Saturday, October 11, 2014

Threats of the Galaxy: Xenomorphs

There are few creatures in the galaxy that can conjure more feelings of fear and dread than the xenomorphs. These beings have been a scourge of space explorers and colonists for hundreds of years. While much is known about their hierarchy, reproduction cycle, and abilities they are still largely shrouded in mystery. How does a non-technological species spread so far across the cosmos? Does the existence of the xenomorphs prove the theory of Promethean seeding of the galaxy?

Xenomorphs are a highly predatory species with a very rigid social structure and a complex reproductive cycle. Most encounters with this species start off by finding eggs. These eggs hold the lowest form of xenomorph, the "facehugger." Upon sensing a warm-blooded lifeform, the egg will open and the facehugger will attempt to grasp it's intended victim about the face with its long arms and wrap it's tail around the victim's throat. Facehuggers have been known to attach themselves onto creatures as small as a house cat to as large as an elephant. The one thing that they look for above all else is for warm-blooded mammalian creatures. They have never been recorded attaching to any other form of life.

The facehugger then inserts an organ down the throat of the victim where is lays an embryo in the chest of the victim. Removing a facehugger is no small feat. Like all xenomorphs, its blood is highly acidic, making extraction a very risky avenue. Plus, if the facehugger senses any attempt to remove it, it will tighten its tail grip on the victim's throat. After the implantation of the embryo, the facehugger stays attached for anywhere from 12 hours to up to 3 days. Once it releases the victim, the facehugger typically dies within 5-10 minutes.

The embryo, now known as a "chestburster", quickly matures over the course of a couple days to a week. During this time, the host can largely function normally, although some shortness of breath may be experienced. Scans of a host do not always show the presence of a chestburster, the cause of their ability to mask their appearance in a host is unclear. However, even if it is known that a being is a host for a chestburster, there is little that can be done to extract the parasite. The embryo gestates near the heart of the host, poised to take reflexive action if it perceives an attempt to remove it from the host which can cause serious and often irreparable damage.

Once sufficiently large enough, the chestburster begins to tear it's way through the chest of the host and breaking through the chest, hence the name. The chestburster then quickly runs off and finds a secluded spot to finish it's rapid maturation process. The host typically dies from the birthing process for obvious reasons, but there have been a few cases of exceedingly hardy species surviving the process though they are the extreme rare end of the spectrum.

During the gestation process, the chesburster takes on some aspects of the host. If the host is bipedal, then the chestburster and subsequent drone will be as well. The same goes for quadrupedal species being impregnated with a chestburster. There is also some correlation between the end size of the drone and the size of the host species. While the size variance of the resultant drones is very low, those born from small hosts (around house cat size to that of a small dog) may only end up being 5'5" in height, but those born from larger species may grow to heights close to 7 feet tall. Queens are almost uniformly 15 feet tall.

The transformation from chestburster to drone (also sometimes called workers, warriors, or soldiers) takes about a week. During this time, the being sheds it's outer layers and develops a thick layer of polarized silicon that covers their bodies. Even before reaching maturity, it is highly aggressive and dangerous, but once mature a drone is a veritable killing machine. Even though they are lethal foes, their primary goal is to bring living victims back to the hive to be impregnated by facehuggers allowing them to grow their numbers for even more protection for the hive and their Queen.

Drones have an arsenal of natural weaponry at their disposal. Not only are they strong, stealthy, and highly durable, but their teeth are very sharp and they have a secondary set of teeth that can extend up to two feet from their open mouths. Their long tails end in a blade-like tip. As if this all weren't enough, xenomorphs are also wickedly cunning. There are some researchers that posit that with their ability to understand simple machines that they may also possess a primitive form of sentience. They even understand the lethality of their acid blood, and will use open wounds to fling acid at their foes or sacrifice one of their own to use the acid to burn through barriers.

The final, and primary, rung in the xenomorph hierarchy is the Queen. Queens look much like drones, only much larger and their heads are adorned with large crests and they also have a second set of smaller arms below their primary arms. Queens lay facehugger eggs and are generally stationary in the most protected portion of their hives. However, when in danger, Queens can detach from their termite-like ovipositor "throne" and move freely. New queens are implanted into hosts exactly like drones via facehuggers. How it is determined that an embryo will be a queen or a drone is currently unknown, but it is theorized that the embryo may change from drone to queen based on external stimuli like being taken further from the hive.

Xenomorphs were first encountered by a deep space exploration vessel in the early days of human interstellar expansion. The planet LV-426 was originally scheduled for exploration due to possible highly valuable mineral deposits. Upon landing on the planet, the crew of the Nostromo found alien ruins, including the remains of what we now call the Prometheans. They also found thousands of eggs. One of the eggs hatched and a member of the crew was infected, which in turn lead to all but one member of the crew being slain by the resulting drone. LV-426 was colonized years after the Nostromo's fateful visit. The reports of the xenomorphs were covered up by Voidcorp, which was backing the colony. In the court case brought forth by the family members of the colonists slain on LV-426, evidence was presented that Voidcorp was hoping to capture one or more of the creatures in hopes of weaponizing them. LV-426, now commonly known as "Xenoland" or "Planet Zero" is an interdicted world constantly patrolled by the Concord Navy to ensure that no one lands on the planet.

Since the first encounter with the Xenomorphs, other encounters have been discovered in the records of many Concord species and species the Concord has been in contact with. This only deepens the mystery surrounding these beings. First is how long can xenomorph eggs stay viable? The crew of the Nostromo estimated the Promethean ruins to be at least 20,000 years old, and the corpse of the Promethean to be not much younger than that. It is known that Queens and Drones will die without a food source after a time, but it appears that facehugger eggs can stay viable (or at least a certain number of them) for possibly centuries if not longer. They appear to sit in a state of suspended animation until a suitable host comes along.

The second mystery is how a species can show up throughout the galaxy and not be an intelligent, space-faring species. Early theories posited that the xenomorphs were once space-farers themselves and we are now encountering the degenerate offspring of those beings, but that theory has been largely rejected. Many times xenomorphs are encountered in and around Promethean ruins. Did the Prometheans create these beings? For what purpose? Creating a species that lives only to propagate and kill seems counter to the standard vision of these beings as being seeders of life in the galaxy (if the most populist theory about them is taken as gospel). Maybe the Prometheans went too far in their genetic experiments? Could it be possible that they engineered their own demise?

To date, the Concord has closed off access to 17 planets throughout Concord space because of xenomorph activity. Xenobiologists studying xenomorphs know of 60 other planets that either have active hives or were destroyed due to xenomorph infestations outside Concord space as well. These other worlds are spread throughout known space in each quadrant of the galaxy.

For Savage Worlds I use James Houlahan's Alien Vs Predator guide which can be found here. Rogue Space has stats for hatchlings (facehuggers) and drones. For Queens, simply up the stats for Drones to the desired amount.

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