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Creature (and setting) design contest

Creature (and setting) design contest

FUDGE: What Is It?

This is a contest. If you’d like to participate, read on!

The following piece of micro-fiction (next post) is set in the not too distant future where Humanity, having only spread out to a few dozen worlds in a sphere of space perhaps a 100 lys across, is at war with an insect-like species simply referred to as the "Bugs". As an outcome of a battle in that war, the story describes an encounter between some stranded humans and an unknown life form on an unexplored planet.

The setting is my personal Space Marines science fiction setting, "The Alliance", that some long time FUDGE fans may have had the fun of adventuring in. In the 90's, Grey Ghost Press often ran two convention adventures set in The Alliance called "Routine – Never Is" and "Escape – Never Is".

Your challenge is to provide your take on what the life form is. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, or something else? Primitive life form or representative of an intelligent civilization? Stats for the species and/or the individual in FUDGE terms should be provided. You're welcome to respond with just a brief description of the species and its statistics or a more elaborate response including adding to the microfiction to illustrate your idea for the creature.

You should also provide a brief description of a character to be found in one of the other escape Pods that have landed on the planet. You can provide FUDGE stats for the character as well if you like. The character can be of any type that may have likely been aboard a military spaceship, which, frankly, could include just about anything – soldier, technician, politician, civilian consultant, civilian or military scientist, military or civilian intelligence analysts, doctor, engineer, etc. etc. etc, Psi powers do exists, are uncommon, and, if revealed, often shunt a person into hazardous occupations in intelligence services or front-line Marine boarding teams. Cybernetics are common, especially as repair for injuries, more than as self-modification purely out of preference. Civilian laws and military regulations limit lethality of cybernetics, unless it was specifically part of a military enhancement program. Neural interfaces to computer networks are common, but many people don’t have them, just as today there are still a LOT of people in the world who don’t have or use a computer.

The winner of this contest will have their real name (or if they prefer, a character name) immortalized as the character they describe (above) in a new adventure following in the series of Routine – Never Is and Escape – Never Is with the existing adventures and the new one published in PDF form on this site.

All entries to this contest become the intellectual property of Grey Ghost Press.  Grey Ghost Press reserves the right to edit, modify, alter, use or not use any part of any entries as it sees fit. The contest will run for the month of February and close on March 1st.

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

2059.01.31-22:37 GMT; Alliance Fleet Carrier Nimrod, Task Force - Bravo.

The battle around HT-28645-b was not going well. Not well at all. HT-28645-b was a dim K4 star with only three planets. A rocky ball of near molten rock so close to the primary it was occasionally scorched by solar flares; a small terrestrial world in the outer fringe of the star's limited habitable zone, but just barely, and covered in clouds so dense it was probably a perpetual twilight on whatever surface might exists; and lastly a massive gas giant with a vast ring of smashed and broken moonlets surrounding it. The bugs had more heavy ships hidden in the dense rings and gas clouds surrounding the system's gas giant than Alliance Intelligence had estimated and from the moment Alliance Fleet Task Force - Bravo had transited from out of FTL it had been taking a beating. The entire battle had been raging for hours across space. Debris from ships blasted to fragments was drifting everywhere.

Pvt Walter Ellis was just one naval fleet technician among dozens aboard the Alliance Fleet Carrier Nimrod. His job was to monitor communication and sensor channels. State of the art Artificial Intelligences (AIs) managed and routed network data traffic, including voice, video, ship locations, status, sensor sweeps of surrounding space and much, much more, faster and more effectively that any human could. However, even the best AIs lacked intuition and the ability of many biological life forms to create associations across disparate data where no logical association would seem to exist. Monitoring the synthesized summary screens and neural feeds from the AIs was Ellis's job. To see what the machines didn't.

Walter had just noted the loss of the Heavy Cruiser Sierra when the Nimrod shuddered with the impact of a major hit. Lighting dimmed and went out. Alarms sounded, it seemed, almost everywhere and all at once. "Engine room containment breach!" shouted the Captain, "All hands to escape pods. Sound evacuation. We have minutes, people, so move!" As Walter wrenched himself away from the console and rushed to his designated escape pod, he noted telltale indicators on the screen of a series of large masses emerging from FTL. Ours or theirs, Walter thought as he dived through the doors of the pod's hatch and began to strap himself in.

A hit deep enough into engineering to cause an evacuation meant that the containment systems for the antimatter power plants were at risk. If they failed, the explosion would be so large and so vast that nothing would be left of the ship but an expanding energy wave. And they could fail slow or fast depending upon the damage. At least, thought Walter, they didn't fail instantly so I have time to worry about dying.

The Pod's small AI flashed a bright warning as the hatch slammed shut. Only three others, out of the nine more that should have, had made it inside. Shock of high G acceleration pressed all four occupants into near unconsciousness as the Pod shot into space. Even as Walter was blacking out, he knew the engine containment had failed and the Pod had launched with those aboard to try to outrush the expanding blast.

Walter came to with someone shaking him - vigorously. "Hey! hey stop. I'm awake," muttered Walter. A big Marine with the name tag "Kovokitch" and Sergeant's stripes on his body armor had been rousing him. A young redheaded woman, Walter recalled her name was Pvt Kathy O'Reily, an astrogation technician, was saying something about the Pod AI having "landed". "Okay everyone", a man with an Ensign's marks on his uniform was saying, "the Pod AI landed us on HT-28645-b-2 and it appears that the atmosphere outside may just be barely breathable, if a bit cold and foggy. That's probably why it landed us hear. Out of the fire fight and out of the way. Its programming would have led it to believe that would help hide us and keep us safer until the bugs had been eliminated. The Pod bioscanner shows no obvious toxins in the air, so we might as well crack the hatch and look around. The Pod AI will monitor Alliance Datanet traffic and transmit anything interesting we find encrypted up to any of our ships still up there and alert them to pick us up if we win."

