Frolcons Species design: Logan Kearsley
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Frolcons arose in rainforest. Their ancestors and evolutionary cousins are six-limbed tropical frog-like creatures inhabiting the forest floor and understory, but the frolcons have moved into the canopy and forest margins and grown much larger--adults can grow up to one meter long in the torso and mass 40 kilograms; in Pegasia's low gravity, this weighs only 25 kg (55 lbs). Like Earthly gliding tree frogs, four of these creatures' feet have extensively webbed toes which form extremely stretchy gliding membranes, but the forelegs were left as grasping hands for latching onto tree trunks and branches. In frolcons, the gliding membranes have evolved into larger, fully-controllable powered flight surfaces, similar to bat wings but entirely detached from the main torso at the ends of long legs; the midlimbs bear the largest wings, while the hindlimbs have smaller wing membranes used more for steering and balance than power. An extra set of wings and greatly enhanced control over exact wing position makes frolcons even more maneuverable than Earthly bats, easily outclassing any Earthly bird, to the point where a full-grown adult is capable of pulling out of a full dive meters above the canopy, or even diving below the canopy and flying between the trees at breakneck speeds with no fear of collisions. To Terran readers the wing surfaces may look rather small for a such a large creature, but in 1.6 atmospheres and only five-eighths Earth's gravity, they're quite adequate.
A grasping thumb-claw protrudes from the front of the wrist of each wing, and the membranes can be folded along the shins to allow for climbing or four-legged knuckle-walking if necessary. The forelimbs each have five-fingered hands with an opposable thumb of either side, thin claws like very sharp tweezers, and the ability to lock their tendons in place--thus, a frolcon in flight will never drop what it's carrying by accident.
Their skin is covered in small, soft, smooth scales, with the exception of the wing membranes.
Frolcons are technically omnivorous, supplementing their diets with fruits, nuts, and the occasional leafy plant, but they're primarily carnivores, feeding on other fliers and small canopy animals like Earthly falcons. Also like Earthly falcons, they have forward-facing eyes with extended foveas packed tight with receptor cells; unlike Earthly falcons, though, their normal color vision is merely bichromatic, rather than tetrachromatic, which allows them to pack single-type receptors even more densely. Their relative color-blindness is more than made up for by a resulting visual acuity that would let them read a newspaper in dim light 200 meters away, despite having eyeballs no larger than a human's--handy when diving on small unsuspecting prey from above.
Also compensating for poor color discrimination in visible light is an array of infrared pits lining the lower jaw, to take advantage of the copious IR radiation put out by Zeus as well as the sun. These are similar to pit viper organs, but far more advanced--rather than simple heat-sensitive membranes suspended in a tiny pit with minimal pinhole lensing, these are tiny complete hollow eyes with reflective optics for focusing images in infrared--the back of each eyepit is covered with a parabolic reflector focusing an image on a ring-shaped retina around the interior of the iris. These IR-sensitive pit-eyes (three on each side of the jaw) form a wide-angle view of the world overlapping the normal visual image produced by the primary eyes, adding a third color to the forward visual field and providing low-definition monochromatic peripheral vision.
As for the rest of the head--the skull is long and deep, to house the Frolcon's large brain. There is no forehead, however--the brain case tapers right to the end of the snout, with two pits to house the eyes. The snout is short, triangular, and beaked, much like a turtle's. Powerful jaw muscles, used for crushing both bones and nut casings, are anchored to a ridge at the top of the skull, from which grows a highly colorful and individualized crest. A long, thin, forked tongue inside does double duty to provide frolcons with both taste and an acute sense of smell, made directional by the ability to point the olfactory receptors on the tongue in any direction. The neck is long and flexible, allowing a frolcon to turn its head- and eyes- in any direction. They have no external ears, to cut down on air resistance at high speeds, but do have an aural pore on each side of their heads near the back.
Curiously, there are no nostrils, for Frolcons and their relatives don't have windpipes running through their necks--as a convenient side-effect, that means they never choke. Instead, frolcons breathe through a set of four spiracles--two on each side, entering the body between ribs--which lead to an extensive network of internal air sacs with continuous unidirectional airflow, making their lungs more like that of a bird's than a lizard's or mammal's, and correspondingly more efficient. This, combined with thin traceries of capillaries in their wings fed by valved arteries and retia mirabilia at the base of each limb for temperature control, gives them fantastically high endurance, a high flight ceiling, and the capacity to be active at any time of day and in any season--the perfect recipe for a climax predator. Their hunting efficiency frees up a lot of time in which to laze about, play, and get inventive--and that's a perfect recipe for intelligence.
