Beta Vitalis II was colonized by a private expedition, the Artemis Pantropica project - a well-funded endeavor of the Children of Gaia Foundation. Its intent? To build a world without war, pollution, hunger - all too well known back on Earth.
A social as much as a scientific experiment, the colony ship carried a carefully genetically screened and through rigorous testing chosen crew - all women; pro-creation in the first generation was to be artificial, with modifications to their daughters allowing parthenogenesis as well as producing capsules of seed.
Their target world proved to be a luxurious cradle for their utopia-to-be: warm, verdant, lush and gifted with an ancient intriguing ecosystem compatible with Earth life.
The bounty of the planet was beyond their wildest dreams, especially after they discovered Souls. A symbiotic life-form that could adapt to a variety of hosts, they would interface with the carrier's nervous system and grow through his body until they were two, yet one. Souls carried by two very different creatures could communicate, and thus connect their carriers in something akin to tactile telepathic contact. After humans and Souls adapted to each other further, the procreation issue was entirely resolved, with the symbiont aiding the transfer of seed, and mating with the partner's symbiont as well. If two Joined mate, the child will already be born with its own Soul.
The presence of the symbiont, the Soul, is quite obvious - all Joined have two tendrils on the sides of their head, a foot long and studded with neural interfaces. The Soul's primary sensory organs are located below the eyes, on the cheekbones, colourful spots appearing like a fractal tattoo; secondary sensory organs are located all over the body, especially on the sides and back.
The senses of Host and Soul are inter-connected, though the Soul understands its own perceptions better, and likewise the human half can better process its classic five senses. Still, the Joined can taste with their hands, or see motion with their back.
Besides the adaptations bestowed upon them by the founders and in addition to the changes brought about by the Joining, the Veradani will often display a variety of biomods - from common to exotic, from useful and professional to those serving entertainment or decoration only.
Equipped with high-end bio-science, the academicians of the expedition utilized both the genetic material brought from earth as well as local life-forms to create living housing, medicines, bio-fuel, living fabrics and utilitarian super-bacteria. Soon, a prosperous colony was established, followed by explosive population growth; a decentralized yet well-connected meritocracy came into being.
Connecting with the Core once more, the world became a prime supplier of bio-technologies and the like.
Alas, prosperity brought envy, otherness brought hate, and the untapped mineral wealth of the planet sealed the deal; Beta Vitalis II (meanwhile named Verdandi) was conquered, "normalized" and exploited for what it was worth.
Most of the populace tried a peaceful civil disobedience approach, leading to numerous infamous massacres. Others tried guerrilla warfare, leading to a protracted partisan war led as much with guns and explosives as with biotechnological tools.
Currently, the worst of the war is over, and a provisional government is being put into place, militant separatists are becoming rare, though rumors persist that the Veradani in exile plot to liberate their world again.
Theria IV was a 'jungle hell-hole' as described in the initial scouting report - a moist warm planet with a very rich ecosphere, and by 'rich' we mean dangerous and hungry.
Combined with abundant resource deposits, it made for an ideal penal colony - shipping the misfits out, having them mine, and then die to the native fauna or microflora was a win-win scenario for the Republic.
Then, the Long Night came upon the galaxy, and the convicts were left to fend for themselves.
The years following the fall were a dreary scenario, droves of convicts falling prey to starvation and predation before they learned to live with and off the land, becoming natives.
The next step in their evolution came from a strange native megalovirus, the Echidna DNA-virus, which has taken the tendency of some viruses to ferry chunks of DNA between hosts (horizontal gene transfer) to an extreme. The Echidna is capable of carrying a very sizable genetic load indeed, and to integrate it into the genome of the host. Its propensity to infect human spermatogonia, which produce sperm, meant that the convicts passed a highly varied heritage to their offspring.
Of course, inducing random genes often kills the spermatozoon, or results in failed pregnancies, but on occasion, they are of benefit - and these mutants thrive, and breed, and pass their heritage onwards.
There are five dominant strains of Echidnites:
> Bruisers have a very dense muscle tissue, resistant scales and redundant organs in their bulky bodies
> Sneaks have supple water-repellent scales, long sinewy limbs and extremely flexible bones and joints
> Swimmers can store copious amounts of oxygen in muscle, akin to sea mammals. Their limbs and tail are webbed, and their skin features chemiluminescent nodes.
> Brewers are highly poison-resistant, and their teeth, skin and bodily fluids contain a plethora of strange chemicals (this trait is highly variable).
> Spiders have developed agile light frames, prehensile feet and an additional pair of arms, making them ideally suitable for a life in the trees - or on board a spaceship.
The Echidna's primary host is not the human, and transfer between humans was not observed. The reservoir are numerous insect species native to Theria IV. As such, Echidnites do not pose an infection risk - but the world as such is considered an amber threat zone.
With contact re-established, Echidnites have begun to spread out through the galaxy. Funnily enough, they are known as much for their mutations as for their mercenary and pragmatic attitude.
Humanity, warlike as ever, was struggling in its expansion into Kizzit space - the aliens had little patience for human trickery, their fleet was efficient, but most importantly, their planets were not only defended by powerful shielding technology, but the Kizzit had transformed them into a likeness of their homeworld. The atmosphere was toxic to humans, statically charged and corrosive, rendering any ground operations next to futile.
The Kizzit were truly strange of mind, and the Federation failed to hire, brainwash or breed their own Kizzit to take the worlds. So, they had to settle for creating hybrids who could endure the hostile conditions while retaining their humanity - and Project Danaos was born.
Highly trained and equipped with captured Kizzit weaponry, the hybrids took the alien colonies by storm, wiping out their ancestors.
Yet, they disobeyed the orders to proceed with terraforming the captured planets for human use, and instead re-activated the shield generators, and opened negotiations with their motherland.
Today, the Danaos are allies of the Federation, yet fiercely independent.
While the appearance of the Danaos is mostly humanoid, their heritage is obvious: their dolicocephalic heads are adorned with tendrils instead of hair; these serve as chemoreceptors. Their eyes are covered by nictating membranes, and their purple skin by a layer of protective mucus. The Kizzit were six-limbed, and their human-made descendants likely possess six limbs - males are gifted with four arms, females with four legs.
While they are perfectly capable of operating in an earth-like atmosphere, their own poisonous one is preferred. This has two reasons - their lungs extract trace elements from the noxious mist, and the toxins serve to keep the epithels of their respiratory tract clean. Danaos operating for extended periods outside their native atmosphere require dietary supplements, and suffer from respiratory tract infections more often.
Once bred for war and war only, the Danaos are still a warlike people. Martial pursuits are glorified in their art, and prowess expected of both genders.
While males do have a combat advantage due to their four arms, females can carry heavier hand-held weapons due to increased stability and carrying capacity.
During the first diaspora, generation ships and sleeper ships departed Earth to scatter human life across the vastness of space. Many of these colony ships found the target planets to be different from their expectations; countless colonies and settlers' dreams failed.
Some planets differed more subtly, such as Vespa II. Lush and orbiting a mellow orange sun, the planet seemed ideal; alas, the native life could boast numerous predators able to threaten man. Amongst the worst was the Tank Worm, a plated carnivorous larva of great power and speed, able and eager to devour humans, and able to withstand most weapons the young colony could bring to bear.
At times, ironical twists work in the favor of humanity. The worms were not able to digest the 'alien' human cells properly; on top of that, the micromillieu inside the beasts' flesh re-set the human cells into omnipotent stem cells… which thrived, divided… and grew into humans, the embryos draining the worm of life.
Imagine the surprise of the colonists when they found a dazzled, weakened worm, split it open with a bulldozer, and found it full of healthy children? They did not give in to the urge to dispose of the 'changelings', and instead raised them.
The worm-born grew into fine humans alright - a little strange, but fine. Humans still get eaten by Tank Worms on occasion, and sometimes on purpose, but the colonists now know well to tag the worm with a GPS locator, and wait several months for a merry delivery.
Most changelings from one clutch will be clones of the same person, though when the same worm consumes several people, sometimes the absorbed cells develop into gametes, and combine.
With the milieu inside the worm differing from a human mother, the children's' brains develop slightly differently - more creative, intuitive, more likely to develop strange talents (for example psionics), but also more likely to become unstable or deviant. Outsiders sometimes also become unstable when twenty people in the colony appear identical.
5) "Lepus" series parahuman
(inspired by GURPS Biotech)
In the very beginning, humanity colonized worlds especially to relieve the ever-mounting population pressure. The first colonists were daring pioneers by necessity, relying on little support; later, in the days of the Federation, the colonization efforts were thoroughly planned out for decades ahead.
The Lepus parahuman strain was developed to allow swift initial population growth in newly founded colonies - hands to operate machinery, build cities and mines are vital where full automation does not exist.
Easy to stereotype, the Lepus are patterned after Earth rabbits - long ears, fur, re-growing teeth, wide hips, long legs, and most importantly of all, a high birth rate and sex drive. The animal DNA was also inserted to push them below the cutoff where they qualified as full humans before the Federation law.
Several minor modifications make them suitable as frontier settlers - the ability to synthetise essential amino acids and vitamins, boosted liver and immune system, and an improved digestive tract.
The behavior and hormonal system was slightly modified to make the Lepus more social and docile - the last feature drew criticism from the brass, as Lepus are suboptimal recruits and find it difficult to hold worlds on contested frontiers. Few know that the amiable behavior can be reversed with the administration of Python, a synthetic stimulant.
Finally, much like Earth hares, the Lepus also go into heat in cycles. Due to impaired judgment during this period, they're notoriously poor at family planning: having children while under the influence of a hormone storm seems like the best idea of all.
