Spotlights on aspects of the Omniverse
When the First Pioneers set out to map the universe, the vast cosmic canvas was unknown and untamed. The early, intricately-inked charts presented by the Cartographers' Range were elaborate if empty, including only the planet Earth and a smattering of worlds comprising the star territory known as the Albion Reach. Elsewhere, vast swathes of blank ink drew the eye to the terrifying realms that lay beyond the hand and mind of Humanity.
Of these uncharted cosmic depths, it was said this: Here there be monsters.
Even before the first cosmonauts touched down on the Solar system's extraterrestrial worlds, legends sprang up of the beasties which might inhabit Earth's sibling worlds. Great Fire Dancers were supposedly witnessed writhing high above the burning skies of Mercury, their smoky undulations backlit by the Sun itself; and the ashen lights of Venus were said to be the emanations of colossal Whistler Wyrms, or Sulphur Serpents, snaking through the planet's lava floes. Even the Eye of Jupiter was thought to be the single, lidless pupil of the Sleeper of Eck, a gaseous goliath who observed the planetary perturbations in a cat-like slumber. Jovians believed the Sleeper endlessly awaited the next celestial alignment so that she might finally return to her own, higher realm.
Some seasoned star-sailors spoke of cosmic dragons which inhabited the starways and even the superheated cores of suns themselves. These mythical beasts were said to lay their eggs inside the hearts of stars, from which burst dragons capable of growing large enough to curl their scaly silicon bodies around entire planets. Commodore Edmund Bliss embarked upon a quest to lay eyes upon one of these cosmic wonders, but his account was roundly dismissed by the Royal Infomarium, suggesting the adventurer suffered hallucinatory heat stroke after staring at the sun for too long. He was also accused of pilfering a Toxic Cave Dragon from the Great Galactic Travelling Menagerie and painting it a starry orange in the hopes of fooling the Archivists.
Aside from these tall tales, the cosmos was inhabited by far more mundane creatures. Chromabugs were identified by their colourful shells, and many privateer groups liked to use these vibrant carapaces as hilts and stocks for their blazer weapons; the Buckmaster G-10 Blazer Special was a glitteringly ornate weapon styled in the ovoid shape of these humble beetles. The tiny mumblebee was a vital cog in the natural clockwork of life on Terra Arthus, and spent its days pollinating wisperia and dallybuds. The soft buzzing sound used to resonate pollen free from its plants gave the mumblebee its nickname, although the vibration was unfortunately a clear calling card followed by several predators, including the hook-billed shrieking butcherbird and the cuckoo-like nesting bandit, or pilcherwasp. Mumblebees were frequently stored as pets and curiosities by the Arthans; the ecopoiesegist i'Fici'fit kept a small apiary in her study, and was said to influence the bees' behaviour and flight patterns by the strident sound of her own chirping while at work.
The ecopoiesegist herself was believed to be an embodied descendant of the ancient Pencan cognitypes; although beings of pure thought were necessarily a rare occurrence in the physical universe, certain reports suggested the existence of a wide variety of creatures of mind and whim. Storybooks told of the gossamoth, a will-o'-the-wisp circling ringed planets and serving as a landing light for lost spacecraft. Space captains reported being compelled towards safe harbour by these wisps, composed of naught but the effervescence of the luminiferous ether, to avoid collisions with rogue ring particles and meteoroids during descent.
Other life-forms were more readily available to the eye. At least one of the Mountains of Obliquity was sentient, and became a pilgrimage for devotees of several religions. However, a lifetime of being trodden up, rained on, and generally eroded made the so-called Mumptor rather irritable, and it dislodged the odd rock slide on particularly heavy-footed or litter-prone hikers. The Cosmic Brain manufactured by Mandurai stellar engineers began its unusual life as a gaseous cloud of synapses around the Gant Nebula, and in latter days kept a dream journal. While not a natural form of life in the universe, this mammoth interstellar organ took to its artificial existence with aplomb.
Indeed the Mandurai robotonists were responsible for introducing numerous unusual means of life to the cosmos. The bio-synthetic forests of V'kanderplon IX became something of a dumping ground for the various failed cybonics experiments churned out by the steam-powered Mandurai foundries. Among this futurist litter were biomites, granted artificial life by sheer proximity to the pervasive robotic hive-mind of the bio-forest. These buzzing bugs fed on the synaptic energy laced through the bark of the Mandurai trees, and even began self-replicating in a manner troubling to the local Mecha-Priesthood, which wasn't entirely sure how to curtail the species' alarming exponential growth.
Other forms of artificial life proved not to last. The famed Mellotron-6000, composer of the Gravity Cycle, was an ottovino who came to life in a freak accident with an electromagnetic threshing machine, and spent many decades stealing the thunder out from its creator and rival, Antonio Vivaldi. The dilapidated harpsichord survived into Victoria's reign, until its life-force suddenly vanished during an electrical storm. Whether the consciousness of this "Godless device", as Vivaldi put it, survived to find a new host was unknown, although Berlioz treated his oboe with suspicion ever since. Likewise, the Bangshot 44 blazer skipper owned by Lord Wheezington suddenly attained sapience during the Jupiter Wars. Taking in the horror on the frontlines, the pistol promptly shot itself with a ricocheting blazer pellet fired off Wheezington's pith helmet. It was considered quite a nifty trick shot by the Red Coats of the 19th Cavalry.
Animals were long utilised in warfare: furry hulooks and hammerheaded roshoki were used as mounts and siege weapons respectively in ancient times, and packs of cusor dogs were set on enemy ranks during the Greystone Strikes. Yanglan the Mighty rode into battle atop the armoured plates of a bastillon pig before upgrading to a killer robot, and the Golden Emperor Hemeptra XII kept a pet clashclaw which she sicced on visitors who failed to present a suitable gift at the foot of her gilded throne in the Tinpot Nebula. Other military animals were treated less kindly; during the Jupiter Wars, arboreal hinks known for their babbling calls in the jungles of the Gonjo Nebula were rounded up and doused in oil, before being set alight and flung into enemy encampments. Colonel Kevin Crabbins fled from the tribunal that followed his use of this tactic, and was last heard from before plunging back into those same jungles, accompanied by particularly gleeful babbling from overhead.
Outside of military applications, many critters were commonly domesticated, from farmyard animals to household pets such as a honk dog and the goof-tailed jibber. The flightless mitink bird was prized among cosmonauts for its hardy resilience in the vacuum, and many star-sailors kept a puddlefooted mitink as a good luck charm aboard their rocket ships. While silicon truckles were a detriment to a space captain's ventures, mitinks had a sense for populated areas of space, and would raise their feathered crest when nearing a settled port or cosmic waystation, making them handy navigational aids. Professor Runcible of the Jolly Good kept various octopoids as pets in her cabin, and was also rumoured to house an interdimensional menagerie somewhere within the bizarre rocket ship. If asked however, the professor would simply pat you on the head and offer you a cup of tea, at which point all worries about a terrifying eldritch zoo would dissipate like the steam from the beverage in your hands.
More wonders existed in the cosmos than could reasonably be covered in so few words; we have barely scratched the surface of what lay within the Venusian labyrinth, or the hell-beast roaming the heart of Saturn's Diamond Mines; nor have we chronicled stories of the infamous Quasopoid or the malignant swamp monsters from Uranus. Those, as they say, are amazing tales for another day.