Her head jerked up, the tentacle in her hands twitched of its own accord, and an inky substance squirted across the nearby wall, where it immediately burned a hole in the wood paneling. Evelyn Navon glared at the tiny Asian man who had interrupted her. Two of her hands pinned the tentacle back to the table, while a third raised her protective goggles from her eyes, to better project the force of her glare. “God damn it Clarence! How many times have I told you to knock? I am in the middle of a very delicate experiment.”
Clarence Prometheus didn’t pay a whit of attention to her glare, or the anger in her words. Instead, he inspected the paneling where it was melted, a smile on his face. “Ach lass, it looks like you’ve finally got the mixture right!” The thick Scottish burr that emanated from the tiny wrinkled Asian features was generally a shock to anyone who hadn’t met Dr. Prometheus before. Many an intern had dug into his past, in hopes of explaining it, but these people were rarely heard from again. The good doctor liked his secrets. “And I knocked. Repeatedly. Then I opened the door. Slowly. Called your name, musta been a half a dozen times. You were lost in your own little world, aye?” He eyed her carefully, prepared for an explosion. She was his best scientist, and his most erratic.
Evelyn carefully pinned the writhing tentacle to the table with strong metal clamps, and even more carefully lowered a glass sphere over the end with the acid squirter. She took a moment to make sure that it was still comfortably attached to the complicated machine that kept it alive, and then turned her full attention to her technical superior. Mentally, the term made her snort. She was far more intelligent than he was; just because it was his company didn’t make him superior in anything but name. “I may be a little distracted. But if you want the Eight of Spades rolled out in time for the new year, I have to be focused.”
“A little focused, aye. A wee bit even. But I’ve never seen you so deep in your work.” He absently touched the tablet in his hand, and his eyes roved over numbers he had already memorized. “In the past month, you’ve finished the Ace of Hearts, the Two of Clubs, and all four Fives, with hardly a break in between. And you’re not spending any time with the children after you breed them, like normal. I think the Fives are going to have some definite Oedipus complexes. And,” as he laid one finger aside of his nose, and tapped it lightly, “don’t think I haven’t noticed you’ve been all fired up since ye got that wee message from the Hand. Something happened at that meet up, didn’t it?”
Without thinking about it, Dr. Navon's eyes drifted to a box very carefully secured on a shelf above her desk. A couple of her eyes teared up, and were quickly wiped away by a slim tendril designed for such delicate work. “I’m sorry, Doctor- Clarence. It’s very… personal.”
“But hasn’t all your work for me been personal?” He hopped up on one of her empty medical carts, his tiny legs kicked as he got himself comfortable. “I might even exposit, that’s one of the reasons you came to work for me in the first place, innit? Because I could offer you resources you couldn’t get anywhere else.”
“They were so stupid.” She hissed, as a forked tongue flickered between her lips, her eyes locked in the far distant past. “I could have worked miracles with what they chose to contain. I could’ve saved my children, fixed them.” Her hands gripped the metal table in front of her, and bent the edge without conscious thought.
The wee Scot egged her on; he wanted her to keep talking, wanted to hear the full story. “Given them a life better than the box your husband thought they deserved. It musta hurt, losing two children to your Foundation, in the same day.”
“We tried to stop them.” She repeated it to herself, by now so deep in thought that her boss was little more than another voice in her head. “We tried to stop them. We both rose through the ranks. Sought power we’d avoided before. He tried, damn it! He loved those kids, just like I did.”
“But trying isn’t enough.” The impish little inventor smiled to himself, but his tone sounded contrite and caring.
“No. I told him that. If we couldn’t free our kids, even with the power of an Overseer? Then the system didn’t work. It couldn’t work! And then, to add insult to injury, my sweet beautiful James…” She sobbed and her entire body quivered, in memory of her anger.
“So what did you do?” He whispered, and hoped against hope that maybe, this time, she’d tell him why she ran to him in the first place.
“I experimented.” Her voice was raw with emotion, as she started into that distant time, the memories fresh before her eyes. “I was a nurse, back in the days, before this all started. Worked closely with my husband. When we went from being mercenaries to federally funded, I kept on in that vein. Medicine, with a specialty in bizarre humanoid mutations. Got into biology. DNA splicing. Thanks to things we’d discovered along the way, our knowledge was light years ahead of the time. And when you have things that can literally glue flesh together, or combine man with machine, you don’t actually need much extra.” She paused, not because of anything her boss had done, but just to let the old memories flood her mind.
