by Chris Wayan, 2012-2015
for the Native Kergueleans. Oh, wait, there weren't any.
More worlds? Planetocopia!
Kera is a... well, we don't have a word for it! Tiny continent? Huge island? Kera's only 3 million square kilometers (about 1.2M sq mi)--about 50% larger than Greenland, but still less than half an Australia. What's your threshold for continentity? Wow, that's an awkward word. And concept.
And yet... Kera's huge if you measure it not in square kilometers, but in biomass. Kera's all fertile. No deserts! No mystery why: sheer luck. Kera just happens to be the only landmass on Kakalea lying firmly in the temperate zone.
The name Kera is a backhanded tribute to Kerguelen, that chilly, rugged, wind-blasted land in the South Indian Ocean that nobody but geographers seems to have noticed... the largest nearly-ignored and nearly-uninhabited land in Earth's temperate zone. Not that Kerguelen's in a nice corner of the temperate zone--windblasted and Nordic--but it's big now, and it gets HUGE during our Ice Ages--when sea levels drop, they expose a wide platform indeed--a big as Iceland or Ireland--maybe bigger.
I admit Kera doesn't resemble Kerguelen all that much, except in the far southeast near Sia, the antarctic continent. Now that corner's authentic, brrrr!
But most of Kera is fertile; much of it, forested. That's unique among Kakalean continents. Too bad Kera's so small; a bit larger and Keran civilization(s) would undoubtedly dominate this ecologically impoverished world.
As it is, Kakaleans geographers and navigators certainly consider it a continent because their threshold isn't total area--so many million square kilometers--but several thousand km of fertile coast and the resulting high population--high enough to sustain sophisticated culture (and port facilities).
Small as it is, what Kera really resembles is a normal Kakalean continent (an overweight Australia) that some impatient, geologically illiterate deity (right, let's name names; Almighty Plod it is!) first gutted of its central deserts like scooping the stone out of an avocado, then mashed together all the green yummy bits.
Ugh. I can hear the creation myth now... "Lo, and Plod tossed the Unworthy Desert into the outer darkness. But its stones, lonely for home, still come back to us as meteor showers..."
Think of Kera as Continental Guac. Or a well-edited Greatest Hits Album.
Only the good bits, on a world where bad bits predominate.
We'll start in the far north and sail (on a 12-meter Kakalean catamaran) down the west coast.
Cape Nadei has a mild climate--a mishmash of Sidney, Honolulu and San Francisco. Tropical and temperate plants mix. Citrus-like fruit trees even in urban gardens, and orchards cover the hillsides. I wouldn't be surprised by equivalents of date and coconut palms.
Just south, from Nadei to Cape Diman, and inland through the Mindol Basin, it's quite Mediterranean, with open glades and meadows. The narrowest part of Kera, but a third of the population lives here. Rich country with a pleasant climate--especially if you're a sunloving Kakalean. The dry summers and mild rainy winters make food storage easy, so even hunter-gatherers would have steady surpluses and lots of leisure time. A cradle of civilization like our Fertile Crescent?
Though Kera may not need one; its civilization probably didn't start from scratch. Already-sophisticated mariners most likely settled it. Kera is isolated from other Kakalean landmasses (see how I sidestep that tricky "con" word!), but the ocean is island-dotted, and Kera's right between two green coasts that'd (eventually) attempt direct trade--northeastern Bima and Korepa, the economic and cultural Left Coast of Tua.
My best guess is that for millennia sailors island-hopped and skirted the coasts between these two civilizations, until maps improved to the point where some bold trader tried cutting straight across the Tubisi Ocean... and got a surprise. Smaller than our New World, but all fertile--and probably unoccupied.
Winds along this coast aren't fierce but blow inland; as a result there's much river traffic riding the current down and the wind back up. Elsewhere on Kakalea, the Outback is truly a hinterland not a heartland, but here on Kera, the Mindol Basin is populous, prosperous, and tightly linked to the coastal ports.
