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Groubians

From Areopedia (main entry): Groubian (Species)

tvoulGroubian (Sepia sapiens martialis): A cephalopod of the genus Sepia, phylum Mollusca, closely related to terrestrial cuttles. Of the once considerable colony on Mars, scarcely 5,000 groubians remain alive. They are mostly to be found in Nix City, in former times their biggest settlement. By the terms of the Treaty of Nix, which concluded the Second Olympian War, all groubians were extended full human rights by the victorious coalition and are today recognised as human under Olympian Law. Although the original sense of groubián in M1 (the first of the two official languages of Olympia) to mean ‘coarse’ has dropped out of use, opprobrium continues to surround the word interspex: a contraction of “inter-species sex”.

In the absence of males, the groubian species is technically extinct; a living fossil. No new individuals can be conceived; and in view of numerous contraindications to cloning, the groubian population can only diminish. This state of affairs has endured for a remarkably long time. It may explain why groubians attempted to mate with the first settlers on Mars, the declared cause of the First Olympian War. Ever since, so-called groubian weddings have been outlawed on Mars and prosecuted as fifth-rank murder.

In spite of their comprising a miniscule proportion of the population of Mars (currently less than 5,000 individuals), groubians are immensely influential, pervading all walks of life. The very foundations of Martian society are architected along groubian lines, which makes living on Mars an altogether different experience from anything a Terrestrial can imagine.

History. Contrary to popular belief, groubians as a distinct species did not originate on Mars, but on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The Chicxulub Event on Gaia (circa 65,000,000 BCE) which was violent enough to extinguish the dinosaurs, along with 95% of all terrestrial species, ejected an estimated 3,000 cubic miles of biologically potent material into space, wholly dispersed in the zodiacal plane. This material, deriving from surface rock and shallow coral seas, was rich in spores, seeds and eggs preserved by flash-freezing on being flung out into space. It inoculated all the bodies of the solar system, but only on Titan is it known to have given rise to a colony of life-forms persisting for more than a million years.

Squid_komodoIn the nurturing environment which Titan then afforded, the Chicxulub detritus quickly gave rise to an extensive biosphere, ranging from the most primitive life-forms to the most advanced. This is not to assert that conditions on Titan remotely resembled those on Gaia, then or now. There is no hope of reconstructing them: our only source for what they must have been like is the Book of Titan, a perplexing spatio-color document defying translation and said to be truly comprehensible only by groubians.

Approximately 50,000 years ago, a cataclysm known as the Fall of Titan (which may or may not have been natural) sterilised that world, giving rise to the hostile environment in evidence today. The Titanic civilisation was extirpated, leaving only the tiny colony on Mars.

Some groubians question that Titan was altogether sterilised, arguing for the persistence to this day of a massive and dangerous life form: the Titan Kraken (another cephalopod) able to endure the low surface temp­eratures, at which methane liquefies.

No substantial evidence for the existence of the Kraken has been forthcoming; in its absence these conjectures can be dismissed as furthering a politico-religious agenda. For groubians, Titan is a world under a holy ban. Nothing can justify people visiting it ever again.

Anatomy. Groubians resemble gaians in physique, but in the absence of familial relationship this must be put down to convergent evolution. It has been suggested that the adoption of humanoid appearance is both conscious and deliberate on the part of groubians, to reinforce their claim to human status. Be that as it may, no groubian has reliably been observed in anything other than humanoid form.

Lacking calcified bones (the sole calcareous tissue being two dorsal plates of cuttle-bone; the vestigial molluscan shell, each situated roughly where the scapula occurs in gaians), groubians retain their humanoid shape by tough ligaments resembling bones when palpated. The arrange­ment of their internal organs bears no relationship whatever to mammalian anatomy.
The brain is notably absent as a recognisable organ; its function being subsumed by a network of ganglia distributed throughout the body. Those mental functions which are thought to be the provenance of the cerebral cortex in gaians are taken over by the skin, an organ rich in nervous tissue; and one responsible for the groubians’ most spectacular faculty: the ability to change colour instantaneously at will.

