Got sidetracked more than expected today but I’m sitting on about 4,000 words and am about to jump back in. Thought I’d share some of the mythology that’s coming to life for this novel, though. So here’s another rough draft of a chapter:
The niños, on average, reach a height of about one hundred twenty centimeters. and weigh about forty kilograms. Their musculature is very dense and they have less fat reserves than we do. You’ll hear often that they’re not human, and this isn’t really correct, but it’s also not incorrect.
There’s no doubt about us both descending from primates, and possibly we were part of the same line until relatively recently. After thousands of years, things can change quite a bit, especially given their peculiar environment.
To put it simply, there’s a genetic difference, but that’s so minuscule as to be insignificant. We’ll just ballpark our genetic similarity to other humans as 99%. We share 98% with chimpanzees, and things taper off after you step out of primates, but s what we’re dealing with here is a genetic similarity between 98% and 99%. They don’t reach that 99% but it’s also disingenuous and, frankly, untrue to say that they’re more similar to chimpanzees than they are to us. A lot of this comes from fearmongering and blatant colonial attitudes exacerbated by their pale skin, the fact that they’re all genetically male, as far as we can tell, and the extreme difference in technological development, which can be explained quite easily. But, to get back to the point, our similarity is about 98.95%, plus or minus 0.1%.
They’re complex social primates, just as we are. The real difference was caused by their environment, which needs some explanation, I suppose.
It’s a highly sophisticated environment that is both strengthened and debilitated by its millennia of isolation. Their deification of rain and trees comes from their close proximity to them, and, of course, the Tree. No studies have been done, because the niños are extremely protective of the Tree. Upon seeing it, it’s quite clear that this is no ordinary tree, and that its closest relatives probably became extinct millions of years ago. I’ll say that again because it doesn’t look like it’s sinking in.
It’s closest relative more than likely became extinct millions–yes, millions–of years ago.
Why this one exists is impossible to really say without a proper sample, but the niños won’t even let us collect leaves. It’s all sacred to them and, for now, we respect this animism. But this tree, the Tree is the fulcrum of their society. The city is built in a spiral pattern around it and its roots connect each dwelling to each other. This is also significant and extremely peculiar. So they live in raised mounds, similar to the way the ancient celts lived. Large communal spaces that appear to be about ten thousand years old, which makes them the earliest human structures still standing, if you can believe that, and they’re each connected by roots to the Tree, which would put its age as at least that old, but considering the size of the mounds and the complexity of the city system, it would mean that the Tree was exceptionally large by the time they were created. I’d put the age of the tree at several millions years, given its size and the fact that there are no trees like this anywhere else in the world throughout history as we know it. But that’s pure speculation and I used exactly zero science in determining that age, so take it with a fistfull of salt.
But the Tree really connects it all together. You could say their city was not only built around the Tree, but because of it and by it. The roads, according to the niños, follows the trails of the roots and the city all rests under the canopy.
They farm a great deal. All tasks are shared and the assignment of tasks appears to shift. Much of niños society is difficult to pindown because of their masks, which wash away individuality. For the niños, it does the opposite, however. They all refer to one another as brother and they differentiate one another according to these same masks that appear so anonymous to us. It implies a deep artistic culture with many shared metaphors and myths, much of which is secret to us. Park Jiyun appears to have known more about this than anyone else, but we all know how that ended.
They’re very open within their society, but are extremely xenophobic. Part of this is probably explained by our drastic height and weight differences, and the fact that we’re all female, which leads me to another peculiarity.
We have no idea how they reproduce. When the last man died, we ensured our survival, but there’s no chance that the niños have anything remotely that complex to work with. We’ve seen them partake in enormous orgies and they’re very free with their bodies, and the bodies of others, but sex doesn’t appear to be a reproductive function. Some of us believe there are females and that they’re perhaps used like cattle, but it’s difficult to believe such tiny and kind people would have any practices so brutal.
But, then again, Park Jiyun’s innards were strung like garlands and her bones used for music, so there’s no telling what the niños are capable of, or why they do what they do.
They worship the rain, for obvious reasons. We’ve tried to describe to them what the world is like beyond their city and the desert, but they remain convinced that there is only desert and nothingness outside of Antiguoniño, which isn’t strictly incorrect. But if you live your entire life with constant rain, how would you imagine a world without it? How would you not believe you’re blessed by the gods after looking out into the vast desert surrounding them? So much of their iconography revolves around spirals, circles, trees, and rain. They’re intimately acquainted with water and plant cycles.
