2013 – A Space Oddity
Once upon a time in a galaxy quite nearby…
Scientists have announced that sentient life has been found in a galaxy not too far from our own. We’ve been observing a planet through video-linked satellite relays in space-time until we can establish if it is safe enough to make contact.
It isn’t an inspiring planet, just a small rock circling a slowly dying star, and the inhabitants are fairly uninspiring too.
The top predator species is a fluorescent green upright biped with multiple multi-functional appendages and aerial-like detectors that register perception frequencies we cannot comprehend, as they slowly walk with an upright swimming motion through the thick semi-liquid methane atmosphere.
They live in social groups where pair-bonded adults care for offspring for almost a quarter of their lives (and longer for some who won’t leave, continuing to sponge off their parents for far too long) and use sophisticated telepathic communication between themselves, resulting in co-operative projects of shelter and food-production.
From intercepting radio-wave communications we know they call themselves “T’weepl”, which translates as “the only real beings”, and their planet “D’worl”, meaning “everything”. They farm and prey on the many other sentient species on the planet in one way or another, many to the verge of extinction, but most peculiar of all is their relationship with the “D’waag”, whom they have enslaved.
The meaning of “D’waag” is uncertain as it is used both as a term of abuse and also affection in T’weepl communication, as in, “as faithful as a D’waag” and the insult “you offspring of a D’weetch!” – using the term for a female.
D’waag are bred in many shapes and sizes to suit T’weepl, but the basic form is a purple biped similar to but about half the size of a T’weepl, with an additional venomous appendage at the “head” that is usually kept furled but can be lashed out to stun prey. The whip is also used in self-defence, but only after the D’waag turns a bright pink colour in warning. Most D’waag communication is postural, as opposed to the telepathy of the T’weepl.
I say a “most peculiar” relationship because it appears destructive to both, yet both species perpetuate it. Sometime in the past the D’waag, as a species, persuaded the T’weepl to care for them in exchange for tolerating horrendous treatment to some of their individual members – an interesting evolutionary strategy to say the least, but remarkably successful. Perhaps it is an advanced kind of altruism? Or maybe just another selfish-replicator of inheritance.
The original relationship seems to have stemmed from the more-advanced T’weepl subjugating the D’waag to help with hunting, herding and guarding, using speed, agility and sensory receptors that the T’weepl lack or lack in sensitivity – and the biting whip. As the T’weepl have become more technologically advanced very few D’waag are now used in those roles, but some freak of the psyche encourages T’weepl to keep them in almost half of their family groups. The T’weepl subject D’waag to some terrible treatment.
For their own amusement they have purposely bred D’waag with all manner of deformities: stunted legs and weak backs, reduced infrared assimilation-plates (used to collect energy from their weak star), displaced and undersized antennae, misshapen nourishment orifices and in a variety of colours that often don’t allow them to display their warning pink. Different sorts of D’waag variously have little capacity for exertion, are unable to function or communicate properly and are in constant discomfort or pain.
Some are tiny and some are giants, but the giants only live to half their expected age. Their natural behaviours are frequently ignored, for example by keeping single specimens of this social species, leaving them in solitary confinement for distressing periods of time, and failing to provide outlets for appropriate, or indeed any, mental stimulation.
Through debility, frustration, little experience of social contact and lack of ability to communicate, many D’waag are fearful of meeting other D’waag, which they do when taken to communal toileting areas by their T’weepl masters. This fear in close proximity causes defensive aggression and combat often ensues.
In a vicious cycle, T’weepl deal with their own social embarrassment of owning a “dangerous” D’waag by manacling and tethering it rather than giving it freedom of behaviour. Sometimes specially fashioned cage devices are placed over their heads to prevent them deploying their venomous whips. In many public spaces there are congregations of T’weepl holding chained D’waag in various hues of pink (their warning signal of emotional fear and frustration).
On an inter-species level, many of the telepathic T’weepl seem unable to read the postural communication of the D’waag and there is often a mismatch in expectation that causes the D’waag considerable fear. When this happens, hampered by their inability to turn properly pink, some D’waag lash out with their whip, biting into the flesh of their T’weepl masters and causing pain, injuries and even death. Infant and juvenile T’weepl are at a significantly higher risk from D’waag-bite.
The D’waag is often legally killed in retribution, or because it is “not safe”. Ironically, some are killed just for turning pink, on the supposition that this indicates inherent aggression.
If a D’waag is deemed uncontrollable or simply not wanted by its master, it may be culled, dumped in public or taken to a special concentration camp, of which there are many. Unplanned, unwanted or “un-saleable” D’waag infants are killed immediately after birth by dropping them into a receptacle of methane-free solution.
