dead trees and vegetation, the methane content is very high, much higher than CO2 and NO2 levels, which are also at varying levels of toxicity (indicated via a color scale: green is safe, yellow is slightly toxic, orange is moderately toxic, purple is highly toxic, red is extremely toxic).
It's the earliest part of dawn - astronomical dawn. Asoka leans against a rock to catch their breath. A few scattered groves of Vismia guianensis trees break up the bleak landscape.
Asoka has pulled up their map onto their face veil. Iri places their location with a bright blue ball.
A bright blue ball appears, barely an eighth of the way to the blinking 'X'. Asoka gasps and shakes sweat into the cloth of their head scarf and face veil. The fabric gets damp, but then quickly dries, as if the cloth were drinking up the fluid. The outside temp now reads 39, while the temperature inside Asoka's outfit remains steady at 23. Methane levels have reduced a bit and are now just a little higher than CO2 and NO2 levels, which are lower than before but still at fatally toxic levels.
Asoka: "Seriously?? That's it??"
Iri: "Small rest?"
Asoka takes off their pack and pulls out a canteen of water. They guzzle the water through their face veil. They place their hand on their belly, and a view of their intestines shows up on their face veil.
Asoka: "Still got potato fuel..."
Zoom in on Asoka's eyes, fiercely determined.
Asoka: "Can't...we gotta get there first, Iri!"
It is now full and proper sunrise, the sun streaming horizontally between the scattered but significantly more dense trees. These trees are pioneer species, fast-growing, sun-loving trees that can replace the rainforest canopy and allow "climax species" to re-establish themselves in deforested regions.
The outside temperature now reads 44.6 deg celsius, while the inside temperature has only gone up to 26.3 deg celsius. Methane levels now match CO2 and NO2 levels, which are now just above fatally toxic levels.
Iri stares open mouthed at the jungle around them, as Asoka marvels at their outfit's range of protective abilities.
Asoka: "This is beautiful! How far are we now?"
The bright blue ball has moved further north, a little past a quarter of the way to the 'X'.
Iri gives Asoka a look.
Iri: "Maybe...eat soon?"
Asoka: "Do you see anywhere I could take off my face veil right now? Should just keep walking..."
The sun is at its zenith. The air sizzles with heat, but Asoka and Iri are about to reach much denser tree cover. The re-growing forest here is dominated by slower-growing pioneer species, including medicinal trees such as Vismia baccifera.
Asoka quickly trudges into a dense grove, clearly uncomfortable and at the end of their strength.
Iri: "Hot, hot, hot!!!"
On Asoka's face veil, outside temperature reads 52.8 deg celsius, and the temperature inside their outfit now reads 27.7 deg celsius. A power guage icon flashes a gentle warning -- the outfit's power is low. Methane, CO2, and NO2 levels have dropped beneath 'fatally toxic', but the suit is unable to update the local atmospheric content in the grove due to its low power status. Asoka's eyes are heavy-lidded, and underneath, dark circles are quite visible.
Asoka: "Where are we now??"
The bright blue ball is now just about at the halfway point. Asoka collapses at the foot a tree, sitting in the largest patch of shade they can find, and pulls out their almost empty water canteen. They carefully pour water into their mouth through their face veil.
Iri: "Soka rest, stay in shade!!"
Asoka: "Yeah? Ok...in that case..."
Asoka immediately falls asleep where they sit. Iri dashes over and checks Asoka's vitals by running its arms along Asoka's outfit above their heart, lungs, stomach, and kidneys. As they do, the SynTh cloth gives Iri readouts of each organs' functional well-being. Satisfied, Iri then starts to gather Babassu palm leaves from the forest floor to make into a makeshift sun canopy.
The sun is setting in the sky, deep red light rays cutting horizontally once more through the trees. Asoka is now sprawled on the ground, fully horizontal underneath Iri's makeshift sun canopy, which is large enough to cover Asoka's full body-length in shade. Several large leaves are drenched in water and wrapped around Asoka.
Asoka suddenly jerks awake, eyes full of tears.
Asoka relaxes upon seeing Iri calmly standing watch. Asoka sits up, yawns, and streches, then gives Iri a gently accusing look through a face veil that shows the outside temperature to have dropped to 38.2 deg celsius, and Asoka's suit temperature is 23.0. Methane, CO2, and NO2 levels are characterised to be 'short-term breathable'.
Asoka: "Why'd you let me sleep so long?"
Iri hands Asoka their canteen.
Iri: "If Soka sleep, Soka need rest. Found water! Zapped it, with UV...just in case..."
Asoka carefully opens the now completely full canteen and takes a long, grateful sip through their face veil.
Iri: "Also also! Soka...look up!"
Asoka runs their eyes over the trees around them and their face veil labels them as...
More info on papaya: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papaya
Asoka runs to the base of a papaya tree as Iri shimmies up the trunk. Iri brings down a large, bulbous fruit, and Asoka holds it reverently as their outfit scans the fruit to check its radiation content and ripeness. Simultaneously, Asoka's outfit checks the atmospheric content of the grove in which Asoka and Iri currently sit. Iri also takes in a huge breath of the air and does an independent analysis.
Iri: "Air good, yes? Can eat, yes?"
Asoka tears off their face veil in order to ravenously tear into the papaya. Iri joyfully runs up the tree for more of the ripe fruits.
Asoka has eaten their fill of papaya and now looks euphoric. They sprawl at the base of the papaya tree as nautical twilight descends on the forest. Fireflies blink in and out of the blue darkness. Iri cuddles their leg and looks up at Asoka.
Asoka: "That was soooooo good..."
Iri: "Orchards...like home..."
We see Asoka's fists clench for a moment. Then they resolutely wipe their mouth, abruptly focusing on the cooling night. They put on their face veil and see a view of the world showing the chemical exhalations and radiation signatures of the plants around them, enhancing their vision in the rapidly fading blue light. The outside temperature has now dropped to 35.1 deg celsius, and the temperature inside Asoka's suit is down to 22.5 deg C. Methane, CO2, and NO2 levels are safely within 'short-term breathable' levels. Asoka's face is grim, angry.
Asoka: "Enough rest. Let's do this."
Asoka crouches, ready to run. They are caught completely unawares by a blurry figure kicking them in the back of the head with a Meia Lua de Compasso.
The figure squeals with terror.
Figure: "Aaauuuuuuggh, é real!!!"
translation: "Aaauuuuuuggh, it's real!!!"
Asoka's entire head scarf and veil have been kicked off entirely, and Asoka is frantically trying to put their head gear back on while hiding their face behind their arms and hair. Iri jumps up onto Asoka to cover their face with its body, becoming visible and puffing itself up as big as it can go, glowing an eery, ghostly white. Iri's belly, smashed up against Asoka's face, displays what Iri sees so that Asoka isn't left blind.
Asoka, from under Iri's belly: "What the...?"
The figure facing Asoka and Iri is small, dark-skinned, and dressed only in loose, flowing trousers that cinch at the knees and have large open slits down the sides. They crouch in battle-ready pose, menacing Iri with what looks like a short, broad spike of metal curved wickedly at its jagged end. Their eyes are tightly shut, yet they seem to know exactly where Iri seemingly floated above the forest floor. They are sweating and trembling with terror.
Figure: "Espírito maligno, fique longe de meus mamões!!"
translation: "Evil spirit, stay away from my papayas!!"
Iri: "Where evil spirit?!"
Asoka: "No, wait! I'm human!"
Asoka holds up their invisible hands in surrender, completely forgetting their camouflage.
Iri: "Soka, not English!"
The small dark figure rushes at Iri with a blood-curdling yell.
