My Friend Jurak and Fat Max

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by Eric Winsor

Greetings gentlebeings.  I am pleased to present another article to you about the great diversity of creatures throughout the Frontier.  Some time back we had the opportunity to visit New Pale.  Due to our rushed time schedule and some other unplanned events we only had time to seek out the Cybernuk and then head on our way.  We were dearly sorrowed to not have the time to visit our good friend and colleague Jurak Gu'ksto and his intrepid crew of the Alysse Maru.  I am happy to report that we just had the great opportunity to sail aboard the Alysse Maru with Captain Gu'ksto.

The Dangerous Oceans of New Pale - An Unlikely Refuge

The creatures of New Pale are fierce and the world was not easy to colonize.  The humans call it a Jurassic world.  Dralasites call it the lunch bucket where you are the meal being served.  Vrusk avoid the world and have various click names for primitive they call it.  Yazirians call it Muta, the land of the prey.  Great beasts roam and not many dare the dangers of living there.  That is just the land, the oceans are a completely different story.  A darker, more dangerous story.  The beasts in the oceans are bigger, more dangerous, and mostly unknown to science.  No one on New Pale takes any boat out to sea that is less than 150 meters in length and powered by the fastest engines available.  Sitting still at sea on New Pale is asking for an attack from the depths bellow.

Yet the sea is the one refuge that the few that escaped the sathar had during the occupation.  Ships such as the Alysse Maru took to the seas and traveled from island to island to keep their whereabouts hidden from the sathar patrols and orbital surveys.  Jurak Gu'ksto had come to New Pale to study the jungles and the great beasts in them.  He found himself pulled by his past back to the sea to aid the refugees.  Jurak gave his passage off world to a young human woman and her child and reported his past maritime service to the underground government, volunteering to serve on one of the many fishing ships that desperate refugees were seeking escape upon.  Jurak served aboard the Alyssw Maru as navigation officer throughout the occupation and is credited with devising the ship routes that kept Alysse Maru from being discovered by the sathar during the occupation.

The Alysse Maru was caught by a storm it was attempting to hide in the leading edge of and ran aground three months before the liberation of New Pale.  Jurak lead one of twenty survivor teams from the wreck into hiding in the wilderness and returned them to the wreck of the Alysse Maru after the liberation for rescue.

During this time at sea Jurak rediscovered his juvenile fascination with ocean life.  He was awed by the great beasts they encountered and evaded and determined to stay on New Pale and study these undiscovered terrors.  Jurak is the pioneer of oceanographic wildlife study on New Pale.  While many were studying monsters on land, Jurak assembled a crew from the survivors of the Alysse Maru, re-floated her and made discovery after discovery.

The Sea Dragon of New Pale

One creature often encountered by the refugees on the Alysse Maru is the Sea Dragon.  The refugees feared this great fish greatly.  When Jurak joined the crew, even the captain warned him that they would avoid the beast at all cost.  They had encountered them many times in their fishing expeditions where they would attack the ship, drawn in by the huge mass of bait that their lines brought to the surface.  They described the great fish as a dragon with wings that flew in the sea like great bird.  They even described the beast launching itself from the water to land upon the decks of ships and pull fish right off the lines and even crew from their stations.

Jurak did not believe the tales of the crew nor the stories running amok among the refugees.  Three days into their voyage the captain took him to the stern of the ship and Jurak saw with his own eyes a pair of sea dragons chasing the ship in its wake, the beasts launching themselves into the air.  This was the seed of Jurak's fascination with the oceans of New Pale and his inspiration of how to evade the sathar.

The Alysse Maru was churning up the waters as it speed along and this opened up the view of many fish to be feed upon by the predators bellow.  However, at the bow of the ship many fish were riding in the bow wake hiding from the predators.  Any fish that could stay in the bow wake was hidden from the predators as they could not see them due to the distressed waters that obscured both the sight and sonar of the predators.  Jurak realized that to hide a big ship that they must ride in front of any storm front.  Those great ships of nature would hide them from being prey to sathar satellites and patrol craft.

