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Encountering Resistance: Part Four


by moosuem

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The six remaining members of the Imperial Resistance Movement finally hid in one of the other warehouses when they realized that they had nowhere else to go. To be precise, they hid in the one Roshen had been living in before joining them. He was relieved to find his old hiding spot still there, the small pocket of space that had been left in the midst of the stacks of crates. After Caralen and Astral had been made as comfortable as possible on some old, ragged blankets on the floor, the other four sat down to eat a few small pieces of dried fruit from one of Commander Pagger's many pockets. They were too tired, and grief-stricken over the loss of Akzanti, to talk much. Unfortunately, they did need to decide what they were going to do next.

      "We're right back to square one, really," grumbled Commander Pagger. They were still too busy for the Lenny to come to terms with his grief over the death of his oldest friend, and the effort of holding it in and trying to think clearly was making him irritable. Also, Trevor was chewing with his mouth open again, which didn't help. "Or possibly not even there. We've lost our Headquarters and our - well, we've lost our Headquarters. Our leader is still out cold." He looked at Astral, lying on a blanket on the floor. The Lutari's strong, blue-furred face was covered with raw burns, as was the cloak she always wore. "We've got no supply of rations, we're all positively tuckered out, and we've also lost the one thing we could have used against the Empire."

      At that, Samrindela looked up from the fruit she had been picking at. "What?"

      "That detransmogri-whatsis ray that Ak-" Commander Pagger took a deep breath- "that Akzanti was working on."

      "Oh, you mean this?" whispered Samrindela, placing the box she had been carrying since their escape on her lap. She opened the lid and held the box out to Pagger, Trevor, and Roshen. Inside it, nestled in a soft nest of Samrindela's scraps of the Neopian Times, was Akzanti's treasured detransmogrification ray. "He gave it to me before he threw me out of the Headquarters," she explained quietly. "I put it in here to keep it safe."

      "Well," breathed Commander Pagger, looking in wonder at the small, rusty piece of machinery. "That is something." He shook his head and resumed his usual crispness. "Er, I mean, that's something, at least. We've still got the ray. Now, if we could only find a power source and some useful way to use it - and a paintbrush as well - we might have a chance." He picked up the small device in one wristwatch-encrusted talon and looked at it for a moment, then handed it back to Samrindela. "Keep it safe, young Kacheek," he said. "You never know when something like that will come in handy."

      This last remark, combined with the sight of the Commander, who looked as if he was still wearing every object (no matter how useless) that had ever come into his possession, made Trevor and Roshen smile for the first time since they had woken up that morning. Had it been only a few hours ago? It seemed like much longer than that. So much had happened since then.

      Samrindela took the ray from Commander Pagger with the same deliberate care that she used for everything, from walking to eating. As the Kacheek tucked it safely back into her paper-lined box, another small piece of paper fell out of a gap in the machinery. Roshen picked it up and handed it to her. "You lost a piece of paper," he said.

      "That's not mine," said Samrindela shortly. She and Roshen looked more closely at it.

      She was right. The scraps of the Neopian Times that Samrindela collected were old, gray, and wrinkled. This piece of paper, though, was new and white, though it had a few oil stains on it from the machinery it had been inside. There was only one line of writing on it.

      "Mirkelloyd - 16.42.763"

      "Mirkelloyd..." Roshen began, remembering the conversation Astral and Akzanti had had the first time he had met the Techo.

      "Oh, that old fellow," said Commander Pagger. "If I remember correctly, he was a ship designer that Akzanti used to know. Built ships for the Empire that he designed to fall to bits at the worst possible moment. A fine fellow. He's probably long dead by now."

      Wordlessly, Roshen handed the piece of paper with the number on it to Commander Pagger. The Commander read it over once, then jumped as he realized what it meant.

      "My goodness," he breathed. His eyes were moist, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. "The old lizard got his communication number."

      At this, Astral sat bolt upright. "That's it," she said.

      "You're awake!" said Trevor delightedly.

      "Always willing to state the obvious," muttered Commander Pagger.

