Data File Updated: Saturday, January 28, 2017

Origins and Empire

Due to the closed nature of the Umiak sphere of influence, most information about Umiak origins was obtained before the war, from subject races, and consists primarily of second-hand stories that the Umiak told about themselves. According to these tales, the Umiak evolved on a Mars-sized world called kkukit-tikhal (which translates roughly as "Empire"). The ancestors of the modern Umiak, known as the Hal-tik, were a hardy nomadic people that shared the world with two other closely related sentient species: the taller, slender Tizik-tik, and the runty, socially underdeveloped Kikkut. The primitive Hal-tik were marginalized by the much more technologically advanced and cultured Tizik-tik, who considered the Hal-tik to be barbarians best kept outside civilization. The Kikkut were considered barely-sentient untouchables, who often lived as scavengers in the sewers of Tizik-tik settlements. Joining the interstellar community during the time of the Soia quarantine, Tizik-tik civilization flowered as a peaceful, single-system society. The Hal-tik were allowed few benefits of this society, confined to wandering the wastes at the periphery of Tizik-tik civilization, keeping to the ancient ways.

When the fall of the Soia galactic system isolated and devastated Empire, the Tizik-tik civilization became vulnerable to their nomadic Hal-tik rivals. In the aftermath of the orbital bombardments of the Soia Cataclysm, the Hal-tik immediately overran a large portion of the now-ruined Tizik-tik cities. While the Hal-tik barbarians picked through the ruins, a portion of Tizik-tik technological society reconstituted itself and began to rebuild. What followed was a millennia-long age of global chaos and warfare, in which the increasingly sophisticated Hal-tik relentlessly gnawed at the frontiers of a shrinking Tizik-tik civilization. Initially, even the post-Cataclysm Tizik-tik had little trouble repelling the raids of the still-primitive Hal-tik barbarians. But gradually the Hal-tik co-opted elements of Tizik-tik culture and technology, especially techniques for industry, weaponry and genetic manipulation. When at length the Hal-tik finally trod atop the ruins of the last Tizik-tik city, they had been changed almost beyond recognition, from nomadic traditionalists into living engines of industry and warfare. And they were now masters of a world depleted by uncounted generations of unrestricted conflict and ruinous environmental exploitation.

Information on early Umiak space colonization is sketchy, but it seems likely that it was driven by a need to find resources outside their ravaged homeworld. Confronted with a universe of heavier-gravity worlds and the alien races that inhabited them, the Umiak continued to use the genetic and cybernetic alteration techniques learned from the Tizik-tik to adapt themselves to the needs of the moment. The details of their first contacts with other alien civilizations are not known, but it seems that they were all ultimately absorbed into the growing Umiak sphere of influence.

The current Umiak Hierarchy is believed to be larger than the empire of the Loroi, and though some of the races may have joined voluntarily, it seems that many were annexed by force. For the most part, clients of the Hierarchy are allowed little in the way of self-determination, and the Umiak impose oppressive and sometimes ruinous demands on their subjects' labor and natural resources. A heavily restricted society even before the war, since the start of hostilities with the Loroi, most members of the Hierarchy have been completely out of contact with any external entities. See main article: Races of the Umiak Hierarchy.

Biology

To describe Umiak biology succinctly is a challenging task, because the configuration of individual specimens varies so widely. In addition to the natural diversity that comes from being derived from three distinct sub-species, over the millennia the Umiak have undergone extensive genetic engineering programs and cybernetic alterations in the attempt to overcome the physical limitations that are a result of evolution on a low-gravity planet. Some Umiak, who still live on low-gravity worlds or aboard the gravity-controlled environments of starships and space habitats, are still very similar in form to the state in which they originally evolved, but many more have been extensively genetically modified to suit the environments and tasks to which they have been assigned. Those employed in work on heavier-gravity planets and particularly those in the infantry have been specially bred for these tasks, are much heavier and stronger, and are more likely to have been cybernetically modified, sometimes quite extensively, to the point of being almost unrecognizable as the same species.

