Uncle Jimbo's Bug Huntin' Range

High character
High concept
High violence

Bug Huntin' Home
Aliens Home
The Shkorch
Contact Drones

I was reading about Traveller 's Jgd-Il-Jagd , a species inhabiting gas giant worlds who are interesting for many reasons, among them their literally violent objections to the common Traveller practice of skimming fuel by a supersonic run through a gas giant's atmosphere. I wondered if Star*Drive might have some equivalent species who would object to bright flashes of light on the fringes of star systems, and soon thought of a suggestion by Gerald Feinberg and Robert Shapiro (which seems to be too old for the Web) of lifeforms in an environment so cold that no chemical processes can operate, instead existing by physics-based processes involving variable rotation of super-cold hydrogen atoms. It turns out that Larry Niven had a similar idea .

A GM could make use of the Night Lurkers at different stages of the history that I've sketched out, depending what style of campaign they intend. The first contact or early contact periods might be interesting to play out. Later, it works instead as a region of space with odd customs and conditions for scenarios that require the heroes to travel to Inside (see below).

The solid-hydrogen-and-liquid-helium-based Shkorch (an approximation of the name they give themselves in their radio-based language) evolved on a world far distant from its star, most comparable in temperature and distance to the Solar System's Kuiper Belt.

Shkorch dislike worlds blasted (from their perspective) by the radiation and stellar winds of active stars and seldom venture in closer than the equivalent of Neptune's orbit. Expert in gravitics and various peculiar branches of physics, they inhabit a band of Open Space systems sometimes known as the Shkorchor Rim or the Rim of Night, ill-defined to humanity because their ships operate in system regions where few Stellar Ring species have reason to go - in fact, they have little real need for a star and often spread across free-planets and interstellar space.

The Night Lurkers don't allow heat-radiating sun-dwellers to approach too closely, but in long-range video, they appear as vaguely hood-shaped membranes made of something like black cobweb. In closer inspections by contact drones (more on these later) and biological data that the Shkorch have agreed to provide, they are actually fairly durable in mechanical terms - perhaps comparable to silk or nylon - and have a number of intricate limbs folded under the mantle.

The Shkorch have constructed a series of mechanical remotes in order to converse with humans who landed on one of their colony worlds - first and foremost, to warn the immigrants not to encroach further.

The semi-permanent liaison at the planet nicknamed Witch's Tit (an approximation of the Shkorchor name as well as a description of the conditions), orbiting Keynes's Star, remains under the control of several known Shkorch individuals with distinct personalities.

As several of these references may suggest, the known Shkorchor systems (that is, the ones they have restricted) form a rough curved line starting at Keynes's Star. This is the very edge of a recent star-forming region, the Brandysnap Cluster (named for the colour of several of its stars) where it meets a dark nebula. The Rim stars are dimmer and at least half a billion years older. Astrobiologists agree that the Shkorch biosphere must be older than the Brandysnap stars and would have been profoundly affected by their ignition (the aliens themselves are hardly likely to have records of that epoch, but should have found traces early in the development of their biological sciences).

The systems further along the line of the Rim first had catalogue numbers, then designations as Rim Beta, Rim Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and so on. Now the systems open to humans have been named by their colonists: Rim Beta as Inside, Gamma as Sufferance. The watching presence of Night Lurkers very much rests at the back of everyone's mind.

Rimrunners (or Rimshooters) mainly guess the extent of Shkorchor colonies from the systems in which the aliens themselves have shown an interest. Nobody really knows whether there are Shkorch at Inside or Sufferance, let alone Rim Delta or Rim Epsilon - and certainly have no desire to risk their necks or a possible war to go out and look for them. What is positively known is that Witch's Tit has several Shkorch settlements and groups of up to seven starships, ranging up to medium freighter size, arrive and leave from there to unknown destinations. No starfalls, or other definite evidence of FTL travel, have been detected.

Though violent incidents have been thankfully rare, a Rimshooter called Hesse Leroux was killed after he tried to enter a Shkorch settlement. His remains were recovered and autopsied, with inconclusive results. The locals claim that Leroux was killed by a "doughnut gun", an alleged Shkorch hand weapon that forms zero-point energy into a ring-shaped massive quasi-particle of about 10cm diameter and imparts a vector to it, travelling no faster than a spear but striking with many kilograms of virtual mass behind a less-than-molecule-thick edge. If even partly accurate, this has disturbing implications for the sorts of weapons they might mount on their capital ships.

For some years, the relationship between Shkorchor space and members of the Stellar Ring species, based on the first contact point at Keynes's Star, has been quite unequal in favour of the aliens, as their well-supported fleet faced down a ragged series of free traders and independent colonists. They have insisted on regulation of human movements by a rough arrangement that has become a well-founded tradition, where the Night Lurkers permit ships to pass under the pilotage of certain humans who they know and trust to make accurate starfalls into the inner systems that are of no interest to the aliens, while taking ships only as far into the Rim of Night as the Shkorch agree. The Shkorch do not state outright the consequences of refusal, though the inhabitants of the Rim, rightly or wrongly, attribute a number of disappearances of ships to their displeasure.

The cantina at Witch's Tit Station has gradually become a known point of contact between trusted local pilots (who are taking on more of the organisation of a guild) and Emissaries, in a good-sized alcove next to the entrance, unlit except for reflected glare.

The stellar nations do not relish this situation and have recently prevailed on the Galactic Concord to assign a consular station to negotiate with the Shkorch on a more civilised basis.

Pilots and others experienced in Shkorch contact wear an e-suit comm and translator unit on a padded collar to receive the Emissaries' transmissions. The Shkorch first contacted humans through their suit transceivers and may still not grasp the concept that humans speak to each other through atmospheric vibrations rather than radio, though Shasta probably suspects we have a channel of communication that the Emissaries don't pick up.

Adventure Hooks
suggested by ja

A ship might crash land on Shkorch world. Diplomats will need to find the way to negotiate the rescue mission. Species specialists will need to help once the planetfall is made in order for the rescuers not to disturb the Shkorch.

A conflict can come as a thief/smuggler tries to sell one of the Shkorch artifacts/weapons and the aliens want it back.

One of the emissaries could end up 'dead'. Troubleshooters and negotiators need to be brought in to solve the murder and prevent racial conflict.

A Shkorch comes aboard the WT asking for asylum. He also offers to give away some of his people's artifacts for it. What drove him to such desperation to contact heat-emitters for help and what happens when other Shkorch ask for the escapee to be surrendered? How will station administrators react to the attractive offer of obtaining Shkorch tech?

The heroes are a group of scientists who are engaged in research that would create a body suit that will enable them to walk among Shkorch without provoking them.