      Astral ignored him. "That's exactly what we need," she continued. "From what Akzanti has - had - told me, Mirkelloyd's been sabotaging Imperial ships since before Akzanti met him. He's practically a whole Resistance Movement by himself - just the kind of person we need. Now, all we need is a communicator."

      Right on cue, Commander Pagger pulled a small, battered communicator out of a pouch on a belt around his middle. "I always knew this thing would come in handy one day, Sir," he said, and handed it to Astral.

      "Pagger, you are a wonder," said Astral absently, carefully typing the number on the paper into the communicator with one of her six paws. It wouldn't do to contact some loyal subject of the Empire when they were trying to reach a saboteur. Finally, she punched the last button and held the communicator to one of her small, streamlined ears.

      The Emperor had set up the Imperial Communications Network shortly after he had taken over Neopia. He had quickly realized that it was impossible to rule an entire planet from a space station if you have to communicate by letters. Most of the communicators on the planet were large, bulky things; even the Emperor's personal communicator took up most of a wall. He had, however, designed a handheld version. They were very rare, and not terribly reliable, but they could be carried easily. Most of his spies had them; it's very difficult to move stealthily while carrying a piece of machinery the size of a wall.

      Apparently, Commander Pagger also had a handheld communicator. It was anyone's guess how he had gotten it.

      "Yes?" asked a sharp, gravely voice from the other end. Roshen had only seen communicators - and not handheld ones, either - used once or twice, years ago in the Imperial Research Facility. The idea that someone could just type a number into this little piece of machinery and talk to anyone anywhere in Neopia, or even on the Space Station, still seemed somewhat miraculous to him.

      "Is this Mirkelloyd?" asked Astral.

      "That depends," said the voice cautiously. "Who are you?"

      "Friends of Akzanti's," replied Astral.

      "Oh, really?" replied the voice skeptically. "Prove it. What's his hobby?"

      "Machinery," replied Astral, her voice shaking just a little. The pain of Akzanti's death was still fresh, and it was difficult to be quizzed about him like this.

      "His favorite color?"

      "Red."

      "Favorite song?"

      "'Andrew the Android.'"

      Commander Pagger sniffed quietly, then noticed Roshen looking at him and sneezed several times to cover it up.

      "Memory?"

      "Like a sieve, except for engineering details."

      Caralen's eyes were still closed, but the rhythmic shaking of her body made it obvious that she was silently sobbing.

      "Favorite saying?"

      At this, Astral had to stop and take a deep breath. Commander Pagger had a veritable fit of sneezing, while Roshen buried his face in his paws. He had not known Akzanti for long, but he had grown to like the Techo in the few hours he had known him.

      "'It's something else,'" Astral said finally, her voice ragged.

      "Yes, that's the old lizard, all right!" chuckled the voice from the communicator. "Sorry to be so suspicious, but you can't be too careful these days. Tell me, how is the old one-Techo disaster area?"

     There was silence in the room. Commander Pagger's fit of sneezing grew louder and wetter.

      "I see," said the voice at last. All traces of the merriment in it had vanished. "How did it happen?"

      For the entire conversation so far, Samrindela had listened, unblinking, her face as impassive as ever. Now, though, she walked over and gently took the communicator from Astral's paw. "He was saving me from a building that was about to explode," whispered the small Kacheek. "He managed to save me, and an invention of his that might help us free Neopia, but he didn't have time to get out himself."

      "I see," said the voice again. It heaved a long, shuddering sigh, then continued in a brisker tone. "Well, since you're calling me, I assume you'll be wanting some favor?"

      Samrindela handed the communicator back to Astral as if it had burned her. "Well, yes, actually," said Astral, fumbling slightly to get a grip on the little piece of circuitry. "Akzanti was a member of our small Resistance group. The building that blew up was our Headquarters, you see, so we have no place to stay right now."

