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The Tarkas are a reptilian species, sharing many outward physical characteristics with terrestrial lizards although their internal structures and highly evolved brains are very different from anything seen in the reptile species of Earth. The Tarkasian culture is very ancient and has been remarkably stable in the long term, allowing for hundreds of thousands of years of recorded history and over five hundred years as a space-faring race. Tarkas can live in a variety of gravities and temperature zones, but they seem to prefer warmer worlds for their large colonies.
The environment of the Tarkasian homeworld is one of extreme brutality and fierce competitiveness and the early Tarka faced many predators, both massive and small. During the course of their evolution, the Tarka have become a social animal which bands together for mutual protection and defense of the young.
The pre-sentient Tarka were an amazingly effective race, and spread swiftly over several continents. However, evolutionary pressure on their homeworld was so intense that sentience was ultimately the one adaptation which made them the top of the planet's food chain. Scientists have speculated that their species must have evolved in a dense arboreal environment. They have retained many features we still associate with tree-dwelling species and they seem to have evolved very much in the pattern that one might expect from an arboreal social primate on our own world.
To capture the flavor of Tarka society on their homeworld today you would have to imagine something much older, much more stable and infinitely more ornate—like the Imperial Chinese or the ancient Egyptians. The Tarkasian Warp Drive, however, is a unique technological achievement—no other species has mastered this technique of faster–than–light travel, and the secrets of the Tarkasian warp engine are jealously guarded.
Tarkas and ReligionEdit
The Tarkas are a polytheistic society in much the same way that the ancient Greeks or Egyptians on Earth. Their gods are many and varied; often the duties and powers assigned to any given deity will change with the caste/region of the temple, and the stories associated with those gods change accordingly. Most Tarkas are aware of a basic theological framework which might include hundreds of different deities, all of which could have some relation to one another in the overarching scheme of things—what that relationship is depends on which temple's priest you're talking to.
Any individual Tarka however, will not even attempt to worship or “believe in” all of these hundreds of gods at once. They will simply maintain a personal relationship with the patron gods and goddesses of their own clan, caste and profession and take an interest in the myth cycle of whatever legendary hero might be relevant to their own life's ambitions.
Like the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, some Tarkas indulge in monotheism—declaring one god to exist while all others do not—and even in personal ethical philosophies which deny the existence of all gods but still offer a formula for leading a virtuous life (the latter is commonly adopted by scientists and engineers).
Overall, levels of religious faith vary with the individual, but fanaticism of any kind is extremely rare among the Tarka; there simply isn't room for it in their culture. Religious tolerance is part of the ingrained hierarchical framework of Tarka society; differing beliefs are expected in Tarkas from different regions and different walks of life and the fact that someone else disdains your temple is not considered a threat to your own worldview. Indeed, it would be considered very strange for a Tarka to want to “convert” another Tarka to his or her religion, or draw him/her to the patronage of new gods unless the converted Tarka was also being made a member of the caste, clan and profession to whom that god is appropriate.
Most Tarkas do not regard religion as an adequate reason for acts of violence. Members of the Tarka warrior castes are mystified by the idea that religion could serve as a justification for war. Any attempt to explain the notion of religious warfare among Humans is usually met with incredulous laughter:
The external characteristics of the Tarka race point towards an origin among the reptiles, but they are as far removed from their lizard-like ancestors as humans are from the tree shrews from which they evolved. Tarkas have a very large and complex brain, warm blood and an advanced circulatory system. Their appearance has nonetheless earned them a variety of derogatory nicknames among human spacers, who commonly refer to them as “Lizards” or “Crocs”.
Tarkas have a coat of scales over their bodies, the patterns and thickness of which vary with the individual–although males traditionally have thicker and tougher scales than females, especially as they grow older. Tarkas also have three sets of eyelids and claw-like nails on both fingers and feet, which can become quite thick and sharp if they are allowed to grow. Their tails are muscular, capable of manipulating objects and striking with significant force.
Tarka young spend an EXCEEDINGLY long time in the egg phases, which means that they must be defended night and day from predators of all sizes. While the Changed male protects the tribe from advances of much larger predators, younger males and females are available to protect the eggs from smaller predators, and to provide them with care which will protect them from bacteria, extremes of temperature and the like.
Tarkas are omnivorous, able to consume and digest a wide variety of plant and animal foodstuffs. They enjoy a natural lifespan of about 100 years, barring injury or disease. Tarkas have two genders and a standard mode of sexual reproduction; an adult female Tarka produces an unfertilized proto-egg within her body at standard intervals, and if a male does not fertilize this egg, it passes from her body and she disposes of it. A fertilized egg will remain within its mother’s body for several weeks, forming an extremely dense mass of compressed nutrients and a tough, thick leathery outer skin. Thereafter, the egg passes from the female’s body and begins an independent cycle of growth. If tended properly, the infant will hatch from its egg in approximately 18–24 months.
Tarkasian ships are built by the builder's caste, which has many clans spread over many continents and worlds. Their ships and especially the command sections tend to be able to take a very large amount of punishment.
