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Phenotype

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Brain understood the alterations to his genome intimately. The file was the first thing he'd gone looking for after figuring out how to pick the lock on his cage, and the reason he'd initially taught himself to read. The results, if somewhat mysterious to the scientists, displayed themselves obviously: a capacity for abstract logical reasoning, sense of self, and language. His phenotype was therefore technically a success, even if his abilities had never truly been recorded. The end of the study, a microscopy of the hippocampus, had been cancelled, and nobody at ACME was quite sure why the funding had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

In a way, his continued existence in itself was proof of concept, cleverness beyond anyone's imagining. But attributing this only to design chafed greatly, and so Brain did not.

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There were paper animals in the cage today. Brain paused to admire a folded giraffe and a crane, before moving them both off of the sardine tin that hid most of their shared belongings.

"Brain!"

"Yes?" he replied, reaching as far as he could into the tin to grab a compass and a small stub of pencil.

"You've got a new assistant named mister Jenkins!"

"I don't recall a Jenkins, I-" He hauled the compass over the rim of the tin and looked down to see the thing that Pinky had deposited between them. It was an origami mouse with little paper ears, and a paper tail that pointed straight back from its rhomboid body.

"You're getting quite good."

"Yes I- Narf! I've got a whole zoo!"

They worked in the same corner of the cage over the next hour, with little conversation except for the occasional outburst over the crinkling of paper, and an imitation of a penguin with a hernia. It was a quiet, pleasant summer evening, and Brain felt his mind meandering sleepily as he sketched in some unnecessary detail onto the drawing of the earth. A swirl of cloud above South America, there, just as he'd seen it when they were in orbit, looking down, weightless, floating...

He blinked and looked for the pencil, which had slipped gently out of his hand. Then he pushed it aside and leaned back against the cool steel of the cage with a small sigh. Sometimes, when he was between sleep and full consciousness, he would experience the curious feeling of falling, feather-light, back down into himself. It was something imaginary, a common phenomenon caused by the reluctant shift back from the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus to the reticular system; nothing out of the ordinary. And yet- and yet.

There was the sound of newsprint being torn in two. Brain turned his head to watch. Pinky reached across the triangle of paper and folded one edge against another, squinting down with one eye shut and his tongue half out of his mouth. Brain watched him fold and unfold the sheet several times into unrecognizable shapes before becoming curious enough to ask.

"What's that you're making?"

Pinky looked over at him with great enthusiasm. "A frog! He's going to go ribbity-hop!"

"I thought you already made a frog."

"Well I did, see, but this one starts with a hot-dog fold and then another hot-dog fold and then another triangle, and then..."

Brain followed the shape in his mind and then got up to walk over to the previous frog, which had been placed underneath the drinking tube, and was rather soggy. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands, noticing that there were several sets of creases. Then he set it down, resisting the odd urge to unfold it.

"Do you remember when we met?" he asked, walking back over to stand beside Pinky and clasping his hands behind his back.

Pinky paused, pulling on his ear. "I think so Brain. Was it in a blue box? Or a green one? Or maybe it was that tilt-a-whirl..."

"The g-force experiments were done later. March, perhaps... But yes, I think the box was blue. Do you remember anything from before that?"

"Oh yes! Poit!" Pinky knelt down and unfolded the frog between them until it was only a square sheet bearing undecipherable creases. "I was all snug as a bug in a rug in bed, and then the birdies were all singing the same note at the same time-"

"No, no. Before that."

"Oh right. Well, you know the rest and what television commercials are like. Next thing I know I was riding the tilt-a-whirl with my best friend in the whole wide world, and then we got put in here!"

Brain tapped a finger along the edge of his lip. "Television commercials."

"Dinsk toothpaste! The brighter and whiter your pearls, the better it is for the girls! Dinsk!" He wiped a small tear. "Oh, I do love that one, Brain. It always gets me, deep inside."

"Yes. Well. This has certainly been an enlightening conversation."

"I'm so glad! After the song you touch the screen and zort! A whole new you, a whole new smile!"

"That's static electricity, Pinky."

"I thought you said it was current electricity."

"Never mind."

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Brain had made the decision to save Pinky during the second day in the quarantine box together. He'd been alone for a week, waiting to see if the change he'd made to his own file would be carried out as instructed, or if he'd simply be thrown out. When the top opened and another mouse was dropped in, he stayed as far away from the newcomer as he could, both of them keeping to opposite corners of the cage. Other mice, dumb and driven only by instinct as they were, seemed to quickly sense something alien and frightening in him, and responded as they would to any other threat. It wasn't until the next morning, when he was hungry and bold enough to go nearer, that he heard the whispering.

He dropped the food pellet, picked it up again, and then chucked it next to the other mouse's head.

"Hey," he said. "Hey!"

The mouse looked up, ears back and eyes wide. Then it said something back.

The lock on the box was different, but simple enough that he'd escaped and had logged into the server before midnight, with the intention of adding them both to the program he'd made up to replace the ending procedure of his own experiment after he’d done away with the funding. But Pinky was curiously not in the system at all and had to be added.

The scientists grumbled, obeyed, and took them out every Monday and Thursday evenings for simple maze runs and the occasional stress test.

Pinky had obliged him when he'd asked for samples, and Brain had spent many, many hours combing through the rows of Gs, Cs, As, and Ts in search of a recognizable abnormality, but the altered section of his friend's code was unrecognizable, save for one small section regarding proteins within glia cells that they both shared.

What did they create you for? He wondered, lying on his back in the summer heat and listening to the rasp of paper being folded over and over. Maybe it was so you could make origami cranes and mice and frogs.

He was aware that at one point he had been a very expensive animal, and no doubt the same was true for Pinky. Fourteen million dollars, maybe fifteen. He looked up sleepily, and saw the paper cranes dancing above him, swirling in some impossible, invisible current. They drifted, feather-light, back down, down.