Mature oizys specimen
Mature oizys specimen
The Oizys have a long history, for theirs was a long and hard battle to achieve civilisation in the hostile environment of Phorcys - an acidic chlorine world bathed in radiation, wracked by volcanism, earthquakes, and constant cyclonic storms. Complex civilisations have coalesced and collapsed on Phorcys hundreds of times, the oizys repeatedly driven to the brink of extinction by a volatile ecosystem seemingly determined to expunge itself. Yet the oizys have endured, time after time, and now they have reached a technological peak unprecedented in all their cyclical history. Space is within their grasp, and now the Nexus, and with them the chance to ensure the ultimate survival of their species. Phorcys is unstable, and dying, its biosphere fuelled by an unsustainable chemical cycle that will eventually fail. It was never meant to bear life for long, and within a few thousand years its surface will be lifeless. This may be the last chance for the oizys to prevent their thirty-thousand year history from finally coming to an end.
There is perhaps a chance. With the discovery of space, the Nexus and new species, the oizys have cast off their ancestral fatalism, and work together with a renewed clarity of purpose. They behold the soft inhabitants of more placid, temperate worlds and they know that only they - shaped into superior survivors by the harsh extremes of Phorcys - are worthy to inherit the stars. They regard the hostility of their homeworld as a test, that all the weak, inferior peoples before them have failed, but that their present civilisation is finally within reach of passing. Space and the domination of the Nexus is their manifest destiny.
The oizys are radially symmetrical, with nine segmented hydrostatic limbs branching from across a spheroid central mass. These limbs terminate in sharp but prehensile pereiopods, used for locomotion, climbing and manipulation. They are strong and flexible in the high gravity and high atmospheric pressure of Phorcys. Their skin consists of overlapping ridges of tough calcareous tissue, ranging in colour from jet black to light grey. Two cloacal invaginations found on reverse sides of the creature's body are used for ingestion and excretion, surrounded by gizzard-like contractile tissues for grinding food in lieu of teeth. Spiracles across the body allow for the intake of chlorine gas, diffusing throughout a network of tracheae - a primitive respiratory system, but one that functions well in a dense, high pressure environment.
Dozens of eyespots are found across the central mass, giving the oizys omnidirectional vision. However these primitive structures provide only low visual acuity, able to detect light, colour and movement, but little in the way of defined images. Yet vision is not their primary sense, as it is of limited use in the perpetual foggy gloom of Phorcys.
Their strongest sense is their extremely acute hearing. They navigate via echolocation, performed by producing high-pitched clicks and pops with the contractile tissues of their cloacae. Simply by listening they can produce extremely information-dense audio-frequency 'pictures'. They can perceive fine details such as the texture and material composition of distant objects, far beyond what vision would allow, or even 'see' into the interiors of structures opaque to ordinary vision. This latter ability is extremely useful - for example, an oizys medic can determine at a 'glance' the precise nature of a patient's internal injury, or to give an example more grounded in their evolutionary history, an oizys hunter can detect the precise location of burrowing prey creatures right through the ground.
Sounds are extremely loud in the dense air of Phorcys, and carry far. For this reason their sensitive auditory organs - dotted across their bodies similarly to their eyespots - can seal themselves shut. An involuntary muscular reaction overlaps their exokseletal ridges, blocking off dangerously loud noises such as Phorcys' frequent thunder.
Oizys communicate primarily through vocalisation, but they do not tend to vocalise with their cloacae. Most of their languages are based on sounds produced by stridulating their limbs together in a manner similar to crickets and grasshoppers. This method is presumably favoured because the sounds produced are distinct from the meaningless clicks and pops used for echolocation.
Oizys are also magnetoreceptive, their nervous tissues saturated with flecks of organic magnetite. This allows them to perceive their planet's magnetic field, providing unerringly accurate directional navigation. As importantly, this sense enables them to detect and seek shelter from incoming radiation flares. This is a vital adaption, as the atmospheric chlorine of Phorcys prevents the formation of an ozone layer. Phorcys is therefore unmercifully exposed to high levels of radiation, and extreme flares have wiped out entire civilisations in the past.
Oizys bodies are evolutionarily hardened against high ambient radiation at a molecular level, but they are still carbon and protein-based organisms, and such resistance can only go so far. Cancer is a common cause of death on Phorcys, and limits the effective lifespan of the oizys to little beyond thirty years at best.
More crucial to their long-term survival is their ability to enter extended periods of hibernation, during which their metabolic demands are vastly lowered. This adaption is necessary to survive the sheer instability of Phorcys's eco-system. Volcanic eruptions and radiation flares often strip whole regions of life, eradicating the vital plant-life and microbes which produce the chlorine the oizys breathe. Chlorine gas is highly reactive, and when it is not being constantly emitted by photosynthesis and microbial respiration its atmospheric levels rapidly drop. The oizys would soon asphyxiate if they could not enter prolonged periods of metabolic dormancy. Historically entire populations would have to retreat to burrows and cave systems, hibernating for decades while they waited for local plant-life to recover. They would be vulnerable throughout this time to burrowing predators and cave-ins caused by frequent earthquakes. At present, in fact, atmospheric chlorine levels are dangerously low, but modern technology enables the oizys to synthesise chlorine gas in sealed habitats. Yet all it takes is a containment breach caused by volcanic or seismic damage to asphyxiate their inhabitants. Death is never far away even on modern Phorcys.
