Sword of the Stars

Tarka Physiology

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General Description Edit

The Tarka 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, their appearance has nonetheless earned them a variety of derogatory nicknames among Human spacers, who commonly refer to them as "Lizards" or "Crocs".

The external characteristics of the Tarka race point toward 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. Tarka 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. Tarka 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.

Tarka have five digits and an opposable thumb on their hands, and their feet are also prehensile. Their tails are muscular, shorter in the male than the female, and capable of manipulating objects and striking with significant force. It is standard practice for a Tarkasian martial artist to use his or her tail in combat. A Tarka can survive the loss of his or her tail, so long as a tourniquet is quickly applied, but it doesn't grow back naturally. The tail would have to be re–attached surgically or regrown with an advanced tissue knitting technique. Having a reduced or diminished tail is a severe problem in Tarka society — it is a handicap at least as serious as a missing arm among Humans.

Internally, Tarka bear little resemblance to terrestrial reptiles. They have a very large and complex brain, warm blood and an advanced circulatory system. A Tarka's heart has five chambers: four are engaged in standard respiration, and one is activated by the Tarka's adrenal system. This auxiliary chamber rapidly flutters when a Tarka's fight–or–flight reflexes are engaged, pumping a complex stew of chemicals and stimulants into the bloodstream. These act on all aspects of Tarka physiology, doubling or trebling the speed at which nervous impulses are transmitted, greatly dampening the feedback associated with pain or injury, profoundly affecting brain function and flooding the body with blood and hormones. The resulting battle fury is legendary, and renders an adult Tarka extremely dangerous when "the little drum is beating".

Tarka eyes are less remarkable for the colors they can see and more for the colors that they display — their eyes are used for social signaling and communicate emotion.

Tarka are omnivorous, able to consume and digest a wide variety of plant and animal foodstuffs, but are fond of eating arthropod species — their native diet incorporates a great many tree–, sea– and ground–dwelling arthropods as sources of protein and important nutrients. This often creates tension between the Tarka and the Hiver. (See: Social interactions between Tarka and Hiver).

Tarka females average 120–180 centimeters in height and weigh from 60–100 kilograms. They reach their full adult size within 20 years of hatching and maintain roughly the same dimensions throughout their lives. Tarka males, by contrast, can go through two distinct phases of growth and development: the standard development from egg to adult which their female counterparts undergo, and a second stage of maturity which begins later, triggered by a special dietary regime. Tarka refer to this secondary growth cycle as "the Change".

Child–rearing among the Tarka is not a solely female responsibility, nor do Tarka females have to carry infants in a debilitating long–term pregnancy. There is no conflict between career and family among the Tarka — attending children in early infancy is a career in itself and, after hatching, children are raised by a collective of adults who live work and play together in large clans.

Tarka can live in a variety of gravities and temperature zones but seem to prefer warmer worlds for their large colonies.

Changed Males Edit

Post–Change males function as both alphas and as free agents — the closest terrestrial equivalent would be a silverback gorilla, but there really is no Earthly equivalent to certain quirks of Tarka physical and cultural evolution.

A Changed male, by Tarka standards, is not only an alpha in the sexual sense but a defense mechanism for the whole social unit. He is huge, loud, agile and like all Tarka, capable of a berserker rage — in the case of a Changed male, that rage can allow him to very possibly kill a predator many times his size, although he is likely to be fatally wounded during the fight.

He also reeks of dangerous pheromones which warn every organism on his home world to stay the hell away from his area. He is easily able to command and control every adolescent male in his tribe, not only with his size and sound but with his scent signature — unChanged males are naturally inclined to submit to his authority, even millions of years later when full sentience has intervened.

Not all Tarka males will undergo the Change — in fact, it is estimated that only one in a thousand Tarka males ever reaches this phase of development. As to whether there would be males who would never want to gain 200–300 pounds, become irrational and perhaps even psychotic — yes. There is a sizable percentage for whom this idea was unattractive. Given the ratio of Changed males in Tarka society, there would be egg riots constantly if paternity was the only thing in life that any Tarka male could think of, and the only thing anyone thought was worth doing. However, when the Change occurs, a male Tarka undergoes a profound physical and psychological transformation, which affects every aspect of his life.

The production of sex hormones in his body increases, which causes him to develop a broad spectrum of sexual traits. Firstly, he becomes fertile: although he has been able to perform as a sexual being from early adolescence, it is not until the Change that he begins producing viable sperm and becomes capable of fertilizing an egg. Along with this primary change in his reproductive capacity, he also develops a host of secondary sexual characteristics, which signal his availability to females and enable him to compete vigorously for mates.

His physical size increases enormously; he may grow up to 50 additional centimeters in height and his mass is likely to double — some senior males may weigh in at 200 kilograms or more. His vocal chords thicken and his voice becomes louder, deeper and more resonant. The coloring, arrangement and thickness of his scales will change radically, often forming entirely new marking patterns. His personality is substantially altered as well — in general he becomes much more aggressive, extroverted, ambitious and prone to intense emotional outbursts and mood swings.

The pheromones that a mature male exudes have a variety of psychological effects on other Tarka. Younger males, who have not undergone the Change, seem to find their senior counterparts extremely magnetic; they are docile and cooperative toward seniors, and easily influenced by their charismatic leadership. By contrast, other senior males become immediately hostile and competitive toward a male of their own stature, reacting automatically to every signal of maturity with anger. The rival's voice, coloring, bearing and attitudes will be found offensive at an almost cellular level, and if the two are brought within range of one another's pheromonal signatures, this effect increases many fold. Put two senior males into one room and a physical altercation is almost sure to result.

