Sarah Jane Smith
The Solonian year is so long, 2000 years, and the seasons so extreme, that the Solonian people have evolved with the life cycle of their planet and periodically metamorphosize to adapt to the different seasons.
In spring, Solos is much like Earth. It has oceans of water which help maintain a water cycle, precipitation and water tables. It has a moderate climate and therefore a huge variety of plant life, which in turn supports a large variety of animal life, perfect conditions for the biological human forms the Solonians have for most of the spring.
At the end of spring when the temperature begins to shoot up, making life difficult for mammalian life forms, the Solonians metamorphose briefly into an insectoid form, insects being better able to stand the heat and thesium radiation until they can find the "catalyst-stone" which enables them to complete the transformation to their radiation form.
Summer - The temperature shoots up and the vegetation that doesn't transform dies and is burned off. Polar ice caps melt. Some of the water is absorbed into the planet's vast underground water tables, the rest evaporates, leaving the planet scorched to dry.
As summer continues and the heat continues to build, rocks begin to melt, sand melts into glass, volcanoes - touched off by the heat - begin to erupt, and the planet becomes a barren, seething wasteland of stark black mountains and red roiling lava. It is for this period of upheaval that the Solonians become radiation forms, able to survive and thrive in this molten environment.
Fall - As the planet moves away from the sun and begins to cool, the land begins again to take on solid form. Continents reform, with new mountains and valleys and soil that has been thoroughly turned by all the volcanic activity. As the land continues to cool, water begins to condense on the bare rock at night, only to evaporate in the heat of the day, thus beginnings a new water cycle. Savage winds howl over the bare rocky landscape, flicking away bits of sand, which in turn scour away more rock until eventually sandy topsoil begins to reappear, collecting in niches and crevices. Dry heat static-storms become thunderstorms, thunderstorms become rainstorms, rainstorms become rain showers, and eventually as the land heals plants begin to grow again.
Seeds, (that had metamorphosed in the spring to withstand the heat of summer and to thrive on the harsh nutrients of sandy volcanic soil), take root, flower, and grow.
The radiation-form Solonians find themselves drawn to a certain type of spindly, quick-growing tree in the same way they were drawn to the cesium caves in their last time of transformation. The proximity of the catalyst-trees triggers a change. There is a mellowing of their rainbow brilliance and a hazy dissolution of their humanoid form until they resemble a vague, indecisive patch of sunlight. Unlike Terran trees which merely utilize sunlight to facilitate their metabolism, the catalyst trees actually absorb the Solonians, helping to convert them to the next form.
The trees absorb the sunlight energy of a Solonian, burst into bud, and then flower. A coconut sized pod grows on the tree in less than a day. The pod drops off of this tree like a ripe apple, takes root and grows. A week later the Solonian has grown from seed to an adult-sized, twiggily-humanoid tree-man.
Since there is still too little precipitation for animals to survive during the Solonian fall the Solonians survive as intelligent, mobile plants. They draw their nourishment directly from the sun and the soil. They eat and drink by sending down roots which allow them to draw water from the underground water tables which survived the summer, as well as from the morning dew and gradually increasing rainfalls. There is no true animal life on Solos during the fall because there is not any freestanding water. But there are many forms of analog plants which are mobile and perform the functions that their animal forms perform in spring. The Solonians are merely one of the Solonian lifeforms that transform during the planet's changing seasons.
Winter - As Solos moves farther away from its sun the temperature gets cooler, then colder, then freezing. The normal plants begin to wither and die and the newly reformed oceans begin to freeze. The tree-like Solonians find their leaves becoming brown and falling off and gradually they are overcome with a compulsion which draws them toward the arctic poles, toward colder and colder regions. This is seemingly a compulsive mass suicide, since the extreme polar cold is lethal to the plantlike forms. As the Solonians travel north (or south, as the case may be), their bark begins to flake off revealing underneath a smoothly crystalline structure that looks like ice. The people fear they are literally turning into ice and freezing to death. Their movements become jerky and difficult. And if they fail to reach the poles before the transformation's complete they eventually grind to a complete halt, immobile.
The magnetic fields at the arctic magnetic poles are the third catalyst. Solonians are compelled to find the poles before they lose their mobility, although they don't consciously understand why. The magnetic field at the poles infuse their new crystalline structure with energy. It is this energy which gives the new form its mobility by allowing the planes and facets within their crystalline bodies to slide frictionlessly against one another in an analogue of muscle and tendon. The Solonians are sustained during this season by the geomagnetic energy flow of their planet, which also infuses them with a soft ice-blue glow so that they look rather like small, humanoid, blue-ice glaciers making them blend right in with their winter landscape.
In the winter the land is searingly cold. All water is locked in ice flows and glaciers, the mountains are whipped stark and bare by wind driven flecks of ice. And the land is covered in a freezing, constantly shifting blanket of "dry snow", snow so cold it burns.
As spring approaches again the land begins to warm up and expand, as pressure increases so does the frequency of earthquakes. Ice and snow begin to melt, the water rolling downhill towards the lower ground and ice locked seas. Soil is saturated, turned, and loosened by the flow of water, gradually earth and sea thaw out again. And as the land becomes more hospitable plants begin to reappear, growing from seeds that survived the cold. As the planet becomes verdant again animals begin to reappear. And soon afterward the crystalline Solonians began to transform again.
