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Encountering Resistance: Part One


by moosuem

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A dark, cloaked figure hurried through the dark marketplace. She kept to the shadows, not particularly eager to be seen by the hulking patrol guards that wandered the otherwise deserted streets. They would severely punish anyone else they found out this late, and as for her... Well, they just wouldn't find her, that was all.

      The paint on all the shops had peeled off long ago. On a few, faint traces of the old bright colors could still be seen under the coats of grime and dust. The shops were used only as warehouses for the Emperor now, though, so no one bothered to keep them looking nice. That one absurd shop shaped like some sort of ancient pre-Empire food had fared worse than most of them. It had never been all that strong in the first place, and decades of shipments of enforcer robots had taken their toll on it. The walls were honeycombed with stray blaster holes and burn marks. A remnant of a sign above the door still read "FR FO," a few defiant letters still hanging on stubbornly through the rust and grime.

      The figure crouched down between two sagging shop walls and waited. In five seconds, that gap in the patrol schedule would arrive, the one they had never quite managed to get rid of. The figure crouched down behind a rusting, half-buried shopping cart, tensing as the guard turned the corner and the gap opened. It would be eleven seconds before another guard arrived on the street.

      A breath's length later, the only thing moving on the street was a scrap of the enigmatic paper that blew through the streets all the time. "TORIAL - SHOR," it read. Nearly everyone who might have understood the shard of meaning had died or lost hope long ago.

     * * *

      A small Aisha was sleeping fitfully behind the crates in warehouse number nineteen. He had been lucky enough to find this small, enclosed area several months ago. It was small, dusty, and drafty, but it was also completely sealed off from the guards and warehouse workers by the wall of crates around it. That was enough for the Aisha. Comfort was a luxury he couldn't afford; the best he could hope for was survival, and that was far from a certainty. If this hiding place was anything like the hundreds before it, it would shelter him for a few months, with any luck. All he had to worry about was getting out before the Empire discovered it. Between reasoning, an innate sense of timing, and a large amount of sheer luck, he had always managed to escape without detection before.

      That was why he reacted so strongly when a hooded figure woke him from his uneasy sleep. The first thing he noticed, when he was awake enough to notice anything, was that the figure's sleeve tasted like it had not been washed in some time. A brief and completely silent struggle followed. After all, neither of the two wanted to attract the attention of the guards. When it was over, the hooded figure had pinned the Aisha to the ground. With a few small grunts of pain, she extracted the Aisha's sharp set of fangs from her left sleeve. After that, she turned and extracted his other set of equally sharp fangs from her right sleeve. Finally, she extracted the third set of fangs from one of her right legs and performed a complicated maneuver that ended with the Aisha's four paws and two tentacled mouths pinned firmly to the floor of the warehouse. The fact that the hooded figure had six paws helped with this.

      The Aisha squirmed helplessly for a moment, then gave up and lay limp on the floor. "You win," he groaned softly, though it was unclear how being quiet would help him now. Old habits die hard. "Go ahead, kill me." With that, he closed his eye and laid his head back, waiting to die.

      "Thank you," hissed the hooded figure angrily. "Now, if you'll kindly stop trying to bite my paws off, maybe I can ask you what I came here to ask you?"

      The Aisha chuckled in spite of himself. "No need, I already know. I'm an outlaw, right? You're going to ask whether I would prefer instant execution or a life sentence in the mines."

      "That's not-" the hooded figure began.

      The Aisha ignored her. "I'll take the execution, if you don't mind; from what I've heard, it's healthier."

      "I am not here to-"

      "Of course, being one of the Emperor's spies, you'll probably give me the mines sentence no matter what I-"

      "Quiet!" With one paw, the hooded figure covered the Aisha's largest mouth (carefully keeping it closed to avoid another encounter with the fangs). With the other, she reached up and lifted her hood.

      The Aisha opened his eye, saw the face glaring down at him, and made a muffled noise of comprehension.

      "Convinced I'm not a spy?" asked the figure, getting up off the Aisha.

