by Chris Wayan, 2005-6
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If Terran coyotes were medieval monks, and if they painted angels, they'd paint something like flyotes. These six-limbed mammals resemble a reddish coyote or a large short-muzzled fox with hawk-wings stuck on (the middle limb-pair, modified). All four non-winged limbs have handlike paws; the front pair has fully opposable thumbs. These omnivorous pack animals have brains as light and efficient as a raven's or parrot's, and for the same reason (to minimizing flight-weight). But a flyote's brain is far larger than any Terran bird's--indeed, huge for their body-size, weighing 300-800 gm (wolves, chimps and prehumans are in this range). This hyperactive organ burns up to 35% of all calories ingested, giving flyotes their proverbial huge appetites. And much of their character.
Which is? Well, as another Tharnian proverb goes, "Pet them, play with them, never lend them money."
Flyotes are ubiquitous today on Tharn, except for uplands: they inhabit open woods, savanna and desert, near crags, mesas or canyon walls throughout the trenches, wherever cliff-caves provide safe nests. They're small enough to just manage flight on the plains, for short distances; packs can survive there, if not flourish, and have spread to other trenches through these poor cousins. But it's only in the trenches (a tiny fraction of their full range) where flyotes large enough for serious brainpower can flourish.
Trench flyotes typically enlarge cliff-caves or overhangs to live in, though today they burrow with metal tools, not claws; formerly they were rare in hardrock regions. In forests they'll occasionally nest high in large trees, hollowing these out too, with fire as well as chipping; but trees are not preferred, as they eventually die, while cliff-burrows can be used for generations. To rid these dens of parasites, smoky herbal fires are set in every cave to mark the new year (always set in the local dry season, when it's comfortable outside for a few days). Remember that a year on Tharn is only six or seven Earth months; once a 'year' is usually enough.
THE DUPDUP EXCEPTION
The subspecies found in isolated Dupdup Trench, look and behave very differently: the largest flyotes on Tharn, they're largely nocturnal, live in tree-villages not cliff-dwellings, practice silviculture and eat more fruit than meat... Sound familiar? It's a pattern remarkably like lebbirds, and no coincidence: this deep, warm, humid trench is perfect lebbird habitat... just in the wrong hemisphere. But bands of nomadic little plains-flyotes wander everywhere, and one lucky band, some 20,000 years ago, stumbled on Eden. They've grown over the generations to fit the oasis they found. A splendid example of evolutionary convergence! How much of it's cultural, how much genetic? An open question at present.
But not forever. Arid canyons are ideal for flyote cliffdwellings and less than prime habitat for other fliers--lebbirds need trees to nest in, for example. In the driest stretches of Tharnian trenches like the Ssa Valley in Yoof, or southern Dor Trench, flyotes support high civilizations. Even in deep, rugged, river-carved canyons, generally not as deep as trenches, like Lelei Canyon or Roop Canyon, flyotes are still big and intelligent. Diurnal and not at all like lebbirds, these still rival Dupdup's flyotes for size and sophistication. And even valleys barely below datum, if they're isolated, cliff-walled and with a friendly climate, like the Iklora Fjords, can sometimes grow a crop of large, sophisticated flyotes--reliable food and shelter alone can work wonders on this remarkably mutable creature.
Flyotes are omnivorous hunters, preferring meat but happy with fruit, nuts... and anything else. They're as appealing to most Tharnians as to us. Even in prehistoric times, several other species shared their villages with them, treating them a bit like humans with dogs, but a more equal partnership--flyotes are so useful for messages and hunting and retrieval. With four clever paws, they're as handy as the Wicked Witch of the West's flying monkeys (flunkeys?). And smarter--they're far more intelligent than chimps. Most solo tribes have languages indicating tenses, numbers, and pronouns, including "I". Lots and lots of "I". These tongues vary, but they all have a yipping, chattery quality. Consider the names they've left on the land: Dupdup Trench, Lake Kyekyek, the Gwaa Desert, Bwekko Crater, the River Gyak...
Today, other Tharnians call flyotes people, but still treat them like pets--literally. They fondle, groom and bond with them in a way much like humans and dogs. Flyotes are loved but not respected: "They're not intellectual, they live for now." And it's true that flyotes still tend to get by on charm and do poorly in school. But consider: only 800 years ago even trench-flyotes spoke in short phrases, and a literate flyote would have been inconceivable, while today all trenchdwellers (and even larger plains-flyotes lucky enough to live in canyons) speak fluently. A majority can read, and some can do math. Flyote skulls over the centuries have grown larger, though flight-weight limits have forced them to grow thinner and more fragile. It's a trade-off that's succeeded... so far. Flyotes are very much a work-in-progress.
Flyotes themselves rate intelligence as the most desirable quality in a mate, disapprove of dull flyotes having many pups, and will compete for the privilege of adopting smart pups. Hypersensitive to pack standing and aware how others see them, they may thus be directing their own evolution--not out of some abstract sense of racial destiny, but out of a very canine longing to be full, respected members of their new, multispecies pack.
Longing? Yes. We often speak of species' evolutionary "strategies"--but we're wrong. Animals, even self-aware animals like us, make our choices and live our lives based on feelings. Do you coolly plan who you'll mate with, have children with? Most of us, most of the time, are driven by deep longings we scarcely understand.
Flyotes can't do calculus--yet. But they know exactly what they love.
Those who've explored two earlier biospheres of mine, Serrana or Lyr, will notice I've used some of the same illustrations and much the same physical descriptions for Tharnian flyotes, Serranian flying foxes and Lyran floxes. But flying foxes, most Serranians would say, are just bright domesticated creatures evolving toward personhood, while floxes are undeniably people, for Lyr has a high atmospheric pressure making flight easy--floxes never faced severe evolutionary downsizing pressures, so both bodies and brains could grow.
Here on Tharn, flyotes face Lyran and Serranian conditions at different altitudes. The trenches certainly allow flying creatures big enough to be intelligent; the plains, barely; the uplands, not at all. Fliers face choices: arthom stay in their trench, plains wingbok shrank in order to stay flightworthy, limiting brain size, lebbirds will cross the plains on foot but only settle trenches, clinging to flight, while feathered mops may have sacrificed flight to settle the uplands. So far, flyotes haven't committed irrevocably to either the trenches or the plains. The result's a genetic spectrum between sophisticated people limited to trenches like Dupdup and Otz, and wide-ranging plains-creatures disturbingly midway between animals and people.
Flyotes may yet achieve a brain small yet complex enough to allow their full intelligence WITH full flight up on the plains. If they do, they'll dominate Tharnian civilization.
Unless, of course, the wingbok get there first.
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