Species design: design and description by Marc Cohen
avtomat16 at gmail dot com
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The busrehi began as large antlike insects living in the flooded lowlands of their home island Busre, probably the Istog Delta in the north (Istog means "Home"). Today the busrehi are arboreal gliders vaguely resembling winged ants. They eat tree sap and flower nectar, like butterflies. But modern busrehi also have a special gland allowing them to spit an enzymatic brew that dissolves the tissue of small insects, newts, snails and other not-too-swift rainforest prey; they suck the resulting fluid up through the proboscis like nectar. This enriched diet is one reason that busrehi brains could expand enough to become intelligent.
BUSREHI ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY
Busrehi breathe through spiracles which have gradually gained complexity and joined to form a system of air sacs reminiscent of birds, and as efficient. Busrehi can therefore grow to over a meter and a half long and mass nearly 30 kg (about 65 lbs), though in Pegasia's low gravity they weigh 15-20 kg (c. 35-45 lbs).
The busrehi still retain an exoskeleton (with a water-wicking waxy coat), and the insectile body plan of head, thorax, and abdomen. Modern busrehi are much leaner and more angular than ants; more like praying mantises, but without huge claws. Their first limbs are double-jointed and have four fingers on the end. The middle limbs also have four fingers and are the longest limbs; between them and the thorax are thin, tough membranes analogous to bat wings. The back limbs, with three digits each, are short and strong, used for gripping trees and other surfaces with the middle and top limbs acting as supports. A birdlike cloaca lies at the very tip of the abdomen, while the genitals (internal in both sexes) lie about midway between back and middle limbs; sex is thus not associated with defecation or dirtiness as with humans.
Their primary sense is smell, through large feathery antennae, but busrehi also have sharp hearing and vision; they see tetrachromatic color, and sensitivity extends past our visible-light spectrum well into the ultraviolet.
They are a dark green in color, but with heavily individual ultraviolet designs on the back.
The individual pictured here is a male, and smiling: his proboscis is slightly extended, incidentally concealing his talking mouth. Actually, it's probably more of a smirk-- "What an odd creature," he must be thinking, "no wings, only four limbs, and barely any color vision!"
That's Tharn in the upper right, this system's other big, inhabited moon.
BUSREHI SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Farming for the busrehi is largely a matter of managing plants already found in their forests; tending them is communal. Farming plots as such are thus not used, nor the hanging basket gardens of the frolcons; busrehi horticulture is closer to Amazonian or Mexican concepts of farming multiple crops in the same patch. Thus local areas of forest may be molded like a bonsai, thinned or even occasionally burned for new plants.
Most of these canopy crops are not fruit, seeds, greens, roots, or stalks, but flowers. Flower breeding is a highly regarded art, and contests between flower breeders may become extremely passionate.
A typical 'farm' might have a tall tree's top branches diverted to be parallel with the ground and flattened out, with walls on both sides and floors under close-together parallel branches filled with rows upon rows of flowers (of more species than even busrehi can count on their plentiful fingers). Funnel-shaped raincatchers attached to large cisterns near the trunk carefully regulate water flow and must be attended to constantly. If a person is hungry, she or he need merely find a farmtree (or a few strategically placed flowers, as is often the case) and take a sip. The busrehi get a majority of their nutrients and all of their water from such nectar. Other flowers produce little nectar but attract the busrehi's favorite food insects. In recent generations, very soft mango-like fruit have been introduced that can be pulped in by rolling the skin and sipped. This is increasingly popular but is still seen as exotic, a foreign custom.
Due to this limited diet, few members of other species settle permanently in large busrehi communities. Yet busrehi abound in communities of other species, typically as traders, silviculturalists, and artists (though the busrehi define "artist" far more broadly than humans do).
