Reality Skimming


Sevolite adaptations to space flight


Physical adaptations

The simplest changes are those which increase physical tolerance to high accelerations: increased connective tissue throughout the body, which makes tissues stiffer; increased strength in skeletal muscle; slightly decreased bone mineralization makes bones more flexible; increased elasticity of blood vessels reduces the risk of tearing. The sevolite heart is larger, and capable of greater output, than the human. Fine regulation of arterial resistance and venous dilatation prevents pooling of blood in any part of the body. As a consequence of this mechanism, a wounded sevolite might almost bleed to death before their blood pressure noticeably falls; the constriction of blood vessels compensating for the dropping volume. On the other hand, a healthy sevolite may become lightheaded in the reactive aftermath of anger or emotion, and is therefore prone to fainting.

More drastic modifications address the physical damage done both by shimmer, and radiation. Pureblood sevolites are completely regenerative, and their lesser relations regenerative to a degree commensurate with their inheritance of that particular complex. (Being highborn, in a practical sense, depends on inheritance of the highborn complex including regenerative potential.) Sevolite regeneration is accomplished through recruitment of populations of undifferentiated cells carried in all tissues. Those cells are activated by damage to tissue architecture, such as would ordinarily lead to scarring and grow to replace those cells which have been lost. Even brain tissue regenerates.

Late in the engineering of sevolites, mechanisms were introduced whereby cell loss to senescence - such as happens in normal aging - would activate the regeneration mechanism, and sevolites became - in theory - essentially immortal. No highborn has ever actually survived their combative society for even a large fraction of a millennium, so the theory remains untested.

Such potential for indefinite growth carries with it the risk of malignant transformation after chromosomal damage. The sevolite immune system had to be correspondingly strengthened, the cells' own self-monitoring and editing were enhanced, and genes implicated in cancer were edited to decrease their tendency to dangerous mutation. Purebloods, again, being fully equipped with all the modified genes, seldom suffer from regenerative cancer - or anything else, for that matter. Highborns less than Pureblood are at risk of regenerative cancer or autoimmune disorder, depending upon which way their particular endowment is weighted. Nevertheless, for the hundred or so years most sevolites survive, they generally remain in rude good health, despite some specific vulnerabilities which result from their design for an artificial environment and for a particular task. Highborns grow increasingly susceptible to regenerative cancer if they survive into the second century. Even young highborns who loses a body part (or are otherwise extensively damaged) are unlikely to regenerate cleanly without the specialized medical attention of the Luverthanians.

Vrellish sevolites are the ones explicitly designed for space combat. Their homeostasis is more brittle than human. They are more vulnerable to both heatstroke and hypothermia. Their dietary requirements are more restrictive, and the high turnover of protein due to regeneration makes them dependent on a protein rich diet. They lack the ability to accumulate substantial bodily stores of calories or nutrients, a limitation deliberately introduced to make them controllable. Starved, a sevolite rapidly becomes sluggish, then comatose.

Demish endurance is greater than Vrellish, but Demish reflexes cannot match the Vrellish in times demanding peak performance.

Sevolites and Hypertension

Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 16:14:31 -0700 (MST)
From: Alison Sinclair 

To: Lynda Williams 
Subject: Sevolites and hypertension

It occurred to me as I squinted down the microscope at a very abnormal
kidney biopsy that one of the problems a lesser sevolite who has the high
blood pressure without the physiologic mechanisms to prevent damage will
be hypertensive damage to just about every organ in the body, including a
risk of hemorrhagic stroke, aortic aneurysm on the acute side and chronic
progressive kidney damage on the chronic side.

Psychological adaptations

To the sevolite pilot, shimmer is an inconvenience, but it is Gap that terrifies. Shimmer causes physical damage, but an overdose of Gap will reduce a healthy, self-aware pilot to complete catatonia. Early research showed that the least likely to succumb were the most aggressive, the most lusty, the most bound up in the immediate moment, the body and its appetites. The Reetions select for such traits in their pilot-candidates, while the creators of sevolites bioengineered them in. The exigencies of negotiating a complex society, following Sevolites liberation from human master over a millennium before the events of the Okal Rel Universe series, have tempered the traits in all but the wild Vrellish of Red Reach. But piloting, which demands strong resistance to Gap, is also a survival trait.

Aggression and high arousal are most marked in the Vrellish, who trace their descent from the bioengineered pilots. The phenotype is black-haired, grey-eyed, and lean of build, the paradigmatic Vrellish appearance. As pilots, they were required to have an extraordinarily robust awareness of space and time, and their position in it; this expresses itself as a superlative spatial and mathematical intelligence. The majority of high Vrellish are right-hemisphere dominant, and left handed. They may suffer varying degrees of language difficulty, or none, but they never take the delight in words that the Demish do.

Another mark of the Vrellish highborn is what the Vrellish themselves call "rel-om", total physiological committal to short term performance at the cost of potential for long-term survival. Deeply rooted in Vrellish physiology, the syndrome reflects their origins as expendable pilots and, during the final decades of their enslavement to human creators, gladiators. Pushed to his or her limits, a Vrellish highborn gets mad, not discouraged. To an extent that can be acutely unhealthy. "Rel-om" can also occur as an acute stress reaction, squeezing a last hour of functionality out of a mortally wounded Vrellish highborn, and includes cutting blood supply to digestive and reproductive organs in favor of sustaining the brain and muscles. If such a person survives, he or she can be nursed back to health only with the sort of advanced medical attention possessed by the mysterious Luverthanians. Many Vrellish would rather die.

The blue-eyed, fair-haired Demish are, at least outwardly, the less intimidatingly different. Their original role was as messengers able to retain huge amounts of data in a more reality-skimming resistant fashion than any computer system; then as negotiators between the dispersed human colonies. Their appearance was designed to be attractive and accessible. Highborn Demish possess eidetic memory, and even a mid-Demish nobleborn has far more robust recall than their Vrellish counterpart. Memory can, at times, overwhelm the perception of reality. The too-distinct recall of a Demish Golden Age has caused Dem to stagnate. (Golden Demish are a breed apart, based on Demish stock but refined to be artists, companions and beautiful ornaments. Created during the most decadent period of old Earth power as luxury items, they have always been rare compared to the Blue Demish, from whom most hybrid Demish lines are descended.)

(Original by AS, 1997 / Modified by LJW, 2000)

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