An Unusual Mind -
“Lena! Come play with us!”
But Lena just shook her head at the foolishness of it all. Couldn't her brothers see she was busy? This frog would have wings soon. Why? Because, clearly, flying frogs could better catch flying insects, and flying insects irritated Lena to no end.
“Lena…” Iston whined, “Please? You never play with us…”
“Yeah,” Mitri agreed, tugging on Lena's arm at exactly the wrong moment.
The frog had been sedated on the workbench, with multiple tubes and cords connected to its tiny, fragile body. Lena had just been connecting the Cell Fusion line to the Electrical Impulse
Control System when her brother pulled her arm and her hand slipped, connecting the Cell Fusion line to the Heart Rate Stabilization System instead.
Artist: Bryan Talbot
Text: Look at the top four cards of your library. Put one of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library. Shuffle your library afterwards.
The frog's eyes popped open as all of the four compartments of its heart contracted at the exact same instant. Lena knew exactly what was happening - the four compartments, usually staggered in their rhythms, would never be staggered again. While the heart was still beating, it wasn't actually doing anything - the blood was not going anywhere. The frog's heart was ruined, the animal would die, and it was all Mitri's fault.
Lena sighed. This frog had been an exemplary specimen, and she hated to see it put to such waste. Slowly, she turned to face her brothers.
“Foolish children,” she said quietly, coldly. “There is an obvious reason why I never show an interest in playing with you. Such activities are meaningless and unproductive. Furthermore, I do not care to dull my intellect with your mindless pursuits. Instead, I prefer to better myself, and better our world, through the application of practical principles on natural life forms. I can see you understand nothing of science, so I suggest you run along before you hurt yourselves. If you are not out of my space in the next twenty seconds, perhaps I will attempt to perfect you, although that may take a few decades, even with my talents.”
She then turned away from the confused boys, and when she didn't hear them move, she said softly, “One…”
They understood that much at least. In their experience, Lena only ever counted down to unpleasant things. Lena smiled briefly as she heard them make a hasty exit.
Her parents would be upset later, but at least the dimwits were out of her hair for now. Sure, they were her brothers, and she felt no ill will towards them, but sometimes they could be so, well, dumb. There was really no other way to say it. She felt sorry for them, but they clearly had inherited a poor selection of genes. They must have gotten it from their mother. Papa was so much brighter than Mama.
Lena fervently believed she had gotten her parents' best traits. She had her father's brilliance and her mother's love of life, but she had not inherited their shared fondness for community. This was completely fine with her - community was more of a burden than anything, as evidenced by her careless brothers.
Which reminded her that she had a new species to create. She quickly examined the remaining frogs in the tank on her right, none of which were as wonderful a specimen as the poor creature that had croaked its last croak a few seconds ago on her table. But there was nothing she could do about that now. She sighed as she coaxed one onto her palm, held it very still, and slid the tranquilizer needle into its body, just under its left thigh. It tried to jump at first, but her pale hands held steady, and after a few seconds, it lay limp. When it awoke next, Lena was sure it would have two new limbs to stretch - and some feathers to get used to.
* * *
Lena's mother was not happy.
“What have you done to that poor creature?” she demanded when Lena brought her new froggy friend inside with her.
“I've improved it,” Lena answered calmly. Wasn't it obvious? Her frog was still unconscious, cradled in her palm with its new wings curled gracefully around itself. They were a beautiful shade of blue, almost the same color as Lena's own eyes.
Her mother stared at her for a few minutes, clearly aghast at what she'd just heard. Lena watched as she slowly recovered, and waited for her to speak. Her mother silently composed herself, and forced herself to speak calmly. Lena noticed with interest the effort this took, and wondered what the problem could be, when clearly, the frog was much better off.
“Lena, honey, you can't improve upon nature.”
Now it was Lena's turn to be surprised. Of course you could improve upon nature - it was really the only thing worth improving upon. Lena pondered her mother's words, finally deeming them nonsensical. She forced herself to say three words that she never thought she would say: “I don't understand.”
