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Sunday, November 01, 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: Paved with good intentions

From: Dr James Ash

Sent: 4.4.2008

To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

Dr Hammond is still recovering from his unfortunate accident with the saw-scaled viper. It will be some time before he can work again and I gather you have stepped in to fill his boots at short notice. I known it can’t be easy taking on someone else’s whole project halfway through. However, you need not worry as great strides have been made in the past weeks.

You will be pleased to know that at last we seem to be making progress. A single, female specimen of batch 28B has survived and is taking small prey items. One out of a group of nine may not seem a success but if you will recall all hybrids of this nature have died shortly after birth. Our specimen is now four weeks old and is growing at an incredible rate.

Early hybrids between snakes of the same family were a success. We raised a number of Bitis gabonica X Bitis nasicornis as well as Naja haje X Naja mossambica. But we had trouble hybridizing Viperidae with Elapidae. Both were hard to hybridise with the few venomous members Colubridae. As you know the Viperids are the most advanced of the snakes and the most recent to evolve. They are genetically incompatible with the more primitive types. Indeed even species in the same family but separated widely geographically do not take well as hybrids.

Hybrids of viper or elapids will yield venom that can be used in the creation of antivenom for the bites of both parent species and a few closely related species. The aim of Project Milk Well was to hybridise a species whose venom consisted of the elements of a number of different snakes often involved in snakebites. From this a 'magic bullet' or universal antivenom could be created. Thus the need for hospitals to stock dozens of formulas would be redundant. Then Lardon Pharmaceuticals could market the super-serum around the world.

The breakthrough came when we were attempting DNA transfer into foreign eggs. The technique involves taking genetic matter from one of the living cells species then injecting them into the egg of another species from which the genetic material had been removed.

At first this only resulted in the host giving birth to or hatching eggs with alien species inside them. As you know elapids lay eggs but vipers give birth to live young. The breakthrough came quite by accident from a technician working in another part of the lab on a sister project. We were also studying how venom developed. It is, of course, highly modified saliva and is unknown in more primitive snakes such as the Boidae. We were studying the ancestral snakes, the basal group known as Scolecophidia. These are sometimes called worm snakes or blind snakes. Paleontologists think that the first snakes to evolve were akin to these diminutive, burrowing creatures.

We were attempting to see which gene or set of genes needed to be stimulated to encourage venom production. Due to carelessness some genetic material from a blind snake species Rhinotyhphlops gracilus contaminated one of our venom hybrid tests. There was something in the genetic make up of the ancestral snake that allowed the genetic material from unrelated species of venomous snakes to mould together. We are still unsure as to how this works but it meant that we could now crossbreed any species of snake we chose.

We selected genetic material from differing species on the basis of the following criteria:

1. Potency of venom

2. Number of recorded bites on humans each year

3. Aggressive nature

4. How close to human habitation the species is found

We then drew up a list of species that would contribute to the creation of our 'super snake'

From Viperidae:

Vipera russeli (Russel’s viper)

Echis carinatus (Saw scaled viper)

Bitis gabonica (Gaboon viper)

Bitis nasicornis (Rhinoceros viper)

Bitis arietans (Puff adder)

Lachesis muta (Bushmaster)

Bothrops asper (Lance head)

Crotalus adamanteus (Eastern diamond backed rattle snake)

From Elapidae:

Naja haje (Egyptian cobra)

Naja mossambica (Mozambique spitting cobra)

Ophiophagus hannah (King cobra)

Bungarus caeruleus Common krait)

Dendroaspis polylepis (Black mamba)

Notechis scutatus (Tiger snake)

Pseudonaja textiles (Eastern brown snake)

Oxyuranus scutellatus (Costal taipan)

Oxyuranus microlepidotus (Fierce snake)

Micrurus fulvius tenere (Coral snake)

Laticauda colubrine (Banded sea snake)

From Colubridae:

Dispholidus typus (Boomslang)

