Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 130,067,293 Issue: 259 | 29th day of Gathering, Y8
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Pinky the Brave: Part One


by ikea_sale

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"What have we got here? This has got to be the biggest runt of the lot!" the huge, hulking Lupe snarled, lifting Emakoke's arms and squeezing them between his massive paws as if searching for any trace of muscle. As indignant as Emakoke was, however, she could not deny that his harsh words were true. She was a runt. There she stood, latched onto the end of a line of strong, able-bodied young pets; Lupes, Grundos, Wockies, Grarrls--and nearly all of them boys. Then there was her, a scrawny pink Aisha, who you could barely see beneath the bulging rucksack strapped onto her back and the layers of thick camp uniform that were far too big for her. She heard sniggers and comments passing down the line of other pets.

     "What is that little girly doing here?"

     "She's pink!"

     "Looks like she belongs in the grooming parlour!"

     "Shut it, you hooligans!" roared Commander Lupus, dropping Emakoke's arm back to her side. He went back to pacing up and down the line again, and Ema let out a deep sigh of relief.

     After Emakoke lost several consecutive Battledome fights, her owner had sent her away to an army camp in the middle of the Lost Desert. Needless to say, Ema was not exactly ecstatic about it--in fact, she had to be dragged there kicking and screaming. Here there was no resting, no talking and no fun, only hours of trudging through the desert in unbearable heat, trying to put on a brave face but secretly wishing every second of every day that your owner would come and rescue you. Some said being sent to camp was worse than being sent to the pound. Ema knew exactly what they meant as she stood in the line, sweat pouring down her back and making her usually gorgeous pink fur sticky and matted. Every part of her body was already sunburnt and aching all over, and she had only been there an hour.

     "Stand up straight, Pinky!" the commander snapped at Ema, thumping her on the back with his cane and immediately snapping her straight out of her daydream. She heard snorts and mutters of 'Pinky' arising from pets down the line. Pinky. She knew that name was going to stick.

     Lupus ordered them to march. Trying to squint against the glaring sunlight, Emakoke blindly followed the Aisha in front of her. The scorching hot sand seeped into her boots as she plodded along, and she could already feel blisters appearing on her feet. She found herself tripping over bumps and rocks and crashing into the girl in front of her.

     "Watch it, Pinky," the girl scowled under her breath.

     Eventually they got to a clearing, where several tents lay dismantled on the sand.

     "Set up, then stand by your bunks ready for inspection!" the commander barked. The other pets jumped into action and began scurrying around, setting up their tents without speaking a word. Emakoke stood uselessly, not having a clue what to do. The commander came up behind her. "You'll be in that tent, with Cicadasan and Zhenja," he said, pointing over to where the Aisha who had marched in front of her and a hefty looking Cybunny, the only other girls, stood shielding their eyes from the sun with their paws and glaring at her.

     "How... how do I set up my bedding?" she stammered, watching all the other pets rolling out their bedding from their rucksacks as if it were the easiest thing on Neopia.

     "You can work it out for yourself," the commander replied bluntly, before giving her a shove and sending her stumbling over to where the other two girls were finishing setting up the tent. They glowered at her as she approached, then went inside the tent and started rolling out their bedding. Ema followed and tried to copy them, but she ended up with a shambolic pile of crumpled sheets, blankets and mats, as if a mini sandstorm had whirled through her section of the tent and nowhere else. Frowning, she attempted to smooth out the creases and rearrange the sheets, but it still looked an absolute mess whatever she did.

     "Um, how do I do this?" she asked in a timid voice, once she'd plucked up the courage. The two girls shot her spiteful glances, but did not answer; there was no talking allowed. Eventually Ema gave up and just stuffed all the messy corners haphazardly under her mattress, hoping the fearsome Lupus wouldn't notice. Just as she'd finished and was about to collapse, a horn blew and once again everyone had to get up and stand in a line in front of their tents while the commander came round for inspection.

     "This is a mess! You've got sand everywhere!" Lupus bellowed at the boys in the first tent. Ema thought this was ridiculous; it was a desert. There was sand everywhere. "Fifty sit-ups!"

     The officious Lupe moved onto the next tent, tutting and shaking his head.

     "How many times have I told you not to put your beds that close together? Fifty sit-ups!"

     He came striding over to the girls' tent. Ema hung her head, her stomach churning, waiting for the embarrassment that was inevitable. A disgusted gasp came from inside the tent.

     "What do you call this, Pinky? This is a camp, not a slumber party! This is a disgrace, and being new is NO excuse! Now, get down and give me one hundred sit ups!"

