Shapeshifting citizen Zar, founder of Phenodynamism
|Ladian NcDance at the Dloon Flower Festival|
Early life Born on the Utopia Sphere world of Kendrith into the prestigious House of Blossom, Ladian NcDance's upbringing was unusual even by local standards. Throughout the 6th millennium Kendric society was dominated by the Creation Houses; transapient-led communities/arcologies that would raise, teach and guide sophonts to flourish in various artistic movements. NcDance himself was originally conceived as a non-sophont artwork by the Scirono club but Blossom, the S2 Guru-Master of the House, intervened to grant sophonce to all works in the collection.
This sophonce would come slowly. At his birth NcDance was barely larger or more intelligent than a natural dragonfly. His 7 centimetre long body was engineered to shimmer and change colour in response to the mood of others (efficient empathic engineering allowed even this small form to guess correctly the facial expressions of museum visitors, albeit only simple emotions). Like other works in the Scirono 5,989-collection every five months he would construct a cocoon and undergo metamorphosis, each time growing larger and more intelligent.
By age ten NcDance had grown to the size of a small Caleb and had begun to learn rudimentary language. The development of lungs aided in this however his primary method of communication remained colour and pattern changes on his body's surface. Keenly empathic, NcDance became something of a minor sensation; in interviews visitors to his exhibit often remarked on how his deep insight. Even in this pre-sophont phase he purportedly changed many a visitors' life through displaying evocative patterns and offering a single word. According to myth one such visitor was Hilio-Vane, a modosophont Nimbus who was considering suicide after several centuries of life. NcDance flew to her, his body rippling with gold and black, and simply uttered the command: "Shine". The experience was said to be transcendental. A few short years later Hilio ascended to S1 and in the current era her toposophic lineage includes an Archai in the Perseus Principalities.
Maturation Over the course of his twenties NcDance slowly developed sophonce. He also began tweaking his own form, reprogramming his metamorphic stages. By the time of his last cocoon in 6,018 AT he had grown to over two meters tall and held a form more similar to that of a mantis than a dragonfly. As with all on Kendrith NcDance travelled the Houses sampling the artistic teachings that were their specialty. At this point in his life he was no longer an object of fascination, a fact that did not seem to bother him in the slightest. One record quotes him as remarking "The pieces of a diorama are only special by their arrangement; adoration of a doll in isolation is an action that entirely misses the point".
His early works were not considered that highly (though neither were they dismissed, overall reviews were quietly positive). Like many Utopian Zars that came to Kendrith or were born there he had many decades to go before mastering a craft. At age thirty-seven NcDance would create a piece that would define his career. At the House of Wheels he submitted to a collection on "Maturation". Relatively simple yet elegant his offer was a bronze cube that when exposed to constant light would unfold, revealing itself to be an intricately folded thin-film. Once fully extended into a flat sheet it would diffract the light into a mosaic of images. When he visited the collection he was stunned by what he saw (legend suggests his insectoid form stood still for three days, skin tuned to purest white). Another piece in the room had cast a shadow on his for a brief moment but in doing so had led the film to not unfold properly. Rather than forming a single sheet it was chaotically crumpled. As it diffracted colours onto its various parts it continued to fold and unfold, slowly changing from one form to another, never able to form a flat sheet.
This serendipitous moment defined the works and life of Ladian NcDance. For forty years his works became more elaborate expressions of the idea that a single event, no matter how minor, can radically change the course of a life. His passion and relatively low production rate (pieces would be offered to collections every other year) saw him slowly climb into fame. In 6,066 AT he returned to the House of Blossom and produced "Feeling as Life", a continually growing neogenic tree with empathic capabilities. Harking back to his own origins the tree responded to the emotions of passers by, growing new patterns of branches in response (Feeling of Life can now be found on Merrion having been purchased in 8,221 AT for an exceptional sum).
Interest and adoration for NcDance grew substantially with many beginning to recognise his work out-system. The artist himself was famously aloof, preferring casual acquaintance and solitude to any sort of fame. Three years passed with no further works from NcDance, he was known for not being prolific but after decades of slowly building respect many in the artworld grew anxious. Some worried that a legend in the making had lost his touch, that the spotlight had outshone the artist. Others pointed out that a minor event causing such a dramatic change in a lifecourse was exactly what NcDance's works were about and proposed that this hiatus was itself an art piece.