Asoka tries to dodge the dark figure's rush towards them as Iri hardens its arms to parry the metal spike, thrust at it by the dark figure. Undaunted, the dark figure twists their body to deliver an escorpião kick and knocks Iri off of Asoka's face. Iri goes flying into a tree trunk and crumples at its base. Asoka, who has managed to get the head scarf back on but hasn't yet put up their face veil, completely forgets to hide their face and runs over to check on Iri.
The dark figure now has an unobstructed view of Asoka's head, seemingly floating without any body attached to it. They freak out.
Iri is dazed but alright. They shakily climb up Asoka's arm onto their shoulders and places two arms over Asoka's ears.
Iri: "Not English...Portugues!"
Asoka turns off their camou and now, finally fully visible, turns to the dark figure and puts both hands up in a gesture pleading for mercy.
Asoka (in Portuguese): "Please stop! I mean no harm!"
The dark figure, eyes now wide open with shock and fear, circles Asoka and Iri. They are clearly still terrified, but the hand holding the metal spike is steady.
Figure: "Who are you?? What do you want??"
Asoka: "I'm looking for Majhee -- the Red Zone isn't safe anymore!"
Asoka: "It's true! Peacekeepers are at the river--"
Suddenly Asoka notices the ground rumbling gently.
The rumbling gets louder, heavier, ominously closer. The figure has also noticed, and now looks in the direction of the rumbling, having seemingly lost all interest in Asoka and Iri.
Figure: "What is that??"
Suddenly a tank plows through the grove of papaya trees, completely destroying everything in its path.
Asoka, Iri, and the dark figure scream with terror and frantically get out of the way of the incoming stampede of military vehicles, which pay no mind to anything in their way, be it flora, fauna, or unusual, out-of-place humans and mechapet.
Diagram 5: Hunting Behaviour of the Common Cuttlefish
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2100-001..."
The common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) is an invertebrate marine creature of the molluscan class Cephalopoda, which also includes octopus, squid, and nautilus. All cuttlefish have elongated bodies (called their "mantle") which get their shape from the cuttlebone, a hard brittle internal shell that also helps cuttlefish control their buoyancy. With the exception of their cuttlebone, cuttlefish bodies are entirely soft and flexible. The sides and tail of the mantle are edged with a skirt fin that helps them maneuver. At the front of their mantle is a siphon, which can eject water for fast backwards movement, and above the siphon, their head, where eight arms surround a beaked mouth. Tucked up by the mouth, just below sophisticated, light-polarization-sensitive eyes with w-shaped pupils, are two tentacles whose ends are covered in suckers.
Cuttlefish are stealth hunters, who spend much of their time hiding while waiting for shrimp, crab, worms, fish, octopus, or even other cuttlefish to wander within reach. Cuttlefish are particularly good at hiding thanks to structures in their skin that can quickly and actively change their colour, texture, and pattern (including the polarization of the light they reflect) in response to neuro-muscular action, an ability called "active camouflage". Cuttlefish hunting behaviour can be described in four phases:
- Phase 1: At rest
- Phase 2: Attention
- Phase 3: Positioning
- Phase 4: Seizure
Phase 1: At rest
When a cuttlefish is just hanging out, its arms lie flat over its mouth. Its eyes normally sit at the sides of its head, optimal for a 360 degree view all around them. The body pattern on the its mantle, or back, is optimised to camouflage the cuttlefish and blend into its surroundings.
Phase 2: Attention
When a cuttlefish first notices something that might be food, it turns to face the food or prey, and raises its two middle arms. As the cuttlefish visually tracks its prey, its eyes converge, or squish towards the front, in order to gain better motion and depth perception.
Phase 3: Positioning
The cuttlefish then sneaks closer to its prey, or lets its prey come closer if it is camouflaged or buried in the sand. When the cuttlefish is about one body length away from its food or prey, the next four arms create a barrel to aim their tentacles, the tips of which can become visible during this phase.
Phase 4: Seizure
When the cuttlefish throws its tentacles at the food or prey (when "tentacles go ballistic"), a unique, high contrast body pattern appears (the "tentacle shot pattern"). This pattern has not been observed during any other cuttlefish behaviour.
Back to Table of Contents
W-eyes, looking side to side
squish to the front when the shrimp's on the run.
A morpheus tangle, got eight arms to wrangle,
no spine, but masterminds of foolin' your sight.
Are you ready to hunt?
Then middle arms up!
Sneak, sneak, sneak, sneak,
stretch, stretch, stretch, stretch.
Now prepare the tentacles,
make a tripod and throw!
Did you catch or miss?
The pattern is how I know!
Chromatic array in their skin
is how they betray
when they decide whether to attack or hide.
But when they have a secret,
they know how to keep it,
cuz light they polarize for colorblind eyes!
-- "Cuttlefish Song", by T. Sorriso, 2245 --
From "Heartsongs of the Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars",
Chapter 6: If you're not scared you're not in love
Character designs: Asoka Morei, Iri, Minka Barbosa Traoré, Majhee Suh, Nova Jatobá, Jina Suh Barbosa, Maraba Barbosa Jatobá
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'Recent findings related to the possibility of human habitation within the Red Zone'; Classification: Confidential."
"On February 18, 2107, the photographic reconnaissance satellite KH-22, designated COSPAR ID 2103-003A, adjusted its orbit based on readings from the A-train Earth Climate Observation satellite constellation, which indicated an unusual respite in atmospheric toxicity in the former Amazon Rainforest region. Images captured by 2103-003A in its new orbit confirmed a massive re-growth in Amazonian flora, and indicated the possible resurgence of local fauna."
"On May 28, 2116, at approximately 2:06 pm solar time, the Automatic Anomaly Detection System onboard 2103-003A made note of several unusual developments at GPS coordinates 2°02'59.1"S 59°58'13.9"W. Onboard optical cameras captured images of what look like clusters of residential structures integrated into the upper branches of the recovering rainforest canopy, and multi-spectral analysis confirmed the presence of large warm-blooded residents in significant numbers. Based on these images, the World Government Security Council passed Resolution 420, authorizing information-gathering military operations in the northeastern quandrant of the Amazon River Basin..."
"July 2, 2116: About 32 miles north of the ruins of Manaus..."
Min peers after the rampaging military tanks, standing confidently at the tippy top of one of the few tall trees in the area, giving her a bird's eye view across the scant and scraggly canopy. Min's eyelids are shut, the thin skin full of SynTh-infected cells that enhance her night and distance vision. A brisk wind ruffles her mohawk.
Min's skin has a distinctive metallic and shiny quality right now - her full intradermal shield is activated. Her mouth is set in an unhappy grimace the intradermal shield at her ears and temple glow.
Min: "Nicola! Are you seeing this? They're headed straight for Gruta de Judeia!"
"About 400 miles west of the ruins of Manaus..."
Nicola Cavalcanti is sitting on a tree platform in a much quieter and relatively healthy-looking part of the forest. She seems to be stargazing, staring adoringly at the sky...with eyes tightly shut. Her ears and temple are also glowing, and her skin is also metallic and shiny all over.
Nicola Cavalcanti: "Minka! Where have you been?? Do you have any idea-- ...are those World Government Peacekeepers??"
Min: "Manuto was right, the Orbiters have figured out how to deal with the Red Zone! He must have set up his bait at Gruta de Judeia. These Peacekeepers aren't stopping to look around, and no one else would broadcast their location to World Government satellites."
Nicola: "Of all the places! That man is infuriating."
Min: "Also, Nicki, I picked up a stray..."
Nicola: "An Exile? That far south? Are you sure they're not one with Manuto?"
Nicola stands and stretches on the tree platform, which is just big enough for her to stand shoulder width apart and still have about 10cm from her feet to the edge.
Min: "Pretty sure...they have surface gear that makes them invisible, and a pet squid! Think it's a mechapet??"
Nicola stretches in a deep downward dog, reveling in the pose and wiggling with pleasure.