One human art is entirely absent: cooking and dining. Busrehi have no concept of regular mealtimes; one snacks in idle moments all day. Restaurants and banquets, even as an exotic fad, have never caught on. But the concept of a cafe serving fruity liquid stimulants (something like Irish coffee, cacao smoothies and chai) is catching on in the more cosmopolitan cities along the continental flyway. The young see it as daring. Their elders prefer to call it wicked.
Busrehi communities are somewhat decentralized. The communal heart is an amphitheater formed by weaving vines through specially molded branches into a bowl-like shape, with a large flat area in the center. These amphitheaters are most often used for monthly council meetings, parties, musical and theatrical performances (with four arms to work with, busrehi make dexterous musicians. The favorite instrument is the theremin, though the busrehi model is more complex and expressive than human theremins. If a busrehi wants to attract a crowd, the theremin is the thing to play. If busrehi had video games, Theremin Hero would be the top seller).
In the tallest tree you'll find the community library/laboratory/hospital/radio station--a large rather human-looking structure with planks for flooring and walls, and a thatched roof around one or two central tree trunks). This protects books and equipment from harmful insects and moisture.
Around these twin civic centers are a halo of nests--soft mosses and ferns bundled together in the nooks and crannies of Busre's enormous trees. These are not homes in the human sense; they're only for sleep, rest and sex. Busrehi do not own any particular nest, instead using whichever one is most convenient, though an individual may have a few favorite nooks.
There's a much sparser scattering of workshops--often mere platforms, or a most simple treehouses to keep the rain off projects needing to stay dry, and storerooms to keep out pests. To a large extent, a busrehi town's business is conducted in the open, on great treelimbs.
The average busrehi community contains about 5,000 densely packed individuals, though the busrehi's largest cities, Doiziiruu (in northern Busre) and Qhiwos (northern Giithe) contain nearly 100,000 individuals each.
BUSREHI HABITAT AND RANGE
Busrehi originated on the huge equatorial island called Busre (literally 'Link of the World', as it bridges the largest lands in their known world: Continent 1 and Continent 4. Busrehi could thus be translated "world-linkers" or "bridgers of worlds"; this reveals something of the busrehi's self-image. In Pegasia's trade language, the adjective for busrehi is just "bridge"; "You know that bridge woman, the tea-seller", "That's a very bridge remark."
The busrehi have settled much of the northern rainforest of Continent 4, called Dowusuu ("Westlandbig or West Continent") and Continent 5, Gowusuu ("East Continent"), and the huge island between them, called Giithe. Settlements dot the green lowlands of Continent 1's southern peninsula, called Tiiwu ("Northland"--did I mention that busrehi are pragmatic namers?) A few Busrehi have even explored the Yezfez Peninsula and its attendant islands across the 21 Sea or Peruzuu ("tiny sea").
Busrehi government is, by human standards, very democratic and almost appallingly informal, flirting with anarchic. Once a (human) month or so, each community convenes a council in which it reviews the month's events and plans for the next, decided by a simple majority in all cases. Attendance is not obligatory, and on average about half the population attends any given convention.
In prehistoric times, some subpsecies of busrehi lived in hives with extreme hierarchy and specialization--queens and castes. But this structure discouraged the full use of intelligence; and in the frequently flooded forest floors of Busre, the knowledge (and long memory) of a whole community of generalists was more reliable than the solo judgment of an often-inexperienced queen. Over time, communal busrehi proved to be simply more innovative; gradually they displaced queen-ruled hives.
As a result, modern busrehis are very reluctant to let one person decide for the whole group. Their motto: "Maximize our chance of group success: hear what everyone has to say."
BUSREHI MATING, REPRODUCTION AND FAMILIES
Busrehi have a strong need to be in a group; they seek not intimacy with a single person, but intimacy within a family. Busrehi have an equivalent of marriage, but marriages often have (considerably) more than two partners. Frolcon-style monogamy is entirely unheard of in busrehi culture; even in group marriages, extramarital sex is acceptable.
