Pteropus vampyrus communique (The Mail Bat).

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July 2013
NOT FOR SALE
See my current artwork on Etsy

At the time of the Great Dividing, when the people of the skies and those of the earth below took up arms against each other, communication became even more imperative than before. Due to the destruction of wire towers and the Sound Enhancement System (SES), both sides resorted to more primitive means of getting messages to one another. The people of the earth, or Ferals, experimented with several sorts of animal messengers. Of these, perhaps one of the oddest, and certainly most terrifying, attempts was the Bat Brigade.

Smaller species of bat, such as the little skyward and Jensen’s moth bat, were used for single messages at night; their size and maneuverability made them quite difficult targets. For larger bundles, such as medicines and single-use Time Elements, the fruit bat was the chiropteran of choice. Several species were used, though Pteropus vampyrus was the most popular, and in fact a particular strain developed just for this purpose was bred and dubbed communique. Their robust size coupled with a particularly keen intelligence gave them an edge; some handlers swore their bats had an almost human intelligence, seeming to understand the importance of their roles. There are stories of otherwise comfortably retired bats fighting their handlers to take to the skies in their old routes, even snatching up whatever scrap of paper or small item to “deliver”! Further aiding the bats, the people of the skies, the Aeries, had a peculiar superstition about them that often prevented them from bringing harm even to the Ferals’ flying messengers.

This preserved specimen is unusual in that its wing membranes have been replaced with a light, strong fabric. Wing damage was a common injury sustained by the bats, and if the damage was severe enough the membranes would be surgically removed and prosthetics such as these added on. Sometimes these prosthetics gave the bat superior flying capabilities, though none were relieved of their natural membranes unless injury necessitated it. Since the prosthetics did not attach all the way down the legs, the bats would wear small “trousers” to help with steering and to anchor the bottom inside corners of their wings.

This bat has an especially large load to carry; the freight harness it wears accommodates both a small package and four single-dose medicine bottles. The vulnerable shoulder joints are covered in leather pauldrons painted with the floral symbol of the Eastern division of the Bat Brigade. This bat was likely a veteran of many flights; the patch over a lost eye suggests a close brush with death, since it takes quite a bit of skill and some luck to damage such a small target instead of the larger wings.

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This piece was made from a very old taxidermy mount of a Pteropus vampyrus fruit bat. This bat is listed in CITES Appendix II, so limited trade is allowed, though this one far predates CITES’ creation in 1975. It was once a lovely display piece and was obtained from a museum; it still has its original inventory tag (now converted to a “dog tag” around its neck). The mount was very badly damaged when I got it; the wing membranes were disintegrating, there was other damage around the face and sides, and it was caked with decades of dust and filth. Several of the hind claws are missing as well, as is the left glass eye.

I spent a great deal of time cleaning the mount, removing the dust and grime. The wing membranes were sadly unsalvagable, so I ended up taking the opportunity to completely customize it, steampunk style! It’s now a messenger bat, delivering packets and bottles to recipients across the land. (The “communique” addendum to the Latin name was my own addition, hence “messenger bat”.)

Where possible, I have used secondhand and/or locally sourced materials. The wood and glass display board the bat is on is original, and the wood was polished with olive oil and vinegar. The leather for the harness and patch was from secondhand jackets from the Goodwill outlet store; the wing fabric was obtained from Fabric Depot, a local independent business. The fabric for the pants was salvaged from an old bed sheet and lightly dyed with coffee that was past the point of safe consumption. The package on the back was made from a secondhand paper jewelry box obtained from the Portland Fixture Store and wrapped in part of a torn paper bag. I nabbed the glass vials from my partner’s art stash (with his permission, of course).

Shown at the GEAR Con 2013 Art Show, the Curious Gallery 2014 Art Show, and the Mounted 2014 group show at Good: A Gallery.

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