by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Lobbras are herbivores of the savanna, filling a niche something like our zebras. They're land-adapted lobsters grown fleet and leggy, with a centauroid bodyplan, feathery antennae for scent, eye-stalks, double horizontal jaws, small arms and hands, four legs with clawed feet, and a flyswatter tail. Ears, oddly, are internal--mere holes on the nose. In females, another small leg-pair become stalklike nipples--a naive observer might mistake them for twin penises, which is indeed the case in the males. The mistake wouldn't be so naive, actually; fawns nurse from males too; during this season sperm counts drop and the fat and sugar content rises to form milk. A second small leg-pair in front of the nipple/penis pair becomes claspers in the male, assisting in coitus, and groomers in the female, aiding newborn fawns in finding the nipple, and later combing their heads for parasites as they nurse. Again, the distinction between claspers and groomers is a bit arbitrary--male's claspers are also used for grooming his nursing fawns. All in all, nine limb-pairs are visible: eyestalks, antennae, two jaw-pairs, arms, two leg-pairs, clasper/groomers and penis/nipples.
Adult lobbras stand about 1.4 m (4'7") at the shoulder. Females mass around 40 kilos, males up to 55. In Tharn's light gravity they weigh only 25-35 kg (55-75 lbs). Their long legs let them bound at great speed, and not just in short bursts--where a zebra would overheat, lobbras' lanky build lets them keep going for miles. Their clawed feet look a bit like those of velociraptors--or big chickens. In the light gravity, these seem to work just as well as hooves.
While lobbras are descended from creatures looking like Terran lobsters, they're not crustaceans now and don't molt. Skeletons are internal and grow steadily, as in Terran vertebrates. However, this isn't true of Tharnian marine "lobsters", presumably their distant ancestors. Apparently, their rainforest grandparents scuttling around in the trees found molting too risky. They grew a froggy skin over the exoskeleton, to nourish it from both sides so it could expand. Eventually external muscles were added too, and the exoskeleton was gradually swallowed, becoming hollow bones.
Modern tree-lobsters are small and smooth, with leathery skin. Ancestral lobbras who ventured out on the savanna not only grew taller and leggier, they grew a fur coat and horselike manes as sunshades and armor (protecting the notochord from predators) and flyswatter tails.
But in one respect lobbras resemble rabbits more than equines: lobbras change color seasonally, with the grass--green, gold, brown. In deserts they stay reddish year-round; in forests, green with red-brown spots. These aren't subspecies; lobbra travelers can find themselves turning unfamiliar colors (a very disorienting phenomenon!) This suggests lobbra coloration isn't genetic but a very slow chameleonlike matching ability, quite unconscious. Modern lobbras are in little danger and like to decorate themselves, so dyes and stains are common: the mother in the illustration dyed herself black.
Lobbras are found on both sides of Tharn's equatorial belt, in open forests and veldt. Three similar-looking intelligent species graze this region--lobbras, veltaurs and wingbok. Yet none are related: pure evolutionary convergence! Veltaurs, the largest, have huge lungs and can tolerate the thinner air of rift and fracture zones. Wingbok, the smallest, are found everywhere from semidesert to full forest, though never in large herds, and they avoid uplands, where it's harder to fly. Lobbras, mid-sized, can tolerate more cold, and are found as far as 45 north and south, as long as they can avoid uplands. Lobbras hate thin air. It's limited them to a single hemisphere; the passes to Barsoom are just too high. In fact, even the modest ridges of the rift valleys are walls bounding the lobbras' range.
Why? Lobbras are bluebloods--and I don't mean snobs. They use a molecule called cuproglobin to transport oxygen, not hemoglobin. Their ancestral sea must have been briny, an evaporated remnant in a desert. Dust enriched the water, copper worked as well as iron, they used it... and now they're stuck with it. Out on the land, eons later, copper isn't always easy to come by (many Tharnian soils are ferric, but fewer are copper-rich). Lobbra livers hoard the stuff, but when a lobbra must climb over a fracture zone, making extra cuproglobin to aid breathing is a big, risky investment. Preventing altitude sickness now may mean anemia later, if the grass on the far side is copper-poor. Well, not anemia--I guess the word would be acupria. Same thing, except for the color. They feel listless, lack stamina, and their tender parts turn pale and pink, instead of a healthy blue-green.
Still, things could be worse. Lobbras do get around (if not over). The limitation's less extreme than that of another Tharnian people, the Arthom--fliers restricted to a single deep trench!
Many modern lobbras are traders and travelers. Their long-distance hoots echo over the plains. They manage caravans in regions too hot for camaroos.
Lobbras were originally herbivores not averse to insects and grubs. Berrying, nut-hoarding, root-digging and larva-harvesting led to early agriculture; many plains crops are Lobbran, including the Tharnian equivalent of honey (secreted by large hopping cricketlike pollinators living in mud skyscrapers, much like our giant termite mounds). Lobbras are natural gardeners--with their mothlike antennae, they can smell plant variations, maturity, health and diseases long before they're visible to others.
