Author: Thomas Fitzgerald McCarthy
Exo-zoologist Dr. Khadga Bhandari died clutching the datapad containing her final Special Analysis, surrounded by dozens of mourning colleagues. It was only in the final weeks of her one-hundred and twenty-four-year existence that she had completed her life-long search. Dr. Amori Patel, Bhandari’s closest friend and lover, read the final entry in her personal journal as her body was lowered into the salty red clay of Dehydra’s third moon.
“This is my final summary of the newly discovered species on Torbeuluc, which I have named Opusius, for it is the Magnum Opus of my life’s work.
The Opusius are quirky creatures that traverse both land and water. Their soft, sponge-like bodies contain hollow cavities which they use to store food and other items. Strictly herbivores, their diet consists mostly of the cinnamon-flavored roots of Benno shrubs. They make their homes in pools of mercury that form near the ammonia springs in the subtropical Gariad Peninsula, the fumes of which keep predators at a distance.
They are tripodal organisms with deep black skin and four double-jointed arms. Bright yellow stripes race down their long, hooked limbs. Their disproportionately large heads are exoskeletal, maintaining a bony husk that shields their cerebrum from calamity. Their faces are long and perforated, with a single sheathed eye. When the wind passes through the creatures’ hollow jaws, their bones will hum softly, like flutes.
The Opusius have lifespans of roughly two-hundred years. When dealt a fatal injury, reproductive spores eject from their heads like a million little escape pods. The indigenous humanoid population gathers up the spores as tokens of good fortune.
They possess a rudimentary intelligence and even a sense of empathy. On one occasion, I witnessed an Opusius nurse a fallen Fedemore Bat back to health and even sing to it.
One particular aspect of their biology fascinates me.
Once upon a time on Earth, lobsters were kept in water tanks for consumption. Starving lobsters would often prey on one another. Sometimes, when cornered, a lobster would amputate one of its own claws for the others to consume, in order to avoid being torn apart.
The Opusius have a similar survival mechanism. I discovered a fleshy pouch beneath their bellies that detaches itself when they are being pursued by predators, serving as a rather effective diversion. These pouches are formed by a complex delta of fibers that siphon off five percent of the food that the creature consumes. Yet, the stored nutrients in these pouches cannot be accessed as a source of energy until Opusius reaches an advanced age, when they are no longer able to outpace the predators near their feeding grounds, effectively making them biological social security accounts.
An absolutely magnificent evolutionary adaptation.
In its late years, the creature’s body will bloat and stretch by a factor of three-hundred percent, and its limbs will become stiffen into a bony, non-decomposing material. Eerily cognizant of its own biological clock, the creature will emerge from its mercurial home in the final, dusky hours of its life. After scouring for an area rich in insect and animal life, it will spread its misshapen limbs, hinging nearby rocks and plants together, and with its final breath, open all of the massive cavities of its body to the outside world.
Thus, it transforms itself into a fossilized corral reef.
Of all the thousands of species I have documented across a hundred worlds, this is the one that I wish to be reincarnated as, should You choose to grant me such a noble existence.”