A series of posts sketching out an alien species, the cuilco.
If these aliens interest you, you may also want to look at another species I’ve written about, the diophel: here’s the corresponding index to those posts.
A series of posts sketching out an alien species, the cuilco.
If these aliens interest you, you may also want to look at another species I’ve written about, the diophel: here’s the corresponding index to those posts.
Cuilco are not a popular species. They have a reputation for being heartless, brusque, and mercantile; even when they are indulging in fun, which is rare in the presence of strangers, their tastes run toward the vicious and callous. While their societies do largely obey the rule of law, and keeping to one’s word is considered an important virtue, they nonetheless have a reputation for untrustworthiness – they may avoid breaking contracts where possible, but don’t ever expect a cuilco to stand by your side out of friendship, and if there’s a loophole or an ambiguity to let them weasel out of an inconvenient arrangement, they’ll find it. They’re generally regarded as honourless, amoral, and prone to stabbing people in the back (though only metaphorically – in person, they’re usually very peaceful and don’t fight unless they have to, or unless they’re sure to win).
It also doesn’t help that many species view the Orders with suspicion, either for their superstitious, religious nature or simply for the unpredictable ways in which they can warp cuilco behaviour (long and arduous negotiations with one cuilco company may be thrown out the window in moments once an Order notices them… and the Orders themselves work in unfathomable ways, particularly as regards ecumenical relations). And then there’s the issue of slavery: not all species and societies object to slave ownership, but enough do (either in general or specifically regarding their enslavement of their relatives) that the issue is somewhat diplomatically noxious.
The other reason for hostility toward the cuilco is simply their power. Cuilco are numerous – with populations on several planets before they even (re)discovered spaceflight, they had something of a head start, and although their breeding rate in a state of nature is not prodigious, their long fertile lifespans translate to healthy growth rates in a state of plenty – and cunning and technologically inventive, and are older, even in their current ‘incarnation’, than many other species, giving them both a technological and a political advantage (several species ‘owe’ obligations to the cuilco that were established at a time of greater technological disparity). It also helps that cuilco as a species like being busy – they’re not generally a species to sit around contemplating the wonder of the universe with simplicity and grace when they can be making money building things (e.g. warships). The cuilco therefore represent one of the most powerful species in the known galaxy, and arguably the most powerful within their neighbourhood. Nor are they shy of their power – although they see themselves primarily as a trading people, they are not ashamed to use military force to ‘encourage’ deals.
Two things constrain the cuilco from greater dominance than they already possess. One is their own disunity. The Orders attempt to impose some structure onto cuilco diplomacy, but they struggle to keep their industrious and ambitious people in check, and often find themselves having to deal with incidents initiated by particular private corporations, rather than proactively setting policy. As a result, the cuilco war machine, while theoretically intimidating, is in practice rather rusty and slow to get going. The other factor is the local political situation: the cuilco are a core member species of the Nlawul Registry (indeed, a leading member). The Registry began simply as an information resource storing knowledge about species and polities, maintained by the highly technologically advanced (though not numerous, and generally isolationist) nlawul; however, over time it has come to serve as something of an interstellar trading forum, enforcing norms and standards for commerce, with member polities subject to sanctions or suspension for violating these rules. The Registry operates only by goodwill and mutual consent, and does not precisely outlaw war – but it does help in keeping armed conflict to a minimum. Its members would all prefer the long-term benefits of trade and cultural exchange – and of not being singled out as a common enemy – rather than the short-term benefits of full-scale war. The cuilco are one of the leading species in this strategy, further enhancing their power and prestige.
Despite all this, however, not everybody dislikes cuilco. Some admire their relative lack of hypocrisy, their openness to argument, their lack of xenophobia, their ‘freedom’ from disruptive fleshy impulses toward power and procreation and dominance that many species struggle greatly with. People may not trust them with their money, but they’re rarely turned away from a trading port – and it’s not only slaves who comprise the alien population on cuilco-majority planets. What’s more, those who get to know the cuilco more closely find them among the best friends it is possible to have – they are loyal and affectionate (and fun!) to their friends, and if any alien is fortunate enough to find themselves in a cuilco’s inner circle (which is far from impossible, cuilco take almost as easily to aliens as to other cuilco), they’ll find them devoted and expressive companions.
The cuilco homelands are far from humanity’s colonies, so there has been no direct diplomatic contact between the two species. However, diplomatic envoys to the Nlawul Registry, before the rise of the Protectorate, encountered and described the cuilco, finding them worthy of caution but fundamentally sound. Since the Exile, around twenty thousand humans have come to live on cuilco planets, largely adopting cuilco cultural norms, as much as that is possible.
