Compact Space in

C.J. Cherryh's "Chanur" Novels

The Compact is a loose association of nominally seven sentient species. (The oxygen-breathers are not sure about the "chi" but give them the benefit of the doubt.) The species are:

  1. The Hani -- lion-like beings whose fur ranges from golden bronze to reddish bronze in colour. They have been pulled up from feudalism only in the past two centuries after being visited by the spacefaring mahendo'sat. Most ground-based hani still think like the hani of old with their clannish jealousies. They remind me, a bit, of the description of the Scottish in the book "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman where they write about the witch burnings of a couple of hundred years ago:
  2. The mahendo'sat -- ape-like beings. Their politics revolves around charisma. A "Personage" is a self-appointed leader. As long as there is enough public support for the Personage, that persons word is law -- until he or she fouls up, either directly or by choosing agents who foul up collectively enough that the Personage looses all public support. A Personage will often choose agents who will work to different ends. The viable options will be chosen by the Personage and the agents whose actions are less viable are disowned by the Personage. If all of the Personage's agents fail, the Personage falls from public grace and a new Personage will step in to control things with policies often diametrically opposed to the pronouncements of the previous Personage.
  3. The kif -- a species whose main emotional drive is to improve their status at all times with no concern for the feelings of others except, of course, where the feelings can be taken advantage of and who have very sensitive stomaches -- they cannot eat anything that is not alive (and often still protesting). Their social structure is similar, in a way, to that of the mahendo'sat in that their leaders are self-appointed but from a completely different mindset. The status or "sfik" of a kif is more based on the fear of those kif under him. Their concept of sfik is similar to the Japanese concept of "face" but with more violent overtones. A kif would never commit suicide. A kif on the way down is, however, likely to be killed by those kif on their way up the ladder of status. A kif's subordinates will remain fervently supportive of a leader on the rise in order to benefit. When things get tough, where a hani would remain faithful to her clan or captain, the kif would stab their fallen leader in the back and run for the winning side. They are not evil as such. They just lack the emotional wiring that would allow them to feel anything but a constant drive for greater sfik or status.
  4. The stsho -- thin, fragile, and compulsive cowards, they are easily injured and easily frightened. They have three sexes and any one shsho can change sex at will, if necessary, to form a triad for the purpose of marriage. When they are emotionally disturbed their entire personality fragments. Recovery from this results in a new person, psychologically and legally under stsho law.
  5. The t'ca -- snake-like methane breathers who think and speak in matrices with their multiple brains, are difficult for oxygen breathers to communicate with and are incapable of travelling in a straight line except when at near light-speed when weaving back and forth is restricted by the laws of physics,
  6. The knnn -- another methane breathing species that only the t'ca can talk to, they have the most advanced technology in the Compact. For these reasons, other Compact Space citizens just keep out of their way and try not to get their attention. As Pyanfar Chanur, a hani spaceship captain says, "Gods and thunders! You don't pick a fight with someone you can't talk to." According to stories of times past, the knnn used to swarm around another species' spaceship, haul it away, crew and all, to somewhere else to salvage it for material. They weren't bad. They just had no concept of there being any species other than themselves. Ledgend has it that the t'ca finally were able to communicate with them enough to get across the idea of there being other species and the idea of trade -- at least to the point where they no longer just take. Now they dock at a space station, grab whatever takes their fancy, and leave something behind -- whatever else they feel like -- as payment. The rest of the Compact considers getting even that much of the idea of trade across to the knnn to be a victory of sorts.
  7. The chi -- a methane breathing species associated with the t'ca but as friends, slaves, masters, or pets is something the oxygen breathers are not sure of. All of the oxygen breathers understand the hani expression, "crazy as a chi."

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