Etymology Excavation: quarantine

Etymology Excavation: quarantine

Etymology excavation: Quarantine

Quarantine as we know it today comes from the C15th Venetian word ‘quarantena’, and meant ‘forty’. Forty days was the required isolation period for ships before they were allowed to off-load in Venice or ports controlled by Venice during the outbreak of the Black Plague.

Essentially, if no one showed any signs of any infectious diseases after that 40-day period, Venetian officials would give them their certificate and let them disembark. If infection broke out, it would run its course shipboard, and any survivors who made it 40 days from the end of the outbreak with no further signs were then considered clear.

Even today, ships waiting for Customs clearance in a new harbour will fly a solid yellow flag (the ‘Q’ flag), which is basically a self-declaration that they have no infectious diseases aboard and are safe for Customs agents to board and clear. A ‘Yellow Jack’ flag, with alternating black and yellow quarters, means the opposite – the ship has an infection aboard and is under quarantine.

Venice was not the first example of an established quarantine system. There are documented examples of it going back as far as the 7th or 8th centuries in India and the Middle East. A lot of these earlier quarantine systems were fairly ruthless in their application, and more or less consisted of running the sick or those suspected of being sick out of town to live or die well away from other people.

The root of the word ‘quarantena’ goes back even further, to Proto-Indo-European ‘kwetwer’, or ‘four’, with offshoots in languages from French to Gaelic to Persian to Latin.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

The Cortii are a distinct humanoid sub-species, legally recognised by interstellar governments as having met all the markers for recognition as a separate race.

Physically, we know the Cortii are based on artificially-generated bodies. Cortiian scientists have clearly managed to overcome some of the key challenges with the full cloning process, and Cortiians in active service show none of the health defects or challenges to independent thought that clones usually face.

The majority of Cortiians fall in the upper third of the height range for humanoid variants, a compromise that gives them a slight disadvantage in heavy gravity environments and smaller, closed environments, but which demonstrably gives them an advantage of reach and speed.

In colouring, they tend towards a mid-tone shade. Prolonged time in a closed environment leaves the majority pale or sallow, but even moderate exposure to ultra-violet light darkens skin tone quickly. Very few Cortiians observably experience burning in strong light environments short of severe over-exposure. Hair colour tends towards absolute shades, potentially as a result of the cloning process, and black, blond, and red are more common than in most humanoid species. Brown and other intermediate shades are rarer although not unknown. Induced shades such as greens and blues have not been observed to occur naturally. Eye colour shows a usual range.

Cortiians show an average range of genders and appear as a species to have very little by way of fixed sexual orientation.

Dissection has revealed that Cortiian bone structure is slightly denser and noticeably more resilient than the humanoid average. It can be conjectured that this results in cracked bone where most humanoids would suffer a fracture. Muscle tissue has been likewise modified, adding a little mass, but offering greater strength and resilience. Certainly, Cortiians heal observably faster than average; slightly faster under adverse circumstances, and significantly faster when able to rest and provided with sufficient nutrients.

Cortiians have slightly enlarged sinuses, resulting in a tendency to high, angled cheekbones. Analysis of nasal nerves indicates a high probability that Cortiians possess very acute olfactory senses. Eye sockets tend to be deeper, providing better-than-average protection to the eye itself, and eye structure shows that Cortiians have at least limited vision into infra-red and ultra-violet, as well as enhanced distance vision.

They also demonstrate resistance to a wide range of adverse environments, and metabolise a number of common compounds faster than average, especially those used in sedatives and other related medications.

Studies up to this time have failed to isolate the precise modifications that result in these variations, or in successfully reproducing the effects.

What we can learn from myths and legends

What we can learn from myths and legends

Myths and legends

Hercules and the Aegean. Persephone and Hades. Midas. Myths and legends are often seen as cautionary tales, like the precursor to Aesop’s fables, but I put it to you that in many cases, this may simply be bad publicity, or even that they were ideas whose time had not yet come.

Let’s take a serious look at Hercules and the Aegean stable legend, for example. I mean, you have one seriously over-muscled demi-god with an atonement complex, and a lot of mucking out to get done. In ancient Greece, you’d usually have people for that kind of thing, and so employing a demi-god for it was seen rather as bringing in a ringer, especially as he expected to get paid for it. However, in this day and age, the idea of hiring a cleaning service has clearly come – whether by sheer dumb luck or stereotyping, I can hardly move online without falling over someone telling me my house needs cleaning and they’re the girls and boys for the job. Hercules’s idea of domestic labour for the highest bidder is clearly sound: he was simply unfortunate in being born about 3,000 years before online advertising.

