That Geektastic Essay on Tentacles, Slime, and Eggs (Oh My)
(sweatdrop) I am a geek, a nerd, AND a technical writer. This makes for a dangerous combination.
That Geektastic Essay on Tentacles, Slime, and Eggs (Oh My)
Keep in mind I'm an English major with a substantial geek streak, not a bio major, so there's a decent chance I'm messing up some or all of the details here. For that, I lean heavily on the 'Jenova = alien = I can make it up" factor. Anyway.
Here's a bunch of geekly factoids I collected out of my mad-eyed Wikipedia-mining in preparation for this fic:
When you're starting out with the Soldiers-have-tentacles theory and Jenova is established as the source of the tentacles, it seems like Jenova's pretty much GOT to be one of the Star-spawn, aka Cthulhu's intergalactically-born children: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu
Cthulhu and the Old Ones also spend a lot of time in DEEP ocean, generally dead/in stasis, but occasionally not. My hypothesis is that Shinra got Jenova out of somewhere deeeeep under the ice in the North and thawing her out that much was a Typically Really Bad Idea(TM).
...including bioluminescence, tentacle-like projections used for moving, hermaphroditism, two distinct lengths of tentacles, and in some cases SLIME ALL OVER EVERYTHING (TM). I nabbed a few physical elements from them (including hermaphroditism, two types of tentacles, and bioluminescence) because who can resist having a class called Tentaculata for a fic like this. But for most of the neurochemical-biostuff I stuck with the Cnidarians and their cnidocytes.
Box jellyfish (fast-moving neurotoxin factories), hydras (reproduction through morphallaxis so that a severed bit becomes a complete hydra of the same size as the cut-off part, as well as unaging and effectively bio-immortal), mnemiopses (externally breeding ctenophores that can produce either sperm or eggs or both), and sea anemones (lots of cute-but-toxin-making wriggly bits with long ones on the outside and shorter ones inside) are the main critters I nabbed for a kind of composite Cthulhoid biology. Some cnidarians and related phyla can reproduce both sexually (eggs/sperm either internally or externally) and asexually (bits that get cut off regenerate). I was pretty sure Hojo would have a field day with that many potential vectors for breeding his fantasized-about clone army.
For ficcing purposes, the most interesting features of Cnidarian tentacles (aside from the inherent tentacle-ness, of course) are nematocysts, aka cnidocytes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nematocyst
These are the thirty-some variety of specialized cells that shoot you up with neurotoxins or glue you to things or eat away stone or etc. in one of four basic forms. The four basic forms are a microcellular harpoon-type thing, a sticky-type excretion (which I borrowed for slime purposes), a lasso-type thing, and a burrowing-type thing. Some of the different things cnidocytes are designed to do include paralyzing and/or killing prey via neurotoxins, sticking things together for mating purposes, burrowing into stone or coral in order to attach to something, and so forth -- but they do recognize the difference between prey, non-prey, and thing-to-be-mated-with, and they do all this without even having brains involved! Some of them have something resembling a nervous system, and others are just eating machines, but they've evolved enough to 'know' the difference between 'eat' (prey), 'get-eaten-by' (predator), 'mate-with' (same-critter-other-instance), and 'ignore/don't waste the charge' (self, cooperative animals, rock, etc). So there was no problem having that kind of specialization already built into the neurochemicals I had the characters flinging around in half-human form.
So then I started hypothesizing about what kinds of more interesting things could happen once you get actual human-scale brains involved in the process of controlling what the cnidocytes do, when, and to whom.
Back to Ciceqi's fic: She'd established that something in the slime attack that Sephiroth had flung out when trying (and failing) to burn the town down with what had previously been a functioning Fire materia (and the thought of chibi-Sephiroth glaring at his now copiously sliming materia and shaking it in indignation STILL makes me giggle like mad)... anyway, something about the slime was clearly psychotropic, since so many of the villagers were suffering traumatic disorders that couldn't be explained just by looking at Sephiroth-and-tentacles. People who hadn't seen him were also curled up in the streets horrified, so I blamed it on the slime. And I blamed the horror-producing effects on Sephiroth's own state of mind at the time -- he's got Jenova screaming in his head, he's discovered he's a monster, he's got tentacles, none of his magic works, he wants to get the hell out of the situation and make it all stop, and all these villagers are running around with pitchforks and torches and he can't even get a spark out of his damn slime-lobbing materia, and so horror, terror, and revulsion are the three really big components of the psychotropic neurochemical ooze he's glopping all over them.
Similarly, Tifa swinging around attacking him sets off the "this thing is predator, not prey or ignorable" reaction, and the tentacles take over and scramble her brain a good one to get her probably temporarily paralyzed, curled up hallucinating, and too horrified to try attacking again.
