Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 177,073,977 Issue: 330 | 15th day of Awakening, Y10
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The Return of Dr. Sloth: Behind the Scenes - Part One


by silent_snow

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Author’s note: Those of you who are participating in The Return of Dr. Sloth plot should recognize some of the neomails used in this story. One step in helping to beat Dr. Sloth consisted of hacking into the Space Station’s computer system and decoding some neomails- but what was the story behind these messages? Soon enough, you’ll know...

Jantan covered his mouth with a claw as he yawned quietly, using his other claw to click his mouse. A new set of images blinked onto the computer’s screen; but, of course, nothing of interest was happening. He assured himself for what felt like the twentieth time that day that being a Space Station Security Guard was not the most boring job in the world. There had to be something worse.

     “Make sure you stay awake there, Jan,” his partner drawled. Jantan glanced over at her before flicking his eyes back to his screen. Mixie, a yellow Grundo, was always attentive, always perceptive- a good fit for her job. While he occasionally let his eyes glaze over while watching the security camera images, to fall into a daydream or two, she would snap him out of it with a well-placed remark, and keep her eyes on her own screen all the while to boot. But he knew he wasn’t useless, since his many-faceted Buzz eyes caught things on the screens that her eyes missed.

     “Yeah, I know,” he muttered with a drawn-out sigh. Ten seconds had passed; he clicked the mouse again, and new images blinked onto the screen. His eyes flicked over them all as he moodily contemplated taking a bathroom break, just to get away from the screens for a minute or two.

     Suddenly, a neomail box popped up on the lower-right corner of his computer’s screen.

     Instinctively, he glanced over at Mixie’s computer- she had a message there too. Still, it was with misgivings that he double-clicked the neomail symbol. Usually, the other guards didn’t need their help.

     The Space Station had given up on the idea of using actual neomail to communicate a while ago, since the many complex passages and mazes in the station made it difficult to find who was where. Instead, a type of software had been made for the computers which almost every pet in the Space Station had that could act as a communication device. For history’s sake, they still called it neomail.

     Jantan’s eyes swept over the short passage.

     Guards-

     Please check the expected ship logs for today. We might have a rogue one.

     -Barr

     “That’s unusual,” Mixie murmured.

     Jantan silently agreed. Barr had been in the Station’s employ ever since the victory over Sloth, and he knew which ships came on which days. He even made a point of checking the list of expected ships every day, just in case there were special occurrences.

     Mixie’s paws flew over her keyboard as she typed in the access code for the logs. As the list of ship names and expected times scrolled down the screen, Jantan felt his stomach plummet. It was 3:12 in the afternoon- and no ships were scheduled for that time, or anywhere close to it.

     Quick as a pair of Cybunnies, the two guards grabbed their headsets and pulled them on. Jantan fumbled to type out the code to secure communication with the incoming ship, while Mixie attempted to find out the ship’s identification.

     “Sensors are jammed,” she muttered, her voice clearly impatient. “I can’t figure out who they are!”

     “Well, I’ve got a channel open with them now,” Jantan said, fighting down anxiety. “You want to do the honors?”

     Mixie wasted no time in grabbing the mouthpiece.

     “Identification, please,” she said into the device, still typing away with one hand.

     Nothing came out of their headsets but static.

     “If you do not provide identification, you will not be allowed to land,” Mixie stated clearly, her voice entirely professional. “You have ten seconds.”

     Static, and then- “You will need no identification.”

     Mixie didn’t have to say a word; Jantan had already called up the emergency list on his neomail. He blinked rapidly as he typed, his claws shaking.

     “It’ll be too late,” Mixie said calmly, pulling the headset off of her antenna. “They won’t get there before the ship lands.”

     “I know,” Jantan growled back.

     There has been an unauthorized ship landing in the main docking bay. Sensor jamming prevents ship identification. Security Detachment Alpha proceed to main docking bay immediately to secure unauthorized vessel.

     He clicked ‘send’, and sincerely hoped that this was all a misunderstanding.

     ~~

     “And you better stay in your room until I say you can come out, do you hear me, Jimmy?”

     “Yes, Mother!” he shouted back, slamming his door shut. Blowing his bangs out of his face, he stalked over to his computer. For a moment, his face was reflected back at him on his screen, red curls bustling around his elongated Kyrii face- then, the main screen flashed on. It only took him a minute to figure out that everything but his neomail had been disabled.

