Sword of the Stars - GURPS
Despite appearances and social organization, Hivers are not “insects” in the physical sense. They range from 40 to 400 kg in mass and 80 to 500 centimeters in height. They do have six limbs, but the upper four are equipped with opposable digits. Most Hivers have a pair of wings on the dorsal surface of their bodies, but these are vestigial and useless for flight.
A Hiver’s body is partially covered with chitin, but the shell is not an exo-skeleton. Hivers have an interior skeleton, a full array of internal organs and a circulatory system similar to that of a terrestrial bird or mammal. The chitin is not used for tissue support; it is adapted to serve them as armor. A Hiver’s chitinous body shell is light, dense, and highly resistant to heat, cold and radiation. The colors and patterns of a Hiver’s body also convey a great deal of social information to other Hivers.
The Hiver species is divided into three physical and social classes: the Worker, the Warrior, and the Royal. All three classes are very different from one another, and might almost appear to be different species to the casual observer. A Worker looks, thinks and behaves so much differently than a Warrior or a Royal Hiver that it is sometimes difficult to believe that all three could have hatched from the same cluster of eggs!
In space, Hivers tend to live and move in large family groups. All of the members of any given Hiver fleet are usually related to one another by birth.
K’en, or Workers, are the most common type of Hiver, making up around 70% of the species. The average height of a Hiver Worker is 120 centimeters, and they generally mass 45-70 kg at most. Workers do not have sexual organs or any psychological quirks related to breeding, but they are intelligent, sensitive and curious, and as prone to be interested in art, science and culture as the average member of any other sentient species.
The vast majority of Hiver art and literature is created by Workers, and they also make up the vast majority of Hivers engaged in scientific, technical and academic fields.
Workers can pursue almost any occupation in their society, and can even become spacer. They fill the ranks in all walks of life, from merchants and street-sweepers to architects, farmers, doctors and priests. Regardless of what profession they pursue, however, the efforts of any given Worker are always directed to one purpose: to strengthen, protect, unify or glorify its family, and serve the interests of its Mother.
In the Hiver language, a Worker is known as a khe’k, or “Hand”. It is considered impolite for non-Workers to address a Worker with this word, however. Those addressing a Worker politely will simply call him “brother”,as they would any other Hiver.
Ri’, or Warriors, are the second most common type of Hiver, making up around 25% of the species. Of all Hivers, the Warriors have the largest variety, when it comes to superficial physical appearances. They can range from 50 centimeters to 250 centimeters in height, and may have hyper-light bodies or massive armored frames. They also sport a wide variety of chitin adaptations, including markings which may be extremely colorful or subtle camouflage in any kind of terrain.
Warriors are generally born to serve a specific function. They are tailored during gestation to perform a specific task as adults. Various features of the Warrior are subject to change: size, strength, toughness and thickness of its shell, resistance to radiation and extremes of heat and cold. Some Warriors are even adapted to be able to withstand vacuum, for limited periods of time.
Warriors are generally engaged in high-casualty professions. Deep-sea diving, mining, arctic exploration and toxic waste disposal are all generally handled by Warriors, as are other tasks involving similar levels of personal risk. Accordingly it is no accident that Warriors, although rare in Hiver society at large, make up a disproportionate percentage of personnel aboard space-faring vessels.
Warriors do not have sexual organs, but their bodies produce a powerful array of hormones, making them far more prone to aggression, ambition, and powerful mood swings. Their interactions are also more insular than those of any other Hiver class. Warriors often form secret societies, join dueling academies or participate in athletic contests to channel their aggression. They tend to receive less formal education than Workers do, but far more vocational and martial training.
Like Workers, Warrior bugs are loyal to their families, but they are often fanatically obedient to their Mothers. Aware from earliest childhood that they have been born to die for their clans, they consider it their honor and privilege to do so.