Uniformed public servants hunt abandoned and unaccompanied D’waag and either kill them or detain them in the camps. D’waag are incarcerated until they are taken by another T’weepl, when the whole sorry saga is likely to start over, or eventually they may be killed because they are unlikely to find another T’weepl master. More “considerate”, camps keep unwanted D’waag until their natural death.
Not surprisingly some D’waag that are dumped or escape turn feral and breed on the outskirts of T’weepl settlements, living by scavenging waste, until they become unsightly or bothersome, when the T’weepl enforcers round them up and either kill them there and then, or once again detain them in camps.
Although their existence seems terrible, there seems to be no alternative for the D’waag, as their life expectancy without T’weepl protection is meagre; they’ve evolved away from the ability to exist as a species outside T’weepl settlements. Many live an adequate, if boring and misunderstood, existence, with basic nourishment and shelter provided in exchange for pandering to their T’weepl’s whims. There’s nothing a D’waag-owning T’weepl likes better than for their D’waag to bring back a thrown b’waal. It is not understood why they throw the b’waal away in the first place if they want it back.
Some D’waag have a positively good life with a T’weepl that understands them. Some are neglected, abused, beaten, starved, or made to fight each other, or other sentient beings, often to the death, simply for T’weepl amusement.
Amazingly, T’weepl profess great fondness for their D’waag, and some individuals undoubtedly express that capacity. Some shower them with affection, over-nourish them, embrace them and generally treat them as they would an infant T’weepl, even though that isn’t necessarily compatible with D’waag behaviour or needs.
There is a whole T’weepl industry that has grown up around D’waag, breeding and selling them, providing advice and instruction on how to handle and “train” them, and what to do with recalcitrant specimens deemed to have “behaviour problems” when they don’t meet T’weepl expectations, largely due to T’weepl mismanagement.
Strangely for a skill much valued, there is no agreed methodology for D’waag management, and almost any T’weepl who has the whim can profess expertise on the basis of having kept a D’waag themselves. This causes much discourse between factions of T’weepl dedicated to different approaches and there is a huge selection of D’waag-related T’weepl literature by “D’waag experts”, with tempting titles such as “D’waags that Bite and Fight”.
A D’waag-food industry produces nourishment of all manner and types, with vested interests arguing that their diet is best, even though it is obvious that different D’waag do better on different foods. There are even special T’weepl medics that tend to the many D’waag diseases and afflictions (how bizarre, to breed an inherited defect in a sentient being then, from affection, pay a great cost to mitigate its pain and suffering!)
Competitions of beauty, where T’weepl said to be endowed with special powers judge the “best” D’waag in the show by comparing it to an imaginary perfect specimen, are fiercely contested. Winning males command fortunes in stud fees and sire most of the next generation in their image, even though that restricts the pool of units of heredity and increases the chances of recombination deformity.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, most T’weepl believe that their treatment of the D’waag is necessary for their wellbeing, and perhaps the most ironic aspect is that a D’waag is considered to be a “T’weepl’s best friend”.
But those who govern the common T’weepl are concerned that the situation is out of hand, not for the sake of the D’waag, but because of the costs to their society of the patrols, the camps, the killing, the breeding of defects, the nuisance of their excrement in public, the deaths and injuries some cause, and most of all the pitting of D’waag against D’waag in organised fights and the use of specially-bred “Dangerous D’waags” to enhance the status of disadvantaged or criminal T’weepl. They’ve (ineffectively) tried outlawing some types of D’waag altogether and continue to tinker with rules about the keeping of D’waag.
It is a sad situation, but the T’weepl don’t seem to want to find a solution, and it is beyond D’waag capabilities.
The T’weepl continue to cogitate, many avoiding or ignoring the evidence of their own antennae, or preferring to see it through roseate-coloured opticals. After all, there is evidence that the keeping of a D’waag results in health benefits for individual T’weepl and the pecuniary, social and psychological functions perpetuate the subjugation.
I guess T’weepl must consider that the benefit to them as an individual outweighs the cost to their own society, and to the D’waag, but I wonder at what point they would consider that the suffering outweighs the self-benefit?
I’m not sure we should make contact with the T’weepl. They don’t seem very nice beings. But I can’t help pondering if there is any hope for the relationship between the T’weepl and the D’waag. Could the T’weepl learn to live in harmony and treat all their dependent D’waag with the respect and understanding another sentient species deserves?
Perhaps we could fast forward our observations by warping space-time to their future to see if they can? It will take a couple of weeks to realign the satellites – I’ll get back to you – but in the meantime, what do you think? Could the T’weepl governors help the T’weepl help the D’waag?
Author’s note: Of course, this is just science fiction – a made-up story. Nothing like this could ever really happen, could it?