The hatch was unsealed and the four of them stepped out into a dense murky fog - almost a blue glow from the limited light reaching the surface. It was hard to tell if it was day or night, but Walter guessed day. He expected the nights were even darker. He could hear the sound of water - perhaps waves from an ocean or lake or even a river - not too far away. A kind of dense vegetation - trees for lack of a better word - rose up around them. The Pod had cleared an area the size of a small parking lot with its landing. The trees were like some strange cross between giant 20 meter ferns and vast clumps of hanging moss. As they made their way out of their clearing toward the sound of water and approached the edge of the forest, there was a sudden noise and something large, black, and shiny loomed out of the fog...

2059.01.31-23:43 GMT; Alliance Fleet Cruiser Matador, Task Force - Bravo.

The retreat order had been given. A new contingent of Bug ships had just dropped out of FTL. Bravo would regroup two light years out of the system with Task Force - Tango and, collectively, retake the system with the numerical superiority Tango would add. But if Bravo Task Force remained here for now, they'd all be wiped out. Pvt Sheila Mayberry was monitoring the retreat when she noted an unusual data stream from an escape pod - one of eleven Alliance Datanet indicated had landed on the second planet. There was no chance of rescue from the planet until the system was retaken. Bravo was taking hell just trying to cover for rescue operations of the pods still alive and in free space. The last of those had just been picked up when the retreat was called. As the Matador entered FTL, the encrypted data stream from the transmitting Pod was lost, but Sheila would be haunted by the video image that can come through just an instant before.

http://fudgerpg.com/images/stories/paul/lastimage.png
[Last Image From Pvt Ellis's Camera]


[Okay. Stop Here. You can proceed to dream up whatever may come to mind about this life form from the above description OR if you would like a little more inspiration, then read on. Each week in February, we'll add a little more microfiction to the story to bring out some other hints about the creature. Every take on what this species may be is a valid and welcome entry. Whether future microfiction matches up to your entry or not will not impact your opportunity to win this fabulous contest.]

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

[And if you want just a bit more inspiration, read on:]

2059.01.31-23:18 GMT; Nimrod Escape Pod 23, HT-28645-b-2.

"Alright, people, we need to assess the situation on this rock," Ensign Laramie says. "We could be sitting here for quite a while before Fleet finds a moment to haul us out." I need to take charge and keep panic to a minimum. The sergeant will be no problem, but the survival readiness of the two techies worries me. They get soft so easily, even in a combat zone, sitting at their consoles and watching the war as if it were a video game. Maybe these two are alright, but they're not from my section, so I should treat them like rookies until I know better.

"Prelim says it should be safe, but we will start with hazsuits and masks. Sarge, you take the lead with the laser spitter. I've got the rear. You two stay alert and keep between us; keep your firearms holstered but ready. We are out to set the sensor perimeter and then a simple recon; one hour and we are back.  Water, food, shelter -- keep your eyes open. Ellis, run a vidcam record back to Pod's mainframe and take a biosample kit. O'Reilly, your primary on the breadcrumbs; let's space at 250. Everyone clear?"

Walter grabs a chestcam and places a handheld backup in the sample case, while Kathy loads an extra case of MBCs (Miniature Beacon Communicators, affectionately called Mother's Bread Crumbs or just breadcrumbs for short) in her sidebag. Everyone climbs into the airlock.

The seals to the airlock close and they all make their last equipment checks while waiting for the air cycle to complete. How does cold air feel so damp through a hazsuit? Walter wonders. As the outer hatch opens, the dampness becomes all-encompassing.  Visibility seems no better than 30 meters and it is not helped much by the lack of sunlight able to penetrate the thick cloud cover. If there is any sunlight, Walter grumbles silently.

The pod's landing was gentle enough to cause it no damage, but the vegetation is knocked over, busted up, and slightly singed for a dozen paces. But nothing caught on fire in this gaseous swimming pool. Confirming that they have a clean read from Pod's homing signal, they follow Kovokitch to the edge of the clearing. The first task is to plant MCBs at the cardinal points around the Pod to establish its mapping reference system and extend its sensor reach. The second objective, if it is near enough for this trip, is the location to source of water they hear.

As Laramie and O'Reilly complete the circuit under Kovokitch's watchful eye, Walter scans 360 degrees from the edge of the clearing -- the Pod has blurred into the fog. Lovely day for a stroll, he scoffs.

"Alright, Sarge, sounds like the water is coming from our relative East, so let's head that way."

Kovokitch pushes into the forest a dozen probing steps with the other spaced close enough to see each other's backs. Suddenly, a rustling off to his right freezes him in place. "Ensign, we ain't alone," he whispers into his commlink.

It is big, it is black, and, even in the dim light, it seems to glisten. As Walter turns the camera in its direction, it lifts its upper body erect. Three and a half meters tall, maybe four. Standing fifteen meters away, it cocks its head to one side to inspect the strangers. It eyes Kovokitch holding his rifle aimed at its chest and huffs -- it sounds more dismissive than threatening. "Everybody pull back to the treeline," Larmie commands. The creature watches their retreat passively, lowers its body, and turns. With a glance over its shoulder, it moves away slowly and then stops, looking back again.

"Did that thing just beckon us?" Kathy asks.  "Do you think it wants us to follow?"

"You want to follow that?" Walter stammers.

"It didn't attack us -- no roaring, no baring its teeth.  Maybe it was just curious about the noise our landing made."

"What's your orders, Ensign?" Kovokitch asks. "It is still there, waiting for us. I've been fighting Bugs for twelve years, but I never had one invite me over for dinner."

"Dinner? You want to be that thing's dinner?" Walter's mind is spinning. What's the matter with these people? Who follows a predator back to its lair?

"Let's keep it in front of us. We follow, but no closer that fifteen meters and only for fifteen minutes." Laramie is curious, a bad habit of his, he knows. Was it trying to get them to follow? Why?

"O'Reilly, increase the breadcrumb trail to 100 meter per. Ellis, keep the vid feed going back to Pod, but both of you get your firearms out. Sarge, lead the way, two paces. Stop at the first sign that Nessie up there is slowing down. Move out."

One might expect following a one-ton (maybe two) beast through a jungle would be a fairly simple task of sticking to a trampled pathway left behind. But the wet vegetation springs back and closes up rapidly. Keeping "Nessie" in sight in the fog and undergrowth requires a quick pace. Crossing a small stream, they keep within fifteen meters, then twenty, but, after five minutes, when Sgt. Kovokitch drops too far behind, the mushy footsteps ahead of him go silent. "Halt," calls Kovo, "it stopped. Maybe setting an ambush, Ensign."

