New Rule: Ecology of Sathar Agents

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 6, 2016 - 10:02am

Please tell me you have something...” the yazirian director of UPFBI ordered as he strode into the forensic lab to confront the head medical examiner, a dralasite currently in its female phase.

I do,” the dralasite doctor replied breathily, “but you aren't going to like it.”

Three major terrorist incidents in the last ten days means I already don't like it,” the director replied. “Talk to me!”

The doctor sighed. “At first I couldn't figure it out” She gestured at several bodies laid out on examination tables under freeze fields. “Initial examination indicated perfectly two normal humans, three healthy yazirians, and an utterly ordinary vrusk. Then I got the tox screens back from the lab. All six of them have really screwed up hormone balances. Dopamine and seratonin levels or their equivalents are nearly 125 percent of weighted norms. Oxytocin is up too, about 120 percent...”

The director struggled to remember his basic biochemistry. “So, they were really happy to be doing what they were doing?”

That would be understating it,” the doctor replied tiredly. “Levels that high just don't occur naturally. We're talking two to three times the levels expected from a normal pleasure response.”

Drugs then?” the director asked.

First thing I looked for,” the doctor replied, pulling up a set of test results on her computer screen. The yazirian leaned over her shoulder to follow along as she explained. “I tested for all the normal stuff: stims, 'joyjuice', et cetera.” The doctor pointed out the appropriate parts of the readout. “Nothing...until I noticed this.” She indicated one result in particular. “Elevated histamine levels.”

Allergies?”

Almost. I checked for secondary signs of allergic reactions: sinus irritation, and so forth, and came up empty. So I dug deeper. Eventually, I did find foreign proteins, specifically pheromones.” She paused to look back at her boss. “When I submitted the results to the database for identification, I got red-flagged. I need a higher authorization code to access the files.”

The director nodded and crossed the room to another access terminal. The doctor watched as he submitted to retinal identification, voice-print check, and entered a pincode into the terminal to release the requested information. She turned back to the terminal, and, if it were possible for her to do so, would have turned pale. As it was, she lost partial control over her body configuration and it started to droop.

What is it?” the director asked as he came back over. The dralasite gestured at the screen without a word.

The yazirian looked where she was indicating and swore softly, “Void...”

The answer sat there on the screen in black and amber: 99.387 PROBABILITY MATCH. SPECIES: SATHAR.

I want every note you and your labs have compiled and sealed within the hour,” ordered the director. “Tell your people, not one word of this to anyone...”

The dralasite nodded. She had been with the Bureau long enough to know that if the worms were this organized, then they were in trouble...

INTRODUCTION

The Alpha Dawn rules on sathar indicated that they used hypnotism to control their hidden agents, and that anyone could succumb to their will if exposed to their voice and presence. Of course that was in the 80s, when hypnotism was suspected of being much more powerful than it turned out to really be. Coming back to Star Frontiers after a very long absence, it struck me how pat the answer was, and I found it unsatisfying, so I set out to tinker with it.

As I see it, the sathar can “hypnotize” with direct personal contact, but I posit that it's a much more involved process than simply speaking to the victim with the intent of controlling them.

THE PROCESS

Sathar needing to hypnotize someone for a single, simple purpose (“Open this door.” “Forget you saw anything wrong here.”) can rely on their natural “hypnotic” ability, which is a combination of sub-aural harmonics produced by their vocal apparatus and a naturally emitted pheromone that influences the victim so as to be more suggestible in the first place. The victim needs to make a check based on the average of their current Stamina and their Personality score (their physical resistance to the pheromonal effect plus their force of will).

When the sathar need a longer-term agent capable of more complex actions they have to use stronger methods. Someone chosen to to be used as a higher level agent is taken and subjected to extensive conditioning in a controlled environment designed to amplify the natural hypnotizing effect. They will constantly be in the presence of sathar while being bombarded with visual and audio input (think the “conversion” process from the 80s version of “V”) while also being exposed to concentrated doses of sathar pheromones. The subject must make a daily check as described above. For each two days of conditioning, the check is at -5%. If after 3 weeks (about 30 days) the subject is still resistant, they will simply be killed.

If the subject does succumb to the conditioning, the audio and visual inputs are changed from harsher ones designed to break the will of the subject to more “gentle” (read: more insidious) ones designed to build the loyalty of the subject to his/her new “friends”. This process will continue for another week. The end result is an agent who will appear to be/act perfectly normally in all respects, but whose loyalties are to the sathar cause.