Nicola: "Maybe...but why would Mama Bird send them so far south? Can you scan them?"
Min: "No. The human's surface gear is completely different from the other Exiles', and the squid...it just scans like pink noise..."
Nicola: "In that case, take your time. Bring your strays back to the Central Hearth after you learn their story...the old fashioned way. Do not get involved with Manuto's idiotic plan."
Min: "But what about the Peacekeepers?? If Manuto gets back into orbit--"
Nicola: "Minka. Trust me. You will get off-planet. Now let me finish my exercises."
Nicola's ears and temple abruptly stop glowing. She calmly goes into a tucked handstand on the tree platform, eyes still tightly closed.
Min: "Wha--Nicki? Did you just hang up on me??"
In frustration, Min yells out loud.
Min: "How come I'm the only one who has to prove my First Quest before even starting it!"
Min, ears and temple also no longer glowing, climbs down from the canopy. Below her, Asoka huffs and puffs as they cling to the trunk of the tree and Iri clings to Asoka. Two of Iri's arm tips are over Asoka's ears. Asoka calls up to Min.
Min: "Nothing. How come you can go invisible? And why do you have a pet squid?"
Asoka: "Iri's not a squid, they're a cuttlefish!"
Min: "Fine. Then are you a spy? Why'd you show up with the Peacekeepers?"
A dark rage suddenly flares up on Asoka's face.
Asoka: "I'm not one of them! I'm Asoka Morei, a Biononymous of Green Haven Howes!"
"24 days ago..."
Asoka clutches Iri, frozen on the steep path as they stare down the mountainside at a huge swarm of enormous, blurry, bloody, furry, four-legged creatures, distant screams floating up the mountainside like smoke...
Iri/João: "Can you hear me Soka?? Run to the next Haven!! RUN!!"
Iri tries to get Asoka to look at it, to stop, as Asoka, eyes wide with terror and shock, slowly steps down the mountain.
Iri/João: "Soka! Pay attention!"
Asoka: "Dad...where's mom..."
Iri grabs Asoka's face and forces them to look straight into the cuttlefish's eyes.
Iri/João: **"The gates are sealed, no one's getting in! Run to the next Hav--aauucchhh!"
Suddenly Iri spins away from Asoka, as if slashed by invisible claws. Asoka screams, arms reaching for Iri.
Asoka is running down the mountainside, dodging trees and bushes while carrying Iri in their arms. Iri's eyes are rolling back into their heads and they look ashen. Asoka's eyes are frantic.
Suddenly someone crashes into Asoka. Asoka manages to roll while holding onto Iri protectively. Asoka looks up and sees a Biononymous adult in full outfit. Asoka opens their mouth to ask what's going on, and the Biononymous adult covers Asoka's mouth through Asoka's face veil. The Biononymous adult, looking distraught, touches forheads with Asoka and grimaces. Then the adult gets close to Asoka's ear and whispers intently.
Biononymous adult: "Shhhh! To the next Haven...Run away!"
The Biononymous adult quickly turns Asoka around and shoves them back into the thicket, then runs off in the opposite direction, yelling and loudly crashing through the forest.
Asoka turns around just in time to see an enormous furry thing, blurrily crashing through the bushes and lift a giant paw, claws bared, over the attention-stealing Biononymous adult.
The Beast brings down its paw in a ferocious slash. The Biononymous adult cries in agony, bleeding profusely from enormous cuts running across their back, unable to run any further.
Asoka is running and can't help looking back over their shoulder. We see the Beast open a hellish mouth of fangs, grab the Biononymous adult in its powerful jaws, and shake the limp body back and forth violently.
Back in the Amazon, up in the tree with Min. Min is no longer grinning.
Asoka: "Uh...sorry...yeah, so then...then Haven Clarksville smuggled us onto the Peacekeeper sub...and the werewolves were there! They're all World Government robots! And the World Government has satelite images of you...they're going to kill you too!!"
Min: "Satellite images...you know, those images were deliberately broadcast as bait."
Min: "I'm sorry your family was killed. Don't worry, that's not going to happen here."
Asoka: "But...how? You can't hide from their satellites--"
Min: "The Automata can."
Asoka: "The what?"
Min: "We call ourselves the Automata. I'm Minka. And...thanks for the warning...but no Orbiter robots will be hunting us!"
"7 days later, about 220 miles northwest of Manaus..."
Min: "There it is...the Central Hearth!"
Min: "And look, there's Head Councilor Nova! She's exactly who we need to talk to!"
The scene has transitioned to the Central Hearth of the Automata campsite, an tree-house-like structure made from a single, giant SynTh-bubble. The sun above is not quite at its zenith. Min and Asoka stand before a crowd of Automata, both children and Elders, members of the Automata clan who have all received their intradermal shield and successfully returned to the Amazon forest after spending at least a year living in the Underground Cities to the south of the Red Zone. Asoka holds their head scarf and face veil nervously in front of them, anxiously glancing at Min for cues, not used to being bare-faced in front of so many strangers, but wanting to make a good first impression. Iri sits on Asoka's shoulders, arms wrapped protectively around Asoka's head and neck. Elders look troubled or curious, or a torn mixture of both. Children openly stare at Iri. Many of the Automata carry small monkeys, birds, or lizards on their person, docile animals perched on shoulders, curled around necks, or clinging to heads.
Nova Jatobá, dryly, not unkindly: "Oh look, it's my favorite source of chaotic good..."
Min, pointing towards Asoka and Iri: "Nova, this is urgent! A mechapet! Now we can read the tapes!"
Majhee Suh, soon to be in her 90s, pushes her way through the crowd to the front. She is tiny, wrinkled, and no longer able to climb trees, but her back is still straight, and she eyes her granddaughter with laser-beam eyes.
Majhee: "First you let Peacekeepers destroy an entire papaya grove..."
Min turns to her grandmother with a grin.
Majhee turns to Asoka and lets her stern look soften into a delighted grin below twinkling eyes.
Majhee: "...and now you forget to introduce your guest?"
Min: "Ah...Vovó, this is Asoka Morei and Iridescence, of Green Haven Howes."
Asoka: "So pleased to finally meet you, Majhee."
Majhee: "I see you have a long story to tell. But first, let's eat! No one can think on an empty stomach."
Asoka, Iri still tucked into their neck, has been seated next to Min on floor mats in front of a low table piled high with more food than Asoka has seen in weeks. On Asoka's other side, Majhee looks over the Central Hearth with a look of deep contentment. It's midday, and bright natural light floods the Central Hearth, but the temperature is comfortable. Overhead, an enormous SynTh bubble protects the Central Hearth from the harsh sun and poisonous air, like a giant cell membrane. The day's cooking crew has just brought out the last of the serving plates, piled high with steaming hot food that makes Asoka's salivation response go wild. Asoka's face veil annotates the many strange fishes, vegetables, fruit, and grain laid out in lavish display.
We see Nicola Cavalcanti carrying out the last trays of escabeche made with tambaqui, and behind her, another elder, one of the few men with white hair and wrinkles, carries out large bowls full of kkakdugi.
Min: "Nicki! The tambaqui are so big!"
Nicola throws Min a wink as she passes.
Nicola: "Been saving these chonkers for you!"
At one end of the Central Hearth is a large stone basin. On either side of the spigot coming out of the stone basin, 2 lines of Automata Elders wait their turn to fill large metal bowls with the rapidly flowing and high pressure water from the spigot. Each of these Elders have a long, folded piece of beautiful pale blue cloth folded over one shoulder.
Asoka: "You have enough good water to grow fish?"
Min: "Yeah...it comes from a secret underground river--"
Asoka: "The Rio Hamza!"
Min: "Exactly! Except now we call it the Rio Axé...because it gave us the life-force we needed to survive the Burning..."
