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February 9, 2009
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Nna Moi with details by viergacht Nna Moi with details by viergacht
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.

Home world

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.

Physical Description

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 creature’s 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 elephant’s 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 animal’s 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 they’re 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 donor’s gametes to mix with the host’s. 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 Moi’s 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 mother’s 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.
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:iconharahu:
Harahu Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Great Design
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:iconviergacht:
viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2009  Professional General Artist
Thanks :)
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:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
I think the main detailed illustration works quite well with the detail sketches. Makes one think one's looking at one of those National Geographic foldouts :)

I disagree with some of your comments so let's get on with it :P

You are going to have to make up your mind about the parent star of the Nna Moi homeworld. Either it is a dim red dwarf, or a bright red giant.
The choice is dichotomous because red dwarfs do not attain a red giant stage at the end of their lives. The interior of these small stars is fully convective which does not allow the helium accumulation at the core that's bound to get us rather worried in a few gigayears. However these stars do brighten with age, as all do.

I have my misgivings about the uplift/provolving scenario but, hey, if the patron species is also native I'm cool with it.

I was ready to say I didn't get the masked radial symmetry but after looking at it again I guess I do. What could be construed as the symmetry axis of old goes from the tail to the mouth, am I right? I still find the skeleton too vertebrate-like from where I'm standing.
A technology note: long distance x-ray is not particularly likely as our atmosphere (and Nna Moi's presumably) absorbs that radiation rather quickly. I'd leave it as a active or passive sonar device.

While I do not disagree with the novel social arrangement I do disagree with its consequences in reproduction. I'd have pack members mate amongst themselves which stands to reason given the multiple sex combinations that could go wrong and the young raised within the pack by all members. Obviously I have my misgivings about the two sterile genders ;)
On the reproduction itself, it seems more probable that after the final mating for the season an individual would have its tail contract and ball up into a gestative sac. As it is now the gestating tail seems to heavy to not drag along the ground.

I hope that I wasn't too cruel and that all this nattering helps.
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:iconviergacht:
viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2009  Professional General Artist
The star was a mistake, I meant dim red dwarf. And you're right, sonar is better than x-ray. My bad.

I know the skeleton looks similar to ours, but it's back engineering. I knew how I wanted them to look on the exterior, and went from there. A close up view of, say, the leg bones, would look very different. Instead of a smooth shaft it's an open latticework. A bit hard to put into words. I'll do something more detailed when I get out from under some commissions.

As for the genders, that's based on critters like slime molds. There isn't much of a problem of the wrong gametes meeting, the Nna would be able to tell by scent and other factors who it's OK to mate with. I don't see an obvious problem with the sterile genders, either. Wolves use non-reproducing adolescents to tend to cubs, ant colonies are almost entirely composed of sterile individuals, and I've read a paper on homosexual bird pairs raising the eggs of breeder pairs, which allows more of the breeder's eggs to survive, so it doesn't strike me as that bizarre that a social species would throw out individuals whose energies are not taken up with passing on their own genes. Humans squander a horrifying amount of time and energy raising young - it would be GREAT if there were a third gender devoted to child care that left the rest of the folks to pursue other important tasks.

As for the tails - actually, those are intended to look uncomfortable and awkward. I like to put qualities into critters that aren't perfect, because nature isn't about perfection. Pregnancy in humans involves a lot of unpleasantness because we're quads wrenched up into a bipedal stance (swollen feet, aching back, pressure on the bladder, etc), and a gravid Nna is similarly going to have to cope with dragging around a swollen tail for the duration. A gestative sac would be a good idea except there's no room in the torso for it.
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:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
From your description I think the the Nna Moi body structure should approximate that of a sea-star that did the sand-dollar thing. If you don't mind I could sketch it out...

I guessed it had something to do with those weird protists. But how do steriles appear if it's not by the mixing of incompatible genetic material? Epigenetics or pheromones?
I think the truism "There is no such thing as a free lunch" sums the problem up very well. You should be aware that the following relates to the pre-sophont Nna Moi as evolved in isolation (which is how I like them :P )
The main adaptive advantage those animals you mention have in cooperating to rear their parent(s) young is because they share the same genes and thus increasing the chances of passing them on through the brothers and sisters that reproduce.
By that token, only steriles born into a pack would show any interest in caring for the pack's young and foreign steriles would be met with acrimony as they would compete for resources which in the setting you propose would be reason enough to kill.
Reference for that paper? To me it seems that the breeding couple is simply taking advantage of the same sex couple's breeding compulsion which overall I would think is a rare situation.