Clothing appeals to cuilco, conceptually. They are a private people, not given to openness about themselves, and the idea of concealing the body is attractive to them. However, physical factors have limited their use of clothing historically: the warmth and humidity of their homeworld, combined with their skin’s need for fresh, damp air, and exacerbated by the three-dimensional nature of their environment and their rapid travel past and through vegetation (making any form of loose, draping clothing worse than useless), have made clothing largely impractical for them. However, clothing does nonetheless have a long and rich place in many of their cultures; clothing has been worn as armour, and for many ritual purposes both within their religions and in general society. The general theme has been that clothing is abnormal, something temporarily worn to signify the special nature of an event. At least, that has been the case for most societies – cuilco on colder and drier planets, or in the arctic regions of the homeworld, have long worn clothing more regularly.
In the absence of clothing, cuilco self-decoration has focused on the body. Painting (limited in extent due to the need to keep the skin open to the air), dyeing (cuilco skin temporarily changes colour to some extent in reaction with some chemicals, without becoming damaged) tattooing, scarification, piercing, and more extreme modifications have all been practiced. However, cuilco simply are not prone to ‘identificatory’ behaviour – they do not wish to stand out. They tend to feel that those who need to know them do know them without assistance, and those who do not know them do not need to know them. Hence, body art has been minimal. Where noteable traditions of body art have existed, it has instead typically been to identify groups – each band might bear identical markings, for instance. Even so, this has not been common.
Displays of wealth have been more common than displays of identity. Jewellary has been common, both in piercings (particularly of the ears) and in bracelets/bangles/bracers/collars/belts/etc. Metal has been a particular obsession of the cuilco – in addition to being rare and shiny, it possesses a particular beauty for a species with echolocation. For this reason, hollow, resonant metal items have always been very popular (both as jewellery and for adornment of spaces).
The most important use of clothing, however, is by members of monastic institutions. To prevent unauthorised relationships forming, members of the Orders wear masks at all time, except when permitted to remove them. These masks are almost entirely featureless, devoid of any distinguishing marks; traditionally they are made of metal, and this is still the case on formal occasions or when dealing with outsiders (where the mask also plays a role in intimidating others), but for daily wear modern masks are made of a lighter and more breathable material.
Cuilco art and architecture are too varied to make many generalisations about, from an aesthetic point of view. However, their echolocation does play an important role in their aesthetic preferences – on the one hand, its ability to judge texture and consistency more accurately than vision can has often lead to a greater emphasis on materials than on colours, while, on the other hand, the acoustic qualities of their sonar blur the distinction between visual art and music, and lead to an emphasis on both materials (eg metals) and structures (eg strings and skins) that resonate easily. Cuilco art is rare to be simply passively observed – the observer, through their active and autonomous use of sonar, is, as it were, the co-creator of the art. Observers without echolocation are likely to find cuilco aesthetics baffling and avant garde. Cuilco architecture in particular is wholly peculiar from a human perspective – large spaces (internal or external) are filled with a three-dimensional jungle of interlocking limbs, lines, lattices and lianas, often bedecked with hanging sheets and grills; rooms and ‘buildings’ occupy volumes, not areas, and often lack obvious coherent boundaries.
Modern cuilco society is complex and disunited. There is no single cuilco ‘government’. Most social processes among the cuilco are within the sphere of economics – private industry is the engine of cuilco activity. Cuilco are, almost without exception, ardent libertarians – they believe that state organisations exist only to ensure a free and honest market, and have no moral authority to compel individuals to any degree beyond what is necessary to maintain adequate law and order. Most state organisations are more akin to insurance agencies or arbitration schemes into which individuals pay; functions such as health-care, education and security are typically provided by independent companies. Cuilco economists believe in the perfection of the market; however, although they recognise that, say, the existence of monopolies and cartels is a potential flaw in the market, little is done to combat these threats, largely because cuilco cannot be trusted to operate even a large corporation, let alone a criminal conspiracy. Cuilco corporations are effectively small and largely independent; many large conglomerates do legally exist, but they tend to lack centralised control, and operate as loose families of companies rather than as unified agents. Company ownership, which is disseminated through investment companies, is not the source of immense wealth, or particularly unequal distribution of income. There is little in the way of an entrenched economic ruling class, at least in any locality – families rise and fall in wealth over the generations – although some areas, and some planets, are richer and more powerful than others.
The free market, however, is not entirely free, and not due to restrictions by the states (of which there are several thousand) either. Instead, the hand in the shadows is the hand of the monastic institutions.
