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Physiology, Zuul - SotS

Physiology, Zuul

From SotS


Zuulhead.png

The Zuul are a savage marsupial race, developed in the biowarfare laboratory by an unknown species. The rootstock from which they were bred was a carrion-eating, pack-hunting predator, and they still have the high reproductive and metabolic rate of their ancestors. They live fast, breed fast, and die fast. And along with their many physical abilities, they are also telepathic, with a talent for coercion and interrogation — dominating the will of another, crushing the will and forcing the body to obey, and ripping thought, memory and ideas from the cortex of another living thing.

Changes from Original Rootstock

Thanks to information developed with the help of a Zuul presently known by the codename “Deacon”, SolForce xenobiologists have some ideas of what “Species Y” (or "The Great Masters" as the Zuul call them) did in creating the Zuul.

The major changes to the Zuul were physical. Their adult size has been greatly increased, as well as their metabolic rates. Their natural tendencies to disease resistance and environmental adaptability were enhanced, probably to compensate for their increased demand for calories – it's not good if your weapon starves to death before it can engage the enemy.

The changes in intelligence and psionic ability were minor relative to the other changes made in Zuul physiology. The resulting snowball effect appears to have been unintended.


Physical Characteristics

The Zuul have a number of physical characteristics that are unusual in a sentient race. There is a high degree of sexual dimorphism within their species, with enormous physical and psychological differences apparent between males and females. Zuul also undergo an unusual cycle of development from birth to adulthood. Because there are such extreme differences between male and female Zuul as adults, and between all adult Zuul and their offspring in the early phases, a Zuul family seen together might easily be misconstrued as four or five separate species.

Nonetheless, there are some general statements which apply to all Rippers. They are a species of non-placental mammal, warm-blooded and oxygen-breathing, with a very high metabolic and reproductive rate. They thrive in a variety of conditions, and adapt with alarming speed to nearly any set of environmental challenges. Zuul of both sexes and all ages are covered with a thick coat of hair; colors vary with the individual. This fur will be considerably less dense on the adult male, and the coat may be greatly reduced in length and thickness on hotter worlds.

Zuul of all ages are omnivores, and have a taste for carrion. This is especially true in early childhood; a growing Zuul consumes many times its own weight in meat per day. Some xenobiologists speculate that Zuul were bred from a rootstock of carrion-eating predators, which may partially account for the extremely high resistance they have to infection, especially by bacterial pathogens.

Zuul of all ages also possess a rudimentary telepathic ability, which is strongest in the adult male. This crude telepathic communication is the basis for the basic Zuul social unit which SolForce has dubbed the “coterie”. The coterie is an instinctive behavior pattern for the Zuul species; all adult Zuul are members of a coterie, which usually consists of a group of six-twelve females and one male. The male Zuul will take the dominant role and serve as a de facto “brain” for the entire unit; a coterie of Zuul IS a single unit, for all intents and purposes, subject to the direction of a single will. In Zuul society, the coterie (specifically, its male) is considered the individual “person”.

Despite their resistance to disease and their native intelligence, the maximum lifespan of the average Zuul is not long. If he or she meets with no accidental or violent end, the Ripper metabolism is still so high that most members of the species die of natural causes before the age of 40. Despite this fast rate of death, the Zuul can also replenish their numbers quickly. Zuul females are "pretty much always pregnant" because they are pretty much always...in congress with the male of their coterie. The act is desired and enjoyed by all parties concerned. This is why there are so many Zuul.

For more information, see the additional notes on Zuul society.


Males

The average Ripper male ranges in height from 85-125 centimeters, with a mass ranging from 45-70 kilograms. Although far smaller than his female cohorts, he is strong and agile, and very adept at climbing. All of his senses are quite acute, but his vision is particularly sophisticated, especially in comparison to the female; some scientists suggest that under primitive conditions, he was adapted to serve as the “eyes” of his hunting party, helping them to track prey from an elevated position.

