The Skiltaire (or Skiltare) are a species of intelligent weasel-like aliens. They were created by Mark Merlino (Sylys Sable) in 1971 as a non-human sentient species for a series of science fiction stories. Skiltaire have been depicted by numerous artists, and were selected as mascots of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization and Mark's home, The Prancing Skiltaire.
Skiltaire vary in size, depending on sub-species and gender, but on average have a body length of 1 yard (0.91 m), not including a 1/2 yard (0.46 m) tail. Body weight range is 60 to 120 lbs (27.2 to 54.4 kg) for an adult. They closely resemble Earth mustelids (weasels) and occur in two body-types. The aquatic type looks like a large otter, with a short, broad muzzle, small, rounded ears and a thick, tapering tail. The arboreal type resembles a marten, with a more fox-like face (though the muzzle is short), and a brush tail.
The fur of skiltaire can be any color, although aquatics tend to be limited to gray, brown, light blue, tan, or cream. They often have a single wide or multiple thinner stripes that run up their back, from tail-tip to the top of their head, and darker paws (boots) and ear-tips. The stripes can be any color, and are usually much darker or more intense.
A neon skiltaire has a stripe of highly contrasting color, darker in the middle and grading to pastel edges so that the stripe seems to glow. The neon pattern is most common in aquatics because the base fur color of aquatics tends to have less range than their stripe colors and allows the stripe to contrast more strongly.
A flame skiltaire is a color variation exclusive to arboreals where the fur colors are yellow, orange and red in any standard pattern, so that the fur looks like fire.
Skiltaire have large eyes which facilitates superior night vision. The eyes have 4-pointed star-shaped pupils.
An obvious characteristic on all skiltaire is a pair of 10 inch (25 cm) antennae which grow from just above the eyebrow. The antennae are the detector part of the animal's natural electrostatic field sense ability. The antennae are modified eye whiskers, and are made up of large interlocking sections that have small, back-facing barbs at the junction of each section. Aquatics possess relatively straight antennae, with a single kink at mid-length, whereas the antennae of arboreal are curled into loose spirals.
The body of a skiltaire has tissue below the skin that generates electricity which is isolated from the internal organs, much like those of an electric eel. The electricity produced by the animal is typically used for precise location detection and motion sensing in air (1 to 50 yard = 0.9 to 45 m range) and under water (1 to 100 yard = 0.9 to 90 m range). The electrical effect is used as an intimate greeting between animals, for stimulation during mating (induced ovulation), and also serves as a desperate defense against an attacker (contact only).
In extreme environments, skiltaire have developed features unique to that environment such as extra-dense fur in extremely cold environments (arctic skiltaire subspecies) and very short, vibrantly-colored fur in tropical jungle environments (Savannah skiltaire subspecies).
Skiltaire are 'elite suppressors,' meaning that they are incapable of becoming infected with biological diseases, pathogens, harmful bacteria, airborne virii or other foreign bodies that affect most bio masses. It could be speculated that skiltaire are incapable of hosting pathogens due to incompatibility, since no such pathogens exist on their home planet.
The antennae are mutated eye-whiskers. They are protein-case cells that link together, with a thin tendons and nerve endings running inside the hallow shell parts. The tendons are controlled by muscles in the scalp, which can extend or retract the antennae, based on various stimulus. They extend when the skiltaire is using them for it's electrostatic motion sensing ability. The "flaccid" form, folded or curled is designed to get the antennae out of the way from obstacles while the skiltaire is in motion (running, crawling, climbing or swimming). Sections of the antenna may fold like a cantilever (typical of an aquatic form), or curl in a tight spiral (typical for an arboreal form). However, the way an antenna folds and extends can vary between individuals. The hinged cells have slight barbs which facilitate linking when used for mutual bonding/mating stimulus. If the protein cells are damaged, and the tendons and nerve endings are severed, these sections can and usually will grow back, though it takes as long as a year for part of a broken antenna to grow back. If the base area of the antennae is damaged, the antenna may be lost permanently.
The main evolutionary purpose for the antenna is to improve the directivity and sensitivity of the passive and active motion sense ability. Passively, the antenna can detect minute movements in the air via slight differences in the dielectric potential of the air molecules. In active mode, the skiltaire will charge the air with it's natural bio-electric energy, a variable (controllable) frequency pulsed-DC current that is produced in a trans-dermal layer of specialized fat which covers most of the body area. This fatty tissue can produce quite high voltage (much like Earth electric eels), and also works well as an insulator to protect the nervous system and internal organs. Skiltaire are pretty much immune to electric shock unless their hide is pierced. The pulsed electric field produced when a skiltaire is "scanning" radiates form the body to charge the air around them. A "map" of stationary objects in approximately a 30M circle can be interpreted, and any movement in that range, no matter how minute, creates dialectic differences which the antenna can pick up, and the brain can process. The accuracy for an adult is similar to Earth dolphin's natural "sonar". The antennae do not generate the field, but help disperse it, and act as steerable receptors.
