by Chris Wayan, 2006
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Antel are winged herbivores grazing savanna on scattered islets in the dry and Mediterranean belts. They resemble Terran deer, with four slender legs, cloven hooves, short tails, large mobile ears, even juvenile spots (though these often last into adulthood). The obvious difference is the wings and related flight-adaptations: hollow bones, eyes angled forward enough for a strip of binocular depth perception, a flattenable tail used as a rudder. Other differences: the large eyes typical in the reddish Lyran sunlight, color vision, a rather equine mane, and of course the huge head with a highly efficient brain. Lacking hands, antel use only impromptu tools, held in their long, forked, prehensile tongues.
Flight is vital to the antel's success as a species. A population confined to a single small dry island faces obvious risks of overgrazing, inbreeding, and especially drought. Wings allowed them to follow the sparse rains.
Coloration: plain or spotted tans and browns, with reddish to blondish manes, and countershading to cream on the throat, belly and underside of the wings. Antel can flash a signal that can be seen for miles by half-raising their wings, showing the white feathers. It's analogous to the tail-flashing of Terran deer and antelope, but far more effective in their scattered island territories.
The several subspecies look much the same but can easily be distinguished by temperament--from shy but fairly human, to so high-strung and nervous they can't be approached. The differences depend on the predation risks on their native islands. The loneliest islands usually lack large predators, and local antel are calm; but moderately isolated chains sometimes evolve flightless predators, some of which grow quite large without the weight constraints of flight. On such islands, antel are extremely high-strung. On continents and islands along major flyways, wings retained their evolutionary advantage and outsized flightless predators are rare; antel are relatively approachable here. After you've been fled repeatedly, remember I did say "relatively."
Antel evolved in southern Gaiila, quickly spreading to Prospero, Miranda, Equatoria and other grassy islands around the Middle Sea. A million years ago they island-hopped to western T'kela and south Kilnu in the Diomedes region; recently (no more than 10,000 years) they reached the eastern Polesotechnic Strip, settling western Larsum, the Zatlach Desert on Ikrananka, and the opener parts of Ulash. They also spread southwest to the Nyanza Islands in Flandry--thus, they have at least a hoofprint in four of Lyr's ten major regions--six, if you count the pioneer populations in southern Oronesia and Ythri. Their range is widespread but still not large; grasslands and deserts are small, on Lyr.
It's true that antel aren't just found on savanna; small numbers graze patchy and open forests throughout the tropics. But dense woods and brush make them nervous--too much cover for predators. And no antel likes cold! On temperate prairies and steppes, pegasi fill their niche.
There's real debate whether antel are one species. Consider the extremes of their range: Larsum is nearly 70,000 km west of the antel homeland in Gaiila--most of the way round Lyr! And the antel on Halcyon in southwest Ythri represent a second wave spreading 15,000 km east. In fact, the rainy shores of south Corona and the even wetter Kraoka Archipelago are all that prevent the antel from fully girdling Lyr.
If they ever do, no one knows if the Ythrians will be cross-fertile with Larsumians. They've been separate for perhaps 100,000 years, after all! We'd have to call them two separate species, wouldn't we? Well, maybe not. All other antel, all the way around Lyr's immense equatorial belt, are cross-fertile; but then, individuals rarely fly over a single ocean, let alone a dozen. Earth birds include a few of these paradoxical "ring species" circling the planet, in which all members of a population are cross-fertile locally, but there's a place in the ring where the two waves of pioneers sweeping round the world must have (re)met at last--and they've diverged so much they're different species! Yet each pioneer-group is fertile with individuals from the center of the long arc, near where they presumably evolved... so they ARE one species.
Such rings prove Aristotle wrong. Sometimes, A=B and B=C, yet A just isn't C.
Antel psychology will sound strange to readers of ape descent (unless you're painfully shy). Antel are constantly on alert, wary of novelty, acutely sensitive to the subtlest threats. And yet, they don't find this troublesome, for their etiquette takes it for granted and defuses it with reassurances. And they socialize constantly. Emotionally perceptive, astute readers of character, antelopes are never bored, for the smallest stimulus is enough. Just as every glance is a potential threat, every bird-cry is a poem, every rock a sculpture. A touch inflames, and lovemaking overwhelms. Though they seem an austere and materially impoverished culture, they're sensorially and emotionally rich. A race of graminivorous Emily Dickinsons, walking the hills, unable to bear cities and crowds. The contrast with pegasi could not be more extreme.
I wrote "minimal material culture", not "no material culture." This may surprise you, given antels' lack of hands. Yes, their culture is best known for love poetry, depth psychology, and aerial courtship dances, but for delicate work, foot-long prehensile tongues working together can do more than you'd think. Families (and lovers) cooperatively tongue-weave brushy roofs for lean-to shelters used in storms, though caves are more common. Sharp hooves dig irrigation ditches and plant fruit-tree seeds. Murals and incised bas-relief rock-carvings are common on overhanging walls. They kick stones into intricate rock-mazes and figurative patterns. Indeed, a line of stones in antelope territory is never natural--it leads to water, shelter, or lithic art.
Most antel architecture is still natural rock shelters only subtly enhanced. This minimalism may have grown from the practical limitations of their tongue-hands, but it's become the antel esthetic, too. Right angles and symmetry are in bad taste, found shapes and local materials are de rigeur. It's not Zen, but Zen and antelity could get along. Typically, small terraces double as landing platforms leading into airy caves, above a creek feeding a string of pools, often as small as bathtubs. If it has tiny waterfalls, antel find it irresistable.
Interestingly, the loveliest antel sites are found in northern Gaiila, where a less nervous subspecies of antel mixes more with other species, notably icari and sphinxes. In some villages, generations of non-antel friends and lovers have lent a forepaw to construction that antel longed for but just couldn't spend the time on (or simply couldn't do, if it required heavy lifting).
Is it possible that the antel ideal of beauty can't be realized on their own, that the purest expression of their esthetic can flower only in mixed societies? Makes you wonder about such issues in human culture--and I'm not thinking of cultural pluralism. That's small stuff! What if all human art can only flower fully using technology or ideas we don't have yet, and won't, until we incorporate non-human ideas?
Picture all the humans who'd have made excellent mathematicians, filmmakers, scientists, pianists... born into cultures with no pianos, movies, metals... with no zero! Sad, huh? Now... what if those wasted souls are us? To the generations after First Contact, how tragically Stone Age we'll look! Such a waste of talent...
...like a race of brilliant artists with no hands.
Oops! End of sermon. Sorry.
See, you can't expect objectivity about the antel, not from me. I resemble the antel a bit too much--a clumsy typist building a world out of slow self-taught code, one hoof-tap at a time.
Kicking stones into line with an artistic dream? Oh, I know the feeling.
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