Draft Preliminary Report on Asak-He Hrenik Okavek [Square brackets indicate OOC comments and clarifications, as the in-universe author of this piece would not use human units or make explicit reference to Earth's biology] The Second Expedition's most notable discovery has been the observation and collection of structurally complex alien life in Koruk-Te. The most striking aspect of this survey was that this xenobiological phenomenon (henceforth referred to as Asak-He Hrenik Okavek, or AHO) was found scattered across three separate rocky moons of Koruk-Te's seventh planet, a cold gas giant. This immediately implies some means of interplanetary transportation, possibly by some now-absent or yet-undiscovered alien civilization. Genetic testing between the three moons with complex alien life indicated high degrees of biological similarity. As mutation rates in these alien biospheres are not yet clear, this indicates that their establishment was either comparatively recent, or that their genetics change only over an extremely slow timescale (See Section 2). Section 0: Overview The three moons with active multicellular biology have rarefied nitrogen-methane atmospheres, and temperatures ranging from thirty to one hundred and fifty gradations above absolute zero [20 to 100 K], well outside of the parameters of any currently-known complex multicellular lifeforms (although comfortably within parameters of certain extremophile single celled and colonial organisms). Each moon is entirely blanketed by a living organic layer, identified by orbital scans to be have a median depth of approximately 400-800 measures [1.5 to 3 meters]. However, there are low-lying basins where this organic layer is over 100 000 measures deep, possibly where it has entirely overgrown the ammonia-water oceans which are known to form on similar icy moons. Life in the Koruk-Te system is carbon-based, comprised primarily of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, arsenic and sulphur. Limited sunlight provides most of the system's energy (See Section 3), although speculatively, geothermal heat and chemosynthetic breakdown of minerals in the planet's crust may provide secondary energy sources. Section 1: Tissue Structure AHO is a composite of several symbiotic organisms. The vast majority of the biomass is comprised of a low-density mat of filamentous cell-like structures [much like hyphae in a fungus]. This hyphal mat contains no cortex or other outer membrane identifying its extent and separating it from its neighbours, thus making the entire AHO effectively into a 'superorganism'. A sample of apparently unified tissue appears to contain several different genomes belonging to a collection of closely-related species. It is not clear whether this is due to chimerism, due to an apparent colonial growth actually being composed of multiple different individuals, or a combination of both (See Section 2). AHO's hyphal mat is largely undifferentiated thalloid tissue- that is to say, simple vegetative matter. However, it also contains tubular vessels and what appear to be vascular tissues for the transportation of fluids, sugars and minerals. Also included are several storage vesicles, which superficially resemble organs and hold various gases, sugars for energy storage, and minerals. The most enigmatic of AHO's structures is a network of bulbs and tubules contained within the hyphal mat, filled with complex assortments of polymers and large organic molecules. The purpose of these structures are not yet clear. They may have some role in reproduction, be part of a chemical signalling system, or have a purpose which exists only during limited time periods, or in a manner that is not observable from the smaller samples that we currently have under observation. AHO spreads vegetatively, which may explain its apparent lack of a system of dispersal (hypothetical purposes of the bulb-and-tubule networks notwithstanding). It may be the case that it does have a means of dispersal which has simply yet to be observed. Corollary to this, perhaps when there is no space for a spore to establish itself, AHO dispenses with its dispersal mechanisms and reabsorbs them or allows them to wither. The lynchpin of AHO's system is an array of single-celled photosynthesizers, which are biochemically notable for being able to process light into chemical energy in very low-light environments, where more conventional photosynthetic pathways would be non-functional. These symbionts live in the translucent upper edges of the hyphal network, and are well-connected to the transport tissues, which bring in raw materials and remove excess sugars, to be distributed across the rest of the organism as required. [This is essentially the same sort of intimate symbiosis which allows lichens to thrive in harsh, poor environments.] Finally, there appears to be a low-diversity ecosystem of motile animal-equivalents. Those which were observed and sampled were armoured, jointed tripodal organisms. Their musculature is slow and hydraulic, and their digestive systems are very simple, apparently adapted for relatively refined, easty-to-digest fodder. Section 2: Genetics AHO, lacking boundaries between genetic