The Protean Swarm is a mysterious species of creature that has been spreading throughout the galaxy. Research into these creatures' behavior and evolution is still underway as they descend on the planets of the outer systems.
Discovery and Spread Edit
The existence of the Protean Swarm was confirmed in 2308 when the wreckage of the interstellar trade ship Orphius was recovered in the Darwin System of the outer reaches of the Centaurus arm. The Orphius had modified its anti-asteroid laser and shields into an offensive weapon system due to frequent ship losses in that region of the galaxy. At the time, the losses were generally attributed to space piracy or inter-company ‘competition’. However, the data recovered from the ship's external cameras revealed a startlingly different cause - an aggressive and highly adaptable species of alien life. The discovery of the Protean Swarm sent shock waves throughout the Galaxy.
Since First Contact, the Protean Swarm has expanded aggressively. Humans have not visited the Darwin System in 50 years. The outer reach of the Centaurus arm between 0 and 30 degrees is now considered a no-go region, except by the most heavily armed and armored ships. Extreme caution is recommended in twice that volume of space. The Moirai Corporation is offering bounties for verified (high-res, location and date encrypted, video or psi-recordings) extirpations of Protean Swarm incursions into ‘revenue critical’ regions of space.
Given the location of the initial appearance of the Protean Swarm, some researchers have theorized that their precise point of origin is the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy. To date, all Moirai probes sent to the dwarf Galaxy have failed to return, a result that certainly supports this theory. A more extreme hypothesis, based on known anomalies in the Sagittarius galaxy's structure and movement, holds that the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy is itself the main body of the Protean Swarm, and that what we have seen so far is merely the tiniest fraction of the entire swarm - an advanced "scouting party".
The Biological origins of the Protean Swarm remain poorly understood. Most Moirai scientists believe that they evolved not on a planet, but somewhere in deep space, most likely a dense nebula or dust cloud containing a variety of molecular building blocks. Such an origin would explain their natural affinity for space travel as well as their ability to collect and utilize materials commonly found in space, such as comet and asteroid fragments.
A highly controversial, alternative theory is that the Protean Swarm originated as an attempt by a currently unknown, and likely extinct, alien race to build a self-replicating, self-modifying, biological computing substrate. Almost inevitably, this theory holds that the computing substrate began to evolve independent of its creator’s intentions, eventually producing the Protean Swarm and probably wiping out the parent species in the process. Proponents of this theory point to the swarm’s highly regular, almost computational, patterns of movement and the Moirai Corporation’s own ability to modify and utilize the basic biomatter of the Protean Swarm, which suggests an engineered origin.
Protean Swarm Evolution Edit
Moirai scientists have confirmed that the Protean Swarm’s reproductive opportunities are based on three primary factors: lifetime, aggression, and accuracy. (There is some evidence that additional factors play a role in determining reproductive opportunities, but the evidence remains tenuous at best.) Lifetime is simply that, the longer a swarm member survives the more opportunities it has to reproduce. Aggression is a measure of how far in individual travels into human controlled space. Apparently this type of aggressive behavior serves as a form of mating display and increases a swarm member’s reproductive attractiveness (if such a term can be applied to such generally hideous creatures) to other Proteans. Accuracy is similar to aggression, members that display an unusual ability to effectively target enemies, i.e. Moirai and other ships, are more likely to attract a mate.
Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that the Protean Swarm’s aggressive expansion into human controlled space is nothing more than a species-wide mating display. Those researchers are no longer employed by the Moirai Corporation.
What does the mean for pilots? It means that the swarm is constantly evolving, and it’s evolving to more efficiently kill you.
A swarm member is particularly effective at dodging your ship’s missiles and survives longer than its companions? It gets more opportunities to mate and you will see lots of its offspring dodging your missiles when the next generation appears.
A swarm member flies past all of your shields and missiles to get deep into human controlled space? That just makes it more attractive to other swarm members and you will observe many of its offspring charging wildly into human controlled space when the next generation appears.
