The Soos'Aer

The Soos'Aer are a six-fold radially symmetrical species that evolved on Elysium (Tau Ceti IV). They are aquatic pack hunters that migrate across the warm, shallow seas of that world.

The word Soos'Aer means 'all peoples' in the language of the Tangaroa Ocean families.

First Contact

The robot surveys of the Tau Ceti system discovered a highly developed ecosystem on the fourth planet, but found no sign of intelligent life. The AI probe named the world Elysium, a choice which was unanimously approved by the colonists that followed it a century later.

The colony ship entered the Tau Ceti system in late 2197 and the first human set foot on Elysium on 25th October. A spaceport and town was soon built on the largest of Elysium's equatorial islands, but first contact with the Soos'Aer did not occur until 2243 when the colonists started an ambitious marine survey. Both species rapidly recognized the intelligence of the other and extensive cultural exchanges soon followed.

Evolution

The principal phylum on Elysium is the annulata ('ring-shaped'). The annulates are a phylum of the sub-kingdom Elysii Animalia Radiata (radially symmetrical Elysian animals) characterised by a ring-shaped skull with sets of articulated bones attached to both anterior and posterior sides. Typically one set of these bones form 'spines' in the body section and the other set act as limbs.

This phylum, along with the 36 other recognised Elysian phyla, was produced in the radiative explosion some 350 megayears ago. In the earliest phanerozoic Elysian ecosystems the annulates were not well represented and lacked diversity. The dominant animals were soft-bodied radially symmetrical families and bilaterally symmetrical segmented creatures similar to the largest predators of Terra's early Cambrian. The bilaterally symmetrical phyla dominated the warm shallows, and the Radiata were the dominant animals in the deep ocean basin that covers approximately one quarter of the planet.

The history of life on Elysium has been characterised by a series of mass extinction events that devastated life in the shallows, which were then recolonized by the organisms of the abyssal basin. The most extreme of these mass extinctions, which has been dated at 23510 megayears ago, wiped out 98% of Elysian species. It is hypothesized that this event was caused by a nearby supernova explosion that destroyed 90% of Elysium's ozone layer, causing a massive increase in surface ultraviolet radiation. This theory is supported by isotopic analysis of rocks dating back to that era.

The most recent of the mass extinctions occurred 37 megayears ago. In the wake of this biotic armageddon the annulates diversified rapidly to fill the vacated shallow-water niches, producing a range within a phylum comparable to Terran arthropods. The ancestors of the Soos'Aer at the time of this event were solitary hunters of the deep ocean. They soon colonized the shallows and the increasing density of individuals with the greater available energy in the warm, bright waters enabled the evolution of greater social interaction. The proto-Soos'Aer evolved into pack hunters which preyed on a range of animals from schools of small annulates to the whale-size plankton feeders of the ocean surface.

However, the radial body plan, while suited to the free swimming lifestyles of organisms of the abyssal water-column, proved less adapted to the shallows. Soos'Aer intelligence evolved primarily to enable the use of widely varied tactics and high degrees of pack-wide coordination necessary to hunt disparate prey in the face of resurgent competition from bilateral predators.

Physiology

The initial impression of most people on first seeing a Soos'Aer is that they are 'squid-like', leading to the use of the colloquial name 'squiddies'. Indeed the body layout of the Soos'Aer is somewhat similar to that of the Terran cephalopods, although with the characteristic Elysian six-fold symmetry. The jointed legs are connected around the muscular mouthparts to the 'head' which in turn is connected to a bullet-shaped body. There is a ring of eyestalks around the head, in positions intermediate between the leg positions. The skin is covered with microscopic pouches filled with pigments which can be expanded and contracted so the Soos'Aer can rapidly change colour in a similar manner to Terran cephalopods.

Locomotion

The body section is built around a central expandible water chamber which is linked to six jet nozzles surrounding the mouth by tubes which pass through the head. The nozzles at both the anterior and posterior ends are flexible, enabling agile manoeuvring in both directions. This system is used for jet propulsion. Soos'Aer primarily move body-first for speed, but must move head-first for feeding. This has lead to a system of hunting in which one group chase prey animals into an ambush by a second group.

Senses

The primary Soos'Aer senses are vision and wide-frequency hearing, although they also have taste/smell, tactile and electrical senses. The Soos'Aer see five primary colours, in a range that extends from the near-infrared to blue (they cannot see to the violets as humans can). The eyes are mounted on muscular eyestalks to enable a clear view of prey while feeding and can be withdrawn into sockets in the skull to reduce drag whilst swimming. Soos'Aer are highly visual animals with excellent spatial abilities, developed for pack hunting in three dimensions.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

There are four Soos'Aer sexes that show a low degree of sexual polymorphism. The sexes (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) are isogamous and a member of any sex can mate with any of the other sexes. The primary role of the four sexes is the determination of the inheritance of cytoplasmic genetic material.

It is thought that these sexes are the remnants of a greater number amongst the Soos'Aer's deep water ancestors, where meetings between individuals were relatively rare and there was a greater advantage to ease of mating between any two randomly selected animals than to the higher degree of sexual polymorphism possible with only two sexes. It has been hypothesized by Soos'Aer and mammalian evolutionary biologists that the Soos'Aer and other related species are in the midst of a collapse from a large number to just two sexes.

The Soos'Aer reproductive organs are situated at the back of the mouth. Two Soos'Aer mate face to face, transferring gametes in an exchange that typically leaves both individuals pregnant. The foetuses are carried for ten Terran months in a muscular uterus that lies between the six throats and the central water chamber. The young are born when they are about an eighth the size of an adult and remain with their parent for the next five to six Elysian years. At this point they reach maturity and take full hunting positions within the family.

Language

The language of the Soos'Aer shows a unique dimorphism. The first element of the language is the colour-language. As well as its obvious use as camouflage the colour changes possible in the Soos'Aer skin can be used to form a complete language. The full colour-language is used only within the family when not hunting or between neighbouring packs during negotiations; a lesser form of colour-language shows emotion. The other element of the Soos'Aer language is wide-frequency sound (Soos'Aer can produce sounds which range far into infraand ultra-sound); gestures with eyestalks and legs add emphasis to messages in the colour or sound languages.

Psychology

The two aspects of Soos'Aer language are mirrored by two distinct modes of thinking. 'Hunting' thought deals with spatial awareness, cool logic and tactics; 'family' thought is concerned with social interactions. An individual can undergo extreme personality changes on swapping between the two types of thinking.

Society

The basic unit of Soos'Aer society is the extended family. Such a family consists of thirty or so adults, with perhaps ten to twenty children.

Science and Technology

Before contact the Soos'Aer had no technology, but had impressively advanced theories of evolution and physics. They had no knowledge of chemistry and no real theory of genetics. In addition to this a wide selection of myths were used to explain natural phenomena.