PERGAMMA: Radiant Life

Anthony Repetto
5 min readFeb 6, 2023

~ a sketch of a radio-active world and its life-forms… somewhere ~

Pergamma should be dead. No sun envelopes her rocky surface in warmth; the frost descends in cyclonic fury, deafening with terrible lightning flashes, ceaselessly. Pergamma wanders, lost between the stars, with only a deep, fiery mass at the core to keep herself warm, safe, alive.

Pergamma should have been destroyed when she was a bright, jubilant youth, churning and gulping-up all her sibling worlds around that vast, blue parent star. She had fluffed-up with gasses, layered so deep that her inner rocks became a honey-butter of twined magnetic ribs, reaching out to grab the sun’s ions in her magnetic net as they flew past, in great green and blue wings above her poles. There was no warning, when her parent star fell ill. It died in a shudder, a shrink, and a vast heave, bursting-out in dozens of new particle-forms.

That blast of fire tore-off Pergamma’s veil of air, blistered-away layer upon layer of rock, until that whole face of her had shrunk — only a scalding metal core remained, exposed, flowing across the surface. Pergamma’s immense size had protected her, while all else was turned to ash. And, she was flung in that wave, traveling far from the desolation, among those clouds of debris. She slowly gathered what flecks she could along the way — shards of green glass, pure black carbon, spindly prismatic crystals of ice. Her molten metal core, spilled-out like a runny egg, sopped-up all these minerals and blended them. For tens of thousands of years, Pergamma drifted in the shroud of her dead star, her skin turning hard, then gathering pools deep in her fissures, growing scraggly lakes beneath a dark, windy sky.

Pergamma had been born in a nursery, among thousands of other vast stars; it was no surprise then, in her wanderings, that she drifted near one of them again, gathering the comets she could from that star’s far outer shell, and circling it for a time, attracted yet distant, hardly there. That star, too, fell ill and heaved-out, again sending a wave of glowing dust to her. She was much further this time, and hearty with her ices. Pergamma remembered this tragedy’s conclusion, however, and gathered what she could among the wreckage, moving-on.

Other stars she passed had burst, too, and her journey accrued an immense portion of their ash to her surface. That ash glowed with its own inner heat, continuous. Radio-active. Their inner heat fueled stronger storms across the surface, spreading and gathering rains, mixing the minerals. As the acidic rains heaved among these storms, they pooled those minerals back into deep fissures. Lightning-bursts fractured and transformed the rocks, too, which were also gathered down deep together. And, the burning, alien ashes, with their inner heat, bubbled that soup into thermal vents and plumes. In those hidden, safe crevasses, flecks of life swirled and clustered. That scattered, radiant ash was the seed, the spark.

How Pergamma Works: (gory details)

Pergamma has no sun; the surface is warmed by an immense amount of radio-isotopes; the planet is a huge nuclear reactor. About 1,000 times as much radioactive material as you see on Earth; literally 1 in every 50 pounds of crust-material is Uranium! For a ton of Uranium to half-decay in 4.5 Billion years, it must release half of a watt of energy, continuously. That’ll power a small LED… or a small creature! Another way to think of it: by chewing-through 50 pounds of rock, a creature can extract a pound of Uranium, which will generate enough energy (even at low yields!) to churn-out 30 TONS of biomass. From just 50 pounds of rock; more than a 1,000-to-1 ratio!

Yet, Uranium and other radio-isotopes won’t produce energy *quickly* — so you would have to be sitting atop that ton of diluted Uranium, to trickle-charge. Instead, when you purify the radio-isotopes, concentrating them, their radiation echoes, increasing the reaction rate. There is no benefit in concentrating these isotopes to the point that they become a bomb; no life would evolve to do so. Instead, ‘sub-critical’ is where our nuclear reactors usually sit, and life on Pergamma does, too. With only a few pounds of radio-isotopes lumped close-together, their output is hundreds of times higher, enough for critters. Yet!

All that radiation is damaging; we only have a few microbes here on Earth which can tolerate high radiation. The best of those can withstand 5,000x the radiation-dose that is lethal to humans. And, some of those little bugs seem to get energy from radiation, already! But, if you want to pull real power from radio-isotopes, the radiation levels will be too high even for the best bacterium. Instead, microbial colonies must assemble *interior* shells of molybdenum and boron, to absorb the fast particles in their reactor-core. With these shells inside of a growing ‘coral’, the microbes are able to increase the temperature, reactivity, and resulting growth. Their fuel doesn’t last for 4.5 Billion years, any more, but it does give them enough energy to chemically process more rock *quickly*, capturing more Uranium to repeat the process.

When microbes assemble these shells, the reaction’s speed generates much more heat, allowing these colonies to grow closer to the surface of Pergamma, where the howling, super-cooled winds descend from the upper atmosphere in vast tornadoes. Accessing un-touched mineral reserves, these larger colonies are able to expand and diversify away from the submerged fissure-vents where life began. Corals, with radio-isotope cores thrumming deep inside them, chew rock and climb ridges over millennia of whirling sleet and inky darkness, pierced by thunder-flash. The surface is now flush with rigid, rocky life.

Delvers Deep:

As each radio-active coral chemically-burns the rock beneath it, it forms channels, reaching roots deep into substrata for scarce substances. Eventually, these tendrils stretch so far underground, reaching competing corals in the process, that they require a steady flow of fluids, both as energy on-site and for maintaining their temperature. The nuclear corals began producing chemical fuels, and shuttling them down those roots in specialized xylem and phloem. When they met other corals’ roots, these had the energy on-tap to wage war, growing-around and chemically dissolving their competitor.

To seed new corals, far from competitors, there were varieties which extended roots to germinate anew, and eventually these began budding into their own, mobile worms. Full of chemical nutrition and energy, they would slug their way from home, to find a cozy nook with minerals. By laying thousands of these at once, with the whole swarm moving in some vague coordination, they could find a prime new home more easily, and pool themselves back together to form a large nodule soon. These worm-swarms became the norm for an age of Pergamma, reaching up and around to all the last remaining rocks.

When the corals’ environment was crowded with competition, and no worm-swarm could travel far enough to find a new home, those same worms became the *attack* force, to subdue and consume the coral’s neighbors! The worms now return to their parent coral, consuming more chemical nutrients that the coral produced during its rock-digestion. Worms haul chewed rock home, to feed their parent coral more uranium. The coral births them continually, now. They have become a Hive.

These Hive-corals expanded, reaching even back down into the fissure-vent seas, colonizing viciously and struggling against each other in an accelerated arms-race. This is when a new era of complex life emerged, Pergamma’s Cambrian, covered in swarms of communicating hive-drones in a multitude of forms, fed by nuclear fission encased in high caverns deep underground.

What might you find there?

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