You only narrowly avoid a flurry of projectiles from a particularly clever swarm member? You can be sure that the other swarm members noticed its ability and you will see lots of its offspring firing at your ship with pinpoint accuracy when the next generation appears.
So remember, if you encounter a population of Proteans, target and kill the most dangerous members before they get a chance to reproduce!
Known Varieties Edit
Currently six varieties, including the proto-stage or gray variety, of the Protean Swarm have been reliably documented. However, horror stories of novel, previously undocumented and unusually dangerous varieties circulate throughout the galaxy. More worrisome than undocumented rumors is the fact that even well-armed ships occasionally vanish under suspicious circumstances and every Moirai pilot fears encountering new varieties with previously unknown capabilities. These fears have been only slightly reduced by the Moirai Corporation’s offer of a substantial bounty to any pilot who returns positive proof of a new variety.
Gray members of the Protean Swarm are biologically undifferentiated individuals. Although they can be dangerous in their own right, their primary risk is in spawning more dangerous members of the Swarm. Note that although these undifferentiated members of the Protean Swarm are sometimes referred to as Grays, they are not to be confused with the intelligent species from Procyon B, a perfectly friendly race, despite an early and sometimes disturbing interest in pre-spaceflight Earth.
Purple members of the Protean Swarm, also known as Dervishes, have evolved to collect nickel-iron micro-asteroids which they form into projectiles. The magnetic properties of these projectiles cause them to oscillate widely as they travel through space. Many a Moirai pilot has died by failing to carefully track these projectiles' trajectories or assuming that they were safely hidden behind their shields.
Green members of the Protean Swarm, known as Snipers, Deadeyes, and more crudely as Pukers, have evolved a highly developed neural system that allows them to identify and target potential threats. They spit globs of highly caustic goo, a mixture of molecular acid and mucus, that rapidly eats through ship hull material before reacting explosively with the oxygen inside. Although the limited number of projectiles makes them appear less threatening than other members of the swarm they can be extremely dangerous - do not allow them to evolve high speed projectiles.
Red members of the Protean Swarm, usually referred to as "Oh s**t! Dodge! Dodge!" have evolved to eject minute quantities of their own bodies capable of independent control. This allows them to home in on Moirai ships. The best defense is to lure the projectiles into your shields. Or use the newly developed pulse wave secondary weapon system, which destroys them in the same way it destroys other Protean Swarm projectiles.
Blue members of the Protean Swarm, known as Snowmen or Frosties, have evolved to collect bits of interstellar ice, the remnants of fractured comets, and form them into icy projectiles. The unstable nature of the projectiles causes them to shatter into multiple sub projectiles as they travel through space. Targeting the projectiles before they shatter is often the only way to survive these creatures.
Orange members of the Protean Swarm, known as Cinderbugs, have a superficial resemblance to Bombardier Beetles from Old Earth. They have evolved a highly energetic chemical reaction that explosively ejects twin superheated projectiles.
Genetic Anomalies Edit
Genetic anomalies among members of the Protean Swarm have now been conclusively documented. Genetic anomalies are Proteans that fall significantly outside the normal mutational range for a given population. The cause of these anomalies is still under investigation. It had been widely speculated that they are caused simply by natural spikes in interstellar radiation. More recently it has been hypothesized that their appearance is the swarm’s response to external threats, in much the same way that mutation rates spike sharply in Earth bacteria when they are stressed. In any case it is clear that the swarm itself somehow recognizes these anomalous members and attempts to protect them by encasing them in a tough, semi-transparent membrane, which can require several direct hits to break through.
It is important to realize that genetic anomalies reproduce in the same manner as any other member of the Protean Swarm. In particular, they pass their anomalous genome to their offspring. Thus, if you see a genetic anomaly it is critical that you kill it as quickly as possible, before it has a chance to reproduce.
The Moirai Corporation is developing a biological scanner to identify genetic anomalies at long range so as to be able to give pilots some warning when one is approaching.