Busrehi do value privacy in many contexts, but less so in mating. Within the family, sex may be quite public. Indeed, busrehi occasionally mate in completely public places; while others may watch and comment, perhaps even tease (it's considered mildly risqué) no one would think to intrude or interfere.
Therefore, human tourists from cultures stressing sexual privacy probably should not visit during Pegasia's winter when mating is at its peak. At least don't bring the kids; busrehi children mix in freely with adults until near fertility.
Bridge women lay their eggs, three at most, in their own nests, the process not being very strenuous. The eggs are tended communally and typically hatch by midsummer, which is considered a momentous occasion and warrants the day off. The child is allowed to wander the community with her/his parents for quite a few years, absorbing the general flow of life.
At nine to twelve, a child joins a group of ten or so children who study under a single mentor who guides them through their formal education until their adulthood twelve years away. These are short Pegasian years, just seven Earth months; busrehi thus get about nine years of this intensive tutoring and are adults by sixteen or so. Subjects include math, history, the arts (flower breeding, visual art, dream interpretation, music, literature, drama, metal/glassworking, electronics, other sciences, etc.) to games and sexuality. These are not classes but a loose apprenticeship; even advanced technical topics are taught informally. Students are expected to be self-starters. The results are uneven of course, but this does allow the parents to pursue their own careers, and encourages innovation. It is perhaps a reaction against the rigid castes and career tracks of prehistory.
The busrehi view organic life and metallic technology as complements of a whole. Since the first stone tools were used to prune and otherwise modify trees, the busrehi have slowly but steadily developed their technology. Metal was first discovered by recluses in the mountains of central Busre. Its first use wasn't as weapons and armor, as on Earth, but wire-reinforced raincatchers. These don't rot and leak nearly as fast as the old ratten-woven ones. Metalwork developed quickly; fine clockwork and delicate machinery are common today. The discovery that metal conducts electricity, just like the electric eel-like animals of Busre's rivers, resulted in an early flowering of crude electronics but also a sense that metal is alive, a parallel to flesh. Generators and motors have existed for centuries, yet the busrehi have no steam or combustion engines, so we can't call their curious blend of advanced and primitive "steampunk." "Sparklight" might be right.
Public wireless stations unite every busrehi community in real time; phosphorescent lanterns allow both work and play well into the evening. Small fireworks are popular at night parties--the busrehi find bright colored lights almost mystically fascinating.
Most busrehi see a danger in allowing metal to dominate flesh; they want to see a balance in the two parallel forms of 'life.' So busrehi technology develops cautiously; each generation studies the consequences of inventions before adopting new ones.
Much of busrehi technology is medical. Their pharmacopia is gigantic; thousands of rainforest-derived drugs and cures. With the help of chemicals derived from newt-like creatures, busrehi doctors can regrow tissue, even an entirely new limb--though it takes a year or more.
Optics is well understood; busrehi telescopes allow them to examine the heavens in even finer detail than the frolcons. They have mapped the nearby, lifebearing moon Tharn in great detail. They have also observed eruptions on Galilea (a Pluto-sized moon as tectonically feverish as our Io).
From one observatory at the eastern tip of Continent 5--the only finger of busrehi territory verging on the Inner Hemisphere--they have observed the gas giant Zeus, deduced that Pegasia orbits it, and named it Azrut ("Central One"). Busrehi have even hypothesized that Azrut circles the sun, though this is not universally accepted.
The busrehi have long tossed around the idea of a sky-ship to link Pegasia and its sister moon Tharn. As the "bridge people", the busrehi find the notion attractive, but it's unlikely to be acted on soon, not just because it's unfeasable at present (without combustion engines and with wings of their own, the busrehi haven't even experimented with powered aircraft), but because the crew would be entirely dependent on metallic 'life'. Life out of balance! Not the way to bridge.
Busrehi social philosophy urges balancing individual and group: though individuals are encouraged to form their own opinions and strike out on their own creative path, it is all eventually 'for the group', for without a diverse group to inhabit, a busrehi is nothing. The busrehi would heartily endorse Indonesia's motto: "Unity in diversity."
