Miss Lionheart and the Laboratory of Death Preview

A mad romp into the dangerous world of evil genius, super spies, and dangerous designer animals.

“If Terry Pratchett wrote with Austin Powers in mind this is what he would have written.”

P Mejia

Lilly Lionheart is bundled into Mr Big’s underground laboratory to create designer creatures – or die.

I was hooked into Lilly’s quest from page 1 as she fights to escape the underground laboratory run by mad scientists. Of course no laboratory would be complete without a horde of DNA modified, designer creatures that range from terrifyingly gross to terrifically cute!

Michelle Child

Warning: TOP SECRET!
Keep out! No Spies allowed

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A.J. notes:

I wanted to write about cute and dangerous designer critters in an underground laboratory. The idea was to have a little bit of a comic book feel, with larger than life characters, extreme problems, and the cutest of terrifying animals.

To survive her kidnapping, Lilly Lionheart creates Quetzee, a delightfully dangerous but lovable creature, one that could help her escape. But as she gets to know her fellow lab workers it becomes harder and harder to leave them behind.

Squidge is a child genius who is a brilliant gene editor, but he finds social situations difficult and despite all the clues is unaware that Mr Big murdered his parents.

Miss Lionheart advert for animal carers for Mr Big's menagerie

Brian and Missy are supposed to help out in the lab and in the large animal menagerie, but neither of them know anything about gene editing or looking after animals.

Meanwhile, people are dying, Christmas is coming, and making the scary spider snake hybrids Mr Big wants is even more difficult than any of them expected.

“Highly recommended. This one should be in every school library…a unique and exciting read for children who like imaginative and intelligently written adventure stories.”

Wookie

Hijack yourself into mad scientists’ territory, duck the gelignite, avoid the Acme fuses. Do whatever you need to, just make sure you don’t miss out — it’s more than your life is worth.

Read on to begin Miss Lionheart and the Laboratory of Death:

•1• The Offer

Lilly glanced behind as a black car with heavily-tinted windows turned the corner – the thud of pop music on its stereo turned up too loud to ignore.

The vehicle screeched to a stop and began following her with a slow deliberateness. The thud thud thud of her heart began to war with the syncopated drum-track.

A terrible wailing of synthesized voice blasted from the car’s stereo, as the vehicle drove up onto the curb in front of her.

Bullies from school?

Lilly gnawed the inside of her cheek with a familiar anticipation. Someone was about to get seriously hurt – and it was going to be very hard to explain later.

Expecting the usual taunts, Miss lah de dah Professor thinks she’s sooo special, swanning around at the looni-versity, and, look, it’s the mutant freak, Lilly was surprised when two thugs in black leathers jumped out without saying a word. With their shaved heads, meaty palms and identical bulldog expressions, the pair were almost indistinguishable – except the first glowed an unhealthy radioactive greyish brown, and the second was so pale his blue veins stood out under his skin. Odd.

Concentrate. What else?

They were young, in their twenties at most, and plastered with crime syndicate patches, including the internationally feared WorldWideWebOfEvil.com

Definitely not from school then.

Lilly breathed deeply. The first thing she learnt in spy school was, don’t show them you’re afraid. And the best way to do that was not to be afraid.

She took half a step toward the two boys, kicked off a rather expensive pair of heels, and ran. Not because she was frightened – of course not – if these guys were trying to kill her, she’d already be dead. It was the soul-destroying thought of having to listen to the whine of the singer from the car’s stereo for a moment longer. That, and she abhorred their leathers. Not just for the lack of dress sense, but because animals looked so much better in their own skins.

The two thugs walked after her unhurriedly. Good, there was no way they could catch her at that speed. They started jogging, still far too slow.

She had her escape plan mapped out (through a nearby garden and over the fence) when the car revved. It reversed past, with a screech of tires, and once again blocked the path in front of her.

She spun around. Seriously? How many people were after her? Three? Four? She tried to race past the two thugs, onto the empty road.

They pushed her back with surprising strength, their hands burning cold.

Lilly’s stomach lurched. Those hands were too cold to be alive. Her brain rebelled. Undead? Impossible. But they had to be.

She should be doing something clever to escape, but couldn’t think of any good options. She couldn’t even pretend she wasn’t frightened any more. Instead of figuring out a plan, her brain was stuck on the undead question.

From inside the car someone growled, “Mr Big has a job for you.”

“Mr Big?” Lilly echoed, trying to give herself more time to think. As head of Global Killing Systems (GKS) Laboratories he was one of the least important crime lords – and the most dangerously unpredictable.

One of the half-frozen thugs grabbed her arm in a chil­lingly vice-like grip and yanked her toward the car.

