Memento Mori

Memento Mori - Places and Races

Hesger


     Click image to enlarge. The zone of quarantine is somewhat exaggerated on this diagram; the entire Hesgeri system is quarantined, from the star to the "external asteroid field", the de-facto limit of the solar system, a distant field of small residual bodies left over post solar system formation about 0.5 light-years from the sun.

     Hesger is a small, temperate, earthlike world on the outer rim, although heavily forested and with a greater surface area of water.

     Hesger was formerly a small colony world, located in one of the outermost whorls of the sapere galaxy, with a comparatively small population of only a few million individuals. Primary reasons for colonisation were its heavy forests, from which it was hoped useful drugs could be harvested or developed, and “luxury products” (mostly “bérz”, a form of mead) made by the danata natives. 95% of the world’s colonists were a mixture of vullish, ondran, zaar, eumin, nyen and laima. Of the remaining 5%, a small number were umskel'i, yil, and xniki; a few non-aligned, unfamiliar nomadic or travelling species made up the remainder.


Danata


     In spite of their somewhat avian appearance, danata are actually descended from something closely resembling an insect. There are some significant differences - they have a complex circulation and separate lungs, and their outer exoskeleton is less inflexible than that of an earthly insect, with a texture more like a fingernail.

     Danata ARE small; the matica (the colony mother) is the largest, at approximately two feet tall, but most adults are only half her height. The strazae, the soldiers and guards of the colony, are somewhere between the two.


Hesgeri haemorrhagic fever


     Because of the medical shorthand, “HeHF”, most people call the disease “Heff”. Depending on whether it is the “furious” or “phobic” form of the disease, it may also be called just “the fury” or “the fear”, although this is less common. Carriers (both the cognitively normal and the so-called “ferals”) are known as “blights”, although those with the ability still to think “normally” like to call themselves cognates. (more detail later)

     Heff is an “evolved”/mutated form of Hah’zeepti or “Lanali fever”, named after the river city in which it was first released. The disease is in fact an artificial filovirus, engineered in a laboratory as a bioweapon, and shares the haemorrhagic properties of diseases such as ebola, and the nervous system effects of rabies. Both heff and Lanali fever are highly contagious and have a high mortality rate (for most species, close to 100%), but heff also causes physical and mental changes in 80% of infectees, leading to some calling it a “de-evolutionary” or “shapeshifter” disease.

     Early quarantine prevented the spread of heff outside of Hesger, however it has decimated the sentient population. Although lanali fever was designed to be highly infectious in mammalian and similar species, neither it nor heff are zoonotic – it is readily spread between sentients, but non-sentient animal carriers tend to die soon after infection. Fortunately, the virus cannot survive for long in dead tissue, and requires living nerves to propagate.

     Hesger’s native sentient species, the insectoid danata and lepuuri, are immune. Descended from avians, with a high-silicon-content physiology, kiravai are rumoured to also be immune, as are the cephalopoid duSkai (although it has never actively been tested in either species, given the risks associated). Most other sentients are susceptible; infection has been recorded on Hesger in almost all colonising species. Laima, who seem to have a stronger physiology and are better ability to cope with the symptoms than most species, tend to be better equipped to survive, although they usually still suffer the same physical and cognitive changes. One in ten infected laima survive, although only a very small proportion are left “cognitively normal”.

     Heff is a primarily blood-borne virus, most commonly transmitted via a bite – although virus particles do not get into the saliva in particularly high concentrations, it does make the gums of an infected individual bleed. It may be transmitted through any bodily fluid, but blood has the heaviest viral load, and is the most common route of infection. The virus may spread by any contact of bodily fluids, however – sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, breast-feeding and even kissing have been reported as routes of transmission.

     The incubation period is fairly short at 3-7 days, and may be asymptomatic, but an individual may develop non-specific aches and pains, general malaise, and poor ability to maintain their body temperature, as would be seen with a disease like influenza. (The development of these symptoms is officially called “incubation sickness/fever”, but has also been nicknamed “the trembling” because of the tendency to shiver.) During this early stage, the virus migrates into the nerves, and begins to multiply, particularly in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, or CNS). Individuals are not yet infectious, and depending on their route of infection might not even know they have caught the virus (although given the incubation symptoms, most will strongly suspect it...).

     The first “true” symptoms begin to develop at the end of the incubation period. They may be mild, and tend to be CNS-related; inflammation causes irritation to the nerves, personality changes and hallucinations. The virus also moves out of the nervous tissue and begins to multiply in other cells, notably the endothelium of the blood vessels and megakaryocytes, leading to reduced platelets. Severe cramps in the major muscles are the first signs of the development of shape-shifting, however in the early stages it remains as cramps.

     Approx 7-10 days after the initial infection, the CNS effects have become pronounced in most individuals, generally leading to high levels of aggression and confusion. (Incidentally, those individuals that develop the fewest personality changes tend to have the best chance at survival.) The first physical signs also begin to manifest at this point. Increased bruising and an increased tendency for minor wounds to bleed is generally the first sign, as the smallest blood vessels become friable and easily broken. (Larger vessels are more durable due to the additional layers from which they are composed.) Muscular cramps start to progress to short-term deformity of the muscles.

