“You’re obsessed with those damn things, aren’t you?” William asked. Robert did not turn to look at the man addressing him, save for a quick glance over his shoulder. His arms remained cross, his body facing the tank that held the asteroidea. The rubens already had the disease, of course, as did the ochraceus and the koehleri. Captive animals, in perfect environments, concurrently developing a disease that affected their wild counterparts, and Masterson thought he was “obsessed with the damn things?” Honestly, the short-sightedness of it all disgusted Robert. Perhaps the asteroidea weren’t as impressive as chordates, as marketable as cetaceans, but they were far more important.
A species of whale dying was tragic, sure to be lept upon by the media. Starfish dying was perhaps less so, but infinitely more important in the grand scheme of things. Ochraceus was a keystone species; the members of balaenoptera most certainly were not.
Robert forced a smile. “Oh, you know me, Doctor Masterson. I love my creepy-crawly little starfish.”
“For God’s sake, Doctor Blake, call me Bill.”
For God’s sake, Bill, kindly fuck off.
“Of course. Bill.” William joined Robert beside the asteroidea tank and frowned. “So have you made any progress?”
Robert sighed, half from exasperation and half from genuine frustration with his study. “None. The disease started with the rubens, then progressed to the ochraceus and the koehleri. But the miniata and the imbricata seem to be completely immune.” He turned his head to look at William. William turned his attention from the tank for a moment to meet Robert’s gaze. “I even saw the imbricata eating the carcasses of the others. And still they’re immune.”
William wrinkled his nose. “Grisly stuff.”
Robert snorted. “Yes, and your beloved truncatus rape each other for sport. It is what it is, Doctor Blake.”
William stared at Robert in silence for a moment before shaking his head and turning to leave. “I suppose that’s true. Have a good night, Rob.”
“And you, Doctor Masterson. Bill.”
Robert watched the tank unflinchingly. He heard the door to the lab click open then shut behind William, but he paid it no mind. In the tank the ochraceus and the koehleri were developing the small white lesions that heralded the final stage of the disease. Most of the rubens were already dead, their bodies riddled with weeping sores, their arms separated from the central mass of their bodies. Some of the fresher dead still twitched and spasmed, their disembodied arms crawling on their little tube feet across the tank, trailing ichor and filaments, searching mindlessly, endlessly.
“Fascinating,” Robert whispered to the dying animals. “Utterly fascinating.”