The following article was written by Vincente Tellez as an entry to the Alien August competition.
The Tak Mal are a primitive species of tree-climbers and cliff-dwellers. They appear to a human as some sort of cross between a mantis, a dinosaur, and a Venus flytrap. Bipedal in nature, the body shape appears similar to a Utah raptor, leading to its dinosaur appearance. It has two large arms that each end in a jointed and spiked limb much like the raptorial legs of a mantis. These hook-like arms, combined with the talons on their feet, aid in climbing up trees and cliffs. They also have a third, smaller arm protruding from their chest and ending in four grasping digits. This smaller arm was often used to reach into hollow trees or rocky dens for prey, but has since become their manipulating digit for tool use. Their head is unlike any creature from Earth. The face is entirely a four-pronged mouth, in which each “petal’s” interior is lined with sharp teeth, giving it the appearance of a highly-carnivorous plant. Sitting just behind and above the head are two feather-like antennae used to receive echolocation pulses, which is partly how the Tak Mal see.
The Tak Mal are also electromagnetically sensitive through the use of ampullae. This allows them to “see” nearby animals that can’t be detected by echolocation. The species also has two electric organs running the length of its spine which generate an electric field around the creature. This electric field, combined with the ampullae organs, allows for both electrolocation and electrocommunication, the latter of which is the primary means of communication between the Tak Mal.
In terms of mechanical technology, the Tak Mal are about as advanced as 16th century humanity, capable of woodcrafting, mining, and smithing. However, because of their sensitivity to electromagnetism, their electrical technology is more on par with that of late 20th century humanity. They have even developed radio communication technology to overcome the naturally short range of their electrocommunication. They are capable of interfacing with their radios through their generated electric fields. Receiving radios then generate an identical field for the recipient to perceive.
Because they lack sight and instead use echo and electrolocation, the Tak Mal do not have a form of written communication. However, since the development of electrical technology in their society, they have developed a sort of “audio and video” recording. Electric fields of individuals can be recorded and reproduced, allowing for Tak Mal podcasts, radio broadcasts, and announcements to be distributed in place of books and newspapers. Newer technology has also sought to reproduce echoes to create “films,” although this technology is only just budding.
While they are not a space-faring species themselves, they have been contacted and visited by other civilizations and are aware that life exists elsewhere in the galaxy. No spaceports have been built on the planet, but the Tak Mal have expressed interest to their visitors of seeing other planets, and some cultural exchange has occurred since first contact.
The homeworld of the Tak Mal is very geologically active, leading to lots of mountains and cliff faces covered in trees. Tak Mal towns are usually located atop these cliff-forests where food is plentiful. These towns are not usually very large since the Tak Mal do not like to congregate in large numbers. They prefer instead to remain around a close-knit group of families which constitute their town, although young females are often “traded” between towns. These trades are an important part of their culture and are centered around large festivals. Typically a small convoy will be sent from one town to another, and when it arrives, a festival is held to welcome the guests. The convoy’s females may choose to stay with the new town and new females will join the convoy. Larger convoys will also sometimes make a long journey and visit several towns before returning home, increasing genetic diversity.
Because the Tak Mal do not find large cities appealing, they have seen less technological advancement. Another aspect which has stalled their advancement is their social temperament. The Tak Mal have become a very peaceful and thoughtful species since developing intelligence. They enjoy their primitive lifestyle, and the lack of war and competition has lessened any need to expand into space. They are content with remaining as they are so long as they are free to think and philosophize about life, something which their species is known to be fond of. Many philosophical works by the Tak Mal have been translated and sold in Human and Zherdany space, and they have become surprisingly popular.
Due to the large number of volcanoes on the planet, the Tak Mal have a very strong belief in a fire and heat based religion. They believe that all creatures are imbued with an internal fire which is their equivalent of a human soul. The hotter a Tak Mal’s internal fire, the more virtuous or lucky they are considered to be. The planet itself is known to possess a hot and active mantel. To them, this means that it is a god, since it has a much more powerful soul than anything else. Their planets purpose as a god is to care for their species and look out for them. The religion was originally ditheistic, with the planet serving as the primary deity and the sun serving as its assistant.
Unlike many human religions, the religion of the Tak Mal has no problem coexisting with scientific advancement. When science discovers new information, it leads to a revision of their religious beliefs in light of a new understanding. For example, the heliocentric model of their system caused a revision of their beliefs with their sun as the primary deity and the planets as lesser deities caring for their own populations.
The religion has also produced unique customs and rituals. When a young Tak Mal comes of age, they go through a ritual involving loss of blood. The loss is symbolic of the planet’s spewing of lava. Blood carries heat throughout the body, and so is considered to be a vessel of the soul, much as magma is the vessel of the planets soul. This sacrifice of part of the soul contributes to the health of the planet as a whole, so the blood is used to fertilize a sapling in the ritual. It is also common for Tak Mal to have their body branded with artistic designs just as we get tattoos. Another significant custom is that cold-blooded creatures are regarded as evil and soulless. They are often seen as signs of bad luck.
Written by Vincente Tellez.
Image created by Vincente Tellez using the “Spore“ computer game.