Author Topic: Part 1: Intro to Moss and his father  (Read 6815 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 1: Intro to Moss and his father
« on: April 15, 2022, 05:06:05 AM »
Grove Praska was quiet tonight. A slight breeze made its way past the assembled trees, as the night air carried the distant noise of insects chirping. The recent rains made the soil heavy, as if the ground itself was feeling a sleep-induced weight as well.

Most of his friends and family found the time after Coredown to be unnerving, but Moss didn't. They were all perfectly safe, despite the lack of reassuring heat and light coming from above. His ancestors believed that the Core had made a covenant with the Void, and that they traded places ruling over the world every day. That was just superstition, though. He might not know the exact details, but this Core/Void cycle was part of nature, and he'd come to trust it. Moss pulled his attention away from his work briefly to enjoy the chirping noise.

Moss lived a good distance away from the grove, intentionally. For as long as he could remember he'd been different than his fellow grove members. They reveled in each others' company. He'd participated in their antics as much as was required, but when left to his own devices he'd always ended up on his own.

Of course none of them were ever truly on their own. Everyone had dozens or hundreds of qars with them at all times. Moss' own nest was small—only fifty or so—but he tended to them carefully. He didn't value qars as much as his siblings did, but at least his own didn't bombard him with their own conversation at all times. The advantage to being one of those large insects was that they weren't sentient. They were just draft animals: useful as beasts of burden, communicators, and at times warriors. Even so, the ones who slept beneath him did so fitfully. One of his older qars named Grace stirred in her sleep, and he sent an enzyme down through his roots to calm her. It seeped into the air in the underground chamber, reinforcing their sleep cycle. Another repeating event that was a part of the natural world, despite ancient superstitions saying otherwise.

Moss was a treqar—the only race of intelligent creatures on Tarn. Grove Praska was home to twenty-eight treqars including him, and it was one of dozens of groves across this province, and thousands across the continent. In the distant past the groves had been isolated from one another, sessile and passive like the other trees on Tarn. They had adapted during the Great Freeze, forming a symbiotic relationship with the qars, and surviving while other species had been wiped out by the extreme cold.

That had been the big awakening for his kind. The Freeze forced treqars to send their seeds far afield, to warmer southern climates. That migration caused them to eventually meet each other. For the first time, treqars had encountered other groves. Each had its own perspective, values, religion, and goals. Moss' ancestors had been particularly acquisitive, desiring more and more territory. Thus began the wars.

He didn't like thinking about that. To this day various groves had disputes with one another, but most lived in at least tentative harmony. Qars were no longer bred for warfare so much as treekeeping duties. His own nest had slightly different training than the others, but that had been a conscious choice on his part.

A dozen or so were coming back now, he could sense. They carried sacks filled with sticks and adhesives gathered from the outside forest. Some of his kin might take issue with him harvesting from other plants, but he didn't see any problems. They were lesser lifeforms, and his to do with as he pleased. If they were sentient, they'd object.

He 'listened' to the chemical report given by Fortitude, and then dismissed him and his squad down below to get some rest. He made sure to increase the pheromonal content in the air so that they could go to sleep quickly. He woke up another squad to continue Fortitude's work.

Qars in the wild had once been a much different society. They had their own queens and built colonies on their own, driven by the pursuit of food and space to grow. They didn't sleep for hours, as tame ones did, but for minutes instead. Moss had never encountered a wild qar, or heard from anyone who had. They were thought to be extinct—killed off during the Freeze or entirely absorbed into treqar society.

So much of treqar life depended on them! Even Moss, who viewed them only as tolerable pets, needed them to continue his experiments and build his designs. Their strange sensory bundles, named 'eyes' in his schooling, allowed them to see where they were going as they moved in and around his root system, and then climbed up his bark to perform maintenance. He had no eyes of his own, but hundreds of oscilli in his leaves and branches allowed him to 'see' in every direction at once. Still, he imagined it would be nice to be able to use directional sight to explore new surroundings like his pets could. He'd want a longer range than them, though. Qars would get lost very easily if they didn't leave chemical trails behind them.

He was suddenly aware of another qar approaching from the north. It carried an enzyme package. Given how late it was, the package wasn't likely from any other groves. As he watched, the qar carefully placed its burden down outside his roots before turning around and heading home. Another advantage the modern qars had over their ancient ancestors was intelligence. Problem solving was difficult for them, but they could follow moderately complicated instructions faithfully. Curiously, Moss dispatched a qar to pick it up and bring it back to him.

