Skunktaur Physical and Mental characteristics.
Next is a description of the Skunktaurs physical structure. As they were engineered to be able to quickly adapt to their environs, a blend of species was being used to create their genetic code. This, in many cases because of their creator's close work with the Chakats' creators, resulted in a basic template to which they both conform. In fact Skunktaur and Chakat genes turned out to be almost exactly the same, with only a few exceptions. As noted, this is also the result of the hasty work of the Skunktaur creator, having used the Chakat model in the end to finish his results. The end result was a species that could survive in most environments without much adaptation, but had the capability to change some of their physical structure if this would be needed. Also, if a new gene would be implanted in them, it would eventually be copied into every cell in their bodies, enabling them to pass it on to their offspring. Other, unforseen events, led to the development of their mental powers.
(In this account, I will be using the Chakat descriptions as a model, so I will be able to give an accurate as possible description). Their heads resemble the traditional Skunk's muzzles. Their eyes have been moved forward into their faces to give them an accurate depth-perception. Their lips are also slightly more supple to enable articulated speech. They have a full head of hair, albeit nowhere as much as a Chakat, and it doesn't grow into a mane if left uncut. It resembles a more human hairdo. The rest of their body is covered with the sleek black-and-white fur of the skunk. In their female state, this also covers their breasts. The length of their fur fluctuates with climate, thus they are at ease in almost any temperature, but like their cousins they prefer the more temperate 20 degrees Centigrade. Fur coloration does present a problem, skunks are not very noted for their originality in coats. Almost all Skunktaurs follow the same colour-pattern. They are mostly covered in black fur, with their upper torso possessing a white-furred chest and abdomen. This white colouration continues into the lower body's underbelly. One or two white stripes run along the Skunktaurs spine and into their tails. Their faces are also generally white-furred. The only known differentiations known are possession of "socks" or "gloves" on the ends of their limbs: either none at all or up to six (both arms and all four paws), and a coloured patch on their right chests. This mark has the shape of a four-digit paw print and comes in three colours: blue, red and black. These are a reminder of the time Skunktaurs were used as cheap labour by the three Firms.
Their ears are mobile, they can focus them in any direction. Hearing is at least twice to that of a normal skunk and far superior to humans.
Skunks being primarily nocturnal creatures, nothing special can be said for the daytime vision of Skunktaurs, aside from their eyesight being much sharper than the average individual, and their range of sight further as well. It is at night, however, that the Skunktaurs rival even the most clear-sighted Chakat. Colour vision is perceived at all times, and due to the highly effective way the light is redirected and reflected back into the lens, their eyes seem to glow an eerie green.
Their muzzle, as noted, is still morphologically equivalent to a skunk's, having been adapted slightly to enable proper speech. Their sense of smell is highly developed and honed to such a degree that even the slightest alteration in scents can be detected. Having been transformed from carnivores to omnivores, they too possess both grinding molars and prominently displayed canines.
The upper torso is built the same way as any other 'taur, but benefits from the extra flexibility gleaned from their Chakat genes. Also they possess the same forward hip built to protect their spines in the right angle it makes at the waist. The upper torso is not only fairly short, for a low centre of gravity, but also slightly broader. The reason for this is the generous amount of muscle they are provided with. All Skunktaurs have that decided beefy look whether they work at it or not. This provides them with quite a lot more strength than any other race, even slightly more than the Chakats. Their hands are humanoid in shape, save for a thicker skin on the fingertips and generously reduced, non-retractable claws.
The lower torso, too, follows the general build of Chakats, being solid and quite strong. Dr. Bryant had, however, managed to keep the innate flexibility of the mustelid even with the greatly expanded size of the Skunktaurs. While walking at a normal pace, they have about the same speed as a Chakat. If shi starts running, however, a Skunktaur cannot match hir speed. However, while they are no way near half as fast as a Chakat, the fact that almost all of their muscle tissue is of the energy-saving red filamented layer-type, they can continue running long after the Chakat has been exhausted. This also means that they can put up with long, heavy labour for a seriously extended time without the need for more nourishment than usual. They can manage a short burst for jumping and such. If they are provided with an appropriate harness, they are able to carry a greater load than their cousins. The front paws of the lower body are by nature in possession of semi-claws, much like the ones Chakat have been provided with. With just a slight alteration the paws were turned into a crude extra pair of hands (Dr. Bryant wanted to go the whole way at first, but Charles and Katherine had pointed out that the wrist at that point could no longer support the weight). Their legs, in comparison with a skunk, are a little bit shorter to provide sturdy support for the much heavier body, and add greatly to balance in this way. All four paws possess semi-webbed digits with non-retractable claws.
