Essays by Professor Tiberius Earwig Ph.D., FGS, as provided by Rebecca Siân Pyne
Art by Errow Collins
Specimen 16-001-TB/3 continues to amaze me. She has now grown to ten feet (three meters) and has a taste for choir boys. Ever since Igor lost a hand, my personal assistant has been wary of getting too close. Despite increasing his weekly salary to fifteen pounds, he refuses to go near the aquarium room.
In my last letter, I mentioned my dearly departed friend and mentor, Dr Frankenstein III, may he rest in pieces. Viktor said that Igor was the worst construct ever to come from his laboratory and offered me a free replacement, but by then I had grown accustomed to my malodorous minion. His final written warning would be more of a worry for him if he had ever learned to read. In putting him together, Viktor had the misfortune to select an illiterate’s brain.
My new assistant is a pretty girl with a first-class mind, good survival instincts, and an uncle in Her Majesty’s Asylum for Criminally Insane Academics.
There has been an interesting development in the question of 16-001-TB/3’s gender. Unlike many species in the genus Cythereis, Vampyrocythereis infernalis (Earwig, Pyne, Radchenko & Jones, 2016) is not two-sexed (dioecious). Males simply do not exist, all representatives being female. Although asexual reproduction is relatively common in non-marine ostracods, it is rarer in their marine counterparts. On reflection, this is a more efficient strategy for the deep sea.
On the seventh of June, Miranda produced twenty-seven offspring. The young share their mother’s appetite for live flesh. Considering this is a deep-sea species, they grow quickly and have already passed through two molts. I do not think there will be any instances of inter-sibling cannibalism, as long as the food supply does not dry up. For some unfathomable reason, travelling salespersons no longer call at my house, and choir boys are few and far between. The newsagents no longer deliver, and Igor has to go out to buy my paper.
Myfanwy’s diligence and strong stomach will help her succeed in the competitive world of applied ostracodology. She shares my fascination with the new life brought into the world and is currently engaged in training experiments. The hatchlings can now navigate a maze, with evidence of long term memory. Their cognitive abilities are more vertebrate than crustacean, but since they ate my white mice, we will be unable to run comparative tests. They seem to have developed a special affinity for her. Some might call me jealous of their affection, but I am not offended. Their mother will always be my favorite.
She sings to me at night now, a strange melodious song, which entirely banished my insomnia.
Last night, I woke up in the tank room with no idea how I came to be there, a curious cloud fogging my mind until chased away by a restorative triple whisky.
A more cautious scientist might suspect that sinister motives lay behind Miranda’s song.
So many questions remain to be answered, but I am prepared to take the risk.
I remain, as ever, yours in Science,
Professor Tiberius Earwig
Mind Control and Ontogeny in Giant Carnivorous Ostracods
I ended my last letter by suggesting a motive for my Giant Ostracod’s nightly serenade. For the last week, I have woken in the tank room with no idea how I came to be there, a curious cloud fogging my mind until chased away by a restorative half bottle of tequila (purely for medicinal reasons). My drinks cabinet has been sparse of late, since Igor drank a decanter of best single malt and blamed Myfanwy.
The song is melodious but has a sinister undertone that recalls the ancient legends of sirens. Specimen 16-001-TB/3 sings only for me. She acknowledges my presence whenever I pass the aquarium, her ornate carapace flushing a blood red. Her claws and feeding spines tap out a refined minuet, but I cannot decipher the meaning. In the hours of daylight, she is mute, only drawing me from my bed at night. The purpose is a mystery, but this stage can only last so long.
Something must happen soon, but I am too bloody minded to fear what the future holds. I have tried chaining myself to the bed, but a past career as a professional escapologist means the chains are useless. My research assistant often arrives in the morning to find me senseless, restored only by something short and alcoholic.
