Encountering Resistance: Part Four
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
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
At this, Astral sat bolt upright. "That's it,"
"You're awake!" said Trevor delightedly.
"Always willing to state the obvious," muttered
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
"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
"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?"
"'Andrew the Android.'"
Commander Pagger sniffed quietly, then noticed
Roshen looking at him and sneezed several times to cover it up.
"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.
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
"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
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?"
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
The day after that, the ship reached the Sloth
* * *
In the dark room, the Emperor watched as the
screen flickered on yet again.
"Operative 126 reporting, your Superb Elevated
"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...