The Methane-Breathers

The alphabet, language, and culture of the methane-breathing knnn, tc’a, and chi species, in the Merchanter Compact, as depicted in the Chanur novels in the science fiction universe created by C. J. Cherryh.

The methane-breathing species in the Merchanter Compact are vastly different from the oxygen-breathing species (e.g. humans). They are completely alien in biology and psychology.

Breathing gases, temperature, pressure, and possibly gravity conditions favored by methane-breathers are completely foreign, in fact fatal, to humans and other oxygen-breathers. Sound and lighting levels and wavelengths used by methaners are extremely uncomfortable to oxy-breathers, sometimes to the point of nausea or other harm. A comfortable environment for a methane-breather appears to oxygen-breathers to be a swirling, neon or fluorescent mass of blues and violets, with similar bizarre fluorscence reflected from their bodies.

Concepts of navigation and commerce were very difficult to translate across the vast gulf of understanding between such disparate groups. Methane breathers move in manic, seemingly random patterns, like arthropods or other invertebrates.

The Knnn

The knnn are a methane-breathing species among the Merchanter Compact. They look like snarls of black hair, with entirely too many legs, and with mandibles or other appendages somewhere therein. They are highly technically advanced. Their ships can move in ways impossible for any other species. Knnn ships can make turns, stops, and starts in regular space and jump space that would kill oxygen-breathers. Their ships can move in synch, in tandem, and can cluster in a group around other ships, and even accelerate and deliver oxygen-breather ships, with their crew and cargo undamaged. The knnn do not recognize or obey navigational lanes. The knnn do trade in some fashion. They take and receive goods or items, including tc’a passengers. In the early days, they were a lethal hazard, sometimes taking ships off and opening them for cargo, leaving the remains, until the tc’a got the message across that this was unacceptable.

No one but the tc’a can communicate with the knnn. Only knnn numbers are rendered by computer translators, and it is unclear whether knnn even have names. The reason for this is unknown. It may be due to the vast differences in biology and psychology in the knnn and tc’a, as opposed to oxygen-breathers, or it could be custom or treaty. Knnn have a habit of broadcasting their singing voices over system-wide com. The sound of their singing can range above and below the normal hearing range of any oxygen-breather species, and can often be eerie, painful, and annoying. Knnn-song may be anything, conversation, loneliness, love-lorn, or love-sick. Only the knnn and the tc’a seem to know.

The Tc’a

The tc’a are yellow, leathery, serpent-like creatures. The tc’a have multi-part brains and think and speak in a seven-part matrix which may be interpretted in any direction. Only the tc’a can communicate with the knnn. Tc’a speech is something like electronic noises, static, pops, and squeals. The stsho are able to communicate with the tc’a, which suggests a very alien mindset in the stsho indeed. The stsho were able to get across to the tc’a the idea behind the Compact, which the tc’a impressed upon the knnn, fortunately, more or less. Tc’a words have a singing quality to them.

Tc’a/Chi Ships

Tc’a/Chi ship.
Tc’a/Chi ship.

Tc’a/Chi Places

The Chi

The chi are almost always found together with the tc’a. It is unknown, in fact, whether they are two separate species, or two variant forms of one species. There is also speculation whether the chi are even intelligent. It is unknown whether the chi are pets, slaves, or some type of independent symbiote of the tc’a. The chi are stilt-like creatures. Crazy as a chi is a common epithet.