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Pakti

     Genin Tania DeCaprio snarled a choice curse in Scraver Cant as another local parasite sampled her bodily fluids, and crushed it into goo against her arm with a swift slap of her hand. Boss Luciano was dead set on stealing Vargo's drug trade out from under the Siegels, but she was beginning to wonder if the site he had chosen for a secret chemical lab left a little to be desired.

     The little island in the Chain of Fire had the advantage of isolation, but between the temperature and the humidity, not to mention the bugs, that posting to Severus she had turned down was starting to look a little more appealing. Tania ducked as the Associate breaking trail let a palm frond swing back toward her face, but the sharp words she was preparing for him died on her lips as she followed him out into the open and got look at the lagoon they had stumbled upon.

     This slice of tropical paradise almost made up for the sweaty jungle hell they had tramped through to get here. A pool of turquoise water sparkled invitingly at the heart of a small clearing, sealed off from the beach proper by a dense wall of mature palms. An arc of pristine white sand embraced the inland shore of the lagoon, offering an ideal campsite while they completed their survey of the terrain.

     "Benny, you just earned your bonus," she crowed gleefully as she pushed past him and walked up to the edge of the lagoon. Kicking off one of her shoes, she dipped her toes in the water and savored the relative coolness of the tepid pool. "Set up the tent, and fix me something to eat, will ya? I'm starving."

     Turning her attention back to the lagoon, Tania stared into its azure depths as Benny's rucksack dropped to the ground with a thump and equipment began to clatter onto the sand. Something dark darted through the water, and she pulled her foot out in surprise. "What in Gehenna was that?" she murmured to herself, bending over to get a closer look once she had overcome her initial reaction.

     There were small creatures swimming in the lagoon, most no larger than her hand, although some where as long as her forearm. Dropping to one knee, she peered into the pool's inviting depths. They looked reptilian, like some sort of swimming lizards with slender bodies, four limbs, and flat, paddle-like tails that propelled them through the water with surprising grace.

     "Well, I'll be damned," Tania muttered as she watched the creatures dart about. One swam close to the bank where she knelt, and with a deft flick of her wrist she snatched it out of the water. The creature squirmed frantically in her grasp as she held it up for closer inspection. Its scaly hide had an iridescent quality, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. The little reptile turned its head to look at her, its dark eyes fixed on hers. The skin on its throat changed colors as she watched, pulsing red-orange-red-orange-red...

     Tania observed this curious display for a moment, then grinned. "Hey, Benny, I think I just found our dinner," she called over her shoulder. "You'll have to come see these critters!" There was no reply.

     Instead, she heard a low, startled grunt, followed by a thud and a metallic clatter. Tania stood up quickly, dropping the reptile as she turned to look toward the source of the commotion. The camping gear was scattered on the ground a few meters away, but of her subordinate there was no sign. "Benny?" she called out, oblivious to the creature's frantic efforts to crawl back into the water at her feet. "Benny!" she repeated, adding a note of annoyance to her tone.

     There was a sudden rustling in the bushes to Tania's right, and she instinctively placed a hand on the grip of the Mitchau Ripper holstered at her hip. She peered into the shadows within the undergrowth, realizing now that something was very wrong here. A shape moved within the shadows. Her arm tensed to draw the slugthrower...

     Before the weapon even cleared the holster, there was a faint *pfft!* from the bushes, accompanied by a sharp pain in her chest. Looking down, Tania saw something pale and slender sticking out her left breast. She reached up to pluck out the offending object. It appeared to be some sort of dart, made of a semi-rigid, translucent material. "Fish bone," she murmured as she examined the artifact.

     A wave of dizziness swept over her, and the dart slipped from fingers that no longer seemed inclined to obey her will. Then her knees buckled and she crumpled to the sand, her eyes facing the pool where dozens of little swimmers stared back at her curiously. Her last thought, as conscious faded, was "Oh, crap..."

***

     Until the Vau proclaimed themselves benefactors of the Pakti, few Known Worlders were even aware that Vargo had its own indigenous, sentient species. In the wake of the Vau's decree establishing protected areas on the planet, reserved exclusively for the Pakti, the Charioteers and Scravers revealed that they had made contact with this previously unknown species years earlier. They kept this information to themselves, apparently to protect trade monopolies.

     Subsequent research by the Eskatonic Order uncovered scattered references to the Pakti in extant historical documents. It was not long after the first human colonists arrived on Vargo that they discovered they were not alone there. The Pakti were native to Vargo and quite well established on the planet by the time humanity arrived, although relatively few in numbers owing to the primitive, hunter-gatherer subsistence methods by which they lived.

     The Pakti are reptilian, having apparently evolved from aquatic lizards that are equally at home on land and in the water. Owing to the Pakti's amphibious nature they must reproduce near water in which to lay their eggs, favoring protected pools close to the shore yet isolated from seagoing predators. Though not quite cold-blooded, their metabolism's limited thermal generative mechanisms restrict their range to the warmer temperate and tropical regions of the planet.

     According to Vargen folklore, a fierce conflict ensued between the first human settlers and the Pakti, resulting in loss of life on both sides. The primary advantage the lizards had was their chameleonic ability, which allowed them to evade detection. Superior technology gave humanity the edge over the stone-aged Pakti, however, and slowly the reptiles were driven back--especially as humans methodically destroyed the spawning pools where their hatchlings developed.

     By the end of the Diaspora, the Pakti were believed to be extinct, although there were apparently sporadic, unconfirmed sightings during the Second Republic era. It is clear that some Pakti must have survived in small communities far from the centers of human habitation. It would seem that the Pakti rebounded during Vargo's long isolation after the Fall, reaching, or perhaps surpassing, their pre-contact population levels in their native habitat.

     Little else is known about Pakti culture and history, for no effort was ever made to study them by human xenologists. Until further research is carried out among the Pakti, unlikely given the restrictions imposed by the Vau, the story of their origins and development will remain a mystery.