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The Pwokwe
Species design: Geoffrey Fletcher

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Sketch of a Pwokwe, rather like a human-sized theropodian dinosaur with webbed clawed feet (the forelimbs are vestigial wings) native to Continent 6 on Pegasia, the dense-aired moon of a gas giant.

SPECIES

While at first glance the Pwokwe resemble the extinct theropod dinosaurs of Earth, a second glance will reveal major differences; most notably the chitinous integument covering most of their bodies. Exoskeletons are likely as common as endoskeletons throughout the Universe, and the Pwokwe are (distantly) descended from lobster-like amphibious swimmers. In their case the exoskeleton has developed supporting internal struts to prevent the collapse of their internal organs under their own weight; Pwokwe stand around 150 centimeters high at the hip (eye level up to 200; these are big people!), and mass 80-120 kilos, though in Pegasia's low gravity, their weights range from 50-75 kilos; quite human.

Their more immediate ancestors were birdlike aerial predators, flying on webs of skin along their arms and between their fingers. They are uncommon on Pegasia in that they have abandoned flight for a ground-hugging existence; they've simply grown too large to fly even in Pegasia's low gravity and dense air.

Pwokwe senses are sharp. They see as well by night as by day; their eyes are very large, equipped with tapeta lucida for better low-light vision, and in front of them they have a set of well-developed pit organs for infrared vision. Their sense of smell is acute (the nostrils are located inside the mouth, as is the general breathing apparatus, relics of their amphibious ancestor which needed to poke its head above the surface to breathe).

Males are slightly larger and more brightly coloured than females, with a large and brightly striped penis evolved as a courtship display. They are polygamous, with each male being shared between two to six females, not always related; new clans are often founded when female friends, having established a solid business, choose a joint male they both like.

Sex is determined chemically (like some Earthly fishes), as opposed to chromosomally, and juvenile Pwokwe remain genderless until they reach their final moult at around eight years (Earth years; 12-15 Pegasian springs). The number of males and females in a community thus adjusts itself to stay around three females for each male. The scent of many males tends to turn children female, and a lack of males engenders new ones; but individual stress levels may also influence gendering. Children with a longing to leave to clan, explore and travel are a bit more likely to become male. Given that male exogamy is expected, this makes sense. But it's not consistent, and there are other factors; Pwokwe tradition claims famine encourages females and cold weather males, for example. Encourages, not determines. In the end, gendering is mysterious.

The mating season is in the autumn (the warm, usually rainless days before the long, mild winter), and Pwokwe from miles around converge upon a central breeding ground pavilion to court and be courted. At this time the normally staid, stolid Pwokwe become flamboyant, even a little manic. It's not surprising, since the competition for mates was a major driving factor in their rise to sentience. It may be that the Pwokwe are simply less smart the rest of the year; certainly in season they're more inventive. Brains, or desperation?

Infants are born the following spring, generally just a few days apart. A family will have only one or at most two infants, even among half a dozen co-wives; pheromones presumably limit pregnancies to a manageable number.

Children molt yearly at first, then every two to three years. Many Earth crustaceans step out of their skin entirely; not the Pwokwe. The exoskeleton cracks wherever it's under strain, and new 'expansion' strips solidify. The ridged, striped look of an adult begins here. (Many Pwokwe claim to read one's character from these exoskeleton patterns, though adult labor can only influence details; the broad pattern's set by childhood habits, accidents and nutrition. Thus, chitinology's even less accurate than human palm-reading, which at least studies wrinkles acquired mostly in adulthood.)

Children are raised by their clan co-mothers and father until they reach maturity. After gendering, females usually remain with their matrilocal clan, unless they feel a strong call to travel or learn a trade not practiced in her clan; males are expected to go off to join bachelor clans, though a few specialists may return by invitation. The Pwokwe are pragmatic; if it'll earn the clan extra glittershells, they'll bend propriety. Distribution map of an intelligent rather theropodian species called the Pwokwe, native to Continent 6 on Pegasia, the dense-aired moon of a gas giant.

HABITAT

The Pwokwe live on the shores and riverbanks of Ebwektokchwee Gulf in east-central Continent 6. They practice aquaculture extensively, tending the marshes and building breakwaters and ponds to the best benefit of the fish, shellfish and game they depend upon. The three major rivers feeding the Gulf are called Fweemtikchok, Ekwokwok, and Kwai-Fwoom from north to south respectively. Communities of Pwokwe have spread up and down the rivers, and east along the coasts of the Gulf. While they are not good long-range swimmers, their habitat has given them a head-start in shipbuilding, and Pwokwe trade ships hug the coast north into the Emwemfeek Sea, with scattered trading stations and factors in the ports all along its southern shore. Other ships head east to Frolconia around the southern side of the Eebok Sea to trade with the Frolcons there. Continent 8 and locations further afield are still too far for Pwokwe sailors to venture in their small ships.

