by Chris Wayan, 2012-2015
for all my triffid readers
More worlds? Planetocopia!
Kakalea's seas are shallow, so islands are easy to build. A hill, a ridge, a little volcano, and there you are. They're so common, and such an obvious good on a mostly-desert world, that it's hard to invert your view and see the shortage these flocks of little Edens create: a shortage of uninterrupted stretches of sea allowing deeply isolated biomes like Hawai'i or the Galapagos or New Zealand, where species settle and... change. Kakalea's seas are too crowded.
Mostly. But truly cut-off islands do exist; and Biarati is one such group (the Uups Islands are another).
Climatically, Biarati is much like much of the Kakalean tropics. In the north, the Thethemo and Lilili Islands are equatorial--rainy year-round and all-over. The southern islands, Biarati proper and especially Thathai, are more complex--rather Hawai'ian, with rainy and dry seasons and regions--south and east shores are jungle but northwest shores behind mountains may be quite dry. Jungle, savanna, scrub, even desert, all just a few miles apart.
Geologically most of the islands are volcanic. But not all. Thathai is a real oddity--a feature not visible on earth, though analogous features exist on Venus (for example, the Brunhilde Fossae near Alpha Regio--wait, I'll terraform it for you--gimme a second to cool it and plant some ferns--here you go) Basically, winding parallel cliffwalled submarine ridges and canyons crawl out here on land. These are cracks where the seafloor appears to be expanding for reasons unknown.
Inexplicable, but scenic.
Biologically, the whole Biarati Archipelago is deeply odd--odder than mere Galapagan tropical penguins or marine iguanas. Here, intelligent life has taken a strange turn. Kakalean vertebrates normally have a centauroid structure. But these people appear to have evolved from something like a Terran octopus. Yet the arms aren't tentacles--they're limbs with an internal skeleton, joints and musculature quite like the arms of their centauroid sisters on the mainland.
I'm at a loss here. But then, a platypus makes no sense to me either.
My best guess: some centauroid castaway survived by dabbling around the pools and climbing trees--limbs were advantageous but all that torso was not. A mutation lost or compressed the reduplication of torso-segments that creates centaurism; this mutant ancestor may have looked almost like Shiva the Dancer, with an Earthlike single torso but extra limbs at hips and shoulders. But once you've suppressed one body-segment, others can go...
The most common and successful species is best represented by the svelte and economical Octana.
Octana really is high-octane. She doesn't just swing from trees or slither around tidepools. On open ground she cartwheels around--rather dizzying, maybe a flailing a bit--it's sure no way to cross a continent! But here on these lonely islands, with no predators and only modest clearings to cross, she gets around just fine, thank you.
Indeed, arboreality may benefit her people, and all of Kakalea, in the long run. Some wise catamaran-captain will eventually think to hire a few of these funny-looking little octopians for mastwork. Octana's born to dance in the rigging! She won't fall, and if she did, she'd just spread all her arms and grab air--not a living parachute exactly, but octopians are light and can slow themselves enough to survive long falls. Sailing will get safer.
And a greater benefit awaits--indeed, economic revolution. Kakalea has several temperate rainforests with huge trees rivaling redwoods. Kakalean centaurs are no better at climbing such giants than humans are, so their fertile canopy is inaccessible. Such forests aren't too habitable, except by lumberjacks--just not much life down in the gloom. It's all up top.
But eventually, some Sailor Octana will happen to get laid off in a port where these Big Trees stand--Ata's Nutwood, or the garandas of Shirafia, or Kera's Ntarpi Wood--and climb one. To arboreal Octana, these dark woods, nearly foodless at ground level, seem a great glorious orchard bursting with fruit and nuts ready to pick.
The Big Trees will soon stop being seen as lumber. In the future they'll be farms--farms floating above your head! Tended by skittery little people who've found their true Octopia.
Most of the archipelago is wet and populations are coastal. You're either climbing in the rainforest or climbing on the reefs; this relative armishness makes sense. Half octopus, half spidermonkey...
But on the drier, less marine environment of Thathai ("the thigh"? Curious, since it's the Isle Without Thighs of Any Size!), with more open ground and a large interior where swimming's less a priority than locomotion over grass... another mutation led to further adaptation. Not back, of course, to the centauroid structure so well adapted for savanna. You can't go home again. Deletion is forever. My guess is that here, the segment-suppression gene just went crazy. The slimming-craze continued... Evolution dabbled, and read some old sci-fi novels by John Wyndham, and came up with... Trifida.