In established colonies, the Lepus are popular comedy characters, entertainers and escorts. The service sector also loves the social, nonthreatening 'Bunnies' - but tension still exists in colonies that were founded by Lepus settlers, who built up their world, only to see humans follow and take over. Nobody likes being a second class citizen.
Some colonies even deport their Lepus populations to new worlds when the second wave of settlers arrives. It comes as no surprise that morale in such 're-located' colonies is low, and they are ripe with dissent.
Abundant with life, ocean worlds are difficult to colonise nonetheless. Most projects would adapt the settlers by using marine mammal DNA, or engineer gills - but not the project Atlantis.
The peace accord after sixty years of the war with the amphibious Trillaxians necessitated a major common endeavour to bring the species together: perhaps a new race born of a joint effort, to populate and tend a world dedicated to peace? Bella II, a resource-poor oceanic world of little strategic value on the common border, was soon renamed to Atlantis (the Trillaxinas call it Caluli after a lost city from their mythology).
A major scientific cooperation was born (which lasts to this day, pursuing other projects) to bring the Atlanteans into this world. The species was not only stitched together from existing DNA, but numerous parts of the gene code were written from scratch.
The Atlanteans were fit to standards of beauty of both races - symmetric faces set with large expressive eyes the colour of precious stones, male and female shapes comely and sensual according human ideals, the skin glossy and adorned with iridiscent scales, the tendril-hair and fins rich with pastel pigment and luminiscence to appeal to Trillaxian sensitivities.
Males were designed with an eel-like tail to propel them through water, while females possess a cluster of muscular tentacles instead.
The goal was to create the new race without the flaws of the parent species, into heralds of a new age and bringers of peace. Certainly, partially this succeeded - the Atlanteans are intelligent and social, without the seething aggression of the human parent, yet still possessed of an ample drive and striving. Their melodic voices and natural charisma lend themselves to diplomatic pursuits, as does their special status.
While the Atlanteans are poster children for the wonders of science and a testimony to the peace treaty, some hushed voices note that the project may have been too much of a success, as Atlanteans rise to positions of prominence in the Terran and Trillaxan hierarchy, and the ever-increasing funding of the Academy also raises some eyebrows. The keen minds of Atlantis bide their time, their even tempers patient and dedicated to… whatever their goals may be.
In the early days of human expansion, colony ships ventured out at sublight speeds, with no military support; even in the age of early FTL drives, contact with numerous colony ships was lost.
The settlers of Ymir stumbled upon a busy region of space, populated by a flock of minor squabbling races. Though they were an excellently supplied colony fleet, the young Ymirian colony could not dedicate its full effort towards building, with the looming threat of war ever-present.
They were conquered, enslaved, regained their independence and waged war mercilessly for two and a half centuries. In the end, the colonists perished to a plague designed by one of their enemies. What survived were their creations - the Beorn, designed from human DNA, and genetic information of several earth beasts.
The Beorn were originally adopted into the families of those from whose DNA they were designed, and later carried on the culture and fight of their creators, emerging ultimately victorious.
Earth was more than surprised to find a flourishing star-faring society with Terran language ad culture in an unexplored region of space - and even more surprised when their new acquaintances were eager to assist in the battle agaisnt enemies of Sol.
Bjorndahl remains a staunch ally of Terra to this day, and even the most foolish of politicians is wise enough not to break their trust.
Beorn culture is feudal and militaristic, glorifying heritage, ancestry and honor. Work ethic, loyalty and personal integrity are highly valued, and expected of all others. Annals of Bjorndahl tell of at least two separate instances of treason that resulted in the offending races' world being glassed with nuclear fire.
The Beorn are massively built and furred, displaying features of bears and tigers prominently. Their thick bones are excellently suited for the heavy-gravity worlds abundant in their region of space. Under the thick fur, their skin features layers of dermal composite armor.
The peaceful colony of Vesta saw a battered ancient science vessel crash-land - the Magellan, lost after its experimental warp engine misfired.
Where the failed jump had taken the unfortunate ship, and what had transpired there, none can tell - the few survivors were bereft of memories of the event. The colonists did not know about the fundamental change that had befallen the once-benign daring explorers - for they had become a disease of humanity. As cancer spreads through the body, so were the rescued crew infectious, growing through their hosts and absorbing them into their twisted forms. The first night was enough to eradicate the colony, soon the world was lost.
Canceri never cease to grow, never cease to regenerate, and are able to absorb and convert human tissue with alarming swiftness. Upon the melding, they become amalgamated tangled monstrosities of limbs and bodies, but soon their forms streamline as they shed unneeded parts, or form new Canceri of excess tissue. They can only absorb bodies, not memories of their victims - brains are almost completely razed of memories, and re-set to an instinctual state by the conversion process. With effort, they can pose as a specific human by hollowing his body out, but only briefly - as said, they never cease to grow.
The newly-separated Canceri are little more than beasts, driven by instinct, but as they are effectively immortal, their eldest, most successful - the Eidolons - have accumulated sizeable knowledge, and astonishing control over their malleable bodies.
What role the Canceri play depends upon their underlying nature:
*if they are purely a plague, intent on subverting humanity, then they will be a terror attempting to infect and overgrow whole planets.
*on the other side of the spectrum, they may have been changed only in body, and attempt to live their lives as well as they can, never again able to touch a baseline human; the conversion of the settlers happened either on accident, or with the settler's consent.
*they may be a new race set apart from humanity, being only able to grow by converting humans, or
*they may offer a new chance for the hopeless - see " Song for Lya".
*or they may be the next evolutional step of humanity.
Tiresias from Greek legend was much enlightened by his time spent as a woman. And though we're the same species, the human condition is a unique experience for humanity's two halves.
The project began first as an extended sociological study on a subcontinent of Thalassa III, but the Tiresian strain proved very stable and fruitful, counting twelve colonized planets today.
All Tiresians are born female, and, except for the fact that their epiphyses do not close and their skeleton stays much younger than of baseline homo sapiens, they are hard to distinguish from Earth-norm humans.
Usually around the age of thirty-five to forty (rarely also earlier), Tiresians go through a second puberty, becoming fully male - yet with the memories of their female life well intact. As with many species that change gender over the course of their lives, the chance to convert to a male increases if there are few males around.
Generally, female Tiresians are somewhat tomboyish - tall, often athletic, driven and competitive.
The males display a decidedly masculine countenance, their skeleton and musculature experiencing noticeable growth in their transformation.
Their society is what most noticeably separates them from baseline humans - the concept of marriage is not known, for example. Instead, women usually have their offspring sired by males they deem desirable. In the still under-populated Tiresian worlds, children are always welcome and raised communally. Housing is often communal; common are also households owned by men with a fluctuating population of female denizens.
Sexuality is a complex concept with Tiresians; while their creators intended their orientation to reverse in the second puberty so that they remain heterosexual, this was not entirely successful: women display strong bi-sexual tendencies, but this is far less common in men.
10) Olympians and the Heracles series
Some scientists hypothetise that humanity was helped in its development by an extraterrestrial agency, some advanced race with nebulous motives - or that we are descendants of aliens ourselves.
Regardless whether this is true or not, expeditions -have- found relics of a humanoid race on Groombridge II, the remnants of their inhabitants strikingly similar to humans, yet higher-evolved.
What few know is that genetic material was recovered from an alien near death, discovered in a failing stasis pod, and blended with human DNA, as well as being used to re-create the mysterious race.
The experiment was an outstanding success - and failure at the same time. The crossbreeds proved exceptional - stronger, swifter and smarter than humans, with a penchant for psionic ability; the recreated aliens were also akin to humans in guise, but superior by far. Both could tap into a pool of ancestral memory, and thus the youngsters surprised their creators not only through intelligence, but also experience and wisdom they shouldn't possess.
Were it an academic lab intent on the ennoblement of humanity, the outcome might have been different; the Neogen corporate labs failed to disguise their true purpose though, and the Heracleans soon tired of being used and experimented upon.
All contact with the science vessel Vespucci was lost fifty years ago; the corporates were unable to track their purposedly stealthy ship beyond the first jump point.
The escapees traveled towards the fringe, taking over an isolated world, establishing themselves as its masters, and thriving in seclusion.
Today, they pose a danger of which few are aware. The Federation of Sol has moved away from virtue and the spirit of exploration, pointlessly exploiting and destroying the very humanity it was meant to protect. Corporations steal and squander wealth that could serve the advancement of mankind; instead of creating better humans, the powers-that-be wish to have better servants; the virtuous and exceptional are ground to dust as to not oppose the short-sighted plans. The aegis of mankind now spits on humanity, taking it for granted and courting whichever species can give the oligarchs a brief respite from their coin-addled stupor.
Indistinguishable from humans, Heracleans and Olympians work behind the scenes to bring down the rotten order. They are well aware that the planned collapse of Sol has to be carefully engineered as to wipe away the flaws in mankind to their roots, but to also be sufficiently brief as to restore Sol before foes of mankind gain an overbearing upper hand. They are well aware that countless sacrifices will have to be brought to the fire of revolution, but everything of value has a price.
A few of their number wonder what the original goal of humanity's forefathers was - but the ancestral memories do not speak of this.
Unaware of the state of their wayward creations, the Neogen labs have never ceased to work on the Heracles project, to produce a more tractable and obedient crossbreed - creating a variety of flawed next generation Heracleans. They are some of the more problematic but resourceful agents of the megacorp; more than a few have escaped their conditioning and disabled their control implants, vanishing from the corp's radar.
Heracleans age slowly; Olympians hardly at all. Both are cross-fertile with humanity. On the outside, the human guise is perfect; a medical scan will show numerous aberrant features that can be played down as biomods; sequencing the DNA will reveal them as clearly alien, though.
They are universally athletic in appearance, with high brows and symmetric pronounced features that give them a distanced, classic comeliness with a moody, deep air.