But so, because of their reliance on water and plants, especially trees, and because of the abundance of both, they never had a reason to develop technologies the way we did. And the rain keeps digital or electronic equipment from being especially useful. We’ve lost a lot of equipment in Antiguoniño. But it’s why some people call this Paradiso. It’s a utopic land of plenty, where everything is provided by the earth. There is no decay, only the passing of seasons, which is how they measure their lives, actually. By the end of a solar year, they consider themselves four years old. This led to a lot of confusion when they were discovered. We bought into the belief that these tiny people may be at such advanced ages while remaining so healthy and robust because of the Tree and all sorts of other signs. Most of them having to do with the notion of this being a utopia. Until the tragedy of Park Jiyun, we had never seen them engage in violence. We had, curiously, never even observed them eating meat. They husband animals similar to llamas and elk and they have wolves for pets and companions, but they don’t appear to eat any of them. They live right inside of nature, which is something I’ve sort of been pointing at here. It’s a very human notion to bend nature to our will. We create structures and superstructures, bend rivers, dig trenches to make the world more comfortable for us. But the niños live alongside it. They weave their lives into the natural system, rather than bend it to their lives. And this can be seen with their relationships with their animals and one another.
When the niños reach puberty, the brothers come together and celebrate with the creation of the mask. Each niño creates a mask of dust and mud and blood, which they wear for the rest of their lives. At the same time, they’re given a wolfpup, which they must raise. To harm the wolf is to harm the owner, though ownership here is a very different matter. Their language doesn’t have possessive pronouns, which complicates the language and understanding it. But their word for wolf is the same as their word for soul, so their relationship between wolf and niño is much different than the relationship of a pet and a master. It’s unclear how long these wolves live, but I’ve never seen an adult niño without one, regardless of age, and an elder never has a pup.
The elk are used for work and for transportation. I guess I haven’t mentioned it yet and you’ve yet to see it, but transportation is necessary, which complicates things for us, since we’re too large to ride their elk, which are unusually small. But we estimate that there are about one million niños, and that the city is about the twenty five square kilometers. It’s not super dense, but it’s much denser than you would expect for a civilisation of this nature. It’s not even preindustrial. They’re a purely agricultural and pantheistic animistic monogender–allegedly–society.
But we’ve only known of their existence for, what, three years? They exclude us from almost all rituals, ceremonies, and social customs. Veronique and Park Jiyun are the only people to have seen anything like a ritual, and, unfortunately, it proved to be quite a gruesome spectacle.
But what else. I have so many notes here and so many theories it’s hard to keep them straight. Things change every day because there’s so little data, and they give us so little. It’s a tricky balance. We’re undoubtedly influencing them by our very presence, but they’re also influencing us, and they’re the ones gaining what we know. I imagine they have far better records about us than we do about them. They’re extremely intelligent, and gifted with languages. Even though there appear to be only about one million of them, they have quite a complex linguistic system with at least three dialects, and they’ve learnt every language we’ve spoken to them, and even ones we didn’t speak to them but only shared with one another.
The other day I swear I heard a few of them telling jokes in Cantonese.
I sometimes don’t know what to think. It’s exciting, but also terrifying. As you can imagine, things have changed dramatically in the weeks since Park Jiyun died. Everyone’s on edge, including the niños. They’re much more reserved and I believe they’ve begun to steal from us. There’s no proof, of course, and since they don’t really understand ownership or possession, it may not be useful to consider it theft, but some of our equipment has disappeared.
I don’t know. Sometimes I guess I just get paranoid. To tell you the truth, it’s a relief to be away from them. They creep me out. It’s not the size, really, but their pale skin and their maleness. There’s something pitiful about them. Don’t tell anyone, but I see where all the rhetoric comes from. All that hateful stuff people are saying. It’s all so foreign, and as exciting as it is, from a scientific and anthropological viewpoint, it’s also absolutely frightening. When you’re there, you’re in their world. They have all the cards, even though we’re bigger and stronger. We have physical advantages, and I know that. I know if I got into a fight with one or even a few, I could probably get away unscathed. But when there are ten or twenty or a hundred so near at hand, it becomes suffocating.
For now all we can do is keep studying and searching and try to avoid whatever the hell Park did to anger them so much.