“Because if you ask me, if you want people to stay with you, don’t leave them in tiny, cramped cages with barely enough food or water. And now look at us, escaped mutated beings out to kill him.”
Deep in the Amazon rainforest, my team and I, an elite group of ninjas, sat in our protective tent and did a final run-through of our plan.
“Okay, first step?” asked August. August was a trained dancer who used to work in the circus. Just like all of us girls, she’s a GEM (Genetically Engineered Mutant). August’s DNA was mixed with a feather, so she had the ability to become weightless at will. August was thirteen years old.
“Sneak up to Dr. Penski’s secret lab,” replied May. Dr. Penski was the mad scientist who created us. He mutated animal life as a hobby, and we are all sworn to stop his evil plots. May’s DNA was mixed with coral. She could communicate with sea animals.
“Next step?” questioned June. June’s DNA was created with glass. She could turn invisible whenever she wanted.
“Take out the guards and sneak in,” said December. December’s DNA was mixed in with clouds. She could control the weather with her feelings. December was 16.
“Final step?” quizzed January. January’s DNA had a piece of a dead person’s brain in it (yes, I know, sounds kind of creepy, but if you see it, it’s really cool). She could summon and control the undead. January was 17.
“Crush Dr. Penski!” I exclaimed, pounding my fist into my hand. I was 18. My name is April. My DNA is mutated with a bit of all animals. Don’t ask me how, but Dr. Penski is more powerful than you think. I was supposed to be his ultimate weapon, able to morph into any animal. But for an IQ of 300, he’s pretty clueless in keeping ‘henchmen’ in his favor. Because if you ask me, if you want people to stay with you, don’t leave them in tiny, cramped cages with barely enough food or water. And now look at us, escaped mutated beings out to kill him. Nice move, Dr. Penski! Anyways, lesson of the day, kids: Don’t imprison genetically engineered beings and expect them to work for you.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” yelled December, jumping up to her feet as a burst of brilliant sunlight illuminated her face.
“Um, it’s that way,” said January, a rotting hand reaching out of the ground and pointing.
We swiftly jumped into the trees and ran quickly towards the secret lab, pulling up our masks and carefully sticking to the shadows.
Finally, we reached the secret lab. The entrance was hidden behind a curtain of moss, and the lab was disguised as an enormous stone. The lab was surrounded by guards.
Step one, complete, I thought. Now for step two.
“Now!” yelled May.
“So much for a covert mission,” I said to myself.
Then all hell broke loose. Literally. Because January yelled and zombies rose from the ground and started attacking the guards and dragging them underground.
August started floating around and kicking guards’ heads. She whirled around, kicking up, down, left, right, and around. Unconscious guards littered the ground.
June turned invisible and started pranking the guards, pulling down pants, yanking ears and noses, giving wedgies, and generally having a great time. She was just seven, after all.
December summoned a tornado that swept up the guards. She also made lightning strike the guards and fried them till they were crispy — the way I like my toast.
May just kicked and punched since she couldn’t really summon sea animals on land, but I wouldn’t be worried because man that six-year-old can hit.
I morphed into different animals and slashed, scratched, bit, and tackled until I felt like collapsing.
Finally, all the guards were either unconscious, dizzy, fried, pranked, or sucked to hell never to be seen again. Your average day in the life of a genetically engineered mutant. Pretty simple stuff.
“Okay, guys, be careful when you go in. We haven’t taken out all of the guards yet,” reminded June, turning visible and looking slightly out of breath from all of her vicious pranking. She turned invisible again, and we heard her say, “Let’s move!”
Step three initiate! I thought excitedly as we crept stealthily inside.
I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the dark, gloomy atmosphere of Dr. Penski’s laboratory.
“Brings back bad memories, doesn’t it?” June said, shuddering as she turned visible.
I shivered as I remembered being trapped in a tiny cage, unable to shapeshift or move.
“Let’s get this over with quickly,” said May, whimpering and grabbing hold of my hand.
“Yeah,” I agreed, squeezing her hand gently.
We moved through the dark hallway, silent as a group of ninjas. Which I guess we were.
We reached the end of the hall and peeked past the wall. We saw the hunched back of Dr. Penski, who was leaning over another one of his poor test subjects. He was chuckling evilly.
