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Lobsterfish

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The lobsterfish expired today, in the expected fashion. Have you seen it happen before? Well, have you ever seen a specimen preserved in formalin long-term? Sort of shrivelled and flaking off bits? It's like that ... only total. Sped up over a period of a few days.

This is confidential, right? We were hopeful. We truly were. We felt we had made a breakthrough with the enclosure tank, and the fish itself had already lasted several times longer than any previous specimen. We thought we had finally hit on the perfect containment conditions. Even in the past few days, the creature really showed no listlessness though its outer surface began to turn brittle in places and flake. Then, this morning we found it motionless at the bottom of the tank. Life signs ceased several hours later, and the disintegration proceeded rapidly from that point on. All we have left now is a big tank of semi-organic soup.

Anyway, I suppose I should get to the point - what you want for the psych evaluation, right? Well, all of these creatures give off something like an empathic signature - that's how Reuben explained it to me anyway. Not emotional output, you understand, or I should say not human emotional output. Reuben said it's garbled, something like listening to a radio station only half-tuned-in and in a foreign language. The metaphor's not perfect - I'm not really qualified to evaluate, you know? God, I hadn't even given any thought to Reuben yet. How is he? I see. Anyway, normal people don't pick up on it the way an empath does - we simply experience emotional feedback, something like the way you do when reading a person's facial expression or body posture.

How to explain? I suppose what comes to mind for me is an excerpt from the Chronicle last week ... excuse me, I have a clipping here. Ah, here it is. Let me see: "... awe-inspiring, a truly unforgettable experience, watching the weird creature's undulations through the swirling waters of its tank. You may be reminded of a snake, a squid, or even a lobster. But the most striking part of viewing is not the creature itself: it is the effect on the viewers themselves. Turning your gaze on the audience, you can see reactions rippling across the faces in the crowd like a single wave: awe, joy, and wonder crashing headlong into fear and rage, loathing and confusion, all in unison. Standing in the midst of the crowd, you cannot help but comprehend what you are seeing, what you are experiencing: the presence of a truly alien creature."

That about sums it up. The strange thing, and I think you can verify this with the other team members, was that as the creature began to succumb the emotion backwash I got from it became much stronger. Stronger, and it began to change. As we monitored its vital readout, I could feel the emotions of its almost imperceptible postures and motions, almost as if they were words and concepts coming at me in staccato image flashes. I no longer felt the steady constant shift from one emotional state to another. Though the animal was nearly lifeless on the bottom of its cage, as I looked at it I began to feel as if my life were flashing before my eyes. Then we all knew it was truly dead, knew even without looking at the readouts. The flow had ceased, leaving behind only an echo of itself in my mind's eye. We were all speechless for what seemed like an infinite moment. At that point, the director snapped out of it and flagged us for immediate psych eval ... and here we are.

But it bothers me, doctor. This is the thing -- the lobsterfish has been on display for weeks now. To the public, I mean. The impact on public psyche has been tremendous, of course, not to mention the, ahem, impact on aquarium revenue. If we've got a potential case of psychic contamination here, do we have any idea what form it would take, and to what effect? I do worry about this, doctor.
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I absolutely love this and all of your Muir submissions! It reminds me a lot of Expedition (Darwin IV), one of my favorite books about alien worlds. I'm very eager and interested to learn more about this strange dreamworld that we get glimpses of
thomastapir's avatar
P.S. re: The most striking part of viewing is not the creature itself: it is the effect on the viewers themselves. Turning your gaze on the audience, you can see reactions rippling across the faces in the crowd like a single wave: awe, joy, and wonder crashing headlong into fear and rage, loathing and confusion, all in unison. Standing in the midst of the crowd, you cannot help but comprehend what you are seeing, what you are experiencing: the presence of a truly alien creature.

Am I correct in assuming that the emotional reactions of the human audience are actually mirrored empathic reflections of the lobsterfish's reaction to its observers....?
whalewithlegs's avatar
Yep, that's exactly right, although you take it a bit further than I had thought it out myself! These creatures are not even alive in a true sense: their bodies are made out of a memetophilic smart matter that is host to 'live' meme colonies. What's actually going on here is realtime meme competition. Humans observing the creature essentially constitutes an attack on its local memes, as it observes their memes itself, and it is responding with an active 'counter-observation' technique. It is memetopathically broadcasting its own memes that the humans interpret as emotions and mirror, causing a stable meme loop or cyclical flow ... sort of a psychological assault that is not fully interpreted properly by the human audience due to the alien nature of the memes.