"In for a dime, in for a dollar, my grandpa used to say." Laramie considers whether he is being reckless. This is supposed to be a simple recon, set up a perimeter and get a lay of the land. "We still do not know what that critter has in mind. Sarge, what do you think about slipping ahead very gently to see what Nessie is doing?"

"I can do it if it needs doing."

"O'Reilly, Ellis, take cover, stay alert. But try not to shoot us if we coming beating a hasty retreat. Shoot high if need be - remember that fella has two meters on us. Go for the big target, ok?" Laramie is hoping that leaving these two at his back is not the mistake that ends his career (and life). "Ok, Sarge, you go right and I'll head left. Five meters apart, dirge pace." Let's hope that is not too prophetic -- who in Alliance training makes up these command phrases? Hope the sergeant can carry a tune.

Laramie and Kovokitch creep forward, tree by tree for cover. Standing thirty meters in front of where they halted, Nessie is looking back. Holy cow, it's waiting for them to catch up. When it spots Laramie, it tosses its head forward again, then seemingly deliberately looks back at him. "Your opinion, Sarge?"

"Lassie wants us to show us something."

"O'Reilly, Ellis, move up.  Our guide is waiting for us."

Wow, where did the Alliance get this guy, Walter speculates. Chasing a monster "goose" through fog and jungle. Bet this is his first trip out of the Academy's playpen. Grudgingly, he gathers up his gear and glances over at O'Reilly. Gee, she looks like she eating up this little adventure too. Even the Sarge is exhibiting less bloodthirsty commonsense than the average Marine. C'mon, just shoot it or let it run away, and let's get back to Pod. We're out here wandering around while the rescue crew is probably too pinched for time to follow a lousy breadcrumb trail. Boy, if I was in charge...

They continue to follow the creature, whom all but Walter are calling Nessie now. After another ten minutes, they reach the time limit Laramie set when they began. "O'Reilly, how far are we from Pod?" Laramie asks.

"About 3 klicks. 2.876 to be exact." she replies, consulting the landnav. "But we have traveled 3.35 klicks with all the twists and bends through the vegetation. Um, Ensign, I think there is a second homing beacon. From that direction." She points ten degrees left of their current bearing. "It comes and goes, but it looks like it might be about 5 klicks away."

[To Be Continued…]

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

{Continued -- version 1.1}

“Looks like we have some mission creep, “ Laramie proclaims.  “Our recon has found a new target, another downed Pod.  I think it likely, although unexplained, that Nessie is leading us there.  We are continuing to follow as long as Nessie heads in the expected direction; she knows the best path, we do not.”

I hope that Pod has an officer who outranks this guy, Walter muses. Somebody with enough sense to hunker down and wait for rescue.  But, I suppose, it is our “duty” to assist and consolidate forces.

Nessie again has paused to wait for them and resumes its trailblazing as they start to follow.  They pass over several more streams cutting down the slopes through the dense vegetation.  Ellis remembers the biokit he is carrying and pauses briefly several times to collect leaf, “fruit”, water, and soil samples, tucking each in the bag with the autogenerated label bearing the coordinates (supplied from Pod's growing map) and crossreference to the contextual photographs his chestcam takes.  At least we should get some useful data out of this wilderness mudbath.

Their trek does indeed lead to another Pod.  This one was not so fortunate in its landing (nor its escape, it appears).  Tossed almost on its topside, the craft more accurately would be described as having crashed.  The fuselage is heavily scarred, warped, and discolored, probably from damage suffered in space prior to its impact and tumbling along the surface of the planet.  The marking indicate the Pod is part of HC Sierra's complement.

Nessie has lead them into the clearing and is now quite fully visible for the first time as it approaches the Pod.  Although the creature walks as a quadriped on slightly foreshortened front legs, it again rises erect as it nears the craft and rests its three-fingered feet upon it.  From head to tip of its balancing tail, it is five meters long.  “Dinosaur” seems the likely zoological category for it.  Its relatively large head is supported by a short neck to its substantial trunk.  Its tail provides tripod-like support when erect, suggesting an adaptive selection for the frequent use of such a position.  All four feet appear to have three toes, but the front feet's digits are more finger-like, longer and multiple jointed.  While capped with protective “nails” perhaps, the fingers do not appear to be clawed.

“Ellis, do you have any commlink with Pod Beta's AI?”  Laramie asks.  “Did anything or anybody survive that or are we just following its auto-distress signal?” 

“Yes, sir.  Other than the automatic beacon, the AI has gone to passive listening mode, responding only to encrypted and passworded queries.  It has accepted the Bravo comm password issued just prior to HT28645B operations.  There are reports of considerable damage and loss of power generation, but the AI does appear to be dedicating what resources it has left to life-support.  Its has dropped  structural integrity activity, having apparently concluded that the planet's environment is safe enough to reallocate those energy resources to interior heat and air-scrubbing.  The propulsion system is in irrecoverable decline; probably leaking but final prognosis is unclear to the AI due to lack of data.  This is a very scared AI, Ensign.”  Sure, most people think AIs have no emotions, but they have not worked with them as partners,  Walter reflects.  To them, the AIs are just hardware slaves, lacking personality or purpose of their own.

“It thinks somebody is still alive in there,” Kathy says with amazement.  “How do we get them out?  Is Nessie guarding it or trying to open it?”

“Seems little point to bringing us here if it does not want us to help,” the sergeant states.  “She's showed no signs of hostility.  Being a right helpful and patient gal.  I trust her.”

“The primary airlock and hatch are buried underneath.  Ellis, get the schematics from Alpha on standard Pod design for possible bellyside access.”  Ensign Laramie watches the creature standing next to the Beta pod.   She's not really doing much; she has completed her task and is just waiting or listening.  For what?  To whom?

“Alpha shows a maintenance access at each of the landing struts; there is continued secure access from the wells into the interior substructure crawlspace and, from there, an unrestricted access to the upper deck.  They open to encoded commands from flight technicians, but Alpha refuses to tell me the codes; I do not have proper clearance.”  Thanks a lot, pal, Walter mutters under his breath.

