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Anna Gonzales
The Ocampa -- A xenobiological perspective

The Ocampa are a fictional race in Star Trek, Voyager with an extremely unusual xenobiology and virtually unknown history. Since I'm a crazy biologist I like to think about the impossible and the improbable, and distinguish between the two quite regularly. I considered what sort of evolutionary path could possibly lead to the Ocampa, and I think I've found some key points.

Disclaimer: this is plausible within the Star Trek universe, and is thus a form of non-canon fiction or retconning rather than a serious molecular-biological approach to creating a psychic child-god. Besides, that would look really silly on an NSF grant


Background on the Ocampa's canon history: The Ocampa were, as far as we can tell, originally a race of humanoids living on your standard M-class planet. They had powerful psychic abilities or at least potential, but not much is discussed about them. Then the Nacene, a race of superpowerful explorers from another galaxy, came along and casually ruined their atmosphere by accident (no word on whether the Nacene were Republicans). They left two of their own kind behind to care for the Ocampa. The male Nacene seemed to take this a bit too seriously, as he created an underground civilization for the Ocampa where all they did was sit around, eat the food he provided, and generally degrade into kept subhumans.

Kes, one of the protagonists of Voyager, was born into a countercultural movement which, horror of horrors, grew their own food (still using the Caretaker's energy to feed the plants of course) and talked about seeing the surface someday.

The Caretaker's mate, Suspiria, took some Ocampa with her when she got bored, and apparently was teaching them to develop their psychic powers. However, Tanis, the one Ocampa from Suspiria's group, is a liar and a manipulator, as well as having no regard whatsoever for those who have limited minds (basically anyone who isn't Ocampa).

And that's about all there is to know about the Ocampa race.


Ocampa biology: The Ocampa live only 9 years. The first year is spent growing very rapidly, from an infant to a teenager in the developmental blink of an eye. They spend the next eight years as fully fledged adults, going from young adult to middle aged, to somewhat elderly but quite crisp, until sometime not long after the 9th birthday when they go senile and die.

Kes claims the female Ocampa undergoes the Elogium only once in her life, which is when they are fertile. This means either they give birth to more than one child on average, or that Kes's sexual education was incomplete before she ran away from home. Either seems plausible, though she knows enough about the Elogium for me to think it's the former. At her own birth, Kes is shown to be an only child, but since the Ocampa gestate in external mitral sacs instead of inside a mother's organs, multiple children would be relatively easy to accomodate.

Apparently Ocampa traits, such as being a 10-year-old human equivalent after 6 months, breed very true, even in 1/4 Ocampa 3/4 human hybrids.


Physiological Reconstruction:

As a student of Occam's razor, I choose to discout the possibility that the Ocampa suddenly and quite spontaneously developed psychic powers once they were already humanoids, especially with the absurd anomaly of their incredibly short lifespans.

Instead, it seems to me their psychic powers, latent as they may be in the kept Ocampa of the Caretaker, are integral to their growth. Kes shows an eidetic memory which enables her to learn much, much faster than a mere human, and this woudl fit perfectly if an Ocampa is supposed to grow at literally twenty times the human growth rate in all respects (except sexually) in one year.

I propose that the Ocampa psychic ability is the key to the Ocampa rapid growth. The Ocampa Tanis demonstrates the psychic ability to increase growth rate in other living things such as plants, and why should they be unable to use this ability on themselves? In fact is it not possible for the Ocampa to be using this ability subconsciously?

Furthermore, Kes demonstrates at least a limited ability to sense the thoughts of others. Kes seems to do this all the time, except whenever it could be helful to the crew. A developing Ocampa with an eidetic memory and a fully formed ability to hear the thoughts of others would be perfectly positioned to learn their first language in the space of a month!

Note: the Ocampa probably possess a super memory as well as the psychic learning ability and can get by with just one in a pinch. Note that Kes absorbs her medical knowledge very rapidly even though her instructor is a computer program and she can't learn from him psychically.

A simple test would be to have an Ocampa grow in an isolated environment, serviced by robots or tubes running into their body a la The Matrix. However, if this theory is right it would be very cruel, as the Ocampa would probably not develop mentally much faster than a human, and quite possibly would only grow as quickly as a human as well, especially if the presence of other Ocampa to psychically "teach" fast-growth is required for the latter.

This rapid growth may also explain their insanely short lifespans. Even in humans, every time a cell divides the ends of the chromosomes, or telomeres, are shortened slightly, providing a finite limit to the number of times human cells can divide properly (hence the hubbub about stem cells which do not have this problem). If Ocampa cells are *unnaturally* aged by Ocampa life-infusion techniques (again, consciously or not), then an Ocampa raised in a robot room might live out a life just like a human's. They might also go insane from not growing up naturally, no experiment is perfect.


Evolutionary reconstruction:

Let us now assume that everything I've posited so far has a grain of truth to it. The Ocampa are obligately social, rely on communal psychic abilities for proper development, and only live 9 years, reproducing only once in the process. How did they get there?

Again, as a student of Occam's razor, it seems wildly unlikely the Ocampa were suddenly gifted with incredible psychic powers and transformed their entire race into psychic-dependent folk who still didn't achieve advanced technology before the Nacene ruined everything. Instead, the Ocampa probably followed the natural course of evolution that psychic ability laid out for them.