“Sweetheart,” her mother tried to say sweetly (it sounded condescending to Lena), “Nature is naturally perfect. Of course, it is most beautiful when it is cared for, but that doesn't mean we should try to change the essence of it. Think of nature as a child: without someone to care for the child, that child will be dirty and wear ragged clothes. The child will be disorganized and wild. But with a loving parent caring for the child, he or she will have clean clothes, a washed face, and will be taught order and manners. That doesn't mean there is anything inherently wrong with the child, but that the child must be taught order so that he or she can be the most beautiful. But it would be wrong to give the child wings and build them a nest to sleep in.” She smiled a beautiful smile, like she had explained basic algebra to a Gruul.
Lena did not understand her mother. The woman had no imagination. The child she described would probably not have slept in a nest, although it would be interesting to see what such a child would sleep in. There was really no point in arguing about that though, and Lena wished her mother would get to the point.
“What would you have me do with Aerobian, then?” Lena asked.
“Aerobian, my frog…” Lena explained patiently.
“Oh, that poor thing. Well,” her mother sighed, “It would be wrong of you to kill the creature. After all, its life is precious. However, I see no reason that you shouldn't just reverse the atrocity you have done to it.”
Reverse the…atrocity? What atrocity? Lena had given it better tools to catch its prey with. She looked down at the peaceful creature, then back at her mother.
“No,” she said quietly.
“What did you say?” her mother demanded.
“I said no,” Lena replied, still unwavering in her calm. “I will not do harm to this beautiful creature by taking away its new wings. Aerobian has been through a lot during the past hour, and I will not allow its suffering to be in vain. The least I can do is allow the animal to keep its newly won wings.”
Her mother stared at her in shock. Lena had never openly defied one of her parents before, but she had never quite had a reason to. She had a reason now.
“Well,” her mother huffed, “We'll just see what your father has to say about this when he gets home.”
“Alright,” Lena agreed mildly, “I'll be in my room.”
* * *
When Lena heard the front door close an hour or two later, she was methodically testing Aerobian's new skills. She made no move towards her bedroom door. She had little doubt in her father's reaction, and so she saw no harm in letting her mother present her side of the disagreement first. She was certain her father would be reasonable. He would let her new creation live in peace.
A few minutes later there was a soft knock on her door.
“Lena? May I come in?”
“Of course,” Lena told her father. She was still preoccupied with the test results from Aerobian's endurance tests.
Her father moved into the room slowly, closing the door behind him. He looked exhausted, but this was a common symptom of a long day in the Senate. Perhaps there was some new law they were working on. If that was the case, it would likely take a couple of weeks.
She didn't look up from her work as he sat across from her, but she still noted his fascination with Aerobian. She could see with her peripheral vision exactly when he noticed the animal, because he straightened in his chair and leaned forward slightly. So he was interested…
“What's troubling you, Papa?” Lena asked innocently.
“Well,” he sighed, clearly reluctant to begin. “Your mother seems to think you ought to get rid of that animal's wings.”
This was good. He must not share her mother's opinion, or else he would have said “we” instead of “your mother seems to.” Lena knew she would win.
“I see no reason Aerobian should not have his wings,” Lena said calmly. “Do you?”
Her father paused. “No,” he said finally, “I can't say I do.”
“Then surely you won't require that I remove his beautiful wings?” She looked up at him when he said this - it was the most important question. His eyes were fixed on the small animal curled in her lap, and she watched as he took in every unnaturally natural part of the creature.
“What will you do with him?”
“Why, keep him, of course,” Lena feigned surprise. She knew her father would ask this. He would want to know how long her mother would be upset with him. “He would make a wonderful addition to the household, Papa. We'll have no more insect problems.”
She watched as he nodded absentmindedly. It was a good excuse, which her mother could not refute logically, and Lena could see her father's curiosity getting the best of him. He studied his hands for a bit, sighed, then hoisted himself to his feet.
“Well,” he said. “I'll let you keep him. But just do me one little favor.” He held up his right, index finger.
“What favor?” Lena asked, honestly curious.