      "Hmm," said the voice musingly. All six of the Neopets in the space behind the crates waited anxiously for his reply. "Well, I suppose you can stay with me," it said finally. "It's the least I can do for friends of Akzanti's. I'd have done the same for him in a second, and he for..." At this, the voice trailed off. There was a muffled noise, as of someone trying to smother the sound of a nose being blown, and the voice continued. "Well. I'm staying in the Sloth Desert right now, working on a nice, vulnerable Imperial research project with all kinds of delicate measurements to get wrong. Let's see, the fastest way here is probably the military ferry; it leaves at, er..." There was another pause, this one occupied by the sound of pages being flipped. "...About eleven pm IST, from a dock at the edge of Imperial Central City. Can you sneak on board by eleven?"

      "Yes, it's right down the street from where we are right now," said Roshen quietly. He had spent a few years living around the docks, before the security patrols had actually gotten good at their job.

      "Yes," said Astral into the communicator.

      "Good," replied the voice. There was a pause, as if the person on the other end were trying to decide whether or not to continue.

      "I've got better hearing than you might expect," said the voice finally. "I've been listening to some of the sounds in whatever room you're in. If I wasn't convinced before that you were Akzanti's friends, I am now."

      Commander Pagger cleared his throat in a rather embarrassed manner.

      "Oh, stop that," said the voice. Commander Pagger stopped, looking more spooked than embarrassed now. "I think Akzanti was quite lucky to have friends like the six of you," continued the voice. "Yes, I can hear you, quiet one, whoever you are," it said as Caralen sat upright, startled at his awareness that there were six of them. She had not made a sound since they had fled the Headquarters. "If I died right now," the voice continued, "I don't think anyone would be all that upset to see me go. Besides the six of you, everyone I know is boringly loyal to the Emperor, and that hasn't made it terribly easy for me to make many friends. But Akzanti... Yes, I think he was lucky to have you," said the voice. Then the communicator let out a small beep and was silent.

      The six surviving Resistance members stayed in the hiding place for the rest of the day. They knew where they needed to get to, but the security patrols had been rearranged due to the burnt-out warehouse. Astral was the only one who did not sit around all day. Though her burns were still painful, the Lutari was out all day, skulking in shadows and memorizing the new patrol patterns with the same incredible attention to detail she had used to memorize the previous ones. She finally ducked back into the hiding place through the jagged hole in the wall that served as a door when the sun was setting. The other five were running out of board games they could play with lines scratched into the floor and Commander Pagger's eclectic supply of bits and pieces.

      "It's now or never," said Astral quietly. "There's a nice big hole in the patrol patterns coming up in about half a minute. We won't get a better chance until midnight."

      The Resistance got ready quickly and quietly. Roshen and Caralen gathered up the pieces for the game of Cellblock they had been playing (Caralen had won, for the twentieth time in twenty games), and Caralen climbed onto Roshen's back again. Samrindela returned to Trevor's shoulder. The little Kacheek was practically tireless, capable of walking without slowing long after everyone around her was exhausted, but her short legs limited her speed. She still clutched the box containing the detransmogrification ray tightly under one paw.

      After a quick check of the small space to make sure they had not left any of their meager supplies behind, the Resistance (four walking, two riding) climbed through the hole in the wall and crept out into the momentarily empty streets. Roshen took one last look back at the hole, but the small opening was lost in the shadows. Even his sharp Aisha eye couldn't pick it out of the gloom.

      Through the smog over the sky, Roshen could just make out the shape of the moon. The familiar pockmarks from the mining operations on its surface were reassuring in the dark.

      Astral led them through the maze of streets as if she'd been studying the patrol schedules all her life. Over the decades, the Emperor had had more and more warehouses constructed; by now, Imperial Central was a veritable labyrinth of streets, alleys, and looming warehouses. Astral, however, seemed to know it like the backs of her six paws. She darted through the streets and alleys, now stopping, now darting across a street. She seemed absolutely confident of every move she made, especially compared to the others, who quickly lost all sense of direction in the crooked, twisting passageways. They were completely in Astral's paws now.

      "We're almost to the docks now," hissed Astral eventually. "There's one sentry here sometimes, but he shouldn't be hard to get past if we know he's there. I'll be right back." With that, she was gone, leaving the other five to wait nervously in the shadow of a warehouse.

      "Are you sure she knows what she's doing?" whispered Roshen anxiously. He had faith in Astral's knowledge of patrols, but the endless darting and weaving through dingy alleys, always knowing a guard could be right around the next corner, was enough to wear at anyone's nerves.

