Professor Clodbottle's Assistant: Part One
Professor Milton Clodbottle tweaked his monocle to inspect the Mootix more closely.
"Fascinating," he muttered. "Ray, come look at this."
His assistant, Reroyo195, a Maraquan Aisha also known as Ray, set down the watering can and stopped tending to the Habitarium flowers for a moment to stand next to the Yellow Kougra.
"What is it, Professor?"
"Look at this Mootix." He pointed out the specimen he was currently studying.
Ray bent closer, examining the petpetpet. "It has three tail-antennae instead of just two."
"It's a newly hatched nester, and the added antennae on its tail appears to help it in gathering both food and supplies. I wonder whether it's a random mutation, or if it specifically evolved to better suit Habitarium life?" the Professor mused.
The Maraquan Aisha smiled. "Are you going to breed it?"
"Of course I am!" Professor Clodbottle promptly placed the Mootix on a nest. After a confused moment, the little Mootix settled down, ready to start laying an egg.
"Ooh, I wonder if the extra antennae will have any effect on hatching or laying time. Or if the gene is dominant or recessive. Oh, this is fascinating." Clodbottle immediately started writing a report, added a detailed sketch of the Mootix with the extra appendage.
Ray turned back to the Habitarium flowers, making sure each one in the control-group was well-watered and fertilized. Currently, she was trying to train the petpetpets in the Habitarium to tend to the flower themselves, fertilizing and watering it. In order to see how the experimental groups were doing, she needed a control group to compare them too. So far, only one of the five experimental Habitariums was holding up to the task; it was too much for the others.
"Ray, would you be a dear and see to the Habitarium-Help window today?" Clodbottle asked, not looking up from his report.
"Sure thing Professor." Ray took a basket and went to the Habitarium-Help window; Users from all around Neopia waited in line, their arms full of petpetpet eggs.
"Two Pinchit soldiers and a Larnikin nester," the first customer said, placing the eggs on the counter. Ray picked them up and put them in her own basket, labeling them accordingly before printing out a receipt.
"Here you go: that's 600 experience for your Habitarium."
"You're welcome. Have fun with your Habitarium!" Ray watched the customer walk away briefly before turning to the next one, a Red Ruki. "Hello. What can I help you with?"
"My last Pinchit nester died. Can I get another one?"
"I'm sorry, but you already have several Mootix and Larnikin nesters. To get a Pinchit nester, you'll have to wait until you level up and get an egg and hope you get lucky. Or you can let all of your nesters die, and then Professor Clodbottle will issue you a new nester."
"Oh, okay." The Ruki walked away, looking dejected.
Ray looked at the line. "Next?"
"Hi. I've got five eggs to discard."
"What types are they?" Ray asked politely, picking out the correct egg labels. She worked at the Habitarium-Help window for a few hours, and the line dwindled. Finally, she labeled the last of the discarded eggs and brought them in the back.
"We've got a big haul today," she informed the Professor.
"Put twenty nester eggs in incubation; the rest can go in storage for now."
"Yes, sir." Ray divided up the nester eggs as equally as she could; she knew that, once they hatched, Professor Clodbottle would issue them to either new Habitariums, Habitariums that had died out, or Habitariums that didn't have any nesters left. She put six Larnikin nester eggs and six Mootix nester eggs in the incubator; then, thinking of the Ruki who had wanted a Pinchit nester, put eight Pinchit eggs in. Who knows, maybe luck would be in his favor and he would get the petpetpet species he wanted.
"No soldier or worker eggs?" she asked.
"No, we still have some left from the last batch," the Professor confirmed.
"How's the report coming?" Ray walked over to stand near the Professor's shoulder.
"Nearly done, for now. The third tail-antennae makes her 60% more efficient at gathering rock and wood, 65% more efficient at gathering mud, water, and pollen, and 75% more efficient at gathering grass. And take a look at her now." He tapped the edge of the Habitarium very lightly with his pencil; Ray leaned over to see the special Mootix already sitting on a good-sized egg.