Their population is still small, three generations having swelled their numbers from the original hundred and fifty to several thousand. With this limited number, a meritocratic republic is possible; their society places much emphasis on science, education, personal responsibility and accountability.
11) Kerseth and Brantiki (The Kargan Kingdom)
Two races inhabit the Kargan kingdom spanning two dozens of suns, yet to describe them on their own would deprive the reader of vital context.
The Brantiki were once a dominant force in their sector; these days have passed. Certainly, their ancestors towered over man in body and intellect, but the Brantiki of today do not hint at the distant legacy. The records are hazy as to what caused their forebears to undergo species-wide genetic modification, and justified doubt arises whether the picture of today was intended. Today's Brantiki are still furred and six-limbed, but rather comical, adorable figures with large heads, ears and eyes, barely four feet tall. Of their will to power, little is left, as they tend to be distractible, hedonistic and complacent. Keen intellect still slumbers underneath the surface, though they would prefer to sublimate it in impractical pursuits.
Their civilisation was in deep decline, growth halted by ennui and decadence, when one of their colonies, inhabited mostly by the savage Kerseth, rebelled. Having seized ships from their masters, the barbarians conquered the entire nation within a few years, establishing themselves as its lords.
The Kerseth are ferocious pack predators, sinewy and muscled, aggressive and endlessly driven to seize and accomplish as much as possible in their lives spanning perchance three dozen years. Humans call them Varg, as they are somewhat reminiscent of the terran wolf, though their muzzles with ever-regrowing rows teeth and limbs armed with wicked talons would give any Earth predator pause. Organized and pragmatic, the Kerseth have taken over the civilisation of the Brantiki without eliminating the existing population. Instead, they steer them towards utilitarian pursuits, and have them work many of the more complex aspects of the kingdom.
To the outside observer, the Brantiki may appear to be a second-class enslaved citizens; certainly, the fact that Kerseth occupy all leadership roles, and dominate the smaller race physically, emotionally and sexually would point in this direction.
The truth is though, most Brantiki enjoy the new vision and order in the chaos; they thrive on the rousing force that their conquerors are. So has the race produced far more scientific advances in the relatively short period since being conquered than in the long decline preceding it; their declining numbers are on the rise again. In society, they are artists, craftsmen, scientists and advisors, more than happy to leave the burden of governance and warfare to the Kerseth.
Under their rule, the kingdom is again becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Biologically, the two races are mammalian, but there the similarities end.
Kerseth are carnivorous, have high metabolic rates, live around 35 years, but heal rapidly and are exceedingly hardy, with redundant organs and exceptionally tough bones. Their organism can respond to stress by releasing additional erythrocytes and by hormonal cocktails that send their bodies into overdrive.
The females are almost constantly fertile. Given that they possess four uteri, and pregnancies do not prevent ovulation, they can and do often bear young from different fathers. Promiscuity is the norm; as the females are so hardy that pregnancy does not noticeably slow them down, they think little about whether to breed. Children reach maturity at around six years of age.
Kerseth society does generate an excess of children and young adults, which is reflected in their carefree attitude with life - selection and competition is fierce, and any desirable place in life is hard fought for.
Brantiki bear the marks of tampering in their genome - likely produced by an advanced proteus nanovirus. Obviously artificial genome sequences result in extended life span, less DNA copying and translation errors and less mutations. The slow cautious setting of their metabolism results in slow healing and growth, and likely is the source of the disbalance that stunts their growth. The same setting also causes neurons to handle neurotransmitters and their toxic degradation products better, but at the cost of reduced baseline activity - less spontaneity, less drive and less need to express themselves. The peak neural activity is unaffected, and stimulation can drive them to cognitive heights - hence why their conquerors have such a beneficial effect on Brantiki.
The species breeds slowly, pregnancies producing a single child after fifteen months of gestation. As the rest of their bodies, their genitals show tracks of genetic tampering intended to provide a more pleasurable intercourse - but about 1 in 5 Brantiki is infertile due to minor imperfections of the altered reproductive tract.
12) The Silanori Synod
A realm ancient in comparison to fledgling humanity dominant in its sector, the Synod is ruled by the serpentine Silanori, and houses countless subjugated races, very much like the bodies of its rulers house many symbionts.
Silanori do not age, perishing only by disease or violence; due to the baroque and sometimes lethal game of power at the core of their politics, ancients are rare, but claim to remember the Progenitors who vanished tens of thousands of years ago.
Their civilisation is highly advanced, the undying scientists forging ever further ahead in their domains, unraveling ever deeper mysteries of the universe. While their society's technology level is increasing incessantly, the progress is slow, perchance due to the already impressive amount of things they know and each step further requiring massive effort, or perchance due to the cautious distrustful game of prestige and dominance even the scientists play.
The core Silanori space bears the marks of long habitation - worlds with cities ancient and crowded, easily accessible resources depleted and recycling being paramount, and all available space colonised. Slowly, the sphere of their influence expands outwards, droves of thralls labouring on the fringe to feed the steady core-ward stream of freighters.
Most races are too cowed by the Synod's might - but as other empires emerge, even the Synod may have to re-visit the abandoned concept and look outwards with an unbiased eye.
The words "pomp" and "ritual" describe the first impression of the Synod best - their capital ships are awe-inspiring super-dreadnoughts bristling with arcane weapons, their cities coruscant arcologies, each an artwork a thousand years in the making. The Sylanori themselves no less awe-inspiring, their bodies up to three hundred feet long, their heads draconic and six-eyed, with a mane of writhing serpentine appendages. Their servants are coordinated as one man - most of their servant races are bred for utter obedience. Each ancient's family boasts its own distinctive and intricate heraldry. Actual Sylanori make up about 1% of the populace, the priest-kings, genrals and thinkers. The rest of the population are obedient client races, having traded their freedom for security as a part of the seemingly unstoppable whole.
Evolved from marsupial serpents, the Sylanori possess a multitude of pouches used to house their young - and symbionts. Originally, the serpents offered their pouches to species that would help defend them, aid in hunting or groom them in return for protection and food. Ages of genetic engineering and selective breeding have resulted in tailored symbionts; many conquered sapient species also found themselves altered by Sylanori science, forever changed to serve their masters better.
Sylanori have remarkable control over their symbiotic species through a pheromone system; each serpent's symbiotic individuals are conditioned to be responsive to his special cocktail and addicted to his secretions. Within the pouch, the minion can feed on a nutrient milk-sludge, breathe through an air-providing tendril, and benefit from a variety of chemicals the serpent produces. Minions who were bereaved of their master describe the feeling of servitude as utter bliss, faith and certainty - a simple but fulfilled state of being.
13) Benthan Dominium
Prior to the advent of far-reaching genemodding and eugenics programs, much of mankind's evolution was epigenetic - the culture and civilisation with which they surround themselves and the collective pool of humanity's knowledge replacing the natural selection man so abhors.
With the Benthans, knowledge, culture and heritage is the same. When two Benthans mate, they fuse and enter a transitional stage. At first, they are dormant until the fusion completes; but then, the minds of the pair are linked, and explore each other, learn of each other, and become one. Then, they become mobile and awaken, the strange merged form walking the world upon twelve legs, hungry for sustenance and stimuli alike, exploring the world as a new creature in the context of the fused mind.
After having sufficiently matured mentally and consumed enough sustenance, the creature goes dormant again, to release four or more young Benthans. The transitional stage lasts around one year, of which ~6 months are spent waking and ~3 in a vivid dream.
The offspring are genetic and spiritual successors of their parents, fully capable young adults.
Merging is seen as no trivial matter, as by doing so, you cease to be and become part of the next generation.
Benthans are amphibious crustaceans, usually encased in their hard shells, except during growth spurts and during mating, where they abandon the hard chitinous casing to allow their forms to change. They do not have genders; the closest thing they have to mating is reciprocal grooming of individuals who feel close. It is not love that drives Benthans to fuse and give birth to the next generation, but respect and awe at the partner-to-be. Their history features several examples of antagonists who were so impressed by the other's effort and skill that they fused, abandoning their differences and hostility.
Physically, Benthans are plated behemoths with six legs, two powerful pincers and two dextrous arms. Their heads feature large and small eyes, and extended feelers. They never cease to grow. Upon merging, larger individuals give rise to more, and slightly larger children.
Benthans are amphibious, hideously strong, and can tolerate high gravities and pressures well.
Some would call Benthans hide-bound. Verily, their society is centered around tradition, connected to its origins by a hazy but unbroken string of memory. People track genealogy thoroughly, the society tracking families and heritage of great thinkers or heroes meticulously. After all, all of your successors carry on both your blood and thought.
New thought is carefully considered before being accepted, and is equally slow to be forgotten. Some races have learned the hard way that wronging the Benthans once means you're still on hostile standing two hundred years later. On the bright side, the Benthans pride themselves on honor, consistency, honesty and justice, and on impartiality if their job demands them to be so. Thus it is not uncommon to see them as notaries, judges or executors of will in societies of other species - and you can rely on your Benthan allies to show up when promised. Curiously, the scientific community also welcomes Benthans due to their excellent memory, pedantic logic, and ruthlessly critical thinking: the average Benthan may not be a hotshot scientist, but he will find the flaws, and tear your work apart if the science is fishy.
14) Karizzi Kingdom
Earth's parasitic wasps have developed many gruesome, intriguing and complex procreation strategies. If not the military might and expansionism of the Karizzi, then certainly their likeness to these wasps makes humans cringe.
A clutch of eggs is laid into a paralysed victim, to devour him from the inside; the first stage of the larval growth is complete when they emerge from his hollow husk. In their further growth, larvae feast upon flesh with their powerful mandibles.
