I’m going to make a confession: I’m evil.
It’s a confession I’m making both to you and to myself: I’m evil and I always have been, just like my father before me. Dad always boasted about how villainous he was – “for honesty’s sake”, he’d say – but throughout my scientific career, I had never made such a claim. Even if it was all to avenge Dad’s death.
You’ve heard of him, haven’t you? The evil Dr. Hartem? Well, I bet you’ve heard of his most famous creations, The Slithering Super Snakes. Their leader, Tennyson the cobra. That violent Blake. Whitman and his hellish laugh and axe tail. Shelley, whose scientific knowledge probably exceeds my own.
Dad created them to commit crimes for him, to steal money to fund further projects. The snakes turned against him though, and it still pains me to look back on that day. That day when I fled. That day when I could have saved him.
The snakes had mostly destroyed his laboratory, but I was able to salvage some of his notes and blueprints. I ran away and used what I had found to start my own laboratory, where I slowly recreated Dad’s experiments.
Now the thought did occur to me that doing this would make me as villainous as Dad was, but I kept telling myself that avenging a life taken too soon, even an evil life, was a good goal. It wouldn’t be just his life I would be avenging either; I remembered seeing a news report where a robber had been caught while searching for the snakes, yelling that they killed his best friend. People forced into stealing and crime due to conditions beyond their control, reduced to bloody bits by four freakish abominations.
What better way to battle freakish abominations than with other freakish abominations?
I took in two stray cats I found wondering through a filthy alleyway – one which sported a chalk outline of the Snake’s then-latest victim – and though I used cruder resources than my father, I managed to give them speech, intelligence and even opposable thumbs.
Unlike the Snakes, they were loyal to me.
My father named his creations after poets, yet I just called these two Joe and Dave. I taught them everything I knew, helped them exercises, fed them regularly. While I went out to buy them food – in a disguise and a new alias, for too many people knew me as Hartem’s daughter – I found mattresses for their beds, clothes, even books for them to read.
All they had to do in return was steal for me. Money and technology. Thanks to them, my little laboratory grew and grew, for Joe and Dave were mostly successful in their work.
My father’s rival, Dr. Flatter, had one day announced he was working on a serum that would allow any animal, including humans, to travel at greater speeds. Seeing great use in such a thing, I ordered Joe and Dave to, after their feast of wet cat food, steal Flatter’s plans.
Only Dave returned.
The Snakes seemed to like Dr. Flatter, I suppose because he was a scientist who wasn’t making “monsters”. They acted as his guard dogs, it looked like, hiding around his laboratory, waiting for someone to strike.
I wasn’t the only one who studied Dr. Hartem’s research. The Snakes apparently got their hands – well, so to speak – on some of his notes on animal transformation as well. That, or Dad programmed that knowledge into Shelley’s brain, as she was the one with syringes of special potion at the tips of her mechanical fingers.
From what Dave told me when he returned, Shelley injected Joe with a serum that seemed to be returning him to his former self – and as he writhed around on the floor in pain, Whitman sprung up and shoved his axe in Joe’s brain.
I thought I had prepared myself for the possibility that one or both of my cats wouldn’t return after a mission, yet when I heard the news, I held Dave tightly, telling him that I would be here for him. My own son, killed by his own uncles and aunt.
From that forward, Dave continued to aid me in the lab, yet rarely ever went outside. Even in my company, he swore he saw a glint of an axe or heard the whirring of Shelley’s machinery. At night, he would wake up screaming, often muttering ‘They’re coming,’ and ‘I see them,’ or describing Joe’s limbs shaking and shrinking. I would then come to him and soothe him by singing “Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?”
So when you lose one helper, you make more.
I not only found out how to make animals anthropomorphic, but how to give humans animal qualities as well. While out looking for any sign of the Snakes, I instead came across Terrance Fladford, who had turned to crime when his stint as a children’s entertainer failed. “Barry the Bunny” he called himself.
I made him into “Bad Bunny”.
Mixing his DNA with that of a hare, as well as other animals, gave him sharp claws, greater speed and a more frightening appearance, that, I hoped, would help protect him against the Snakes.
He lasted two nights.
He failed, so I tried again. One criminal came to me wishing he was more frightening and I actually managed to give him a Jack-O-Lantern head – an actual pumpkin for a head – and sharp claws. He pulled off a crime spree that lasted a week before Blake ripped off his head, ate it, and spat out the seeds all over his corpse. I looked high and low for a mongoose to mutate, only for the resulting creation to be ripped apart in an evening.
All my creations, all my children, gone.
There was one day I built a machine that opened portals to other dimensions to find allies. The less said about that the better.
Thankfully, Dave remained alive. Despite his fears, we never had the Snakes crawl into our lab and slice us up. Every day we thanked the heavens we were still alive.