“If it's turned off its integrity programs, it ain't going to stop my laser spitter from opening'er up.”

“Ellis, can you convince Beta AI that we are here to help and not to attack?” Laramie asks.  “Maybe, it can pop the maintenance hatches.”

“Negative of the second option, but Beta has accepted our credentials and acknowledged its understanding of our intent.”

“OK, let's do.  O'Reilly, Ellis, keep an eye of Nessie.  Position yourselves to port and starboard between Nessie and the sergeant and me.  We will climb up the aft and torch our way in.  Yell out if it moves in our direction.  If it moves in any direction.”

After a few minutes of remarkably precise cutting with a combat weapon, Kovokitch flips open the maintenance hatch.  He wiggles around the undeployed landing strut and starts on the inner hatch that yields to his efforts two minutes later.  “We're in,” announces Kovokitch, as he climbs out of the strut well.

Laramie replaces Kovokitch and enters the dark underdeck chamber.  With his utility lamp, he locates the access trapdoor to the “upper deck” below him.  There is dim lighting on this level and Laramie sees two figures strapped into flight cocoons, hanging roughly horizonally .  The first one he passes is a very rotund man whose size was a challenge to the designers of the restraint system; they did not meet the challenge for this man is dead.  The second cocoon is occupied by a much smaller man, barely a meter and a half tall, maybe fifty kilos.  The pencil thin moustache on his peaceful face twitches occasionally as he breathes slowly, apparently asleep.

“O'Reilly, how's our friend doing out there?” Laramie asks.

“Watchful, but unthreatening, sir.”  Indeed, this creature has been eyed me ever since I took up my guard position.  I'm not so sure this is really a “Nessie” after all; it acts more like that new first lieutenant thinking about proposing some “special manuevers” with me.  A lot of expression in that big face of his when you get this close.  Nostrils flaring and then slowly drawing in the scent of me.  The half closed eyes, seeking understanding and offering comfort. It is sort of hypnotic.  Doesn't look at Ellis that way.

“Sarge, take O'Reilly 's post. O'Reilly come in here with me.”  Laramie begins a visual check of the man before releasing him from the protection of the restraints.  His left leg looks twisted at an odd angle, but otherwise he appears unscathed from the crash.  There is no sign of pain in his face; it even looks like he is having a pleasant dream.

“Sir?” Kathy reports.  She glances at the thin man in his restraint netting.  His nostrils flare and slowly suck in air.  His eyes pop open.   “Senorita, you have come.  Very good,” he says.

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

[Continued 1.2]

“Sir, Ensign Gilbert Laramie.  This is Pvt Katharine O'Reilly,” Laramie introduces.  “We and two others are from FC Nimrod.  We have responded to your distress beacon.”

"Ah, yes, the introductions. If we may, could we get out of this tangled netting first?"

"Your leg appears to be damaged, sir."

"No, it is an old injury. We are fine but captured.  The nets, they will not let go.  Could we, please?"

Laramie and O'Reilly confirm that the release mechanism is not functioning.  They assist the thin man out of the snarled webbing by cutting him free. At last, they are able to lift him to his feet.

His left leg is twisted from hip to ankle such that his foot turns outward nearly ninety degrees.  But despite this deformity and his small stature, his stiff posture and meticulous attention to his clothes and grooming proclaims his sense of dignity and importance. His dark hair is touched slightly with gray at the temples, but that seems the only sign of his concession to aging. His clothing are a gray civilian tunic and pants with knee high boots, but he wears it as if it were a military uniform. 

But it is his lapel pin that catches Laramie's attention.  The Orion Star Cluster award.   Imprudently called the Old Soldier's Cashout or more commonly the Old Spy's Cashout, the OSC is awarded “with the Alliance's eternal gratitude” for extraordinary services that cannot be mentioned.  To ask about the circumstance of the award is impolite and perhaps even unsafe.  The recipient is “retired” for his/her previous career and generally relocated as far out of sight as precaution allows.  Thank you very much, but we cannot be seen with you any longer, Laramie recalls his academy prof as describing the “honor” he had received.

"Much thank you.  We are Pablo Llorona, consultant to Ambassador Koritaki," he says, bowing at the waist.  "The late Ambassador, it seems."  He gestures to the fat man in the other safety hammock.

"Sir, your Pod's AI has reported considerable damage with a strong possibility of an imminent catastrophic failure.  I believe we should disembark as quickly as possible and establish base operations at our Pod.  Is there anything we need to salvage here before we abandon the Pod?"

"We concur, Ensign.  We must take the Ambassador's portfolio. Please lead the way."  In the dim light, Kathy has found the smallest hazsuit onboard and helps Llorona into it.  Llorona removes a locket from the neck of the fat man.  Laramie locates the Pod's lockers and quickly tosses a  pair of laser pistols, the first aid kit, and some extra rations into a shoulder bag,  The three of them retrace the route out through the strut well.

As Llorona emerges from the pod's underbelly, the creature appears to draw itself up a bit taller and starts to come around from the front of the pod.  Kovokitch raises his weapon as soon as it takes its first step.

"No, no, sergeant.  Ataruk he and we are  partners, friends."

“Partners?”  Kathy blurts, “How can you be partners?  That creature could not fit inside the Pod to have traveled here with you. “

“Ah, yes, senorita.  The partnership is fresh.  We have only just met, but we have worked together to bring you here.  And you have come, yes?  And very successful partnership.”

“Sir, you were entangled inside your Pod,” Laramie takes over.  “This creature you call Ataruk could not have entered and you could not have left.  How could you meet?  How could you work out a plan to find us?”  Oh, of course, Laramie realizes, Pablo Llorona has psychic abilities.

“Ah, well, the scientists they argue over naming rights; some call it tele-empathy and others they like xeno-presence.  We can bond our minds, our feelings, our needs with fellow creatures,” Llorona responds.   “We can share purpose.”

“Awesome,” Walter exclaims as he comes around to the side of the Pod to join the others.  “So you are this creature's puppetmaster.”  Ataruk and Kovokitch have also gathered closer, although the sergeant (with weapon half lowered) positions himself to keep an eye on the creature.  Ataruk is now standing on all four feet and has lowered its head close to the ground a meter away from Llorona.  There's a limit to have much you can trust anyone as big as a six-man hovercraft, Kovokitch decides.

