Jade Chime Singers

Intelligent Xenosophonts from a chlorine world

Jade Chime Singer
Image from Steve Bowers
The Jade Chime Singers use phosphorescent patches to communicate, as well as complex vocalisations and gestures

The affectionate, charming, musical, and hideous Jade Chime Singers of the planet Chorus are among the youngest and most exotic of the Terragen clades. They are the sole living example of a sapient clade from a chlorine world. The only other chlorine breathing sapients known to Terragen civilization are the members of a pre-terragen species at Doreen, and are believed to have been extinct for over 4 million years. No naturally evolved sapient species have been discovered on any of the other chlorine worlds, and it appears that no other successful provolution projects based on chlorine world life there have taken place. Chlorine worlds are rare to begin with, and chlorine life forms are difficult for most terragen clades to handle. More importantly, on most chlorine worlds a representative of the Caretaker Gods prevents any meddling with the native stock. The Jade Chime Singers are the result of exceptional circumstances.

Biology

Jade Chime Singers are large nocturnal omnivores, massing over 200 kilograms. They have an internal skeleton, but are clearly descended from segmented ancestors that are not comparable to vertebrates. They have no close equivalent in Terragen terms. They are somewhat similar to Old Earth spiders or crabs, but have some other characteristics reminiscent of Old Earth hippos or toads as well. The head is large and without an appreciable neck, and the broad somewhat flattened body is tailless. There are four massive walking legs, each tipped with a webbed six toed foot. Two pairs of large manipulatory appendages are comparable to arms, and each of these bears massive six-fingered hands. There are also some small fine manipulators associated with the complex external mouthparts. Jade Chime Singers have six eyes in all: two sets of eyes, rather resembling those of a frog, set atop their heads, another pair set much lower, facing forwards, and a third pair that looks downwards. These have fixed lenses; the focal length is changed by moving the retina back and forth. In addition there is no pupil; light levels within the eye are controlled by photoreactive pigments. This gives the clade a fixed "staring" look to typical Terragens, until they learn to read the subtler changes of these internal arrangements. There is a pair of spiracles, one on each side of the body, through which they breathe: air enters through one blowhole-like structure and leaves through another at the junction of the head and body. A parallel system of gills on the underbody allows submersion for long periods of time at need. The skin of a Jade Chime Singer is warty and mottled. To human eyes it appears to be mottled in black, grey, greenish-brown, and dull red, but beings able to see a little further into the infrared consider it to be brightly coloured. Most Terragen bionts of vertebrate lineage find the overall appearance of the Jade Chime Singers rather repellent and disturbing; the movements of the insect-like mouth parts are particularly unsettling. More attractive are their silvery eyes, which glow golden in dim light, their pastel-coloured phosphorescent signaling patches, and of course their harmonious and versatile voices.

Jade Chime Singers communicate on at least four levels. First, they have an extraordinary vocal range, and can create a number of effects with their twin respiratory system. At various phases of a conversation, depending on the distance between speakers they may sound like organs, flutes, or various woodwinds. They also have a rich language of gesture for close range, using their manipulatory limbs and their larger mouth parts. At night, when they are most active, they supplement this with colourful displays from their phosphor patches. Even pre-sapient Jade Chime Singers supplemented all of this, especially in the mating season, with musical instruments of various kinds, ranging from drums to stringed instruments, to, of course, the chimes from which their name is derived.

The Jade Chime Singers have excellent night vision. They prefer dim light, comparable to dawn or moonlight on Old Earth, but can still see in much brighter or darker situations. They can distinguish colours even in what most humans would regard as rather poor lighting, but anything that is blue looks black to them (though they can see further into the infra-red than most Terragens). Their lower eyes are functional under water, and their middle eyes are used for nearby objects, while their upper pair is used for distance vision.

Though they are quite strong, the Jade Chime Singers are not especially swift runners in their native habitat. They are agile but rather slow swimmers. They cannot climb, and are uncomfortable at great heights or on steep slopes. Their reflexes, on the other hand, are extraordinarily quick, like those of many clades with heavy gravity adaptations.

