Falgaatu and Falgaat Nahr
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue.
|Morphology||Bilateral symmetry, truncated tetrapod (four atrophied limbs); winged (two wings fused from for and hind limbs and elongated ribs)|
|Biochemistry||C/H/O/N/P/S-based, broadly compatible with Terrestrial|
|Respiration||O2-N2 inhalant, CO2 exhalant|
|Ecology||Diurnal (active during the day)|
|Habitat||Temperate to Tropic, semi-arid to humid, wide range of habitats|
|Diet and Trophics||Diet as noted (Behaviour); ectothermic.|
|Reproduction||Two genders, little sexual dimorphism, conjucal intercourse, oviparous birth (~20 eggs), semelparous (reproducing only once per lifetime). Eggs and nymphs carried by male and cared for until able to fly|
|Lifecycle and ontogeny||One week as nymph, moulting, five years as adult|
|SKILLS||Recon-1, Survival-1, Stealth-1|
|ATTACKS||Flee 9-, Attack 11+, Bite (1d–2)|
|TRAITS||Small (–2); Chameleon (–2 to spot when landed); Flyer|
|SKILLS||Recon-1, Brawling/bite-1, Stealth-1|
|ATTACKS||Flee 6-, Attack 9+, Bite (1d)|
|TRAITS||Small (–1); Flyer|
The falgaatu is a native species of the Jaivan jungles and steppes on Peshkhaur, also known to travellers as a “clingray” due to its habit of attaching itself to sources of warmth. The same habit has spread falgaatu across nearly the entire sector, travelling to new planets as stowaways in the holds of smugglers and free traders.
Its larger cousin, the falgat naahr, followed its steps much later, and in a less haphazard manner: since falgat naahr prey on the nymphs of falgaatu and are themselves harmless enough (usually) not to upset a balanced ecosystem, they were deliberately released on many planets where the involuntary introduction of falgaatu threatened to cause problems.
Outwardly, the falgaatu looks similar to a Terrestrial manta ray, a flat, supple triangular pancake shape with a long flexible tail to aid in steering. The belly is a grayish white in colour, while the dorsal region is able to take on a wide range of hues to blend in with the surrounding area when the falgaatu is not flying. During mating flights, the usual instinctive mimesis gives way to scintillating displays of colour and bioluminescence that have inspired Jaivanian poets ever since the planet was settled and made falgaatu the symbol of lovers on Peshkhaur.
The flight of a falgaatu is mainly muscle-powered, with the airstream regulated by adjustable scaly fibrils on its wings. Adult falgaatu have a gas bladder which is filled with lighter-than-air hydrogen and reduces their effective weight; while they are not true gasbag floaters, the buoyancy provided by the bladder lends their flight a lazy and elegant quality. The bladder makes falgaatu extremely vulnerable to energy weapons; regardless of power output, any hit will explode the hydrogen and kill the creature.
A falgaatu’s front is covered by a cluster of ten ocelles that can be extended on short stalks and moved independently. The mouth is located on the underside and houses two rather nasty-looking circular sets of teeth that rotate back and forth against each other. Appearances are misleading, though; the bite of a falgaatu is no worse than a Terrestrial house cat’s, and the drill-like movement is just strong enough to pulp soft plant matter. The preferred diet is succulent leaves, mosses and fronds, but they are able to digest berries, bark and fruit if no other food is available. Several other orifices on the belly and the underside of the wings provide suction to attach the creature to any moderately flat surface; again, the suction is not strong enough to cause worse damage than a slight bruise even if the falgaatu is pulled off forcibly.
Falgaatu are social creatures and gather in swarms or “schools” of ten to twenty adults. Mating pairs form for life. Even though a pairing only produces eggs once in their lifetime, pairs go through the rituals of courtship every spring season, with colourful displays of their skin and spiralling mating flights. After mating, the female lays a cluster of fertilised eggs on the back of the male, which will carry them until hatching. The hatched nymphs feed on nutrients that the male sweats out of its skin until they are old enough to moult, at which time they fall off and search for a warm hiding place.