Cuilco religions are, in most cases, not primarily mass-engagement movements. Indeed, ‘religion’ is perhaps not the most useful term. The central structures are monastic institutions.
The cuilco monastic institution has several distinctive features, but in every case the defining characteristic is its pattern of abnormal and counter-instinctual relationships. Members of monastic institutions, or ‘Orders’, are ‘bound’ into the order by the imposition of relationships (by controlling permitted interactions between individuals) designed to produce an open structure of social bonds. Again, central to cuilco sociology is the small number of social relationships each individual is able to maintain, which tends to result in small closed social networks living in parallel. In monastic institutions, cuilco are taken from their prior social context and subjected to constricted and controlled socialisation, designed to impose new relationships upon them, with the relationships forming an open network spanning the whole of the Order (broadly, this means that if A is ‘friends’ with B and C, in the natural order of things B and C are also likely to be friends, given that both must be (socially and geographically) close to A, and hence probably to one another; but in an Order, A is encouraged to be friends with E and F, who are in turn prevented from knowing one another). This means that, as an institution, each Order is able to benefit from high investment and solidarity (each member is a ‘friend’ of a friend of a friend of, etc, eventually each other member). This enables Orders to act in coherent and consistent ways across time and space, to a degree secular organisations cannot imitate.
This feature also gives Orders their internal structure. Within the Order, power is easy to locate by manipulating the network of relationships to place the powerful at the most critical nodes (that is, for A to influence B, they must influence the common friend C, and vice versa, giving C a position of greater influence – if D and E must also act on each other through C, and F and G must also act on one another only through C, C is in a position of great power). Power in an Order therefore lies at the social ‘centre’ of the organisation, through which all threads of influence must travel, while at the periphery individuals are relatively isolated from other peripheral individuals. However, for an Order to have power outside of itself, it must also have external connections – individuals who have relationships both with insiders and with outsiders. These connected individuals allow the Orders to pervade through cuilco society, and give them enormous social influence – the ‘quickest route’ of influence between two cuilco will almost always be through the middle of an Order.
Orders are not purely a sociological phenomenon or centre of influence, however. They are also ideological institutions. Each Order is typically dedicated to one or more divine beings, and members are required to be subserviant to that being, and its ‘earthly’ representatives. They typically abjure not only their family lives, and for the most part the hope of having children, but also many of the temptations of external society. This is not to say that the Orders are stocked with ascetics, however. Cuilco do not generally believe that the flesh is evil, and indeed within the Orders individuals ardently pursue the pleasures of the flesh (for the most part short of actual reproduction); instead, they are concerned with the false and distracting temptations of sophisticated society, not as evils in themselves, but as lures away from the simple, natural pleasures. Life inside a cuilco monastery is therefore a rather pleasant thing – in addition to good (though simple) food and drink, and sexual and sporting (and sometimes both combined) play, cuilco are great fans of practical jokes and surprises. It is not unusual for one monk to wait hours in a shadowed crevice for the opportunity to jump out on his friend and tickle him. If cuilco have no qualms about the flesh, however, some do have reservations about the holiness of the mind. Many Orders encourage the seeking of ‘mindlessness’ – sometimes in extreme form by decapitating and/or bifurcating their most ardent followers.
The Orders have complex structures. At the extreme periphery there are the forums where outsiders can engage with the Order. In some cases, this is by being allowed to form a relationship with a ‘guru’ figure from within the Order; in other cases, it is by forming a small community of ‘canons’, tangentially linked to and supportive of the Order. Within these are a further layer who may be termed ‘lay friars’, who have extensive relationships inside the Order, but are still permitted to maintain external links – these are the lifeblood of the Order’s influence and relevance. Within this layer are the gurus (whose only external ties are religious), and then the cloistered monks themselves; within that layer are the hieromonks, who direct the Order not only in their obedience to their patron deity but also in their political orientation.
However, this is not to say that these ‘inner’ members have no contact with the outside world. This is certainly true of many monks, but others are intentionally sent out into it as ‘deacons’ (they are moved from ‘mission’ to mission to prevent them from forming lasting relationships outside the Order). The most important of these are the hierodeacons, hieromonks sent out into the world, who are given the most important missions. Two typical forms of hierodeacon are the Director (who is sent to give spiritual guidance to a corporation or state) and the Inquisitor (who is sent to evaluate the spiritual standing of an organisation, individual, or practice).