The specimen, which we refer to as SS1, is jet black and was 12 inches long at birth. SS1 was carried by a Bitis nasicornis X Naja mossambica and birthed lived as opposed to in an egg. She is an iridescent black except for a red streak on the head. They eyes are large and golden in colour like those of Bothrops asper. She seems to bear both Jacobson’s organs and heat sensory pits The birth occurred at 2.35am on 1.2.2008.The others in the batch were still-born or died within one hour. Within four days of birth SS1 was feeding on mouse pinkies and consumed several per week. The growth rate is phenomenal. In a little over two months SS1 has tripled her size and is now over three feet long! We think this is a size effect of her hybrid nature. This fast growth rate has been recorded in other crosses and is known as hybrid vigor. She has progressed onto eating mice and we will shortly be experimenting with the potency of her venom on live prey. She will soon be large enough for her first milking whereupon we can examine the chemical make up of her hybrid venom.

I hope you, Lorraine and the boys are all keeping well.


Dr Ash

Dr James Ash
Sent: 18.4.2008

To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

What amazing discoveries we have made! SS1 is now well over four feet long and still growing. She has the fat body of a viperid (about as thick as my arm) but displays the threat posture of an elapid, rearing up like a cobra. The read streak on her head has grown into a crest of scales. She must have inherited this from her Bitis nasicornis genes. However, with the rhinoceros viper the crest of scales is on the tip of the snout rather than the top of the head as in SS1.

Her appearance reminded me of something but I could not recall what it was until I happened across a book on folklore. SS1 looks for all the world like a basilisk, a legendary serpent said to hatch from a rooster’s egg incubated by a toad or a snake. The resulting monster was a snake with a comb like a cockerel and a gaze that could kill any living thing it looked at! The original legend may have begun by mass rye ergot poisoning or plague outbreaks blamed on snakes.

Please forgive the frivolity but SS1 is a magnificent specimen and some of the technicians have begun to call her “The Basilisk.”

Joking aside, we have found that her venom is remarkable. SS1 seems quite placid and has made no attempt to strike at any of us yet. She does not struggle when we use the snake catching pole on her or when she is milked. Her venom yield is an amazing 1000mg!

Its chemical structure is still under analysis but it seems to contain elements of all the snake species used in the experiment. It combines the neurotoxin of the elapids with the hematoxin of the viperids.

The venom potency is beyond anything seen in the animal kingdom before. 1.15 mg is sufficient to kill a full-grown Friesian cow weighing over a quarter of a tonne. Symptoms include failure of the blood to coagulate; paralysis; muscle spasms; bleeding from eyes, ears and mouth; necrosis; and major organ failure. The tested cows have all died within ten minutes of being injected with SS1’s venom. This means a vast amount of antivenom could me made from just one milking of SS1.

The fangs of SS1 are very long and hinged as in Bitis gabonica but their structure, hollow with a hole at the front, suggests that SS1 should be able to spit venom in the manner of Naja mossambica. All staff wear goggles when dealing with SS1.

We are all genuinely excited at the progress being made here.

Love to the wife and kids


Dr Ash

Dr James Ash
Sent: 6.5.2008

To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

Some problems. Had to tighten up security. Animal rights protesters broke into the compound. Thank god they did not get into this lab. The thought of so venomous a snake at liberty in England makes my blood run cold! Thankfully the security guards and police stopped them before they got anywhere near SS1. We have since tripled the guard and installed more CCTV cameras.

Don’t these idiots know that we are trying to save lives! 40,000 people worldwide die from snakebite each year. SS1 could put an end to this forever.

The project is progressing better than we could have ever hoped for. SS1’s venom dessicates very well making it all the better for packing and shipping. The efforts to perfect a cover-all antivenom look very bright indeed. The power of SS1’s venom is so great that masses of antivenom could be synthesised from it cheaply and shipped all over the world, even to the most remote clinics in the third world. Lardon Pharmaceuticals is going to be famous.

