This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue.
|SKILLS||Recon-1, Athletics/Dexterity-3, Stealth-4|
|ATTACKS||Jump and Flee 10- ([N] 6-)
Attack 11+ ([N] 8+)
Mimesis (-2 to spot when landed, native enviro only)
|NOTE||Attacks marked [N] are for third, sterile
gender in presence of unhatched egg clutch.
|Morphology||Bilateral symmetry, cephalopod, tetrapod/tripod (2 hind limbs fused into single limb), triped (three limbs used for locomotion and grasping)|
|Biochemistry||C/H/O/N, broadly human-compatible|
|Respiration||Oxygen/Nitrogen inhalant, Carbon dioxide exhalant, tracheal brathing, tolerant of a wide range of tainted atmospheres.|
|Ecology||Circadian (active both day and night)|
|Habitat||Subterranean caves with at least some moisture|
|Diet and Trophics||Herbivore/Intermittent/Cultivator|
|Reproduction||Three genders (one sterile, “nest-maid”), very little sexual dimorphism, conjugal intercourse, oviparous (four to ten eggs), iteroparous (reproducing several times during life cycle), eggs cared for by sterile ‘third gender’, young not cared for.|
|Lifecycle and ontogeny||Six months to sexual maturity, lifespan varies widely in the wild (one to twenty years), believed to be dependent on population pressure and food availability.|
The infamous “Jumping Jack”, native of the Karrimathan caves of Delarue IV, has proven very adaptable to new environments, and has spread widely throughout the spinward portion of the Spinward Marches. Where there are no natural caves to settle, the yenner has happily taken up a synanthropic existence, infesting hangars, storehouses, shipyards and granaries. While mostly harmless, the yenner’s habits make it annoying to those who have to work in those environments.
The yenner has the look of a trilaterally-symmetric animal, but appearances are deceiving. Study of the joint and bone structure reveals that the hindmost leg appendage is, in fact, fused from two separate limbs; the yenner’s ancestors were quadrupeds. The legs are jointed; the animal walks and climbs with the second joints (counted from the body) of each limb, which is equipped with small pedipalps and suction cups and enable a yenner to climb rough walls and ceilings with ease. After the second joint, the legs curve upward into “arms” and terminate in small tendrils which the yenner uses to grasp objects.
The yenner’s legs are very strong, and the infamous sudden jumps that earned the yenner its nickname can propel the creature up to fifteen meters in any direction without warning. This is the usual reaction when someone gets too close, and coupled with its excellent mimesis and the fact that yenners prefer dark spaces can make the first encounter a shock. Starport technicians love to tell the story of a tech who reached for his toolbox and dropped dead with a heart attack when a yenner jumped at him. The story may or may not be true, and different versions of it circulate throughout the sector.
Regardless of the legend’s veracity, moving around a yenner-infested warehouse or cave is bound to be a very jumpy experience. (In game terms, if the yenner gains surprise in an encounter situation, it will jump up suddenly, and the group’s leader may have to make a DIFFICULT Leadership or Tactics roll to avoid someone in the group doing something stupid in xir shock, such as loosing a shot in panic, dropping a fragile object, or slipping xir safety line. Further encounters with yenners will have a +2 bonus to the test.)
The bulbous head section, about the size of a standard gyro-ball, houses the organs and brain, as well as four semi-faceted eyes and two extendable “stalks”, much like a slug’s, that contain the olfactory organs. The mouth, equipped with oblong rasping teeth, is located on the bottom of the creature, between the legs, and also serves as an excretive, egg-laying, and sexual organ.
Yenner skin is tough, dry and leathery, and wrinkled, much like a raisin’s. The head section is striated with darker and lighter colours. The animal’s colouring depends on its primary habitat; if the yenner is taken to a different location, it will gradually assume that environment’s colouring over the span of about a standard month.
