Creating Aliens and World-Building in Kingdom of the Jax
John B. Rosenman
Sometimes, not always, creating aliens and world-building go together. That is, in
science fiction or science-fantasy you can have an alien world without aliens or aliens without an alien world. But in Kingdom of the Jax, my sequel to Inspector of the Cross, the story required me to have both.
I began to set them up early. After arriving at Cross Imperial Station, Inspector Turtan sits next to the Empress Arianna at a banquet in his honor. Because of cryogenic suspension during his long missions, Turtan is technically four thousand years old, and the Empress is curious about him.
“I have to ask. Inspector Turtan, aren’t you bored? In your long life, surely you’ve seen everything. What else is there…”
To live for? Turtan moved a glass of water in front of her. “Your Majesty, the wonders of the expanding universe are endless, as are the life forms inhabiting it. To give you an example, just consider one drop of water and what it might contain. I’ve often wondered if some intelligent creatures may exist on an entirely different plane than us and be forever undetectable and beyond our comprehension.”
She gazed at the water. “They’d be so small.”
“Yes, submicroscopic, and though most scientists claim no such intelligent life exists, who really knows for sure? Perhaps this water swarms with super-accelerated lives which run their course in a millionth of a second. A billion generations would pass in a blink of an eye, along with everything else you can think of. Thoughts, courtships, marriages, customs, wars, and entire civilizations. With each human breath, whole ages would pass. The Stone Age. The Age of Reason. The Space Age.”
She touched the glass. “But if we couldn’t see them, what would be the point?”
“Ah, Your Majesty, they couldn’t see us either, so what would be the point of our lives?” He lifted the glass and drank. “Besides, what is the point of anything, even love?”
This glass of water which causes Turtan to speculate about submicroscopic, intelligent creatures who live super-accelerated lives, is the seed for Regis 7, which he visits thirty-one years later. On this distant watery world, oceans cover a full ninety-five percent of the surface, and there are over a hundred trace gases and compounds like ethane, methane, and ammonia, many of them similar to Terra’s. The oceans themselves “appear to be rich in hydrocarbons, many of them consisting of long repeating polymers perhaps consisting of millions or billions of atoms.” Dr. Glitch, the ship’s intelligent computer, confirms “with absolute certainty” that “the oceans of Regis 7 swarm with life of all sizes. There’s a lot of jaws and teeth down there, Skipper,” she warns, and dangers our hero has yet to confront.
And are the tiny life forms foreshadowed in that glass of water the greatest danger of all? Are they friend or foe? As they rise in bright spangles of light from the ocean’s depths to greet our hero, they offer little clue.
The greatest inspiration for the Radiants of Regis 7 can be found in Greg Bear’s great novel Blood Music. Here I tried to borrow without stealing in order to create aliens who were truly alien, truly strange, truly mind-blowing, and truly different. As a creator of aliens, I wanted to s-t-t-t-r-r-r-e-e-e-t-t-t-c-c-c-h-h-h. Spoiler Alert! I don’t want to give away too much, but I attempted to explore what it would be like to be submicroscopic intelligent aliens with no sense of self or individuality who lived virtually forever and who existed with an infinite number of copies of themselves in this planet’s teeming oceans. For five or ten billion years, they have been happy and content in a way we cannot even imagine, abiding in sexless peace with their fellows and totally ignorant that anything else existed above their water line.
And then one day, a visitor from a universe beyond their conception visits their realm and descends into it. Many fathoms down he comes in his diver’s suit to the ocean floor where a most unusual encounter occurs:
Turtan retreated, a futile strategy. If the shark, which belonged here, had no chance against these lights, what hope existed for him? He quickly re-pocketed his stun gun to look as nonthreatening as possible. I come in peace, he wanted to tell them. I wouldn’t hurt a fly. How, though, did you communicate with bits of brilliant light?
Looking close, he sensed the light was just an emanation of these creatures, who were much, much smaller. He recalled Dr. Glitch saying a great deal of the life in these hydrocarbon oceans consisted of multi-atomic polymer chains. Perhaps they were what he was dealing with.
The lights circled him, as they’d circled the shark. They moved closer and closer, dazzling him with their brightness.
On the cusp of death, he found himself obsessed with naming these creatures. “Lights” seemed too prosaic. What about Beams, Spangles, Luminaries, the Brightly Shining? Perhaps Radiants was best. Very well, let it be.
“I name thee Radiants,” he said into his dead microphone and felt them pass through his suit and graze his body.
It was another shark attack. Only this time, there were a thousand sharks who played with him and took a preliminary taste. Around and around they went in sadistic celebration, savoring in advance their dark pleasure. He resisted the urge to swat at them. After all, he had his dignity to maintain and wished to die like a man. A thousand perverse sentiments sang through his mind, one for each of his attackers. He might be helpless, but in his soul he was king.
He felt the Radiants enter him.
At first it was a gentle invasion, a caress along his veins, a whisper through his arteries. The invaders crept closer and closer to his mind, to the blood-brain barrier that signaled the Fall of Self, which must, he reasoned, have been the fate of the once mighty shark. Turtan dug deep, determined to triumph where the shark had surrendered.
Closer and closer the Radiants crept, until they stood at the threshold itself. Knock, Knock, who’s there? he imagined they called. And then the pain started.
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