Hesht

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Extract from the Novo Bialostok Akademy Journal of Xenoanthropology

Heshatun skull: side view

The Hesht (species name Heshatun) are a species of intelligent biped carnivores engaged in an interstellar migration by sub-light Ark Ships. The loosely associated Ark Ships have been slowly creeping across the borders of the Méxica Empire for the last generation.

The Heshatun are tool users with a level of technology comparable to current Imperial Méxica, with the exception of the use of a hyperdrive. Heshtic books are in the form of scrolls and paw-books.

The Ark Ships are hollowed out asteroids equivalent in volume to the largest IMN Rim stations, rotating to provide internal gravity by centrifugal force with a closed life support system. A large volume of the interior cylinder of an Ark Ship is devoted to a biosphere recreating the environment of the ancient Hesht homeworld. The migration was initiated several thousand years ago by the destruction of the homeworld Heshukan as a result of major flares of its sun. Heshukan was a relatively dry world with an insignificant axial tilt resulting in a lack of seasons. The surface was covered by extents of savannah and dry forest with a number of shallow seas. The Hesht have a psychological and cultural need to hunt. This means that the total population of an Ark is relatively low due to the necessity for a sufficiently rich biosphere to support the Hesht. Of the millions of Heshatun on Heshukan, only tens of thousands could be carried by the Arks.

Compared with humans, Hesht have good eyesight and a superior sense of smell. Despite being armed with claws and powerful teeth, the Hesht evolved from hunters utilizing a pack strategy and developing hunting strategies similar to those of early humans. The majority of Hesht prey animals appear to be significantly aggressive and well armoured by nature, living in herds, driving the need for collaboration and intelligence in their hunters. It is extremely hazardous for a single Hesht to hunt alone. In addition the presence of dangerous competing predators and scavengers required the adoption of group behaviour for mutual protection.

This environment required the Hesht to evolve into pack animals with an upright stance driven by the benefit derived from being able to see the dangerous prey animals in the distance and freeing the forelimbs to permit tool use to supplement the Hesht's natural weapons with spears and other artefacts. Furthermore, the Hesht tend to hunt at the interface of night and day, leading to excellent vision in twilight and dawn conditions but a greater sensitivity to daylight than humans. (Many Hesht on human stations and worlds habitually wear dark glasses). The coat of most Hesht tends towards dark coloration as camouflage.

The Heshatun are highly social with the basic unit of society being the pack/pride dominated by a powerful female. As the Hesht evolved competition between different packs led to the formation of a hierarchy based on kinship, with a successful pack spawning many cadet packs retaining loyalty to the senior pack. These loose associations grew into a complex social system, with a Queen's Pride at the top of the chain of command, roughly analogous to a human nation. However, the Hesht prides inevitably spread diffusely over a very large territory, with different associations intermingling whilst still retaining a 'national' identity. A large number of social rituals and taboos operated within these pack hierarchies with levels of feudal service between the levels of the pack hierarchies. The total extinction of a Queen's Pride leads to the promotion of the next order of prides with the leader of each striving to become Queen. In these circumstances a pride would often fragment along the lines of pack ancestry. Co-operation is much more likely between prides of the same nation than with outsiders.

A Hesht pack/pride consists of a number of females related by blood, together with males that have married into the pack and bachelor sons that have not yet left the group. Even on the homeworld, there was significant competition but Hesht numbers stabilized at the boundary beyond which predation would have resulted in ecological collapse and mass starvation. Being based on hunting and herding rather than agriculture Hesht numbers on the homeworld were well below the numbers of humans on Anáhuac prior to extra-Solar colonization. However, this required a natural means of maintaining a stable population, the primary means of population control being natural selection based on the individual hunts required of new female adults. If too many survived, excess daughters were ejected from the pride - usually because of breaking a pride law or taboo. Mothers would teach their kits hunting skills to ensure the continuation of their bloodline. Hesht religious belief is not well documented save for references to the Peerless Hunter, the Huntress and a philosophical fatalism.

