The evolution of the rats is clearly underway, though I’m not sure how much influence Pan’s insemination efforts have had. The Nymphs are often destroyed as soon as they get close. It’s possible that the changes we’re seeing are simply down to their rapid reproduction and difficult conditions alone.
Whatever the cause, these creatures can’t really be classed as rats any longer. I’ve been calling them ratkin, since they are still kin to rats, and still resemble rats in many ways.
The grazing ratkin continue to impress me the most. They’ve become bigger and stronger than the other ratkin, and yet they’re the least aggressive. As long as you don’t get between them and their food. They spend almost all day every day slowly chewing vegetation and wandering to the next available patch.
The hunters have tried to go after them, and I can understand why. They’re big and slow. Enough to feed a whole family, even if that family is about 20-30 ratkin. You’d think there’d be more since they’re descended from rats, but the cannibalistic hunters have their own ways of keeping their number low.
The mothers eat the still-born, the deformed and the sickly at birth. Any that become sick or crippled later in life are eaten by the clan. They eat their weak and infirm, and sometimes that definition is unclear. The Nymphs have observed that occasionally, a ratkin hunter cornered by the tribe will be let go, and will then proceed to go hunting alone.
These lone hunters with nothing to lose rarely return, but when they do their fortunes dramatically improve. They become very popular with the females especially. The majority of them get eaten by the grazers, or torn apart by the arboreals, or simply disposed of by Nymphs.
The grazers have moved away from consuming their own weakest members. The infants that can’t get up off the floor, along with any afterbirth, still get eaten. It’s almost accidental though. Sick and injured adults don’t get eaten by their fellow grazers. Any of their number that can’t keep up get left behind. It’s these ones, the old, the injured and the absent minded, that usually end up victims of the hunters.
They don’t go down without a fight though. Grazers will defend themselves with teeth and claw when they feel threatened. Even a full hunting party won’t survive if they come too close to the main herd. Thus both clans become stronger and better adapted to their small environment.
There’s a similar relationship between the arboreals and the Nymphs. Nymph drones were originally designed to collect dust and dirt for the reclaimer, but they’ve always been self-managing with minimal input required. The Quest Nymphs were designed to Pan’s specifications, but most of the other alterations to the Nymphs basic design have been implemented without any specific instructions.
They know they have to exist, and they endeavour to continue to do so. They’ve diversified into role-specific types. Those that are tasked with pollinating and tending to the plants, particularly those in the arboretum, have found themselves frequent victims of both greater and lesser arboreal ratkin. They’ve come up with various ways to defend and protect themselves, resulting in even greater diversification.
One group of pollinators was already making a honey-like substance from the nectar of flowers. It was doing so as a food/fuel source for the Nymphs themselves, but lately (a subjective term) the honey-makers are being left alone. This seems to be because arboreals came across a cache of the sticky substance. I’m unsure if this is deliberate or unplanned, but now the Nymphs regularly leave parcels of their ambrosia for the ratkin. Arboreal ratkin have even been observed defending the pollinators from other ratkin.
Pan thinks we’re losing control. I think the ecosystem on board is just finding it’s own equilibrium. When it comes to the tunnellers though, I share his concerns. These ratkin are descended from those that have gotten behind the panels of the ship. They burrow through insulation, damaging hardware, and getting dirt and fur into the delicate moving components.
Maintenance Nymphs have been tasked with eliminating them, but they are tenacious. They also fight back. A permanent solution that won’t negatively affect the Nymphs, plants and other ratkin has yet to present itself. There’s been no attempt to inseminate human DNA into that genepool. We want them gone, not evolved.
Perhaps if we could somehow expand the available internal space.