“Oh, no.  We are together in our thoughts and feelings, but the Ataruk and the Pablo they both are and are not one.  Some partnerships are very cooperative and others very competitive.  The Ataruk was most friendly, small persuasion was needed.  Ataruk was curious; curiosity helps much to win actions.”

“We need to move away from this Pod as a precaution.  Further explanations will need to wait.   Ellis, instruct Beta to initiate SOP 4.50.2 for thirty minutes.  Tell Alpha it's coming.”  Abandoned craft in enemy territory.  Salvage info on tightbeam to known friendly, go silent, go away.  Auto-destruct in half an hour.

“Done, Ensign.  Alpha has cleared dormant space for Beta also.” Ellis reports.  At least the AI will survive, although it will never be able to command a Pod again without some serious editting of its programming; this crash is going to cause endless second-guessing loops to its reasoning.

“Will Ataruk be coming with us?” Kathy asks as they prepare for the return trip.  She studies the reptilian face now at eye level as he appears to be studying her back.

“We feel Ataruk will return.  The curiosity is greater than the hunger, but the feeding is needed now.”

“Feeding?”  Walter steps back.

“Worry not, private.  Ataruk is vegetarian.  The fern trees and mosses give him all he needs.  But he needs much to keep the large body moving.  Now he must eat.  Later he will find us again perhaps.”

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

So, presented below is the original idea I had for the species that sprung from the misinterpretation of my profile picture by a firend. Presented in FUDGE terms. If you saw something else in the picture, present your own species design  current/big_smile

Native life form of HT-28645-b-2

Mass Scale: 2
Size Scale: 2
Speed Scale: 4

Strength: Fair
Agility: Great
Hardiness: Good
Reason: Fair
Perception: Great
Will: Fair

Racial Gifts/Faults:
Amphibious – capable of breathing both in water and on land
Omnivorous – diet is mostly small aquatic life forms, shellfish, undersea vegetation, and selected coastal land-based vegetation
Pressure Tolerance – can regulate internal pressure and physiology to dive to depths of up to 1500 to 2000 meters
Sonar – an organ in the upper center of the foreheads can emit high frequency sound waves that can function like sonar under water
Vision (adjusted spectrum) – their visual range is shifted toward the infrared part of the spectrum. High frequency colors, like blues and violets are not perceived.
Hearing (expanded range) – they can hear sounds in normal human ranges and well up into to ultrasonic frequency ranges.

The native dominant species of HT-28645-b-2 can have its appearance be superficially described as a cross between and Orca and an Otter. The overall body shape resembles an otter with the black and white coloring and smooth skin texture of a killer whale.  They have a longer neck than either terrestrial species more resembling a dinosaur's neck. They have proportionally slightly lightly longer arms and legs than an otter. Adult specimens' of the species average 4-5 meters in length from nose to tail. They can stand on their thick hind legs and the more slender fore legs have hands that have an opposable thumb and three fingers (4 digits total). Their maximum movement on land when only using their hind legs is at best about 1/3 a human running speed. They can drop to all fours and move faster on land to about human running speed. In water then can move about twice as fast.

The species has an emerging civilization where they had a stone age technology base that was based underwater for the last couple thousands years of their history. Agriculture was based upon fish farms and crops of shellfish and underwater plants. Technology included construction of elaborate stone buildings. Language was recorded on slate using chalk like coral materials. Journeys on land tended to be limited to coastal areas and the shores of navigatable rivers. Inland interiors areas were generally regarded as "here be dragons" and only very brave (or very foolish) explored there. Still, valuable items like hard woods and various food items found on land made coastal exploration increasing important. The very deep waters were dangerous due to very large predator species. Some native historians may argue that civilization developed, in part, as a communal response to the threat of deep sea predictors. Native military forces now patrol the shelf-edges to deep water areas and generally easily ward off incursion by large predators.

Being an aquatic race, fire (and metal smelting) was not known to them for a long time. Only in the last century or two has their civilization (well some of their civilizations at any rate) ventured far enough on land to discover and then learn to replicate fire. This discovery has launched something of a copper/bronze/iron age "industrial" revolution with coastal mining and smelting being new industries making metal tools and devices.

They have two "languages" - a common (or mostly common) water language - much like whale song that travels great distances under water and localized dialects of "air" language, spoke when on the surface or on land.

Sciences such as astronomy are primitive at best given the limited visibility of anything outside their own world due to massive cloud cover. Instead, equivalents of "Stonehenges" and other stone age astronomical tools are more likely to be focused on seasonal and weather prediction than astronomical considerations, especially rain fall, sea currents, tides (but lacking a large moon, tides are minimal), and such.

In whole, the civilization is still primitive enough that, especially with the thick atmosphere and cloud cover, detection of any signs of civilization from orbit are nearly impossible. That led Alliance pass-through system surveys to conclude that the world was habitable (from simple spectroscopic analysis, etc.) yet uninhabited (at least by a technical civilization).

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

[continued 1.3]

As they head out of the clearing, Ataruk walks over  to a nearby fern tree, stands up, and plucks four long fronds from the trunk with his hands.  He munches the tips of the fronds as he folds each stalk in half, gathering the “elbows” together.   Kathy glances back and sees that, rather than eating the fronds, Ataruk begins to bend each stalk over the adjacent stalk, deftly turning the bundle in a circularly direction as the pattern emerges.  Within several seconds, he has twisted the fronds into  two rows of a spiraling pattern.  While the others continue to the edge of the clearing, she stops in amazement.

“Look, look at Ataruk.  He is weaving a basket,” she exclaims.  The others stop and turn.

“Ataruk feels care for others/self, shares the hunger.  We interrupted his discovery, nearby we think, of much food.  Now he wants to avoid upset of others/self that he has not returned yet with food,” Pablo explains casually.  He shows no sign of surprise at Ataruk's manifestation of tool-building.  “We think he has a family.  Maybe his mate would be annoyed that he was distracted.  Again.”

“His name?  Did he tell you his name?  Does he speak?” Laramie asks.