Karizzi females possess a potent neurotoxin that alters the perception of the victim to treat Karizzi larvae as the sole focus and meaning of his life, going as far as dying for them, or letting them consume him alive.
Besides neurotoxins, females produce several kinds of pheromones to manipulate their own species. The first kind, dominance pheromones, serve to keep newly hatched young cowed until they learn the basics of reason. Berserk pheromones trigger an instinctual response in any nearby male, whereupon he proceeds to murder anything that does not appear to be Karizzi, feeling no pain nor fear. Finally, mating pheromones serve to drive nearby males into a breeding frenzy, overriding their cognition with lust.
While the civilisation presents an unified front towards the outside, conquering anything weak enough to be conquered, the Karizzi struggle for dominance internally. Whether the number of offspring, worldly holdings, or achievements, the females strive to ascend the social ladder, to be queen. The weak are ruthlessly ground down, and fed to the children. Outwardly, females will display standing through the number of sycophants, open shows of force, or shameless splendor.
While males are seen as second class citizens due to the ease with which their will can be overridden towards the atavistic mating or fighting response, they do not take part in the constant struggle for power, and as such actually manage to be highly productive members of society. Beside hard labor, art, science and craft offer them ways to gain value in the eyes of their superiors, and to occupy their minds, to gain meaning. Appearing competent and gifted is beneficial, but drawing too much attention can be dangerous - females prefer strong, gifted males, and the most desirable men will be passed hence and forth between females in a constant pheromone haze, until their bodies can bear it no more. At least the next generation benefits from having had an outstanding father.
15) Culuan Confederation
Strangely beautiful amphibian cephalopods with long sleek shapes, luminescent nodes and ever-changing colours, Culuans evolved intelligence likely due to the mutually beneficial and complex symbiosis they shared with multiple species. Trading food for protection, riding along larger creatures, and learning to manipulate numerous animals to mutual benefit, the Culuans were almost mercantile before they were sapient. It is marvelous and strange how the razorbeak tends the watery fields for them, rewarded with sweet berries, or how the colossal sawfin brings them fish in return for cleansing from parasites it cannot reach.
The Culuan worlds are carefully transformed into mirrors of their home, and the ecosystem meticulously transplanted. The casual observer would overlook how the seemingly pristine-looking worlds provide masses of food and resources to their inhabitants.
Imbued with a diplomatic talent and accommodating nature, Culuans are cordial, and busy themselves with the most important question: quid pro quo? They are readily welcomed in the space of other species, and generally considered too useful to harm. Besides mercantile endeavours, they excel in social services, education, and professions such as counseling, massage or as caretakers. Although they are cunning and capable of deception, Culuans have evolved for symbiosis, and are in for the long run, for long-term benefit.
Culuan reproduction follows the same symbiotic trend, when the female deposits her eggs in the reproductive tract of another species, where they grow without harming the host. Numerous animals native to Culua allow this without hesitation, because they know that Culuans will pamper them and feed them well; in the spacefaring age, suitable sapient creatures with compatible biology are also welcomed in Culuan families for this purpose, the deal for serving as host likewise sweet. Some even choose to become full members of a Culuan family.
Culuans can affect their growth quite well. Originally this served as mimicry, and to be accepted into groups of social creatures; today, the purpose is not much different - a Culuan living with humans will shape its head to resemble a human face, for example, and can adapt with effort as far as to produce a sing-song version of human speech. To a certain degree, they can adapt their appendages to serve a variety of purposes. Outside of water, their bodies are supported by a series of fluid-filled bladders - sufficient to stand against Earth-norm gravity. Nonetheless, Culuans have to keep moist.
As they seamlessly integrate with other species, so are Culuan cities built into the landscape. Their inhabitants prefer the shallows, thus the cities are built so as to be variably flooded during the tide. Culuan design is rich with round shapes, naturalistic designs and vivid colours, reminiscent of blooming coral and shells of fantastic forms.
16) Taulian Federation
Taulians appear to be a race past their prime - neither expanding, not particularly populous. Their colossal arcologies on numerous worlds are populated mainly by their uplifted client races. While technically still the masters of a sizable dominion, the Taulians mostly leave their subects to their own devices, preferring to play the role of the wise, just and benevolent master, and intervening only when necessary. Even species not part of the Federation often ask Taulians for advice on science, policy and mysteries of the universe; few are foolish enough to raise arms against the Federation, for Taulian anger is hard to rouse, but very efficient.
What few know is that the Taulians have reached a state where they no longer are able to improve their species further, which has come as a shock to the deeply philosophical race. The flaws ingrained in their nature, coupled with the sins of the past, led the Taulians to believe that they are not worthy of claiming the destiny within their reach.
Instead, the race has dedicated most of its efforts to creating a perfect race to succeed them, and be worthy of power and glory. Taulian scientists are scouring the galaxy for ideas and specimens to further this goal, while the rest of the species is busy preparing the ascent of their perfect spawn. Their species is split in opinion whether they should silently abscond when their work comes into fruition, whether to stay and serve the Perfect in any capacity they can, or whether to euthanize their whole species once the work is done to avoid transferring any of their flaws to their flawless creations.
Taulians are radially symmetric, having no front or back, and six upper and lower limbs. Up to four arms and two legs can be brought to work on one object (Taulian musical instruments are notoriously hard to handle). They reach eight feet, but can extend their legs to tower higher. To humans, they appear to have six faces; this is supported by the fact that they modulate their voice through six openings, giving the appearance of a choir speaking. Taulian skin is glossy, with dark green and light green stripes; the ignorant might imagine them to be trees, but Taulians are evolved from carnivorous ambush predators. The plant-like image is supported by the colourful bouquet-like crest a Taulian can extend from his head, once used to scare off adversaries and in mating displays. The crest even produces tasteful "fruit" (basically fleshy pods filled with thick sweet protein creme), which are offered as signs of affection and friendship.
Taulians are hermaphroditic, producing both eggs and sperm. Their mating takes place in clusters, where multiple individuals will gather when they are heavy with eggs. The size of the cluster is determined by the simple factor of how many members find each other mutually attractive. Each individual possesses six penile tentacles, which he can use to link with his lovers, and transfer both the individual's seed, as well as that provided by his partners. This ensures that the eggs of the entire connected group are fertilized by a mixture of seed; the eggs are laid in one clutch, and all children considered offspring of all participants.
To reflect this, Taulians do not have marriage between two individuals, but rather group marriages where chilren are raised by all parents equally.
17) Broodlords of Barnatha
The Barnathans are a highly diverse species - from diminutive individuals scarcely a foot across to hulking many-limbed creatures the size of a mammoth; each performs a specific function to which he is tailored.
The Barnathans are a private, reclusive species, highly territorial and unwilling to share worlds, therefore it is not generally known that the actual driving force are the Broodlords, heaving masses of flesh, floating by the virtue of gas-filled sacs. Of them, all the lesser Barnathans are born; verily, the only task of the Broodlord is to breed, think and rule.
Their comptentence varies widely - while some may be able to spawn only simple worker drones and hulking beasts of burden, others are able to create intricate creatures of great intelligence perfectly suited for their function. Social standing is based upon the usefulness of a Broodlord's creations, and on his personal competence.
Created creatures fulfill many roles taken over by machines in other societies - for the Broodlords, simple witless drones to till the fields are sufficient, as well, as obedient factory workers who don't mind repeating a task for sixteen hours straight, to be rewarded with a bowl of nutrient sludge.
The lords are very private, ritualistic with each other, formal and considerate. Requiring a great deal of personal space and quite particular about their brood and works, they approach each other cautiously, paying heed to layers of protocol, politeness and titles. Contacts are made through intermediates, messages or formal conclaves. Courting is done via intermediates likewise, the lords sending each other specifically designed creatures that aim to appear enticing, pretty, amusing or witty, all in an effort to show off their parent's skill.
When courting is successful and affection confirmed, this calls for the creation of a unique minion, which will be sent from one lord's domicile to the other's with much pomp and celebration. Much effort goes into making this minion perfect, for akin to a male angler fish, this minion will fuse with the Broodlord's body, and supply its parent's genetic information and be ready for fertilisation until death.
While Broodlords are capable of parthenogenesis, having the genetic information of others is valuable for their repertoire, and necessary to sire another Broodlord. Accepting the genetic information of another is a great honour for the donor, as the recipient shows he's willing to include another's heritage in his works; being offered genetic material by a high-ranking Barnathan is also encouraging, and a gesture of respect and trust.
Broodlords are obsessive about the quality of their minions, toying around to create better works, much like a hobbyist would build elaborate toy trains and landscapes in minute detail. While it might appear that the spawn are slaves, Barnathans treasure and are protective of their creations. Rarely do they mistreat them; an exception is a competition held to create the best soldiers and war beasts, where these fight to the death; the winning types are bred in numbers, and feature prominently in the military, while their parent earns honour.
The place of unintelligent spawn in the society is simple - they serve well, or are recycled. The role of intelligent spawn is complex - they are necessary, as lords cannot personally oversee every single activity, and they need scientists, engineers, builders, scouts, envoys; furthermore, the broodlords prefer intelligent company, and take pride in the keen minds of their creations. The relationship is necessarily complex - intelligent minds desire meaning and purpose, and intelligent creatures are hard to control.
Two possibilities emerge how to handle the relationship of broodlords and intelligent minions. This will have a deep impact on how the race is perceived, and what interactions and adventures look like.
