May 14, 2016

The Escapist Clan

cover art by Rowena Morrill
At Observer Base in the First Reality, all the children were raised by artificial lifeforms, the orbho. The orboh carefully "programmed" the children so as to prepare them for their role as a Clan member. As soon as they began to transition into adulthood, it was normal for the children to join one of the existing Clans. As I mentioned previously, a few residents of Observer Base preferred to remain as Isolates and not join a Clan.

According to Gohrlay, Prelands were designed so as to be easily guided by religious beliefs. Preland societies formed around tribes or Clans and each of the Preland Clans had its own special religious traditions. In Preland societies, the behaviors of individuals were heavily constrained by "the collective and anonymous force of the clan".

"Reason" by Isaac Asimov.
During the era that Gohrlay was born into, the pek had long since used zeptite endosymbionts to shape the bodies of the residents of Observer Base, forcing them to adopt the Preland body form. The Prelands had been designed by the pek to be simultaneous hermaphrodites who, as adults, all looked like young women. However, Prelands only had small mammary glands that were directed internally so as to provide milk to newborns while they resided in the Preland thoracic pouch.

At Observer Base, human reproduction was shrouded in religious mystery. When children were born, they were immediately placed in the care of the orboh and the birthing mothers were not even aware that they had been pregnant. Observers lacked a thoracic pouch and could not have raised their own children even if they had been permitted to conceive of the possibility.

While she was growing up under the care of the orbho, it soon became obvious that Gohrlay did not have the appearance of a typical Preland. As a young girl, she was told that she was a "throwback", a genetic mutant who would grow up to have a body form more like a human female than a Preland. This led to Gohrlay's early interest in genetics. Also, Gohrlay was never forced to participate in the juvenile pre-Clan training exercises that were forced on the other children at Observer Base.

Genetics was one of the sciences that had been developed at Observer Base long before Gohrlay had arrived on the scene. However, genetics had long since been abandoned as an active area of research among the small cadre of scientists at Observer Base. As an adolescent, Gohrlay explored the abandoned records that remained from past genetics research. She discovered how to use chromatin stains and microscopy to perform genetic analysis. For a time, Gohrlay hoped to find a way to visualize the genetic defect in her chromosomes that had caused her to "revert" to a human phenotype. She became something of a celebrity among the Numerists, those residents of Observer Base who believed that all residents of the Base were either intrinsically male or female.

Sedronite sex chromosomes (source)
Performing her own lab work (and not trusting the fully automated devices that were used by most Numerists) Gohrlay was able to confirm that her genotype was XX. However, since the DNA probe that was available to her for chromosome analysis was a set of fluorescent-labeled nucleic acid strands designed to "paint" the X chromosome, she was not able to visualize any of the other human chromosomes.

Gohrlay also discovered that most residents of the Base were XX and only a small minority had the single X genotype. This result conflicted with the results from automated genotype analysis, results that routinely reported close to a 50-50 balance between the X and XX genotypes. Strangely, a few individuals who she tested had no detectable chromosomes. When she began investigating the hypothesis that there was one single X member of each Clan, the supply of DNA stain available to her suddenly disappeared, putting an end to her study of genotypes.

During the time when Gohrlay was receiving assistance from the scientists, she began making plans to visit Earth. She wanted to obtain cell samples for genetic analysis from both humans and the Prelands who lived on Earth. She won a position among the Observer Corps, but after her first year in the Corps she received a rejection of her request to begin training for on-Earth assignment. Her Division Director (Cliph), the Chief Planetary Observer, was among many Clan leaders who offered Gohrlay membership in a Clan. Gohrlay toyed with the idea of joining Cliph's clan as a ploy that might gain her an on-Earth assignment.

Water's Edge
Rol, Jaqy, Meppen and Gohrlay
When the biannual Clan membership drive came around, Gohrlay was still very angry that future consideration of her request for on-Earth assignment had been made contingent on her joining Cliph's Clan. Given her unusual biology, Gohrlay had no desire to join a Clan. She went "on vacation", leaving the confines of the Base. As part of her vacation, she went on a walking tour of the outer limits of the Base and wound up at Water's Edge, a kind of resort.

Within Clan society, resorts such as Water's Edge had a negative reputation. By convention, sexual relations were supposed to be carefully guided and shaped by the Clans. Resorts such as Water's Edge provided a way to explore sex outside of the Clans.

In the Ekcolir Reality
original cover art by Terry Lee
The dominant religion of Observer Base held that the next evolutionary advance of the Prelands would be made by careful breeding among Clan members at the Base. However, when two Clan members fell in love, they often slipped away to resorts like Water's Edge so that they could spend time together alone.

In the Ekcolir Reality, an extensive account of religion in the First Reality was published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.

Future of Earth
When Gohrlay arrived at Water's Edge, she found that only three other guests were present, all of them Escapist authors.

Gohrlay was familiar with the literature of the Escapists, but she had never previously met a writer of Escapist stories. Gohrlay quickly became friends with Rol, Jaqy and Meppen. Soon they were experimenting and trying to discover if they could form their own Clan.

Next: The Future of Earth in the Asimov Reality.

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