Antennae have another purpose, obviously a part of behavior that has evolved over time. Skiltaire, like many other carnivorous mammals that live in places with extreme climate range, have delayed implantation of fertilized eggs in the uterus. This allows precise control of gestation (to avoid young being born in bad weather times), or automatic abortion if the females body senses it may be unsafe to take a fetus to term. Along with delayed implantation, the concept of stimulation induced ovulation adds another layer of control to the skiltaire reproductive system. This "induced ovulation" can be observed in Earth mammals (weasels, marten, fisher, cats, some canines), and usually involves a rough courtship ritual, mating and typically a neck or muzzle bite, usually the male will bite the female, but this is not always the case. The skiltaire have refined this technique by using their bio-electric generation and sense to create the stimulus to induce ovulation. Mated pairs and breeding groups can develop special "codes" to precisely control fertility. Skiltaire that allow others to actually get close enough to allow antennae linking and electric pulse communication are often bonded socially, as that kind of contact is considered intimate, whether they are breeding or not.
Concept art for Skiltek's fursuit.
Skiltaire are natural tele-empaths (analog telepaths), and use this ability to communicate with other skiltaire, other aliens with similar abilities, and to aid in hunting. Analog telepathy involves sending and receiving complete sense and thought 'streams' of brain-wave activity, which the sender can control. The effect is that the receiver actually "feels" and "sees" and experiences that the sender transmits, whether it is a current experience, a vivid memory, or a constructed dream.
Skiltaire are true carnivores and hunt live prey, though their diet includes much variety. Most modern skiltaire are hunter-gatherers, with some farming common in larger tribes.
In some locations skiltaire share a mutualistic relationship with other species, in some cases exchanging access to knowledge about local resources for information about their own technology through telempathic exchange. With this ability they are capable of colonizing with a greater range of species more quickly than species who depend on developing a form of extracommunicative interaction when introduced new life forms.
Because of the diversity of locations between skiltaire the level of their development in different places is varied. Some skiltaire are very basic like Earth forest creatures while some are incredibly intelligent relators, each with different levels of intelligence and technology.
The "lower class" skiltaire are sometimes kept as pets by more advanced species in a symbiotic and often mutualistic relationship in which they exchange theraputic contact, telempathic abilities, attractive appearance as pets for shelter, food and protection from predators. There have even been some instances of skiltaire keeping other skiltaire as pets.
Skiltaire are shameless and most have a strong aversion to clothing of any type.
Skiltaire are highly adaptive and superb at emulating the culture of their host environment, making them prime candidates for cohabitation with advanced and emotional species.
In different parts of the universe skiltaire have been given different labels (where labels exist) to identify major groups as identified by host locations. Although skiltaire have the ability to adapt to an environment with a granularity of one generation, they can be divided into four major groups, or classes.
|1||Feral||Feral skiltaire may be compared to the creatures known as "animals" on earth. They are not able to speak or understand speech and perform most functions by instinct. They are sometimes kept as pets but doing so is not as common as with class 2's because of the required upkeep. As pets, ferals are entirely dependent on their owners much like a pet gerbil or squirrel would be. Ferals typically live in one location and may be kept in a large cage or single room most of the time. In areas where exotic pet laws exist they apply to class 1 skiltaire.|
|2||Dependent||Dependents are considered intelligent but are still dependent on host area owners (on earth, humans) and/or other skiltaire. One class 2 dependent may have multiple owners/caretakers and may or may not live primarily at one location. Their speech may be basic and it is not always certain whether they understand any or all of the words they are speaking or if they are merely repeating sound patterns to obtain a learned reaction.|
|3||Interdependent||Interdependent skiltaire are considered in the intelligence range of an average human and are capable of advanced linguistics. They are effective communicators with humans and other intelligent species and learn new methods of communication quickly. Although they are fiercely independent, class 3 skiltaire may have part time jobs or moonlight on contractual or temporary work in order to obtain funds to contribute to their social group's communal pot.|
|4 (R)||Relater||Class 4 or R skiltaire are known as relaters to humans. They are capable of advanced telempathic communication with skiltaire and some humans and other telempathy-sensitive beings and may be capable of using several vocal or other languages for communication. In some ways their intellect is superior to that of humans as they are capable of inferring information by cross-referencing emotional and condition states of those they communicate with, with spoken word or other encoded forms of communication. They are often self-imposed caretakers for lower class skiltaire and may represent a large group of skiltaire as ambassador and/or benefactor. Relaters are considered beneficial to groups requiring extremely effective communication such as certain government agencies and major corporations. Relaters may be found using their talents to the advantage of these groups in exchange for resources in the form of finances, food supplies, housing or other needful things which they may pass on to their charges.|
Artists who have produced a body of work featuring skiltaire include Mark Merlino, Ken Pick, Ken Sample and Michael Sherman. They are also one of the popular fur-fan created races for online role-playing (MUDs and other MU*s). The species has also made the following specific appearances:
- The original skiltaire, Theta, became a logo-character for her creator and appeared in many science fiction 'zines and APAs, on event posters at science fiction and comic conventions, and in commissioned art.