Not driven by reproductive need and not worried about day-to-day survival, intelligent Barnathan spawn have created a vibrant 'middle-class' society of intellectuals, scientists, artists and philosophers, where acclaim and respect is given based upon the quality of work and the brilliance of the mind. Devoid of the possibility to feel physical lust, Barnathan thinkers thrive on intellectual satisfaction and derive thrill from the battle of minds. Broodlords do not interfere in this unless necessary, instead delighting in observing the interplay as a silent attendee, commenting on occasion, helping in brainstorming and enjoying their works. There is competition as well, on two levels: the broodlords seek to outdo each other by creating smarter, more inventive minions, and by proxy their thinkers, competing on science fairs, debates and engineering contests; also, as resources are not unlimited, the thinkers vie for funding from broodlords very much like inventors sought patrons once, and scientists of today do likewise. At least the source of funding is not a nebulous bureaucratic apparatus, but a single entity, who may be your parent.
The broodlords exercise a subtle control over their intelligent minions at an instinctual level. A deep emotional bond to the parent is ingrained in the formative stages, and unlike in humans, the spawn do not bond to partners and the like, the affection for the parent being irreplaceable. Despite developed cognitive faculties, thinkers do not become independent of the parent, instead being somewhat child-like in their world view, forever vying for the parent's affection, approval and acknowledgment. Further reinforcement comes from the pleasure the spawn derives from contact with its parents: unable to feel sexual stimulation, resting in the coils of the broodlord's appendages is the most blissful experience the spawn feel. Broodlords potentiate this effect by administering a custom drug cocktail to their spawn, making them in fact addicted to their parent.
Thus, the thinkers can form friendships, but nothing will ever replace their parent brood lord. The spawn compete for the parent's affection the only way they can, by working harder, better, creating more.
18) The Faithful of Phtong
Evolved from warm-blooded pack omnivores on a terrestrial planet, the Phtongari are beautiful example of convergent evolution, and could pass for a creature from Earth. They possess fur, prehensile tails, dextrous hands and grasping feet, and are able to glide in the thick atmosphere using skin flaps extending between their limbs. The belly is lightly furred, as is the tail and ears (except tufts); there, luminescent cells are located, capable of complex signaling. The most complex luminescent array, reminiscent of a glowing flower, is located on a tendril protruding from the head, and is used for communication - or to bait tasty morsels into the vicinity of the individual's mouth.
Due to their vaguely feline appearance, the Phtongari are called "Firefly cats" in Earthling slang.
The Phtongari realm is a theocracy - literally so. Since the early stone age of their culture, individuals began hearing the word of Phtong, who appears to be some sort of being. While many aliens doubt this and mock the Church of Phtong, thinking it a clever ruse akin to theocracies throughout history elsewhere, telepaths know that something is speaking to the felines, though those who attempted to discern its nature were met with irresistible force, the result amnesia and the loss of their gift.
While no hive mind, vital information perceived by one Phtongari have a way of traveling miraculously fast to a Speaker despite intervening distance.
Even though only a fraction of Phtongari hears the word of Phtong, every single one of them is able to tell whether someone claiming to hear His words speaks the truth about His message. Even more curiously, the messages heard by several Listeners are never contradictory.
Phtong rarely intervenes directly in the lives of a vast majority of individuals; they are instructed by the Speakers when necessary.
The few individuals who are fully disconnected from the Word are labelled "Apostates", and persecuted. Though none can tell who cannot hear the word at all, Speakers have a habit of asking the faithful statements of Phtong, depending on their ability to discern the truth thereof. Apostates usually flee the realm to avoid detection.
While this is a carefully hidden fact, evidence exists that once, only a fraction of the populace was able to hear the Word, but they ruthlessly exterminated the other breeds on their homeworld by the time they were able to travel their entire globe.
The Phtongari of today are far more peaceful than that, though their policy is expansionist still; their terraforming efforts leave countless populous worlds in their wake. Their wars are mostly defensive and retaliatory, but once started, are led remorselessly.
Phtongari do not seek converts - those not of their race cannot hear the Word anyway. The theocracy does usually have a benevolent attitude - none challenge its position, and the populace accepts its judgments without objections. Thus, it usually does not need to assert its dominance. Furthermore, the decrees of Phtong are focused towards the well-being of his believers, and the pattern of "maximum possible benefit for as many faithful as possible" is obvious in his commands.
Phtongari are perceived as somewhat simplistic due to their "faith" and carefree approach to life. Because of their cheerful attitude and generally outgoing nature, they are welcomed with other species; few of them are criminal, though they can be frivolous, irreverent, and lewd, reinforcing the image of the cat. Their religious festivals are merry celebrations of Phtong, with drinking, carousing, music and free love.
They do make good neighbors, with little inclination to crime, even though a little obtrusive and loud. The rare cases when a Phtongari kills someone are quite obviously results of mental breakdowns, and the church and society unequivocally rejects the offender, imposing strict punishment.
19)The Patrons (Dinovian Palatinate, "the Wardens")
An elder race, the Dinovians have transcended the bounds of flesh and are able to turn into beings of radiant energy, resuming physical form when the need arises, or when they become exhausted. As energy, they possess the ability to manipulate light, travel swiftly and telepathy; they are able to choose the appearance of their luminous form, though most stick to a specific one to avoid confusing the lesser species. What they have in common is appearing as figures surrounded by a nimbus of light that extends rivers of gold sheen into their surroundings, growing pale with increasing distance.
In corporeal form, the Patrons seem akin to molluscs, their soft bodies creating intricate shells resemblant of fairytale castles. The Patrons are fully amphibious herbivores; their intelligence - at least according to their claims - arose from evolving to counter various kinds of predation. Never stopping to grow, they are essentially immortal. Each Patron is unique, the patterns and shape of its shell and the specific type of appendages and sensory organs suiting its whims. The fine control over the creation of shell material extends as far as to allow them to create objects within their bodies by covering a core with layers of pearl-like material. Originally used to create tools, today this ability is used for artistic expression.
When Dinovians choose to procreate, first they will inject the partner's surface with a transmitter that induces the formation of a sexual opening; then they will mate and deposit their seed inside. The young grow as a part of the parent's body for years, basically until adulthood. A Dinovian is considered mature when it can assume the energy form on its own, though the young can detach from the parent far sooner, for example if it dies.
Usually, the race is not involved in the squabbling of lesser races; they have claimed specific systems where they tolerate no interference or trespassing, and let other species go about their business - usually. The popular name "Wardens" or "Patrons" arises from the species' agenda of protecting pre-starflight species, and imposing the Interdict, which prohibits starfaring societies from meddling with nascent species. Any interference or even contact is prohibited; the Wardens make this clear in plain words to any species that enters the starfaring age. Transgression against the Interdict is dealt with harshly, and any loose ends expunged. While far from all-powerful, the Wardens possess a massive technological advantage, and sufficient firepower to give pause to the mightiest adversaries. Inside the Warden's sphere of influence, they scout and observe life-bearing worlds for signs of intelligence, and declare them clear for colonisation if none is found. For reports of nascent species on faraway planets, they offer handsome rewards.
Species that mature to a starfaring society are given a 'starter package' of technology, fifty years of warden protection, and a pat on the back for making it so far.
The Wardens take little interest in established species, except for maintaining embassies and media services; most of their trade, espionage and other dealings is done through their client species - those who decided to remain under Warden protection forever, in exchange for service.
On rare occasions, the Patrons take interest in specific talented or unique individuals of other species, providing support and funding for their work.
The true motivation of these ancients leaves everybody guessing. They may just be content to play their little game of diplomacy and long-spanning intrigue; they might be genuinely altruistic; they may be waiting for the Omnissiah to be born to some race (they know it's not theirs, but don't know which); or, they may be cultivating a buffet of delicacies to present to their dark master when he makes his rounds to collect tribute.
20) The Faenir Federation
Evolved from omnivorous pack primates on a terrestrial planet, the superficial similarity of Faenir to humanity is uncanny. As their homeworld possesses a gravity of 0.9 g, their build is lighter than the average Terran's; their hair is thinner but thicker due to the more arid climate of Faen, and the gender dimorphism less pronounced, giving them a more androgynous appearance - but still, these differences are bafflingly trivial. No link pointing towards a common ancestry was found, though.
Pigmentation is highly adaptable: the expression of their melanin-equivalent is wholly dependent upon received ultraviolet light, each individual having a pale base state, but being capable of attaining a dark brown hue. Their hair colour is also white, and changes according to pigments in the diet.
Faenir begin their lives genderless, and develop a gender in their puberty; the gender an individual develops is highly dependent upo psychosocial factors, and can be influenced by the individual.
Once, they shared their homeworld with the Targen, another primate species possessed of great strength and ferocity, and few redeeming features. Numerous other dangerous predators roamed Faen, but the Targen civilisation advanced in parallel to the Faenir, proving to be a greater threat than any mere beast. The Faenir emerged victorious, eradicating their adversaries during the world's industrial period, their World War.
Some hypothetise that the Faenir sense of togetherness, their unity, comes from this early adversity, while others postulate that the species' enlightened approach comes from the finality and irrevocable nature of decisions such as that to eradicate the Targen.
Besides this dreadful conflict, the history of the Faenir is devoid of many hallmarks of human infamy - they have never unleashed the power of the atom against their own species, never caused mass extinction and climate change on a scale similar to man, and scarcely engaged in slavery. Certainly, they have had their share of wars and pitfalls many nascent species will encounter, but apparently, the Faenir are slightly more likely to plan ahead, to cooperate, and possess more personal integrity than the average human; summarised, these traits make for a healthier society.
The Federation of Faenir governs mostly Faenir worlds, but also several worlds inhabited by a variety of species - not all of them conquered, as some joined voluntarily.
A combination of meritocracy and democracy, the Federation provides the right to vote only to citizens who earn this right - but then requires them to actively educate themselves to be able to make meaningful decisions, and participation in voting is mandatory. Within the Federation, a multitude of laws exists, as chosen by the individual worlds or parts thereof for themselves, with laws of highest importance implemented throughout it. Given the thoughtful nature of the populace, and their positive attitude towards responsibility, the system actually works; the Faenir are able to maintain high standards of living, education and to steer the society towards prosperity, and maintain a slow but steady evolution through carefully engineer eugenics programmes.
