*Trigger Warning: This story contains references to suicide.
We hike through the Tiasa Forest on our way back to the portal in the Bersna Mountains. You recognize the path we traverse, and it is strange to be in familiar territory. We’ve spent so much time in new locations that you haven’t returned to any old ones except for Jakita.
You keep your eye out for animals, particularly the magical creatures you recently learned dwell here. They keep out of sight, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch a glimpse of one.
At night we make camp and gather around the fire. On this particular night, I choose to tell you the story I’ve been withholding from the beginning. Tonight you will learn of the conflict that drove Oriana and Horatio to leave their fellow scientists. You will also learn the cause of Araceli’s death.
* * * * *
“I don’t think we should be doing this,” Araceli said firmly.
The scientists were gathered in the lab. Gina had just told them of her and Ryker’s plan for their next experiment.
“Why not?” Gina asked. “It’s the next scientific breakthrough.”
“It’s bad enough that we manipulated DNA to create the dragons and other magical creatures. I refuse to grow durmiads in a lab.”
“I told you, they’re not durmiads. They’ll be subspecies of durmiads. We can make them different from us. See how changing their DNA changes them.”
“I thought we agreed the dragons would be the only sentient beings we created,” Oriana said, her arms folded across her chest. “We established early on that we didn’t want to repopulate Kareena with durmiads and risk another global catastrophe. We’ll be the last of our race.”
“They aren’t for Kareena,” Gina said. “They’re for other planets like we did with the dragons and Hassandri.”
“So we’re going to behave like the gods of old and create planets and puppets for us to manipulate?” Oriana asked.
“We’re not going to make them puppets. They’ll have free will, but we can study them and see how our experiments affect their behavior.”
“They’re people!” Araceli exclaimed. “They’re not lab animals.”
“You’re the behavioral scientist. Aren’t you interested in studying them? Just think of all the things we could learn from these experiments.”
Araceli shook her head.
“Can we at least create a few people to help out around here? It takes a lot of work to maintain this place; and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to clean my house and cook meals.”
“You want to make slaves?” Oriana asked.
“I prefer the term ‘personal assistant’.”
“Same thing,” Oriana grumbled.
“No,” Araceli said. “I won’t have any part of this.”
“You’re welcome to disagree with me,” Gina said, “but you won’t stop me.”
* * * * *
That evening, Araceli teleported to Oriana and Horatio’s house to speak with them.
“We have to do something,” Araceli said. “We went through ethics training when we joined the Research Institute, and this goes against everything we were taught and everything we stood for. We can’t let her proceed.”
“Agreed,” Oriana said. “We don’t have many options. When Gina sets her mind to something, there’s usually no stopping her.”
“The first thing we should do,” Horatio said, “is determine how many people agree with Gina and how many agree with us.”
After asking around, they discovered Gina had five allies. The other five scientists either didn’t prefer one side over the other, or they wished to stay out of the conflict. Araceli, Oriana, and Horatio were alone in their sentiments.
“That leaves us two choices,” Oriana said. “We can either kill Gina, which I find extreme; or we can destroy the laboratory equipment. While that may not stop them permanently, it will take them time to replace everything.”
“What if we destroyed the DNA and its storage room?” Horatio asked. “That would make it hard for them to create new subspecies.”
“We could destroy both,” Araceli said.
“Before we proceed,” Oriana said, “you both realize we’re basically committing treason, and we won’t be able to stay here.”
“Kareena is large. We can find someplace else to live,” Horatio said. “That doesn’t bother me.”
“I’d rather live in exile than watch them experiment with people’s lives,” Araceli said.
“Then let’s determine a plan.”
* * * * *
The three rogue scientists had to plan quickly before Gina made any progress with her experiments. In the dead of night, they teleported inside the lab. Araceli walked through the room, incinerating the advanced equipment with white-hot fireballs. Oriana and Horatio melted the frozen storage room and the DNA inside of it. Each DNA sample was in its own vial; so they had to go through them one-by-one, starting with samples belonging to the most advanced lifeforms.
Their plan worked for a few minutes before the other scientists arrived. They appeared inside the lab. Aware they were outnumbered, but knowing their work was far from complete, the rogue scientists quickened their pace. Horatio stopped destroying and put his efforts into placing protective wards around the three of them. The other scientists placed wards around the equipment. Araceli had run out of unprotected things to incinerate. She joined Oriana in the DNA room.
“Enough of this,” Gina said.
Oriana and Araceli continued.
“I said, ‘Enough’.” The ground trembled as she said this. Her eyes blazed.
Oriana and Araceli stopped.
“I know you’re against our experiments, but that does not give you the right to destroy our lab. We swore to protect the DNA of Kareena’s creatures, and here you are breaking your vows. This will not go unpunished.”
The other scientists were gathered behind Gina. Some looked hurt, others angry. None of them seemed willing to come to the rogue scientists’ aid.
Oriana and Araceli grabbed Horatio’s arms. “If you want to punish us,” Oriana said, “you’ll have to find us first. We’re done here.”
* * * * *
Oriana, Horatio, and Araceli built a new home on the other side of the continent. They tinkered with their magic until they were able to find a way to keep their home under protective wards at all times without anyone actively maintaining them. They watched the other scientists from afar using a magic tapestry, keeping tabs on their activities.
Gina and the others spent decades rebuilding their equipment and replenishing their DNA bank. They had repaired the storage room quickly enough to save the undestroyed DNA samples. The attack on the lab wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, but it did delay the others.
The rogue scientists attempted to break in and thwart their efforts once more, but the lab was now protected as thoroughly as their hideout. They wouldn’t be able to get in again.
Once all of the equipment was restored, Gina and the others began their experiments. The first subspecies they created were the hamari. There were only four of them, made to be slaves for Gina, Ryker, Deklan, and Latanya. The others didn’t want servants, which Gina didn’t understand; but she still got her opportunity to experiment with genetics on a small scale.
The scientists created the hamari to have low intelligence and an inability to use magic, so they wouldn’t pose a threat to their masters. They did their work without complaint, giving Gina and the others more time to devote to their experiments.
The creation of the hamari disgusted the rogue scientists. They were tempted to dispose of them, but Araceli wouldn’t even consider killing innocent people. Besides, they knew Gina would just make more anyway.
What they didn’t know is the creation of the hamari was just the beginning. Gina would follow through with her plan to populate new planets with her creations in her ethically out-of-control experiments.
This was too much for Araceli. One day, after watching the other scientists birth a new subspecies, Horatio found Araceli’s body. With it was a note saying they had done their best to stop Gina without resorting to violence. Araceli didn’t want to live to see the experiments succeed or to see Gina murdered. She had lived long enough, and she was at peace with her decision to die.
Horatio and Oriana burned Araceli’s body and let the wind carry her ashes across the planet she had helped to restore. That night, they attempted to assassinate Gina; but she and her home were also protected by strong wards. Since they couldn’t kill Gina, Horatio and Oriana vowed to do everything in their power to prevent the new subspecies from becoming an experiment subject to the whims of their creators.