“A drop of spider DNA, a scorpion’s tail, ten strands of monkey fur… Complete!” he cackled. “Behold my latest creation: the spider-monkey!” A hulking monkey rose from the mist. But this wasn’t just some ordinary monkey. The monkey had eight long, hairy legs and a scorpion’s tail. The guards cheered and clapped. Dr. Penski stood proudly and admired his creation. “Beautiful!” he bragged. He clapped his hands, and the guards dragged the creature into a cage alongside the many other cages filled with mutant beasts, then exited the room.
The beasts were truly, well, gross. They snarled and clawed at the bars of the cages. Honestly, they had a speck of my sympathy. Technically, they were like us: genetically engineered mutants trapped in cages.
Come to Dr. Penski’s Mutant Emporium! (At your own risk)
Entry fee: Your life
“He’s been at work since three years ago,” June muttered, flickering in anxiety.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get him,” said May.
But something was wrong. My senses tingled as I scanned the room. The target was easy. Too easy.
A second too late I realized, “Wait, why did the guards leave?”
But it was too late. May, June, January, December, and August were already rushing into battle.
Dr. Penski turned around and smirked. “E for effort, girls! Nice try. But you can’t scream ‘now’, annihilate my guards, and not expect me to notice! Guards, get em’!”
Guards rushed into the room, swarming around them. I knew we should have gone with covert, I thought, charging into battle.
The guards outnumbered us 20 to one. And no matter how amazing our powers were, we couldn’t defeat them. Eventually, they tied us up with rope and dragged us before Dr. Penski.
“Nice to see you again, daughters!” he cackled.
“Call us that one more time, and I swear, I will rip you apart piece by piece, you [this part was taken out by the editor]!” said January.
“I’d like to see you try!” Dr. Penski sneered. He clapped his hands, and the guards dragged us together. “I have a proposition for you. Work for me, and I’ll set you free!”
“No way!” we all declared simultaneously.
He started pacing around and muttering under his breath. Then he brightened.
“What if I told you that I would feed you to my mutants?”
We glanced at each other. “Still no,” we said.
“It’ll be painful… ”
He slumped. “Fine!” he declared. “The beasts it is.”
The guards pulled us towards the cages. I tried to shapeshift, but I couldn’t. The ground shook with the undead trying to surface. Thunder rumbled outside. June… hold on, where was June?
“Where’s June?” I whispered to January.
“Uh… hold on, where is June?” she whisper-shouted.
“That’s what I asked you,” I pointed out.
“Do you think… ?” she trailed off.
“Just maybe… ?” We grinned at each other.
“Prepare to meet your doom!” screamed Dr. Penski. His robots started dancing.
“D-O-O-M!” his robots chanted, standing on each others’ shoulders and waving pink sparkly pom poms in the air. “Your doom!”
“O-kay?” said August. “I’m not pretending that wasn’t terrible coordination and flips back there. They were. Now, I really thought you could have added a backflip at the end followed by a front handspring. The choreography was not too shabby, but you had too much transition time. Now, remember if your velocity downwards reaches over six miles per hour, you need to go down head first and tuck into a shoulder-roll 4.009 seconds before you make contact with the ground, and — ”
“Enough!” thundered Dr. Penski. “No one messes with my beautiful choreography and gets away with it! I will release my — !” He reached down to press the button to open the cage doors.
“Not so fast!” An invisible hand reached over and plucked the remote control out of his hands and threw it to the side.
June turned visible, and we all cheered. She planted her hands on her hips and smiled triumphantly. She began working on our ropes, using a shard of glass. Finally, I was free! I shook myself out of the ropes, morphed into a jaguar, and used my sharp claws to free the rest of our GEMs. But just as I turned to smile at June, a shadow lurked behind May, grabbed her, and pressed a dagger to her neck.
“May!” we all screamed.
“Stop attacking, and move silently into that cage, no funny business — or the girl dies!” snarled Dr. Penski.
“How could you?! She’s only six years old!” I screamed at Penski.
“The more reason to threaten you!”
“Leave her alone!” yelled January.
“Ten, nine, eight!” He pressed harder, and May gave a stifled scream.
Maybe… I thought.
The other GEMs moved into the cage, but I stood my ground, hatching a plan.
“Seven, six, five!” he glared at me.
“April, please! What are you thinking?!” shrieked December.
