narrated by George “Wind Walker” Ross
We all have fears that run to the roots of our being. Things we do not process rationally no matter how reasonable we may otherwise be. When I was human I took it for granted that the fears I couldn’t face were eminently reasonable. Fire, being buried alive, snakes. All of these seemed like that kind of thing that my mind was afraid of for very good reasons.
That was before I was changed, before I became a creature that I had once been terrified of.
The transformation from man to monster stripped away so much of what I was, so much of who I’d been. The beast that I became looked at the world through very different eyes and saw that the man I’d once been was a fool.
I’d been afraid of uncontrolled fire, but my body had burned like the sun after I became the final test subject of my deranged research partner. I’d been terrified of the earth swallowing me whole and yet I had fled to its embrace as the synthetic antivenom he’d injected me with wrought its agonizing changes.
And then there were the snakes.
Terrible, deadly and, as I finally saw once everything else seemed lost, so very misunderstood.
I’d seen snakes as a symbol of death, a symbol of corruption and evil. As I lay within the embrace of the Earth, my body drifting away to nothingness, I brushed one. Just a little garden snake. That simple contact saved me and opened my eyes at last.
The things I’d been afraid of? They could kill me, but they couldn’t destroy me. Fire could burn me but it was the fear I carried of it that could truly limit me. Being buried alive might end my life, but my fear of it was a prison every bit as constraining as the heaviest soil and rock.
Where I’d seen snakes as creatures of mythical significance and deadly peril, my contact with the one revealed the plainest of truths. They were no more or less than living creatures. Simple beasts trying to get from one day to the next. Not mysteries or threats, but something that could be understood. With my new eyes I saw I had no reason to fear them and so many things I could learn from them and from all the things I’d been afraid of.
If there was any cruelty in the gift the Earth gave me, it was that behind my new eyes, I retained the memories of the man I’d been. Looking at myself I saw a simple creature trying to do no more than get from one day to the next. Not a mystery or threat. From my memories though I knew that was not how the humans I had left behind would see me.
My story could have been one of isolation and madness. I could have spent my days hiding from the humans who would hate and fear me, but fate had other plans for me.
The transformation wasn’t just a simple physical alteration; it reached deep into my cells and activated powers lad had lain dormant my entire life. As my base form shifted to a strange hybrid between serpent and man, I gained the power to change my body to a purely gaseous state for brief periods of time. It was this power that had let me burrow into the tiny crevices in the earth to escape the burning pain of the transformation and the same power that had allowed me to restructure my body as my cells ignited in the chemical fire my body had become.
The powers I gained made my new life possible, but it was the children I discovered that gave it meaning.
I had believed we were working on a new formula for a global antivenom. Giving metahuman powers to normal humans was a perilous and illegal undertaking. Experiments in that field produced thousands of casualties and tens of thousands of failures for every success. According to my research though, gifting a human with metahuman abilities for a very brief time window would virtually eliminate the chance for negative side effects.
There weren’t many uses for super powered abilities that lasted for less than a second and couldn’t be induced more than once a month safely. Useage as an antitoxin research had been my research partner’s idea. With just a short burst of the right ability, the patient could completely metabolize whatever deadly substance they’d been exposed to and the chances that they would need additional treatments for poisoning within a month were low enough that it sounded like the optimal place to begin our work.
What I hadn’t seen was that my partner didn’t think the formulations could ever be perfected sufficiently for human use. Humans were too complex and too scarce as research specimens, or so he’d believed.
He’d been looking at the formula not for its effects on humans, but for what it could do to animals. Rather than apply a temporary effect to a human, his mad vision was apply a permanent effect to animals and then use them as expendable super powered soldiers.
I’m not sure why he thought to work with snakes. Perhaps because we had them on hand for the antivenom work I was doing. He may also have been feeling pressed for a time since the “investors” who had backed his work were demanding results.
That was what pushed him to murder. I had the notes he needed but as soon as he began running his experiments I would know what he was doing. So I was the first and last “human experiment”. He gave me a dose of my own formula that was ten million times stronger than what I’d calculated the “safe dose” to be. Then he injected the snakes we had on hand.
To his credit the formula that he created from my notes was in some sense a success. Because I’d calculated the initial data by starting from my own DNA sequence, I survived the ordeal. The snakes he was working with though did not gain super powers. Instead they gained the fragment of humanity that I lost.
