Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 145,521,815 Issue: 253 | 18th day of Hiding, Y8
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Encountering Resistance: Part Six


by moosuem

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When Roshen woke, rising groggily up from his stunned stupor, the first thing he noticed was the Space Station - still distant against its backdrop of stars, but getting steadily closer. Apparently, Luna and the soldiers she had smuggled on board had decided to put him, at least, in a room with a window.

      The second thing he noticed was that all four of his paws and both of his mouth-tipped tentacles were tied up with some sort of metal cable. The Aisha strained against it for a moment, but it was quickly obvious that it would take a lot more than one Aisha to even loosen the knots.

      The third and last thing Roshen noticed was that four of the other five members of the Resistance were in the same room with him, also tied up with cables. They were all waking up as he watched. Trevor had about twice as much cable around his arms and legs than the rest of them, which wasn't surprising; out of all the Resistance, the huge Grarrl was the only one who might have had a chance of breaking out of his restraints. Even his enormous muscles were ineffective against whatever the cables were made out of, though. The first thing Samrindela did when she woke was to check to make sure the box containing her scraps of paper and Akzanti's detransmogrification ray was still with her. Finding that it was, the small Kacheek resumed as much of a grip on it as she could manage with her paws tied.

      Looking around the rest of the room, Roshen saw Commander Pagger, wings bound and talons tied together, pulling himself awkwardly into a sitting position. Astral was sitting against the far wall. The Lutari's six paws were tied together, and she was snarling quietly to herself.

      That made five out of six. It took Roshen only a second to realize who was missing. "Where's Caralen?" he asked.

      Commander Pagger made a shushing sound and held up a talon in front of his beak. Roshen understood immediately: if Caralen wasn't in here, then hopefully their captors hadn't discovered her. Astral and Samrindela realized this at the same moment, and their faces brightened visibly.

      Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed as the door hissed open. Past the two massive Grundos flanking the door, the five could just see Luna, walking ahead of a third Grundo. The Grundo was having a hard time holding onto a small, squirming yellow bundle in his arms. When he finally reached the door of the room, he tossed it in quickly and backed away, as if afraid it might bite him. Roshen twisted his head and managed to get a better look at the bundle.

      It was Caralen. Gasping for breath, she pulled herself painfully to a sitting position. If possible, the emaciated Kyrii was wrapped in even more cables than Trevor was. She glared fiercely at the Grundos, who backed away slightly.

      "I don't know what this thing is, or where you got it," snarled Luna, coming to the door, "but I can tell you this: it's a good thing the Emperor wants you all alive. If he didn't, this thing would be as dead as it looks."

      Apparently, Astral's twin had never seen a non-Mutant Kyrii before. This was not surprising, as Caralen was the only Kyrii - Mutant or otherwise - that Roshen had ever seen. He noticed that Luna was holding tightly to one of her six paws, as if trying to stop bleeding. The Lutari glared into the room for a moment longer, breathing heavily, then slammed the door shut.

      There was a brief period of silence. Eventually, Astral spoke up. "What happened?" she asked, looking in concern at the limp Kyrii.

      Caralen lifted her head. Her face was haggard and she was still gasping for breath, but there was a wild spark in her eyes that Roshen had never seen there before. "They - caught me, obviously," she panted. "Stupid - came out of my - hiding place. Didn't know - what was - happening." She glanced at Astral and opened her mouth, about to ask a question.

      "If you're going to ask about that miserable excuse for a Mootix who looks like me, don't bother," said Astral bitterly. "Luna is - or was, I should say - my twin sister. Apparently, she's been impersonating me occasionally for the last, well, I don't even know how long."

      Caralen nodded. "Evil twin," she gasped. "That - explains it. Managed to - bite her paw," While laboring to breathe, she still managed to grin, showing a surprisingly sharp set of teeth.

      Astral actually laughed out loud for the first time in days. "Good for you!" she chuckled.

      Caralen smiled weakly. Her burst of furious energy seemed to be waning, leaving her once again in her usual frail state. "Wish I'd - gotten a whack at - the other five," she panted softly, then slumped over on the floor and didn't move. In a moment, the room was filled with the quiet sound of her sleeping breathing.

