The Immortality Dilemma
Despite his graying feathers and tired ashen eyes, Old Ben the cloud Lenny thought himself perfectly sane. But lately, even he was forced to admit that he’d been having more trouble than usual finding his way around the Lost Desert marketplace. In fact, nowadays it was a struggle to make it to the bathroom in time.
Old Ben, however, had no qualms about blaming his worse-than-usual memory on his new surroundings. After all, he had only just relocated to the desert a mere two weeks ago (at the request of his daughter). And the day before the move, he had woken up unconscious in the Neopia hospital with no memory of how he got there (probably that slippery bathroom floor, he suspected). Consequently, Ben had no trouble cutting himself some slack. Besides, he was acquainting himself with his new home at a relatively rapid pace: his life back in Neopia City already seemed unusually distant and unfamiliar.
“Today is a very special day,” commented Ben to no one in particular, and he mentally promised himself that he would not get lost or forget anything important. At the thought, one of his blue-white wings instinctively brushed against a beet-colored bruise on the side of his head—a rather nasty bump he’d suffered at the mercy of an earthquake three years earlier. Prior to his recent relocation, Old Ben had always attributed his intermittent memory blackouts to the bruise, which had never really gone away. He never complained though, as he had acquired the bump saving his daughter during the earthquake. A small price to pay, he had concluded. Nevertheless, Ben silently pleaded with the bump not to give him any troubles today, for today was a very special day.
His wings quaked with nervous excitement as he meandered about his hut gathering various supplies, inadvertently sending a few tufts of bluish-white feathers cascading down to the dirt floor like snow. Old Ben’s dusty hut was actually quite large compared to those of his neighbor’s, courtesy of his daughter (who was rather wealthy). Unfortunately, the hut was nowhere near as clean as it was when he had just arrived.
Mountains of junk reached and strained for the sky, composed of everything from dusty scrolls to worthless trinkets and faded books that were probably older than he was. Most notably, however, ancient Y6 newspaper clippings spread across the clay floor in congregated bundles, the bulk of them titled with headings that shouted things like: “MARIANA LENNY DEVELOPS ADVANCED WEAPONRY FOR POOGLES!” or proclaimed: “MARIANA LENNY WINS SPACE INVENTION CONTEST!” or boasted “MARIANA LENNY CALLED ‘GENIUS OF OUR TIME’!” The name populated the floor as ubiquitously as leaves on a tree.
Indeed, Old Ben was undoubtedly rather proud of his daughter, and only regretted that he hadn’t accompanied her to her new work-home on the Virtupets Station so long ago. He snapped out of his memories, realizing that he had already finished packing and was shamelessly wasting time. After brief silent celebration that he was able to find everything, the Lenny swiftly exited the hut.
As he left, a rare breeze from the sweltering heat outside swept into the hut and nudged a piece of parchment onto the floor to join the rest of the newspaper clippings. The parchment, unlike the clippings, however, wasn’t dusty or crinkled. Just the opposite, in fact, as it sat in perfectly good condition, if only smudged a little from being read too many times.
“My Dear Father,” it read, “Please forgive me for not contacting you from the space station for three whole years. I know it has been quite a while since I last visited or even wrote to you—but trust me when I say that doing either was impossible. Recently, however, it has been crucial that I disappear from the world—for a while, at least. Two weeks ago I placed a letter next to your hospital bed telling you to move to the Lost Desert. I hope you have followed my instructions, for I am now requesting that you meet me on the outskirts of the desert where we used to go on vacation (you know the place). I would very much like to see you again one more time before I must disappear again; in addition, I need your advice on a very important matter. Please meet me there if you can at 6 pm. I know the meeting place isn’t too far out, but please bring plenty of supplies nevertheless in case you get lost.
A blur of gold, and the sound of shuffling paper were the last things that Old Ben perceived right before he collided with a young Zafara in the middle of the road. Wads of gray papers rained down from the sky like confetti as swirling clouds of dust choked and suffocated the stale air. A golden headpiece struck the ground with a very defined crunch, shattering and scattering and embedding themselves in the sand like glittering green stars.
The old Lenny muttered sincere apologies as he helped the Zafara dust the sand off himself.
“Ey, It’s all right already, I’m fine!” Ben’s victim.
“Oh, hi Boris,” Ben tenderly greeted his fallen neighbor upon recognizing him. “I’m so sorry about your .. uh, crown. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“I noticed,” groaned Boris, hunting down his papers one by one. “It’s all right about the headpiece. It was fake anyway. But— ” he grunted, plucking a crumpled paper out of the sand, “—you can make it up to me by buying a Neopian Times.” He held up one of the pathetic-looking papers and offered it to Ben, his yellow paw stretched out greedily.
