The first thing one ought to understand about the lyrikants is that while they differ from humans in appearance and biology, there are many similarities between these two species that have been invaluable in bringing two alien cultures together. They have dealt with many of the same problems as mankind, and they have a constant need to create and discover, much as we do.
This short introduction will help shed some light on key details of the lyrikant species, including their biology, evolution, and historical culture. This information is vital to understanding these beings, and if humans and lyrikants are to work together to form a new civilization we must be able to comprehend our new friends, understand how they function and how they have reached this point in their society, and we must be able to understand both our similarities and our differences.
~ Mackenzie Hantaywee Chase, Human-Lyrikant Interpreter
Part 1 : Biology
Lyrikants label themselves as belonging to the gene-clan Kanats-Latyrs, and humans have categorized them under the new phylum Dynamiphora. Their species possesses attributes of dynamic DNA, and in the early stages of their lives they undergo phases of partial metamorphosis, with environmental stresses and other factors determining the manner in which their deoxyribonucleic acid arranges itself. Lyrikants gain roughly 90% of their genetic pattern from their parents, while the other 10% is highly mutative. They only undergo this process for the first several years of their lives, although considering their naturally long lifespan this period can last up to a decade.
Because of their dynamic DNA, lyrikants are an incredibly diverse species, with no two individuals sharing the same appearance. The lyrikant body plan varies between four-limbed and six limbed individuals, with four-limbed individuals having the capacity to develop strong, flexible wing membranes in rotational sockets, which extend from their forelimbs. Even with this genetic distinctiveness within a single species it is simple enough to trace genetic markers back through lineage, though it is more difficult to trace siblings and extended relatives.
The majority of lyrikant diversity is evident in their external ornamentations, which take the form of frills, cartilaginous plates and spikes, elaborate cranial crests, and feather-like fur extensions. Lyrikants of both sexes possess large manes around their chests and torsos, which they gained previously along the evolutionary chain during a colder period in their planet’s history. Lyrikants are largely built and well muscled, though flight-capable lyrikants are more leanly built and have lighter skeletons, as well as large air sacks to give buoyancy. Lyrikant skeletal structures are composed mainly of a cartilaginous material, rather than bone. As a rule, the females are larger and more vibrantly colored than the males, and in the early days of lyrikant civilization their species maintained a matriarchal hierarchy.
Primarily carnivores, lyrikants evolved as pack hunters, roaming in groups of up to thirty individuals, and are suitably equipped to hunt the native herbivores, as well as to fight off rival predators. Lyrikants are specialized for long chases after ambushing their targets – they have long legs, very large lungs, and a complex system of vocal cues for communication between other hunters. When not hunting they still communicate vocally, but supplement with body gestures.
Lyrikants have a complex respiratory system, with one primary windpipe for inhalation and another similar structure surrounding the windpipe. This structure is a kind of resonating chamber, leading to dorsal vents usually obscured by the mane and other ornamentations. Lyrikants produce a broad range of sounds that are similar to flutes, however they are capable of reaching tones that are lower than those humans can hear. Lyrikants are polyphonic singers, and even young lyrikants can create a diverse range of tones and octaves with their resonating chamber.
In their early history, when lyrikants were still pack hunters, they possessed a pair of fangs in the back of their mouths which acted like hypodermic needles, inserting a fast-acting sedative and venom combination into the circulatory systems of their prey. In the modern age, these fangs have recessed, and it is very rare for a lyrikant to be born with them anymore. Lyrikants also no longer possess their venom sacks, though the complex venom has been efficiently synthesized in the modern age and is used as a tranquilizer and euthanasia to painlessly kill livestock.
Lyrikants of both sexes are equipped with a kind of carapace on their rear torso, which – while it could be considered defensive armoring – is used entirely for reproduction. The male carapace is significantly less prominent than those of the females. Female carapaces remain hard and inflexible until they are exposed to specific pheromones, which are not produced by either sex at any set time. Instead, lyrikant mating fluxes are determined by availability of food as well as stress signals in the environment, along with compatibility of prospective mates.
As they evolved, these fluxes became more voluntary, though a stressed lyrikant would still be relatively incapable of mating. Mated pairs are established through courtship, and mates become bonded for life, and will only break apart under considerable trauma. Under the necessary conditions – and when in the presence of an available male – a female lyrikant’s carapace will become flexible, and the hard exterior shell will be shed to expose soft, spongy tissue infused with gametes and coated by a thin membrane.
The male’s reproductive tract consists of an exterior shell which is shed during mating, revealing testicular sacks along their sides which are shielded by a tough cartilage shell. Both the underside of the carapace and the dorsal side are equipped with tubes, which during mating are extended to the female’s spongy tissue to deliver sperm cells. The tubes themselves are coated with very thin, sensitive feelers, which help distribute the gametes throughout the inert tissue in the female’s reproductive chamber. Pheromones are the only necessary trigger for the delivery of gametes from the male – however, a degree of stimulation is required for the female to fully absorb the gametes into the tissue of her carapace.
