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Keruing, Clade

Seedfolk
Image from Steve Bowers

Introduction

The Keruing, also known as the Seedfolk, were among the victims and creations of the "mad" Deorwin/Deorvyn transapients on Newlife II. Unlike many of their sibling clades they proved viable and are still extant in the Terragen sphere. In their original form they were perhaps as good an illustration of the ingenuity and cruelty of Deorwyn as any of Deorwyn's inventions, because of their unique and tragic life cycle. Even now they are considered unusual among biont clades. Like most Terragen vegetable-derived provolves they are distantly descended from Old Earth's angiosperms, or "flowering" plants. However, their closest analogue is not a tree or herb but a seed. For the Keruing, natural reproduction and death are one and the same.

Description

Members of clade Keruing are on the small side for sapient bionts, with a mass about 25 kilograms at maturity. They look like something like an acorn set point-upward on a set of legs. There is no distinct neck or head. There are six limbs, all attached near the base of the body: two pairs of short walking legs and a pair of stubby manipulatory limbs, each ending in a dozen root-like "fingers". There are six green glittering compound eyes: a larger forward pair and two smaller pairs, spaced around the upper body. Above and parallel to these are of six retractable feathery chemosensory antennae near the crown of the body. There are six pairs of spiracles opening onto the respiratory system, also spaced equidistantly around the body. Only the placement of the mouth, which is difficult to see when it is closed (it simply opens and closes; the chewing movements are entirely internal), and the orientation of the legs and the larger set of eyes, gives any hint as to which is the "front" of a Keruing. Though Keruing have an internal skeleton, the skin of their main body is a secondary exoskeleton. It is shiny, greenish-brown, and woody. The limbs are covered in overlapping bark-like scales that are large plates on the main limbs, but very fine on the palms of the hands and feet. In their sessile summer form Keruing grow a tuft of palm-like leaves from the crown, near the "point" of their head/body. Keruing are very tough, and can heal from severe injuries if they are protected by their siblings and nourished by their parent tree during the necessary time.

Communication, Senses, and Locomotion

Keruing have a powerful grip with their root-like hands and feet. In general they have great endurance, and can labour steadily for very long periods. They can stand in the same position indefinitely or lift an object up and hold it in place for a very long time. However their reactions are rather slow and their fastest movement is also rather slow by the standards of most other bionts. Their top speed is a slow jog for a human. They climb very well, and can swim after a fashion but are rather awkward in the water: their thick woody skin gives too much buoyancy and their shape is far from ideal for controlled motion. On the other hand, they can float almost indefinitely and scull along slowly. Keruing are rather poor at throwing or catching objects, due to the placement and design of their manipulative appendages.

Keruing chemical senses are extraordinarily keen and wide-ranging (especially regarding pheromones, which are the primary "language" of young "gatherer" Keruing), and they have a good sense of hearing, but they are very nearsighted and do not see well in the dark.

Keruing communicate by primarily by sound and secondarily by gestures and pheromones. As juveniles they also use pheromones to signal basic emotional states to other members of the crèche. Adults ("guardians" and "wanderers") can receive and interpret these signals, but do not respond so strongly to them. Keruing language consists primarily of high pitched whistling, rattling, and buzzing noises. Their respiratory system does not easily form the sounds of any of the languages used by human clades and by many other Terragen bionts. Even among fully mature Keruing the more analytical content of their spoken languages is supplemented by the release of short-lived pheromones to emphasize aspects of emotion.

Lifespan and Reproduction

Keruing are born from trees and at the end of their lives give rise to trees. Unlike typical Terragen angiosperm plant provolves, Keruing are derived not from the adult plant, or even from the gametophyte, but from the equivalent of the triploid tissues known as the endosperm that nourish the seed of an Old Earth plant. They do not produce eggs or sperm; instead each of them carries an embryo. This embryo might be regarded as a younger sibling, a child, a clone, or a parasite, but it none of these; the relationship is unique.

