Those-who-tap-beneath-the-stones - Alien Design Picture

Another Alien Design project I set myself; this one had the aid of most of the IRC channel I hang out on.
They're from the same setting as my Pra'Kara ( )


Those-who-tap-beneath-the-stone is, necessarily, a translation of their own name for themselves; for reasons which will be explained below, they do not have a written or spoken language, and so any textual documents regarding Those-who-tap-beneath-the-stone must use this somewhat cumbersome name.

TWTBTS (frequently shortened to ‘Tappers’ by many galactic citizens) hail from a planet composed nearly entirely of mountainous regions separated by large ravines. While there is flowing water on its surface, most of the residents of this planet seek underground rivers and lakes rather than put themselves at risk on the surface. While not so close to its star that the surface is uninhabitable, the planet’s surface temperature is significantly above the galactic average.

The primary mineral content of the stones of their planet is a combination of iron and cobalt, making smelting essentially impossible. While they themselves have no sense of the colours they wear on their hides, it is these stones which give TWTBTS their colouration. Most are a reddish base with blue mottled throughout, although this is by no means the only patterning they take; some presen with stripes or bands of blue, other with splotches rather than mottling.

Rather than creating their own structures, TWTBTS make their homes in the caves and tunnels which already twist through the mountainsides. Their fore- and hind-limbs are primarily used for locomotion through these tunnels, while the smaller mid-limbs are used to steady themselves through winding and steep passages. When they do take to the surface, their large claws are used to steady themselves on the rocky faces.

While the claws in question certainly look impressive, and somewhat dangerous, their primary purpose is much more peaceful: Those-who-tap-beneath-the-stone communicate through a form of tap-language - hence their name - which many Human scholars have compared to an ancient Earth method of communication known as ‘Morse Code’. The comparison is an apt one, as TWTBTS have a complicated language of taps, including standardised ‘abbreviations’ for longer terms - such as their name for themselves.

Given that most of their communication happens through sound alone, and that they spend the majority of their lives underground, it should be no surprise to learn that TWTBTS have no light-sensing mechanisms. Their understanding of their surroundings is based primarily on a form of Echolocation; they will send out a specific series of taps - explicitly set aside from their vocabulary - when entering a new territory, to form an ‘image’ of their new surroundings. (If the reader will forgive the poor choice in words. It is worth observing that the English language makes use, primarily, of the visual senses in its metaphorical language, making it very difficult to appropriately describe the experiences of a non-seeing species.)

Though they appear clumsy, with their large claws and only small fingers, TWTBTS are by no means brutes. Their feelers serve dual purposes; although initially evolved for the purposes of sensing faint and far-off vibrations - likely as a hunting mechanism - they have since been adapted into quite dexterous limbs, perfect for fine-motor activities. It is using these that they construct the bells and charms with which they decorate themselves, as well as the finely detailed sculptures and icons with which they decorate their home caverns. When using both their feelers and their hands, they make quite able craftspeople.

Given that their language is tapped through the very walls of their homes, TWTBTS have no concept of secrecy or lies. It would be as though our communications were constantly being blared from loudspeakers and displayed on giant screens in our cities - if anyone can hear something at any time, why would you ever say something you wanted to keep from them? It is hard to conceive of a society which does not have some way of saying things which are not the truth, and technically, TWTBTS do tell what they acknowledge to not be exact truths; but there is a very specific form to these non-truths. TWTBTS tell stories of ancient ancestors who might or might not have existed - legends or mythology to us, but to them, they are simply ‘questioned stories’. Translated, a Questioned Story might be begun thus:

‘From the Clan-of-Six-Dots

‘The story is told of our ancestor Such-A-Ruckus-Did-They-Make, and their journey into the Deep-Parts-Of-This-Mountain…’

By acknowledging that this is something they have been told, the story-teller is able to convey that this story may have been changed in the telling over the generations. Most stories in TWTBTS culture begin with ‘The story is told,’ much in the way many old Human stories begin with ‘Once upon a time…’

Each ‘speaker’ will, before beginning their transmission, identify their Clan, through a unique series of taps, although no indication is given of individual identity. When asked, TWTBTS have indicated that it is possible to tell individuals apart through their idiosyncratic tapping of the Clan tap. Most outsiders cannot make these differentiations; the Univeristy of Alpha Centauri ran a study where they played audio recordings of Clan taps to both TWTBTS and other species; while some other species with higher than average auditory senses were able to identify some differences, TWTBTS were able to correctly match the Clan taps made by any given individual with virtually no errors. (One outlier, a TWTBTS hatched on a Human-made space station, acknowledged their unfamiliarity with the customs of their homeworld. Apparently among space-born TWTBTS, most Clan taps are followed by a personal identifier - usually in the form of a favourite word or trait.)