     ”Maaaan,” he groaned, slumping back in his chair. He had to be the most unlucky kid on or orbiting Neopia, to have a mother who also did extensive programming for the Space Station.

     Still not completely resigned to boredom, Jimmy opened up his neomail. He put his paws on the keyboard, but stopped typing when he heard muffled booming sounds, accompanied by his room shaking slightly. He looked out of his small window, confused, but he could only see a few service ships floating through space. Shaking his head, he deleted what he had already typed, and started a new message to his friends.

     Did you guys hear explosions a little while ago?

     Of course, they probably hadn’t actually been explosions. It was more likely that a particularly big ship had skidded while landing- he lived close enough to the docking bay to feel it happen. But explosions sounded cooler. He turned back to his message.

     I’m grounded ‘cause Mom caught me playing Evil Fuzzles again, and she cut off everything except neomail.

     He didn’t know what his mom had against Evil Fuzzles From Beyond the Stars, apart from the fact that he often played it either on the Recreation Deck or on his computer while he was supposed to be doing homework or helping his dad with the shop. She didn’t get half as mad when he played Spell or Starve. And all he could ever get out of her about it was that it was ‘too violent’. As if that was the real reason! He liked to think that she had been traumatized in her childhood by Fuzzles instead. Evil Fuzzles, of course.

     He glanced out of his window again, wondering what else to say. Now there was a strange ship with a design he had never seen before outside, circling the Station. A ship like it, but smaller, came behind it.

     That’s weird, he thought to himself.

     Anyway, all I can see out my window is some weird-looking ships flying around.

     -Jimmy

     He clicked ‘send’, then leaned back in his chair, sighing in great melancholy. With nothing but his schoolbooks and restricted computer, he might have to do homework to keep from dying of boredom. Could his day get any worse?

     ~~

     “Houston,” Sarlyi sang out, “we have a problem!”

     Houston, her red Scorchio boss, trundled over to her station. Sarlyi was giving him her best Mynci smile, but he remained unaffected, his customary glare in place. “What is it now, Sarlyi?”

     “Well, it’s time for the daily weather report,” she began.

     “And that’s a problem... how?”

     She pointed to the window, and he, upon seeing it, gave a short grunt of understanding.

     You see, this was no ordinary window. It had been made by the best of the Space Station’s engineers and programmers working together, and, while it was clear and could be seen through like any other window, it could also be used as a computer screen. The various sensors and machines the Space Weather Station used to keep an eye on the happenings in space were all hooked up to it, so information could be displayed atop the sight outside. The window as a whole took up an entire wall of the Weather Station.

     It was also broken.

     “So,” Sarlyi chattered, “Gerald broke it yesterday while playing gormball in here, right, and though the service guy boarded it up right away and all he said that he wouldn’t be able to fix it up proper for at least a week, and I forget at the time that it was also the computer, so I was all like, ‘yeah, that’s fine,’ ‘cept now we don’t have a computer and we can’t see outside.”

     Houston grunted.

     “Sooo... what do I do?”

     Her boss sighed. “Make something up.”

     “Huh?”

     “Make something up,” he repeated, clearly bored. “Nobody reads the weather reports anyway- it’s space, we’re inside, who cares. The ships get their own data; they don’t pay attention to ours. Just make something up.”

     Sarlyi was in her personal heaven. “Y-yes sir! Right away, sir!”

     As Houston trundled back to his desk, Sarlyi swiveled around in her chair and started typing ferociously into the neomail she had already opened up. With her imagination, that day’s weather report would be a piece of cake.

     Heavy asteroid rain tomorrow, with a 30% chance of giant space fungus invading your brain.

     Sarlyi grinned mischievously as she clicked ‘send’.

     ~~

     Gorix looked around carefully before going to his computer.

     He had time to kill before his next task for the Resistance, so he wanted to get other work done, and that was best accomplished while pretending to work as a janitor. The rest of the cleaning staff didn’t know that he had a computer hidden down in the maintenance tunnels, just as they certainly didn’t know that he was working for the Resistance. Heck, he was sure they didn’t know what the Resistance was in the first place. Most of them weren’t that bright- except for one of them.

