Genetic engineers, ecologists, and terraforming specialists
In the vast hydrocarbon oceans of Saolandis, in their swirling currents of methane and ethane, their lightning induced propane fires and dark viscous waves, life was born. Protected by droplets of water suspended in hydrocarbon soup, cells and bacterium took shape. Life first populated the oceans and then found its way into the iron and nickel rich soil of the great continental shelves, themselves formed from violent tectonic movements, and punctuated by carbon furnaces, hot springs, volcanoes, and other heat vents linking the planet’s molten metallic core to the surface.
Life on the planet had been largely protected from cosmic interference through the powerful magnetic field generated by the planet’s rapid rotation and unusually heavy concentration of metals; its two small moons provided axial stability; and its orbit never took it too far outside of the habitable zone for methane-reliant organisms.
Life might have seemed harsh on Saolandis, with its cold temperatures (far outside of the habitable zone for water-based life) and dark ashy clouds, but it teemed in ocean, land, and air. Homeostasis in the atmosphereic cycle was achieved as plant life evolved in the carbon dense atmosphere, sucking in CO2 and releasing methane back into the oceans, lakes, and streams; iron-metabolizing “mosses” exhaled CO2 back into the atmosphere, replenishing what the plants took in. These life-forms created the basis for a food chain of wild organisms; thousands of species protected through millions of years of planetary evolution.
Saolandis became a beautiful world, teeming with life and biodiversity. Great beasts floated through the skies on air bladders; massive serpeants snaked through the planet’s deep lakes and slept in its crystalline caves; distinct ecosystems evolved in the methane and ethane currents flowing through the oceans, with species adapted both to temporary life outside of their ecosystem and rapid movement capable of detecting and returning to the correct flows. Incredible forests of iron- and nickel-rich trees, thick vermillion mosses, grey fibrous stalks, and other strange plants covered the planet’s surface, providing home and sustenance for the great and small herbivores of Saolandis, who were in turn preyed upon by insectoid reptiles, carnivorous mushrooms, ice beasts, and other strange predators.
The Visaol were the first and only sapient life-forms to evolve on the planet, and they quickly brought it under their dominion.
Their civilizations passed through six thousand years of development before the great catastrophe. Visaolian astronomers discovered that a star in a nearby Hulth system was within a few decades of going supernova—and that, when it did, life on Saolandis would be bombarded by incredible amounts of radiation, leaving few survivors. The warring Visaolian states—in the presence of this great threat—came together with a plan to build great underground bunkers, map the genetic information of Soaldandian biodiversity, and find a way to survive after the extinction level event that would become known as the Hulth Supernova. Scientists turned to genetics and experimentation on the young in order to build redundancies into future Visaolian biology, to make them capable of surviving the projected disaster. And they performed experiments on the planet’s many creatures to adapt them as best they could to survive the projected consequences of the event.
The event itself was horrific. 70% of the planet’s atmosphere was blown away by the supernova, starving much of the surviving plant life and bombarding the surface with direct radiation. Temperatures rose, causing much of the methane in the oceans to evaporate, into the atmosphere, causing mass die-offs of entire ecosystems; when the methane rained back down as the temperatures cooled, new lakes were formed, and the oceans became a seething roil of methane and ethane. Only those species adapted to both liquids survived the cataclysm. Herbivores died in vast numbers as plants starved for CO2; the only winners were those who fed on death, those the Visaolian had adapted to higher levels of radiation, and the iron synthesizing mosses—allowing for at least some ecological survival on the surface.
What followed is known in Visaolian history as the “lost generation.” The lost generation would never return to the surface, although through their efforts many of their children and grandchildren would. For more than a thousand years, the Visaoli lived in underground bunkers, took readings of the surface, and determined what would be required to survive there. The caste system was introduced as a means of social control, and the Visaoli began to expedite their evolution to make it possible to return to the surface. Through these efforts, the Visaolians adapted their genetic make-up to adapt to (and sense) the high levels of radiation on the surface as well as adopting the anaerobic respiration of iron and nickel prevalent in the surface mosses. They also began to plan ahead for other dangerous environments—incorporating enzymes to prevent their bodily fluids from evaporating in warmer climates near volcanos, developing secondary biological systems (redundant hearts, lungs, and other organs) in the event of trauma or failure, stem cell glands capable of incredible feats of healing, and even making cell information molecules “regenerative,” capable of self-repairing in many cases of extreme heat, cold, and radiation. All this was done through breakthroughs in DNA research and the creation of synthetic XNA variants allowing for directed evolution. A constitutionally hardy race before the event, the Visaoli adapted to become one of the toughest species in the system, and used their newfound resiliency to return to the surface and begin the great effort of reseeding the atmosphere with carbon and bringing extinct species back to life—with subtle changes that would allow them to adapt to the new conditions on Visaol.