As the last serving bowl is placed on the tables, a hush falls over the Central Hearth. Asoka, eager to start eating, looks around in confusion, then hesitantly starts to reach for a bowl of rice. Min slaps down Asoka's hand.
Min: "Not yet!"
Asoka looks up towards one end of the Central Hearth to see that each Elder has folded their blue cloth into an origami flower bowl, which is secured to the top of a large pitcher. They then stand and pour their bowl of water carefully into the SynTh cloth flower bowl, which filters and cleans the water as it passes through the bottom layer of cloth and into the pitcher.
Min: "No one eats until the water cyclers make the toast!"
Min: "It's ok, you don't have to hide!"
Asoka's face veil annotates the temperature of the aquifer's enormous rock wall to be 7.2 deg celsius.
Min watches one Water Cycler in particular -- her gene mother Jina, daughter of Majhee Suh and Vec Barbosa, easily one of the most strikingly dramatic in physique out of the Automata -- with proud reverence.
Asoka: "Who's that woman? You keep watching her..."
Min: "Oh...that's my birth mother, Jina...we had a fight before I left...she doesn't look angry, right?"
Asoka: "Uh...I don't think so?"
The Water Cyclers have all poured their bowls of water into the enormous pitchers. They detach the origami flower bowl from the pitcher and in one confident, practiced shake, release the cloth from its shape. They then fold the cloth neatly and place it back on one shoulder.
The Water Cyclers have each brought their pitcher to a table and poured themselves a glass. They all raise their glasses together.
Water Cyclers: "Today's toast...is to the worms who spin our Mother!"
The Water Cyclers then all down their glass of water. The gathered Automata start to clap and cheer and eat and drink. Min grins and reaches for the escabeche.
The Automata: "To the worms!"
Min: "Ok, now we can eat."
Asoka looks at the happy people, warm food, families and children laughing in the sunlight, and they burst into tears, burying their face in their hands. Iri wraps its arms around Asoka tenderly as Min gently hugs Asoka.
Diagram 6: Brain Architecture
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2100-097..."
Your brain is not one thing. It is made of many different parts, each with a different role.
Vertebrate brains can be simplified into three lumps sitting on top of the spine, and one lump sitting in front of the spine. Let's focus on the top three lumps for now. The hindbrain is the lump closest to the spinal cord, and together they are in charge of movement. The midbrain sits on top of the hindbrain, gets input from your sense organs, and decides whether you like it or not, whether you should respond or not. The forebrain sits on top of the midbrain, and its job is so important that, from fish to mammals, it grew so large that it folded backwards over the rest of the brain and curled into itself while hugging the other brain lumps. It's as if the nervous system wanted to squeeze as much forebrain into the skull as possible. Evolution clearly thought forebrain was important.
The forebrain doesn't get sensory input directly, nor does it have complete control of movement. Many animals seem to behave normally after forebrain is removed, so what's it good for? Neuroscientists eventually realised that the forebrain is a simulator, something that builds a "model" of the world and of itself. So how does it build this model?
Forebrain has three major systems. At the frontmost tip, now curled in and tucked into the heart of the brain, is hippocampus. At the base of the forebrain, right next to the midbrain, is basal ganglia. In between, and by far the largest portion of human forebrain, is cortex. Each area plays a different role in constructing a model of the world and of itself.
Each cell in hippocampus is only active when the body is in a very specific location in space. These "place cells" work together to provide the brain with a unique map for every space it's ever encountered.
In the 1950s, when a few patients with severe epilepsy had surgery to remove their hippocampus, they never formed a new memory for the rest of their lives. Their memories from before the surgery remained, but all new experiences drifted away. Hippocampus, which contains a representation of space, is required to create memories.
We now believe that hippocampus uses the environments around us, including the ones we build, as a scaffold for encapsulating, or storing and organizing, experiences as memory.
So what kind of spaces does hippocampus want? Let’s consider a modern office campus, where people work on different projects with a variety of teams, timelines, and goals. The "open plan" offers the hippocampus only one space for all of the different tasks that must be performed. The "cubical plan" is not much better, with every space the same, but with at least some opportunity to customize and compartmentalize.
What about a "Hippo Campus", an irregular space where no meeting room, office, or common area is the same? Here hippocampus has a variety of scaffolds for organizing the tasks of a modern workflow. It includes non-rectilinear rooms, since the organized spatial map in hippocampus is disrupted in spaces with trapezoidal dimensions. In other words, perhaps "thinking outside the box" is actually easier in a room that is not a box.
You'll never be happy, at least not consistently, and this is basal ganglia's fault. That's where our likes and dislikes are combined with our model of the world, in order to evaluate our model. Will this decision get me more food, more sex, less pain? The results of each good decision reinforce similar decisions in the future.
Basal ganglia really only cares when something unexpectedly good happens. A surprising reward produces a burst of chemicals in basal ganglia that makes us feel great. But if that good thing becomes predictable, basal ganglia gets bored, so we continue to seek new, surprising rewards.
Let's imagine a skyscraper for basal ganglia, or the "BG tower". It begins as a single story building, and most workers trudge down many stairs to their sub-sub-sub-basement offices. Each year, the building slowly rises, and each year everyone gets a slightly better workspace, a slightly better view, or a slightly shorter descent. This building keeps basal ganglia happy, but it's clearly cruel and unethical. It's a trick, similar to many dopamine-exploiting hacks used in marketing, or in organizations that depend on complete, unquestioning loyalty. Can we do better than hacking the basal ganglia?
Rather than chase transient happiness, what if we aim for persistent satisfaction? That's where cortex comes in.
Cortex is where your simulation is actually simulated. It uses basal ganglia's evaluation to pick actions to simulate. It uses hippocampus's encapsulation to check predictions against prior experiences. But to know whether your simulation is any good, it needs to be validated by reality.
And it's not just about being correct. If you sit in a room and do nothing, you'll be great at guessing what happens next (not much) but you won't get any better at handling the natural world. Like basal ganglia, cortex is not satisfied by the predictable. In fact, cortex wants to be both accurate and able to adapt quickly to the unpredictable.
This state is often called "flow". We all experience flow in different ways. Some feel it while using custom hotkeys and shortcuts to rapidly create a digital version of their mental images in computer software. Others might feel it while running quickly downhill over uneven terrain. Whenever the world and your body respond to your decisions in perfect coordination with your mental simulation, you are feeling cortical satisfaction.
Cortex loves to challenge its simulation to handle more complexity and instability in small doses. We call this play. Remember playing "don't touch the floor, it's lava"? It's unlikely that we'll ever be stranded on a couch in a volcano, but this game helps us learn the limits of our bodies and our environment, which might come in handy one day.
Cortex wants to play in situations of signficant yet manageable complexity, where the world is safe enough and the consequences of failing aren't too severe. And cortex cares about more than just physical safety -- it also needs social and emotional safety. So how do we create worlds and build bodies in which cortex can play?
Back to Table of Contents
Dream 2: Rites of Passage
"Long, long ago, on the 20th day of the 4th month of the 48th year After Burning, Tree Surfer Minka Traoré Barbosa Suh was Reborn..."
Bonfires on a warm night. Shadows of well-choreographed ritual dancers, powerful and strong from a lifetime of training, hover warmly, protectively. The view is zoomed out so that we see Min (the dark figure from chapter 5) from above. Min is topless, sitting inside a large, fat metal hoop, a la Cyr Wheel. She is surrounded in many concentric circles of family and friends, all dressed in their most splendid clothing made of cloth in which the embroidery moves fluidly, in response to the lighting, the sounds, the wearers moods...
Drums beat in the background...
