Larry smiled as he drove to work. His job as head of DNA research at Astro-Tec-Terra was fascinating. It also promised an opportunity to make his mark, helping to cure humanity of its many illnesses. Perhaps one day his contributions would even help to reverse aging.
But at the moment his main focus was less than pleasant. He had been tasked with creating a creature capable of producing Black Widow Spider venom in bulk. This was necessary, to produce antivenom.
The most promising combination so far was one of Black Widow and python DNA. One of the young adults had already begun producing decent amounts of venom on a regular basis.
Most of the genetically altered snakes looked like the average pythons you would find in a pet store. Or among the trees, to Larry's dismay. The price of living in Florida was that pet snakes released into the wild tended to thrive.
The ones in the lab acted quite differently from normal pythons. And their internal physiology was unlike that of any snake which ever existed.
A normal snake, whether venemous or not, must swallow every meal whole. This severely limits the size of their prey. And in most cases leaves them sluggish because they have no choice in how much to consume.
The biggest of the Snakesters, as the research team had nicknamed them, had no such limitations. It had the best characteristics of both species, and could be a deadly hunter. About ten feet long, the beautifully marked female was lightning fast, yet slow to anger. However once on guard, she was almost impossible to control, and had to be left alone until calm.
The creature could suck blood like a spider, or swallow its meal like a snake. It could also choose to inject venom or not while attacking or feeding. This was vital in conserving the fatal liquid for when it was needed most.
It also left her the option of leaving her prey alive, to recover for another feeding. When provided with larger prey she invariably used the option to incapacitate the victim in her powerful coils, without killing. She knew exactly how muchy pressure to exert.
"Is it just my imagination, or do some of these guys seem a lot smarter than either species, Phil?"
"It's impossible to really tell unless we try a few things, but it wouldn't surprise me if at least a few are. That big one gives even me the creeps, Larry. I would almost swear it's sentient. But then spiders are very intelligent, in my opinion. They're just really difficult to test."
Larry had been afraid of snakes since he was a child. And this perfect predator terrified him. Unfortunately he had to continue to work with the Snakesters until a way to produce consistent results was found.
"Unless you need me, I'd like to go home early today, Phil. It's Susan's sister's birthday and she couldn't go visit this year because she had the flu. She's fine now, but cancelled the trip because she was miserable a couple of days ago. Must have been one of those 24 hour bugs."
"Thanks, we are going to spend the night on the beach. And I'm going to surprise Susan with the new phone I ordered for her. She can use it to wish Liza happy birthday."
"Have a good evening, Larry. I can handle things here today if you want to leave now, and have lunch with her?"
"No, let me stay and help collect the venom from the Snakesters. Then you can run the tests on it after I leave. You shouldn't be handling them alone, Phil. What if you were bitten?"
"I'd just use an injection of antivenom like I did when that baby got scared and clamped onto my finger."
"Antivenom won't help if any of the bigger ones get you. You would need help, and even then..."
"I know, but they aren't like that. They only bite to feed or in self defense."
"Maybe, but I still don't like you handling them alone."
Once the venom was collected, Larry left. Phil was busy with the samples, when the largest Snakester began acting strange. He had implanted her some time ago in hopes of getting a brood of offspring. Now she was acting as if her tail area was bothering her.
She had always been the most docile of the bunch, even more so than his own pet snake at home. So he was confident when he opened the cage to examine her.
"What's wrong, Nell? Let's see if I can't help."
He lifted the lid, and she was gone like a shot! Unharmed but surprised, Phil didn't react for several seconds. Once he did, he ordered a lockdown.
"Well we haven't found it yet, but aren't most of these things born sterile?" asked a security guard.
"Yes, but I don't know if the offspring will be. And Nell is not sterile. This area of research is very unpredictable, I can't say what will happen if she escapes and survives."
Meanwhile the subject of the speculation was sitting peacefully in a tree three miles away, gently cradling an abandoned bird's nest which she had taken over. As the full moon began to rise, she reveled in her first night of freedom.
Thanks to @oceanbee for inspiring this story with our conversation - I hope you enjoyed your bedtime story :)
Cover image made in Canva using their gallery