Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Idea Emporium #5: The Agloanikoi [1/3]

Have you been missing the Culture Column? Were the past two months not enough? Then look no further, because we’re going to be talking about a whole new species. Since we’ll have to go over biology and environment as well we won’t have the opportunity to get as in-depth as, say, Feytown got all those years ago. But we’ll be talking for the next three months, so we’ll see how far this can go.

Agloanike IV is the fourth planet out from its solitary star, Agloanike, named after the ancient Greek astronomer. It is about as large as Earth, with a slightly lower gravity and an age that is a little greater than Earth’s.

The atmosphere is breathable enough, with low-but-significant quantities of free nitrous oxide. Many people even pass out under prolonged exposure to Agloanike IV’s atmosphere, but because the air is otherwise livable selectivity among colonists and workers has won out over the installation of sealed structures. Redheads are preferred for their resistance to nitrous oxide. Also preferred are people hailing from planets or regions with air levels equivalent to what is experienced at an altitude of at least 5,000 feet above sea level on Earth.

Where necessary, redheads and others with the right genes are put through altitude training and acclimatization for three years before transferring to Agloanike IV. There are few high-altitude regions on the planet and overall the air pressure isn’t too bad, but combined with the stresses of relocation altitude sickness is a very real possibility. This is also a good opportunity to discover potential health problems that may have missed previous screenings.

Ocean coverage makes up about 90% of the planet’s surface area, with most of the land mass concentrated into a single Pangaea-like “supercontinent” about the size of Asia, named Thessaly. With only light tectonic activity— the same reason for the scarcity of mountains— the planet’s supercontinents remain intact for longer periods of its geological history.

It is much warmer than on Earth, with an equatorial average of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius), but most of Thessaly is actually sub-equatorial, and average temperatures in the continental latitudes range from 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5-32 Celsius) in the summer. The most southerly regions typically sink to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius) in the winter but are known to reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius). A very small island band exists in the equator and reaches into the north, but these areas are barely inhabited.

Besides its higher-than-normal concentration of laughing gas, the planet is remarkable for being home to another intelligent species. They are officially called the Agloanikoi (singular: Agloanikan). According to the modern trinomial classification system, based on cladistics and including planet of origin, they are defined as Agloanike collopodus sapiens (in the conventional form) or AC sapiens (in the short form). More commonly, however, they are called Mosquitopedes, Gameplayers, Stickyboots, or The Death Bugs From Hellmurder Island. While frowned upon by human officials, the Agloanikoi themselves don’t mind. They have plenty of silly and insulting names for us as well. 

Neither side is able to effectively use the names that each party actually uses, owing to differences in how they communicate. While both species communicate primarily through sound, neither has the right equipment to replicate the sounds of the other. Furthermore, while humans emote through facial expressions the Agloanikoi do so through scent, and both parties are not only incapable of doing the same but are mostly blind to the subtle variations in the other’s system. Agloanikoi simply smell of a cinnamon-spiced musk, and humans appear to have some sort of Twitchy Face Disease.

Translating names doesn’t put us in a much better place. Humans call their world “Dirt,” and the word human means “earthly being,” ultimately going back to a Proto-Indo-European word meaning, again, “earth” or “ground.” At best, we could call ourselves The People, since that seems to be the other popular term, but the Agloanikoi have got that one too. Some people did push for literal translations anyway but despite their best efforts Agloanike IV won out over calling their planet “The Trees.”

Extreme sexual dimorphism in order to take advantage of separate niches has a long history on Agloanike IV, almost as long as terrestrial animal life itself. Indeed, of the chordate, terrestrial clades all species can be subdivided into two further broad clades: Unaforma and Dupliciter, which are distinguished by whether they exhibit such marked sexual dimorphism as to exploit entirely different niches. The Agloanikans are distinct from their closest cousins in two primary ways: Firstly, they went up into the trees, which was a move as monumental for them as leaving the trees was for EH sapiens. Secondly, as has happened many times elsewhere, their diet is split across sex lines.

Relations with humans are presently peaceful but in the past have been fraught with tension. Agloanikoi divide war into two types: flowery-war and lupine-war. The former is by far the most common. Named for the Aztec “flower wars,” it is carried out much like a game of chess with living pieces. Soldiers are not killed but kidnapped, and are usually ransomed or traded for if the two factions are on good terms with each other. Which they often are— flowery-warfare is a genuine art form among the Agloanikoi, and neighboring troop queens play with a spirit of friendly competitiveness.

Lupine-war, derived from the saying homo homini lupus, is not the same at all. Flowery-war can settle disputes as well as forge friendships but when the rules of engagement are broken, most often through the killing of a soldier, then the stakes become deadly. It is permissible to not take a side (albeit not without damaging your relationship with whichever troop queens called on your aid), which is the only thing that allows lupine-wars to not inevitably become continent-sized, but after the lines are drawn there is nothing permitted but extermination or total capitulation.

On account of this cultural difference, first contact did not go well. At all. The Agloanikoi saw nothing wrong with kidnapping strangers. It is just a way of introducing yourself, proving that you’re not to be messed with and showing how interesting it would be to have you as a friend (when war is art, troop queens value having neighbors that can put on a good show). The response from the humans was exactly what you would guess, and then the Agloanikoi waged lupine-war for several years until the misunderstanding was realized.

Presently the research teams on Agloanike IV serve both a scientific and political purpose: along with  their Agloanikan counterparts on Earth, they serve as an insurance of peace. In a pattern that had precedents in the histories of both worlds, prisoners were taken by each side and their wellbeing was assured so long as peace was maintained. Scientists of every stripe willingly fulfilled this aspect of the treaty and they continue to do so to this day. They serve either permanently or in decade-long terms, to be replaced by new researchers or returning experts who had been taking their leave in Humanspace. Meanwhile, their opposite numbers from among the Agloanikoi have relocated to a colony site in Africa, and for the same reason. 

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