3. The Lobster

The lines of time are tangled, and people especially so. When I look back on those years some days stand out like lone trees in a field of grass, their branches drooping, casting a shadow in a swath around them. If I have achieved (or happened to chance upon) any development as a human, those days have shaped me so powerfully that it is quite in vain that I attempt to understand them. But every few years I scratch at the old scabs and some fresh blood turns up.

When K told me about why she saved Hermann from silent boiling death I was horrified. Her work in the lab often involved small monstrous animals and strange concoctions, and although it didn’t start that way, that’s what it turned into. K told of the two men one uncharacteristically rainy day in April:

— We are informed you do studies upon animals. We are interested in developing a painkiller for lobsters.

K had never turned down private-contracted science commissioned by members of the public, and this was going to be no exception. If private individuals felt the need to soothe their guilt, and others rose up to satisfy that need, and all they needed was her Science, then she needed no greater incentive.

She brought in 25 tanks and filled each with about 10 lobsters. In her concoction-chambers she made up a dazzling array of pungent painkillers, narcotics, sedatives, happy-potions, love-potions, dullers and brighters, uppers and downers, poopers and shooters. As she commenced her distasteful program of torture and numbing, she grew to hate lobsters for their mean, selfish, brutish nature. They quickly became junkies on whatever drug they were given access to, and when she allowed them to move around they developed complex multi-drug habits. They were already wary and territorial around their own kind, but chemical magnification brought out something deep inside them. They would steal food and pills from each other, kill and eat the weak amongst themselves, destroy wantonly and mutilate themselves and each other, and all this for no apparent reason. One evening K came out of the lab and called me, crying.

— I saw two lobsters mating today in one of the tanks. I know they’ve mated before, and they generally keep off each other when the fighting begins. But today, halfway through the, ah, the process, the male leaned down carefully and bit his lady’s head off. He held tightly and finished mating while she thrashed, and after she was still he began to eat her.”

Other lobsters noticed the great reward and soon swarmed him and his lady-meat. They were both devoured in the feeding frenzy.

When K began to lower the amount of drug she was administering in the tanks to see which ones caused unacceptable withdrawal symptoms, her nightmare went up several notches. By this time she had consolidated all remaining 140 lobsters (a number which included the children produced in the process) into one large tank. Bands of junkie lobsters roamed the tank killing, maiming, eating. A disproportionate amount of all drugs released was being consumed by these lobsters, and insane with their power and avarice they unleashed a reign of terror in the tank. The rest of lobster society was staggering from forced withdrawal and vicious terrorism.

K was losing all desire to make the lives of these brutes painless, when one day she saw a young lobster that she had never seen in the tank before, and she had assumed was dead. It had made a home for itself in the side of a coral where it hid from the terrors outside, and occasionally went out for food …

… and not pills. Looking through her video recordings, she saw that he had been addicted to his tank’s pill, but just a day after being transfered to the large group he had hidden in his mountain cave and rid himself alone. All through this time he had kept his interaction with other lobsters to a minimum. But she had managed to catch him now because he was in a vicious tug-of-war with another lobster — an oppressed lobster, not a gang-lobster — but she could see nothing that they could be fighting over. She watched as Hermann, as she had christened him, slowly overpowered the other and dragged her to his cave. There, he watched over her for days, fed her, kept her off the poison and waited until she was stronger. Then K watched as they shyly mated, and she felt herself blush and she turned away.

Together Hermann and Henrietta roamed the tanks while the gangs partied or slumbered, and recruited from among the slaves. Soon their ranks numbered greater than 50.

This was when she was paid a visit by the two men again.

— Have you found what we were looking for?

K did not quite know how to respond. She had not found an effective painkiller for lobsters, no. But she had found anger, greed, power, lust, and redemption all at once. She had looked into the abyss; she had been rewarded with a light at the end. At that moment in her lab was fermenting the greatest revolution in the history of laboratory behavior studies, and she was determined to be opportunistic in the face of serendipity. But K is a bad liar, and the men’s eyes flicked at each other and they licked their lips in anticipation as they pushed her aside and entered the lab.

Seeing the war just as it was ending, they saw the torn limbs, floating blood, unidentifiable pieces of uncooked lobster, the twitching bodies of the recently-dead, and the jubilant celebrations of the victorious revolutionary masses as they swarmed the palaces of the gangsters and came out with their stashes of food…

… and pills. As the men watched, the surviving victors went insane upon seeing the drugs they had been denied so long and proceeded to overdose themselves to their deaths. All the remaining survivors, that is, except a lone couple far from the crowd, hiding in a coral, venturing out stoically for food.

Astonished beyond anything in their previous experience, they offered K many times what they had initially promised for the breeding couple, but K was adamant.

— It was a selection event the likes of which has never happened before in the evolutionary history of lobsters.

She was going to write a book, The Altruistic Lobster. And soon the offspring produced by H&H would grow and populate her tanks. And begin lab lobster society anew.

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