In the end of the story, the creature dissolving is representative of the creature achieving critical memetic mass due to the protracted active observation period. Observation causes the an acceleration of the creature's natural capacity for its to memes mutate and reproduce into competing colonies, to the extent that the smart matter cannot hold together as a single organism. The memes that do not die outright in this end process 'escape' their physical animal, aggressively jumping ship into the scientists, or remaining behind as tiny simple memes in microscopic instances that will continue to metamorphose. If the scientists sample the leftover material properly, they will most likely discover the tiny worms, causing the process of observation-accelerated metamorphsis to recur.
thomastapir's avatar
Oh, that's interesting...I was thinking that another reflexive defense would be to deaden or mute the observers' reactions via a response-dampening sedative effect, something that could be exploited (even if unwittingly) by the human percipients as a kind of narcotic...Or is that what you're going for in the first place??
:slow:

Oh man, that idea of the memes "jumping ship" reminds me very much of the sort of nefarious "insidious nano" scenario that's become so popular in sci-fi since Blood Music....I never really considered the connection between nano- and meme-driven life/consciousness before, but maybe I should!
whalewithlegs's avatar
You know, I hadn't thought about that but it certainly makes sense - maybe I'll use that idea with another creature (with your permission and credit, of course). It works really well with other ideas that I had :3

Pretty much, any type of reaction could be possible int these cases! I'm imagining that a lot of these creatures generate types of fields that have memetic effects. I mention something along this line of thinking with the ghostback, mentioning something to the effect that it gives off psycho-reactive chaff.
thomastapir's avatar
HOLY CRAP Ben, this is AWESOME!! Those armored antennae recalling Anomalocaris and spiny lobsters in equal measure, the flushed axolotl gills with their frilly tissue-thin gas-exchange surfaces, the gurnard-like "fingers," the hagfish tendril horns--and this is just the blunt morphology, before we get into the luminous translucency, the modelling, the delicately lined ribbon eel texture of the skin, and more than anything that beautifully subtle transition from blue to "flesh" tone on the head and those brilliant eyespots, giving this critter a disturbingly human-like pathos....I seriously think you've "levelled up" here, or more accurately I think it just reminds me how naturalistically "alien" you can go when you pull out all the stops. Damn, I JUST now noticed those beautiful violet highlights on the underside of the head...You know what this guy actually makes me think of? A "good" or aesthetically appealing counterpart or foil to that horrifying body-snatcher from The Hidden...Heck, maybe this is what Kyle Maclachlan's character looks like in his native form! (D'OH, massive spoiler!!)
whalewithlegs's avatar
Thanks, Tom! You know, I actually messed up a bit on the coloration of this guy - what I intended to be more colored shadows ended up as very low saturation shadows - and I think it actually works in my favor to some extent. It's something I'll have to keep in mind when I do another one of these, as I utually ry to shy away from using value that much!! You can see Ghostback for comparison - [link], and what is almost an unintentional midway point with the Maned Clam - [link]

This is another procedurally-generated creature, and I'm really happy that you picked out so many animal resonances - it means I'm doing something right! I think that's how it would be in real life: encountering creatures and trying to match them to your visual repertoire. Funny synchronicity fact - I literally did not learn about the grunard (alomst called it a grunion) until today, from this article! [link]

Also, I kind of cheated and used a barn-swallow-esque color scheme. Color schemes is not something I feel like I have a really good grasp of, yet!
MrMinos's avatar
Excellent color and fantastic concept! Nicely done. I want one now. ;)
whalewithlegs's avatar
Ha, thank you very much! If you follow the comments, apparently they are rather tasty :3
electreel's avatar
This is outstanding! :omfg:
whalewithlegs's avatar
Thanks!! I'm happy the way it's turning out, though I'll admit I messed up the technique alittle bit - layer properties get me every time! Well, next time I'll try again :D
electreel's avatar
You did a very good job, and I was not only referring to the picture ;)
whalewithlegs's avatar
Aw, you're so nice! Thank you again!
Hazardousthing's avatar
bensen-daniel's avatar
no, not the lobsterfish!
whalewithlegs's avatar
Release the lobsterfish!!!!!
bensen-daniel's avatar
lobsterfish lobsterfish
served on a lovely lobster dish
soup in pot
nice and hot
holy crap it's lobster bisque
lobster bi~isque
whalewithlegs's avatar
"Our scientist have discovered that the lobsterfish is quite tasty."
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