It was days before I recovered from my transformation ordeal and an even longer time for them. When I managed to return back to the lab I found my ex-partner’s bullet riddled corpse. His backers had been singularly unhappy with his failure to produce. I was going to abandon the lab and return to the Earth’s embrace when I heard the first cries from the specimen room.
What I saw waiting there with my new eyes weren’t monsters. They were the children of the science I had worked so long and hard on. Seven little creatures the size of toddlers with all too human eyes and faces.
I took them from there and raised them, watching them grow over the years to the size of children and then teenagers as their minds expanded with the same voraciousness I’d possessed as a child. For as beautiful and playful and kind as I saw my children to be though, I knew they had to be kept hidden. I didn’t hate humans, or wish them harm, but, as my partner had taught me, I couldn’t risk trusting them either.
We travelled and visited many wondrous sites, my children and I, but we were always careful not to interfere with or make ourselves known to the humans we lived near. That is until they became sick.
My smallest one, Teali, was the first to notice the effect. Her speech became slurred one day and her appetite vanished. Then the next smallest, M’kala, started to fade away.
I had not raised them for so many years, nor been a scientist for so many years before that to allow them to be taken from me that easily though.
Assembling a lab was trivial with my powers. That let me isolate the problem. What was happening to them was not a natural effect.
They had been poisoned.
It was an incredibly trace amount of toxin that had leaked into the water we drank. So little that it shouldn’t have had any effect on them at all. I stole more lab equipment and delved deeper, working faster than I’d ever worked before.
Cutting off the source of the toxin wasn’t enough to prevent more of my children from succumbing to its effect but I wasn’t affected at all. That was clue that I needed. The toxin was tailored to attack the cell structure of hybrids that were morphed from an animal base. Once effected by the toxin, the cells would die and release a compound that caused nearby cells to generate more of the toxin. In short, it was a weapon that had been developed specifically to kill people like my children and someone was releasing it in nearly untraceable doses into the water supply.
I searched for days for a cure for the effect, watching my smallest ones grow sicker and weaker all the while.
In desperation I turned back to my original formula. It hadn’t granted my children metahuman abilities and I didn’t have time to research the root genetic markers for metaserpent abilities. What I did have was a catalog of data on different snake DNA patterns. I couldn’t give them super powers, but the toxin was so precisely tailor to what they were that even a small transformation might be enough to allow them to escape its effects.
After a few treatments I saw that I had stumbled onto the right idea, but I wasn’t able to take it far enough. The micro-transformations were able to slow the deterioration but not stop it. The snake data that I had wasn’t sufficiently different to put them outside the effect of the toxin. What I needed was a source of snake DNA that was far removed from the modern day snakes I had been experimenting with.
That’s when I’d turned to the museums.
I hated the idea of robbing museums on a number of levels. Primarily because it exposed my family to too much risk. We’d been able to live peaceful lives because we kept largely to ourselves. Robbing a museum was going to make us the target of all sorts of attention. Beyond that though, not only did robbery feel wrong, but robbing a museum felt especially out of bounds. I’d always loved museums when I was a man, and the thought of doing harm to ancient relics filled me with nausea.
Balanced against that was the thought that I might lose Teali.
The first night in the museum I only scouted the place and took pictures. There was an exhibit of ancient Cambodian artifacts which included several pieces that had been carved from the bones and fangs of the giant serpents which had once lived there. I went over the drawings with the children and we picked out the one that looked most likely to contain a useful DNA sample.
My children are each talented in their own ways. Gaun, the middle child, has a gift for sculpture that surpasses anything I’ve seen before. He was able to fashion a near perfect replica of the relic from clay. The plan was that I would sneak in, steal the actual relic and replace it with Gaun’s copy. The forgery would keep people from looking for us until I was able to synthesize a better anti-toxin and then I would put the original back.
The plan proceeded perfectly with only a single hitch. The museum had been deceived as to the antiquity of the piece we chose. The relic had been crafted in the style of other ancient pieces and discovered among them, but the snake it was carved from had almost identical DNA to the snakes that I studied.
So I went back the next night, with another forgery in hand.
This yielded better results but the snake DNA was still too modern.
Another night yielded yet another forgery.
The fourth night, I decided, would the last attempt at the museum. I would find another source of snake DNA, or devise another treatment if I didn’t find anything useful there. In retrospect I probably should have given up on the third night, because what I found waiting for on the fourth night was a costumed hero.