Enter Zack, Cloud, Cloud's mom's frying pan, the wheelbarrow, much crack-filled glee, and then much personal exploration with their walking-around tentacles.
A lot of Cnidarians seem to make distinctions between long outside moving-type tentacles and short inner eating-mating-type tentacles; even anemones that don't move can have long-outside and short-inside tentacles. So since Ciceqi had paid attention to the interpersonal joys of the outside-type tentacles, I had them play with exploring the inside-type tentacles.
...Including the nematocysts and all kinds of fun neurochemistry, driven by the hypotheses that (a) human brains could put a more deliberate spin on the neurochemicals than cnidarian non-brains and (b) Jenova <- Star-spawn <-Cthulhu's intergalactic offspring would have acquired at least some of her telepathic brain-warping facilities from Cthulhu's ability to hook into human subconsciousness, and Sephiroth got it worse than a regular human would because he shared enough of her biology that she could lay things on him consciously and without physical contact. He and Zack have both Cthulhoid biology and human biology at the moment, and so when putting that subconscious telepathy together with semiconscious manipulation of biochemistry applied through nematocyst slime, they could come up with some pretty vivid communication. Mostly emotional and image-based; I didn't have them transmitting actual words, but the emotions came through the neurochemical channel and the images came through the hooked-into-the-subconscious-and-dreaming channel.
How some particular instances worked:
Zack's reaction to Aeris groping around: Since she registers with Zack as potential-mate and not potential-prey or potential-predator, the tentacles want to get hold of her and do mating activities, complete with the sticky kind of slime to both spread neurochemicals and keep them in mating arrangements, and also complete with mating neurochemicals to make sure the potential mate enjoys the experience and wants to come back for more. Which Aeris certainly does, though the tentacles probably didn't need to be that overenthusiastic with the chemistry, since she'd have been a willing participant.
Zack and Sephiroth's reactions to Cloud groping around: The tentacles didn't need to go so far overboard with Cloud, because he was recognized as existing-mate rather than potential-mate (keep in mind the tentacles hadn't encountered Aeris before) and so Cloud just got the coaxing variety rather than the pheromones-of-horny-doom variety that had Zack crawling out the window to go hump the chimney to take out the frustration. Of course, Sephiroth's panic at the sensation of neurochemical-shared lust could potentially have set off some of the more neurotoxic varieties of chemicals if it had been anyone else -- except that Cloud was already recognized as a mate for him, and the tentacles know what to do with a recognized mate a lot better than Sephiroth does (I got the impression he hasn't had a whole lot of prior experience to build on in Ciceqi's tentacleverse). The tentacles didn't 'understand' the purpose for the distress vibes at Cloud's touch; what they did 'understand' was 'mate in reach' and kept the chemistry non-hallucinogenic. That let the images that Sephiroth was projecting along the Jenova-mindlink come through without nearly as much distortion as they would've if the tentacles had mistaken Cloud for a predator at any point.
Sephiroth's reaction to Aeris groping around: His conscious mind was trying to be persuaded by her earth-mama-psychobabble-ness, but his subconscious mind was still traumatized by the memories of the tentacles attacking Tifa and possibly some other villagers, and so the conflict between what he thought he wanted and what his terror was feeding to the tentacles ended up with a neurochemical soup that was caught somewhere between 'this is a predator, make sure it can't attack' and 'this is a mate, make its brain happy'. Which ended up with an effect somewhat like deep-sea LSD.
Sephiroth's non-reaction to Zack groping around: Nematocysts are one-use cells, even if critters of the guys' size with that many tentacles would have a lot of them available. Once the cells've done their thing, the cells have to regrow in order to have a new payload. So they don't tend to react to being brushed by ignorables -- i.e. things like walking-around tentacles, furniture, or architecture (it took Zack some serious doing to work out his frustrations with the chimney, hence the mauling of the roof). So anybody's moving-tentacles register as 'to be ignored,' whereas hands register as 'something not in a tentacle's realm of experience' and therefore in need of analysis for predator-or-prey-or-mate.
The difference between the tentacles' point of view on potential mates and the guys': The tentacles would register contact from a non-walking-around part of Zack or Sephiroth as a mate no matter what, because they register to each other as same-species and able-to-switch-as-needed. To the tentacles alone, neither Cloud nor Aeris would have registered as a potential mate, because they don't have the relevant reproductive organs from a tentacle's point of view. However, since both Zack and Sephiroth have brains and nervous systems that are large and organized enough to provide pattern recognition to the tentacles, Zack's recognition of both of the humans as potential mates makes the tentacles react with the mating chemistry, and Sephiroth's recognition of Cloud and Zack combined with Zack's recognition of Aeris made the four-way bit work.