Such agents are assigned to a sathar “handler”, who will establish a hidden base of operations to which the agent will be required to report on a regular basis. There are several such bases throughout the Frontier (more than the UPF suspects). This ensures exposure to the pheromones continues, and reinforces the conditioning. For each week the agent remains under sathar control, an additional STA/PER check must be made at a cumulative -2% per week. Failure of this check means that the conditioning has become “set”, and any rehabilitation of the agent will require a regimen of de-programing that will take at least as long as it took to turn the subject in the first place.

IDENTIFYING A SATHAR AGENT

Individuals who have fallen victim to "normal" sathar control sometimes display behavioral cues, such as a distracted, vacant, or overly focused affect while they are carrying out their assigned task.  Such cues are not always present, however.  Upon release from the control, confusion and agitation are common responses.  Given that their exposure to the means of control is short-term, there will be few physiological traces.

A "turned" agent will appear perfectly normal under most circumstances.  He/she will laugh, cry, get angry, etc just as any other person would.  They may show very minor changes in behavior that an observant third party might note, such as a change of handedness, or slight alterations to established habits and interests.  This, along with an unexplained absence lasting more than a few days are the biggest cues that a subject may be turned. The sathar of course work to mitigate that by choosing victims who have no close family to miss them, or for whom they are able to manufacture a convincing excuse such as a vacation, business trip, or similar occurrence.

Their conditioning only becomes evident in in the event of discovery, a discovered agent will become almost psychotically violent, and will either seek to conceal the discovery by killing the discoverer, or (depending on the nature of their mission) will flee and attempt to return to their sathar handler. This extreme reaction means that a captured agent should be treated as a significant threat to both themselves and others.  A suicide watch is suggested for the initial portion of incarceration or attempt at de-programing.

Physiological signs of agent conditioning include severely elevated levels of dopamine, seratonin, and oxytocin in the bloodstream.  Also present in "freshly turned" agents are an irritation of the lungs and elevated histamine levels due to the high dosages of pheromone they have been exposed to.  The lung tissue irritation and allergic response lessen but do not entirely vanish as their bodies become more acclimated.

THE FUTURE

Even more frightening (if the UPF ever finds out) are recent developments in sathar genetic and bio-organic engineering. The worms are on the cusp of developing a means by which specially developed infant sathar can be biologically integrated into human, yazirian, and vrusk hosts (dralasites are immune due to their distributed neurological networks). The infant sathar would have full control over the host, as well as access to their memories. Removing the infant would require extremely sophisticated neurosurgery that at best would have a small chance (5% for every 10 points of STA) of success without killing the host.

A very few sathar scientists are working an even more sinister program to create sathar hybrids, combining sathar dna with that of other races to create physical copies of their forms, but with sathar neurology and personalities. This research is being held back two things: 1) the difficulty of combining vermiform DNA with mammalian, insectoid, and amoeboid, and 2) the distaste for the idea on the part of the majority of sathar, who feel it is demeaning for them to assume the form of lesser species.

If either of those programs ever progresses the the point of full viability, the sathar will become a threat to the UPF the likes of which they have never seen.

Comments:

iggy's picture
iggy
February 6, 2016 - 10:37am
I like the more detailed biological explanation.  This could be made more general to the core four and rim races if the scientists used terminology that grouped the known human chemicals into named catagories that they could talk about for all races.  They could say something like, "They have elevated IRN levels."  Then in the description section you would define IRN as; Immunal Response Neurostransmitter (IRN), the organic compounds involved in local immune responses as well as regulating physiological function in the gut and acting as neurotransmitters.  The species of the Frontier all exhibit this process in their physiology.  The Human form of IRN is histamine.

I just put histamine into Wikipidia to come up with this.

This makes the story section more science fiction with a strong science basis and then gives the GM and players the science to make it more believable in the distription section.

I like where you are going with this as it makes the Sathar ability to hypnotise more believable.
-iggy

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 6, 2016 - 10:49am
So you don't think I'm borrowing too much?  I took ideas from 3 different franchises.

rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
February 6, 2016 - 11:07am
The mind control sathar babies might not work as they grow they would burst their hosts eventually. Maybe genetically modified "little person" ah screw it, genetically modified dwarf sathar or a cyber hybrid creature.

Love the hybrid idea.

What about android bodies with sathar inside like MIB alien suits. The Sathar having no bones should be able to fit pretty well. They would need special training to learn how to walk since Sathar slither on their tails.
Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 6, 2016 - 11:30am
That's why I said "specially developed", sathar infants. 

Yeah, in theory the MIB alien suit idea would work, but they would be sub-optimal for infiltration purposes because they'd show up as robots on any scan and wouldn't have access to the knowledge of the imitated person.

