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Siphonia:
Mammoth

by Chris Wayan, 2009

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Sketch of a mammoth, an intelligent species inhabiting Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

SPECIES

There's nothing else you can call a shaggy red-haired polar elephant, but as you can see from my sketch, Siphonian mammoths aren't that much like our Ice Age giants. They're smaller than an Indian elephant, and shorter yet--these are chubby little giants, as giants go. That really is an adult I've depicted, though to a modern Terran elephant the proportions would look rather infantile--big head, short limbs.

Shrinkage and that thick coat aren't the only changes:

HABITAT

The mammoth homeland is much like our Ice Age range--most of Europe, central Asia and Siberia, and most of North America. But I was a bit shocked to discover just how much more of Siphonia is appropriate mammoth habitat. Far more, I suspect, than Ice Age Earth ever had. The real question is, how much of it has actually been settled. These tundras and cold bogs and alpine meadows aren't just more extensive than old Earth's, but more scattered too. Distribution map of sentient mammoths on Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.

From the mammoths' heartland, a great mountainous bridge leads south. Mexico is nearly as cold as our Tibet; Central America, though warmer, is still a mammoth-tolerable path to the Andes. Their heights are now icefields supporting nothing and no one; but the slopes are a mammoth highway. And from Tierra del Fuego you can walk the Scotia Arc to the newly fertile shores of Antarctica.

But it won't be as easy to reach the alps and meadows of isolated altiplanos like Roraima, Kenya, Lesotho, Zealand... Yet my guess is that mammoths will indeed settle most of these cool grassy plateaus. Unlike the blind prehistoric spreading of animals or human tribes, mammoths will have a thorough mental map of all Siphonia, learned from intelligent ravens--or simply from consulting atlases. They're neither alone nor facing the violent, human-eat-mammoth world of our Ice Age. Interspecies relations on Siphonia are pretty peaceful. In fact, deliberate settlement expeditions will actively aided by other species who find such uplands uninhabitable. Better to have productive, friendly neighbors keeping an eye on the land. Even if they're huge and red and hairy.

BEHAVIOR

Arctic mammoths are mostly nomads, fond of infrasonic music, storytelling--their culture's mostly oral after all--and of course dreamwork, like all elephants. They're introverted as individuals, and insular as a people. Not clannish, really--there just aren't many others who can survive their harsh habitat, and it's huge and unbroken--most of Siphonia north of forty degrees, dipping in places to thirty (Tibet, Mexico).

But many Antarctic mammoths, separated by 20,000 km and many generations from their northern roots, and shaped by their long trek south, lead lives far more entangled with other species. After the long, slow settlement of the Andes, as they spread east then south through the Scotia Arc, these mammoth pioneers came into full contact with the new species of the Deeps--particularly sentient wolves and ravens.

A second factor: on the Antarctic shores, you can't easily migrate north to escape the winters. And the relatively mild summers here allow some trees, even marginal agriculture. The land favors planners and savers who put down roots. Stone shelters for winter, ponds, dams... and hydro generators? Trees here are a precious resource, not to be burned... but there's so much power latent in all that water dropping off the highlands!

So mammoths, wolf shepherds and megaraven scouts and couriers live together in stone crofts along the coastal strip. To us, they'd seem as strange and archaic as Megalithic dolmens: far too big to call huts, yet casual and crude--built by one-armed giants, after all. Elephant Child castles, built to defend against the only enemy Siphonians know: the climate.

Sketch of a mammoth telling a story to sentient wolves and giant blue ravens in their stone croft on the Antarctic shore, on Siphonia, an alternate Earth with 90% of its water removed.
Inside, in the Antarctic winter, mammoths will gather in halls lit not by red firelight but the eerie white of primitive arc lights, snuggled up with talking wolves and thirty-pound ravens, to hear rumbling infrasonic tales of the mythical days when mammoths were huge and stupid, bald and gray: the frightful Iceless Age.
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