The Nna Moi
(pron. NAH Moy (to rhyme with 'boy' )
1. Close up of hand
2. Beak used as a hand
3. Flap over siphon opened
4. Long-distance sonar scan taken of Nna
5. Fetal Nna (note gills)
6. Act of mating
7. Nna with gravid tail
8. Resting pose
Human knowledge of the Nna Moi is necessarily incomplete. Considering we are technically at war, it is impressive that researchers have been able to compile the amount of information that we do have.
The Nna Moi world is a large planet tidally locked to its dim sun, so that one side is baked into a hellish desert, and the other is cold and desolate as the Moon, with a narrow belt of inhabitable temperate zone between. An active jet stream that mixes cold and warm air masses and a very slight axial wobble give the temperate belt constant stormy weather and a small amount of seasonal variation. Most conventional plants have a twisted, weathered, beaten look, with thick, squatty stalks or trunks and leathery leaves pigmented black to absorb every bit of available sunlight. There is a large and thriving variety of fungal species, including huge slime molds that slither about like giant amoebas, and many specimens which teeter on the line between plant and animal, with roots and chlorophyll but also actively trapping prey.
The Nna Moi world is very old, and the sun has swallowed many planets orbiting closer to it as it evolved into a red giant. In fact, the Nna Moi clearly evolved on a more earthlike planet closer to the sun when it was smaller and warmer, and emigrated or were brought to their present home. The remnants of monolithic architecture and a thin layer of unusual metals and chemicals in rocks roughly three million years old suggest there was a non-Nna Moi race which did the actual space travel. The Nna Moi themselves, it is speculated, were the pets or service animals of this earlier race, and were raised artificially to a high level of intelligence. After the previous race left or became extinct, the proto-Nna evolved into the sophont race known today.
The Nna seem to have evolved from a class of radially symmetric 8 limbed creatures similar to starfish. As the line progressed through time, the limbs specialized for different purposes, giving a wholly false impression of bilateral symmetry.
Nna Moi have long, low-slung bodies supported on four short, powerful limbs situated and jointed much as a human would expect them to be. This, along with their long tails and slinking movements, gives them an almost feline aspect (if the viewer squints very hard). Each paw has three broad, nailless digits with a rough underside which provides excellent traction.
The creatures skin is normally smooth and hairless, leathery with a somewhat oily texture. Under our sun, it appears to be a deep, slightly iridescent purple with a faint pattern of dark veining. In cold weather, pockets on the skin inflate, giving it a warty, pebbled appearance - these air pockets act as insulation, much like the fluffed fur of a mammal or feathers of a bird. Under their own sun, Nna Moi appear pitch black, of course. Their bodies give off an eye-wateringly strong scent, acidic and sweetish, which humans have compared to freshly cut lines. Surges of emotion intensify the scent.
The shoulder girdle and skull are formed by a single bone. The golden eyes are located on what to humans appears to be the crest of the shoulders, pointing forward and protected by a mobile ridge of hornets. The pupils are horizontal slots, much like an that of an octopus, and blink by retracting into the socket, letting the rim of muscle and skin close over them. They are startlingly intelligent and aware, and give the overwhelming impression of shrewdness. Not even the thickest human could mistake a Nna Moi for an animal once meeting that gaze.
Behind the eyes is a tiny, wing-like fringed flap that covers the nostrils. In infant Nna the fringes are gills, but in the adult they have atrophied to mere cilia. The flaps are mobile, opening wider during extremes of emotion. Air passes through the respiratory system one way, and stale air is exhaled through paired exhaust pipes that point backwards over the hips. The sounds of their speech are produced by a syrinx in these pipes, and the impression that their voices are emanating from their rear ends is disconcerting to humans (who, typical of the species, express their discomfort by making rude jokes).
Nna possess a highly refined sense of taste, with the taste buds being located on the skin of the back, chest and sides, and thickly clustered on the tail. This doubles as a sense of smell, and Nna sniff by waving their tails in the air.
On the front of the chest are two rather spindly arms that are held tightly folded up, like those of a praying mantis or maniraptor dinosaur. The arms terminate in delicate hands with five boneless tentacle-like fingers. The middle finger is the longest, with two other digits on each side and two short thumbs. The Nna use these hands for tasks requiring fine manipulation.