Of all Zuul, only the adult male is fully “sentient” in the modern sense of the word. His forelimbs are equipped with long-fingered, sensitive hands with opposable thumbs; his punch-claws are vestigial and do not interfere with tool use. His brain is much larger and more complex than that of a female Ripper; he is far more intelligent and has a more sophisticated telepathic ability. This large and complex brain is analogous to that of many other star-faring species, and allows him to understand and communicate complex ideas. Unlike the females of his species, he has both telepathic and verbal language skills, and with his dexterous hands he can build and de-construct various mechanical devices.

The psionic ability of the male Zuul is likely his most dangerous feature. It is through a telepathic link that he can control his coterie of much larger and stronger female Rippers; they obey his telepathic commands instantly and without reflection. The male Zuul can also use telepathic coercion and interrogation on members of enemy species; for more information on the tendency of Zuul raiders to kidnap sentient captives from enemy worlds, see “Intelligence Gathering Among the Zuul”.


Females

The Zuul female is a massive creature, ranging in height from 150-220 centimeters and weighing in at roughly 175 kilograms. Her bones are highly dense and strong, hinting at a species origin on a high-gravity world. Her muscular body is capable of leaping two or three times her own length, or lifting/pressing up to 400 kilos. Although she normally stands and walks upright, her hips and spine are still not fully adapted to running on two legs; she will drop to all fours when she wishes to move at speed.

Her fangs are quite sharp and her jaws are capable of exerting over 200 kilos of crushing force, but the female Zuul’s most dangerous physical weapons are undoubtedly the two massive “punchclaws” which protrude from twin sheathes on her forearms. These natural weapons may have evolved from the digging claws of a primitive burrowing ancestor, but at present the claws are more often used to inflict catastrophic damage on enemy soldiers and equipment. With one swipe of her punch claws, a female Zuul can disembowel a man in heavy armor or tear through half an inch of titanium steel.

Although her brain is small relative to that of the male, with a maximum mass of roughly 800 grams, the female Zuul is a sensitive and intelligent beast in her own right. Her visual acuity seems to be limited, but her hearing and olfactory senses are quite sharp, and she also possesses a simple empathic ability. With the direction of a male, she is capable of sophisticated tool use, including the operation of heavy machinery; if the male of a Zuul coterie is killed, however, the females will remain highly dangerous. Even without direction, a group of female Zuul is a hunting pack of very large and intelligent predators, and they can always use simple weapons with some skill.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the female Zuul’s physiology is her fertility cycle. An adult female is almost always “pregnant”, for want of a better word: she carries a full litter embryonic Zuul at all times. Although these offspring are conceived within her body, they emerge within 30 days from the aqueous environment of her womb and are placed within a marsupial pouch for safe-keeping. Up to a dozen of these Ripper “proto-worms” will be attached to her nipples at any given time.

Like other marsupials, the Zuul female forcefully ejects her “milk” into the mouths of her offspring while the eyeless, worm-like pups nestle in the safety of her pouch. Unlike ordinary marsupials, however—or ordinary mammals, for that matter—the milk of a Ripper female is not primarily intended to nourish her young. Instead, she secretes a narcotic fluid which is designed to keep her pouchlings dormant. They will remain effectively comatose until the flow of her “milk” has stopped, and will only awaken and begin to grow and develop when she has died, or removed them from her pouch.


Infant/Larval Phase

Once the flow of “milk” to an undeveloped Zuul has stopped, it quickly rouses from its dormancy. At this stage of a Ripper’s life, the tiny infant has no eyes, no ears, and only vestigial limbs; the full length of its body is not more than 15 centimeters. Shaken from the sleep induced by its mother’s milk, however, the infant Ripper will obey its one imperative: to eat. Within minutes it will begin to devour all animal and vegetable matter in its path.