The lack of any period of true darkness on the inner hemisphere, exaggerated by the frolcons' ability to see infrared, means that they simply sleep whenever they feel tired, with no regard for time of day. Duration is roughly proportional to how long it's been since their last nap, and how active they've been, but unless they've been seriously sleep-deprived for several days, they will usually regain full alertness at a moment's notice if called upon. It's common to find frolcons after a long journey or a tiring game or hunt latched onto a branch to doze for several hours in mid-day. Thus, their schedules are dominated primarily by whoever else they may have to deal with, and what sort of food they feel like eating, if they have to go hunt it.
Frolcons are naturally playful. Juveniles chase and dive at each other in open air (practice for hunting in adult life) and hold high-speed races among the trees (not practice for much of anything, but good for showing off). They learn not to attack creatures that are too heavy or too awkward to carry when dead, which fortunately includes nearly any other sentient species they come across; still, travelers may find their tendency for mock-pounces to be disconcerting, to say the least. The most common frolcon greeting is an ambush--a hooting attack that ends in a clawed, scrabbling hug which (in their gestural speech) translates roughly: "Got you!"
Syrinx-like structures in their lower airways give frolcons the ability to sing like birds, but without as much control as parrots or ravens. Thus, their 'speech' is primarily signed; while they employ their voices extensively for musical purposes, in speech the voice is used merely to get someone's attention, after which conversation is carried out in an intricate sign language. They have no trouble communicating on the wing (even at great distances, due to their fantastic eyesight), but become more expressive when landed (or 'treed' as the case may be), when details of wing position and posture that aren't practical in the air help to convey emphasis, tone, shades of emotion, etc.
Mated pairs build large nests out of woven leaves and vines, including suspended roofs as protection from storms. The young are capable of digesting meat immediately, meaning there's no need for either regurgitation feeding or mammary glands. Still, the young stay with their parents for several years in order to learn language, hunting practices, etc., although their childhoods are much shorter than humans'. This also means that there are no physiological triggers for the female corresponding to the development of offspring, such as weaning provides in mammals, and thus females are receptive to sexual activity almost immediately after birth, potentially allowing for very rapid reproduction rates, though social factors tend to inhibit it. Mating itself is a highly public and very exciting act; although they could easily do it in private, cultural traditions left over from pre-sentient mating rituals require extensive courting dances, culminating in a display reminiscent of Earthly eagles. A mating pair will ascend to high altitude, lock fingers, and mate during the downward plummet, breaking apart and pulling up just before they hit the treetops (or water, as the case may be). These mating rituals ensure that sex is never a particularly casual occurrence (although mated pairs will still engage in it far more often than necessary for strictly reproductive purposes), and strengthen emotional bonds between a mated pair that help enforce almost total monogamy among frolcons. It is thus very difficult for a frolcon to ever feel sexual love for other species, unless they too are highly monogamous.
There is almost no sexual dimorphism among frolcons, partly due to their strong monogamy and lack of female adaptations for child-care. Frolcons have a single cloaca midway between the midlimbs and hindlimbs which conceals sexual organs as well as providing the only excretory outlet. Few sex differences are visible except for coloring. With no predators, and a hunting strategy based on speed and surprise to minimize the need for camouflage, frolcons are as bright as birds of paradise. Patterns are highly individual, though males are distinguished by patching of different color schemed like calico cats, due to X-chromosome mosaicism, while females generally exhibit bilateral symmetry. Of course, these color-schemes range into the infrared, and would be partly invisible to viewers with merely mammalian eyes.
Frolcon young are born live after a long (around 12 Earth months) gestation, generally as opposite-gendered twins--so that females normally release one egg of each gender at a time. Genetic gender is like Earthling birds, with females carrying mismatched chromosomes, and males carrying matched chromosomes. Females do not hunt for themselves while pregnant (indeed, can't hunt for themselves even if they want to, in the later stages), relying on their mates to provide meat for them.