In the Hiver language, a Warrior is addressed as ri’k, or “Blade”. Warriors do not consider this term impolite or offensive. For example, many Warriors perform cultic rites to honor the legendary hero “Ri’zokis”, whose name can be translated simultaneously as “Beloved Blades”, “Immortal Blades”, or “A Mother’s Blades”.
The ruling elite of Hiver society are members of the Tcho class, the Royals. Royal Hivers are reproductively viable, and biologically either male or female. A male is called a Prince, and a female Hiver is either a Princess or a Queen.
A Hiver Princess is the absolute ruler and reason-for-being of any Hiver clan. Her Workers and Warriors will be loyal to the death, and devote themselves to her welfare for the entirety of their lives. These Workers and Warriors are simultaneously her children, her employees, her servants, her subjects and her zealous cult of personality.
A Princess is many times larger than a standard Hiver. Depending on her care and feeding, she can grow to a height of 400 centimeters and mass nearly 400 kg. Her wings and chitin are largely ornamental, and often will be cut or painted to enhance her natural beauty. Her most dramatic features, beyond her size and her large wings, are her crest and antenna, which are typically very beautifully and carefully shaped over her lifetime to enhance her beauty.
A Hiver princess can produce any number of Hiver eggs, especially if she has regular access to a male. The eggs she produces are largely generic when they leave her body; it is the care she gives them during infancy that determines their futures. Variations of light, heat and nutrition will produce a variety of changes in the developing Hiver, allowing its mother to not only determine whether the resulting offspring will be a worker, a warrior, or a breeder, but to assign it a number of other physical and mental characteristics.
The one thing a Hiver princess CANNOT do is reproduce herself. Although she can create any number of workers, warriors and male breeders, no princess can lay an egg which will develop into another princess. The power and privilege of birthing female Hivers is reserved for their High Queen—a nigh-mystical and legendary Princess who rules the entire species from the Hiver homeworld.
Hiver Princes are similar to their female counterparts, although smaller. They average around 350 centimeters in height and mass in the neighborhood of 250 kg, although some can be much larger. Physically speaking, they can recognized by their size, the extremely bright colors of their chitin, the length and strength of their wings, and the sharp, Warrior-like projections on the second pair of limbs—the so-called “dueling blades”.
Socially speaking, a Prince is a free agent. Unlike the Warriors and Workers of his family, his devotion to any one female is not ingrained at birth. The reasons for this are obvious; a female Hiver generally seek out males which are NOT her own sons, for breeding purposes. Although a Hiver Princess can reproduce with males hatched out her own eggs, if given no other option, this practice would quickly lead to stagnation, both socially and genetically, if it were common-place.
Princes are the only Hivers who are socially and psychologically capable of moving from clan to another at will. They are more self-interested than any other class of Hiver, with far weaker attachments to their mothers and families of origin than would be normal in a Worker or a Warrior. A Prince’s chief loyalty is to himself, his breeding partner, and to his children from ALL previous relationships.
Highly competitive, career-oriented and motivated to succeed, Princes seek out positions of authority and opportunities to lead, perform in public, or otherwise draw attention to themselves. A Prince’s ability to draw attention to himself and his achievements makes him a desirable mate, and puts a premium on his services.
Since heredity in a Hiver is based 60% on the contribution of the male, a Prince who is cunning, strong, gifted or beautiful can become a prize that many Hives will vie to win. Savage wars have been fought over the kidnapping or defection of a valuable Prince.
THE HIVER QUEEN
A Hiver Queen is a female who has reached the final stage of sexual maturity, and is capable of giving life to female children. Due to modern cultural practices, there is now only one Queen at a time, which provides the Hiver race with a certain amount of political stability. Because the Queen is a unique personage, and because Her fecundity is the wellspring of new clans and new life, She is given the title Tcho Zok’anin, Greatmother.
In times past, any Hiver Princess was capable of becoming a Queen if kept in isolation. In general this is why Hivers refer to their own prehistory and early history as The Warring Queens Period, and it also helps to explain why it remains possible for rival Queens to rise, if rebel Princesses cannot be kept in line.
