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Living Labyrinth

by Ian Stewart and Tim Poston

If you can't read St Matthew's Gospel because St Mark gave away the resurrection, don't explore further.

I like background on books:
let me in, and do not warn me again

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Biota native to Qish: a small selection
(Species with Old Earth names arrived with Magog.)

Plants and animals have to 'choose' an r-strategy of producing small seeds or young (think dandelions or fish eggs) versus a K-strategy of big ones (coconuts, infants) often with parental care. Small ones die easily, but you can make many of them: big ones have a better chance at life, but have to be few. More survivors makes a species more common, so evolution favours strategies that work — but both r and K have disadvantages.

Strawberry spreads by cloning         Banyan spreads by cloning
Some Old Earth plants like strawberries and banyan trees have a partial way past this dilemma, by sending out many thin shoots that can become new plants. If one of these finds good soil, water, light, etc., the plant backs it with more resources, helping it grow: but it does not waste much on a shoot that fails. The results is a 'clone', a mass of parent and child plants.

The clone tactic is neat, but runners cannot travel as far as dandelion seeds.

A long time back, chance chemistry in a Qishi plant created metamaterials that allowed formation of a trans-spatial link, that we now call a synte. Small seeds could scatter on the wind, but still call for back-up when they found opportunity, and grow fast to seize it. T hey could also send back a resource that the parent was low on. The spectacular reproductive advantages led to this plant's descendants dominating Qishi flora as a whole, with many other syntelic tricks developing.

Green seaslug                 Some Old Earth animals like coral polyps incorporate plants as photosynthetic symbionts, and the green sea slug (left) has even hi-jacked the whole chlorophyll chemistry from algae and made it part of its own biochemistry. Many Qishi animals have done similarly with syntelics, allowing strategies for predation, reproduction, digestion and even flight that would be impossible for Old Earth species.

Pending the first systematic report from the Xenological Institute, we describe below only the major land species that came to the attention of the probationary team from Valkyrie. Since even the two xenologists were without appropriate equipment, and were understandably preoccupied with surviving the invasive sapients, this anecdotal account is our best resource for now. (For what little is known of marine biota, see Oceans.)

We will add images of these species here, as they become available.

Plants

The many synte-killing diseases, particularly Grey Malice, Spash, White Spot Witherbole, are of particular concern to syndepts.

Bazza, a non-syntelic root crop nutritious to hoohoons, and (though not as sole diet) to Old Earth sociable pigs. The leaves can be used to poison humans (as can so much Qishi life1) and to create a useful mordant for vegetable dyes.
1This ready availability of poisons has various effects in different Qishi societies. In some, there is simply a lot of poisoning of oppressive relatives; in others, relatives have become less oppressive, to survive. Many substances in small doses befoul the doors of perception, useful both in psychological sabotage and in maintenance of irrationalist cults.

Boloona, cultivated for its fibres, extractable nutrients, and silage useful for Old Earth crops. Syntelic seeding.

Cayle, grown in Bansh: edible broad leaves used in salads, root makes a hot spice when dried and coarsely ground.

Graffyd, tree, fruit with a flammable (alcohol-based) oil. Toxic to Old Earth life (beyond what alcohol always is), but nutritious, high energy food for Qishi avians, who spread the seeds. See also dragonfly.

'Kelp', large self-anchoring seaweed that flourishes in shallow waters, growing masses impenetrable to the larger sea-monsters. Used for paper and fertiliser. Fermented with a local analogue of yeast, it yields 'yellow tunket' with 30% alcohol and hallucinogenic congeners. Freezing out water in the harsh Wevorin winter creates 'red tunket', whose hangovers — remarkably — do not act as a deterrent. It is popular among soldiers, who drink to forget the death it resembles.

Kenchinyo, grows high in the Greywraiths of Lamynt and the False Gloonts of Wevory, where the winters are severe but (separated by the Equator) at opposite times. Linked syntelically, the summer plants transfer not material but heat to their winter counterparts, enabling survival at low temperatures. The kantasynte seeds are carried by the omnivorous swaggle, which despite the ocean between Lamynt and Wevory migrates between them (similarly to the Old Earth blackpoll warbler's Atlantic crossing). In return the kenchinyo provides a warmed nesting place, allowing earlier breeding than other birds, and a feast of (synte-bearing) high-energy berries in the weeks before departure.

Lurepool, large carnivorous syntelic plant using water as bait.

