The Zap that Changed it All: Part One
It all began innocently enough. Saoel had been sent to pick up some food at the store with his big sister, Clara. Saoel resented this chore to begin with, but traveling with his sister made it even worse.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was older than he was and had read more books than he had and beat him every single time they battled. No, Clara just had to celebrate her birthday yesterday, and their owner Emma just had to go buy her a royal paint brush. Now Clara wouldn’t stop bragging.
“Don’t you think this crown gives my already beautiful Acara fur an extra shine?” she was saying now, fingering the jeweled crown perched atop her head so it reflected a shard of light into his eyes.
Saoel groaned. However hard he tried, he just couldn’t shut her voice out.
“Oh come on, little bro, it’s not my fault I’m always so much better than you are,” she continued. “Anyway, maybe Emma will get you a paintbrush for your birthday. Maybe it will be a color that really suits you, like skunk, or something.”
Luckily for Saoel they arrived at the food store that very moment. Clara strutted in through the door, tossing her fluffy fur as if she really were royalty. But Saoel hung back; he had spotted something caught on a nearby bush, blowing and fluttering in the breeze.
He pulled it quickly from the leaves and let his eyes run over it. He recognized it immediately as a piece of the secret laboratory map. His heart skipped a beat. Emma already had eight pieces at home, and none of them looked like this! This was the last piece!
He let his mind wander to the stories he had heard about the lab ray. It could make you stronger, change your color, and even change your species! Those were all the things he needed right now. If he were a big strong Darigan pet, then Clara wouldn’t be able to tease him like she did now.
At that moment the store’s door swing open and Clara emerged, carrying two bags. Saoel quickly hid the map piece behind his back.
“Where did you go?” she snapped irritably, adding, “Well, never mind. Just get over here and help me carry these bags.”
By ‘help’ she apparently meant for Saoel to do all the work, as when he walked over she thrust both bags in his face.
“What,” jeered Saoel as he took the bags, “royalty can’t be bothered with common things like carrying the groceries home? Or are you just too weak to carry all these heavy bags?”
“Careful,” retorted Clara. “I just had a class at the Mystery Island Training School this morning. For your information, I just increased to level one hundred twenty seven. I could toss you and the groceries back home right now without even trying.”
‘Not for long,’ thought Saoel happily, ‘because I’m going to be the first one to get zapped with the lab ray. Then I won’t be a weak little yellow Gelert anymore. I’ll turn into a big tough Darigan Skeith and gain a bunch of levels. And then you won’t be able to toss me anywhere!’
They made it home quickly despite Saoel stumbling under the weight of the bags. As soon as they got through the door, Saoel threw the bags to the floor and ran to Emma, who at the moment was dusting the living room.
“Mommy, look what I found!” he shouted, waving the map piece wildly through the air like a flag. “It’s the last piece to the secret lab map! Can I get zapped? Please?! Please?! Pleeeaaase?!”
He felt Clara grab the map piece from his paws and shove him aside.
“Mommy, I wanna get zapped first! I’m older,” she said. “And the Super Usuki set I got for my birthday broke already! I need a present to make up for it!”
“Of course it’s going to break when you try to make it fly off the roof!” retorted Saoel. “Just because it’s super doesn’t mean it really flies!”
“Come on, Mom, please?” begged Clara, staring up at Emma with big sad eyes.
“But Mom, she gets everything!” whined Saoel, grabbing for the map piece. Clara held it tauntingly just out of his reach.
“Stop!” shouted Emma, overwhelmed by both pets shouting at once. Saoel and Clara froze, each staring mutinously at the other.
“Now what’s this about getting zapped?” said Emma.
“I found the last piece to the secret lab map,” said Saoel, “and I want to be zapped first by the lab ray!”
“But I was born first,” said Clara, adding, “And I’m your favorite!”
“You’re her snobbiest, you mean,” shot back Saoel.
Immediately the two began to argue again.
“Stop or else no one is getting zapped,” shouted Emma over the noise.
They both quieted immediately.
“Now, Clara, you are older, but you were just painted. Don’t you think your brother deserves a turn?”
“No!” said Clara, crossing her arms and sticking out her lower lip.
“If you let Saoel get zapped first, then I’ll take you to the store and you can pick out whichever Usuki set you want,” Emma pressed on.
Clara seemed to think about this for a moment.
“Well... all right, I guess he can get zapped first,” she finally said. She reluctantly handed the map piece to Saoel.
“Yes!” shouted Saoel, leaping up in the air in delight. “Can I go now? Can I? Can I? Can I?!”
“Well, I can’t take you right now; Clara has a beauty contest today and we have to leave in a few minutes.”
