Octavio Briswald’s field notes
December 21, 2112
The bare facts of the python are as follows: He burrows through the soil, using the backward-facing scales of his belly to roust and gouge the dirt with every forward inch. Over time he creates an entire subterranean cavern, a chamber deep enough to offer protection from the dust and scorching heat above. When it is time to feed, he lurks in a tunnel just below the surface, forked tongue waving in the air above. And when suitable prey ambles by, he uses those same reversed scutes to shoot backwards out a posterior hole, grasp the beast by whatever appendage is available, and hold it in place until his dread venom has done its mortiferous work.
But facts do not always completely encompass the full spectrum of truth. I was unprepared for the enormity of seeing the snake in action: the savage speed of his attack; the screams and trumpets of his mighty prey; the grim remorselessness with which the reptile clung to the mammoth’s leg; the thunderous crash as the body of the mammoth fell to earth, defeated at last by the snake’s implacable, inextricable, inescapable grip.
As naturalists, how do we face this aspect of our occupation? We cannot explain to the snake the beauty of the mighty pachyderm, nor yet reassure the mammal that his surrendered life will feed an entire ecosystem. There is no solace to give, no clearly moral way to interfere; nothing to do but observe, and bear witness.
Fitzmurdle is laid up in bed with a headcold, and so I sit here at the helm, struggling with these questions, alone.
Other mentions: Odo suggests that an infant Founder should become one of these (DS9).