Yenners are a subcategory of intermittent, classed as a “cultivator” because they actively grow certain types of nutritious lichen and mushrooms in their territory, stuffing cracks with soil or dust, inserting seeds and even watering their “crops” from a special bladder (called an “ewer organ” by the first scouts to categorise them). Some species of lichen are bioluminescent, forming web-like, glowing strands between the planted “nuclei”. Most are edible for humans and Droyne (who consider some of them great delicacies), but Aslan and Vargr are advised to keep clear; an enzyme secreted by the yenner strongly disagrees with their stomachs unless countered with certain kinase-inhibiting tablets, which are available only on planets with a technology level of 11 or higher that have a relevant percentage of Aslan or Vargr in their population.
The cultivation of crops is more or less instinctive, and in the initial surveys the yenner’s intelligence was vastly overestimated. On some planets, yenners exhibit greater intelligence than usual due to environmental factors and mutation, but still fall far short of echmerials or Terrestrial dogs. Some spacers claim to have tamed and trained a yenner to follow simple commands, but those accounts may be exaggerated.
Mating season is precipitated by environmental factors such as climate or amount of available food, and is completely independent of the season. Male yenners fertilise the egg-clutches laid by females and leave them in a nest of lichen that they saturate with pheromones from a gland in their lower body. This “royal moss” is highly sought after on some planets because superstition credits it with strong aphrodisiac, fertility- and male potency-enhancing qualities (none of which are borne out by scientific tests). The pheromones stimulate growth in the eggs, and lure several sterile third-gender yenners to the spot over the next few days. Those “nest-maids” defend the eggs viciously and cultivate the surrounding area so the emerging hatchlings find an abundance of food upon hatching. Soon after the first new yenners hatch, the nest-maids gradually wander away.
There have been several attempts to keep yenners in captivity, mainly to farm royal moss. So far, the sheer amount of space that a yenner needs as its territory has proven commercially prohibitive, and yenners quickly sicken and die when deprived of enough space. No eggs have ever been hatched out in captivity, even when their environment was very carefully duplicated.
- As the travellers explore the caves, the narrow passage they are in suddenly opens into a huge, beautiful cavern rippling with speleothem stalagmites and stalactites, fluted curtains of rosy quartz like huge many-layered veils – all illuminated dimly by a huge web of luminous strands, the bioluminescent molds cultivated by thousands of yenners. To the travellers, this looks like the snare of a siren or trapper animal, and judging by the size of the web, the creature must be enormous. They notice stealthy movement in the corners of their vision (yenners moving about), which, if properly described, should get their nerves on edge. The Referee should have them roll lots of perception or survival checks while rolling dice himself and pretending to tick off boxes on a sheet. Crossing the cave becomes a test of nerves… and then the first yenners start jumping.
- The downport has seen better days. To fix some superficial damage to their ship, the travellers need a hangar with enough workspace. The portmaster jerks his thumb towards a derelict hangar bay that has obviously been closed down for more than a decade. They need to go in, clear out the cobwebs, replace gunky filters, restart the generator and kick the ’bots and machines back into some semblance of life. On the positive side, getting the hangar running again counts as payment for the parts they use up in their repairs. On the negative side, there are a few yenners hiding in the corners (which the portmaster didn’t know or neglected to tell the travellers about) that may jump up at the worst possible opportunity… such as when the ship’s engineer is clinging to the top of the scaffolding by xir knees with five screws in xir mouth, an open can of solvent in one hand and a live plasma torch in the other.
- The travellers are asked to smuggle a cargo of royal moss to a certain planet. The job proves tough – someone seems to have tipped off the customs authorities, who go over the cargo hold with a microscope, and there are at least two organised crime syndicates who alternately try to bribe or intimidate the travellers into turning the cargo over to them. Their ship is burglarized, the warehouse where they stashed the moss is set on fire, and the police pay them several visits. One plainclothesman in particular sticks to their case like a terrier and turns up at every opportunity with a few more uncomfortable questions. The travellers’ cargo is actually a decoy: while the travellers draw all the attention, a discreet courier slips by the authorities and mobsters and delivers the crate with the real moss.
