Intelligent Species
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March 28, 2008, 1:11 pm

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Cheka Man

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Sshpah (Wordfishes Of Hloth)


The Wordfishes of Hloth, known also as the Sshpah, are strange composite-minds of the Hlothian jungles.

Full Description
A Sshpah, as an individual, is not a single being but rather a single mind composed of many individuals, these individuals being a school of fish.

Each of these fish (also known as a Sshpah or a Wordfish) is a rather ugly stiff-bodied, rubbery grey-black fish, about a foot long, with a slick hide studded with wart-like protrusions in long rows. These fish have a large, rounded head which is a bone-white color, with two small piggish eyes and a short two-fingered "trunk" protruding from the lower jaw.

Each Sshpah is composed of a school of roughly 10 to 15 of these Wordfish, who inhabit the muddy rivers and marshes of the Hlothian jungles. Alone, each fish is a perfectly capable animal, roughly as intelligent as a parrot or small monkey. However, when two fish come within five feet of each other, they begin to communicate in a staccato "fishsong" of clicking, scratching, and low growling noises, combined with a crackling generation of electricity from organs located in each fish’s tail. The more fish are added to a "fishsong" the more communication occurs- a resting Wordfish is rather quiet, but the entire school, when convened, fills the water with a small storm of electrical and audio "noise".

Each Sshpah is such a "fishsong". Incapable of deep thought when dispersed, when convened the Wordfishes of Hloth form some of the wisest beings in the world. Their minds are composed of the interplay of noise and electricity among individual fishes; the closer the fishes swim together, the deeper thought the Sshpah is capable of. Long ago, Wordfish had very little capability to remember, but over the course of thousands of Spawnings, the fishsongs learned to store individual memories and pieces of information in the minds of each individual Wordfish so that they could gain the ability to recall information.

Individual Wordfish are able to remember their role as part of a fishsong mind, perform fairly complex actions that were planned while they were in communication with their brethren, or even attempt new strategies of their own reasoning, but they are not capable of complex symbolic thought and are not wise in any way. Each fish has a strong urge to return to its school, or if the old personality is somehow extinct (through the wide dispersal or destruction of the other fish in the school), to seek the formation of a new personality and identity with other lone Wordfish. At need such a fish can survive indefinitely on its own as a regular animal, though it will experience a sense of loss and loneliness.

Though they are capable of rapid bursts of speed and leaps, Wordfish are not capable of rapid sustained swimming. They prefer gentle, quiet waters to rapidly-flowing currents. Each fish can crawl or wriggle on land and can survive in moist air for three to five hours, but a Sshpah mind cannot maintain itself outside of water.

When two Sshpah individuals meet, the waters crackle with storms of electrical signals, grunts, squeals, and clicks which explode between the two fishsongs. Usually two members of each school serve as a conduit through which conversation can be facilitated (without a "bus" to transfer the communications, discussion resembles random noise). Separated, two fishsongs can converse in a manner not dissimilar from human conversation, especially when concerned with concrete ideas and physical realities. However, to discuss more deep and intimate concepts, a full mixing of the two schools can be affected. This creates a loss of consciousness for all individuals, but a melding of Sshpah minds, and it is useless for sharing technical information or logical reasoning. It is, however, good for sharing emotions, memories, and implicit understandings.

The individual fish that make up a Sshpah live no longer than 15-25 years, but the overall personality is significantly more durable. As old Wordfish die and are replaced (or if, in a highly extraordinary occasion, two Sshpah minds "trade" individuals), someone may be formed who is significantly different from the original, though possessing some of the recognizable characteristics, traits and memories of the original being. Among Sshpah this "personality drift" is no different than humans might regard the differences between themselves as children and themselves as adults. After many generations of drift, a Sshpah mind may be totally divorced from its foundations and unrecognizable in terms of the individual it once was- this is the true "death" of a Sshpah.