      The other five members of the Resistance Movement, with nothing better to do, watched the Space Station approaching.

     * * *

      When Emperor Sloth had first built the Space Station, centuries ago, it had been a simple round metal structure. The outside had been studded with various pieces of sensory equipment - and, of course, Emperor Sloth's spiked logo - but the inside had consisted of a large round room with a few others opening off of it. In the centuries since then, though, the Emperor had had addition after addition bolted on to the Station. After all, it did house the living quarters of the Supreme Ruler of the World himself. By now, the original shape was lost in the tangle of docking tubes, extra logos, Imperial suites, and - of course - restaurants serving the Emperor's favorite revolting food. The Space Station now looked like nothing so much as a giant junk heap. Despite that, though, there was still something menacing about it, as if the mismatched hunk of metal might reach out at any moment and eat one of the little ships swarming around it like flies.

      The ship docked at one of the twisted docking tubes that snaked into the tangle of the Space Station. Under Luna's none-too-gentle supervision, the Grundos untied the legs of the six captives at blaster point and prodded them out of the ship.

      The inside of the docking tube was dim and grimy, covered with graffiti and what seemed to be a healthy layer of mold. Anyone who lived on the Space Station for any length of time got used to this fairly quickly; the same decoration covered the rest of the Station, except for the Emperor's quarters. For the six captives, though, it was a new and disgusting experience.

      "The waste dump in Imperial Central City is cleaner than this place!" said Roshen incredulously.

      "Shut up!" hissed Luna, turning to glare at the Aisha.

      "Why?" Roshen retorted defiantly. "We're all going to die anyway, aren't we? I might as well say what I think."

      Luna gritted her teeth, but could think of no reply to that. She contented herself with smacking Roshen across the face, then turned and kept walking down the passage.

      After walking through more dim, grimy hallways, the six prisoners and their captors finally approached the Imperial Throne Room. By that point, everyone had joined Roshen in insulting the state of the Space Station. Ironically, the fact that they were all likely to die soon had inspired a sort of carefree attitude among the Resistance. Luna was quietly seething, muttering through her clenched teeth as she tried to ignore them.

      "Oh look, there's another one of those ugly Grundos."

      "I wonder if this one has a brain."

      "I say! You! You great green lump, sir! Would you happen to have a brain?"

      "Wow, his expression didn't even change."

      "Nothing in that head."

      "Well, there's not much room for anything, after all."

      "You know, I've heard that the Emperor eats that slime that grows on the walls."

      "That must be why no one ever cleans it off."

      "Well, that's no surprise, is it, considering the Emperor? You are what you eat, as I always say, Sir!"

      "Exactly, Commander. While we're on the subject, Luna dear, what have you been eating lately? Just think - if the Commander's right, maybe you should have been eating that slime on the walls too. You might have turned out better."

      "That's IT!" shrieked Luna, her temper finally snapping. "Emperor's orders or not, I can only take so much of this! If I hear another WORD out of any of you, Emperor or no Emperor, you're not going to reach the Throne Room in-"

      "But Luna dear, we're already at the Throne Room," said Astral pleasantly.

      Luna spun around to see the rusty, looming doors to the Throne Room directly behind her.

      "That's all right," Astral continued in a soothing tone. "Trying to find ways to flatter the Emperor would take its toll on anyone's mind eventually."

      Breathing shallowly and clenching all six paws, Luna grabbed the handles of the Throne Room's doors and wrenched them open. It took every ounce of the Lutari's will to assume her usual fawning expression for the Emperor.

      "Operative 126 reporting with prisoners, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty," said Luna, bowing deeply before the Emperor.

      At nearly any other time, in any other place, at least one member of the Resistance would have laughed at the ridiculously long string of titles. Here, though, in the presence of the Emperor, it was different.