South past Shkep Point, around Korla Bay, the woods grow taller, the meadows greener but smaller. More rain here, and occasional winter snows. Southern or central France? Hmm, seasons, and fermented grapes to celebrate them with. A cradle of sybaritic gastronomy?
At least the northern half: the Kiilu Plain. Just as densely populated as Mindol Basin. The lazy Kiilu is navigable for over 800 km upstream (500 mi)--rare on Kakalea. Again, the winds are pretty consistently upstream, making this whole basin easily accessible by boat too. Heartland not Outback!
The southern half, the Pwi Kets country, is tall dark forest except for cleared land along the riverbottoms. Population's sparse, too, away from the rivers--the only easy highways through the forest. Less so than in the north; rougher country, and all the arms of the Pwi Kets have rapids after the first few hundred km.
The Ntarpi Peninsula: huge conifers! Almost redwood-tall in the riverbottoms, though they can't match Earth's tallest for osmotic reasons--Kakalea's higher gravity creates a practical ceiling of about 100 meters. But these trees reach for the max! 80 isn't rare and a few reach 90 (up to 300').
In doing so, these giants shade out the understory; though as cathedral-like as our redwoods, these forests may not sustain much ground-based life. Unless Kakaleans are arboreal and can live in such a high canopy (and in this high gravity that's a dangerous proposition) few people may live here. You can't chew wood. Well, at least it's unlikely Kakaleans can. Brains are a high-calorie luxury, and the jaws and stomachs it takes to manage a fibrous diet are cumbersome.
Seafood, on the other hand, will be rich here. Equivalents of our kelp forests run along these rocky shores.
So I'd guess most of the Ntarpi Peninsula's population is coastal. And they don't have to sail far offshore; food's right there, in tidepools, or just a few minutes out, in a canoe. Indeed, food's not a major concern. This is a population with serious leisure time and developed arts.
So here's Filia, a typically small local girl (rainforest people run short and slender, on two legs or four; it's easier to slip through dense foliage, I guess), dancing a lyrical piece in praise of the real forest sustaining her people: that hidden, yummier, undersea forest.
For a size-comparison, here's Filia with her normal-sized friend Shya later in the same dance. Well, nearly normal; Shya is rather tall and willowy, being savanna-bred (where being rangy makes sense; better heat dispersal, and a long stride--savanna and desert people tend to nomadism). Still, Shya's no giant. Filia the Kerian forest girl is compact and only three-quarters her height.
Filia and Shya together, later in "Kelp Gets Me Wet!"
This isn't island dwarfism--Kera has plenty of other people who are full-sized. Earth has size differences even more extreme--say, the Ituri Forest people versus the Maasai--and the environment, not social pressure, does the shaping. Warm forests favor the small and slender; desert and savanna, rangy; cool climates, giants and fatties; polar climates, short round stubby types.
What's Kera like inland, off the Ntarpi Peninsula? Temperate open woods thinning to prairies the further you go from the sea. Even on the prairie, you find trees along watercourses. Maybe Arkansas in the north, in the Kiilu River basin, and in the southern, cooler Pwi Kets watershed, more like Missouri. A bit cold in winter for Kakaleans, who are certainly going to be heat-adapted creatures (almost certainly evolving on tropical savanna), so the locals may run bigger and shaggier--big dumb hick farmers, perhaps, to the elegant little coastal Ntarpians like Filia--but well-off hick farmers. Winters get cold, but the land's still very productive--especially compared to the desiccated hearts of all the other continents.
The southwest coast, from Ntarpi to Cape Haak? Like British Columbia's maritime strip, or the southern Alaskan Panhandle--misty wet forests, not quite as tall as the "redwood" coast to the north, but very dense. More fishers, loggers and woodcarvers, I think; despite the different mix of trees and cooler climate, not so different from Ntarpi. But the people will be bigger. Hard to stay warm when you're Filia-small.
