Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Altai V

Altaian protoplasm adapted to increasing cold by synthesizing methanol. A fifty-fifty methanol-water mix remains fluid below minus forty and, when it freezes, does not expand into cell-destroying ice crystals. Lower organisms become dormant at minus seventy. Higher animals, homeothermic, become dormant at minus a hundred.

Biologically accumulated alcohol keeps polar lakes fluid until midwinter. White trees have icicle-like branches and blue leaves. Low gray plants carpet the snow. Animals, using chitinous and cartilaginous materials instead of bones, lick minerals from rocks and deposit heavy atoms in the forests when they die. Bacteria bring some minerals from below but generally life manages without them.

The Ice Folk have domesticated aeromedusae: tentacled flying white spheres of different sizes, with sense organs and brains, inflating themselves by metabolically electrolyzing hydrogen, breathing backward for propulsion, eating small animals after shocking them unconscious, able to see and avoid radar.

The Ice Folk resemble squat white-furred dwarfs with:

rubbery limbs;
long, webbed feet, both expandable and foldable;
three fingers opposing a thumb in the middle of the wrist;
feathery tufts for ears;
fine tendrils waving above each round black eye;
body temperature below zero Celsius.

Juchi, who is Shaman because he can master the Ice Folk's language, thus enabling inter-species trade, thinks that intelligence evolved to cope with what, for Altaian life, was a worsening condition, the warming of Krasna. The Dwellers built a civilization which collapsed, leaving ruins, because of the shortage of metals and the shrinking of the ice.

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