In colder temperatures and at dusk, the ectothermic falgaatu are driven to seek out warm places to lie flat against. In their native environment, this would be sun-warmed rocks or certain species of the unga plant that generate warmth (and there is the bardamul, a predatory pitcher plant that lures falgaatu with its heat spots). In urban areas, falgaatu can sometimes be found blanketing poorly-insulated windows, exhausts or even late pedestrians walking their incorial pets. While this is usually not dangerous, there have been (few and far between, but invariably highly publicised) cases of intoxicated people suffocating from a “’gaatu smooch”. A very small number of people (roll 12+ followed by 9+ on 2D) are also allergic to the male falgaatu’s skin secretion and may even (on a further 9+) suffer anaphylactic shock on exposure to bare skin. Otherwise, being “smooched” is harmless, and unless the victim panics (which may provoke a bite from the startled creature), the falgaatu can be shooed away easily. On Peshkhaur, being “smooched” is seen as a harbinger of good fortune in love, and scores of romantically-minded Peshkhauran single youths will walk the public parks on summer evenings in the hope of a favourable omen.
Falgat naahr share the falgaatu’s general morphology but are larger and less nimble. They can fly silently, thanks to a larger hydrogen bladder, and will supplement their diet of leaves and ferns by hunting small animals at dusk. To strike prey, they rapidly deflate their bladder, gaining weight and dropping like a stone. Afterwards, the creature is rather clumsy and slow in flight (+2 to hit, and speed reduced by half) until the bladder has been filled again, a process which takes about two hours.
Unlike the falgaatu, falgat naahr do not form swarms. A mated pair will hunt together for a while but go their separate ways after the male has received the fertilised eggs.
- The travellers are accompanying a Jaivanian prince and his fiancée on a pre-honeymoon tour of the subsector’s resort planets. While visiting a popular wildlife preserve, they encounter a group of young tourists engaging in the latest fashionable sport: “clingray hunting” with low-powered laser rifles. The ignited hydrogen bladders give off a satisfying “pop” which provokes raucous laughter and rude jokes. The royal pair are not only deeply offended but also terrified that this encounter might be the worst possible omen for their proposed marriage! This causes both of them to have second thoughts; not exactly what the travellers’ patrons had in mind when they authorised the trip. Reneging on the planned marriage would cause disastrous political repercussions.
- As the travellers are out prospecting in the wilderness, their generator’s exhausts are hugged by a swarm of falgaatu. If the animals are not shooed away quickly, the generator will overheat and stop working until superficial repairs are made – which is not a serious issue but could lose them all the data generated up until the moment where the generator gave out. There are still a few days of research work ahead, and the travellers need to come up with a way of keeping the falgaatu away from their delicate (and warm) equipment.
- The supply run to a wilderness camp or remote outpost went smoothly – but now there are a few bewildered falgaatu with the travellers in their ship’s airlock that have been drawn towards the warmth of their ship’s interior.
- The travellers’ ship has returned from a major maintenance overhaul. As the travellers prepare for takeoff, they notice a few falgaatu suspiciously clustering around the edges of their ship’s viewports. It turns out that the caulk the tech crew used to seal the ports to the bulkhead is a cheap substitute that would have let the ship’s life support and heat leak into space once it had cleared the atmosphere. This begs the question: was it just shoddy workmanship, an honest mistake, an unreliable supplier, or deliberate sabotage? The techs may be in league with a band of pirates planning to take over the ship once the crew is dead in space.
- A wealthy young dilettante has chartered the travellers’ ship for a
trip to Peshkhaur. Together with his mother’s female secretary, he duly
visits all the tourist attractions, but his real aim is getting one of
the good-luck falgaatu smooches for him and the secretary (whom he has a
crush on). He thinks that if he can get both of them “smooched” shortly
after each other, she may see this as a sign from the gods of love and
give up her resistance to his obvious charms. After two fruitless nights
out in the park and a beginning head cold, the young man decides that
the gods need a little helping hand; he has the travellers visit the
black market and buy a pheromone spray to attract the animals. There is
the little matter of administering it to the secretary without her
noticing – and then finding out the hard way that she has a severe
allergy to falgaatu (or is it the pheromone cocktail she is allergic
Depending on the outcome, the travellers and their patron may be in for charges of grievous bodily harm or worse. The local police are already suspicious of the travellers – after lingering in the park for two nights, to the patrolmen they have the look of a gang of rapists looking for victims, and the unconscious secretary at first glance does look like someone knocked out by knockout spray. There will be a lot to explain.
- A scholar from one of the sector’s major universities wants to conduct a study on the effects of falgaatu smooches and hires the travellers as help. They are supposed to enlist the youths who regularly congregate at one of the parks for nightly “love walks” as guinea pigs. The test entails hormone samples taken before and after a smooch, and a short questionnaire. Surprisingly, none of the young men and women are exactly cooperative, and all of them react in a frightened manner. It turns out the park is a meeting place for the underground Psionic Institute, and the “love walks” are a cover for young people getting rudimentary training to control their latent abilities. The travellers will have to deal with experienced Institute teachers subtly using their psionic powers to get them to leave, as well as with panicked youths lashing out with their only half-mastered abilities if the travellers ask too many prying questions.
