The Greater Good
Joshua Olsen’s Cantrips & Catastrophies
A Magic: the Gathering Fan Fiction short story
Quennus turned back to face Tarrin, revealing he was holding the syringe from before.
“What’s it going to do?”
“It will help. Try to hold still, this might sting a little…”
“No! Wait, wait a moment, I don’t want tha- Arrrrgh!”
The syringe effortlessly pieced Tarrin’s coppery skin, depositing a load of unknown liquid straight into the Auriok’s bloodstream. Almost instantly coolness, like ice, spread through Tarrin’s body, causing him to shiver violently for a few moments, rattling the restraints. Just as he began to seriously worry that the coldness would not stop and he would be frozen from the inside out, the cold dimmed down to a bearable chilly feeling in his head and chest, and Tarrin dimly realised his panic had gone, his fear sliding away without protest. He simply felt relaxed and blissfully at ease, even as Quennus reached for him again, holding another syringe filled with liquid.
“What have you done to me?” He asked in a hollow, level voice that echoed how he was feeling.
“I have injected you with a composite drug of my own invention. It affects the higher functions of the subject’s cortex, specifically the frontal hippocampus. In effect it’s quite useful for subjugating and de-prioritizing…….” Quennus noticed at the mildly confused look on his subject’s face. “In simple terms, it numbs your emotions. I myself am usually on a watered-down version while I go about my duties.” Quennus tossed the spent syringe back on to the tray, and grabbed another. Tarrin idly noticed that it had a different coloured band to the first one.
“And we mustn’t forget this one as well.”
Without further comment he administered the contents of the syringe into Tarrin, this time in the wrist.
“And what does that one do?”
“I will demonstrate in a moment,” Mumbled Quennus in a distracted manner as he snatched up a third syringe from his workbench. This time however Quennus injected himself, putting the syringe up to the back of his head, where it seemed to easily slide into a recess on the machinery there. His eyes closed as he pushed the plunger down, well his organic eye did at any rate, and as he withdrew the syringe he trembled violently, as Tarrin himself had done moments earlier. Without explanation he strode forward to Tarrin, and made a quick movement, whipping his hand out and back as though he was a painter dabbing with a brush.
“Do you feel anything?”
Tarrin blinked. “Should I have?”
Quennus raised a hand up to Tarrin’s point of view. He was holding a scalpel with blood on it. Fresh blood on it.
“I just severed your Primary Tendon muscle. If the drug had not worked you would be been in considerable pain. Do not be concerned.”
And he bent over Tarrin’s chest, bloody scalpel still in hand.
“Please do not move. It will make my work difficult.”
Tarrin felt a strange sensation, as though something blunt was being slowly being dragged down his chest. It didn’t hurt at all; it was just a sensation of something being there. And it was then, unhindered by emotion, with only the logic remaining, that he understood. He spoke, with the tone one might use for discussing the weather.
“I’m not going to make it out of here alive, am I Quennus?”
Quennus’ metal eye swivelled to look up at him, while his original one continued to keep track of the incision he was making. He sighed.
“No. I am afraid not.”
Tarrin’s mind knew he should have been afraid at this revelation, or angry, or perhaps wracked with sobbing, but the drug blanked his feelings, kept them out of reach. But intellectual curiosity remained.
“Can you tell me why? I’d like to know.”
Without looking up from his vivisection, Quennus continued to talk, but Tarrin noticed his voice too was a little bit flatter than it had been prior to the injection.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of ‘The Greater Good’, Tarrin. For example, taking one life to save ten is better than merely saving one, and so forth. But what…..”
A squirt of blood arched through the air as Quennus sawed through layers of muscle and skin using the scalpel. Tarrin lay his head back, continued to listen idly.
“….if we were talking not about individual lives, but entire worlds? I’ve seen them, been to them. The multiverse is vast Tarrin…..so vast. There are more worlds out there than I can count; certainly I haven’t been to them all in over 20 years of Planeswalking. You have no idea; it would blow your mind to know how just how small everything you know is.”
The scalpel danced in Quennus’ experienced hands.
“I told you Phyrexia has left its mark on me, and I told the truth. A long time ago, Phyrexia attacked my home plane, much how it is now doing the same to Mirrodin.”
“Really? What happened, was Phyrexia stopped?”