Sprouting from the shoulders is what appears to be a short, thick, flexible neck terminating in a featureless beaked head. This structure is in fact more like an elephants trunk and is used as a third arm for tasks requiring more strength than finesse. Ancestral beasts used the false head to kill and dismember prey. There is no trachea or esophagus, and the beak (technically called a nothoceph) is more comparable to fingers (a single solid piece on top, and two hinged parts on the bottom). The main pair of eardrums are located behind the beak, and for the most part it is in constant motion, twisting and bobbing around. It is also used in communication, for example, the Nna bonk beaks on meeting, and if there is a dispute they will beak-wrestle vigorously. Humans feel an almost irresistible urge to talk to this appendage, as it so closely resembles an earth animals head.
The opening to the digestive tract is located on the abdomen. When ready to eat, the Nna appears to unzip down the centerline, and food is stuffed directly into the stomach. There is no separate anus - what is left of the food is vomited out the same aperture, a startlingly primitive arrangement in such a highly evolved life form.
The tail is actually the reproductive system. For most of its length it is thin and whiplike, terminating in a four-lobed bulb, the spine of the bulb protected by thorny outgrowths. For more on this, see the section of Reproduction.
Psychology and Culture
Nna do not pair bond with mates or children, nor do they form families. The only societal bond seems to be based upon that of a pack of hunters. When any two Nna Moi meet, there is a brief and ritualized struggle for dominance, and until dominance issues are settled, they cannot get along. Modern Nna appear to have overcome this limitation, which would otherwise lock them in a tribal stage, by doing most of their communication remotely. No human has ever been in a Nna city, but it is hypothesized that each one is self-sufficient and separated from others by vast areas of wilderness.
Nna predominantly eat meat, although they are able to digest certain types of fungus. They do not appear to have ever domesticated lesser animals.
For recreation, Nna compete in violent full-contact ball-and-stick games, or relax while reading, listening to their peculiar music (which strikes human ears as Lovecraftian piping and wailing), or letting clouds of scented smoke waft over their bodies. They are also extremely fond of recreational heavy petting, as they know full well when theyre receptive, so there is no chance of accidental mating.
Living as they do on a world of constant daylight, the Nna do not sleep, but do experience similar periods in which their consciousness is not operating and they regress mentally to beasts. Civilized Nna take precautions and shut themselves away with food and water when they feel one of these atavistic periods coming on.
The Nna are also vulnerable to cold temperatures, as they are only incompletely warm-blooded. When temperatures drop beyond their ability to cope, their brains begin shutting down and the Nna will run wild, desperate for food to stoke its metabolic fires.
Reproduction and Development
Nna Moi have fourteen genders, each of which can mate with 2-5 of the others, and two of which are completely sterile. The act of mate selection is almost entirely up to whims of the moment. The skin of the tail is packed with touch and taste sensors which become more sensitive as it readies itself to breed, and the mind of a Nna Moi in rut is overwhelmed by a flood of sensory information to the point of atavism. Foreplay involves arm-wrestling using the nothoceph, rubbing up against one another, stroking and probing with the arms, and quite a lot of intertwining of tails.
As passions flare, gametes are released down the tail ducts and swell the bulb. However, only one individual will walk away from the encounter impregnated - the host, the one whose bulb splits open to engulf the bulb of the donor, biting it off and swallowing it. Enzymes quickly dissolve the outer structure of the captured bulb, freeing the donors gametes to mix with the hosts. The soup of fertilized zygotes is the swallowed back into the tail ducts. The donor is not badly harmed. Blood vessels close off quickly and bleeding is minimal, however, mating season is over for it. It takes roughly 5 (earth) months to regrow a bulb. Meanwhile, the host can participate in another mating session, in which it inevitably becomes the donor.
As pregnancy progresses, the gravid Nna Mois tail swells to accommodate the growing embryos. At first they are nourished by the yolk of their eggs, but after three months they hatch and begin to feed on the fat, flesh and blood of their mothers tail. Outwardly, the tail loses its fat, sleek appearance and begins to appear raddled. As birth approaches, the squirming movements of the young can be seen clearly under the skin. At birth, the mother drops her tail like a lizard, and the young swarm out of the open wound where the tail once attached to the body, leaving behind a tail that is little more than bone, a few strands of cartilage, and an empty sack of skin. The mother will require a little over a year to regrow the tail and bulb.
Nna infants are born very developed and are able to move about and feed themselves immediately. For the first stage of their lives, they are raised entirely by the two neuter genders. It takes a Nna roughly twenty years to reach maturity, signaled by the ripening of their bulb, at which point they are allowed to enter society on a discretionary basis. Fools and incompetents are not tolerated by the Nna, and inadequate young adults will be ruthlessly culled by their seniors before they can pollute the bloodline.