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Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth. Capsica: Nohaa and the Polar Flyway

by Chris Wayan, 2010-2011

This one's for you readers, who pestered me until I had to build it

Map of Nohaa, a chain of huge shield volcanoes in Capsica's arctic sea.

INTRODUCTION

Nohaa is a chain of great shield-volcanoes that spans the Arctic Sea--the trail of a hot spot deep in the mantle. Earth has a close analogue: if you drained the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands and Emperor Seamount Chain would look much like this--a long bridge of stepping stones across the world. (Oh wait, I did drain it: see Hawaii exposed to its ankles in Siphonia.) Because the seas here on Capsica are so shallow, the whole height of these volcanoes is revealed; the tallest, Mt Heila, reaches 14 km above sea level (46,000'!) Instead of mere islands neck deep in an ocean, a solid land-bridge spans half the Arctic Sea; and substantial islands, not mere atolls, lead you most of the way to the far shore.

THE POLAR FLYWAY

Capsica has lower gravity and denser air than Earth, so many of its inhabitants are winged. Capsican travel is mostly by air--hard work, but so much faster than by land or sea that only the infirm (or those shepherding heavy cargo) sail on the slow freighters threading the shallow, reef-choked, labyrinthine seas. Capsicans are used to island-hopping their way around the world. So this polar landbridge, even with its gaps, is a tempting shortcut between hemispheres. It's become the Capsican equivalent of the polar shortcuts of Earth--London to San Francisco or Tokyo is much shorter over the pole, and the same is true here.

Just three small problems:

  1. The Arctic Ocean is by far the largest in the world. Fliers crossing most Capsican seas are rarely out of sight of land. Get lost? Keep flying--some coast will creep over the horizon in a few hours. Not in the Arctic! Stray, and you're doomed.
  2. Winter. Capsicans, being adapted for ovenlike temperatures, find polar winters deadly--10°C (50°F) many days, and below freezing some nights--at sea level! Inconceivable elsewhere on Capsica. And up on the high peaks, it's colder still; real snowfields, though only a few glaciers. A few is enough. Just touching snow or ice burns exposed Capsican skin.
  3. The sun vanishes for months in Arctic winter. Island-hopping isn't easy or safe in the polar night! So unlike our high Arctic, where it's easier to travel once it freezes--rivers are highways, bogs become solid, even the sea is traversible--the Capsican high arctic is only passable in late summer. Just a handful of professional couriers dare the bridge in winter.
Low orbital view of iceless Arctic Ocean on Capsica, a hot world-model. The volcanic island chain is Nohaa.
Even the summer route is dreaded. With good reason! Every summer an uncountable flock of nervous, inexperienced travelers fill the skies over the archipelago. And every summer, fewer of them make it to the far hemisphere than set out.

Since Terran tourists need sunlight just as badly as Capsicans, and summer temperatures in the high arctic are tolerable (if still warm! 25-40°C or 77-104°F) we'll join the great summer migration.

It's hard for a Terran to see it as anything else. As you observe this aerial river of hapless creatures, you feel like you're caught in a Dr. Seuss book about dimwitted birds instinctively migrating but not getting it quite right. It's important to remember these are intelligent people. They're just people as far out of their element as you'd be if you tried to swim the Atlantic--a fair comparison, since they're crossing a cold ocean by their own muscle power. No movies, no meals, no drinks--unless they bring them.

And they need to. At the end shown on the map, the young, active end of the chain, the volcanoes are tall and the land is wide and fertile. Theoretically at least, there's plenty of food--in fact growth is explosive and lush during the light months. This mini-continent is also lower latitude--warmer.

Low orbital view of Nohaa, a volcanic island chain in the iceless Arctic Ocean on Capsica, a hot world-model.

But as we proceed north, the climate cools relentlessly. True, the peaks are lower. For Terrans, who prefer the cool weather on volcanic shoulders, the journey is comfortable--you descend to warm up, or climb to cool. But Capsican travelers hug the coasts from the start, and start shivering as temperatures drop past 35-40°C (95-104°F). As the polar chill worsens they can't descend into their comfort zone--by now it's far underground. Maintaining a body temperature of 70°C (158°F!) gets near-impossible up here. They tend to over-exercise to stay warm--push themselves brutally.

And as the land narrows, there are too many travelers for its carrying capacity, even in summer. Besides, they're in too much of a hurry to hunt or pick fruit; nor do they know how--polar species are highly specialized, full of resinous antifreeze. Like a diet of nothing but pine needles and nuts! It takes some getting used to, and there just isn't time. Cramps, diarrhea...

And ahead, the islands shrink.

Low orbital view of iceless Arctic Ocean on Capsica, a hot world-model. The volcanic island chain is Nohaa.
Soon it isn't just food and warmth in short supply--it's water too. While the air blowing from the pole isn't so cold it's bone-dry, as on Earth, the Capsican arctic is still a high-pressure zone--permanent cold-patches pretty much have to be on every world in the cosmos. The cool dry polar winds bring little rain. This doesn't matter on the big islands; their huge peaks block the winds, forcing them up until clouds form, wringing moisture out of them. Streams on the windward flanks can always be found--until the mountains erode away! And they do, near the pole.
Digital sketch of a straggle of winged travelers along the line of the Ralopa Atolls in the iceless Arctic Ocean, on Capsica, a hot world-model.
Here, far from the present location of the hotspot, the volcanoes are a hundred million years old; low islets dot the shallow sea. Some are just coral reefs with barren sand and gravel bars punctuated by occasional stone castles--ancient volcanic plugs of harder rock. At most, in the Ralopa Atolls, you find grassy hills, with trees only in sheltered gullies. There just isn't enough rain past 80° north for forests at sea level.

So fresh water gets hard to find. Springs are tended carefully; a guild ensures they're protected. But for a couple of days' flights, water has to be rationed and carried, adding to the migrants' misery.

Low orbital photo of the Ralopa Atolls leading toward as yet unnamed subarctic continent on the horizon, on Capsica, a hot world-model.
You fly all day in the cold, as the sun wheels round you dizzyingly, like a predator circling for the kill. It never sets. You can't orient by it. If you're lucky or good at dead reckoning, a scrawny little islet creeps over the pale horizon. You dry-camp with the surf roaring a few yards away and barely one below you, on sharp coral rock (only these polar waters are cool enough for Earthlike corals). Exhausted, you eat a little, drink all you have, and try to sleep in the glare of the midnight sun...

Repeat with variations for a couple of thousand kilometers... and that's the polar route. Suddenly airline delays--even airline food--sound pretty good.

Map of Capsica, a hot planet.
Nohaa Island Ralopa Islands Arctic Is. off Bel Notahi Peninsula Eastern Bel Bel: Fulisse Peninsula Continent of Chai Cape Corona Kurai Peninsula Hi and Vepra Yaku (west) and Az (east) Isle of Goret Continent called The Eel Prath Peninsula Continent of Kifura Isle of Valiha Ri Kshen Isles Mt Artho, large tholus, NE Arch Arch, north coast Ekurre Range South Pole Giant World Map

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