At Cape Haak, the southern tip of Kera, we have a choice. But one fork's insane: to proceed south to explore Sia, the antarctic continent. Still, the insanity's not so obvious at Cape Haak. Hema, the isle just offshore, is as big as Tierra del Fuego, and considerably more fertile: its central arc of icy mountains shield the north and west from the biting winds off Sia's icecap. Wide grassy downs and plains; even some forests in sheltered valleys. Still fishers, herders, even a few farmers! The same is true of the Shoru Islands to the west, and even, to a lesser extent, the Lidhna Peninsula to the south. Trees on the antarctic mainland! Not many, but still shocking to a Terran. Sia isn't Antarctica.
Don't let it tempt you, though. Lidhna and the islands are exceptional. Sia's coasts are mostly 5-10° further south--just enough to be fatal, and not just to the local ecology, to you. Ice down to the water! Sheets in some places, glaciers calving icebergs in others. Even in summer it's a hazardous coast for Kakalean wood-hulled ships. Only the Circumsia Expedition extensively mapped that coast and came back alive; and that boat was custom-built.
So let's proceed east, up Cape Haak's windward shore. With caution. Remember the notorious reputation of Cape Horn in the era of sail? And geographically, Haak's a close twin.
Nor is this the kind of shore you want to hug. The nearest thing to a desert on Kera! Icy mountains above stark Patagonian plains. Not tundra, but cold grasslands. Caribou-ish herds. Winter blizzards.
However, Kera's highest mountains, the Chempu Range, confine the nastiest blizzards to this coastal strip, just as our Andes wall off the misty fjords of southern Chile from the dry, windblasted plains of Patagonia. With one vital difference: here on Kera, the mountains are on the windy side, keeping this Patagonian subarctic desert pretty narrow; and the misty maritime forests on the lee side are no mere strip as in BC or southwestern New Zealand--they nearly span this little continent.
Two or three days up the coast you reach a small port at a creekmouth--not a proper river, but the biggest you've seen in this arid land.
The coast, until now northeasterly, bends here closer to true north. As you leave Sia's foul winds behind, weather patterns get more complex; winter storms roll in off the sea more often, greening the land. The coastal plains gradually go from dry tundra to green pampas, then patchy woods. Pastures, farmsteads.
Wait, do Kakaleans farm? Probably. They're savanna creatures like us, with a long history gathering fruit, roots, nuts; they'll have figured out how to plant favored species, irrigate in dry lands, weed, select to boost outputs... After all, humans discovered this independently at least eight times around the globe.
But I'm not so sure Kakalean farms will have domesticated animals raise for slaughter--they're omnivores, but more on the vegetarian end of the spectrum than the human average. And there's a hidden reason farm-pens and slaughtering are unlikely: all Kakalean vertebrates, or nearly all, have hands--often small, just for grooming and food-carrying, but a lot more dexterous than our birds or quadrupeds. Now imagine a farm bristling with gate-latches, sharp tools, fire... and stock it with dogs, goats, hogs... crows... rats... with hands. Watching you, learning how to...
Sorry. Involuntary shudder there. Just take it on faith, okay? Kakalean farms won't be much like human ones. Crops, yes. And Kakaleans may well shepherd some grass-eating pseudosheep for their milk or useful fibers or both, may protect some smaller, small-brained birds for eggs, may even keep bees for honey and pollination--in each case trading protection for food. Symbiosis. But pens, exploitation, slaughtering? The prisoners would break out. Or attack their jailors--with hands, tools, fire. Orwell's Animal Farm for real!
So, farms, yes--defined broadly.
North another day. Real rivers now, with real ports, with real exports. Not just good land, rich land.
Kakaleans do understand wealth. There are many local "currencies"--shells, carved stones, but they're not quite Earth cash. Mere markers, memory aids for accounts kept orally or in ledgers.
All these markers do ride on a worldwide standard, their equivalent of gold: a pound of kushka nuts. These small subtropical nuts--tasting like a hybrid between sunflower seeds and peanuts--are high in protein, oil and B vitamins. A Kakalean staple.
But (and this is crucial) spoilable. You can't hoard kushka nuts. Circulation is constant and you plant or eat them as often as you trade them. Hoarding just won't work; building up capital for large projects requires amassing credibility and plausibility for your proposals, pledges of kushka-equivalents in materials or days of labor, more than actual capital in our sense.