Lilypad, a widespread genus with many species, analogous to the Old Earth lotus. All use syntei to share resources among members of a clone, but the species L annularis, found only in the Dunelands of Lamynt, also has open syntei on its floating leaves, used by the symbiotic froggle (q.v.).
Almost all large syntei have a rigid structure, to maintain the spatial isometry between the kasyntei. However, leaves floating on calm water can easily stay planar without rigid support. The plants economise on material by being highly flexible, though springy: the least-energy state is the flat one. The synte connection shrinks to a core patch when the leaf is distorted by waves (or rolling it up), opens to full size when flatness is restored.
The largest member of the genus is L firhoz, or waterspout, which grows at the top and bottom of the White Ramparts. Its syntei transfer about 1/10 of the Lorn River directly to the mountain base. The current draws in many fish. Large ones are sucked into the main synte channel, where they are killed by tidal forces, becoming fish manure for the lake. Unlike many syntelic plants the parent draws no nutriment from the part that it seeds, as such a large height difference is impassable from below. Many small fry, however, are trapped at the top by tangles of roots, encysted by the plant, and digested. The force of the current that traps them is the payoff to the top plant, the only part that sets seeds.

Paloom, a tall tree branching only at the top, growing generally by bodies of water. Its large, hard-husked syntelic fruit floats across lakes or oceans, establishing shore-to-shore syntelic contact.

Stromplunt, common in the savannahs of Larby and Scythery: water syntelically obtained from segments in the Glostmadden rainforest. Appears as isolated trees, which protectively reshape vulnerable leaves and twigs against the fierce storms of the region, long before the weather visibly begins to change; local humans use this as a forecast. It depends on the fact that (unusually) stromplunts are joined in a multiple syntelic network, not just pairwise, so they detect barometric pressure differences over hundreds of kilometres. (Predicting from these involves the only known pattern recognition in Qishi plants.) The network is established via the stromplunt fruit, highly addictive to various large, roaming Qishi herbivores. A fruit's stone anchors itself harmlessly near the digestive exit, until it chemically detects that fruit from a different stromplunt has been eaten. At this point it releases a powerful laxative, detaches itself, arrives close to the new plant, and sets up a connection.

Suffok, a passive-aggressive carnivorous water plant, native to Grossest Midden, now cultivated on all continents. It does not strangle or poison its animal prey, but reduces local oxygen levels to inactivate them, then infiltrates them with roots and digests them. The concentrated oxygen is released by a distant part (the hiya) of the plant.
Humans first discovered the hiya as an 'oxygen high', after removing the symbiotic ant-like creatures that defend it, but later found it let them breathe at high altitudes. Combined with training, acclimatisation and (unplanned) rebreeding of the Sherpa phenotype, this allowed human colonisation of mountains up to 10km high, provided suffok pools were maintained at a nearby level. These require warmth and sunlight.

Vunbugula, plant parasitic on animals, feeds by syntelic connection to the eaten stones of its fruit, gets water from remote syntei. Thus it flourishes on stony ground, which just provides living space, but some grow on more crowded land also.
The fruit is very nutritious, and attracts both native Qishite animals and Old Earth invasive species.

Wissaria, a climbing plant with silver-blue flowers and a scent attractive to humans. The nectar is addictive.

Animals

Albatrix, thirty-metre wingspan avian predator. Syntei for both eating and breathing allow large lungs and digestive systems without weight penalty. Dull orange from above, grey below, almost invisible against cloud. Sleep nest is protected by height, syntebase (necessarily low) by kamikaze immature young, which turn cannibal if the parent dies. Don't get close!
Syntei develop around the first moulting.

Bihover, raptor always hatched as twins from one egg, highly syntelically connected: adults usually fly several hundred kilometres apart, at heights within 50m of each other. Whatever the current weather, normally, one or other is in a higher pressure zone. The corresponding bird lands, accepts the other's undigested food, and assists oxygenation of the other's blood. The air pressure difference flows out from syntei under the flyer's wings, enabling hovering flight in still air, and high speed when chasing or descending on prey.

Bombabug, carnivorous insect analogue with a syntelic water cannon: many species. A typical height difference of 100–200m gives it a muzzle velocity similar to the Old Earth bombardier beetle, though without the temperature and toxicity effects of the bombardier's explosion. A large sessile mother releases small young which drift downstream to where their weapons become useful for resisting predators and killing prey. After several stages of growth and moulting they return upriver to breed. Often many males will mate with one female, who eats them for material to become a new sessile. Without a higher kasynte she lacks syntelic defence, and relies on a hard shell to repel predators.

