by Chris Wayan, 2006
dedicated to Poul Anderson for his remarkable world-building
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This short tour assumes you flew from the east, from Lannach. Readers joining us from Sherrin in the north or up from southern Holmenach may be disoriented at first. We're exploring Cape Rodonis, the northeast corner of the Diomedes region, starting from its base at the mouth of Ness Bay, OK? We'll first head west over the mountains, then north to the tip.
You're crossing deep water. You have been for an hour, and you could use a break--the mouth of Ness Bay is a good hundred kilometers wide. At last you spiral down to the Isle of Ness, half the size of Crete, and a lot greener--a great ridge of rainforest bursting from the bay. After a rest and a snack on the skimpy beach (trees creep nearly to the waterline here, for tides are small in this inland sea) you flap heavily back into the air and climb the ridge. You're relieved to find it's only an easy half-hour flight over a narrower second strait to the mainland of Cape Rodonis.
This is the northern tip of Diomedes--an ecological island thrusting 1600 km (1000 mi) north into a relatively dry zone, where the endless forest thins to groves and meadows. On the west coast, in the rainshadow of the Delp Mts, it's dry veldt, even desert in spots.
But you're still on the wet side of the cape's base. A green rumpled rug sprawls before you--rainforest eighty meters tall! But on the horizon, a white gleam hints at snow: Mt. Axollon, a volcano 4200 m high (13,800'), tallest peak on the Cape. Despite its height, Axollon bears only modest snow patches even now, during orbital winter.
Two hours of rainforest later, Axollon's looming over you to the right. The wind's been with you, mostly, so the climb into the hills wasn't too bad--more updraft-riding than real work. You crest the hills just south of the peak and glide effortlessly down a long slope. Soon meadows open up; rocky, sparsely wooded knolls rise over tree-lined little creeks, not the winding, muddy, brimming rivers across the mountains.
Here in this drier land you find a people you'd hoped to meet--cheetaurs. Those of you who just toured northeast Diomedes met a tiny colony of castaway cheetaurs in Ulwen, 4000 miles east of here. Rodonis Veldt is the promised land they were seeking. Cheetaurs here seem more varied than the tiny Ulwen group (settled, after all, by a single lost ship); many Rodonian cheetaurs are lightly built, with spots not stripes; settlers from equatorial Larsum and Katandara.
You don't find one people you expected to. No antels at all! They love dry, open savanna like Rodonis, but it's still beyond their range. No question they're physically able to cross 3000 km of jungle from the east, but... emotionally? It's clammy, it's close, it makes them nervous--is that vine a snake? their hooves can't grasp tree branches and the ground's dark and damp, and all that rain makes them catch colds...
Mind you, I'm not really making fun of them--antel really do sicken in monsoon rains, they're vulnerable to fungal diseases. Think how many Terran explorers died of disease--more than got eaten by big predators, that's for sure! It's the little ones you need to watch for. Antel worries are realistic.
But to make up for the lack of antel, there's a new people you didn't expect: pegasi. Given their distinctly equine look, this is the only possible translation of their Trade name; but they're not flying horses--at most, anorexic ponies with a dash of grayhound. They do tell you (while they lick you to see how you taste, and tickle you to see how you giggle, and paw through everything you own) that the northerners they're descended from, up in chilly Roland, run quite a bit larger and shaggier--but even a big northerner'd weigh less than you.
The pegasi may be the real reason why antel haven't migrated here. When you ask pegasi about them, they seem scornful of antel, as if they're mere defective pegasi--handless, bob-tailed, skinny-legged, funny-faced. Ugly! This puzzles you--most tourists treasure meeting antel, finding them one of the loveliest people on the planet. The attitude of pegasi is the nearest thing to racism you've encountered on Lyr. Yet they get along fine with cheetaurs, icari, koreens--even human tourists. Are antel just too close for comfort?
The best Terran analogy to this disdain may not be racism but the unease that's led so many humans to deny evolution for 150 years. We can't be kin to apes--so ugly and crude compared to wonderful us. Yet we don't put down other intelligent species this way--we can respect ravens, parrots, whales, wolves, even elephants for what they are. But apes (more accurately, other apes) seem like parodies of us, and we try to distance ourselves.
Not just scientific illiterates, either--zoologists invented a quite unjustified separate genus for apes so they wouldn't have to let apes into the Genus Homo club. Genetically, behaviorally, structurally, even mentally (only a handful of animals pass the mirror test, the current gold standard for self-awareness; apes do), the differences are of degree not kind; the great apes are, by the rules of scientific nomenclature (the first ape scientifically described and named was us!), human. There are half a dozen living human species. Do we admit it?
So don't look down on pegasi--we're afflicted with equally absurd prejudices.
On the other hoof... if you suspected all those antel excuses were just that, you may be right. This supremely sensitive people can't bear mockery. Maybe they, too, find pegasi to be a crude parody of themselves (insensitive touchy-feely loudmouths, pawing everything with those flashy opposable thumbs!) and are just too polite to say so. Or, worse yet, they find pegasi enviable, magical, beautiful--and who can bear unattainable, unrequited love?
I know it sounds odd. We're used to thinking of factors like food, predation, competitors, disease and geographical barriers restricting an organism's range. But love? Hurt feelings? Esthetics?