At Sea with Jurak Gu'ksto and the Alysse Maru

The Alysse Maru is an impressive science vessel.  Jurak and his crew have done an amazing job converting her from a fishing ship to New Pale's premier oceanographic research vessel.  I had to look to find the signs that she was once a fishing ship.  Two of the side fishing winches have been re-purposed as cranes for submersible drones.  One of the stern fishing winches remains at its mount to fish for bait fish to attract the beasts they desire to study.  Nothing else hints at her fishing past.  The damage from running aground is invisible in its repairs.  The mess hall has a plaque with names and holograms of all the crew and refugees that perished in the wreck and subsequent survival in the wilderness.  The Aysse Maru is a vessel worthy to sail upon and a lovely lady.

Captain Gu'ksto has spent years studying the ecology of the marine life of New Pale and has literally written the book on the Sea Dragon.  As soon as we had stowed our gear we were briefed on the bridge about the migratory feeding patters of the sea dragon.  The bridge displays were alive with charts showing migrating sea dragons with little moving icons for actual sea dragons that they had tagged with tracking beacons.  Gu'ksto stabbed his finger at one on the screen and announced, “There is Fat Max, a big male that we have drones following right now.”  He tapped the display and up popped a view from one of a pair of drones swimming along with Fat Max as he hunted in the coasts of an island about 700 km away.  Then he announced that we were going to go meet Fat Max personally and we would be there in about six hours.  He turned to his crew and grinned back at us as he enthusiastically said, “Away Boys!” and we shot off at high speed out to the deep sea.

I caught myself on a railing and Gu'ksto reminded us that high speed is safety on New Pale's oceans.  Leaving port at high speed was not a problem.  It was expected and practically the law.  Also, there was not the regular traffic I was used to on other worlds.  The port was practically devoid of ships.  There were a few fishing ships like us, 150 meters long, and full of fishing wenches.  Then there were a few warships like in the old human histories.  I thought this was peculiar and inquired of Captain Gu'ksto.  He responded that they were for protection of the coastal drilling platforms from the ocean wildlife and occasionally from each other.  There is a mineral boom on New Pale for local energy sources of atomics.  This may have been one of the sathar interests in New Pale.

Once we were out to sea we immediately saw why speed is imperative to safety on the surface.  A large school of four or five meter long fish came boiling to the surface at great speed from deep below on our port side.  They were being chased to the surface by a very large creature maybe twenty meters long.  The beast erupted from the surface snapping multiple fish in its jaws.  It quickly snapped at as many fish as it could, biting them into pieces before the school fled.  Then it proceeded to consume the dead and dying as quickly as it could before any scavengers arrived.  The helmsman, a seasoned fisherman, explained to us that if we slowed down or stopped for too long one of those beasts or another would come launching to the surface to attack us.  He pointed to the corner and explained that Jimmy at the sonar would not look away from his monitors because it was his duty to detect such attacks so that he could take evasive action.  Then he tapped the cover of a red button above his right hand and said that if anything got real aggressive that he would just feed it some indigestion.  Dwain explained to me that he meant depth charges and pointed out the rows of barrels on the stern of the ship.  Jimmy did chuckle at my sudden growl of understanding but kept his eyes fixed on the monitors.

There were a few other scenes of Jurassic marine predation in the six hours were en route to Fat Max.  Captain Gu'ksto pulled us away from a light lunch in the galley to see some Dako Kurosan feeding on fish in our wake some distance away.  He told us to keep watching with our magnigoggles to the center of the frenzy on the port side wake as he watched a sonar monitor.  Suddenly a giant mouth erupted around the frenzy and clamped shut taking the majority of the fish down with it.  We never saw what the big fish was or how big it really was.  “That!”, Gu'ksto said, “Is Manananggal nga Dagat.  That is why we go fast!”   None of the subsequent scenes of predation were quite as awe inspiring after that.  When we arrived near Fat Max the helmsman put us into a random pattern around Max while the crew readied us to drop a submersible to visit Fat Max.

