“Twilight’s Captives” Annotations

Warning: contains spoilers

General Notes

“Twilight’s Captives” was developed while I was a history major in college and is heavily influenced by my studies at the time. It owes a lot to what I learned in the World History and Frontiers in World History courses taught by Dr. Willard Sunderland, the Mideast history course taught by Dr. Elizabeth B. Frierson, the Native American history course taught by Dr. Geoffrey Plank, and the Chinese history course taught by Dr. Man Bun Kwan. I was particularly influenced by ideas I studied for my research paper in the Frontiers course, “Transformation of Belief Systems on Islamic Frontiers in India and Eastern Europe.”

Though I avoided giving a specific date in the story (to give me some wiggle room for future stories if necessary), my notes currently place it in 2315, about 65 years after “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” and 165 years before “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing.”

The artwork on the story’s title pages (p. 42-3) was created without author consultation, as per Analog policy to give the artists free rein. As should be clear from my concept sketches of the Aksash’sk and Denzeuur on the main story page and below, and from their descriptions in the text itself, the artist went in a radically different direction. I guess the lion man is supposed to represent Rabnaara, but if anything it comes closer to the Sosyryn from my Hub stories. As for Madeleine Kamakau, she’s supposed to be tall and full-figured, of mixed Hawaiian/East Asian ethnicity, with waist-length, mostly black hair. She should look something like this:

Madeleine Kamakau

One idiosyncrasy of hers that I didn’t have room to clarify in the story is that she preferentially wears adornments made from living things (e.g. flowers, feathers, pearls, wooden beads, etc.), eschewing jewelry of stone, metal, or plastic. This custom came from her youth as a Martian native growing up on Earth and falling in love with its abundance of life. (Update 4/28/2020: At least that was my original intention, though I’ve since learned that traditional Polynesian jewelry is often made of wood and bone, so it could just as easily come from that aspect of her heritage.)

Page numbers are for the version appearing in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman. The original page numbers from the January/February 2017 Analog are given in parentheses/italics.

Scene 1

p. 45 (p. 44)

Daikoku (大黒) is the Japanese god of luck and wealth. The primary star is a K4 main-sequence dwarf called Amaterasu, after the Shinto sun goddess.

Note the reference to Madeleine negotiating peace among Martian states. A lot of science fiction set in the Solar system tends to portray Earth, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, etc. as monolithic political and cultural entities, but I don’t think that’s a realistic reflection of colonialism. Look at how different parts of the Americas were settled and fought over by Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Russia, or the way the Scramble for Africa carved up that continent as a prize in the competition among European states. Readers of Only Superhuman will recall how the Striders of the Asteroid Belt are divided into multiple culturally and politically distinct nations. I assume a similar pattern on Mars, with different Martian states winning independence at different times and coming into conflict with each other. Maybe I’ll get to flesh this out more in future works.

p. 46 (p. 44)

“Aksash’sk” is the correct species name; Aksash is their planet. The use of “Aksash” for both is favored by characters who don’t like them enough to get their name right. For what it’s worth, “Aksash’sk” might be even harder for Japanese speakers to pronounce than English speakers, since Japanese is a syllabic language that doesn’t deal well with consonant blends. I think the characters are probably speaking English, but the Daikokujin dialect has a strong Japanese influence.

I hope I haven’t fumbled the use of Japanese honorifics — though any anomalies can perhaps be chalked up to cultural change over time. Here’s a guide to their use.

p. 47 (p. 45)

In my notes, Madeleine Kamakau was born in 2078, making her calendrically 237 years old. However, the time dilation and hibernation of her interstellar journeys in the pre-warp era cumulatively subtract about 75 years, so she’s subjectively about 162. Physiologically, she’s probably the equivalent of an optimally healthy 21st-century woman of around 55-60.

Note that this makes Madeleine a contemporary of Only Superhuman‘s Emerald Blair and the Troubleshooters, making a crossover theoretically possible. I’m confident that Madeleine and Emerald have met, perhaps during one of the crises mentioned in this story’s second paragraph, though whether that meeting is ever chronicled remains to be seen. It would be an interesting contrast; Emerald exemplifies a woman who’s strong in a conventionally masculine sense, a tough, aggressive action hero and fighter, while Madeleine was intended to illustrate the value of a more conventionally feminine kind of strength. I see Madeleine as one of the pioneers of a human culture that bases its public and political order on traditionally feminine values like cooperation, listening, compromise, and familial and personal alliance-building instead of traditionally masculine values such as aggression, competition, individual dominance, and the like. Or rather, a culture that values both kinds of strength in balance rather than favoring one over the other (although personally I think men have been royally screwing things up for thousands of years and it’s high time something else was tried).