As in terrestrial cephalopods, colour changing is performed by pigmented cells called chromatophores, which expand on receiving signals along afferent nerve fibres, thus displaying their characteristic colour in the semi-transparent skin. In the absence of nervous activity the chromatophores contract altogether, conferring a milky white app­earance on dead or comatose individuals.

Groubian chromatophores divide into six categories matched by corresponding types of retinal cell: red, yellow, green, blue, violet and ultraviolet, each with different neurological properties. This underlies their role in signalling the emotional state of the organism. Groubians maintain that all aspects of their mental life, including superior activity analogous to poetry or music, are displayed openly on their skins. However as a rule the patterns observed are ones which only another groubian can correctly interpret.

Reproduction. Terrestrial cephalopods mate in a way surprisingly reminiscent of mammals, the male employing an adapted tentacle to penetrate and impregnate the female, which then goes and finds some rocky fissure in which to give birth to a batch of infants, each a tiny copy of the adult. The mother stays with the infants to protect them until she dies, which is not long after giving birth. Her total lifespan has then been little more than a terrestrial year. Females which do not mate may live longer.

From earliest times the sepias on Titan adopted a social organisation resembling communal wasps. Early on they abandoned their ancestral mode of reproduction as a by-product of prolonging their lives indefin­itely, some say as a result of conscious intervention by the species in its own genome. Quite possibly however it was a chance mutation, which would have conferred superior status on the individual thus immortalised. Strangely though, for a communal species, the adaptation became extended to all individuals, the expected short-lived slave-class either dying out or never arising in the first place.

Sexual intercourse became infrequent, and was never spontaneous. For reasons to become clear, it was always pursued as an extreme expedient, in obedience to dire social imperatives. It became adapted to the restriction of the species, as well as its reproduction. It generally took place in a mass-event called a zygogeny. Courtship between two individuals took place over a period of days, a process known as edulation. During this deeply invasive method of intercourse, the edulator would consume the internal organs of the edulee, who died in the act of coitus.

Gametes from the edulee’s gonads, provided he was male, spread through the entire body of the edulator, fusing with cells at random. About 10 to 100 viable foetuses resulted, each feeding off the flesh of the parent, prompting womb-like structures called zygocysts to emerge throughout the body. The duration of pregnancy was anything from 1 to 5 Martian years (2 to 9 terrestrial years), governed by the totality of live foetuses. Parturition was simultaneous and invariably fatal, due to shock both nervous and anaphylactic, plus the rupturing of vital organs, the skin in particular. The offspring were brought up by the whole community.

The Age of a Groubian. Almost all groubians alive today were conceived during the Last (or Titanic) Zygogeny, prompted when the colony on Mars received news of the Fall of Titan. At that time females already significantly outnumbered males. No male groubians survived; this being intentional. However the failure, due possibly to a sex-linked retrovirus, of any male progeny to come to term was unintended and unforeseen. It confronted the colony with the fact that the zygogeny, in spite of yielding a host of new individuals, had failed in its purpose. As a species, groubians had become extinct.

Belying their resemblance to gaian women in their twenties, it follows that every living groubian is of the same advanced age. Yet no groubian has ever volunteered a coherent account of her life further back than six or seven years. In spite of conferring impressive powers of medium-term memory, the groubian genome contains no mechanism capable of laying down long-term memories commensurate with its unnaturally extended lifespan. On the other hand a memory horizon is a plausible defence mechanism in a long-lived sentient organism, permitting it to endure the endless accumulation of painful experiences without being driven to despair and suicide. Groubians rely on spatio-color documents like the Book of Titan to give a sense of continuity, not to say meaning and purpose, to their literally interminable lives.

 

from The Titan Kiss by Clark Nida (Appendix C)

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