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A Question of Worth: Part Two


by extreme_fj0rd

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Five minutes after they left the docks, they were stepping up onto the porch of the Techo Master's training school. The sliding, panelled doors were made of some translucent sort of paper that filtered the light through, and they stood open. Christopher, in a state of high excitement, followed his owner through the doorway and inside.

      A receptionist's desk had been placed discreetly to one side of the entryway; pairs of shoes were lined up in rows next to it. The receptionist, an Island Kougra, smiled at them as they entered.

      "Place your shoes there, please," she said, indicating the shoes already there. "Or just wipe your feet off on the rug," she added to Christopher as his owner crouched to unlace her sneakers. She sat and watched them benevolently as they followed her instructions and then came up to the desk.

      "He's in the three o'clock class with the Techo Master," Christopher's owner said.

      The Kougra nodded, pulling a sheet of thin paper toward her. A list of names had been written on it in fine black ink. "He would be..."

      "Christopher," his owner said.

      "Ah. Good!" She smiled at him. "Go right back--most of the class is here already, but don't worry, you're not late."

      He nodded and turned, and then stopped. "Um," the Lupe said. "Where--"

      She smiled and laughed a little. "To the left. It'll be the second-to-last door on your right."

      Christopher nodded, flushing behind his fur. "Thanks," he said, and hurried off, his paws clicking on the hard wood of the floor.

      Behind him, he could hear his owner asking, "And how long does the class last?" Other than that, there was silence in the building. All of the walls seemed to be made out of the same, somewhat flimsy-looking paper. He guessed that if there was any noise, it would carry well, but only once did he hear anything: the low murmur of a voice as someone said quietly, "Cloud. Flying Pteri. Good."

      Christopher almost stopped there, curious to hear more, but the thought of going to his own class propelled him forward to the second-to-last door in the hall. He reached it, and looked through the open doorway.

      The Techo Master sat at the front of the class, just inside the doorway. His legs were folded over one another in a way Christopher didn't think he could manage to do even with years of practice; his hands sat on his knees palm-up and open, and his eyes were closed.

      Christopher stepped half inside the room and looked over at the rest of the classroom. There was a broad range of them: most of them were painted fire or some other rebellious, dark color. The rest were an array of colors and temperaments, including a Faerie Zafara. Most of them also looked pained that they were there, which fact Christopher noted with slight surprise.

      He headed to the middle of the gathered students; everyone else was sitting down, as best in a cross-legged position as they could, and facing front, so the Lupe did that, too. He glanced from side to side in an effort to catch peoples' eyes; no one would meet his gaze or acknowledge his presence save the Faerie Zafara, who was seated next to him. She gave him an eye-roll upward and a slight smile, and then she looked back at the front of the classroom.

      Over the next few minutes a few more students came in, but it was clear that this was the main group of the class. The heat of Mystery Island became cloying, pressing in and down on the pets sitting motionless in the room.

      Just when Christopher was getting impatient, sure that it was well past three o'clock already, a chime rang and the Techo Master shifted his weight.

      "Good afternoon," he said. He had a surprisingly deep and rich voice for so skinny a Techo. "Welcome to this class."

      He fell silent again. Christopher watched him, waiting for instructions on what to do and how to begin, but the Techo didn't speak. The minutes seemed to drag by. Some of the students stirred restlessly, and Christopher sympathized with them. His neck was quickly developing an uncomfortable crick, and he seemed frozen stiffly into this one position.

      He tried to shift his weight from one leg onto the other; his foot was falling asleep. It seemed awkwardly loud in the dead silence of the room, but, Christopher reasoned, there was really nothing to be done. And anyway, everyone else had to be just as uncomfortable as he was.

      After ten minutes or so of sitting in silence, people started looking around. Christopher met the eye of a tall Fire Uni and shrugged in unison with him, effortlessly communicating their shared confusion. The Faerie Zafara next to him seemed alone in her peaceful solitude: her eyes were closed, her breathing regular, and her posture looked like she sat that way normally.

      Christopher caught himself watching her, wondering how she did it, and looked quickly away.

      The rest of the hour-long class period seemed unending. Some sort of buzzing insect seemed to have been caught inside the room; it buzzed around the walls, then flew among the students. More than once, Christopher flinched away when it was buzzing a little too close to the inside of his ear.

      Students sighed and shifted position throughout the whole time, trying to keep all their limbs from becoming numb without making too much noise. Christopher spent most of the time staring down at the floor, trying to keep himself occupied. This wasn't Neo-Fu. He could've been having fun playing Dice-a-Roo with his friends all this time, if his owner hadn't signed him up for this class.

      His breathing shallowed, and he glared down at the wood of the floor angrily. What was she playing at, signing him up for this? It was useless! There wasn't even any instruction going on. Just that Techo, sitting up there.

      At long last the chime rang again. Though the Techo Master didn't move or tell the students that they could leave, they started getting up. Christopher stood up with the rest of them, his muscles tightening as they were being used again. Whispered and muttered conversation started up--mostly about the utter uselessness of the class. Christopher didn't really care about talking to other people. He just wanted to ask his owner why in the name of Fyora she'd signed him up for this mind-numbing torture.

      "Sir?" One of the students, braver than the others, stepped forward. "Sir, why were we just sitting there for the whole hour?"

      "Were we?"

      The Techo Master's eyes didn't even open as he delivered this statement. The students, who had paused to listen to the reply, shook their heads and started out, filing past the Techo. They flung an assortment of odd glances at him as they passed.

      Christopher followed them out. As he came out into the hallway, someone beside him commented, "No one understood that, did they."

      The Lupe glanced over at the Faerie Zafara and shrugged. "Well--"

      "They didn't," she said.