Scene 2

p. 48 (p. 45)

The Cybeline flower (misspelled as “Cybelene” in the Analog version) references the planet featured in my second Analog story, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” — also the intended destination of the starship in “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide.” This is a subtle nod to the shared universe of these stories, one that’s surely more evident in the collected edition.

Warp cages were in development in Sol System in “The Weight of Silence,”  originally set in 2216 but now readjusted to 2202. As suggested on the previous page, it took about half a century more to make them practical for interstellar travel. Since current theories suggest that a warp drive would require a ring or shell of exotic matter along the edges of the warp field, I assume a warp engine would need to be a spheroidal cage surrounding a ship. This has the advantage that any conventional space vessel can be retrofitted into a warp-capable ship by putting it inside a sufficiently large warp cage — hence the ease with which the technology was able to spread through the Nocturne League.

Additional note 4/28/2020: Daikokujin” (大黒人) means “person of Daikoku,” using the convention employed for national demonyms on Earth (e.g. Nihonjin for Japanese and Amerikajin for American). I’ve subsequently become aware that when referring to the inhabitants of an alien planet, at least in Japanese fiction, it would more properly be “Daikoku seijin” (大黒星人), “person of planet Daikoku.” However, I don’t think this constitutes an error, since it’s the Daikoku inhabitants’ term for themselves, and from their perspective, Daikoku is not an alien planet. People of Earth (Chikyuu) call themselves Chikyuujin rather than Chikyuu seijin, after all, so it stands to reason.

p. 48-51 (p. 46-7)

Note that I avoid gender-specific pronouns for Mufii-kalaa. In early drafts, I posited an interspecies convention wherein any alien childbearing sex would be called “she” while any non-bearing sex, neuter included, would be called “he.” But in writing the final draft, I realized that it was inappropriate to impose such a binary usage on an asexual character (though I kept it for Aksash’sk females and brooders). I was willing to use singular “they” — part of standard English since Chaucer, despite attempts in recent centuries to stigmatize it, and popular these days with people who don’t conform to binary gender — but I found no opportunity in the story to establish the usage without it being ambiguous whether I was referring to one or more people. So I ended up avoiding pronouns for Mufii altogether. (I expect many people will still default to thinking of Mufii as male, though. This happened with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel The Missing by Una McCormack; the featured aliens in the book are never referred to by any gendered pronoun, and yet I’ve seen multiple online discussions and wiki entries making the kneejerk assumption that they’re male.)

Scene 3

p. 52 (p. 48)

The “staccato pant-hoots” are laughter, of course. “Pant-hoot” is generally used for the vocalizations of chimpanzees, but humans are an evolutionary offshoot of chimps, and it seems to me that human sounds like laughter and sobbing are closely related to the pant-hoot call.

Scene 4

p. 53 (p. 48)

There was a famous experiment conducted in the 1890s by George M. Stratton, showing that people wearing special glasses that used mirrors to invert their field of view would eventually adapt to the change and perceive it as though it were normal. To some extent, we do this all the time anyway; I can watch TV almost as well lying on my side as upright, and I assume most others can do the same. (I can also read upside-down with relative ease, although apparently most people can’t.) So it seemed plausible to me that a species that could flip its head over at will, like the Denzeuur, could adjust to the change in vision instantly.

p. 54 (p. 48)

The basis for the Aksash’sk Mercantilist philosophy of balance and the flow of value lies in their infrared vision, which lets them see how heat flows between objects until they reach equilibrium. Their instinct for efficiency comes from the sparse environment in which they evolved, requiring them to make do with limited resources.

p. 54 (p. 49)

I let a gender pronoun slip through by mistake in the Analog edition, in “Mufii waggled his whiskers.” At the time, I suggested that since the scene was from Shannon’s point of view, we could pretend the mistake was hers instead of mine. I described Mufii-kalaa’s voice as sounding like a bass flute, so it probably sounds male to Shannon. Still, I chose to correct the error in the new edition.