The final catalyst is a natural shift in the planet's magnetic field as it completes its turn and begins to be drawn steadily back towards its sun. This shift is the only catalyst that does not need to be sought out since it is an ubiquitous planet-wide phenomenon.
Between their crystalline and biological forms, the Solonians gradually take on the appearance of walking, humanoid chunks of chalk. Their crystalline infrastructure slowly loses its lubricating charge of geomagnetic energy and gradually grinds itself into cohesive diamond dust. The chalky-crystalline matrix increasingly soaks in minerals, nutrients, water, and elements from dust and rain. The decline of their geomagnetic charge and the acquisition of elements is gradual, but constantly balanced, keeping the body's cohesion stable. The transmutation kicks in when a large enough variety of minerals, nutrients, and water is absorbed and the reformation of organs, bones, and muscle begins. Opacity follows at the same rate, the skin being an organ, blunting the rather grotesque visual impact of the transformation. Hair and nails are the last to grow and they indicate that the body has completed the transformation and is now growing and eliminating cells in the normal mammalian cycle. This is the longest lasting transformation, as it keeps pace with the reawakening planetary cycle. By the time the Solonians reach full biological-human status and need to eat to provide fuel for their new bodies, there are enough plants and animals established for them to use.
The planet continues on its inexorable course to its sun.
And so the cycle continues.
"Well, Doctor, what do you think?"
"Hmm... Good... Very good. Couldn't have put it better myself."
"Yes, well a lot of it you did put yourself. Do you have any idea how hard it is to spell some of those words? I'm amazed you didn't hurt yourself just saying them."
"I try to broaden your mind, and this is what I get? Abuse?"
Sarah just grinned at him.
"What made you decide to write this?" he questioned hoarsely, flipping the sheets of paper over in his hand as if expecting to find the answer on the back.
Sarah shrugged, bouncing on her heels. "We've been gone a long time. I needed the practice. I don't know about you, but I need to keep my skills sharp." She stabbed the air with an imaginary pan. "You never know when you might need them!"
"Too true," he agreed, bobbing his curly brown head in a vigorous nod.
He laid the sheaf of papers on the hexagonal console and moved to check the instruments on the other side. They were due to materialize in a few minutes.
"What made you decide to write an article about Solos? It's not likely a subject you can get published."
"No," she agreed. "But it was kind of hard to forget, especially after that shrub attacked me. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to 'his bark is worse than his bite.'"
The Doctor glared exasperatedly at her up at her out of the tops of his eyes.
She grinned back unrepentantly.
"What do you think the Solonians would have done if you hadn't shown up this time? They all thought they were turning into stone!"
"They were turning into stone," he reminded her without looking up. "Well, crystal, at any rate," he qualified.
"Yeah, but if you hadn't been there to remind them that they needed to go to their magnetic poles, they would have all turned into stubborn little crystal statues. Unable to move."
"No." He shook his head. "One of them would have broken the taboos and gone eventually. The instinctive drive would have been too strong in the end."
"Maybe. What were those taboos all about, anyway? I've never seen a 'forbidden area' so devoutly avoided before. Not even by the Exxilons. At least they allow their priests to go to that city of theirs. No one was allowed at the poles on Solos. Why?"
The Doctor looked up at her over the undulating central column and scratched his nose, thinking. "Well, aside from the fact that it was deadly cold there, it probably started when they were still in their energy forms. In that form, the magnetic energies at the poles would have been lethal. It would have mingled, and at the same time collided with their own energies, gripping their cohesion apart and dispersing them throughout the planet's magnetic field. Billions and billions of energy particles too widely scattered to ever be able to reform. And the worst part is, as an energy form, you would know what was happening, each individual particle would know what was taking place and be powerless to do anything about it. A true 'fate worse than death'."
Sarah shivered at the image. To be dismembered molecule by molecule. To be constantly dying and know it, to be consciously aware of it... a hard shutter race down her spine. No wonder the taboos had held so long.
The Doctor thumped one of the control panels with his fist. Sarah jumped. When that didn't appear to get him the readings he wanted, he began picking at one of the glass fronted gauges with the back of his fingernail. The repeated "thwack", "thwack", "thwack", got on Sarah's nerves.
"What's happened?" she demanded suspiciously, crossing arms over her chest in a long-suffering pose.
"Probably nothing." He grimaced, casually waving her suspicions away with one hand as he glared at the offending dial. "Dust caught in the resistor coils." He ad-libbed.
"Uh-huh," she agreed in a flatly disbelieving voice. "Where are we supposed to be going?"
"Earth." He grabbed his hat off the top of the console column as it settled with a final wheeze, accompanied by the great dropping thunk that always seemed to signal materialization.
He jammed his hat down on his head, checked for the bottle of ginger pop in his pocket that he'd been drinking for his sore throat, and cycled open the doors.
When she started to follow him out, he shook his head. "You stay here until I know where we are."
With a sigh, she acquiesced and watched him stride out the door.
She fiddled impatiently with the short white scarf around her neck as she waited. She couldn't see the Doctor. All she could see was the blackness of the "antechamber". A sort of equalizing chamber between the atmosphere inside the TARDIS and the atmosphere outside. Like most of the things on the TARDIS it only worked part of the time. Like now.
"Well, come on. Make your mind up," she called impatiently. "Has the TARDIS brought us home or not?"
Here we go again! She headed out of the door.
"What do you mean... 'possibly?'"
And the rest is another story.
For more stories by this author click on "betawho" at the top of the page.
Please take a moment to leave a review. Thank you.