     Being new IS an excuse, she ranted to herself as she got down onto the sand and slowly began her sit-ups. She groaned and winced as she pushed herself up and down, the hot sand scorching her fur. She was going so slowly, all the other pets started to look down at her and titter, mimicking her excruciating expression as she screwed up her face. After what seemed like hours, she finally reached one hundred and stood up, groaning.

     "Finally. Now, everyone round the camp three times!" Lupus ordered as he finished his last inspection. Everyone started to run. Ema panted and gasped, still not recovered from her sit-ups. She really couldn't take it anymore. As the other pets began to lap her, with cool, composed expressions on their faces as if it were nothing, Ema gave up and fell in a crumpled heap of pink fur onto the sand.

     "You give up, Pinky, and I'll give up handing out your rations tonight!" a voice hollered from the other side of the camp. For a moment Ema considered giving up her rations, as long as she didn't have to carry on this unbearable run, but her stomach was growling and limbs felt so weak; she needed food. She picked herself up and slogged her way along the rest of the run. Of course, she was the last to finish.

     ***

     When the rations were handed out, Ema went and sat next to Cicadasan on one of the uncomfortable benches. Cicadasan looked down at her disdainfully, then carried on eating, raising her nose in the air. Ema picked up her own rations; cold sphinx links with a tiny scrap of bread, and began to eat. It was disgustingly stale and chewy. She swallowed the bite she had with a sickened expression, then pushed her plate away from her and scowled.

     "Doesn't this place stink?" she found herself blurting out. Cicadasan looked shocked at Ema's outburst, almost spitting out the food in her mouth.

     "I wouldn't say stuff like that if I were you, Pinky."

     "Well, how are we supposed to improve when all he's doing is torturing us?" Ema fumed, banging her paw on the table. Cicadasan screwed up her eyes and glanced down at the ranting Aisha.

     "Only because you can't hack it," she replied with a smirk.

     "No. I just need to get used to it," Ema said, even though she knew it wasn't true. She would never get used to this horrible place. She looked all around her cautiously, and then when she was sure the commander was nowhere near, lowered her voice. "Hasn't anyone ever tried to escape?"

      Cicadasan widened her eyes and looked at Ema, stunned. Ema continued, knowing she'd hit a nerve. "Haven't you ever wanted to escape?"

     "Just... just shut it, Pinky. You don't want the sit up incident repeating itself," Cicadasan stammered after she had recovered from the shock. She then snatched her empty plate off the table and stalked off abruptly.

     After the meal, if you could call it that, the poor Neopets returned to the camp to see their tents had been completely taken apart and their bedding strewn all over the surrounding sand.

     "Tidy it up, then!" ordered Lupus, a smug grin plastered all over his face. "And you'd better not mess up this time, Pinky," he growled at Ema as she shuffled by, looking down at her feet. She glanced up at him, thinking about how full of himself he was, and found anger boiling up inside of her. She was tempted to lash out at him, but she knew better than to satisfy this urge. Of course she would never succeed in even scratching him, or causing him to break a sweat. Instead she just replied, "yes, sir" in a submissive voice and went off to where her tent was lying, crumpled on the sand.

     As they worked, Cicadasan was being even more callous towards her than ever, and Tiggazin followed the snobbish Aisha's lead. While Ema pondered over her bedding - laying it, folding it, and refolding it with visible exasperation - they didn't ignore her, but sat on the edge of their pristine beds and laughed at her. She tried to pay no heed to them but found her cheeks glowing with shots of crimson.

     "Ooooh... Pinky's looking even more pink than usual!" Cicadasan remarked, smirking and raising her eyebrow.

     "What's the matter, Pinky?" Tiggazin said sarcastically. "Having a spot of trouble? Here, let me help you!" The massive Kougra got up, stamped a foot down on the edge of Ema's blanket and pulled it back so the bed was completely ruined. Ema groaned. "Whoops! Sorry, Pinky!" And with that both girls rolled over onto their beds laughing.

     After much inconvenience, Ema managed to get her bedding looking decent enough, and sprawled herself all over it, sighing.

     "Awww. Is Pinky feeling a bit blue?" said Cicadasan in a babyish voice. "Or should I say pink!"

     "That was... low," Ema muttered of Cicadasan's cheap joke, shaking her head and pretending she wasn't bothered by the insults raining down upon her head.

     "What--low enough to skim the top of your head?"

     With that, the horn sounded and the two girls went out of the tent, giggling hysterically.

     I can't stand this place, Ema decided, throwing her saggy cushion down onto her bed as she left the tent. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

To be continued...

 
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