Keruing begin life as a small non-sophont "gatherer" form borne by their parent tree in the form of a nut. When they ripen and drop to the ground they wake for the first time, and return to their parent by instinct. They live at first in underground chambers formed by the tree's roots, where each has its own niche where it rests and drinks sugar-water produced by the tree. At this stage of life they gather food from the surrounding forest, clear away competing vegetation, maintain a mulch/compost around the roots of their tree, and drive away herbivores with simple tools that they fashion from the local rocks and vegetation. As they grow in size (and diminish in numbers, since survivors lose many of their siblings to predation) they acquire new duties, and learn from older generations spawned by the same tree. At this second stage they are minimally sophont, have some limited language, and live in the open or in small shelters, and graduate to longer-range journeys or to activities such as digging cisterns or irrigation channels or dikes to protect and support the parent tree, or diverting forest fires around the parent tree's home territory. They still depend on their parent tree for food but they supplement their diet with whatever they can gather, hunt, or trap (any waste material is composted to supplement the nutrient balance of the parental tree). Second stage keruing trade with, negotiate with, and may even make war on their counterparts from neighbouring trees, or may work together with them on regional projects such as dams or water diversion that might benefit a whole forest. This second phase in Keruing life is known as the "guardian" phase.

Eventually nearly all ties to the parent tree are severed, and the mature Keruing individual enters the final phase of life, that of "wanderer". Je* maintains an emotional attachment to jer parent tree and siblings, and sometimes a lesser attachment to the larger community of related parent trees, but wanderlust and a desire to strike out on jer own overrides these impulses. (*Note on pronoun use; the neutral pronouns je, jer are used on this page. See here for more information.)

Fully adult Keruing are the messengers, envoys, and explorers of their society. They spend a great deal of time traveling and learning, often alone. The driving instinct behind this behaviour is the search for a piece of good land. Each mature Keruing, however strongly je denies the fact at first, is looking for a place that is peculiarly jers. Je is looking for a place where je can strike root, die, and give rise to the next parental tree. In winter, je may wander for days on end. Each summer, je feels compelled to seek out good soil and strike root, sprout leaves, and rest. Though fasting in the winter and rooting in poor and rocky soil in the summer may delay the inevitable it cannot prevent it. Each winter the urge to find an acceptable plot of land grows stronger, and each summer the joy of the summer's rest grows stronger. Eventually these urges overcome the fear of death, and je finds or makes an acceptable clearing and stops and roots for the last time. Je fails to wake when autumn arrives, and the embryo that every Keruing carries begins to grow in jer body, gradually utilizing all of the living tissue. A new tree springs up from the cracked husk of a sophont who may, by that time, have been over two hundred years old.

The tree that sprouts from one of the Keruing grows vigorously, using the stored energies of its "parent", and soon produces its own crop of attendants/descendants. The trees themselves are eventually majestic forest giants, somewhat similar to Old Earth dipterocarps or Old Earth oaks (both of which appear to have contributed to the Keruing genome), with massive trunks, and mature heights of over 100 metres in favoured locations. They dominate the local ecosystem if the soil is rich and the water supply is sufficient. They require about two hectares of land apiece, but may be more or less closely packed depending on the local climate and soil. The trees are wind pollinated, and may release prodigious quantities of pollen in season, but they produce new Keruing rather sparingly.

Since their manumission, most of the Keruing subclades have gengineered one of a number of different ways out of the biological trap that their creator built for them. A few, of course, have incorporated the original life cycle into their culture and belief systems and accept death when it comes. For the remainder the most common solution is to make each change in phase of life once a Keruing achieves sophoncy a decision rather than an inevitable biologically driven fact. This means that some individuals never enter the fully adult wandering phase, and that adults do not all choose to reproduce. Many subclades have made modifications to the final phase of adult life. If a Keruing wishes to reproduce, je gives birth to the embryo je has been carrying as large in the form of a tiny plant within a packet of enriched nutrients, and protects the small sprout it until it reaches the size of the large sapling that would have otherwise have grown directly from jer dormant body. This takes two or more years under normal circumstances. Most adults of subclades with this capability retain a few cells of the embryo and can generate another embryo from them, and therefore have the opportunity to plant another descendant tree at a later time if they so choose. Some other Keruing subclades have bypassed other aspects of the original life cycle, and simply reproduce via cloning, but they are in the minority.

