Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 127,792,023 Issue: 260 | 6th day of Collecting, Y8
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Needed Adventure: Part Seven


by tdyans

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Enzo opened his eyes, and found only more darkness. For a moment his heart beat double-time and his legs jerked instinctively, struggling against the smothering embrace of the dark. Then he felt a familiar claw latch onto his paw, and he stilled and calmed. "Whooter?"

     "You're awake. I was beginning to worry. I wasn't sure what they'd given you."

     "They? Wh--" The earlier events of the day came flooding back suddenly into his mind: Jason, the imposing building, the woman and the men in their white coats, stuffing him into a cage and wheeling him into a strange-smelling room, and....

     "The scientists-- those men-- took you out and injected you with something. Something to sedate you, I suppose, because you fell asleep after that. Do you remember at all?"

     "I-- I think I do."

     "They drew some blood after that, listened to your heart and lungs. Then they wheeled you in here, put you in this cage. It seems you gave them a good scare earlier; even with you sound asleep, they didn't bother me when I flew in with you." Whooter chuckled a little.

     "Cage...?" Enzo's head still felt too fuzzy to concentrate on everything that Whooter was saying, but it latched onto this one word, turning it over and examining it carefully. Still lying on the cool metal floor, he stretched his paws out, feeling two walls to his sides made of wire mesh, a back wall solid and cold like the floor, and a door at the front, made again of the strong mesh. He sighed.

     "Much more secure than Jason's place," Whooter said, echoing his thoughts.

     "Much smaller, too," Enzo noted dryly.

     A resigned silence ensued, and it was in this silence that Enzo heard something-- or a lot of somethings to be more exact. He realized with a start that they were not alone. It reminded him of the junkyard-- the sound of dozens of pets, all breathing heavily and steadily, with an occasional grunt or snore to punctuate the sleeping symphony. And yet... it was different from the junkyard, somehow. He couldn't explain it, but the exhausted contentment that emanated from the junkyard at night was replaced with a desperate hopelessness here. The sounds were the same, or at least so they seemed, and yet he couldn't escape the feelings behind them. In that moment, the contrast made his heart ache for home, and he felt like crying out. And so, he did.

     "Hello? Anyone?" The darkness seemed to swallow up his words. "Where am I? What is this place? Please--"

     "Quiet down o'er there!" came a gruff voice to Enzo's left. A few groans and grumbles from around the room echoed the sentiment.

     The Gelert turned and stared through the wire, but he couldn't seem to make out the speaker. "Who's there?"

     "Someone who'd like t' get some sleep, if ya don't mind," his neighbor growled again.

     "I'm sorry, but I--"

     "Don't mind Jonas," a female voice broke in gently. "He just gets grumpy when his sleep is interrupted."

     "Hmph," the first voice grumbled, and Enzo could hear him settling back down to go to sleep. The Gelert turned his attention then to the cage to his right--the second voice.

     "Who are you?" he asked again, moving closer to the mesh that separated them. This time he was able to make out a faint silhouette in the darkness, but she seemed to edge away as he came closer. Still, he thought he saw a long, curving ear much like one of his own.

     "My name's Cambry," she whispered after a moment.

     "I'm Enzo."

     "Enzo."

     "What is this place? Who're all of these pets?"

     "We're test subjects," she said slowly. "You've heard of the Lab Ray?"

     "Yes--"

     Whooter piped in then. "Excuse me, but I don't understand. Why would the Lab Ray need to be tested? It already exists."

     "Yes, but from what I understand, it's unpredictable and can have some less-than-desirable results, is that right? That's where this place comes in. They're trying to improve upon it-- to design rays that will only increase fighting ability or only change color or species, without any unwanted side effects. That's what they want to do anyway. They haven't succeeded yet. Who knows if they ever will... but that's what we're here for. To test whatever they come up with, over and over again...."

     Her voice faded away, and for a few moments they sat in silence on opposite sides of that wire wall that Enzo was already beginning to hate. His head was spinning with all of this new information, and he didn't know what to say to the sad resignation that tinged her voice.

     Finally she spoke again, the sadness gone, or better-masked at least, replaced with soothing. "Go back to sleep now, Enzo. I'll answer any more questions in the morning if you like, but now you should rest, and so should I."

     Still unable to offer any words in return, Enzo found himself obeying. He found that his heart had stopped racing and his mind slowly wound down, and it was easy to curl up on the cool metal floor with the feel of Whooter against his side and the sound of his new friend a few feet away, to close his eyes and drift into sleep.