“Keep it away from your mother,” he said, grinning mischievously.
“Of course,” Lena agreed, grinning back. She always knew she could count on Papa to appreciate her work.
* * *
Papa would be working late again today. He had worked late for the previous two days as well, and Lena assumed he would be working late for another few days after today. This did not particularly concern her, until her mother had decided to send Lena to bring Papa his lunch. He had forgotten it this morning.
Well, she most certainly did not want to leave Aerobian alone with her mother, so she attached his clip to her skirts and roused him from his sleep. He slept quite a lot, and Lena could only think to attribute this to his new metabolism rate. No matter - his body would soon adjust.
The clip that she was now wearing was of her own invention. It emitted a natural chemical which humans could not sense, but which Aerobian found quite pleasing. It allowed a simple reward system and trained him to stay near her. He wouldn't stray.
She hurried out into the busy Ravnican streets. It wasn't far to the Senate, but it would still take a few hours for her to finish her errand and return to her work. She regretted the interruption, but she also knew that regular meals were important for maintaining health, and she wouldn't want Papa's health to suffer. Besides she could use this stroll as time to observe Aerobian.
She loved watching him, seeing his improvements, noticing when he learned new flight patterns. He'd only had wings for a few days, and she had only taken him out into the backyard of her house for practice, but already he was rivaling the skill of some birds. Science and magic could work wonders.
She was almost to the Senate when she noticed an unfamiliar man watching her. She tried not to look at him, but she could still feel his intense focus, and it made her very uncomfortable. He was a Wojek officer, so it shouldn't unnerve her as much as it did, but she still felt there was something amiss about the man. By the time she had to pass by the bench he was leaning against, she was so uncomfortable with his gaze that she could ignore it no longer.
She turned abruptly and stared at him. “Do you have some business with me?” she asked..
The man seemed unsurprised, and simply said. “None to mention, young lady. I just couldn't help noticing your interesting pet.” With those words, he turned and strode away.
That was odd. It was good she could remember the officer's face. Lena had a very good memory. Curly blonde hair, blue eyes, square chin. Probably about 6 feet tall. Yes, she would remember for later, but for now, she needed to get the lunch to Papa.
* * *
The girl was a curious sight, to be sure.
Zimla had never seen a creature quite like the one that zoomed around the petite figure, diving through the sky every now and then in pursuit of one of the many flies littering the market. It was not the smoothest design she had ever seen, but it had an artfulness to it nonetheless. If it was the girl's making, she had talent.
Zimla had seen the girl leave her house, although the girl would never have known it, and followed her for a few blocks. Zimla marveled at how oblivious most of the crowd was to the remarkable animal, but, then again, this was Ravnica. People saw remarkable things every day.
But there was one other person who was taking notice of the girl and her pet, and when Zimla saw the Wojek officer's eyes widen as he noticed the creature, she felt immediate alarm for the girl. That specific officer had been missing for a full week, and had only returned to Aurelia yesterday, with no memory of his disappearance. This was bad news.
Zimla watched carefully, ready to take action if the man tried anything. When he didn't, and the girl had safely resumed her trajectory, Zimla hurried back to her guildhall, anxious to relate her observations to her guild.
* * *
“ G'night, Mama, Papa,” Lena called as she closed her door behind her. She was definitely ready for bed. The whole family had stayed up late, waiting for Papa to get home so they could eat supper, and he had been later even than Mama had expected. Nobody blamed him though. He worked hard for them, for Ravnica.
Lena checked on Aerobian, and filled his food and water dishes. She wondered for a moment what her next project would be, but then decided she could let that matter wait until the morning. It was time to sleep.
She was dead to the world almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, but what seemed to be only moments later, she was vividly awake. It was still very dark, and she couldn't see a thing, but there was something cold covering her mouth. She raised a hand to touch it, and was surprised but the sticky soft texture of the thing. She tried to open her mouth, but found that she couldn't. She tried to voice her surprise, but no sound came.