Rain splattered the ground outside.
I didn’t move or respond, pursing my lips and steeling my nerves. If we wanted to be free, I had to take this chance.
“April! Don’t be selfish!” yelled June.
“Four, three, two — ”
I kicked into action. I morphed into a cheetah and charged into Penski at lightning speed. Everything slowed down.
“No!” he shrieked.
“Yes!” cheered May.
I rammed into Dr. Penski at full speed.
“Oof!” he grunted.
I let the GEMs out of their cages. June hugged May so fiercely that May’s face turned blue.
“You had us worried sick!” she scolded.
But in all the excitement, Dr. Penski reached the remote control! He grabbed it. “Mwa ha ha ha,” he cackled. “Prepare for the end of your worthless little lives — my worst monster! Meet Cerberus!” He slammed his hand on a button, releasing a cage door. An enormous three-headed dog leaped out.
The beast had a scorpion’s tail, three sets of dripping poison jaws, and monstrous wings. The GEMs and I gaped in horror.
“Attack!” yelled Penski. The monster lunged for us.
“Dodge under!” commanded January.
We slid under the giant dog and joined together behind him.
“Okay, guys, you know the drill,” January sighed.
We assumed a fighting stance and gathered all our power. Zombies rose from the ground. Electricity crackled in the air. I morphed into a dragon. June turned invisible. August became weightless. The sea animals sloshed around in their tanks.
Cerberus turned around and roared. August and June jumped and climbed on top of the dog as a distraction. They pulled at his dark, grisly fur and screamed in his ears. The confused beast lumbered around and looked for the annoyance, leaving the coast clear for the rest of us. January’s zombies clambered on top of him. The sea animals churned up water and engulfed him. Lightning struck the water and electrocuted him. We had him pinned down… or so we thought.
Suddenly, Penski’s creation rose up and shook off the attacks.
“Ha ha ha! Well done, my baby!” yelled Penski.
Cerberus struck down my sisters and hooked them up with his claws, choking them. My blood boiled. No one harms my siblings and gets away with it! I roared with fury as I spread my scaly wings. Rushing towards the monster, I struck him with my foot. He stumbled back and slashed me painfully on the face. I slapped him with my tail and pinned him to the ground. I raised my claws for the kill. But just as I brought my hand down, I hesitated.
This beast is like us, I thought. Maybe it doesn’t deserve to die. Maybe it’s like another GEM, a mutant designed to kill. Maybe if I just let it go… Hold on, April, what are you thinking?! It hurt my sisters! But also…
“April… I can’t breathe… ” choked May.
“What are you waiting for?” gasped August.
That set me off. Once again, I brought my claw down, this time harder. I shuddered and closed my eyes when I heard the beast’s pitiful whimper as it took its final breath and went limp under me. I turned back to a human and closed my eyes in sorrow. A single tear slid down my cheek as I sank to my knees. I let out a sob and squeezed my eyes shut.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“You did the right thing,” January said. “I know it’s hard, but you did.”
“I know how it feels,” August said. “Remember the Chicago Mission?” I nodded, remembering Penski’s snake/bird.
May walked up to me, her big brown eyes shining with tears. “Thank you, April,” she whispered.
“Wow, that was beautiful! But I’m going to destroy you!” declared Penski half-heartedly.
“Face it, Penski! It’s over for you!” December said, planting her hands on her hips.
“Fine, but if it is, it’s over for you too! Guards, initiate self-destruct!”
The GEMs and I stared at each other in shock.
“He wouldn’t do that, would he?” January asked.
“I think he just did,” I replied.
“Let’s go!” yelled June.
We rushed towards the exit.
“Blocked!” screamed December.
A hole in the roof blew up, and I had an idea. I morphed into a dragon.
“Get on my back!” I yelled over the sound of crumbling debris. They obeyed, and I soared into the starry night sky, seconds before the lab blew up.
Then everything was quiet. A light breeze ruffled the GEMs’ hair as we soared above the clouds. We shared an understanding moment of silence.
“Wow,” January murmured.
“Yeah,” June agreed.
And that summed it all up. Our dad commited suicide, I killed a sibling, May almost died. But it was all okay. Because being there, flying with my sisters on a beautiful night, I knew that I didn’t need anything else in the world as long as I had them. And I did. I had my GEMs. My beautiful gems.