Relatively short childhoods and adolescences result in weaker family bonds among frolcons than among humans, but such bonds do still exist, and frolcons tend to organize into dispersed clans around matrilineal lines of descent; although there are many exceptions, those within a clan will tend to follow similar or complementary professions, exhibit higher degrees of altruism and generosity among themselves, and assist in taking care of each other's young, sick, or wounded.
Living in the canopy and being climax predators puts some fairly strong limits on populations, and frolcon culture is largely a set of strategies to get around those limits, despite the paucity of tool-making materials in their environment.
The greatest problem, of course, is that a certain population of prey can only support so many climax predators, and climbing population densities forced primitive frolcons to adopt a more omnivorous diet. So far, no frolcons are known to raise captive animals, but the need to identify and remember large numbers of edible plants and fungi not in their instinctual repertoire, and to teach that knowledge to others, was the beginning of their cultural revolution. This has ended in a unique form of canopy agriculture- many clans tend hanging farms woven in the same manner as their nests and covered over in artificial soil formed from the decay of their garbage--the inedible or less tasty bits of dead plants and animals, and their own bodily wastes.
The next great problem, though, is water. All water in the canopy has to come from food or from rain, and it's a much more limited resource than it is down on the ground, where it conveniently gathers in ponds and rivers. Fishing frolcons (next section) tend to congregate around river mouths, but forest-canopy frolcons had to come up with their own solution. Inspired by the water-catching plants they would normally drink from, they solved the problem of water supply by using their nest-weaving skills to build unroofed rain-catchers as well. They use bone and (where they can get them) stone tools to scrape wood to make troughs, and expanded on the rain-catcher idea with systems of collection funnels, wooden aqueducts, and storage pools. Maintaining this system, especially after storms, is a full-time and high-status job. Given better tools and better materials, frolcons would make superior civil engineers.
A FROLCON SUBSPECIES
The forest margins on the seashore have produced a subspecies of Frolcon which feeds primarily on fish. The major differences to be seen in this subspecies are polarization filters in their corneas to cut glare on the water surface, slightly shortened limbs and modified wings allowing them to swim below the surface like ray-finned fish, and a thin layer of insulating subcutaneous fat on the torso. Unlike Earthly seabirds, there's no appreciable modification to their beaks, since they use their clawed hands to snatch food instead. As they spread across the planet, the mutation for polarized corneas is spreading throughout the population, and may eventually become useful for navigation, especially since frolcons lack the magnetic sense many Terran seabirds have. As long as they're on the inner hemisphere, however, it's not much of an issue, as Zeus is hard to miss.
Their high endurance, combined with their modest ability to swim and high buoyancy (thanks to those large lung sacs), means that fishing frolcons are especially suited to long transoceanic voyages. As long as there are fish along the way, they don't even require an island, or even a small rock, to rest on, content simply to back-stroke for a bit. Of course, they can't live permanently on the waves, as that's no place to give birth, but frolcons need neither the boats required by flightless peoples nor the island chains other fliers need. Thus, frolcon explorers may well be the first to initiate contact between their native Continent 6 and Continent 9, Continent 5 and even Continent 1.
Frolcons evolved in the southern rainforests of Continent 6. The maritime subspecies spread south to the long chain of equatorial islands sheltering the south coast, and east to the huge island chain south of the Eebok Sea, which we may as well call Frolconia. Pioneers have crossed to the western tip of Continent 8; while frolcon villages here are still few and strictly coastal, gradual settlement of equatorial Continent 8 seems likely. Of course, they may face stiff competition or even resistance unless they can coexist and trade with very different neighbors; Continent 8 isn't empty. Who lives there? You tell me.
A small population has also spread southeast along a small volcanic chain into the southern sea. Both in numbers and cultural sophistication this group seems minor, but they may soon become evolutionarily important: 8-900 km to the south lie the 89 Islands, one of the few flyways to huge, lonely Continent 9. The fishers of these southern frolcon villages, comfortable in these warm seas, range far afield, even napping on the waves. They have discovered and fished, though not yet extensively settled, the 89 Islands. In a few generations, frolcons ranging out from those islands may well discover the New World to the south. Or, of course, suffer the brunt of an invasion if the natives of Continent 9 "discover" the northern hemisphere!
