The Starforge beta is on, readers (and you can find out more about that here) which means we’re drawing closer to the finale’s release with each passing day. An end to the adventure six years in the making—and for some of you, reading—Starforge is the epic conclusion to the UNSEC Space trilogy and the journey that began in Colony and continued in Jungle.
But until Starforge is in your waiting hands, tide yourselves over with these little looks into the setting. Today we’re going to be talking about the harbinger of one of the most dangerous threats known in the setting and talk a little bit about the alien lifeform known as the hopper.
As before, these posts contain spoilers for both Colony and Jungle, so if you’d like the twists and reveals of those novels to stay exciting and fresh, we advice not hitting that jump, and instead clicking over to the books page of the site to get your own adventure with the UNSEC trilogy going.
Those of you that are ready to take the dive? Hit the jump.
Hoppers – Name and Origin
Due to UNSEC security measures and compartmentalization, it is currently unknown what the original residents of Livingstone first called the violent alien lifeform known as a hopper, or if they were even the first to encounter it, as earlier expeditions to I-618-2 may well have had run-ins with the lifeform without truly realizing what it was or what threat it posed. Regardless, the hopper was almost certainly one of the forms encountered by the Livingstone colonists as the planet reacted to their presence, as it seems to be one of the most commonly used forms of the lifeform now referred to as the “All.” The current name was bestowed by the late members of the Planetary Expedition Team #7561-C, who so-called the creature for its peculiar method of bounding locomotion, which turns out to be well-suited for its preferred tactic on the battlefield.
Hoppers are small and roughly ovoid in shape, though as with most All lifeforms extreme variance is seen across appearances, from size to weight to armor. There are, however, common traits shared by each known appearance. The body is roughly oval-shaped and given over largely to a long set of jaws that bisects the body almost half its length, as well as providing the musculature for said jaws to be effective. Eyes are numerous and compound, and it is currently unknown what wavelengths hoppers see in, or what—if any—forms of camouflage are effective at evading its notice. A hoppers skin is pebbly and often thick if not armored, and some have been reported to utilize a color-shifting mechanism not unlike that of a chameleon or cuttlefish in order to set up ambushes.
Locomotion is provided by two sets of legs, forward and back, though largely the back legs, which are thickly muscled to enable the hoppers forward leaping motions, somewhat in a manner similar to a frog or kangaroo from Earth. The smaller front legs are used to guide the movement process, and also to claw at or grip targets once a hopper has leapt upon them if it cannot bring its jaws to bear.
While hoppers are capable of making keening cries, this is due to a small organ created for the purpose of psychological warfare, or perhaps communication [ADDENDUM – ALL COMMUNICATION METHODS NOT CURRENTLY UNDERSTOOD – SEE EXPLORATORY THEORY FILE #67] and not due to any need to breathe. Hoppers, like other All lifeforms, lack many of the common elements of life found on various worlds, having no respiratory or digestive systems as conventionally understood or recognized. Fuel for activity is provided by sacs of fluid already present in the hopper’s body upon birth, and it is theorized that they body is either reconstituted later by some external means, or the hopper’s body is simply designed to be reconstituted and reborn later regardless of its fate in battle.
It should be noted that most forms of hopper have claws and teeth laced with island metals even if they lack armor with the same, making them a deadly threat even to soldiers wearing neural skinsuit armor or exosuits. Additionally, many hoppers have been documented secreting venom from their teeth or claws, as well as leaking poisons into the air after expiration, injury or suit breach should be treated immediately via a GREEN NANITE INJECTION and QUARANTINE.
Hoppers, like many All “lifeforms,” are ripe with variation. The Livingstone expedition recorded several “designs” of hopper that all seemed to be variations of the same base form, the most common being the armored form, its body covered by plates of material not dissimilar in effect to neural skinsuit plating, as well as more bloated form swollen with sacs that detonated in explosive fashion when exposed to the atmosphere; a living bomb that threw itself against the expeditionary crew’s defenses heedless of its own death.
Evidence of additional variations have been more recently recovered from colony worlds that have been lost to the All. Two instances of recordings recovered show a hopper-like creature functioning as some sort of gas bomb, leaping into crowds and vomiting out a heavy gas that induced paralysis followed by convulsions and death. Four instances of recordings recovered show a variation of the explosive hopper detonating with a splash of caustic chemicals fatal to nearby defenders. Secondhand reports point to additional forms not yet recorded, likely because no survivors emerged from the confrontation.
Combat Doctrine and Deployment
Hoppers are often fielded in swarms, grown in “cocoons”—SEE LIVINGSTONE EXPEDITION FOOTAGE AND REPORT—that can gestate anywhere from dozens to hundreds of hoppers at a single time, often in a matter of days provided resources for such growth are present.
The result is often akin to a tidal wave of bodies. Though hoppers have been observed and recorded displaying dangerous intelligence—setting up ambushes, faking death, or splitting to harass targets from multiple angles, often like a pack animal—they have been most often seen used as cannon fodder during All attacks, swarming the battlefield in huge numbers to overwhelm opponents while more other forms of All carry out more conventional battlefield tactics.
However, as recovered footage from surviving members of lost colony worlds has shown, this swarming tactic serves the All well, as the amount of variation from hopper to hopper serves as a form of protective screening for the whole. Detailed analysis of combat recordings A36-53 shows that despite appearing to act as a swarm with no thought to the whole, what was actually occurring was a highly complex series of maneuvers designed to deliver explosive forms of hopper to locations where they could do the most damage while the defenders focus was kept unaware by the actions of the larger host.
At the same time, many recordings have shown hoppers throwing themselves to their deaths heedless of the cause or the ultimate place in the battle. Whether this is by design to make any attempt to find a larger strategy difficult if not meaningless, to keep defending lifeforms off balance as they seek and waste time looking for the possibility of such, or simply some hoppers losing their connection to whatever communicative force may drive the larger will of the organism is unknown at this time.
Any sighting of a potential hopper—or other known All forms—should be given the highest possible threat response. If a hopper is found on your world, due to the invasive nature of All cells, your planet should already be assumed lost, and evacuations should begin with all possible haste.
In the event that you cannot immediately retreat, you best hope is to set up for a large-scale siege and call to nearby colony worlds for assistance with evacuation. Follow quarantine procedures as recommended in attached file #653 – RECOMMENDED QUARANTINE AND PREVETION METHODS as well as—where possible—producing doses of nanite treatments following medical templates #05723 or attached file #MN-AL6X to prevent infection.
Be aware that if a hopper is confirmed, other forms of All are certainly present, and life on your world already infected. While recovery may be possible at some future date, your first priority should be survival.
If you are unable to retreat and face combat against the All, force engagements with hoppers at long distances. Use explosives or denial weapons to wipe out large groups at once. Radiation weapons can be jury-rigged and used with some success, but reports of hoppers functioning in deep space amid such radiations suggest that forms can be hardened against it. For further recommendations on barricades, chokepoints, and other defensive measures, see attached file DEFENSIVE COMBAT RECOMMENDATIONS.
Starforge arrives this holiday season to bring the UNSEC Space Trilogy to its epic end!
Got a bit of UNSEC Space lore you’d like to see explored? Post it in the comments!