This shouldn't surprise; grain credits were common in medieval Europe until rulers outlawed them, imposing metal coinage as a monopoly, precisely because gold could be hoarded. We still face the problems of that legacy.
Kakaleans were, still are, herd creatures who live in a network of trust (and annoyance and skepticism and gossip); they're predisposed to cooperate on projects. Our lone-wolf capitalism would baffle them. Pretending each person works only for their own benefit? What a primitive superstition! Not just false; harmful. Fosters greed and deceit.
Kakaleans are happy to work for peanuts. And feathers, and jewels, and erotic picturebooks, and tickets to that really great musical. But they don't amass capital. They can't. They have to amass... credibility.
Next day north, a great city, Port Blue. Cultural center of the East Coast!
Sift into blender:
Drink a lot.
Drink to drown out the bard.
But Kakaleans like it. It's the most popular news source. Major events trigger broadsheets, long-term events get published as books and pamphlets and plays... but printing's too slow and costly for regular newspapers; hot news gets sung.
Or told as stories onstage. No exact Earth equivalent; more substantive than most of our standup comedians, but way funnier than preachers or newscasters. And as always on Kakalea, with a dollop of flirtatious dance.
Storia, satirical newsgirl, in "The Mail from Tasa, Probably" as performed in Port Blue, Kera
Your Kakalean friends also go dancing. You're invited, but after the first two numbers you sit it out. Since Kakaleans are quadrupeds they have more varied gaits than humans; a lot of music's three or six beats, not two or four. Lots of complex patterns physically too. It isn't a mosh pit you can bounce around in.
Also, you're missing half your body; as you dance through the pattern, you trail a colt-sized hole. "Yesterday, with Fred Astaire, I met a man who wasn't there..." Your missing rear half is like an electron hole in the crystalline weave of the dance. Well, an electron inadequacy. More embarrassing than mere absence. You're there to notice!
Kakaleans, being Kakaleans, welcome you to the herd and try to weave you in. But it's not a learning problem, it's a physical shortcoming flawing the group pattern. You cause a butt shortage.
I once had a nightmare like this. My best friend Beryl borrowed my legs and butt so she could become a centaur, leaving me to hobble around as a no-ass cripple. And I let her because, well, best friends, right? And then she just wouldn't give them back...
Kind of like capitalism. I grab two, you get none, the average is one, so we're all happy, yes? Yes?
Focus, focus... I do TRY, but it's so hard, with these dreams... butt shortage, dance customs, cultural crossroads... Port Blue, right.
Blue Harbor, like all those on this generally straight coast, is rather exposed to storms--but there's a large breakwater, one of the biggest Kakalean structures you've seen. But the city built the wall, the wall didn't build the city. Port Blue developed beyond its neighboring communities not because the harbor's better but because it's a crossroads. These catamarans aren't just on north/south coastal runs like yours. You could also take ship east to the Kogmi Peninsula and Rotarbi Islands, and even on to southern Tua. But why do they all anchor here, in Blue Bay? Answer: not junction, crossroad. Where four ways meet.
The fourth road runs inland. Un-Kakalean, I know, but let's try an Einsteinian thought-experiment. Don't act this out! The Chempu Mts aren't quite as high as the Andes, but the lowest passes here are over 2500 m (8200'). On Earth, no problem; but with Kakalea's thinner air and high gravity, oxygen levels in the pass are worse than at 7500 meters up on Earth--25,000'! So keep it hypothetical. If you could ride a mount in that pack train with the traders leaving Port Blue, west through the farmlands and over Atram Pass, in a week or two you'd descend into similar country: prairies then woods and rich farm towns. In a month you'd read Port Kiilu. Coast to coast!
Unremarkable? On Earth, yes. But this is the only place on Kakalea you could do it without crossing desert somewhere, on one side of the mountains or the other. Kera really is unique.
