What Am I?: Part Seven
“I’m sorry, but he’s simply too dangerous,” Judge Hog insisted, shaking his head.
“Dangerous? Of course he is! And you’re dangerous too, in a way- or you would be, to someone who attacked you. And tell me, who went after who when you arrested him?”
Judge Hog hesitated, momentarily stymied by Kelenria’s argument. “We went for him,” he answered finally, “but there’s no guarantee that he won’t cause problems if he’s let loose.”
“And what guarantee do I have for you?” Kelenria demanded. Judge Hog stiffened and Jack braced himself to intervene, but the masked Moehog’s expression changed from anger to chagrin as the tiny Xweetok ploughed on. “He’s strong, but you are too. Either one of you could cause a lot of problems if you wanted to. The only difference is, you’ve had a chance to prove yourself, to show everyone that you aren’t going to turn evil. Kitron never had that. All he knows about himself is what other people treat him as. I’ve tried to treat him like a normal Zafara who has no reason to hurt anybody; but if everyone around him treats him like a monster, then that’ll be what he learns to be. And that’s true even for people who do remember who they are.”
Jack stared at his young pet in undisguised surprise. She was always so shy, so timid, he marveled. She never stood up for herself, always ran away if she thought there was going to be a problem. But not anymore. Now she’s standing up to someone who tends to persuade even far more forceful people to back down. Maybe, what she really needed was someone who couldn’t run away from the problem, someone who needed her to stand her ground and fight.
Judge Hog really hated to admit it, but Kelenria was right. Kitron hadn’t hurt anyone until they had drawn their tranquilizer guns. But now that he had reason to be angry, who knew what he might do if he was allowed to leave his cell?
The Defender challenged Kelenria with this question, and for once she had no answer. There was a long moment of silence, which was finally broken by Jack. “We’ll look for some way to make sure that he won’t hurt anyone,” he said quietly. “But for now, we need to go. Kyle and Talrin will be getting antsy.”
Kelenria shot him a look of dismay, and Jack met her gaze with eyes that glistened with regret. “We’ll think of something, Kel,” he promised her.
Judge Hog nodded. “I’ll put some people on it, and see if I can come up with anything myself. In the meantime, we’ll treat him as gently as he lets us.”
“Thanks,” Kelenria said, her voice no more than a whisper as she turned away to follow her owner out the door.
* * * * *
“And the mighty warrior leaps upon the evil dragon, slaying the hideous beast and rescuing the damsel in distress!... I SAID, rescuing the damsel in distress!... I SA-A-AID, RESCUING- THE- DAMSEL- IN- DISTRESS!”
With each of these last five words, Talrin gave the arm he was holding a mighty yank, nearly pulling the damsel in question from her perch on the couch. Her movements limp and listless, Kelenria pulled her arm free. “Leave me alone, Talrin.”
“But I slayed the dragon for you! See?” Talrin pointed to a plushie that would probably fare better were it to be sent to the dump where it now looked like it belonged.
“It’s not ‘slayed’, it’s ‘slew’, and leave her alone. Can’t you see she’s busy moping?” Texra commented caustically as she walked by.
Talrin glared at the snooty Zafara and grabbed the Xweetok’s arm again, but Kelenria ignored them all. She was busy racking her brain for anything that would help to set Kitron free. All that her efforts produced was what felt like a hollow, mocking buzz in her mind, like mental static heralding the approach of what promised to be a miserable headache. Although, come to think of it, her increasingly weary mind had managed to come up with the question of whether or not a Baby Lupe was capable of dislocating a green Xweetok’s shoulder. Talrin certainly seemed to be trying hard enough.
“Ke-e-e-el! Come on!” he whined. “Come and play with me! I’ll be the knight and you can be the princess who gets locked in a tower and has to be saved by the mighty Jeran Bordobere!”
“It’s ‘Borodere’, and the answer is no. I’m trying to think.”
“But I wanna-”
“I don’t care, all right?” Kelenria suddenly exploded, her voice sharp and her eyes blazing with frustration. Talrin recoiled in alarm as she snapped, “I’m too busy to pretend to be locked in a cage, because in case you haven’t noticed, my friend is already locked in a cage, and I’m trying to think of a way to get him out! You wanna be noble? You wanna be heroic? Then quit yanking on my arm and start helping me think!”
