Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 123,711,044 Issue: 249 | 21st day of Swimming, Y8
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Encountering Resistance: Part Two


by moosuem

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As Astral and Roshen stepped through the door at the far side of the dark room, they were met by a Techo with a slightly maniacal grin on his pointed face. "I have it!" he exclaimed.

      "The ray?" asked Astral excitedly, her six paws clenching eagerly.

      "No!" chortled the Techo.

      Astral's face fell slightly. "What is it, then?"

      "Mirkelloyd's number on the Imperial Communications Network!"

      Astral was silent. Roshen, understandably, had no idea what was going on, so the Aisha also kept silent and looked around the room. It was full of machinery, every contraption cobbled together out of what looked like rusty spare parts. He had no idea what any of them were for. He remembered Astral saying something about someone named Akzanti working on a detransmogrification ray, though. He assumed the Techo must be Akzanti, since the only other person in the machinery-filled room was Commander Pagger. The Lenny was fiddling with some dials on a machine that looked ready to collapse at any moment.

      The Techo - Akzanti - sat and beamed at them, bouncing up and down and humming under his breath. Finally, in a resigned tone of voice, Astral said, "All right. Who's Mirkelloyd?"

      "My old friend from the factory!" explained Akzanti. "He was something else, I remember that."

      "I don't remember you telling me about him before," said Astral, slightly confused.

      "I haven't," replied Akzanti.

      Astral closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "Okay. Why do we need to know his communication number?"

      Akzanti thought for some time. Finally, he said, "The reason's slipped my mind. I've got the number, though!"

      "Well, good," said Astral. "Keep it in a safe place until you remember why you needed it. Meanwhile, how's the detransmogrification ray coming?"

      "Oh, I finished that yesterday," said Akzanti cheerfully.

      There was complete silence in the room. Roshen risked a quick glance at Astral; her eyes were closed. She seemed to be counting under her breath. "Why didn't you - never mind. You've finished it?"

      "Yes!" said Akzanti cheerfully. He frowned. "Well, almost, anyway. All it needs is one more essential part, and it will finally be complete! And it'll be something else then, I can tell you that!" He proceeded to bounce up and down and chuckle quietly.

      "What's the 'one more essential part?'" asked Astral in the tone of one who senses impending doom.

      "Oh, nothing much," said Akzanti casually. "Just a paintbrush."

      "A paintbrush?" gasped Astral and Roshen in unison.

      "Yes, that's all," the Techo continued cheerfully. "Just one. Any color will do. I only need one so that the cellular influential beam projector can have a submolecular sample for-"

      "Akzanti, no one but the Emperor has even seen a paintbrush in over fifty years!" Astral interrupted. "He's got them all locked up in some room on that Space Station of his, unless he's destroyed them by now, which is quite likely!"

      "Oh, come on!" said Akzanti, still in that same cheerful tone. "Why would he do a silly thing like that?"

      "Because he hates and despises the mere thought of any Neopet who isn't Mutant," said Astral flatly. "That's one reason why Caralen can't leave our hideout."

      "Oh, yeah. Right," said Akzanti, nodding. He looked dejected for a few seconds, then brightened again. "Hey, didn't the Faeries used to give out paintbrushes?"

      "Yes," said Astral sadly. "Unfortunately, the Faeries are all locked up in the Space Station too. The first thing the Emperor did after taking over was to have some Faerie hunter - Althabar or something - catch them all in bottles. The Emperor hates Faeries even more than non-Mutant Neopets."

      At this, Akzanti's face fell. "Well, that certainly puts a stop to my work for now," he sighed. "I guess I can try to figure out some other way to work it, but I can't promise anything."

      "Just do your best," said Astral. "You'll get it someday."

      Akzanti nodded glumly and turned back into the room. He yelled, "Don't touch that!" at Commander Pagger just a moment before the machine the Lenny had been fiddling with collapsed on the floor, scattering small pieces in all directions.

      "My goodness, it self-destructed!" began Commander Pagger in a tone of great amazement.

      Astral and Roshen ducked out of the room quickly.

      "Ah, a new recruit," said a soft voice to the right. "Good, we can always use more of those." Roshen looked over to see a table he hadn't noticed before. In the dark room, this wasn't surprising, though it was a fairly large one. A small Kacheek sat at it, her fangs clenched in concentration as she sifted through piles of hundreds of pieces of paper. A stub of candle flickered above her chair. "Do you have any more scraps?" she whispered without looking up.