Ben dug into his pockets. “Suppose that’s fair,” he grumbled. “Haven’t bought a new paper in years now. What’s new today?”
Boris was busy counting the coins. “Well... uh... that Lenny thief has been spotted near Sakhmet recently, actually. Forgot her name... Some big-time inventor for Virtupets gone bad.” He paused. “You ask me, I say Sloth got her.” His voice terminated in a whisper.
“Big-time inventor Lenny thief?” he murmured, his eyebrows rising in confusion. “That couldn’t be—”
“Say, Ben,” continued Boris once he had stored the coins. “Didn’t you have a daughter that used to work on the Space Station or something?”
“Yeah,” replied Ben absentmindedly, still musing over the paper. “She’s a genius. Space Station’s top inventor and technician. Won many—”
“Sure sounds like her!” cackled Boris, taking gleeful solace in his neighbor’s misfortune.
Old Ben didn’t hear him, his ashen eyes glued to the front page. “LENNY THIEF STILL AT LARGE!” warned the headline ominously. But when he saw the picture, his tensed muscles instantly relaxed, his fears assuaged.
“This Lenny is green,” he pointed out to Boris, his voice steadying with audible relief. “My daughter is painted gray.” He threw the paper back to the Zafara. “Couldn’t be her.”
“Okay,” said Boris.
The outskirts of the Lost Desert were quite unlike the blistering craters of sand that composed the main city and palace. As Old Ben took a grateful seat on a decrepit bench, he took a moment to appreciate his surroundings. He had always loved the Desert despite the heat—unlike other pets, he actually enjoyed direct confrontation with the unrelenting Neopian sun.
And thus, summertime in the Desert was his favorite time of year, and he had always brought Mariana there for vacation when she was much, much younger. On the outskirts resided a smattering of brilliantly green trees. There were only a few, but there were always enough to serve their purpose: to offer a tiny refuge of vivid color in an otherwise monotonous ocean of sandy beige.
A tall Lenny in dark robes approached the bench from behind and removed her hood.
And there she was. At the sight of his daughter, his tired gray eyes came to life and sparkled with green and gold. The next thing he knew, Old Ben found himself contentedly lost inside a soft embrace with the younger Lenny. He caught himself just before the tears started to come. Mariana’s face, on the other hand, was already soaked.
“Where have you been ...?” Old Ben asked quietly, afraid that his voice would choke.
“The Station, of course,” she sniffed, wiping off her tears. “Come on, let’s take a walk. I can’t stay for long, Dad, and I should keep moving.”
But as Ben took his daughter’s wing, he came to a horrible realization—one that he had failed to notice earlier, so utterly blinded by his happiness of seeing his daughter again.
“Mariana... You’re painted green.”
She blushed. “I painted myself after the last time I saw you three years ago. Didn’t feel that gray suited me anymore, really.”
“Mariana, the papers say that—”
“Thought you didn’t read the paper anymore.” Surprise formed on her face, but quickly vanished. “Anyway, the papers lie.”
Old Ben gave his daughter a look.
“Really, you don’t need to worry about me, Dad.” She flashed him a wide, reassuring smile, and the last of his doubts were erased.
“Come. Let’s walk. I need some advice.”
Brown and orange leaves crackled and coughed under their talons as they walked hand in hand farther and farther away from the Lost Desert. The seemingly never-ending trails of sand had at last begun to transition into dirt and soil. The path they took passed underneath a multitude of barren trees, which were becoming more and more frequent the longer they walked.
“I really don’t know how much help I can give you with your problem, Mariana,” warned the older Lenny between steps. “The last time I gave you advice you were so tiny.”
She took a deep breath. “Well, please listen anyway. I... don’t know where else to turn.”
“So... About two weeks ago, I had a breakthrough back at the Space Station. Three years ago, after I visited you, I returned to the station and started solo development on a branch of technology that usually doesn’t yield any usable results. But two weeks ago I was successful—” (her father beamed) “—and I developed a potion.”
“The potion is the result of a new development in magic. You see, like I said before, magic usually can’t be applied to anything we invent... but using a special technique, I can enhance particular qualities of faerie magic and capture the essence in potion form.” Her voice grew audibly softer. “The potion can restore the dead back to life. At least for a couple years.”
“Impossible,” commented Ben immediately without thinking.
“That’s what I thought, too, at first. But with magic... it looks like anything is possible. The potion doesn’t work 100% of the time, though. And remember, it only works for a couple of years. Right now I’m the only one who knows how to affect the combination of magic and the scientific components necessary.”