"Wow. She laid it fast."
"Yes, and it's already a third of the way done incubating. Oh, I hope it has three tail-antennae as well! I wonder, if it's a soldier, if the extra antennae will help in raids, or in fighting off pests." Professor Clodbottle made a few more notes on his paper, and then laid his pencil down. "Well, there's nothing else I can say until the egg hatches. I must say, if it's true that these Mootix are more efficient, it will be my biggest discovery since I invented the Habitarium!" After a moment, the professor smiled. "And you're name will be on the report as well."
Ray waved her hand quickly in polite protest. "Oh, no, Professor. I appreciate the thought, but I haven't done anything related to that Mootix. It would be your discovery."
"Nonsense, with you around, I'm able to get more work done than ever. And I'm sure before this report is finished, I'll have asked you to do some testing with the new type of Mootix. You're well on your way to being a full-fledged petpetpetiologist, Ray."
Ray beamed at him, and Professor Clodbottle chuckled. "Well, I think we're done for the night. Why don't you head on home, and I'll lock up here?"
"Sounds good to me. Thank you, Professor, and congrats on your discovery!"
Ray waved goodbye, heading over to her desk to gather up her things before leaving the Habitarium Laboratory and heading towards home.
"I'm very lucky," Ray thought. It had been almost a year since Milton Clodbottle had moved his Laboratory to the edge of Brightvale. When his lab had been set up in Mystery Island, it had been too far for Ray to commute, but then the Professor had decided to move to Brightvale. The weather in Brightvale was slightly cooler and more stable than it was on the island, and therefore it was a better environment for the Habitariums.
And once he had his headquarters set up here, Ray had applied to be his assistant. She was well on her way to becoming a petpetpetiologist, just as the Professor had said.
Ray's love of petpetpets went as far back as she could remember, even before she was in the pound, and she barely remembered her pound-days. It was like a dream-come-true when she was able to work alongside the most famous petpetpetiologist in Neopia.
Once back home, Ray dug some left-overs out from the fridge while her owner, Lina, got ready to leave for the night. She stopped by the kitchen before she left, though.
"Hey Ray. How was work?"
Ray started heating up some spaghetti. "It was good. Pretty much an average day. Professor Clodbottle might have just discovered a new type of Mootix, though."
"Oh, that's exciting!" Lina said. "How is Milton? I haven't seen him in ages."
"The same as ever. Obsessed with bugs."
"As are you," Lina teased lightly. Ray shrugged and smiled; it was true.
"Well, I'm off. Will I see you in the morning?" Lina asked.
"Probably not; I'm planning on heading out early."
"Okay. I'll see you when you get back in the afternoon then." Lina hugged her Maraquan Aisha good-bye and then left the Neohome.
Ray woke up early the next day, eager to get back to her job and see how the three-antenna Mootix's egg was coming along.
The sun was already high in the sky when she finished the long walk from Neopia Central, where she, her owner, and all her siblings lived. But she had still beaten the Professor, so she unlocked the doors herself.
Although she did want to check on her self-watering-fertilizing petpetpets, and she was curious about the egg, her primary duty would be to assist those at the Habitarium-Help window. After setting her stuff down, she opened it to already see a small line of customers, most of them here, like yesterday, to discard eggs and get experience in return.
"Hello Ray!" the Professor called when he did come in, taking off his coat, but leaving his hat on.
"Morning Professor," Ray answered briefly, before turning back to help the Jetsam at the window count out how many Mootix Soldier eggs he had.
"Ray, come quickly!" Professor Clodbottle said, his voice pitched high with excitement.
Ray smiled at the Jetsam, saying, "Excuse me," before ducking away to see what was causing the Professor to be so excited. She knew as soon as she saw the Habitarium he was looking at.
"It's hatching!" he whispered.
Ray and Professor Milton Clodbottle bent over the Mootix egg, watching as it shook and squeaked. Tiny cracks appeared along the surface of the egg shell, and finally, a baby Mootix burst forth from the egg.