Every day I thought about life and death. So, as soon as I managed to accumulate enough resources, I attempted to bring back the dead.
What better person to start with than my own father?
Well, I didn’t completely restore him. The only part of him I took back to my lab was his brain, which I attached to a robotic body I had spent two months on. A bulky torso with extendable limbs, and wires to keep the brain in place. Activating the robot reactivated the brain, which would talk to me through a speaker on the robot’s stomach.
The first thing he did upon activation was scream.
I had spent so much time trying to eliminate murderous snakes, spent so much time creating hideous abominations of nature, yet even after all that, I couldn’t help but cower as he screamed.
‘Jane?’ His mechanical limbs clicked. ‘I knew you would do this.’
‘Dad,’ I said, my voice almost a whisper. ‘Dave!’ I cried, ‘Come here and see Grandpa!’
‘I knew you would do this,’ Dad repeated, ‘but I can’t stay long.’
‘What do you mean?’ I turned around and saw Dave walking towards me before quickly backing away.
‘I am in Hell. They’ll bring me back.
‘They won’t let it stop.’
Before I could ask, he described to me what he had seen when he died.
Another world. A world like ours without me, Dad, Dave or the Snakes in it.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true.
We were fictional characters. We existed only in that world as a comic book and a cartoon, with the latter being the more well-known.
A cartoon show, broadcast on television on Saturday mornings, where the Slithering Super Snakes were the heroes. Children everywhere leapt for joy upon seeing a quartet of murderous monsters.
The cartoon presented a perverted version of our world and history. The Snakes were not created by Dad in the show, instead they were created by Dr. Flatter, created to do good from the start. Whitman had a mallet at the end of his tail instead of an axe, whacking criminals on the head as stars flew out. All four snakes constantly high-fived each other with the ends of their tails and cried ‘Awesssome!’
A phrase that, of course, was featured on several posters and t-shirts.
Dad was on the cartoon’s pilot episode, and he died there, only he tripped and fell into an open vat of chemicals. I was on the show, and so were Dave and Joe. The Snakes on the cartoon never killed Joe, though both him and Dave had been reduced to idiots, good for nothing but being hit on the head by Whitman.
I could only sigh and look at Dave, who was always looking to expand his knowledge to help me, reading frequently and listening to science audiobooks to help him sleep.
‘…and they seriously have Whitman say “For Heaven’s Sn…’ With that, the robot collapsed to the floor.
There was nothing I could do to free Dad from his nightmare – a nightmare that I’m certain will be awaiting me as well – but, I thought, I could at least make it more bearable.
I vowed I would never use my inter-dimensional portal again, but the stories Dad told me made me search out that world he was tortured by. Before I entered the portal myself, I sent in a small mobile camera which would search out places of interest.
I teleported into a birthday party themed around my father’s killers.
Banners shaped like snakes, labelled with “Have An Awesssome Birthday!” A “pin the mallet on Whitman” game stuck on a wall. Children wearing cardboard Tennyson, Whitman, Shelley and Blake masks, as if they wanted to be the Snakes. Children wearing masks staring at me because they thought I was a complement to the man dressed as a Tennyson with arms and legs.
All I could do was laugh. The children reacted the same way I did when I heard Whitman laugh.
From my pocket, I pulled out photos, documents, articles, anything I could find about my enemies and scattered them all over the plastic Slithering Super Snakes tablecloth. ‘These,’ I hissed, pointing at the dead bodies, the blood and the descriptions of horrific laughter, ‘these are your heroes.’
Then I left and didn’t use the machine again for a week. Just standing in that world made me feel like I was going to vomit.
In retrospect, I should have destroyed it there and then.
When I used it again, my camera detected a collector, who not only liked the cartoon but the comic books, which depicted the Snakes as the killers they were. He knew they were murderers, he knew they were monsters, yet still idolised them.
When the camera returned, I entered the portal, which took me to a field not too far from the collector’s house. I took a deep breath, preparing myself for something worse than the party…
I fell before even reaching the house.
The last thing I saw before blacking out was the scaly face of Shelley.
I fully expected to open my eyes and find myself in the same Hell Dad was in, but instead, I was back home, lying on Dave’s bed as he looked at me. ‘Oh good,’ he said, ‘you’re awake.’
‘The Snakes…’ I said, ‘they were…’
Dave bit his lip.
‘Why didn’t they kill me?’
I received my answer a few days later, when I found out that a new Bad Bunny was on the streets. When I heard about him, I instantly knew the Snakes created him.
They knew where I lived. They knew where I worked. Frequently they paid visits to my laboratory without me knowing.
But they didn’t kill me. They needed me.
They were disgusted with themselves. They were hideous creatures that shouldn’t exist and they knew it.
There was only one thing that made them feel comfortable about their existence and that was stopping villains.
And they needed me to make those villains.