Over this backdrop, small ghostly close-up panels are scattered, showing different parts of 16 year old Min, large swaths of skin covered in proudly displayed, ecstatically dancing clan tatoos:
- an eye, nose, and ear. The eye is determined, steely, and dilated with adrenaline and euphoria. The nose and ear are pierced with SynTh metal, formed into plain, elegantly raw shapes with rounded edges. The brow is set and only slightly sweaty. The head is shaved and covered in tatoos of her achievements as a clan member and Arborist.
- a strong and straight back, dominated by an SynTh tatoo depicting the night sky above the Amazon, with stars, planets, and Orbiter vessels.
- shoulder and neck from the front, collar bone straight in a relaxed line that is perfectly parallel to the bottom edge of the panel. Neck is a bit clenched, and tendrils of Min's back tatoo curl around from her back in comforting, fractal patterns.
- legs, covered in line art encoding her family lineage, are folded in an easy lotus, covered in the soft folds of ritual clothing appropriate for the ascent of a young Arborist to the status of Expert Crafter: Tree Surfer.
We see the people in the inner most circle, just on the outside of the metal hoop:
- Jina, also covered in clan tatoos and splendid SynTh ritual clothing. Jina's intradermal shield is visible in shadowy patterns under her clan tatoos. Next to her is a tall bucket holding ritual clensing water.
- Amadou, no intradermal shield and just a few clan tatoos, but dressed spledidly and unspeakably proud of his daughter.
- Majhee, matriarch leader of their clan, intradermal shield barely visible beneath the many clan tatoos. She is proud, stern, and exhuberant on this day of achievement by her granddaughter.
- Maraba, Min's cousin and dearest childhood companion, now an Expert Inker and chosen for the honour of injecting Min's intradermal shield. Next to Maraba, in a shallow curving woven basket, is an enormous syringe full of swirling, bubbling, raw SynTh, freshly harvested from one of their original, surviving cultures, called "Mothers".
"Seven days alone in the sacred caves of Jumandi...And now, the Clan is here...there’s Jina, Amadou, Majhee, Maraba...and there’s the Mother...the first thing to enter Min's body since she began her Rebirth..."
We see many concentric hands, surrounding this scene: Jina, Majhee, Amadou, and Maraba have stood and picked up the metal hoop. They hold it in place as Min steps onto the curving metal, hands pushing against the hoop above her head.
Majhee and Amadou strap Min's ankles and wrists to the metal hoop as Jina pours the bucket of water slowly over Min.
Min is drenched and Maraba has positioned the needle of the syringe full of raw SynTh against Min's right buttcheek. Maraba slowly injects all of the SynTh as Min grits her teeth. Jina has returned the bucket to its previous location in the circle.
We see raw SynTh spreading throughout Min's body, moving up her torso, across her arms and legs, over her face, and into her eyelids. Min's has cousin pulled out the syringe and placed it back on the basket.
"The Mother...raw synaptic thread...it seeks the children of the ectoderm, the outermost layer the human embryo. Live in the Red Zone long enough, or better yet, be conceived and gestated in the Red Zone, and radioactive tags mark every generation of cells of your skin, hair, nails, eyes, teeth, sinuses, and nervous system..."
As the intradermal shield continues into her mouth, nose, and sinuses, Min begins to cough and gag. The crowd chants "Seja livre! Seja LIVRE! SEJA LIVRE!" as Min finishes integrating the intradermal shield.
translation: "Be free! Be FREE! BE FREE!"
After a tense moment, Min focuses her intradermal awareness to sprout razor sharp spikes at her wrists and ankles, cutting her bonds. The crowd roars with triumph.
Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 7: Mistakes Are How We Evolve
Character designs: Asoka Morei, Iri, Minka Traoré, Majhee Suh, Nova Jatobá, Jina Suh Barbosa, Maraba Barbosa Jatobá
Chapter Title Page
"Loading Universal Record..."
"Finished loading...'On the Resurrection of the Legged Squad Support System'; Classification: Top Secret."
"The Legged Squad Support System, or LS3, was a military project by the former United States of America during the early 21st century, to develop legged robots that could function as autonomous packhorses for land-based military operations. Inital work on this concept between 2009 and 2015 resulted in important insights for autonomous robotics, but units created at that time were too noisy, too challenging to repair in the field, and difficult to integrate into traditional military operational structures."
"On March 16, 2096, Lt. Gen. Janine Diamandis, Surgeon General of the Peacekeepers, proposed to resurrect the LS3 concept. The Lt. Gen. reported high confidence in the feasibility of using SynTh tech to create intelligent, self-repairing, and silent biomemetic robots, which could support scouting and re-supplying teams on planetside operations. Based on the Lt. Gen.'s report, the World Government Security Council passed Resolution 222, authorizing a top secret research collaboration with Space University to build SynTh-based robotic pack animals..."
"67 days ago..."
It is the night of Min's Rite of the Mothers. Min has just used her intradermal shield for the first time to cut her bonds and is lying on the ground, curled in a fetal position inside the giant metal hoop and nursing bleeding wrists and ankles. She is surrounded by Majhee, Jina, Amadou, and Maraba; beyond the inner circle, the rest of the Clan waits to hear Min's first words as a Reborn.
Majhee: "Suh Minka Barbosa Traoré, Tree Surfer of the Automata!"
View of Min from the front, gasping, blinking away large beads of sweat from her eyes as she looks up at her grandmother.
Majhee's eyes, proud, confident, expectant: "What does it mean to be free?"
Min closes her eyes, tries to calm her breathing, and struggles to stand.
Min: "To drink without bleeding...breathe without choking..."
Min: "...and to flow wherever curiosity takes you..."
Zoom in on Min's mouth, exhausted yet serene, confident, and defiant.
Min: "...even off the planet!"
We're back to the day when Asoka meets the Automata Clan. The feast is over, and the tables have been cleared. The sun is just past midday. Min is standing with her hand on a waist-high pedestal, made of an enormous amythest quartz geode, blue-purple crystals exposed at the top section under Min's hand. The SynTh bubble overhead shows Min's canopy-top POV of the Peacekeepers destructive rampage through the delicate re-growing forest last night. Many of the Elders wince at the show of thoughtless destruction being shown above. Nicola sits near Min and the pedestal, and addresses the Central Hearth.
Nicola: "As you can see from Tree Surfer Minka's visual feed, the Orbiters either don't care or are oblivious to the delicate nature of the ecosystem in the Red Zone. Hasn't even been 50 years since the Burning and they've already forgotten the lessons of that disaster."
Min: "We're also guessing that Manuto and his followers set up a modified Bubble at Gruta de Judeia...according to Journeyhume Asoka, Peacekeepers believe that their satellite surveillance systems have record of human activity in that area."
The crowd in the Central Hearth ranges from babes-in-arms to silver haired grandmothers, but most of the Elders are clustered towards the center. Asoka, face still streaked with tear-marks but composure regained, is sitting at the edge of the crowd and letting Mahjee comb their hair. A small crowd of Automata children have gathered around Iri and are watching the mechapet morph shape and colour with gleeful awe.
Nicola: "While we estimate that Peacekeepers must have arrived at Gruta de Judeia by the next day at the latest...we've not intercepted any outgoing communications on Orbiter channels."
Nicola looks up at the video playing on the SynTh bubble overhead.
Nicola: "Based on the Orbiters' exploitation of the Green Havens, their completely careless attitude towards the environment, and their decision to build mindless mechapets and use them as weapons...I agree with Min that we need an advocate up there...someone to build personal relationships with Orbiters, learn their ways, and spark their empathy."
An older man, watching the video on the SynTh bubble with arms crossed and a deep frown on his face, snorts derisively and crosses his arms.
Older man: "Your optimism fascinates me. What makes you think Orbiters will listen to an Earther...much less make friends and let us influence government policy?"
He turns hard eyes to Min.
Older man: "This is not a game. You go up there, you'll just make it easier for Peacekeepers to kidnap you. You're as bad as Manuto."