      "Yes, in fact," said Astral, digging into a pouch at her waist. "Five of them." She gently pulled five small scraps of paper out of the pouch and handed them to the Kacheek. Roshen recognized them, and the ones on the table, as the same pieces of old gray paper that blew through the streets all the time.

      "Thanks," whispered the Kacheek. She took the scraps from Astral without once looking away from the ones on the table, sifting them in with the rest.

      "Samrindela collects these little pieces of paper," explained Astral. "She's convinced that if she gets enough of them together, they'll tell her something useful."

      "The key to the downfall of the Emperor," whispered Samrindela without looking up from the scraps. She slid them together and apart, sifting and sorting and matching, her gaze steady and unblinking. Occasionally, she would lick her paw and stick two scraps together. (Kacheek saliva, as everyone knows, can be used as glue when it dries.) "These are pieces of something called the Neopian Times," she explained softly, her gaze still intent on her paper. "As far as I've been able to tell, it was like the Obedience Pamphlets that the Empire sends out now, but it was full of interesting things." She stuck a small scrap onto the corner of a large sheet of reassembled paper and held it up in front of her. Aside from a few small holes, it was complete. She scanned it quickly, her dark red eyes flicking back and forth over the lines of faded print, then laid it on a stack of similar sheets on the edge of the table and returned to the scraps. "Apparently, someone named Snowflake sent it out every week, full of all sorts of things written by all sorts of people." A piece of paper fluttered off the edge of the table. Samrindela bent down to pick it up, then returned to her scraps. She continued in the same calm, whispering murmur. "They're probably all dead now, but their knowledge is still here in these scraps. Sooner or later, I'm bound to find something that will help us."

      "Well, you already found us this place," said Astral. "In some article about the art contest that used to be held down here, right?"

      "Precisely," said Samrindela. "Thank you."

      "That's the cue for us to go," said Astral quietly to Roshen. They walked off towards yet another side of the huge room. When Roshen looked back at the small Kacheek at the table, he noticed for the first time the towering stacks of paper behind her. They stretched off into the shadows of the room, dusty and silent. The papers of decades.

      "Samrindela's a bit crazy," Astral continued, noticing what Roshen was looking at, "but she's got a photographic memory. Every word on every page of those huge piles of paper is still in that brain of hers."

      They walked off into the shadows of the room. Behind them, the tiny Kacheek sat in her chair, sifting through scraps of the knowledge of generations as the rest of it loomed high over her. Her tiny feet dangled above the floor and her gaze never wavered.

      As he followed Astral across the floor of the room, Roshen finally asked his question. He'd been trying to decide whether or not to ask it since the Lutari had first pulled down her hood and he'd seen her face. The Aisha's curiosity had finally gotten the better of him.

      "Don't answer if you don't want to," began Roshen, "but I always - everyone I know always said Lutaris were - well - extinct."

      Astral was silent at this. The last time she had counted, there had been eight other Lutaris that she knew of. Since then, three of them had been killed, and she had lost contact with three more. Of the remaining two, one was in hiding, too frightened to come out of his cave on Encryption Island (no, never mind - he had been killed when the volcano erupted), and the other...

      "Not quite," said Astral finally. She pushed the thought of that eighth one out of her mind. "There are still a few of us. There would be more if we'd had more time..." She was silent for a moment, trying to decide how to explain. "You see, most Lutaris didn't look like me. They had just four paws, for one thing, not six. They had shorter muzzles, thicker fur, were less long and thin in general..."

      "What happened to you, then?" asked Roshen, and immediately wanted to kick himself. "I mean - um -"

      "Not to me, said Astral, smiling. "To my great-great-grandfather, I think it was. He took a transmogrification potion - they came in bottles in those days - but something went wrong. I don't know why. Maybe Lutaris couldn't be turned into Mutants back then, or maybe there was just something strange about him. Anyway, it didn't turn him into a Mutant, not exactly. It just gave him an extra pair of paws and made him look a little different. Our family's been that way ever since - long, thin Lutaris with six paws. Unfortunately, that happened only a few years before the Emperor took over and put a stop to new species arriving. He didn't pay much attention to us at first. We were just a strange little family, the pathetic little misfits that - for some reason - were immune to paintbrushes and had shown up just in time to miss the last Beauty Contest. He didn't even notice us for a long time."