Today, the Queen maintains Her authority by transmitting Her pheromones to all other Hiver females on a regular basis. These scent chemicals inhibit sexual development of other females, and thus keep the biological and political ambitions of potential rivals in check. The Queen does not have to visit Her subjects personally in order to transmit Her inhibiting scent: Her sons can also carry the pheromones, and a single visit from a Hiver diplomatic envoy can stunt the maturity of another Princess for decades—even as long as a century, if the Queen is particularly strong. Receiving the Queen’s scent is a ritual oath of fealty, and it is accompanied by some ceremony. Although the mere presence of the Queen or Her representative is more than sufficient, it is a gesture of good faith for the Princess to accept a silken banner which had passed through the Queen’s hands.
The status of Queen is typically passed to a Princess through the Crown Jewels, a set of crystalline organs which are a natural part of the Queen’s body. By consuming these Jewels, a Princess can rapidly develop into a Queen within days. Needless to say, the Jewels have great religious, political and biological significance to the Hiver people. The loss of Queen Immaculate Pearl and Her Crown Jewels is still held against the Tarka in some circles, and some Hivers believe that even now, not all of the former Queen’s Crown Jewels have been returned.
WAR, DEATH AND THE ZO’KAN CEREMONY
Wars are common among Hivers, even at the best of times. The Hiver military impulse is generally driven by population pressure or the urge for supremacy. Because each Hiver princess can produce countless offspring per year, the population of Hivers in any one place can spike very quickly, leading to intense competition for space and resources. A clan under such pressure has few options. Typically they can cull their own population, or eliminate the competition.
Although there are more than 30 words for “suicide” in the Hiver language, many Hiver families choose to go on the warpath rather than institute any other population control measure. Wars of this kind are grim and brutal battles-to-death, in which the full time and resources of all clan members are devoted to destroying the enemy clan and its Princess.
Occasionally an ambitious Princess still takes it into her head to become the Queen, even today. The global wars of dominion recorded in Hiver history are many, and some have assumed legendary status over time. The destruction and loss of life associated with a battle for the throne often left the planet almost completely depopulated in the past, with only a few exhausted clans left alive in the rubble. In the Gate Age, the violence and loss of life can be even more devastating.
Due to the quirks of Hiver physiology, however, death is not necessarily the end of a Hiver’s life. A great deal of short and long-term memory is stored in crystalline form in a Hiver’s brain case, and these chemicals can be extracted intact for days and even months or years after death. With the help of a Princess or Queen, who passes these chemicals through her own digestive tract, the memory of the fallen Hiver can be re-born in a freshly laid egg. The result is a new Hiver which has many of the memories, skills and experiences of the Hiver who died. Such a Hiver is called a “zok’an”, “a Beloved”—the word also carries connotations of immortality and re-birth. Once re-born, a Hiver is entitled to add the infix “zok” to his or her name. Examples include the legendary Hiver warrior “Rizokis”, “Beloved Blades”, or the contemporary Hiver Prince “Chezokin”, also known as Chezokin the Thrice-Born.
This form of limited reincarnation is central to the spiritual beliefs of the Hiver population, who conceive of the Divine as a female Hiver, constantly devouring and renewing the universe. It is also very useful in preserving valuable skills, and giving Hivers access to information which would otherwise be lost.
Occasionally, however, this practice has led to unfortunate incidents. Hivers exposed to a lethal plague can be carried back to a Princess or Queen for renewal, resulting in a predictable disaster for all.
Full literacy for a Hiver requires the mastery of three written languages: K’en-k’en, Ri’kap-ken, and Tcho’to-ken. The majority of Hivers can only read and write in K’en-k’en, while military Hivers, historians and scholars must also learn Ri’kap’ken. Tcho’to-ken is an art form, the Hiver version of calligraphy painting. Royals and fine artists often write poetry, personal letters and diaries in Tcho’to-ken form, using perfumed scrolls and inks which add to the meaning of the finished piece.