“So I fiddled. Mixed a little of this, a little of that. Built something, to show them what I could do, to prove that I could fix my children, make James himself again, make little Thomas normal, make Sarah…” She screamed suddenly, a raw, emotional sound, her head raised to the heavens. A second mouth opened, and a third, each of them adding tone and tenor to her scream, which caused the bottles on their shelves to shake, and the severed tentacle twitched in sympathy. She spoke again, all three mouths burbling up with words. “I showed them. It was beautiful, my first artificial baby. Used a disposable to conceive it, which was a mistake I’d never make again. I showed the Council my beautiful baby boy and they, they called me a monster. Said I was perverting their noble goal. That the Foundation existed to contain monsters, not create them. I… May have gotten a little mad. Called them all a bunch of sanctimonious pricks. They tried to order me to kill my child, tried to get Adam to rein me in. Like my husband could control me.”
She took a deep breath, steadied herself, her non primary mouths faded back in to look like just another wrinkle in her skin. Her body inflated slightly, but noticeably, each time she breathed, like a set of bagpipes. “So I turned loose that first, unnamed, created child of mine. Right there in the council chamber, I told him to kill them all. The look on Six’s face as my little darling popped his head off like a daisy, that was bliss. I didn’t stick around to enjoy it. I ran, hard and fast. Adam, poor dear, stepped in my way, his pretty little guns drawn. I knew he wouldn’t fire. Didn’t stop one of the bodyguards from winging me as I left that life behind me.“
“And you came to me, named your first project after the son you hoped to fix.” Prometheus said. “I always wondered.” His eyes searched her face, a little overawed by the information he’d received. “Why me?”
“You were the only one who made sense.” She said with a shrug. “The guys behind the Wondertainment brand are a bunch of looney tunes, and MCD would have tried to sell my babies to the highest bidder. You, well, even then I knew you were different. Not driven by a desire to sell, but just by the sheer joy of creation. And look at what I’ve created!” She took another deep breath, and stretched… and kept on stretching; her body unfolded, and rose out of itself like one of these firework snakes.
“I couldn’t give my babies any adjustments that I wouldn’t take myself!” Three sets of great leathery wings popped loose with a sound like thunder. A great, cavernous maw opened in her belly, lined with sharp little teeth. A thick, lewd tongue licked those slimy lips. “My natural children taken from me, I would become a monster myself, and mother to monsters!” Limbs of every shape and nature lashed out, and struggled with each other as she roared the words.
The littlest titan couldn’t help but applaud at her awe inspiring form. “Oh, but you are beautiful in your rage, my Evelyn, my Echidna!” He hopped to his feet to dance a little jig. “Best decision of my life, to take you in.”
She paused, looked down at him, and began to shrink back into herself. “You don’t regret it, do you, my love?” One dainty human hand reached out of the mass of tentacles, hooks, scales and spikes to take his hand. She might not always show him affection, but it was always there, under the snark. “They came after you, because of me. They damn near ruined you, because you had kept me safe.”
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat!” He grasped her hand, and gazed up at her terrible form with nothing but love, and admiration. The woman–thing had his heart… in a small jar on her desk. It looked so much better there, and she had given him a new one. “You have always been the best thing that ever happened to me. Without you, I would be a lonely man, not to mention broke. With you, I am fulfilled, and I have an army to help me!” His free hand reached out to stroke a hide like grey leather, and he smiled. “And now I’ve broken you out of your shell, maybe you will tell me what’s really troubling you?”
“Oh. Oh Clarence.” She sobbed, as she deflated once more into the shape of a woman. Her limbs embraced him, tendrils and regular looking arms both, and drew him up to her. She held on to him tight, as if he were a favorite teddy bear. She sobbed into his shoulder, and cried for the first time since her family reunion. “My daughter. My poor, sweet, innocent Claire. She’s.” Her voice hitched, unable to let it out.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay my dear.” His own stubby arms wrapped tight around her, as he comforted her as best he could. “You knew she was getting old, even with the body transplant. She lived a long, full life, one made happier because of what you could do for her.” One hand stroked her hair, calming her.
“A parent shouldn’t have to outlive their child, again.” She sobbed.
“But you have so many more. You know she wouldn’t want you to be sad. She’d just want you to strike a blow in her name.” He gave her cheek a loving stroke, and kissed her lips.
“You’re right. You’re right.” Reformed now, into a shape that, for the most part, had only two arms, and two legs. Her body and mind once more in alignment, now that she had vented her rage. “You always know the right words to say, don’t you?” She kissed him back, softly, and lovingly.
“Course I do. That’s why I’m the boss.” He gave her a cheeky grin, as she let him down to the floor. One hand rested on her hip, and he couldn’t help but leer up at her.
She snorted, as she gazed fondly down at the little man. “You’re a cheeky little bugger. Whatever could be on your mind?” Her own eyes lit from within with her love for this man.
“Let’s go make some monsters, m’dear.”