      She sighed and closed her eyes again. "Then, a few months after the Emperor put the transmogrification potions into the atmosphere, all the other Lutaris started dying. No one knows why. The potions didn't harm them at all normally. Maybe they just couldn't handle having them everywhere. In the food, in the rivers - we used to live in the rivers before they were as slimy and polluted as they are now. Whatever the cause, all the Lutaris eventually died - except for my family. And not only did we survive, but we weren't affected by the transmogrification potions in any other way either. They didn't change us at all. Apparently, we were as immune to them as we were to paintbrushes. That was when the Emperor started to notice us."

      "Immune to mutation," murmured Roshen. "So that's why..." He trailed off, unsure of how to continue.

      "Why he's done his best to exterminate us all," Astral finished bitterly. "He drove the other species to extinction simply because he didn't like them, but we were a direct insult to his all-Mutant Empire. He was even more merciless to us than to the rest. Beat 'em if they won't join you. The simple method."

      There was nothing Roshen could say to that.

     * * *

      Given the spare, scrounged look of the rest of the Headquarters, Roshen wasn't sure exactly what he was expecting the dinner to be like. If anything, he was trying hard not to expect anything.

      That was why it was so surprising to find a veritable banquet of food on the crates that served as tables. Jellies, fresh fruit (not even rehydrated, but fresh!), bread, and - Roshen could barely believe his eyes.

      Omelette. There was actually a piece of omelette in front of him. And not only one, but many. A whole plate full of them. Roshen had only heard of omelette before, as a nearly legendary food that only the Emperor ate, if it even existed at all. And now here it was, a whole plate of it.

      Commander Pagger was the first to notice the Aisha's incredulous expression. "Now listen, young Aisha," he said with a chuckle. "If your mouths are hanging open like that, you ought to be sticking food in them! Eat with your mouths, not your eye!" With a grin, he pushed a slice of omelette onto Roshen's plate. Carefully, almost reverently, Roshen cut off a corner and put it into his central mouth.

      If he had ever seen sunshine through the thick smog that covered the sky, Roshen might have compared his first taste of omelette to that. If he had ever had a warm place to sleep, he might have said that that was what the omelette was like. If he had ever experienced anything remotely pleasant in his not-so-long life, he might have had something to compare that first bite to.

      But he didn't. So he simply sat there, his fork limp and forgotten, his eye closed in ecstasy. One by one, the others stopped eating to watch him. All of them except Trevor, anyway - he kept eating while he watched. A Grarrl has to keep his strength up.

      "His first omelette, Sir?" murmured Pagger to Astral.

      "So I assume," the Lutari replied, smiling at the entranced Aisha.

      "I remember my first," said Akzanti dreamily. "It was something else..."

      Around the time they were starting to worry just a little bit about Roshen - after all, he hadn't moved in five minutes - he sighed and opened his eye. He blinked happily at them, then cut off another piece of omelette and did the whole thing again.

      Samrindela smiled briefly. Her face looked completely different without its usual concentrated expression. Then, her moment of distraction over, she returned to eating mechanically, her eyes and one paw on a small tray of paper scraps next to her plate.

      Several hours later, Roshen finished eating his omelette. If it had been warm, it would have been stone cold by the time he was done, but it had been stone cold from the beginning, so that didn't matter. By that time, everyone had gone to sleep on various cushions and old worn mattresses in the corners of the room. The only ones still awake were Akzanti and Commander Pagger, still not-so-hard at work in the workshop. Roshen wandered in there. He was still enjoying the wonderful new feeling of actually not being hungry too much to sleep, anyway. "Where did you get all that food?" he asked Akzanti, who had his arm and head in a recalcitrant machine up to his shoulders.

      Akzanti withdrew his head and spared Roshen a short grin before returning to the machine. "We got lucky when Samrindela found this place," he said, his voice echoing metallically from the depths of whatever it was. With his free claw, he gestured towards the ceiling above the crates they had eaten on. "We're right underneath the Emperor's personal food warehouse here. The best food in the entire Empire is right above our heads; all we have to do is saw through the crates and take it out. We've eaten better here than we ever have before in our lives. It's something else."