Trifida's comfortably ambulatory and neatly streamlined down to essentials. If concision is a virtue, Trifida's a structural saint! Sensing, speech, eating, locomotion, reproduction, nursing, even basic tool-use, all in an incredibly light package. The perfect balloonist, the lightest ballerina, the ideal astronaut!
But you can spot the flaw. Poor Trifida and her tribe are in an evolutionary dead end. She needs all her paws for balance as well as grasping. Raise one hand with a heavy tool, and balance gets awkward; raise two, and you probably fall over. (Watch a crow use a tool; it's an amusing game for all concerned.) While a perfectly viable creature in her predator-free environment, Trifida could never compete (at running or manipulation) with the tall centaurs on the more competitive plains of Bima, just a few days' sail away. And because her hands are preoccupied--on their way to becoming mere feet--she'll never build that ship.
In contrast, dexterous little Octana seems a superbeing. Yet she's slow and small by mainland standards.
This little rant has a point. Trifida's crippled, crippled by her ancestry. But we only see that compared to her ancestry. On Earth, Trifida wouldn't be a clumsy mutation, but an unusually dexterous creature! The vast majority of animals use all their limbs for transport, as she does, and resort to awkward work-arounds--beak, lips, feet, trunk--when they need to manipulate things. The very word derives from 'hand'--which most animals lack. Even apes have hand-feet; awkward compromises shaped by conflicting demands. Yet next to most critters, apes are famously dexterous.
And THEN we assume non-apes are stupid for not handling things as a human would! When they're clumsy--they don't use tools because tools rarely pay off for them. Elephants, one naked ape, maybe kangaroos--that's ALL the large land animals with even a single dedicated hand. In the sea, add octopi and squid. More bright Terran species lack hands than have them.
In short, Trifida's tragedy is Terra's. The planet that lost the arms race.
Of course, the real evolutionary pressure behind the evolutionary cul-de-sac of Biarati is simple. Evolution is a lie! Species are immutable and created by Almighty Plod, that thrifty if unimaginative fellow. Knowing that Nature hates waste, Plod (naturally!) did his best to imitate Her--for plausibility's sake only, I'm sure (Plod only sorts His trash when people are looking. You know that sort of deity). But for a public showcase like Kakalea, recycling is de rigueur. Too much. So behold my...
Recipe for Centaur Creation
(requires 6 days labor (rest on 7th), 2 Barbies, tiny saw, drill, a nail, glue, paint; no Eden or spareribs required)
- Find two Barbies with similar hair-color, both deserving to die. If you thought "that would be all Barbies", you are cynical, but may proceed with the recipe.
- Lift up the Barbie with more character in her face unto your right hand, and spare her. For now.
- Grasp the Barbie with the blander smile in your left hand. Saw her in two, cutting along her collarbone.
- Cast her sappy head and arms into the outer darkness. All you care about is below the neck. You are apparently that sort of deity.
- Glue these loser hindquarters onto the better Barbie's butt.
- Fish the severed head up from the outer darkness. Oops. Next time cast into limbo--easier recall. Snip off falls of hair, and glue them on a bendable wire or nail in successive waves till you've built a tail.
- Drill a hole in the hind-butt but only when other gods won't see, because it looks too kinky. Insert the tail. Ditto.
- Smooth the junction between fore and hind-torsos. You may have to file ragged edges. Think of this as tough love. Caulk the cracks. Let dry.
- Dab thick paint to create spiky fur. Scrape with comb or pins for finer texture. Let dry.
- Paint colors--fur pattern, bare skin, lips, eyes. Let dry.
- Touch gloss on the eyes, lips, nails and elsewhere if she's all excited, or you are. Let dry... et voilà! One Barbietaur.
For example, here's the frankensteining of Fuchsia, a flower-tattooed dancer-explorer you've seen sailing up jungle rivers and seducing the sun in metaphysical musicals.
TRIGGER WARNING! if you're about to undergo colonoscopy, skip #3. If you're not, skip #3 anyway. You'll never trust a power drill again.
Ah, but what to do with the extra head and arms? They build up, you see. And we must recycle! Plastic is forever...
And so they migrate here, to the Island of Misfit Toys.
Kakalea basics--map--geology-- creatures-- Building Kakalea
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