by Chris Wayan, 2006
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Icari are true bipeds; indeed their torsos and limbs are the most humanoid on Lyr. But hidden under thick fur, the frame is gracile and the bones hollow, so they mass under half what you'd expect for their size. And that size is impressive: Icari stand up to 1.5 meters tall (5'), with wingspans of 4-5 meters (13-16'). Wingfeathers and fur are waterproof, and icari can swim, if not quickly--probably because many coastal groups fish by diving off cliffs, rather like Terran pelicans. Icari can fly many hours at 90-100 kph, and are capable of transoceanic migrations. They're primarily visual navigators, but the large, directable catlike ears give them a backup sonar system. The ears and huge eyes with slit pupils make their faces look feline.
Icari superficially resemble lebbirds and sphinxes, but are better adapted for swimming (and the temperature swings faced by a species often in and out of the water). They're not primarily arboreal, though the heel-claw gives them a good grip in trees. But their hind legs are plantigrade (humanlike "flat" feet) and they habitually walk upright, unlike the digitigrade legs of the firmly quadrupedal sphinxes, or the long hind legs of the arboreal lebbirds (up in their trees, they're neither commited bipeds nor quadrupeds--swinging both ways, if you'll pardon the pun). Of all the peoples of Lyr, only icari and bos are committed bipeds, though lebbirds and witweets flirt with uprightness.
Icari evolved in the Diomedes Group, probably in western T'kela; some villages on coastal cliffs and mesa walls in the Shanga Desert and Mirzabad Veldt are over 9000 years old. Originally fishers diving into a cold sea on a hot desert coast, they can tolerate a wide temperature range, and so have spread throughout Diomedes and the western Gaiila Cluster.
Tolerating both cold and treeless regions better than most Lyrans, in recent eons they've settled the coasts of Rorvan, Ak'hai'i, even parts of chilly Averorn. Though they might well flourish there, they (so far) haven't settled distant Altai, leaving it to the experimental gryphon colonies.
To the west, pioneers crossed from Diomedes via the Kyrie Islands to the huge Polesotechnic Strip, where they came face to face with the shock of parallel evolution: the lebbirds of Wersgorix. Their culture made that Copernican adjustment, only to face it all over again when pioneers to the east encountered sphinxes in Oronesia, and icari had to face that they were a type. If similar environments shaped analogous peoples three times out of utterly unrelated genetic stocks... well, their valuation of genes, of their heritage generally, and even their sense of themselves as a race, "fell out of the tree," as they say. Icari are one of the few bipedal peoples of Lyr, and in ancient times saw quadrupedal intelligent species as merely bright animals; among Lyrans, they felt themselves a race apart. Sound familiar, humans?
But lebbirds and sphinxes forced a psychological revolution. Today their icarian religions emphasize the plasticity and unity of life, almost certainly in reaction. Few modern icari even realize how much of their culture--their very identity--is a direct reaction to meeting others--far more than modern human culture is a reaction to studying apes (though I'd argue that is a factor). We've just gone the other way--so embarrassed by our relatives (apes are like your drunk uncle) that we disown our whole extended animal family... Because icari faced undeniable equals (lebbirds and sphinxes had similar intelligence, technology, dexterity, and social organization) they had to be more realistic. It's to their credit they made the shift... or is it? Is our continued human denial of our kinship simply due to the relatively small pool of intelligent species on our much smaller, drier planet? Is our psychology environmental? What does that say of our religions? Take monotheism--please! Funny how monotheistic gods resemble their societies' view of humanity, as solitary and superior. A modern lebbird, hyperaware of parallel species, might dismiss many human religions as mere symptoms of our lack of near kin--a sort of environmental malnourishment Lyrans call species starvation.
Modern icarian lifestyles are diverse--fishers, sailors, farmers, traders, explorers... Most icari are coastal, yet the people on the steppes of southern Ak'hai'i and Averorn are mostly inland ranchers rarely even entering the chill waters, (except warmer, sheltered Eltokh Sound, Lake Silence, and Shkil Bay, where vacationing icari do crowd the beaches in summer).
Icari are amazingly human in behavior as well as looks. A bit less agressive, but that's true of most Lyran peoples--species who ate or raided other tool-users generally didn't last long. One difference from humans: squashed wings won't lift, so icari in bed with you insist on being on top, and when Oisin's full, they won't get out of bed, and won't let you out either--for the full moon turns them on. Both males and females have this mild lunar sexual cycle--they remain interested all month, but get positively, well, moony when it's full (not much of a month--every ten Lyran days, or five Earth days). Is their current behavior stable, or are icari slowly losing a once-strict lunar estrus cycle that's no longer useful? Considering chimps, bonobos and humans, it seems as if the benefits and costs of a cyclic sexuality depend on your society--what you do with sex. Forced to cooperate with other species much more today, icari may be using touch in general, including sex, to defuse competition and aggression. They're only a bit more oversexed than humans, but MUCH more tactile! But does all this touching really deter aggression? And is it new? Even the icari themselves seem not to know.
Their ecological niche may somehow push such species in this direction; Lyr's similar lebbirds and sphinxes, though genetically unrelated, are also highly tactile and sexual, like many of Earth's big cats. But all three Lyran species are more social than any Terran cat, even lions.
Icarian culture covers the whole human spectrum--music, dance, theater, poetry, literature, picture-stories something like our comics but without panel-borders, painting (they love color), and especially sculpture--since icari are so tactile their cliff villages are sensually carved, meant for climbing, sprawling, snuggling, rubbing--icari have multiple versions of the Pygmalion legend (some, by our standards, pretty raunchy). These carvings, meant to be felt not merely viewed, are about the only Icarian artform not common in human cultures. Despite the physical differences, they're psychologically that close to us!
Icarian folk music is quite haunting--icari love to sing in small groups, weaving close harmonies that sound rather Balkan. A distinctive Icarian trick is a harmonic slide--two or three voices descend together, three or four notes apart. Terran wolves sometimes sing this way, but with less regard for harmony. Icari have incredible ears for pitch, and can maintain pure intervals over long slides that no human or wolf-singers could manage. The closest human parallel is the sliding choral music of Rapa Iti in Polynesia, and by icarian standards they just bend their chords a bit. Icari swoop and dive and rise again like ospreys fishing.
And why not? Ecologically, that's what they are.
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