The Matochkin Earth Star
by Rik Kershaw-Moore
Art by the U.S. Department of Energy
Damage: The contact poison does 4 dice damage and causes nausea followed by sudden paralysis. If the victim can make a successful HT roll, the 2 dice damage is taken as well as DX reduced by 5 for a day. The poison takes 2 rounds to take effect.
Weight: 270 lbs
Habitat: dark, moist areas
On October 30, 1961 at 11:32am Moscow time, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics detonated a massive 50-megaton atomic device over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. In less than a second the energy releases exceeded the total power of all the explosives used during World War II, including the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities by the United States. The giant swirling mushroom cloud that followed rose over 40 miles into the sky while the atmospheric disturbance generated by the explosion orbited the earth three times. This super bomb had absolutely no significance as a military weapon but was designed instead to be a one-time demonstration of force in a superpower game of nuclear one-upmanship.
However, what Andrei Sakharov, the other designers of the super-bomb, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev failed to consider was the lasting effect that such a nuclear explosion would have on the environment. Particularly they failed to realise the effect the blast would have on one species of fungi; the Matochkin Earth Star (Gasteromycete Matochkini).
At ground zero on that fateful morning was a clump of almost mature Matochkin Earth Stars, and as it had been raining early in the day, the rays of the Earth Star had uncurled and the fruiting bodies were fully exposed when nuclear chaos rained from the skies.
Normal Earth Stars are relatives of the puffball fungus, whose fruiting bodies are stomach-shaped sacs, which are protected by a number of arms or rays that are folded over the body during dry weather, making the Earth Star look something like a pale yellow onion. However, once it rains, these arms uncurl forming a star shape, which has enough force to raise the fruiting body clear of the forest floor to a height of several inches.
After being exposed to the intense gamma radiation that followed the Russian super-bomb the genetic structure of the Matochkin Earth Stars was altered in a number of highly unusual and dramatic ways. First, the cells in the rays which lift the Earth star off the ground became more akin to muscle fibers which allowed the Matochkin Earth Stars more freedom of movement. Second, as a result of the radiation, the Matochkin Earth Stars began to grow bigger and bigger, until eventually their growth stabilized at around 4 feet in diameter. The surface of the Peridium (the outer covering of the Earth Star) is now covered in thousands of tiny tendrils that constantly writhe when wet, but will hang limp in dry weather. Each of these tendrils has at its tip a tiny blob of a highly lethal neuro-toxin that paralyses the victim's central nervous system; once exposed, victims suffocate to death. Finally, the Matochkin Earth Star has the aroma of rotting meat.
This gigantism means that the Matochkin Earth Stars can now launch its spores with even greater velocity than before. Usually the Matochkin Earth Star will release its spores towards the end of autumn which such velocity that the airfoil shaped spores are often recorded at altitudes in excess of 10,000 feet. Once in the atmosphere, the spores can glide for many thousands of miles before coming to earth. Once a spore has landed on a suitable spot, it will begin to germinate. Such spots are generally in damp areas with plenty of shade. At first the Matochkin Earth Star will grow as deep beneath ground as a mass of fibrous hyphae whilst it waits for winter to pass. Once winter has passed, the Matochkin Earth Star begins to put itself towards the surface.
Here it waits, attracting prey towards itself using the smell of rotting meat as a lure, killing anything it attracts with the deadly nerve toxins secreted by the tendrils. The Matochkin Earth Star then secretes a powerful digestive enzyme and sends out more hyphae to feed on the resulting compounds. It will take about a day for the Matochkin Earth Star to devour a carcass before it needs to move on. Matochkin Earth Stars only ever move at night, and they will always try to find quiet dark spots to make their new lair. Finally in late autumn, the Matochkin Earth Star will seek out high ground, from which it can discharge its spores.
The government of the USSR first became aware of the existence of the giant Matochkin Earth Stars in the spring of 1964 when an entire platoon of men were wiped out when they wandered into an area inhabited by three such specimens whilst on a night exercise in the Krasino. Since then the USSR has managed to keep their existence a secret. There is evidence to suggest that they have gone to a lot of trouble to make sure no one learns the truth about these bizarre fungi, including the setting up of a special task force to deal with the Matochkin Earth Star and its victims.
Any area that becomes the center of a Matochkin Earth Star infection is usually cordoned off while a detachment from the 12th Glavnoye Upravleniye Ministerstvo (12th GUMO) deals with the threat. The 12th GUMO is the Russian Nuclear arsenal defence unit, which can be considered to be equivalent in training and materiel to Spetsnaz (p. SO39).
12th GUMO are able to track the Matochkin Earth Star because it has a unique radioactive signature that can be tracked by satellite. This is why wherever a Matochkin Earth Star lands a 12th GUMO team is not far behind to help pick up the pieces.
Even today, following the collapse of communism and the fragmentation of the old USSR, this task force is still in evidence, and still dealing with Matochkin Earth Star infestations. The last truly serious outbreak was in 1992, when 193 people died during an infestation at the nuclear power plant in Voronezh.While it is thought to be solely a Russian problem, there have been a number of incidents involving Matochkin Earth Stars in other European Countries including Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Italy and Ireland. So far there has only been a single reported case of Matochkin Earth Star anywhere in the United States. In 1973, a single Matochkin Earth Star spore landed in Bettles Field, Alaska.
The Biological Weapon
The player's government has learnt about the existence of the Matochkin Earth Star and believes that it will make the perfect biological weapon. The characters are tasked with acquiring either a living specimen of the Matochkin Earth Star or its spores so that they can be studied.
This mission will be doubly tough since not only will the characters need to be inserted into one of the most well protected and radioactive areas in the world, the Russian Nuclear test facility on Novaya Zemlya, but they will also have to deal with a huge number of hungry Matochkin Earth Stars.
The Presidium Incident
At 21:43 last night, person or persons unknown fired an RPG-11 anti-rocket into room 1013 of the Presidium Hotel in Washington D.C from an adjacent building. In the ensuing blaze, 11 guests died along with the occupant of room 1013: Dr. Yuri Kruglov, a visiting Mycologist from the Irkutsk State University, in Siberia.
Kruglov travelled to the west with the express intention of alerting the rest of the world to the dangers of the Matochkin Earth Star. He brought with him a fairly immature specimen, which he has deposited for safe keeping in the Arlington National Cemetery. Before he died he talked to a number of other scientists as well as members of the press. In every case he told them about the specimen he had brought with it, but only hinted as to its location.
The characters are all members of a law enforcement agency assigned to bring the killers to justice. They should quickly learn who Kruglov talked to and when they start to die as well it should be apparent that these people need to be protected from 12th GUMO who were sent to silence Kruglov. Then the body count begins to rise and the characters will find themselves facing the reality of a giant killer mushroom on the loose.
Death in Middle America
A single Matochkin Earth Star spore has been wafted into a small town in Idaho. Here in the ideal conditions needed to promote growth, the Matochkin Earth Star has germinated and is slowly decimating the town. The characters are all members of the local community trying to work out what is killing these people.
Shortly after the characters start to investigate these deaths, a research team from the Centre of Disease Control in Atlanta arrives to begin its investigation. These guys are really 12th GUMO come to sort out the problem. They have orders to kill anyone or anything that gets in their way, including the characters.
Article publication date: February 16, 2001
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