Talrin stared at her blankly for a moment, then dutifully proceeded to put his chin in his paw and adopt the most studious expression in his facial muscles’ vocabulary. The look on his face was so funny- and so completely out-of-character for the rambunctious little Lupe- that for a blessed moment Kelenria nearly laughed. But her mind and heart refused to spare her even for a moment the memory of why her brother was trying so hard to look thoughtful, and the fleeting relief from the heaviness in her heart hit the floor and vanished into the darkness beneath.
“I’m sorry, Tal,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It’s just- I’m really worried about Kitron. I couldn’t stand to play around and have fun while he’s trapped alone in a cell.”
Talrin’s face fell, and he reached up and placed a paw on the shoulder he had a moment ago tried so hard to pull out of its socket. “Would Kitron want you to be sad?” he asked quietly, and Kelenria smiled weakly and shook her head.
“No. But I don’t want him to be alone, either. And that’s what he is right now.”
“Maybe you could visit him.”
Kelenria nodded. “I’m going to in the morning. I would be there right now, but Jack says it’s too late at night. But in the morning, I’ll be there. Dr. Sloth himself couldn’t keep me away.”
* * * * *
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in right now.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?” Mrs. Tileth protested, ruffling her feathers in annoyance. “As a teacher I have the duty of providing my students will a full education-”
“And I highly doubt that bringing them in to gawk at a prisoner is going to bring any significant advancement in science or mathematics,” Kella replied in a bored tone. As the receptionist who was working the morning shift at the Defenders of Neopia, the Faerie Uni had gotten stuck with the irritating duty of warding off the assortment of curious Neopians who wanted very badly to get their first look at a Sloth experiment.
“Aw, please?” a Yurble whined, and Kella shook her head firmly.
“The answer is NO.”
A chorus of protests rose into the air, and was suddenly cut of by a voice very near to a shriek. “You are unbelievable!”
Every head present turned to stare at the diminuitive green Xweetok who had silenced the crowd. She was standing on her hindlegs, an armload of books cradled in her paws and her eyes blazing with righteous fury. “What is wrong with you?” she railed on. “Kitron’s a Neopet, not a zoo attraction! I can’t believe you want to just walk in there and treat him like he’s some sort of freak at a circus!”
“Why are you so worried about it?” the Skeith who had nearly stepped on Kelenria in the Sloth facility asked.
“Maybe they’re related,” the Yurble snickered, and to the surprise of everyone who knew the quiet Xweetok Kelenria did not blush, back down or look hurt, but instead answered with a snarl.
“We aren’t related, but we ARE friends. I’m the one who found Kitron, and Kella’s right: you have no right to go in there and treat him like a Petpet at a zoo!”
The crowd stared at her blankly.
Ignoring them, Kelenria strode up to Kella. “I’m here to visit Kitron. I brought him some books.”
Kella nodded. “Go on in.”
“What?!” the Yurble shrieked. “Why does she get to go in?”
“Because I’m here to see a friend, not to stare at a freak,” Kelenria shot back as she vanished into the building.
As she slipped silently through the imposing halls of the DoN headquarters, Kelenria silently raged against the gang of idiots that had assembled outside. Wasn’t it bad enough that Kitron had been branded, lost all memory, and then been locked in a cage? Didn’t it matter to anyone that they were only making things worse?
Suddenly a yelp reverberated through the hall, slicing through Kelenria’s thoughts. Breaking into a run and nearly losing her hold on her books, the Xweetok raced to Kitron’s cell, where she found herself staring through the open door at Lightning Lenny, who was holding one wing tightly as if trying to make it stop bleeding. Two feet in front of him, Kitron was snarling and bristling, straining against his chains. The massive Zafara was no longer standing up, but had somehow been wrestled onto a low bed whose joints groaned quietly under the onslaught of Kitron’s furious thrashing.
“Kitron?” Kelenria began quietly, and Kitron’s struggles ceased.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Lightning Lenny took a tentative step toward Kitron, readying a syringe that was filled with pale green liquid. He made a cautious attempt to insert the tip into the Zafara’s neck, but Kitron abruptly twisted his head in an attempt to bite the Lenny again. The Defender jerked back just in time to save his skin, and Kitron spat out a mouthful of feathers. “He is attempting to administer an injection,” he complained in an angry growl, and Kelenria gave Lightning Lenny a questioning look.
“Yes, I am,” the Defender snapped in irritation, “and he’s making it rather difficult.”