“The Ataruk and the Pablo do not speak.  The name we felt was good, but its origin is, uh,  poof, spontaneous.  Ataruk feels emotions, we feel emotions.  Across distance, we all share the flavors of thoughts without the substance of words.  We interpret for you what we feel.  Sometimes we embellish more than we know, but we have much experience with these sharings.”

“Did you know he built tools?” Walter watches intently as the basket grows to be a half meter deep.

“Ataruk is very intelligent, complex as a human.  We are not surprised.  The emotions we shared were much varied, but it is Ataruk who solved the puzzle of finding you and bringing you here.  He felt our need for help and accepted us as friend.  Identified you as friend.”

“Let's leave him to his work and get back to Pod.  O'Reilly, retrieve the extra breadcrumbs to spacing at 500 meters.  Sarge, back the way we came.  Oh, and, sir, can you warn him away from the blast in 26  minutes?” Laramie adds as an afterthought. 

Pablo Llorona closes his eyes with an expression of mild concentration.  Ataruk looks up from his now completely task at Pablo, drops to all four feet with the basket in his mouth, and disappears over the ridge.

With a better idea of their destination (and a marked path to follow), they make better time on the return trip.  Pablo Llorona has long ago learned to cope with his twisted leg and, albeit awkward in appearance, does not slow their hike through the forest.  At the 30 minute mark, they hear the concussive shock of the Beta Pod's destruction.

“Sir,” Walter calls suddenly as they are about halfway back, “the Pod reports heat patterns from descending objects at about three kilometers northeast of its position;  that is about same distance from us to the WNW.  They are dropping silently without presenting Alliance credentials.  AI counts fifteen objects estimated at a meter diameter.  Shape is indistinct, but they are dispersing radially at 1 kilometer up.”

“Sounds like possible trouble.  O'Reilly, establish our position on the known map and put the breadcrumbs to sleep.  We are on gyroscopic dead reckoning for now.  Ellis, confirm Alpha AI has stopped broadcasting to space and gone to listening mode on BFF.  Shut off your chestcam transmission.  I think we need to assume the Pod may have been spotted, but maybe we can drop off the map.”

BFF.  Boy, I hope those lab techs are right about this Bug-Free Frequency stuff, Walter thinks as he converts his communication gear for the latest trick up the Alliance's sleeve.  He checks the power level on the equipment's battery.  At the BFF consumption levels, we'll have about 5 minutes to communicate instead of 500 hours.

“South, Sarge.  With any luck, we'll find our way back to Pod sometime.   Sir, a firearm?”

“Thank you, but no.  We carry weapons no more.”

The group veers off their previous path.  Kovokitch leads and Laramie sweeps with Ellis, O'Reilly, and Llorna in the middle.  Kathy walks close to Pablo, ready to offer assistance.  His gait zigzags as he swings his left leg forward and outward, but he is steadily rhythmic.   They scan the treetops as they walk, vigilant for their potential stalkers.

But instead of coming from behind them as they anticipate, they hear the buzz of beating wings to their right.  Quickly dropping to the ground, they attempt to hide in the fog and vegetation.  The sound draws closer and passes over them about three meters in the air.   The Bug whirlygig slows above them.  Quickly, Kovokitch drills three shots through its head and it drops to the ground.

“OK, we have been spotted, but maybe we gained a few minutes if it did not get a chance to report.  The Bugs will notice its absence soon enough, so we need the best cover we can find as far from here as we can get.  To the right, Sarge, where it has already searched.  Double time.”

As they hasten through the forest, Llorona struggles with the faster pace.   Ellis is nearly on Kovokitch's shoulder, while Kathy and Laramie slow to Llorona's best efforts.  At half a kilometer from the point of encounter, they come to a stream.  Upstream they hear tumbling water and head in that direction.   There they find a fifteen meter waterfall.  Behind the falling water there is a small opening.

“This will have to do.  O'Reilly assist Mr. Llorona into the back of the cave.  Ellis, you next.  Sarge, you post left and I'll take right.  Everyone get settled for the long haul.”  Well, this looks pretty grim, Laramie thinks.  The access is narrow and maybe the water will provide some thermal cover, but the Bugs will find us eventually.

Pablo Llorona sits down heavily, clearly exhausted, sighs deepily, and closes his eyes.  In a few moments, he seems to be peacefully asleep.  Odd man, Laramie thinks. Even faced with this imminent danger, he can so easily relax. A man of his experience has probably learned the worst part of waiting is the anxiety.

They do not have long to wait. Soon the sound of several whirlygigs can be heard approaching. Peering through a small break in the cascading water, Walter catches glimpses through the waterfall and the fog of the parallel paths of the Bug surveillance drones, spaced 30 meters apart. They pass over the stream, the nearest 10 meters away. without detecting the hidey-hole, but a few minutes later another squad arrives from a perpendicular direction to the first group's. Their altitude is below the height of the treetops, five meters up, weaving around the trunks. As the drone flying upstream above the water approaches the waterfall, it starts to ascend to match the ground's contour. It pauses and moves to their left along the cliff face. It pauses again, descends to five meters, and reverses its direction and passes the waterfall to continue along the cliff's front to their right.

Is it guessing or does it know we are here? Walter frets.  How could it see or hear us behind all this water and its roaring sound? Gee, those things are freaky with all those tangling tentacles, antennae, or whatever they are.  Doesn't even look like it has any feet to set on the ground.  Bumblebee wings on a jellyfish, born to spent its whole live in the air. Looking for us.

The curious whirlygig resumes its ascent up the cliff, presumably returning to its place in formation. A collective release of tension flows over the occupants of the cave.  Relief is short-lived.  Within an hour, the foot soldiers have arrived, following a ground sniffing giant beetle. The body of the dead whirlygig has been found, giving the Bugs a starting point for the ground search. There is no hiding their footprints in this muck; the bloodhound Bug is superfluous, but Bugs are orderly and strict to their procedures if nothing else.

"We are found," Laramie declares. "There is no good approach for them, so we have a shooting gallery as long as the ammo holds. Make the best of it. Sarge, engage. Ellis, O'Reilly, stay back out of sight."

