The Uups Islands
by Chris Wayan, 2014
for all my readers on Bouvet and Kerguelen
More worlds? Planetocopia!
Planets are big. Errors happen.
One error is the cluster of islands south of the giant continent of Ata. They stayed nameless because I forgot about them as I mapped the place. They're off all the obvious trade routes, so in the course of plotting the other tours I didn't run across them.
When I finally did notice them on Kakalea's globe and realized they were quite habitable (if a little cool and windy for me--but then I'm Californian)... I thought they might be the last, the only habitable Kakalean land not discovered or settled. And believe me, they've settled much worse places.
But after mapping them, I pulled back to review their region... and suddenly I wasn't so sure the Kakaleans would be as unobservant as their Creator, who we shall call Plod. At least not all of them. Thousands of km due east of these islands, on southern Bima, is a huge, fertile, temperate plain called Tsoma. This forest and prairie will almost certainly support the largest temperate-zone civilization on the planet--most fertile regions here are small and subtropical.
How's Tsoma relevant? I suspect Tsoman ships and crews will dominate the higher-latitude sea-routes of the southern hemisphere, simply because they can stand cold weather and most Kakaleans can't. And one logical trade route for the Bimans is to Mburisa, the only coastal strip on Ata that's both fertile and temperate--kindred spirits, perhaps. Or, if the tropical people of Ata have only thinly settled Mburisa (or not at all), finding it too cold, it might even end up a Biman colony. Either way, these unnamed islands are directly between Mburisa and southern Bima. Unnamed, unknown? Fat chance.
So I'd better get cracking. Little archipelago, I dub thee Uups. The Uups Islands. You know how to pronounce it.
The Uups archipelago had natives--inbred from an ancient shipwreck, presumably. But during the millennia since then, the Inherent Errorosity of Uups wreaked havoc on the limited, vulnerable gene pool, until, like many island populations, these Uupians, faced with no enemies and no challenges, became, in a word, inept. Island dwarfism is the least part of it; these stumpy, clumsy, hermaphroditic and oversexed centauroids look just as weird to the mainland Kakaleans as they do to us.
Here is the Queen of the Isle of D'ou--well, really the matriarch of the tribes of the island's most fertile north coast, but let's call dub her Queen, an outsider concept, to be properly colonialist in tone--remember Kakalea's the world that can't get it quite right. Her proper name, derived, luckily, from her only nondisturbing Barbie feature, can be translated as Tiara:
Just so you're clear how bad this melancholy Barbie drift can get... here's one of the Queen's supposed subjects, though in fact she's never heard of Queen Tiara, or queens, or tiaras. She's from 'A'o Island, well to the east.
The people of 'A'o have curious customs. This woman actually wears clothing, something most Kakalean's can't tolerate unless it's life or death--any constriction makes them itchy. (It also makes them emotionally itchy--I'm exploiting this poor islander's non-nudity for prurient mainlanders! Very National Geographic of me.) Perhaps it's the constant winds at this latitude that taught the 'A'oans to tolerate these strange coverings. She wears a clay-over-basketry mask to hide her face, and a gigantic straggly wig to cover the rest of her head. Though perhaps s/he would do better to cover certain other body parts instead.
But I grow catty and unfair. Plenty of folks on Earth stick bags on their heads (physical or mental) in the name of propriety, so let us throw no rhetorical stones at... Bulba.
(No, lit majors, not Taras Bulba... this girl is not going to go conquer the steppes. Just Bulba).
Bulba of 'A'o, a studio portrait
I shouldn't mock; everything still works, if not quickly or smoothly. Sensing, speech, eating, locomotion, reproduction, nursing, even basic tool-use, all in a dog-size package.
Though viable in their predator-free environment, Tiara or Bulba could never compete with the tall, fleet, graceful centaurs on the more competitive coast of Ata, just a few days' sail away. Well, not at running, dancing, hunting & gathering, construction, sailing... But maybe tree-climbing? Nail-hammering? Mathematics? No. I'm afraid these two really are what they seem: all thumbs. It isn't just physiology, the visible body, that gets toned by competition! Neurology too. Uupsians are clumsy and a bit dim. They didn't need cleverness or grace, and neurons have a very high metabolic cost. And so, over the eons, such wasteful traits were... weeded.
I should note that this problem hasn't arisen among human populations. For devolution as opposed to mere drift, you need a small population, a safe but limited and quite isolated habitat, and deep time. The settlements of Australia, Tasmania and the Americas were isolated enough and settled by small groups long enough ago for significant drift, but these were all big, challenging environments. Most of Earth's islands just weren't cut off from trade; the few that were, like Pitcairn or Easter Island, have faced cultural & ecological troubles, but not genetic trouble. Too recent, and populations too big and diverse.
On the other hand, it's too much to say "it can't happen here!" We've come dangerously close. Read Oliver Sacks's The Island of the Colorblind. Extrapolate five thousand years, and maybe we would end up like Vonnegut's Galapagos.
Of course, the real evolutionary pressure creating the tragedy of Uups is quite different. I lied. Evolution's a lie. Species are immutable and created by Almighty Plod, that thrifty if unimaginative fellow. Knowing that Nature hates waste, Plod did his best to imitate Her efficient recycling while creating centauroids.
So behold! Here is Plod's...
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 #4. If you're not, skip #4 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. Make a dozen centaurs and you have a dozen shaved heads (their hair having been cannibalized for centaur tails, of course) and Barbie necks (grotesquely phallic, as you can see) and two dozen arms. And we must recycle! Plastic is forever...
Creating each Uupsian uses up half a dozen arms (or more, depending how sick and kinky the weather is) and uses two or three shoulder-girdles and necks, and a head. And as Igor said, one should always use one's head.
So they end up here on the Island of Misfit Toys. Uups.
Well, islands. Just like Darwin's finches, these abortive little 'taurs have fully speciated--they're not great sailors, after all, and each island's population is small and inbred. So the drift's been fast.
Tiara's species lives on D'ou; Bulba's kin scuttle around A'o and nearby Guuf.
Don't even ask me what lives, if you can call it that, on Fakap.
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