An introduction to Ashlesa

Octal
An Octoform ignores a Human photographer

When humans first orbited Ashlesa 5.2 (the second moon in orbit around the fifth “planet” — itself a brown dwarf — orbiting the star Ashlesa) , they were struck by its geology. A single vast plain, desert-like, with the occasional oasis dotting the landscape, broken only by chains of geysers, some thousands of miles across. Subterranean rivers ran under the hard crust, emerging only rarely. Life flourished both outside and in the geyser chains, but they seemed completely distinct. Not only was life in one of the “geylands” (as the explorers called them) different from that outside, it was distinct from every other geyland. They were each an entire closed ecosystem, biochemically (and in one case, physically) separated from the rest of the planet.

A team landing near the equator were met by titanic, 8-limbed, starfish-like creatures, slowly walking in a widely separated herd. Each “foot” was an obviously sensitive organ, feeling along, apparently sniffing and grazing on the thin scum that covers much of the broad plain. Its limbs were dotted with small, black, featureless eyes, largely facing up. The creatures, “Octoforms” as the explorers called them, completely ignored the human explorers.

A flying pentaform harpoons a running triform.
A dirigible pentaform harpoons a running triform.

Landing near the Boreal geyland, the explorers discovered 40 cm wide,  three-limbed creatures they called “triforms” happily grazing on some sort of biochemical sludge at the edges of the glacier. While observing them, the explorers were startled when a harpoon shot from the sky and speared one, followed by a crack like a gunshot. Floating silently in the air above the triforms, its shadow cast to the north of its prey, hovered a balloon. Five arms reached out and hugged the envelope. A small cloud of steam drifted away on the wind. The remains of the triform’s small herd had galloped away, turning like wheels, scattering like birds. The speared one struggled for mere seconds before it went completely slack.

The harpoon remained embedded in the creature and the ice below it for several minutes while the surveyors noticed that they prey was becoming a dry husk. After a half hour, there was so little of the creature that, when the zoölogists approached later, there was nothing but a dry skin on the ground.

The balloon had retracted its harpoon and was drifting away slowly, directing its flight subtly with small barks of fire from the appendage from which it had fired its harpoon. It drifted up and away until its form was no longer distinct. “It’s like lightning that wants to hit you,” said one awed researcher.

A triform, dissected.
A triform, dissected.

A boreal triform was discovered, partially eaten by some other animal. The team lost no time in dissecting the fresh specimen. It is completely symmetrical, each limb being a complete copy of the others. It is covered in a thick skin that responds to electrical pulses, itself a fine muscle. Underneath the skin are many thick bands of heavier muscle tissue, supported by a fibrous, almost plastic quill running the length of each limb. This particular species has soft, fine “fingers” along each limb, each with a small orifice.

At the base of each limb are what appear to be several clusters of nerve-like fibers. Experiments with living triforms — and indeed, every other planar form of life on Ashlesa — shows that the distal nerve clusters control reflexes and autonomic activity of the limb. The most proximal body, on the other hand, seems to be involved in communication with the other limbs. With their simple eyes, this is the only way the creatures can assemble complex vision. As it is the largest nervous body, this is apparently a challenging task.

Coming up:

Polar Piglets. Warriors of the Southern Heart. The closest thing to a “plant” on Ashlesa.

If you have questions about life on Ashlesa, please ask in the comments and I’ll pass them on to researchers in the appropriate field.

10 thoughts on “An introduction to Ashlesa”

  1. Has Ashlesa’s conservation status under the Exoplanetary Ecological Convention been established yet? I know the Planetry Service has a station in geosynchronous orbit, but has official protection gone any further? I’ve heard rumblings from some of the bioform combines on Summerside, and it seems like they’re looking for a LEL to harvest Ashlesan biologicals.

    Oh, yes – there’s a fellow from the University of Mariner Exogeography Department – he’d like to produce a series of maps to raise awareness. Who should he contact about a position with the research group?

  2. There’s some controversy, of course. The EEC is fighting hard for jurisdiction(thanks to their excellent new director, L. Amtiskaw Jairajpuri), but Summerside’s “Humans Are Born” movement seems to think that it has some claim to it because they both share carbon-based biochemistry. Frankly, it’s biological chauvinism. It’s not like they showed that much care while they were in charge of Earth.

    A set of maps would be really excellent. A map of Southern Heart and its surroundings, and the Polar Wall would be particularly valuable. I’ll have Drs. Batthachandra and Crimti contact you.

  3. Is it possible that members of U2 were in fact the first to discover this? Have you seen the claw stage of their current 360 tour?

    1. Yes. That’s what happened. U2 paid heavily to use my original idea of radial symmetry. I am now wealthy and famous. I have many beautiful wives, by whom I have many beautiful children and I fly in outer space.

  4. I think it’s clearly established that HAB is a front for some of the more… eager… biological import groups. Outside their positions on exobiological exploitation, they’re remarkably vague. And Summerside is still reeling from the bombings last month – skittish dirtsiders tend to behave oddly.

    Excellent – I’ll let Dr. Osmand know to expect a call. I’m sure she’ll be delighted – charting marginal biospheres is a particular passion of hers.

  5. Biological humans are such a rarity at this point that I think they’ve become a cause célèbre for many well-meaning but ignorant individuals.

    But this is science. Let’s not get into the politics of it. We’ve found an amazing environment to look at, the first truly complex, macroscopic ecosystem that Humanity has discovered. Let’s not sully the moment talking about petty squabbles.

    Next question?

Leave a Reply