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The Snowflakes of Gash
Saber-toothed arachnids with an Amazonian culture. They want to colonize the galaxy.
Homeworld and Natural Habitat
The star Gash Alpha is a large F-type variable of 1.5 solar masses, much hotter and brighter than the sun. At times it produces "flares" of high-intensity ultraviolet radiation, which makes life impossible within the inner reaches of its habitable zone.
Thus, the planet Gash orbits at the furthest reaches of the habitable zone, four astronomical units away with a year equivalent to four of Earth's solar cycles. Glaciers reach over the planet far beyond the polar latitudes, and life consquently has evolved primarily for tundra and taiga habitats around the equator. The Snowflakes themselves evolved in one of the northernmost tundras, in the shadow of the northern glacier mass itself, but have since expanded to cover all the uncovered regions of the planet.
Gash has the mass equal to 1.2 Earths, with a very similar gravitational pull. Its moon is located at a similar distance to that of Earth's own Luna but is three times larger; the tides are quite dramatic around the coasts, and solar eclipses blot out the sun completely.
Appearance and Anatomy
Adult females Snowflakes can stand four feet tall and are six feet long from the snout to the end of the abdomen. They can weigh nearly two hundred pounds depending on the sub-population. Males are slightly shorter and not nearly as heavily built, and are physically weaker in most respects.
A cursory glance at a Snowflake strongly provokes comparison to arachnid anatomy. The body is largely divided into a large head and a long, thin abdomen, with a total of eight limbs sprawling out from the abdomen. Six of these are used for locomotion while the front most are held aloft from the ground. The feet are broad to prevent the animal from sinking into snow, and are clawed to assist in gripping the ground while pinning struggling prey. The claws in the front limbs have evolved into grasping appendages, with four fingers and two opposable thumbs each.
Towards the upper front of the torso there are four mucus-protected holes, two on each side of the body. These are used for respiration, providing a short and direct link to the lungs that harvests the thinner atmosphere of the homeworld in the most efficient manner possible.
Covering the body is a layer of thick silvery fur, almost mirror-like in its ability to reflect light from the animal's body. This evolved specifically for added protection against UV flares, almost all wavelengths of light are reflected. On a sunny day Snowflakes are nearly impossible to look at, even to the point of causing snowblindness in beings with unshielded eyes.
Rather than mandibles as the superficial arachnid similarities might suggest, the front of the head boasts a strong set of jaws with many sharp canine teeth for slicing meat off of kills. In males, the front teeth develop into curved "saber-teeth" similar to those of the Smilodon genus in Earth's past. These are used for the purpose of slicing vital arteries in the throats of subdued prey animals.
A Snowflake possesses a total of five eyes. Two are located at the front of the head for binocular vision. Another two are located on the sides of the head, and allow for covery of the sides of the animal's vision and to an extent vision of the hindquarters. These eyes are small, covered in a dark lens to filter out glare from snow or UV flares, and cannot detect colors.
The fifth eye is located at the top of the head, and resembles a flat disc rather an eyeball. This is the simplest eye of all, and exists for the sole purpose of detecting light in the dangerous UV spectrum. If a flare emission from Gash Alpha is detected, an instinctive terror response is immediately activated in the Snowflake's brain, compelling it to dig itself into the snow or otherwise take cover for its own protection. (For this reason, the fifth eye is often called the "fear eye" in traditional Snowflake societies.)
Internally, Snowflakes are not arachnid in the slightest. They are in fact vertebrates, possessed of a strong internal skeleton and a tightly connected muscular system. They have a single strong heart apiece and two lungs, all protected by a ribcage.
Curiously, it is the digestive tract that most differs from human anatomy on the inside. The tract itself is mostly the same, but the stomach remains empty throughout the day, with no acid or food content. Food collected during the day is eaten only at sunset directly before sleeping, when the stomach is inflated and pumped with acids several times less potent than those of the human system. In fact, small rough rocks are often swallowed along with the meal, and while the Snowflake slumbers through the long night it will often scoot itself unconsciously along its belly to aid in the grinding of meats. The reason for the Snowflake's inefficient digestive system is unknown; it may simply be a quirk of Gash's unique evolutionary history, devoid of specific purpose.
Snowflakes reproduce sexually; a male and a female must meet in a conjugal union in order for fertilization to occur. This process is devoid of romantic association but is particularly physically strenuous on the male, even dangerous when performed multiple times in a row. Females compete for the males' energies by offering gifts, usually food in prehistoric eras but evolving to interesting trinkets, crafts, and currency in modern periods. A curious form of male prostitution has thus become the typical mode of reproduction on Gash, and thus skilled crafters and wealthy ladies are the most likely females to reproduce.