      Emperor Sloth had been around longer than anyone else left in Neopia had been alive. Decades ago, the people of Neopia - happy, carefree Neopets, for the most part - had seen him as only a mild threat. He had had brilliant inventions, yes, and practically foolproof plans for conquest - but all of them, somehow, had fallen apart at the last moment. Sloth - merely Doctor Sloth at that point - had kept trying to conquer Neopia, over and over again, refusing to give up after every humiliating defeat. In time, the citizens of Neopia had come to see him as more of a comical figure than one to be seriously worried about.

      That was their mistake.

      While the inhabitants of the planet had gone about their lives, living happily and joking about the nutty old Doctor with the weird hairstyle and the plans that never worked, Doctor Sloth had finally come up with one that did work. Hardly anyone still alive now remembered what it had been, but it had certainly succeeded. It took only a few days for Doctor Sloth, the laughingstock of Neopia, to become Emperor Sloth, the supreme ruler of Neopia.

      The inhabitants of Neopia - the ones that survived the takeover, that is - had had very little to laugh about then.

      "Good work, Operative," said the Emperor, and anyone in the room could have sworn the temperature dropped several degrees. His voice was cold and cruel, his smile even more so. The Emperor's face was the face of one who has ruled for centuries, killing and torturing whoever he pleased. His smile, directed now towards Luna and her six captives, chilled the blood. His voice was one that had ordered countless executions and acts of mass destruction. He loomed before them, clad in the simple black cape that was one of his trademarks, and filled the cavernous throne room with an oppressive weight of dread.

      One of the downsides of this job, Luna thought as she bowed, was that she had to talk to the Emperor face-to-face. It was bad enough to speak to him through a communicator screen, but facing the tyrannical dictator in person was almost more than she could handle.

      "Well," said the Emperor, and smiled. The atmosphere grew, if possible, even more chilling. "You're a day before your deadline. Having avoided an execution, I'd say you're in line for a promotion, Operative."

      "I am honored, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty," said Luna, her head still bowed.

      The emperor considered the six Neopets glaring up at him as defiantly as they could manage, then seemed to come to a decision. "It has been several days since my Giant Space Fungus was last fed," he said in the same cruel, even tone. A gleaming, evil grin split his slime-green face suddenly. "Lock these rebels in cell 17 with that other prisoner, then ready them to be fed to the fungus tomorrow. Make sure their execution is broadcast live to the surface for the daily Obedience Motivation Program. That will be all." He turned to go, then stopped as another thought entered his mind. "Oh, and have that Kyrii brought to me earlier tomorrow morning," he said, the gleeful grin still on his face. When he received no response from Luna, he turned around. The spy's face was wrinkled in confusion.

      "That scrawny little yellow-furred creature there," snapped the Emperor irritably. "I haven't gotten to watch a Kyrii being mutated in decades. We can feed her to the fungus after that."

      "Yes, your Superb Elevated Ingenious Imperial Majesty," said Luna fawningly. "What an excellent idea. The prisoners will be ready by tomorrow." With a short, sharp motion at the Grundos still mindlessly following her, she bowed herself out of the Throne Room. The Grundos followed, dragging the prisoners behind them.

      Luna took a deep breath as she closed the door of the Throne Room behind her. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, making sure no one saw the motion.

      No one said a word on the way to the prisons.

      The prisons were in a continuation of the Space Station that was, if possible, even more grimy and dingy than the rest. Luna smirked as she watched the Grundos throwing the prisoners all into one cramped cell, their paws (or, in Pagger's case, wings) still tied. Astral looked up and out the door in time to catch one last triumphant smirk from her twin sister before the door slammed closed.

      There was total darkness for a moment until Commander Pagger dug a small flashlight out of a pocket with one talon and started untying the others by its light. Being a Lenny, he was the only one of the six who could do anything requiring dexterity; his talons were his feet too, so the Grundos had had to untie them. As the various Resistance members looked up, their faces grim and shaken after the sight of the Emperor, Astral noticed another figure already in the cell. At the sound of the prisoners being thrown in, the figure turned to look at them, coming into the light from the flashlight.

      Astral could only stare in disbelief at the familiar face before her.

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 Five
» Encountering Resistance: Part Seven
» Encountering Resistance: Part Eight
» Encountering Resistance: Part Nine



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