Folded into the back seat was a cauliflower-eared brute, squashed into a pinstripe suit, his tiny pin-sized head incon­gruous with the rest of his bulk. “It will only take a moment.”

“I’m a bit busy,” she replied, trying to extricate herself from the thug’s iron grip by breaking his fingers. A couple of short sharp snaps and…nothing. He didn’t even seem to notice.

The oaf in the pinstripes smiled. “Miss Lionheart. Miss Lilliana Lionheart. Please don’t damage my two colleagues here. They’re rather expensive. Besides, I don’t think you understand. Mr Big wants you to be an integral part of the GKS laboratory’s biological division.”

“Yeah, and what Mr Big wants, Mr Big gets,” sneered the blue-veined boy.

“Hush Veins,” the oaf in pinstripes said. “Talking’s my job, remember?”

Heart hammering, Lilly shook her head. “You’ve made a mistake. I’m just a school kid. Whoever it is you’re after, it’s not me.”

Pinhead[1] pulled out a plastic folder with Miss Lilliana Lionheart on the cover. He smiled as he flourished her grades, a passport, and a picture of Embraldo, the pet lizard-gecko hybrid she’d created when she was younger.

Much younger, she thought, biting at the inside of her cheeks to stop herself from saying something that would make the man angry. Angrier. He seemed pretty angry already.

“Mr Big has organized a meeting, so come along nice, or say goodbye to that pretty face of yours.”

Lilly tried to tell herself it was an empty threat. She tried to barge past the two thugs – and failed as they blocked her escape, again.

She hit out and screamed, for all the good it did. Nobody could possibly hear her over the high-pitched music.

This time, when Pinhead spoke, he wasn’t laughing or smiling, or even asking nicely. “Hurry up and get in,” he growled. “We’ve wasted enough time here.”

“What?” Lilly said, pretending not to hear him. “Um, I don’t suppose I could grab my shoes?”

“These?” Basher said, picking a shoe up with his thumb and forefinger, and tearing it apart.

Crying wasn’t an option, so slowly, carefully, she slipped her hand into her pocket and began to text home. She needed to keep talking to distract these idiots. “I have to go, I’m late for Biochemistry, it’s a fascinating lecture on the interactions of messenger RNA.”

“Get in now!” he thundered. “Or you won’t like the consequences.”

“I tell you what I don’t like,” Lilly said, giving up on deaf and trying for a bravado she didn’t quite feel. “People telling me what to do.”

She’d almost finished typing a message with the car’s license number, M1N1NSRUS, into her phone. Knowing she wasn’t the fastest stealth texter, she kept talking. “Besides, I hate your choice of musak. Isn’t there some­thing else you could harass me with? Mr Goodie’s Band and his Bad Time Hits? Top Dog and the Strangled Cats?”

Veins smacked his near transparent fist against his meaty palm.

His grey-brown double snapped, “Come on, let’s just bash her over the head and shove her in the boot.”

“Nah, Basher,” growled Pinhead. “You know what Mr Big said. Shut up, while I try to do this proper-like.”

“How about we do the other usual?” Veins growled. He clenched his fists so hard his veins popped into stark blue-green relief. “This is boring.”

Having completed typing what Lilly hoped was, Help! M1N1NSRUS Mr Big, she tried to hit the send button.

Basher ripped her hand from her pocket. “Keep those hands where I can see them,” he growled.

Lilly tried not to groan. She could hit send later – hopefully. Right now, the cold barrel of a gun pushed against her head was taking all her attention.

“Get into the car, or I’ll blow your brains out,” Pinhead snapped.

Smiling meekly, (despite a horde of brutal, if imaginary, butterflies, tearing her stomach apart) Lilly raised her hands and stepped into the car. After all, what else could she do? The offer had been made with such eloquence and conviction, she couldn’t exactly refuse.

•2• Mr Big’s Hideout

Lilly was blindfolded and driven a short way, then led through a convoluted underground maze at gunpoint. It felt surreal, as if she’d been captured by an amateur drama production. Or as if she wasn’t trudging through an underground bunker at all, but listening from far away. Still, she did manage to send her text message (M1N1NSRUS Mr Big) and stay focused, the way her endless spy training had reinforced. Carefully counting every step, Lilly took note of the shhh of automatic doors, the whoosh of walls sliding open, and the grating sound of rotating fireplaces. She heard strange cracks and pops, and a loud hum like electricity, which stopped abruptly as they raced over a cold metal floor that clanged with the guards’ footsteps. Weird.

Not long after, the blindfold was lifted and she found herself face to face with a puffed up man in an expensive suit. He was surrounded by guards, and holding tightly to the collar of a giant Rottweiler.