“What’s the injection for?”
Kitron whacked his antagonist in the stomach with his tail, and Lightning Lenny backed away with a wince. “We can’t let him out while he’s at full strength, you see- for obvious reasons- so our scientists created this.” He held up the syringe. “Given a day or two to work, it should hopefully undo some of the changes Sloth made to his body. He’ll be only a little stronger than your basic Shadow Zafara.”
“I do not trust him,” Kitron snarled. “His tool may be used as a weapon.”
Kelenria’s gaze darted between the two beings in front of her. She had no reason to believe that Lightning Lenny would lie, but if the injection didn’t work right, or if it wasn’t what the Defender said it was... She didn’t think she could bear it if Kitron thought she was a traitor, which he probably would if she allowed the injection to be administered.
Kitron took another swing at Lightning Lenny, who, fortunately, was out of range. The Lenny sighed. “It’s not like I can give him this anyway,” he confessed. “With the way he’s squirming around, it’s simply too dangerous- I might not be able to do it without hurting him. Or, obviously, getting hurt. But we can’t release him without it.”
Kelenria’s shoulders sagged, her forgotten armload of books threatening to slide out of her paws. What was to be done in a situation like this? Even if she told him to, she doubted Kitron would let Lightning Lenny near with that syringe.
Suddenly she came to a decision. “I’ll do it.”
“Huh?” Lightning Lenny stared at her blankly, and Kelenria repeated,
“I’ll give him the injection.” Turning to Kitron, she added, “I don’t know precisely what’s in that needle, but it’s either we trust him on this or you stay here for the rest of your life. I can’t think of any other way to get you out of here.”
Kitron hesitated, then nodded. “I will accept the injection. From you,” he added firmly, directing his words toward Kelenria as the Defender made the mistake of stepping forward.
Taking a deep breath, Kelenria put down the books, took the needle from the Lenny, and stepped toward Kitron. “Careful- he bites,” Lightning Lenny suddenly blurted out, the alarm in his voice causing Kelenria to freeze in midstep.
Taking a moment to bring her rattled nerves back under control, Kelenria replied firmly, “He doesn’t bite me.”
Then, slowly and carefully, following the instructions Lightning Lenny gave her from a respectful distance, she pushed the tip of the syringe into Kitron’s neck and emptied the emerald fluid into her friend’s body. This done, she put the syringe hastily down on the floor and seized Kitron’s paw before the Lenny could intervene. To the Defender’s astonishment, the big Zafara was tame and gentle under Kelenria’s delicate touch, his long fingers closing softly around the Xweetok’s paw so that it vanished entirely in an ebony cocoon.
Lightning Lenny felt a slow smile creep across his face as he watched the two friends. “He should be ready to leave in a day or two,” he told Kelenria. “In the meantime, I’ll leave the two of you alone.”
“He’s ready to leave now,” Kelenria insisted, but the Lenny shook his head as he slipped out through the door.
Kitron’s gaze followed him out, then alighted on the pile of books Kelenria had left beside the door. “You have brought instructional text?” he asked, and Kelenria stared at him blankly for a moment before realizing what he meant.
“Oh?- no, those are just storybooks. I chose ones I thought you’d enjoy. Would you like to read them now?”
Kitron nodded, and Kelenria fetched the books, holding them up one by one so that the Zafara could read from his position on the bed and turning the pages when he asked her to. She wasn’t sure whether or not the stories were too juvenile for Kitron; but he made it obvious that he enjoyed her company either way. The hours passed, until finally the door opened and Jack’s face appeared. “It’s time to go, Kel,” he said quietly, and Kelenria nodded reluctantly.
“I’ll try to come back and see you soon,” she promised Kitron as she slipped out through the door, and the Zafara’s quiet “Thank you” tugged at her as she padded after Jack. Kitron needed her, and she still felt that she wasn’t even coming near to fulfilling that need.
In front of her, Jack heaved a shuddery sigh, and Kelenria suddenly became aware that her owner was not being his usual upbeat self. A cloak of depression seemed to have draped itself over him like a cloud obscuring the sun. “Jack? What’s wrong?” Kelenria asked anxiously, and the boy paused and turned to face her. Kelenria’s breath caught in her throat. Jack’s face was haggard, his eyes bright as if filled with unshed tears. “Jack? What is it?” she whispered nervously, and the human sighed again.
To be continued...