Another population control is the maximum number of fertile females able to breed within a pack. Any exiled females unable to form their own pride with other exiles would be reduced to subsistence hunting, unable to support young and hounded out of the territory of their home pack. There also appears to be a hormone trigger that allows females to become fertile only if of sufficient status within a pack. Lower status females aid in the support and rearing of the young of their closest relatives. The near adult males operate as warriors protecting the pack until of an age to marry and are thus subject to the dangers of pack warfare.

Adult males unable to marry into another pack would gather into bachelor prides, waiting for the opportunity to join a female pack. Unlike a female pack, a male pride has a constantly changing membership and might be compared to human religious celibate monastic orders. Some lone males would engage in long distance walkabouts - possibly driven by an instinct to promote a widening of the gene pool.

Hesht have a very strong need to form a pack, and those lone females interacting with humans have a tendency to form such associations with humans, adopting a senior human female as their pack leader. Such a female Hesht will treat human males as junior younger brothers or as warriors, and only acknowledge the superiority of other males if they belong to a pack to which the adopted pack owes allegiance. A number of rituals such as meeting-with-claws-sheathed allowed different prides and packs to interact peacefully.

On the homeworld the Hesht developed a complex and rich society. The impetus towards developing technology was driven by the gradually worsening environment. This was caused by changes in solar output leading to large regions of the savannah drying out and the spread of desertification. This initiated the beginnings of Hesht civilization with the pack nations engaging in the building of a series of canals and artificial lakes to maintain the prey species. This large-scale co-operation might be compared with the early river valley civilizations on Old Earth along the Indus, Nile, and the Yellow Rivers. With the building and maintenance of a series of canals, small-scale urbanisation started to gather at the junctions and important locks and reservoirs.

The male prides had been a major factor in this process. Having little or no claim to territory, the bachelor prides began to specialise in stoneworking and then metalworking and the associated industries, trading their produce for foodstuffs. A Hesht engineer is still known as a carver-of-stone.

Males engaged in a walkabout also transmitted ideas and technologies over large areas. The drive to hunt prey was successfully applied to hunting the answers to abstract and technological problems eventually creating a scientific method. Over the centuries, the Hesht entered the industrial age - but jumping straight to coal and oil rather than exploiting the precious and shrinking woodland habitats. Hesht astronomers studied their disturbingly inconstant sun and the Queens noted with alarm the steadily shrinking savannah and the gradual reduction in prey. Increased competition led to a stark delineation between the pride nations as the traditional minor and ritualised skirmishes led to wars almost as fierce as those on Old Earth. These served to further Hesht technologies but risked supplementing the slow decline of the biosphere.

The astronomers were led to the conclusion that life on the homeworld was doomed. Thus began the projects that were to culminate in the Arks of the Fathers, named for the co-operating male prides of engineers and scientists. The exploration of their own solar system led the Hesht to determine that there could be no new home for the species there. Instead a mass migration was required. The savants of the bachelor prides united in this purpose, announcing the intent of their grand design, and offering each Queen pride an Ark for its nation. The astronomers noted the increasingly erratic activity of the sun and observed the first of the great flares.

Driven by need, the nations united in one purpose, knowing that not all could be saved. Massive Ark Ships were constructed in orbit and the evacuation began. As the sun began to flare repeatedly, leading to wholesale ecological collapse on the homeworld, the fleet began its slow progress towards the stars.

Aboard the Arks, the surviving Hesht mostly maintained their ancient society and lifestyle. Numbers were managed by the hazards of hunting in the artificial habitat, which was well stocked with prey and other species. Troublesome youngsters could only be banished when they first came into contact with other species utilising the hyperdrive. The social conservatism resulting from generations born and dying on the Ark Ships meant that few were willing to replace their now ancient homes for smaller ships. Some questioned the need to colonise any new world, as many now religiously believed that the ancient Fathers had determined their final destination. Others, such as the Ma’hesht saw these new worlds and aliens as prey, and obtaining ships equipped with hyperdrive began a tradition of raiding and piracy, using their Ark Ship as a base, coming into conflict with elements of the Imperial Méxica Navy. The propulsion and defensive systems used by the Arks provide them with massive if clumsy weaponry.

Given the scale of the Méxica Imperium, the Ark Ships will take several thousand years to cross it. Heshatun and human share the needs for similar biosystems; it remains to be seen if the trickle of banished youngsters becomes a flood into human space.

SS:WOF SS:HOR

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