Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cradle will Fall

-Rockaby baby on the tree top -

The Titan Star Trawler nudged closer to the bloated heliosphere, swinging the particle nets behind the ion engine driven craft.

“It appears as though there is a spike of solar activity,” the helmsman said in his semi-electronic voice. “I would recommend a course correction to account for the incoming gravity wave and the drag caused by the increased mass we are towing.”

“Stay on this course for a while longer Helmsman,” the Captain replied in his similar half organic drone. “Are we nearing the desert world?”

“Yes Captain we are following its orbit, however…” the Helmsman’s answer was interrupted by an insistent beeping of an alarm. He reached and switched it off, as his cranial feed was given data from the Star Trawler’s sensors. “We can tarry on this orbit no longer Captain, sensors indicate that the heliosphere is entering a period of expansion and will consume the desert world at any moment.”

-When the wind blows the cradle will rock-

The captain’s voice emitter made a strange eerie sound, like a grating sigh. “Very well, take us out one half AU now, but keep parallel with this orbit. We will make another orbit of the star to take advantage of the coming mass expulsion, not to mention the metals available from the destroyed planet.”

“Very well Captain,” the Helmsman replied, adjusting the course, taking the Trawler further out. The ship began to shake violently as the engines fought the gravitational effects of the bloated star on the ballooning particle nets and their increasing mass. More alarms sounded and the helmsman’s organocyborg  digits moved furiously  on the naviboard.

-When the bough breaks-

“Helmsman!” the Captain said in concern as more lights flashed warnings about compromises to the hull integrity.

 The shaking gradually subsided as the hum of the ion engines increased and compensated for the increased drag. The Helmsman voice emitter gave a cackling rattle as he laughed; one by one the alarms began to terminate their warnings. “That was close it appears that the star is expanding as we speak. But thanks to my skill we will see Titan again… and I’ve saved our haul!”

The Captain’s voice emitter did not echo the Helmsman’s humour. “If we… you had lost our haul then you may as well exit the airlock and join the star yourself.” The Captain reconsidered his reprimand.” But well done. Yes we shall see Titan again.”  His synthiorganic mind wandered then as he recalled the beauty of the reflections of the Ringed Mother in the methane polar seas of his home world and yet, his species original Eden had been…

“Are we parallel with the desert world yet Helmsman?”

“We are catching up with its trajectory, but it is about to be hit by the heliosphere and we will have to erase it from our star charts.”

-The cradle will fall-

The desert world gone? It had not always been the wasteland it now was. Legends spoke of water in abundance. “Open the blast doors, Helmsmen, Iet's see its demise.” The plastisteel doors opened turning the interior of the craft red. The red giant was now burning iron, its hydrogen fuel long since depleted; it was in the long drawn out stage of stellar senility. It dominated the view screen as its churning surface approached the tiny speck of the desert world.

-And down will come baby-

The Captain felt an immense feeling of sadness. His voice emitter croaked “I would see this with my own eyes.” He took off his facial plate. Amid the tubes and amalgam of flesh and machine his grey eyes blinked as they adjusted to the filter free vision. He felt the strange sting of tears as precious water began to issue from his eyes.
“Cradle and all.” He said solemnly as the planet was engulfed.


“Its nothing Helmsmen, just random thoughts that have been in my mind since waking from stasis.” In his dreams there was a hidden memory passed down from clone to clone in the invitro tubes; a world of green and blue where ships once plied seas of pure H2O. “Titan wasn’t always our world, you know? Once we were fully organic and came from that very place, long ago. It was once called Earth…”

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Of Moose and other Ungulates

I won’t get into a philosophical argument about the existence or absence of God - the Great Designer, whoever he/she may be. But this amazing planet upon which we live certainly has a set of blue prints upon which species have been drawn up again and again. Welcome one and all to the wonders of Convergent Evolution. This is the process whereby animals will evolve the most efficient shape with which to exploit an ecological niche. A good example can be shown between 3 separate species – Sharks, Mesozoic Ichthyosaurs and Dolphins.