Environmental Requirements

The ideal environment for the trees that produce the Keruing is tropical to subtropical rainforest. They can tolerate temperatures somewhat below freezing, and can survive seasonal drought and flooding, but cannot survive extreme winters or sustained cool temperatures, and also fail to produce new Keruing if the environment lacks any seasons at all. Their leaves are normally evergreen, but they can survive prolonged cold or drought by shedding them. They need fairly strong illumination during the growing season, comparable to that received in the equatorial regions of Old Earth. If the flux of ultraviolet light is too high (as on a Gaian planet with a thin ozone layer, or one that orbits a type F star) their leaves will sunburn. If they do not get enough short-wave light (as around the M type stars and the weaker K type stars) they will grow slowly or not at all. They need at least 0.3 g to grow properly, and begin to develop problems with limb breakage at 1.3 g. They need a standard Terragen oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere, with sufficient traces of carbon dioxide.

The Keruing themselves have the same preferred environment, but have somewhat more flexibility. They can live in microgravity or in accelerations of up to 1.8 g for long periods with no ill effects, and can tolerate approximately the same temperature range as a human nearbaseline (with clothing to compensate at colder temperatures). When fully mature they are naturally omnivorous, but can subsist entirely on plant food if they must. They can live for some time by photosynthesis if they root, stay still, and cease all but the most essential brain activity, a process that requires a day or so of preparation. Their other environmental needs and preferences are comparable to those of a human nearbaseline.

In the years since their emancipation the Keruing have of course produced near-Keruing and even tweak subclades with adaptations to local conditions, but the main clade is still by far the most numerous. Most have preferred to alter their environments rather than their genome.

Psychology

Immature Keruing are fiercely loyal to their parental tree and their siblings, to the point of sacrificing their lives if they must. They tend to be somewhat emotional and impulsive. As the years pass and they mature they become more reflective, and a full-grown Keruing is usually rather cool and distant by Human standards. Keruing loyalties beyond their kin group can sometimes be very weak, especially in the later stages of life when they have lost their attachment to the parental tree and surrounding community; the oldest "wanderer" Keruing may seem selfishly solipsistic. On the other hand, some individuals transfer the strong allegiances of their earlier life to some larger group: their closer kin, members of their polity or culture, their clade, their religion, or even all bionts, all Terragens, or sophont life in general. Younger "guardian" Keruing, or those who otherwise remain attached to their natal community, tend to be extremely pragmatic and agnostic, and will often tell others that their work and family is their belief set and their religion. If they do take up a religious or political belief system on the other hand it may well be one with an aggressively missionary bent and a well-defined hierarchy. "Wanderer" Keruing, lacking the distraction of strong family and community attachments, are often prone to mystical speculation and more individualistic faiths. A few of the belief systems native to the Keruing themselves, and some of the non-Keruing faiths that have been most successful with this clade recognize that dichotomy and actually have two different forms of the same underlying memeplex, each with appropriate adaptations.

As compared to many other bionts, Keruing, especially older Keruing, are extraordinarily patient. This may go back to their original biology and society. As "guardian" the point of view is of one of the Keruing is necessarily long term, having to do with the continuing health of the home tree and the other Keruing associated with it. As a "wanderer", a Keruing's interests are similarly long term, since jer mission is ultimately to find the right location for a tree that might live for more than a thousand years. At any stage of life, Keruing are generally smaller and slower than the local wildlife, and live by careful planning, teamwork, and the use of traps and diversions. In the context of Terragen civilization, this makes the Keruing very good long term strategic planners, and they have something of a reputation for holding a grudge. Doubtless this was one of the reasons for their role in the famous Serpentstooth Rebellion.