Well, Kera does have a narrow tropical twin on the far side of Tua: Suma. But it's only hundreds of km wide, not thousands, Suma's so densely forested its biomass is bigger than many full-sized Kakalean continents, all of which have central deserts. Counting these two... lands... Kakalea has nine large land habitats, seven of them Earthlike continents. No jokes about Seven of Nine, please! Besides, it should be Six of Nine: Bima, though it looks Australian, with a respectable outback, is still more than half nondesert--because it too pokes into the temperate zone.
My point? Kera's unique only by chance! Location and orientation are all that keep the dry continents from greening like Kera. And as they drift, they will.
Half a day after Port Blue, the shore veers northwest. Two peaceful days. Warm sun, fertile wooded strip, farms and ports, high snowy mountains on the western horizon tumbling with cloud-castles... the only un-Kakalean element is invisible. Behind that mountain wall isn't a desert outback but living land, coast to coast.
Slowly the woods grow warmer and more subtropical. Late on the second day, the hills dwindle, until they slip meekly into the sea. Cape Nadei, northern tip of Kera! We round the low head. Half an hour's glide into that little bay, and we tie up at sunset.
Nadei Harbor. Full circle.
Intriguing little lands surround Kera. Only to the west is the sea deep and islandless all the way to the Biman mainland. But north, south and east...
You catch a berth on a cat sailing north from Cape Nadei through the pleasant Chulat Islands. Quite Caribbean for a couple of days.
But when you reach Last Isle, the crew keeps going northwest: the Ksurbai Gap. A full day and a half with no land in sight! Unusual for Kakalea, and this is the closest, easiest approach--it's just 800 km (500 mi) from the Last Isle in the Chulats to the first islets of the Imbuchol chain in the Ksurbai Archipelago, a twisted flotilla nearly as big as our Philippines.
Ksurbai proper, at the heart of the Archipelago, is fully 1000 km long (625 mi). Rather Hawai'ian in climate, all the Ksurbais have a wet and dry side--prevailing winds come from the southeast, so northwest slopes and shores are open savanna and scrub with scattered trees, while windward slopes are dense rainforest. And nearly all the Ksurbais are mountainous--long winding ridges 1-2 km high.
There's a reason for this rough, corrugated landscape (and seascape; the twisting ridges extend for several thousand kilometers in all directions). Geologically the Ksurbai Rise is a agglomeration of scraps--terranes squeezing twisting and corrugating as their ocean shrinks under pressure from the spreading zone beyond Tua in the northeast. Not all that pressure is relieved by subduction into trenches! It looks much like the rumpled bed of the ancient Tethys Ocean after it was squeezed into our modern Mediterranean basin.
Pelva, a dancer from the Ksurbai Is., in A Farewell to Arms
In twenty million years or so the Ksurbais may fuse further, into a single super-island, or even meld with Kera to form a proper-sized continent no one can push around (when no one's looking, continents can be such bullies!)
The Ksurbai Archipelago is as biologically isolated as our Galapagos, and it shows. The Ksurbai Gap we crossed would be better named the Ksurbai Bridge; the Chulat chain at least points directly to the Archipelago, and some shallows exist in the Gap--fishing is good, and they're a hint of land over the horizon. In every other direction the moat is over 1000 km of deep ocean.
Island dwarfism is rare here, though; straits within the Archipelago are often swimmable, so in drought or famine, larger land animals can flee, or resettle soon from larger islands. So populations are generally archipelago-wide. Dwarfism develops in on isles with unswimmable moats and sharply limited resources, where small individuals may make it through hard times on scraps that giants barely notice. But the Ksurbais are rich.
The islands lack large land-predators, so many species have lost defenses (and abilities! Let's not forget how much adversity tones up a flabby species). Ksurbans, like dodos or penguins, are curiously trusting. Just ask one, you'll see. Yes, ask--there are natives. And not of the dominant Kakalean species! They are mammals, but they're not even centauroid.
Ksurbans, weird though it sounds, are bipeds. I know, I know--how do they keep from falling over?