Sexually, oizys are genderless hermaphrodites. Their ninth arm contains a barbed retractable ovipositor that emerges during sexual arousal, while male gametes are stored internally in the central mass. Oizys reproduce sexually, but as has been much noted by xenologists of other species - who often credit it as the source of irreconcilable behavioural, cultural and ideological differences - sex between oizys is not a mutually pleasurable pair-bonding process but an act of violent aggression, in which the stakes are life or death. Their sex organs are barbed for the purpose of traumatic insemination. Sexual partners grapple their limbs and wrestle as they attempt to stab their ovipositors into each others’ internal gamete sacs. Sometimes both partners are unsuccessful and the aggressor relents, leaving both parties with only minor wounds. But if one is successful, the impregnated partner swiftly descends into a paralytic state, growing a keratinous cocoon within which its soft tissues slowly dissolve. Their young will gradually devour their way out of the incubator’s deteriorating body as they grow, their parent’s death providing their first meal. A good adaption on resource scarce Phorcys.
This grotesque biology explains their natural aggression and limited empathy, as oizys can only truly feel safe around closely related kin who will make no attempt to mate with them. More disturbing is that the oizys currently possess advanced ectogenesis technology, and could easily grow their young artificially and externally. Yet most oizys nations do not - except where necessary to recover from mass population loss. In some cultures the oizys amputate the ninth limb of newborn workers, effectively castrating the underclass and rendering them docile, but the ruling castes invariably prefer to reproduce naturally themselves. Yet even this practice is little accepted in most regions of Phorcys, seen as the method of poor rulers unable to otherwise secure their rule than by stymieing evolutionary potential. Broadly speaking it seems that the oizys regard the pleasure they derive from their murderous natural methods as outweighing the obvious collective benefit of ectogenesis.
Doubtless the prevalence of eugenic and genetic-supremacist ideologies on Phorcys contributes to this preference for violent sexual competition. But what truly compounds the situation is that the oizys reproductive cycle evolved to be naturally regulated by the ambient levels of radiation on Phorcys. Throughout their evolutionary history, mating between peaks of stellar activity gave the oizys young the best chance of being born without deformity or mutation. Yet all modern oizys live in radiation-protected underground shelters, leaving them, in effect, permanently in heat. The dysfunctional and violent state their societies have degenerated into is a tragic evolutionary accident, but in a sense, the oizys are architects of their own suffering.
The rigorous demands of survival on Phorcys, and the oizys' inherent need for aggression to reproduce, has meant that oizys societies have always been rigidly hierarchical and coercive in nature. Nobody in a democracy is going to volunteer to be the next spawning cocoon, after all. The mortal threat posed by all prospective sexual partners has also meant that closely-related kin groups have always been of paramount importance to society, for their mutual protection provides the only semblance of safety.
Oizys civilisations first began as nomadic kin-swarms, eking out an existence in the harsh equatorial flats. They were omnivorous hunter-gatherers that preyed upon whatever of Phorcys' sparse, rugged wildlife they could find, including each other. Most swarms existed in a near-constant state of warfare, raiding their neighbours for mates and food. Eventually, in certain regions, non-kin groups began to co-operate for mutual protection and benefit, forming larger confederations, though these frequently broke down due to resource conflicts. Agriculture was never possible in many regions due to Phorcys' environmental instability, but in regions of relative tectonic stability larger settled communities formed. Yet oizys cultures never lost their brutality - slavery and conflict being an effective necessity given their sexual biology.
For tens of thousands of years oizys civilisations have gone through the same cycles, advancing through the ages, reaching varying states of technological sophistication, before they are inevitably destroyed by environmental volatility. Society breaks down and lapses into prehistoric conditions, and the cycle begins again. Oizys myths and legends are an endless catalogue of ancient apocalypses, their ancestral religions are fatalistic martyr cults envisioning a cyclical universe of endless death and rebirth. Those civilisations that survive long enough to develop the scientific method come to understand that these myths are entirely real.
The current civilisations of Phorcys represent the absolute peak of oizys technological advancement, and if their race has ever had a chance of breaking the cycle, it would be now. There is a global alliance of well-located underground habitat-networks, that have survived for hundreds of years. Longstanding treaties have established an equitable system of mutual exploitation, the habitats providing each other with regular diplomatic tributes of resources, goods, menial-slaves and mate-stock. They call themselves the Confederation of Swarms. Various non-aligned states and primitive kin-swarms also exist across Phorcys, economically exploited by the superior Confederation, rising and falling with little consequence.
This unprecedented unity of purpose among the oizys was made possible by the discovery of space, and the realisation that by escaping Phorcys the survival and advancement of their race could be guaranteed forever. Such was the importance of this discovery that the Confederal calendar starts at the date the first probe breached the upper atmosphere. With poor vision and a permanently cloud-shrouded sky, the oizys had never seen the stars, had never known that an entire cosmos awaited beyond their hellish world. At present the Confederation must expend most of its resources simply maintaining their habitats, but their true ambitions lie in the void. Life on Phorcys, they see, is a dead-end. Prototype habitat-stations are being established in low-orbit, and with the arrival of the Nexus, the stars are now truly within reach.