Once it was attached to his roots, a message flooded through his synapses. It was his father's unique tone. "I would like to speak with you, son. Now, if you please."

Each treqar had a special signature to their messages, which was almost impossible to fake. Not that anyone had any reason to forge this message anyway. Everyone in grove Praska knew that he didn't get along with his family. He was just too different, and they were just too… traditional.

Regretfully, Moss instructed two qars to connect one of his taproots to the network of artificial conduits leading back to the grove. Through that, messages could be transferred without the use of qar couriers. It had changed the very nature of treqar existence.

In the ancient past, before qars had become a part of their society, Moss' ancestors could only interact through their roots. They had grown towards each other purposefully, and eventually connected so that they could communicate. Over time, with help from the qars, they had learned how to manufacture artificial roots, allowing for communication over a greater distance.

Such a network allowed a grove as a whole to interact with other groves. Over the past three hundred years, it had become an interroot connecting all the groves on this continent. One treqar, an immense distance away, could have an idea. If they transmitted that idea through the interroot, it could be available in grove Praska in a matter of hours. It wasn't as fast as radios of course, but only a handful of treqars even had a radio. They were hard to build and maintain, and only used by some Grovekeepers and high-level officials within the Union.

Rumor had it that Union scientists had recently perfected a new kind of enzymatic conduit. From what Moss had heard, they were being installed to replace the current artificial root system, and they were much more efficient. Soon the interroot would be able to carry messages in milliseconds instead of hours. Moss was torn between giddy anticipation as to how quickly he could learn from such a system, and terror at being exposed to that many individual thoughts at once. He was introverted by nature, and the idea of sharing ideas literally at the speed of thought was a bit overwhelming.

Once his pets were done, Moss tapped into the local network. His father's signature was there of course, glowing and pulsating with its own energy. The others were all muted, resting and waiting for the Corerise. When it came, no doubt the noise would become overwhelming again.

This was how enzymatic communication always worked. It was like a virtual environment. Through it, Moss could perceive people who were physically on the other side of the grove, and interact with them as if they were physically touching.

"What do you want, father?" He transmitted the enzymes into the network hesitantly. It was a delicate balance, trying to keep his ego in check. He didn't want to offend the old codger, but it was early. He was entitled to a little attitude.

"I wanted to remind you about tomorrow morning, belhiera'torkalm'oss," he used Moss' full name stiffly. "Your entire initiate class will be witnessing the arrival of our guest. I'm sure it would mean a lot to your siblings as well if you were connected when it happens." Moss 'twitched' with surprise, various enzymes and pheromones losing containment briefly. He'd forgotten about the arrival! How many days had been working on his project anyway?

The thought of staying connected through the arrival ceremony was a root-twisting one. The whole grove would be awake, bombarding him with their messages and thoughts and fears. They didn't see it that way of course, but that was the truth of it.

Grace had woken up, and was nuzzling one of his roots curiously. Others were approaching consciousness as well. That was his fault: his loss of control had disrupted their environment. He hurriedly set things back to normal and sent a chemical instruction to Grace herself. "It's all right, little one. Go back to sleep."

He realized his father was still waiting, and let him stay that way for a few more minutes. He had always been a fast thinker by comparison to his peers, so he doubted his father would even notice. He took the time to try and phrase his response diplomatically. "I'll stay for the perception and greeting, but then I'll disconnect again," he offered in an attempt for compromise.

"Of course. You should know that some of your classmates have been asking after you though. Tressa and Daplan even felt concerned when they reached out. You should stay at least long enough to let them know you're fine."

There it was. His father's not-so-subtle attempt to entice him back into the group.

Moss had studied qar behavior over the years, and read through the assembled enzyme texts on the subject. When grove Praska had first been connected to the interroot, Moss had been just a seedling, but he'd been fascinated. He'd spent hours connected, as treqars all over the Union were interacting, sharing ideas, and making their texts available for anyone to read. It took time and effort to arrange enzymes into a set narrative fashion, but once done so, they could be simply duplicated and then examined later in private. Those stories about history (and fantasy), physics (and metaphysics), geology, tectonics, fluid dynamics, animal life, and so many more, had altered him forever. The interroot had only needed a few decades to transform the entire Union from a collection of isolated, primitive, insular communities, into the vibrant, educated, modern society it was today.

He'd read about the mammal creatures out in the forest, and how their 'societies' functioned. Unlike treqars, they placed a great deal of importance on mating and parenting. Some of the mammals even formed family units, fiercely protecting partners and offspring from even perceived threats. Treqars had no natural instincts like that, but relationships between parents and their offspring could become strained. Hence his father's request.

