Skavoon, The Squid People

Well, this is my day’s 750 words. Done kind of at the request of the folks at the conworlds forum.
So now we create a new species. The Skavoon! In short, these guys are squid-people. Well, not exactly, but close enough for a short sketch. What are they really? Well, they have a large pointed body or head at the top of a cluster of 16 limbs.

The limbs are interchangeably useful as legs or arms. Each limb ends in a three fingers, which can be folded out of the way while walking or, for climbing or handling objects, they can be gripped against the horny foot-pad.

The Skavoon are not technically, invertebrates. Nor are they, by any means vertebrates. They do have a bony endoskeleton, very similar to those possessed of Earth vertebrates, but they lack a spine. The head/body has a pair of large bony plates at front and back joined by cartilaginous material at the side and a very strong cluster of tendons at the bottom. The limbs are jointed off of the bottom of these boneplates: 9 off the back plate, and 7 off the front plate. The seven front limbs are slightly weaker but slightly more agile than the nine rear limbs.

At the top of the head/body is a cluster of three eyestalks and a single trunk that provides a sense of smell, is used for speech and is also used as a sort of auxiliary limb to taste food and feed it into the oral cavity. The oral cavity lacks teeth, but it leads down into a sort of craw-structure filled with sharp rocks and saliva in order to help break food into smaller pieces more suited to digestion.

This brings us fairly naturally to the Skavoon diet. The Skavoon are technically omnivores, but they have a strong preference for vegetation. Typically Skavoon only hunt the equivalent of one day every couple of weeks. Often as not, the hunt ends when the party finds a reasonably fresh bit of carrion. Skavoon are perfectly happy with carrion, and seldom make their own kills although sometimes they do have to chase off the smaller predator that just did the deed. Even the most primitive of existing Skavoon civilizations is adept at the preserving of meat. They don’t cook meat, or vegetables for that matter which they just eat fresh and raw, but almost always preserve it in some fashion. In more advanced situations they would smoke meat or make a salted jerky. Under more primitive conditions they simply cut the meat into small pieces and marinate it in their own urine. This last is a favorite preparation, and they often give the same treatment to their smoked and salted meats. Skavoon of the temperate-coastal regions typically have a diet richer in meat, because they are excellent fishermen(often swimming down after their catch), and because the local vegetable-foods are more seasonal and less reliable and nutritious. Skavoon in eastern subtropical regionshave come to rely more on agriculture to produce plant-food and use preserved meat primarily to get them through the winters. Skavoon living in the southern tundra and near the ice fields also have to rely more on meat especially of larger animals, except for those near Lake Toovuskash, who subsist on fish and penguin-analogues for food. The antarctic lichens are of fairly limited dietary value, but are traded widely as a valuable spice, typically in exchange for ice-packed vegetables. This is the only known case of vegetable preservation among Skavoon. The tundra people have known how to pack vegetation in ice insulated with a thick mat of sawdust or summer grass to preserve it for winter, since late neolithic times.

Skavoon society varies across the world, which I have based on Velkas discarded Coniferous Forests world. This variation is to be expected. This is after all a world as large and almost as complex as the Earth. There is more cultural commonality across the world than there is on Earth, though. For one thing, while the world varies from antarctic ice fields to tropical rain forest, those areas of rain forest and the associated subtropical regions are limited to relatively small areas at the tip of two peninsulae(I’ll work out the actual areal extent later), and the mid-latitude temperate coasts(almost all mid-latitude regions are coastal on this planet) are all on that one continent. The cluster of islands in the northern ocean might provide more cultural variation, but that is mostly tropical climates and probably required a more advanced technology to reach. The Polynesians were pretty advanced mariners. The second thing is the relatively small size of the habitable regions of this planet. That southern supercontinent may have slightly more land area than Earth, but a lot of it is essentially unusable ice cap and frozen desert(tundra and ice cap climate probably extends very close to the coast in a lot of places. The mid-latitude coasts at about 45* S probably have harsh winters and even the subtropical regions probably get some pretty icy storms).

Perhaps the biggest reason for cultural homogeneity is that this world was once unified under a technologically very advanced empire. Perhaps 25,000 years ago, the Waqu culture, which originated on the subtropical eastern coast of the western peninsula, came to subjugate the rest of this planet. At it’s peak, the Waqu culture was not only spacefaring, but in fact there is evidence that they visited Earth’s solar system and possessed some form of faster than light transport.

On to the sticky issue of reproduction. Skavoon all come in one physical gender. They each produce eggs and sperm. Skavoon are normally incapable of self-fertilization. Typically two Skavoon get together for about a week of frantic mating and then separate to find secret places to bury their eggs. Apparently they enjoy mating, because they do it fairly frequently. Two individuals seldom ever mate with each other again, though. In Skavoon society the idea that sex ruined the friendship would be utterly alien. It’s an interesting thing about the Skavoon that they all claim to have no memory of the time after they complete mating until some time well after they have buried the eggs. Given their attitude towards the young, this probably prevents them from going back and destroying the eggs.  Young Skavoon are basically dangerous vermin. After the eggs hatch, the young Skavoon will go out in search of food. Skavoon young already in the area(who will have originated from somewhere far away) will chase off the newly hatched babies and only the strongest will be able to remain nearby. Between the rather vicious way in which the local younglings chase them off and the hazards of their long journey, attrition is high. Skavoon young will often travel as far as halfway across the continent to find a comfortable place to settle and start eating.  Population density has an effect on the distance the Skavoon travel. The equivalent on Earth would be babies born in Spearfish making their way to Seattle and Denver and Kansas City while babies born in Manhattan just cross the bridge into Brooklyn.

Once a Skavoon youngling has grown to adolescence, it searches out a receptive adult as a mentor. The mentor is chosen in part due to it’s smell. Adults who are too closely related genetically will smell repellent to the youngling, while less related adults will smell pleasant. During the roughly twelve years it takes for an adolescent to learn how to function as an adult, the mentor will cease all reproductive activity.

This next part doesn’t need to be described in too explicit detail. Basically, during the maturation of the adolescent, the mentor will teach and guide the protege. The mentor will also exchange a complex juice of neurotransmitter-like enzymes with the protege. This gives the protege an impression of the skills and memories of its mentor, and in exchange the mentor gets an intimate sense of how the mentor is understanding its education. These exchanges are among the most pleasurable and intimate acts that two Skavoon can share. Skavoon also get a shadow of this intimacy in the reproductive act, but the enzymes are much more dilute and less intense. The protege will be considered fully adult when it produces its first clutch of fertilized eggs, it then goes off to hide its eggs and make a life for itself. The mentor usually becomes receptive to mating not long after the protege leaves its home.

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