The assanli (singular assandr, adjectival assan) are a sapient species from the planet Prasandadr. They were the first species in the galaxy to achieve space travel and faster-than-light travel, and their resulting empire became the foundation for the modern Federation.
In the language of the Assanchec people, Assanlikan, colloquially known as Kanchec, as is the root meaning "person", with further affixes -san, -var and -tar for the neuter, male and female genders respectively. Neuter and gendered words, for singular, dual and plural, respectively, have the futher suffixes -dr, -e and -li, and -n, -q and -i. Thus, for example, "two men" is asvarq and "women" is astari. Referring to the species in general, one always uses the neuter forms assan, assandr, assane and assanli.
Assanli are omnivorous bipedal endotherms covered in fine scales, with sweat glands between their scales to speed up the loss of excess heat. They average 1.61 metres in height (1.64 m for males and 1.57 m for females) and, as typical for large endotherms, their natural life expectancy is around 70 years, although medical treatments allow the healthy lifespan to be greatly extended. Typically, ethnicities originating in the equatorial and coastal regions of Prasandadr have drab green scales to block ultraviolet light, while those from elsewhere have lighter scales so that UV can be used for vitamin D synthesis. Some patches of skin, particularly on the torso, have chromatophores capable of undergoing colour change which are used for expressing emotions.
Assanli are naturally digitigrade with a two-fingered prehensile tail, although the skeletons of individuals who have had their tail removed at birth can grow to adapt to plantigrade locomotion, adopting an erect posture. This is mainly due to the fact that the hips and heels of hatchlings are very plastic, and the heel only grows to its full length (which is itself fairly short) when under the tension of digitigrade running during late childhood. Homologous to the legs are a pair of arms at the top of the torso, which end in five-fingered hands, of which three fingers have three joints each and the other two are two-jointed opposable thumbs. All of the digits have thick claw-like fingernails at their tips, protecting and enhancing their softened and sensitive pads, and have a thin cutaneous membrane between them extending part-way up the first segment.
The assan head is built around a large cranium atop a wide mandible. The face is extremely flat, consisting of two large trichromatic lensed eyes above two pairs of nostrils that in turn sit directly above the lipped mouth, and inside the mouth is a long cylindrical tongue and four types of specialised teeth. Aided by a highly developed larynx and conscious control over the diaphragm, the mouth is capable of verbal communication, but it has very little capacity for emotional display. On each side of the head is a small round ear, adapted for hearing the vocalisations of other assanli.
Due to the fierce arms race between animals and pathogens on Prasandadr, assanli feature many adaptations towards combating disease. Their innate immune system is strongly focused on anatomic barriers, with most bodily fluids being filled with disinfective molecules and proteins, while their adaptive immune system has a long-lasting hereditary immunological memory and a very rapid response time; as a side-effect, this means that allergies and autoimmune diseases were highly prevalent prior to the advent of effective therapies in the early interplanetary age.
Assanli have little sexual dimorphism; the females tend to be 5-10 cm shorter than the males and are brighter in colouration, and they have wider hips for the purposes of growing and laying their eggs. In both sexes, the reproductive and digestive tracts end in a single orifice, the cloaca. Assanli are continuous breeders, although there is some seasonal variation: females are at their most fertile in the early wet season (in equatorial regions) or spring (elsewhere) when food is at its most available and will continue to be for the coming months. Two or three ova are released at a time, and after fertilisation, they grow into hard-shelled eggs - averaging 20 cm long and 12 cm wide - which are laid three weeks after mating. The eggs hatch four months later, and the hatchlings are very underdeveloped, especially in terms of brain development, so they require a lot of care for the first ten years. A further decade usually passes before they become fully independent from their family.
As with all life on Prasandadr, the assanli can trace their origins back to carbon-based protobionts, most likely composed of RNA within liposomes, within the primordial oceans that arose shortly after the planet's formation. Three billion years passed until the first multicellular eukaryotes evolved, and another half a billion years later came armoured placoderm-like marine vertebrates. A group of lobe-finned placoderms spawned the early terrestrial vertebrates that became the ancestor of all tetrapoids, and one lineage of these, the anthropoids, became arboreal omnivores who traded their heavy armour for speedy gliding capabilities. As the assanli's anthropoid ancestors increased in size, they lost their ability to glide, but their climbing adaptations improved, gaining a prehensile tail and wrists with a large range of rotational motion.
