This adventure was obtained from the author’s blog, with permission, and reprinted in the January/Feburary 2017 issue.
The Skywhale is a ten-metre long herbivore native to the great jungles of Gaea/Albadawi 0702. It floats majestically through the treetops feeding on the swarms of insect-like life there. They are completely harmless and are the star attraction of several zoos in the subsector.
Eneri McAllan is the owner of such a zoo and he has a problem—Bruce, the older of a pair of skywhales, has fallen ill. Being completely unable to diagnose the problem, McAllan wants to transport the creature back to Gaea and the expert, Doctor John Allwood. Alas, his keepers have fallen ill and McAllan has proposed that the players accompany the creature to its homeworld.
Should they agree, they will be paid Cr50,000 for their troubles. Should Bruce die then he requests that the players fetch him another. McAllan will double the adventurers’ fee if they are successful (Bruce lives, or they return with a fresh specimen.)
Bruce isn’t ill, she’s pregnant. Not enough is understood about skywhales to diagnose this—they are quite rare and their reproduction has been a complete mystery. McAllan believes Bruce to be masculine, and always uses the masculine pronoun. In common with much Gaean fauna, the skywhale has a very complicated life-cycle.
The Gobani is a large (hippopotamus-sized) amphibious creature that is known to reproduce by budding. The animal has hardly been studied, but near the end of their thirty years they slowly transform into the skywhale. They lengthen considerably and lose a lot of mass while creating the helium sacs. The skywhale then lives for another century or so before dying.
Not enough research has been done on either creature to understand their full life-cycle. Spectacular as they are, there is a wealth of more interesting creatures: Glitterwings, Screaming Ab-Dabs and the Jala’lak, for instance. John Allwood intends to change this knowledge, but he is only one man.
The Gobani is the neuter sex, the skywhale just after transformation is the male. After several decades the gradual change to female takes place. When the male skywhale is mature, he produces a kind of floating seed, which is then picked up by any receptive female. This happened at the zoo, Bruce’s younger companion being male.
The skywhale gives birth to an ambulatory sperm which looks like a coin sized spider with wings. The hatch in their hundreds from the female, killing it in the process. Then they glide to the ground and go in search of gobani. When they find a gobani they bury themselves into the skin and, drawing nutrients from the bloodstream, the process of budding begins.
Such is the method of reproduction.
Unfortunately the spiders are not intelligent and tend to bury themselves into anything. Usually they die in the process but often produce painful cancerous lumps that seem to contain embryonic somethings. The female usually tries to position herself above a group of gobani before giving birth to maximise effect, but this naturally doesn’t always work out.
If the adventurers have a starship then McAllan will pay all their expenses—provided they are adequately recorded. The skywhale will require a special chamber for itself, which will take up about 10 tons of cargo space.
If the players are without a ship then one will be chartered for the journey. It will be a Subsidized Merchant on a regular passenger run. The players will be totally responsible for Bruce.
Bruce looks quite ill—he has not been eating and is growing decidedly worse. As the journey progresses he starts to develop bright purple blotches on his ventral surface. This gets worse until finally he gives a low moan, rolls over and gives birth. The spider-like things hatch in their hundreds and immediately begin their search for gobani.
They will get everywhere, and it will not be long before they begin finding their way to the crew and passengers. The process is surprisingly painless—the spiders are equipped with very efficient sets of pincers, and several people may become infected without realising it.
The wound will swell into a painful growth as the sperm tries to follow its programming. It will defy medical texts and the medics aboard will be unsure as how to proceed without the aid of a fully equipped hospital. Naturally a gobani will not appear (indeed, given time the growth will die and fall off of its own accord), but the half formed embryo that eventually appears could be quite alarming.
If the players are in their own starship this will prove worrying enough, if they are in the chartered merchant then the captain will be breathing down their necks. The players could be in considerable trouble. Worse, they could be in trouble with the quarantine regulations…
Eventually they will arrive on Gaea. Allwood will be easy to find unless he is on an expedition, and will be very interested in the adventurers’ account. Finding another skywhale requires setting out (after getting through the exhausting paperwork) into the jungles and capturing one. Good luck…
- A airborne filter feeder native to the jungles of Gaea/Albadawi 0702. They seem to be a mutant form of the amphibious gobani, a curious creature that reproduces by budding. Skywhales produce their lift by generating helium in small air sacs that cover the creature. They grow up to ten metres in length, but rarely weigh more than 200 kg. They live for about 100 years.
- Gaean Jungles:
- A vast, ancient expanse of jungles. They have been present for approximately fifty million years and the vast spectrum of life there often has exceedingly strange life cycles.
- The jungles are home to savage, feral Jala’lak which frequently attack travellers to their temples. As such the forest is rated as an Amber Zone by the Traveller’s Aid Society.