Sword of the Stars

Tarka Castes

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Tarka society is extremely stratified, with many castes and many tiers of hierarchy in every walk of life.

Birth is the primary determining factor in caste. Through wealth one can bend the system and bend its hierarchical rules, and through exceptional achievement one can transcend them. A Tarka's caste is determined by the mother's position, not the father's. And all things are relative.

The bureaucratic caste has many subdivisions. Many are born and educated within the bureaucratic castes, but it is also relatively easy for a Tarka with ability to enter, provided he/she can pass the entrance examinations, and find a family or clan willing to take them. In other words — just about any Tarka who is physically attractive, literate and good at math can become an administrator.

There is an entire caste of assassins among the Tarka, with individual clans that specialize in certain methods. There is also a caste of torturers and interrogators, also with sub–clans, not to mention a caste of thieves — many of whom specialize in robbery, piracy or other criminal activities which may involve the deaths of others. There is a good reason that personal defense, armed and unarmed combat are skills that every Tarka child learns as early and as well as possible.

Emperors are chosen from the hereditary Kona castes.

Talent and beauty are always the mobilizing forces of Tarka society. Almost any family or clan, even the poorest, has an eye out to its own best interests, and is willing to take on a new member of the group if they can see how this person will contribute. If you are married into a certain family, you are expected to learn the clan trade and find some way to make yourself useful to them — this is how you prove your value and gain influence and privileges.

Reproductive viability for Tarka males is a privilege with a high premium, and a prize which every junior male desires. There are many Changed males in all castes — there are simply more in the upper castes. 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 Tarka 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 Tarka 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.

Those who are able to converse in Kona Kai, "the High Speech", are likely to be family of the Nine Emperors or the Supreme Commander.

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 Tarka 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 — nobility of offspring is not based on the male's social status — 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 Tarka 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. (The Imperial Tarka are the members of the imperial caste, the pool of families from which heredity–based emperors are chosen.)

Individual mileage varies, but it is not at all unusual for Tarkasian females to be unbearable gender bigots, and to regard even Changed males as "sexy (and sometimes useful), but dumb". Many Tarka females develop a set of social skills to "handle" their men, both before and after the Change. In general, their respectful manner toward Changed males is simply a form of manipulation, especially if a male's "authority" is in a largely ceremonial role, as in the case of any given Emperor.

Most female Tarka prefer roles of clandestine authority — the worst of them regard it as simple common sense to stand behind a Changed male and direct him like a puppet, since he makes such a very large, loud and colorful distraction. How well this plan works out in practice, however, is open to question. Sexist Tarkasian females often run into the same problem that any sexists do — the members of the disparaged gender are seldom ALL as weak or stupid as you think...

When addressing superiors, referring to them by rank and surname is the norm. In an emergency, "kaan-dai" is addressed to the superior from whom you are receiving commands.

If a Tarka feels that death is coming inevitably and cannot be avoided by any means, he/she often prefers to choose the method of dying. Dignity and strength are about making choices, rather than having them made by others. Ergo, having someone ELSE throw you on a sword? Not a "good death" at all.

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