by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Camaroos, as their English name suggests, are intelligent cameloid marsupial bipeds--camel-kangaroos. But cold-weather roos! Adapted for the cold and thin air of the uplands, they're rounded, golden, fluffy as Andean vicuñas. Pelts vary in thickness with season and geography--unlike mamooks, camaroos can tolerate moderate warmth--they just shed a lot...
...or clip themselves and sell their woven fur as rugs.
Let's visit at high summer, just after the annual self-shearing, when their bodyplan is more visible. Of course, it may take some coaxing to see a trimmed camaroo; they feel rather naked with short fur, and pile on scarves and ponchos from last year's harvest--the only time of the year they wear clothing. The bright-dyed clothes are for sale, but their patterns also advertise the weaver's skill and personal character; and as they sell, they just draw attention to the parts they leave exposed.
Thus, the larger Summer Fairs (such as Koom Sea Fair in south Dejah) are curious mixtures of tradeshow and strip-tease! A singles bar, carnival, guild-meeting and beach holiday all in one.
Playing such multiple games simultaneously is typical of the camaroo mind. Always something bubbling in there! Never bored.
But as I said, they can be shy, especially with aliens like you. The only "nude" sketches I have of camaroos are so shaggy it's hard to get a detailed sense of their anatomy. Sorry--but getting a shorn camaroo to pose nude takes more skill in mixing flattery, bribery and flirtation than I possess!
The best I could manage was this hasty caravan sketch done in high summer above Lake Tebbik near the equator. The season was so hot that these packers had very light coats; and at the end of the day, they were just too tired to care about a tourist in the distance. Without that dense fur, their build seems almost saurian. And so do thier movements--leisurely, patient, there for the long haul. Non-veloci-non-raptors!
That chubby torso is about half lung. Note the long legs, too. Not quite ostrich-length, but camaroos are excellent runners as well as hardy rock-climbers. They never invented the wheel--and not just because their mountainous homelands were too rough for road-building! Why ride when you can run? Running's seen as a pleasure; races are common. Even load-lugging is considered pleasant, healthy exercise.
Camaroos live in all six major uplands. They've also settled the great shield-volcano ranges and the heights along the major rift zones. Some farm around near-polar plainlakes, too. Camaroos get around; since they like to walk and thin air doesn't faze them, they're the most common caravaners and traders on Tharn. The range-map is conservative, showing only denser populations: small knots of camaroo can be found all over Tharn (except trenches and tropics), especially in orbital winter. They just aren't always seen as permanent residents. Yet they spend a good portion of the year on the savanna or in the woods.
Camaroos are as calm as they are hardy, for they had few natural enemies--not many predators can match them in thin air. Farmers, caravan traders, superb weavers (rivaling thotters), both of their own fur and that of their herds of Woolly Anoxia (a sort of hopping little mountain goat that's mostly thigh, lung, molars and hair. Certainly no brain.)
Camaroo weaving is odd by human standards: it's three-way, not two-way. A warp, a weft and a... wiggle? The resulting hexagonal fabric is extremely strong, warm, and bears complex triangular and hexagonal designs, often angular spirals. Where humans divide their world in twos and fours ("divide" literally means "see as two"), camaroos trivide their world into threes and sixes.
This certainly has something to do with their three-digit hands. Three fingers sounds inadequate for writing and weaving, but since any of the three can oppose the other two, they're surprisingly adept. "All thumbs" is English slang for "clumsy", but it's a compliment among camaroos; their equivalent, said (falsely) of flyotes and (sort-of-truthfully) of wingbok, is "thumbless wonders."
Camaroos were probably the first on Tharn to invent writing, first scratched into desert varnish under rock overhangs, and later incised, painted and pressed into clay. They probably pioneered both murals and sculpture, too--starting with standing stones marking passes and paths, they started carving these into crude guardian figures at least 100,000 years ago. They progressed to realistic stone- and wood-carving, as well as fired pottery, about 20,000 years back. Curiously, the pictographic bas-reliefs may have come later than realistic sculpture in the round--possibly not until the time of early writing, as recently as 13,000 years ago!
Modern camaroo are fond of color, fur-dyes and cosmetics--often staining their whole pelt. And not evenly: it took some searching to find subjects for sketches who weren't dyed in paisley, hexagonal or spiderweb patterns. Even the stripes on that first sketch of a shepherd may be artificial--that was just the most natural-looking model I could persuade.
Camaroo music sounds a bit like medieval rap--long ballads telling stories. Or maybe whalesong--camaroos have a huge vocal range and sweep from deep bass to squeaks. One bard can easily tell a whole opera, playing a dozen roles distinctly. This skill has served camaroo traders well; they readily mimic other species, learning languages quickly.
Ritual dance amphitheaters in the uplands have huge stone horns, carved in place. At dances, they send their teams of players into a hyperventilation trance, "so they aren't left behind," the camaroos explain, "as the dancers climb to the spirit world."
The upper spirit world, I mean. Camaroos believe Tharn has five levels, not three: the trenches, the plains, the uplands, and two heavens. One, three miles above the uplands' highest peaks, has no air, but creatures reaching it need not breathe--a heaven of pure light and energy. But for the several Tharnian species unable to tolerate high altitudes, a second heaven lies hidden below the deepest trench-lakes, a heaven with plenty of water, lush warm jungles, and dense air, where fliers soar and breathe easy.
This ecological heaven resembles a real world: Tharn's sister moon Pegasia. The resemblance is not coincidence, but observation. The upland cultures, both camaroo and mamook, have relatively advanced astronomy, for night viewing is nearly as good as from space (indeed, given Tharn's thin air, even trench cultures have pretty good seeing). Every four days, Pegasia swings so close it's triple Luna's apparent width, shedding up to a dozen times as much light.
Pegasia, like Tharn, is a planet-sized moon, but an even larger one, with denser air and much more water. Its wide seas, lush continents and copious clouds are visible to the naked eye; even Tharn's crude telescopes prove Pegasia to be Paradise... at least compared to Tharn.
Camaroos aren't the only people to notice Heaven in the heavens. Centahs insist Tharnians are all reborn on Pegasia when they die. Unless you like endless theological speculation, never get a camaroo arguing with a centah in a bar! Camaroos retort "then where's the heaven for Pegasians?" To which centahs, an easy-going, sensual, optimistic savanna folk, smugly answer "Tharn!"
This transmigrational shell game seems a cheat to hard-working, serious camaroos. "So our poor lives are supposed to be a reward?"
"Oh, yes." With a luxurious, seductive stretch that somehow seems to tease the tubby little camaroos about their looks as well as their seriousness...
Feelings may be bruised. Noses may be bruised. Bar furniture may be bruised.
No, you're really better off not bringing up the afterlife at all.
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