The Vikaas Aquerna are a species of aquatic humanoids from the ocean world of Vikaas IV in the Veil Sector. Their large homeworld is almost entirely covered by water, with only a handful of volcanic islands piercing the ocean’s surface. It is, however, teeming with life of every kind, from abyssal scavengers to rafts of photosynthetic weed that floats on the surface. The Vikaas Aquerna, literally the “Water People of Vikaas”, are a sentient species that inhabits the shallower ocean plateaus of the planet. When they were discovered in 3553 PT, they had cautiously developed to an industrial level of technology and had recently developed radio communication - a difficult feat for a water-bound species. It took several decades for the Free Union Exploration Corps to establish working diplomatic relations with the Aquerna, and although they are now fully integrated into the Free Union relatively few leave their home world. Those that do enter the wider galaxy are celebrated for their tolerance of harsh climates, their resilience and their powerful empathic abilities.
Vikaas Aquerna are physically very “diffuse”, due to their porous outer skin. This tendency also seems to reflect itself in their mental state and psionic abilities. Aquerna are highly empathic, and absorb emotions from those around them - an outburst of anger or joy in a group of Aquerna will wash over the group like a tidal wave or ocean storm. Thankfully, Aquerna psions are able to master this effect and psionically calm their emotions, which can anchor others nearby and prevent destructive cycles. Skilled empaths can direct emotions outward, and also allow an awareness of life and living things to seep into their consciousness.
The Vikaas Aquerna are somewhat of a physiological anomaly on their homeworld, and among sentient species in general. They possess a cartilaginous internal skeleton, to which their major organs attach. However, they do not possess either a central nervous system, musculature or a typical circulatory system. The functions of these organs are replicated by their skin and gel-like hemolymph (a blood-like fluid that permeates all of their bodily tissues). The skin of the Aquerna acts as a porous filtration membrane, drawing oxygen and other chemicals from their environment and distributing most of their waste products - this somewhat rubbery membrane (which extends into their bodies in diaphragm-like structures) also expands and contracts in subtle movements to push hemolymph around the body to carry nutrients to cells and also facilitate movement via a hydraulic system. The skin of the Vikaas Aquerna most closely resembles the external membrane of an amoeba, as a method of chemical uptake and also movement. They are constantly in a state of slow diffusion into their surroundings, and maintain their structure mainly with the aid of millions of homeostasis cell clusters in their hemolymph. The dense hemolymph acts against the skin membrane to allow for hydraulic movement, carries nutrients and chemicals to and from cells, and also contains a specialised, distributed network of cells that carry neural signals throughout the body - like a constantly reconfiguring network of nerves. No other species on Vikaas IV has these attributes, or anything close to them - how the Aquerna evolved on that planet, and obtained their psionic abilities remains a total mystery.
There are some theories as to how the anomalous Aquerna became established on Vikaas IV, but none have enough conclusive evidence to advance beyond conjecture. Some point to the anomalous nature of the planet’s oceans, which contain relatively high concentrations of certain exotic particles, as well as resonant energy bursts that are emitted from the planet’s mantle. Unexplained ruins have been detected on the deep abyssal plains of the planet’s oceans, inconsistent with Aquerna configurations, and geological anomalies have been detected deep in the planet’s crust that are inconsistent with natural phenomena. It is thought by some that some Precursor civilisation may be responsible for the presence of the Aquerna. Efforts to sequence the Aquerna genome reveal similarities with that of the Etherna of Thern II, although whether this provides evidence of some localised panspermia or a more directed common origin is the source of many arguments among xenogeneticists and other Life Scientists.
