by Chris Wayan, 2004
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At first glance thotters look much like Amazonian otters: much larger than temperate-zone otters. But unlike any Terran otter, they have opposable thumbs on all four paws, larger eyes adapted for reddish light, and a human-sized brain.
Thotters usually walk on all fours (or rather, run, or romp--like Terran otters, thotters are an ever-active people), but sit or stand upright. The large tail acts like a third leg, freeing the forepaws to use as hands. When faced with a situation that's awkward with only two hands, a thotter usually rolls on its back and uses all four feet.
Equally comfortable on land and in water, thotters are as vocal as dolphins, and use echolocation in muddy water. That big skull isn't all brain inside; there's a small sonar bulb as well.
Thotters evolved on the isles of a warm shallow bedlake in the Barsoom Basin (which one is uncertain), and have spread to all the wetter parts of Tharn except subpolar lakes--their fishing villages can be found wherever islands offer fairly warm sheltered sites for their arching reed longhouses.
In recent millennia they spread to many islandless lakes by weaving whole reed islets--raft villages worthy of the Aztecs.
Most thotters don't absolutely require fresh drinking water (most subspecies can get by on the juice in sea vegetables and fish), but they prefer having it, so thotters settled salt lakes and seas in a different, more human pattern: coastal villages at creekmouths. This was more vulnerable (and freshwater lakes were thus preferred for centuries, leaving saltlakes sparsely settled) but exposed these mainlanders to far more trade and contact with other species. Thus, thotters in drier, poorer basins slowly became innovative: the cultural cutting edge!
In modern centuries, as raiding faded into myth and trade grew more integrated, even freshwater thotters started building lodges on the mainland, along rivers and marshes; today, thotters live well inland up major rivers, and they're no longer a rarity in large, multispecies villages and towns.
They've come a long way from their little reed islands.
Like their Terran parallels, thotters are extremely playful, affectionate, optimistic, and hyperactive. They get along well with other species; it's difficult for thotters to hold a grudge long.
Thotters excel as traders, aquafarmers, handcrafters and singers. The single most common occupation is aquatic herder. Thotter have domesticated large animals called parru, herbivorous semi-aquatic duckbilled dinosaurians who breathe through a headcrest--a sort of living snorkel. The crest is also a resonator; the booming honks of a parru flock carries for miles, sounding like a herd of drunk tuba players.
The copious rubbery eggs of the parru are a staple of thotter diet, and are a valued export item, rivaled only by smoked fish and lotus seeds. Thotters, unlike Terran otters, are quite omnivorous; they also farm reeds with sweet, starchy cores, marsh grasses with oil-rich seeds, lilypads and floating flowers for salad and fruit.
Thotters reject organized religion. But then thotters reject organized anything. Spirituality is visionary but egalitarian--anyone can (and many do) have guiding dreams and visions induced by wild firelit jumping-dances. These visions and dreams can be induced for quite mundane purposes, even business advice; other species accustomed to more respectful or mystical approaches to the other world find it hard not to giggle at the sight of a paint-daubed thotter dancing into trance than shrieking out their deep dilemma for the gods to resolve:
"Buy or sell?But it works for them, and they too see the humor in it--after they've bought. Or sold.
Buy or sell?
Buy or sell?
BUY OR SELL?"
Natural selection for efficient echo-location has left thotters with a dolphinlike hearing-range of twelve octaves, three of them higher than most humans can hear. As a result, their music, though rhythmically compelling, sounds squeaky and shrieky to non-thotters--sometimes painfully piercing. Their extraordinary trans-soprano singing often mimics the echo-patterns of objects and people, thus painting a nonverbal picture to supplement (and sometimes replace) mere words. This has given thotter musicians a reputation for brilliant eccentricity, for huge, illogical jumps and dreamlike associations. Yet if you can get a friendly thotter to translate the sonic imagery, even the most dislocated lyrics turn out to hide quite logical bones. There's something of a musical love affair between thotters and arthom, the odd monkey/cat/moth/bat people of Har Trench: their musicians grasp thotter imagery directly, and vice versa, for they too use sonar.
Modern thotters are always multilingual, speaking (at the least) their own local language, fluent Trade Camaroo, and the tongues of their local trading partners--a flyote or wingbok language, or Veltaur or Centah (each a worldwide tongue with mere regional dialects; these peoples are natural runners and travel constantly). Thotters have a different language around every sea, but all their languages chirp and chitter--with their fast reactions and sharp hearing (vital for fishing by sonar) thotters talk as fast as they live.
Thotter words are long and precise; compounds are common. Syllables are quick, light, and plosive, with few voiced consonants; ps, psh, ts and ch are common sounds. If you encounter a long placename anywhere near water, it's likely to be thotterine. Examples: Wantholuma Island, Cape Psop, Chiriki River, Dzuralthe Bay, Lake Felka, Insoralta Sound, Lake Pshu...
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