TerlObar's picture
TerlObar
February 6, 2016 - 6:45pm
The robots would have to have genetically modified sathar as well.  There is no real way to fit a 3.5 m long worm who's largest cross section is similar to a human torso into a human-sized robot.  Regardles of how flexible they are.
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
Webmaster - The Star Frontiers Network & this site
Founding Editor - The Frontier Explorer Magazine
Managing Editor - The Star Frontiersman Magazine

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 6, 2016 - 10:32pm
I assumed that is what rat meant. :)

iggy's picture
iggy
February 7, 2016 - 12:20am
ChrisDonovan wrote:
So you don't think I'm borrowing too much?  I took ideas from 3 different franchises.
I didn't even notice you were borrowing.  That's a complement!
-iggy

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 7, 2016 - 7:22am
Thank you for the complement.  I signalled the first ("V"s conversion process),   The second was the "modified sathar inserted into a host" (inspired by Stargate's Goua'uld), and the last was a nod to the human-form Invid in the third Robotech series.

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 7, 2016 - 9:00am
I like this, its when written and thought out. Would like to see it packaged as an article. It's ideal for that. I second iggy's comments on Immune response chemicals. 

Instead of averaging STA and PER make the check against which ever one is lower at the time for simplicity. SF is fast play and why introduce math to the table top game play? 

I like 2 tiers of control where one could be experienced by a PC without making them a "lycanthrope" and taking them out of the players control
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 7, 2016 - 9:24am
What do you think I'd have to add to get it to article size?

I take the point about the Frontier having specific jargon, but I'm not sure "[x]-analogue is a bit clunky, and coming up with some sciento-babble specific term doesn't feel right to me.  I was assuming that we're hearing it through a polyvox translation hence in human terms.  I'll work on it but I may just leave it if I can't come up with something I think sounds right.

The "lower of the two" option is one worth considering.  A simple averaging though isn't too complicated a math, and combat already uses a lot of division and multiplication anyways, so SF already has maths at the table.

I do appreciate the suggestions, however, and I will take them under advisement.

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 7, 2016 - 9:38am
And there is the possibility of a plot hook: PC who resisted subversion as a 2nd tier agent and is faking it while they figure out how to escspe or strike back at sathar
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 7, 2016 - 10:12am
Some more flavor text I'm considering adding:

Captain Janie Andrews would cry if it wouldn't give those Void-spawned worms so much satisfaction. Unfortunately that meant she couldn't really do anything at all, since her body was immobilized by the restraints on the surgical table.

All around her the glistening tubes of sathar appendages moved, performing their tasks with the emotionless efficiency their kind was known for. Their long-snouted faces and blank, dark eyes unnervingly surveyed her. Their gaze made her skin crawl. The liquid hissing of their natural language made her want to gag, but they had apparently administered drugs to suppress most of her physiological responses. The part of her that was a Planetary Survey officer wondered just what it was they were doing.

After some time had passed (how long she really couldn't tell), a tank was rolled over. One of the sathar reached into the tank and pulled out a wriggling thing. It held the slimy object where she could get a better look at it. It was a sathar wormlet, perhaps 20 centimeters long. It had no appendages, but she could clearly see the head. The wormlet's two tiny eyes were just as unnerving as those of the adults. Why was she being shown this?

The table was suddenly inverted. She felt the tug of surgical instruments at the nape of her neck. Understanding flooded in. They meant to put that horror inside her. Why she wasn't sure, but she was positive it wasn't for any good purpose. Now the tears came, and nothing she could do would stop them. The thought of simply killing herself as soon as she might occurred to her, but she swiftly realized they wouldn't go to all this effort just to let her thwart them so easily.

She could hear the whine of the bone saw. They must be cutting into the back of her skull. That was the final piece of the puzzle. She knew in that instant why they weren't worried about a suicide attempt. She wouldn't be able to attempt anything soon. Would there still be anything of her left after this? Would she know the evil deeds her body would commit? In her last moments as a free sentient, she honestly hoped not...

* * *

The surgical technicians finished closing the skin over the insertion site, and sprayed the area with medicine designed to promote rapid healing. The operating table was rotated back to a face up position, and the restraints were released. The body of the human female slowly sat up. Cautiously, she flexed her arms and her legs, learning how they felt in motion. After a few moments of this, she stood and faced the project's director.

You have control?” it asked.

I do,” the female replied. “Captain Janie Andrews, reporting for duty, sir.”

Eththellent,” replied the director. “You will be returned to a thuitable location clothe to the area you were captured. Make your way back to the thurvey camp. Make thure our prethenthe here ith not dithcovered. Then return with your team and carry out your other objectiveth.”

