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THE TSUD

by Chris Wayan, 2004

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The Tsud is a near-Martian desert spanning half the southern hemisphere, some 45 million square km (18 million sq mi--about four Saharas); that's one-eighth of Serrana's surface. It fades into dry veldt along its warmer fringes and tundra near the pole.
Map of the Tsud, the largest desert on Serrana, an experimental world-model, a hybrid of Mars and Earth.
The Tsud has its good side: Serrana's shallow little landlocked seas are surprisingly fertile because the Tsud dumps much more wind-borne, nutrient-laden dust into them than the Sahara drops into our seas (yes, the fertility of all the seas on Earth depend largely on that one desert).

The Tsud has oases--vertical ones. The Woble Range is so large it has its own page: a chain of shield volcanoes worthy of Mars. Woble Tholus is over 12 km high--40,000 ft--and half a dozen others reach 6-8 km. These peaks form ecological islands of forest and meadow above the desert. And snowmelt from the highlands creates winding green strips, saltmarshes and sinks in the surrounding flats, watering millions of desert creatures.

Orbital photo of the Tsud Desert and Woble Tholi in southern Serrana, an experimental biosphere with Martian characteristics.  Click to enlarge.
Four great planos (protocontinental plateaus) create similar sky islands in the eastern Tsud. Mosnoll in the north is typical: a long alpine prairie the size of England, floating above the desert and veldt. It's rimmed on both sides by Andean mountains--parallel north-south ridges like coastal ranges 5 km high, studded every hundred miles or so with volcanos 6-7 km high (20-23,000 ft). On a world with Earthlike seas, such planos would be New Zealands or Sumatras... but on Serrana, the sea's of sand. Over the Pedess Basin are two more planos, linked into an hourglass shape: Pedess in the north, then a narrow mountainous neck widening to Eronit Plano. Well to the west is a fourth, this one east-west, capping the long Reppok Mts. These great highlands aren't just oases sending down streams into the desert. Like Tibet and the Tien Shan in Central Asia, they create the desert. Rainshadows? This is a rain FORTRESS, blocking storms from every direction. The Tsud would still be dry, even if these were low Australian ranges as in The Dispossessed, my inspiration for Serrana--the Tsud is far from the seas, and due to its latitude, a high-pressure cell hovers here. But the highlands steal what sparse rain there is. Or you could say they concentrate it! Without the planos, the region as a whole might have less total biomass--it's hard to be sure.

But there's no question it's more diverse. The cool, high, windy planos are home to a vast number of endemic species. One of them is intelligent. The Planians are hexapod cameloids--basically, centaurs built like llamas or vicuñas, adapted for cold and thin air. These clever, amiable weavers and farmers trade garments and tapestries made of their own fur, popular in the chill circumpolar conifer forest zones and the tundras: Thron, the Fjord Shore, Thuas, South Leas, the Yelav Narg. A cameloid centaur of Eronit Plano on Serrana, an experimental hybrid of Terran and Martian climates.

Let's visit at high summer, just after the annual shearing, when their bodyplan is more visible. Of course, it may take some coaxing to see a trimmed Planian; they feel naked with short fur, and pile on scarves and ponchos from last year's fur harvest--wearing more now than in deep winter. Of course, their bright-dyed shawls and saddle-blankets just draw attention to the exposed legs, forebellies, haunches and tails--all considered erogenous, and often combed or braided to draw the eye. So the Summer Fairs in Mosnoll and Eronit are curious mixtures of tradeshow, beach holiday, carnival, and singles bar. Planians are body-modest, but under their shawls they're still modified taurlopes--sensual and playful.

And so, cameloid protestations of modesty yield to flattery, bribery and flirtation. We have a model willing to pose for us. Note her torsos, both thorax and barrel, are narrow and deep-chested like a greyhound, and note the long legs. Planians are excellent runners as well as hardy rock-climbers. They never invented the wheel--and not just because the land was rough for road-building! Why ride when you can run? It's seen as a one of the great pleasures of life; races are common.