Human observers may be surprised that there is no place in this monastic system for theologians. Indeed, some Orders do encourage some or all of their members toward theological study, but for the most part theology is not considered a primary function of monasticism. The Orders are concerned with practice, not theory – the ‘meaning’ of their rituals, the ‘true nature’ of the gods they worship, is of little interest to them, and they instead justify themselves to their members through personal faith, mystical experience and vocation, and to their lay supporters through their social utility and political convenience. This is not to say, however, that cuilco as a species avoid theology – while it is true that they tend to be a practical species with relatively little concern for the imponderable and the inaccessible, they do have their share of theologians, philosophers, metaphysicians, moral theoreticians and the like. These people are simply not affiliated with organised religion (instead they are likely to be found in consultancy companies, providing their intellectual services to the souls of the workforce of other industries – if a philosophy can’t be sold, cuilco tend to feel, it’s clearly not worth having).
The Orders are not, precisely, united. There are dozens of major Orders, and hundreds of Orders in total, some with semi-independent branches, affiliates, and local franchises. And yet this is not quite as chaotic as it may seem. Orders are arranged in loose alliances (often determined by convergence in the details of their monastic regulations, rather than any theological or ideological unity), have recognised spheres of influence, and are bound together both by dispersed inter-Order social networks and by centralised ecumenical organisations.
The strength of cuilco ecumenicalism allows the Orders to exert intense political and economic influence: an adverse judgement from an ecumenical inquisitor is likely to be devastating for any organisation. In addition to this ‘moral’ influence, the Orders often fulfil quasi-legalistic roles, with Orders frequently chosen as arbitrating bodies, and ecumenical tribunals an accepted form of highest court of appeal. This cuilco perceive not as theocratic rule by the Orders, but as individuals and corporations in a free market and a free state choosing voluntarily to seek arbitration from the least corrupt, the most impartial, organisations available: the Orders. The Orders, for their part, mostly take these duties very seriously – although they allow ‘the good of society’ to guide their decisions, for the most part they believe that the good of society lies in just and consistent rulings.
Beyond their role as oversees and harmonisers, however, the Orders are also important economic institutions in their own right: they both invest in and directly operate a number of industries. In particular, the Orders are highly prominent in large-scale endeavours with cost/reward matrices that exceed the scope of private corporations. Space travel, planetary defence, colonisation and energy production are sectors in which the hand of the Orders is tightly felt.
But the power of the monastic institutions should not be overstated, either. In population, they account for between 3% and 15% of cuilco societies, depending on location (on average around 10%), and own no more than around 40% of cuilco wealth in total, heavily concentrated in certain sectors. Most of cuilco society operates with little interference from the Orders – most cuilco will rarely if ever encounter an Inquisitor or a Director in person.
Finally, one exception to the general cuilco emphasis on the free society must be mentioned: slavery.
Cuilco believe that the right to sell oneself into slavery is fundamental, and historically many cuilco have taken advantage of that right, both to provide money for their families and to obtain access to more affluent parts of society; in particular, the Rediscovery of cuilco on other planets was accompanied by (voluntary) mass enslavement into the colonial society. Moreover, the children of slaves become slaves in turn, albeit only for a temporary period until the ‘debts’ they incur through being raised have been paid off (as a result, slave children are often raised quite comfortably – the more money is spent on them, the longer they will remain slaves as adults). With increasing wealth and decreasing inequality, slavery has become less common, but there are still sizeable numbers of cuilco slaves – between 5% and 20% of cuilco in any given society will be enslaved.
Nor are these cuilco alone in their slavery. Cuilco have few qualms about interspecies contact, provided other species abide by their rules and customs, and wealthy cuilco have for centuries been importing slaves of various alien species. Most significant among the slave species are: the tandey and borompha – both of which species were given interstellar technology by the cuilco in exchange for mass-enslavement; the shograt – who provide slaves as war reparations; and the pletiokaur, whose own slave society happily trades its citizens to cuilco masters. However, cuilco are willing to buy any slaves of whatever species are available, including those enslaved in processes of dubious legality (cuilco consider any such issues of provenance to be a matter for debate between aggrieved relatives and the enslaving party… if the enslaving party ends up having to buy a slave back from the cuilco, fair enough (with appropriate increases in price made for the inconvenience, of course), but cuilco will not manumit a slave simply because they protest that they were enslaved unjustly, or because their family come looking for them; indeed, if the slave’s society is so terribly unjust as to let people be taken slaves willy-nilly with no regard for their rights, it’s probably not in their interest to send them back anyway (particularly if they show clear signs of brainwashing, like homesickness or pining for lost friends or the like)). The larger cuilco cities are there vibrantly multispecific.