Well, perhaps I exaggerated. They have only two legs not four like a normal centaur, but in a way they're tripeds. Ksurbans have two long limbs nearly identical to the forelegs of their presumed ancestral centauroid--but they also use their long, rather prehensile tails as either a third leg or portable chair, as kangaroos do, or as a crude hand--not as useful as either ape hand-feet or an elephant's dexterous, sensitive trunk, but much better than nothing.
Triffida, a native of Thathai Island
Though three-limbed, Ksurbans are not triffids; they're quite different from those curious three-armed legless people unique to Thathai Island, 6000 km to the west. Thathan triffids lost all their legs--along with most of their torso--and walk (or more often, climb trees) on a tripod of bony arms.
These two oddball species look a little similar, but I doubt they're even distant kin. Bima, a continent of perfectly normal centaurs, sprawls between.
All they really have in common is that embarrassing tendency of the Kakalean genome, already prone to duplicating body-segments (useful for centaurism!) to also drop segments now and then. It could happen to anyone. I don't mean that facetiously; I mean it's not peculiar to these islands. Kakalean centauroids all have this evolutionary potential--or flaw, as individual freaks born into centauroid tribes would no doubt call it. Tendency, let's be scientifically objective. Though that's euphemistically neutral for a class of mutations that usually cripple or kill--but now and then succeed in creating viable animals drastically different from their parents in this one way.
Pelva of Ksurbai
It wouldn't shock me to find an island of furry, intelligent centaurpedes, with long torsos putting three pairs of legs on the ground. Or even two-legged creatures with rather human arms and legs (not especially humanoid--fur, tails--but plausibly Terran). I haven't found any such so far, but it's hard to prove a negative without searching every habitable island. On Earth that might be a mere ten thousand; for megafauna, the job's been done. No Isle of the Monopods out there, sorry!
But on Kakalea, with ten times more islands, twenty times... the job may never be done. I certainly didn't expect Triffids or Ksurbans--or the Biaratan octopoids, or the disturbing inhabitants of the Uups Islands, either.
Pelva's prehensile tail
Why it happened here is anyone's guess--biped or triped, they're at a disadvantage in the wider world. But it's clear why arms were lost and legs were kept on Ksurbai. The archipelago is drier than many; the savanna and its annual droughts impose a need to travel--you follow the rain. Think of Ksurbans as the Kakalean version of an ostrich.
In contrast, Thathai is quite rainy and heavily forested; its triffids can climb trees well, but they're slow on the ground.
Ksurbans are well adapted for savanna--fast, nearly as fast as centaurs, and with greater endurance--they can walk or jog all day. Why not? They're not lugging much weight up top, after all; and their small, vertical body plan radiates heat better than centaurs, and doesn't pick up much noon heat from the sun, either. Cold spell? Just wrap that big tail around you!
So perhaps I've answered my own question. Ksurbans are stripped-down and efficient! Maybe I was wrong about island dwarfism. The Ksurbans just found a different way to lose weight--not stunted, but...
The price is the lack of hands. They're clumsy. Ksurbans can carry and even manipulate tools with that tail, but it's not as strong or adept as two dedicated hands.
These cheerful little Ksurbayans are masters of one thing. Savanna all over, wide plains of dry grass, and no hands. Yes, you guessed it. They're all MAD for soccer.
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. So here's 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 heads and arms, and odd bits in the wrong size? They build up, you see. And we must recycle! Plastic is forever...
Pelva was a head I liked; a second uglier head had roughly matching Big Hair, enough for a long stabilizing tail, and I had a pair of odd legs, too short for any of my standard centauroids. Pelva practically assembled herself, like the first helix self-assembling in the Primordial Soup. Pretty adept for someone with no fingers!
I am but a servant.
Off Cape Haak, Hema and the Lidhna Peninsula on Sia, the antarctic continent, are frigid but by no means dead. Hema's north shore has low forest in the valleys and grassy ridges and plains. The Shoru Islands, closer to the great ice, have few trees but much grass. Sea life is abundant. Fishing and herding are lucrative, if chilly.