“At the end of a long and gruelling campaign, the people of my home plane thought we had eradicated Phyrexia from existence, though it left our world scarred and damaged for long afterwards. But evidently we were wrong, for somehow the infection has survived to take hold here, and Mirrodin has not been as fortunate. I would be fascinated to know how it happened; from what I’ve seen it would take only a small piece of Phyrexia to start the cycle again, perhaps as little as a goblet-full of the oil could….”
There was a crack, and suddenly Tarrin felt humid air where he had never felt it before. The sensation was unusual, but not entirely unpleasant.
“You might be interested to know you are in excellent shape for an Auriok, your heart is strong and I’m seeing a very healthy set of lungs here. You could probably have lived to an above average age if not for…..”
Quennus locked eyes with Tarrin for a moment, but the bird-man looked away from Tarrin’s blank stare almost straight away. He didn’t seem to be able to finish the sentence. Tarrin decided to break the awkward silence sooner rather than later, he was on a time limit after all.
“Please, continue your story. I want to hear it all.”
After a moment’s silence Quennus extracted his hand, holding something soft and squishy in it. As he put the harvested specimen in a preserving jar he continued to talk, and all Tarrin could do was continue to remain still and let Quennus’ words wash over him.
“I understand that Mirrodin’s people’s joined forces in the face of the Phyrexian invasion, as the people of my home plane did, but you were too late. I understand the hesitancy; no man, woman or child is ready to accept the reality of what Phyrexia means, even when it has started to spread like a cancer. But I think even at the height of the war that the Mirrans still underestimated what they were up against. Again, understandable, but fatal.”
“Phyrexia? It’s some kind of abhorrent civilisation, is it not?”
Quennus shook his head.
“No, it is more than that. You and the Mirrans see it as an invading army, seeking your lands and people’s for subjugation. But Phyrexia is far more than that Tarrin. Phyrexia is an entire ecosystem all itself, a kind of super-organism that aims only to grow and consume until there is nothing left but Phyrexia. It doesn’t exist to defeat armies or isolated villages, it exists to destroy entire civilisations, wipe out entire ecosystems. Every non-Phyrexian thing in existence is at risk, there is nothing Phyrexia will not do to assimilate everything in its path. And here is where the greater good comes in. What do you do with someone sick with an incurable disease, to prevent them from passing the sickness onto others?”
“Well, I suppose the only thing to do is to kill the person, or failing that put them somewhere separate from others, keep them isolated….”
“Exactly! Quarantine is the only solution! Mirrodin is lost, with the exception of the few remaining Mirrans, there is nothing left to save here. Phyrexia has won. But it must not be allowed to get off this world. If Phyrexia knew that other worlds exist out there they…. would find a way to get to them. They would sweep through the whole multiverse. That cannot happen. The only remaining way to deal with Phyrexia is to make it think there is no-where else to spread to. Make sure that Mirrodin is the prison that keeps Phyrexia contained. Forever.”
“And is that why you have come here? You mentioned a mission.” The words came harder now, as though he was fighting against a heavy wind to say to say them. Tarrin’s breathing rate had picked up, but he still felt no discomfort.
“Yes. I was captured by Phyrexia early into my plane’s war with it, and turned into what you see before you. Phyrexia recognises me as its own, I bear its marks and technologies, but it fails to realise that I have my own thoughts and emotions. So I came here, posed as just another cog in the machine, a drone amongst millions of others. No other could have hoped to infiltrate Phyrexia like this. By doing Phyrexia’s grotesque work well, I have worked my up through the hierarchy of the Progress Engine. Now, I am a respected scientist, my words and scientific theorems carry much influence and I regularly have the ear of none other than the Praetor itself.
Tarrin noticed a slight tone of pride in Quennus’ words, mixed with regret.
“And so I have been hiding, erasing or discrediting all evidence of the existence of other plane’s existence. Sometimes I am able to simply wipe the memory of an Exarch, other times I must dispose of them completely before they can spread word of any dangerous discoveries. It has been hard work, always so close to discovery, always covering my tracks so that The Core Augur suspects nothing is afoot. The things I’ve had to do to play the part, Tarrin, you have no idea. I don’t think I can ever forget my sins. I hate that it has to be this way, I hate that the burden falls to me and me alone to do this abominable work…..”