However, it should be observed that slavery under the cuilco is not too terrible a proposition, relative to slavery in some other societies. Cuilco hold slaves largely as status symbols and as a form of wealth – their slaves are more likely to suffer from boredom than from overwork. Cuilco do not believe their own species to be uniquely important or generally superior (except politically, where its free society is favourably compared to the various forms of dictatorship practiced by aliens), and do not as a general rule mistreat their alien (or cuilco) slaves except through thoughtless negligence; the Orders generally encourage good treatment of slaves, as both spiritual and in the long term pragmatic best-practice. A slave among the cuilco will likely have little or no contact with their master – again, cuilco outside the Orders live in mostly closed societies, and slaves are outside the normal social circle. Nonetheless, cuilco are not afraid of using torture and execution on the rare occasions that slaves attempt any sort of uprising or escape.
Continuing on from my earlier post on cuilco biology, here’s the next installment: on how cuilco lived ‘in a state of nature’, and a brief overview of their social development since.
Cuilco evolved to live in small societies. The primordial cuilco ‘band’ comprises around three or four senior breeding pairs, one generation of junior breeding pairs, and one or two generations of juveniles, along with any surviving members of the last senior breeding generation. Societies thus consist of a few dozen individuals, and indeed cuilco are generally incapable of sustaining lasting social relationships with more than around fifty individuals – beyond that number, they find themselves unable to feel strong attitudes of love, loyalty, empathy, or even hatred, and are likely to struggle to remember names and faces automatically. Within the band, however, relationships are strong, enduring, and emotional. Moreover, each individual has a core relationship-group of around half a dozen individuals, from whom they are all but inseparable.
Cuilco pair-bonding begins in childhood. Young cuilco have typically found their mates in adolescence – mates are rarely (though occasionally) siblings or aunts/uncles, but a clear blood relation is not uncommon. As they age, some pairs will remain with the native band, while others will leave, sometimes with another pair, and will find another band to join, or will found a new band. This continual ingress and egress of genes prevents the gene pool of any band from becoming too incestuous – incest is thus minimised not (primarily) by limiting breeding within the group, but in the movement of breeding pairs maintaining diversity within the group.
‘Sexual’ behaviour starts at a young age and is continual, but actual breeding is rare. In adolescence, cuilco engage in mock sexual behaviour designed to reveal the sex of their playmates, but these individuals are not yet capable of breeding. Later in life, this mock behaviour continues as a form of social bonding behaviour and for enjoyment, but arousal is not great enough to enable sex to be discerned – and indeed it is often not possible to distinguish this ‘sexual’ behaviour from other forms of physical play, in which cuilco indulge extensively even in adulthood (this pseudo-sexual behaviour is enjoyable, but not so much as copulation is in most species). Females enter a breeding cycle in adulthood whereby they enter heat once a year until they conceive, and then become sexually disinterested for many years (though they continue to engage in play). This heat is very difficult to discern externally, but ought to be detected by the female’s mate. Foreplay is lengthy, distinguished by its increasing intensity over a period of several days, and by the pair’s increasing monogamy of play (outside of breeding play, pairs are no more likely to engage in play with each other than with their friends, parents and children); actual copulation, by contrast, is brief, and not much more enjoyable for either party than normal play. Females typically engage in two or three of these breeding periods each time they enter heat – most often, they breed with their mate, but it is not unknown for them to breed with their mate’s father or brother instead. This reinforces bonds within the band, and acts as a safeguard against infertility or impotence. Clearly, cuilco breeding – from the difficulties of sex identification to the non-obviousness of heat to the length of foreplay required – has evolved to strongly deter casual breeding with outsiders, and to reinforce the bonds of loyalty within the group.
Of course, cuilco may have evolved to live in small, tight-knit communities, but that doesn’t mean that they are incapable of co-operation with outsiders. Indeed, as cuilco have little instinct toward dominating or controlling other cuilco, cuilco bands were usually able to co-operate relatively peacefully and easily, and in large numbers.
However, cuilco bands lack a defined leader, and have little explicit hierarchy or law (as they rely on familial love to enforce altruism within the band), and this made many forms of collaboration difficult – each individual would need to be recruited to a task individually, they could not simply be ‘commanded’. As a result of this, monetary systems of exchange arose extremely early among cuilco, even before agriculture, irrigation or mining.
Nonetheless, cuilco were able to recognise the value of sharing larger communities than their personal bands – for one thing, collective judgement and punishment was often required when individuals violated their contracts or engaged in violence. Accordingly, primitive ‘chiefdoms’ developed. The more succesful chiefdoms attracted immigrants and were able to sustain higher growth rates, gradually transforming into small civilised states.
