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Vortis

By Justin Reynolds

The planet Vortis is a strange world in several ways. Foremost among them are the unusual properties of the atmosphere. It is completely colourless, so the sky is always black. Stars can be seen even in the middle of the day, because of the dimness of the planets sun. The atmosphere also has the effect of blurring and distorting vision, though not to a significant extent. It is breathable by humans, but somewhat thin, and it takes a while to become acclimatised. Sounds tend to echo in the rarefied air.

The life forms of Vortis are also unusual. Virtually all the native species have evolved from insects, grown to gigantic proportions. The giant insects inhabit the beautiful flower forests that cover most of the planet. These forests produce plenty of food for the animal life, so carnivores are few.

Vortis is changed greatly by the arrival of the Animus. Most of it is turned into a barren wasteland, and many plant and animal species become extinct. Several new moons are pulled into orbit, where there used to be none. This state lasted for many generations, before the Animus was killed and the restoration of the planet could begin. At this point in the planet's history at is particularly vulnerable to alien invasion, and its future hangs in the balance.

ANIMI

The Animi are race of intelligent interstellar parasites. A single Animus can engulf an entire planet, encasing it in a giant living web and destroying all indigenous life on the world. They are extremely difficult to destroy once they have taken root, and only their centuries-long life cycle has prevented them from overrunning their entire galaxy.

From the moment it arrives on a planet, an Animus begins to destroy the ecology. The creature excretes substances that transform the surrounding water into a deadly acid. This contamination eventually spreads across the entire planet, killing the vegetation and leaving animal life to die from thirst and starvation. Pure water can only be found deep in the ground, and destructive acid rain can occur on wet worlds. The acid dissolves minerals from the rocks and carries them to the Animus, which uses them to build its web. The growth of the web is slow, taking several centuries to completely engulf a planet, but the advance is unceasing. Once the planet is under its control, the Animus will reproduce, shooting myriad spores out into space to find new planets to devour.

Although they evolved from a spider-like creature, the Animi now most closely resemble giant jellyfish. The mature Animus is a glowing, translucent umbrella with numerous tentacles dangling from its edges. The largest tentacles support the creature above the pulsing heart of its web. It is hard to tell where the tentacles of the Animus end, and the web begins - the web is effectively an extension of the Animus's body. Few creatures are able to see a living Animus anyway. as it emits a blinding, pulsing light.

The Animi always establish themselves above a magnetic pole of their planets. They draw most of their sustenance from this power source, with the resulting side effect of a powerful attractive field around the planet. This field may capture new satellites or cause space ships to crash.

Weapons
Aside from their deadly effect on the ecology of their planets, the Animi's greatest weapon is their hypnotic ability. This requires the presence of gold to function, but its influence extends across the entire planet. The hypnotism power works at full strength only if the victims are wearing gold around their necks. Anyone with a reasonable quantity of gold elsewhere on their bodies is also at risk, but the Animus suffers a total ability penalty of 2. The victims become mindless zombies under the Animus's control. Creatures not carrying gold can only be affected if they are actually in the presence of the Animus, again with a penalty of 2. In this situation only the weakest willed can be taken over completely - most victims are merely unable to act or resist the Animus's tentacles.

Victims of an Animus's hypnotism often become its weapons. Extremely weak willed creatures are their favourite slaves, because the hypnotic hold on them can be maintained without the presence of gold. Creatures with higher Determination fight against the hypnotism, and can only be controlled with gold necklets. The Animi webs are riddled with passages in which their slaves live, and which allow captives to be brought to the centre where the Animus can deal with them directly.

The Animi are able to drain knowledge from the minds of their victims. The process takes a long time, and requires the victims to be held in the Animus's tentacles until their bodies are consumed. The tentacles are unable to restrain anyone actively resisting. so the victims must be hypnotised.

The web can duplicate the functions of quite sophisticated electronic devices, including sensors and communications devices. The Animi can also grow devices which function as Wounds 6 blasters and can shoot webs to restrain captives. The webs act as grappling attacks by Strength 7 opponents.

Armour
The Animus and its web are very tough, giving them full Armour 8 and 6 respectively. Each section of the web has Strength 3 for the purpose of determining effects of damage.

Weaknesses
The Animi are highly susceptible to magnetic effects, and opposing forces such as that of the TARDIS are capable of reflecting and reversing the effects of the Animi's weapons. The acid streams that carry vital minerals to the heart of the web are a weak point for the Animi. It would be possible to poison them if large quantities of a substance deadly to Animi could be found, but Animi are resistant to most standard poisons.

Most Animi do not have a good understanding of other life forms, and can be deceived moderately easily. However, they are aware of this and tend to be paranoid about the motivations of others. Some Animi keep large teams of unhypnotised slaves to add mineral bearing rocks to the acid streams. These slaves are potential armies to fight the Animi.

ZARBI

The Zarbi are a species of giant insects. Their bodies are covered in a rigid black exoskeleton of chitin. The head of a Zarbi is large, with powerful mandibles and bulbous eyes. They have no antennae, unlike most insects. Their bulky abdomens protrude behind them, attached to the thorax by a narrow waist, and help to maintain their balance. Like grasshoppers, they have large, powerful hind legs. They often walk on these legs alone in an almost bipedal fashion, and use the others as manipulatory appendages. This is an indication that the Zarbi may be evolving into an intelligent species. The Zarbi communicate with each other by high pitched trilling sounds.

The position of the Zarbi in Vortis's ecology is very important. They are the most numerous of the planet's creatures, and have a substantial role in the transfer of pollen between plants. It is the larval form of the Zarbi that has the most important function, however. The Zarbi larvae consume dead organic material and break it down into chemicals that fertilise the soil. Without the Zarbi larvae to perform this function, the planet would eventually become a barren desert.

