Warning, “Lactella” is an evil character.
Ivanstor Johns, the new Mountainview City Manager, had one eccentricity. He cut his own hair in an uncommon style: short on the sides and long in the back. No one, not even his family, knew the secret it hid. Beneath the long hair, like a fat tick, a huge black widow spider clung to Johns’ neck. The spider’s claws and webs and the powerful chelicerae bracketing her mouth held her fast. Her hollow fangs reached deep into the City Manager’s flesh. In public, Johns appeared calm and relaxed. In private, the spider liked to make him beg and scream.
The strange pairing had been the result of a misfortunate accident. Intelligent spiders are rare among the Tsaeb, and those who exist tend to keep the shape and some of the instinctive behaviors of their progenitors. Black widow spider hatchlings still spin the tiny web strands that originally serve as sails and carry the spiderlings to new, and hopefully richer, habitats. Intelligent black widows snip those first webs and prevent the spiderlings from floating away. On rare occasions, they fail to snip in time, and the spiderlings are lost.
On a stormy summer day, a spider egg hatched unattended. Wind caught the baby spider’s web and carried her far from her family home. Such waifs rarely survive to become adults. The small spider survived because of luck, and because of her unusually high intelligence. Deposited in the heart of a large city, she grew while locked in a daily struggle to survive alone.
The spider’s quick mind kept her alive, but she did not learn the body and mind controls that a normal Tsaeb family life would have given her. She received none of the great store of Tsaeb experience and wisdom. Instead, she learned only how to avoid threats and satisfy hunger.
The spider found that other creatures broadcast sensory images. When she inserted her fangs into them, her inherited mental powers enabled her to sense the electromagnetic fluxes surrounding their muscles and nerves. She soon learned to replace or guide the impulses with her own, and she finally began to gain control over the muscles and senses of her victims. Her power became so complete that she could keep an animal conscious and calm while she fed. As her size and ability increased, she learned to use larger creatures for transport.
* * *
The first big step on the spider’s path to Ivan Johns was her discovery of a little girl named Susan. The accidental offspring of a drug addict and an alcoholic, Susan had lived an abnormal life. When her mother left Susan behind to become an entertainer for her dealer’s customers, Susan had only her father, a violent alcoholic. Often beaten and treated to other abuses, Susan’s body bore lesions that rarely healed before the next attack.
In her sixth year, Susan awoke one morning to an empty apartment. After a week, and after every dried scrap of discarded food had been consumed, Susan left the apartment for the first time. Walking unsteadily down the shadowy hall between silent doorways, she came to a stairwell and crept down to a dark alley.
Just a few steps down the alley Susan saw one of the unintelligent cats the Humans kept. The cat had its head in a sack, but when it sensed Susan and turned toward her, it appeared well fed and unafraid. Susan held out her hands and approached, and the cat sat and watched her for a moment, but then it trotted down the alley. Susan wanted to follow, but the sack held the remains of a dinner. She sat on a pile of newspapers and began digging through the sack.
The spider had been studying the cat from beneath a nearby garbage bin. When Susan came along, the spider’s ambition for a larger host soared. While Susan ate, the spider stunned the rat it was controlling and leapt up beside the little girl. Susan noticed the spider and started to rise, but the spider sprang onto Susan’s arm and injected her with venom. Then the spider moved out of sight beneath Susan’s dress and began taking control.
The spider found it difficult to control Susan, but after numerous partial failures that required more venom injections, the spider learned to direct the little girl’s movements. She resumed the nocturnal routine she had developed with the rats.
At first, the spider controlled Susan’s muscles, but not her thoughts. The many electrical flashes and fluxes in Susan’s brain varied more than those in the brains of rats and other small animals. There were waves and sparks with no connection to the child’s movements. During an encounter with another child, the spider realized that some of the sparks connected to sounds Susan made with her throat and mouth.
The spider tried to make Susan speak and had immediate success. The other child backed away, but the spider didn’t notice; she was learning to talk, and had Susan gobbling and snorting. The spider soon began connecting the sounds with feelings, actions, and senses. Her near-perfect memory and quick mind enabled her to build vocabulary and grasp structure almost overnight. Within a week, the spider could understand Susan’s thoughts and could direct the child to form sentences.
Susan had learned from her father that obedience produced the least pain, so she did not resist when she felt the urges the spider produced, and the shadowy presence wasn’t frightening at first.
Solitary by nature, the spider’s circumstances had given her no opportunity to learn to socialize with parents or friends. She tried to talk with Susan. Needing a name for the girl to use, the spider chose Lactella. The talks didn’t amount to much. Susan hadn’t ever had a real conversation, and she didn’t know how to play. Susan didn’t know how to describe the pain and fear she had endured, and when she did share something, the spider found it depressing.
Lactella tried to do things with Susan. Susan knew how to hop, skip, and run, but she hadn’t learned about hopscotch, skip rope, or any other games. Lactella became bored with the things Susan knew, but she found she could stimulate pulses along Susan’s nerves that made the child’s body jerk and twitch in odd ways.
Lactella found that she could darken Susan’s senses until the child became frightened, cried, and finally began screaming. This was exciting, but it attracted dangerous attention. Large people came sometimes, and though Lactella hid Susan well, she feared discovery above all else.
Lactella also learned about laughter. She witnessed it a few times in the homeless wanderers Susan encountered, but she didn’t understand how to produce it. The heavy barking breaths choked through Susan’s constricted throat were monstrous, the sounds of horrible madness.
Lactella kept the girl immobilized and hidden during the day, and let her creep through alleys in search of food at night. She let the child eat, but she did not consider its health.
When the pair came upon a male spider, Lactella followed ancient instincts, obtained sperm, and attacked the producer. Later she attached her pale yellow egg sack under Susan’s arm. As the eggs hatched, Lactella used her feeding solutions to soften the child’s flesh. She watched her offspring, curious to see how they would mature. Infection developed and spread under Susan’s skin. Lactella could see something was wrong, but she did not know what to do. None of her firstborn survived.
Soon Susan became weak and unsteady on her feet. When at last Lactella could not force the child to rise, she withdrew her fangs and claws and, ignoring the feeble sobs of the small ragged ball beside a waste bin, went hunting for a fresh human host. She found a tear in a window screen at the back of the nearest house. As she entered, she saw the sleeping form of Ivan Johns, and elation filled her. Something great was about to begin.