Talking of short alcoholics, on Sunday, I was forced to disintegrate my mutinous construct of other people’s discarded parts. Igor seemed so upset when I pointed the blaster at him, even though I set the ray gun to “maximum discombobulate” so he would not suffer. Perhaps it was the tequila, but when the last fragment settled, I cried like a baby. He rests now as mulch on my rose bed, and all indications are that the blooms will win first prize in the County Show. Judicious applications of blood, bone, and anti-black spot mixture seem to be working. Let us just say that the blood and bone is not bovine. Allegations that I had anything to do with the disappearance of three town councilors are just malicious slander. What would your esteemed readers do if they found men in high-visibility vests wandering around their sculpture garden at seven thirty in the morning?
On Tuesday, the seventh of June, the first brood of Vampyrocythereis infernalis (Earwig, Pyne, Radchenko & Jones, 2016) raised in captivity hatched. A month later, they passed through the A8 to A1 molt stages (Earwig & Evans, 2016) and are now displaying full adult ornament. They are exclusively female, males disappearing from the fossil record forty million years ago, according to my Russian colleagues, Drs. Borislav Radchenko and Ludmilla Borscht.
Whereas their mother remains blind, these are sighted and show a cooperative hunting behaviour.
Their walking limbs are tipped with razor claws, capable of a sudden explosive attack rather like tropical mantis shrimps. The hatchlings have eaten my white mice and the specially bred glow-in-the-dark laboratory rats. Genetic recombination with the jellyfish Aequorea victoria meant the rats expressed Green Florescent Protein, so my tanks are now full of one meter long ostracods that can hunt by their own light source.
Before his disintegration, Igor assisted me with a final experiment. On cursory analysis, the fecal pellets of Vampyrocythereis infernalis contained powerful alkaloids with narcotic and hallucinogenic effects when ingested. He was reluctant at first, but soon came round to the idea when bribed with a new prosthetic hand that doubled as a smart watch. The blueprints are still on my desk under a pile of new super-weapon designs and a collector’s edition of the Necronomicon. I am an ostracodologist, not a demonologist. Let others dabble in demonology if they wanted to. It has never interested me, but the rare book came as a gift from a friend with the mistaken impression it would be of use in my research.
Igor started foaming at the mouth thirty minutes after he had swallowed the third pellet. After an hour, he seemed euphoric, tripping the light fantastic with a stupid grin on his second-hand features. Viktor Frankenstein III always said Ig had a hyper-addictive personality. The trial took place under controlled conditions, using closed circuit recordings of what happened next.
To use his vulgar expression: “It was good shit.”
Yours in Science,
Professor Tiberius Earwig
Professor Tiberius Earwig, BSc (Bristol), MSc (Aberystwyth), PhD (Cambridge), is an internationally recognized authority on fossil and recent Ostracoda, with two hundred papers in The Journal of Micropalaeontology, Revista Española de Micropaleontología, Proceedings of the Ussher Society, Deep Sea Biology, Applied Biology and Musicology, and others. After a brief sabbatical at Her Majesty’s Asylum for Criminally Insane Academics, he retired to Whitby, but continues research. Professor Earwig is a member of Anti-Cites, an exclusive dining club which puts the world’s rarest species on the menu. Other interests include Elizabethan Madrigal singing. He writes Shakespearean sonnets and evil haiku.
Dr Rebecca Siân Pyne is a writer, researcher (and mental health first-aider), now based in West Wales, via Cardiff University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. She has a PhD in Micropalaeontology, specializing in British Upper Cretaceous ostracods, with published research in Revista Española de Micropaleontología and Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Short stories have appeared in Bête Noire, Macabre Cadaver, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Albedo One, Aurora Wolf, Eschatology, Neo-Opsis, and others. Research assistants include a mad sprollie (springer spaniel x collie) who ensures there is no time for writer’s block.
Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards the surreal and the familiar. She pays her time to developing worlds not quite like our own with her artist fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. She probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of her work can be found at errowcollins.wix.com/portfolio.
“Reproductive Strategy in a New Giant Carnivorous Ostracod” is © 2017 Rebecca Siân Pyne
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Errow Collins