Ratha's Island 05

By rath8325 - Posted on 18 August 2009

Before I could run with that concept, however, another idea pounced on me, demanding attention. This involved evolution; more specifically, alternate evolution. By creating the Named and their society I had already begun exploring a what-if, which was, "What if conscious awareness and sapience arose in a big cat?" Now I began to investigate another what-if, which was, "What if there was a place on earth where creatures had arisen from six-legged rather than four-legged forms (i.e.hexapod ancestors rather than quadripedal ones) "? What if one of the Named got there and encountered these animals?

Still another idea ambushed me. One of my readers is a visually-challenged fan who offered to help me if I ever wanted to do a Ratha story about a clan cub who was born blind. She has actually role-played a limited-vision character on the Ratha forum, and has done a wonderful job, using her own experience and perceptions. (link) It would be a fun opportunity, and could offer a very unique perspective.

I decided to run some ideas by Sheila Ruth, so I sent her an email describing both the Thistle-tames-giant-bird idea and the blind-clan-cub idea. Sheila gave me some good feedback. She wasn't all that fond of the Thistle-tames-giant-bird concept. To her it seemed far-fetched, even for Thistle-chaser. As presented, it didn't offer that much of a story opportunity.

She liked the blind-cub concept better, but pointed out that Erin Hunter's Warrior Cat series had introduced a blind clan-cat character, and we risked being accused of stealing their idea if we went with it. She did say that my enthusiasm for flying would enliven whatever I wrote and that she encouraged me to include it.

None of her comments actually excluded the previous ideas, but prompted me to re-evaluate them.

I still had the Named-clan-cat-on-hexapod-animal-island concept, and decided to explore that before settling on either one of the others, or coming up with an entirely new idea.

I decided that the clan cat had to be Ratha herself. Much as I enjoy writing about Thistle-chaser, Ratha is the star of the series, the best known, and the one I knew best.

Since I like to be as accurate as I can in depicting the animals of the Named world, based on fossils, and there was absolutely no fossil evidence to suggest that a hexapodal evolutionary line ever existed on earth, I had a bit of a quandry. Was this concept even feasible. I thought for awhile and decided that even if there was no evidence that it actually happened, there was nothing to say it couldn't have.

There were no fossils indicating that any of earth's mammals had been hexapodal, but it sure worked well for insects, who are in numbers, the dominant species on the planet. I also ran across an article suggesting that a prehistoric fish might have walked on the ocean bottom using three pairs of fins. So the concept wasn't impossible. Suppose such creatures had existed in a place where their fossils were wiped out by a natural disaster, so that we couldn't discover them? Suppose their homeland suffered volcanic eruption and earthquake, sinking so deeply beneath the sea that we know nothing about it?

Such a scenario suggested a large island. Isolated habitats such as islands often send evolution in strange and wonderful directions. Perhaps some unknown hexapodal ancestors reached a large island and gave rise to a very different branch of evolution, the way the marsupials did in South America and Australia.

Having a line with six-limbed ancestors is great fun for creature-building. In a hexapod evolutionary sequence, one or more pairs of walking limbs can transform into other appendages, such as arms or wings. Hexapod ancestors can generate centauroids (two arms, four legs) winged tetrapods (winged mammals and four-legged birds) winged bipeds (arms, legs and wings), and many other combinations.

Of course, one of the winged tetrapods could be cheetah-like cat.

So here were the ingredients for a nifty tale: 1) A Named clan cat flying on the back of a giant vulture or condor-like bird. 2) Being taken by the bird to an island where evolution generated a hexapod-based fauna. 3) Discovering the various island creatures through the clan-cat's perceptions.

That, however, couldn't be all. Yes, it would be great fun finding all these strange creatures, but there had to be something more to the story. Well, one could make it an "individual against nature" tale, with the clan cat having to cope with an earthquake and volcanic eruption, as well as everyday survival. I decided to go with that until something better suggested itself.

For three and a half days in mid-February, I sat on my bed with a writing-pad. I began with notes. What if this happened? What if that happened? Snatches of description and dialog. Sequences of events. Critically, how would Ratha get aboard the giant teratorn and fly to the island?

I did more research to make the idea plausible. Some teratorn features suggested that the giant birds weren't just scavengers; they may have hunted, and snatched prey off the ground as hawks and eagles do. Indeed, some reconstructions of Argentavis showed it with an eagle-like fully feathered head instead of bare skin, like that of a vulture. Experiments with wind-tunneling an Argentavis model, and observations of soaring birds suggested that, with a headwind and an elevated launching site, the giant teratorn could lift off from the ground, perhaps even while clutching prey.

The first scene laid itself out. The Named herding their beasts in a meadow as a storm approaches. A great teratorn circles beneath the clouds, making the clan cats nervous. The cubs help to get the restive creatures to shelter under the trees. A three-horn fawn breaks away from the herd and a clan-cub chases it.The bird swoops to grab the cub and Ratha attacks to defend it. In the fight, Ratha frees the cub, but the bird grabs her and flies away.

Other scenes in "note narrative" followed, answering questions such as how could Ratha escape from the bird's claws up to its back, where she could control its flight? How much control would she really have? And so on.

The first draft was largely in "note-narrative" form, and finished in a day. The next draft, taking on more pure narrative form, took another two days. A bit cross-eyed at this point, I typed the first part it into my word processor, saved it, and took a break, letting it cool off before re-reading it. Later, I looked it over, liked it, and decided to email it to Sheila. Her response encouraged me to continue.

Since the story looked promising, we began emailing each other about more practical aspects, such as when would the tale start on Twitter, so that we could announce and generate publicity for it. I continued to write the story and send it to Sheila.

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CB photo - color

Join other Named Series fans on the Ratha Series Forum.  Hunt up information in the Fire Den, read the new Twitter creation, "Ratha's Island", or strut before the clan to introduce yourself in the Fire Dance.

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