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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Story By JA Baker[]

Red In Tooth And Claw
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written September 12th, 2020
Story Era Dark Age Era

You would have to have been blind, drunk, of blind drunk, not to see the emergence wave. A normal, controlled hyperspace jump is already an impressive event, on any part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a catastrophic miss-jump is like that is several orders of magnitudes more impressive. And we were out there, actively looking for ships coming down the old Exodus Road, keeping an eye out for any word from the "Home Clans", still back in the Kerensky Cluster and Pentagon Worlds.

The ship was, well, it was a twisted, broken pile of scrap when we reached it. Hyperspace jumps require the careful manipulation of almost unimaginable energies, which, misdirected, can and will tear even the strongest of ships asunder. And, unfortunately for her crew, a Carrack class transport is only a warship by the loosest of definitions. IFF identified her as the Solar Blaze, last reported under the control of Clan Coyote, but an examination of the wreck indicated that she'd been carrying members of several Clans. All had been members of the scientist, merchant and technician casts; not a single warrior among them.

Unusually, the ships computers hadn't been encrypted, which after years of fighting the Blakists, did seem a little unusual. But it soon became clear that it had been a deliberate act on her crews part, as they wanted whoever they encountered full and unrestricted access to their records. Well, we set up a standalone system and started the deep dive into their records. While the main computer had been somewhat mangled in the miss-jump, they had several back-ups that were in better shape, and by piecing them together, we were able to get an idea of what had happened.

It seemed that someone within the Scientist cast had wanted to create the ultimate warriors, to go far beyond what their genetic manipulation and eugenics programs had created. They wanted stronger, faster and more resilient soldiers, ready for a second run on Terra, and they managed to get the approval of their Khan to explore possibilities. The records indicated that they found a hidden cache of genetic legacies that had belonged to Clan Smoke Jaguar before their annihilation. Using these as a template, they sort to enhance their genetic structure with DNA from various animals: Crocodile DNA to gain enhanced resistance to CO2, Ghost Bear DNA for added resistance to the cold, and Wolf DNA for improved visual acuity. This last addition seemed to have triggered something, something hidden in the junk DNA, the genetic leftovers of a million generations of adaptation and mutation.

Whatever it was, it seemed to unlock something unexpected within the test subjects, something long forgotten, and perhaps best left so.

The scientists had no way of knowing that they were prying the lid off of Pandora's Box. They just saw a great leap forward, an unassailable edge for their Clan over all others. So they doubled-down, manipulating the DNA, creating a retrovirus in the hopes of being able to enhance their existing Touman. And according to the fractured records we recovered, they had every reason to believe that they were on the right track. The first sibko created from the altered genes seemed to be successful: the cadets were stronger, faster, more aggressive, but unusually for Clanners, seemed more inclined towards working as a team, with an obvious leader, a young woman named Selene, emerging. They passed the usual training with almost no drop-outs, the ones who did evidently choosing to join the Scientist cast, going to work on the same project that had created them.

A salvaged memo from the lead scientist indicated that they'd made several remarkable advances, and had opened up possible new avenues to explore.

The remaining cadets all passed their Trials, each one earning at least a Star Commanders rank, except Selene, who achieved Star Captain. Oddly, they intentionally allowed the trials to descend into melee, working together to bring down their opponent's, making sure that each was accredited at least two kills. It seems that the Khan was impressed with the results, and not only allowed the program to continue, but to be expanded, with multiple sibkos being created from the modified genes. While the basic bloodlines remained Smoke Jaguar, the warriors were assigned to various units within the Coyote Touman.

Problem was these new warriors didn't exactly play by Clan rules. They worked as a unit, teaming up to take down bigger opponents. Other Warriors complained, and each was met in a Circle of Equals and handed their heads, once quite literally. If the photos provided were to be believed. But they got results, and ultimately that's all that matters in the grand scheme of things, even in Clan space. As more and more of the new, "enhanced" sibkos graduated, the Coyotes found themselves with an undeniable edge over the others. They had warriors who didn't think and act like a bunch of honor obsessed egomaniacs, but rather like soldiers willing to put the mission and the Clan first.

By this point, Selene had achieved the rank of Star Colonel, and had been gifted with the Bloodname of Moon, from which her genetic template had been taken. As such, it was Star Colonel Selene Moon of the newly formed 182nd Striker Cluster who was called before the Grand Council to testify as to her origins. Even under oath, on her honor as a warrior, she said nothing about the altered DNA that had been used to create her and her sibkin, instead insisting that she was simply the result of recovered Smoke Jaguar genetic legacies. The other Clans protested: the Coyotes had accessed the repository without the knowledge nor the permission of the Council, and they demanded that the recovered legacies be shared amongst the rest of them.