TWTBTS are an egg-laying race, but they have taken this to special extremes. In their youth, TWTBTS go through a photosynthetic phase, during which the heat and light of the sun help begin the growth cycle, and help the skin to form its first hardened layers. For the first phase of their growth, the young TWTBTS convert sunlight into energy, much in the way plants do on Earth. This energy is not used so much for movement, but instead for ensuring the final growth of muscles and setting in place of bones. As such, they traditionally lay their eggs on the mountaintops above their homes. Eventually, they began constructing synthetic egg capsules in which to lay their eggs, thus ensuring both that no scavengers on the surface might disturb or eat them, and that no winds or tremors would send the eggs rolling off the mountain tops to their dooms. These egg capsules are kept within Clans - most TWTBTS will lay their eggs in the very same capsule from which they were hatched.

This recycling of capsules serves a number of overlapping purposes - first of all, it ensures that time is not wasted rebuilding the capsules year after year. Secondly, these are not simple structures into which eggs are deposited. One of the earliest technologies that TWTBTS mastered was that of audio recording and playback; most modern capsules are now fitted with small speakers which will play the sound of the Clan tap on a loop to the eggs sleeping inside, such that when they are ready to hatch, they already recognise and know how to identify their family. Once each TWTBTS joins the clan, they make a recording of themselves tapping the Clan tap, which is then added to the audio file for the next generation of eggs.

TWTBTS are assumed to reproduce through parthenogenesis, although no outsider has yet to confirm this; they have no sexual dimorphism, and it certainly seems as though eggs can be laid by an individual, without aid or genetic material from any others.

Although widely assumed to have a series of three genders, this is somewhat of a Questioned Story, as TWTBTS might term it. They have what might be described as either ‘castes’ or ‘grammatical genders’, based on the roles a given individual might undertake in their life. Some individuals make the switch between castes, but it’s not particularly common. When TWTBTS made initial contact with the rest of the galactic community, it was widely assumed that the Nurturing Caste were female, the Building Caste were male and the Exploratory Caste were neuter, and many galactic citizens will still refer to them by the pronouns attached to those states. TWTBTS, meanwhile, assumed that ‘female’ meant Nurturing Caste, and so on - and so it was quite a while before the gaffe was exposed.

Obviously, not every job undertaken by TWTBTS in this modern galaxy will be as simple as Nurturer, Builder or Explorer, and many different professions and talents get folded into these categories, often in ways that don’t seem to have a pattern to outsiders. Outsiders wishing to learn the tap language have reported that while some professions have an obvious link to one of the three castes - a nurse is obviously a nurturer, a navigator on a space vessel is obviously an explorer - not all of them are so clear and must simply be memorised, to avoid risking insult. Doctors, for example, are considered part of the Builder caste, rather than the Nurturers, and those who designate new taps (for new concepts or new species) are considered Explorers, not Builders. These are probably due to traditional forms of these practices, or possibly due to who originally undertook them.

Given the issues facing them regarding smelting metals on their homeworld, TWTBTS have made their technologies primarily out of glass, diamond, and other gemstones. Most of these use what we might consider ‘voice commands’: using their feelers on particular ‘screens’ to tap out their commands. While incredibly strange for any sighted species to learn to use, the machines and systems they build are unrivaled in shimmering beauty - and pure garishness. Their space faring vessels must be seen to be believed.

Today, some metals have made their way into TWTBTS constructions through galactic trade, and the ability to use space-ports around their planet for metalwork, thus avoiding the toxic cobalt on the surface.

Due to their unparalleled abilities in subterranean environments, many TWTBTS find work on mining colonies. They are frequently sent ahead of any machinery or other workers, to discover the extent of naturally existing tunnels, and to find any weak points. They also make excellent mechanics, and are usually able to diagnose problems with a given piece of machinery within ten taps of being faced with it. (Many TWTBTS indicate that metal takes a lot of getting used to - it resonates so much more than the stone they’re born near that it can be like hearing echoes over everything.)

While their long bodies are incredibly flexible, TWTBTS frequently have trouble on space stations and ports. While they tend only to be about 75 centimetres to a metre tall, they can grow to be up to three metres long, which can raise problems in busy space-ports, or areas with many short hallways and sharp turns.

In interactions with other galactic citizens, TWTBTS are somewhat at the advantage - while they have yet to discover or invent a way to allow them to vocalise spoken words, their impeccable hearing allows them to differentiate between unique sounds very easily, making them very quick to learn the languages of other species. Many TWTBTS Clans based in space have begun to work together to create an abbreviated form of their own language, which will hopefully be much easier for outsiders to learn than the full form. (Many portable devices have applications devoted to translating the tap language into text, so even those who don’t have the time or skill to learn the language for themselves can still comprehend their friends.)

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