Basically, the Faenir live up to the standards humans see as somewhat abstract ideals.
And what of the humans? One would expect that two species of hominids would find more common ground than they could with the stranger species that populate the cosmos; this is however far from truth. Faenir view humanity with its violent and chaotic nature as a cautionary tale of what they could become, as a mirror of villainy.
The relations of the two species have continuously worsened since the initial enthusiasm at first contact. While the Terran media teeter hence and forth between hate-mongering propaganda and idolising the subtle beauty of the Faenir and their works, the Federation is stably wary of Sol and its base and unhealthy works, acting as if humanity's failure to live up to its potential was contagious (and it very well might). The species have come to blows on several occasions; the Terran embassy has a habit of getting itself expelled, and the Faenir scientist teams intent on 'uplifting' humanity report failure after failure.
21) The Dead Emperor
Orbiting a dead sun, the second planet of Cessi is the an archaeological treasure trove. An ancient fleet lies dead in orbit, pre-dating any records, its makers unknown. The wrecks are gutted by fire, every single one, but most are without outside damage.
The planet below is glazed with weaponry of the highest caliber, as are several planets in proximity of Cessi.
While most of the surface bears traces of ruins at most, within the depths of Cessi II, a bunker that escaped orbital bombardment was detected and uncovered, revealing a find beyond compare: rooms upon rooms filled with intricate patterns and a few artifacts of unknown purpose, and undeniable yet alien beauty. The patterns are the most unique find though, some apparently being written in something akin to an universal language that circumvents the meed to understand, and conveys meaning directly. Upon restoring power to the complex, it was found out that some more complex patterns are mobile, changing to convey more meaning.
The scientist team did not spare any superlatives when describing the find, and contrary to the usual block-headedness, the government officials and academic boards likewise saw the importance of the find. No expense was shunned in erecting a state-of-the art research facility to study the mysteries of Cessi.
A legacy of a highly advanced species from a bygone age, the patterns contain a treasure trove of knowledge; some are accessible simply through observation, knowledge flooding into consciousness; the more advanced accessible to those whose minds were trained by the lesser patterns. Distinct tiers are distinguishable within the Legacy, each containing information useful for a society at a certain developmental step, and Gateway discoveries that allow the understanding of the next Tier.
The first Gateway is cognitive training through the patterns themselves; the second Gate is a nanovirus serum, and the third Gate a symbiotic creature designed according to the blueprints in the Legacy. The fourth Gate, believed by some to be the ultimate, is to create a sapient creature according to the guidance of the Legacy; whether this is intended to re-create the Ancients, or to create an interpreter for the ultimate, most extensive and valuable tier of knowledge. The speculations about the contents thereof are wild, and expectations high. The highest tier(s) of symbols are entirely incomprehensible even to trained interpreters with symbiotes and perfect nano, thus currently all effort is focused on creating the Keeper of Secrets to probe the utmost depths of the Legacy.
The Legacy is no library left behind by benevolet aliens murdered by another species, but the survival plan of the creature known as Emperor who once had wrought havoc across the sector, only to be put down by a species that drove him back to his birthplace, incinerated the planet, and then put their whole population to death rather than suffer any cloaked agents of the Emperor to live.
The Emperor is an expert at subversion and deceit, and adept at thought control. Only the alienness of humanity has prevented those exposed to the patters from becoming thralls, a barrier which the humans were more than eager to breach. Any individual exposed to the first tier for an extended period becomes more open to visual sugestions and hypnotism, as well as developing an interest for the Legacy, coupled with a positive attitude that can be breached by evidence of it malevolent nature, though. Those infected with the nanotechnology will see their cognitiv processes heightened, but their susceptibility to patterns and to telepathy increases. Finally, those who bear the symbiote will be but pawns to the Emperor once his new body is ready. The final tier of patterns does not contain any world-bending secrets, and is for the eyes of the Keeper of Secrets only - it encodes the personality and knowledge of the Dead Emperor, and will imprint them upon the malleable mind of the creature.
The Emperor is entirely self-centered, megalomaniacal and bereft of any ethics, his sole goal the domination of all who stand before him. If someone were to probe its mind to its utmost depth, or to understand the patterns in their entirety, he would realise that once, the Emperor was but an outstanding member of its species, an evolutionary leap that was feared and reviled by its peers, but came to dominate its entire planet, and ultimately committed genocide upon its own kin, once it had drones and slaves enough. Its ultimate plan is to become as God, and to remake the galaxy to match its depraved vision.
22) The Soul-Thieves
More than thieves, these predators of Karnatha IV are pirates and mimics: a developed psionic gift allows them to copy survival strategies from other creatures, to ferret out prey and to read its plan of escape.
Physically, the Soul-Thieves convey the image of speed and lethality - six slender limbs can serve as legs, but the front four also to manipulate; all are armed with barbs and talons. The long maw can part into three serrated jaws armed with razor teeth.
On their own, the Thieves are about as smart as a chimpanzee - cunning enough that they can threaten seasoned hunters. When presented with sapient species, their capacities increase rapidly as they shadow these complex creatures, studying their thoughts with fervent effort, even forgoing to strike. Sometimes, they abduct and immobilise an interesting target to study it at their leisure. With particularly receptive soul thieves and pronounced personalities, the transfer can become so intense that the predator is flooded with the victm's very being, copying all that is him.
With some species, this leads to the victim being set free, or even taking his mind-clone along; with some particularly individualistic breeds, such as humans, the Soul-Thief will believe itself to be the original instance of the victimised individual, dispose of the 'doppelganger' and - if the individual possessed particularly valuable knowledge, for example - try to find leverage to be somehow accepted in his place. These Soul Thieves will cease to think of themselvs as individuals of their species, and believe themselves to be members of the victim's breed, just 'slightly different'.
Many consider these mind-clones travesties of the highest order, but the worst are the Soul Thieves who are able to maintain their predatory self, and only take from their victims what they need in the pursuit of sapient prey.
Note: if psionics is not used in the setting, the Soul Thief can actually take victims' brains to study.
Amongst the largest living species recorded, the Yggdrasil is a plant organism growing to cover a radius of several hundred kilometers. The exact maximum size of each individual is dependent upon the mass of the planet where it grows. Height is usually around three hundred meters, making sure no light reaches the deepest layers far below. On each planet, only a single specimen will grow.
Radiating outside from the central trunk, the branches rise above and descend back into the soil, seding lesser branches towards the skies. Other plant life has difficulty thriving in the shadow of the colossal growth, but its braches are home to many epiphytes, mosses and even develop soil that allows other plants to grow. The Yggdrasil itself does not appear to be mortal, regrowing from its deepest roots after any less-than-cataclysmic injury.
Besides being vast, the Yggdrasil possesses a property that puts many civilisations to shame, and hints at its intelligence at the same time. The plant is able to manipulate gravity on and in the vicinity of its world, steering dangerous comets aside, affecting the spin or speed of its world, and possibly influencing other stellar bodies as well. With the size of the plant, its reach and the complexity of interventions it can carry out increases.
*All worlds carrying a mature Yggdrasil have a day duration of 22.4 hours, presumably preferred by the plant.
*Several plants were observed to alter the course of ice-rich comets to crash into nearby planets. Suspiciously, most life bearing systems containing an Yggdrasil see all the planets in the life belt teeming with life, each with its own world tree.
*At least one instance of an uncontacted sapient species being wiped out by a meteor swarm drawn in by by the tree they shared their world with. Presumably, this was the Yggdrasil's reaction to the threat poised by the barbarians' unbridled industrial revolution (the tree survived, the civilisation did not).
*Yggdrasil instances on arid worlds likewise capture ice-rich comets, shred them with gravitic forces in orbit, and enrich their world until the desired hydrographc percentage of 70% is reached, much to the chagrin of xerophilic species.
*Mature Yggdrasil specimens are capable of shifting their entire planet into high layers of hyperspace. Jumps up to ten light years away have been observed. This is an extremely rare occurence; one specimen used this ability to carry its planet to safety as the star turned into a red giant. After the jump, the plant will shift the planet onto a stable orbit within the sun's life belt.
Imaging of the planetary crust below the plant reveals numebrous gigantic tubers and organs of unknown purpose. These likely serve to exert the plant's gravitic control and to store energy for hyperspace jumps.
The creature possesses sensory organs, many of them well-suited to study space as well as its surroundings; it must be considered sentient; given how it cunningly uses small gravitic prods to engineer profound changes in its system, it is most likely sapient and gifted with excellent mathematical ability, memory and computing power.
Hostility towards the plant is difficult, as it is able to alter gravitic forces precisely, eliminating ground-bound targets, and to deflect projectiles directed against it. Spaceships are likewise not safe from the Yggdrasil - for example, the Tarkus system is unsafe for any vessels of Garulian make to travel, as the resident Yggdrasil on Tarkus II apparently remembers the Ragulian bombardment of its planet, where stray fire scorched a sizeable portion of its growth. Even today, it unerringly smashes ships similar to the offenders into moons (some suspect it has even learned to distinguish the Garulian IFF signal).
Once it has reached adulthood, the plant begins to create seeds around ten kilometers across, and to launch them into space towards other systems.
The seeds of the massive plant are able to travel through space, unharmed by cold, vacuum and radiation. It is capable of independent locomotion, employing a gravitic drive.
An Yggdrasil takes around several thousand years to mature to its first stage, another ten thousand years to grow to the second, and approximately thirty thousand years to mature fully.
