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The Dionaea (or Diona for singular) are a group of slow organisms that are in fact clusters of individual, smaller organisms. They exhibit a high degree of structural flexibility, and can form themselves into multiple humanoid shapes in an attempt to blend in to humanoid societies.
An individual diona, known as a diona nymph, will usually wander around the station to attempt to soak up as much information as possible. Nymphs learn by observing their environment, which has led some crew members to believe them to be pests and annoyances with their constant staring and chirping.
Dionaea have no planets, government, or society. The diona reproductive cycle eventually results in the humanoid diona, in their 'seed' or 'samen' state, making a pilgrimage of sorts to a communally agreed-upon site - either a gas giant or a star, depending on the 'strain' of the individuals. Once there, they interlink their bodies and enter an orbit around the celestial body, fusing and merging into a fledgling superorganism that will eventually grow to the size of a space station. The gestalt feeds on the gasses and emissions of the star or planet, converting them into myriad useful forms or storing them in sacs and bladders for buoyancy in atmosphere, or in recent years, for trade with interested bodies.
Prior to this transformation, the dionaea spread their humanoid samen throughout the galaxy. They do so by imitating the forms and modes of speech of the races that they encounter, picking facts and thoughts from minds and using them to shape ambassadors. The trade of energy and rare matter from stars and gas giants is used to facilitate the dispersal of the seeds throughout cultures, and the seeds will gather as much information as they can, developing into wildly unique and interesting individuals to bring as much variation as possible to the gestalt when they merge. They will also collect scientific information on bioengineering, genetics, chemistry, and biological science in order to improve their gestalt state and therefore the seeds that will eventually be produced.
Roughly 300 years prior to the present day, Skrellian exploratory craft came across the system known to human astronomers as Epsilon Ursae Minoris during routine scouting patrols. They dutifully flagged it for review, as it was a ternary system with a triad of stars, and went on their way, noting a few strange readings from the upper photosphere of the system's core bodies.
Only when the mining fleets of a Skrell industrial consortium arrived in 2294 did the readings become explained. A thick belt of drifting matter was slung in a wide arc around the three central stars, held in place by the machinations of ancient energy-patterning machines. The ruins were ancient and devoid of anything remarkable, and the patterning node technology both inefficient, aesthetically ugly, -dangerously- radioactive and a decade behind modern tech.
Far more interesting to the surveyors were the odd readings from the photospheres. Investigations stalled when attempting to delve into the immense heat and hard radiation rising from the stars, but eventually an odd comms contact was made. Preliminary analysis of the data had the scientists in fits of excitement. It seemed that the stars were sentient. Secondary analysis was less exciting but slightly more bizarre: something in the upper photosphere, not the sun itself, was very pleased to meet the surveyor ships.
Over the next several decades, science vessels were brought in and the strange electromagnetic language of the creatures that came to be called Dionaea was painstakingly decrypted. The scientists learned that the strange, immense structures were conglomerates of plantlike creatures, buoyed on rare and unstable gasses and fuelled by hard radiation, asteroid impacts and a kind of complex internal fusion.
Eventually - over several years, due to the slow speed of thought of the Dionaea gestalts - an agreement was reached. The scientists would take from the Dionaea several samples and seeds, and sow them in other systems that the Dionaea could not reach. In exchange, the gestalts would allow the surveyors and miners to establish habitation modules on and in the bodies of the gestalts, allowing them to refine and export the rare gasses and elements only available to creatures living in the bosom of a star.
Dionaea for the most part don't 'breathe' in any sense. They sometimes intake and expel gasses as a means of discharging waste and assisting in internal cooling, but they have no dedicated exchange membranes or respiratory channels. They don't have a central circulatory system either, instead using capillary action within the segments of their bodies to move fluids and nutrients around (similar to many plants). Their nervous system is underdeveloped and decentralized, with the neural matter of the component dionaea merging into a complex stratum of tissue that can often take up many cubic meters of space. For this reason, the large a diona becomes, the slower it will think, but the larger its information processing capacity will become.
An individual diona, a nymph, is about the size of a cat. It is reminiscent of an insect with the surface of its 'flesh' being tough and protective. However, unlike an insect, it is the same consistency throughout its body. It has several legs underneath, each coming to a sharp point that move in a wave as it walks around. Underneath, it has a strip of material that seems to have a high coefficient of friction with other nymphs and it is theorised that this helps them to stay together. It is thought that they have a system similar to a nervous system where cells use a signal in order to work in a network. These cells lie throughout the body of the nymph with several resting close to the surface of their bodies where they can hook and unhook them from a central neural stratum at will. They have a single lidless eye and seem to have poor night vision. They have long slender antennae that seem to act as radio antennae, allowing them to 'hear' local and global Rootspeak.
Dionaea don't have DNA. Their precise means of storing reproductive information is unknown to modern science but does not match any currently known form of cellular life. Dionaea are cell-based, but their cells are very large (visible to the naked eye), fibrous and lack distinct nuclei. Every diona is physically and functionally identical to any other, barring acquired injuries and conditioned behaviors or attitudes.
Skrell research has sketched a rough picture of how the diona clusters function. Much like all earth life, dionaea maintain complex systems of internal flora and fauna. The gestalts are host to virus-like symbiotes that take complex molecules apart into their components and recombine them into useful forms. Over time, these strains have diverged and mutated, serving the dionaea gestalts as a means for disassembling and manipulating genetic material within the depths of the mass. The tremendous distributed processing power of a large gestalt combined with a means of controlling these strains allows for the examination and archival of the material, which the dionaea find quite interesting.