The Children employ combinations of pictorial symbols as writing in all three languages. Those of K’en-k’en are the most straightforward and easiest to learn, and correspond to a relatively simple alphabet. K’en-k’en is a phonetic language which represents all words as combinations of sounds, smells and colors. It is written and read from top to bottom, from the upper right to the bottom left.
Ri’kap-ken is the written language with the oldest history among the Hivers, and derives from one of the oldest Hiver language groupings. It employs complex symbols as whole words, and combinations of symbols as sentences or thoughts. The arrangement of the same symbols in different configurations can change the meaning of a word drastically, as when “ally” becomes “enemy” by placing a single stroke in a different position.
Both of the former languages can be reproduced relatively easily by printing presses and abstracted easily by computer screens. Tcho’to-ken pieces, however, are works of fine art. Even other races have been known to try to collect them when they can. When the Hiver Armistice was signed, the Director of Sol Force was given the gift of a folding screen made from Hiver “papyrus”. It had been painted by a royal artist with a Tcho’to-ken poem. In the two years that followed, the slow curation of the inks and dyes released a different fragrance every day. The screen still stands in the Director’s office in MarsDome, a symbol of continuing fellowship with the Hiver people.
LEARNING TO SPEAK HIVER
Although it can be difficult to imitate the many of the sounds produced by Hiver mouthparts, in particular the voiceless slides and clicks which are produced by rubbing Hiver mouth parts together, there are an abundance of hand-held tools which can help non-Hivers to communicate verbally. A pair of wooden castanets can produce most of the percussive clicks used by Hivers in daily life, and a metal blade can reproduce the slides. During the early days of war and parley between the Hivers and the Tarka, Tarkasian generals sometimes punctuated their words by sliding a blade in and out of the sheathe. The combination of sound and gesture proved very effective in getting the points across.
For Human, Tarka, and Morrigi speakers, K’en-k’en is the easiest Hiver language to learn to read and write. The symbols are standardized, systematic, phonetic, and derive directly from K’en-k’en as it is spoken by billions. It takes a bit more dedication to learn to read Ri’kap-ken, as there are subtleties of positioning and arrangement on negative space which can be elusive without a good deal of experience. Even among Hivers, it is rare to master Ri’kap-ken before the age of 10 cycles or so.
Writing effectively in Tcho’to-ken as a non-native speaker is much harder than either of the standard Hiver writing forms, but in some ways it is easier to read than either of the others. The sweep of the brush, the interplay of color and the perfumes of ink and paper speak to the spirit as well as the mind. A sensitive person will often receive the essence of a message whether the words are consciously understood or not. The fact that Tcho’to-ken glyphs are often combined with illustrations also helps.
Hivers produce a wide array of literary forms, including fictions of varying length, poems, plays and songs. Different types of Hiver literature are produced by and for different castes, and thus are traditionally written and published in different languages.
Drama, journalism, philosophy, scientific and religious treatises, legal documents and accounting records are typically written by and for Workers. History began among the Children with military history, and thus is traditionally associated with the Warrior caste, and written in their language. Warriors are also the chief patrons of many highly respected and very ancient lyrical arts. Operas, odes, elegies, battle hymns, processionals, and songs of victory or intoxication are also sung and written in Ri’kap-ken.
Paeans, the hymns of praise for Mother, Father, Queen or Goddess, are typically written and performed in Tcho’to-ken, the language of Hiver royals. Poetry, calligraphy and illustrative art are often combined when composing in Tcho’to-ken.
Humans occasionally touch a chord of the Hiver soul with their written works. Hiver language translations of classic human poetry are popular, including the Song of Solomon, which has been a favourite with the Hiver masses for many decades. Shir Hashirim was re-titled The Courting Song, and a popular novel of the same title was published in 2489 (Human CE). The tempestuous love affair between the White Prince Zol’o-men and his beloved mate, the Black Rose of Tza-ron, has been read by billions.