      The Aisha scrambled softly to his feet, still staring at her. "Yes," he mumbled.

      "Good," said the figure. Her deep blue eyes gleamed in the dim light of the warehouse. "Come on." With a flick of her ears, she lifted her hood back over her head and darted out through the crack in the wall.

      The Aisha stared after her for a moment, struggling with conflicting urges of caution and curiosity, then shrugged. He didn't really have anything much to lose, after all. Stopping only to grab a small pack from a corner between two crates, he ducked through the crack and followed the figure into the night.

     * * *

      A Lutari.

      That one word went round and round in the Aisha's brain. Lutari. A simple word, common once, but now more wonderful and miraculous than anything that had ever happened to him before.

      A Lutari.

      He had never seen one before. He'd thought that no one still alive had ever seen one; everyone thought they had been wiped out when the Emperor took over, if they had ever even existed outside of legends.

      Well, obviously the legends were at least partly true. There was one right in front of him, padding along on four of those six silent paws.

      A Lutari.

      Years ago, before he had been kicked out of the Imperial Research Facility, Roshen had found a list of the extinct Neopet species in an old sub-basement closet. He had hidden the list in his desk, reading over it again and again when no one was watching. Gelerts, Gnorbus, Nimmos - the names had meant nothing to him. Bori. Zafaras. Each one represented an entire species, wiped out, but there were no pictures. Only names.

      The Lutaris had not been on the list. A species can only be extinct if it ever existed in the first place, and most of Neopia believed the Lutaris never had.

      One day, Roshen had gone to work at the Research Facility as usual; instead of his desk and the list of names, though, he had found a pair of hulking Grundo security guards waiting to "escort" him from the building. He had never seen the list - or the Research Facility - again. The Emperor did not like to be reminded of things he disliked.

      Where had the Lutari in front of him come from? Were there more like her? Where had they been all these years? There was no way to tell. Until now, as much as he hated to admit it, he hadn't really been sure that any of them had ever existed.

      A Lutari.

      He wondered what she wanted with him. He wasn't exactly the most useful Aisha she could have found; in fact, he was likely to be the least useful, a penniless outlaw whose main goal in life was to avoid meeting any of the numerous people who would lock him up on sight.

      Well, he could ask about that once they got to wherever they were going. For now, it was best to stay silent.

      The cloaked Lutari stopped at a corner and motioned for him to crouch down behind the rusting ruin of a robot that had collapsed there ages ago. She held up three long, graceful claws, then two, then one, then-

      "Come on!" she hissed, and pulled the Aisha up and across the street. He glanced around nervously as they ran, but - surprisingly - there were no guards in sight. At the other side of the street, the cloaked figure ducked through a hole in the wall of an old warehouse, pulling the Aisha after her.

      The old warehouse, tall and blocky with a few shreds of faded orange paint left, creaked slightly and was silent. When the Grundo guard turned the corner onto the street, the only thing moving on it was one of the many Imperial posters, printed with the grinning green face of Emperor Sloth, blowing in the dusty wind.

     * * *

      "Welcome to Headquarters," said the Lutari after she had helped the Aisha through the hole in the warehouse floor. "The current Headquarters, anyway." She had taken her hood back off now that she was inside. It was hard to tell in the dim light of the underground room, but her fur seemed to be mostly blue. Her deep, intense eyes were a deeper shade of the same color. The Aisha was working up the courage to say something when he looked around him - and gasped. They were in a cavernous underground room, dimly lit by a few flickering lights by the walls.

      The walls.

      The walls of the room were covered, every inch of them, with pictures. Faded and tattered but still there, they covered the walls from floor to ceiling. The Aisha squinted at some of the ones near the patched, rusting ladder he and the cloaked figure were descending. In the dim light, he could just barely see the faded drawings.

      They were pictures of Aishas.

      But not ordinary Aishas. Ordinary Aishas were all blue and pink, with one eye and three mouths, two on tentacles. These Aishas, though, were all different colors. Red and green and white, they stared back at him or off into some space only they could see. Some were spotted, some striped, some covered with sparkling yellow shapes; a few seemed to be part fish, while others were dressed as strange antlered creatures. The strangest thing was that, instead of three mouths, they all had four ears - and two eyes. Only a few looked remotely like him.