Dancing with Fat Max

The drones sport a set of spines to deter being chewed upon by the subjects they observe.  When we were within a few kilometers of Fat Max, we climbed in a larger drone squeezing three in a space made for two and we were submersed into the dangers of the sea to meet Fat Max in person.  The Alysse Moru slowed just long enough to drop us when the sonar operator gave his approval.

After the regulated communications checks with Alysse Moru, Tik got on the comms and wished us well.  Then he asked in parting what our defensive protection would be if we did get chomped on by anything that wouldn't be deterred by the dura-alloy spikes on out hull.  Gu'ksto motioned to the rows upon rows of parabatteries behind us and said that those are not just for propulsion.  He explained that they could dump their charge several times into the hull to give anything that approached to bite down a very shocking discouragement.  He then assured us that it would kill the small stuff and Tik was reassured that safety precautions were accounted for.  Dwain behind me seemed rather anxious to see something try and take a bite of us.

The submersible glided swiftly through the water without any sound powered by its caterpillar drive.  We soon sighted Fat Max and we turned our course towards one of the drones and matched speed with it.  Gu'ksto explained that Max was accustomed to the drones and treated them as nonthreatening because they only looked like a fish but did not present an electric field like a fish or present scent in the water like fish.  They keep the drones in constant patrol with any Sea Dragon that takes to them.  However they are still wary of unexpected moves and will attack if the drone does anything out of the ordinary that is perceived as a threat.

We swam along with the drone for about ten minutes and then Gu'ksto took us closer to Max once the drone had positioned us parallel to his head.  Gu'ksto explained that it was better to approach from plain sight than to catch Fat max unaware.  Max's maw was long and full of teeth.  The front top and bottom teeth were dominated by massive fangs with the bottom a good four times longer than the top.  The mouth is long and slender, making it quite suited for biting and tearing away chunks of flesh to be swallowed later.  The entire snout was easily 1.5 to 2 meters long.  Dwain commented that Fat Max could eat him in one bite and not get any fatter.  Gu'ksto responded that was why he was inside the submersible, but that he was working on plans to one day be able to swim outside with a Sea Dragon with a submersible holo screen.

We let our speed fall off so that Max began to swim past us.  This allowed us to view Max's flanks and back.  The fore fins or wings are attached like great arms and move much like wings do.  I discussed the resemblance with Captain Gu'ksto and he agreed that it appeared that the sea dragon is a biological link between the creatures on land and the creatures in the sea.  Most worlds no longer have these living links.  Neither of us could tell if the sea dragon was progressing to leave the oceans or had returned to the oceans.  The Sea dragon has two gill slits behind its jaw and clearly breaths from the water.  What was not known was if the sea dragon could breathe air directly through those gills but it was postulated because the gills do have lung like features on the inside but they are never inflated.

Falling further back towards the rear and following Max's flanks we were able to observe his hind fins and tail.  These hind fins also exhibit leg like traits that would suggest it is adapted to crawling on land.  Gu'ksto confirmed that he had observed sea dragons crawling on the sea bed using their hind fins to produce forward motion while they used the single claws on their wings to probe for creatures hiding in the sand and mud.  The tail however was a mystery to us.  The tail does sport a caudal fin on the top but the tail is much too flexible for the fin to help provide any locomotion.  The heavy tail claw also showed signs that the fish was using muscle strength to keep it erect in the water.  Perhaps the top caudal fin aids the sea dragon in keeping the claw of its tail horizontal in the water.  Dwain asked about its use as a weapon and Gu'ksto answered that he had never seen it employed to attack anything.  Dwain responded that it sure seemed to keep any other fish from approaching from behind.  This appeared to be true because we all noticed that other fish would swim off at an angle when they approached the sea dragon from directly behind the tail claw.  Movements of the tail toward other fish also appeared to elicit this response.