Buloceros, large wary herbivore, on-board stomach.

Dragonfly, not the Old Earth species but a 3cm swarming pseudo-insect that breathes fire (once). Uses the juice of graffyd to fuel a suicidal burst of flame, analogous to Old Earth bee-stings.

Drift-orm, a 3-metre long single-eyed creature adapted to snowy heights. The syntelically enabled 'caterpillar track' of the adult may have suggested to human colonists the logic of the half wheel. Mainly herbivorous, but responds aggressively to attack, and eats attackers once the stink of life is off them.

Fleyeger, stealth predator not relying on speed. Its onboard digestive system, etc., contribute mass useful in combat (as in sumo). Buds off multiple bird-like flying eyes, to locate prey. Approximately half of its large brain is dedicated to the cognitive task of creating a 3D world-model using data from multiple, highly mobile viewpoints.

Frog-forms, many species. A life-design so perfect that convergent evolution produces it on almost every world with marshes. Only a few syntelic species, except by external symbiosis.

Froggle, a frog-form (q.v.) symbiotic with Lilypad annularis (q.v.). It uses the open syntei of the floating leaves to evade predatory birds, and shelter its eggs in the deep syntei. It repays the plant by eating all other forms of vegetation, making L annularis the dominant local waterweed.
The first Qishite animal to leave the planet.

Glossep, resembles a bow-legged goat; on-board stomach.

Grumbat, flying insectivore that lays leathery eggs in the nests of birds that nourish them after hatching. It adds syntelically to this food from the moment they are laid, and after they hatch, giving them an advantage over the chicks that are fed only by the birds. It is almost always on the wing, feeding. Its flying skills are spectacular, particular during mating displays.

Grunter, prolific herbivore domesticated for leather, wool, excellent bones for carving ornaments and tools, and manure. Lots of manure.

Hohoon, solitary herbivore that digs for roots with its shovel-shaped lower jaw.

Land piranha, small savage flocking quadruped commensal with syntelic ambush plants.

Lightowl, migrant raptor with searchlight between the eyes. All species nest in hard-to-reach mountain aeries, mostly in the Gloonts and Eastern Ramparts, so that female young flying East and West (respectively) cross a maximum of longitude. Sunlight entering the kasynte left in the nest shines through the kantasynte in the bird, finding and confusing nocturnal prey. Non-migrant males lack the searchlight, and rear the young. Some species leave individual kasynte components, others a kasynte in a shared living nest.

All species are preyed upon by rodent-like beasts who climb through the synte to attack the nest. Some have evolved rings of poisonous spines to prevent this.

Mammut, omnivore, 5m tall, weight supportable because in the adult both stomach and womb are remote.
The remote stomach, womb and thorny symbiotic plant are planted together at the lowest elevation of a mammut's range, when the growing beast reaches the size of an Old Earth elephant and approaches sexual maturity. When a female is near her time, the herd gathers around the womb to protect the newborn.

Ormhound, bred from Old Earth dogs by the cavern-dwellers of Wevory: able (in packs) to intimidate and even kill drift-orms, and (as individuals) to track humans by scent.

Ossivore, large desert predator. The adult has a remote stomach, normally protected by a deep cave with a collapsed entrance, dug through only by adolescent ossivores whose stomachs are ready to be planted with their symbionts. It patrols regularly enough that no other species risks digging.

Rhomney, large pink herbivore with highly spinnable winter wool and nutritious milk. Old Earth derived (from several species), but adjusted to eat almost any plant from any planet, without requiring trace vitamins.

Rhunka, small predator with fine-furred pelt that sheds water, much valued for stormwear.

Skiti, vaguely cat-like creature if all parts are assembled, which occurs only in mating displays. Born as a single blind, furry unit, gradually syntelically separating as their nervous system matures to handle multiplicity.

Slar, one of the few marine creatures accessible to human commerce, due to mating on land (a good way to escape marine predators: sharp multi-beak mobbing protected them well on land, until humans came with distance weapons). Skin almost impenetrable, though flexible, helpful in an ocean full of teeth. Cured for battle armour, wild-country leggings, etc.

Sociable pig, genetically modified from Old Earth stock, feeds on bazza. Prolific breeder.

Wozzet, lumpish creature like a yellow pig, asleep when not eating or breeding. Can eat anything (Qishi or Old Earth origin), and its manure is digestible by chickens.