      "Would it be possible to understand it?" he asked, as they came out into the entranceway. Pets were filtering out into the courtyard outside to wait for their owners. "I mean, we just sat there! For the whole hour!"

      The Zafara grinned. "Did we?" she asked. Without giving Christopher time to get angry at her, she added, "By the way, my name's Sara. Nice to meet you."

      "Christopher," the Lupe said, his train of thought slightly derailed. "It's... nice to meet you too."

      Sara nodded and walked away, leaving Christopher standing by himself in the middle of the courtyard. His owner came up to him a moment later, smiling.

      "So? How was the class?"

      Back in familiar territory, Christopher snarled, "It was stupid! We just sat there! For the whole hour!" He fought the urge to hurl something to the ground; his paws twitched with it. Finally he let out a howl of anger and leaped away from it all--from the Techo Master's solemn voice, from the stuffy room, from his owner and from the whole disappointment of having nothing to tell his friends about Neo-Fu class. On four paws he sped away, his head down for speed, and to hide the tears of anger and shame.

      Behind him, his owner sighed and smiled apologetically at the other owners and pets. Slowly she followed her wayward pet back to the docks and the ferry that would take them home.

     By the time Christopher and his owner got home, the Lupe was slightly more calm. The ocean spray over the front of the ferry had something to do with it, he thought, as he padded placidly off the boat and onto the docks. His owner, walking beside him, gave Christopher a nervous glance.

      "You know... Christopher..."

      "Yes?"

      "The class... well... do you really think it was worthless?"

      Christopher's tail twitched in irritation. "Of course it was!" he snarled. His owner flinched, and the Lupe shrank back. "I... I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry!" Again he bounded away, leaping through groups of pets and owners as all four paws hit the ground to propel him.

      His owner bit her lip and stuck her hands in her pockets and followed him. He didn't have a key to their house; he'd just have to sit outside until she got there. Maybe it would even cool off his temper.

     She didn't mention the class again for the rest of the evening. Without looking at her pet she unlocked the door and went in, leaving it to hang open after her. Christopher slunk in, his head and tail low, and went up to his room almost immediately. After he was safely up the stairs, she went back out to pick up the most recent issue of the Neopian Times from the stoop. She took it back inside and started reading, but after half an hour, she had only read the first three paragraphs of the first short story; she kept going back to re-read sentences and words.

      At last she sighed and, setting it down, went out to the bottom of the stairs. She stood there for a moment, her hand on the banister, before stepping onto the first stair and heading up to Christopher's room.

      He was sitting on his bed, his head drooping down into his front paws, when she knocked gingerly on his half-opened door.

      "Christopher?" she asked. The Lupe barely moved to acknowledge his own name. "Christopher..."

      She sat down on the edge of his bed, and the springs of the mattress creaked under her added weight.

      "I... I know that you were disappointed with your class," she said after the silence had stretched on for what seemed like too long. "And I'm sorry, Christopher. I know how hard it is sometimes. I had problems with something like this, too, once. It took me years to get out of it. I guess I just wanted you to calm down a little. If I was forcing you to, though, it would mean that I was trying to change you. And I don't want to change you, Christopher."

      The Lupe didn't really move, but he seemed to be listening, she thought, at least a bit more than before.

      "I like you the way you are," she added. "I'm... well, I'm your owner, but we're more like friends than that, or at least I think so. I hope so.

      "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I won't make you go back to that class. Not if you really think it's worthless. If you do," she said, and paused. "If you do, it is worthless."

      She stopped there and just sat for a while, listening to the silence. Once in a while she glanced at Christopher, who seemed far away in his thoughts.

      "That's all," she said at last, and got up.

      Christopher listened to her footsteps going across the room to the door, staring down at his arm and the piece of the blanket he could see. While she went down the hall and then down the stairs, he sat there, motionless.

      When he couldn't hear her any more, the Lupe raised his head and looked around the room. It seemed too sunny for his liking, he thought moodily, and got up to close the shades.

      With a vague portion of his mind, he realized that at some point he would've gotten angry about the sunlight in the room. It seemed rather silly to him now--how he'd gotten mad about the smallest things. At the time it was just what he did, but now...

      Christopher sighed. Standing at the open window, his eyes began to adjust and he thought that maybe... well, maybe he didn't mind the sunlight so much after all.

     When Christopher padded softly into the kitchen that evening, his owner was reading the Neopian Times. Glancing at the pages, the Lupe saw that she was about halfway through it.

      "Um..." he said. "I was wondering..."

      Her head came up quickly. For a moment she looked wary, but only for a split second; then she smiled.

      "Wondering?" she asked.

      "You said about how if I thought it was worthless that it would be worthless, um, and... I was wondering if maybe it went the other way too," Christopher said, all in a rush.

      His owner frowned, sorting through this sentence.

      "If... if I thought it wasn't," the Lupe explained, "worthless, that is... if it would be worth something."

      She nodded, starting to smile. "I think," she said, "that that would work out well. Perfectly, in fact." She laid down the Neopian Times. "Would you like some tea?"

      And, though Christopher had never really liked tea, he found himself nodding.

     The next Saturday, Christopher was fifteen minutes early for class. Nevertheless, as he paused in the hallway outside the classroom, he could see the Techo Master outlined against the translucent paper walls.

      The Lupe smiled, and stepped inside. He wasn't really surprised to see that he wasn't the first student there.

      Sara opened her eyes and smiled at him.

      "Well?" she asked.

      Christopher didn't bother answering the Zafara's question--at least, not in words. Instead he sat down next to her and let himself relax, drinking in the warmth of the room.

      Sara grinned. As an afterthought, she glanced up at the Techo Master, and the Zafara could've sworn that she saw the faintest of smiles flit across his face.

The End

 
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