The protomolecule, also known as the Phoebe bug, is an infectious agent with extra-terrestrial origins first discovered on Phoebe by Protogen two years prior to the events of Leviathan Wakes. It has the ability to alter other life forms and utilize their biomass in various ways.
Not a life-form in itself, the protomolecule is described by Antony Dresden as "a set of free-floating instructions designed to adapt to and guide other replicating systems". It is able to maintain its primary structure in a wide variety of conditions, and it has an affinity for carbon and silicon structures, but is anaerobic. It can use ionizing radiation as an energy source, and its growth can speed up considerably if exposed to high doses.
It is originally believed that Phoebe was intended as a weapon. The Investigator informs James Holden, however, that it functions as an advanced terraforming platform. It was created by extra-terrestrials around two billion years in the past, and launched in a Bracewell probe at a trajectory towards the Earth, which had only developed primitive life at the time. It was, however, captured by Saturn's gravity, where it became a satellite, and settled there as one of its moons.
At some point between its launch and the present day, the civilization that launched the protomolecule was attacked and seemingly destroyed by an as-yet-unidentified aggressor.
Eight years before the events of Leviathan Wakes, Mars landed on the ice moon Phoebe to survey it for ice mining. When core samples from the moon were investigated, however, silicate samples were found, and the Martian government approached Protogen as a cosponsor of a long-term research facility. Protogen discovered the alien agent, dubbed it the protomolecule, and began experimenting with it.
Eros incident Edit
- Main article: Eros incident
The first major outbreak of the protomolecule, known as the Eros incident, was a controlled infection of the entire population of Eros, numbering one and a half million humans. With this amount of biomass it was revealed that the protomolecule had the ability to create a hive mind of sorts, which integrated itself with the computer systems of Eros station.
Life cycle Edit
The protomolecule can infect other life forms on contact (it is anaerobic, and cannot be transmitted through the air). While apparently designed for use on simple, single-celled organisms, it functions effectively even on multi-cellular life. In humans, it spreads internally and starts altering its host through a process that normally takes several weeks, during which the host hibernates, but which can be significantly sped up via exposure to ionizing radiation.
After awakening from hibernation, the host becomes disoriented and feverish, with symptoms similar to a hemorrhagic fever. Shortly after, a brown fluid begins leaking out of its orifices. Human hosts at this stage are nicknamed "vomit zombies" because of their tendency to stagger around, spewing the brown fluid, which is highly infectious to other creatures.
The protomolecule then begins altering its host in various ways, from creating new limbs and orifices, and melding its biomass with other infected hosts. Changes beyond this point seem to be highly variable and unpredictable, but recognizable features that might be incorporated in the resulting life-forms are black filaments, brown slime and blue luminescence.
Hive mind Edit
The protomolecule's original construction appears tuned for simple unicellular life, though able to operate under a wide variety of conditions including advanced, intelligent multicellular hosts. Given enough biomass from several intelligent hosts, the protomolecule is able to create a hive mind. In the only instance of this occurring, an initial victim (Julie Mao) was used as a "seed" or template for the nascent consciousness, which then guided the utilization of all subsequent biomass.
It is unclear whether normal functioning with an active connection to its creators would result in a host gaining some measure of control over the development and behavior of the resulting structures as Julie did.
Human-protomolecule hybrid Edit
Project Caliban Edit
- Main article: Project Caliban
Activity on Venus Edit
Following the descent of Eros Station to the surface of Venus, the protomolecule began rapidly reshaping the planet. Observers throughout the Sol system observed these changes with great interest, but, despite the wealth of data, the objectives of the alien organism remained obscure.
The military science vessel Arboghast was tasked with observing Venus from orbit and relaying instrumental data to the UN. Eight months into her mission, the Arboghast received or emitted a brief radiation pulse of unknown nature and origin that interfered with all observing telescopes in the non-visible spectrum. Immediately following this, the entire vessel was disassembled into its structural components, down to the level of screws and bolts, methodically and with no discernible mechanism of action. The crew of 572 personnel were lost to vacuum exposure.On Venus and beyond, the protomolecule hive mind displayed an ability for instantaneous self-communication, with events involving the substance anywhere in the sytem (mainly the activation or destruction of human-protomolecule hybrids) triggering a response from Venus' surface.
The Ring EditThe protomolecule on Venus spent a little more than a year preparing itself, before it launched a massive complex of structures just outside the orbit of Uranus and built a thousand-kilometer-wide object known as the Ring. This is the final stage of the protomolecule life cycle: to convert itself to into a wormhole leading to the Slow Zone and Ring Station. Following the attack by OPA extremists on Tycho Station, the last known sample of the protomolecule is believed to be in the hands of the Free Navy.
- Eros infection
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