- The conflict between two major powers on a balkanised world has
bogged down into a stalemate. Trenches and gun emplacements riddle
the landscape on the largest continent. The Imperial fleet has taken
out the aerospace forces of both sides when the war threatened to
engulf the neighbouring colony (who declared their independence
early on and petitioned the subsector Duke for Imperial client
status). The ground forces, bereft of orbital and air support, are
slugging it out across the blighted landscape. The travellers are
engaged in either gunrunning or humanitarian missions, shuttling
defensive arms or medical supplies and modular MASH bases to a
neutral minor polity that takes in wounded soldiers from both armies
and refugees running from the conflict.
The soldiers in the improvised hospital complex keep half-tamed yenners in the dugouts and trenches, where they thrive on the many kinds of molds that make the soldiers’ lives miserable. One night, just as the travellers have finished setting up the hospital’s new power plant, suddenly jenners start jumping up frantically from the Eastern trenches: one of the contestant powers has decided to revoke the hospital’s neutrality and launched a surprise attack, disabling the sensors and tripwire alarms. As it is, the warning they got from the nervous yenners is just enough for the travellers to evacuate a number of key personnel or wounded in their ship. They are ready to take off just as the vanguard of enemy shock troops storms the complex, when a child stumbles into the hangar bay. The mother begs the travellers desperately to save her daughter, but to do so, they would have to delay their takeoff and go out into the shocktroopers’ line of fire. The whole thing could be a trap, and there may be snipers lurking nearby using the girl as bait. Taking off at full power (the safest option for everyone on board) would incinerate the child with the firing thrusters or crush her with the ship’s grav field. What do they do?
- A scout of the travellers’ acquaintance returns from a mission.
They meet xir at the spaceport just as xir Type-S is shuttled to its
berth, and xe cannot wait to spill the news. While exploring a huge
natural cave system, xe examined some dead yenners and discovered
that their “ewer organs” held massive nuggets of platinum and gold.
Xe surmises that the yenners fill their bladders with water from the
bottom of subterranean rivers and the deposits of heavy metals
accumulate in their organs. Xe wants to claim the caverns and
exploit them. (As unclaimed estate on a newly discovered world, the
“finding is keeping” paragraph in interstellar law says xe can
establish ownership unless someone can claim earlier discovery and
prove this with a ship’s log.) The travellers are invited to join
xir in this enterprise if they can provide a bit of money to get a
gold-extraction operation running.
The next day, the scout is found dead. Checking on their friend’s ship, the travellers notice that the airlock has been breached and a band of unsavoury spacers is fleeing with what looks like the ship’s black box. Someone has gotten wind of their friend’s plans and decided to put in their claim first.
- When a construction company moved in to erect a domed habitat in
a huge natural cavern, the first yenners panicked in frenzy at the
sight of the bright orange vehicles. The workers thought nothing of
it, but adopted one of the less panicky yenner “nest-maids” as a
pet. Gradually it lost its fear of the machinery, and soon it was
seen bouncing among the grav trucks.
Then something interesting happened. The yenner was often seen rubbing itself against a tracked drill’s power socket – it seemed to enjoy the slight electric jolts it got. Soon after, it went away to tend a nearby nest with newly laid eggs. A few days later, construction workers from all over the island reported that the yenners had suddenly lost their fear of orange vehicles, and would come to nuzzle drills’ sockets. It is as if the knowledge from one yenner was somehow transmitted to the others. IISS biologists suspect the royal moss must be able to store or transmit information and pass it along their roots to other patches, where it influences the hatchlings’ memories. The excited scientists plunder the local university’s research funds and put together an expedition; some hired travellers with a bit of experience in animal handling would probably be a good addition to the crew. There are bound to be a few memorable experiments to test the moss’s surmised thought-transmitting abilities.