If only they had known what was to follow...

Selene Moon refused, stating that they would not allow their "Pack" to be split up and treated as something to be shared around by outsiders. She challenged the entire Council to a Trial of Refusal against their ruling, and one by one killed every single warrior sent against her. Her tactics were viscous, even for someone born of Smoke Jaguar stock, and surprised even the Coyotes. But, by then, it was too late. An entire generation of new warriors were testing out, each one loyal to Selene Moon before all others. They violently attacked all who attempted to separate them, to send them to other units. Even battle hardened Elementals struggled to subdue them, as they fought as one, overcoming their opponents with strength of numbers.

Then... it got worse. Many of the warriors who had been attacked started to show unusual changes in character, becoming more and more aligned with those they had been sent to subdue. Soon, Selene Moon had an army, ready to fight, kill and die at her command. And that was when the wash-outs who had become scientists struck, releasing a modified retro virus that spread through bodily fluids, infecting all those it came across with the same genetic alterations as the new warriors. The virus spread like wildfire, and soon it was estimated that the entire population of Kirin had been...changed.

Selene Moon was declared Khan of Clan Coyote without even a superficial trial, something that was protested by the other Clans. More trials were fought, all won by Khan Selene Moon and her handpicked trinary of fellow 'enhanced' warriors.

As the ascendant Coyotes became stronger and stronger, the other Clans plotted and conspired against them in secret. Unfortunately for them, the... I don't know what you'd call it, but whatever it was that made people suddenly unquestionably loyal to Selene Moon above all others. They had spread further than anyone thought possible. Delios, Priori and Tamaron were covertly attacked with the same retrovirus that had been used on Kirin, and soon they too were under the sway of Clan Coyote. Soon, it became clear that the Free Guilds were falling under the sway of Selene Moon, many already calling for her to be made ilKhan.

This was apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Feeling increasingly threatened by the seemingly unstoppable Coyotes, the other Clans struck hard and fast. Even going so far as to resort to the kind of indiscriminate orbital bombardment and use of weapons of mass destruction that had brought about the Ares Conventions in the first place. Unfortunately for them, the infiltration of their respective Toumans and Watches was so deep that not only did the Coyotes learn of the impending attack long before it happened, but was in many cases able to subvert missions, redirecting them against other opposition targets instead.

Thus began a Second Wars of Reaving, pitting Khan Selene Moon's Coyotes and their subverted agents against pretty much everyone else in Clan Space.

That war was apparently biblical in nature, with several worlds rendered permanently uninhabitable. While the other Clans continued with their strict adherence to the Old Wars. Bidding before battle and only engaging in one-on-one combat, the Coyotes descended upon their foes like their namesakes. Their individual warriors, even their Khan, seemed to possess no fear of death, and would willingly and without hesitation, throw themselves at the enemy to ensure victory. The only thing that seemed to matter to them was the survival of the Clan, or Pack as they increasingly rendered to it as. Every prisoner they took, every lower cast member that fell under their control was exposed to the retrovirus. Every victory only swelled their ranks, pushing the other Clans to even more desperate tactics.

It was then that a small group of scientists, merchants and technicians decided that the only hope for survival was to escape down the Exodus Road, and seek the aid of their Abjured brethren.

Taking control of the JumpShip Solar Blaze from a shipyard where it had been undergoing refit and repair, they jumped out of the Kerensky Cluster. Keeping off of the main shipping routes, hot-loading their jump-drive and generally playing as fast and loose with their safeties as was physically possible. They almost made it, to, getting within a single jump of our outer pickets when disaster struck.

See, in order to prove their story, they had brought with them a member of the Merchant Caste who had been infected with the retrovirus. He had been kept in strict isolation throughout the voyage, but somehow he managed to infect one of his guards, making them open his cell. They then started infecting more and more of the crew, until they were discovered, and a vicious battle started. The fighting crippled one of their two DropShips, the twisted remains of which had still been attached to its docking collar when we fond the Solar Blaze, but they evidently triggered an attempted super-jump, which resulted in the deaths of everyone on board, and the effective destruction of the ship.

However, there was no sign of the second DropShip, and the remains recovered did not account for all those supposedly on board.

Rechecking the ships navigation database, we were able to deduce that they had stopped in a system known to the visited by a number of small pirate bands who operate in the area, and possessed at least one habitable plant. The reports indicate that the local pirate bands seem to be unusually well organized of late...

The End

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