All About Skiltaire: Part 1 by Mark Merlino

The four legged, weasel like critters with the antenna that most of you have seen are called Skiltaire. They are an original creation of mine, dating from about 1971. Since I have had some requests (Fred Patten in 'Brazzle, for one), and to help clear up some confusion (Ken Sample's "Silkies" are not related to Skiltaire in any way, but are somehow often confused), I have decided to write a few articles on the subject. This is not the first attempt I have made to tell others about my creations, but this may prove to be the most complete. (and not TOO boring, I hope...)

What are they?
Skiltaire are a sentient extra-terrestrial animal. Sentience in this case means that they are aware of their own mortality, have developed a complex language and a society which has recorded history. They are capable of making and using tools, but their lifestyle and physiology do not require technological development on a human scale. They did not evolve on Earth, but come from several Earth-like planets. Skiltaire are carnivores, basically very large weasels, with body mass roughly that of an average human. There are two distinct types (races) which have different body structure and hunting behavior.

The Aquatics resemble otters, with short, smooth fur, round ears, and a thick tapered tail. They tend to have a stocky, round build, with a wide muzzle and large nose-pad. They hunt in or near rivers, lakes or the ocean and eat crabs, fish, frogs, water birds and anything that they can catch by the water.

Arboreals are much like giant Pine Martens. Their fur is long and fluffy, they have a slighter build, bushy tails, pointed ears and smaller muzzles; making them look more fox-like. They pursue prey on land and through the forest canopy. The two types can interbreed, but offspring tend to have characteristics of one or the other type, with hardly any noticeable hybridization.

One interesting characteristic of the species is the extreme range of fur pattern and coloration possible. Skiltaire can be ANY color or combination of colors. Aquatics tend to have very bright, contrasting stripes, which confuse large ocean predators. Arboreals have various stripe and spot fur patterns which act as camouflage, and are often the color of native foliage, including shades of green and blue. With interbreeding being very common, the color schemes get all mixed up, so just about anything goes!

Skiltaire can be found living as individuals, but tend to form family/ tribe groups which can exceed 50 members but seldom contain more then 80. The tribes cover large amounts of territory, constantly moving from one area to another, to prevent over-hunting.

What's in a name?
Although human biologists have blessed them with a pseudo-Latin scientific name, the common name for these big, empathic, electric weasels was derived from what they were called by the first human colonists who encountered them . "Skilt" being a name for a primitive type of fish, "aire", meaning hunter. So the humans named the new animals "fish-hunter", since that was what they saw them doing. At one time, the Arboreals probably had a different name, but eventually people realized they were just two versions of the same animal. If you ask a Skiltaire what he is, he will give you a summary of his experiences, as long and as detailed as you have time for.

What makes them special?
Besides being effective "thinking" predators, Skiltaire have highly developed extra-senses. The fatty tissue laying just below the hide is an efficient battery which can produce high current pulsed DC, similar to that of and electric eel. Skiltaire can control this discharge, using it to help stun prey or discourage and possibly kill an attacker. The antenna, which are modified eye whiskers, can detect slight changes in the electro-static field surrounding the animal, allowing Skiltaire to sense even the slightest movement in an area up to 20 meters around them. The electrostatic discharges are also used as a kind tactile communication particularly important in mating behavior, since it induces ovulation in the female.

Skiltaire are also very adept tel-empaths. They can selectively receive and interpret brain activity of any life-form, and are capable of base-band mental communication with all members of their species on the entire planet. Large amounts of detailed information can be passed from one individual to another, coded in a complex language of memorized perceptions.

In this way, all members of a tribe, and all tribes on a world can share experiences. Current events, important knowledge, race history and even abstract interpretations (art) are all available on the "mind-net". Some Skiltaire use telempathy to learn to communicate with other sentient species, making them prime choices for first-contact specialists.

Where do they come from?
In the Skiltaire universe, they are found on many planets which have the correct environment, mainly large area of temperate and tropical forest. The human biologists and anthropologists attempted to trace the evolutionary origin of Skiltaire on several planets, but have not found sufficient fossil evince to locate their "home world". Since the Skiltaire have no obvious advanced technology, the theory is that they were a "seeded" species, brought to many planets by another species for some unknown purpose. Some other races which the human explorers have encountered have a history of hunting Skiltaire for fur and companion animals.

Even though the Skiltaire are recognized as sub-sentient by the Human Space Federation, they are still hunted by unscrupulous types who can sell the animals or their large, colorful pelts on the black market. The original story of the first Skiltaire, Theta, involved a human field biologist, Elon, who finds an orphan kit, after her tribe had been wiped-out by poachers. Elon and Theta stay together, and he eventually discovers new information about the Skiltaire which changes their status in the Space Federation.

Skiltaire can also be found in the science fiction role-playing game Other Suns, edited by Nicolai Shapero. They are one of the member species of the El Doran Hegemony, and so are equal to humans and other "advanced" cultures.

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