Endless Blue – Week 26 – The Floating Wheel   Leave a comment


The Floating Wheel

Perhaps the third most important discovery that enabled civilization to flourish, behind language and fire, is arguably the wheel.  Historians and philosophers can argue the details, but work-relieving potential of the wheel has proven itself indispensable in every culture known.  An astoundingly simply invention — the simplest shape, found everywhere in nature, and refined to become the greatest mechanical tool to push civilization forward — the wheel’s practicality is a little diminished when you can move in all directions.  Wheels essentially need traction to work, and when held aloft, floating in an endless ocean of water, there is little there for the wheel to roll across.  Even if the pisceans of antiquity kept to the sea bed with their wheels, the topography of the ocean floor is rough, usually steep, and most times less solid than packed earth.

This is not to say that the wheel doesn’t exist.  I most certainly does, as there just as many inspirations for the shape under the sea as there are above the waves, and the utility of the pre-historical invention is simply too potent for civilization to have “never imagined it”.  But on Elqua, the wheel gives up its prominence as the premiere contraption of the piscean mind in favor of a less tangible, but perhaps more understandable, development: domestication.

The domestication of animals as beasts of burden filled the role of the wheel in Elquan prehistory.  Harnesses or even basic lengths of rope strapped to dolphins, manta rays, and other strong swimmers with high levels of stamina took advantage of the raw strength the beasts possessed to pull a sled or travois.  When loads were exceptionally heavy, the travois would be dragged across the ocean floor terrain, but with sufficient number of animals using their innate buoyancy, the weight of the load could be over come and the essentially be lifted into the water much like a helicopter might lift its cargo.  The domesticated animals, in a way, served as organic dirigibles, carrying cargo that would be impossible to move by hand.

Domestication is the practice of humans to selectively breed compliance into a species for the intent of exploiting their natural traits.  It is not just limited to animals (as expressed in the Packbreeder character class), but also included plants (as employed with the Culinist character class).  On our own world, domestication is as common as the nearest house pet or backyard garden.  Domestication of canis lupus familiaris (the common dog) took place almost 17,000 years ago, and cereal crops like peas and wheat were domesticated roughly 11,000 years ago.  The piscean equivalents would be delphis (pronounced del-fIz, a smaller form of dolphin trapped in a perpetual state of neotony) and the wonder grain ricelqua.

To achieve domestication in animals, the packbreeder needs to produce six criteria in the species.

Placid Temperament — An animal must be able to adjust to its new environment and not become startled by any little movement or sound.  Essentially, it must modify its “fight or flight” reflex so that it is not the primary reaction to outward stimuli.  A beast that lashes out at the slightest provocation is better suited to become a beast of war, whereas a creature that is skittish and likely to bolt at any time becomes a burden to simply keep in captivity.

Pleasant Disposition — Unlike the beasts of war packbreeders guide into combat, domesticated  animals must not pose a danger to their captor when held in captivity.  A dog is docile in comparison of its feral fore-bearer, the wolf,

Social Imprinting — A domesticated animal must be able to accept another kind of creature (in this case, the packbreeder or owner) as the pack leader of its pack/herd.  Without this implicit subjugation, a species would never achieve the level of dependency needed for domestication.

Captive Breeding — If the animal cannot breed under the auspices of piscean packbreeders, there is no hope of selectively breeding the wanted traits.  Many animals reproduce in specific places, such as sea turtles along sandy beaches.  This migratory instinct that forces an animal to travel to a specific place to reproduce/give birth prevents the encompassing control a packbreeder needs to modify a species successfully.

Quick Maturity — Coupled with captive breeding, if an animal does not reach maturity at a relatively fast rate and reproduce a subsequent generation in the lifespan of a piscean, no single packbreeder can fully influence the artificial selection of its traits.  If it would take multiple generations of packbreeders to produce any significant genetic change,  chances are a more fertile species would be better suited for domestication.

Adaptable Diet — Animals whose diet consists of a single specific algae or species of fish make poor choices for domestication, as their finicky consumption habits require extra effort to cultivate.  Those species that can survive on the left-overs from piscean meals, or even whatever plant life is chanced upon in the immediate area mean less energy is invested into cultivating their meals and that extra effort can be put into whatever chore they are suited to accomplish.

The product of this intense genetic selection is the creation of livestock (animals that can be used by pisceans as sources of food, beasts of burden, or both).  Some animals make better muscle than meal, like the ever-present dolphins and porpoises.  Others are strictly raised for little other reason that to be eaten, like albacore.  Then there are those animals used for their industrial applications, such as the oysters used in nacre production.  These species are bred with a marked increase of whatever profitable attribute in mind.  Finally, some species are bred as effort reducers, meant to take over menial tasks that pisceans are too busy or not well suited for, like pilot fish for cleaning and herding animal packs, or the bioluminescent algae used in bale-lights.

Plants, on the other hand, require much less stringent guidelines for domestication due mostly to their immobility.  Domesticated plants bred for large-scale food harvesting are called crops, and here a culinist’s skill can shine.  The application of a skillful culinist’s abilities can breed out physical and chemical defenses (such as thorns or sour fruit), shorten germination times, increase harvest yields, or even create brand new types of plant.  An example in our own world is the root known as the carrot.  While most immediately think of the color orange when the vegetable is mention, the truth is that carrots come in a spectrum of colors, and the ubiquitous orange color is just one.  It is believed that the acari is one such result on Elqua, a carefully crafted species of plant that excels at its absorptive abilities when it is hybridized.  The cultivar (cultivated variety) of acari can be almost unidentifiable when compared to the wild variety. except for the tell-tale rubbery skein and gelatinous pulp.

An interesting effect of selective breeding and societal growth has developed into a class of animal that serves no real purpose other than the joy it gives to its owner.  These animals do not provide food, nor do they complete work.  Instead they exist solely at the whim of their master.  Called “pets”, these domesticated creatures are usually the result of generations of packbreeders honing a species of fauna into a source of companionship and pleasure instead of purpose and need.  The plant equivalent would be a garden, and the flora of the deep can come in as varied shape, size, or color as the culinist’s imagination can conjure.

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