This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue.
|Age 5: 10
Age 10: 20
Age 15: 30
Age 20: 40
Age 30: 50
Age 40: 60
|Stealth 3, Recon 2
|Age 5: Acid (1D3)
Age 10: Acid (1D)
Age 15: Acid (2D)
Age 20: Acid (3D)
Age 30: Acid (3D)
Age 40: Acid (4D)
[No Attack, Flee 2-] (See text)
|Age 5: Small (-1), Slow Metabolism
Age 10: Slow Metabolism (Initiative –5)
Age 15: Large (+1), Slow Metabolism (Initiative -6)
Age 20: Large (+2), Slow Metabolism (Initiative -6)
Age 30: Large (+3), Slow Metabolism (Initiative -6)
Age 40: Large (+5), Slow Metabolism (Initiative -6)
|Pseudamoeboid, pentalateral symmetry, numerous pseudopods (short tentacles)
|C/H/O/N, Broadly compatible with human
|Tracheal, amphibious. Oxygen-nitrogen inhalant, carbon dioxide exhalant, methane absorbed through the skin
|Diurnal (active during the night)
|Diet and Trophics
|Scavenger/reducer, ectothermic (body temperature determined by environment)
|One gender, sporal intercourse, mitous birth (the young splitting off from the parent), iteroparous (reproducing more than once in a lifetime).
|Lifelong growth. No upper limit to age.
The shaduquaram, also called a Solmar blanket (after the IISS biologist Tawm Solmar, who first catalogued it), is native to the Northern swamplands of the planet Olivin. It has been introduced with varying degrees of success to several other planets, mainly in attempts to harvest its cells for anagathic research, but at times just to complement other fauna on newly terraformed planets.
The shaduquaram is a pentalateral pseudamoeboid, having a five-sided body symmetry. They appear as a round or oval flattened mound surrounded at floor height by irregularly-spaced short tentacles and ocelles (light-sensitive proto-eyes). The tentacles house the very keen olfactory organs and are not limbs per se, but can be used to paddle the creature forward at a leisurely pace when submerged or drifting in water. The rounded dorsal region is completely covered by several symbiotic species of moulds and moss, which live off by-products of the shaduquaram’s digestive processes that are excreted through the skin. The moss, together with pieces of decaying branches or ferns, gives the creature almost perfect mimetic camouflage in its native environment—which is enhanced still by the fact that shaduquaram are ectothermic, and their bodies are at ambient temperature and hard to detect with infrared vision. Except when feeding, a shaduquaram will try to stay submerged in water, with only the top of its dorsal region breaking the surface.
During the warm season, adults (10 years or older) will release spores into the water, which drift until they can latch onto another adult. Over the next three months, the shaduquaram will grow a second hump, which will fall off after the gestation period and become an autonomous creature—in effect, mitosis on a larger scale.
The creatures can smell blood or a decaying carcass over long distances (Solmar postulated that the symbiotic moulds may assist in perception) and will be drawn to the spot where an animal is wounded or killed. They then attempt to crawl over the carcass, “blanketing” it and excreting a mixture of enzymes, gastric (hydrochloric and nitric) acid and potassium chloride. The denaturated and partially digested carrion is then sucked into the creature’s numerous stomach sacs for final processing.
The acid will smoke and turn a vivid orange or red if exposed to air. It takes 2-12 seconds to eat through clothes or armour, with ceramic or specially treated composites (such as in combat armour or hazmat suits) being proof against the effects. Damage is applied only after the covering has been eaten through, but it is applied again every round for D3 rounds after exposure unless the acid is washed off.
A shaduquaram attempting to blanket a wounded person can be easily fought off with moderate force; they are only dangerous to unattended patients that are asleep, unconscious, restrained or otherwise prevented from moving their limbs. This does not discourage the natives of the marshlands from spinning tales of horror about flesh-eating shaduquaram blanketing and suffocating travellers—mainly for their own amusement to see the gullible foreigners jump at every imagined danger, or as a means to sell services as knowledgeable guides.