Suddenly, she felt cold, scaly hands flit across her face, she shut her eyes instinctually. No sooner had she done so but her eyes were also coated in the sticky substance. Then she was in the air, and her hands were gently bound at the wrists with the odd glue, her feet bound similarly at the ankles. She could think of no way to escape the grasp of whatever beast had captured her.
But no, she reasoned as she was carried though the air, this was too methodical, too logical for a beast. These hands were too gentle. Whatever had captured her was cradling her like a child, but her instincts still screamed at her that she was in danger. Lena supposed her instincts were assuming danger due to the fact that she was now blind, mute, and lame.
They stopped moving. Lena heard doors opening, and barely detected the approach of some being. She was startled when the being which held her spoke.
It did not speak in any recognizable language, but it clearly was a language, because the other being responded in kind. It had a bubbly sound to it, very open-mouthed with long vowels, and it was pretty in an odd way. It almost sounded like singing to Lena. She wanted to listen and study it more.
But she was quickly set down next to some squirming, oddly silent, objects. She heard doors closing, and felt the air change as the wind was denied access to her. She barely had time to think about her wriggling roommates before the room was moving.
The motion startled her at first, but she quickly came to the conclusion that she was in a vehicle. Not long after, she deduced that the voiceless, moving bodies around her were prisoners like herself. After all, if she were moving, she would appear to them to be a wriggling, silent mass.
The vehicle stopped. Although it was quite difficult, Lena waited patiently for her captors to come for her. She was quite curious by now, but she felt sure the answers would come.
The doors opened, and Lena was amazed by how fresh and wonderful the air tasted here, wherever here was. She was gently picked up again, and carried for a short distance before she was set in some sort of wonderfully comfortable chair. She felt the sticky substance being removed from her ankles, and was glad to move her feet again. Likewise, her wrists were released, then her mouth, and finally her eyes. She opened them to the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
The Sun was just beginning to rise, and the dim red light that filtered into the building was turned a soft shade of purple by the fascinating ceiling, but the color was far from solid. It seemed to flex and move, casting light red lines and deep purple spaces upon the ground. The ground itself was very soft, carpeted in a lush moss that felt exquisite underneath Lena's bare feet. The walls were marble, decorated extensively with vines, stonework, and intricate glass decorations. The chair she was sitting in looked like a mixture of a graceful wooden piece of furniture, and a giant coral sea anemone. Lena marveled at the detail and craftsmanship of her surroundings.
Aerobian slept in her lap, looking quite content. Someone must have put him there so she would not wonder about him. He must have slept through the entire ordeal. Well, Lena supposed that made him more fortunate than the other prisoners, who were likely quite scared, if their frantic movements in the vehicle were any indication.
And then she looked around at the other prisoners and found she recognized them. Her two little brothers were gazing in awe at their surroundings, although Lena felt sure they lacked the observational powers to really appreciate what they were seeing. Her mother and father, however, looked around suspiciously, as if expecting an attack, not seeming to notice the splendor of the room they were in. Lena looked around then too, wondering what they were seeing, if not for the gloriousness of this structure, and saw her captors for the first time.
In her distraction, she had not seen them retreat to the chairs at the front of the room, but they now sat in front of Lena, waiting for her full attention. Some were dressed in practical clothing suitable for sneaking into a house and abducting five unsuspecting people, but others were robed in finer garments, and Lena was certain that these people had not actually taken place in her family's capture.
The other thing she noticed about her captors was the lack of their humanity. She could not remember actually ever seeing one of their kind before, but she had known they existed. They were all merfolk.
As soon as it was clear they had Lena's attention, the merfolk who had been sitting in the center of the group rose to address them. She was tall and blue, with fins radiating off of her body in a rather pretty pattern. Her clothes were the finest in the room. They looked delicate, but Lena had a suspicion that those clothes would be quite durable as well. She carried an elegant trident which demanded respect, but she seemed to have a soft demeanor. Her bright yellow eyes looked directly at Lena's blue ones, and Lena knew from the woman's gaze that she would like this merfolk. Those yellow eyes conveyed intelligence and curiosity, but they suggested no hint of malicious intent.
