The Zethra of Volturnus
There was no species I disliked more than the Zethra, introduced some time ago in a Dragon magazine (Dragon Magazine, issue #84, by Ed Greenwood). I really did not like their look so much that I did not even bother to read their background. I saw no potential in them. However, after some thought into my Volturnus campaign, I thought if a way to work them in. Combining this with ideas from the Slavers of Larry Niven, I think I have come up with a new race on Volturnus.
This race, like the others on Volturnus (based on the Staging Ground updates by Chris Putnam), is a soldier race manipulated genetically by the Sathar invaders. This was intended to be scouts for the vast underground regions of the planet (which I am advancing to be more than they are in the campaign).
The Zethra of Volturnus
In the rampage to conquer this reach of the galaxy, the Sathar encountered an old and dying race called the Zethra. They were a formidable enemy. They had mental abilities beyond anything that Sathars had ever encountered. Instead of leaving them alone, however, the Sathars (at the command of the External Masters) sought to enslave them. Using technologies granted to them by the External masters, the Sathars were able to enslave the homeworld of the Zethra.
Physical Appearance and Structure
Zethra are rubbery, ball-like creatures with high elasticity and durability, possessing a number of tentacle-like appendages. Six of these are retractile, strong, dexterous arms, capable of manipulating both large, heavy objects and tiny, intricate controls or items; their length varies from 1-4 meters. These project from the body in a ring about its widest circumference. A ring or crown of four small (.5m long) sensory tentacles projects from one end of the ball, parallel to (but separated from) the ring of arms.
Zethra are a mottled greenish-gray with a few orange patches, but they can alter the pigmentation of their skin cells by rearranging internal supplies of chemical substances, to blend with their surroundings. Although they are able to match all color hues exactly, they cannot alter their low reflectivity or the soft texture of their skin, and so cannot gleam or become rigid.
A Zethra’s brain is located beneath its crown; feelers from the brains green, oval mass extend down throughout the rest of the body like countless tiny threads, directing body activities and supplying necessary energy. (Mental) Energy storage nodes, resembling star-like clusters of green threads, are located about a Zethra’s body. They can be moved by the brain to avoid loss, if particular body areas are threatened or injured. Zethra move by rippling and rolling their ball-like bodies, pushing themselves along, or pulling at their surroundings for propulsion.
Physiologically, Zethra may use all tentacles with equal facility; they have no handedness. They also lack a back side, and can move in any direction with equal ease, rarely losing control in weightless conditions.
Zethra cannot be stunned, but are otherwise affected by non-electrical beam weapons as noted above. They can bounce as effectively as other creatures leap, but are affected by wounding, falling, and explosives. Zethra swim at the same rate as the other races, but lose no stamina points until their current SEU is 40 or less (then they lose 5 STA per 30 minutes). Absorption of aquatic lifeforms will prevent SEU loss. Water transmits Zethra jolts poorly: -3 points of damage per 10 meters distance, but any creature within the jolts effective radius in contact with the water cannot avoid damage.
Zethra can tolerate a range of atmospheric pressures (though not the vacuum of space) and absorb any needed materials from surrounding gases through their skins. They have no lungs, and don’t require oxygen or other specific gases. They cannot drown unless drained of energy and imprisoned underwater with no food available. Inert (noble) gases do not yield the materials Zethra need, but they can tolerate them for short times. Poison, smoke, or doze grenades will not affect Zethra. Stimdose, Staydose, and power screens have normal effects on them, however.
Zethra cannot wear defensive suits, but can wear belts, with pouches, linked from the base of an arm around the curve of their bodies to the base of another arm. In this manner they can carry screens and other items. Some Zethra have ID cards issued by local authorities to keep track of their movements and activities, but Zethra have no distinctive Personalized Recognition Attribute (such as a fingerprint or voice pattern).
Zethra sense heat, light, and electrical energy, and can distinguish variations in the same with great sensitivity through their four see-feelers, or seefers (as Humans call these organs). They can also sense vibrations and energy fluctuations through parts of their bodies, but entirely lack a sense of smell. They also lack the ability to see or appreciate colors, detecting them only as differences in shading.
Zethra have no audible speech. They primarily speak through mental projection but can also use a rapid, complex language of electrical energy pulses with which they communicate with other Zethra through any good conductor (e.g., ferrous metals), or through direct contact. Zethra can communicate with other species through a code-like series of clicks; they hear sounds in return by sensing and interpreting air vibrations.
Zethra create clicks by silently tapping someone with a tentacle, or by banging on a surface with a held object. They may also pass electrical pulses or mild shocks through conductive materials (a painful form of communication for non-Zethra), or cause a machine to emit sounds through the use of electrical pulses. Any Zethra who has practiced with a poly-vox can cause it to emit a message through the use of energy pulses. They appear to comprehend unfamiliar languages rapidly and with ease.
Society and Customs
The Zethra society, though immense at its peak, was not very complex, consisting mainly of various families vying with each other for slaves and land. Still, though all Zethra were by definition superior to all slaves, there were social differences among the Zethra , with a landed aristocracy at the top owning vast estates or whole planets and a layer of poor Zethra at the bottom, who sought to better their position by gambling or by prospecting for new planets and new slave races which they could claim for their own. The only real laws were an indictment against murdering other Zethra and two “unbreakable oaths”: the agreements between Zethra and agreements between a Zethra and favored slaves. Violation of any of the above meant death by vivisection, enough to give even the most violently desperate second thoughts about doing so.
Though all Zethra were cruel and ruthless by human standards, there were individual and family differences among them, some being a bit more considerate to their slaves than others. Zethra also like information, and appear fascinated by trivia from all races and planets: odd bits of poetry, music and lyrics, catch-phrases, rumors, and apparently inconsequential facts. Such information is used for personal enjoyment and to achieve some unknown goal or future scientific development, but they will divulge nothing of their personal plans or preferences. All information can be retained perfectly for later recall and use.
