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This is Part 2 of my flight of fancy. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest you begin with Part 1.

It’s day 181 in the newly founded colony. After a six month earth-span of almost paranoid attention to quarantine restrictions, during which their new home has completed nearly five of it’s yearly revolutions, the colonists are for the first time testing their now unrestricted freedom in limited ways.
So far no-one has died from ghastly alien diseases, been infected with mind-sucking parasites or gone mad from naturally occurring hallucinogenic compounds. It’s clearly something of a relief, but continues to be the subject of much investigation… Is this naive of me? Should I imagine the worst, instead of the best? Possibly, but then I wouldn’t have much of a story. Maybe it’s as simple as a temporarily incompatible biology, I don’t know, I’m not a biologist. But it strikes me that in the most cited example of Spanish conquistadors unwittingly bringing devastating diseases to the New World, those viruses, bacteria, fungal infections, or whatever still found ready-made environments in the native inhabitants. One human is, after all, much like another. To an extent one mammal is much like another, which explains how species gaps are occasionally jumped. It doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me to suppose that Humans on this alien world are different enough in their biology to not provide such ready environments. At least, not yet.

And what of the biology, the ecology of this planet? Plant life might be prolific, with a great diversity particularly of moss-like vegetation. As witnessed from orbit the colours consist primarily of much deeper greens and blue-greens than the colonists are used to. “Inky” one of them terms it, as a very chlorophyl-like compound absorbs almost exclusively red wavelengths of light. Hardy little wooden structures are seen in places, looking much like leafless, dormant shrubs, they seem to co-exist with particular types of mosses while being a distinctly different plant, sending out their runners to find and occupy those patches of their preferred moss. It seems to be a kind of symbiosis, but quite what they offer the moss in exchange is still an open question. Protection? Highways for propogation? There are toxins in this environment too, as the mosses engage each other in a kind of biological warfare, some species securing their own boundaries by poisoning them, creating interesting patterns in the patchwork landscape, and a major – but not insurmountable – headache for those colonists charged with processing nutrients out of the local flora and fauna.

Animals are scarce here, and the colder-side-of-temperate was chosen for this first colony site to offer some degree of protection from a ‘diversity overload’. They’ve seen no mammal-analogs as yet, although nothing so far rules out that possibility. The main lifeforms on land are finger-sized to hand-sized insect or crustacean analogs that graze on the surface of mosses and burrow into them for protection from the elements, and from even larger insect-crustaceans which in turn prey on them. A little troubling at first, these larger species have shown no interest in the fleshy colonists, a great relief to all, but have something of a penchant for certain pieces of electrical equipment which must therefore be kept off the ground. A flashlight left sitting on a mossy tussock will quickly develop punctures in its plastic shell, to the point of becoming unworkable if left long enough (the humble flashlight being deemed expendable enough to informally test this theory, in a world of perpetual sunrise).
The river, even in this alpine-like part of the transition zone is already a kilometer or more wide, and fast flowing. It is the dominant feature of the colonists new home, racing down toward the sun through its enormous valley. It teems with life when compared to the land, with mosses of its own, algae-like blooms of life in eddies and along the riverbanks, and various creatures. There are those quite similar to the land-based lifeforms, which themselves still generally spawn in the river, squid-like creatures, sponges in the quieter channels, underwater grasses, and molluscs with frighteningly hard shells capable of withstanding the constant grinding of river rocks in the deeper, faster channels. It’s from the river that the safest and most abundant dietary proteins are derived. In other words, my colonists are becoming fisherfolk.

After six months their culture is already changing in barely perceptible ways. Some of them have brought along old-world religious convictions, but most haven’t and try to remain, to the extent that it’s possible, objective participants in this grand experiment. But there’s something about this new world which changes people. The red sun which never sets, never even moves, hovering always just above the horizon. The river forever flowing under it, and the great valley walls directing the eye toward it like perspective lines in a renaissance masterpiece. Long shadows are cast by everything, creating stripes of light and dark all over the landscape, where a simple rock outcrop leaves a dark swathe ten times disproportionate to it’s own height and those of the tall antennas on the habitat modules finally terminate somewhere far out of sight.
Some social and cultural impact is unavoidable, but change of any sort is neither inherently good or bad. Although I’m generally not a proponent of moral relativism, what better argument could there be for it? To allow an entirely new world to influence the destiny and society of its latest inhabitants, as they themselves are now irrevocably altering that of the planet itself?