Min opens her mouth indignantly, but Jina cuts in first.
Jina: "Osiel, you should know that no child of mine would be so easy to catch!"
A ripple of laughter runs through the Central Hearth, lightening the mood. Jina winks at Min, who gives Jina a look of fierce adoration. Osiel smiles grimly.
Osiel: "How can you joke about this?? I'm more worried about how Min will infiltrate a society that surveils and documents literally everything. While I can think of a dozen ways to stay off the Orbiters' radar, none of them include 'apply to their most prestigious school for space exploration, where even students have access to cutting-edge Orbiter tech'."
Min removes her hand from the amethyst pedestal, ending the video playback up on the bubble ceiling, and folds her arms in exasperation.
Min: "That's why I'll first build up a fake Universal Record! Amadou's old contacts in Sumaq Urqu can help--"
Osiel loses his temper and throws up a hand towards the bubble ceiling.
Osiel: "How can you still be so naive?? If you're caught, you won't just get thrown out of school. The Orbiters will dissect you to learn the secrets of your dermal shield!"
Concerned murmurs run through the Central Hearth. Min takes a step towards Osiel, full of indignation.
Min: "That's if I get caught!"
A female elder named Terena quirks her eyebrow at Min.
Terena: "So how will you avoid it?"
Amadou raises a finger and smiles.
Amadou: "By upgrading Min's dermal shield! Majhee's been calling it a 'liquid MOSFET sievert shield', and Journeyhume Asoka's cuttlefish cloth and mechapet Iridescence are proof that this technique works in SynTh hybrid materials. Their success as stowaways also supports our hope that this upgrade will get Min into Orbiter society without giving away any of our secrets. All we have left to do is test it in one of us...and I've already volunteered."
"6 hours later..."
The sun is setting in the sky, and everyone looks exhausted.
Nova: "It seems our consensus is building towards keeping the movements of the Central Hearth to the west of the Rio Negro while monitoring Gruta de Judeia for an opportunity to take back the stolen magnetic tapes...I'd like to hear from any Elders whose feelings remain incompatible with this decision."
The gathered Elders are all silent. Nova looks around the Central Hearth and clucks with satisfaction.
Nova: "Concerning our visitor, Journeyhume Asoka Morei...we request the aid of their mechapet to help us read the tapes we still have here...and also request that they stay with us until the stolen tapes are retrieved...Are there any Elders whose feelings remain incompatible with this decision?"
The gathered Elders are again all silent, many turning to look at Asoka, who is still sitting at the edge of the Central Hearth. Asoka, hair now braided into a neat, pretty crown, with Iri in their lap, looks a little embarrased by the attention but relieved. Min is watching Amadou, who looks a bit sad and distant. Jina gives Asoka a smile, but there is the tiniest hint of pity in her smile. Asoka glances at Majhee, who gives them a huge, warm smile of encouragement.
Nova now sighs.
Nova: "Concerning Tree Surfer Minka's First Quest...we approve Inker Amadou's experiments on the possible upgrade to the dermal shield. The Council of Elders will re-covene when these experiments have concluded. Are there any Elders whose feelings remain incompatible with this decision?"
Osiel looks unsatisfied, but most of the Elders look relieved that the consensus has ended up the way it did. Again, everyone is silent. Nova nods, clearly eager to wrap things up. Min and Amadou exchange a look of joyful triumph, and even as Jina clutches Amadou's hand with apprehension, she also gives Min a radiantly proud smile.
Nova: "Very well, we have reached consensus. Thank you everyone for your time. We'll be moving out in the morning."
Min turns to Jina and Amadou.
Min: "So...you're not mad at me?"
Jina: "Minha queridinha, I've never been prouder!"
Asoka watches Min celebrate the Elders' final decision with Jina and Amadou. As Asoka hugs Iri, their eyes fill with tears again.
"One week later: near the entrance to Abismo Guy Collet..."
The late morning sun filters into Asoka's sleeping bubble, a private SynTh structure suspended in a tree at the edge of a tepui in the Serra do Aracá, looking out over the re-growing Amazon rainforest below. Asoka's red hair, splayed out on the pillow in their SynTh hammock, glistens in the bright light. Iri is splayed out on top of Asoka's chest, snoring peacefully. Asoka's jacket, head scarf, and face veil hang on the tree trunk next to one of the hammock's anchor points. On the massive tree branch extending out underneath Asoka's hammock, Asoka's boots and socks are neatly placed, just underneath the jacket and head gear. Asoka's gloves are tucked into the jacket pockets, fabric fingers curling over the edge of the pocket openings. On another hook on the main trunk, on the other side of Asoka's hammock anchor, is a cloth water canteen. A spiral staircase is carved into the main trunk, leading in one direction down to the Central Hearth, and in the other, all the way to the top of the tall canopy tree.
Asoka eyes are open, and they stare emotionlessly at the fractal patterns of tree branches above their hammock, dappled light softened by the filtration of their sleeping bubble.
A brief flash of memory: Pippa and Manut, running down the mountainside.
Asoka's eyes fill with tears.
Asoka: "...why did I send you back??"
Asoka hears a muffled voice call through their SynTh bubble.
Asoka doesn't move.
Min: "Asoka, I'm coming in!"
Min steps through the bubble membrane. Iri discreetly places their arms over Asoka's ears and turns their head towards Min obligingly.
Min: "Hey...lunch? My language update finished this morning, so we can talk in English...if that's easier?"
Asoka doesn't move or answer. Iri chirps worriedly at Asoka, then looks at Min apologetically.
Iri: "Maybe...not today..."
Min: "Don't be ridiculous. You already skipped yesterday!"
Asoka still doesn't answer. Min attempts to be funny.
Min: "I know the Elders can be slow and stubborn...but don't let their farts kill your appetite."
No response from Asoka. After a long awkward pause, Min is unable to think of what to do.
Min: "Ok, well...I'll come back later..."
It's late afternoon, almost sunset. Asoka is sitting up in their hammock and drinking from the cloth water canteen that had been hanging by their hammock. Asoka is so weak that Iri must help hold up the canteen, which is getting empty. A pile of papayas have appeared next to the hammock.
Iri: "You really...should get...out of bed! It's not your fault..."
Asoka starts to cry again. Their stomach rumbles loudly, pityingly, and Iri looks exasperated.
Iri: "Soka, eat something please??"
Suddenly, the trees are full of rambunctious Automata children and many of their animal companions. They are chase each other through the branches as they pass a peteca back and forth, reveling in the twists and jumps and turns they are able to incorporate into their movement. Amongst them is Min, who hits the peteca with a Meia Lua de Compasso, foot making solid impact with the weighted fabric bottom, one hand on a tree trunk and body practically horizontal while mid-air. Wrapped and secured to Min's back is a large bojagi.
Child: "Para mim, para mim!"
A very tiny Automata child, a tiny squirrel monkey deftly clinging to his shoulder, shrieks with excitement as the peteca comes towards him. He eyeballs the peteca like a hawk, his gaze never wavering. He winds up his arm, ready to smack the peteca back towards Min...and just as he hits the flying packet of feathers, he takes one too many steps backwards and throws himself backwards off the tree branch.
Automata child: "Aaaaaaaaaahaahahahahahahaha!"
The tiny Automata child lands on top of Asoka's sleeping bubble with a gelatinous bounce.
Automata child: "UUFF!!"
The whole bubble ripples but holds its shape. The child, exhilerated from the game and his fall, falls back into the SynTh bubble stomach first, gasping with laughter and exertion as he looks happily down at Asoka and waves. The monkey on his shoulder chirps and turns its head in a hilarious caricature of curiosity. Asoka stares back, hunger and crushing depression momentarily forgotten.
Automata child: "You're Min's evil spirit! We brought you food!"