Scene 5

p. 55 (p. 49)

A geshuku is a Japanese boarding house.

p. 56 (p. 50)

Obaa means “Grandmother.” The -sama suffix is a respectful address for those of higher social rank, but Claire is using it mockingly.

p. 57 (p. 50)

In the first draft, after Rabnaara expressed admiration for Madeleine’s fecundity, he asked why she’d finally given up parenting:

“From a career producer of children to an interstellar explorer.  What’s the connection?”

“I guess I just like to meet new people.”

I loved that line, but the scene ran too long, and I realized that she and Rabnaara would probably have had that conversation much earlier in their acquaintance anyway.

Taijitu is named for the Chinese “yin and yang” symbol. It’s called that because it’s a tidally locked world around a red dwarf, one side perpetually light and the other perpetually dark. These might be a large percentage of the habitable worlds in the galaxy, since red dwarfs are the most abundant type of star by far, and they’re dim enough that their habitable zones would tend to be within the tidal lock radius.

Devshirme was the system by which the Ottoman Empire took children from its subject populations and raised them to be administrators of those same populations, or to be military officers. The famous Janissaries (yenicheri) were products of the devshirme system. This practice was one of my primary inspirations for the story.

Scene 6

p. 60 (p. 52)

According to my notes from my Eastern Native American History course (which I had to review to refresh my memory for these annotations), Iroquoian and other communities of the region established ties of obligation through gift exchange — you gained power by giving to others, since they owed you something in return. Europeans saw it the opposite way, assuming that the giver was offering tribute and submission to one more powerful, and this clash of cultures led to misunderstanding and conflict. I think Madeleine is also talking about the Covenant Chain, a network of trade relationships that developed among the Iroquois nations and the British colonies as a way of maintaining diplomacy and peace. My notes say that the fur trade came to be more about diplomacy than commerce, with the French actually losing money to maintain the trade and the diplomatic ties based upon it, because they understood the indigenous customs of gift exchange and alliance better than the English did. Apparently, while the English valued written treaties and contracts, the Native Americans saw a treaty as a process, an ongoing relationship rather than a single, binding act, and so when the English didn’t maintain the process of trade, it was seen as an abandonment of the diplomatic relationship.

My Chinese History notes describe a similar dynamic. Since the Han Dynasty, when the Chinese started paying tributes to horse-nomad cultures to avoid raids, tribute and gifts had become the basis of Chinese diplomacy. Giving gifts was nominally a gesture of submission, an acknowledgment of the other’s superiority; but in practice, when foreign dignitaries kowtowed and paid tribute to the Chinese emperor, the emperor was obligated to provide them with far more lavish gifts as a demonstration of China’s superior prosperity and benevolence. After proper obeisance was paid to the emperor, the foreigners were allowed to trade with Chinese merchants, but diplomacy again required that the foreigners make the greater profit, since China was so prosperous that it didn’t need the trade goods so much as the good reputation and relations (although it did limit the number of foreign embassies it let in so it didn’t give away too much). But European emissaries didn’t understand this; in their tradition, tribute was only paid by a defeated nation to its conqueror. So they refused to pay tribute or kowtow to the emperor, seeing it as a gesture of surrender, and thus they missed out on the generous profits they would’ve gotten by swallowing their pride. (I also drew on this idea in my Star Trek: Myriad Universes novel Places of Exile.)

Scenes 7-8

No notes.

Scene 9

p. 64 (p. 54)

I have whole histories worked up for the Aksash’sk and Denzeuur, including the Denzeuur’s sublight diaspora and settlement of multiple worlds that developed into distinct subcultures over the course of some 6000 years. The Riitha’el and Shaakrethal are just two of those. I like the idea of a galaxy in which civilizations have spread across space and branched into multiple distinct subspecies.

As for why the Denzeuur spread at sublight for millennia but humanity got warp cages by the late 23rd century… Well, if you’ve read “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” you might guess it has something to do with those events, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

I’ve long debated with myself about whether I should’ve used lower case for “denzeuur” as a species name (as with cat, horse, octopus, etc.), while saving capitalization for national identities like Taarzeuur and Toraau (as with Japanese, American, etc.). That would arguably be more appropriate. But I’m pretty sure I suggested something like that for the Chirrn in “Aggravated” and was told that it wasn’t Analog‘s preferred style. Besides, given all the genetic engineering and branching they’ve done, the Denzeuur are surely a whole genus rather than a single species, and genus names are capitalized in scientific notation (though, admittedly, not in everyday use).