(Becoming more of a saga than I’d anticipated, that’s going to be the topic of our next exciting episode.)


With the news this week that the tiny red dwarf star Gliese 581 has a planet, imaginatively labeled Gliese 581 G, situated almost perfectly within it’s habitable zone, I find I’m forced to indulge in a most delightful flight of fancy. Owing to its proximity to the parent star it’s expected that Gliese 581 G will be tidally locked. In other words, like our own moon relative to the Earth, the same side of this planet always faces its ‘sun’.

For me this news was another one of those “Too f***ing cool!” moments with which modern cosmology occasionally, but quite reliably favours me. In my imagination I send out a trailblazing colony mission to settle and explore this new world; unburdened by too many obtrusive facts, since as yet the planet is still the subject of more speculation and theorising than actual knowledge.

Approaching this new system my colonists awaken from their long slumber on the Project Orion style ship, still months away from their destination, and begin the frenetic preparations, observing, calculating, measuring, sampling, recording, debating and celebrating in the freefall periods between the decelerating nuclear pulses. A common theme in their lively discussions being the possibility of finding intelligent lifeforms, and what such lifeforms might think of the regular flashes now appearing in their sky. Were it a pre-industrial society the colonists own experience suggests these might take on some religious significance, appearing as an omen for good or ill. But then who aboard could really claim to comprehend the mind of an undiscovered alien race on a world so very different from their own? Nevertheless the speculation continues unabated, with some expressing unease at the possibility that members of a more advanced civilisation might have identified precisely the nature of this new interstellar intruder, and may even now be preparing some response.
As the months pass and the planet resolves into a rocky world, banded by a clearly ecological zone with a dark blue-green hue that likely photosynthesises the redder wavelengths of the star’s light, the speculation surrounding intelligent life slowly descends into the completely esoteric as none of the expected signs are found to be in evidence. A strange hydrological cycle presents itself, from the constantly frigid dark side with its giant glaciers, an inexorable flow of ancient ice gradually melts as it’s pushed past the transitional zone, carving immense river valleys over eons; the scale of which Mars-born colonists may be prepared for, had they stood gazing out from the rim of the Valles Marineris, but which will leave the Earth-born gaping in complete, uncomprehending awe. From these valleys with their alpine-analog climates the water continues sunward, eventually spreading into seemingly unending and unbearably humid marshlands, before finally evaporating in a salty, cracked and baked desert that itself gives way to a blasted, rocky wasteland under the constant and insufferable glare of a red-hot sun. Any water by this point has long since begun its meteorological pilgrimage, to fall again as fresh snow on the dark side glaciers.

In toward this new world my colonists slowly fall, preparing to dismantle the ship, a network of satellites to be left in orbit and the remainder being given as much material purpose on the surface as could be conceived of prior to launch. This was always a one-way trip. They plan a landing in the most temperate and hospitable valley they can identify, the mission biologists becoming ever more animated as it becomes clear that these valleys often isolate strips of divergent ecologies, while the engineers plan and design their longer-term habitats, voraciously consuming all the data they can on the available material resources, the climatic conditions of their chosen site, and even the wild speculations of the biologists in their own deliberations.

For the final few hours all falls silent, the crew holding their collective breath. The last of the nuclear pulses and a long series of aerobraking maneuvers through the outer planets now lie behind them, a few short minutes of atmospheric violence and fire, an entry rather than a re-entry, is all that now remains of their journey.
In that last hour as spacefarers our intrepid colonists contemplate their new home, a celestial passenger forever bound to its unremarkable Red Dwarf star. In a rare moment of delighted and uncharacteristic agreement they dub it ‘Lister’ and prepare to land.

(The brief history of their colony, and the society it eventually generates in my imagination will have to wait for another time, because now it’s late and well past my bed time.)

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The Dose

What if every act of imagination were the seed from which a new universe grew?
What universes would you then be responsible for having crafted from the ether of the multiverse?
Mine may well be full of zombies, soviet invasions, apocalyptic wastelands, strange empires and their even stranger inhabitants, but I'd like to think that despite their idiosyncrasies they all share a general sense of hope for their respective futures.

My own little universes, made to scale...
They are the Markrocosm.
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