The Biotic Zones of Junction (flora)

You may not have noticed the new entry in the “stories” section of the menu. So here’s the official page of my next sci-fi novel, Junction.

The following are some of my notes for the project (previously called “Router”) published on Deviantart. I’m sure I’ll end up changing some things, but for the moment, here’s a look at the alien life in the story. (scroll down for descriptions)

Z-1 (swarm trees and weed-worms)
Diploid, sessile ‘trees’ produce monoploid, mobile ‘worms’ (more properly zoophytes). In many species, zoophyte stage can reproduce parenthetically. Parthenogenic clones may remain in colonial swarms or split up, and take up many of the roles filled by terran arthropods and annelids. Zoophytes swap genetic material through intercourse, which expressed when they germinate into diploid trees. Commonly, swarms of clones gather to create a many-branched or thicket-like diploid form. In one lineage, a fraction of the swarm does not germinate, and take on specialized roles to protect, gather nutrients for, or weed around their sibling tree.

Neotonous, permanent zoophytes never become sessile, but instead grow photosynthetic flaps as zoophytes.

Z-2 (tape trees)
Rather than carry out photosynthesis through living tissue, tape trees produce stripes of dry tissue laden with arsenite, which oxidizes under sunlight to produce arsenate and carbon monoxide. Since this biome produces no oxygen (and indeed, oxygen is toxic to most of its inhabitants), it is violently incompatible with all surrounding biomes. It is theorized that this form of life was uncommon on Z-2’s home-world when it was linked to Router (100 MYA), but became dominant after a later planetary catastrophe. The presence of more familiar photosynthesizers on the edges of the Z-2 biome support this hypothesis.

Z-3 (antler trees and boreholes)
These plants are not single organisms, but rather the product of an enormous colony of prokaryotic cells, similar to Terran stromalites. The bacterial colony (called a biofilm) inhabits the zone between the hairy, venous outer integument (the velvet or bark) and the inner support structure of crystallized calcium. Apical leaf spirals are composed of hollow glass tubes, filled which cultures of photosynthetic bacteria.
Distantly related to the antler trees are the boreholes. Actually tunnels lined with a biofilm of chemosynthetic bacteria, boreholes grow downward as they excrete acid and digest the rock under them. A complex network of passages branches up from the borehole, providing fresh water, air-exchange, and reproductive tracts. Seasonally, reproductive tunnels grow a seal at the top, boiling water from the nadir of the hole is routed into them. Pressure rises until the seal breaks, sending reproductive cysts into the atmosphere on a puff of steam.
The bacteria that make up the biofilm in the borehole’s nadir are tolerant of extremes of heat and acidity, but eventually they bore too deep and rising temperature kills them, halting further downward progress. Occasionally, however, they will bore into an active magma chamber, triggering a volcanic eruption. This is likely the cause of the extremely active volcanism on the Z-3 homeworld, and a cause of concern for the inhabitants of Router.

Z-4 (puffballs)
Ferrous “wires” are extruded from the base of the plant, providing a substrate for soft, spongy photosynthetic tissue.

Z-5 (prism trees)
Like a coral, a prism tree is composed of millions of clone polyps, each one secreting a cellulose shell. The polyps also extrude glass scales, which they can tilt back and forth to refract the light striking the photosynthetic surfaces of the plant. It is theorized that this adaptation gives these plants the ability to make the best use of light from each of their home-world’s three stars. The adaptation has also proved useful in the varied environmental regimes of Router. These trees have, in fact, the only species known to have spread beyond Router, and established themselves on a third planet (planet Z-5b, whose native biota is now extinct)

Z-6 (babel trees, scale)
The planet of Z-6 is tidally locked to its sun, with one side in permanent light, the other in darkness. It is theorized that the immense height of babel trees is the result of competition to reach toward a single-unmoving light-source.
Babel trees begin as spikes, forming at the junction of the reproductive buttresses of two parent trees. The spike is nurtured by sugars supplied by its parents until it reaches high enough to break the forest canopy. It then grows branches, ending in 5 cm saucer-shaped leaves. Respiration cannot be carried out efficiently at this elevation, but instead occurs just under the canopy, in the “tree gills.” Fluids are pumped through the tree by “hearts” contained in the roots, and at regular intervals up the spike. The tree’s weight is supported by buttresses (which grow both up from the root and down from the crown). When these buttresses come into contact with another tree , they grow horizontally, attempting to push the competitor over. Occasionally, however, and for unknown reasons, neighboring trees will not attempt to destroy each other, but merge their offensive buttresses to form a reproductive buttress, and gestate a new tree.
In addition to babel trees, the Z-6 biome is home to another kingdom of autropes, the scale, or so-called kinetosynthesizers. Deposits of piezoelectric crystals in the base of the scale drive an energy cycle, feeding the scale every time its wedge-shaped upper portion moves. This unique form of energy production probably evolved on the dark-side of the Z-6 planet, where wind is the only constant source of energy.

Z-7 (deathray moss)
Like Terran glass sponges, Z-7’s large plants are colonies of photosynthetic, amoeba-like organisms. These amoebae construct the larger plant out of glass tests, which refract sunlight. This adaptation probably arose in response to the intense light produced by the Z-7 homeworld’s bright, F-type star. However, the Z-7 biome has adapted to subsist in the relatively low light environment of Router, where the glass lenses at the tips of the plants focus light onto the photosynthetic surfaces in the stem. The lenses can also be configured to burn unwanted neighbors, and to spread light to saprophytes. This tendency creates conical “champagne fountains” of glass spires, the oldest and tallest in the middle spreading light to the youngest and shortest spires on the periphery of the colony.

Z-8 (land kelp, floating islands)
Like the tape trees, Z-8’s floating plants depend on a photosynthetic pathway at odds with the familiar carbon dioxide to oxygen of Earth. Kelp trees use methane and water to produce glucose and hydrogen, which they store in gas bladders to provide buoyancy in the air. As with Z-2, this form of metabolism is probably a relatively recent development, possibly in response to a global release of methane hydrate in the Z-8 homeworld’s past. The Z-8 biome now maintains an active methane cycle, which operates alongside, methane-hydrogen photosynthesis, and an Earthlike carbon-dioxide-oxygen cycle. The fact that two out of three of these chemical cycles are unique on Router to Z-8 puts this biome at a disadvantage that is only somewhat offset by the extremely efficient seed-dispersal methods of Z-8 plants.

Indeed, as there is no wormhole at the center of the Z-8 biome, it is most likely this biome established itself from airborne spores, which may have floated from the other side of Router. How this colony established a working methane cycle so far from its home is unknown. Postulations that tool-building Z-8 animal life is responsible are entirely unsubstantiated.

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