      "What are these?" whispered the Aisha in wonder.

      The Lutari sighed. "These ones here are Aishas," she said sadly. "The way they looked before the Empire took over."

      "I've never seen any Aishas like these!" said the Aisha incredulously. "What's wrong with their faces?"

      "I told you," said the Lutari. "This is how Aishas looked before the Empire. Four ears, two eyes, one mouth. They came in so many colors, it was rare to see two the same color at once." She closed her deep blue eyes, reliving some of her oldest memories. "I haven't seen any like these in decades," she continued. "These are the winners of decades of portrait contests. All the species that have ever existed in Neopia are pictured on the walls of this room." She paused for a moment, a wistful look in her deep blue eyes. "Except my family, that is. We didn't have time..." The Aisha was about to ask what she meant, but she continued. "About seventy years ago, the Emperor figured out how to put transmogrification potions into the atmosphere as rain. In just a few horrible nights..." she trailed off, unable to continue.

      "Tran-transmogrification potions?" asked the Aisha hesitantly.

      "Well, it probably just seems like ordinary rain to you; you probably weren't even born before then," she sighed. "But it turns Aishas, Neopets like these-" she gestured to the tattered pictures on the walls- "into ones like you."

      The Aisha was thinking about that, and not liking what he was thinking, when someone stomped up from behind and grabbed him. "Intruder!" bellowed the - whatever it was, clamping two scaly arms around the Aisha's neck and all but lifting him off the floor.

      "Trevor! Put him down! He's a possible new member!" said the Lutari sharply. The Aisha suddenly found that he could breathe again. Gasping and rubbing his throat, he turned to see a large, spiny Grarrl behind him.

      "New member?" said the Grarrl. "Oh. Sorry." He gave the Aisha a cheerful grin. It would have been more reassuring coming from someone with less sharp teeth who had not been trying to choke him five seconds ago.

      "This is Trevor, our security Grarrl," said the Lutari. She turned to Trevor. "How many times do I have to tell you not to choke the ones that come in with me?"

      "Said I was sorry," mumbled Trevor.

      "That's fine," said the Lutari wearily. "Just don't do it again."

      The Grarrl nodded apologetically and shuffled off to a corner of the room.

      The Aisha rubbed his throat and turned to the Lutari. "Is he always that friendly?" he croaked.

      She chuckled. "He's really got a very sweet temper normally," she said. "He just doesn't take kindly to intruders, which basically means anyone he hasn't seen before. You should be perfectly safe now that he knows you."

      "Captain!" came a cry from across the room. A Lenny flew over to them, though he flew awkwardly and had to land and walk half of the way. The reason for this became obvious when he was close enough for the Aisha to see clearly. The Lenny was covered with dozens of belts, sashes, pockets, bags, loops, and hooks, all holding something. Small, intricate gadgets hung next to wooden sticks, bottles, lumpy sacks, small books, coils of rope, fossilized sandwiches... In other words, the Lenny was something of a combined walking toolbox, library, and junk heap. It was amazing that he could fly at all.

      "Welcome back, Sir! Glad to see you've made a safe trip, Sir! Commander Pagger reporting for duty, Sir!" squawked the Lenny, snapping a smart salute that flung an assortment of wristwatches into the shadows. The Lenny bent down to pick them up and strap them back onto his wings, legs, neck, and wherever else he could attach them. Then he snapped another salute. A glass marble fell out of one of his pockets; he whipped out one talon to catch it, managing to keep his salute steady on one leg.

      "At ease, Commander," said the Lutari, barely repressing a smile.

      Commander Pagger relaxed and stuffed the marble into a different pouch. It promptly fell out. He cast a reproachful glance at it and picked it up with his talon again. "New recruit, eh, Sir?" he croaked, peering intently at the Aisha. "Looks a little scrawny, but I think he'll do, Sir!"