      "Tell him about that poisoning attempt, Akky!" squawked Commander Pagger, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

      "Oh, that," chuckled Akzanti. He withdrew completely from the inside of the machine and leaned against it, grinning at Roshen. "It was just a couple of weeks after we moved into this place. Since the food in this warehouse goes straight to the Emperor's Space Station - right to his table, in fact - Astral thought we could try to poison it." He turned to glare accusingly at the side of the machine he had been leaning on and flattened a lump in the metal with a smack with his spike-covered tail. Smiling again, he turned back to Roshen. "We found this really nasty acid in a leaky pipe in the floor. It was something else; it melted through every container we tried to put it in. Eventually, we had to take a bit of the pipe out and bend it into a container. I don't know what that pipe was made of, but it was something else, I can tell you that. Anyway, we managed to get it into one of those crates of omelette up there (don't ask me how, it'd take hours to explain). After that, we just sat back and waited." He shook his head. "A few months later, the Weekly Imperial Obedience Pamphlet had a short note that the Emperor was looking for a new cook, since the one he had had until then seemed to have overcooked the omelette or something. It 'had tasted less than fit for the Emperor' one evening. That was all our attempt did..."

      "I hope it at least gave him indigestion," came a thin voice from the back of the room. Roshen looked into the shadows there and could just barely make out a faint, light-colored figure. He never would have seen it if he hadn't been looking for the source of the voice.

      "Hey, Caralen!" said Akzanti cheerfully. "Didn't know you were in here!"

      "That shows I'm hiding well enough, I suppose," said the figure, stepping slowly out of the shadows.

      Roshen could only stare. The - creature - standing in the cluttered machinery room was unlike anything he'd seen before. She was small and thin, almost painfully so; she looked as if she hadn't eaten enough in years. Every rib stood out sharply from her thin chest. She stood on her hind paws, keeping her small, graceful front paws clutched around herself as if cold, or afraid of something. She leaned against one of the steadier machines as if too weak to stand. She had two long, drooping ears and two large, mournful eyes, and her fur-

      Her fur was the most amazing part of her. All of the Neopets the Aisha had seen before had had fur or scales in green, dull blue, dull red, brown, gray, purple - all the dull, dark colors the Emperor loved. Hers was... yellow. The color was so unfamiliar to Roshen that it took him a moment to remember its name. The creature's short fur and the mane down her back were pale and scruffy from years underground, but still unmistakably yellow.

      The creature - Caralen, Akzanti had called her - smiled wryly as she saw Roshen staring at her. "Don't bother asking," she said, as if she were used to being asked all the time. "I'm a Kyrii."

      Roshen jerked back, startled. "A Kyrii? But-"

      "A non-Mutant one," Caralen added quietly.

      Roshen was gradually becoming used to the idea that the Neopets he had known all his life were, in reality, only one way that Neopets could look. He had never seen a Mutant Kyrii, and never hoped to, but it explained a lot to find that Caralen was... some other kind of Kyrii.

      "As far as I know, I'm the only one left," Caralen continued. "All of the other Kyrii I knew before the Empire are either dead or, worse, mutated now. The atmosphere and the water are so full of transmogrification potions these days, it's nearly impossible to stay normal."

      "You've done it, obviously," said Roshen.

      The Kyrii's mouth twitched in a mirthless smile. "Only by half-starving myself," she replied. She held up a small metal tube on a thin chain around her neck. "If Akzanti hadn't made me this, I would have been mutated a long time ago. The Faerie Dust in this little thing can take transmogrification potions out of anything, but only in small amounts..." She trailed off.

      "So you only eat food you've purified first," said Roshen in quiet amazement.

      "Have you ever seen a Mutant Kyrii?" asked Caralen sharply.

      "No, actually," Roshen confessed. He shuddered. "I've heard about them, though. I've heard they can-"

      "Whatever you've heard, it's probably true," Caralen cut in. "Mutant Kyrii were typical Mutants at first - hairy and hulking - but Emperor Sloth wanted an elite group of soldiers, something to terrify the strongest and most rebellious of his 'subjects.' He somehow enhanced their mutations and got even more than he hoped for. They're almost too strange and horrible to be called Neopets now." She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were full of sorrow. "My brother was mutated six weeks into the Emperor's reign," she whispered. "I watched it happen. I am never, ever, ever going to let that happen to me, even if I have to starve to death first."

      There was silence in the room. No one could think of anything to say to that. Finally, Caralen turned and shuffled back into the shadows.

      "She's something else, that Kyrii," said Akzanti quietly.

      That night, Roshen lay on his mattress and sighed happily. For the first time in several years, he was comfortable, safe - for now, anyway - and among people who weren't trying to hunt him down and lock him up. He sighed again, deeply contented, and closed his eye.

      It would be a long time before he felt that happy again.

      Because the next morning, the soldiers attacked.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Encountering Resistance: Part One
» Encountering Resistance: Part Three



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