ARACHNE’S CRIME: Chirrn and Zenith notes

Here’s a more in-depth look at some of my background worldbuilding notes (lightly edited for coherence and to remove spoilers for Arachne’s Exile) for the two main alien species featured in the novel, the Chirrn and the Seekers of the Zenith. (The third species, the Ryohoch, is mysterious on purpose, so I never wrote up any notes for them.) These notes go into various aspects of the species’ evolution, psychology, history, and culture, mainly where the Chirrn are concerned. (Originally published on Patreon, June 12, 2020.)



Chirrn evolved from semi-aquatic ancestors; legs grew long for propulsion. Hand/flippers adapted to fold inward on forward stroke to reduce drag; also proved useful for grasping things, eventually became twin opposable thumbs.

On land, became gatherers, tool-users; invented weapons, evolved into hunter-gatherers to fuel bigger brains. Wide-ranging, migratory—bands of limited size with large territories.

A sexually mature member of the Chirrn can alternate between male and female. The Chirrn sexual organ is its tongue. Chirrn mate by forming a full seal with their mouths; the pores of the male’s tongue secrete semen, and those of the female’s tongue absorb it. A female Chirrn would gestate her young in the mammalian fashion, and after eight months give birth through the mouth. After this, the Chirrn would become male, and remain so for nearly eight months before becoming female once more. This way, theoretically one half of the population could become pregnant while the other half expended its energies rearing infants and recovering from pregnancy. This increased the number of offspring the species could produce.

With alternating sexuality, no alpha-male or matriarchal setup. As a rule, the most successful fertilizers (when male) were also the most fertile childbearers (when female). So alpha male and matriarch combined into single role. A band was centered around the alpha, or perhaps a pair of alphas taking alternating roles, assuming there are responsibilities that can only be fulfilled while male or while female. Other band members’ sex changes would come into synch with the alpha(s) under pheromonal influence. Offspring would be pheromonally influenced to be out of synch with their relatives to avoid inbreeding, prompting them to break off at sexual maturity and seek membership in other bands/formation of new bands. Societal pattern of migration, separation into discrete units with limited intermixing.

Upon developing civilization, Chirrn adopted semi-migratory lifestyle, moving between different population centers at different times of year. Multiple cities per population. Possibly some groups of Chirrn stay permanently in the cities to maintain them—low-caste? Untouchables? Unsuitable mates?

Problem: how to avoid pheromone-synch confusion with large populations? Synch is gradual, due to lengthy close contact. Different groups within a city stay in their own circles. Caste or class system, but not quite—mobility between groups is possible. Ritual period of adjustment allows time for sex cycle to synch up—not fully a member of the group until in synch.

Perhaps over time, more Chirrn choose permanent residence in cities due to advantages thereof. Medical advances provide solutions to sex-synch issues—hormonal treatments to reset the cycle at will. Liberalizing of social order, erosion of “caste” divisions, greater social equality.

But space colonization somewhat reawakens the Chirrn’s tendencies toward fragmentation and migration—they start with moderate-sized habitats and get used to it, favoring them over huger megastructures. Old patterns reassert themselves—as population grows, rather than expanding the habitat, the tendency is for groups to split off and found new habs elsewhere. This promoted Chirrn colonization throughout their native system, inspired widespread migration beyond once they obtained interstellar travel.

In modern Chirrn, lifespans are considerably prolonged, so reproduction is infrequent; sex change is more a lifestyle choice than anything else. No concept of sexual orientation; aside from the nature of fluid exchange, the sex act is physically the same regardless of one’s current sex. Partners remain partners even when they change sex. Sometimes a Chirrn might choose to switch to the sex opposite someone they love, or sometimes they might switch to the same sex for the same reason; the latter is more common in non-procreative unions, which are the great majority in modern Chirrn. Same-sex intercourse was always common, despite pheromonal sex-synch for reproductive purposes. Same-sex was seen as “safe sex,” a way of getting pleasure without procreation. In most Chirrn societies, same-sex intercourse has traditionally been considered sexier and more fun, because it’s always recreational.

Modern Chirrn also live sequentially, “migrating” into various new careers throughout their long lives. Each career is a distinct social “caste,” with transition being a kind of rebirth, requiring a ritual process of casting off the old identity and growing into the new. Often this involves a change of location as well, moving to a new habitat and adopting their style and customs. They are expected to adopt a set of values within the habitat’s normal range; however, if this is unacceptable, there are plenty of other habitats with distinct values, so it’s always possible to find some place whose values you’re comfortable with. Thus, conformity and conservatism on a local scale, but considerable diversity civilization-wide.

The same goes for aliens—anyone can be adopted into a habitat if they’re willing to live by its customs. Community identity supersedes biology.

“Cloud” consciousness:

Modern Chirrn brains develop integrally with cybernetic components linking them to habitat-wide intranet, “cloud” data stored/transmitted via countless small nodes throughout the habitat, always in signal range. Serves as external memory/processing. Gives memory boost, access to knowledge on demand, augmented processing ability. Online memory/processing so integrated with brain function that it forms part of a Chirrn’s personality/consciousness. Seat of awareness is in the Chirrn’s head, but awareness extends into the cloud.

Chirrn social groups on various levels share consensus memories—like Facebook albums/pages, can be set for access only by members of one’s group. Since online memory contributes to self/personality, all members of a group have some personality traits in common by virtue of membership (though each new member contributes something new to the gestalt). Migrating to a new group is thus a more literal death/rebirth to an extent: the old self is actually transformed into something different.

This affects Chirrn view of death. Many may feel their selves will live on in the cloud and be willing to accept individual death. Alternatively, the cloud might be able to store a record of an individual’s brain state, plus a snapshot of activity just prior to death; it could be possible to extrapolate a brain’s structure from its online data and regrow it close to the original form. It might come out different, but this would be accepted, since migrating changes you too. It’s just the other half of the mind being replaced.