“First,” the curious woman began, “I would like to apologize for our manner of transporting you here. You were in danger, and it seemed to only way to get you here quickly enough to be safe. I trust you are all well?” She smiled at them all invitingly.
“Well?” Papa asked incredulously. “That's a rather illogical question, considering the circumstances. Besides, what do you mean we were “in danger?” ” he continued suspiciously.
“There is a man tracking your family,” the woman said calmly, as if this was nothing to be concerned over, “But we will get to that in a few moments. First, allow me to introduce myself.” She bowed, but never looked away from Lena and her family, “I am Zegana, Prime Speaker to the Simic Council.”
“I know who you are,” Lena's mother spat. “You are the fools who experiment with nature, who act like gods with their playthings.”
“Oh, but that is untrue,” Zegana protested mildly. “You speak as if we have no regard for life, when the opposite is true. We care so much for nature that we seek only to preserve it, and to help it along its natural course. But we recognize that nature does change, and who are we to deny it the thing it craves? We must allow nature to evolve and grow, because we truly love it.”
Lena agreed wholeheartedly. Like she had done with Aerobian, nature improved upon itself all the time. Why should she not hurry the process along a little, if she could?
But when Lena looked over at her mother, she could see that Mama did not agree at all, would never agree no matter how eloquently the position was worded. However, she could also see that her mother would drop the subject for now.
“In any case,” Zegana continued, “The Council decided to keep an eye on your family after one of our scouts reported the remarkable creature which was following your daughter yesterday.” She now looked directly at Lena, “Was that animal your creation?”
Zegana smiled. “Wonder
ful,” she said, “We suspected as much.” She turned back to address all of them. “Our scout also reported that a Wojek officer took an undue amount of interest in your daughter and her pet, and we were concerned for her safety. When that officer was spotted a few hours ago with a group heading towards your residence, we thought it best to remove you from the potential danger.”
Sub Type: Incarnation
Artist: Rebecca Guay
Text: Flying As long as Wonder is in your graveyard and you control an island, creatures you control have flying.
“A Wojek officer?” Papa asked dubiously. “That's ridiculous. The Boros are a righteous guild - they would never harm us.”
“All the same,” Zegana said, “We would like you to remain with us for a time. We are quite interested in the talents of your daughter, and would love for her to study with us. We have a house prepared for you on the opposite side of this Zonot, and we can send scouts to escort you to your respective guilds when you require it.”
“We don't need protection,” Papa protested. “I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding.”
“If it is, then there is no harm in staying,” Zegana argued. “But if it is not, there may be much harm done in leaving.”
Papa thought that over for a moment, but he couldn't seem to think of a valid rubuttal. Mama could.
“I could not bear to be escorted by one of your people,” she protested. “You ruin the things that we, as Selesnyans, hold sacred.”
“No,” Zegana said soothingly, like she was explaining a math problem to a small child, “The Rakdos are the ones who destroy life and nature, but even your guild has spoken publicly, accepting our guild, knowing we both advocate similar goals. But, if you feel so strongly, I can assure you that none of our scouts will be seen. They are skilled at concealing themselves, and, to be honest, they will be keeping an eye on all of you regardless of whether or not you accept our offer.”
Lena could see her parents wavering. She needed to do something if she was going to win the right to study with these great people. She got out of her chair, set Aerobian in her seat, and went over to them.
She took their hands, kneeled, and said softly the one word which would enable her victory: “Please.”
Her parents were silent, but she knew she had won. Finally her father said to Zegana, “Alright, but only for a little while. Soon, I'll show you that this was unnecessary and we'll be going home.”
Zegana nodded slowly. “If that is what you wish,” she said, “But don't fool yourself just yet. Many great minds believe our actions are absolutely necessary if we are to ensure your safety.”
Papa waved her off.
Zegana turned to one of the practically dressed merfolk. “If you would, please take them to their living quarters,” she requested.
“Of course, my lady,” the man said, bowing. He turned to Lena and her family, “I'm sure you'll find everything you need there. It's a lovely place.”