The popularity of both the poem and the novel has created a great demand for rare organics from Human colonies. Many Hivers will pay very high prices for resins and oils derived from cedar, cypress, henna, myrrh, rose, apple or fig, which are celebrated in the original poem.
Another Human classic which has achieved great renown among Hivers is Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare. The Hiver translation of the play, titled Chekazin, Prince of the Northland, found a receptive audience among Hivers of all castes, and has been performed annually by Hiver dramatic troupes for many years. The protagonist, Chekazin (Humble Village), delivers the famous soliloquy as follows:
Whether my existence should continue is now a subject of debate.
I am wondering if I will do best to accept pain
Battered by the stones and pierced by the bolts
Which the Divine has measured out as my ration,
Or whether I must unsheathe my Princely blades
And duel with the universe Herself.
A Letter Home…
I know you have been hoping for a message for a very long time. Believe me, I have wanted to make a crystal like this one for years. Unfortunately, as you warned me, little brothers like us are not highly prized in the Queen’s navy. Before I shipped out, I could not get a place in the queue for the recording equipment. Even now, after years, I have worked very hard and earned only a very little personal time. I will have to slip this message in with the colonial registries and battle reports from the frontier, and hope it finds its way to you somehow.
Many things have happened. There has been battle and death. There have been months of boredom locked aboard a tiny vessel with thirteen warriors who, I swear by the Queen, spend 90% of their daily energy trying to find some new and exciting way to kill each other. When I fold my limbs for sleeping, I often do so in an empty fuel cell or food cannister; once when I awoke I found myself drifting in space, because they had “accidentally” jettisoned me with the garbage. To this day I am not certain that it really was NOT an accident—stranger things happen out here—but I choose to regard it as deliberate because all of my ship-mates were so amused.
You were right, brother, about everything. This is the most dreadful job in the universe. The work is dangerous. The hours are unbelievable. Sometimes I literally stand until my legs crumple, because I am no longer able to hold up my own weight…and then I continue working because my arms are still able to move.
The pay I send home…well, I am sure it is probably more an insult than a boon, to our family. And the rations? Are beyond my powers of description. If I had not seen so many warriors set to with gusto and declare this food “delicious”, I would swear that it had been first served in the cafeterias of Hell.
But let me tell you, brother…for all that you were right, you were also wrong. This is the most dreadful job in the universe…but it is also the best. Aboard this ship, none of us hatched together. We have different mothers, different fathers, we come from different lands and castes, and before we were assigned to this vessel none of us had ever met before. But these sailors are a better family to me than you can possibly imagine…
Because I am a worker and not a warrior, my name is often forgotten on the crew complement on this ship. Sometimes the quartermaster sends us out without having provided me with rations or a berth. At such times, all of my crewmates set aside a portion of what they eat each day for me—a portion they can ill afford, massive and powerful as they are. They arrange their hours to provide sleeping time for me, and reduce the compression of their breathing tubes to be sure I get my share of the atmosphere.
When I fall from exhaustion, someone picks me up. When I am hurt, they risk their lives to retrieve me. They may laugh at my occasional discomfort, but they would never willingly let me come to harm.
It is easy for those at home to say that we are throwing our lives away. Most of us will never see our families again. We all have brothers and mothers we miss. Fathers that we boast of, Princes that have long forgotten us. Lands that we describe in loving detail, painting them with our longing until even the meanest burrow in the most crowded city sounds like paradise.
But this is not for nothing. We sometimes crawl for months to achieve a distant star, and then arrive to find a desolate world useless for our people’s needs. Or fly right into the teeth of some savage enemy who only wants to see us dead. But brother, if you could see the golden Gate open against the velvety blackness of space…! The sleek bodies of our ships silhouetted against a burning sun! The open arms of a whole new world below you, knowing it will provide new homes for our people by the billion…perhaps then you would understand.
When we fly into battle, we all cry out as one: “For the Queen!” But brother, I will tell you my secret—much as I love Her, I would do this just for myself.
I love you. I miss you. But by the Goddess…I love this job!"