The Jade Chime Singers have two sexes. Females are more brightly coloured, at least to the eyes of others in the clade, and have more elaborate warts, tubercles, and horns. The males are somewhat smaller, and have louder and deeper voices. For most of the year they have no sexual impulses as such but do engage in subtle courtship and testing, mostly by evaluating each others artwork, social skills, and wealth. Under certain environmental conditions, corresponding to the short, hot summers of Chorus, every child-less adult in the colony, and any adult wandering in from outlying areas or adjacent communities, gathers at a central mating arena. After much dancing, singing, and feasting on the part of all, those who have found a mate drift away into the surrounding dawn light, and spend the day in some hidden trysting spot. If this results in conception, the couple meets again in the middle of the winter season. The female produces one gelatinous egg (occasionally two), which the male carries thereafter in his ventral brood pouch. A placenta-like arrangement provides the young with food for development. Births take place shortly after midsummer the following year. Normally the children are raised by the families of both parents, who construct a dwelling for the purpose. The mother, the father, and any uncles or aunts not attached to a child at the moment, form a household. Children are fed initially with secretions from glands near the external mouthparts of the adults, and later with regurgitated food. Often, but not necessarily, the primary couple will have additional children. However, they may dissolve their union once the child has learned to speak. Secondary adults may come and go at will, though it is considered a gross violation of custom to leave in the child's first year for reasons other than personal paternity or maternity. The clade has been very conservative in preserving these patterns, and members of the clade living away from Chorus carefully match the conditions in their quarters or orbital habitats to match the primordial pattern of the seasons. If for one reason or another they do not do so, they do not develop sexual urges, and do not become fertile. Skipping one or even four or five years in this way appears to be harmless, but longer periods out of these rhythms results in psychological and even physiological damage. The clade's children are socially mature at about 17 Chorus seasons, and sexually mature at 23. There are no Jade Chime Singers who live without medical support, so their maximum age is not known. The ancestral species lived for up to 70 Chorus seasons.

The environmental requirements of the Jade Chime Singers are unique. They cannot remain healthy at accelerations of less than 0.4 gravities, and they must have air at 2 or more bars of pressure with a chlorine content of at least 3% and an oxygen content of at least 20% or they will develop significant health problems. They can tolerate a wide range of acidities, but pure water causes alkaline burns to their skin and hydrochloric acid in concentrations of over 70% is similarly harmful. Their diet is unique, and includes a number of chlorocarbons as well as a wide range of metals and semimetals as essential nutrients. They require air with a high vapour pressure of both hydrochloric acid and water, and must immerse their bodies in dilute hydrochloric acid on a regular basis. They do not tolerate ultraviolet light well, and are uncomfortable in bright light generally. They are most comfortable at temperatures of about 35 degrees Celsius. When they travel away from their native planet and habitats they require special quarters, and cannot move about outside those quarters unless they are provided with airtight vehicles or clothing, or specialized utility fog.

Society

The provolved version of the clade is now comparable to typical human nearbaselines in general mental ability, with areas of Su-level genius in the realms of provolution, engineering, mathematics, and music, and a lesser knack for learning the memetics of alien species. The original species from which the Jade Chime Singers were provolved was remarkably friendly and cheerful, and the clade has by and large retained those traits. Despite their hideous appearance and toxic nature, Jade Chime Singers are good and loyal friends, and inclined towards charitable works. They prefer long discussions and negotiation to aggression, though they are not above sharp dealing. They avoid direct conflicts if at all possible. They frequently exchange the equivalent of an embrace and a kiss when they meet (this involves an intermingling of mouthparts that some other clades find rather repulsive and unnerving). This impulse extends to other sapient beings, most of which of course they cannot touch (much to the relief of even their greatest friends in other clades). They are almost hyperactively industrious, and are extremely curious. This curiosity extends to the social and emotional lives of every being they meet. Indeed, many find them to be rather "nosy" and "gossipy".

The pre-sapient ancestors of the Jade Chime Singers lived in small colonies in swampy lowland estuaries adjacent to the shallow seas of Chorus. They were extraordinarily successful, and had spread to nearly every continent. Even before their discovery and provolution to sapient level they were expert builders of dams, paddies, and weirs, and had domesticated several local plants and animals. Their simple mud huts and small villages dotted the landscape, and their irrigation and transportation canals formed a network along every suitable shore. Even today they have a strong preference for living in small communities in a complex but managed ecosystem. Most are farmers and fishers by avocation, and delight in minor arts and crafts, even if their primary occupation is some abstruse aspect of nanotechnology or philosophy. Their original preoccupation with engineering and domestication of other species has become an enthusiasm for planetological modification and other megascale projects, and for provolution work. Though they have not yet raised any of their numerous commensal species to full sapience, they are presently engaged in nearly a dozen projects to do so.

Jade Chime Singers rarely wear any form of clothing, other than decorative bands or slings for carrying tools. They do, however, enjoy carrying colourful parasols or umbrellas. These were originally for protection against overly acidic or basic rain, or for protection against the sun's rays if they were forced to operate in sunlight, in their original environment. They are not necessary in more controlled environments, but have been retained as a mark of fashion and a way of identifying individuals at a distance.