For a further two years rumours, gossip and criticism fermented until on the eve of the year 6,072 AT NcDance came out his reclusion and visited the gallery of the House of Blossom where he had spent his early years. There he waited, visitors streaming their observation of him across the net. As the new year started he turned to the assembled crowd and opened his arms wide. Across his body patches began to burn, many recordings became unreliable as sophonts in the crowd reacted in shock. After a few seconds the flames died off leaving scores of small tattoos. Most were of dials, continua or numbers. Around his neck was burned a thick strip fronted by a symbol of a lock. To the stunned and confused crowd he simply uttered "My final work", before leaving the House, and Kendrith, behind.
Founding of Phenodynamism The nature of NcDance's final work was not realised for some time after his presentation of it. His reputation became shaky as many criticised the event as being melodramatic, crass and inconsistent with the standard he had so far offered. His immediate transfer to orbit and travel into the Nexus did little to aid this. However there were thousands across the planet that were so enamoured of NcDance that they set out to follow him. A veritable flotilla of ships of all forms and builds launched after the high-G beamrider the artist had boarded.
"The Chase" as it became known was widely reported at the time across the Nexus, for two years the ships attempted to find NcDance who had managed to lose them by changing craft in a relay system. Eventually he was located by a single dataship in a system earmarked by a minor archai for disassembly. Whilst the outer gas giants were slowly dismantled by DWIZ NcDance was to be found in one of the asteroid belts, periodically nudging the courses of the rocks.
Once in close communication range the upload chasers lynked to NcDance's ship and enjoyed one of the longest recorded conversations with the artist to date. To the chaser's suprise, NcDance's well-known mantis body had changed; no longer did the skin shimmer under command but seemed stuck in a fractal pattern. One arm was noticeably shorter than the other, he had gained a human-like leg and his insectoid face seemed to be in the process of adopting ursine features. Throughout the visit NcDance revealed some of his Final Work. In the years in which he published nothing he was working close with Blossom, attempting to deeply understand the theme of his works: change by chaos. Through her guidance he came to see his art as insipid, referring to it as: "a virgin's musings on sexuality". He came to see his career as little more than an extension of his early life, another cocoon through which he should emerge better than before. Blossom offered her help and alongside her avatar NcDance toiled to customise one of the most advanced medisystems available at the time (academic note: it is likely NcDance overstated his role in Blossom's work, the creation of a standard medisystem being outside of his expertise, let alone the ultratech design he was endowed with).
The activation of the medisystem was the event witnessed on the first day of 6,072 AT. The system was, and is, a sophisticated work of syntech capable of performing radical alterations to NcDance's body, both over time and quickly. Pointing to his tattoos the artist explained that each represented a characteristic the medisystem could change, from basic tweaks for height and limb number to altering the fundamental chemistry of his body (enabling him to become a vec, xenosophont or any other possible form). His very intelligence and toposophy could change, ranging from completely non-sophont to S1-transavantism. Shockingly to his adoring fans none of these changes were under his control but instead would randomly occur in perpetuity. Finally he pointed to the lock-strip tattoo around his neck and explained that one day, maybe the next or in a million years, the lock would open and he would regain control of his body. Until then he would simply live the change.
The interview ended shortly after and NcDance ordered his ship to flee the system to parts unknown. The chasers returned to Kendrith where they shared the story in the form of an exhibit. A few short years later the House of Dragonflies was founded in NcDances honor- its specialist arform being chaotic change. To this day the highest members of the House undergo a ritual of requesting a radical medisystem from the Blossom Guru-Master. The ideological movement of permanent, uncontrollable body-change has spread beyond the Utopia Sphere. "Phenodynamism", as it came to be called, can be found in some form in every major empire.
Notable Sightings For the past four millennia NcDance has travelled the Terragen sphere, though confirmed sightings of him are relatively rare. In many circles and societies he has come to be revered as a religious figure, or a cultural-icon at the very least. His philosophy of experiencing change and letting go of control is particularly attractive in some Sophist worlds (though less so in the NoCoZo). A short list of notable sightings include:
Noram: The gas giant of Noram located in the MPA is densely populated by bubblehabs. In 6,840 AT a sophont was reported as arriving in-system requesting permission to be dropped from orbit directly into the clouds. Permission was granted by the local authorities when they confirmed the originator of the request. Lax privacy laws meant that within minutes the public was aware that Ladian NcDance had arrived. Aerialbots were scrambled as his drop pod entered the atmosphere, the few images they caught of his body were grotesque: a 12 metre translucent balloon of skin comprised the bulk of what NcDance had become. A random collection of limbs, organs and sensors studded the outside and as before tattoos adorned his surface. Despite significant coverage by local news and special interest guilds the bots lost track of NcDance (some suspect transapient abilities gifted by his medisystem). For several years following phenodynamic pilgrims flocked to Noram, searching the vast cloudscape for their founder. He was occasionally spotted from a distance, last in 6,858 AT where he appeared to have grown a tailed wing. A year later it was confirmed by the local AI overseer that NcDance had left the system.