Even Lidhna is settled--it's way more fertile than our Antarctic Peninsula (no wonder; it's much farther from the pole). It looks and feels like parts of Iceland or Tierra del Fuego, not Antarctica at all.
Lidhna benefits from history not just geography: Kakalea, for all its climatic flaws, hasn't suffered a recent Ice Age. This is as cold as Kakalea ever gets. Lidhna wasn't recently scoured sterile the way our subarctic zones were. Even if we stabilize Earth's climate without severe warming, our Antarctic Peninsula may green substantially over time; it's still recovering from the last Ice Age. In the long run, if we prevent further Ice Ages, our Antarctic Peninsula could look much like Cape Lidhna, or even Hema.
Lidhna's a refuge for Sian species waiting to resettle once the mainland drifts off the pole... though they may have a long wait.
I cover Lidhna and environs in more detail on the voyage of the Circumsian Expedition. Around the world in eighty days--on a small catamaran, at sixty south!
Sia, the south-polar continent, has an Antarctic Peninsula--just like Kakalea has an Australia. Or two, or six. Why have a great idea just to utter it once? Around Sia, five peninsulas and two island arcs stretch out of the dead zone, up to sixty, even fifty degrees south. The largest and mildest of them all lies 1000 km off Kera's southeast coast:
The Kogmi Peninsula. We're talking actual woods. Low, and only in sunnier wind-sheltered valleys, but still! Lidhna was a milder analog of our Antarctic Peninsula; Kogmi is something quite different. Take your parka along... but you could live here. And many unique Sian species do.
The Rotarbi Islands rise off the Kogmi Peninsula's warmer lee coast, stretching north as far as 48° south. The southern ones are Icelandic or Greenlandic; the northern, almost Danish. All five main islands are over 125 km long; some, two or three times that (75-225 mi). Beyond the Rotarbis, the rise forks; two chains of atolls stretch north, forming a V thousands of miles long. Small and scattered and mostly low, they're still pleasant if isolated places to live. Quite Polynesian in structure, like a sprawling version of our Marshall Islands, but climatically... well, be patient. The Rotarbis are chilly, but we have a long way to sail.
Weh and Forlei lie nearly a thousand kilometers north. Rainy, temperate, quite like our Azores--or Oregon. Cool pine forests; kelp not coral. Forlei and the Forlings north of it are the end of the eastern fork of the undersea Kogmi rise; Weh rises on the western fork. Weh is 110 km across (70 mi); narrow Forlei is 280 km long (175 mi).
Unelu is a subtropical atoll-complex another 700 km north of Weh. Unelu's ring of low coral barrier-islands surround a tall green volcanic cone in the center, an eroded, fluted wizard's hat--cloud-snagging crags. It's not quite Polynesian, despite the coral; we're still at 36° south, and winter can be cold though never freezing.
Pangip, a coral atoll-complex half the length of the Great Barrier Reef, runs north into the tropics at last. Pangip proper is the only island of any size; 125 km long but less than 10 wide (75 by 6 mi) and just 20 meters (66') high.
East and West Kolai, Its, and the Aps Islands are our final group. Polynesia at last! Climatically, the nearby Tilos Islands also belong in this group, but geologically they're part of the great Ksurbai Rise; in an eon or two they may well end up as Cape Tilos.
These islets are deeply isolated by Kakalean standards--more so even than Ksurbai to the west; but their populations aren't bipeds, triffids, octopoids or anything exotic and Galapagoid--just ordinary centaurs. These natives are fairly recent settlers from the mainland--only a thousand or two years back. It takes good boats to get here.
Did they replace ancient populations of folks like the Ksurbans or Biaratans or Uupsians or something stranger--flightless birds, dragons, humans?
Probably not. Every culture has their Legendary People who Came Before Us, but Rotarbian fairytales depict their menehune, their fae, as just small centaurs of great beauty (or maybe illusory glamor)--elusive, tricky, brimming with magic. Elftaurs!
But no rocs, no cyclopes, no sphinxes or unicorns or dog-headed men.
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