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Encountering Resistance: Part Five


by moosuem

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The Research Facility where Mirkelloyd "worked" was behind the Sloth Desert crater. Once, if the legends were to be believed, there had been a magnificent obelisk at this spot. The ghost of a kindly, long-dead king had inhabited it, granting small gifts of strength and agility to those who came near.

      He had refused to do so for Emperor Sloth's army. Now, that area of desert consisted mostly of a large crater.

      The Research Facility was behind the crater. Like most of the buildings built by the Empire, it was large and square and gray and spiky. It squatted in the sickly gray desert sand like a wart on a Kiko. As the Resistance approached the building, a small Korbat flew slowly down out of a window and over their heads. "It's 'something else,' isn't it?" he whispered in a familiar gravely voice. "Not very secure, though. We'd better talk in my home."

      The six Neopets followed the Korbat. It was obvious that he was Mirkelloyd, though they had never seen him before. It was obvious from his voice, if nothing else; no one else had a voice like that.

      Roshen noticed Astral and Samrindela whispering to each other on the way, but whispering was Samrindela's normal volume, after all, so he thought nothing of it. Besides, Astral was talking to Commander Pagger a moment later - how had she gotten over there so quickly? Well, never mind.

      As is normal with flying Neopets, Mirkelloyd was a bit impatient with their slow walking speed and kept fluttering back and forth over their heads. In the time it took the Resistance to get to his house, he had probably covered almost four times the distance they had.

      Most people will avoid visiting a Korbat's home whenever possible. A Korbat's idea of comfortable furniture is... well, sticks. All a Korbat needs is a stick. It can serve as a bed, a chair, a table, a jungle gym - just about anything, really. If the Korbat is especially pampered, sometimes the sticks will even have a rubber coating to make them softer. Most Neopets, though, do not like to sit on sticks, even sticks with rubber padding.

      Roshen was relieved to see that Mirkelloyd's house was designed for more than just Korbats. The middle levels of the room were indeed full of sticks, but the floor was covered with chairs, cushions, and even a small pool. Caralen and Astral had taken off their heavy cloaks with relief. If anyone had caught sight of a non-Mutant Kyrii or, worse, one of the supposedly extinct Lutaris, they would have reported them on the spot. The cloaks had been necessary, but the Sloth Desert was still hot, even beneath its shroud of gray smog. Roshen and Astral sat on pillows on the floor, as chairs were not really designed for four- or six-legged Neopets. Caralen collapsed into a soft armchair and Trevor gingerly sat down on another one constructed out of steel I-beams. It seemed to have been designed especially for Grarrls, as it didn't collapse under Trevor's weight, as nearly any other chair would have.

      For some reason, Samrindela carefully set her box down on the floor, then stepped carefully into the pool and sat down. The pool was relatively shallow, but the tiny Kacheek's head was just barely above the water. The Resistance was used to Samrindela by now, though; after making sure she wasn't drowning, they didn't pay much attention to her.

      "Now," said Mirkelloyd, hanging from one of the sticks and peering, upside down, at Astral. "How long do you plan to stay here? I can keep the six of you hidden, especially you two-" he pointed to Astral and Caralen with his long tail- "but not for more than a week or so. With all the sabotage I've been doing here for the last few months, someone's bound to start getting suspicious soon, and then I'll have to find a new job."

      "Could you get us a spaceship?" asked Samrindela abruptly. "We need to get to the storerooms on the Space Station to finish Akzanti's invention."

      Astral looked startled, but then nodded. "Yes, I suppose that ray's all we have now," she murmured. "We might as well try to finish it."

      Mirkelloyd lifted his eyebrows. "A spaceship?" he said. "That depends. I can hide you six here for free, seeing as you're friends of Akzanti's, but a ship... would be considerably more expensive."

      "Even for a fellow Resistance member?" replied Samrindela persuasively.

      "You are a clever one," said the Korbat, squinting at the little Kacheek. "But I'm a professional saboteur, not a Resistance member. Not exactly, anyway. Besides, I only have one ship, and it's taken me most of my life to get it. The Emperor likes to snatch all the ships worth having for his fleet. I can't just give mine away."

      "We could pay you... er, later," said Commander Pagger doubtfully.

      "With what?" asked Mirkelloyd, sensibly enough.

      The six Resistance members looked at each other, trying to think of something. None of them could.

      None of them, that is, except Samrindela. "What about information?" she asked quietly, tapping her box of paper.

      Mirkelloyd looked doubtful. "I don't know. There's one thing I've been trying to find out for decades, but I doubt you would know it, young Kacheek."

      Samrindela smiled and tapped her deeply wrinkled forehead. "I currently have the entire contents of 973 and a half issues of the Neopian Times memorized," she whispered. "Try me."

      "Hmm," the Korbat mused. He looked quizzically at the Kacheek for a moment, then nodded. "All right," he said. "Why don't you come into the library with me? Excuse us a moment," he added to the rest of them as Samrindela climbed up out of the pool and followed him through a small door in the wall.

