For use in any AU or setting, I have no extant plans to use this concept in any of my writing. I just have too much time on my hands at the moment and came up with this. Do with as you wish; take what you like, leave the rest.
The Gorgen (gawr-jen; singular: gorgen; plural: gorgen) are almost indistinguishable from (other) humans. They are generally more physically robust, with increased stamina, high tolerance for heat, and an astonishing capacity for holding their breath. The chief anatomical difference is an additional alimentary organ called a crop, located in the chest and connected to the esophagus. A gorgen’s crop plays a central role during a phase they call Repose.
During late adolescence, gorgen develop a regular need to spend time in repose. At the onset of this developmental stage, a gorgen will shrink to one-twenty-fifth their usual size, and they must immediately take shelter in the crop of another gorgen. This is achieved through swallowing, although the sheltering gorgen must take care not to pass the shrunken gorgen into their stomach. The physical skill and discipline necessary to pass a shrunken gorgen into one’s crop is considered an important adult attribute, and gorgen society devotes significant resources to ensuring that all gorgen master this simple but crucial skill. Of course, mishaps are common during training, and the increased hardiness of a shrunken gorgen allows them to survive in a stomach longer than other creatures of a similar size.
During repose in another gorgen’s crop, shrunken gorgen often sleep but it is not strictly required. The crop lining provides all physical needs: oxygen, water, food, waste disposal. Repose slows down the metabolism of a shrunken gorgen, and injured or ill gorgen who can shrink outside their regular cycle (see Size Mastery below) can be “preserved” in another gorgen’s crop until they reach medical assistance. A gorgen’s crop typically only accommodates a single shrunken gorgen at a time, but in extreme situations this can be expanded to two or three reposing gorgen.
A gorgen will experience certain symptoms (chills, fatigue) that indicate that the onset of repose is imminent, and they will typically respond by contacting a family member or friend who is accustomed to sheltering them in their crop. Gorgen commonly form small bands (called circles) whose members are expected to shelter any other member in need of repose. Circle members can be biologically related, but this is far from required, and it is in fact a common sign of trust to invite a gorgen into one’s circle. Circle members who co-habitate will find that their repose cycles gradually shift so that no member’s repose overlaps with any of the others’.
Regardless of circle membership, however, it is universally-held belief among gorgen that to refuse shelter to another gorgen in need of repose is a crime like any other form of medical neglect. Without repose, a shrunken gorgen will fall into a coma within 4-6 hours and, depending on the gorgen’s age and required duration of repose, die within 1-2 days. A shrunken gorgen is also, of course, more physically vulnerable simply due to their size.
When a gorgen first develops the need for repose at the end of adolescence, it happens quite frequently (typically once a week) but only lasts an hour or two. As gorgen age, the frequency of repose decreases but the duration of each episode of repose increases, such that by middle-age repose is only required once a month but lasts up to eight hours, and these trends continue into old age. “May you die in repose” is a common benediction among gorgen. Should a gorgen in fact die in repose, it is considered the sheltering gorgen’s right to simply pass them into their stomach, but this usually only happens among very close pair-bonds or life-long friends.
When a gorgen’s period of repose is completed, the sheltering gorgen will sense it and regurgitate them. Sensing and controlling this process is also a learned skill among gorgen, and gorgen comedy is rife with incidents of ill-timed regurgitation or gorgen emptying their stomachs along with their crops. A gorgen exiting repose will return to full size immediately, and the sheltering gorgen is expected to ensure that suitable clothing is on hand.
Gorgen society long ago developed a body discipline akin to yoga or a martial art, the name of which simply translates as “Size Mastery.” The basics of this discipline are taught to all gorgen and include delaying repose until shelter can be found, passing a shrunken gorgen smoothly into one’s crop, and sensing and controlling the need for regurgitation. Fewer than one in a hundred gorgen study size mastery beyond this level.
Advanced size mastery requires years of study and meditation and a rare level of physical discipline. Size adepts are able to shrink at will without needing to enter repose, although depending upon their degree of mastery, there may be limits as to how often they can shrink or how quickly they can return to full size. Shrunken size adepts do not fall unconscious or die without repose, but they remain otherwise as vulnerable as mouse-sized people.
Despite what legends might say, no degree of size mastery can eliminate a gorgen’s need for regular repose. Secluded communities devoted to the study of size mastery might include several shrunken and unreposed gorgen, but there will always be full-size gorgen available to shelter others when their need for repose arises.
The regular and universal need for repose requires gorgen to tolerate a wider and more frequent degree of physical intimacy than (other) humans do. Disaffected individuals and anti-social tendencies are not unknown among gorgen, but they are rarer and generally considered a medical condition in need of treatment rather than a philosophical difference to be respected. There are also charitable organizations that recognize the need for disaffected gorgen to find repose and provide for that need with a minimum of entanglements.
Because of their frequent need for repose, young gorgen rarely travel except in groups, forming temporary circles for the purpose of seeing the world. This bonding experience can be quite intense, and members of youth circles will often hold “class reunions” long after they have established their own families and seen their need for repose become less frequent.
Older gorgen can travel alone much more readily, and thus are the most common type found outside gorgen communities, but the possibility of detention or simply getting lost haunts every gorgen who ventures out into the world. Whenever the gorgen encounter a different society, it is a matter of intense debate as to whether to inform the outsiders of the gorgen need for regular community. The need for outsiders’ cooperation has to be weighed against the fear that the outsiders might exploit this vulnerability, a fear that has sadly been justified more than once.
Female gorgen are exempt from repose during pregnancy, and this lack is often listed among expectant gorgen mothers’ complaints. Immediately upon delivery of their children, gorgen mothers go into repose for a full day, and it is traditional for new fathers to both shelter their reposing partners and care for the newborn infants (who don’t need to eat for at least a day after birth).
Violent crime is rare among gorgen, but not unknown. Deliberately passing a shrunken gorgen into one’s stomach and keeping them there until they are killed by the digestive process is considered one of the highest crimes, and it has never happened within living memory, but when it has happened in the past the murderer was usually exposed to the same fate. There is a legend about a villainous size master who could return to full-size while still in another’s crop prior to regurgitation, but no one today believes such evil ever walked the earth.
Originally posted: 04 Mar 2016