But are we so sure about the real factors behind the decline of our neighbors? What do dolphins, gorillas, elephants and wolves really feel about us? Are they discouraged, do they feel helpless? Remember how the native Tasmanians chose to stop having kids when their land was taken over by brutal aliens possessing magical super-weapons. Just a thought, zoo owners! I mean, if you were a highly intelligent creature with an ancient sophisticated oral culture but no hands, could encountering human civilization give you an uneasy sense of inferiority? Envy? Despair?
Of course, that sort of question is why I built Lyr. To raise skewed questions in my Terran readers by presenting a world with quite different parameters--not just physical but biological and cultural ones. Most science fiction's too close to us. Regardless of its human writers' intentions, it often runs up against the ape-revulsion problem--it feels like social parody.
Lyr, and the other worlds I'm building, are at least meant to diverge more deeply and resonate on a different level. As small children, humans long for companions and equals among other species; it takes years to replace that dream with mastery of tools and machines, settling for a merely human world. Our imagination grows stunted. Science fiction involving nonhuman intelligent species often projects issues of domination and war from our own quarrelsome, status-obsessed species onto others. Cooperative and symbiotic models (and their problems) are rare in science fiction--rarer than in nature itself.
Okay, okay! Sorry. End of rant. Now where were we?
Oh, right, among the peaceful, cooperative villages full of cheetaurs and pegasi (plus occasional icari and koreens) of Cape Rodonis. In fact, there's a multi-species coastal city here, called Axollon, after the nearby volcano dominating the skyline.
Wait--I forgot tauraffes! You'd think people twenty feet tall would be hard to miss, but in the jungles to the east, it's surprisingly easy. But here, where the forest frays, they're more visible. The de facto segregation of canopy fliers and forest-floor walkers (making the giants live in a sort of parallel world) breaks down at last, here in open Rodonis. Integration's visible in the architecture--the streets of Axollon are wide, and the doorways of public buildings are tall. Tauraffes still have to duck, and can't even enter most smallfolk's homes, but in public space, a clear effort's made. A mixed tauraffe and cheetaur crew is building a new meeting hall--since these two flightless species are relatively stocky (oh, those solid bones) they often dominate construction firms. Though never totally--a crew with winged roofers has obvious advantages. They still can hurt themselves--it's amazing how creative tool-users are at misusing tools and techniques. Safety last! But wings help.
Tauraffes also dominate a less immediately obvious field. Some of the lone tauraffes wandering the streets, smiling as dreamily as giraffes, are the Lyran equivalents of cops. And judges, and politicians! Tauraffes, because of their lack of natural enemies, exude calm and reassurance. You can't help trusting them. Ideal arbitrators and judges!
Why do they lack natural enemies? On a world where most predators fly, and are thus restricted to wolf-size or less, why attack someone twenty feet tall? Sure, humans hunted mammoths--but what if mammoths also had language, tools, and fire? Suddenly a nice fat caribou sounds safer, don't you think? So tauraffes haven't an enemy in the world--and that's shaped their brains as much as the opposite shaped yours, O suspicious, feisty Reader...
This pleasant little corner of Diomedes, just like the Ulwen Valley in the far northeast, has a lower biomass but a richer culture than the interior, simply because a wider range of species contribute talents and viewpoints.
Of course, I may unfairly favor coasts, fringes, interfaces. I live in San Francisco--famously on the fringe (in every sense), culturally diverse, and set in a vaguely Rodonian landscape... It must be bias. Surely towns set in huge, monotonously forested continental interiors can be great centers of cultural innovation. Like, uh... Chicago, Kinshasa, Moscow, Manaus, Warsaw...
How'd that old song go? "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"
You spend a full two days wandering through this fascinating little country, out to the tip of Cape Rodonis. Here rises the beacon of Mt Sa, a perfect volcanic cone 4100 m high (13,450')--a near-twin of Fuji. Like Axollon, Mt Sa is streaked with winter snow--more of it, being a bit further from the equator--though even here, it'll melt off quickly in orbital summer.
THE RODONIS ISLANDS
The Delp Mountains don't end with Mt Sa, but continue north under the Rodonis Sea for thousands of km; the highest peaks form islands, mostly Manhattan-to-Oahu sized: mere specks by Lyran standards. The Isle of Rodonis is fully 270 km long (170 mi), but slender--and 3000 km out to sea, still. Though modest, the Rodonis chain matters: it's the only flyway north to the Roland Cluster. Indeed, the only other islands at all in this sea as big as the Indian Ocean are the Ulwens far to the east, and they trail off quickly into the depths. The floor has plenty of seamounts--it's just so much deeper than a Terran sea, even an Everest barely breaks the surface.
This southern end of the Rodonis Chain is Mediterranean, and prone to summer droughts; but from the Isle of Rodonis north, streams, trees and forage are more reliable. So you hurry north the first few days, then drift on dreamily, taking your time... Two or three Lyran months after leaving Mt. Sa (that's shorter than it sounds: 21-31 Lyran days, 11-16 Terran days. Lyr's gravity whips its great moon Oisin around in just 5.3 days, so the long Lyran year has 180 "months"! Think of them as weeks, I guess)...after two or three months, you reach larger isles: Ayoch, Nicor, and at last the coast of Sherrin--first mainland of the Roland Cluster. You could make it faster if you skipped the traditional rest days after longer jumps, which I would not recommend. Tired fliers easily become dead fliers. Long, islandless sea-passages aren't the only killers--ask any migrating bird.
Maybe it'd be smarter not to fly up the Rodonis Chain at all, but to head south down the Cape to mainland Holmenach and Kilnu--solid land (nearly) all the way!
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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