"It's a worker!" the Professor cried happily, clapping his hands together with joy. "And it has the third tail-antenna!"
Ray saw that it indeed was true; this Mootix had an extra antenna on its tail, just like its mother did.
"I want to see if it builds faster than a regular Mootix. And I want the mother nester to lay another egg. Come on, you," he said, picking up the original three-antenna Mootix and putting her into a house. "Rest up. I need you to get your strength back so you can lay another egg for me."
"Congrats, Professor," Ray said, clapping him on the back and taking one last glance at the new Mootix before heading back to the Habitarium-Help window.
Ray was a Maraquan Aisha, and she was Professor Milton Clodbottle's assistant. Since her aspiration was to be a petpetpetiologist, this was her dream job.
Finally, the line at the Habitarium-Help desk dwindled, and Ray went back to check on the Professor and his new special Mootix.
"She's laying another egg!" the Professor exclaimed, pointing to the nester. "And look at how fast this little worker is building that storage unit! All by himself, too!"
"Amazing!" Ray said, equally fascinated by the petpetpets. She watched them for another minute, before going to attend to some of her other duties as Clodbottle's assistant. She checked on the incubating eggs and put the discarded eggs from many different Neopians' Habitariums in storage, where they would be used for new Habitariums later. Finally, she checked on the experiment she was in charge of: petpetpets that could care for the flowers in their Habitariums all by themselves.
She frowned; although the flowers in the control group, which were the ones that she herself was taking care of, were thriving, the flowers that the petpetpets were supposed to care for had all wilted. They were was ample amounts of fertilizer and water in the Habitariums, but the petpetpets just didn't have the time to harvest materials and care for the flowers. She made a note of this in her own report journal, but still went ahead to take care of the flowers in the control group.
"Professor," she said after a couple of moments, "do you suppose that the new type of Mootix would be more successful at caring for the Habitarium flowers?"
Professor Clodbottle paused, his head tilted to the side as he considered the idea. "It certainly is possible. The experiment is not going well?"
"See for yourself," Ray said, gesturing to the Habitariums.
The Professor walked closer, and then whistled. "Yup, those flowers are not doing well at all. Tell you what, once I hatch a few more three-tailed Mootix, we'll transfer some into the experimental Habitariums and see if the flowers perk up?"
"Sounds good to me," Ray said.
The next egg that the nester hatched was another nester, and Professor Clodbottle jumped up in the air, cheering, when it too had three tail-antennas. Ray giggled at his enthusiasm before returning to the Habitarium-Help desk, where another line had built up, and started helping Neopians with their Habitariums.
Over the next couple of days, the three-tailed Mootix nesters kept on producing nesters, soldiers, and workers, all of them with three tails as well. Finally, the Professor and Ray did introduce them to the experimental Habitariums, where the flowers were essentially dying.
"There," Ray said. "They have everything they need to care for the flowers; let's see if they can figure out how to do so."
Together they watched, and one little three-tailed-antenna Mootix picked up a water droplet and brought it over to the wilting blossom.
"Yes!" Ray cheered, and she realized that she had just copied Clodbottle's jump of joy.
The next morning, when Ray rushed in to check on the Habitariums, all five flowers in the experimental groups were flourishing, just as those in the control groups where. The three-tail-antenna Mootix were tending to the flowers and the other petpetpets in the Habitarium where harvesting pollen from it.
"Fascinating," Clodbottle said when he saw them. "It's the same with everything they do. The extra antenna raises body heat slightly so they can lay and hatch eggs faster. It allows them to carry more supplies. It even acts as an extra weapon during battle. These new Mootix really are more productive!"
He added some final notes to his report and then began re-reading it. "I'd say this is almost ready to be submitted. I'm going to unveil the new Mootix at the Habitarium convention next week. And, Ray, I'd like to invite you to come."
"Me?" she squeaked. "Oh, that's amazing! I can't wait!"
"Excellent! This little Mootix will change Habitariums forever, Ray, I can tell you that much!"
To be continued...