Although often described as “insectoid” in appearance, the Umiak are not insects or arthropods. They do have an exoskeleton, but are energetic, warm-blooded creatures with complex vascular systems. In their unmodified state, Umiak have six limbs, four of which are used as legs, the other two as conventional humanoid arms (giving them a centaur-like stance). The two arms are asymmetrical in most individuals; the left arm is "normal" and terminates in a clawed double-opposable four-fingered hand, and the right arm is slightly longer and more robust, and one of the fingers has been replaced by a backward-curving serrated spike that can reach 30 cm in length. Not all individuals have this asymmetry; the spike adaptation is sometimes missing (presumably having been removed through gene manipulation). The spike is articulated like the dactyl of a crab's pincer, and can be pressed against the forearm to crush, or used for slashing or stabbing attacks when extended. The "normal" digits have pointed fingertips that can be dangerous to soft-bodied creatures, and the forward pair of legs can also be used to strike (in the manner of a rearing horse). Larger specimens stand two meters tall, three meters long and can weigh 230 kg (500 lbs.) or more. While they are quite agile in their native environment (believed to be about one-third Earth's gravity), they are heavy and plodding in normal gravity.

The large valentine-shaped skull sports seven eyes: one large primary eye in the center above the mandibles, two secondary eyes on the sides of the head, and four small ocelli: two each on the bony ridges that jut from the "cheeks." The mouth consists of two pairs of lateral mandibles and one lower ventral mandible, enclosing a fibrous tongue. Breathing spiracles are positioned at the top of the skull, crowned by short horn-like structures that vary by individual and are apparently decorative. At the back of the skull above where it joins the neck sprouts a mat of hairy spines, which are usually damp and are used in temperature regulation. These damp spines are a primary source of an Umiak's very strong odor.

Umiak circulatory fluid is black and viscous. The Umiak exoskeleton is built of a living bone-like material with a hardened exterior coating. The exoskeleton grows with the individual, eliminating the necessity of molting; the hard exterior layer splits at multiple points and fills in with new material. Umiak carapaces range in color from pale tan, through yellow, to dark red, darkening as the individual ages. The tufts of hair at the joints range from brown to black (sometimes graying with age). Umiak become aged between 60 and 80 years old and usually die soon thereafter; medical technology can extend lives indefinitely, but this is a rare step. Only a truly remarkable and important Umiak individual could be persuaded to abandon its ingrained humility and seek to live past its normal lifespan.

The Umiak have only a single gender, and while unmodified individuals are still reproductively viable, little is known about the details of their reproductive practices. It is clear from their physiology that they are egg-layers, but captured live specimens showed no sign of having used their ovipositors, and under interrogation seemed to know very little about the subject. Indeed, it is suspected that they may have entirely abandoned their natural life cycle. Judging by the ease with which they replace losses and their apparent lack of concern for the safety of individuals, it seems likely that the Umiak now rely substantially or wholly on artificial forms of reproduction.

Umiak are renowned for their tirelessness; activity in low gravity requires relatively little energy, and shipboard Umiak routinely go for extended periods (of up to several weeks) without sleep. Those Umiak stationed planetside often require much more rest to allow them to cope with the stresses of higher gravity.

As they are uncomfortable in normal gravity, Umiak crews spend most of their time aboard ships or stations with artificial gravity. These “fleet” Umiak tend to be smaller and more slender (200-300 lbs.) than those Umiak, mainly used for ground forces, that have been raised in 1G+ environments. Umiak "hardtroops" that are specialized for ground combat can be very large, having entire sections of their bodies replaced by mechanical devices, and are fearsome in appearance and capability.

Without fleshy lips or vocal cords, Umiak can’t make the sounds required to speak the Trade Language, so they use mechanical translators when they must communicate with non-Umiak. The Umiak spoken language is based on clicks, ticks, chitters and hisses. Umiak language relies on a few different sounds in a variety of complex patterns, rather than a variety of sounds as in human language. Umiak words are long and complex, and are spoken very rapidly, sometimes so rapidly that it is hardly more than a buzz to a human ear. The Loroi sometimes joke that every Umiak is named "kikitik," since that is what most Umiak words sound like to them. 

Umiak language involves the use of a “stack”; that is, words are delivered out of order to add complex meaning and dramatic emotional overtone. For example, a word or phrase can be spoken, placed on the “stack,” and then not referred to again until later in the conversation. This further increases the incomprehensible nature of the language to non-Umiak. Both this language structure and the necessity to remember the details of long, self-similar, repetitive words give the Umiak superior attention to detail, memory for complex nuance, and excellent mathematical ability. Written language is based on collections of scratches made by clawed Umiak fingers. See main article: Umiak Language.

