Needed Adventure: Part Seven
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
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.
"What is this place? Who're all of these pets?"
"We're test subjects," she said slowly. "You've
heard of the Lab Ray?"
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
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
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...
"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
"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
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
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...
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
"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
"Blast," Jonas muttered, and the others all turned
toward his seemingly empty cage. "That'd be me," he said.
To be continued...