The Skrakki are perhaps the most dangerous species of Natives in the Refuge to the sapient dwellers of this galaxy. Called the Scourge of the Refuge, the Skrakki have spread like a plague throughout the stars, sometimes infesting whole planets and wiping out entire species. Luckily for Humanity, they originate from the opposite side of the galaxy from Human Space and have therefore posed little threat. This may be one reason for Humanity's amazing success, as the Natives must contend with Skrakki infestations constantly. The name “Skrakki” (SKRACK-key) is Slashrim in origin (taken from the sound that some Skrakki forms are known to make, especially if the hive mind is broken). The Slashrim have been battling this insectoid species since long before the arrival of Humanity, and it is the Skrakki who are largely responsible for stopping the spread of the Helexith Empire when they were first encountered near their border with Achmer Space. Although Helexith has become efficient in eradicating Skrakki hives, new ones always seem to appear.
The Skrakki physical appearance is difficult to describe, since it varies from ecosystem to ecosystem and from unit to unit (the word “individual” does not apply to a Skrakki, so “unit” is often used in its place), depending on each creature’s role within the greater colony. There are some common features found in nearly all Skrakki, however, that make them recognizable as a species. Basically arthropods, all Skrakki have an exoskeleton featuring an internal latticed framework of support structures to sustain their great size and weight. All Skrakki go through complete metamorphosis, though this is sometimes followed by the shedding of exoskeletons, since units can actually change aspects of their physiology when needed by going through a voluntary metamorphic phase. In the first two stages, every Skrakki is identical. They originate as pill-shaped, translucent yellow-orange eggs, from which hatches a pale off-white grub-like larvae. These larvae are usually fed and tended to by the hive Workers, since what role the larvae will become when it emerges from its pupal stage depends on location, food, and other conditions. This is how the other hive members keep the number of Workers, Soldiers, and other roles’ numbers in control.
Upon emerging from the pupa, each unit is entirely specialized to perform a certain role. There are Workers specialized to perform various basic tasks like gathering food and tending the hive, various types of Soldiers to protect them, and naturally Breeders to keep their numbers up. The Breeders are the most important units to each hive, for they are the only ones capable of producing offspring, and they are entirely dependent on workers for their wellbeing. These large, immobile forms are often called Queens by Humans, but this is discouraged for two reasons: first, because Skrakki hives often have more than one Breeder; and second, because the term indicates some position of authority or control. In reality, no single unit has any authority over another. Each unit is linked to every other in a great collective consciousness or “hive mind,” making each of them more like a single finger of one grand entity than a true “individual.” They have no sense of self and are always willing to die for the sake of the swarm. The larger the swarm grows, the more intelligent the Collective becomes.
One of the most fascinating things about Skrakki biology is their method of spreading throughout the galaxy. Though most Skrakki eggs go toward maintaining the hive and spreading it outward, some are placed in enormous egg sacs surrounded by a protective pod, which is made to resemble a giant rock or asteroid. The pod is itself an organism, with tiny light sensors and propulsion thrusters, powered by whatever gases the Skrakki can harvest for this purpose. Once in space, the pod locks onto a single star and flies toward it, hoping it will find a planet on which to land. If none are found, it continues to the next star. This process can take thousands of years, and if the pod is attacked and destroyed en route, it will violently explode, scattering the eggs in all directions, in the hope that some will make contact with the attacking ship and stick there. Indeed, hiding eggs on enemy ships is perhaps their best method of infesting new worlds. All it takes is a single Breeder-egg to colonize a planet. Once the Breeder egg lands on a planet, it first lies dormant long enough to sample the planet’s atmosphere, gravity, and other variables. It then hatches into a Breeder form that will survive on that world long enough to burrow underground and lay the first batch of eggs.
With each generation, the Skrakki grow rapidly more accustomed to their new planet’s environment. This has earned Skrakki the reputation as the ultimate biological weapon or space-plague. They may grow thicker, specialized exoskeletons to shield against the sun’s radiation on a planet with a thin ozone layer. They may adapt to swimming and breathing underwater on mostly aquatic worlds. They have even been known to grow thick coats of hair under certain conditions, making them appear more like moths or caterpillars. But no matter what the conditions, the basic Unit Types are usually the same...
Grubs (Slashrim: "Sogs") - Young, undeveloped Skrakki still preparing to create a pupa and transform. Usually about 2 feet in length. Will eat almost anything, but food is usually pre-digested and fed to them by the Workers.
Workers (Slashrim: "Foyik", Slang: "Crawlers") - About as large as a man crawling on all fours. Almost completely defenseless, they will carry on their duties (which include feeding the Grubs, Guards, and Breeders, and maintaining the tunnels) under any circumstances, paying no attention at all to intruders, though they can still alert the rest of the swarm if the hive mind is intact.