Yet states do not come naturally to cuilco. Cuilco have no sense of duty, other than the very vaguest, to any other cuilco than their own band, no instinct to obey laws or rulers other than out of fear or self-interest. Left to their own devices, they minimise contact with outsiders and live as much as possible within their own families. As a result, while states were able to grow, they were never able to remain stable – with prosperity accomplished and threats abated, ‘decadence’ quickly set in, each cuilco looking out for their own interest and that of their immediate companions – concepts of glory, power, fraternity, or honour, that so motivate public-spirited actions in other species, have had very little hold over cuilco souls (though this should not be entirely overstated – cuilco are able to understand these concepts, may even praise them, but no not find that they arise naturally or readily, or have any great emotional power relative to other motivations). Cuilco co-operation has always leant very heavily on monetary rewards.
The success of cuilco societies, therefore, has been closely tied to their social structures. As explained above, cuilco are only able to sustain meaningful and emotionally-invested relationships with a relatively small number of individuals; in primitive bands, these relationships are ‘closed’, in that members of the band had relationships only to other band members. This forms tightly-bound, inward-looking groups, which do not bind strongly to other bands. But as bands began to co-operate with one another more fully, some members of the band would come to have relationships with outsiders. They would thus be invested to some extent in the well-being of these outsiders, and their families would share this investment through them, and so on. The more ‘open’ and inter-woven the networks of relationships became, the more cohesive the society that formed. Open networks birthed succesful, powerful societies capable of flexible collective action, widespread altruism, and the enforcement of good order. Yet as these societies became wealthier, the pressure to co-operate by forming relationships with outsiders lessened, and societies became more divided, and eventually fell apart. This process occured repeatedly at several levels: within a society, the more openly-connected became rich and succesful, only to be replaced as the elite class once they had become too comfortable and inward-facing; and the same occured for towns and chiefdoms within a state; and the same occured for states; and the same occured for zones of civilisation.
Large-scale progress therefore required the existence of enduring open networks of relationships, that appealed to more permanent and less achievable motivations than comfort, safety, leisure and luxury. These networks were religions. Religious organisations arose that enforced open networks upon their members. These did not typically try to engulf the whole of society, but spread through society as a supporting lattice, enabling a degree of continuity and society-wide solidarity.
Yet even religion has not been a sufficiently powerful force for order. Atheism, religious wars, and moral terpitude have repeatedly seen religions collapse, and with them the societies they support.
Most importantly, when cuilco, centuries ago, finally reached for the stars… they discovered other cuilco. This is at least the second era of interstellar cuilco civilisation. What ended the first is unknown: there is no shortage of records (cuilco civilisation is tens of millennia old, and records and monuments of the past are ubiquitous), but there has not survived either the technological or the linguistic knowledge to interpret them. As a result, given this ominous and little-understood lesson from history, cuilco tend to be pessimistic about the future of their own current civilisation – even though it currently appears secure and sound.
Following on from my description of diophel, here’s another alien species living in the same setting. These ones are a tad more… well, alien.
Cuilco are a physically unusual species, in one very striking way: although they each possess one head, they appear to have two ‘bodies’ attached to it. That is, the cuilco body plan is that of an inverted ‘V’, with a head and neck emerging from the point of the ‘V’ – or, to put it another way, an inverted ‘Y’ with a very short stem.
Each ‘body’, or trunk, appears more or less the same at a glance. There is a ‘front’, or ‘belly’ to each, and a ‘back’. Each trunk narrows somewhat at the top, where the two trunks bend together, but this narrowing does not constitute a ‘neck’ in itself.
Each trunk has three pairs of limbs. The ‘upper’ or ‘first’ (pair of) pair(s) of limbs, nearest the head, is assymetrical on each trunk – the ‘outer’ limb is stronger and longer, while the ‘inner’ is shorter and weaker. These two inner upper limbs (one on each trunk) are the primary tool-manipulators, while the outer upper limbs are better suited for rough tasks. The second and third pairs of limbs on each trunk are symmetrical – the second (i.e. the middle) pair are vestigial and only used for sexual purposes, while the third (i.e. the lower) are very long, with several joints and prehensile feet. Each trunk also bears a prehensile tail – that on the left-hand trunk is shorter. [A small percentage of cuilco are ‘inverted’ – their left-hand trunk is like the right-hand trunk of most cuilco, and vice versa, but this usually occurs only alongside more serious developmental defects]
This peculiar double-trunk system is not the relic of some ‘doubling’ defect, but a reflection of their environment. The cuilco homeworld is warm and wet, volcanic and fertile, and is largely covered in immense forests – and has been since long before megafauna arose. In this environment, one succesful line of fauna were long, sinuous centipede-like creature with feeding parts located along the length of the body. As they grew larger, the number of feeding parts reduced to one, and the number of limbs reduced to only twelve. With one feeding head (and a move from the random food-finding of their smaller ancestors to purposeful hunting) there came a tendecy to put their feeding head in front, leading to the V-pattern body. The energy consumption this wastes is counterbalanced by their greater ability to move through the branches (thanks to their multiple limbs and the lenght of their reach), and by a degree of biological redundancy.
