Author: David Penn

Widespread among the civilized population of Semblant is a belief that they do not originate from the planet they presently inhabit.

They infer this from their world’s geology and long comparison of their own physiology to that of all its other life forms. Semblant is desert over almost all of its surface. Its scientists believe – correctly – that such conditions have persisted for two billion years and long pre-date the earliest fossils of their own species. All other creatures on their world are fully adapted to this environment, some insect-like, needing little water and able to take energy directly from the sun; some rodent-like, able to dig down to wetter levels. However, the bodies of the single civilized species are built differently, with soft central tissue protected only by a thin layer of bone-like shielding, projecting twelve tentacles, all of which end in twelve smaller tentacles. Their respiration system, though lung-like, retains gill elements. Their breathing becomes laboured even after mild effort and ineffective above a height of five hundred metres. Their locomotion along the flat has always seemed, even to themselves, ungainly, involving a twisting movement of their body and an inefficient lashing out and grasping with limbs.

Neither has it been lost on thoughtful Semblantines that their societies have only ever existed around scattered oases. Here they have long built houses and bathed for relief in the shallow water, or in special stone cisterns that have been in use for millennia. Much philosophical argument has centred on this extreme geographical specialisation, supporting the uneasy feeling of displacement that has grown up in the culture.

A century ago, one of the planet’s foremost scientists proposed a transport network that suited Semblantine physiology better than the natural flat terrain. She built an experimental branchway between two fixed points and, using herself as a test subject, climbed into it. She found, with a primal sense of relief and delight, that she could swing easily between the branches, employing all twelve limbs interchangeably, and after only a little practice cover the whole distance at great speed. After a few initial demonstrations and trials, branchways were quickly erected between every settlement. She further developed vastly enlarged water cisterns with similar branch-like structures placed inside them. As she had guessed, all members of her species found it easy to swim through the water and brachiate among the subaquatic “trees”. Some, as she had hoped, even found themselves able to breathe underwater – although it was found that this retention of the full gill function was not universal.

Partly due to such advances, in recent times the Semblantine lead-species population has grown enormously, albeit still limited to oases. Beyond these lie vast areas of desert, which even now remain unexplored, and in general the culture’s haunting sense of displacement, or unbelonging, has not diminished.

It is interesting to note that throughout the galaxy there are other populations who feel similarly alienated from their environment and indeed seem to live in some sort of disjunction with it. On Saltus there is a race of hoofed creatures who live in patches of land they must continually clear on an otherwise virulently tree-covered planet. On Deneb 4/Alpha there are bird-analogue inhabitants who live in a vast bubble, made of a self-repairing material, whose provenance and constitution are mysteries to them, floating in a uniformly globe-spanning ocean.

Considering such phenomena, some observers have begun to speculate about the possibility of a “mistranspermia” at some period in our universe’s history, where many species were transplanted to worlds with environments wholly unsuited to them, either by accident or design.