by Chris Wayan, 2006
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Soka are arboreal people with slightly feline, slightly simian bodies, huge batlike ears (but unlike bats, huge eyes too) and rather mothlike wings with dully iridescent scale-feathers. They're small--standing only 1.2 m at full height on average, with a wingspan of 2-3 m. Sokas are very light, massing around 10 kilos max. They're agile short-distance fliers but tire out after a few hours. They've spread by boat, not by wing.
Soka voices are high, mostly ultrasonic. In the human sound-range, all they can manage are squeaks and soft hoots. Since their mouths can't enunciate the common trade tongue, soka speak to other species in signs. It's not a distinct language, like human signing, but a deliberate word-by-word parallel to Trade, the pidgin understood all over Lyr--a third form of the language, along with speech and writing.
They were originally omnivores eating a lot of insects using echo-location, but not as specialized as bats; they hunted small game, snared birds and fish, and picked fruit in the canopy. Many today are tree-farmers, tending colonies of edible termites who in turn tend a symbiotic fungus--the only case I know of farmers farming farmers!
Soka evolved in the subtropical rainforests of northern and central Besar, in the Flandry Cluster. They still prefer rainforest, but anywhere wooded will do as long as the climate's mild; they don't like extreme heat or cold. Sokas are common today all through Flandry, except for chilly Altai--which soka first found, announced to others, but never have settled themselves.
As their discovery of Altai suggests, soka are the best deepwater sailors on Lyr--not that there's much competition! Elaffes and tauraffes do build rafts to cross straits, since they're wingless. Sphinxes, lebbirds and pegasi all build boats to transport bulk goods--lumber, food, stone--but this is nearly all just coastal trade. Cheetaurs have built and sailed deepwater ships--but again, only to reach lands they otherwise can't without wings. Cheetaurs HATE to get wet, and they swim badly--with heavy, non-hollow bones, lots of muscle and little fat, they simply sink. Reluctant sailors!
But soka sail from choice, and trade as far away as Larsum, Averorn, and southern Gaiila--even, occasionally, across the equator to the great ports of Hrill. Still, few have settled in these lands--too hot, too cold, or simply too far from other soka.
Do I make them sound clannish and cautious? Sokas are the most widespread of all Lyr's rainforest peoples! All the others--baps, koreens, elaffes, tauraffes, and witweets--stick to their native cluster, and some stick to their native island! Given sokas' habitat needs, and their biological inability to fly far, they're remarkably adventurous.
If you go by raw numbers, most sokas are orchardists and termite farmers in the jungles of Flandry. But more visible and influential in Lyran civilization are the sokan sea-traders passing lightly as clouds through the archipelagos all over their hemisphere. They developed their formidable sailing technology slowly, in the sheltered, favorable waters of the Kursoviki Sea off Flandry. Like the Greeks and Phoenicians, they started off island-hopping, slowly venturing further out in search of fishing banks.
The Kursoviki Islands today are still a fishing culture; cuisine there is nothing like the mainland's fruit/nut diet. In fact, Kursoviki fishers and deepwater traders form a distinct race, not based on appearance but enzymes. They can digest seaweeds their inland cousins can't, and they manufacture Vitamin 2, which mainlanders get from fruit. Sokan sailors don't get scurvy! That is, not any more. That single, invisible change in their anterior liver is proof of eons of maritime tragedies, until the genes of rare survivors became a new majority.
Even maritime sokas are clannish, due perhaps to their language difference. Or is that just a surface manifestation of their perceptual difference? Living in a world of sonar echoes, able to generate what amount to 3-D auditory images distinguishable from real objects only by the secondary senses of sight and touch, sokas are like living movie projectors--to other sokas. They live in, and communicate via, a sort of virtual reality other species can't share.
Though they look quite different from the baps of Troisleons, these may be their closest psychological kin, for baps, too, live in a sonar world others can't share. I don't know how soka and baps see one another. Do they get along, or find the other species creepy, a bad parody of themselves, as antel and pegasi seem to? But baps aren't travelers, and live on the far side of the world--I know of no instance when the two species have met!
I'd like to be there if and when they ever do.
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