Somewhere in the distant past on their planet, probably very far back, the primordial ancestors of the Ocampa developed the forerunner of psychic powers. The most rudimentary way to look at all of the Ocampa's psychic abilities is that it permits them to interact with the subatomic nature of matter (the "strings" of string theory perhaps) and project that interaction across a distance. This may have been originally an early warning ability or very weak grasping ability, depending on whether the original organism was a predator or prey, or possibly both.

It's possible these pre-Ocampa were an experiment of a more powerful race, something as powerful as the Q even, though since there are other psychic races in the galaxy that's not *strictly* necessary. The Ocampa seem to take psychic to a whole new level though, interacting with the subatomic matter of the universe is pretty out there.

At any rate, sooner or later the pre-Ocampa were probably the undisputed masters of their own evolutionary fate, driving competitors and predators to extinction. I doubt they were predators themselves to start, because they would have run the very real risk of wiping out their entire prey species and feeding on each other afterwards, never a recipe for success. Faster and stealthier would have made no difference if their natural predator was psychic, so the Ocampa probably reigned supreme as uncatchable prey... at first.

Whenever there is a vacant niche, the most successful adapters have a funny way of filling it in fast. Case in point on earth, mammals were originally scavengers and/or insectivores, but they soon exploded into all the great variety of niches we know today. I suspect the pre-Ocampa, probably originally multicelled but not sentient, took over their world, but rather than a battle for speed and reproductive superiority, it became a battle for psychic mastery. The species that outmatched its enemies in escaping psychic detection, catching prey psychically, and hastening its own life cycle with psychic enhancement was the winner.

The psychic evolutionary struggle could easily have occupied tens or hundreds of millions of years, pitting ever-smarter prey species against ever-deadlier predators, and evading psychic detection was probably the top priority of both sides. The predators probably had an advantage over any communal prey, since babies have this tendancy to not know what they're doing, so gregarious prey probably learned to fight back. This is all paralleled to some degree by events in our own evolutionary past.

If the pre-Ocampa were a gregarious prey or low-level predator species (much like humans), this would account for most of their psychic morphology. Evolution would favor a fast method of imprinting psychic stealth and how to avoid the various psychic predators (I will just say contemplating a telepathic telekinetic leopard is quite terrifying), and the fast reproductive cycle would also obviously be favored, as such a species would be more fit. However, overpopulation could probably pose a serious risk to the environment if this race became more dominant over the predators, so reproducing only once might have become more favored.

Lastly, what is the evolutionary purpose of the Moralogium, where an adult, healthy but somewhat elderly Ocampa becomes amnesiac, delusional, and dead within a few weeks? If we account for the psychic power possessed by every Ocampa I'd think it's obvious. Having a deranged, senile, but psychically omnipotent Ocampa around would be incredibly detrimental to the group's health, so communities with genes for rapid descent into death would be favored over communities with genes for long, Alzheimeresque semideaths.

(That previous "paragraph" was two sentences. I'm on a roll.)

The Ocampa probably grew to dominate their environment psychically through transferred learning rather than instinct, which a solitary psychic must depend on. The only viable evolutionary strategies would probably be either reproduce very quickly and make many copies (like insects and plants), or be psychic and get whatever you want (all pre-Ocampa). I think it eventually came to the point where any animal which had not yet learned the art of psychic survival was dead meat. Therefore, prey were probably cared for long after birth and were probably often gregarious, while predators were either cared for for years or started life by preying on nonpsychic things such as insects.

I can't say whether the Ocampa were predators, prey or humanlike omnivores, though since the Ocampa look very humanoid including their teeth they were probably the last of those three. This begs the question, however: how did they come to shake off the bonds of being preyed on by gregarious, intelligent, psychic predators? It seems to me the natural enemies of gregarious psychic prey would be cunning, stealthy opportunistic predators like leopards (easily kept at bay by advanced Ocampa) and gregarious, intelligent pack hunters like wolves (a lot harder to fend off in a fight). How could they transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers ready to flee from danger into stable semi-permanent communities with little to fear? An answer presents itself in the Ocampa personalities.

Ocampa such as Kes who are undeveloped psychically are peaceful, friendly, compassionate and gentle people. Tanis, on the other hand, can no longer sympathize with the plight of the little people, and while he may have gotten this from Suspiria, Future Kes has a similar personality once she's activated her superpowers, and Kes's transformation itself is not the sort of things friends would be able to survive being around, what with the explosions. Tanis also hints at how small the minds of other people seem once you perceive matter at the atomic level. I know if I could see molecules and move them with my mind's eye I'd be pretty powerful too, compared to everyone else around.

This tendency for Ocampa to be caring and gregarious until they awaken their godlike powers may not be accidental at all. Once you can disrupt the very fabric of the universe with your brain, the day-to-day drama of your friends probably seems unimportant. These Ascended Ocampa could probably have challenged even the most powerful psychic predators, protecting their group (if they felt like it-- there was certainly a degree of selection towards compassionate Ascended, even if it wasn't entirely possible). Ascended Ocampa probably founded the first true civilizations. Ordinary Ocampa probably learned to use tools to avoid constantly overtaxing their psychic abilities, and they were protected from belligerent neighbors and rampaging predators by their feudal lords-- the Ascended or otherwise powerful Ocampa, who could conceivably be powerful enough to extend their own lifespans, creating stable monarchies.

They were probably still in this stage of evolution when the Nacene came.

Well? What do you think? :)

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