      "Of course, lad!" whispered Commander Pagger. "The Captain always knows what she's doing!" He frowned at the Aisha for a moment, then grinned suddenly. "Besides, it doesn't make a great deal of difference if she doesn't, eh?"

      That was certainly true. Whether or not Astral's judgment of the patrols was correct, none of the rest of them had any idea where they now were, let alone how to get anywhere else.

      "This way!" came a whisper from the end of the alley. The five Neopets looked over to see Astral beckon to them, then dart out of sight.

      Hadn't she gone out of the other end of the alley, though? Roshen shook his head. He was so disoriented that he couldn't even remember which end of the alley they'd come in by. Following the others, he crept out of the alley-

      -And straight into the path of a hulking Grundo guard. The guard stared at them and opened his wide mouth. "Intru-" was all he had time for before Trevor cuffed him heavily across the head. The guard would have fallen like a ton of bricks, but Trevor caught him, gently lowered him to the ground, and gave him a hefty kick in the head to make sure he stayed stunned for a while.

      No one said what they were all thinking: Astral had led them straight into the path of a guard. Roshen and the others looked all around for their leader, but she was nowhere in sight. They crept back into the alley, unsettled and jumpy. It seemed to be the only thing they could do.

      "Good, you're still here!" whispered Astral, ducking in through the opposite end of the alley from the one she'd been at a minute before. "Come on!" She waited impatiently while the other five exchanged nervous glances, then followed her. Anyone can make one mistake, after all; she had probably just overlooked that one guard.

      Whatever had happened, they were able to sneak onto the ferry without further mishap. Imperial ships, like everything else designed by the Emperor, were covered in far more machinery than they really needed. Astral led them up a fuel loading pipe attached to the high wall by the shore; from there, they climbed up a stretch of complex open machinery that provided ample footholds, and eventually reached the engine room. From there, Astral led them down through yet more machinery.

      The one thought on everyone's mind was, "Akzanti would have loved this place..."

      Eventually, the six members of the Resistance reached a small, sheltered area under a bank of pipes. It seemed to have been forgotten when the ship was built; Imperial transportation was notorious, at least to anyone who knew Akzanti, for leaving grotesque amounts of wasted space. It was useful now, though. The six ate quickly, too tired or nervous or worried to talk much. The only sounds were the incessant humming of machinery throughout the enormous ship and the rustle of paper as Samrindela pieced together a few more pieces of the Neopian Times. Finally, with nothing to do and nothing to say, the Resistance lay down and went to sleep. The humming of engines filled their dreams.

      The ship passed by Virtudell the next day. It was too dangerous for the six Neopets to come out of their hiding spot, but Roshen managed to find a small ventilation shaft leading to the outside of the ship. It was just barely big enough to look out through. Roshen had heard of Virtudell (and the neighboring Darkveil) before, but had never seen it, even from a distance. It was a dark, grim land, an uninterrupted flat surface with gray clouds overhead. Two castles broke the monotonous flatness, but one was crumbling, while the other...

      The other castle was not crumbling, exactly. The more Roshen squinted out the ventilation shaft at it, the more it looked as if it had been... dropped. Dropped from a great height onto the ground. That was impossible, though; there was no way a stone castle could be made to float. He asked Astral what had happened to the dead-looking land with the ruined castles later that day, but the Lutari's face was grim. "You don't want to know," she said. "Believe me." No matter how hard Roshen tried, she wouldn't say another word on the subject.

      Later that day, they passed Terror Mountain. It was also a gray, dead-looking land when seen from a great distance, but at least it wasn't flat.

      "At least Emperor Sloth let it keep its name," murmured Samrindela, standing on Roshen's paw to look out the ventilation shaft. "It was the least he could do, anyway. Did you know it used to be completely covered with snow and ice?"

      "Snow and ice?" said Roshen incredulously. "Covered with them? I've never even seen either of those! What happened?"

      "The Emperor doesn't like snow and ice," Samrindela said shortly, and went back to her paper scraps.