Scene 11

p. 66 (p. 55)

If it’s hard to believe that Madeleine’s anger and disapproval could have such an impact, remember that she’s 162 years old, has mothered 26 children, and has helped to found two nations. She’s had more opportunities than most to learn how to talk in a way that will get people to listen.

Madeleine’s words about “the other side” reflect an idea my father expressed to me once. He couldn’t understand the dichotomy of the mentality, “They attacked us so we’re fired to vengeful fury, but when we attack them they’ll cave in and accept defeat.” How was it not obvious that the other side would react with just as much fervor for retribution, that revenge just perptuated the cycle? He and I supposed that it had to do with the tendency to see the enemy as less human, but that’s a stupid blind spot. You’d think people would learn from history. But as this story shows, it’s easy to forget. Which is why it helps to have someone a couple of centuries old to remind you.

Scene 12

p. 69-70 (p. 57)

The final discussion between the Denzeuur is where we get into the ideas from my “Transformation of Belief Systems” paper — the dynamic of how populations on the fringes adapt religious teachings to fit local beliefs in the process of converting, whereupon later generations renew contact with the center of the religious culture and discover the conflict between traditional and syncretic beliefs, leading to fundamentalist reforms or purges to bring the fringe beliefs more in line with the center. (This also came up in my China studies, with regard to the Rite Dispute between the Jesuit missionaries who adapted their teachings to accommodate Chinese tradition and the papacy and others denouncing that as heresy.) Here, the Nocturne League argosies are the missionaries who consciously adapt their teachings to make them more palatable to the populations they seek to win over, and Pack Rha represents the conservatives back home who see that adaptation as heresy or error in need of correction.

p. 70 (p. 58)

“Nanote” is meant to be a hybrid of “nanite” and the “-ote” suffix used in words like “zygote” and “amniote,” in order to suggest some kind of hybrid biological nanotech. See also “No Dominion.”

Scene 13

p. 71 (p. 58)

The story originally opened with another italicized POV scene that would turn out to have been from the boy’s POV, although I’d wanted readers to assume it was Shannon’s POV until the end. Analog editor Trevor Quachri decided, and I readily conceded, that the opening was stronger without it, despite the loss of the symmetry I’d been aiming for.

Here are some excerpts from my concept notes about the evolution, anatomy, and behavior of the Aksash’sk and Denzeuur. Hopefully the written descriptions will clarify anything that’s vague in my drawings.



Aksash’sk notes

The Aksash’sk arose on the second moon of the Jovian planet Ksh’tath, fourth planet of the G5 star Tch’Kau. Aksash is nearly 80 percent the radius of Earth with 81 percent of Earth’s gravity. Too far from Tch’Kau to be warmed by its light, Aksash is heated internally by tidal stresses. Its vegetation has evolved to extract energy from infrared radiation and from the powerful magnetic fields generated by Ksh’tath.

Averaging 1.4 meters in height, Aksash’sk are bipeds whose thick-tailed bodies are cantilevered horizontally atop their legs. The hands possess three fingers and two thumbs in a symmetrical pattern. The feet are elongated for running and jumping, with three clawed toes in front and two more jutting back from the raised heels. The head is raised on a medium-length neck, and is dominated by two large, infrared-sensitive eyes and a slightly beaklike muzzle. A fin atop the head functions as a heat dissipator, helping to insulate the infrared eyes from the heat of the brain. Along the edges of the beak are two sets of four nares (“nostrils”). Outside air is inhaled through these, helping to keep the eyes at ambient temperature. Warm air from the lungs is exhaled through two additional nares on the chest, well away from the eyes. Valves prevent both airways from being open at once and creating an updraft (due to the slightly lower air pressure at head level) which would defeat the purpose of the system. Although the mouth has a muscular tongue inside, two snakelike tongues emerge from its corners. These detect scents in the incoming airflow and pre-taste food for spoilage or contamination. The tongues also convey expression by their movement and positioning, and periodically sweep across the lidless eyes to keep them clean. The cranium and back of the neck are covered with short, stiff brown or black hairs, the body with fine, smooth yellow-brown hair.

Aksash’sk have three sexes: male, female and brooder. A male will fertilize a female’s eggs, and the female will then deposit her eggs in the womb of a brooder, who will gestate, deliver and nurse them. This three-sex system evolved in the marsupial phase of Aksash’tp evolution. In those species, some females who lacked the resources to care for children (due to illness, an overabundance of existing children, or some other reason) would give their children into the care of related females more able to raise them. This practice left more of the population free for foraging or hunting, so eventually the female sex divided into one sex that could only produce ova and one that could only gestate fertilized embryos.

