by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Veltaurs aren't Greek centaurs; they're far more gracile (lightly built) than horses, more like greyhounds or antelopes. Veltaurs do have somewhat equine heads, manes and tails, but kangaroolike mid- and rear paws, not hooves. Their four-digit hands are dexterous--perhaps the wrong word, as it derives from "as adept as one's right hand"--and veltaurs lack human hand-preference. Both hands are equally adept! This reflects a deeper unity: veltaur brains aren't split.
Note how veltaur faces looks equine at first glance, but resemble a cartoon horse more than any real Terran equine: the skull's far shorter, the jaw more delicate, the forehead higher, the eyes larger.
Veltaurs, like Earth mammals, have a ureter, genitals and anus all strung along a ventral line--but on veltaurs, they're further apart. The psychological effect is that veltaurs don't associate sex with urination or defecation--sex literally isn't dirty. 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. Since pregnancy is so much safer, there is no hymen to delay sex and sex play is common and casual.
As odd as their lack of handedness (at least for my bilateral readers) are the nipples. Veltaurs are mammals; females feed their young milk, and the nipples are located on the front of the thorax (upper torso), but in line, not side by side, one between the forelegs and one at navel height.
The thorax is slender but deep-chested, 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 inside the fore-pelvis. Veltaurs can run with antelope speed but human endurance. Migrations of a hundred km a day are routine. Veltaurs love to run--it gets them high. In Tharn's low gravity and air resistance, they nearly fly.
Nominally herbivores, with two stomachs and a lengthy gut, veltaurs are still able to digest some types of cellulose (and the poorer tribes still eat a very fibrous diet); but tool use has greatly increased their intake of fruit, leaves, buds, bugs and fish to the point where most veltaurs must be considered omnivorous, though slanted vegetarian.
Coats vary greatly, from spots to stripes to plain, by region and tribe, and individualistic dyeing and decoration complicates the picture. You'll generally need to ask where a veltaur's from: the broad continental groupings humans call "races" don't exist, for veltaurs are simply too mobile.
What's their temperament? Well, temperamental. Their antelope-like origins left them nervous and tending to startle, though hardly shy. Veltaurs are fond of poetry, song, stories, music, dancing, sex, or, preferably, all of them at once. Veltaurs are fun at parties--if you can coax them to come. They'll want to know if you've invited any carnivores. 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.
Veltaurs were wary of centahs (for prehistorically good reasons) and somewhat patronizing to elaffes (based, as far as anyone can tell, entirely on snobbery about their funny noses); but in peaceful modern times, liberal veltaurs are common in racially mixed communities. But be polite: veltaurs look delicate, but can kick like a kangaroo if insulted.
The adolescent shown to the right demonstrates that veltaurs aren't really very horselike. I don't mean her handstand (horses, too, are surprisingly acrobatic when motivated) but her gaze. She's focused intently on us, with both eyes. Veltaur 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, predators and prey will find veltaurs frustratingly ambiguous--and it goes deeper than the skin, or even bone: it's in the brain. Veltaur eyes can focus stereoscopically or scan independently at will, and veltaurs 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, in which pattern-recognition dominates, not planning. "It just came to me." Yet unlike human waking and dreaming, veltaur mental states flicker effortlessly back and forth in a heartbeat, shifting gears with every breath. Is the veltaur brain split along the time axis instead of a lateral, spatial one? Talk about temporal lobes!
I speak here as a veltaur. My field of vision is 280 degrees. I nearly flunked my first driving test--the instructor thought I was staring straight ahead, ignoring side traffic, when I could see cars behind us without effort! I'm also nearly ambidextrous, lacking the typical human left-brain dominance. Veltaurian shuttling between global and focused is how I work. Not coincidentally, I lack predatory drive--can't haggle to save my life! I believe all these traits stem from (literally!) a different worldview... and that doesn't start in the brain, but in the eyes.
LANGUAGE (VERBAL AND OTHERWISE)
Veltaurs all speak the same tongue worldwide (remember, Tharn's a small and dry; a determined veltaur can circle the equator in well under a year, and many do for adventure and fun.) Their language is vowel-heavy and avoids plosive stops (p/b, t/d, k/g) in favor of softer fricatives: Ruha, Shif Shif, Foori, Esharee, Aihu, Wssh... such names are all over the "veldt belt."
The handstanding girl to the right, whose dappled pelt is typical of the Barsoom Basin, is 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 the simplest 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.
Veltaurs are highly tactile, using both sexual and nonsexual grooming and petting to reduce tension between all ages and genders, much like bonobos or Californians. In mixed-species communities, veltaurs function something like Terran pets, though quite without the taboos we observe toward sex with other species. Affection, to a veltaur, is affection--few distinctions are made.
Interestingly, no Tharnian people domesticates animals purely as pets like our lapdogs or indoor cats. Is this because veltaurs have filled the social niche already? Veltaurs themselves do have pets of a sort, a small domestic subspecies of flyote, who do give and receive much physical/sexual contact and affection, but they also pull their weight as scouts, messengers and light air transport. Far more intelligent than dogs, they function more like probationary citizens who'll be full members in the greater Tharnian culture... in 10,000 or 100,000 years. Tharnians think long.
As my English appelation for them suggests, veltaurs are ubiquitous on Tharn's savannas (snowfree grasslands with some trees) and veldts (quite treeless warm grasslands). But today, veltaurs can often be found in country with open woods. Even jungle towns will have a few (probably running the local cafe or dance hall).
Where don't they live? Anywhere cold! Their slender, leggy build is made for heat dispersion. Veltaurs can certainly survive frost, but they hate it.
Due to their cold-intolerance, most veltaurs will only visit the highlands or tundra or the cool north woods in summer, leaving year-round settlement to mops, mamooks, and camaroos. Of course, being so mobile, veltaurs can act like human snowbirds, migrating seasonally; and many do. On rugged, vertical Tharn, it can take veltaurs only a few days to walk out of one climate into another...
Even so, as the map shows, the veltaurian range is broadly equatorial; past 40 degrees north or south, sightings are rare, and strictly summer. Hothouse flowers!
So why don't they just put wear coats? Veltaurs hate anything hanging on them, saying it inhibits touch, petting and sex. They treat even purses or pouches as a mildly annoying burden, convenient though they are. Is interfering with a veltaur's sense of touch like blindfolding a human?
But sensory or social deprivation may not be the whole story--there's also kinesthetic deprivation! Veltaurs constantly stretch, fidget, scratch, groom, and idly contort themselves like yogis on speed. Again, this is partly just satisfying itches, partly emotional expression, and partly social signaling.
The ballet-like kick of the girl sketched at left is a good example--is it flirtation, showing off, just high-spirited play, or an anxiety-coping discharge of tension?
Answer: all of the above! No veltaur would think of separating them.
Some species believe the veltaurs' supposed hatred of clothing is purely an excuse for mere body-vanity, but anyone spending time with these fidgety people will sense that free movement may be vital to their health and sanity. "If any," as centahs will add--out of veltaur hearing, of course.
Why "of course"? Even polite questioning about clothing upsets veltaurs the way questions about nudity may offend some Terrans; it may provoke kicking.
WARNING! A veltaur's kick packs a wallop! Provocation is NOT recommended.
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