No communication with the Yggdrasil has been successful to this day. Societies sharing a world have to learn to live in the conditions it creates. On the bright side, Yggdrasil trees do not like their planets being bombed.
24) The Mooks
Cansanti IV is an old planet, rich in ruins, much akin to several planets in the vicinity. Apparently, an advanced civilisation fell into the trap of hedonism and decadence, vanishing into virtual reality.
Besides artifacts and a cautionary tale, they left behind the Mooks.
Most likely a custom-made slave species, the Mooks are a semi-upright warm-blooded species, resemblant of simians: furred, with four grasping appendages and somewhat child-like oversized heads.
Mooks possess large ears, four sizeable eyes, and wide maws with ever-regrowing teeth hinting at their omnivore diet. Their sensory equipment is remarkable, being able to perceive radio waves, ionising radiation and magnetic fields, for example.
The Mooks are short-lived (around 30 Earth years), birth large litters and mature quickly. Their attitude towards sex is similar to the terran Bonobo chimpanzee.
The species inhabits all ruin worlds left in the wake of their erstwhile masters, descended into a barbaric tribal stage; they are well-integrated into the food chains below numerous predators. The tribes squabble constantly without and within, no chieftain being able to ensure authority for long.
It is remarkable how their behaviour changes in response of outside agencies - if a sufficiently dominant entity approaches them, and takes effort to duplicate the most distinguishing marks of their deceased overlord race, they will cheerfully submit, as if they delighted in being given commands and a direction in life. The Mooks take extremely well to conditioning - a common approach is food being presented with the image of the master-to-be displayed. Aversive conditioning also works excellently.
Once imprinted with one master, the Mooks are highly resilient against brainwashing and conditioning by anyone else, and suicidally loyal to their leader. Though they are quite simple, Mooks readily learn the basics of languages, and can learn a limited skillset well if instructed to do so. Thus, they are frequently used by less savoury agencies as disposable minions. Their usefulness is limited by destructive tendencies when not overseen - one might call it mischief were it not so malicious and damaging. Wise masters will find a way to 'refresh' their instructions periodically, and to employ competent taskmasters. Mooks have notoriously poor judgment and capacity for independent thinking - raiders who use them as cheap shock troops usually make their ships child-proof, and then some.
Evolution in its ceaseless uncaring beauty brings forth ever more lethal wonders. Adaptability allowed this reptilian species to flourish on a jungle world ripe with competitors and riven by volcanism, pronounced axial tilt and the forces of two moons.
The species displays profound inter-individual variability, reaching as far as seeing some members become sapient, and others not. The base form is a four-limbed arboreal predator, but the individuals develop beyond that according to need and their habitat - and a strong random factor. Kotiri carry significantly more genetic material than they need to, taking up sequences from other species, and keeping these as backup.
Another avenue of adaptation is taking organs from other creatures; the bodies quickly adapt, connecting the new appendage or organ to vasculature and nerves, and the brain learns to utilise it with alarming alacrity.
The most distinguishing feature is the immune system, which is able to re-structure the body swiftly, to maintain newly acquired organs, and to direct the incessant growth and change of the individual.
Another curious feature is the thorough innervation of Kotiri bodies. Individuals are able to directly influence most of their bodily functions by thought - fertility, immunity, and growth.
A subset of the immune system acts purely as self-directed gene therapy, influencing growth and function by inserting needed genes. The complex machinery behind this incredibly sophisticated system itself is enough for lifetimes upon lifetimes of study. To thorough scrutiny, it may appear that Kotiri in fact are the complex immune system, regardless of what body it rides.
Besides taking over parts and genes from other species, Kotiri are able to transform entire creatures to act as bridges of understanding with other species, or as a form of procreation. The transformed creature will possess a Kotiri immune system, yet retain its memories and self. A child-brain with copies of memories of the transforming 'parent' and with abilities essential to using a Kotiri body will be implanted in the transformed creature, along with a genetic library provided by the parent. A changeling will be cross-fertile with both the parent race and other Kotiri, with all the children bearing the shapeshifting capabilities.
Kotiri sexuality is as rich as the shapes the members of the species take. Generally possessing a random gender at birth, Kotiri are facultatively hermaphroditic, being able to switch between genders or maintaining both genders at once. Courtship is based upon wooing the partner with displays of strength, cunning and skill, as well as offerings of food and den. Certain individuals adopt other strategies - hyper-females for example possess a multitude of reproductive tracts within their sizeable bodies, and allow many partners to mate with them, ensuring a steady stream of supplies and attention, while not losing their own hunting capability due to the relatively small size of the offpring. Hyper-males able to tage down the largest prey attract harems or acquire females by force.
Kotiri are viviparous; they are able to cocoon themselves or another individual to allow healing or metamorphosis.
The society is tribal, with each tribe featuring a large number of hunters with limited intelligence, and a smaller number of fully sapient thinkers capable of contruction and tool creation. Undoubtedly, if the need to become civilised arises, the Kotiri will produce a far higher percentage of thinkers - and rise to the challenge of becoming a starfaring society one day.
26) The Daphne Series ("Dome Dryads")
Genetically modified organisms offer astonishing possibilities, whether producing complex chemicals, curing illness, removing pollution, or serving in a myriad other ways. Especially frontier worlds benefit from drug producing goats that breed more of their kind, of self-repairing jump suits and of houses that grow on their own.
The Dome Dryads are a consequence of the latter; their development could actually be expected. When settlers wished for a plant-based home that could provide more than basic shelter, Neogen corporation developed a line of plant-based dwellings that would appeal to settlers, but also the more nature-friendly of core citizens. The Daphne series was designed so that the dwelling would stay alive indefinitely, unlike those that grew and left only dead wood behind. The plant would provide fruit and ambiente; most importantly, it would develop a central unit with a plant-based bioprocessor that would learn of the preferences of the house's occupants, and serve as an assistant, using a nodule of living plant-based electro-reactive gel to develop a body, a biological housekeeper and chambermaid. The bioprocessor would not be sufficient to maintain true intelligence - as a safeguard.
What Neogen did not consider was that individual domes would connect, and the signaling pathways (which the dome usually uses to link its sensory organs to the central cluster) would link the bio-processors, giving rise to adaptive sapience. As a response to the unexpected stimulation, the bio-processors grew beyond the initial specifications. Accidental horizontal gene transfer from a plant species used in the design of the Daphne series allowed some clusters of Daphne Domes to bear fruit, while a rare glitch allows some of the bioprocessors to develop detached sprouts, allowing the domes to spread.
The crosslink occured in any larger cluster of Daphne Domes, giving rise to communes of plant-based sapients connected through a neural network - individual, yet linked. Each Dryad's avatar is confined to where its tether can reach (usually within and a short distance outside its house), but the individuals maintain vivid acoustic communication, and incessantly chatter over the network.
The reaction to housing becoming sapient was varied - some societies celebrated it as a triumph of science, and chance to become closer to Gaia, while in other places, the Dryads and humans came into conflict as the denizens attempted to revoke the Daphnes' awakening with fire. Most often, the battle was one-sided, but the Sunny Mesa settlement on Linden II, consisting of several hundred simultaneously planted Daphne domes, saw the ill-prepared settlers die, and the colony was abandoned. Mutant Daphne secimens can be encountered throughout the planet's forests, and few of them are friendly; the domes are tangled and overgrown, home to dangerous beasts and stalked by the Daphne's lethal avatars.
Most Daphnes are peaceful and outgoing though, existing in a mutually beneficial symbiosis with their inhabitants, though perchance cheekier than the average housekeeper bot or maid. They charge rent, and provide a variety of services (such as child care) to their inhabitants. Curiously, a large percentage have also adopted professions that can easily be performed at or from home - so is for example the well known writer Thalia Rose a Daphne, as is the fashion designer Morula or the talk-show host Petal (yes, the talk show takes place inside her dome/body, where else).
Appearance-wise, the Daphne dome will grow into a blooming fairytale castle with arched windows, towers and spiraling stairways. The avatars of the Daphnes are patterned after the inhabitants, and appear mostly female, though the bio-polymer can take any shape; numerous Daphnes use this for artistic effect, or to be more adept at their chosen profession. They readily copy languages and mannerisms from other sapients in their vicinity, integrating into a society seamlessly.
27) The Lone Architect
Most of Anundi IV is an untouched virgin planet - most. One ocean, isolated from the rest by cold waters, bears marks of persistent gardening and aquatic architecture. Some of the structures are utilitarian - for example farms for a variety of sea creatures. Most of them serve no apparent purpose, though. Large tracts of sea floor have been transformed into underwater gardens; extended beaches have been decorated with rock patterns as well.
An explorer witnessing these changes would look for an aquatic civilisation, yet no masses flock into the gardens, no throngs stand in awe at the monuments.
The structures are the works of a lone creature - an invertebrate strangely blessed with sapience where the rest of its species remains beast-like. By a cruel twist of fate, it is sterile and a blind avenue of evulotion, yet does not die of old age - and is far too competent to succumb to predators. With its multitude of appendages, it crafts strangely beautiful shapes into the rocks and tends to the underwater orchards. Of the farms, some are to provide a convenient source of food for the creature that measures close to three hundred feet today; others are farms breeding creatures of its kind and other promising species in complex environments, trying to coax forth true intelligence.
In its quest, it has accomplished amazing feats - such as developing writing to remind itself which gardens and farms need tending, or which specimen of the breeding stock performed how well in a cognitive paradigm. It has developed cognitive testing schemes of various levels of complexity, reward systems for its bestial brethren, and created numerous highly complex environments that allow only the smartest to survive.
And the vast patterns, monuments and gardens? They are a pastime to avoid becoming insane, and a cry for attention. When it gazed at the skies from the waves, it realized that out there, another thinking entity may exist, if it only would notice and come break the aeons lasting loneliness.