So. Matingstuffmatingstuffmatingstuff eggs! ^___~
Contrary to popular opinion in the comments, there's really no way the eggs laid all over Aeris' poor quilt are anything but the female-tentacular version of ejaculation (and/or badly-handled sushi fodder) at this point. You'd have about as much luck taking home a couple pieces of uni and popping them into your goldfish bowl and waiting for them to repopulate your tank, which is to say 'none' and/or 'eww'. Now, given some different arrangements that could change considerably, but as given it's just two different varieties of leftovers, and here's why.
1) The trouble with mules: Mules are half horse and half donkey. The parents can breed with each other, but only about one in a million mules ends up fertile itself. Sephiroth is pretty much a Jenova/human mule by this point, what with the genetic manipulation via space-alien virus introduction before he was ever born. Clones are genetic copies, not genetic descendants, and Hojo's always been set on *cloning* him, not on *breeding* him. The chances Sephiroth would be fertile as a half-tentacular-alien-thing are pretty darn slim, and the chances Zack would be any more fertile as an equally half-tentacular-alien-thing are nearly as slim for very similar reasons, although since he didn't have the genetic manipulation going on for as long or presumably as deeply ingrained in all the cells he's produced since (and I think it takes about 7 years for all your cells to be replaced) -- Zack would have a better chance at non-sterility, but poor Seph's pretty well doomed. And even if we ignore the mule problem, there's:
2) The environmental requirements. Whether you take their biology as being mostly-deep-sea-oriented or mostly-intergalactic-vacuum-oriented, eggs laid in the middle of air on someone's previously dry quilt are definitely not heading into the optimum hatching environment for whatever most influenced their reproductive biology. If you spilled your egg-type sushi on your coat, you wouldn't end up with a coat pocket full of baby fish. Water alone wouldn't overcome that -- particularly not soapy bath water. You'd probably need either salt water under high pressure -- say, Deep One-levels of pressure -- or a Mako tank, or possibly some combination thereof. Assuming that the presence of oxygen doesn't perform its natural corrosive thing on something that started out existing in vacuum anyway, that is. (It's actually a somewhat tempting thing to think that the reasons the Deep Ones are in stasis so far down is that that's as far away as they can get from oxygen in solution on this planet.) So, even ignoring 1 and assuming a tank of some sort deals with 2, there's still 3:
3) Food after hatching. Air just doesn't contain enough stuff for most critters to survive on. Water has all kinds of plankton and algae for the really tiny things to start eating their way up the food chain with. But the egglets would need some kind of source of accessible energy once hatched, and however tasty Aeris' oatmeal cookies might be, I doubt they fit the bill for either deep-sea or intergalactic hatchlings. Of course, since Mako is by definition raw energy, if the hypothetical tank was filled with Mako, we might be getting somewhere...
So here's how Hojo's theory went:
A) Sephiroth clones: Take clippings from the tentacles on a fairly regular basis, suspend them in either nutrient tanks or Mako tanks for provision of energy while regenerating and growing, and repeat the harvesting on the clones since the genetic material duplicates itself rather than diluting through generations and they'll be in much less of a position to protest than the full-grown and rather grouchy original.
B) More SOLDIERS: Breed Zack and some of the other high-Jenova clones who haven't been designed as half-alien mules since before birth and pop their excretions into saltwater tanks at a range of pressures, nutrient levels, and Mako levels, since presumably some of the newer Soldiers' reproductive cells have a better chance of having survived the process while being still fertile. The concentrations of the Jenova factor would be wildly all over the scale in the hatchlings depending on what particular mutations hit what particular sperm and egg cells, cf. the monsters in the Nibelheim tanks. But the nonfunctional ones can be disposed of easily and some of the hybrids can probably be specialized into mindless drones that are good for, say, sliming a rebellious populace or gnawing through stone with acid.
However, Sephiroth-eggs and Zack-sticky stuff all over Aeris' quilt really doesn't suit the conditions needed for successful hatchlings. (If either of them has an accident with any of the sharp bits of the various things that got broken, on the other hand, tentaclelings are eminently doable under the whole morphallaxis and/or splitting-as-asexual-reproduction theories: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphallaxis and http://www.mbayaq.org/efc/living_species/default.asp?hOri=1&inhab=523 .) I've actually got vague plots for triplet-tentaclelings somewhere down the line, possibly, maybe...
So I think that's the end of the geekfest for the moment. Off to grab about half an hour for more actual fic before heading foodwards...