Harvesters (Slashrim: "Hesnost", Slang: "Locusts" or "Hoppers") - Locust-like forms that vary greatly in size and whose only role is to devour as much plant matter as possible to take back to the hive's storage tanks. They can jump or fly great distances to escape predators and are sometimes escorted by certain combat forms. If the Hive grows large enough, these may devastate a planet's surface, causing widespread famine.
Breeders (Slashrim: "Morgusk", Slang: "Queens") - Enormous egg-producers that live deep in the tunnels and exist only to spawn more Skrakki. They are the only Skrakki capable of laying eggs, and must be fed by the Workers due to their immobility (though they may defend themselves with acid spray when encountered). They are served by their Drones.
Drones (Slashrim: "Morgyok") - A special type of Worker meant to serve and defend the Breeders and fertilize their eggs. The only sexually male Skrakki, though it is said that some female Workers may "turn" male through metamorphosis if the need arises. They have slightly enlarged mandibles like those of a Soldier, but never leave the hive to partake in battles and are not especially dangerous.
Ambassadors (Slashrim: "Skrakrim") - This form has never been seen by Humans, and is only known from Slashrim accounts of past encounters. According to the description, they walk like Slashrim, on two legs, and are capable of speech, acting as mouthpieces for the hive mind. Only an extremely large and well-developed hive-mind would be able to produce such a creature. No single swarm this large has ever been encountered by Humanity, thankfully, and some suspect the Ambassador form to be a Slashrim myth.
Tunnelers (Slashrim: "Thralask", Slang: "Worms") - Varying in size from small to truly immense, the centipede-like Thralasks are responsible for digging the tunnels in which the Skrakki live. They are also formidable opponents in a fight, capable of burrowing rapidly through the earth, emerging from underground to cause minor tremors, overturn vehicles and buildings, and spray the surrounding area with streams of acidic or flammable spit. Best killed by cutting off the head; other segments are expendable and will not stop the creature if detached.
Swarmers (Slashrim: "Zazzisk", Slang: "Bees") - Skrakki hives may be surrounded by immense clouds of these tiny bugs to serve as an early warning system against intruders. They may also be sent out as swarms to scout out the rest of the planet. They pose little danger to a well-armored opponent, but to anyone with exposed skin or only light clothing, they can be the deadliest of all Skrakki, able to attack in mass and sting a creature to death within seconds. They should not be underestimated, as they can also swarm around enemies to obscure their vision, and will be sent in clouds to block enemy aircraft and gum up their engines.
Guards (Slashrim: "Modosk", Slang: "Scarabs" or "Hulks") - Massive, heavily armored combat forms that specialize in defense, these Skrakki may be as large and tough as a tank, with giant claws and mandibles able to rip off armor plating. They are unimaginably strong, able to ram into vehicles and overturn them, even demolish buildings. Small arms will hardly put a dent in their armor unless aimed precisely for their weak spots. Heavy weapons recommended.
Soldiers (Slashrim: "Midisk", Slang: "Ants") - Larger versions of the Workers with powerful mandibles, Soldiers attack in great numbers and are often Workers who have undergone voluntary metamorphosis to become a sort of "militia" fighting force for a hive under great stress. Lighter-armored than the Guards and lacking any kind of ranged attack, they can be relatively easy to take down when numbers are manageable, but they can quickly overwhelm a smaller enemy fighting force.
Assassins (Slashrim: "Krenisp") - Stealthy and agile Skrakki only a little smaller than a man, capable of crawling inside of enemy vehicles and bases. They stab enemies with their long beak-like mouthparts and inject them with acid. Their shells are particularly good at blending in with the environment, allowing them to lie in ambush.
Hunters (Slashrim: "Liskheg", Slang: "Mantids") - One of the most feared Skrakki combat forms, Hunters are large, fast, capable of short-range flight, have a ranged attack (usually acidic spit, sometimes biological flamethrowers), and can work in small attack groups far from the main hive, forming a "tactical mini-hivemind" of sorts, since their brains are more developed than most individual Skrakki units.
Flyers (Slashrim: "Virasp", Slang: "Hornets" or "Fighters") - Similar in appearance to the Hunters, but specializing in flight. In addition to their acidic spit, many can fire explosive "darts" from their tails, making them deadly foes for both aircraft and ground forces. Fairly weak but extremely fast, they are just as feared as the Hunter forms.
Bombers (Slashrim: "Korasp", Slang: "Dragonflies" or "Bombers") - A flight form specialized for bombardment, these dragonfly-like Skrakki drop large, powerful, egg-shaped explosives from the sky, sometimes filled with poisonous gas or other chemical weapons. Others may simply drain these chemicals from their "egg bombs" in order to shoot it from their mouths, allowing them to fly low and spray noxious chemicals or even flames over enemy armies.