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.
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 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.
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.