by Chris Wayan, 2004
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These shaggy-feathered, birdlike, bipedal dinosaurs are about two meters tall. Bright-crested, long-tailed, they look as hot as their blood. Mops are viviparous, with a marsupial pouch. They began as omnivorous hunter-gatherers in the forests. Today they farm and herd as well.
Mop isn't their name for themselves, of course--just a rough translation of a mocking mamook term describing them as feather-dusters. Their own species-name is something like "brakka-kekya-kwoshoshOSH" or "us gorgeous people"--but mops themselves will often use "mop" now, with a glint in their black eyes.
Mops evolved in boreal forest. Relatively cold-tolerant, they ventured into Tharn's uplands, and spread south along their rims. Though camaroos and mamooks are better adapted to the tundra typical of the uplands, small mop tribes still do live in all six major uplands, especially the fringes and river valleys. Mops eventually crossed the equator via mountain chains near 120 east, and settled the southern taiga too. Today they dominate the cooler forests all over Tharn, both subpolar and montane. With their thick, shaggy feathers, they can't tolerate the heat of the trenches, nor of the equatorial forests.
Typical food sources: annual, salmonlike fish-runs, berries (mops fell trees not just for lumber but to create berry-bush clearings), the growing tips of Tharnian evergreens (pleasantly spicy, but don't overindulge if you're not a mop; like Terran evergreens, they're rich in sugars and vitamins, but also resins (antifreeze?) which only mops are adapted to digest in quantity); and the nuts of half a dozen tree-species bred to be high-yield, that mops fertilize with fish-waste--which, along with wood chips, feeds mushroom-gardens.
There's a second, less-known subspecies of mop in the steppes fringing the Heloon Desert. But 'mop' is hardly the term for them: tall and slender as Maasai herders, short-feathered in winter, molting to scales (except the proud crest and tail) in the summer heat. They look peculiar (to other mops, too) but handle temperature swings better than most Tharnians, who tend to be well adapted for relatively narrow niches.
Many of Tharn's semiarid zones have winters too cool for centahs yet summers too hot for camaroos; often thin populations of seasonal nomads of both species share these lands. But on this huge, lonely plain, there's nowhere much to migrate to. Most likely this subspecies evolved from a marginal tribe of mops who plucked their feathers each summer to beat the heat, and eventually self-selected for painless plucking, then spontaneous shedding, then a complete molt...
The sketch on the left is of a hunter in her summer scales.
The sketch of a girl with a spyglass is from late autumn, as her winter feathers are well on their way in--as you can see, she's still rather downy compared to the average forest mop, pictured above.
Such different-looking creatures are confusing to Terrans, with our neat categories of "bird" and "reptile". Of course, if the dinosaurs were still around, we'd be used to seeing feathers as optional. Plato's ideal, pure forms--'chair', 'bird', 'reptile'--aren't eternal at all, but depend on what era you were born in. Or hatched in.
Odd though it looks, this system works; 'scalies' are fairly comfortable year-round. It's an interesting if less bloody alternative to our species' solution to survival in extreme continental climates (killing other critters and stealing their pelts). I suspect Tharnians would find ripping out your own feathers less kinky than our habit of draping ourselves in corpses. Pretty grotesque, really.
This seasonally bald subspecies is spreading; the scalies now dominate the shores of Shaleen Sea and have crossed the Wula Rift into the Bantoom Desert and parts of Tavia Steppe. They may ultimately ring the southern mid-latitudes and settle some of the northern steppes as well. Who knows? Hair loss may lead to entirely new civilizations!
Absurd? Consider what air conditioning's done to settlement patterns on Earth! After millennia during which civilization spread slowly poleward as better clothing, architecture, agriculture and central heating made colder lands comfortable, civilization's center of gravity is heading back toward the tropics... now that we've mastered cooling as well as heating.
Mops and scalies (despite their common names) really are quite elegant, with their flashy tails and crests. They may be vain, but they admire beauty wherever they find it. A highly visual people, with an eye for texture and color, making them superlative sculptors in both wood (in the lowlands) and stone (in the uplands), but it manifests in their feather- and leatherwork as well.
Mops carve totem poles, though these "totems" aren't inherited family crests, as in the tribes of BC and Alaska; they're dreamed. Many individuals have tutelary or protective spirits met in dreams--not quite gods or guardian angels, for the relationship is more equal. They most closely resemble the "spirit spouses" of Siberian shamans: friends marrying into the family, who just happen to be spirits! As you might imagine, mop kinship groups can perplex outsiders, since half one's relatives may be invisible...
Their music sounds Balkan, with close harmonies that buzz and throb.
One should not miss their fire dancing.
Their psychology? Surprisingly subtle and mystical for such extroverted dandies. Many meditate, entering a dreamlike oracular state they say accurately predicts the future. This isn't just shamans or doctors or monks, but everyday people and everyday practice.
Yet mops love a joke. Their humor runs rough, but they're loyal friends. Mops are often vain and volatile, getting into quarrels, but they jostle for pecking-order only with other mops; like some human pet-owners, they seem to see other species as charming, comical and exempt from mop rules. Despite their own hot-blooded dueling traditions, it's quite safe to tease a mop, as long as you're not one yourself.
If ravens had a flashier color sense, and thumbs...
There are many mop languages--remember, they're a flightless people; travel is slow, so communities and languages diversify over time. But no problem! You won't learn any of them, and they expect that; they all know Trade Camaroo and speak it to outsiders.
They need to. To human ears (and centah and lebbird and veltaur and camaroo ears), mop languages are all one indistinguishable soup of squawk.
Mop placenames on the map include: Brako, Gerpook, Roop, Tebbik, Grooka, Gok... you get the idea. And my transcriptions are guesswork. I probably humanized them quite a lot.
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