Pak Protector

From Academic Kids

Pak Breeders and Pak Protectors are two generic forms of life in Larry Niven's Known Space universe. The most accepted hypothesis with regard to their origin is that they are a dichotomy brought about by the Tnuctipun's breeding policies and the plant known as Tree-of-Life.

Tree-of-Life is a bush whose smell is unnoticeable to breeders until they reach about 25 Pak years (or 42 human years); after that, the smell suddenly becomes irresistible. The breeder eats the root, infecting himself with a symbiotic virus in the root and triggering the transition.

After consuming Tree-of-Life, Pak breeder forms (such as humans) turn into the Pak Protector form, which involves reconfiguration of the anatomy, including the acquisition of a leathery armor or exoskeleton, strong enough to turn a copper knife. Joints swell until the creature becomes "a parody of the human form done in cantaloupes and coconuts". This expands the leverage available to muscles by increasing the moment arm: the protector can lift 10 times his own weight. Genitalia vanish, and a second heart forms in the groin. Teeth fall out, and lips fuse; the resulting structure is a sort of bony beak. The brain grows to an enormous size; the resulting mind, even starting from something as dumb as a chimp, becomes literally too brilliant for human comprehension. All the breeder's hair falls out and the head acquires a bony ridge to protect the newly-expanded cranium. Pak Protectors also acquire an extended lifespan, and can live tens of thousands of earth years. However, most protectors die as the direct or indirect result of conflict with other protectors, so death from old age is almost unknown in the Pak culture.

Pak Protectors have an in-built need to look after (or protect, hence the name) their "parent" breeder species. Protectors recognize their own breeder family line by scent, and are instinctively compelled to act in the best interests of breeder relatives. Pak Protectors will fight among themselves to procure land and resources for their respective breeder populations, often leading to the violent deaths of entire Pak family lines. A Pak Protector with no breeders to protect will generally stop eating and quickly starve, although some breederless protectors have avoided this fate by adopting the entire Pak race, and devoting themselves to activities that benefit the species as a whole.

Another part of this protection is to prevent mutations from surviving (thus rendering Darwinian evolution impossible). A mutant breeder will smell "wrong" and be ignored by the Pak Protectors of its own family line, leading to the breeder's death at the hands of Pak from other family lines. The reason why humans evolved beyond the original Pak breeder form (Homo habilis) is that the Tree-of-Life virus requires thallium in the soil to survive and Earth is not adequately thallious; all our Pak Protectors died out millennia ago and humans evolved into Homo sapiens.

The Ringworld was built by Pak Protectors and populated by Pak breeders. The Pak Protectors dwindled in numbers until they were no longer able to maintain the genetic purity of the breeder forms and the breeders eventually evolved into all the other hominids of the Ringworld that one sees in Larry Niven's novels.


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