28) Crystal Resonators of Candor
A geologically old, and not particulary rich, strategically important or interesting swamp world, Candros would be utterly unknown if not for a species of invertebrate squid-slug-goo creature. Quite revolting to look at, at least from a human perspective, the creature possesses multiple fleshy appendages with adhesive cilia, an array of beady eyes, and produces strange crystalline structures in its core. It forms primitive pack and tribe societies, ever involved in turf wars with other tribes of the species, and displaying a particularly vengeful streak in these endeavours. Biologists studying these creatures have found that long after all participants of a tribal conflict perished, their tribe-mates carried the feud on with undimmed ferocity.
A lucky break offered a few enthusiasts sufficient funds to study the world - with far-reaching implications that would trasform bio-computing.
The growths inside the creatures are in fact biological memory crystals, powered by neural current, and exceedingly efficient in encoding coplex cognitive data. Unlike brain tissue, the crystals can remain inert, and retain their data when re-powered; they are also highly resilient to age. If a Candrian internalises a crystal, the memories within become accessible to him. So have the accumulated wrongs of the species never been forgotten, driving an endless circle of vengeance, with the descendants of the dead picking up the memories of the dead, and keeping their hatred alive.
The Candrians are simple creatures, and fairly civil if deprived of access to pre-formed crystals. What has been observed though, is that stimulation in complex environments leads to swifter crystal formation. Most interestingly, it was discovered that the Crystal Resonators could be genetically engineered to bond to more complex neural systems, and encode their thought. Memory encoded in the crystal is eternal, always of the same vividity, unalterable (or so they say), and a crystal can be "closed" by its bearer, preventing another memory from being added.
Depending on the state of the technology at the time of the campaign, it can range from highly experimental (a few brave or coerced test subjects have fifty pounds of squid attached to their heads and are overseen by a drove of scientists) to everyday sight (where genetic engeneering has removed most of the squid and left just an implantable symbiote barely bigger than the crystal it should hold).
The entire time, no one has asked Candrosians what they think of it. Chances are, they're still killing each other in their native bogs over slights and grievances perpetuated twenty millennia ago.
29) The Keepers of Eden
Asylum is an utopian world, lush and abundant, with metropolises on each of its continents integrated into its landscape seamlessly. The entire world appears pre-meditated, planned into the smallest detail, making it unlikely that it was the birthplace of a starfaring species, but rather its second, chosen home.
What befell its makers no one save their minions knows. It might have been a plague, planned suicide of a whole species, or exodus - or perhaps they ascended to a higher state of being? Regardless, their works stand empty and silent, the machines long inert. Only their Keepers remain.
Colossal creatures, each unique and crafted for a purpose, they were not made as client species, but as retainers, forever to fulfill their task, forever to serve. While undoubtedly sapient, the Keepers are of an alien mindset that sees nothing wrong with millenia of undoubting servitude to a master possibly forever gone. Their task was to preserve the world, and that is what they have done.
A dark presence inhabits the planet's moon - or is the moon? A being of great psionic power, its mind looms akin to an oppressive presence across the whole system, the hum of ominous thought warning trespassers away. It identifies itself by claiming "I Know the Last Word of Lond", and those whose minds were burned by the being's power repeat this fact for the rest of their lives. The space around the moon is strangely bent, as if the celestial body both was and was not there, and amongst the purple foliage, a golden disc several hundred kilometers across gives it the appearance of a distorted eye. Rarely does the Keeper on the moon interact with others of its kind, usually to remind them what the Masters' orders were. At irregular cycles does the creature rest, its usually focused mind reading thoughts across the system at random, projecting hallucinations and maddened figments. These windows are nonetheless the best time to approach the planet.
The Citadel is a floral entity shaped into a space station, tethered via its roots (that serve as a space elevator) to the planet below. Enhanced with cybernetics, it controls and maintains the automated space ships, mining resources from asteroids and meticulously patrolling the system. Unlike some other Keepers, the Citadel has never come to terms with the absence of the Masters: its interior is tidy and well-kept, with regenerating furnishings, floral scents and rooms prepared to welcome inhabitants. It organises art exhibits, rotating its collection in and out of the show rooms; it holds concerts; it prepares snacks for periodically scheduled events, and then recycles them again. When the moon is sleeping, it even dares to send out a heavily coded broadcast from time to time. This is the Citadel speaking. Master, are you there?
All Life wanders the world on a multitude of legs restlessly, her canopy blotting out acres. Within her tubular body, genetic information on all species of the world is stored, or at least that is her goal. In her wanderings, she collects samples and specimens, and preserves. Her body is capable of producing any of the stored creatures, though she claims not to be able to resurrect the Masters. Obsessively, she strives to maintain the state of the world, reforesting swathes seared by volcanic eruptions, and re-creating extinct species in locales where they might thrive. To intruders, she might react by taking a sample - or by wiping them away because they don't belong.
Forever afloat, Clouds Within resembles an inverted mountain riddled with caverns, and extending bushels of its tendrils extend for miles. Inside, winged reptilian creatures dwell, connected to their home through cybernetic implants. They can stay afloat forever if needed, feeding on fish picked up in flight. The creature's regular broadcasts hint at its past as a weather control, surveillance and emergency response system; today, its messages are repetitive and hint at boredom. This is understandable, as nothing ever happens in the abandoned paradise. There are no reasons for news, and no Masters to aid. Clouds Within busies itself by playing mischievous games with some of the smarter beasts to inhabit the planet. Now, if he were to get his proverbial hands on intelligent tresspassers…
Sunblood covers the south side of a mountain range with its many faces, and the surrounding land with its fronds, its tendrils extend far nad wide. A giant solar collector, it stores energy in ints body deep below the earth, and can utilise it to erect clossal force fields, or sear the skies with beams of energy. Its body extends to numerous metropolises, feeding them power.
It may be the most serene of the Keepers, as if it knows something the other's don't, something that gives it infinite confidence and patience.
The Mirror of the Ages might be the only Keeper who became mad over time. A cybernetic organism driven by a fusion reactor, the juggernaut is a repository of the knowledge of its masters, gifted with telepathic power to aid in the transfer of information and teaching. Of its brethren, it is the most intelligent. Equipped with massive computing power and privileged information, it was free to ponder the universe - yet some realisation must have driven it insane.
Today, it wanders the face of Eden aimlessly, surrounded by a vortex of agonisingly complex thought, in argument with itself.
The Rites are a group of lesser Keepers, apparently crafted more for appearance than for function; at least many of their appendages, light fixtures and the sounds they create serve no apparent purpose.
Theirs is a meandering pilgrimage across the world, with repeating actions at specific sites that seem to serve no goal, to be a goal of their own. Are they defective? Are they religious, mechanical priests of their masters' religion?
The rites do not deviate from their pattern - unless a random element is introduced from the outside. They've disassembled and created nonsensical structures from crashed probes, and might react with unfathomable responses to crash-landing explorers. Who knows? A humanoid might be a perishable component in one of their rites that is six millennia overdue.
30) The Starlords
A tectonically active world with exceedingly dangerous megafauna, Senterra is a deadly world best avoided, and sure to be declared an amber or red threat zone if discovered. Unlike the world itself, its prime export is well-known in some parts of the universe.
Apex predators, the Starlords are highly intelligent, ruthless, and constantly strive for dominance. Theirs is great strength, endurance, healing ability, but most importantly a psionic gift. They are uniquely attuned to hyperspace, for reasons unknown, and are the only known species able to make interplanetary jumps unaided.
How they select their targets is anybody's guess, but there are more than a few planets where a Starlord has appeared out of nowhere, and taken over the place. While they are not social creatures and only out for themselves, they adapt swiftly, and love to rule lesser creatures. Readily taking to wealth, excess and power, Starlords like to set themselves up as sovereigns, mafia heads or infiltrate the structure of corporations. And if the Starlord is successful, it will attract a mate. Of the dozens of hatchlings, on Senterra a few would survive to adulthood, but on less hostile worlds, within one generation, there can be an entire Starlord upper class, with the original populace enslaved as minions.
Starlords do not create civilisations; they do not even have their own language, except for complex telepathic symbolisms for abstract concepts. Their adaptability though, and immense capacity to learn is a powerful tool when coupled with their telepathic gift. They absorb whatever suits them from the culture of the infiltrated society, they adopt the language, and learn to use technology with ease. Depending on whether they appear in a frontier world, or an established one, they use a whole range of tacttics to get ahead, from brute force and intimidation, to being useful and integrating into a society to acquire power within it.
Physically, the Starlords are intimidating eight-limbed beasts, gifted with two faux heads on long necks that are just sets of jaws, and a main maw, as well as tendrils on their backs that can lash out several yards to spear prey with barbed bone tips. Chameleon-like skin provides them with ample camouflage, but some of the pigments they produce make their skin also highly resistant to ray-based weaponry and radiation. Their bodies are able to produce an optically dense aerosol to obscure their location, as well as to befuddle victims with its psychotropic properties.
Their urge to breed is particularly strong - a necessity to overcome the aggression between territorial solitary predators. Males will mate with as many females as possible; after mating, females will invade the territories of weaker females, and force their unborn offspring upon them, making them carry it to term. This makes them fertile and ready to mate far earlier; the surrogate mother is betrayed by an adaptive mechanism of the species, which floods her system with bliss hormones during birth, and prevents aggression against the offspring, giving them ample time to flee to a safe distance from their mother. "Civilised" Starlords will extend this behaviour, and pick sufficiently submissive individuals from whatever species they're currently enslaving, and train them to be servants of their spawn, forming the core of their retinue. They're eager to use whatver methods of brainwashing and chemical control work on the given species to ensure the loyalty of the retinue.