Presumably this was Mr Big, the man who’d ordered her capture. She wanted to say the exact right thing to get herself out of this mess. But now she’d seen him that was impossible. Either she was useful, or she was dead. Best to just relax and not think at all. Be calm, be ready, don’t over-think it and smile, just like she’d been taught. Only this was life or death.

She was shoved forward. “Mr Big, this is Miss Lionheart.”

Jovial as Father Christmas, Mr Big grinned and stretched out the hand that wasn’t holding back the overgrown Rott­weiler. “Hello, Miss Lionheart, pleased to meet you. I’m Mr Big.” He shook her hand until her whole arm hurt.

When she was young, she’d imagined all super-villains to be much the same – a penchant for dangerous animals and an ego big enough to collapse a white star. It was somewhat of a disappointment to discover her younger self had been right.

He finally released her aching arm. “And this, is Annie. She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”

Annie growled. Scarred, distempered and very toothy – she was the type of Rottweiler that would eat your babies for breakfast, and come back for a second helping of postman.

“Delightful,” Lilly said, trying to pet Annie while sizing up the guards. Annie snapped at her hand and growled more fiercely than ever.

“Good girl.” Mr Big patted Annie genially, oblivious of the froth dripping from her agitated jaw. “Miss Lionheart, I see you have a way with animals. Fantastic. And what a wonderful co-incidence: here you are, when I just happen to desperately need a head genetic engineer to lead the team designing the mutant animal section of my Spring Catalogue of Evil. You’ll be the perfect fit.”

“But…” Lilly tried to object. Fists clenched with a mix of terror and barely restrained anger.

“Of course it’s a great honor. I do so hope you’ll say yes.” He smiled in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring. “I’m sure that you understand the lack of ceremony. I had to fill this auspicious position at the last possible moment because, unfortunately, my previous head of department died of mange.”

A guard even larger than Pinhead frowned. “I thought you shot him, sir.”

Mr Big scowled and tugged Annie’s collar before releasing it. Quick as lightning, Annie leapt up and took the guard by the jugular. Blood gushed, bones cracked, and his body hit the floor with the force of a small atom bomb.

“Is he dead?” Lilly asked, shock overwhelming any sense of decorum.

“Not yet.” Mr Big looked at his watch. “In three, two…one…now.”

Lilly almost gagged as Annie crunched into the man’s cervical vertebrae – or neck bones if you prefer the non-scientific term. Lilly always preferred science when con­sid­ering prodigious quantities of gore.

Mr Big looked up from the carnage.

“You did say yes, didn’t you, young lady?”

Lilly didn’t move.

He waved his hand in annoyance. “I’ll take that as a yes. Pat, Miss Lionheart needs to get to her lab.” He raised his voice over the sound of crunching, slobbering dog. “And little Miss, I want my dreadbeast last week, understand?”

Pinhead nodded, and Lilly barely had time to register the man she thought of as Pinhead was called Pat, before he, Veins and Basher pushed her out of the room, down a corridor and through a set of double doors labelled, Super Evil Genius’ Laboratory. Inside, amongst very expensive equip­ment, a boy rocked back and forth on a lab stool. All of about twelve, he had curly hair, glasses, and a serious expression.

He looked up at her. “Hi, I am Squidge.”

Lilly could have sworn his eyes were focused at a point just over her shoulder. Maybe Pinhead was freaking him out.

She smiled and stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Lilly.”

He ignored it. “No, you are Miss Lionheart. Mr Big said so.”

“Um,” Lilly shrugged. “I guess I am. Aren’t you a little young to be—?”

He flinched away. “I am fourteen tomorrow. Besides, Prof could not have run this lab without me. It is a shame he died. The man was absolutely brilliant, you know. He always said so. Besides, his plans are the most fantastic things you will ever see.” He shoved a large sketchbook up to Lilly’s nose. “This is the dreadbeast we are going to make! It is brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!”

“Lovely.” Lilly cringed, the sketches looked more like notes from a graphic novel than a scientific document – plenty of human corpses in full gory detail, but no under­standing about the clash between arachnid and reptilian physiology. And most damningly, no sense of balance. The creature, with its enormous abdomen and overlarge jaws, would struggle to walk. If indeed, it could live at all.

Lilly’s phone rang – and she jumped. Why hadn’t she turned it to vibrate?

“You’d better answer that,” Pinhead said. Was he smirking?

She glanced at her phone: GKS security division: Regards your previous message, may we be of assistance?

Lilly did her best to ignore the roars of laughter coming from Pinhead. Served her right for not sending it earlier. It was time to get her head in the game. “And how do you know your Prof was – er brilliant?” she asked, flicking through pages of increasingly bizarre creatures before stopping at a drawing of a fire-breathing dragon – with handwritten notes scrawled over every spare inch.