      The Resistance sat and waited. Trevor amused himself by humming monotonously under his breath and tapping his tail on the floor. Just when it seemed that it would drive the other four mad, Mirkelloyd and Samrindela emerged from the library. If they had been talking, they had been talking too quietly to hear. "This little Kacheek here is something else," said Mirkelloyd, beaming from ear to capacious ear. Then he realized what he had said and his face fell slightly. "Ahem. Well. Why don't I show you to your new ship?"

      A few hours later, the six members of the Resistance said goodbye to Mirkelloyd in his underground spaceship hangar. The ship was a small but powerful craft, sleek and shiny in the dim lighting of the room. Astral had already gone inside to explore the small interior; the rest of the Resistance waited outside with Mirkelloyd.

      "Keep her safe, if you can," said Mirkelloyd, stroking the gleaming hull of the ship with one claw. He smiled at it wistfully for a moment, then turned to Astral. Roshen blinked at seeing the Lutari there, but assumed he had just missed her coming out of the ship. "And once you get that gadget of Akzanti's finished," the Korbat continued with a gleam in his eye, "give the Emperor a good beating with it, will you? If not for me, then for Akzanti."

      "Oh, don't worry about that, old chap," said Commander Pagger grimly. "That's what we've been planning all along. We'll give 'em what for for the old lizard, don't you doubt it!" Having said this, the Lenny was overcome by another fit of sneezing and had to stop.

      "Thank you," said Astral quietly to Mirkelloyd. "I don't know what we would have done without you."

      "Well, any friend of Akzanti's is a friend of mine," said the Korbat gruffly. "Now get out of here. I want to see the Empire gone before I die or get locked up, and I'm not getting any younger!"

      Roshen looked out one of the few small windows of the ship as it floated silently out of the hole that had opened for it in the gray sand of the Sloth Desert. Mirkelloyd was still in the hangar, staring after them and waving with one wing. Roshen knew the Korbat probably wouldn't be able to see him, but the Aisha waved back anyway.

      Soon, Mirkelloyd, the hangar, and the rest of the Sloth Desert had dwindled to a gray smudge on the gray surface of Neopia as the ship climbed through the layers of the atmosphere.

      "What did you tell him, anyway?" Roshen asked Samrindela. The windows of the ship had been obscured by smog, so he couldn't see a thing through them.

      Samrindela smiled. "I can't tell you," she murmured. "That was part of the bargain: the secret is his alone. I've promised not to tell anyone until he dies." She gave Roshen a furtive look out of the corner of her eyes. "However, I can tell you this: it's the location of the one place in Neopia the Empire hasn't found yet. Most people, if they've even heard of it, don't believe it even exists. Until Mirkelloyd dies, it'll be his own little world. His own sweet, wobbly little world..." And after this last enigmatic comment, the Kacheek returned to her scraps of paper and refused to say another word for the rest of the day.

      Surprisingly, it was Trevor who took over the controls of the ship.

      "I don't know where Trevor picked up his piloting skills," said Astral when Roshen asked her about it. "He's a fantastic pilot, though. The best one I've ever met. We've asked him where he learned to pilot a spaceship, but he seems to have forgotten." She smiled fondly at the hulking Grarrl, bent over the control panels in great concentration. The helm of the ship looked tiny next to him.

      It had been impossible to be around Akzanti for any length of time and not learn something about engines. Commander Pagger had spent more time helping Akzanti in his workshop than anyone else, so he was the one Astral chose to supervise the ship's engine. Caralen was asleep somewhere. Samrindela disappeared an hour or two into the flight; no one knew where she had gone, but no one worried too much either. The quiet Kacheek had a habit of disappearing at odd moments. She was probably sticking paper scraps together in some dark corner.

      Roshen was faced with a long trip - he didn't know how long - and nothing to do. He wandered around the ship for a while, but it was relatively uninteresting inside. Most of the small rooms seemed to be for storage, but nearly all of them were locked. Finally, the Aisha caught sight of Astral going into one of the rooms, so he followed her, having nothing better to do.

      The room was empty when he got there.

      Roshen walked into the center of the room and looked around, puzzled. The room was featureless and empty, probably an unused storage room. The only door was the one he had entered by. He was sure he had seen Astral going into this room; where had she gone?

      "Looking for something?" asked Astral, walking through the door behind him. Roshen jumped a full six inches into the air. "How did you do that?" he asked, panting from the surprise.

      "Do what?" asked Astral, nearly as startled as Roshen. "Roshen, what's wrong?"

      "I just followed you in here, but you came through the door behind me," Roshen said, then stopped. Memories he had ignored up until now came flooding back, memories of other times when Astral had seemed to move from place to place instantly. He had ignored it every time before, thinking he had simply missed her movement. This time, however, there was no way he could have been mistaken unless he was hallucinating.

      "Roshen, I've been in the control room with Trevor since we came on board," said Astral, puzzled. "Are you sure you-" She broke off as a clang came from the front wall of the room. Roshen followed her gaze to the source of the sound, but there was nothing there but a small maintenance hatch next to the door he had entered by.

      "I think this should explain everything," said a voice from the hatch. There was a short rustling, the hatch lifted - and Astral climbed out of it.