In northern Serrana, cold lands have a different population: mammoths and dense-feathered dinos. Here in the south, the only plano with a significant mammoth population is colder, windier Reppok, which is nearer the South Polar Tundra--mammoth heaven. The two herbivorous species don't really compete: the mammoths prefer grazing lichens and tall grass nearer snowline, while the Planians farm quasi-potatoes, greens and fruit in the valleys.

Map of the Tsud, the largest desert on Serrana, an experimental world-model, a hybrid of Mars and Earth.
FRINGES AND OASES

Let's caravan around the desert's edge. First stop is the Latrop Shore. This southeast coast of the Leas Sea can get dust storms off the central Tsud, but its mountains take the brunt, and light rains do fall in winter (50-100 cm). Western Latrop, nearest the sea, is wooded, though it thins to the north and east into savanna, then the deep Latrop Desert--endless brick-red plains more like Mars than a living world. But the coast is pleasant, almost Californian land--until the dust blows.

Flowering savanna. Two farmers argue in foreground: one squidlike, one centauroid. A village in middle distance. Snowy peaks on the horizon.
A juvenile taurlope crouching, inviting play. Taurlopes are gracile centauroids native to veldt on Serrana, a dry rather Martian biosphere. Click to enlarge.

Latropians are as mixed-species as the towns of Leas Neck to the west, with raptors and their featherball cousins, Planians in the hills, and hexapi and taurlopes farming the plains--though these are generalizations; most towns have at least a few of every species.

To the northwest is the Leas Desert, an arm of the Tsud; the only one bordering the sea. A high-pressure zone keeps this low red shore rainless most years.

Inland, the desert has ghost shorelines attesting that in warmer, wetter times the Leas Sea has been much higher (and doubtless will be again some day). Petrified forests line some of these shores--tumbled columns like lost Greek cities.

Even the Desert Isles well offshore are dry, red and rocky--quite Sonoran, with tall quasi-cacti. Few harbors--though the islands are low and flat, like chips of the great desert set afloat on the Leas Sea, they end in seacliffs 50-100 meters high, like a shattered Nullarbor Plain. Wave action undercuts soft sand- and mudstone; a harder layer caps the cliffs. The result. Though fishing is decent, the lack of decent harbors has kept the Isles nearly uninhabited.

Further north is Ngirpsderr Veldt. Here the Tsud slowly comes alive--first dry grassland, then patchy savanna and open woods, then jungle. During the summer rains, huge herds of semi-domesticated roos, tended by scaly, heat-adapted raptors, migrate far inland, well into the Tsud, retreating to the riverbanks and coast in the cool dry winter. Oh--it's pronounced something like "neerps dare" (the initial "ng" is like "wringer" not "finger").

In the north-center are the strange, spectacular, near-Martian Woble Mountains (see).

Beyond, to the north, is the Zee of Tseu , a small sea much like our Caspian, due north of the Tsud. It's landlocked, but no Dead Sea; Tseu is big enough to generate its own rain, and the surrounding ranges are pine-clad, while the shores are mixed savanna. Orbital photo of the Tseu, a Caspian-like sea on Serrana.  Click to enlarge.

Over the snowy inner range, the Rased Mountains, and in its rainshadow, is the much smaller Rased Zee, in a desert basin. It's still larger than the Aral Sea, and unlike that sad little remnant, Rased is fairly stable in size--it's snowfed like Tseu, and its evaporation peaks in summer just in time to be replenished by snowmelt.

Just south of this salt lake stands Senim Tholus, a solitary, spectacular 5500-meter volcano (18,300') rising from the desert. Kilimanjaro is Earth's closest equivalent. And like our "Mother of Rains", Senim's heights snag clouds and generate thunderstorms; from its high meadows and cloud forests, creeks flow radially off the mountain, to feed small oases over a wide patch of rainless plain.

Senim Tholus is just a harbinger of the lands to the east. Here, the desert has no fringes. It ends abruptly in the great mountains and planos of Mosnoll and Eronit, with stream-veined savannas on the far side. From Mars to Africa in twenty miles!