“But that will take all day!” exclaimed Saoel.
He didn’t want to wait. And he certainly didn’t want to go to another one of those stupid beauty contests. He wasn’t sure if he could survive hours and hours of people telling Clara how beautiful she was. He suddenly had an idea.
“I can go all by myself,” he said, puffing out his chest importantly.
“I’m not sure... it’s a long way there and you could get lost,” fretted Emma.
“Honestly, Mom, I’ll have a map with me. And I’m not a baby anymore!”
Emma looked at him for a long time, thinking.
“I don’t know...” she said.
“Please?” asked Saoel, gazing up at Emma with the same expression she had seen Clara use whenever she wanted something.
“All right, I guess you can go,” said Emma finally. “Let me get the other map pieces.”
Emma disappeared into the storage room, and came back a moment later with eight other map pieces. She handed them to Saoel.
“You make sure that you come home as soon as you get zapped,” Emma told him.
“I will,” promised Saoel as he flung the door open and darted outside before Emma could change her mind.
* * * * *
It was a long way from Neopia Central where Saoel lived to get to the islands where the map said that the secret lab was located. Saoel flagged down a cab that was pulled by two large Eyries to fly him across the vast ocean.
Even the mere half hour trip by cab felt unbearably long to Saoel. He fidgeted in impatience the whole way there, looking out the window every once in a while at the vast expanse of seemingly unending, churning water. Finally he spotted the peak of the island far off on the horizon.
When at last they landed on the sandy beach, Saoel jumped out immediately. The sand was presently warm under his paws, and around him he smelled the scent of exotic plants and fruits and heard birds singing.
He looked down at his map. From the looks of it, the lab was... under the water?
He stopped. That would be great if he was a Kiko or a Peophin or a Flotsam, but he was a Gelert, and he couldn’t hold his breath that long!
It was then that he spotted a red Kougra walking along the beach toward a waiting Eyrie Cab. He quickly ran over to him.
“Hi...” he said uncertainly as he stepped up to the Kougra. “Do you know how to get into the lab? Do you really have to swim?”
“No,” replied the Kougra, smiling. “I just got back from the lab, as a matter of fact. There’s a tunnel not far from here near that big rock.”
The Kougra gestured toward a large boulder farther down the beach.
“The tunnel leads down below the water into the lab,” he continued.
“Thanks,” replied Saoel.
He ran over to the boulder and quickly located the tunnel. He entered it quickly, his excitement building. He was finally going to be better than Clara! He was finally going to beat her at something!
The trek was dark and slow. The tunnel was dim and lined with dirt, and every so often Saoel would trip over the roots of some water plant that had grown down into the tunnel, or feel the drip of water on his head from a crack in the roof above him where the water leaked through. Once in a while he passed a pet and their owner on their way back up the tunnel. Some pets were talking and laughing excitedly, admiring their new wings or showing off their new rare color. Some were crying, swearing that they would never set foot in the secret lab again. But Saoel didn’t stop. This would be worth it, he was sure of it!
He finally saw light in the tunnel ahead of him and stumbled out into the strangest place he had ever seen. It was full of buzzing, whirring machines and flashing lights. Wires snaked around the humming contraptions, all leading to one huge laser-like device that pointed directly down at a metal table.
But by far the strangest sight was the yellow Scorchio who operated the ray. His hair was pure white, his claws were long and gnarled, and his eyes bore the look of a madman. He was looking right at Saoel.
“Perfect,” he said, his voice low and evil sounding.
“W-what?” stammered Saoel. His previous excitement was replaced by uncertainty. There was something sinister and evil and Slothish about this lab.
“You’re perfect for my newest experiment,” replied the Scorchio.
Saoel wasn’t sure that he wanted to be part of this menacing Scorchio’s experiment. But then he remembered Clara and how he was finally going to be better than her.
“Ok,” said Saoel determinedly, stepping forward eagerly and laying down on the table. Immediately iron clasps closed around his paws.
“What kind of experiment is this?” he asked, suddenly uneasy again.
“I will combine the power of the lab ray and the petpet lab ray into one ultimate ray of doom,” said the Scorchio, walking over to a large lever.
Doom? That didn’t sound good. What if this new ray of ‘doom’ did something horrible to him? He suddenly imagined himself with white hair and gnarled claws like the Scorchio. It wasn’t a pleasant picture.
It was then that Saoel saw a smaller version of the lab ray made out of some kind of old cans. That must be the petpet lab ray.
Saoel decided that he no longer wanted to be zapped by the lab ray.
“Um, sir? I don’t want to be zapped anymore,” he said.
But it was too late. The Scorchio was already pulling the lever.
To be continued...