Jordan S. Bassior
Sea-selks (aka “selkies”) were first gennied in 2080 by the University of Hawaii, under a grant from the United States Department of Defense. The original intent was to create the perfect underwater rangers, but the basic design from the beginning also had obvious civilian and engineering applications.
Sea-selks are humanoid with hairless gray skin, large eyes and webbed hands and feet. They can walk and run at normal speed on land, and swim equally fast in the water. They are air-breathing, but their lungs are linked to a special “third lung” organ which acts as an extra oxygen store, enabling them to operate without problems at any depth to which a human can skin-dive, to operate with some difficulty in deeper waters, and hold their breaths for about 12 to over 60 minutes depending on exertion levels, before they risk drowning. They can endure wide variations in water temperature, and have superior underwater senses (equal to that of most marine mammals, but inferior to cetaceans), being essentially the primate equivalent of seals.
The main physical disadvantage of being a sea-selk is the skin. While highly resistant to both heat and cold, and streamlined for rapid swimming, their dermal biology requires constant moisture. They are uncomfortable when their skins are dried, and actually suffer injury (about an hour to critical condition) in very dry air such as an Earthly desert. Both physically and emotionally, selkies need to spend long stretches of the day immersed in water, and selkie vehicles need to have some sort of pools in their chambers, or at least very humid interiors. This is a problem for selkies who must travel in vehicles designed for normal humans, or spend much time in ordinary human structures.
The standard solution is a “moist-suit” – a garment rather like a normal diver’s “drysuit” but with the opposite purpose – it keeps the wearer’s skin continually in contact with water. Moist-suits have some minor disadvantages: they slosh noisily with each motion of the wearer, must be kept warm in freezing environments, and may leak some water from time to time; but they are adequate to enable selkies to operate comfortably in the drier environments preferred by most Mandatial races, including baseline humans. Moist-suits became commercially available in the 2080’s and 2090’s, and became steadily cheaper and more reliable in the 22nd and 23rd centuries.
The long cessation of most Earthly warfare from the mid-2080’s to the 2180’s meant that there was little need for sea-selks in naval combat, but they found ample employment in commercial operations: particularly the colonization of the continental shelves and oceanic archipelago reefs. They were formally-granted full civil rights from the date of their creation, and were never considered chattel property. However, there was originally much prejudice against them from many baseline humans: some maritime workers felt threatened by their superior aquatic adaptations, or annoyed by the minor inconveniences posed by their entry into human-frequented areas. Baseline-humans who rarely saw them found them uncomfortably strange, or even despised them on “moral principles.”
Sea-selks of a given sub-race can freely breed with selks of the same sub-race but not with any other beings; it requires genning to make such crosses fertile, though it is easier with sea-selks of other sub-races than with wholly-different human variants. At their racial conception in 2080, there were only a few dozen sea-selks, but the University of Hawaii added dozens and eventually hundreds to thousands more every year until the 2150’s. At that point Commander Lee IV deemed the race self-sustaining, and gradually reduced funding for their project. During the American Peace from the 22nd through 24th centuries, Sea-selks expanded through Earth’s oceans, spawning variant races who dwelt in the oceanic depths, and others who inhabited the seas of other worlds, such as the subsurface water oceans of Europa, Ganymede and Titan.
The first sea-selks were mosty trained as underwater combatants, engineers, technicians, scouts, scientists and aquacultural workers. By 2130, they had branched out into various other professions, but those original professions became traditional in many selk families. For centuries, the sea-selks retained an adventurous and enterprising culture, even as the attitudes of Earth baseline-humans softened, and by the end of the American Pace, Earth’s sea-selks were disproportionately common in the Space Forces (despite the disadvantages imposed upon them by their special life-support equipment) and other high-risk, high-demand fields.
Over time, the basic sea-selk gen was improved, and baseline-human attitudes improved toward them. In the 2120’s, due to public awareness of the extreme selk loyalty to the American Mandate, popular prejudices softened, and by 2180, when anti-variant attitudes became widely identified with Islamism, they vanished entirely. Gennied improvements mostly involved improved built-in life support, sensory and communications abilities.
The sea-selks became an important part of American Mandatial society, until the fall of the Mandate itself in the 28th century – by which time advances in borging and equipment enabled all other humans to at will enjoy the same amphibious advantages. The lineages of the sea-selks never died out completely, and survived the fall of the West, lasting into and even flourishing in the Solar cycle of civilization which was to emerge in the 4th Millennium AD.