     ***

     The soft voice that had lulled him to sleep was the first thought on Enzo's mind when he awoke hours later in a cage now filled with cold fluorescent light. He stared for a few moments out the front of his cage at the large room-- walls lined with cages, filled with dozens of pets of all shapes, colors and sizes, a large machine that he realized must have been one of the lab rays in the center of the room, and the two men in their sterile white coats tinkering with it and taking notes. And then he got to his feet and turned to his right. "Cambry--?"

     He let out a strangled gasp at the sight that his eyes met with. He'd guessed correctly about Cambry's species-- a Gelert like himself, a brown-colored one-- but.... Enzo was glad to see that she was still asleep; he felt ashamed for gasping and was grateful she hadn't heard it, but at the same time he couldn't help but stare. If one had seen her only from the right, they would have thought her perfectly normal. But it was the left side of her body that faced Enzo now, and it was horribly burned. All along that side the fur was shorter and singed a darker brown, almost black-- all except for the left side of her face, where there was no fur left at all, only scarred skin. And her left ear-- well, it was only half an ear, the rest simply... gone.

     "So y're awake again, are ya? And in daytime now." The other voice from the night before interrupted Enzo's gawking.

     Slowly, Enzo pulled his gaze away from Cambry and turned around. "I really am very s--" He stopped short, his mouth left hanging open. The cage from which he was sure the voice had come was empty! He spun his head around in confusion. "Who said that? Where are you?"

     "Right here, o' course!" came the voice again, accompanied by the sharp sound of a hoof being tapped against metal. This time there was no doubt at all-- these noises all came from the cage beside him.

     Enzo stared through the wire in befuddlement for a moment, until his face lit up with sudden understanding. "You're invisible!" Of course! His father had told him of invisible pets once, but he'd never actually met one... or at least I don't think I have, he thought with amusement.

     "Aye, aye. That I am. For the time bein' at least."

     "What kind of pet are you?"

     There was a moment of hesitation on the other side of the wire. "A Moehog, I think.... Aye, a Moehog right now. Name's Jonas."

     "Oh yeah, I'm Enzo. Um, like I was saying, sorry for waking you last night. I didn't mean to be rude. It was just--"

     The Moehog sighed. "Ah, that's all right, boy. I shouldn't o' been so harsh on ya. I remember what it was like to be new here, a tiny bit at least. I just value my sleep, y'see. Most of us do. It's our peace-- the only escape we have from the rays."

     Enzo was quiet for a few moments then, trying to find the right words and the delicacy to ask what he wanted to next. "Is it... really so bad? I only mean... outside of here, people and pets pay a lot of Neopoints to be able to visit the Lab Ray. They must think it's a good thing."

     "Well, that's just it, isn't it?" said Jonas. "Those visiting the Lab Ray out there are people and pets. In here, we're just pets. We've got no one to comfort us and tell us not t' be afraid. We've got no one to be getting zapped for, for that matter, have we? Those pets out there have owners they want to please, so they're happy to go. No one cares if we change, though. We've got no purpose for ourselves in here, nor anyone we love. And when we change, o'er and o'er again, there's nobody there to reassure us that we're still ourselves because we're still theirs. We've got no anchor, then, have we?"

     Enzo bowed his head. Gruff as the old Moehog's voice was, and matter-of-fact as he tried to sound, there was a pain there.

     "And then there're the accidents...."

     Enzo turned his head to look again at Cambry, still asleep. "What happened to her?"

     "As I said, an 'accident'." His voice softened. "Poor girl. Cambry was chosen as the first pet to test the newest lab ray design that the humans had come up with. I'm not sure what it was supposed to do-- they don't bother to tell us anything o' that sort-- but something went wrong, and what it did do was that."

     "But can't they just--"

     "They tried everything." The voice that interrupted Enzo was not Jonas' deep brogue. Enzo spun around, surprised, to see that Cambry was now wide awake. Before he could say anything, she continued. "They gave me healing potions and more medicines than I could keep track of. They zapped me over and over with every different ray they had. When that didn't work they even spent money on morphing potions and paint brushes. Not for my sake, but--"

     "For the sake of seeing if the effect of their blasted ray-- their mistake-- was reversible," Jonas interjected.

     Cambry nodded, staring at the floor. "Needless to say, they ended up scrapping that model." She gave a self-deprecating smile, but even that fell quickly from her muzzle. "Nothing worked."

     "Cambry...." Enzo approached the wire that separated them.