The Vikaas Aquerna are a close-knit, friendly species, in part because of their inherent empathic ability. Left to themselves they tend to display emotions in a similar way to other sophonts, but when exposed to strong emotions they get caught up quite quickly and will display those same emotions themselves. They remain aware of the source and will generally take steps to remove themselves from individuals displaying strong negative emotion. This empathic ability appears to be enhanced while in the oceans of their homeworld - it is unclear why this is the case, as psionic theory is not well developed in the Free Union. The primary method of communication between Aquerna on Vikaas IV is via their empathy, combined with a series of hand signals and sharp, piercing sounds that carry well in water. It is not unknown for Aquerna who travel the stars to teach some of their sign language to their crews as a secret language. Universal translators do not handle the Aquerna’s native language very well, and they usually incorporate a specialist language projector module into their breathing apparatus. Aquerna who are not wearing this apparatus often have difficulty communicating with members of other species, unless they have learned their sign language. The character of an individual Aquerna at any point will mostly be a factor of their profound empathy - they literally reflect the moods of the minds around them. As a result, many Aquerna prefer to spend a few moments each day either in the company of other Aquerna, or alone in quiet meditation. This helps them to attune to their own sense of self and avoid becoming lost in the maelstrom of emotion they encounter around other species. Other Free Union species often comment that the Aquerna reflect the emotions of the sea - sometimes calm, still and welcoming, and other times filled with storms and fury.
Vikaas Aquerna are humanoid in general structure, but have one of the most unusual physiologies of any sentient organic species known in the Orion Sphere. They are blue-skinned, often with a degree of green mottling around the temples and cheeks, and patches of blue and green often extend into their hair colouring. This is thought to be an evolved form of oceanic camouflage. Their skin is also irregularly spotted with porous areas, which appear as tiny whitish spots, usually in areas where the skin is stretched over the skeleton (collarbone, elbows, etc)
The Aquerna have fringed ears and patterned ridges along their foreheads, occasionally with small horned protrusions. Due to being a primarily water-dwelling species, they have evolved to have webbed fingers, gill-like structures along their lower jaw or neck, and wide, flattened noses to help them manoeuvre underwater.
Although the Aquerna normally absorb most of the oxygen they need from the surrounding environment through their skin, this is much more difficult in air than it is in water. Vikaas Aquerna need oxygenated water to survive for long periods in atmosphere - this is usually accomplished by a flow of oxygenated water into the mouth, nose and gill structures, where their gas exchange mechanisms are concentrated. Aquerna are often seen carrying tanks containing oxygenated water which they can use to breathe from when remaining on land for periods exceeding an hour or so. The tanks usually contain technology to re-oxygenate their water supply, and connect to a circulation mechanism to pass the water across the Aquerna’s absorptive tissues.
The Vikaas Aquerna have 3 body hits and a death count of 200. Their cartilaginous skeletal structure, rubbery skin and gel-like hemolymph grants them a significant resistance to physical trauma compared to other species. Vikaas Aquerna characters may call RESIST to the first PHYSICAL Condition (e.g. broken bones, burns, etc) acquired each day, as their semi-flexible limbs compensate for the damage and their skin heals itself quickly. However, their porous outer surface affords them significantly less protection than the skin of other species, so they are much more susceptible to Radiation, Disease, and Toxins in the environment. Conditions of these types are acquired in half the time, and also progress in half the time stated on the condition card or sheet.
Vikaas Aquerna all share a diffuse form of empathy, and are psionic. Like their physical bodies, their emotions and feelings diffuse into the surrounding environment, as they simultaneously absorb the feelings presented by other sophonts nearby. The Aquerna all begin with 2 Psi Points, and can purchase powers from the Hydrolysis path, and its Branch Paths, all of which focus on the various applications of this unique form of empathy. However, the Aquerna are especially vulnerable to mirroring the emotions of other characters around them, and their roleplay should reflect that. While this does not rise to the rules robustness of the EFFECT call and similar effects, it is considered an intrinsic part of the rules for playing an Aquerna character.
The Aquerna are an aquatic species and have significant difficulty breathing in atmosphere. Without a breathing apparatus and oxygenated water tank assembly they begin to suffer. After 30 minutes without their breathing apparatus they cannot use any of their Psionic Abilities, Professional Skills or Combat Skills with the exception of Toughness and Resilience. They also suffer difficulties in communicating when deprived of their apparatus (as most incorporate Aquerna-specific translation modules). Aquerna without their breathing apparatus cannot use spoken words - they must attempt to communicate using non-verbal sounds and sign language.