A cooling climate reduced the size of the coastal forests, forcing some of the larger anthropoid species who lived there to descend from the trees and live on the growing plains. They adopted a bipedal gait, and the demands of an opportunistic lifestyle amongst the plains' suchoid predators led to the evolution of larger brains and increasingly sophisticated tool use. By the time the Assanocene glaciation began, the assanli had appeared in their modern form and had developed the foundations of nearly all cultural behaviours, including language, art, and hunting weapons. After originating in southern Boreas, the assanli soon spread to colonise Dusis and Anatole by raft-based island hopping and, in the coldest part of the Assanocene, crossing land bridges that extended between islands and the continental coastlines.
Planetary development Edit
The hunter-gatherer band societies of the assanli soon transitioned into sedentary agricultural chiefdoms and later city-states, a process that began in the Three Gardens - the North Dusis Bay, the South Boreas Cape, and western Anatole - which shared the common properties of being wet coastal regions that were both protected from the fierce winds of the global ocean and devoid of dense tropical forest, all of which made them the most suitable places for primitive agriculture.
Although much of the planet was inhospitable due to the presence of permanent ice sheets and desert, the more habitable parts were very favourable to civilisation, particularly due to the large areas of fertile grassland, much of which was around the eroded remains of ancient mountain ranges. The initial cultural diversity that this engendered was later removed by homogenisation driven by the emergence of intensive trade. The geography of Prasandadr had more lasting effects, too, which became common themes of assan history. The intensity of agriculture and prevalance of civilisation meant that large populations often arose, meaning low-intensity endemic warfare was extremely common, famines were frequent, and plague was a constant threat (albeit tempered by widespread immunity) due to the lack of good medicine. As a result of the well-connected supercontinental geography, the balance of power shifted between the Three Gardens, as they had superior geography and natural resources, while isolated cultures and spheres of influence were rare, mainly restricted to mountain tribes who stubbornly resisted incursions from the larger lowland empires. Large multiethnic empires were common, particularly around the Bay, falling apart during periods of great famine and plague to give rise to successive "generations" of empires. Their counterparts were often alliances of city states, usually maritime trading blocs, although these too would act as empires in their more centralised extremes, particularly when under more shrewd and competent leaders. Constant warfare, and the need to contain plagues through quarantine using armies, contributed to the levels of political and social organization present in both the empires and alliances.
Famines and plague lessened in frequency as new techniques, technologies, and medicines were developed and spread, especially during the early 5th millennium. The 44th century saw a new agricultural and industrial revolution, continuing into the 45th with noteworthy advances including digital computing, biotechnology, and space travel. The launch of a fusion-propelled interstellar probe in 4490 and the settlement of the first permanent lunar base on Jaratarna in 4500 finally marked the assanli as a spacefaring species.
Spacefaring era Edit
Body culture Edit
Assanli practice many forms of body ornamentation and modification, mainly for religious and decorative purposes. Piercings and tattoos (by scarification) are common in nearly every assan society. A common and extreme form of modification is the docking of hatchlings' tails, a practice that was established in early agricultural times as the ruling classes wished to reduce the peasants' food requirements by removing an inessential appendage. In some cultures, docked tails would be subsequently stewed and consumed. The later agricultural and industrial revolution resulted in such food surpluses as to make docking no longer useful, but millennia of viewing tails as a symbol of elitism meant that most families began to willingly enforce docking out of their own accord.
Outside the equatorial regions of Prasandadr, plant-based clothing was developed as insulation from the cold winter weather. Since this necessitated covering the colour-changing regions of the torso, people of clothed cultures developed sophisticated systems of gesturing in order to compensate for their lack of natural expression. Inhabitants of warmer climes often viewed the clothed cultures with suspicion, as they were perceived to be willing or at least able to conceal their emotions, although the use of small amounts of clothing (typically belts or headdresses) for utility and decoration eventually spread worldwide. Lacking external genitals, assanli never developed a particular need to cover them nor a nudity taboo.
Religion and spirituality Edit
Much of the traditional assan worldview was shaped by the prevalence of disease, due to microbes' ability to rapidly evolve within individual habitats and then spread across Prasandadr via migrating populations of animals. In particular, the contagion heuristic (the idea that abstract concepts, such as disease, are physical forces capable of moving between people or objects) proved very effective for dealing with pathogens via quarantine despite the fact that their existence was not yet known, and thus became firmly entrenched within the collective psyche and culture of the species. Supernatural beliefs, therefore, became primarily focused on the existence of immaterial substances and, to a varying extent, sentient spirit beings composed of these substances. Conversely, the principle of similarity ("like affects like") has minimal presence in assan beliefs, since cures for diseases based on similarity consistently failed during the frequent plagues when they were needed the most. Instead, finding working cures in a protoscientific manner became a priority for healers. While many cultures did not care how these cures worked (that they helped the power of healing overcome that of disease was enough), others were far more curious as to their deeper workings and developed a form of alchemy based on how they supposed different immaterial substances interact with each other.