* * *
It was indeed a lovely place, and inspiring as well. Lena had been there for three days and she was still amazed at the variety of life covering the house and the yard. There was a garden behind the house filled with the most wonderful flora, and it was there she had set up her new worktable.
She had decided on her next project the day of her arrival. She wanted to find a way to turn the energy emitted by the Sun into healing power. Lena was convinced that photosynthetic materials were the perfect starting place for this project, so she had modified some plant cells with a bit of scientific magic and was infusing them into the bodies of mice. There had been little progress, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Aerobian zoomed happily around her today, hunting for the many varieties of insects that could be found here. Lena had been right - he was much better off with wings.
She chided herself for her brief lack of focus and turned her thoughts to her mice. She was focusing so intently on her work, in fact, that she never noticed the man slip out of the shadows of the house. She never saw him advance on her, with her vulnerable back turned to him. And she never saw the little insect buzzing around his head, but neither did he.
Aerobian, on the other hand, did see that insect, and he thought it looked quite tasty. He swooped towards it, narrowly missing the man. While the man could ignore the insect easily, the flying frog was a different matter entirely, and he swatted at Aerobian. Aerobian however, was much too fast for him, easily dodging the blow and alighting on the man's head for a better view of the insect he had missed. This caused the man to cry out in surprise, and Lena turned around, surprised.
It was the Wojek officer - she was sure of it. Zegana had been right after all, though Lena still had no idea why the Boros would be after her. She was glad the man was alone, because she was sure that a squadron could have easily overpowered her and Aerobian. As it was, however, the man had been careless. She noted, as he took another swing at her frog, that he was standing in front of the Florassimilatium plant, and he was already off-balance and distracted by her pet.
She took a deep breathe, then ran towards him, and pushed him with all her might.
He fell exactly where she had expected he would - right onto the trunk of the Florassimilatium. No sooner had he fallen, than the plant began to assimilate him, as Lena had known it would. She watched calmly as the man struggled in vain to free himself from the growth that was quickly binding him to the tree. He tried to reach the knife hanging on his side, but failed. She watched as surprise crossed his features, and then as his features turned green and slowly froze into place. His body was still retained a human shape, but it lacked detail, and it rippled as the plant shed the unusable clothes. It only had a taste for living matter.
Lena smiled when at last the plant was still. The shape of a man was recognizable, but his body was no longer human - it was quite green, smooth and completely attached to the Florassimilatium. The process was complete, and it had only taken about 30 seconds in all.
A fly buzzed past Lena's head, and Lena watched it absently. It was headed toward the Florassimilatium, and, after watching the assimilation of the man, Lena wouldn't mind another demonstration of the plant's power. No sooner had she thought that than Aerobian brushed past her, flying at full speed towards the insect. She barely had time to reach for him before he was past her and had landed on the former man's nose, ready to catch the fly.
It was too late. She could do nothing now but watch as the plant assimilated her beautiful creation. She felt a twinge of regret pass through her, but Aerobian was so focused on his prey that he didn't seem to mind his new inability to move. His last movement before he was assimilated was to shoot out his tongue and snag the fly. Then he became a living statue.
If only she could take back her wish to see the plant in action again! But she could not, and perhaps she could learn from this. Aerobian may no longer be a frog, but he was still alive, in a kind of immortal statue-like state. Maybe, Lena wondered, she could use this plant's power in her experiment. She would have to tweak it of course, but maybe this was the breakthrough that she'd been searching for. Imagine, the power to preserve a body forever - this was what the plant offered. The only change that ever came to it was when it spread its immortality to other living things. Lena thought, maybe, that within a few days, she might have a testable product, perhaps even viable for human testing! She hurried to her room to get the materials she would need. She could start testing with the mice.
* * *
Notes on Directive 258-F-23-SA:
The girl eluded capture, and we lost an important agent in the process. Of course, he is only one of legions of unknowing, willing servants, but he is still a cost.
Recommend suspension of capture until more information has been gathered on the girl.
Vonique Sindaria - Covert Level
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