Recom / Furry Species
The word “furry” is a popular term for intelligent beings who resemble various Earth animal species – including those with scales or feathers instead of fur, oddly enough. Most people casually regard “furry” and “recom” as meaning the same thing, but that isn't entirely accurate. Some aliens (such as Skiltaire or Kirru, for example) are furry but are not recoms. By the same token, some recoms (such as Belters) aren't furry at all – they resemble humans more than anything else. So what exactly is a recom?
The word “recom” is short for recombinant DNA, which is the basic genetic engineering technique used to create them. All intelligent recoms contain mostly human genetic material, usually around 99% match with the human genome. (Trivia: Some chimeric animal species were engineered using only animal DNA – but these are not intelligent beings.) Recoms were created before the Apocalypse War for a wide range of purposes: soldiers, factory or agricultural workers, mascots or entertainers, and personal servants, or even “companions” of varying status.
Some were highly specialized. The whole “Belter” family contains several recom species, all of which were made to live and work in space. Bird and bat recoms were used for reconnaissance. Some canine recoms were developed for their sense of smell, useful in security work. Some recoms were amphibious. Some, such as bears for example, were used for heavy physical work. Some chimeras were created mixing desirable traits from more than one animal species.
The most widespread recoms were canines and felines, but a wide range of others were turned out in smaller numbers. Others include skunks and weasels, otters, bears, raccoons, rabbits, rodents, bats, hoofed mammals of various sorts, and even a few birds and reptiles. Recoms vary considerably in size.
The war wiped out some recom genotypes. It was especially hard on those with special environmental requirements – such as aquatic recoms. Of the aquatic forms who survived, many emigrated to Oceania as soon as that world was opened for settlement. They are rarely seen in Sol System now.
After the war, recoms were no longer designed to human whims, but they continued to change.
Even though the various recom species were mostly made from human DNA, they had never been designed originally to interbreed. They were engineered by various organizations in labs around the world, by scientists who were not always reading from the same sheet of paper. Thus, when recoms of different lineages do interbreed, artificial genomes that were not intended to be compatible become mixed, with unpredictable results. For this reason and others, recoms have become something of a genetic mess – a hodgepodge.
Recoms have also been exposed to combat agents from Earth. During the war, not only deadly nano-weapons were created, but bio-weapons that would not merely kill their targets, but transform them genetically. (Some of those were intended for use against the enemy, some for use on their own people.) Since the war, these various agents have been evolving inside infected life forms on Earth. Once in a while, some of this stuff manages to reach Luna, usually by way of illicit artifact hunters who don't decontaminate themselves thoroughly. As a general rule, most have shown no outward sign of infection, but their offspring have later turned out conjoined, or hermaphroditic, or with nonfunctional extra limbs, and so forth. These combat agents have made recom genetics even more of a mess.
(Note: At this time, medical treatments do exist for the biological combat agents that are prevalent on Earth, as well as therapies designed to treat the effects of being exposed to hazardous materials, reducing the chance of passing mutated genes on to offspring. Between these treatment options, and a strict quarantine of Earth, it is very difficult to be exposed to combat agents, and for this reason, any character wanting mutations is required to have said mutations approved by staff. Any changes caused to existing characters by combat agents - if these changes are non-lethal - are always gradual and take place over an extended period of time, in a controlled hospital setting. - Hagalaz)
The genetic hodgepodge has some important implications for recom reproduction. Although recoms are sometimes able to reproduce in a fully natural way, it is more common for them to have trouble with this and seek out medical help. Even if a couple conceive naturally, it is considered vitally important to have the developing embryo tested and genetically analyzed for any possible mutations. Few recoms are born with mutations that cause serious disabilities – these are routinely scanned and detected at the early embryonic stage, at which point the pregnancy can be aborted or else some gene therapy can be given to correct the problem, depending on its severity and the wishes of the parents.
Mixed-species pairings are quite common, and no stigma is placed upon them. When a mixed-species couple have children naturally, the results are not predictable. Because of that, most often the parents go to a genetic consultant and have their child genetically engineered to match the species of one parent or the other. Some others choose to have a child with a hybrid combination of species traits. However, a fashionable option is to have twins with one child matching each of the parent species. It is also possible to have a child who does not match either of the parent species – such as a rabbit and fox couple choosing to have a skunk child – but that is not commonly done and would be considered eccentric.
Bio-technology and medical technology on Luna are highly advanced, as a natural result of dealing with so many mutations and genetic incompatibilities for the last 150 years. For those who suffer disabilities as a result of their mutations, treatment is usually paid for by Luna Colony. Some recoms prefer their mutations, such as wings, extra arms or tails, oddly colored fur, and so forth. These have become common enough that nobody is shocked to see recoms with shopping, hanging out in the park, or otherwise going about their business. They are accepted. It is possible to have some modifications made to one's body via surgery, though this is a tricky procedure requiring special expertise. Correcting problems at an early embryonic stage is, relatively speaking, far easier than plastic surgery.
In other colonies, further from Earth where recoms have been exposed to fewer mutagens, recoms with obvious mutations are not seen as often, and some of those colonies have also managed to move away from the reliance on genetic engineering and achieve a higher percentage of natural births.
Aside from reproduction, another important medical issue for recoms has been dealing with life in low gravity. Luna has 1/6 of Earth gravity. Mars has about 1/3. Phobos, Deimos, and the asteroid colonies have effectively none. Most recoms (aside from Belters) originally were affected by low gravity in the same way that humans are: gradual loss of bone mass and muscle strength leading to eventual heart failure. There are three general remedies: drugs, electro-stimulation, and genetic engineering.
The drugs are rarely used, but sometimes are taken by visitors from high-gravity worlds when they need to stay for an extended time on Luna or some other low-gravity environment. A better solution is the electro-stimulation suit. This is a garment which produces a low-level electrical impulse – it cannot be felt by the person wearing it. Wearing this device for about one-half to one hour per day stimulate muscles and bone to react as if exposed to gravity. Some beds have been wired to provide gentle electro-stimulation while the occupant sleeps.
Ever since before the Apocalypse War, the class of asteroid-dwelling recoms known as Belters have been genetically engineered to thrive in low gravity without any drugs or electro-stimulation. Since that time, many other recoms in Sol System chose to have the same 'spacer genes' recombined into their children. Such genes can be highly desirable in certain professions. As a result, a fairly large portion of Luna's native population now are able to live without electro-stimulation. This trait is less common on Mars and other recom colonies.
Most recoms develop to adulthood at the same pace as humans, but after about the age of 19 they age more slowly. Aging is also controlled to some extent using medical treatments, such as telomere replacement therapy, but nobody has yet managed to completely halt the aging process.