With a roar, Kovokitch unleashes an uncannily precise display of single-burst fire at the Bugs. One burst, one dead Bug; ten bursts, ten dead Bugs. Laramie with his sidearm can come nowhere close to the sergeant's speed and accuracy, but he also has good success dropping three of the mantis-like soldiers before the other half of the troop scurries behind the nearest trees for cover. The return fire of the Bugs is ineffective, but soon the Alliance crew has an equal lack of good targets. A stalemate ain't death, but it ain't good for us either, Kovokich mutters. They'll get reinforcements and heavy equipment to bring this whole cliff down on our heads.

In the back of the cave, Pablo Llorona pops awake. "Now, Ensign, open fire into the ground in front of the Bugs.  Our friends will need the distraction. Fire short and furious."

Laramie and Kovokitch open fire at the bases of the trees where they last spotted Bugs, rapidly targetting a spot and moving quickly to the next piece of cover. Dimly through the fog they see half a dozen or more dark and huge shadows rise up behind the Bugs. In seconds, the Bugs die silently torn apart in the hands of "the Ataruks" or smashed under their feet.

"Bugs never scream," Kovokitch remarks calmly. "I knew I like that gal. Or guy.”

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

Ataruk – species discovered on HT-28645-b2; preliminary naming by Pablo Llorona

Overview:

Class- Animal/Dinosaur.  Vegetarian browser-gatherer of raw and prepared foods.
(see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saurolophus for approximate morphology, but there are considerable physiological differences and Ataraks are half the size.) 

Frequently bipedal (for feeding, surveillance, and hand-based activities such as crafts, communication, grooming), but travels as quadruped on the inner knuckles of front hands.   Forelimbs have three fingers of approximately equal length with four joints ,extending from a palm with uneven spacing at 45, 90, and 120 degrees from a line of symmetry along the axis of the forelimb.  The palm of the hand is 110% the length of the longest finger and attaches to the forelimb with a flexible but muscularly enforced wrist.  The fingers are capable of being rolled into a protective fist within the confines of the palm, often seen when walking.  The tips of the fingers have fingernail coverings which may be vestigally related to the more claw-like complements on the rear limbs.  The rear limbs are 20% longer than the forelimbs and 50% more massive.  The foot on these limbs has three toes with a single joint extending from the palm/flat, spaced evenly at 75, 90, and 105 degree along the symmetry axis.  Anatomically, the additional joints seen in the forelimbs' fingers have become rigidly fused and absorbed within the fleshy confines of the rear foot's palm/flat.   The head has sense organs for sight, scent, taste, and sound bilaterally placed.  The eyes are positioned in front of the skull allowing binocular vision.  The forehead is dominated by a low bony but highly chambered cranial crest.  The homodont dentition is specialized for chewing and crushing vegetation with a polyphyont replacement largely in the rear of the jaw. The body mass above the rear hips is counterbalanced by a thick tail comprising about 30% of the total length of the creature. 

Complex intelligence (human equivalent). 

Neolithic technology.  Fire.  Herbal/holistic medicine.  Food preparation/preservation.  Assembled and shaped tools from natural materials.  Heat (low temperature), water, and chemical treatment of organic and inorganic material.  Housing and vehicle (travois, raft) construction.  Significant cataloguing of planetary resources (mostly terrestrial) and their properties. Scant to nil metallurgy.    Domesticated pets.

Herd-tribe culture.  Much commerce amongst herd-tribes. Shared cultural identity and language amongst all Ataruks.  Matriarchial alignment of position and status in society relationships.  Semi-nomadic.

Distribution on HT-28645-b2 is largely equatorial to peri-equatorial on six adjacent continent-islands in the western hemisphere (combined area of about 1 billion hectares (size of USA)).  Census estimate is 20,000 individuals.  No identified match on other surveyed worlds.

Estimated maximum lifespan: 50 Terran years (42 HT28645-b2 years).  Full growth at 30 Terran years (29 local years).

Racial attributes & physical description:

In a Terran context, Ataruk share many reptilian characteristics in external appearance (thick and scaly skin, sense organs, teeth, bilateral symmetry, quadrupedal body shape and locomotion, body balance through cantilevered tail, oviparous), but phylogenetically they are unrelated.   Unlike Terran reptiles, Ataruk are homeothermic,  have a highly developed sense of smell/taste, and possess a limbic brain structure more similar to Terran mammals.  Atarak lack vocal chords but are capable of producing (and hearing) sound into the infrasonic range (largely through the use of their forehead crest and surrounding soft tissue).

Mass Scale:        7 (1.5 metric tons for fullgrown average adult)
Size Scale:        3 (4 meters upright;  6 meters nose-to-tail; largest terrestrial animal on planet)
Speed Scale:            Quadrupedal: 3; Bipedal: -1; cannot “run” bipedally and rarely “walks” as such
Strength Scale:     7 (1.5 hp sustained, 20 hp bursts/sprints)
Agility Scale:            Manual dexterity: -1; Body control: 0
Hardiness Scale:      2 (thick scaly epidermis, heavy bone structure) 
Reason Scale:         0
Perception Scale:     Sight: 0; Sound:1 (infrasonic); Smell/Taste: 1; Touch: 0
Will Scale:         0

Racial characteristics, tendencies, and attitudes (Gift/Faults):

Long and slow developmental growth as young and juveniles, followed by exponential (size) growth in three to four years before sexual maturity (around 18 local years).  Societal cohesion is emphasized first as a protected and nurtured member and later as a protector and nurturer.  Transitional years (teenagers!) are emotionally traumatic but culturally expected; there is considerable ritualized training and activity associated with this time in an Ataruk's life.

Knowledge and use of language, both interpersonal and written.  Interpersonal communication uses hands and, to a less formalized extent, body postures.  Written expression uses an alphabet of gylphs (related to hand positions) to compose words, i.e. a (non-sound based) syllabic system, not logographic heiroglyphs.

Tendency to outreach, investigation, curiosity.  Emboldened sense of invincibility.  Independence of action in a (post-adventure) sharing milieu.  Knowing more and being better as an individual improves the whole society.