     Cambry backed away from him just as she had the night before, but the shadows were not dark enough to hide her anymore. She dared to look up for a moment. "Enzo... I understand if you don't want to talk to me any more. It's all right."

     "Why would I--?"

     "Even the humans avoid me," Cambry said quickly, her voice filled with tears that she refused to shed and shame that she allowed to show all too easily. "And they made me this way."

     Enzo stared into her eyes until she flinched away and stared at the floor again. "I'm not going to lie to you, Cambry; I was a bit shocked at first... but no moreso than I was by Jonas' appearance-- or lack thereof." He saw her mouth twist in a half-smile at that.

     "My Uncle Rorro got turned into a mutant once, before I knew him. He told me it didn't change him so much as it changed everyone around him." Cambry looked up at him again then, eyes shining with moisture. "You were very kind to me last night. Nothing's any different just because I can see you now."

     He put a paw up against the wire wall that separated them. Cambry hesitated for a moment before lifting her own paw and pressing it against his. "Thank you," she said quietly. Enzo smiled.

     They were interrupted by a tiny cough. "Ahem," Whooter piped up, positioning himself in front of Enzo. "I would be honored to make your acquaintance as well, Madam, if my young friend here ever remembers his manners."

     Enzo rolled his eyes. "All right, all right. Whooter, this is Cambry, and over there is Jonas. Jonas, Cambry, this is Whooter."

     Whooter gave an elaborate bow and extended a claw through one of the holes in the mesh. Cambry took it delicately in her paw, trying to suppress her laughter. "Pleased to meet you, Whooter."

     "The pleasure is all mine."

     "So that's the other voice from last night, is it?" Jonas said. "I know I've been in here too long now. Never heard o' talking petpets before."

     Enzo coughed. "Well, he's... a bit of an anomaly."

     Whooter frowned, but before he could object to Enzo's choice of phrase, a strange buzzing, crackling noise from outside the cages drew everyone's attention.

     The taller man was staring at the ray, his mouth forming a speechless "O" and his hands held up in the air. The other man was backing away from the front of the machine quickly as tendrils of electricity danced around the end of it, and the buzzing grew louder and louder until...

     ZZZZZAAAAPPP!

     Something that reminded Enzo of a bolt of lightning-- though far nearer than he'd ever been, or ever cared to be, to one-- leapt from the end of the machine, striking the bare platform at which it had been aimed. With a crack, the platform burst into flames. Out of the corner of his eye, Enzo saw Cambry shudder and back away from her cage's door. The two men just looked on, their mouths hanging open.

     Suddenly, the steel doors on the other end of the room flew open, and there was the woman from the day before. Her stride was brisk and purposeful, her expression blank, and in her arms was a fire extinguisher. With calm efficiency, she aimed it at the small blaze and put it out.

     Then she set the extinguisher down and turned to the other two humans. After a moment of staring at them in silence, her placid expression suddenly transformed into one of fury. "You idiots!" she yelled. "How many times have I told you--"

     "It was an accident," the taller man said, cowering a little. "I was inspecting the thing and nudged the lever by mistake. What we should do is design it so it's not so easy to--"

     "What we should do is hire somebody who's not a complete dunderhead!"

     "Hey, come on," the shorter man spoke up more defiantly. "No harm done-- it was just a little fire."

     "Well, that little fire would have meant big trouble with you two just standing there staring at it like a couple of Koi. If the fire alarm had gone off, every one of those cages would be flying open, and if I can hardly trust you two not to burn the building down, I can't imagine expecting you to round up all of these subjects and get them all back into the right cages."

     "Well," the second man muttered, "it's not our fault you had to get that fancy emergency system from the Space Station installed."

     "You think I'm happy about it? We had to install it to convince the Neopian government to let us build this place. And that's just one more reason we can't afford any big accidents; we don't want them snooping around, seeing how we're running things, and deciding to shut us down."

     The two men clammed up then, unable to offer any more argument. They frowned and shuffled their feet, avoiding the woman's glare. "Now get back to work." She took a clipboard down from the wall and flipped through the pages that were attached to it. "The first subject today is number 1027."

     "Blast," Jonas muttered, and the others all turned toward his seemingly empty cage. "That'd be me," he said.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Adventure: Part One
» Needed Adventure: Part Two
» Needed Adventure: Part Three
» Needed Adventure: Part Four
» Needed Adventure: Part Five
» Needed Adventure: Part Six
» Needed Adventure: Part Eight



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