Races: The Blind People

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Somes J
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Races: The Blind People

Post by Somes J » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:28 am

BACKGROUND

Buried under one of alter-Earth’s ancient mountain ranges is an immense cave system, much larger than any on Earth. The chambers of this cave system extend for many kilometers and include a great number of ballroom chambers and other large open spaces. The cave system contains a robust enough food chain that it has become host to a fairly rich and complex ecosystem, composed of unique organisms which live completely cut off from the light of the sun. In fact, the cave ecosystem is in some ways substantially more developed than the surface terrestrial ecosystems, as it has been insulated from the major climate changes the alter-Earth was exposed to for most of its history.

As humans spread across the alter-Earth, they eventually came to this cave system and took up residence in it. Initially they simply used the entrances for shelter, but in time, perhaps pushed by competition for food, they ventured further and further into the interior and learned to survive in the lightless deep caves.

The ecosystem of the deep caves was dense enough to support human foragers, but there was a complication. At the top of the food chain was one of the few indigenous alter-Earth predators capable of being dangerous to humans. This creature used bioluminescence to attract mates. These predators were instinctively drawn to any bright light, and they had no instinct to fear fire, which was extremely rare in the damp caverns. The humans who took up residence in the deep caves had to learn to use fire as sparingly as possible. They began to adapt to a life lived in total darkness. They learned to see the world by touch and sound and smell, they forgot the world of light, and eventually even their bodies began to change to a form better suited to their new life.


SPECIES BIOLOGY

The bodies of the Blind People bear testimony to over a hundred thousand years of evolution in a totally lightless environment. They exhibit many adaptations commonly found in cave organisms. They have lost all pigmentation and become complete albinos; their skin is so pale as to be almost transparent, and their hair is white. They have begun to experience a general reduction in hairiness, possessing significantly less hair than Homo Sapiens (it is likely that eventually they will become completely hairless). But the most radical changes by far have been in their sensoria.

The most distinguishing (and, to humans, disturbing) feature of the Blind People is their apparent lack of eyes. Their faces have relatively normal features by human standards, but where a human’s eyes would be there seems to be nothing but empty sockets covered by unbroken skin. The Blind People actually do still have eyes, but in their totally dark environment they have atrophied into useless, vestigial organs. Under their permanent blindfolds of skin they can sense changes of light and darkness, but nothing more. They “see” the world by a combination of scent, hearing, and touch. To compensate for their lack of vision, the Blind People’s senses of smell and hearing are much sharper than a human’s, and the skin of their palms and fingers has developed an enormous density of nerve endings, making them comparable in sensitivity to human genitals (although of course the brain parses the stimulus rather differently – their sensitivity is intended to facilitate the detailed perception of surfaces, not pleasure). The sensory processing areas of their brains have similarly changed, with many parts of the brain that in humans are tied to visual processing being wired instead to the tactile centers (the same thing, to a lesser degree, occurs in blind humans).

The Blind People are naturally agoraphobic. They prefer to stay close to walls and are reluctant to venture anywhere where they cannot reach a hand out and touch the nearest wall. Since touch is their primary method of avoiding obstacles, and they are much less conspicuous to sonar-using predators when pressed up against a rock face, this is not surprising. The Blind People react to fear by instinctively freezing in place and breathing very shallowly. This, similarly, is an adaptation to throw off predators that hunt by sonar and home in on movement and noise. You can tell one of the Blind People is badly frightened because they will be breathing very shallowly, making very few movements, and trying to scrunch themselves as much as they can against the nearest wall.


TECHNOLOGY, LIFESTYLE, AND CULTURE

The material culture of the Blind People is fairly rudimentary. They have lost the ability to make fire – in their warm caverns they do not need it, and it draws predators rather than driving them away. The “vegetation” of their caverns consists of fungi which do not offer any hard parts equivalent to wood. Their caverns experience neither burning sun nor cold nor rain, so they have no need for clothing and go naked. Their tools consist essentially of stone knives and hammers, supplemented by a few other technologies such as nets made from leather strips that they use to catch fish. They make a living by foraging for edible fungi and catching fish and small animals, which they eat raw. They speak a clicking language that imitates the calls of the nocturnal bat-like creatures that roost in the caves and are responsible for importing the nutrients that forms much of the base of the cave’s food chain (in the form of their guano). Like the language of the Killer People it is designed to fool other creatures that overhear it into not recognizing its origin. Sound is, after all, a much more important sense in the lightless world of the caves than in the surface world, so conspicuous noise may draw predators or spook game.

The Blind People have long since completely forgotten the surface world. They imagine that the entire world is nothing more than an extension of the cave system. In their cosmology they conceive of their caves as bubbles of material reality blown into the world of spirits and gods, which they believe lies just beyond the rock walls. Their religious beliefs tend toward a form of spiritualism, centered on a belief in reincarnation.

Unsurprisingly, given their unusual sensory apparatus, the Blind People have a rather unusual perspective on the world. They have no concept of things humans take for granted, like vision and color (they have a vague concept of brightness, but beyond that they have no conception of the visual world). Their sensory world is divided into two realms; the amorphous outer world that they sense by smell and hearing, and the clear but tiny realm directly sensed through touch which they know of by a word that roughly translates as where I am. Their term for perceiving an object is often translated as “seeing”, but it more properly translates to “being in” the object, in much the same way humans might talk about being in a place (i.e. “I am in my hammer”, “I am in the rock face”). Their art is aimed not at reproducing images, but at reproducing surfaces. For instance, if they wish to represent a fish, they will try to replicate the textures of the fish, rather than the image.
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