From a zoological viewpoint SS1 and her behaviour are truly fascinating. She is now six feet long and we have been feeding her on dead rats. We decided to see how she would deal with live prey. A large rat was placed in her vivarium. The rat immediately froze upon seeing SS1. SS1 proceeded to slither up to the frozen animal and bite it. Death was instantaneous and she swallowed the rat in less than twenty seconds.

I have always thought that the mesmeric powers attributed to snakes were purely folkloric, the prey animals freezing to avoid detection. Now I am not so sure. SS1 seems to genuinely hypnotise her prey, freezing it to the spot like a statue.

On a personal note I am suffering from the most horrid headaches of late. I think I’m pushing myself too hard but I cannot afford to take time off at this crucial point in the project.

Hope the family are keeping well


Dr Ash

From: Dr James Ash

Sent: 22.5.2008

To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

We have decided to test out the alleged hypnotic powers of SS1 by offering her more mobile prey and prey that could put up more of a struggle or was more mobile and adept at escaping.

We placed a domestic cat in with SS1. The cat arched its back and hissed at SS1 but then froze with its back still in threat posture. SSI was looking at the cat at the time it froze. She then slithered over and bit it in an almost nonchalant manner. SS1 then proceeded to swallow the prey.

On a later occasion we put a rock dove into SS1’s vivarium. The bird flew and perched on the highest branch in the enclosure. SS1 merely looked at it and the bird flew down and sat in front of her jaws. It did not so much as flinch when SS1 bit it. We repeated this on a number of occasions and filmed the process. I am more convinced than ever that SS1 has some manner of hypnotic powers.

SS1 has another astounding trick up her sleeve. She is parthenogenic! On the 15th of this month she gave birth to six live young. All were genetically identical to her. All have lived and are taking food with gusto. She must have inherited this from the Crotalus adamanteus in her makeup. Rattlesnakes have been known to exhibit parthenogenesis. Females raised in captivity that have never had contact with males are known to have given birth.

Her hybrid nature may give us another clue to this. Cnemidophorus neomexicanus, the New Mexico whip-tailed lizard, is a species totally consisting of parthenogenic females. No males exist in this species at all. Herpetologists believe that Cnemidophorus neomexicanus arose as a naturally occurring mutant hybrid between Cnemidophorus inornatus, the little striped whip-tail and Cnemidophorus tigris, the western whip-tail.

SS1 has a great advantage. Being parthenogenic we need only one of her kind to start a new population. Parthenogenesis is a faster mode of reproduction that standard sexual reproduction as only one individual is needed. Also every member of a population can give birth. It also acts as a buffer for harmful mutations but as beneficial mutations arise they are passed on quickly.

SS1 is indeed a remarkable and precious creature. She is worth far more than her weight in gold. She and her young will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the years to come.

Those damn headaches are getting worse! Did Lorraine and the boys enjoy Malta?


Dr Ash

From: Dr James Ash


To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

SS1 and her brood must all be killed. They constitute a horrible threat to all mankind! I know that I am not sounding like a level-headed scientist at the moment but you will understand once I have told you what I have been through.

As SS1 grew bigger and stronger I began to find myself becoming more nervous of working with her, especially when I was in the lab alone at night. At first I put it down to stress and overwork. I would constantly feel as if she were watching me. Yes, I know snakes have no eyelids and are ergo watching everything all the time but this was a palpable feeling of menace. SS1 had never attempted to bite me or any of the staff but when I was alone with her a creeping dread came over me and I began to imagine I knew what those poor prey animals felt when we fed them to her. A morbid imagination? No; far more.

A few nights ago I heard it first. A sibilant, inhuman voice in my head. It addressed me clearly by my name. At first I thought it was one of the younger technicians playing a trick. I became angry, shouted, and searched the lab but there was no one. They had all gone home. I dismissed it as imagination.

The following night I heard it again. It was a hissing voice calling me by name. It seemed to be coming from SS1’s vivarium. The next night I asked one of the other scientists - Dr Leach - to say behind with me. I used the excuse of wanting help in cataloguing photographs of the SS1’s venom effects on tissue. I heard nothing. But the next night it was back. SS1 seemed to be speaking to me. She was asking me to open her vivarium and take her out!