The Pwokwe are estuarine waders and fishers, like giant Earthly herons; they eat birds, amphibians, and small animals, but the main part of their diet consists of shellfish and fish, which they catch with their long, bony fingers (formerly, in an evolutionary sense, the struts of their wings). The opposable thumb has developed a claw suitable for prizing open shells.

Many professionals, like fine woodworkers and scribes, need to file this down; it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to tell a Pwokwe's occupation at a glance, by the shape and length of the thumbclaw! Pwokwe rarely need to ask "So what do you do?" They know. Pwokwe have a dozen ballads of hard-working fisherwomen with sturdy claws falling for refined professional males because of their groomed nails. As clichéd as those European ballads of fair maids, golden hair and ruby lips...

BEHAVIOR

Outside of mating season, Pwokwe (the females particularly) are stolid, sensible, even dour folk, preferring to mind their own business and for others to mind theirs. For the several weeks of mating season, however, the Pwokwe (and in particular the males) become avid, energetic artists, craftspeople, and philosophers, as the males compete for the attentions of the females. This sort of cultural flip--as if rural Idaho traded populations with San Francisco every Fall--creates a rocking imbalance between conservatism and progression, as the Pwokwe innovate frenziedly for weeks and then sit back to digest the implications of what they've done. It's almost as if the entire population were manic-depressives.

Males--who tend to be more frenetic more of the time--have something of a reputation as primping, display-conscious, status-conscious aesthetes, while females are more sensible. Business is business--until fall rolls around...

Stone arches and domes, bright flags, chitinous velociraptorlike people covered in body paint: the Pwokwe mating festival in the city of Kwai-Fwoom, on Continent 6 of Pegasia, an Earthlike moon.

CULTURE

Pwokwe culture normally centers at home: quiet storytelling and meditative music in the clanhall, after work. But every autumn, during mating season, activity shifts to the great Festival Houses, where the Pwokwe gather for weeks of trading, courting, brawling and gossiping. Maintained by all-male bachelor clans (filled by adoption, not by patrilineage), the Festival Houses are huge, brightly carved and painted halls, accompanied by the necessary spread of workshops, warehouses, theaters and docks. The largest and most splendid of these complexes is in the city of Emfweeowak-Tok, at the mouth of the Kwai-Fwoom river; the Emfweeowak-Tokese are particularly known for their wood carving, and Emfweeowak-Tok carved goods can be found all along the east and north of Continent Six.

Outside Emfweeowak-Tok and similar towns, the coasts are dotted with the matrilineal clans of Pwokwe females, each clan-compound having its own halls, outbuildings, and fields. Older clanhouses can also be architecturally impressive and decorated to show off the clan style; but carvings and colors are more restrained compared to Festival Houses, with little figurative art; one wouldn't want to distract from serious business!

LANGUAGE

Pwokwe lips are very mobile, allowing a wide range of labials and click sounds. Since the Roman alphabet has letters for only one series of labial sounds, the two distinct labial fricatives are indicated by f and ph: f is a soft bilabial f, as in Spanish; ph is pursed and hissed, almost a blend of English f and a sharp sh. T and ch denote two labial plosive clicks humans don't commonly produce; t sounds like water dripping into a resonant bottle, ch is a loud lip-smacking "kiss" that sounds almost raspy, like an angry bluejay.

In short: Pwokwe transliterated looks deceptively familiar. But Pwokwe tongues are short and rooted to the lower jaw too tightly to comfortably pronounce human sounds like t, d, th, n, r, l. A Pwokwe can hiss, but s and sh sounds aren't phonemes; they express emotions quite intelligible to most Terran creatures. Ssss is a threat/anger display; shhh denotes relaxation or placation.

Pwokwe speech is thus a long video-arcade chatter of whistles, clicks and lip-smacking sounds, interspersed with low hoots resonating down the length of the neck; pwow-pwow-bwaaom-tok-wok-pwek-chik!

Map of Pegasia, an Earthlike moon. Click a feature to go there.
Gazetteer: complete index of place names, with descriptions. Or...

TOUR PEGASIA! The following route snakes around Pegasia, covering all major features:
Continent 1 - 165 Is. - Continent 2 - Continent 3 - Rift-Junction and Curl 9 Is. - Busre Is. - Continent 4 - Continent 5 - Curl 5 Is. - Continent 6 - Continent 7 - Continent 8 - 89 Is. - Continent 9



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