individuals, is both figuratively and literally hard to compartmentalize. The debate over whether it is multiple organisms living without boundaries between each other, or a single chimeric organism with multiple genomes, is thus academic, and likely due to our own biological chauvinism, which associates one genome with one organism (even when chimeras and genetic twins are familiar concepts without our own biosphere). For AHO, it is most important to recognize that multiple genomes live in intimate overlap with each other, and appear to act towards common ends. Genetic recombination and reproduction does exist, to an extent, within the hyphal mat. Individual filaments have been observed growing into each other, fusing, recombining into novel genetic assortments, and then separating. These novel genomes then grow to become another part of the hyphal matrix, nigh-indistinguishable except on a genetic level. Once again, it seems equally valid to regard this as some exotic form of chimerism or as a type of sexual reproduction. Different varieties of photosynthetic symbiont have been found from different sampling locations across the moons. This was originally speculated to be due to genetic drift, although assessments of their output under different light and atmospheric conditions suggests that they are each well-adapted to the vagaries of their own native environments. The 'animals' are notable for their apparent lack of genetic and functional diversity. This could be an artefact of a lack of sufficient sampling, the product of a founder effect, or an indication of a recent mass-extinction. Due to their shared genetic system, it is clear that the photosynthetic symbionts, hyphal mats and animals all belong to the same biosphere and share a distant common ancestor. Exactly how distant this ancestor is will become more clear when the development of a molecular clock for Koruk-Te's biosphere is complete. Given that all three of the biologically active moons appear to share very recent biological heritage, vastly more recent than the divergence of the different evolutionary branches, the presence of an unidentified actor capable of interplanetary and possibly interstellar transportation must be kept in consideration. Addendum: Assays of microbial diversity indicate that the largest of the three moons has a vastly more complex and diverse single-celled biosphere, strongly suggesting that it is the origin point for AHO. In short, it is likely that AHO originated on this primary moon, before being brought by deliberate action to the two secondary moons. Non-essential single-celled organisms were likely not deliberately brought to these secondary moons, thus leading to the differential in microbial diversity. Expressing this in another way, the primary moon started off with a natural ecosystem, while the two secondary moons started off with none. Section 3: System Ecology At first glance and based on current understanding, the ecosystems surrounding AHO are highly atypical. The biosphere is astoundingly depauperate, with almost all photosynthesis being carried out by the single-celled symbionts and almost all land surface being covered by the hyphal networks. Even more astounding is the lack of animal diversity. As of yet, no herbivory has been detected, in spite of the abundance of nutrient rich material available all over the lunar surfaces. Similarly, no predatory behaviour has been determined. None of the animals yet collected exhibit a tendency or willingness to either hunt or graze, although this is likely to be a product of the environmental limitations of our laboratory. Indeed, unless intubated or fed intravenously, they are liable to starve when left to their own devices in facsimiles of their natural environment. Again, these findings are preliminary and may be the result of the limitations of our current experimental apparatus. In spite of this incredibly low-diversity ecosystem, however, the lunar biospheres as a whole are highly productive relative to their low temperatures and weak sunlight. This is, of course, a relative measure, the rate of biological turnover is scarcely a percentile of what one might find on a planet with surface water in a warmer temperature band. The improbability of the existence of AHO's ecosystem lends further weight to the idea that each system has been, in the relatively recent past, altered or designed by deliberate action. Section 4: Outlook and Further Research I cannot stress enough the importance of further study, both in the forms of biological research on the exotic moons of the Koruk-Te system and surveys of the system and surrounding stars. The extreme oddities of Asake-He Hrenik Okavek demand our attention. Further biological research can clarify and provide answers to our many unanswered questions, and further stellar surveys in the region may shed light on the entity behind this most improbable finding. In either circumstance, the anomalies in Koruk-Te indicate either new forms of biological organization and ecosystem development that overturn everything we presumed to understand about xenoecology, or the presence of an unknown, intelligent alien species capable of reshaping entire biospheres.