At yesterday's Chandra event, in the Alien By Design workshop that Julie Czerneda ran, I worked with Chris and Michael to construct an alien that would live in an environment specified by Julie.
These were Julie's conditions:
- Daytime temperatures up to +50C, nighttime down to -10C
- Strong and gusty winds up to 100 kn/hr
- extreme dryness for months at a time, followed by a brief interval of heavy rain and flooding
- gravity about 0.75 Earth normal
And, with a table filled with goodies that Julie supplied, the additional requirement was that we had to build a model of the creature as well. This is what we came up with:
The Chmido (first two letters of each of our three names) has a vaguely manta-ray shaped body plan. They are omnivorous aerial predators, hunting in small packs during the day. At night, Chmido family groups and individuals seek shelter in caves on high cliff faces close to the ocean. Chmido wings are integrated, manta-like, into their body. They have a total of 8 limbs. They can stand upright on two rear appendages. The next set of two appendages have a cluster of fleshy manipulator digits at the end. There are two pairs of appendages with an attached web like structure next to the sharklike mouth, allowing a chmido to capture prey (or aerial plant life) in flight.
Chmido have four eyes, which point groundward and ahead while they are in flight, and which point forward when they stand on the ground. They also have two photosensitive spots on their back which allow them to react to predators behind or above them. They breathe through gill slits on their back, moving air through a pumping action. They breathe out through orifices along the trailing edge of their wings. There are specialized organs that produce sound for communication.
Because they are flying creatures, Chmido are quite light for their size, but they are very strong.
Chmido mating rituals involve 3 sexes participating in a complex aerial dance. The three particpants have specialized functions - one to produce sperm, one to produce ova, and one optimized to gestate the fertilized ovum. They bear live young.
Culturally, the Chmido are at a mid-industrial tech level, so no spaceships yet. They understand machines, but have religious objections against building machines that fly. However, their culture is based on striving to be higher than the rest of the pack -- an urge that will eventually drive them into space, once they get over their religion-imposed limits.
The most desirable caves are the ones on the leeward side of cliffs. Because these are rare, the first Chmido forays into technology involved channeling the flood waters during the wet season to use in carving out additional habitats. Through the generations, they have become accomplished hydraulic engineers.
For the model that we built, much of the allotted time was spent discussing the basic creature and agreeing on details. Michael constructed the outer layer, I carved the internal sponge that gave the body shape, Chris did the finicky job of making and attaching the limbs.
Having designed the alien, Julie threw a curve at us. Matching up two groups at random, we were to come up with a First Contact scnario. Michael, Chris, and I were paired up with Lindsay, one of Lorna's staff members, and her partner for this exercise.
In our scenario, the Chmido, in the course of exploring another continent on the same planet, encounter a sentient species which moves through several different forms during its life cycle. A flying form is a juvenile stage which the Chmido initially encounter. Because the Chmido are pack hunters, this probably doesn't end well for the peaceful, telepathic, solitary flying creature. It is likely that the initial Chmido response is "lunch". However, the subterranean-dwelling elders with their enhanced telepathy will allow both species to eventually communicate and reach an understanding. The ability of the others to tunnel deeply into the ground and extract metals is something the Chmido are not well suited for -- this is a partnership which will act to drive both species' technological capability.
And of course, in the process of working through their interspecies cooperation issues over generations, the Chmido and their partners achieve something which could be described as a culturally hard-wrired propensity toward diversity. It is this which allow the Chmido and their partners to get past the serious errors made by human merchants 200 years later when a Chmido starship is mistakenly attacked.