In Skunktaurs, it is actually their tails that are highly modified to store nutrients. With no permanent form of breast available, there had to be a different place to store liquids and such. The choice fell on the tail. The tail-muscles are enveloped with a thick layer of fibrous tissue which forms an anchor for the many sugar phosphates that are needed to hold the liquid. In general form, this liquid is a lot like the milkwater Chakats store in their breasts, but it also possesses a lot of enzymes and specific substances needed for cell duplication and growth stimulation. On average, the base thickness of the Skunktaur tail is about 50% more than proportions they normally would have and it is also considerably longer. The amount of fluids and nutrients is usually enough to last the Skunktaurs four consecutive days without food and drink, provided they don't exert themselves. They also need this storage when their metabolism increases during the changes their bodies undergo while adapting, but more on that later on. It is a good thing not to tell a Skunktaur he has a fat tail, unless you want to be hit. (A 'fat' tail occurs when more nutrients are stored there, this may occur when the Skunktaur eats his due, but doesn't work it off. Generally you would be calling them slackers). Due to the adjustments a Skunktaur tail isn't prehensile at all, though it can still function as a counterweight to the rest of the body, should this be needed.
Their internal structure doesn't differ much from the Chakat model either. They have a dual stomach system to digest almost anything. The first stomach in the upper, the second in the lower torso. They benefit from the same high tolerance level for poisons. Also they possess a dual lung system, the first one primarily for speaking and somewhat smaller, the other, larger and purely for oxygen-exchange. They do possess two hearts, the primary one in the upper torso is the larger, filling the spare room left by the smaller lungs. The other heart is placed in the lower body, in it's normal spot. It is rudimentary but needed to provide the extra thrust when Skunktaurs work, the increased oxygen-demand needing a greater bloodflow. Their waists are also nearly solid muscle, a necessity for complementing the strain imposed on the junction between both torsos.
The bulk of their organs, not counting those associated with the first stomach, is kept in the lower torso. The organs are, again like Chakats, efficient and are all paired for the same reasons. Because the waist area is completely devoid of organs, no internal stress is imposed when they twist or bend. Their resistance to disease is higher than a Chakats because of their body's increased metabolism and adaptability due to their hybrid nature, and therefore they also have a greater chance of regenerating severe injuries and even limbs.
Skunktaurs also possess stinking glands. These are located in the lower torso, left and right of the anus. In structure, they are identical to a normal skunk's glands. These are, however, much larger. The entire structure comprises of two glands, surrounded by muscle. When the muscle contracts, the Musk is ejected through specially modified nipples. The Skunktaurs are able to spray this massive amount of foul-smelling substance with almost pinpoint accuracy at their victims, who can be almost 4.5 metres away. Through the special form of the nipples, none of the liquid ever comes into contact with the user's fur. Besides the stench, the musk also has the ability of temporarily blinding victims when it gets into their eyes. Natural tears will eventually wash the substance away, but it's a very painful occurrence. No two Skunktaurs smell exactly alike. This is a fortunate (or unfortunate) occurrence, because this enables to identify individuals without error. The exact chemicals in the musk are still unknown. Though their scents don't bother each other, the Skunktaurs are aware of the great discomfort it causes others, and therefor only use their spray as a final resort.