Female lyrikants have sensitive sections of their skin located on the back and sides around the carapace, which are again only exposed during mating. The male can stimulate these patches in any manner of ways, and during this time the female’s gametes will become fertilized. Over the next few hours up to a day, her carapace will swell, and the gamete-infused tissue will become enveloped in a thicker membrane.
After mating, the female’s carapace will re-grow within a few days, protecting her incubation chamber. The previously inert tissue will become the template for her offspring, and she will supply nutrients to them through a second absorption membrane located inside her body, close to her gastrointestinal system. Nutrients she consumes will be absorbed at the cellular level into the incubation chamber, which will become filled with a thick fluid as the offspring develop.
Lyrikant pregnancies last between four and seven months, depending on the availability of food and a stable pack territory. If there are severe changes in the environment during incubation, the development to the young will be slowed to allow the mother to adjust. If food is plentiful, the young will develop more quickly. Lyrikants often give birth to three offspring, although two or four is not uncommon. It is rare for more than four to develop due to the stress it would place on the mother, though a single kit is equally rare. A mother lyrikant will usually only give birth to a single kit if there is a severe depletion in her food source, or if her pack does not help provide a stable environment. The embryos are attached to the mother’s carapace by a thick, flexible membrane, which only starts to break once the young are capable of maintaining their own bodily functions.
During the pregnancy, the carapace will have built up as a protective barrier against the elements and physical injury, and during the birth the mother must scrape away at her own carapace to hasten its shedding process, a process which can result in spikes of pain if she grazes the sensitive internal sections of the incubation chamber. It can take up to two hours for the membrane to detach from the young, and it can take longer for the carapace to be fully broken. The offspring are somewhat capable of assisting the mother with this, scratching at the carapace from the inside.
Lyrikant birth is not unlike the process of hatching from an egg, and for this reasons the offspring are often referred to as hatchlings, as well as kits. Newborn lyrikants are fed by their parents, usually with bits of meat from the pack’s kills. In extreme situations, lyrikant mothers and fathers are capable of internally cannibalizing their own tissue and offering it to their young as a meaty slush.
Part 2 : Evolution
[ While this record has been slightly embellished in the interest of memorable reading, these facts are still accepted as accurate ]
While other animals native to Lapache exhibited similar diverse mutative qualities, the traits of fully dynamic DNA were most prominent in the lyrikants, who have not evolved much physiologically since the eras predating their sentience. Originally they were pack carnivores, roaming in groups of up to thirty individuals, which were commanded by the largest females in the group. Lyrikants did not have many natural predators, save for a few species of large ambush reptiles called Gliding Raptors, and were already a prominent species by the time they developed sentience.
Unlike with humans, whose evolution was accelerated by the discovery and usage of fire, the combined discovery of moth silk and animal trapping began pushing lyrikants towards civilization.
The discovery of silk was, like fire on Earth, mostly accidental. Certain lyrikants had been noticing silk moths for quite some time, and since lyrikant intelligence was similar to that of elephants on Earth, they were naturally curious. A few lyrikants from one of the larger packs started watching the moth cocoons hatch, and when the insects started spinning silk the lyrikants took some of it and played with it.
Over time, they started making more elaborate things with the silk, separating the thick strands and tying them together in chaotic knots. Their fascination with silk helped with they discovery of trapping, since up until that point they had only hunted in the traditional pack way: separate and corner targets. Through fortunate happenstance, during one pursuit of a target, they chased the animal into a pit. Some of the hunters wondered if the event might be repeated, and a few days later they specifically chased their prey to the same pit. Like the first time, it fell in and broke its legs, making the hunt substantially easier.
Over the course of several years upon decades, this particular pack of lyrikants kept using this strategy, eventually going one step further to dig out their own small pits and drag ferns to cover them. At the same time, other members of the pack kept experimenting with the silk, gathering it as the moths hatched and even bringing some larvae back to their pack nests.
After one incident that involved a lyrikant getting their foot stuck in a looped braid of silk, they tried doing the same thing with their prey, and after several unsuccessful attempts at chasing their prey into these snares, they left a few out near the plants the prey animals eat. Like the pit trap, the prey eventually got stuck in the very strong snares, and the lyrikant pack hunters began using the pits and snares even more.
When they met up with other packs, they began showing off these new hunting techniques, and more lyrikant packs started using pit and silk traps to hunt prey. Several lyrikant packs started grouping up in order to experiment with silk, since at the time the only large nest of silk moths was located in the Southern fern savannahs on Lapache’s main continent.