Each trunk is about three feet long, their neck and head adding another foot. Their rear (lower) limbs (legs) are perhaps three feet long again – their upper outer limbs (outer arms) are about two feet long, their upper inner arms around a foot, their short tail around two feet and their long tail around four or five (or six or seven in modern cuilco). Their head is relatively broad and flat, more like a salamander’s or a snake’s than a mammal’s.
Internally, the left-hand trunk contains the primary reproductive organs, the primary respiratory system, and the secondary digestive system. The right-hand trunk contains the primary digestive system, the secondary respiratory system, and the secondary reproductive system. Redundancy is built in to the cuilco body. Either trunk can be lost entirely, and the other still survive using their ‘back-up’ systems, although with greatly reduced vitality (cuilco with only a left-trunk will become weak and malnourished, and for long life may require pre-processed food; those with only a right-trunk will have greatly reduced energy levels and will be capable of little physical activity). They can even survive decapitation, as most of the body-regulating mental processes take place in organs near the junction of the two trunks – and this also means that if one trunk is amputated from the other, the amputated trunk is still capable of life, and even reproduction (though very rudimentary intelligence).
Cuilco bodies are relatively narrow, and sinewy, though they are less muscular than their unintelligent closest relatives. They are covered with a soft, supple, slightly napped skin – much like a very soft suede. This skin is good at preventing water and nutrients from passing to the outside, despite generally damp conditions – indeed, it can become flaky and dusty if the air is too dry. It is not good at preserving heat – in the generally warm conditions, this is not a priority, and when heat preservation is required it is accomplished behaviourally (through shelter-building and communal huddling).
Cuilco skin is a pale tan or fawn in colour. The skin on their front is somewhat paler; that on their back is slightly darker, and has the suggestion of darker-still stripes, but no more than a suggestion. There is no substantial geographical variation in skin colour. There are slight variations in skin colour and stripe pattern between individuals, and stripe pattern variation in some cases can be linked to subpopulation, but these variations are small and not of significance in cuilco society. Skin also changes colour depending on conditions – it becomes somewhat darker when wet and paler when dry, and may change more dramatically in colour when in contact with certain chemicals (including in the atmosphere), usually only impermanently and without causing lasting damage.
Cuilco reproduce sexually, but individuals are theoretically hermaphrodite. In each individual, the secondary reproductive system is of the opposite sex from the primary, which may be of either sex – that is, primary males are secondarily female, and vice versa. This secondary system is not normally ‘active’, so individuals cannot impregnate themselves; the secondary system becomes active if the primary system is lost or terribly damaged, or in extreme cases of isolation (enabling individuals to impregnate themselves in times of population collapse, or on being stranded on a new island); primary females also have their male system activate when they are close to death from certain kinds of injury or disease.
Males (i.e. primary males) and females (i.e. primary females) are physically all but indistinguishable. Male systems possess a penis, and female systems a vagina, but both are hidden within a closed genital slit, with the penis only being protruded in extreme arousal.
The exception to this indistinguishability is during and after pregnancy. During pregnancy, the skin flushes and darkens, and the belly expands. Motherhood causes the secondary reproductive system of primary females to be temporarily repurposed to produce protein-rich milk, with the secondary penis acting as a nipple – this condition is triggered sociopsychologically rather than biologically, so that if a mother dies a surrogate mother can produce milk. Primary male reproductive systems can also be repurposed in this way, but only once the male’s secondary female system has been activated (i.e. in times of population collapse when the male is having to act as a hermaphrodite).
Cuilco almost always give birth to a single newborn each pregnancy – twins are exceptionally rare. A cuilco female in nature will on average have three or four children in her life, with a large gap in time between each one. Births tend to be (instinctively) co-ordinated into cohorts. In nature, cuilco may live more than a century – in high-technology societies, two centuries is a more common lifespan, with some individuals reaching beyond three.
Cuilco are muscular, but are not particularly physically strong. They are, however, extremely agile and fast-moving.