      The Lutari sighed. "Pagger, how many times have I asked you not to call me 'Sir?'"

      "One hundred and forty-two times, Sir!"

      "Well, don't."

      "Yes, Sir! Understood, Sir! No calling you Sir, Sir! Thank you, Sir! Returning to lab assistance, Sir!" barked Commander Pagger. With another salute, he dropped the marble into yet another pouch (which it stayed in this time), turned sharply, and marched off into the darkness. A moment later, there was a faint cry of "don't touch that!" followed by a small explosion. Dust sifted down from the ceiling.

      The Aisha, feeling just a little nervous, turned to the Lutari. "Er-" he said hesitantly- "who are all of you, anyway?"

      "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm Astral - or Captain Astral, if you're talking to Pagger - and the six of us are the Imperial Resistance Movement."

      "The what?"

      Astral sighed. "The Imperial Resistance Movement, or just the Resistance, that's shorter. A big name for a small group. You see, there are a few of us - namely, Caralen and I - who are old enough to remember what it was like before the Empire took over." Her eyes took on a wistful look. "That was decades ago, but we still remember it, and we're not going to rest until we've brought down the Empire."

      The Aisha thought about this for a moment, then looked around doubtfully at the dim, dusty room. "How?" he asked eventually.

      Astral opened her mouth, then closed it again. "Well - we're really not sure," she said reluctantly. "Akzanti's working on a detransmogrification ray at the moment - like the Lab Ray the Emperor uses, but altered to reverse mutations instead of increasing strength. That's about as far as we've gotten, though. At the moment, he's working on that and I'm trying to gather more Neopets to help us." She smiled wryly. "So far, I've found three: Trevor, Pagger, and Samrindela. A wild success. Obviously, I only look for the ones - like you - that don't quite fit into the Empire; anyone else would just turn us in to be executed." She grinned wryly and continued in a softer voice. "Unfortunately, once they've joined us, we can usually tell exactly why they didn't fit into the Empire. Most of them don't seem to really fit anywhere. You've met Trevor and Pagger, of course." The Aisha grimaced and rubbed his throat again.

      Astral gave him an apologetic look and continued. "We also have Akzanti, Caralen, Samrindela - and you, if you'll join us." She stared solemnly at the Aisha. "If you don't, I don't blame you. This is our fifth hideout; all the others have been found or destroyed. The Empire has found out about us by now, and they want us all dead. We spend most of our time hiding, some of it running. So far, we've survived as much by luck as by anything else. If you want to join us, we'll be grateful to you; if not, you can go on your way right now. I certainly understand if our life doesn't suit you."

      The Aisha grinned. "Actually, it sounds remarkably like what I've been doing since I was kicked out of the Imperial research facility," he said. "I don't think it will be much of a change - except that I'll be doing something useful for once. Count me in."

      For the first time since the Aisha had met her, Astral truly smiled. Her face was worn and scarred from years of simply surviving, but there was something trustworthy about her all the same. "What's your name?" she asked.

      "Roshen," said the Aisha. He couldn't even remember the last time he had even had anyone to tell his name.

      "Well, Roshen," said Astral with a wry grin, "welcome to the Resistance! Such as it is." Taking his paw in one of her own six, she led him off into the darkness of the room.

     * * *

      Somewhere very, very far away, a screen flickered on in a different dark room.

      "Operative 126 reporting, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty."

      "Do you have the new location yet?"

      "Affirmative, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty."

      "Well?"

      "The current location of the Resistance is in an abandoned room under Warehouse 36, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty."

      "Good, good." A button was pressed. "There is a squadron en route now. Is your cover still unbroken?"

      "Affirmative, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty. Some of them are beginning to be suspicious of the speed with which their bases so far have been uncovered, but they do not yet suspect a spy."

      "Excellent, 126. Return to your observations."

      "Yes, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty. Operative 126 out."

      The screen flickered off again. The brightest thing in the room now was the Emperor's gleaming, deadly grin. He had been waiting for this moment for years.

      Those rebels were finally going to be dead.

To be continued...

 
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