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TREE-SQUID

by Chris Wayan, 2004

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A tree-squid, one of six intelligent species on Serrana, a world-building experiment. Click to enlarge. SQUID EVOLUTION

Sosna Wood is the ancestral home of the tree-squid. Along the swampy shore, a mangrovish forest tempted an octopus-like mollusk into forays up the buttresses and trunk into the canopy. To grasp branches, the tentacle-tips split like the tip of an elephant's trunk; six "digits" became twelve. The species became fully arboreal, and today fills a niche much like apes on Earth. Most of their diet is fruit, nuts (cracked in their powerful parrot-beaks), leaf buds, and insects, but they net pseudobirds in trees and fish in the bayous. Rather than clear the forest for agriculture, they merely altered the balance toward fruit and nut trees they favored; today, the warmer woods around the Eamet Ocean may look wild but are huge, haphazard orchards.

SQUID PSYCHOLOGY

Squid were originally solitary, but the advantages of technology pushed them into small villages. Socialization is incomplete; squid psychology remains rather feline. They groom themselves, not others, when feeling social pressure. To be truly alone, a squid just climbs high into the trees and meditates, swinging from the branches. It's the height (literally) of rudeness to address a treetop squid, and many an over-eager raptor or taurlope trader has gotten inked. Sepia can temporarily blind, but also stains fur or feathers indelibly; until they shed or molt, an offender is branded brown. The Sepia Fool is an archetype transcending species, and is a staple of Serranian theater.

SQUID MUSIC

Tree-squid are superb actors, mimics, dancers, and musicians... but not, of course, singers. Chief instruments:

SQUID LANGUAGE AND ART

For tree-squid, language and art are inseparable. Squid hear quite well (like most forest species) but are nearly mute. A soft hooting is the most they can manage. But the chromatophores in their skin let them change color. Over time they developed finer and finer control, until a colored pictographic language evolved--skin-cartoons! Thus, in a sense, they invented writing first on Serrana; but squid history remained "oral", not written; for the next step, using their own sepia ink, was used only for temporary messages. This wasn't a failure of imagination; it's just that in a rainforest, ink on bark doesn't last. Still, today they print half the books on Serrana, rivaling the Planians. They favor hexagonal and round designs. A storytelling tree-squid. The chromatophores in its skin create glyphs telling the tale to its raptor and taurlope viewers. Nirit Peninsula, on Serrana, a world-building experiment. Click to enlarge.

Squid are drawing and painting masters--and cartoonists unrivaled in design, pacing, concision, abstraction. (And yes, most of their drawings are sepiatone.) Their pictographic language affects how they think as much as words channel the thoughts of oral species: while they can master naturalism, they think in abstracted symbols, grand gestures, bon mots. They love artifice. Squid go for baroque.

WHAT THEIR BLUE BLOOD TELLS US

Creatures evolving in different Serranian seas may lean toward iron-based or copper-based oxygen transport. I wanted at least one sea dominated by copper so we have blue-blooded molluscs or arthropods crawling out and colonizing the land. Land lobsters! No obvious size limit, if they develop true lungs and hinged carapaces letting them breathe freely. Though copper's less efficient, so in Serrana's thin air, the bluebloods might be restricted to lowlands. Of the species I'm planning, the land-squid fit best; the crustacean "mammoths" will specialize in mountain environments as well as polar tundra; in Serrana's thin air, they'd need hemoglobin on some equivalent--copper won't make it. So their sea must have been one rich in iron dust; that means near the Tsud. Though the only known rich copper deposits are in southeast Tsud as well--it was mined and mentioned on the original Anarres, in Le Guin's book The Dispossessed. Thus, the copper-based land-squid must have evolved on the east shore of the Leas Sea, near these deposits; it's the one sea I can be sure will be rich in copper. The iron-based mammoths will arise from another dust-fertilized sea near the Tsud: most likely the Niirg Sea, but perhaps the southern Aburros. Oh, this reverse engineering! But that's what I get for declaring a book holy. Hardly matters if it's a bible or an anarchist utopia... regardless of its content, always referring back to a past text causes predictable problems. As my Terran readers, surrounded by rabid text-worshipers, may have noticed.

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