Cuilco rely primarily on two senses: sight, and echolocation. They are relatively short-sighted, but have excellent colour perception; their large eyes are near the top and the sides of their flattish heads, but are still forward-facing, within forward-facing orbits. Their echolocation is of an unusual type: an ultrasound wave is ‘fired’ forward from the ‘tongue’ (a hollow tube), and the echo is caught in their large, semiconical ears, which project laterally from the skull. The ultrasound is powerful, able not only to travel some distance in air but to partially pass through many thin materials, which enables the sender to ‘see through’ the screens of foliage that block their view – primarily, this sense allows them to determine the solidity of barriers as they approach them, and the size of any vacancies behind those barriers, as well as gauging the solidity of obstacles and footholds, allowing them to choose paths rapidly as they travel. However, the ultrasound beam is tightly directed, and the cuilco must turn its head to redirect it, giving them a characteristic pattern of small, sharp head movements followed by periods of stillness. Cuilco are also limited in the rapidity of the sound generation – due to the mechanism of sound production, they are only able to produce two to three pulses a second. Echolocation is therefore of little direct use in hunting.
A larger problem with cuilco echolocation is the lack of specialisation in the cuilco ear. The same ear is used both for sonar reception and for ordinary hearing (cuilco have accute hearing, important in an environment with limited lines of sight), and neither the organ nor the brain is fully adapted to deal with this duality of function. As a result, cuilco cannot easily analyse both ultrasonic sonar signals and normal sound cues at the same time: thus, when using sonar, cuilco are almost deaf to sound, and when distracted by sounds they become almost deaf to sonar signals, as their brains phase out sounds at (depending on what they are doing) either high or low frequences when concentrating on the other. An additional complication is that cuilco speech is generated in a similar way to sonar, although it is much quieter, and mixes ultrasound with audible (to humans) high-pitched squeeks and clicks. Cuilco therefore cannot use ultrasound when speaking. In any case, the high-amplitude sonar cuilco generate are costly in terms of energy, and their tongues rapidly tire. As a result, cuilco only intensively use echolocation when in motion, and only periodically when at rest – echolocation is not a continuous sense for them, and is used only to gain information about stable elements of the surrounding environment.
Finally, the powerful sonar of cuilco raises the possibility of intentional or unintentional harm. Cuilco have evolved resilient auditory organs so that they are not permanently deafened by stray sonar beams, or their own beams reflected from something unexpectedly close or solid (this is also part of why their brains tune out sounds at these frequencies when not actively employing sonar), but nonetheless they may find these experiences painful and disorienting.
It is also worth noting one more interesting sense that cuilco possess: optic polarisation. Cuilco possess two pairs of ocelli on their snouts, and a fifth, single ocellus between their eyes; these are effectively primitive eyes themselves, but they are incapable of resolving images. Instead, they gauge the angle of ambient light polarisation; in an environment where the sky is often invisible due to intervening foliage, and is often overcast when seen, this sense allows cuilco to judge the likely position of the sun, providing an instinctive sense of direction, as well as contributing to their perception of the time of day.
Next time: Cuilco primitive society
The government are scrapping those nasty green taxes on electricity! This will prevent increases in electricity prices!
Well, I mean, not exactly, because all six companies have said they’re increasing their prices. But by less than they were going to! They have to still increase their prices, obviously, due to increases in wholesale costs.
Which, yes, technically have actually fallen compared to five years ago, even while energy prices for the consumer have risen sharply. But green taxes!
Which are less than 10% of the average bill. For instance, subsidising smart energy meters costs the average person £3, out of a £1,267 bill.
But don’t worry! The government’s action is sure to slash energy prices in the long run. Eliminating subsidies for pensioners and the poor to insulate their houses, for everyone to have more accurate meter readings, and to encourage energy firms to invest in renewable energy is exactly what the country needs. Clearly, less energy-efficient housing combined with more reliance on (imported) fossil fuels with volatile (and in the long run bound-to-rise-steeply) prices is EXACTLY the best way to reduce energy bills.
[Yet again, the government gives money to daily mail readers by taking it away from poor households who, we’re told, shouldn’t have decided to be poor in the first place]
Rather than, you know, doing anything about the transparent cartelling behaviour in the six-company oligopoly that is able to set prices at any level it chooses. Which should be an offence to the nose even of hard-right free-marketeers, let alone anybody in the centre or on the left. When exactly did the defence of competition turn into a defence of exactly the sort of pseuomonopolistic market manipulation that the classical economists the right worships at the alter of were so intent on repudiating?