Primary Education among the Tarkas
Tarkas remain in the egg phase of development for a long time; the infant Tarka gestates within a protective shell for a period of almost two years between fertilization and hatching. During a substantial portion of this gestation period the Tarka infant within the egg is self-aware and alert to its environment, responsive to stimuli and communicative with the outside world.
Because the Tarka infant is sensitive and aware during this prolonged period of confinement, the care and stimulation of egg-bound Tarka is considered very important. Accordingly, "incubation academies" and ovatariums are a long-standing tradition in Tarka society. Most fertilized eggs are handed over to an ovatarium within a few weeks of being laid.
The regimen provided by any given ovatarium will vary according to the professional and caste affiliations of the parents as well as their financial and social positions. Certain prestigious "incubation academies" are reserved for the eggs of the highest-ranking and wealthiest Tarkas while others are considered very desirable for those with military service, academic excellence or artistic achievement in their futures. There are often long waiting lists for the most exclusive ovatariums and many secondary education programs will not accept candidates who have not been gestated in an ovatarium of the appropriate standing.
In any ovatarium trained professionals attend to the physical needs of the egg, turning it often and maintaining the proper course of heat and light. The developing hatchling is also provided with a great deal of intellectual and social stimulation however; Tarka hatchlings are able to perceive light and movement through the shell casing, which becomes increasingly translucent as they grow, and they can also hear a full range of sounds. Primary education during the egg phase includes a wide variety of interactive games, songs, stories, conversations and exercises, with developing eggs in contact both with their adult caregivers and with other infants in nearby eggs. Occasional visits by the parents are usually encouraged and the parents return to claim their offspring during the Hatching Ceremony, a ritualized "graduation" event which marks the Tarka's emergence into the world and his or her exit from the safety and security of the egg.
Although they cannot respond verbally to their caregivers during gestation, most Tarka hatchlings respond to stimuli by knocking on the shell from within. Ovatarium workers throughout history have taught infant Tarkas to use this form of communication and over many thousands of years this Morse-like "Egg Knock" code has become a language in and of itself. The Egg Knock Code is, in fact, the only language which is universal to all Tarkas, who otherwise speak a wide variety of planetary, regional and caste dialects as adults. Accordingly, the EKC is commonly used in the faster-than-light communications throughout the Tarkasian Empire as it contains a vocabulary of approximately 4,000 words and can be roughly understood and translated by every member of the species.