Lobbra language has a lot of odd consonants formed by the two independent sideways pairs of outer mandibles, as well as an inner jaw with tough "molar ridges", perpetually replenishing themselves. Though they're physically nothing like human mouthparts, we both have three sets used for stops, making transliteration simple if deceptive. P, b, f, v, m, w are sounds of the outer mandibles, t, d, th, dh, n, l/r are sounds of the second mandibles, and k, g, kh, gh, ng, h represent sounds of the inner molar ridges. In practice of course the actual sounds are quite different clicks hums and hisses, but the correspondence is nearly one-to-one. Vowels are limited to three: a squeaky sound transliterated "i", a mid-vowel, "e", and a deep vowel, "o". None of them sound much like human vowels--or the speech of Tharnians who happen to be mammals. Nonetheless, lobbras and species like veltaurs can and do converse this way--it's just accepted that lobbras have a very strong accent. Lobbra names on the maps include: Pong, Mintibom, Tin Kik, Ngippo, Yenkit...
As I mentioned, Lobbras have the best sense of smell on Tharn. But their feathery antennae not only scent emotions, they express them. A lobbra who touches you with an antenna is giving you quite a compliment--more intimate than a kiss, in a way--after all, they can taste your private feelings! Conversely, whipping antennae away from you is as bad a sign as a human narrowing his eyes or a wolf laying its ears back. In fact more so, for this insult's conscious communication. "You STINK!"
It's not just antennae that communicate. The independent eye-stalks can and do monitor two things at once. Lobbra brains are hemispheric, like a human's, but more independent. Their attention's often split--they act as if two brains share one body. The portrait at right isn't an anomaly; left and right eye-colors are inherited independently; it's not certain, but left and right brain hemispheres may be equally variable. What is certain is that when an angry lobbra mom snaps to her misbehaving fawn "Look at me while I'm talking to you!" her choice of verbs for "look" has to specify how many eyes... and half-inattention is quite a different insult from full inattention.
In fact, every limb-pair can shade a conversation. The little clasper/groomer arms, for example, can be used to groom oneself as well as a fawn. A bored or dreamy lobbra may slide its minihands back to the twin penises or nipple-stalks or vagina... This can be a social statement--you've just been declared EITHER dead boring OR so sexy a poor lobbra can't wait! The ambiguity of this particular gesture is the source of much low comedy--so much so that a lobbra with unusually large clasper/groomers gets teased about it, like a human kid with big ears or early breasts. Well, more like a tall kid being pushed into basketball, but with definite smutty undertones. "Saaaay, with claspers like that, you should be a comedian! What have you been doing to develop those muscles? Milkin' yourself again?" answerable only by the classic "Aw, groom my ass!"
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Second is helium. Third is humor--or its degenerate isotope, humiliation, lacking a particle of wit. But if you're traveling with lobbras, get used to it. Teasing binds the lobbra herd.
THE NGIPPO CULTURE
The Ngippo River, 3200 km long (2000 mi), is the longest on Tharn. The Ngippo collects most of the runoff from the south side of the huge Chinchak Range, and forms a riverine oasis crossing Tin Kik Desert, providing reliable irrigation water in its long valley, much like the Nile. It's not an idle comparison: megalithic ruins up to 9000 years old still loom over the fields.
Ancient Ngippo was one of Tharn's only hierarchical civilizations, ruled by a caste of water-priests who allocated irrigation and judged field-boundary disputes. They slowly became a true elite, commanding labor that built great stone tombs for their leaders. At first these were flat-topped cones up to 120 m high, apparently effigies of the great shield volcanoes that seemed to be the source of all the world's water; later, one finds huge stone images of the deceased, typically crouched on a dais--to human eyes looking half pharaoh, half sphinx.
It's revealing that the ancient Ngippans, being so isolated, were essentially unispecific--lobbras farmed the valley almost alone for eons, until the camaroo trade-network spread to the southern hemisphere 6000 years ago.
One species, and a classic Terran hierarchy! Coincidence? Doubtful. Civilizations composed of a single intelligent species are all we know, but that's a rare situation on Tharn; and when trade grew, the hierarchy quickly collapsed. Difficult to go on worshiping lobbra pharaohs who claim to command the Great River, when you know of prosperous non-lobbras with egalitarian customs--even different biological needs.
It's a suggestive history. Is our own tendency toward hierarchy really inherent in our character, or just an unfortunate artifact of our isolation? (I'm seriously proposing this: in another world-model I was forced to postulate a quite feudal civilization along a desert river where two species lived; but the Ytrebil Culture overturned its hierarchy too, as soon as a third species upset the balance. Like governments with several independent branches, civilizations with three or more intelligent species will, I predict, tend toward egalitarianism; one or two species may be more likely to stratify into rulers and ruled.)
Some of the temples and tombs still stand, though battered; and not all the battering's due to time. Some were defaced or toppled in rebellions lasting two or three generations before the last of the lobster-pharaohs fell. And the lobbras have no regrets.
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