Dloon Flower Festival: In 8,114 AT the Dloon McKendree cylinder in the Zoefic Biopolity was hosting its annual festival of flowers. For this event visitors flocked from within the system (and some beyond) to witness the planting of fields of neogenic/gengineered flowers designed by children throughout the local polity. One such visitor was a female human tweak with exaggerated features, skin of mirrored purple and long-stilt legs. She wore a kaftan that concealed much of her body but was noticed at several times throughout the day giving praise and advice to some of the novice bioengineers. At the end of the festival she approached a young hobo sapiens whose designs (petals whose colour depended on the strength of the wind) had not won any awards. No exact records exist but the child later said that the lady had commented that of all the flowers his showed real promise and that the flowers "could better experience their changing condition". As the lady boarded a ship to leave she discarded her kaftan, revealing a naked body covered in NcDance's iconic tattoos. The hobo sapiens child was so bolstered by this honour that he dedicated decades to refining his work; later becoming Presider of the Dloon Flower Society.
Jeron Western Ocean: One of the most famous NcDance sightings taking place in 8,901 AT on the periphery lo-tek world of Jeron. At first it wasn't known that NcDance had been discovered. The saurian denizens of the world did not live on the Nexus or a beamrider route. Their founding constitution limited advanced technologies in various fields, though they did possess a global communications network that received news from the wider Terragen Sphere. A fisherman on the continent of Auxomp became a brief local sensation when he pulled from his net a never-before-seen creature. Jeron had been terraformed to a mesozoic-template and not enough time had passed for serious speciation to occur. The organism the fishermen bought back to land consisted of several silver spheres of different sizes, linked together by a tangled web of inert tentacles. Fully spread out it covered several meters but left alone would tie itself into a knotty pile. The only obvious sign it was an organism were gils along the tentacles and an oddly sharklife mouth on the largest sphere. Biologists from around the world sailed to the small coastal town but were unable to classify the creature (their analytical technology barely able to sequence genomes), nor translate the odd patterns all over its body. For over ten years "Seaweed" as it came to be known lived in a pond at the fisherman's local smoke-house. It fed on small fish provided to it but otherwise did little but occasionally move about. One month it seemed oddly hungry, devouring all that was put in (mildly drugged patrons had a habit of throwing their leftover snacks to Seaweed), even going so far on the last evening as to eat a young leedsichthys. In the morning that followed the patrons were stunned to find Seaweed gone; in its place floated a mollusc-like vec with an equine head. NcDance thanked them for his room and food before diving into the sea, days later radar and acoustic towers picked up evidence of a surface-to-orbit launch from deep in the ocean.
Current Location No confirmed sightings of NcDance have occurred in four centuries. His life of constant physical change and nomadism has been barely recorded aside from fleeting, occasional sightings. What the artist thinks of the movements surrounding him, the societies he has influenced or the millions of dedicated admirers throughout the Terragen Sphere no one can say for certain. Such paucity of data is speculated to be a side effect of his ultra-tech medisystem which some suspect contains cyberdefences to hide him from prying technology (a personal quiet zone). Others take a simpler view, believing that it is an artefact of how much time NcDance spends outside of civilisation or in autré bodies. The House of Dragonflies maintains an official position on the subject, when asked representatives will say: "Wherever NcDance is, whatever NcDance is, you can bet on one thing; he will neither be there, or be it, for long."
- Phenotype - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
The appearance of an organism with respect to a particular group of physical, biochemical, and physiologic characteristics, as a result of the interaction of its genotype and its environment.
- Phenotypic Augmentation - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
Biological or genetic modification or augmentation that effects the phenotype only. It alters the characteristics of the user, and sometimes also that of clones from the user's somatic cells, but it does not modify the user's offspring. Contrast with genotypic augmentation.
- Transbiomorphosis - Text by Adaptecd from Max More, in Anders Sandberg's Transhuman Terminology
 (Interplanetary Age, First Federation, Terragen Federation): The transformation of the human body from a natural, biological organism into a superior, consciously designed vehicle of personality.
 Genetekkers, Genen, Zoeific Biopolity, TRHN - dramatic modification of one's biological form, not necessarily into a superior (although sometimes that) but just a different form, as a lifestyle choice or artistic expression.
Text by Ryan B
Initially published on 30 June 2016.