Whilst chatting to a friend in real time in Alaska and enjoying the wonders of our modern technological age, the conversation turned to Moose, the largest deer that currently walks the earth. It is certainly an impressive beast but it got me thinking of other creatures that once roamed this world. Now please excuse me for generalisations and the odd error here and there, I’m no scientist but I want to share my sense of wonder with you.

We are all aware of the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Era (250mya to 65mya), encompassing the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous ages, which came to a sudden end with the impact of a comet off the Yucatan peninsula. It allowed small mouse like mammals to emerge from the shadow of the terrible lizards, yet it seemed as if the age of giants was finished.

But as the dust of the comet impact settled, life grabbed at the opportunities on offer. During the 10 million year Paleocene true reptiles became apex predators, thus the world saw giant snakes (Titanboas) and long-legged running crocodiles.

 The poor mammals seemed to be subjects of a new dinosaur age as birds, descendants of the kings of old, evolved into the fearsome Terror Birds – flightless 9 feet tall predatory nightmares. But these were evolutionary opportunists, claiming niches in the absence of competitors. Life is a long running programme and efficiency is everything. True, Terror Birds probably preyed on Eohippus – the Dawn Horse – a dog sized Equine, but the mammals had been diversifying. Their teeth became more efficient, their warm blood allowed them to adapt to different climates and in the Eocene epoch they exploded over the world as mammals grew to giant proportions.

But this was an age before the evolution of carnassial teeth, those specialist tools of the cat, bear and dog. Thus Ungulates (hooved animals), the genus of our old friend the Moose and Eohippus evolutionarily split, and split again, to occupy the available ecological niches. This was the age of the Wolfsheep, predators with claws evolved from hooves such as the fearsome Andrewsachus with its huge mouth of predatory teeth.

One of my favourite species for out and out weirdness is the Chaliothere. It’s a horse but like no other, walking on its knuckles. It looks like a gorilla because it once occupied the same niche as present day gorillas do; the wonders of Convergent Evolution.

Eventually efficiency wins every time, especially with the onset of climatic change. Climate change is nothing new, time and again it moves the goal posts, destroying specialists who have adapted themselves into evolutionary cul de sacs and allowing the generalists to expand their range. Alas victims of change included the magnificent 20 tonne Paraceratherium, a giant hornless Rhino that stood some 16 feet tall at the shoulder.
When true carnivores evolved they quickly (in geological terms!) replaced the wolfsheep of old. Carnassial teeth allowed them to process flesh with a greater degree of efficiency. Of course not before an ancient ungulate took to an aquatic lifestyle and gave rise to the Whales and dolphins, including the largest animal ever to have lived (the Blue Whale).

There are some superb modern species which deserve  special mention with regard to Convergent Evolution. The Giant Amazonian Otter is 6 feet long. It is no accident that in its territory it actively expels the Cayman, the South American Crocodilian, an animal of similar shape and proportions. Of course if one looks back at the ancient fossil record, when mosses grew as tall as trees in the ancient carboniferous swamps, prior to the evolution of crocodiles, there were huge salamanders occupying the same niche. 

While on Madagascar, isolated from other species evolving in Africa, is the Fossa; the largest mammalian carnivore on the island. To all intents and purposes it looks like a cat and eeks out a living as a cat would. However it isn’t a cat at all and is actually a species of Mongoose. Obviously these blueprints must be strictly adhered to, as even the Fossa’s genitalia are shaped, not like a Mongoose’s but more like, yes you guessed it, a cat’s!

It really is a truism that there is nothing new under the sun with Convergent Evolution… but that causes me to ask; why are we unique? In all the millions of years’ worth of evolution are we, Homo Sapiens, a species of primate that began our descent from the trees a million years ago, the only creature that ever occupied our niche? True there were our cousins the Neanderthals, but they were Hominids like us. Why was there never a Saurian hominid?… or was there?!