- High noon! The travellers have caught up with their enemies. Guns are drawn, and the few residents of the border town take cover as the contrahents slowly advance towards each other. Unfortunately, the first shots startle several pairs of falgat naahr that were roosting under an overhanging roof. In panic, some of the animals empty their hydrogen bladders and dive out of sight, while others zip around the battlefield or frantically attack the combatants. Muzzle flashes or laser beams may ignite the hydrogen clouds left by the fleeing falgat naahr and cause them to to explode, adding to the danger.
- The travellers have spent long hours looking for the camouflaged smuggler den where their friend is held hostage. Just as they are about to give up, a flock of falgaatu sails by and alights on a seemingly innocuous rock formation. It is located just on top of the station’s power plant. The plant’s exhaust heat is expertly masked and dissipated to fool conventional sensors, but the animals’ sharp senses notice the slight temperature differential.
- The travellers set up camp. During the night, several falgaatu nymphs creep silently into the travellers’ sleeping bags and start shedding their skin. There is no great danger unless one of the travellers panics (or is allergic), but in the morning, they awake to discover that other nymphs have crept into toolboxes, backpacks, under their air/raft’s hood, into their robot’s joints and torso cavity, in short: everywhere. It will be quite a chore to get them and their sticky discarded skins off the equipment.
- One of the male travellers witnesses a falgaatu clinging to a young girl’s face. If he rushes to help her, she will be convinced that the ’gaatu smooch was a sign and become deeply infatuated with her “savior”. She will use her comp and administration skills (she’s a teenage whiz kid and top of her class in computers) to find out the travellers’ whereabouts at any given time, linger around their ship or hotel in the hope of meeting her crush, and just generally turn up at the least opportune moments, such as when the travellers are infiltrating a facility or on the verge of having a gunfight with the bad guys. Finally, she gets into enough trouble that the travellers have to team up with her high school buddy to rescue her. Hopefully, they can also convince her that the boy would make a better boyfriend than a space vagabond of dubious reputation.
- In the tundra zone of a cold world, unscrupulous prospectors release falgaatu to find deposits of pitchblende and thorianite by the trace heat generated by the mineral’s radiation. The animals are illegally poached on other planets, and the constant exposure to the cold, the toxic dust and radiation causes them to sicken and die painfully in a very short time. A subsector-wide animal rights group hires the travellers to get evidence of the abuse that they can present to the public (or, if the travellers are well-equipped mercenaries, offers a ticket to police the area and fight the prospectors). Unfortunately, the prospectors are secretly backed by an influential corporation, and if their activities are disrupted, the company will send a team of hard-bitten mercs to get rid of the travellers. High winds, freezing temperatures and the radioactive dust make combat on the tundra dangerous; a breached suit or a sabotaged filter could be very unhealthy for the wearer. Also, the radiation will spoof sensors and electronics near larger deposits (unless the travellers or their adversaries have access to hardened military gear), so stalking the enemy will be a matter of old-fashioned skills rather than fancy use of tech.
- The travellers work for a team of Aslan ihatei scouts looking for a
vacant area of the planet to settle. It looks like they found the
perfect place, and the ihatei look very pleased when they are shown the
premises. Just as they are erecting a provisory bridgehead, the ihatei
leader is startled by a swooping falgat naahr. He will quickly regain
his composure, but on the next day he tells the travellers and his
companions that they are leaving, no explanations given. The
half-finished buildings and shelters are to be abandoned. The other
Aslan grumble, and there is talk of challenging the leader. The exodus
is postponed till the next day, but tensions remain high.
During the night, the shaken Aslan leader drinks himself into a half-stupor in the travellers’ ship, and they have the opportunity to get some information out of him. It turns out that the falgat naahr looks like a creature from his homeworld that he has a severe phobia of (he was attacked by one as a cub); he fears that if they stay in the area and encounter more of the animals, he would panic and betray his fear to the other ihatei. They would lose their respect of him, and he would either be constantly challenged or outright deposed.
If the travellers still want their share of the new colony’s revenue (or whatever was negotiated as their fee upon completion of the mission) they have to convince the leader to stay, they have to get him to face and conquer his phobia, and they have to conceal his shameful condition from the other Aslan until he can finally fearlessly claim this land as his own.