The gestalts themselves maintain a state analogous to the diploid state of cell development. They are reproductively viable at this time, spawning new nymphs and maintaining their own mass by synthesizing more growth and food. Nymphs are analogous to haploid cells, only becoming viable for growth when merged with other dionaea. Station-grown nymphs are distinct from this (reproductively viable due to a single nymph) due to extensive conditioning developed by Skrell scientists and applied to the 'seed' nodules by volunteering gestalts. For this reason, such wandering dionaea tend not to form single gestalts, preferring to merge with other masses from other spawning sites to maintain 'genetic' viability. All gestalts will normally contain at least one member from a mature gestalt as a means of transferring the molecule-parsing viruses into the new mass.
A mature gestalt is structured in several layers. The topmost and thinnest is for the most part ridged and finned for heat dissipation and signalling via Rootspeak. Below this is a layer of 'flesh' and cavities in which nymphs move and thrive, as well as gas and matter storage analogous to fat in animals. The neural strata and nutrient capillaries are spread throughout this layer and several dedicated layers below it. Between the neural strata and the outer husk lies a layer of cavities and tissue responsible for maintaining the radiation-harvesting blisters dotting the diona underside. The blisters are iridescent meter-wide bubbles of layered crystalline material that absorb several wide varieties of radiation for use in photosynthesis. The layer surrounding them is a combination of dead, hard diona-flesh, harvested rock, and synthesised 'filler' intended to absorb heat and hold the gestalt together.
While the only dionaea contacted so far have existed in the upper atmosphere of gas planets and the photosphere of stars, the gestalts have made oblique references to 'deep dwellers' that live within the surface of the stars themselves. Such a state makes them impossible to contact with conventional transmissions, and no pattern or encoding has been detected in the emissions from the system; it is unclear if the gestalts still exist or if they ever existed at all.
Dionaea are highly curious, intelligent (if slow) and passive. They feel pain of a sort, though in a very different manner to humans, but are only able to emulate emotion. An 'adolescent' diona will generally take on observed traits of the entities around it as a side-effect of the instinctive information-gathering and hoarding that each diona conducts.
They do not have names as such, and when asked for one by other races will often supply an excessively long and poetic description of a memory they consider fundamental to their makeup ex. 'the spatter of starlight across the face of the iron mountain and the deep note of the planetsong'. This has been known to make Heads of Personnel need to go have a lie down when filling out ID cards.
Contrary to popular belief, dionaea aren't inherently pacifistic. Rather, they don't typically understand why a being would purposely injure another. In fact, while they emulate many behaviours they observe from intelligent species, there has never been a case of healthy dionaea forming a pattern of violence. It is theorised that there are inherent biological mechanisms that prevent this habit from forming, though they may demonstrate instantaneous violence if directly instructed by others.
They have no concept of personal or mental space, and those who are new to human culture tend to be excessively touchy-feely or invasive of privacy. They also have more difficulty holding themselves in a humanoid shape and moving in a human manner. This can lead to very unnatural looking behaviors such as when they forget which ways their knees should bend. Because they have so many eyes, forgetting to 'face' who they are speaking to is common as they don't see themselves as having a front and back. Humans usually find this creepy and unnerving, the shifting mass of uncoordinated nymphs resembling something from a horror movie.
As they become more accustomed to being around humans, they pick up more mannerisms and fit more in with the humans around them. The small mistakes that can make humans uncomfortable typically drop off in response to the negative feedback they receive. The longer they are in human culture, the more difficult it is for them to find sources of novel information. If they then find something new that is denied from them, they are all the more insistent and are not above using all the social tricks from their time among humans in order to recover it.
Dionaea have nothing resembling government. They speak about the chorus or song of a group in the same manner that one would talk about teamwork or membership in a group.
While smaller Dionaea clusters are capable of vocalizing languages from all manner of other races, thanks to their fluid form, they tend to do so in a monotone or as a series of heavy bass rumbles or grinds. They come across as very slow and not very smart in Siik'tajr due to the relative slowness of their 'ear' and 'tail' growths, but communicate very well in Sinta'unathi. They cannot speak Skrellian at all due to the pitch variations required.
Their own language, colloquially called Rootspeak, is based predominantly on the emission of electromagnetic radiation and as such is impossible for others to speak or understand without several hundred kilograms of specialized machinery. They use two different forms of Rootspeak. The first uses low frequency radio waves and has a very limited range. This has been translated to "local" Rootspeak. The second uses tremendously high frequency radio waves and is used to communicate over very long distances at light speeds. It is theorised that Dionaea use this so-called "global" Rootspeak to communicate within or beyond solar systems. Lone nymphs are unable to produce the high frequency waves, they can only do so in a group.
Relationships with other species
Dionaea are for the most part entirely peaceful and compatible with all know interstellar cultures. Their preferred habitat is completely uninhabitable, being in the upper reaches of a hellish inferno, and since they have little to no use for money and a fondness for interaction with other intelligent races, they serve as excellent emergency berths for ships lost in unfriendly and underpopulated space.
The Vox primalis and armalis treat them with an almost superstitious respect and awe, likely due to their similarity to the apex.
NT maintains a good working relationship with the gestalts, exchanging star maps, planetary settlement rights and bluespace comms and FTL engines for various services, and many of the younger Diona have actually formed their bodies around starship components and hab modules to enable them to journey across all manner of inhabited systems.
The Skrell and the Dionaea have several scientific and exploratory contracts, and at least one Diona gestalt has converted itself to a simulacrum of the Skrell homeworld, been fitted with FTL engines, and hosted explorer parties as they warble across the cosmos.
The Unathi are for the most part uninvolved with the Dionaea due to their relative lack of space travel, but some adherents of various reforestation religions on Moghes consider the creatures as proof that if the heart of a sun can support life, the sand wastes are certainly up for it.