Before their enslavement by the Sathars, the Zethra were Neolithic hunters when their planet was visited by a starship piloted by an unknown race. They quickly enslaved its crew, then their civilization before going on to galactic domination over dozens of species. The Zethra settled vast areas of the galaxy, seeding many planets with basic life forms for use as food sources.
The Zethra empire collapsed about two billion years before the Tetrarch era. The Zethra enslaved one too many races. One particular race – the Xaaqnan – devoted centuries to a well-crafted plan to destroy the Zethra – designing technologies to weaken Zethra society and cultivating an easily shattered dependence upon slaves. The Xaaqnan’s ability to do that indicates that the Zethra’s telepathic ability enabled them to control and order other beings, but not to read their thoughts. The Zethra’s slaves could keep secrets from their masters – which proved the masters’ undoing.
As the Xaaqnan pressed the final battle of the war, the Zethra as a death blow used an immensely powerful telepathy amplifier to send a single telepathic command throughout the galaxy – Die”. All slaves in the galaxy committed suicide including the most of the Zethra themselves.
In the present day, the remaining Zethra – somewhat devolved from their ancestors – are nothing more than a race of sessile globule creatures which can control animals telepathically.In the millenia that followed, humans encountered artifacts remaining from the time of the Zethra. Hunting for Zethra stasis boxes, often containing new and tremendously valuable technologies, became a pastime for many adventurers. Most of this technology, of course, was made by slave races, particularly the Xaaqnan. As Xaaqnan technology was often a booby trap by design for the Zethra, this hobby was rather dangerous.
Zethra are not allies of any particular race and in truth, the few remaining are enslaved by the Sathar. Their true feelings are difficult to identify, but they seem believe that all creatures are meant to be controlled by their Power. Zethra do not appear to understand humor on the part of any creature. Rarely offended by the words or deeds of others, they are commonly thought of as emotionless. They can, however, become the friends or enemies of individuals of other races.
Technical Eidetic Memory
A Zethra’s perfect memory, inquiring mind, and reasoning intellect aid it in its understanding of the manufacture, handling, and repair of machinery and mechanical tools or aids. This ability is effective only in dealing with objects and mechanical thinking, not in social dealings. This allows a Zethra an automatic d6 in Repair skill.
Zethra are immune to all electrical and radiant energy (i.e., laser) attacks, and can drain a powerclip, beltpack, or backpack in seconds. Laser, electrostunner, stunstick, and shock glove attacks all provide Zethra with energy, rather than damaging them. They absorb the energy and gain an extra special action each attack (see below about special actions). Fire and sonic attacks do half-damage to them. Electrical creature attacks (such as those of the Rogue Crystals found on Volturnus) do no damage, and are absorbed in the same way weapon attacks are. Physical attacks do full damage.
Zethra can, at will, consume organic matter and convert it to energy, using it for continued activity, healing, and rejuvenation. This is done by some inexplicable natural process which remains a mystery to Frontier scientists of all races, even after exhaustive physical and field examinations. Zethra can store such energy in internal battery-like organs, using or releasing it when necessary to move, think, act, manipulate items, or as a weapon against other creatures.
It must be emphasized that Zethra can only absorb organic matter, and will convert it entirely to energy with few byproducts. Different materials will, of course, yield different amounts of energy (live intelligent creatures seem to yield the most energy, per given amount of mass, though Zethra will refrain from eating companions or obviously intelligent beings unless such beings are enemies).
An adult Zethra can store enough energy in its body to perform daily for movement, thought, and functional stability as well as 6 other special actions if needed (see below). Prolonged combat, complex mental effort, and the healing of injuries can double a Zethra’s daily energy consumption, reducing the special actions down to 3 per day. Zethra can heal minor wounds by resting in the normal fashion.
Special Zethra Actions
Lost limbs or body organs will regenerate very slowly; a tentacle, for instance, takes 3-6 months to be replaced, and a seefer 1-4 months. Given enough time and food, a Zethra can always rebuild itself so long as most of its brain and at least one storage-star cell cluster survives. It will patiently absorb all organic matter around it until able to regrow the damaged parts of its body.
Zethra can also transmit energy by contact releasing in any turn. In addition to physical damage, these pulses are like EMPs effecting computers, security systems, and robots. These pulses can simply shut most electronic devices down. Unfamiliar equipment and large computers often cannot be knocked out in such a manner, but a Zethra can always cause a robot to malfunction by a discharge. A Zethra who is familiar with a scanner, security lock, or related device will not hesitate to disable it if it is so inclined, regardless of the wishes of other creatures.
A Zethra discharge does 1d6 to 3d6 damage (increased with GM bennies or temporary die type reductions of Vigor). They can elect to put more energy into a given attack, by spending GM bennies or temporarily reducing it’s own Vigor by a single die type (no lower than d4) per d6. Zethra discharges must be by direct contact or through a metal conductor. A Zethra can expend energy to stun as an electrostunner does, and can by pass a anti-shock implant by increasing to at least 2d6 damage. A gauss screen can stop a Zethra jolt, but will usually fail under repeated attacks; Zethra cannot burn out such a defense, but know their limited power supply.
Some very special Zethra extend their energy absorption abilities to the psionic wave length. In much the same way as energy attacks as well as energy in batteries and weapons, the Zethra can absorb mental power from psionically powered individuals. This drains the target and gains the Zethra Power Points on a point for point basis. Instead of Power Points, the Zethra can break down the target’s spirit at a rate of -1 point per attempt (Target must rull Spirit to avoid).