Reproduction is an all encompassing imperative, the only important task, if you will, to which all other are subordinate. Unfortunately, for me, you, Life, the Universe and Everything that's the way things are here on Earth and are expected to be elsewhere.
That's not to mean your scenario is impossible, it just has to be well explained or at least you have to have the explanation very present yourself.
The way I figure it, while only breeders are the foundation of a pack, the steriles ensure its continuity. Having no desire to reproduce themselves they live to foster the offspring of their relatives no matter what. As it stands this could be a good way to develop a culture without outside intervention and support the existence of steriles as an adaptive advantage.
It would also explain the pickle these creatures get into during reproduction by giving up their main chemosensory organ which would otherwise help them hunt: while the founders will have to fend for themselves the reproductive members of an established pack are supported by the steriles.
Probably the cities as they exist are centered upon a loose concept of relatedness among local lineages and should also double as crèches.

Fully agreed on the eschewing of perfection and I apologize for not being clearer. I wasn't suggesting that the tail would retract inside the body just that it would with the advance of the gestation contract becoming more or less spherical with a thicker connection to the body. Kinda like the egg sac female wolf spiders carry... in spirit at least.
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:iconviergacht:
viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2009  Professional General Artist
That's Ok, you don't have to draw me anything. I wouldn't be able to repay you.

I wish I could direct you to that paper. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember where I read that. Hopefully at some point the info will resurface in my brain.

I liked your idea about the city as a creche. In the story the Nna are designed for, no viewpoint characters get a chance to see a city, so I hadn't bothered to put much thought into them yet. The idea I had with creating steriles was to have a portion of the population that would be a bit calmer, mentally, less aggressive and defensive, more approachable, and a genetic caste devoted to caring for children would fit the bill. It's a back-engineering, which is bound to be awkward.

I see what you mean with the gravid tail being thicker at the base, good call.

I'm sorry if I give the impression of not being very good at designing these guys, or that I'm ignorant of evo-devo knowledge. I've only just started roughing out the story and the Nna are new to me. Generally I like to let ideas stew in their juices for a long time. With another creature, the Infenalis parasite, I've been writing on them for a few years now off and on, and had the general idea for much longer (no one's paying me, so I'm in no rush, heh). I mainly posted because I was happy with how the picture turned out, and usually I'm not very thrilled with my own work. The picture is ok; everything else is still a work in progress. I really appreciate your comments, though.
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:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
I didn't draw these [link] [link] expecting repayment other than the experience and the notoriety. I'm not that interested in making money directly out of my art.*

I'd say... It being awkward I mean. If you know your mammalian and avian mothers you know how fierce they can be when offspring is involved. Then again maybe steriles are the passive type of caregivers, i. e., they hunt for themselves and let others dig in without paying much attention to who is eating. Though I think this would only happen out of social conditioning, the "domesticating yourself" type. Actually I had pegged the steriles as the ruling caste, kinda like a priesthood class. I mean if one doesn't like a breeder all it has to do is kill its offspring until the departure or death of the latter.

There's no need to be sorry. I'm just lobbing clay at the wall to see if it sticks. Also, I'd rather comment now when things are bound to change.

I'd say a good way to rev things up is to always take a notebook with you in case anything pops up. It has worked for me as I've been coming up with interesting world ideas, at least to me. Don't know if I'll ever finish them though :P

* If anyone else tries to do so there'll be hell to pay. I do intend to publish books illustrated by myself.
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:iconviergacht:
viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2009  Professional General Artist
Yep, I usually have a cheap notebook and a sharpie on hand. I usually spend most of my time "watching tv" drawing. What I need is a machine that can hook directly up to my brain, as I tend to come up with the best ideas while I'm falling asleep, as the frontal lobe filters are shutting down.

As for the steriles being aggressive, they certainly would be in defense of their young, but considering how incredibly annoying and destructive young animals are, esp. intelligent young animals, I think that whatever gender is stuck doing most of the caregiving would have to really be pushed to the edge before they could become aggressive towards a non-threat. In the specific story this is designed for, the individual who finally makes peaceful contact with humans is a sterile, because it is capable of great patience and tolerance when dealing with a completely incompetant and socially awkward creature, where the breeding Nna aren't. There might even be a bit of misfired bonding occuring, the way nursing mammal mothers can sometimes be persuaded to take on babies not their own because they're pumped so full of oxytocin they love the world.

At the base of it, the Nna still have to function within the plot.
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:icondracontes:
dracontes Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
Or you can go for what I do on occasion: jump out of bed, fetch the notebook and write the idea down.'Tis worth the lost sleep, methinks.

This all hinges on the Nna Moi steriles perceiving something they've never seen before as a non-threat. Which seems quite likely at least as far as the astonishment/bewilderment goes.
I'm reminded of this scene in Reitman's "Evolution" where a few old ladies are confronted with one of the monsters, which looks cute and cuddly enough until it bites someone's hand.
Is there anything that makes the breeding Nna Moi especially edgy? I'll sort of answer my own question and say that the social minutiae around reproduction would as far as I can surmise.

Nevertheless looking for the unusual angle shouldn't be out of order ;)
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:iconnehalto:
Nehalto Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2009
Your creature was featured here
[link]

Great work.:)
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