In the early 21st century, the mass extinctions were just getting underway. Widespread habitat destruction, coupled with high concentrations of aluminum and mercury in the air and water from humanity’s early attempts at weather control, decimated amphibian populations everywhere. The pollinators and birds came next. Our short-term answer was to gather samples of all the remaining species possible (and some of the extinct ones, too), and put ‘em all together in one place until we could learn how to undo our stupid mistakes.
Unfortunately, the resource wars started before we got the chance.
China didn’t give any warning -- just dropped several neutron bombs throughout America’s heartland and stormed up through Mexico. The DNA-cache happened to be near ground-zero, in the basement of a university science lab along with hundreds of other interesting chemicals. Let’s just say that the place wasn’t exactly up to earthquake code. As far as we can tell, the blastwave knocked everything around real good, shattering hundred of vials of DNA samples and biochemical research into one big, organic soup. The radiation took care of the rest.
What rose from the ruined city several years later would have given Godzilla a bad day. Standing 40 meters high and weighing in at over 6000 tonnes -- roughly 10 times the size of a large African elephant -- the Hellephant went on to claim the breadbasket of the Americas as its territory, and there wasn’t a damned thing anyone could do about it.
At least the Chinese never were able to capitalize on their investment.
The Hellephant resembles a bull elephant, except that it has three trunks instead of one, (with serrated teeth lining their insides). It sports the ridged shell of an alligator snapping turtle, the horn and bone plating of an armadillo and one gigantic scorpion’s tail. It also kept its tusks. The beast is short-tempered, impatient, highly territorial and mean as a saltwater crocodile. Bad news all over.
It’s also damned near impossible to kill, due to its regenerative capabilities. If you actually manage to puncture its defenses, the plating begins to heal over in a matter of minutes, forming a barnacle at the site of the wound to cover it and provide additional protection. Once the skin underneath has finished healing, the barnacle will just drop off. And that’s where things get interesting.
If a discarded barnacle is left alone for about a month, it will hatch into a baby hellephant. Babies have a variable number of trunks (1-6), though the turtle shell and armadillo plating is always present. They don’t get the scorpion tail until they reach mating age (the better to stab each other with), and never grow much larger than a regular elephant. Additionally, each baby hellephant receives a random special from the following list:
- Camouflage (like the chameleon)
- The ability to shoot spider webbing from one of its trunks
- Heightened senses (heat-sense, hearing, etc)
- Claws on the forepaws
- Spectacular jumping ability
- Sentience ( ~ 1% )
Some human communities have managed to tame the babies and use them as a sort of perimeter defense/cavalry. Having a baby or two around also makes a site less likely to come under attack by the original Hellephant, which is handy.
Health and Diet
The Hellephant and its offspring will eat just about anything -- plant matter, dead bodies and garbage are all broken down within minutes by its serrated trunks In fact, a hellephant can stick one of its trunks into a pile of “food” and chew/swallow the whole mass from within. This is not a very pleasant way to die.
Being born of extreme genetic mutation, however, hellephant offspring do come with a variety of interesting health concerns. Some will sport vestigal body parts -- stunted arms, wings, heads, etc. -- that can rot away if not cared for. The Hellephant itself is amazingly hardy and no estimates have yet been made for its natural lifespan.
A tiny percentage of hellephant offspring are born with extreme intelligence, and that mysterious gift of self-awareness. The few that have survived adolescence have banded together for protection, developing a rather reclusive community somewhere near the ruins of old Chicago. The sentience seems to breed true, however, and they could become a major player in the area within the next century.