• An Afternoon with Odessa Malko

    by  • November 13, 2017 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An interview by R. L. Evars, as provided by Emma Whitehall
    Art by Ariel Alian Wilson

    When I first meet Odessa Malko, I barely know what to expect. The marine crypto-biologist has recently become the talk of Aforcaster, with her astounding research into the hitherto-mysterious creature, Microcosmus marinus–otherwise known as the Kraken. However, she is notoriously unavailable for interview. Her days are spent touring the city colleges with her lectures, and her nights campaigning at functions and soirées for her next expedition. Such a busy schedule, combined with an emerging family life (she recently became an aunt to twins), offer her little time for the press. However, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the elusive scientist at her club–The Acutus, home-away-from-home for the city’s intellectual elite.

    The doorman lets me in (after a long glare at my written note of introduction), and I find Doctor Malko sitting in a plush leather armchair by the fire, sipping what she tells me is a lemon and mint Earl Grey. She is a striking woman of thirty-five–tall, with a handsome, vulpine face, and a braid of silver-white hair snaking over one shoulder. She greets me with a warm handshake, and we make amicable chit-chat until my own drink arrives.

    Doctor Malko, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to speak with me.

    It’s quite alright. So often I feel I’m talking at people, at lectures and colleges, so it is refreshing to have an intimate chat again.

    The lecture tour has been a roaring success, I really must congratulate you–I attended at Schuyler myself just last week, and I must say it is fascinating.

    Thank you.

    For my readers who cannot attend, could you summarise your research into a pithy sentence or two?

    [Malko laughs here.]

    I can attempt to. My research for the last ten years has documented the social and family lives of Microcosmus marinus. So much of our previous research focused on the base physicality of these animals. How large they grow, diet, limb length, etc. While this information was vital to our understanding, it lent credence to the idea of the Kraken as massive, mindless monsters. I wanted to learn about how their minds worked. And documenting my clan has given us some amazing insights. They really are a deeply intelligent species.

    Now, is this an issue that my readers should be concerned about? Will there ever be a Kraken sighting in, say, Aforcaster Port?

    Your readers are safe. Kraken are usually sighted out in much warmer waters. My clan is usually seen around the coast of Fiji, and rarely come into contact with humans, unless they recognise them, or their young are threatened. That seems to be the cause of most historical Kraken attacks, actually.

    You say your clan, can you explain that further?

    Of course. I have followed M-clan, which is a particular family group of Kraken, one of only five on record, for most of my research. I met the matriarch–the mother-leader–when she was only ten years old, and I was there as she birthed her first paralarvae six years later.

    Do you have any favourites within the clan?

    [Malko pauses. When she smiles, it is wryly.]

    … We aren’t supposed to. I am there as a scientist, which is an impartial role. But it is difficult. When a juvenile spends most of its days playing in the surf from your ship, it is difficult not to fall in love. When a subject you’ve documented for years falls ill, or passes away, it’s impossible not to shed a tear. We lost M-09, an elderly male, this year, and the impact was seen in both the clan and across the crew of my ship.

    Your crew is populated by up-and-coming scientists, is it not?

    And sailors who want more than to catch fish or hunt whales for a living, yes. Anyone is welcome aboard the Howard Phillips, as long as they are willing to learn. We bond very closely while we are out at sea, and share the joys and the hardships equally. It’s not just my expedition–my hope is for every member of my crew to be proud of what we accomplish. Every member of my crew has a free yearly pass to all the aqua-menageries and lecture-halls in the city, once they complete an expedition, so they can see the fruits of our labour.

    Was this feeling of togetherness heightened by the fact that, back on dry land, your own family was growing?

    We have always been a tightly-knit team. That is not changed by any single circumstance … but it was difficult to be away from home, I must say. My wife [and assistant, Edith Malko-Webb] was frantic with worry for her sister, and, if my presence would have calmed her nerves, I would have hated to be away from her for six months. But both boys were delivered safely, even without a marine biologist’s expertise.

    Art for "An Afternoon with Odessa Malko"

    It’s the females–double in length, and much bolder–that we usually sight first.

    Do you hope your nephews follow in your footsteps?

    It’s a little early to tell–they are only two months old, after all.

    [A small pause here, as Malko drinks the last of her tea.]

    I must apologise for my short answer–my wife has asked me not to divulge too much about the twins.

    Of course. Let’s return to the subject of the interview. What’s the most surprising Kraken behaviour you have discovered in your studies?

    The role of the males. Accounts of sightings and attacks always referred to the animal as “he” when, in reality, the males grow much smaller than the females–only to around 35 feet–and are notoriously shy. It’s the females–double in length, and much bolder–that we usually sight first.

    So what is the role of such a relatively small male, in such an inhospitable environment?

    As the nanny, for lack of a better term. The females hunt, while the males stay with the juveniles who cannot keep up with the hunting party. While small to a female, a male Kraken is more than a match for any predator that dares threaten the group. In return, the females catch their food, and, when clans cross paths, there is more likelihood of the males being able to find a mate. There is no need for them to grow as large as their mothers, sisters, or aunts. That was actually the discovery that granted my access to the Acutus Club–once the members picked their monocles off the floor.

    What do you mean?

    The original theory was that a Kraken clan was hierarchical, with males and their harems. One particular member of the press was adamant that I was pushing a personal, suffragettical agenda with my findings–fabricating stories of evolution favouring subordinate males to breed controversy. He worked himself into such a frenzy, he accompanied my crew during breeding season, to discredit me. He hasn’t been seen around the Acutus since, strangely enough. The last time I saw his name in print, he was documenting the thrilling debut of Devon Casterbury’s new department store.

    It sounds as if you and a female Kraken have much in common.

    [Malko raises one eyebrow. Under her gaze, I splutter and try to reword my statement. After a long moment–excruciatingly long–she smiles.]

    You may be right. We have both been misunderstood, in our time. The subject of … debate. But we are both tenacious, and, through science, we found a way for the truth of our nature to be heard.  

    Doctor Malko, I must thank you again for taking the time to speak to me this afternoon. Before we conclude, I must ask–what is next for Aforcaster’s most prestigious marine crypto-biologist?

    Well, I finish my lecture tour at the end of next month, but I will be opening a new aquarium feature at the Exploration Institute in June, which will include fish, anemones, and hippocamps that my team caught while on our last expedition. I think there’s plans for a talk, so I really should begin writing that soon. After that–I’m not too sure. My wife would like me to spend some time at home, though I’m sure I won’t be away from the sea for very long.

    Well, the Epoch Journal wishes you, your team, and your family all the best wishes for the future, and we look forward to the next slew of exciting discoveries.

    Thank you.

    R. L. Evars is a scientific culture journalist for the Epoch Journal–winner of the Best Informational Journal Award in 1879. His earlier work can also be read in the Aforcaster Gazette, Young Biologist, and, for a short period, Miss Payweather’s Parrot Periodical. He is based in Aforcaster.

    Emma Whitehall is a writer and spoken word performer based in the North East of England. Her work has been published in the United Kingdom, America, and Mexico. She also writes articles about writing, as well as genre fiction reviews. Find out more at emmawhitehallwrites.weebly.com.

    Ariel Alian Wilson is a few things: artist, writer, gamer, and role-player. Having dabbled in a few different art mediums, Ariel has been drawing since she was small, having always held a passion for it. She’s always juggling numerous projects. She currently lives in Seattle with her cat, Persephone. You can find doodles, sketches, and more at her blog www.winndycakesart.tumblr.com.

    “An Afternoon with Odessa Malko” is © 2017 Emma Whitehall
    Art accompanying story is © 2017 Ariel Alian Wilson

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