Dutiful and attentive to own herd-tribe.  Non-aggressive, non-territorial reaction to other herd-tribes of Ataruks with ritualized commerce, sharing, and cross-mating amongst herd-tribes.  Herd-tribes number from dozens to hundreds of individuals.  Weak family identification within herd-tribe identity, but language does support distinction of parents, siblings, children, aunt/uncle, and cousin/nephew.   Leadership is oligarchial (and largely male-oriented) with a status/position system loosely matriarchial.  Language supports use of "mother" to refer to non-biological mothers who have significant influence on a young/juvenile Atarak's upbringing.  Adoption and acceptance is more important than mating and egg-laying.

(Highly) Protective of Atarak gains as a culture and a species in a world they do not believe to be their home planet.  There is species awareness of extraplanetary systems despite the lack of a clear atmosphere and any technology that can sense beyond the atmosphere.  Folklore shared amongst Ataruk depicts their abandonment upon this planet (called the equivalent of Hell (versus Home) in their language) in very ancient times.  Although achieved peacefully (due to a late of significant predation from indigenous species), there is a cultural sense of shared conquest or triumph over adversity.

Exploitative attitude to environment.  Willingness to convert resources of the world to own needs and then move on when depleted.  Tendency to wastefulness. This attitude probably relates to the belief in the lack of common ancestry with their alien prison.  The lifestyle of the herd-tribes tends towards semi-nomadic, although the abundant productivity and resources of occupied areas allow decades of over-utilization before relocation is required.  Herd-tribe migration will always precede total degradation and depletion (under the current population size, at least).  In a more limited resource world/setting, Ataruks might find this a "bad habit" hard to break.

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Re: Creature (and setting) design contest

Pablo Llorona

Species: Human
Birth: circa 2010, probably Mexico City, Mexico, Terra; no birth certificate available.
Appearance (in 2055):  Small, thin man with a pencil-thin moustache.  His left leg is twisted from hip to ankle such that his foot is perpendicularly pointing outward.  His grooming and garments are immaculately maintained to the best of his ability and circumstances.

{Seihook of Aldeban algorithm, p65}

Attributes (8 attributes including supernormal, 5 free +2 offset lowering +2 from 1 Fault)
-1    Size:         Mediocre  (1.5 meters tall; 50kg (110 lbs))
-1    Constitution:    Mediocre
0    Strength:            Fair
+1    Reasoning:    Good
+1    Perception:    Good
+2    Willpower:    Great
+2    Charm:        Great
+3    Tele-empathy:    Superb


Tele-empathy:

Tele-empathy is the sharing of emotions between physically separated intelligent creatures capable of emotional cognition.   The shared content lacks words, symbols, and pictures, but can evoke complex mixtures of emotional concepts.  The Wheel of Emotion devised by Robert Plutchik (see http://www.fractal.org/Bewustzijns-Best … otions.htm for illustration/chart) may be useful in providing a vocabulary and role-playing aid.  While the initial linkage requires some proximity (nearest emotional mind), the subsequent connections do not.  The linkage(s) may only be established by the tele-empath, but the sharing is bidirectional, with emotions read and transmitted by both parties.  Each partner is aware of the other's presence and has free will to act upon or ignore the sharing.  In general, even very adept tele-empaths require dedicated focus on the task of establishing and holding open the connection.  This may appear as sleep or trance behaviors.


Gifts (2 free +1 from 1 Fault):
       * Orion Star Cluster – a rare and extremely secretive Alliance award.  The Alliance's “eternal gratitude” opens many doors with questions unasked – BUT NOT TOO OFTEN OR TOO OBVIOUSLY.   Many trappings of fame without any actuality of anyone knowing why you are famous.  Bestowees of the award are “expected to stay out of trouble and stay out of sight” while being permitted (oddly actually required to the extent possible) to display the OSC symbol on their person.  Rarely do they ever again meet or contact anyone they knew prior to the OSC incident-award.  All previous prestige, fame (history, infamy), and connections are lost in exchange for the anonymous honor of the OSC.

     * Fast learner/coper.  Readily able to process new circumstances into a working model for action or interaction. 

     * Passionate about life and its preservation.  His passion drives his ambition and his motivation.  He is difficult to discourage or distract from his decided purpose.
   
Faults (6 => 1 to 2 Attribute levels, 1 to 1 Gift, 2 to 12 Skill levels; 2 Faults unconverted but relevant to personality and role-playing):

     * Unimposing appearance due to short stature; somewhat offset (or further aggravated)  by prideful refusal to acknowledge others' disregard.

     * Deformed leg - can walk to keep up with a normal human pace over most terrain, but limits best speed to a little more than walking speed - cannot run, struggles to climb or use ladder.

     * Ethically refuses to empathically share with another human (ever again, had done so in past prior to OSC incident)

     * Will not carry/use a weapon (but will otherwise support combat); also ever again, had done so prior to the OSC incident

     * Will (never again) use tele-empathy against a creature/partner (after OSC incident)

     * Distrust to strong antipathy towards intelligent species/creatures incapable of emotional rapport.  This includes Bugs and mechanical AIs.  Lowers reasoning and ethical control of self.

Skills (40 free + 12 from Faults):


SkillSpecialtyLevelCostCum
Knowledge of PsychologyGeneral theoryGoodHard 44
dittoEmotion theoryGreatHard 59
dittoXenobiology/xenopsychologyGreatHard 514
Marksmanshipvarious firearmsFairAvg 216
Military strategy & tacticsFairAvg 218
Military support logisticsFairAvg 220
SabotageExplosive demolitionFairAvg 222
dittoElectronic interferenceMediocreAvg 123
dittoHydraulics, PlumbingMediocreAvg 124
StealthFairAvg 226
DisguiseMediocreAvg 127
SurveillanceGoodAvg 330
Language learning techniqueAssimilation of vocabulary, syntaxMediocreHard 232
dittoEnunciation, tonePoorHard 133
Language learnedSpanish (native language)GoodFree?
dittoEnglishFairAvg 235
dittoAlliance BasicFairAvg 237
dittoSeveral xenolanguages where visitedTerrible, but small vocabAvg 0
Deceit, Guile, & PersuasionGetting Your Way 101GoodAvg 340
Diplomacy & TactWinning Without Notice 101GoodHard 444
Spanish Romance PoetryGoodAvg 347
First Aid/ Secondary MedHumanFairAvg 249
dittoXenoanatomyFairHard 352

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