Moss let out an enzyme that signified mild frustration. "I told you years ago, I have no interest in bonding with anyone. Tressa and Daplan are wonderful I'm sure, but I'm not right for them, and they're definitely not right for me. I'll greet them, politely, and then I'll disconnect. That should be enough for you," he added sardonically.

"I'm only concerned for your happiness, you know. By the time I was your age I'd already bonded four people and had five seedlings in the ground! You're wasting time, Moss."

"I'm only eighty," he responded grumpily. "I've got plenty of time left. Besides, I am happy, whether you can see it or not. Just because I chose to spread my roots way out here doesn't mean I can't live a life of meaning and value!" That had been a decision he'd made very early on. Back when he was still light enough to be uprooted and moved by a collection of qars. He'd put roots down here, and he hadn't regretted it.

His father continued trying to convince him, but Moss tuned him out. Perhaps the old barker really did believe that being bonded and spreading pollen would make Moss happy, but he had other reasons to try and entice his son back into the network. His father was ambitious by nature, and was always trying to increase his standing. He had two dozen offspring spread across this province, and all of them except Moss had offspring of their own. Moss'… aberrant behavior was an embarrassment to his father. It was probably hurting his chances at being chosen Grovekeeper.

It was ridiculous, really. Leaders should be chosen based on their ability to do the job, not for any familial reasons! Moss should have been able to be a Combustor of all things and still have no effect on his father's election chances.

But people were stupid, and networked people were even worse. Ideas were an echo chamber, bounced around the interroot with such frequency that the vast majority of treqars heard the same concept again and again. So often that before long they couldn't tell the difference between that message and their own thoughts.

His father finally wound down and eventually 'let' Moss disconnect. First, he checked for other messages though. There was the usual list of candidates in there of course, along with a bunch of advertisements for qars with particular abilities. Moss perused through those with mild interest. He could use a few more to supplement Grace's adoptive brood down there.

Almost all qars were sterile: bred for strength, resilience, and intelligence. Each grove had at least one breeder though, who was prized for those same qualities. The current Grovekeeper, a gentle female nicknamed Jora, spread enzyme packages containing images of her qar's most recent brood. They were promising insects indeed, though Moss couldn't get behind the idea that they were 'cute' as his classmates often said.

There was a private message from grove Ursun as well. That must be his friend Noq. Though five times his age and half a continent away, Noq really was Moss' only confidant. He was a master inventor and the inspiration behind Moss' own projects, for the most part. Moss had followed Noq's career with great interest, reading every enzyme paper he'd ever written, and trying to understand his mobility designs even from a young age. He'd written the older inventor multiple times, but naturally a treqar like Noq probably had quite a large following.

Actually hearing from his idol for the first time years ago had been a profound experience. Moss had gotten so excited that his qars had started preparations for a celebration without even knowing why. Such was the power of subconscious glee mixed with enzymatic messages to the qars.

"To my good friend Moss," this message began simply. "I've looked over your designs and found them to be promising. I hope you will forgive me returning them with some suggestions on improvement. Your instincts are first-rate, but you lack the resources and peer review I have here in grove Ursun. I have also arranged a shipment of metal alloys to be delivered discreetly to you. They should arrive by the end of the season. It was decidedly not easy to make the arrangements invisible on the final leg to grove Praska. As such I will be unable to repeat the shipment, so please be careful with the metals once they arrive."

Moss felt a surge of excitement, but was careful not to let it wake his qars. He checked the timecode on the message. According to enzymatic decay, it had been sent four weeks ago. Enzyme packages travelled very slowly, but they were invisible and untraceable compared to the interroot. Plus it would be hard to send actual materials through the network. With that metal, he could really get his designs out of the planning stage!

Once again he was grateful to have found such a friend. Noq wasn't wealthy, but he had chit enough to make this happen. Moss certainly didn't have any valuable qars to trade or chit from his family which he could have used.

"I look forward to seeing the results of your efforts," the letter concluded in Noq's simple style. "As always I continue the work on my end. Your contemporary, Noq."

Moss tried to tamp down on his heightened emotions. Tomorrow would be a busy day with the arrival, and he wasn't looking forward to all the noise. He should try and take advantage of the calm for at least a few more hours while he could. Still, part of the thought process in his root collection couldn't stop ranking all the options of what he was going to do with all that refined metal.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2022, 01:29:47 AM by Daen »