Tuesday, May 7, 2013

127: The Concentric Trees

ENTRY 127: The Concentric Trees

In the sarcophagus hab of Prototype, the boughs of the concentric trees twist and curl in vast wooden rings and spirals around the light tube spindling along its mile-long axis. One of the earliest Reagan cylinders, Prototype was a captured asteroid put into artificial orbit around Jupiter, and hollowed out as field test for macroengineering technologies that would go into building habitats like Almathea. Prototype only spins fast enough to simulate up to 0.2g in centripetal force and receives too much radiation to be considered suitable for long-term human habitation, but has continued to fulfill its purpose as a testing ground for new habitat technologies.

As an independent research project financed by the hypercorps, Prototype was one of the habitats near Jupiter to fall outside the reach of the Jovian Republic; officially the Jovians lay claim to it, but allow the apolitical research commune free reign and limited trade for water ice and hydrocarbons in exchange for their research data. The heavily-shielded research station itself is located at one pole of the spinning asteroid, with the other pole occupied by the fusion plant and water/air recirculation systems. In the tube itself, the researchers have created a self-contained, low-g rainforest ecosystem, studying the long-term effects on plant life, and accepting commissions from hypercorps and habitats to test the effect of introducing new species into their ecosystem. The core of the ecosystem are the concentric trees, mutated and genetweaked descendents of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and Western Red Cedar, bent and twisted into their distinct curls and coils around the central light tube, their boughs and trunks heavy with shaggy free-floating clouds of moss and epiphytes. Various ant species are the major wildlife, and Prototype scientists have demonstrated bizarre adaptations to the gentle spin and low gravity conditions.

Unfortunately, the Prototype Research Commune has something of an amoral research philosophy; in the past they have acted as a dumping ground for failed uplifts, who are let loose in the low-grav jungle to survive as best they can, their every actions monitored until they die, usually of malnutrition complicated by health problems from extended time in low gravity. However, the purpose of the Prototype Research Commune is for valid study, and efforts have been made to extend the suitability of the habitat for the subject, such as the introduction of various species of edible tubers. Non-Uplifted Rights activists counter that the PRC’s modifications simply extend the projected lifespan of their subjects so that they can collect more data.

Using the Concentric Trees

Prototype’s environs is as close as one is likely to get to a proper “wild” jungle on a sarcophagus hab, and as exotic a location as one could want to set an adventure; the hard part is finding a reason to go there. The easy main reason to travel to Prototype is to deliver (or more rarely receive) shipments of raw materials, visiting scholars, and new plant and animal specimens to test out; the secondary reason has to do with Prototype’s relationship with the Jovian Republic, acting as a possible backchannel for smuggling goods, data, or people in and out of the Republic without going through official channels. The PRC and the Jovians are both aware of this trade, but as the participants are mainly scientists seeking to promulgate their research, both turn a blind eye—a position that might change if anyone were to upset the status quo.

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