I’ve been doing some more brainstorming for my “Naked Jungle in Space” story, and I’d like to give an update. I’ve decided to change things up a bit for the castaways; instead of standard-issue humans, I’m going to make them mermaids. In my universe’s case, a far-future space opera setting, they’re a human race genetically engineered for just that purpose; to bring to life the beings from mythology. In my setting these mermaids are of the classical type, very beautiful, fair, opulently curvy girls who have fish-like tails in place of human legs. They’re air-breathing just as humans are, but can hold their breath underwater for very extended periods of time, much like whales do. The so-called “mermaid problem” is obviated by them having the relevant genitals and organs right where marine mammals have them.
My mermaids have some more twists: they’re an all-female race (it’s called “mermaid” after all, not “merman”) who reproduce through parthenogenesis. I’ve explored parthenogenesis for worldbuilding before in a blog post last year, and I’ve used it already in “The Saga of the Ilithianades”, but a few concepts from that blog post remained unused in that story. In particular, the Sisters of Saga use clonal parthenogenesis, which bears clones of the mother; in their case, replicating the mother’s genotype is the whole idea. But there’s another form of parthenogenesis, “automixis”, which blends the genes in new configurations, a different genotype, albeit without any genuinely new genetic material that would come from sexual reproduction. I think I’ll use that here.
Telepathic Parthenogenetic Mermaids!
Another idea I’m going to use in this story is automictic parthenogenesis mediated by a telepathic link with a male during sex, with the thoughts, memories, and feelings of the male determining how half the offspring’s genes are altered, much like the Asari from “Mass Effect”. Combining this with another idea, this link might be required to activate a “mutation factory” organ within the mermaid body, which crafts genuinely novel genes to combine in an offspring. It’s psychic energy from a male, not physical material, that’s desired by these mermaids. Since there are no male mermaids and no physical material is needed, they may mate with a male of any species, though fellow humans are usually preferred.
A side effect of this procedure is that it’s a very intense experience for the male recipient, changing the mind permanently, bonding them in eternal love to the mermaid and reshaping their psyche to be more compatible with the female partner’s. Forcing this on another against their will is a most grievous wrong in mermaid law, and it so happens the mermaid exiled to the rainforest planet, the sole progenitrix of the castaways, was guilty of doing just that to male prisoners en masse, who were hostages exchanged by some other party their band of mermaids (in space) had some sort of legal dispute with.
Their agreement had been violated, so she took it out on the hostages, only to be caught, and sentenced to exile to that planet for a period of twenty years, bereft of her male prey, during which time she was also bereft of contact with the outside world, enforced through unbreakable encryption. Even after the sentence is over, she stays with her descendants, out of shame at getting caught like that and dishonored, with the jury who sentenced her having pronounced a curse that she was to be dishonored until the spirits spoke on her new world. Well, if being forced out by the awakening of an ancient race that destroys the whole planet doesn’t count as that, what does? Until her curse is broken she believes herself unworthy of free spaceflight, and her daughters stay there out of solidarity.
It’s also all kept really hush-hush until the very end, though the progenitrix does have quite a reputation, one time even trying to recidivate by seducing none other than the leading man and trying to force herself upon him, which he ends up resisting. This is also his first erotic experience with another woman, which doesn’t do his mindset any good to say the least; he generalizes this to all the mermaids and scrupulously avoids them, instructing his new wife to do the same, only for her to ignore him and sneak out, building a rapport with the mermaids (specifically, the less-rapey descendants) and learning all she can about the planet from them, including the ruins of an ancient civilization that vanished without a trace. Well, they eventually figure out after the attack that the locust-like swarms consuming the planet are the ancient civilization, but not until later in the story.
Bride not as Ordered…
Rewatching “The Naked Jungle” today, I think I’ll follow the same beats for the romance as in the movie. Their first meeting will be brusque, with the man coming in unkempt from the ranch, their second meeting (which might be days later in my version) pestering her to see if she’s everything that was represented to him by his artificial-intelligence companion (like Leningen’s brother in New Orleans only instead it’s a computer in a spaceport), causing her to go in a big huff as if she knows a lot about men and how they think and feel; eventually he asks her point-blank how she learned about men and she reveals she was originally an escort, a high-class prostitute (I altered this part; in the movie Joanna had a previous marriage), before she handled the marriage applications for him, deciding she herself was the best candidate.