With more lyrikants living in close proximity, and with traps to help make the hunts for efficient, the packs had more time to experiment and play around with the silk. This kind of experimentation continued for decades, and more packs started clustering together as they started using traps to hunt. However, though the packs remained in relatively close proximity to each other, rather than dividing into smaller roaming packs, they still had to keep moving in accordance with the migration patterns of their prey.
When the prey moved up to the northern breeding grounds, the lyrikants attempted to take the silk moths with them. They had been trying this for several years, trying to move the moth larvae and the adult insects to other plants near their nests, not realizing that the moths only bred and lived on species of plants with specific nutrients. Finally, one attempt to capture the moths by a group of hatchling lyrikants was rather successful, and they were able to seize a considerable number of larvae and adults, keeping them in the large oval-shapes abandoned nests of Gliding Raptors, which are similar to earthly wasp nests.
These very sturdy nests were effective cages for the moths, but the real reason this harvest attempt was successful was due to the fact that the lyrikants had taken moth egg sacks as well. These spongy sacks are fused to the branches of the flowering nectar ferns the moths feed upon, and this was the first time the lyrikants had actually taken the plants with them when they tried to move the moths. Eventually, as they followed the prey herds with the moth cages in tow, they figured out that the nectar ferns were vital to the moths’ survival.
After learning that they could capture and raise the moths beyond of their natural range – it helped that they figured out how to actually transplant the ferns as well – the lyrikant packs decided to try the same thing with their prey, using silk snares to capture them and bring them back to the nests. This initial experiment with capturing prey sparked the lyrikants’ interest in domestication, and more than three centuries after their first discovery of a pit trap the packs were able to stay in one place and bring their food to them. Over time they learned better ways to keep their animals captive, as well as better techniques of keeping silk moths. The lyrikants learned weaving after carefully examining the way moth cocoons were built, and they also realized that they could make the silk change colors if they coated or soaked it in colored plant or mineral materials.
Lyrikants used this newfound skill to create decorative silk pieces, which they began exchanging among the packs simply for fun and enjoyment. Lyrikants also made dyed silk tassels, which they often either tied around their legs, tails, or crests. Over time they started exchanging these tassels and other decorative pieces more and more, and certain dye and weave patterns became recognizable and highly appreciated.
Messages and emotions became connected to certain kinds of tassel patterns, and lyrikants began communicating with silk pieces as well as their vocalizations and body language. This was the beginning of the written and spoken modern lyrikant language. As their lives became more complex in the early stages of civilization, their forms of communication had to expand as well.
The evolution of lyrikant society was given another boost with the discovery of resin, discovered once again by accident after a flying lyrikant adventured out into the dangerous tree-filled tar pits that occupy much of Lapache. While lyrikants had known about resin and its sticky qualities, they hadn’t yet figured out how to put it to good use. This resin is naturally abundant and would later be manufactured as well, and during the early stages of civilization it was used for a variety of purposes, primarily as a sealant and building material. It was often used to encase large woven sheets of silk, forming a rigid material that was used in the same way early humans may have used wood or stone.
Even as they evolved, lyrikants remained a closely interconnected species, never experiencing wars or large-scale disputes involving racism – since all lyrikants are inherently different, they have no bias based on appearance or. However, it is known that they experienced conflicts over territory and resources, much like humans, as well as particular disputes over silk. Despite these conflicts, massive wars were not generally experienced by their society. They did have to deal with extensive periods of isolation, which they consider to be worse than wars. Cultural gaps were known to develop between clans as the lyrikants expanded, and they have worked hard to keep their society connected at its core, although they do not shun ingenuity, creativity, and new experiences.
Of all the materials the lyrikants have created, their silk is among the most prized and valuable. Originally, silk was necessary simply for textile weaving and snare-building material, and they did coat large pieces in resin to harden it for an elaborate building material.
However, in the early years of lyrikant expansion their chemists – who were little more than members of packs and clans who intensely studied in the many interesting materials that surrounded them – discovered a chemical cocktail made from abundant natural compounds that could be used to manipulate the microscopic patterns of the silk. For this reason, modern lyrikants have a greater cultural respect for chemists, rather than physicists or engineers, although they still value such professions. These early chemists developed a technique using resin molds laced with the chemical cocktail, which were then filled with moth larvae who spun carbon nanotube-like patterns under the influence of the chemical combination.
This new technique dramatically increased the strength and resilience of the silk while preserving a measure of flexibility. This discovery triggered a cultural and industrial revolution, and this silk was the precursor material to the more metallic modern carbonsilk. This new silk was used to build larger, more complex, and more durable structures such as buildings and caravans, and would be used to create cities and ships as the lyrikants expanded.
