by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Shaggy, tusked giants in the snow. But not mammoths--dinosaurs! Bipedal dinos, as massive as a tyrannosaurus, with similarly small hands and arms, at least compared with their bodies. Still, with their elephantine trunks, they have three effective hands.
Mamooks eat mostly lichen and bunch grass. They're happy to eat tenderer vegetation, like the sugar- and vitamin-rich new growth of evergreens, and bog plants like onions, when they can get them; but the polar tundra and the uplands aren't rich. Mamook tusks aren't primarily weapons, but lichen-scrapers and bog-shovels. Rubbed against rocks, they face heavy wear, and grow steadily thoughout life, which can be centuries long. Like sharks (and unlike elephants, doomed once their last set of teeth wear out) mamook keep replacing worn teeth as long as the minerals are available. Most mamooks die of famine, illness or accident. Absent these, they can live a century or two before their hip joints finally fail.
Mamooks have huge lungs and efficient oxygen transport, since they must be able to breathe in air as thin as one-twelfth atmosphere. The heavy tail isn't just for balance; like a camel-hump, it stores the fat and water needed for long treks through unpromising country.
Mamooks are nomads, so they have to travel light, and their culture is highly oral, honoring singers and storytellers--often the same person. They play horns made out of ancestors' tusks, a sort of musical bow, and bang rocks in intricate polyrythms--you can do a lot with three effective hands!
But not all storytelling is musical. Another mode is, well, novelistic--subtle, detailed, pyschological narratives that could be real, at least if you accept mamook reality, which includes ghosts, reincarnation, prophetic dreams, and multiple spirit worlds. At least in most cases--mamook beliefs are highly individualistic. Shamanic mystics, they reject religious hierarchy or traditions--each individual must build up an inner spiritual language and cycle of visionary tales, usually based on dreams, which can be told to others by the owner, but not passed further on without permission. So all performance is live performance, and mamooks will travel halfway round the world to hear a master teller--or tale. Great song-fests, called "chong-ma", are held at midsummer around Tharn. The tundra booms for miles.
Interestingly, the figures in mamook ballads are quite often of other species. Mamooks are psychologically astute, even about people with very different bodies and instincts. They say "we dream ourselves into others' lives."
Maybe they do. Who's going to argue with a ten-ton mystic?
Two similar ecozones: the uplands and the polar tundras. Mamooks can endure even near-Martian zones where thin air, cold and sparse vegetation can't sustain even camaroos. Mamooks probably evolved on the northern tundra, spreading to the thin-aired uplands, then south from Thuvia to Sola Upland and the southern tundras. But the reverse is possible.
There is one appropriate habitat mamooks haven't reached: the Jahar Mountains (just below center of world map). One of the highest ranges on a very vertical world, the Jahars are as ecologically isolated as the Hawaiian chain on Earth--by a sea not of water but thick hot air. Fatally hot for mamooks! The head of the Jahar chain is close to Wula Ridge, where no mamooks live, but can just survive; expeditions carrying ice or some sort of evaporative cooling blankets have been discussed, but so far, if you'll pardon the pun, it's all just... hot air.
Or is it? There's always...
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 mere trickle compared to the Ngippo--a much shorter route, 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.
They do have one quirk. Every midwinter noon, all the Chinchak mamooks turn as one to face the summit of Mt Goom, and foghorn. What are they saluting? Forty thousand feet up, under a starry noon sky, lies a great black stone pinning down a frozen heap of old white robes.
That's what comes of talking to strangers.
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