Skunktaurs are a hermaphrodite species. However, they are either male or female at one time. The particular genes for this were picked from a species of tropical bullfrog, and after long and difficult work, were successfully encoded into the Skunktaur genes. Skunktaurs have complete control over what sex they possess at a time and are able to shift this at will. The transformation to either sex takes about 15 minutes, but due to the enormous increase of metabolism, resorption of redundant organs, developing new organs, bone alteration, rapid cell multiplication and diversification, the Skunktaurs are forced to use almost all of their stored nutrients from their modified tails. This takes a great toll on them, because without this store, they are unable to fuel any necessary adaptations until they restore it. Usually they "pig out" on highly nutrient foodstuffs shortly after their transformation, but this behaviour is not compulsory. Also because Skunktaurs have been regarded as "brothers" to Chakats they are commonly called "Hy" [Hij] (and hym, hys and such [hijm, hijs] note to pronounce the 'j' ).
In their male mode, they possess all the male reproductive organs. The penis is placed between their hind legs and is sheathed. It is proportioned to the rest of the body and is very human-like. Their testes, like Chakat's, are safely tucked away, so there are no external genitalia to worry about when performing particularly hazardous work. Their upper torso only has the male nipples, which are covered in fur. When male, the Skunktaurs are just as virile as any other male species, but it takes about an hour after their transformation to male form for enough semen to be produced for the Skunktaurs to be fertile. Also their overall look is more masculine (ie, more square and such).
When female the obvious is also the case. Their upper torso possesses breasts, which are quite firm even when not lactating. Their breasts are not modified to the same extent Chakat breasts are, and only aesthetic value remains during these times. They are also completely covered in fur, though the nipples may show when stimulated. Part of the paw-print coloration is situated on the right breast. On the lower body, the female vagina completely takes the place of the penis, uterus and womb form and the hip there slightly alters its form. In short, they possess the complete female reproductive system and are capable of carrying children. Skunktaurs ovulate, and the process starts after they assume their feminine forms. The cycle takes about 28 days and they can be fertilised for only two days, after which unfertilised ova and uterus linings are re-absorbed. This too, they have to thank the Chakat for. Their overall body structure also takes on a more feminine form, such as a sleeker waist.
Pregnancy lasts slightly longer than a Chakat's: 330 days, at least half a month longer. During this time a Skunktaur is "locked" in hys female form, quite logically since shifting would be the death of the child. Due to their extreme adaptability, Skunktaurs are able to stabilise their systems with great effect, they do not suffer from morning sickness, and are able to perform any task they were capable of before their pregnancy up to a week before actual labour. The mother bestows the most important information on the child, the House from which the child will draw hys mental powers. Single child births are rule, and no exception to this has yet occurred. Since all of the Skunktaur's social structure has developed from the Chakat (after all, Chakat adopted and raised them), birthing parties occur just the same. The sire is always present at childbirth and only the most extraordinary of circumstances can prevent that from happening (even if they have to hijack the starship they work on to get there!). They are fertile with every other species due to their adaptive nature, even their original template, the Chakats. The child, however, will always conform to the mother's species.
Skunktaurs are a practical race, and though affectionate and promiscuous to a degree, they will not just engage in sex-play. They tend to take quite a longer time to open up to someone. If they do, however, and can find the time to be with their friend, they are more than happy to shift genders for the occasion. All genetic defects have been carefully removed, at the cost of a diverse gene-pool. Therefore, as Chakats do, they strive to create a more diverse gene pool, and at the same time, add more genetic code that could prove useful for future generations' adaptation possibilities. They are capable of self-fertilisation, with a generous amount of outside help, since the semen has to be stored while the Skunktaur shifts and cycles through ovulation. This method is practised only in the most dire of circumstances for two reasons. They share the belief to produce children with someone they love, and this type of reproduction doesn't add to the gene-pool in any way, it just reproduces the original strain.
As said, all problems concerning hormones were solved when turning the Skunktaurs into a gender-shifting hermaphroditic breed. Having only one sex at a time prevents two different sets of hormones being present. And with specification of the hormones, making them affect only physical levels, their minds stayed unaltered. Due to this, Skunktaurs possess quite stable personalities, with their sexual nature an accepted, natural part of their psyches. They are a psychologically sound race.
Skunktaurs don't look at sexes much further than a physical level, although they might possess preferences at being either male and female, they regard their other mode as an integral part of themselves and as such will shift sex from time to time, enjoying either equally. The Skunktaur that did not feel this way has yet to be born. As a result, they tend to ignore sexual bias in other races.