      On the second day, the ship passed Imperia, but Roshen had already been there once, before the Research Facility had moved to Imperial Central City. The distant silhouettes of the Imperial Obedience Hall and the Omelette processing plant on the gray plateau were nothing new to him, though it was nice to see them again.

      The rest of the trip to the Sloth Desert passed relatively uneventfully, which was a relief to every member of the Resistance. The crew of the transport went about their duties like robots, never even seeming to realize the space under the pipes was there.

      The only exception was one ancient Scorchio. He seemed to be in a position of medium importance among the engine room workers, but there was something unusual about him. For one thing, he had hair. True, it was only a thin fringe around the edge of his head, but it was uncommonly spiky, especially for a Scorchio. In fact, it was unusual for a Scorchio to have any hair at all. The most unusual things about him, though, were his eyes. Roshen could not have said what it was, but there somehow seemed to be more wild energy in his eyes than in those of the other workers.

      Commander Pagger watched the Scorchio even more intently than Roshen did. He seemed to be trying to figure out why he looked familiar. On the third day of the voyage, he finally realized what it was. That day, he startled the entire Resistance when he reached out abruptly from their hiding place and tapped the Scorchio on the shoulder.

      The Scorchio whirled around, a hunted look in his wild eyes, but stopped when he recognized the Lenny. "Pagger!" he whispered delightedly, crawling into the space under the pipes.

      "Zappy!" replied Commander Pagger, clapping the Scorchio on the back with one wing. At this point, he noticed the stares of the other five Neopets. "Old friend of Akzanti's," he explained to them. They nodded mutely, and the Commander went back to talking to the Scorchio. "What are you doing here, old boy?" he asked. "The last time I saw you, you were still trying to perfect that Lab Ray of yours! What happened?"

      "I did perfect it," whispered the Scorchio simply. His eyes, their former wildness dwindled to a mere spark, were full of grief. "After all those years, I perfected it - and was instantly out of a job. Emperor Sloth had the Ray to speed and strengthen his troops; what did he need a mad old scientist for?" The Scorchio looked down at the floor for a moment, lost in the memory of his lost, prized invention, then looked up again and scanned the faces of the other five Resistance members. "Where is old Akky, anyway?" he asked.

      Commander Pagger's face was grim. "Fallen in the line of duty," he pronounced solemnly, nodding his head towards Samrindela. "Gave his life for this young Kacheek."

      Samrindela stared solemnly at the Scorchio, silent and unblinking.

      "I guess it's not surprising," sighed the Scorchio. He stood up with a creak. "The old lizard always had a certain amount of fearlessness. His luck couldn't have lasted forever." He turned and shuffled back out towards the engine room, muttering to himself. "Besides, all the interesting people in the Empire seem to die. Someday, all we'll have left are the mindless drudges like them." He pointed to the dutiful workers in the engine room. "I'm not getting any younger myself, come to think of it..." The Scorchio's muttering gradually faded into the clanks and thrums of the engine room, until they could no longer hear him.

      The day after that, the ship reached the Sloth Desert.

     * * *

      In the dark room, the Emperor watched as the screen flickered on yet again.

      "Operative 126 reporting, your Superb Elevated Ingenious-"

      "You have two days left, Operative," the Emperor snapped, cutting through the string of titles. "I assume everything is proceeding according to whatever pitiful plan you have concocted?"

      The spy's blue eyes were calm, but she wiped a thin layer of sweat off her brow. "Yes, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty. If all goes well today, the rebels will be at your mercy by tomorrow."

      "Good," hissed the Emperor. "Just make sure you remember what will happen to you if they aren't, Operative."

      "Yes, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty," said the spy, bowing her head. "Operative 126 out." She switched off the screen and let out a long, shuddering breath. She wiped a paw across her brow again, careful to avoid rubbing the burn marks in her blue fur, and carefully slipped the small handheld communicator back into its pocket in her cloak.

      Her six paws were clenched tightly as she vanished into the shadows.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Encountering Resistance: Part One
» Encountering Resistance: Part Two
» Encountering Resistance: Part Three
» Encountering Resistance: Part Five



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