      Except that she was not Astral. For one thing, Astral was already in the room, staring at the identical Lutari with shock and undisguised loathing. It was more than that, though. Astral's expression tended to vary between happy, hopeless, and determined (and, on rare occasions such as this one, revolted). The other Lutari's face, though otherwise identical to Astral's, had an expression of smug, mocking superiority. It was the first time Roshen had ever seen a Lutari look... well, ugly.

      "Surprise!" said the other Lutari. As she stepped out into the room, Roshen could see that she wore a cloak identical to Astral's. Looking closer, he was startled to see that she also had six paws - and even had the same pattern of half-healed burns on her cheeks. "Hello, sister dear! It's been a long time!"

      "Not long enough," growled Astral through clenched teeth. She pulled a small, lethal-looking Virtublaster from beneath her cloak. It seemed that the longer Roshen was around Astral, the more ways she seemed to have to kill people.

      "Oh, come on, sis," said the other Lutari - Astral's sister? - in a wheedling tone. "You wouldn't really fire that thing at your own sister, would you?" She took a step towards Astral.

      "Stay away from me," said Astral. Her voice was a cold, deadly snarl. "If you have the nerve to take one more step, I'll be an only child again, and happier that way."

      "All right, all right," said the other Lutari airily, holding up her paws in assent. "I'll stay here. Aren't you going to introduce me to your new pet, though?"

      Roshen looked around the room quickly, only to realize that she was referring to him. The Aisha was about to growl a retort at the obnoxious mirror image, but Astral beat him to it.

      "You should talk about pets," snorted Astral. "Remember, I saw you once when you had just joined the Emperor's forces."

      The other Lutari's face became deadly serious all of a sudden. "Shut up, Astral," she snapped.

      "I will if you will," said Astral, her teeth still bared. "After all, Roshen here isn't the one who fetches the Emperor's slippers for him."

      "I said shut up!" snarled the other Lutari. She started to crouch down, as if to leap at Astral, but Astral shook her blaster meaningfully. The Lutari stood up again, trying to regain her composure.

      "As for the introduction," continued Astral calmly, "it's my pleasure. Roshen, meet Luna, a crawling servant of Emperor Sloth who used to be my sister, and a Lutari as well, a long, long time ago."

      "We're identical twins," said Luna smugly. "I used to get Astral in all sorts of trouble when we were children. Apparently, I haven't lost my touch. Now, though, I can get you in much more trouble than I ever dreamed of then." She put a paw to her face and simply rubbed off one of her burns. When she held up her paw, it was covered in a thin smear of burn-colored paste. "With enough makeup, I can fool anyone into thinking I'm Astral whenever I want. Remember that guard in Imperial Central City?"

      Roshen's eye went wide. That certainly explained a lot.

      "Roshen," said Astral calmly, "go tell Trevor to turn the ship around." She didn't take her eyes off Luna once while talking.

      Roshen nodded quietly and started towards the door, only to meet Trevor coming through it.

      "Astral!" Trevor said, running towards the closest of the two Lutaris - Luna, as it happened. "There are people attacking from-" At that point, Trevor noticed the fact that there were, as far as he could tell, two Astrals. When Luna turned to give the Grarrl a look of superior disgust, though, it was obvious which one was the real Astral.

      "Trevor," said Astral, still in that same deadly calm voice, "who's in the control room?"

      "Well, um..." Trevor began, then trailed off. He shook his head, still staring at the two identical twins. "Uh, no one right now."

      "Get back in there, right now, and turn this ship around," said Astral, quietly but forcefully. "Then lock off all the compartments we don't need to get to, and see if you can't-"

      "Too late," sneered Luna, smirking as a flood of huge, burly Neopets swarmed through the door behind her, carrying Pagger and Samrindela roughly. The Mutant's grimy feet dulled the shining polish of the floor. Within seconds, the five members of the Resistance were surrounded.

      "I knew you were up to something!" Astral spat. She was quivering with rage, but still kept a firm grip on her blaster. "I knew it! This whole conversation was a distraction, wasn't it? You never would come into the open unless it was to your advantage."

      "And you fell for it beautifully," said Luna smugly. "Oh, and I wouldn't fire that if I were you, sis. We've got a lot more blasters on our side. They're even easier to smuggle aboard a ship than soldiers are."

      "I only need one blaster," hissed Astral. In one fluid movement, she aimed her blaster directly at Luna and pulled the trigger. A bolt of red energy spat across the room-

      -And hit the thick carapace of the Mutant Tonu standing behind where Luna had been. He jumped briefly, startled, but that was all the effect the blaster had on him. The shells of Mutant Tonus resist nearly all forms of energy.

      "So do I," replied Luna. "Unfortunately for me, the Emperor has decided he wants you alive." Before anyone could do anything, she darted nimbly out from behind the Tonu and pointed a wide-barreled device directly at Astral. "Goodnight, sis."

      A blinding white light flew out of the opening to envelop Astral, Roshen, and the rest of the Resistance. It was replaced quickly by complete blackness.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Encountering Resistance: Part One
» Encountering Resistance: Part Two
» Encountering Resistance: Part Three
» Encountering Resistance: Part Four
» Encountering Resistance: Part Six



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