The danger to travellers comes in a completely different form.
Shaduquaram, as amoeboids, lack the resilient hide of many other
creatures. A foot that inadvertently steps on a shaduquaram will tear
the skin and likely step into one of the food sacs that comprise most of
the creature (causing 2D damage to the beast). The digestive acid is
strong enough to eat through most materials in a few rounds, and is
furthermore miscible in water, so if spilled it can turn a stagnant pool
into an acid trap. Depending on the amount of water in the mixture, the
effects can range from mildly irritating to highly caustic.
People accustomed to the dangers of the swamp will probe the ground ahead of them with long sticks (often colloquially known as “carbys”, short for “carpet beaters”, because their tips are flared to avoid piercing a quaram’s skin).
Shaduquaram are not aggressive and will not even attack to defend themselves. Most animals are wary of the shaduquaram’s acid and will shun their vicinity. Some species of small creatures (light enough not to break the skin) have learned this and will come to roost on a shaduquaram’s back in relative safety from predators. On Olivin, certain specialised grazers approach the creature to nibble off the moss, causing bald patches that may attract parasitic fungi. If those parasites can take hold, their mycels will permeate the shaduquaram’s flesh over the course of a few years and slowly restrict its digestive capability, in the end starving their host to death. Even if not, the remaining light gray ‘scar tissue’ will compromise the shaduquaram’s mimetic ability (-1 to Stealth) until the moss grows back.
If not killed by parasites, shaduquaram are, in theory, immortal. Their cells do not age, being very simple in structure. This and the surprising similarity to human digestive chemistry have prompted research by many independent institutes into possible anagathic uses of their cells. Shaduquaram continue to grow throughout their long lives (although their mass is reduced every time they bear young), and some very old shaduquaram have been spotted covering areas of over 100 m2. Most shaduquaram, however, die at an age of about eighty to ninety years as their organs become too heavy and crush the tracheal breathing ducts.
Attacking a shaduquaram is a difficult proposition. Blades, explosives, shotguns and energy weapons do full damage, and the beast’s slow locomotion means that a hit is guaranteed if the combatant takes time to aim. Projectile weapons and blunt objects do half damage. If the shaduquaram is hit, anyone adjacent to it (including the attacker if using a melee weapon shorter than a spear) may be splashed with digestive acid (8+, VERY DIFFICULT DEX roll to avoid). The creature has no way of attacking and will not offer any resistance other than its passive acid defense. Most swamp dwellers’ advice is to steer clear and leave the creatures in peace.
- A tribal society living in the remote swamps is ruled by shadowy and secretive “elders” who are said to be the immortal tutelars of the families. A pharmaceutical corporation hires the travellers to shed light on the secret of those elders: are they perhaps ancestors of today’s tribesmen who have managed to extract a crude anagathic from the shaduquaram of the swamp? The travellers will have to gain the tribesmen’s trust to get an audience with an elder.
- A failed Survival check while negotiating the swamp means one of the travellers has inadvertently stepped on a large shaduquaram hidden in the mire. The foot is unharmed if xe removes the smoking boot quickly—but the prospect of crossing the stagnant, parasite-infested bayous barefoot is not exactly prepossessing.
- The travellers are looking for a missing Scout. They find the remains of his equipment and his half-eaten bones—obviously, he died in the swamp and was digested by a shaduquaram. Unfortunately, the memory chip he was carrying has been sucked into the creature’s stomachs (hopefully still within its ceramic sheath). They need to find the shaduquaram, kill it and carve the chip out of its digestive tract.
- A prototype anagathic derived from shaduquaram cells has been tested on several volunteers on a backwater world. The experiment has been declared a success, and the serum is already scheduled for introduction to the black market. The Imperial authorities received leaked information and are investigating the corporation. They ask the travellers to round up the test persons as witnesses, all of whom have since returned to their jobs in the inaccessible swampy countryside, and none of whom are exactly cooperative.