In the far south, the Tsud ends in the Yelav Narg basin. This long, east-flowing river drains the steppes and tundra between the Reppok Range and the South Polar Cap. The lowest third flows through dark, dense pine and spruce woods, but upriver is a vast steppe, thinning into a cold, near-Martian desert. From Earth back to Mars--but thousands of miles of Mars...
Orbital photo of the eastern Tsud Desert on Serrana: Center: dry Pedess Basin. North: Mosnoll Range. East: the Pedess and Eronit altiplanos. South: Reppok range and plano. West: low, red desert--the central Tsud.  Click to enlarge.

HEART OF THE TSUD

I've been describing the western fringes and oases--what of the deep desert?

In the east is Pedess Basin, a rugged raised cuplike formation 1500 km across. Geologically it may resemble Earth's small Caribbean or Philippine plates, or, more likely, one of Venus's coronas--a slow bubbling (or puckering) of elastic rock, not a rigid plate. Pedess's heights are semi-arid, with a few springs and trees in sheltered canyons; the central basin is hot and barren, with a seasonal salt lake. Northwest is the Senim Desert; to the south lies Reppok Basin.

The Reppok Mountains are a high, massive east-west range forming the southern edge of the Tsud. Its heart is a plano (high plateau of light, quasi-continental rock) reminiscent of the Andes round Lake Titicaca, and nearly as large. It's a cool windy sea of alpine grass. But down its steep, thin-forested slopes is no Amazon, no ocean, just dry steppes to the south and the sere Reppok Basin to the north, cut off from sea winds all around. It's never rained here and probably never will. What life there is clings to the mountain-feet where streams descend, before they evaporate or sink...

The Senim Desert is closer to the equator and thus hotter, but this northern tongue of the Tsud Desert has more life. Though far from any sea, the Senim Range supports forests and meadows, culminating in snowy Senim Tholus. North of the peak lies grassy veldt and marsh around Rased Zee, but even south of the mountains, streams feed seasonal lakes.

DESERT INHABITANTS

Who's adapted to the deep desert?

Well... I'm not quite sure if flying foxes (left) count as a who... or a what. They're the only species bending the rule that fliers on Serrana can't grow large enough to be intelligent. Chattering packs of them live wherever there are cliffs or crags safe to nest on. Chimplike minds, despite brains only a third the size--as efficient and miniaturized as a raven brain! There's an outside chance they'll go on wising up, achieve full sapience on a chimp-sized brain... or would they be too large and head-heavy then? Only eons will tell.

A flying fox, a six-limbed species resembling a red fox with hawk wings. Intelligent pack animals. Native of Serrana (a world-building experiment) A mother raptor with chick in her marsupial pouch, leaning on her spear, in the Woble Desert. Raptors are marsupial feathered ornithischian dinosaurs, one of six peoples who evolved on Serrana, an experimental world model hybridizing Mars and Earth conditions.  Click to enlarge.

Are there any inhabitants who are indisputably people? Yes, but not many--small bands of raptors, omnivorous feathered marsupial dinos. To the right is a mother leaning on her spear in the Woble Desert. A large chick (perfectly able to run around by now; this is just a fit of shyness brought on by my sketching) peers from her marsupial pouch. Note the flying fox in the background. Out here, there's always a flying fox in the background...

Some of the raptor tribes on the desert's fringe can herd domesticated roos, though they can't ranch regular territories as they do elsewhere--water's too seasonal (and uncertain) for anything but nomadism in the Tsud. In its heart, hunter-gatherer tribes still wander. That's all the land supports. The raptors (unlike some Australian sheepherders) are realists. Land ownership would be a pact for slow suicide in the deep Tsud.

Besides, in a direct sense the Tsud's heart does belong to every Serranan. Dust from the great desert blows around the entire planet, fertilizing soils (and seas). The dead zone nourishes life... everywhere else.

Map of Serrana, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOUR SERRANA! Click a region for a detailed ground-level tour: Aburros Sea - Woble Range - Yanneba Basin and Plano - Mosnoll and Eronit Basins - The Tsud Desert - Eamet Ocean and South Pole - Leas, Niirg, and Narek: The Lesser Seas - The Rakach Plateau and the Northlands

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