Asoka and Iri exchange a glance, then Asoka sighs and ties back their hair.
Asoka: "Alright, I'm coming."
We see a view from above, of Asoka and Min sitting across from each other on the large tree trunk beneath Asoka's hammock. Asoka is bare-headed and wearing only their sleeveless undershirt and trousers. Between the two teens is a large, mouth-watering dosirak of leftovers from the Central Hearth, sitting on top of the bojagi that Min had used to bring it up to Asoka's bubble. Asoka unenergetically picks at the food as Min pours from a tall thermos of sweet juice made from Ungurahua fruit into several wooden cups.
Min: "Mawé's been so excited to meet you, he's been learning English from me during his free time!"
The tiny Automata child that fell onto Asoka's sleeping bubble, monkey companion now perched on his head, holds out a cup of the fruit juice to Iri.
Automata child: "Wanna try?"
Iri carefully tips a small amount of liquid into its mouth. Its eyes light up -- Iri likes the juice a lot! Iri downs the rest of the glass. Seeing Iri's enthusiastic response, Mawé puffs up pride. The little squirrel monkey cautiously approaches Iri, wanting to make friends.
Min: "Mawé helped me make it...it's patua juice!"
Mawé squeels with delight as Iri suddenly glows for a moment in response to the unfamiliar drink; at the same time, Asoka's clothing also briefly flash a new pattern, looking like a fractal tangle of blood vessels. Startled, the monkey rushes back onto Mawé's head, chittering and scolding everyone loudly. Asoka, watching Mawé and the monkey play with Iri, is suddenly and painfully reminded of Pippa. Asoka chokes up with sudden tears.
Asoka: "Just like Pippa..."
Through their tears, Asoka sees a cup of patua juice, held out by small but strong hands. Asoka looks up to see an unexpectedly solemn Mawé, monkey now calm and peering at Asoka with intensity.
Mawé: "Do you want some too? When I'm feeling bad, patua juice makes me feel better!"
Asoka stares at Mawé, still seeing a ghost of Pippa on the eager young face. After a moment, Mawé looks questioningly at Min. Min gently takes one of Asoka's hands and wraps it around the cup.
Asoka blushes, embarrassed by the kind treatment.
Asoka: "Sorry...I mean, thanks..."
Min's hand stays on Asoka's to give it a strong, warm squeeze.
Min: "It's ok! You're far from home, surrounded by new people and strange things...I think you're handling all this super well."
Asoka's eyes fill with tears.
Asoka: "But...I told Pippa to go back...if I hadn't, they wouldn't..."
Asoka grits their teeth and hides their face in their hands, as tears begin to spill out of their eyes. Iri crawls into Asoka's lap and gently strokes Asoka's hands with its arms, trying to calm Asoka.
Asoka: "...and I ran away...I just...didn't help anyone!!"
Asoka starts to rock back and forth, feeling as if their pent-up emotions might tear them apart, cell by cell. Min crawls around the food to kneel by Asoka. Mawé also moves closer, wide-eyed.
Min: "Hey...do you want a hug?"
Asoka doesn't look up, but gives a tiny nod. Iri gives Min an encouraging smile and moves to Asoka's shoulder.
Asoka, barely audible: "...yes please..."
Min embraces Asoka gently, tentatively. Asoka turns their face into Min's chest and begins to cry loudly, in heaving sobs. Min's eyes start to also fill with tears, and the two teens cry and hold each other. Mawé puts his tiny arms around both Min and Asoka, dry eyed and confused by the older children's emotions but willing to accept that both babies and grownups seem incredibly susceptible to tears, especially when compared to the stable composure and infinite wisdom that seem to bless 7 year olds. Mawé's monkey chirps gently, and Iri's arms gently cradle all three childrens' heads.
The sun has set. A fantastic view of the nighttime forest is lit by a full moon. Above is the night sky, resplendent with stars and the un-twinkling lights of planets and Orbiter vessels. Below, in a large tree with generous branches, is an SynTh bubble. Inside, Iri sits on top of Asoka's head, and Mawé is fast asleep with his head in Min's lap. The squirell monkey is sprawled hilariously on its back, safely held in Mawé's arms. Asoka and Iri look up around them with wonder and awe on their faces. Min is entranced by the flow of soft yet brilliant colors gently pulsating across Iri and Asoka's clothing.
Asoka: "Wow...I haven't looked at the night sky since Confinement ended..."
Min: "Yeah, isn't it beautiful? I'm so glad I have a dermal shield...although, I wouldn't mind having a mechapet either!"
Asoka fondles a corner of their outfit, face sad but also proud as they fondly scratch Iri above its eye ridges.
Asoka: "Yeah...the Biononymous don't believe in invasive mods of our bodies, so we had to find another way. My Haven was the first to pair-bond people with mechapets, and cuttlefish cloth is new for us too...I'm so glad our Vovós found a way to work together, before and after The Burning!"
Min reverently touches the cloth near Asoka's hand.
Min: "So cool that it's also controlled by nervous system activity..."
Asoka: "Hey Min...why do you wanna go up into Orbit so bad? They don't have any trees or sky up there..."
Min looks eagerly back up at the sky.
Min: "I mean...it is the sky up there...and the only place you can feel zero-G, or see the Earth as a big blue ball..."
Min looks back at Asoka, grinning widely.
Min: "And I hate saying no to a challenge...if you could hide on a military sub, right under the Peacekeeper's noses...then for sure I can find a way to join the ISE Corps!!"
Asoka: "The ISE Corps is the fancy Orbiter school?"
Min: "Yeah! If you graduate top ten, you get a free ride to Space Uni! And usually only Orbiters have the cred for it...but last year they announced the 'Space Asylum Program', a scholarship just for Earthers!"
Asoka looks down at Mawé and squirell monkey, sleeping so peacefully in Min's lap, face full of fear.
Asoka: "But...is it really worth it? It sounds so risky..."
Min looks down at Mawé and gently cups his little chubby face.
Min: "Sure there's risk...there's risk whenever you do something hard or new...so I guess it's a personal choice..."
Min looks up at Asoka with a determined look on her face.
Min: "And I choose to explore the unknown, rather than wait around for it to bite me!"
Min realises that her words might make Asoka feel bad about the attack on their Haven.
Min: "Ah...bad choice of words..."
Asoka: "It's ok...I just don't think I'm as brave as you..."
Asoka, a fire suddenly alight in their eyes, turns back to Min, who is still watching them.
Asoka: "But I'm tired of cleaning up Orbiter mistakes. Earthers should have a say in how things go from now on. So I'm going to join the ISE Corps too!"
Min let's out a wild and joyful whoop, nearly dislodging Mawé and the squirrel monkey, then grabs Asoka by the shoulders.
Min: "Yes! We'll build a better future for everyone! And if anyone tries to stop us..."
Zoom in on Min and Asoka's faces, who are touching foreheads.
Min: "...they'll only make us stronger!"
Diagram 7: Bringing Neuroscience out of the lab and into the wild
"Information recovered from magnetic storage tapes at Iron Mountain Archeological Site 2100-813..."
Neuroscientists have the strangely fractal job of studying the thing that lets us study anything and everything. Our most powerful tool is also the thing we most desire to understand. It's like trying to look at the back of our own heads, or to see what our own eyes do when we watch things - alone, it's absolutely impossible to do, even with a mirror. But with another person, they can easily look at the back of your head or watch your eyes. So how do we gain this external perspective in neuroscience?
Every living human has a nervous system, and uses it everyday. Our nervous system comes from the same basic plan as all vertebrates, but some parts of our brains got...weirder.
Remember cortex, where your simulation is actually simulated? It is the engine for thought. It uses the summary provided by hippocampus to store experiences as memories. It uses the evaluation by basal ganglia to pick actions. But how does it know whether its simulation is any good? For most vertebrates, a good simulation is one validated by reality, by the feedback from our senses. If what you expect to happen actually happens, then cortex must be doing something right.
