Flora[edit | edit source]
Plantlife[edit | edit source]
The bulk of the biomass of Planet consists of basically earthlike green vegetation — algae, fungi and small plants, the most complex of which can be compared to a terrestrial palm tree. Over most of Planet, this vegetation takes the form of a savanna-like carpet of grass and moss, with the occasional “vine” or small “bush” relieving the monotony. The sole exception to this rule is the Monsoon Jungle, where anomalous green vegetation can reach a height of several dozen meters. Whatever its size, however, the green biomass provides many useful proteins that can be efficiently processed for use by humans as nutrients.
Xenofungus is a hard, crimson mass of tubular shoots ranging in size from about a foot across to microscopic. It grows in huge, heaped tangles capable of covering thousands of square kilometers of land, with a depth ranging anywhere from 2 to over 25 meters. Anything trying to move through a fungal area must either have (a) the raw tonnage required to break through the mass, (b) the ability to move over its top without shredding itself or becoming bogged down in the mass’s many cavities, or (c) the firepower simply to blast its way through. Xenofungus also grows in the oceans. Sea fungus is a bit more diffuse than the land stuff (tending to grow much taller, but not nearly as dense), but is otherwise basically identical.
Most xenofungus blooms are thousands of years old, and geographically stable. On the rare occasions when they do appear, however, they literally appear almost overnight, growing at a rate of up to a meter an hour, sprouting spontaneously over an area that can encompass hundreds of square kilometers.
Chemical analysis of the fungus indicates that it’s a rich source of trace elements and rare minerals with a high potential value in energy, nutrient and mineral production. The only barrier to the full exploitation of the fungus as a natural resource is the evolution of technologies to extract its benefits economically.
The fungus seems to exist in a semi-symbiotic relationship with the mind worms. Boils are often reported to originate from fungus blooms, particularly when the blooms are somehow damaged. The worms seems to provide the fungus with a natural defense. One of the more mysterious and controversial aspects of the fungus is its “song.” Certain individuals in the immediate proximity of fungal blooms (anywhere from 5 to 200 kilometers, depending on the individual and the size of the bloom) claim to hear a sort of hum or ululation from the fungus. This “music” is not audible to most, and it cannot be recorded. If it exists at all, it may be a resonance created from the same “psychoactive” field that the mind worms employ. Some (particularly among the Gaian faction, which believes implicitly in the “Song of Planet” and has accorded it a mystical significance) claim the song is ethereally beautiful. Others have alleged that prolonged exposure can drive the human brain to distraction, or even madness
Fauna[edit | edit source]
Mind Worms can appear suddenly, and are closely associated with fungus. Mind Worms and other alien creatures can engage in Psi Combat, in which weapon and armor strengths are ignored, and the attacker is given a 3 to 2 advantage on land. Morale level is quite important in defending against Mind Worms and other alien units.
The dominant land species on Chiron is the mind worm. From a distance, an individual worm specimen, with an average length of 10cm, hardly seems a threat. Get closer, however, and a human may experience the power of this species. Visions of horrible tortures and frightful deaths assail the mind, straight out of the victim’s worst nightmares. This effect multiplies with the number of worms present, each individual adding its own voice to the attack. With sufficient numbers, the victim goes numb with terror, causing spasms, paralysis, and even death as the autonomous nervous system shuts down. This attack is only a precursor to the worm’s main goal: to implant freshly hatched larvae inside the host’s brain. One gravid worm, if sufficiently agitated, can burrow through a human skull in thirty seconds — less, if the worm finds easy entry through an eye socket or nasal passage. Once inside the brain casing, the worm implants its ravenous larvae, which thrive and grow as they devour the nutrient-rich tissue around them.
Adult mind worms live for less than a month (explaining their urgent need to reproduce as quickly as possible), although they can enter a dormant state that lasts for years when they are in contact with the xenofungus. They reproduce sexually, but are hermaphroditic — each mind worm is capable of both impregnating another and of producing larvae itself. In particularly harsh environmental circumstances, a mind worm is even capable of impregnating itself. Genetically, one mind worm is virtually indistinguishable from any other anywhere else on Planet, right down to the chromosomal level. Giant swarms, or “boils,” of these mottled 10cm nightmares occasionally wriggle out of the fungal beds, attacking settlements and their outlying farms and other enhancements.
Victims are paralyzed with terror, and then experience an unimaginably excruciating death as the worms burrow into the brain to implant their ravenous larvae. Only the most disciplined security squads can overcome their fear long enough to trigger the flame guns that can keep the worms at bay. There is one advantage to destroying a mind worm boil (other than the increased feeling of security). When mind worms combine into boils, their metabolisms change. A few begin building concentrated deposits of rare elements, and when a mind worm boil’s “life” is cut short (for example, when one is flamed), these deposits can be recovered and converted directly into energy stores. The value of these deposits, and their mode of recovery, lead to their informal name — planetpearls. Mind worms that naturally dissipate do not leave the “husks” in which planetpearls are found — they are only recoverable if the boil is “killed.
These occur randomly wherever native life might be found. They are immobile and fight using PSI combat, as all native life forms. They may add a fungus square to an empty space around them. If all squares around them become fungus, they may start generating mindworms or spore launchers.
Spore Launchers can appear singly or in the company of Mind Worms, and are closely associated with fungus. Spore Launchers tend to lurk on the outskirts of a settlement, expelling bursts of corrosive spores that can destroy manmade or Progenitor improvements from a range of two squares away. These spores are also effective against units.
An aquatic vector of the Mind Worms, the Isle of the Deep is closely associated with Mind Worms and Sea Fungus. The floating shell of an Isle of the Deep, formed by the secretions of the colony's individual members, is often used as a nesting place by Mind Worms, and can even float large land units. The biochemical processes of the boil itself produce sufficient gas to make the mass buoyant, causing it to rise to the surface. At that point it takes on a life of its own, including apparent independent movement, and even the ability to perceive and pursue particularly attractive food sources (like human vessels and sea colonies). Isles of the deep in shallow coastal waters have been known to spawn land-based boils that break off from the mother mass and proceed on their own cross-country hunts.
Sealurks haunt the fungal patches and ocean depths of Planet's seas. As opposed to the less aggressive Isle of the Deep, the Sealurks seek out and attack ocean and coastal bases. They may also lie in wait for easy prey, catching unwary ships that travel too close to fungus. When immobile, these creatures are extremely hard to detect until they begin their attack.
Planet's fiercest avatars, the Locusts of Chiron are a ravenous winged variation the land-bound Mind Worms. The appearance of Locusts signifies considerable distress on the part of the originating neural net fungus. Periodically, a pre-boil mass of mind worms in a xenofungal bloom spontaneously, and for unknown reason, metamorphoses so that they all grow wings, whereupon the worms take off as a boil-swarm. Locusts of Chiron are rare, and “wild” locusts are rarely seen outside of periods of unusual mind worm activity.
Symbiosis[edit | edit source]
Despite the most obvious life-forms (xenofungus and mind worms), life on Planet, in general, is neither hostile to humankind nor particularly noteworthy. However, the intricate and sophisticated symbiosis in which nearly every species participates is noteworthy. (In fact, no observed species, whether flora, fauna or otherwise, does not participate in this symbiotic dance.) It is common on Earth for two, or sometimes even three or four species, to engage in a symbiotic relationship. On Planet, the symbiotic network essentially embraces every native species. This network works together with extreme efficiency and produces very little organic residue — everything is used, then reused. Therefore, contrary to planetologists’ expectations, fossil fuels and the like are unknown on Planet.