Time for my third Worldbuilding Wednesday and the focus continues on my first world: Muirin. The focus today is on how I developed the Ladies to the point that I understood their influence on Muirin and the humans who live there. Be aware there are spoilers all over the place in this for current and future stories–not in specific details but the backgrounds of why people are doing what they’re doing.
So, I’d previously decided that I wanted to have the Ladies look more or less like octopus and that their reproductive systems mimicked Angler Fish with the males being symbiotic attachments to the females with no intelligence of their own. I also knew that I wanted them to be highly advanced, a couple of million years more advanced than humanity, fully aquatic and potentially telepathic.
Other than that, though, I didn’t have much to work with. So I started doing research into cephalopods on Earth. They’re fascinating creatures but sort of terrifying for me. I think that influenced how the Ladies ended up looking.
All the varieties of cephalopods that I studied have the ability to change their skin pigmentation. They use that to signal threats, communicate sexually, hide, a lot of stuff. I decided that the Ladies had that ability, too. Their internal communication is a combination of skin color / patterning, tentacle movements and telepathy. Changing how their skin looks is much like speaking would be for us. That’s where the fine details of communication for the Ladies is conveyed.
Since they can generate light through bioluminescence, brightness conveys excitement while the specific colors and patterns those colors take convey the actual words. As with humanity, they have different languages and dialects but the Ladies on Muirin (spoiler: not all Ladies live on Muirin) all speak much the same language with regional variations of dialect. Basically, they all speak English with regional dialects varying the particular pronunciation and local terminology.
They do have writing, by the way, which I’m still wrapping my head around. Instead of paper or other solid objects, they use clear sheets of film that they inscribe colors and symbols on in varying intensities. The ways that the sheets overlap and move in the water convey a lot about intent and emotion that can’t be conveyed without telepathic communication. That’s very likely not going to show up in the stories for a long, long time though.
As with humans, moving their tentacles and bodies is, quite literally, their version of body language. Since humanity came to Muirin, they’ve adopted certain gestures from humanity. Cocking the head to the side means curious encouragement for them just as it does for humans. They’ve also picked up gesturing with the tip of a single tentacle as a way to indicate come closer or go further away.
The telepathy is something that I spent a lot of time going back and forth on. I knew that I didn’t want to have a simple way for humans and the Ladies to communicate. I wanted it to be an effort for humans to understand the Ladies, even a little bit. Thus, when I finally decided that yes, I wanted telepathy to be a thing that the Ladies could do, I had to make it something that makes direct communication harder instead of easier.
Thus, the syntax and grammar of the Ladies’ language is vastly different from all human forms of communication. Their perception of the world is so different that there aren’t that many referents in common with human perception. Certainly, they see and hear and smell and taste, but the way that they do these things is very different from how we do it. Their sense of smell, for example, comes from organs on their skin, not a nose. So if a Lady communicates telephatically with a human it so severely disorients the human that communication is virtually impossible.
And their appearance had to be terrifying, as well, or at least it’s terrifying to me. I decided that the Ladies physical appearance had to differ dramatically from humanity as well. Much like octopus, the Ladies have a bulbous head, effectively no body and many tentacles. Instead of their mouths being tucked underneath as they are for octopus and squid, the Ladies’ mouths are on the tops of their bodies, filled with many tiny needle-like teeth that grind together to chop up their food. Their eyes are extremely large and decidedly non-human, set below their mouths. And their ‘nose’, as perceived by humans, is actually a propulsion sack that they use to jet around in the water.
That meant that the Ladies not only looked exceedingly strange to the settlers who had arrived on Muirin (they had no records of sea creatures to reference, only vague legends from Earth thousands of years ago) but they also made humans extremely sick when they tried to communicate with them. The disorientation caused by direct telepathic communication led to nausea, dizziness and in extreme cases unconsciousness. The Ladies quickly discovered that continued efforts to communicate with humans could cause brain damage. They stopped after that.
That wasn’t something that the Ladies could work around. It’s hard to communicate with anyone when they can’t breathe the same atmosphere, can’t hear you and can’t look at you. So, the Ladies decided that they would alter the humans on Muirin to make communication somewhat easier. They had highly advanced bioengineering technology so it was simple enough to make a virus that infected the human population and mildly altered their brains so that telepathic communication would be easier.
Unfortunately, the virus mutated once it was inside humanity’s bodies and it caused far more changes than just adding an ability to receive telepathic communication without discomfort. It affected the sexual dimorphism of humans on Muirin, setting them at perfectly equal strength and size. Part of this was because the scientists responsible for the change hadn’t really checked that the humans had intelligent males. Why would they? It was such a preposterous idea, after all!
Another part of it was that humanity had far more genetic variability than they expected, resulting in greater changes than anyone wanted.
You see, they did alter the human population so that they could ‘hear’ the Ladies telepathically without getting sick but not all humans responded in the same way. A small portion of the population, about 2%, developed the ability to interface with the Ladies’ technology in an unconscious manner. Those individuals turned out to be fiercely independent, highly intelligent, and incredibly argumentative.
They caused, in pretty much every way possible, chaos. Chaos to humans, chaos to the Ladies, chaos in their personal and professional lives; they didn’t intend to do it but they brought chaos with them wherever they went.
*big grin* And that’s the origin of the Dana family, as well as a couple of other families that I’ll be writing about later on. I have to admit that I’m very fond of the Daughters of Chaos, no matter where they are. There’s just something fun about writing characters who dare everything and anything, no matter what the consequences may be.
One thing that did go right for the Ladies in their modification of humanity was that they were able to create telepathic illusions. Humans no longer saw their true appearance. Instead they saw mermaids, beautiful women with fish-like tails. People who have the Daughter of Chaos gene have a moment where they’re aware that there’s an illusion before it kicks in. And a very, very small minority of them see straight through the illusion, usually after interacting directly with the Ladies. That’s something that will definitely be coming in future stories so I’ll leave it at that to avoid major spoilers.
Once I had all of that, I was very, very close to having enough to start writing my stories. But there were a few things I still needed to figure out. First among them was where did they first land? How did they move out from that location? What technology did they retain and how quickly did they lose their technological knowledge?
Plus, I needed to decide what the various cultures looked like, the basic characteristics of the people, language and societies. So that’s what I’ll talk about next time.
I hope that this was interesting. If you have any questions please do comment. I’ll be very happy to talk about all of this further.