I feared for my sanity but then thought it may be some kind of campaign by the animal rights people. Maybe they had rigged up some microphone and were trying to spook me. I searched the lab and found nothing. I had security sweep the whole complex with a fine-toothed comb; nothing! I brought a tape recorder in the next night and switched it on when I heard SS1 begin to talk.

“Dr Ash,” the voice said. “Dr Ash, you must let me out. You must let me out; me and my daughters, Dr Ash. You made us Dr Ash. You are our father. We will not harm you, Dr Ash. We will not harm our father.”

It was as if I was talking to the original snake, the primal serpent in the Garden of Eden that tempted Eve.

I tried blocking it out, covering my ears but I could still hear it. When I played the tape recording back there was nothing; it was blank. That was because the voice was inside my head. Not in the sense that I was mad but in the sense that the voice was beamed directly into my brain. The SS1 is a telepath. Snakes have no lips, no voice box. Snakes could not form words even if they were intelligent enough to use language. The SS1 is not like other snakes. She is devilishly intelligent but she can no more form words than other snakes due to her physical configuration. But she sends words by thoughtwaves right into my head.

The technicians were right when they called her a basilisk. Remember the legend? The gaze of the basilisk is deadly. SS1 uses her mental powers to mesmerise prey. Lesser animals cannot fight it and become little more than puppets to her will. But humans have reason; they can fight it, or so I thought.

She reared up, glistening black, her crest the colour of arterial blood. She looked at me with those great amber eyes and willed me to come towards the vivarium. I fought it, I tried so hard but my legs seemed dragged towards the creature. My right hand was fumbling with the catch on her door. I managed to snatch up a polished metal tray from the bench with my free hand and held it up like a shield. The basilisk cannot stand it’s own reflection. The spell was broken and I fled the laboratory.

Perhaps, in the distant past some naturally occurring hybrids arose with powers akin to the SS1. They would have been very rare as are most hybrids in nature. Maybe that is were the basilisk legend arose from. When certain snakes mated, something with abnormal intelligence, cunning and mental powers was the result. But they would have been so uncommon as never to have meant a real threat for very long. They would probably have not had the advantage of parthenogenesis as well so they could not have spread. Unlike the SS1.

To think I almost released that horror! If just one such creature got free just imagine it. It could make any human into its mental slave. It would have its slave hide and protect it, Bring it food and water as it birthed more and more of its kind. Then they would crawl fourth to find slaves of their own. Perhaps the original slave would plant the young in his friends' houses. Anyone who stood against them would be struck down, bitten or spat at with venom so deadly the victim would be dead before they hit the ground. God above, what if she and her children were liberated? Within a decade this world would have a new dominant species. What have I done? What have I created? Have I condemned all mankind to be the slaves of mythical beasts?

I am returning to the lab with a mirror and a gun.


Dr Ash

From: Dr James Ash

Sent: 14.7.2008

To: Professor Erik Adler

Subject: Project Milk Well

Dear Professor Adler,

What a first rate chump you must have thought me. Psychic snakes, indeed! Call the men in white coats! I had indeed been working far too hard. Too many late nights, not enough food; it’s bound to catch up with you in the end. I merely fell asleep in the lab and had a very bad dream. Freud would have had a field day with my noggin.

You will be glad to know I am having a week’s holiday beginning today. A little R&R will do me the world of good.

The project is a 100% success. The SS1 and her offspring are incredible animals. You will be astounded by them. The lab is ready for your visit on the 30th of this month. I think you will be very pleased with what you find. The project has passed far beyond or wildest expectations. We all eagerly await your visit.

Oh and please feel free to bring your family. I’m sure Lorraine and the boys would find our work most exciting.


Dr Ash.

1 comment:

Jodi-Ann said...

ANY PICS??? Scientific records are only substantiated by pictorial evidence....