Or what about Persephone and Hades? Persephone, daughter of Demeter, wound up married to Hades, lord of the underworld, but Mommy threw a fit, and Persephone ended up spending six months in Hades and six months with her mother (we all know those mothers-in-law…). However, shocking as this concept was at the time, when the female role in society was basically that of a rather underprivileged servant, of which Hades was essentially deprived, in this day and age couples living apart is increasingly common. The involvement of the mother-in-law I can’t speak to, but fairly clearly, another revolutionary idea that was simply several thousand years ahead of its time.

I find myself wondering what we’re looking at today that’s seen as dangerously revolutionary, that will seem like a good idea in another few thousand years. Both genders getting paid the same for doing the same job, maybe. Or maybe looking after the environment (although, thinking about it, if we don’t grow a collective brain about that sooner than several thousand years out, we’re unlikely to be around in several thousand years…)

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

All right, I’ve been scarily (ah-hah) bad about blogging recently. However, no way was I going to miss out on Hallowe’en, which is a feast that appeals to my sweet tooth and gives me costumes to look at (and photos for future blackmail to take). 

Of witches, werewolves, and vampires, dare I say, I don’t have a firm favourite when it comes to reading (or movies). (Yes, all right, calm down, there’s still plenty of Hallowe’en left to find me and feed me to a wandering hungry spirit…)

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are pretty much unequaled for me when it comes to witches. They’re the traditional pointy-hatted type, but like almost anything the late Sir Terry had a quill in, they take the stereotypes and twist them into a pretzel, and provide a lot of awesome one-liners while they do it. 

Werewolves (and most other types of were-creature) are a fantasy and urban fantasy staple, and there are a lot of stories out there to pick from. I do rather regret the over-muscled “Alpha” stereotype, which always feels to me like the human author projecting pretty much the downside of a human mentality onto a character and using the “animal instincts” as the excuse, but I do have about three-quarters of my own were story saved on a thumb drive somewhere. The werewolf Alpha continually gets his come-uppance from a were-cat, in case you were wondering.

As someone’s about to point out, I do actually have a vampire novel out, Death is for the Living. It’s true. It also does bad, bad things to the traditional vampire tropes (vampire hunters on a yacht, in the Caribbean, anyone?), but I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m personally in favour of the slightly nastier vampire type – the type that has all the strength and magical or other abilities and lost any moral compass they started out with in a bar centuries ago.

So, without further ado, which mythical creature are you?

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Abilities aren’t just telepathy, empathy

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, and precognition are chief among the so-called ‘mainline’ Abilities recognised by the IESRO. Because the IESRO regulates the most powerful Abilities across multiple species, their primary interest is the Abilities that manifest with recognisable consistency across species lines.

Among all species discovered to date, some form of empathy is the most common: the ability to communicate basic non-verbal concepts within a species and to others. Telepathy comes a close second, but because telepathy is primarily the ability to communicate complex concepts mentally, it can be hard to recognise cross-species as the underlying concepts required for it differ radically.

Kinesis is the easiest mainline ability to recognise in any species, entailing the ability to manipulate matter, but also one of the rarer ones, vying with precognition.

Precognition, the ability to predict the future, or at least to perceive the most likely turning of causality, is usually the rarest of the mainline Abilities, even if only by a fraction of a percent.

The IESRO recognises, but doesn’t regulate, a handful of other Abilities, many of them species-specific manifestations. Among the humanoid species, a couple of the more common unregulated Abilities are healers, who are mostly seen as a form of empath, and can diagnose injuries or diseases with varying degrees of accuracy, and some limited forms of kinesis, such as fire-starters.

The IESRO does not formally recognise, but will absolutely regulate on occasion, the ‘wild’ Abilities over a certain power level – Abilities that don’t precisely check a box for what can be done with them, but fall into potentially dangerous fields. Anst’s Ability to get around people’s mental defenses, most likely with its roots in empathy, would absolutely be such a case if it came formally to their attention.

Because a lot of the species in the early stages of their development, including humanoids, are uneasy with mental Abilities, wild Abilities are viewed with particular suspicion, as there’s less clarity around what they can do. While some may be worried about what a powerful telepath can pick from their brains (not a lot in most people’s heads worth the effort), or read past their vaunted poker faces with empathy, there is a general feeling that those are known and regulated hazards. Wild Abilities, well, who the hells knows?

Humanoids show a high incidence of some trace of Ability, but at this early stage in the species evolution, humanoid Abilities even eligible for IESRO registration are rare, and those not only eligible for registration but powerful enough to factor in as more than a blip in the lower registers are rarer yet.

A basic level of telepathy is a requirement in the Cortii for eligibility for derian training. Those without telepathy, or whose telepathy rating doesn’t reliably achieve the minimum required for active operations, become Base technicians – Instructors, in some cases, or medics, engineers, researchers, scientists. Those who achieve far enough over basic levels to achieve an IESRO rating are fully eligible for derian training, and stand a better than average chance of stopping a knife in the back: Cortiian deriani are generally highly trained and educated and well-travelled, but balance that with an ingrained tendency to be cautious rather than sorry.

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