Wordfish reproduce in two ways- first the physical, in great Spawning frenzies during the rainy season, triggered by instinct. These Spawnings are the only form of time kept by the Sshpah. The second form of reproduction is mental. The newly-hatched Wordfish fry are incapable of interpreting the electrical and audial signals that make up a fishsong. They remain at their hatching place in the shallow swampy lakes deep in the Hlothian jungle, feeding and growing until they are strong enough to enter the large lakes and streams and gain the ability to make their bodies’ receptors sensitive to the signals of other Wordfish. At this point, the "teen" fish will "test" many different Sshpah personalities by signalling to them and attempting to find one that is "right" for them. They may be transient members of many different identities before they find one that feels correct for them, at which point they aggregate themselves into the Sshpah identity. This is a semi-permanent arrangement, but in extraordinary occasions a Wordfish may leave a mind and join another (typically in the highly unusual "trade" of one individual for another). A proportion of young Wordfish do not find a mind that they feel comfortable in; these leftovers aggregate to form entirely new minds of their own.  Individual Wordfish recognize their spawn through unique subtle chemical cues and scents; Sshpah minds rarely have what could be called "offspring" in a traditional sense, though cases of adoption or mentorship have been noted.

Those Wordfish who for reasons of dysfunction or physical inability to understand the signals of others cannot aggregate into any mind are lost cases, pathetic and lonely pariahs who are doomed to live without the companionship of others. Some charitable Sshpah take pity on these poor fish and coax them into following as "hangers-on" to their own fishsong; others revile these lone fish as broken failures, or gift them with mercy killing to prevent them a worthless shadow existence.

Human relations with Sshpah are rare and strange. Communication between the two is (obviously) difficult, and the differences between human and fish minds is sometimes a barrier (though not as often as might be guessed- a Sshpah personality is not all that different in terms of function than a human one, though the components and the method of cognizance may be wholly at variance). Only in times of great danger or wonder have Sshpah actively sought to communicate with the tribes of the Hlothian jungle, though one Sshpah individual was known to have learned to use the communicators of its individual Wordfish to click, growl, and buzz out a reasonable approximation of human speech to speak with land-dwellers.

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Comments ( 8 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Murometz
March 6, 2008, 12:45

This reminds me of something, but I cant think of what it is. Anyway, I'll simply say, FASCINATING!! (and will try to think of what else to add)
Voted Cheka Man
March 6, 2008, 13:00
How sharp are their teeth?
Voted manfred
March 6, 2008, 16:05
Darn! I am constructing a vaguely similar intelligent lifeform, and I think I can steal a few things from you. Thank you in advance. :)

But what is their ultimate goal? It doesn't have to be meaning-of-life stuff, but what do they pursue? Where are they going? Are they simply floating around and thinking all their lives? What are the advances of their civilization? (Do they actually have one?) What about technology?

It is reasonable to assume that they are only on the beginning of this path, but I'd still like to hear a few thoughts on this.

Great idea!
Voted valadaar
March 6, 2008, 19:21
These critters are quite unique - I like them, though I would like some thoughts as how they are to be used. I could seem them being repositories of knowlege and secrets perhaps lost to land dwellers and a specific school sought out for their knowlege.
Voted Scrasamax
March 7, 2008, 15:55
Amazingly bizarre, and yet the entire thing works very very well! I can see a scenario where a local tribe starts fishing and after killing several Sshpah and mentally truncated several others, an effort is made by the intelligent fish.

Kudos and have a HoH for your troubles.
September 18, 2009, 11:28
BUMP. Really weird and really good!
Voted Dozus
November 6, 2012, 13:30
I found this via Muro's "kick-ass stuff" list. His description is apt.
Voted Darkstand
August 23, 2013, 11:22
Brilliant concept, though it raises some questions for me.
Are these schools - and this species - capable or inclined to do the type of worldbuilding that humans are? Making buildings, forming technology, teaching the next generation of what they have learned (though that may look a bit different)? How much 'culture' as a human would define it is there?
Are they capable of magic and/or spells? Psionics? (if they were psionic, I might wonder at telepathic communication, though that is slightly less flavorful.)
Is the intelligence of a Sspah proportional to the number of fish? If so, is there a practical limit to how many can form together (large groups are smarter but slower to decide and act, for example)? In times of need or when they face a more complicated question, do the schools ever temporarily form together to problemsolve?
I can see them rivaling the Aboleths if the answer is yes at all, having memories that span ages, foggy though it might be, and revealing long lost secrets and powerful knowledge to those who they think worthy.

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