- Fanta is the mascot of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization.
- Skiltaire were one of the 10 sentient species (9 furry and humans) in the SF/FRP game Other Suns, published in 1983.
- With approval of their original creator, Skiltaire are one of the official alien species in Furscape MUCK.
A partial list of the first Skiltaire created, from the late 1970s to early 1980s.
- Theta -- "Skiltaire Prime", the first one created in the mid-to-late 1970s. Female Arboreal, overall medium blue (no backstripe or trim) with yellow belly, medium-curl antennae. Wore a pendant of the Greek letter "Theta" on a chain around her neck.
- Fanta -- Created by Merlino as mascot of Cartoon/Fantasy Organization in early 1980, and retained by the Los Angeles chapter after the breakup of the general C/FO in 1989. Female Aquatic, light grey with single magenta backstripe/ear-tips/booties/gloves, white belly. Medium-long, slightly-wavy antennae.
- Sy -- Originally Fanta's male companion, later became Mark Merlino's fursona. Male Aquatic, light-medium grey with single purple backstripe/ear-tips/booties/gloves, white belly. Long straight antennae with a peculiar sharp "kink" halfway up their length.
- Ora -- Fursona of Linda Joy Browne, Mark's girlfriend from approx. 1980-82. Female Arboreal, two-tone gold (darker gold with lighter double backstripe & trim), white belly, medium-curled antennae. Bit of a ditz; often wore reading glasses.
- Midori -- Japanese Skirutaru. Female Arboreal, two-tone green (medium green with darker dual backstripe) with white belly, medium-curled antennae. Anime fan.
- Nixie -- "Miss Skiltaire October" for abortive "Skiltaire Calendar" project circa 1979 or 1980. Female Arboreal, overall jet-black with orange belly, medium-curled antennae.
- Kym -- Fursona of one Kimberly Hartman, dating back to early 1980s. Female Arboreal, overall silver-grey (no backstripe or trim), white belly. Tightly curled antennae, to the point of coiling. Ham radio aficionado; carried remote ham radio (walkie-talkie type) with its antenna curled to match hers. Had mate "Anton", based on her RL husband; Male Aquatic, no other physical description.
- Kristi -- "Miss Skiltaire December" for Skiltaire Calendar project. Female Arboreal, overall pure white, medium-curled antennae. Drawn lounged out before a fireplace, holding a sprig of mistletoe over her head.
Other Skiltaire characters date from this time, but were mostly obscure one-shots. Skiltaire couples of the period were usually drawn with one Arboreal and the other Aquatic.
Other Skiltaire characters
|Sy||Male||Aquatic||Relater||Mark Merlino's skiltaire character.|
|Escher||Male||Arboreal||Interdependent||Tapestries MUCK only character. Player is not involved with furry fandom.|
|Mizzinur||Female||Aquatic||Dependant||Sectarian alt on Tapestries MUCK.|
|Firepaws||Hermaphrodite||Aquatic||Interdependent||Full time fursona and fursuit.|
|Kimo||Male||Arboreal||Unknown||Tapestries MUCK character, status unknown.|
|Gatsby||Male||Hybrid||Interdependent||Full time fursona.|
|Skiltek||Male||Flame Arboreal||Interdependent||Sectarian alt and fursuit.|
|Lenya||Male||Aquatic||Interdependent||Sectarian alt and fursuit.|
|Jinai||Male||Aquatic||Interdependent||Tapestries MUCK character.|
|Thistledown||Hermaphrodite||Arboreal||Dependent||Former Life stage alt.|
|Perion||Male||Arboreal||Interdependent||Former Life stage alt.|
|Samsur||Male||Arboreal||Unknown||Former Life stage alt.|
|Opafire||Hermaphrodite||Hybrid||Unknown||Reason for expiration unknown.|
|Murlie||Female||Arboreal||Feral||Former Life stage alt.|
|Argyle||Female||Arboreal||Feral||Former Life stage alt.|
|Iyur||Female||Arboreal||Feral||Former Life stage alt.|
|Lessa||Female||Arboreal||Unknown||Reason for expiration unknown.|
- Mark Merlino, "All About Skiltaire".
- Rules for skiltaire characters in the Traveller RPG universe, and a general species overview
- A different adaptation of Skiltaire to Traveller. This writeup uses the alternative spelling "Skiltare", and is taken from the first known Traveller adaptation by Ken Pick and Dave Bryant circa 1981. ("Server not found" on 2010 December 5)
- Skiltek's FurAffinity page with character art, mix tape covers, stories and other writing
- Details about skiltaire as a playable race on the Furscape MUCK.
- Bill Grobe's Kurushani stories feature skiltaire, and introduce an additional savage subspecies resembling wolverines.
- SkiltaireThoughtNet at Yahoo! Groups