The busrehi have no organized religion, but the majority believe in an infinite multifaceted Creator--not necessarily a lone individual in the human or busrehi sense, but certainly a sentience. Some liken the Creator to perfect chaos. She gave birth to the world in a dream, and, feeling peculiar compassion toward this dream, chose to give it physical existence. Since then, She has done so for numerous dreams, creating an entire universe of populated worlds in which She meddles very little, preferring to let events unfold freely. Busrehi consider all aspects of the universe to be reflected aspects of the Creator, and any aspect can be worshiped. To the busrehi, worship means immersing oneself in an aspect of the Creator and trying to understand and appreciate it deeply, over a lifetime. This of course is a fair description of science! Such devoted researchers are the primary source of most of the busrehi's knowledge of the world, and their dedication is seen as holy.
Those who worship the Creator have noticed that sentient beings obey consistent traditions (I use this word because the busrehi lack a word for 'law'). So consistency is highly valued--to be respectable, one may be shy, verbose, haughty, humble--as long as you're consistent! Or at least consistently inconsistent--following some rule or principle. Where humans might ask a stranger "What do you do?" a busrehi may ask "What do you follow?"
A growing number of busrehi find this oppressive. Isn't respectability like obeying a little ant-queen inside? Where's the fun in that? These busrehi abandon consistency and rules. But they're still busrehi; they don't adopt a 'go and get it' mentality like many libertarians, but a spontaneity something like Taoism with perhaps a dash of Kierkegaard. Such dissidents, rising from a matrix of communitarian thought, make a effort to respect it the choices of others, even if that choice is to conform. Intelligent debate is, after all, the way busrehi prefer both to create community and innovate.
As busrehi culture becomes more integrated into and aware of the rest of the world, it is becoming more unified; the busrehi are finding an identity as a species: as scholars, artists, and fair-minded traders.
Dreams matter to the busrehi. Interpreting dreams is an art, and good interpreters are highly regarded. Volumes upon volumes of dream-commentary exist, which individuals are free to pick and choose from, or make up their own tradition. Many of these commentaries, though nominally about dreams, range far afield. Consider the three oldest and most influential books, which any literate busrehi must know:
The busrehi talking mouth originated as a special spiracle just below the head. In time, the air sac it was connected to grew larger, the filters became something analogous to vocal chords, and the muscles that kept the tube open originally began to evolve finer control (note, though, that a tongue is absent). Though still less dextrous than a human mouth, the busrehi language contains a respectable inventory of six vowels and twenty-one consonants, over half of which are plosives. A guide to pronouncing the busrehi romanization lies below:
The first known busrehi script is still used: ideograms carved vertically on trees to mark communities, dangers, food sources. Over the ages, this script evolved into a vertical alphabet resembling Devanagari and the Mongol Manchu script. The old ideographic system may still be seen in formal inscriptions but alphabetic is used day to day; it's much easier to learn. Books are typically printed on a papyrus-like material made from reeds in Busre's swamps and estuaries with a pith brush and ink made from small, olive-like fruits and take the form of wide scrolls with many short vertical columns.
Busrehi grammar is agglutinating and prized for its simplicity (that is, Latin scholars would despise it). Modifiers normally precede the noun, with the most important going first. But phrases that have acquired special meanings, being essentially new compound words, are inverted: rohoh, "river" ("waterthin"). Such compounds are unsplittable.
The busrehi numeral system is base-16, but otherwise quite like our own number system; the numbers happen to resemble South American tally marks.
TOUR PEGASIA! The following route snakes around Pegasia, covering all major features:
Continent 1 - 165 Is. - Continent 2 - Continent 3 - Rift-Junction and Curl 9 Is. - Busre Is. - Continent 4 - Continent 5 - Curl 5 Is. - Continent 6 - Continent 7 - Continent 8 - 89 Is. - Continent 9
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