by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Taurlopes aren't centaurs; they're far more gracile (lightly built) than horses. Rather cheetah-like, taurlopes do have somewhat equine heads, manes and tails, but kangaroolike mid- and rear paws instead of hooves. Their four-digit hands are dextrous--perhaps the wrong word, as it derives from "as adept as one's right hand"--and taurlopes lack human hand-preference. Fine motor skills are equal! This reflects a deeper unity: taurlope brains aren't split.
An equally odd detail (for highly bilateral readers like humans) are the nipples. Taurlopes are mammals; females feed young milk, and the nipples are located on the front of the thorax (upper torso), but in line, not side by side, one in the fore-crotch and one at navel height. Similarly, the ureter, genitals and anus are strung out along the ventral line of the main torso, further apart than on Earth mammals. Birth is relatively easy, despite the foal's large head--the birth canal runs through a longer pelvic window than the tight, dangerous ring human babies must pass.
The thorax is deep-chested but slender, proportioned more like a greyhound than a human torso. It's mostly lung--just one, with three huge lobes. The equally huge heart is protected in the fore-pelvis. Taurlopes can run with antelope speed but human endurance. Migrations of a hundred km a day are routine. Taurlopes love to run--it gets them high. In Serrana's low gravity and air resistance, they nearly fly.
Coats vary greatly, from spots to stripes to plain, by region and tribe. Dyeing and decoration further complicates the picture. Still, they can never be mistaken for their stocky cousins the Planians. Never mind the color and style of pelt--if it's bareback, it's a taurlope. Planians are too body-shy to show their "naked" fur, thick though it is.
Originally herbivores, with two stomachs and a lengthy gut, taurlopes are still able to digest cellulose with their second stomach and long gut (and the poorer tribes still eat a very fibrous diet); but tool use has increased their intake of fruit, leaves, buds, bugs and fish.
What's their temperament? Well, temperamental. Their antelope-like origins left them nervous, tending to startle if not exactly shy. They value beauty and cultivate grace. Prone to religious visions and dance-induced ecstasy. Fond of poetry, song, stories, music, dancing, sex, or, preferably, all the above at once. Taurlopes are fun at parties--if you can coax them to come. Their own seasonal religious dance-festivals, especially the great celebrations at the start and end of the monsoon rains, attract tourists of other species, some to gawk and a few bold creatures who join in the dance.
Taurlopes were wary of raptors (for prehistorically good reasons) and somewhat patronizing to squid (based, as far as anyone can tell, entirely on looks); but in peaceful modern times, liberal taurlopes are common in racially mixed communities. But be polite: taurlopes look delicate, but can kick like a kangaroo if insulted.
On the right, this lightly built zebra-striped woman with palomino mane and tail is typical of Mosnoll Veldt northeast of the Eamet Ocean. This veldt is hot, and people tend to run tall and slender here, like the Masai. She holds what appears to be a reddish sunflower, but it's not--that's a tentacle-staff, a badge indicationg her herd's authorized her to bargain for them with the Hexapi traders.
Note how her face looks equine only at first glance. She resembles a cartoon horse more than any real Terran equine: the skull's far shorter and the jaw more delicate.
The adolescent doing a "handstand" to the lower left, whose dappled pelt is typical of the Tutitsni Veldt southwest of the Narek Sea, also demonstrates how little taurlopes are really like horses. I don't so much mean her startling stance (horses are surprisingly acrobatic... when motivated!) but her gaze. She's focused directly on us with both eyes! In all subspecies of 'taur, the eyes are angled forward, unlike a horse's, though they can see further to the sides than most humans--about 270 degrees.
Those who use facial structure to divide animals into hunters and hunted will find taurlopes frustratingly ambiguous--and it goes deeper than the skin, or even bone: it's in the brain. Taurlope eyes can see stereoscopically or scan independently at will, and 'lopes describe these as different mental states. Stereoscopy induces focused attention, reason, critical thinking. Roving eyes induce daydreaming--no, more like a waking REM state--creative but unpredictable.
Yet unlike human waking and dreaming, 'lope mental states flicker effortlessly back and forth in a heartbeat; they're scarcely aware of it. Is the taurlope brain split along the time axis instead of a lateral, spatial one?
Talk about temporal lobes!
SEX AND PLAY
Our upside-down girl and the crouching juvenile below to the right, are both displaying stances signaling "let's play." But play in what sense? A forepaw-stand or a crouch and raised tail can mean flirtation, clowning, a serious sexual invitation, a gesture of respectful apology ("Sorry I was mean, can we make love not war?") an invitation to groom or pet nonsexually, as well as to play in a human sense. And all these signals, sexual or not, could be directed at an adult, an adolescent in her age group, or a juvenile, of either sex--even to another species.
Taurlopes are highly tactile, using both sexual and nonsexual grooming and petting as stress reducers between all ages and genders, rather like Terran bonobos, or Californians. In mixed-species communities, taurlopes and their calmer cousins the Planians function something like pets in a human community, though quite without the taboos we observe toward sex with other species. Affection, to a taurlope, is affection--few distinctions are made.
Interestingly, no Serranian people domesticates animals purely as pets like our lapdogs or indoor cats--do taurlopes fill the role already? Taurlopes themselves do have pets of a sort, flying foxes, who do give and receive much physical/sexual contact and affection, but they also pull their weight as scouts, messengers and light air transport. They function more like probationary citizens, possibly a seventh species in the greater Serranian civilization... in ten or a hundred thousand years. Serranians think long.
Though ubiquitous on veldts around Serrana, taurlopes are today also found in open woods. Even jungle towns will have a few 'lopes.
Where don't they live? Anywhere cold! Their slender build is made for heat dispersion; taurlopes can certainly survive in freezing weather, but they hate it. And unlike their Planian cousins, they dislike covering themselves with blankets and clothes, saying they limit touch, petting and sex--as uncomfortable as blindfolding a human? Few taurlopes will casually wear even purses or pouches, convenient though they'd be.
But sensory deprivation may not be the whole story. Taurlopes constantly stretch, fidget, scratch, groom, and idly contort themselves like yogis on speed. Their dislike of clothing may be just vanity, but they truly are high-strung--free movement may be vital to their health and sanity. Even questioning taurlopes about clothing upsets them and is not recommended; you may get kicked.
Due to their heat preference, most taurlopes will only visit the highlands or tundra or cool north woods in summer, leaving year-round settlement to Planians, mammoths, and raptors.
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