History

The home world of the Jade Chime Singers, Chorus, was first discovered in 9953 by Faber/Tavi exploration teams on the periphery of the sphere of Terragen expansion. At the time of its discovery it was the first such world discovered in many centuries which did not appear to have a resident Caretaker God already in residence. The teams reported back to their original clades, which proceeded to develop the system with great care, avoiding any interference on Chorus itself. However, Tavi exploration teams were intrigued by the challenge of mapping the surface and cataloguing the life forms. It soon became evident that Chorus was an extraordinarily rich world, comparable in species diversity to Earth before the Great Dying. Both Faber and Tavi scientists began studies of all the life forms for later re-sale. Then the Fabers discovered the ancestors of the Jade Chime Singers. It was, as a Tavi commentator later described it, "love at first sight". The Tavi members of the teams were not particularly interested, but the Fabers were intrigued, and began to interact with the natives. They found them delightful and attractive, and remarkably like Faber "mindchildren". Despite the misgivings and warnings of their home colony in the neighbouring system, the colonists resolved to provolve them. Word went out to selected closemouthed polities in the clade, and several post-Faber entities (none above S1) were attracted to the project, and emigrated to the Chorus system. The "raising" of the Jade Chime Singers became a preoccupation of generations of Fabers. This project proceeded in secrecy as complete as the Fabers could manage. Unfamiliar initially with biont provolution, they surreptitiously sought aid from one of their few trusted contacts, the Institute for Primate Provolution. The IPP was apparently able to provide a few key insights, but in the main the Fabers found that they were in entirely new territory, and needed to invent new approaches on the spot. Over the following four hundred years they laboured to make their new charges fit to be full participants in Terragen civilization. At the urging of IPP specialists, they made as few modifications to the original species' habits and society as possible, and spent considerable time attempting to give the new-born society memetic strength and stability.

In 10377, the proud Faber "parents" made the Jade Chime Singers known to the outside worlds, and introduced them to civilized society. They were a several years wonder on the Known Net, and made a powerful impression. Jade Chime Singer music, from their early primitive chants to the sophisticated compositions of their first wave of great composers, was an instant hit with many clades. Their architectural styles were widely imitated on heavy gravity worlds, and it became fashionable among some bionts of all sorts to mimic the Jade Chime Singer paddies, weirs, and canals using locally available biologicals or even neogen imitations of Chorus life forms. Apparently unintimidated by their celebrity status, the new clade took full possession of their system, and began some simple early megascale engineering, including chorusforming of Chorus's rather massive moon, construction of some Bishop rings, and various solar power and mining operations. Emissaries and students from the newborn clade made the relativistic journey to the nearest terminus of the wormhole network, to visit and study some of the major centres of the Terragen civilizations.

Then, in 10403, disaster struck. A force under the leadership of the feared SI:1 mercenary and bounty hunter Payment Due seized all Faber properties for a radius of 10 light years around Chorus by the simple act of subverting the relatively primitive "off the rack" angelnetting employed by the locals and impounding their security and defensive forces. E claimed to be acting on behalf of an unnamed NoCoZo company which had been defrauded by the founding members of the local Faber polities. Apparently those members had abrogated a personal services contract and absconded with materials and information from the site of a megascale engineering project in 7010. With interest, e declared, just repayment would be a century of labour by the original criminals and all of their heirs and assigns (said heirs including any provolves), plus the information content of all said heirs and assigns and their data banks and sentient programs. Whatever the pretext, this was clearly an attempt to seize the new clade's birthright: the entire body of knowledge concerning Chorus's rich biology, as well as first distribution rights to all of their cultural properties to date and for the next century.

Within minutes of the time that Payment Due made eir announcements and began to organize data for export, e vanished from the local datasphere. Payment Due's minions in Chorus' home system were also instantly destroyed in a series of bizarre accidents. Demoralized, eir remaining followers in the four neighbouring systems were destroyed or expelled by citizens and local security forces. The agent responsible for repelling Payment Due's primary invasion force turned out to be an S3 entity styled Mist Rising. Mist Rising declared that e was Chorus' Caretaker God, and that e had been the system's guardian since before the arrival of the first Faber and Tavi scouts. E then vanished without any further explanation or direction. Mist Rising has not since been detected. Why this eccentric Caretaker God (if that is what e is) allowed the provolution of the Jade Chime Singers, when no other Caretaker God holding a chlorine world has allowed such a thing, and what e intends for the future, is entirely unknown. The Jade Chime Singers and their Faber tutor/allies have resolved to proceed as they had first planned unless they hear otherwise.

The Jade Chime Singers have an affection for their sponsoring Faber reprogroups, and for Fabers in general, that is more than mere gratitude for provolution; the two seem genuinely compatible. They are less sober and methodical than Fabers, and more inclined to social intrigue, mysticism and speculative thinking, but are in many ways quite similar in outlook. They have good relations with the Tavi who have remained insystem, though of course the relationship is not as close. Some speculate that the Jade Chime Singers may add a new dimension to Faber/Tavi society, which is seen by many outsiders as overly pragmatic. As newcomers to civilized society they have not yet aligned themselves with any major philosophy or religion. Jade Chime Singers hold various beliefs, either indigenous or based on their understanding of various Terragen memeplexes. Their own memetic experts have declared that they do not expect major consistent patterns to develop until the clade is at least 200 more years old. In the meantime the clade has continued to send out a steady stream of observers throughout the civilized portions of the Terragen sphere. Though they are a rare sight, inquisitive groups and individuals representing this clade may be found nearly anywhere.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 17 November 2004.