Reading Larry Niven’s Ringworld’s Children recently sparked a thought or three.
What if Tree-of-Life virus was a bioweapons project that went horribly wrong? As much as the Protector concept thrills me, the relationship between the Pak and Tree-of-Life has always struck me as unlikely and unnatural. Yes, evolution works in strange ways, and the first Protectors could have been born of an accident as a tribe of Pak wandered into new feeding grounds, but I have to wonder if there might not have been an intelligence at work for the process to come about.
The Pak may not have come from Pakhome–they could, in fact, have been genengineered Terran lifeforms, which were modified to be cannon fodder for some conflict. (That would be a staggering coincidence, for the Pak to have originated on Earth and then find their way back, but just for sake of argument.)
Protector-stage Pak, because of their murderous tendencies toward mutated Pak, would have stopped evolution Pak cold, so the gene line would have remained stable for millions of years despite Darwin’s best efforts. At that span of time, the origins of the Pak would have become lost, assuming that the first Protectors even knew them.
At the other end, once the Pak colony collapsed and the Pak-breeders were left to fend for themselves as their Protectors died off, there could have been some genetic swapping between the breeders and the native fauna. In some cases, such as chimpanzees, the Pak may have brought their genetic forebears from Pakhome–perhaps the chimp played a role in Pakhome society (such as it was) in the way that the Watchmakers had a role in Motie society, and the Protectors brought them along even though they weren’t necessary.
I’m not suggesting that the tnuctip created the Protectors–though of the races we know, they would be the ones with the best bet on doing so–because there are a number of logic problems with a tnuctip origin:
- Time scale. Two billion years is a long time. Even with a Protector’s instinctual genocidal urge against mutations in the gene line, would the pak breeders remain genetically stable across that span of time?
- If the tnuctip engineered the Protector brain to be immune to the POWER, would the brain also have been immune to the Primal Scream? If so, why? If not, assuming Pak breeders were immune to the Primal Scream because breeders were non-sentient and the Protectors were killed off by the Scream, in a few generations when the breeders began eating the Tree-of-Life root and changing into Protector stage, what would have prevented the Protectors from taking over a galaxy with no intelligences in it save themselves and the infrastructure of a galactic civilization still largely intact? Eventually the Protectors would ruin things, and in a fairly spectacular manner, but until then they’d have the run of the playground.
- The Primal Scream notwithstanding, I have a hard time picturing the tnuctip making a mistake on the scale of Protector super-intelligence.
No, what if the Pak origin were something of more recent vintage–perhaps fifty million years in the past at most, involving races we’ve not seen and/or long forgotten? Genengineered shock troops may have seemed like a good idea in the context of a long, drawn-out war, but if something went wrong then what may have been seen as the solution turned into an even greater threat.