Mating takes place in specific times of the year, which have become something of market holidays in the mainstream Snowflake culture. A few weeks after mating the impregnated females will form what is known as a birth circle; the females will align themselves in a circle and begin to lay eggs. When eggs are laid, the female behind the mother will gingerly pick them up in her claws, coat them in a layer of adhesive saliva, and stick them tightly to the mother's back. While she does this work she herself will lay eggs which are stuck to her back by the mother behind her, and so forth and so forth throughout the whole circle.
The eggs thus cling to the mother's back for the next few months as the embryos within gestate. Each mother lays six to eight eggs; upon hatching, each of these will use their limbs to cling tightly to her fur for another period of months until they are old enough to scamper around the ground on their own. While feeding the mother will pass bits of food back to the young on her back, feeding each of them as they chirp in hunger.
A Snowflake is considered physically mature in just three local years, the rough equivalent to twelve Earth years. Barring disease or accident, a Snowflake could realistically aspire to live for the equivalent of fifty-five Earth years or more; advances in medical technology have raised the average lifespan to the eighties and nineties.
Outlook and Society
Ecologically, it must be understood that the Snowflakes are apex predators which use their strength and advantage in numbers to bring down prey much larger than themselves. They are possessed by nature of a keen predatory intellect, to which whole-hearted united cooperation and cold-blooded killing come completely naturally.
In a traditional hunt, perfect coordination and mutual understanding of one another's roles would be required to coordinate a successful kill. Large herbivores would be maneuvered away from their herds. The herbivorous mammoth-analogue would often be possessed of greater stamina than its predators, and the hunt would thus need to be brought to a close quickly. The strong female Snowflakes would be responsible for corralling it into a position it could not escape from. They would each disable one of the beast's many limbs, slowly bringing it to the ground and pinning it there. Then one of the males, smaller of frame but equipped with the all-important saber teeth, would advance on the hapless animal and finish it with a severing bite to the throat.
This shared ecological background has colored the totality of Snowflake psychology. While the species splintered into many different cultures and societies, quite many shared particular characteristics. An Amazonian mentality was often adopted; females took the vigorous roles of hunters, warriors, and hard physical laborers, while males performed softer household and crafting duties.
In the modern era, Snowflake society has become politically egalitarian but still colored by the gender roles of the past. While the modern female might eat her meat out of a can, heated by a microwave rather than the still-beating heart of the prey animal, she has lost none of her vigor. Females are many times more likely to join the military than males. Females are more likely to rise to positions of power within businesses and other social constructs.
Similarly, males remain more likely express more cerebral or artistic sides to themselves. While it is not unheard of to see male warriors or female scholars, gender stereotypes among the Snowflakes exist for a good reason.
As noted before, romantic love as a concept does not exist among the Snowflakes. That is not to say they do not have a conception of love at all; family and friendship are intensely valued by their society, perhaps even more so than in humanity. There does exist among them a greater form of love, however, a love which they feel surpasses the ties of family and friends. This is the connection between the mothers that aid one another in a birth circle. There is a level of trust and camaraderie implicit in the birth circle arrangement that gives way to a deep emotional intimacy. In many Snowflake societies, a mother does not even name her own offspring; instead, she names the infants of the female who sits in front of her in the circle, and her own are named by the one behind her. The day in which an impregnated daughter takes her place in front of her mother in the birth circle is considered one of the most special of ceremonies, and while males and non-breeding females do not sit within the birth circle, they watch and applaud the egg-laying with all the zeal you might see in the audience of a human wedding.
The government structure of the dominant Snowflake state is monarchial. An Empress rules from the capital city of Snygache along the equator, in a palace heated by the finest thermal systems known to their kind. An aristocratic class rules alongside her, often recognizable by their habit of shaving most of their skin bare and grey but leaving a tuft of silvery reflective hair just above the torso-nostrils. In some low-ranking nobles, patterns are shaved but the majority of the fur is kept intact. Only the Empress herself shaves the entirety of her skin bare, showing her spider-like body in all its glory.
Snowflakes possess an odd sort of spirituality; while they possess a cultural tradition rich in spiritual cosmology and mythic grandeur, they seem to entirely lack the notion of deities. Needing no gods to explain the history of the universe, Snowflake mythology instead revolves around magical storms and moons doing battle with the blazing, fear-inspiring sun, which was itself presented with no anthropomorphism (or the equivalent to giant vertebrate spiders) but merely as an unfeeling force of nature. Oddly enough, when inanimate forces were assigned feelings and emotions, these feelings tended be bestial and non-sapient, and not Snowflake.
One of the most ancient myths of an ancient society brought the origin of the species' oddity of a name. According to this nearly prehistoric creation myth, at the dawn of the universe there was only endless ice, a cool cloud, and a blazing sun which would at times blast the cloud with flaming rays. The cloud would cringe at each strike as if lashed by a whip, and its blood fell upon the ice as rain. Little by little the oceans were filled by the great cloud's blood.