They teach their children the same view on sexuality as Chakat, and as such behave in the same way, both regarding and during love-making. Despite their physical prowess, and the fact that most tend to be uneasy around them on account of their musk, they are a caring and affectionate people, but they do tend to take some things too seriously sometimes. They are devoted to their family, and like to have a lot of children, but they only have them when they are certain they can provide for all of them with equal love and care. When a Skunktaur chooses a permanent mate, the word means just that, as they stay with each other to the death. As they can scent each other's fertility, and are aware of their own, they can circumvent unwanted children. Unplanned births never occur.
Another difficult subject of their body is their brains. Although they share the neural blueprint with Chakats, they are not as highly intelligent. The average Skunktaur intelligence being slightly lower than a Chakat's, but the lack is more than made up for on a different level.
During their slavery, the virus that was to create the tell-tale fur coloration, got warped by the immense amount of mind-numbing chemicals and it effected a region of the brains that was still unused. The Skunktaurs started to develop the ability to form an empathic link with another Skunktaur within a rough ten metre radius. This was a two-way link and enabled a form of emotional communication between Skunktaurs. As long as there are enough Skunktaurs in between, two individuals can form a "connection" miles apart. The mutation was copied into cells all over the body, including semen and ova.
The second change occurred during their liberation. An entron-virus was introduced to their system to create a natural blood-filter for their brains. Initially it was supposed to nullify the lobotomy-drug but it also proved able to filter any other foreign substance before it could affect their brains. While, for instance, alcohol would impair their bodily functions, the Skunktaurs stay completely rational. The substance would be removed before they would become mentally drunk.
The third, most dramatic alteration, was when the entron-virus got into contact with the unknown mutation, resulting in further development and stimulation of that particular region of the brain. The generation that followed developed psychic powers (at the cost of some of the very high intelligence). It turned out that there were three distinct powers, one for each 'House' (as mentioned, that was what Skunktaurs with the same colour pawprint were called): Telekinesis for House Bluepaw; Telepathy for House Redpaw; and Out-of-body Projection for House Blackpaw. What was more interesting was that the empathic link enabled the Skunktaurs to share their powers. For each Skunktaur in the bond with a certain power, the others were able to use it as if they possessed it themselves. And for each extra Skunktaur with the same skill, the base strength of the power increased.
Additionally, as the Chakats still share about 98% compatible neural configuration, they too are able to profit from the shared psionic link, being able to use all powers to the same extent as long as there is one Skunktaur extra for each Chakat (ie. 2 Skunktaurs : 1 Chakat; 3 Skunktaurs : 2 Chakats; etc) who wishes to join in.
More intriguing to this point is a recent discovery.
In light of the ability of Chakat to make a similar Empatic Bond with their mates and others they care for, Chakat who become lifemates with Skunktaurs find themselves share a full Empathic link. Both mates feel and sense eachothers emotions as if both were Skunktaurs. More importantly, the Chakat can share hir mates mental power as if the above mentioned standards have been met.
It also seems that the emotional part of the link is stretched almost indefinately in range for both mates, amongst Skunktaur and Chakat:Skunktaur relationships. However, for sharing powers, the 'range' of the natural link must be observed.
The Emotional Link seems to have a great impact on Mated couples as well. Sharing eachothers emotions and strongest feelings during lovemaking usually results in both sharing eachothers climax equally.
Something more commonly known as the "Chakat-Maneuvre" only more mentally experianced.
If you ask yourself wether a Skunktaur never has any privacy with this mental bond, you must take in account that it's perfectly normal to hym to feel and 'hear' the buzz of hys fellows in the back of hys mind. And likewise hy accepts that others can sense hym as well.
There was, however, a Chakat psychologist who figured that there might be people who wold object to constantly having others 'read' their emotional wellbeing and/or having a din of the entire 'linked' Skunktaur populace in their minds.
Shi devised a simple solution, added to the training a young cub undergoes when learning to cope with hys powers. They are introduced to a very special headband that can shield their minds.
The effects are that Skunktaurs wearing it are no longer aware of others.