Squidge blinked owlishly behind his glasses. “Because that is what he told me.”

“Well, I’m even more brilliant. I’m the most brilliant biologist that’s ever been in this base. Far cleverer than your old Prof – just ask—” she looked around “—any of my teachers,” she finished lamely. “Anyway, your Prof? What was he a professor in? Biology, Physics, Chemistry?”

The boy smiled. “Philosophy.”

“Philosophy? Surely you mean philosophy of science?” she asked.

Squidge looked at her as if she was stupider than a common household brick. “Philosophical philosophy,” he said, and glanced away.

“Great,” Lilly replied, with a grin more false than a fat-free label on a candy bar. She flicked back to the page labelled, Dreadbeast. It didn’t fill her with any hope. However scary this dreadbeast might be – in its giant mutant spider way, with hundreds of eyes, oversized claws, and forked tongue – the probability, the near certainty of not creating it scared her far more. The fear of informing her new Super-villain boss that she couldn’t make his dreadbeast, weighed like a stone in water, like a church bell at an intimate concrete funeral. Or, more precisely, like the thought of becoming part of an all-you-can-eat Rottweiler buffet.

Anxious to avoid such a fate, she looked carefully at Prof’s scrawled notes. And, considering failure was not an option, the more she looked, the more possibilities she saw. She just had to think outside the box – or more precisely figure out how to get outside the box she was in. Yes, while the creature she was looking at had to be ninety-nine tenths of impossible, maybe she could make a different type of lethal animal while she was figuring out how to escape.

Squidge interrupted her thoughts. “Miss Lionheart, the dreadbeast is going to be our biggest and best creature yet. The greatest mutant evil companion a supervillain has ever had.”

“Our?” she asked, ignoring the whole supervillain mutant companion bit. “Our? And what do you do?”

“Most everything,” Squidge replied.

“But you’re—”

“I have a Doctorate in Biochemical Genetics.” He waved at his Oxford, Doctor of Philosophy certificate hanging on the wall.

“Great.” Lilly smiled through gritted teeth, trying to figure out if she was angry because Squidge was a little bit stupid, or because he had a doctorate and she didn’t. “Is there anything else I should know? For a start, when do I get to go home? Mr Big seems to have missed that little detail.”

“Home?” Squidge said. “Nobody goes home.”

Behind them, Pinhead laughed. She turned around and stepped right up to his chin. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, Miss Lionheart. It’s just – the boss had very strict instructions. He said, ‘the only way that Miss Lionheart is getting out of this bunker is in a body bag.’”

Veins, Basher and Pinhead were all laughing now.

“Hmmm,” Lilly said, seeing an opportunity to escape. She knew some drugs that could fake death quite nicely.

“Ha ha. Good joke. The boss has not used a body bag since I arrived,” Squidge said, oblivious that her newly hatched dream of escape was being crushed. “How silly to throw dead people out on the street when we have all these animals that need feeding.”

Lilly tried not to wince. She couldn’t help but think this was all her fault. If only she hadn’t chosen to study Biology, believing it would be a much safer career path than becoming a spy. (Much to the disgust of her school counsellor and parents, who’d insisted she complete Spy Survival 320).

Squidge picked up the picture of the dreadbeast again. “See how beautiful it is. And dangerous. Mr Big wants it to be his new company emblem.”

She blinked. “I’ll draw a nice picture for him.”

“Do not be silly. Mr Big likes his emblems to be real. He is going to christen the New Year by letting it loose in Professor Horrible’s lair.”

“What?” Lilly grabbed the picture and tried to soak in its stupendous lack of practicality. “He wants us to make this thing before the New Year? This is a joke, right? I mean Christmas is only weeks away.”

Nobody smiled.

She coughed, trying to clear her rapidly constricting throat. Somehow, she had to escape an impregnable fortress, make an impossible creature – or die.

This could not be happening.

As a child she’d learnt early that screaming could often get you what you want. It hadn’t worked earlier that day, but there was no harm in trying again. Lilly opened her mouth to make a scene – when something screeched, but not her. It seemed to be coming from a room further down the corridor. More animals joined in the cacophony.

In sheer frustration, Lilly decided to scream anyway.

Nobody noticed. Squidge was already running down the corridor, and the guards were pushing her to do the same.

Sometimes there are no good options. She sighed, and ran toward the terrible sound.


[1]      Lilly decided Pinhead was as good a name as any for the muscled oaf in the pinstripes with a head at least two sizes too small. VF

“Mad, bad and dangerous to read.” E.G
“ The homework ate my dog.” L.L.

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