     Approx 15% of deaths occur in this period, usually due to uncontrolled encephalopathy – this is the primary cause of death in those who die quickly after infection. Swelling of the brain leads to people “coning out”, the increased pressure on the brainstem causing stem death.

     Provided an individual survives the previously described stage, they will enter a period where they will experience unpredictable, full-body physical shape-shifting. This never occurs prior to CNS infection, although not all individuals display overt signs of the effect on the nerves. It is painful and unpredictable – scientists have never completely pinned down the reasons for it.

     The ensuing physical deformity / shape-shifting takes an individual back to a “primitive” or ancestral form; a vul might regress to a heavily furred “ape-dog”, or a laima to a lamonis. The one species for whom this is different are the nyen, also rumoured to have been bioengineered, who have an irregular and unpredictable pattern of shifting.

     Individuals never remain permanently in their “shifted” form, unless they are killed while shifted. However, the return to an individual’s “birth-form” is not always seamless – although most revert back fully in the early stages of the disease, a small proportion will randomly be left with a physical defect of some kind after a change, usually something minor like a twisted toe or deformed ear. As the disease progresses, the development of some kind of physical deformity after a shift becomes more common; individuals may be (and frequently are) quickly crippled or even killed by such changes. (Spinal cord damage is common, leaving individuals at the mercy of their “peers”.) All survivors (or “blights”) have been left permanently disfigured in some way.

     Towards the disease’s end stages, there is the slow development of “ferality”, or regression to an aggressive, primitive state, where higher cognitive functions are generally lost. Such individuals are prone to biting – and the tendency of the gums to bleed means that the infection is transmitted easily. Most survivors remain feral, lacking most higher cognitive functions and instead behaving like animals, albeit with unnatural and increased levels of aggression. Shape-shifting still occurs, but the average individual is fairly comprehensively disfigured / crippled and often appears to be trapped in a permanent “midway” form, somewhere between their ancestral body and their normal one.

     Although sometimes it is only a low degree of deformity that infectees suffer, none have survived with no deformity at all. Importantly, these individuals are still infectious, although their bodies have adapted to live with the virus; the immune system may be able to keep the virus at bay, but they retain a low-level infection and can infect others. Their ability to shapeshift reduces with time, although individuals can better control it, some electing to shift at will; it is not uncommon for individuals to lose the ability overall, however, particularly if they have been infected for more than 2 years.

     After infection, 80-90% of patients develop symptoms, progress to physical deformity and severe cognitive impairment and die within 3 months, although most deaths occur more quickly, after injuries inflicted by fellow infectees. (Although the time frame is quite short, these are still termed "late deaths"; see below.) The primary cause of death is by haemorrhage; generally, after a bite from another infected individual, but effects on the blood vessel walls also eventually cause bleeding (usually cerebral or gastrointestinal haemorrhage) in non-injured infectees.

     The remaining 10-20% progress more slowly – although initial symptoms develop as quickly, progression to severe symptoms is slower and individuals retain almost all normal cognitive function even though displaying severe physical, functional changes. These individuals commonly die of internal haemorrhage or spinal disruption.

     Heff has an extremely high rate of mortality. Because of the behavioural changes caused in infectees, and the ensuing fear and violence that swept wholescale through the cities, a large proportion of the population (about 15%) on Hesger were killed before infection even occurred. A fairly normal, peaceful population grew fearful and quick to violence, and any individual that “looked infected” often met a swift, violent end.

     A further 15% of individuals die early, due to encephalopathy or other complications related to incubation sickness. These are considered “early deaths”. The term “late deaths” refers to those which occur after “true” symptoms and/or physical changes have developed. Most infectees suffer late deaths.

     70% of late deaths are due to haemorrhage – typically, from bites or similar injuries inflicted (80%). The reduced ability of the blood to clot leads to massive exsanguination. The other 20% of deaths from haemorrhage occur after spontaneous rupture of the blood vessels.
10% of late deaths occur from bony deformity to the spine; the reorientation of the spine-skull junction often leads to brain-stem injuries. Other spinal deformity results in paralysis, and the self-serving nature resulting from heff personality changes means these individuals will typically starve to death.
A further 10% occur after other bony deformity, again resulting in either paralysis, or an inability to feed. (If the jaw deforms, for instance, an individual will not be able to eat.)
     A surprisingly small proportion of deaths (about 10%) occur after accidents etc. A “natural death from old age” is almost unheard of, on Hesger.

     Only one or two in every thousand infectees will survive longer than the usual 3 months, and are known as blights. These typically are individuals with a reduced susceptibility to the virus, who develop only the CNS effects and in whom the cardiovascular system is not affected. (They therefore recover more easily from bites, and do not carry the risk of spontaneous haemorrhage.) Unfortunately, most still develop the aggression and cognitive blunting.

     A tiny number of blights retain normal cognitive function. They prefer to be called “cognates”.

     In Kust, the small coastal town in which Blink and Rae end up, a population of 200,000 (population figures including those individuals living in hamlets/farms etc in the surrounding area) has been reduced to under 100 cognate blights, and a few hundred feral blights.

     First infection was recorded on Hesger in the summer of the 212th year after colonisation/PC. It spread with such rapidity that when Blink and Rae arrive, it is still only the 235th year PC. Some of the cognitive blights (e.g. Odati) remember the days before the virus.


Back to Writing