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Dec 2, 2012

Death among the Genesaunts

Neuron death and personality death
In Exode, the human residents of Hemmal do not get sick. Their bodies swarm with symbiotic nanoscopic components that efficiently repair damaged molecules, cells and tissues. Under such conditions, might the residents of Hemmal be immortal?

The Huaoshy have a few specific reasons for keeping humans on Hemmal. In particular, the Prelands are being subjected to a continuing process of genetic modification and artificial selection in an attempt to produce human variants that can merge into the transgalactic Genesaunt civilization that has been created by the Huaoshy.

Humans, as evolved on Earth, are viewed by the Huaoshy as little more than a dangerous and self-destructive life form, an evolutionary dead end. On worlds such as Hemmal there has been a 7-million-year-long search for useful gene combinations that might allow apes from Earth to evolve into a new form of life that is compatible with Genesaunt civilization. The Prelands are a work in progress, part way along the evolutionary arc between humans as we exist on Earth and the type of artificially evolved form of life that the Huoashy hope to craft from Earth's genetic stock.

Hermaphroditic Prelands: the future of human evolution
Given the advanced technology available to the Huaoshy, it is possible to keep the residents of Hemmal alive indefinitely, but such immortality would not facilitate the continuing evolution of the Prelands. Prelands are trained to live dramatic lives in an attempt to attain heroic glory and they usually die young.

The second important function of worlds like Hemmal is the production of Interventionists. The Buld Clan is an evolutionarily specialized branch of humanity. The Buld were engineered as a hermaphroditic human variant that can evolve in parallel with humans Earth. A true Buld has one more pair of chromosomes than we Earthlings. When additional Interventionists are needed on Earth then "false" Buld can be produced by subtracting the extra chromosome.

The Buld believe themselves to be immortal. However, while their bodies can be repaired and can theoretically last indefinitely, their brains are constantly changing. After a hundred years a Buld has few memories that are 100 years old and so that individual will have a distinct cognitive identity that is different from that of 100 years before. Each Buld individual has a human-like concept of the self, but that cognitive self is not immortal. Further, the Buld have an interesting reproductive process that impacts heavily upon the Buld concept of immortality.

Reproduction on Hemmal
Preland reproduction is entirely artificial. Genetic material is extracted from Prelands and artificially recombined to produce new Preland individuals. The infant Prelands are raised by the pek who have complete responsibility for passing the Preland culture from generation to generation.

Buld reproductive processes are different for the true Buld and the "false" Buld. The "false" Buld are difficult to distinguish genetically from Earthlings. The first few months of gestation take place inside the body of a true Buld then the pek assist in an early birth process. Gestation continues artificially (inside the body of a pek who will function as the "false" Buld's mother for the first few years of life). The newborn "false" Buld is raised in a special pek community to adulthood. In most cases, a "false" Buld has trouble fitting in to Buld society and is happy to leave the home world, receive training and then serve as an Interventionist agent on Earth.

For true Buld, the conceptus is never born. After three months of growth in the uterus the cells of the developing embryo become aggressive and, in cooperation with a swarm of symbiotic nanites, the cells of the new embryo being to spread through the body of the parent, eventually destroying and replacing all of the parental cells. Typically the parent is unaware of the pregnancy until the cells of the central nervous system are being replaced. The parent is suddenly incapacitated and enters into the religious ceremony of taiuoro, viewed by the Buld as a religious ritual of transformative meditation. After several weeks of being cared for by pek in a temple, the transformed Buld returns to normal life, usually with dramatic personality changes and vastly disrupted memories of previous life.

Many Buld view their life cycle as being a significant advance over that of the Prelands. Most Buld view the taiuoro as a kind of reincarnation. Some religious Buld think of the taiuoro as an opportunity to move one's self closer to perfection. Others view "the change" as an indication that one's past life was a failure and "the change" as being imposed by the Creators as a way to erase a failed Buld from existence. Some non-religious Buld abstain from engaging in sexual activity and thus avoid the taiuoro. A central tenet of Buld religion is that sexual behavior is required for transformation of the Buld towards the form of the Creators, however the Buld believe that they have evolved beyond the need for physical change and the needed transformation is spiritual.

Related reading: The Religion of Exode.

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