The basic principle at work in the Tarkasian faster-than-light system appears to be the generation of a warp “field”—an envelope of force, which surrounds the body of a Tarkasian ship. While within this envelope, the ship is essentially a non-event in space-time, having very limited interaction with the standard four dimensions of the Continuum. Once the warp engine of a Tarkasian ship is fired, the normal physical laws governing mass, energy and acceleration no long apply to that ship. Accordingly, a Tarkasian vessel can achieve superluminal speeds and travel at these speeds for any distance, its range limited only by the available fuel for thrust and by the available power for the generation of the warp envelope.
Although neither the Tarka nor the Hivers may realize it, their FTL drives in fact use exactly the same Menisceal Principle in exactly opposite ways. The difference in the Tarka use of the meniscus is that a Tarka ship slips in and out of the skin of the universe like a needle. This is relatively easy; the only challenge is learning to exchange communications while in the meniscus. It takes a highly sophisticated computer and message-tagging system to pull a coherent message out of it, because every energy pulse from the beginning of the universe to the end of the universe is contained within the warp bubble.
Honor and duty are very important for members of the military castes. So are courage, discipline, skill and intelligence. The Supreme Commander or “Var Kona” is the head of the Tarka military caste. Since all members of the military answer to him and since the arts of war are forbidden to those of other castes, there is no real war among the so-called Nine Emperors.
Each of the Nine Emperors is an equal ruler of a possibly multiple-world-spanning civilization, easily as powerful as any human who has ever carried that title on Earth. Yet all are effectively peers having their affairs most assuredly managed by a court in which females make many crucial decisions. However the Nine Emperors do not command armies, and cannot arrange large scale invasions or even repel such invasions—no soldier will obey them unless the Supreme Commander orders it.
Like the Nine Emperors, the Supreme Commander is most assuredly a Changed male, with one or two legendary exceptions. He rules by superior intellect, strategic and tactical acumen, leadership ability, charisma, and sometimes sheer dumb luck.
Unlike many warrior cultures military Tarkas are not grim, humorless or death-affirming. They do not consider it desirable to die in battle and regard suicide of any kind as both shameful and stupid. Most Tarkas, male and female, embrace personal risk only as a means to a positive end. Although they hurl themselves into battle bravely and sometimes take extraordinary chances, they never do so because they believe that they have no chance of victory. The plan is always to win; failing that, to survive; failing that, to make the enemy pay a horrendous price for your life. Any Tarka who expressed a preference for a violent death or a desire to perish in combat for the sake of perishing in combat would be regarded as dangerously mad and perhaps mentally defective.
The Tarkasian god of War is called Sardo Kal. Although he is the Lord of Battles, Sardo Kal is also a trickster and a god of chance—fetishes which represent the aspects of Sardo Kal are commonly used good luck charms throughout all of Tarka society. Most Tarka are avid gamers and Tarkasian warriors love all games which incorporate both cunning and chance and play them frequently in the ranks.
Self-deprecation is a common form of humor among military Tarka, often taking form in even formal settings. For example, a formal farewell of affection or respect between two Tarka warriors would probably go like this: “When we meet again, let us cross tankards rather than swords. Either way, I'm sure to get the worst of it.”
All in all, theirs is a military culture which has been around long enough to know that the art of war is both sublime and ridiculous, that the best-laid plans seldom survive contact with the enemy, that victory and defeat can always hang by a roll of the dice or the turn of a friendly card...and as the saying goes, “Sardo Kal gave you a tail so that you could hang onto life even when you'd lost your last toenail”.
Tarka society is extremely stratified, with many castes and many tiers of hierarchy in every walk of life. Reproductive viability for Tarka males is a privilege with a high premium, and a prize which every junior male desires. Unfortunately, achieving the Change is often difficult for Tarka males who have not been born into a family with great wealth and power; reproductive viability carries a high premium, and many females must cooperate in order to raise one male to full maturity. Accordingly, males who cannot buy their way into this favored state must earn it, and are highly motivated to do so through success in their careers.
Male Tarkas are discriminated against in the majority of educated professions, and are unlikely to rise high in any field which does not involve a great deal of creative passion, personal risk, or violence. Although they are not forbidden to become diplomats, scientists, technicians or academics, they are subjected to a great deal of sexual prejudice and it is difficult for them to be taken seriously by their entrenched female counterparts. By contrast, a sizable majority of Tarkas in high-risk physical pursuits are male—common soldiers, firefighters, pilots, spacers, miners, etc.—and the same is true of many creative and artistic fields, where the stereotype of the impassioned male Tarka is not considered a drawback.
There is both upward and downward mobility in Tarka society, although not for the reasons you might think. Birth is not a guarantee of continued nobility after the age of majority, and although many Tarkas do pull a great many strings to further the ambitions and careers of their own progeny, others take a very cold “sink-or-swim” approach. Tarka society is not patriarchal per se and there is very little security of position for inherited titles and property. Wherever you are in Tarka society, you can be virtually guaranteed that there will be several other Tarkas wanting whatever you've got. The further up the social ladder you are, the more dangerous your position becomes. The lives of Imperial Tarka can be brutally short.
Tarkas have a thousand varieties of dance, but for various social reasons they put great emphasis on arrangements in which an individual displays his/her personal skill, grace, and agility. There are also over 300 known martial arts styles among the various Tarka castes, including several “forbidden” arts to be practiced by non-warrior castes. They also enjoy most of the art forms that humans recognize, including great varieties of two-dimensional art, weaving, sculpture, etc.