Tarrin gave a wet cough suddenly, his pinned frame wracked with spasms once, twice, three times. When the cough subsided he could feel blood leaking out of his face and gliding down his chin. The feel of it pooling in his nose produced a vaguely ticklish feeling.
“You don’t have long left Tarrin.”
“I guessed. But I’m not afraid.”
“I know. I am glad to know I am able to stop your suffering. Consider it the only gift I can give you.”
Quennus deftly pulled a scrap of cloth from some recess and dabbed the blood up.
“You must understand, I have been saving as many Mirrans as I can. I stage “escapes” and help the Mirran Resistance to launch rescue raids every now and again, and when I am not occupied by my cover duties I visit the Resistances’ base and Planeswalk groups of Mirrans to other words where they can live new lives, but I can’t save them all. It would be too suspicious if too many prisoners went missing, I must not draw attention to myself and my activities. The Core Augar is smart, I must be above suspicion. I couldn’t save you Tarrin, your vivisection had already been approved when I met you, it would have raised far too many questions to have you escape on my watch. I’m deeply sorry. But I will not let your death be in vain. It’s all part….”
“….Of the greater good,” finished Tarrin. He nodded in understanding. It all made sense, in a calculating sort of way. The stakes were unimaginable; casualties of war had to be expended.
Quennus leaned over Tarrin, looming in close. He spoke rapidly now, hurrying his words.
“But I can save your wife and child. They are assigned to be subjected to Phyrisis later on in the cycle; I can easily assign myself as their surgeon.”
Tarrin had started to hyperventilate now, his chest heaving rapidly as his body struggled to cope with what was happening to it. He was beginning to feel cold all over, even though his forehead was slick with sweat. His limbs felt heavy, not the heaviness after a long day of work, but unnaturally heavy, like they had been replaced with lead. Black spots began to appear in his vision, fading in and out. But Quennus was still there, looking back at him. He didn’t seem so scary now, ugly yes, but not scary, like a scarred old ancestor watching over you with advice. There was even a shadow of concern in the surgeon’s avian face, he was sure of it. With his organic hand Quennus cradled Tarrin’s head, trying to settle the shaking.
“You’re going into cardiac arrest. No no no,” he said quietly as Tarrin opened his mouth to try and speak. “Just listen. I swear to you I will save your family, Tarrin of the Auriok, and I will tell them how much you love them when I do so. I will tell them you were brave to the very last.”
“Th…..tha……Thank……you” he managed to choke out.
Quennus’ metal hand tightly clasped Tarrin’s violently shaking, vein-stricken flesh one, even though he knew the patient he had killed wouldn’t be able to feel the gesture.
“Promise….me…..one m-more thing, Q-Q-Quennus.” Tarrin’s voice had died down to a whisper, a rattle evident in it.
“I will try.”
Tarrin seemed to find some strength from within his cracked-open, partly dissected body, and he spoke clearly, one last time. Each word was an effort.
“They…. may have made you in their image on the outside, you may have to act like them, but don’t….. don’t become like them on the inside…. You have to save as many as you can….”
And he fell still, the bronze light of life that flickered in his eyes faded away with that thousand-mile stare that Quennus had seen countless times on his operating slab. The hand that had gripped Quennus so tightly a moment ago fell still, slackly releasing the chrome fingers. Quennus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt there was no point checking for a pulse, it was his own hands that had effectively taken the man’s life.
Quennus staggered back, spattered with blood and bodily fluids. He leant back against a wall, head in hands. He didn’t weep, didn’t scream in guilt or smash the fine instruments in a fit of rage. The only evidence that the emotion-suppressing drug he was on wasn’t totally working was a single tear that slid from the corner of his hazel eye. Quickly Quennus wiped the tear up, holding it up to the light of the lab. Even without his mechanical eye’s zoom function he could see the single droplet was clouded with black, filled with toxic Phyrexian oil. Phyrexia had even taken everything from him, everything, even something as simple as the purity of grief. Quennus quickly squished the droplet between two fingers as if by doing so he could crush the whole of New Phyrexia, take his revenge with just that one act.
Then, with that little private moment over, Quennus wiped off his instruments, removed his surgical attire, and strode from the room, not once looking back at the body that lay strapped and opened up on the slab.