Does the portion of the self residing in the cloud have awareness without the physical brain? Perhaps to a limited extent if it’s active through interface by other Chirrn. But would there be actual continuity of consciousness? Would the regrown brain/body be a real continuation of the same self? Maybe. There is continuity of activity through the cloud, but it’s a limited portion of the whole being.

Social structure

The basic units of Chirrn society are guilds, specialized occupations or social roles. Guilds are “bundled” in parallel in estates, larger groupings of related guilds. Perpendicular to this are tiers, a hierarchical structure subdividing guilds into smaller groupings based on rank, skill, breadth of oversight, etc.

For instance, the medical guild might have orderlies on one tier, interns above them, then nurses, then doctors, then hospital administrators, then the government medical council on top. Parallel guilds in the same estate might be mental health workers, nutritionists, and the like.

Most likely there would be a branching structure; some guilds would top out at a lower tier than others and some parallel guilds would be beneath the same senior tier—e.g. botanists and entomologists might be parallel branches (collegia) under the biology guild, with biology, chemistry, physics, etc. as parallel branches of the science estate.

Similarly, some guilds would count as part of two different estates; e.g. the Chirrn biology guild would fall under both the science and medical estates.

Note that these are not merely administrative/professional subdivisions, but deeper social/community units as well, so the translations are misleading. They’re similar to jāti in Hindu culture, communities/clans that are associated with certain professions.

Chirrn language

The main Chirrn language in the novel is Shilirramh, the tongue of Shilirrlal. The Lesshchin speak a related dialect, Lesshamh (Lesshavh in their own dialect).

Consonants: CH, DJ, HH, L, MH, N, R, SH, SSH, T, TH, VH, WH, Y (ZH: Lesshchin only)

Vowels: A, E, I, U 

Chirrn expressions/body language

  • Brushing manes/necks (scent exchange): Greeting (handshake)
  • Tapping brow ridges with hands (symbolically covering eyes): Unhappiness, dismay (wince or head shake)
  • Brow ridges moving down/forward: Aggression, intense focus (as with humans — shading eyes for better view)
  • Knee-bending bow: Deference, consent (nod)
  • Leaning forward (into combat stance): Aggression, anger
  • Eyes flicking out to sides and back in: Furtive, nervous twitch
  • Eyes swivelling out/back and remaining there: Averted gaze, fear, shame
  • Thumping tail: Calling for attention (clearing throat)
  • Drumming toes/thumping feet on floor: Laughter
  • Shaking mane: Pleasure, friendliness (smile)
  • Striking another’s tail with one’s own: Teasing aggression (thump on back, elbow in side)
  • Gaping mouth, extending or waggling tongue: Lewd gesture, flashing
  • Tensing legs/tail: Anger, readiness to strike (clenching fists)
  • Turning away, rotating eyes back, tensing legs/tail: Preparing to strike
  • Open-mouth hiss: Anger, threat
  • Hissing across tongue: Sexual invitation (one way); strong emotion, frustration (another way)
  • Sigh/snort through nares: Frustration, impatience (harrumph)
  • Wide stance, tapping tail on ground: Confrontation, chastisement (crossed arms, tapping foot)
  • Snort through nares and mouth: Contempt, dismissal (scoff)
  • Rising erect, opening mouth: Pride, satisfaction
  • Eyes rolling: Surprise, excitement (gaping, widening eyes)
  • High-pitched whine/whistle through nares: Crying
  • Twining tails: Affection (holding hands)
  • Rubbing mane/neck with muzzle: Romantic/sexual affection (kissing)  

Chirrn terms:

  • Estate: nedj
  • Guild: mhenl
  • Collegium: vhemenl
  • Tier: rehha

Seekers of the Zenith

Seeker of the Zenith

Relatively young civilization, ambitious. Social structure is highly status-oriented, defined by competition for prestige and social standing.

Physical: Average height 2.5 m. Avg. wingspan 5.4 m. Covered in silver featherfur (hairs with fine barbules, forming aerodynamically smooth, insulating coat). Beak has three mandibles, two atop and one below. Middle eye sees color; outer pair see form, depth, movement. Zenith speak in multitonal whistles generated in resonating chambers in the headcrests. Sides of crests coated in keratin microfibers creating an iridescent diffraction effect. Wing dactyls fold back along forearms when not in use. Females have larger crests and sharper, more hooked beaks.

Sexuality: Zenith have two sexes, with the genitalia located in the short tail. As a flying species, they are egg-layers, since internal gestation would make flight difficult. Mating is traditionally performed in flight, though this is hardly necessary and indeed more difficult than the alternative. However, they seem to take pride in choosing the more challenging approach.

As a rule, Zenith have matrilineal, polyandrous societies. Females keep harems of males, the size of which depends upon (or in some cultures determines) their social status. Among primitive Zenith, the maximum harem size tended to be six males; however, in many modern cultures, the most prestigious females can keep hundreds of males. The status of the males depends upon the status of the females whose harems they belong to, and their primacy within the harem.

Zenith take twelve to fifteen Earth years to reach sexual maturity. In adolescence, males are put “on the market” and adult females outside their families compete to obtain them for their harems. Adolescent females are “apprenticed” to the harems of adult females outside their families and allowed to share in the males without actually “possessing” them. Upon adulthood, they can take one or more of the males (depending on the status they have won) to begin their own harems.

Although Zenith males are not treated as inferior or second-class citizens, they are considered the sexual property of females, and completely accept females’ sexual and marital authority over them, though they have independence in all other respects. However, in most Zenith cultures, it is not considered appropriate to buy or sell sexual rights to males, as opposed to trading them or winning them through a competitive process.

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