Since they are used almost exclusively for hard and hazardous labor, it is not unusual for a brooding female Zuul to die while carrying a pouch full of young. If she does, the members of her coterie will not be concerned; the mother’s own body immediately becomes a host for the proto-worms sleeping in her pouch.

Upon awakening, the larval Rippers will tunnel through flesh and bone until every particle of their mother is devoured. However, it is not necessary for a female Zuul to die in order to provide nourishment for her children: she may also remove proto-worms from her pouch at any time and place them within the corpse of a fallen foe, or into any mound of meat or vegetable matter she may have gathered for the purpose of feeding them.

After an initial burst of growth, the infant Zuul has an average length of 40 centimeters and a mass around two kilograms. Rippers this age greatly resemble the members of the Terran family Mustelidae (weasels, ferrets, etc). Armed with sharp teeth and claws, the young Ripper will also have the keen senses and intelligence of a cat-like predator, combined with a rudimentary telepathic sense. This very primitive instinctive telepathy allows the infant Zuul to detect prey, and to recognize other members of its own species.

Following their instinctive drives, Zuul of this age will usually form a nest with one or two other infants of the same sex and begin a life of hunting and stock-piling kills. Infant rippers have a metabolism so high that they sleep only rarely; they must hunt constantly for the calories to keep their long, slender bodies warm, and support their rapid growth and development.

There is no necessary relationship between infant and adult Zuul at this phase. When living on the surface of a planet, it seems to be common practice for adult Zuul to abandon their offspring during infancy and expose them to the elements, forcing them to adapt to the environment or die. Some xenosociologists claim that this is a cultural practice; the high rate of infant mortality may actually be deemed desirable, because only the fittest Zuul will survive the ordeal. See the notes on Zuul society at the end of this briefing.


Child Phase

It can take anywhere from 30-90 days for an infant Zuul to complete the infant phase and enter the pre-adolescent phase of its development. At this stage, the average Zuul has grown considerably, with a mass in the range of 20-50 kilograms. Males of this age will already be smaller than females, but Zuul of all ages will have gone through significant physiological changes.

The brain of the female Zuul has nearly doubled in size by this point, already approaching the 800 grams of the adult. She has developed significant muscle and bone strength in her limbs and torso, can stand and walk upright when she chooses, and will often launch herself in leaps several times the length of her own body to make a kill. Her two large “punchclaws” are already her primary weapons, used in hunting and in self-defense against other Zuul.

The brain of the male at this age already weighs over a kilogram, and has increased in complexity by an order of magnitude. He will have roughly the intelligence and the curiosity of a very young child from any other sentient species. He can walk upright and climb with great agility, especially if threatened. His under-developed punchclaws are useless as weapons, but do not interfere with his manipulation of objects; he will become increasingly attracted to tool use at this age. His telepathic abilities will begin to flower at a phenomenal rate, allowing him to attract and communicate with females and form a coterie of his own. He will also begin to acquire the language skills to communicate with older males.

It is at this age that the social relationships of Zuul begin to evolve. The members of infant Zuul “nests” will tend to drift apart, if they are male, as the pre-adolescent Zuul male instinctively seeks out a group of females to hunt and care for him. In the case of females, the pre-adolescent children tend to form even stronger bonds with their nest-sisters, and seek out other female Zuul to join into larger groups. Zuul females naturally form the empathic bonds of the coterie at this age, and begin to hunt in coordinated packs. Acting in concert, a group of six-twelve female Zuul can take down a prey animal much larger than themselves.

If left to their own devices, Zuul of this age will eventually form primitive coteries, with a pre-adolescent male providing guidance and direction to a group of females. However, this is also the age at which the adult males of their species will generally begin to take interest in their young. Some will seek new females to fill out gaps left in an adult coterie when one of the “wives” has been killed; other males will take an interest in the fledgling males, taking them on as protégés. Regardless, it is unusual for any Zuul to grow past the age of adolescence in a continued feral state. Most Rippers that survive infancy are adopted as children and raised to adulthood as members of Zuul society.



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