The resin used in these molds was harvested from trees known as tar needles, large and pointy trees that grow out of tar pools, and was collected either by flying lyrikants or by carefully traversing the tar pits on rafts made of the spongy, buoyant, and very slick bark of another kind of tree. The resin was stored in ceramic containers until it was heated and liquefied for molding or lacquering, and along with silk it was one of the major trade commodities during lyrikant cultural expansion. In their more advanced eras, resin was still produced in artificial tar pit gardens, collected en mass either by workers or machinery.
Disease : Shivering Tar
Due to their diverse biology, lyrikants in general are not susceptible to widespread disease, certainly not in the proportions experienced among mankind. In their history their kind have experienced psychological disorders, and ailments such as physical strain conditions, but truly deadly viruses and plagues were not a problem until later on in their civilized stages, most specifically during their era of expansion and permanent habitation in space. The origin of this disease is unknown, and it is simply known as Shivering Tar.
Shivering Tar is the greatest exception to their rule of disease resistance, as it is a virus capable of spreading in plague proportions through the lyrikant population, harnessing the bodies of lyrikant kits to spread and evolve. About 90% of a young lyrikant’s DNA is gained from their mother and father, however the remaining 10% is dynamic, undergoing a mutative process via environmental factors during the first few years of a lyrikant’s life. After their early life, a lyrikant’s DNA is intact and no longer mutative. For this reason, Shivering Tar was most effective against lyrikant children – the virus was able to feed off the mutative properties in their DNA, and was able to mutate itself faster, reproduce faster, and spread for effectively throughout the lyrikant population.
Shivering Tar is a volatile virus that attaches itself to the mutative gene strands in lyrikant kits, forcing their DNA to mutate more aggressively. The virus benefits from this because of an increase in proteins during metamorphosis, which the virus uses to reproduce and evolve. The young lyrikants, on the other hand, can’t tolerate the strain of increased mutation, and their bodies begin to slowly decompose under the stress of unstable mutations.
This necrosis produces a black bile, which swells in bruises underneath the skin, giving lyrikant children the appearance of being spattered with tar. As their bodies degrade, their begin to lose homeostasis, and they shiver uncontrollably as the disease advances – hence the name ‘Shivering Tar’. The decomposition of their bodies under the strain of excess mutation can take up to a month, resulting in a slow and horribly painful death.
Adult lyrikants were relatively immune to this violent disease until it mutated through several strains and generations, at which point adult lyrikants were at risk of the disease finding its way through gaps in their immune system. It was around this time that the Mercy Moon killings were committed, and not long after this the distinct clans joined together to combat the disease. Through their conjoined efforts a treatment was found, and later on a cure. However, the disease still lingered in certain areas, particularly on the planet, Lapache.
When a group of humans accidentally came to Lapache through the Ellison Rip, about four decades prior to the first real contact between the species, they were exposed to the Shivering Tar disease. However, while the disease is generally fatal when it attacks diverse lyrikant physiologies, it could not do the same with human biology. While the virus itself had become mutative, without the additional natural metamorphosis of lyrikant children it could only mutate so far within the humans.
Instead of killing them, the virus evolved a twisted symbiosis, mutating the humans and sustaining itself inside of them while keeping its hosts alive. While those first unfortunate victims hosted an active and volatile strain of the disease, through several generations of reproduction the virus became inert within its hosts, despite the fact that it was transmitted genetically through the decedents of the the first travelers to Lapache.
I really like the history I’ve created for the lyrikants. I was trying to think of a good reason for them to start expanding as a culture and civilization, and I started thinking about fire for the human race. Lyrikants wouldn’t have the kind of uses our ancestors had for fire, so what else might have driven their evolution?
Then I remembered the carbonsilk I wrote about in a chapter of Janissary’s Rise, and I decided: hey, why not use silk, and alien silk at that? Silk is fun, and it could be very useful. Then I had the idea that lyrikant chemists could find a way to make the silk act more like carbon nanotubes, arranging itself in patterns that are more stable. Now, I’m not sure how lyrikant silk got around to becoming metallic carbonsilk, but let’s just say there were nanomachines and gene engineering involved.
The one thing I realize I still haven’t defined for their history is what kind of spirituality they have. I spent more time creating their philosophy and what kind of values they have. I did however have an idea for giant bioluminescent hive organisms that feed on electricity. These creatures maybe used to swarm thunderstorms and consume lightning until the lyrikants got around to creating electrical power, in which case these organisms started targeting their generators. Maybe the lyrikants solve this by placing large generators in the middle of nowhere for the swarms to feed on, and maybe they have a ritualistic approach to solving what is pretty much an engineering problem. Maybe I really want to call these things monoliths, because that sounds vague and mysterious and maybe a little frightening.
Maybe lyrikants have some kind of spiritual connection to silk moths, since silk was the prime accelerator of their evolution. I’m not really sure yet.