For humans, something changed. Humans can simulate worlds not validated by our senses. We can untether our cortex from the constraints of reality and create complex systems that only exist in our minds. We don't just simulate how a fruit falls out of a tree or what parts of our bodies may break if we fall down the stairs. We can also simulate worlds too tiny or huge to be seen by our eyes, too fast or slow to be heard by our ears, too optimistic or too cynical for other parts of our simulator to accept. We can even simulate our simulator, which is the weirdly fractal job of neuroscientists.
This might seem like a risky move by evolution, but it had a profound effect. By allowing cortex to simulate anything it wants, then two people, two different cortices, could begin to wonder, "How is their simulator different from mine?" We need an untethered cortex to answer that question, first to "visualize" our internal worlds well enough to speak our answer, but then to also simulate the mental model inside the other's head, to simulate the world inside the other person.
By gaining familiarity with each others' simulations, people can then coordinate their mental models. Untethering cortex made human language possible as it allowed people to share (communicate) their model of the world, and, ideally, to coordinate them. A human brain might have just one, reasonably big cortex, but human society is collective of many cortices, working together...a collective, super intelligence.
And just like we simulate the collective of cells and micro-organisms that make up our individual bodies, we also simulate this greater collective of many cortices. We do it when we pick out gifts for lovers, debate with friends or enemies, and convince the bus driver to give us a free ride. We do it when we plan our finances, operate machines, interpret the law, imagine alternate realities, and negotiate conflict.
This untethered simulation could be considered the foundations of culture and civilization, and it's a form of mental gymnastics that humans have been doing for a long time. This means that all living humans are, to some degree, "unwitting neuroscientists", each with a lifetime of intimate, personal experience with a nervous system, who develop simulations of our own behaviour, of others' behaviour, and all aspects of the world around us, in order to navigate our material and social landscapes.
This makes neuroscience rather unlike many other topics of formal study, such as marine biology or particle physics. Not everyone has access to the ocean, and when's the last time you had an intimate, personal experience with the Higgs boson? This isn't to say that neuroscience is easy. In the last 60 years since neuroscience first became a distinct discipline of formal study, many people have tackled what they thought were relatively straightforward questions about nervous systems, only to realize a decade later that they still have more questions than answers.
So how can we get better at studying nervous systems? I like the idea that "two heads are better than one" when it comes to solving really tricky problems, and a recent study called “Optimally Interacting Minds” offers some evidence that this catchy idiom might be true. Apparently, the most important ingredients are good communication and an accurate awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses.
Let's apply those ingredients to neuroscience. One of the field's greatest strengths is the very detailed descriptions and precise measurements made possible by lab neuroscience methods. However, currently some of the field’s greatest weaknesses is that our most powerful methods are usually used on isolated pieces of nervous systems or on non-human animals (which adds a step of translation to go between species), and these methods are very difficult to use on whole, intact nervous systems in their most natural and healthy states.
Luckily, other research disciplines (such as ethology and anthropology) have been developing detailed and precise methods of studying whole, healthy nervous systems. In addition, the enormous wealth of insight from the "unwitting neurosciestist" within every person is currently largely untapped. So how can we improve communication and coordination between neuroscience and these other sources of knowledge and insight?
Designing for a collective of human cortices requires designs that work with both the individual brains and their means of coordinating with each other. We can take some lessons from the organization of cortex itself. Cortex doesn't connect every piece of its network to each other -- this results in seizures. Instead, cortex is organized into discrete modules, shaped liked columns. Each column is a self-contained processing unit that gets inputs, adjusts its computation, and sends output. These units are repeated throughout cortex, millions of times. Scientists call them the canonical cortical unit.
We feel architects and planners can learn from how cortex managed to deal with the need to interconnect its massive network while maintaining sanity and control. Rather than creating a city in which each person is part of a large distributed, interconnected by transport and communication networks, we should arrange cities into self-sufficient modular units, a “canonical community unit”, similar to a traditional village. Each community unit addresses the basic needs, such as housing, food, medical care, exercise, and education, locally and within the unit. The things we desire beyond those basic needs, such as cultural enrichment, social variety, or any other project that benefits from the coordination of many cortices, would require a clever way to interconnect these canonical community units.
The next phase of neuroscience is definitely a project that would benefit greatly from the coordination of many cortices, and we need to develop more ways of conducting rigorous, replicable neuroscience research outside of the traditional neuroscience lab. Why? Very few people have access to traditional neuroscience labs, so it's hard to involve either researchers from other fields or "unwitting neuroscientists". Luckily, spaces where everyone is invited to participate in building and organizing knowledge already exist, such as museums, libraries, zoos, and aquariums! With just a few tweaks, these spaces can easily host high-quality neuroscience research, and become places where professional, unwitting, and aspiring neuroscientists can more effectively collaborate.
Back to Table of Contents
Dream 3: The next beginning
"January 21, 2117"
The Automata have gathered to say goodbye to Min. Today, she leaves for her Year Underground. Min is dressed in lightweight travel gear and has a substantial pack strapped to her back. Pinned to Min's clothing and pack are flowers, leaves, tiny delicate knotwork for good fortune, and other small trinkets of affection and remembrance. Maraba adjusts a good luck knot in Min's hair and gives Min a huge, albeit teary, grin. Amadou kneels to be face to face with his rather short daughter. His eyes are full of tears, and he opens his mouth to speak, but then finds that he cannot. Instead, he pulls Min into a huge bear hug. Father and daughter embrace fiercely. Amadou kisses Min on the forehead, then stands as Min turns to hug Jina, just as fiercely. Min then tenderly hugs Majhee, who chuckles and shoos Min along the line of well-wishers.
Asoka stands towards the end of the line, trying to look happy but unable to hide their deep, cutting sadness. They keep their eyes down as Min approaches them; Asoka is the last to say goodbye. Asoka holds out in one hand the tiny origami dragon folded from a delicate piece of SynTh cloth that they made as their parting gift. With the other hand, they stroke the dragon's spine -- it yawns and stretches, like a tiny folded lizard-cat made of living cloth. Min's eyes widen with delight - she's never seen such a tiny, delicate origami dragon before.
Min reverently places the little origami dragon her shoulder, where it circles a few times then settles onto its haunches, fluttering its wings a bit with pleasure at its new vantage point.
Min looks up at the crying Asoka, who is trying hard to smile through their tears. Min grins.
Min: "Hope you have a good journey back to Haven Clarksville. And keep up your capoeira training!"
Asoka and Min clasp hands as Asoka returns Min's grin, matching her fierceness with their own.
Asoka: "In 2 years, you won't even recognize me in the roda!"
Min throws back her head in a full-throated laugh.
Min: "Deal! See you in orbit!"
Back to Table of Contents
When our minds began to shape,
faced an unknown landscape
full of fatal fruits,
but we moved, cuz that's what living things do;
yeah we groove and we rise
to unchain our minds from the vines of the vices of the status quo.
They don't wanna free our minds,
they want obedient drones
who will labor
for the myth of a rich man's favour,
'stead of lovin' their neighbor;
we all long to belong,
sing along, harmonies of all the same song.
-- "Mind Shape", by T. Sorriso, 2245 --
From "Heartsongs of the Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars",
Back to Table of Contents
References and other supplementary materials
What is a Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholar? http://www.danbeekim.org/projects/2018/02/28/VIRS-principles/
Typical Classification Levels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classified_information#Typical_classification_levels
What is Iron Mountain? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Mountain_(company)
Map of locations important to the Story
The following license applies to this story script and story universe:
Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars (VIRS) by Danbee Kim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.danbeekim.org/projects/2018/02/28/VIRS-concept/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at danbeekim.org.