I've heard that one of the reasons that insects on earth aren't on average bigger has something to do with the ratio of exoskeleton weight to muscle power. Meaning that the bigger the exoskeleton, the more muscle power required to move it, and that on earth, the bugs have pretty much reached the functional limits of that dynamic.

The chief size limitation on arthropods is due to their primitive oxygen delivery system; they have trachea that must reach into every part of the body to deliver oxygen, and as the body size increases so does the proportion of space taken up by the trachea. The giant insects of the Carboniferous era were able to exist because it was a period of much higher atmospheric oxygen density. However, the heavy chitin exoskeleton would also eventually become a limiting factor, both from a weight and structural strength standpoint.

As one would expect of "higher animals" capable of developing intelligence, Umiak are warm-blooded and have sophisticated circulatory and respiratory systems similar to mammals. Their external skeletons are stronger than an insect's chitin, but they still run into serious weight problems as they get larger, as a giant insect might. But because they evolved on a world with only one-third of Earth's gravity, the weight of the Umiak exoskeleton isn't a problem, and they are agile, swift creatures in their own environment. On a world with Earth-normal gravity, an unmodified Umiak can barely walk, which is one of the reasons why they rely so heavily on biological modification and mechanical augmentation.

Society

Umiak philosophy emphasizes duty, toil, modesty, self-sufficiency, patience, frugality, charity and the subordination of the self to the greater whole. Personal honor is a low priority. As individuals, Umiak are said to be exceedingly polite and well-mannered, overflowing with humility and zeal for the common welfare. As a group, the Umiak are paranoid, intolerant, aggressive and despotic. Though intelligent and highly technologically advanced, the Umiak are nevertheless not terribly innovative. Many of their technologies are copied or stolen from their clients or neighbors, but once such technology is assimilated, the Umiak are masters at putting it to work for them. Umiak are efficiency experts, and tireless, detail-oriented workers. Umiak do not appear to have family units or form pair bonds; an individual's social ties are to its co-workers, its community, and to the state. Umiak individuals are referred to by their job title, appended with a unique identifier that is essentially a serial number.

The various local sub-cultures are likely to be very diverse in their rituals and practices. Drums and tribal totems are commonly found aboard destroyed or captured Umiak vessels, but few specifics are known about their ritual observances. Umiak "religion" seems to be more of a philosophy, that is somewhat bleak and nihilistic, that seeks perfection above and beyond the miserable mortal existence. The complexity of Umiak language does lend itself to poetry; I can imagine Umiak crews during off duty hours composing clicking verse reflecting on the brief spark that is life.

Economy

The Umiak have a “use and discard” mentality. They seem unconcerned about pollution or destruction of environment, perhaps because they do not themselves have to live on the majority of the heavy-gravity planets they control. Few outsiders are allowed into those low-G planets that the Umiak have designated for their own habitation. Though it is rumored that the Umiak home planet has become a nightmarish wasteland, some suggest that the Umiak may now take more care with their own worlds, and leave the ruination to their subjects.

Umiak would usually rather manufacture something new than allocate production infrastructure to upgrade or refit something old. Umiak ship crews are individually responsible for maintenance; self-sufficiency with minimal support is considered paramount. Often a ship's crew will include engineers and workers who took part in constructing it. A damaged or malfunctioning Umiak vessel must usually be repaired on the spot by its crew, using whatever resources are at hand, or else it will be cannibalized for spare parts. Although their technology is in some ways superior to that of the Loroi, the Umiak generally do not upgrade older units, leaving them in service until they are destroyed. Often more than half the ships in the assault fleets that the Umiak throw at Loroi lines are outdated and in sub-optimal condition; this is balanced by the fact that such fleets tend to be two to three times the size of an equivalent, carefully maintained Loroi fleet. This philosophy applies not just to Umiak hardware, but to the Umiak individuals themselves. Apparently, when Umiak crews are assigned to a ship, they are assigned permanently, as if they were equipment.

See also: Races of the Umiak Hierarchy, Umiak Warship Types