Although the Zarbi possess bodies that are almost adequate for an intelligent race, they are not a rational species. They are content to live their lives peacefully, just eating, sleeping and reproducing. Zarbi eggs are large and few in number compared to most insects. The eggs hatch small larvae, which bear little resemblance to the adult form. Zarbi larvae look much like beetles with hundreds of long, flexible legs. Although their carapace is dark, they have white eyes rather than the giant brown orbs of the adults. The larvae have long snouts through which they squirt the fertilising chemicals. After growing to full size, the larvae enter a pupal stage during which they metamorphose into adults.

Weapons
The Zarbi's claws can inflict 3 Wounds, but the insects prefer to avoid combat unless something else is controlling them.

Zarbi Larvae are able to create blasts of energy that inflict 6 Wounds by starting a chemical reaction in their snouts. These blasts have a range of 2 areas, and are only used as a last resort. Larvae can also inflict 1 Wound by ramming into their enemies.

Armour
Zarbi Larvae have full Armour 5 from their chitin shells. The exoskeletons of adult Zarbi are harder, providing full Armour 7.

Weaknesses
The Zarbi are animals - they are unable to comprehend most of the behaviour of intelligent beings, so actions inimical to them can often be undertaken without resistance. They are rather tame, and have no real goals of their own, which makes them vulnerable to external control.

MENOPTERA

The dominant life forms on Vortis are the Menoptera. These humanoid insects are a peaceful race with few ambitions. Their lives are dominated by artistic pursuits, most prominently music. Because the vegetation of Vortis is so abundant with nutritious food, and the climate is so mild, they have little need for work. The only major artefacts that they have constructed are the great Temples of Light, which function both as tombs and places for worship of the gods of light.

Menoptera are essentially humanoid in appearance, but with some unusual features. The most striking things about them are their butterfly-like wings, which resemble beautiful stained glass windows. They usually keep their wings folded behind them when not in flight. The Menoptera have black exoskeletons, like many other species on Vortis, but with wide bands of yellow fur encircling their limbs and torso. Their heads and shoulders are covered in patterns of black and yellow, and they have large round eyes. Long antennae protrude from the tops of their heads, and they have dark slits for mouths.

To humans, the speech of the Menoptera sounds peculiar. The patterns of their speech seem strange, as they pause at odd places and say some words very rapidly. Their pronunciation is unusual, and often pitched higher than human speech. Gestures frequently accompany their conversation, and when agitated or excited they hiss and grasp at the air with both hands.

Although the Menoptera have not developed the mechanised societies of most intelligent species, they do have some understanding of technology. Those Menoptera who had taken an interest in science saved Vortis from total destruction. Their knowledge enabled many Menoptera to escape the Animus and survive on a moon above their planet. They also created the device that killed the Animus, and will be vital to the restoration, of the planet.

Weapons
As they have been at peace for virtually their entire existence, the Menoptera have very few weapons. Their scientists attempted to devise weapons for use against the Zarbi and the Menoptera during their exile, but had very limited success. Electron Guns were developed for use against the Zarbi. They inflict 3 Wounds, and have a range of 6 areas. These weapons were virtually useless against the Zarbi.

The Isoptope was designed to destroy the Animus. It is more effective then the electron guns, inflicting 6 Wounds, but with a range of zero-areas. Only one Isotope was built, and as a rule Menoptera will not be armed in any way.

Armour
The chitinous exoskeleton of the Menoptera provides full Armour 3.

Weaknesses
War is completely against the nature of the Menoptera, and when forced to fight they have very little idea of strategy. A large force of Menoptera could easily be defeated by a much smaller squad of proficient warriors.

OPTERA

When the Animus's Zarbi slaves attacked the Menoptera, many escaped into the caves beneath the surface. Pure water could be found in the depths, and some food grew in the darkness. A few Menoptera survived in the hostile conditions, but the price was great. Their wings withered and much of their culture was lost. Eventually they became the Optera, a degenerate, suspicious race of primitives that worshipped the Menoptera as their gods.

Superficially the Optera bear little resemblance to their ancestors. Their segmented exoskeletons are pale, and their wings have decayed into a darker coating over their backs. They are short and hunched over from generations in cramped caves, and their eyes have enlarged to see better in the darkness. Their antennae have become several thick ropes hanging down around their shoulders. The greatest mutation has been to their arms. The Optera possess three pairs of stumpy limbs instead of the almost human pair of normal Menoptera.

The mannerisms of the Optera are much like those of their ancestors, but their movements are abrupt and their voices harsher. They are more violent than Menoptera, and carry vicious spears, but this was an inevitable result of dangerous lives and constant risk of Zarbi attack. Anything from the surface is considered a threat, usually correctly. Some of the Optera returned to the surface after the death of the Animus, but it is uncertain how well they will fit into Menoptera society. Other groups of Optera still live under the ground, unaware of the changes on the surface.

Weapons
The Optera carry spears made from long shards of hard rock. As well as inflicting 4 Wounds when used as weapons, the spears are effective digging tools.

Armour
The chitinous exoskeleton of the Optera is stronger than that of their Menopteran cousins, providing full Armour 4.

Weaknesses
Generations spent deep in the caves of Vortis has changed the Optera greatly. They have lost the ability to fly, but still have the urge to move through the air rather than along the ground. This causes to move in a series of hops that restricts their Move to 2 when they are not climbing.

Optera have a dread of anything from the surface, and when brought out of their caves they take some time to adjust to the strange conditions. They have lost much of the knowledge they possessed on the surface, and their lives are ruled by superstition.

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).

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