Like Joanna in “The Naked Jungle”, she makes a point of informing the man, not wanting to deceive him in case he has a preference when it comes to a woman’s sexual history, but the AI, who handles all communications for him as he doesn’t see fit to handle that sort of thing himself, leaves out the information about her sexual past. Turns out he does have a preference: he wants a wife who’s a virgin, so they could share their first times as each other’s first special someones. This is the real kicker that makes them think it won’t work out.
There are other incompatibilities as well, perhaps revealed through their shared love of martial arts (and dance or fight choreography?), their two cultural traditions clashing and not meshing well into a unified coherent whole synthesis, with them finding it very difficult to teach each other their styles. While all this is going on, before he’s mortified at her secret past, they’ll also plot out what their house is going to be like; he has his own house, she has her own house, and halfway in-between them they are to construct a cottage, a structure much like present-day hunting lodges constructed by rich people, a cozy space for them to enjoy together when they want to make love or sleep over with each other. Present-day people would describe this arrangement as “living apart together”, but in this universe it’s perfectly normal; resources are abundant enough it’s not uncommon for couples to have separate space habitats.
Turns out they’re able to arrive at a house design swimmingly well; maybe this all takes place at their first meeting, which gives her hope the ice king can be defrosted before being dashed later. She wants a loft bedroom as is ubiquitous in her culture, big cathedral ceilings with lofts and ladders; plenty of skylights too.
Purple Auroras Galore!
This house will be constructed and may well be the site of their second meeting. Around this same time there’s a solar storm of unprecedented severity afoot, their confrontation taking place against a twilight backdrop filled with auroras. According to various websites I found online, including this one (Athropolis is a cool website! You should check it out), argon should glow purple and produce lavender aurora. Oxygen of course produces green and red aurora. Nitrogen is depleted in this atmosphere, but there’s still enough to produce a bit of red aurora. The net effect is that purple aurora are far more common on this world than on Earth.
Frederic Edwin Church’s “Aurora Borealis”, shifted to the colors that would be present on an argon-oxygen world such as this one.
After their second encounter, he would ship her off-world immediately were it not for several of his fellow ranchers having left the planet for more clement environs in the face of the solar storm, and being incommunicado it’s not like they can be summoned back immediately, so they wait out the storm on the planet, since her husband wants her to be able to meet his fellow ranchers before she goes; he thinks he owes her that much.
Perhaps early in their second encounter, before they go to the house and have their confrontation, he shows her what she’s up against there, giving her a tour of the workings of the ranch. I’ve decided that since the workers will be mermaids the environment the vampire silkworms will be raised in is going to have to be a beach. Perhaps they just prefer beachy soils and environs.
On her tour she witnesses one of the mermaid workers be attacked by a vampire silkworm, which is a terrifying sight to behold, though she does get over it somewhat by the time they go into their house together for the first time.
During that long night (this planet has days 7 times as long as Earth’s, so night lasts 3.5 days or so, especially since this will be near the autumn equinox), she seeks out the mermaids. The solar storm dies down, and the ranchers come back, only for their meeting to have to take the form of a stirring from deep under the earth. Turns out that much like the cicada the natives use such exceptionally powerful solar storms as a signal of when to come out of stasis, and come out they do, with the scholarly mermaids and the wife warning that the theory that the new menace is one and the same as the ancient civilization and the whole planet is like a farm for them, hence the strange properties of the planet (e.g. the vampire worms can live only there and nowhere else).
The husband stays and fights of course, and loses, but in the end gains a wife, as he falls in love with her in the heat of battle, by the end wanting to accept no other as his woman.
It’s a good tight plot for a story I think, and I’m looking forward to writing it more than ever before. Just gotta keep brainstorming…