Further strikes caused parts of the cloud itself to drop off, becoming of mud that formed the landmasses of the world in between the masses of ice and water. The cloud's ragged dying breaths became the winds that sweep across the planet and stir up blizzards. But upon the final blow, the one which finally slew the great cloud, the cloud's body exploded into a billion tiny snowflakes which were scattered across the face of the world. Each of these snowflakes was possessed of a tiny piece of the cloud's planet-forming body, a shred of its might. The snowflakes wandered the surface of the world until they found each other, forming close packs in remembrance of the time in which the whole race was united as a single cloud in the sky. But they still feared the sun that had slain them, and fled for cover each time it again blazed its dreaded light.
While the religion which told this myth is long extinct and the story is a work of complete fancy, on some level it speaks to the Snowflake species as a whole. As time and language moved on, the myth survived in their language; the name they give to themselves, the Snatter Gash, in this oldest of tongues meant "snowflake." Should they ever make contact with another intelligent civilization, it is this name that they will introduce themselves by.
At an early stage in history some Snowflake packs learned how to herd their prey animals in a pastoral manner. Stable food sources made for larger populations. Eventually the pack, like the human tribe, evolved into the nation. City-states were founded in warmer, more fertile areas in which the domesticated prey animals could graze most heartily. While packs had always clashed over prime territories, this era brought with it total warfare.
The mightiest city-state of the ancient days was great Snygache, which stands to this day as a curious mix of ancient and modern architecture reminiscent of Earth's Rome. Snygache stands on a penninsula overlooking a great sea. Its fabled docks were designed in such a way to take advantage of Gash's powerful tides, so that in times when the moon was greatest in the sky, the waters would rise, pick boats off of the piers, and carry them out to see. Snygache established economic and naval superiority in the ancient world, and while the empire rose and fell multiple times, its spread to other continents ensured that its culture would outlive any one government or emperor's lifetime.
The specifics of the great wars and social revolutions of Snowflake history are of interest only to the most dedicated xenohistorians. But suffice to say, the culture of Snygache grew in time to dominate much of the planet. Around four hundred and fifty years ago an industrial revolution took place. Pastoral farming communities began to develop into confined animal processing facilities with a factory-like production ethic. Railways were built over tundras, steamboats chugged over the frigid oceans, and ancient taigas were cut down to fuel the expanse of civilization. The world of Gash began to change to suit the growing needs of the Snowflake race.
The final transitions into a world state did not come easily. As on many other worlds, industrialism gave way to warfare on a greater scale than had been thought before. The Snowflakes fought a total of five world wars with a three century period, the latter two of which were battled under the threat of nuclear weapons. Surprisingly, the nukes themselves were never actually used in combat; perhaps the more limited resources on Gash made the destruction of entire cities uneconomical for would-be conquerors. But the threat of annihilation alone made for bitter wars that claimed millions of lives.
Eventually however, the wars subsided. Planes stopped dropping conventional bombs. Tanks stopped rolling over the landscape. Snygache was weakened, but was able to assimilate in time its adversaries to truly unite the planet. (Or at least, in most respects. Even to this day there are turbulent parts of the planet where social zealots continue waging bitter wars against the establishment.)
Cities grew larger. Factories grew more productive. The population began to boom.
Satellites and probes were launched into space, and an exploration of the Gash solar system went underway. As the global population expanded, it was hoped that room would be found on other worlds for Snowflake settlers to relocate off-world. No such luck was to be found in their native system, however. Approaching closer to the star, where UV rays were at their most intense, would be foolhardy in the extreme, and moreover triggered the most basic terror responses the species was prone to. On the other hand, moving outwards was fruitless, as the gas giants and lumpy ice blocks in the outer system were utterly uninhabitable, at least to their form of life.
Some scientists drew sketches for a form of generation ship, for launching members of the species on thousand-year voyages to the closest stars to search for new homes. But the feasibility and practicality of these designs were called into question, and never came to fruition.
To make matters worse, some astronomers predicted that in another ten thousand years Gash Alpha would enter a cool period, giving out less heat than usual and condemning their planet to a bitter ice age in which the ice caps would encroach even further south, crushing Snowflake civilization like an egg. While a far-off worry, the far-sighted among the species felt prospects were bleak.
Then something strange happened. Something perhaps miraculous. Upon one of the northern ice caps where a massive particle accelerator had been built, physicists succeeded in creating laboratory antimatter and applying it to create... something. There was a blip in the calculations. A slight anomaly that shouldn't have existed. Subsequent tests were not able to prolong the blip's existence or determine precisely what it was, but a theory soon came to light.
"We linked to the stars," a poetic scientist said, whistling through his long saber fangs and rubbing his forelimbs together. "There is something out there. Something we can touch. Something that will take us to the heavens above, like the cloud of the stories."
It was proposed that an even larger accelerator would be built in orbit around the homeworld. For if the physicists were right in their hypotheses, success in this engineering project could change Snowflake society forever...