The monster wearing the body of Captain Janie Andrews gave a cross-chested salute. “Hail, Satha!”


iggy's picture
iggy
February 7, 2016 - 1:21pm
I wonder if this is what is shown on frontier holovids.  Something sufficiently scary to the populace and laced with little bits of fact gleaned from rumors and leaked information privy to the UPF.  We as readers really don't get the true viewpoint of the Sathar.

This is a good way to dress up an article.  A GM can had this stuff out as reading to breif players about current worries and beliefs of frontier citizens.  This helps the players get in the mood and PC persona.

I like this story better than the first because it doesn't feel to human centric.  The Sathar dialog took a little focused reading to get the Sathar hiss into it.  Would more S's work better than TH's?
-iggy

TerlObar's picture
TerlObar
February 7, 2016 - 1:44pm
ChrisDonovan wrote:
What do you think I'd have to add to get it to article size?

You wouldn't really need to add anything.  Just make sure the mechanics are clear.  There is no minimum or maximum length.  It just needs to have everything in it you want to include. 

We'll just have to drum up some art to go with it.
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
Webmaster - The Star Frontiers Network & this site
Founding Editor - The Frontier Explorer Magazine
Managing Editor - The Star Frontiersman Magazine

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 7, 2016 - 3:40pm
I like the implantation fiction but also like the doctor explaining what he found fiction. However, you could probably compress the doctor explaining stuff and make it that he had the clearance code and shows the results to the director. Make the coroner and the director both part of Star Law and it works. The director/marshal orders a sealed copy so that he can make the report to higher ups.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 7, 2016 - 5:12pm
@Iggy: there's not a human in the opening bit, except on one of the morgue tables.  The Director is Yazirian and the ME is a Dralasite.  I even say so in the narrative. Smile

Also, Sathar don't hiss, they lisp.  Hence the "th" sound instead of "s".  Well, ok, technically they do both in canon, but I emphasise the lisp instead of the hiss so they sound differently from reptilian races.  YMMV.

rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
February 7, 2016 - 8:56pm
Oh I thought the dwarf hybrids were from Starship Troopers 2.
Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

Shadow Shack's picture
Shadow Shack
February 8, 2016 - 11:23am
One other possibility: willing agents. If Americans can join ISIS...
I'm not overly fond of Zeb's Guide...nor do I have any qualms stating why. Tongue out

My SF website

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 8, 2016 - 3:48pm
Well, yeah.  I suppose I should at least mention that...

Shadow Shack's picture
Shadow Shack
February 8, 2016 - 7:56pm
The thing is, would the worms TRUST such types? I.E. what if a Star Law agent went undercover to infiltrate the worms by posing as a willing volunteer? I would think there would be some minimal "conversion" implemented for such types, just to be sure.
I'm not overly fond of Zeb's Guide...nor do I have any qualms stating why. Tongue out

My SF website

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 8, 2016 - 9:10pm
The insidious part is, any such infiltrator would risk falling under their sway anyways, given time.

rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
February 9, 2016 - 10:06am
Willing agents of the Sathar are most likely given failsafe hypnotic suggestions like destroying all evidence and killing themselves to prevent capture. The Sathar do not seem like the type to trust anyone completely.
Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

iggy's picture
iggy
February 9, 2016 - 4:21pm
Willing agents may just be the most dangerous because their the ones best suitable to the programming for mass destruction.   These are the guys who could go merrily on their way through the Frontier refusing medical attention for that persistent cough that turns out to be the blue plague.  I'm trying to point out how they would be used beyond the normal range that an unwilling subject would subconsciously go before they crack and quit.
-iggy

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 10, 2016 - 1:04pm
Sathar agents use "willing agents" subourned with cash. It's for limited action and they are all "cut outs"
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 10, 2016 - 3:13pm
Turncoats generally act from one of four motives: 1) greed - in it for the money, 2) revenge - they feel wronged by their society and this is their payback, 3) fear - the suborning party either threatens harm to or has information that would harm either the turncoat or person(s) the turncoat cares about, or 4) patriotism/belief - the turncoat believes in the suborner's cause/believes that helping the suborner is the right thing to do for their own side.

Learned that watching a documentary on spies.

Putraack's picture
Putraack
February 11, 2016 - 7:33pm
Chilling, but excellent work. I hope to run a game this summer, and this may well make some kind of appearance!

ChrisDonovan's picture
ChrisDonovan
February 11, 2016 - 11:24pm
That's a real complement, Put!  Thank you!