The 'trick' here is that the headband doesn't do diddly. It's all 'in the mind' the subconsious mind is trained to filter out any incursions when the headband is worn. Secondly other Skunktaurs likewise 'ignore' the other when they notice the band, and even 'actively' try and stop sending their emotional patterns. With the shared bond, the unconcious message that Skunktaur A is wearing the headband, the entire community will automatically adjust as hy walks by.
Similarly, this also works on Chakat. As long as they BELIEVE that the headband is indeed special.
To keep up with appearance, an uncommon material is woven into the headband.
It's important though that the actual bond isn't broken. To the Skunktaurs this Empathic sense is as natural as anothers sight, or sense of touch. Depraving one of this sense might have disastrous results.
You might want to think of yourself in a completely dark room, soundproofed and your own ears blocked. The only sound you ~can~ hear your own heartbeat.
A Skunktaur can shrug off such 'sensory depravement' for a while, and as long as hy knows hy's going to be 'restored' soon it's no problem at all.
But those who are seperated from their brethren for a longer time will start suffering.
Homesickness in it's worst forms you might say.
Some Skunktaurs can become obsessive about something; Music, work (more than is healthy), collecting things.
Others might develope phobia or even enter a state of manic depression, worse yet, bouts of violence in very severe cases.
It has happened on occasion that a Skunktaurs mind may wonder, seeking contact with minds otherwise unthinkable. House Redpaw, the Telepaths, are the ones who might readily seek contact with non-Skunktaur friends or even pets, diving into and connecting with their minds in a desperate act to receive solace.
Power sometimes comes at a very high price indeed..
Finally there are the adaptation skills their bodies possess.
Skunktaurs are in their natural state when they are usually encountered, conforming to the physical characteristics shown above. In more different surroundings, a Skunktaur's metabolism is highly increased as their bodies use the nutrient store in their tails to provide necessary adaptations quickly. With new worlds being discovered, and new genetic material being added to the base model daily, the amount of adaptations a Skunktaur can make increases, and new ones are frequently discovered. A few of the most common are:
A lens of variable opacity forms over they eyes to shield them from bright surroundings, damaging radiation, or sand (blown into their eyes). It also forms when a Skunktaur is immersed in salty water, to provide underwater vision.
Their fur, at normal length between 25° to –3° Centigrade, starts more and thicker fur as temperature drops. On the other hand, when temperature raises, they start shedding at an enormous rate. It is known for Skunktaurs on desert planets to possess nearly non-existent fur and deeply tanned skins, so as to provide protection from the sun, while keeping the body cool. Additionally, they can sweat an oily substance over their fur and weather-proof it in the process. This gives their fur an oily sheen and makes them slick to the touch. They are able to oil and then shed their fur at will, to provide a natural lubricant if they get pinned between something.
When faced with drought, they can survive on the fluid in their tails and start to resorb almost all fluids that would normally leave their bodies, except for the minimal amount needed to transport waste-products.
This list can continue almost indefinitely, as noted, but it is important to note that the increase in metabolism needed to quickly provide any adaptation is always fuelled by the amount of nutrients in their tails, or they would have to be eating almost all of the time.
Since Skunktaurs become more common as they gradually leave the Archipelago, more relationships between skunktaurs and other anthropomorphic species develop, the most common relations with Chakats.
As this relation continues, the Skunktaur may find hymself 'adapting' to their mates in one way or another. This usually occurs with the Skunktaur developing a bit of the opther species most apparent physical trait. After a few days the Skunktaur gains the ability to 'switch' this feature 'on and off', choosing wether or not to show it as if changeing their genders. Most Skunktaurs choose only to show them in more Intimate or Formal occasions.
Some Examples follow, though these are by all means no fixed results.
Chakat: Fully Herm form; as Chakat are fully herm, so may hir mate adapt to hir ((Most Skunktaurs keep this 'permanent' as it is more 'energy efficient'))
Vulpine: Fox ears are common, Sometimes the tails become more bushy and in rare occasions digitigrade feet.
Lupine: Mostly the same as Vulpines. Felinoid: A purr might be heard from Skunktaurs with feline mates ((This could also happen with Chakat mates instead of the full herm))
The possibilities are legion..