     He had managed to befriend a young Aisha, Zerp, who was significantly more intelligent than the rest of the crew. He had been hoping to convert her to the Resistance, since many of the members were sure that Sloth would be making his move soon. Another helper might make the necessary difference.

     After glancing around once more, he booted up the old computer. It ran smoothly, thanks to his work. The first thing he did was check his neomail- though the Resistance had their own, more secure means of communication, he still got notices about his work as a janitor from time to time. Noticing a message from Zerp, he opened it up.

     I swear, Cap. Rolls has some kind of radar for me. Every time he wants to complain about everything not being sparkling bright and perfect, who is the first person on the crew he finds? Yours truly. My ears will soon fall off from the constant chatter- if not all of them, at least two.

     -Z

     Smiling to himself, Gorix quickly typed up his reply.

     No kidding! If Captain Rolls spent a tenth as much time fixing things as he spends complaining about them, nothing on this station would ever break down again.

     -G

     After clicking ‘send’, Gorix sat back, and thought. How long could this simple friendship that they had continue, or the pleasant companionship he had with the rest of the maintenance crew? Sloth was taking over; stopping him was Gorix’s main priority. When the time to fight back came, would he lose all the simple pleasures that came with everyday life?

     His watch crackled; the Resistance Leader was trying to contact him. “Gorix, are you there?”

     He mentally shrugged; he had made his decision long ago, after all, and he was committed to the Resistance for life. “I’m listening.”

     ~~

     Jantan and Mixie had been unable to do anything to help, could only keep the docking bay images on their screens. They watched in horror as not one ship, but far too many, landed in the bay, quickly herding up the few Neopets who were there. Security Detachment Alpha had already been immobilized.

     “We-we’ll have to warn people,” Mixie finally stuttered out, turning to her keyboard. “We can’t just let them-”

     “Where will they escape to?” Jantan asked dully. “They’ve already taken control of all the ships, and the escape pods were supposed to be serviced next week. All we can hope for is to be treated as civilians and herded back down to Neopia.”

     “Jan, we have to fight,” Mixie said angrily. “Don’t just roll over and show your belly; let’s beat these guys!”

     Before he could protest, a crackle sounded from the discarded headsets. Both pets grabbed them and jammed them on their heads.

     “Guards,” a heavy voice resounded. “We don’t want any more interference from security. You can take care of that, right?”

     Mixie grabbed the mouthpiece before Jantan could get to it. “Absolutely not! We’re sending down squads right now, so you’d better get back in your stinkin’ ships and back to where you came from!”

     Mixie wasn’t one for subtlety, Jantan thought dully, hissing at her to calm down.

     “Now, I know you want to cooperate,” the heavy voice continued. “Though all civilians will be treated as civilians, I’m sure we could give some the special class of interference, say... your families?”

     Both guards fell silent.

     “Don’t think we can’t find out who you are. Now, your choice should be clear. You can retaliate, and condemn not only yourselves, but also your loved ones- or you could pretend that nothing’s happened, and you will be escorted back to Neopia with the rest of the civilians. And your families.”

     Mixie quietly set the mouthpiece on the table.

     “You have five minutes.”

     Wasting no time, Jantan opened up his neomail, and started typing. Mixie, though unsettled, glared at him. “I can’t believe you’d make a decision like that so quickly. I know it’s tough, but we can’t just let them win! And honestly, do you really think they’re just going to let us all back down on Neopia, like everything’s hunky-dory in the world?”

     Jantan clicked ‘send’, and the message he had typed popped up on Mixie’s screen- he had sent it to all security and employee computers, after all. As she read it, her eyes opened wider.

     Ignore previous alert. There is nothing to worry about. All mysterious ships in the docking bay are hereby considered authorized and may come and go as they please. Everything’s fine, we’re all fine, here, now, thank you.

     “But, Jan...” she looked at him, clearly confused. “That’s not the usual cancellation message at all. Won’t someone guess that something’s up?”

     He grinned back. “I’m hoping so. But all we can wish for now is that it’s one of our guys that figures out what’s going on, and not one of the enemies.”

     Mixie shook her head and she took off her headset. “Jantan. There’s only one person who would do this.”

     “I know, Mixie. I think it’s him, too.”

     They stared at the images on their computers, both feeling overwhelmed. If they were right, Sloth had finally returned.

To be continued...

 
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