As the Visaolian civilization returned and came together with the shared goal of planetary respeciation, universal faith in their own toughness and resiliency, and a common caste-based social structure left over from their time underground, they formed a world government and brought their technologies to new heights. Although Saolandis has not returned—and will never be able to return—to the level of biodiversity it experienced prior to the Hulth Supernova, the Visaolians will never forget the fragility of cosmic life and the importance of toughness and survival. They turned to the stars in search of new life, to expand their own capacity for survival and to seed the universe with myriad, genetically engineered species…
Humanoid physiology/systems with fundamental differences; food intake through the face, waste removal through the rear, “standard” senses through eyes, ears, and tentacles (both taste and smell are handled through olfactory tentacles that “taste” the air), as well as a sense of touch keyed to physical/thermal as well as radiological sensations. Yes, this means that certain radiological sensations are pleasurable/unpleasurable and there is radiological art.
The Visaoli respirate anaerobically through methanogenesis—breathing in CO2 and hydrogen and exhaling methane. They are also capable of anaerobic respiration in the absence of CO2 through iron reduction—a process that itself produces CO2 that can be breathed by the Visaoli. This is a key “redundancy” for their survival in harsh environments.
Like many Saolandian creatures, the dominance of iron and other metals in the planet’s crust has entered Visaolian biology in the form of extremely tough, yet flexible organic iron compounds that form a second layer underneath the organism’s skin. These compounds are conductive, and thus can relay signals from the skin to the nervous system. They are also extremely tough and provide resistance to many kinds of physical injury.
The Visaoli value life, survival, biodiversity, and biological inquiry. They see interplanetary colonization as an opportunity not only to spread the life of their own species, but also to introduce new life where none could survive before, or increase the hardiness of life on planets where it already exists.
Government and Social Structure:
Constitutional timocracy + federalism: An aristocratic caste system based in strictly regimented age-based categories; political decision-making restricted to the elder castes, where election to senatorial councils is based in elite decision-making; e.g., major science/research bodies or major military/law enforcement bodies or major judicial bodies or major corporate bodies elect nested Senates; so there are local Senates, which elect members to planetary Senates, which elect members to a new-found ecumenical Senate. Different powers are delegated to Senates at different levels.
An important consequence of the long life of the species and the centralization of decision making and authority at the advanced end of the spectrum is that the species is highly competitive and geared towards caste advancement.
One need not advance in caste if one chooses not to, as caste improvement is voluntary in some cases and requires sponsorship in others. One must have reached a certain age before advancing (necessary condition), but without requisite skill and distinction there are no guarantees that one will (not a sufficient condition). Thus the aristocracy slowly distinguishes itself as individuals rise through the ranks, and fewer and fewer make it to higher castes.
There are a large number of guilds for the society’s specialists, and entrance into a guild the result of dedicated labor as a member of the labor caste. Important guilds include specialities in science, trade (business corporations), manufacturing, urban planning, environmental planning, terraforming, military, judiciary and law enforcement, the arts, exploration, etc.
The Visaolian emphasis on biology has led to major developments in biophysics, biochemistry, and bio-astrology. They are expert terraformers and genetic engineers.
The Visaolians are severe, reserved, and serious people. Their lives have all been shaped by their response to the Hulth Supernova, which inserted terrible tragedy and loss into their self-understanding. Their nostalgia for their lost world drives much of their thinking, and they are obsessed with remembrance and memorials to the past, as well as fantasies of the return of their planet to its (imagined) former glory. Many see themselves as protectors, and hope to prevent such events from happening to others; while many have turned selfish, watching out only for their own continued survival by any means. Visaolian humour often has a dark, cynical, or biting undertone, although the Visaoli are also capable of great joy in moments of accomplishment or caste advancement. They find peace and contentment when surrounded by natural life or beauty, but feel anxiety in artificial or enclosed spaces, especially underground. Their physical hardiness often makes them cocky or overconfident.