A somewhat similar situation exists in the far southwest; an island chain along the mid-oceanic rift here is nearly as far from shore as Hawaii--about as isolated as land can get on cramped little Pegasia. I don't know if fishing frolcons have discovered this chain yet; it seems less likely, but if they do, the chain leads west by easier steps to Continent 1 and south to Continent 5. In these cases, owing to the great length of the chain and the long deepwater passage to the mainland, it's unlikely anyone will ever invade Continent 6; only the frolcons' ability to sleep on the water makes it conceivable they'll ever cross that initial gap. But it is possible.
Frolcons' sharp eyesight has the potential to make them exceptional naked-eye astronomers. But there's very little real darkness on their home continent--for when the sun sets, Zeus pollutes the sky with the light of thousands of full moons. So this potential is largely unused; perhaps it will blossom if frolcons spread west along the 165 Islands into the Outer Hemisphere, where true night falls. But even in their nightless heartland, Zeus and its other moons are quite visible, day or "night." Frolcon travelers deduced very early on that they were living on a sphere from watching Zeus climb up or down the sky with every mile they flew; and Zeus itself is clearly a ball. The fact that they can easily see individual weather patterns on their sister moon Tharn has convinced them that their world is not unique, and watching the movements of the other moons in the sky has led them to a philosophically un-self-centered world-view that Newton or Copernicus would have admired. Everyone assumes the rocky moons are spheres revolving around Zeus; it's generally accepted that the sun must also revolve around Zeus, and that it must be very far away because it moves so slowly. But the sun's not the furthest object in frolcon cosmology: each eclipse reveals the stars, and the sun appears to move in front of them. Their fixed background suggests the sun makes a full circuit each year. Still, a few dissidents say the sun doesn't have to follow the same rules as non-luminescent worlds, and simply bobs back and forth on a straight line once per year; stars, they claim, are mere evanescent phenomena generated by eclipses. Since the brightest stars are faintly visible on clear nights, even with garish Zeus glaring down in the purple sky, this theory is (to use the scientific term) silly. Most frolcons flick their rear wings at these true believers, but don't actually waggle them, just as we may roll our eyes but think it rude to whirl a finger round our ear when a human declares the Earth to be flat, or 6000 years old, or not warming. Some people just aren't worth arguing with.
The gestural language of frolcons is often easy to translate, but proper names can be a problem. Some place names are simple descriptions like East Strait or Misty Peak, or are somewhat more technical, like Mt Lenticular (for the lens-shaped clouds often capping its summit). But some names aren't descriptive at all (or their meaning's been lost) so we need a method of transliteration. But sign- or dance-notation detailed enough to be meaningful turns single frolcon words into whole paragraphs--too cumbersome for the casual reader. So a "shorthand" is used, insufficient to record the gestures of a name, but serving as a mnemonic for those knowing the full gesture-phrase. The best analogy might be Arabic and Hebrew, in which only consonants are written. Examples of such "shorthand" frolcon names are: Prayflick Island, Mt Rrfan, Wagglehand Sound, Lmcurl Bay, Claphoot Strait, Mt Frfist, the Toecrook Archipelago. (Where necessary, the first two letters indicate right/left and fore/mid/rear limb, while the rest describes the most distinctive gesture in the full frolcon "word"/dance phrase). There are drastic simplifications for brevity; for example, 'toe' not 'finger' or 'digit' is always used in compounds, and without specifying which digit(s), obviously vital to a true transliteration.
The other method of giving the reader a taste of frolcon language, that of comparing the gestures to common human ones, has two problems, both instantly evident in these (not hypothetical!) examples: Flip-the-bird Mountain, He's Crazy Sound, So-So-I-Guess Plain, Sit and Spin Valley, You Make Me Puke Island: they're often offensive, and worse, they're culture-bound. Are those heights the OK Mountains or the You Asshole Range? Well, was the translator American or Italian? Also, the number and arrangement of digits on frolcon handfeet isn't human--so is a Y-shaped hand-gesture best translated as 'Hang loose, Bro', 'Phonecall', or 'Horns of Asmodeus'?
It seemed wiser to avoid these cultural pitfalls and keep things brief. So if you find Lmcurl and Frfist awkward... remember we could have been precise.
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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