Female Tarka, by contrast, have a less intense emotional reaction toward senior males. Although they find seniors personally, professionally and sexually attractive, they do not mirror the docility of their young male counterparts. Culturally speaking, female Tarka tend to view all male Tarka, both young and old, with a certain amount of prejudice, regarding them as emotionally unstable and prone to poor judgment. However, the ability of a senior male Tarka to command and control his juniors is often very useful in politics, in the military and in business affairs — most female Tarka are inclined to harness and direct this power rather than suppress it.

Evolution Edit

The pre–sentient Tarka were an amazingly effective race, and spread swiftly over several continents. However, evolutionary pressure on their home world 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.

The environment of the Tarka home world 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. 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 — never forget that an egg can be destroyed by tiny pests and egg thieves as easily as by huge predators which drive the tribe away from their nesting ground. 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. No Tarka female has a biological motivation to neglect or destroy another female's eggs, nor does any junior male have a biological motivation to destroy the Changed male's eggs. On the contrary — it is in the best interests of the tribe for as many eggs as possible to survive, regardless of circumstances — during Tarka prehistory, all members of a given tribe would have been related and the genes being protected were shared by the whole group.

The evolution of the Change was likely as a response to the nature of a Changed male. As useful and valuable as he is to his tribe, a Changed male presents certain problems. He is violently competitive with other adult males — doubtless due to territorial clashes during the evolutionary stage. So although one Changed male in a tribe is very desirable, two at one time is a disaster for everyone — instant faction war, tribal split and mass infanticide results. Also, biologically speaking, a Changed male is an expendable unit. If he dies, he must be replaceable by another SINGLE unit — not by several competitors at once. And all the other males in the tribe must remain useful during this period as egg–tenders, child–minders, food–gatherers etc.

Lifespan Edit

Females and unChanged males live up to 100 years or so — a Changed male has a more limited lifespan and is unlikely to live more than 30 or 40 years after the Change. It's simply too stressful to the system.

Reproduction Edit

Tarka 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 (See: A Lady's Favor). Fertilization of Tarka eggs occurs in utero, and once fertilized the 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.

A Tarka female can conceive up to twenty or thirty times a year if she chooses — the egg once fertilized does not remain in her body for an extended period. It goes to the hatching phase, and very seldom does her own work involve the hatchery — whether she is a military officer or a fisherwoman. How much it costs to put ones eggs in hatching care is directly proportional to caste and class.

It will be two years before the fertilized eggs are children. She can produce forty more offspring in that time if she chooses. The only limitations are financial. Changed males are more than capable of fertilizing several females per day if they choose. Impregnation is virtually guaranteed with a single mating — unlike Humans, whose reproductive viability is much more variable.

Eggs Edit

Tarkasian oology is very different from anything that exists on Earth, for obvious reasons: on their homeworld, evolution did not follow the path which is familiar to us, and their life cycle is very different from that of Terran reptiles or even primitive mammals like the monotremes.

I believe there are illustrations in game which show the size of a developing Tarka egg, which is being held in the embrace of a female attendent. When laid, a fertile Tarka egg is approximately a third to a quarter of its developed size — it's the mass which does not change.

Tarka are long–lived and most periods of their life histories are extended accordingly. It takes around 90 Tarkasian days for a female to produce a properly fledged egg — during which time she eats carefully and adjusts her activity for the child's benefit. This being said — the process can be enormously accelerated by various means, and produce a fledged egg in a month or so with the use of the proper stimulants.

During the time that a Tarka female is gestating an egg which is fertile, she will generally eat a great deal more, and crave certain nutrients: these are being packed very tightly within the shell for her infant, who is also developing the first aspects of the fetal skeleton and nervous system at this time.

The result, when laid, is a relatively small and extremely heavy object which has two small points of entry — a nutrient foramen and a cloaca. For the first year of life, the developing child needs no nutrients other than those which were packed into the egg before birth — oxygen enters and CO2 exits through the breathing foramen, and a few occasional drops of ammonia wastes are evacuated through the cloaca.

During this time, the egg doubles in volume, as the infant within the shell develops various physical characteristics. For the entire period, the infant Tarka responds to touch, sound, and warmth — toward the end of the early development cycle its movements become more deliberate, and caregivers receive the first attempts to communicate.

This is also about the time that the young Tarka's deciduous dentition will develop, including the two birthing incisors that will allow it to free itself from the shell. At any point from 1 to 2 years, the child will begin to instinctively gnaw the interior of the much larger, much roomier and more brittle shell. In the process, they will absorb the last layers of crucial nutrients which were laid down within the mother's body prior to birth — the breathing foramen and cloaca will also be expanded, and caregivers will provide foods, liquids and other stimulation to the infant, while cleaning the nest on a regular basis of cloacal wastes.

In the Ovitorium setting, when the shell is extremely thin, the mother and her clan are usually called in — if they were not already present — to attend the Hatching and receive their new family member.

A freshly hatched Tarka at this point is approximately the size of a human infant at 6 months, and more physically developed and robust in many respects. Freshly hatched Tarka usually have much more bone development than analogous primate infants, especially in the skull, pelvis and long bones, and within the first six months they will generally explore their environment in all three dimensions, developing the muscles they will need for climbing, brachiation, walking bipedally, etc.

Pages in category "Tarka Physiology"

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