Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Idea Emporium #6: The Agloanikoi [2/3]

The Agloanikoi’s living relatives, who are about as close to them as chimpanzees are to humans, are omnivores, and it appears that in this respect the “shepherd bugs” bear the strongest resemblance to their most common recent ancestor. The Collopodus clade distinguished itself with females that specialized in a carnivorous diet. To grossly simplify the evolutionary process and risk implying that it has goals, meat-eating proved to be a wildly successful idea for females, who had to bear the bulk of the energy demands placed by reproduction. They will, in fact, even eat one or more of their husbands if they have to, not unlike some arthropods. It’s obviously not their preferred choice, since that can make things harder in the long run, but you gotta do what you gotta do (the other males will eat the plant matter in the poor sap’s digestive tract).

Agloanikoi also display sexual dimorphism in size. Females reach sizes up to fifteen feet, and males only a little more than half that at eight feet long. Both are only as big around as an adult human, giving them a centipede-like appearance with their eighteen limbs, and can weave dexterously through the branches of their earliest forest homes. Nowadays, however, the Agloanikoi view living in trees much like humans do caves. They have built urban playgrounds for themselves, freestanding skyscraper “trees” whose branches exist inside their hollow cores, like a kind of indoor jungle gym. Real trees are only used for aesthetic purposes except by a few Agloanikoi that are regarded as, well, very weird.

The Agloanikan head is box-like, flat and without any kind of muzzle. The mouth, which resembles a sphincter at rest, everts to present a conical radula. Comparisons to an oversized, prickly thimble would not be unreasonable. The teeth are sharp and rasping, and their mode of feeding is reminiscent of licking, a slow and leisurely process. The mouth is positioned on the underside of the head, reminiscent of a lamprey. This structure would be <i>horrible</I> for communicative purposes, but that’s okay: they actually talk through their nostrils.

Each five-jointed limb has four digits, whether adapted for fine manipulation or not. The males possess a sticky pad where the digits come together, which improves both their navigation of the trees and their ability to catch small prey, not unlike a spider with silk gloves. At the “leg pit” where the limbs join to the body are small glands that serve as the Agloanikan’s ears.

Agloanikoi are covered with a soft down, colored green to blend in with the trees. Patterns break up the outline and serve as both ethnic and personal identifiers. Broad characteristics are unique to particular groups, but even within these groups are fine details that are to an Agloanikan as fingerprints are to a human.

Society is organized around female “troop queens,” each with a harem of four to ten males (under normal conditions, anyway). Troop queens play war games against each other, using their males as both the soldiers and one of the typical prizes: kidnapped males will only be returned in exchange for something else, whether that be resources, favors, or one’s own captured males. Not unsurprisingly, this behavior has been liked to chess, which observation has thus fueled much of the terminology that humans use to describe their society.

Especially intelligent troop queens, called grand masters, organize leagues of subordinate queens around them. Like the great chiefs of Central Asia they win wealth in wars against their rivals and use this to purchase and maintain the loyalty of their subordinates. With genius comes victories, and thus wealth and influence. Perhaps more similar in this respect to the “big men” of Oceania, they are valued for their boons and their counsel, and among her league the grand master is a first among equals. It is more accurate to say that leagues are “inspired” by grand masters rather than controlled or directed, and a league at odds with its grand master will often be allowed to go its way. Female Agloanikoi are not well-suited to having superiors.

A popular theory is that the practice of flowery-warfare was started out of boredom. Fueled by meat, females could easily support the demands of a large brain, and there were reasons that one would be useful. A larger brain was needed to foresee and handle social conflicts among the males and potential threats from other troops, and was especially useful during what we might term the “teenage years,” when juvenile females are exiled from their troops to find their own turf.

The difficulties inherent in surviving these years and either making or taking a troop, however, placed intelligence demands that ultimately couldn’t be met even by the need to then manage a troops. To put it simply? Troop queens got bored. Males take care of the hunting and the physical quarreling with other troops, and young Agloanikoi are precocial creatures that are left alone as nuisances to feed on scraps until they’re capable of holding a halfway decent conversation— at which point they go out to hunt with the males.

Out of boredom came art, and the most influential art form was that which made use of a preexisting medium: conflicts with other troops. As a kind of game-slash-ritual combat, exterminating the other side isn’t the point. Organized warfare started in order to <i>pass the time</i>, and good players, the kind that make flowery-warfare actually interesting and worthwhile, are hard to come by. The ransoming of prisoners and trading of hostages was just a way to make the games mean something. After all, poker isn’t at its best until real money is on the table.

Where females rule the scene in long-term planning and raw creativity, males come out ahead in quick thinking— serving them well both in hunting and combat— and managing social dynamics, which is ultimately more complex for them than for the females. Where the females exist in a world of subordinate males, soon-to-be-exiled daughters, and competition that is generally friendly and never domineering (such troop queens attract enemies quickly), males inhabit a world that shifts more rapidly. In their own troop is the queen, of course, but there are other males, who at least potentially can be superior, equal, or inferior to the first male, whose position relative to them is sometimes uncertain and never fixed. Outside, there are females. Some of these are without a troop of their own, and one might supplant the troop queen and take her place. Others have a troop, and their wars introduce a new set of complications: where the male’s troop is victorious, more males are introduced, more rivals and allies. But just as easily the male can be kidnapped and put into a new troop, with its own social order to learn and adapt to. Where the social intelligence of the females is more geared toward keeping the troop stable, the social intelligence of the males has to keep track of shifting hierarchies and engineer ways to climb them.

Flowery-warfare has had other effects on their society besides forming the basis for large-scale social organizations. In addition to livestock tunnels, the first true structures created by the Agloanikoi were military fortifications. Even modern architectural forms betray this original intent, and the difficulties of effectively three-dimensional warfare (for the Agloanikoi fought among the trees) required interesting designs to compensate.

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