Dwain and I asked about maneuvering the submersible to get a view of the underside of Max.  Captain Gu'ksto said he would try but would not press his luck.  We were in shallow water of 200 to 300 meters and Max was keeping close to the bottom in our presence.  He seemed to be making an effort to protect his underside from us.  Gu'ksto explained that this was common among sea dragons because they can't reach their bellies themselves.  He further explained that when sea dragons are encountered in the deep sea that they travel in groups of two or more and constantly trade position from top to bottom as they patrol.  Death, he reminded us, comes from bellow.  He further explained that we were visiting Fat Max because he was here in the shallows were it was safer.

Total length, Fat Max was about fourteen meters long putting him at the larger of his kind.  Gu'ksto explained that Max was one of the older and more successful sea dragons he was tracking.  Max's success had allowed him to grow larger and being larger had allowed him to take on better prey.  Hence Max had become a bit fat for a sea dragon in his stomach section.  Humorously Gu'ksto added that when Max was first tracked the ship cook had joked that he was fat enough to make good eating and that the crew should catch him.  So, Gu'ksto had named him Max after the cook because the cook would not think of eating anything that shared his name.

One of the smaller drones passed us and Gu'ksto directed our attention to the sonar scope and the collection of dots appearing on the far end.  “This shall be lunch for Max,” he explained.  He then described how he would send one of the drones out to the school of fish on the scope and entice the school to chase it in our direction.  The drones are only about a third of our size and if they swim in a fleeing manor they can cause the school of fish to chase them.  The school would them come into range of the sea dragon unawares if we were lucky and Max would dart at them and attack.

Captain Gu'ksto keyed a few commands to the drones and one swam off like any other fish in the direction of the school on the sonar scope.  We watched the video feed of the drone as it approached the school of fish.  Large slender fish about two to three meters in length were picking amongst the rocks on the sea floor as the drone arrived.  The drone stopped suddenly like any fish would when sensing danger and the fish in the school stopped for an instant too.  Then the drone turned around and darted toward us in a zig zag path between rocks like a frightened fish would and the school of fish took chase.  Gu'ksto started growling under his breath, “wait, wait, wait” repeatedly.

The drone was almost upon us when the sea dragon darted at it and took a quick bite its metal hull.  Max quickly discerned that the drone was not food and darted again into the school of pursuing fish who were in the process of changing to a retreat.  Max bit down several times and the water filled with blood and shiny scales.  Four or five fish had paid for their greedy pursuit of the drone with their lives.  The rest of the school was scattered into the distance.  Max began gulping down their lost colleagues, swallowing them whole.

The blood and gore seemed to invigorate Max and he became more active and agitated after the feast.  He darted to and fro in search of more prey.  He lifted boulders from the sea floor and dug with his wing claws searching for hidden fish.  Then he turned back toward us and darted swiftly toward us mouth open.

“Time for our retreat!” growled Gu'ksto as Dwain pushed over our cramped cabin to see over my shoulder through the forward dura-alloy bubble.  Gu'ksto turned the submersible about 20 degrees to starboard to start our retreat just as Max bit down.  Captain Gu'ksto smashed his hand down on the electrical discharge button and Max jerked away.  Gu'ksto thrust the throttle full forward and we shot away while Dwain's eyes were pushing wide out of his head and he squirmed all over us for a better view.

New Pale Sea Dragon

(Dagat Bakunawa)

TYPE:

Carnivore

SIZE:

Giant : 10 - 15m

NUMBER:

1-4

MOVE (swimming):

100 m/turn

MOVE (darting):

120 m/turn (short bursts)

IM/RS:

6/55

STAMINA:

300 - 400

ATTACK:

Crushing bite, thrashing tail

DAMAGE:

5d10

SPECIAL ATTACK:

Fast ascent from bellow

SPECIAL DEFENSE:

None

NATIVE WORLD:

New Pale (all oceans)

GM Notes

Jurak Gu'ksto's major benefactor is GodCo.  Jurak Gu'ksto is a devout follower of the Family of One.  He has chosen sea blue as his ships uniform colors and religious colors for himself.  He is not political beyond his love for marine life and does not take sides on Family of One politics.