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FLOXES

by Chris Wayan, 2006

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A flox, a six-limbed species resembling a red fox with hawk wings. Intelligent omnivorous pack animals. Native of Lyr, an experimental world-model mixing features of Earth and Neptune.


SPECIES

These six-limbed mammals look nothing like Earth's marsupial "flying foxes." Picture an oversize red fox or a foxlike coyote, with hawk-wings stuck on (the middle limb-pair, modified). All four non-winged limbs have handlike paws; the front pair has fully opposable thumbs. These pack animals have light but extremely efficient brains--huge for their body-size, burning a lot of calories, giving the flox its proverbial huge appetite. As another proverb goes, "Pet them, play with them, never lend them money."

HABITAT

Floxes are native to open woods, savanna and desert, near crags, mesas or canyon walls throughout the Polesotechnic Strip--wherever cliff-caves provide safe nests. They hollow out quite elaborate cliff dwellings in soft rock, using hard stone tools. On forested plains, flox clans will occasionally nest high in large trees, hollowing these out as well, using fire as well as chipping; but this is not preferred, as such trees eventually die, while cliff-burrows can be used for generations. To rid them of parasites, smoky herbal fires are set in burrows on the first day of each season (remember, these come about eight Terran months apart). A map of Lyr, a large water world with small scattered continents. The wide tropical-subtropical range of floxes (cliff-dwelling flying foxes) is marked in yellow.

Floxes, though nowhere numerous, have the widest distribution of any people on Lyr. As well as Polesotechnica, they're found in southern Roland, Oronesia, Ythri and Troisleons, the drier, ruggeder parts of Gaiila, and the mountains of western and southern Diomedes. Though their distribution is spotty, their busy little noses have poked into seven of Lyr's ten major regions!

BEHAVIOR

Floxes are omnivorous hunters, preferring meat but happy with fruit, nuts... and anything else. They're as appealing to most Lyrans as to us, and even in prehistoric times, several other species shared their villages with floxes, treating them a bit like humans treated dogs. But partnership with floxes was always more equal--floxes are so useful for messages and hunting and retrieval. With four clever paws, they're as handy as the Wicked Witch of the West's flying monkeys (flunkeys?). And smarter--they're far more intelligent than chimps. Most solo tribes have languages indicating tenses, numbers, and pronouns, including "I". Lots and lots of "I".

Today, other Lyrans call floxes people, but still treat them like pets--literally. They fondle, groom and bond with them in a way much like humans and dogs. Floxes are loved but not respected: "They're not intellectual, they live for now." And it's true that floxes still tend to get by on charm and do poorly in school. But consider: only 800 years ago floxes spoke in short phrases, and a literate flox would have been inconceivable, while today all floxes speak fluently, a majority can read, and some can do math. Flox skulls over the centuries have grown larger yet lighter, and show no signs of stopping.

Floxes themselves rate intelligence as the most desirable quality in a mate, disapprove of dull floxes having many pups, and will compete for the privilege of adopting smart pups. Hypersensitive to pack standing and aware how others see them, they may thus be directing their own evolution--not out of some abstract sense of racial destiny, but out of a very canine longing to be full, respected members of their new, multispecies pack.

This is all curiously parallel to the situation of griffets, another small flying species that larger Lyrans treat somewhat as pets. Griffets, too, seem to be selectively breeding for intelligence, though based on different feelings. a flox, resembling a large, winged red fox, leaping in profile off a desert ledge. Illustration based on a line drawing by Eric Elliot of VCL.

Feelings? Yes. We often speak of species' evolutionary "strategies"--but we're wrong. Animals, even self-aware animals like us, make our choices and live our lives based on feelings. Do you coolly plan who you'll mate with, have children with? Most of us, most of the time, are driven by deep longings we scarcely understand.

Floxes can't do calculus--yet. But they know exactly what they love.

A COMPARISON

Those who've explored Serrana, a smaller, drier world I've modeled, will already have noticed I've used the same illustrations and much the same physical descriptions for Lyran floxes and Serranian flying foxes. But floxes are unmistakably people; flying foxes, most Serranians would still say, are merely bright domesticated creatures that may be evolving slowly toward personhood.

Why?

There's just one difference, and it's neither genetic nor somatic, nor an external evolutionary pressure. But it is a form of pressure. Air pressure!

Serrana is small, and while its gravity is light, the air is quite thin. Flying foxes can't grow much bigger and still fly. Their brains are already huge for their body weight. In contrast, though Lyr has heavier gravity, its dense air makes flight easy; floxes can grow substantially larger to support their mushrooming brains, and still remain competent fliers. The difference isn't absolute--flying foxes may still achieve full sentience via greater brain efficiency--but the Lyran floxes face a much easier evolutionary challenge. Or should I say aerodynamic challenge?

FLOX CULTURE A flox, an intelligent, winged coyotelike cliffdweller, turning a pot on a wheel in a cliff-care. Fields and mesas in background.

I've described floxes as if they only live in mixed society, but this is untrue. A majority probably live in cliffdwellings in desert canyons, as in the Sorya Desert on Tyrlan or in the Ferranian Islands north of Lokon. Half the world apart, these free-living floxes have startlingly similar cultures: both live in cliff-caves, raising beans (well, large high-protein seeds) and chiles (well, a hot red berry--come on, the oaks aren't oaks and the pines aren't pines either) down on the canyon floors. Up on the walls, near their own caves, they tend chattering cities of domestic cliff-swallows for their tasty eggs (the rumors are true: it's all those bugs that give them flavor).

Looking around at the sunset meal, eating your cliff omelet, admiring the red-mesa views, you think of New Mexico. Even the cuisine tastes similar--earthy, smoky, spicy. If winged wolves weren't dishing it out...

... into those clay bowls, that look so much like Pueblo pottery... No, wait, don't think everything's parallel! The designs are flowing spirals, not geometric, and they were made on a potter's wheel, and are as close to perfectly round as the potter could get. Floxes love things round--their windows, their cave-mouths, their paintings, their beds...

Oh, so you're skeptical that such a preference could be hardwired into a species? Look around you, human, and deny it! I'm sorry, but... you're square.

Map of Lyr, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

Gazetteer: index of places, with descriptions. Or...

TOUR LYR! Climb volcanoes, swim seas, meet weird creatures. First: survival tips! Then, pick a region:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn

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