- As 4), but during the mission, the travellers learn that the prototype has some serious debilitating psychiatric side effects that only become apparent after a few years of ingestion. The CEO confesses that the anagathic has been sold to several members of an Imperial noble family. The travellers will have to break the news to them—very carefully, since the family will stop at nothing to eliminate them as witnesses if there is the least possibility of the travellers going to the press or a certain rival noble clan with the information. Anagathics, after all, are illegal in the Imperium, and no one is above the law.
- After a fight in the swamp, one of the travellers is wounded and unconscious. As they camp for the night, a shaduquaram approaches and starts blanketing xir.
- On a planet in the process of terraforming, shaduquaram were released as part of an attempt to regulate the newly introduced fauna. Unfortunately, things are not turning out as planned. The shaduquaram are reproducing faster than the other animals, and, lacking predators to cull them, are now too much competition for the other scavengers introduced to the planet. The travellers are asked to enter the swamp regions and help inject as many shaduquaram with parasitical fungi as possible. They are to wear protective suits at all times—the fungi, while mostly harmless, have a nasty habit of bonding with human skin and disfiguring it.
- There have been cases of tourists stepping on shaduquaram on guided tours through the bayous. A few have actually resulted in injuries: acid burns on a leg, an itching hand, superficial nerve damage. Nothing deadly, but enough to ruin a holiday, and certainly enough for a damages claim. As a result, the resort’s tourism value has dropped sharply. The tourist board needs volunteers to enter the swamps with a bioscanner and stick “marker harpoons” with a blinking light and transponder in as many shaduquaram as possible so tourists can keep clear of them.
- The open area the ship’s boat landed on is actually a very old and very large shaduquaram. The landing struts and motors are resaonably acid-proof, but the cables are not, and now the struts will stay extended until someone goes out into the smoking acid mire and fixes the power connections. Taking off with the struts extended will probably mean ripping them off. Meanwhile, the acid-laced water is slowly rising up to the lower edge of the airlock.
- The tribal warriors chasing the travellers through the swamp suddenly break off the chase and fall back. They have reached a region thick with shaduquaram: everything that looks like an island in the mire may actually be an acid-filled hump. The travellers have to choose between braving the hazardous terrain or confronting the savages.
- A rich noblewoman hires the travellers as help for a swamp hunting safari. Excitedly chasing a large predator through the swamp, the party is split. The travellers rejoin their patron just in time to see her younger brother shooting her in the back (settling a long-standing succession dispute). The culprit then carries the body towards a pair of shaduquaram to dispose of the evidence. The travellers can either confront him, blackmail him or agree to keep quiet in exchange for a lucrative position in the household.
- The travellers are asked to get cell samples of shaduquaram from several different regions of the planet for a pharmaceutical company. Their aid could be instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of children in the subsector who suffer from an as-yet-untreatable cellular aging disease. They encounter surly local settlers, natives unwilling to let them enter the sacred swamp (which is taboo to anyone but the tribal shamans for their spiritual journeys), and hostile wildlife, as well as a team of unscrupulous spacers hired by a rival corporation—one that wants to suppress research into a cure because it is already making a fortune selling expensive symptom-suppressing medication.
- The travellers are hungry and have successfully stalked, killed and cleaned a grazer. Just as they are setting up camp and prepare to cook the carcass, a few young shaduquaram emerge from the swamp and try to blanket the meat.
- A local crime lord has a shaduquaram pit. As a particularly gruesome example, his enemies are paralysed and thrown to the shaduquaram, to be slowly dissolved alive. A friend of the travellers’ has been captured by the lord’s minions and awaits his fate. A daring rescue operation is in order.
- A resistance movement against Imperial occupation has been bloodily defeated. The rebel remnants have been driven into the inhospitable marshlands, where they continue the fight with poisoned arrows, spiked traps and thrown glass phials filled with shaduquaram acid. The travellers have to cross the area warily to get to their destination.