The interconnectedness of Prasandadr's societies led to the evolution of global syncretism, a blend of the various animistic beliefs and religious ceremonies developed among each the planet's cultures and exchanged between them all. This syncretism has no central authority or formal dogma, and most specific tenets and rituals are specific to a small region or even a single ethnic group, although a few common ideas are held by the vast majority of its adherents.
Immaterial substances come in pairs, each substance having an opposing effect to its counterpart. Most of these pairs must be held in balance for the world to function, but there is one exception: life (or healing) and disease. Disease, whether this is a physical malady or the corruption of a government, must always be fought, while the power of healing is to be revered with purification rituals (which had the benefit of maintaining good hygiene). Indeed, the fall of empires due to plague or famine was usually rationalised with the claim that the moral disease of a nation or its rulers spread out into the land and made the people and crops fall ill too. Several societies even adopted a belief that entire classes or races of people were "spiritually infected" and established caste systems as a form of quarantine, but later advances in medicine resulted in wide-scale cultural shifts in emphasis from quarantine to healing which caused most of these doctines to fall out of public favour.
Historically, there were two competing tendencies when it came to enumerating the immaterial substances: minimalists, who believed that there were very few pairs, and pluralists, who believed that there were many pairs, possibly infinite in number. For example, minimalists would hold that heat/cold, light/dark and fire/water were all manifestations of a single pair, while pluralists would not only disagree but often further divide light into its different colours. In practice, the majority of people held an intermediate position, not having any metaphysical preference towards either extreme, but most recorded debates were between philosophers of the minimalist and pluralist schools. While late pre-industrial science seemed to support the pluralists, with the discovery of gravity, electricity, and numerous chemical elements, further progress in thermodynamics, field theory and nuclear physics helped to unify the majority of these "substances". Within two centuries of the industrial revolution, minimalism had evolved into the entirely non-spiritual physicalism, while pluralism had become the dominant religious paradigm in the form of panpsychism which held that every emergent concept and structure was associated with an immaterial spirit-substance.
Shamans and priesthood Edit
In nearly every pre-agricultural assan community, shamans were the centre of spiritual life. It is the task of shamans to intervene in the immaterial world on behalf of their people in order to help keep the various immaterial substances in balance. The shaman had permission to stand out of space of normality, where the breakdown of cultural boundaries could help gather insights for the community. They do this by entering trance states, usually by the consumption of hallucinogenic plants, repetitive music and dance, deep meditation on mystical sigils (which co-evolved with the development of more intense hallucinatory experiences), or some combination of the three, which allows them to perceive a realm of spirits. The shaman was often located on the edge of the community, whose wisdom needed an outside perspective and was regarded with caution even by the leaders of the clan.
Traditionally, shamans were believed to be chosen by the community's totem spirits against their will. The spirits would force them to undergo a rite of passage that involved being inflicted with a non-contagious disease that sent their bodies into a trance state and their souls into the immaterial world; if the initiate succeeded at the task they were given there, they discovered the secret to recovery from the disease and returned to the material world as a true shaman. Using this esoteric knowledge, the shaman played a helping hand in cultivating members of the community who appeared to have succumbed to the possession of spirits, using traditions to seek order and meaning. The way that unsuccessful shamans, who succumbed to their illness and died, were treated depended on the culture. In the most severe cases, their failure brought lasting shame upon their family.
Once agriculture allowed for the growth of much larger societies, solitary shamanism often evolved into communal priesthood, often with a particular family line being deemed intrinsically "clean" and chosen for the task of the shaman. Initiation rituals were still required, but they were much less life-threatening than the ancient shamanic rite of passage. Many priesthoods built city temples around communal shrines and became wealthy from the tithes and donations of the public, but others - particularly voluntary, rather than familial, priesthoods - chose to live ascetic lives away from major settlements, believing that they were better able to serve their purpose without the distractions and diseases of civilisation. The religious symbolism also evolved with the advent of agriculture, because the relationship with the land began to change. The spirits of hallucinogenic plants gave way to the gods and goddesses of grain and fruit.