Society

Keruing around a particular tree might be compared to a very close-knit family. Usually Keruing from neighbouring trees are related, and produce a socio-political group equivalent to a small tribe, village, or neighbourhood. Larger polities are rare in a purely Keruing population, though some issues are decided on a regional basis.

The events that led to the creation of their clade and the memetic effects of their long history on Newlife II before they were able to modify their biology have left a mark on all descendant Keruing cultures. Of those who are not pragmatic agnostics, many have adopted variations of Zoeific or Negentropic beliefs, often with an overlay of Expiationist philosophy. A few have become Francisclarans. A minority have been attracted to modern versions of Old Earth Buddhism or Taoism (the latter in particular seems to hold attraction for Keruing who enter what had been the final phase of their life cycle).

In primitive Keruing society one of the considerations when a "wanderer" chose a site for a new tree was a location near jer older relatives, to facilitate learning. Usually jer siblings would be aware of the location of the new tree and its crop of new Keruing, and would send members of their own community to aid the new "gatherers" and to educate the first "guardians" in the local Keruing culture and technology. Occasionally a tree far off or in an unexpected location would develop a "wild" crop of uneducated Keruing, something like a human "wolf-child". Such colonies were often difficult to educate, since the "gatherers" and "guardians" would try to drive away anyone who did not smell right. If a close relative could not be located then such "wild" trees were sometimes destroyed by the larger Keruing community. Such incidents have grown vanishingly rare since the Keruing joined Terragen society at large, but at least one failed Keruing colony has given rise to an entire variant "wild" culture of Keruing.

The daily life of modern Keruing is often superficially like that of their distant ancestors. The difference is that the sophont members of a tree's family will provide their younger siblings with modern hand tools or other equipment rather than letting them depend on what they manufacture for themselves, and that the "guardians" may be managing an entire world ring or continent rather than a small patch of forest. Keruing who have not entered the final phase of life tend not to travel, unless of course the whole community, tree and all, chooses to move. Usually this is for the purpose of emigration to a new area rather than for other purposes such as commerce, tourism, or exploration. More typically a Keruing "family" will live day to day much as the Keruing did before becoming part of Terragen civilization, but will develop an additional sideline or specialty towards which the entire group contributes and towards which the youngest members of the community are usually trained: usually some artistic, commercial, or scientific enterprise.

Away from the Sephirotic polities, some Keruing individuals and societies have engaged in warfare, usually to retain or gain ideal habitat space for new trees, but they are not by and large as aggressive as some other Terragen clades (human nearbaselines, for instance).

Some Keruing "wanderers" are well known as entertainers in Keruing culture, but in general the Keruing generally are not particularly well known outside their clade as fabulists or performers. They gravitate instead towards the visual arts. Many families are famous sculptors, for instance. They tend to show an interest in their own version of gardening, which may seem overly controlled and contrived and "neat" to some other cultures and clades. In the practical and theoretical sciences they tend to be most accomplished in such things as ecosystem design, gengineering, and hab maintenance, and be less interested in hylotech than in biotech. Perhaps because of their history they rarely become involved in provolution projects other than slight modifications of themselves or their descendants.

Given their nature the final "wanderer" phase of life, Keruing are often explorers on the Periphery of the Terragen expansion, or leading sophont-level scientists or library researchers.

History

The Keruing are descended from the many sophont life forms created by the "mad" Deorvyn transapients on NewLife II, and lived a miserable existence in their original, primitive form for nearly a thousand years until 5603 when "Deorvyn" and all eir copies committed suicide at the culmination of the Serpentstooth Rebellion. With clade Kanuma they played a key role in those events, and were briefly famous in when NewLife II's numerous and bizarre clades became known to Terragen civilization in general. They are most common by far in Zoeific territories, though a few have migrated to frontier regions and many "wanderer" Keruing are active along the Terragen Periphery.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 30 March 2006.

 
 
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