Old Ben stopped walking. “You’re serious, aren’t you...?”
His daughter nodded.
“I’m still not sure anything like that is possible... But if what you’re saying is true... then what do you need advice about?”
“Well. If my potion is used... if it hits the market... imagine the chaos that it could cause. And every villain and criminal who ever died would be able to return to life if it were to fall into the wrong hands. And it probably will. You see, Dad,” she said uneasily, “with my invention, pets could theoretically become immortal.”
“Do you see my dilemma, Dad? I cannot allow my invention to ever surface. It’s too dangerous.”
“But think about the good that would come of it as well,” pondered Old Ben, his wings tremulous with excitement. “Even if every villain is brought back to life, every hero will be brought back as well. The greatest and best of Neopia could potentially live forever as well!”
“But think about wars, Dad. Some wars may never end if the dead are always brought back to life.”
“That’s true. But perhaps as a result, Neopians may eventually learn to resolve their conflicts without resorting to such lengths. You may even prevent wars in the future altogether!”
“I never thought of that...”
“And think of all those who have ever died too early, or in an unjust way. Think about innocent Neopians who never got the chance to enjoy their lives, or those who all their lives have wanted to try something, like fight in the Battledome, but never got the chance? Think of the happiness it could bring to families torn apart.”
An uneasy, and somewhat pained look gripped the younger Lenny’s face. “But what about those who don’t want to be restored?”
“You have the power to restore life, Mariana, at least for a while ... Of course there will be consequences... but in my opinion, the pain and suffering you could remedy would outweigh it all. Yes, some would not want to be restored. But don’t they deserve the ability to make their choice? It’s quite easy to die... but it has always been impossible to return to life.”
Mariana gave a weak smile and embraced her father. “I’m still not sure, Dad. But thanks for your advice... I really need to think more.”
Old Ben hugged her back and sighed. “Just the fact that you are consulting me instead of simply destroying the potion and the technology tells me that you understand both sides well, my dear. Just be careful with whatever you choose to do.”
She nodded. “You should start heading back home, Dad. It’s quite dark. And the desert is nowhere in sight.”
It was true: night had started to envelope Neopia, and the sun’s light was fading fast. Mariana could have sworn she heard the wailing of some strange creature in the distance. And sand was nowhere in sight.
“Come back with me,” pleaded her father, his tone increasingly desperate. “I don’t understand why you must ‘disappear’ again so soon.”
“The Virtupets Grundos wouldn’t let me leave the station after they found out what I had achieved,” she explained, obviously irritated at the memory. “They said their boss wanted to take control of the potion himself... so I left.”
Ben grinned in approval. “You did the right thing. I’ve heard some nasty rumors about that one. Probably untrue, but better safe than sorry.”
“Well, in any case, they invented a story that I’d ‘stolen’ something from the Space Station, and now everyone’s after me. I’ll be all right though,” she added hastily after seeing her father’s worried look.
A few moments passed in which silence reigned supreme.
“Best of luck, Mariana,” said the old Lenny, his soft words magnified distinctly in the quiet of the night. “You’ll be fine. I have a feeling.”
They exchanged a tiny smile, and Old Ben’s bright green eyes twinkled one last time.
“Don’t wait three years till the next visit, okay?”
After watching her father sadly depart after a rather melancholy goodbye, Mariana sighed to herself and resumed a slow stroll down the path, her steps punctuated and deliberate. She donned her black cloak once again, contemplating the day’s events and her father’s confident advice.
“Think of the happiness it could bring...”
Like a tree, the road began to spiral and branch off into many other paths, each of which in turn stemmed off into other stony routes that seemed to stretch endlessly into the night. Despite the maze of paths surrounding her, and the growing darkness increasingly eclipsing the remaining light of day, the young Lenny knew where to go. The trees overhead changed, metamorphosed into gnarled, twisted shadows devoid of leaves and color.
Overhead, the clouds had cleared a patch the sky, allowing just enough pallid moonlight to descend and illuminate a sign on the edge of the path just as Mariana passed by: Welcome to the Haunted Woods.
And finally, her path abruptly ended—and transitioned into a stone marble walkway that encompassed one of the many cemeteries of the Haunted Woods. The green Lenny made her way over to the grave she had visited almost every day for three years and knelt before it somberly, her face strangely ashen and gray.
Ben Lenny, 7th Day of Sleeping, Y6
Who died saving his daughter Mariana
during an earthquake.
Mariana had not needed to visit the grave in exactly two weeks—and she knew that in the future she would never have to visit it again.
She rose from the ground, smiled, and vanished into the night.
My first story. Please send a review my way ~