THE TEMPEST ISLES
by Chris Wayan, 2006
dedicated to Poul Anderson for his remarkable world-building
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First-time orientation--strongly advised! Lyr is weird.
At dawn you fly the last few hours, aching and thirsty, to Miranda. A pear-shaped desert island 290 km (150 mi) long, Miranda's caught in a drybelt (high pressure zone) and is too low to harvest moisture from clouds. The rolling land is all treeless flowering veldt. Still, you find a trickle of drinkable water in the nearest riverbed.
Miranda's not quite as dangerous as the largest of the Tempest Isles, Prospero, to the south, off our flyway. Prospero is shaped like a water-flea 800 km long (500 mi), with a narrow northern spine 1-2 km high and wide veldt plains to the south, with trees only in the highlands and along the shallow streams. It's full of unique species. Winged grazers that strayed here from Gaiila found no predators and grew fat on the rich grasses. Slowly they grew in size until they couldn't fly. At the time, they didn't need to--but eventually, a doglike winged predator (probably a distant cousin of the floxes) also got established here; at first, its packs could tackle only small prey, but eventually they too sacrificed flight for size...
The result today is a veldt much like an African game park--it's the most Terran landscape on Lyr. Only two discrepancies reveal this is an alien world: the massive, stumpy build of both grazers and predators, ugly to Earth eyes, but necessary in this higher gravity; and the ridiculous little vestigial wings, looking tacked-on, like cherub wings on a sumo wrestler. There are squat analogs of wildebeest, quagga, antelope, lion and hyena--even an undersized but authentically irritable and dangerous pseudo-rhino.
Miranda is smaller, and its less extensive plains don't support "rhinos" or "lions", but the Mirandan species of "wildebeest" and "hyena" (almost certainly different species than the Prosperan ones, for they've diverged as much as Darwin's finches--though no antel plans to try crossbreeding them to make certain!) are dangerous enough to explain the antels' regression to deerlike panic. In the Tempest Isles, paranoia's practical.
Still, one bold male shouts a brief exchange with you. Following his advice, you sleep offshore, on an islet free of "hyenas." The next day you fly west seven hours, dawn to dusk, to Caliban.
Caliban too is a low veldt island, this one 200 km (125 mi) long. This veldt has fewer flightless giants; being further out, fewer species strayed here to start with. But Caliban's smaller, too; droughts here can fatally reduce the breeding population of the biggest animals. Island dwarfism! Flightlessness is still common--most species have only vestigial wings. But the largest species are a small "zebra" (polka dots not stripes, but equally eye-searing in a herd) preyed on by "wolves." You sleep safe here. Neither species attacks people unprovoked.
Antel have settled here too, and they're notably calmer and friendlier, more like the Lyran norm. Still, you think of the multispecies families common in southern Oronesia, in which antel marry and live with sphinxes and floxes not so different from the ancestors of these "wolves." All the Tempest antel, even these Calibanians, seem like a different, more primitive species. But then, compare the sexual and racial attitudes of rural Texas and San Francisco--and that's a pretty close analogy.
Two thirsty days of island-hopping follow. You have to moderate your opinion of these local antel again. On the Trinculo Atolls west of Caliban, stretching a thousand kilometers across the Middle Sea, the resident antel are calm and friendly. This is ideal habitat for them; each individual islet is too small for wingless giants to evolve, but in case of drought or famine the antel can migrate. In fact all the antel grazing these islets form one big herd; they rotate grazing privileges, strictly enforcing a fallow season when only work crews are permitted--planting shade trees, combating erosion, cleaning waterholes.
Oh--how do they do all this, with no hands? Well, they have one, really--it's just hidden. Antel tongues are half a meter long, forked, and prehensile. Two fingers are better than none! And you're grateful; without their wells and tended watercourses, some of the smaller Trinculo islets might well have had no drinkable water at all, at this season.
It's a hard nine-hour flight to Ariel, loneliest of the Tempests. It's the second-largest though, fully 380 km (240 mi) across. We're still midway between Carnoi and Gaiila, and though the climate's still the same--we're right in the drybelt--the ecology is impoverished, particularly large animals. The antel here don't mind--they'd rather not have grazing competition. They've imported many plants they like, so in a sense Ariel's one huge salad garden.
Ariel has a few satellites to the west, but soon you're crossing a wide deep. Luckily the Alonso Atolls rise midway to Carnoi--a long arc of coral isles similar to the Trinculos between Caliban and Ariel. They break up an otherwise impossible flight west into a couple of merely exhausting thousand-mile legs. Well, arms. Your shoulders will be quite sore by the end, when you reach Carnoi. If you reach it.
If not, well, in your dying moments, as you drown in the Middle Sea, you'll know why no one visits the Tempest Islands.
TOUR LYR! The following route snakes around Lyr, covering all major features:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn
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