Aksash’sk females are equal in size and strength to the males. The brooders are less muscular, have no claws on their fingers, and possess wide hips and four mammaries. The female vagina can prolapse into an embryopositor for impregnating brooders. The two acts of mating are performed a few weeks apart, with only the strongest embryos surviving the competition for resources in the parauterus. If food becomes too scarce to sustain a pregnancy, a female can simply expel the embryos, saving the brooder’s energies for a better time.

In proto-Aksash’sk packs, the males would (naturally enough) seek to mate with the maximum number of females to ensure the success of their genes. The females, since they invested little more energy in procreation than males did, would have a similar imperative; however, the more fertilized eggs a female had, the more brooders she would need to gestate them. Therefore, the key to success for a female was to have the maximum number of brooders under her control — while brooders would favor carrying the eggs of their closest relatives to maximize the success of their genetic line. But since males would need to propagate their genes as widely as possible, they would be inclined to leave their own kin groups. The result was a pack dynamic revolving around a dominant female, with dominance determined by the number of brooders under a female’s sway.



Denzeuur notes

The Denzeuur evolved on a planet with a day length nearly twice that of Earth. The lengthy sunlight periods could be uncomfortably hot for endotherms, but were beneficial to ectotherms. Thus, the daytime periods were dominated by ectothermic species which grew large to minimize fluctuations in body temperature. The ectothermic predators were large and dangerous enough, and the daytime conditions unpleasant enough, that most endothermic species were nocturnal.

Starting from radially symmetrical hexapods whose heads rose on sinuous necks from the center of the body, one major branch of life developed a more elongated form with front-back symmetry. In time, one herbivorous branch evolved to use its middle pair of limbs for grasping and carrying, allowing more efficient food gathering. Gradually, the middle pair rose higher to become arms. Over time, these herbivores grew larger to facilitate digestion of cellulose. Their hands evolved greater complexity to obtain more varieties of food. Increase of manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination boosted the complexity of the brain. Their protein requirements thus increased, and they evolved from herbivores and insectivores into scavengers. In time, they discovered how to use rocks to break open scavenged bones for the nutritious marrow inside. This early tool use encouraged further evolution of their brains and hands.

Modern baseline Denzeuur average 1.7 meters high, with upright pear-shaped torsos, two arms, and four legs.  The body is covered in thick fur in varying shades of blue or violet. The head is wide, bearing two large forward-facing eyes for nocturnal vision, with large ears at the outermost edges providing keen directional hearing. At the center is an herbivorous muzzle with flexible lips. The head is symmetrical from top to bottom (continuing the body’s plane of front-back symmetry, but angled 90 degrees by the bending of the neck) and can flip up and over, functioning equally well in either orientation. The visual cortex adjusts instantly to the inversion. The brain is wrapped around the esophagus, as with the Terran octopus. The throat has openings above and below the tongue; when the head flips, the tongue descends, closing the now-lower orifice and opening the other. Long, stiff tactile whiskers extend from the top and bottom of the head; these evolved to reduce the risk of injury from stalactites in the caves where prehistoric Denzeuur lived and slept during daylight hours.  The elbows are double-jointed. The palms are rough-textured like a cat’s tongue and secrete oils used for grooming. As in most furred species, reciprocal grooming is an integral element of social interaction.

A Denzeuur’s only asymmetries are in reproduction and elimination: the genitalia are located between one set of legs and the excretory orifices between the other. Females, however, possess two marsupial pouches, one in the abdominal area of each face of the body.

The nocturnal nature of the Denzeuur impeded them from harnessing fire, since it was simply too bright for them. However, they did develop a fair number of simple technologies: combs for grooming, baskets for carrying food, barriers for cave entrances, traps for small animals, rudimentary clothing, paints and chisels for petroglyphs, and so forth. They lived at this fairly simple level, not needing to advance much due to their comfortable environment, for nearly a million years. In time, though, a change in climate required the Denzeuur to settle near hot springs for warmth. Ironically, this would enable the Denzeuur to harness fire at last, when one culture discovered that volcanic glass could shield their eyes from both firelight and sunlight. (To paraphrase Douglas Adams, this made them the only known species to invent sunglasses before inventing fire.) This enabled them to migrate more widely across regions where caves, forests or other dark places were unavailable, and eventually to develop horticulture and civilization.

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