by Chris Wayan, 2005-6
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The Chinchak Range is a huge chain of shield volcanoes. If the Hawaiian chain wasn't half-drowned in the deepest ocean on Earth, it'd look much like this. But the Chinchaks are taller--almost Martian. No surprise--Tharn's gravity is lower, and the volcanos are steeper.
The Chinchaks have a distinctly terraced look. Mt Olympus on Mars has a single great cliff at its base; the Chinchak volcanoes have multiple, overlapping flows that cool into cliffwalled arcs. They look like Venus's celebrated "pancakes"--but giant, chaotically stacked pancakes. Each terrace has its own altitude, temperature, rainfall and hence ground-cover. These Petri dishes in the sky are home to various species of people. They seem isolated by the cliffs, up to 1 km high (3300'), but they're not. Too many tourists come to see the falls!
Rivers flowing off the green northwest face of the Chinchaks drop, meander, and pool, only to drop again, until they reach the Ksaksa Sea lapping at the mountains' feet. Dozens of such falls are higher than 100 m (330') and half a dozen drop more than 500 m (1600'). These aren't mere plumes like Yosemite or Angel Falls, but full-sized rivers like Niagara or Iguazú, as tall as they are broad. Spectacular! And loud. Mist from these falls create islands of cloudforest and fernforest.
South, east and west, the rivers from Chinchak's snows serve a more practical function; they're life-giving arteries in dry lands. Fully half the people of southern Felatheen Veldt live along the Rinnery and Ti Tip Rivers; the same is true of the River Chilorr in the east. And a whole lobbra civilization reminiscent of ancient Egypt grew up along the Ngippo as it winds south across the Tin Kik Desert.
The Chinchaks are a "hot-spot" range, like the Hawaiian volcanoes: the visible track of a magma plume welling up beneath this fast-moving plate. The far west end is at least 300 million years old, with peaks only 4-5 km high by now (on Earth, Himalayan peaks become mere Appalachian stumps in 300 million years--but Chinchak volcanoes are far higher, and erosion on dry Tharn is slow). As one travels east up the range, the peaks grow younger and taller...
On Earth, high mountains may be scenic, even holy, but they're rarely cultural centers. Quite the opposite: transport's difficult, fertility's usually low. Consider the word "hillbilly"! The Chinchak volcanoes push this even further; their heights stand outside most of the atmosphere; truly dead lands. Yet these upwellings of death have created one of the liveliest cultures on Tharn on their slopes. So many habitats, so close together! Here, contact and trade between species who elsewhere would never meet becomes easy. The pooling of ideas has made the Chinchak Terraces tolerant, progressive, and technologically advanced. It's a common pattern on Tharn. Civilization huddles around seas, in the depths of trenches... and on mountainslopes like these. The falls don't hurt, of course; but even without scenic attractions, the Chinchak terraces would still be a cultural as well as a geological hotspot.
Half a dozen peoples share the Mediterranean foothills, often in mixed towns: heat-loving species like the graceful equine veltaurs, scaly bos, and elegant feline centahs; even a few jabbering flyotes. By one-fifth of the way to the top, it's all cool, dense evergreen forests, and most of the residents are squawking, feathery mops and riverine thotters. In the alpine zone above, only chubby camaroos and huge mamooks remain--the only Tharnians able to breathe such thin air. Even mamooks avoid Mount Tsol and the other caldera rims; those near-Martian heights are quite unbreathable, even for them.
Silence and stars at noon...except once a year, when lines of mamook pilgrims climb Mt Goom. Why? Well, I'll tell you.
THE TALE OF CHOOMBRA STEPPE
South of the Zodanga Sea, a cold, windy, rolling land called Choombra Steppe rises toward Thurian Rift. Only a few mamook bands wander here. But one of their wanderings had epic consequences. Precisely because it's not prime habitat for mamooks (too cold for anyone else, yet hot and dry for mamooks; these Choombrans are lanky, and small as elephants), these mamooks have turned to trade as insurance against famine in bad years. They mine the Rift's pools and volcanoes: copper, sulfur, obsidian, manganese, iron. So much contact with camaroos and mops gave them a detailed (if second-hand) picture of the deadly hot lands to the north. And one travelers' tale made their trunk-hands flare and sniff whenever they heard it--the tale of an equatorial range so high and cold no one could settle its peaks.
After years of planning and debate, a band of mamooks draped in camaroo-bought white robes (suitable for wetting, and cooling by evaporation) set out in orbital winter for the Chinchak Range, 2500 km north (1600 mi). Trekking in the cool of the night through Zodanga Wood, napping neck-deep in creeks and ponds during the day, swimming the Ting Kom Strait, they headed northeast past Lake Fentho to the shallow stony Yenkit River. This snowmelt stream's a little sister to the Ngippo--but less reliable. In winter, the water was low, but there was enough to keep their robes wet. For three days (nearly a Terran week) they staggered up this searing, stony valley (up to 25°C! 76°F!) past winding black snakes of lava and red valleys of dust.
At last they climbed into hills where the heat became bearable, and they could wait out the day in the shade of spindly trees. And the rumors were true! Ahead on the horizon was... well, there was no horizon. Just endless slopes rising into the haze--cool forests, alpine meadows, and icy peaks rising into the stratosphere. The Chinchaks!
The band sent word back through trade-caravans of camaroos and mops, and a few more immigrants trickled in. Their descendents settled over 2M sq km (a million square miles) of upland, and like their courageous ancestors, sustained rather close relationships with the other species just below them on the mountainslopes.
As a direct result, today they're perhaps the richest, most progressive mamooks in the world.
That's what comes of talking to strangers.
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