No Other Way: Part Five
“So, any volunteers to go into the poisonous vent?” asked Allso, cheerily.
“I’m not doing it,” said Jomoro, firmly. “I’m not taking the risk.”
“I... I don’t think I can do it,” said Patsy, nervously. “My sense of direction is appalling, and I’m... I’d be too nervous. I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Drakav’s eyes fell on Allso.
“Excuse me?” Allso said. “Do you really think I would? No. You think you’re all so clever, but I’m not doing it. You’re not getting me that easily.”
“What are you talking about?” said Drakav.
“Oh, never mind,” said Allso. “Anyway, you’re the Defender of Neopia, aren’t you? You go and do it!”
“I would,” said Drakav. “But I’m not sure whether I can.”
Carefully, the Skeith lifted the ventilation shaft – the other three pets stepped away automatically. Drakav tried to lower himself into the hole. But, although his legs and feet were able to slide through, the space was just too small for the rest of his body. He levered himself out again, and pulled the cover shut.
“I can’t,” he said. “I’m too large; I don’t fit.”
“So it’s got to be one of the three of us?” said Allso. “That’s promising, isn’t it? One nervous wreck, one selfish idiot, and me. I wonder who you’re going to want to do this.”
“Believe me,” said Drakav, “I’d much rather do it myself than trust you with this task.”
“Believe me,” said Allso, “you’re not going to get the opportunity to trust me with the task. I’m not doing it.”
“Drakav,” said Patsy, quietly. “There’s something on my neck.”
Allso and the Skeith fell silent.
“Stay still,” said Drakav. “Don’t move.”
Carefully, he inched forward, towards the stationary Tonu.
“That’s it,” he said, softly. “Just... remain still. Trust me.”
Patsy’s face flickered for a second. Drakav’s mind began to swim slightly.
“No!” he shouted, and dived the few feet left between him and the hostess. But, even as his hands drew nearer to her neck, he found himself slipping away...
“Excuse me, madam?” said the Moehog. Patsy turned, and smiled widely at the stranger.
“Good afternoon!” she said cheerfully.
“Can I ask you to step this way please, madam?”
Patsy looked puzzled, but allowed the Moehog to lead her off the busy street she had been shopping on, and into a quieter side alley.
“How may I help you?” she asked, politely.
“I’m Farok,” said the Moehog, flashing a badge at her, too quickly for her to be able to make out anything on it. “From the Defenders of Neopia. We’ve been tipped off that the Smuggler’s Cove are stealing items from Neopia Central, and selling them on to pirates in Krawk Island. Our sources described somebody matching your description as the contact.”
“Er...” Patsy looked stunned. “I’m sorry, sir, but I think you’ve got the wrong person here.”
“What’s in the bag?” asked Farok.
“Oh, this?” said Patsy, holding out the brown paper bag she had been carrying. “It’s a Faerie Paint Brush.”
Farok took the bag, and pulled out the paint brush from inside.
“Where did you get this from?”
“I bought it on the Trading Post,” said Patsy. “Used all my savings.”
“Who is it for?”
“Me. I’ve always wanted to be painted Faerie.”
“I’m sorry, madam, but I’m going to have to confiscate this for the moment,” said Farok.
“But why?” asked Patsy.
“Don’t worry. We’re just going to check the trading records, and ensure the transaction is genuine. The whole process is very quick – if you come by the Defenders Headquarters tomorrow, you’ll be able to collect it again. It’s all procedure, you understand.”
“Very well,” she said. “If you must.”
“Thank you,” said the Moehog. “I’ll have it processed immediately.” He turned, and walked away from Patsy, down through the enclosed space of the alleyway.
“Excuse me,” called Patsy after him, “but isn’t the Headquarters in the other direction?” The figure ignored her. She called again, but he didn’t seem to hear. Anxious to help, she jogged up behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder.
In one swift movement, Farok stopped, spun around, and pinned Patsy to the wall.
“Foolish Tonu,” he hissed, directly into her ear. “Now, you’re going to let me leave with this paint brush, and you’re never going to mention this. Or there will be... consequences.” The last word was uttered in such a way that Patsy was left with no doubts as to what the ‘consequences’ may be. “Do you understand?” Patsy nodded, and Farok released her. Slowly, she sank to the ground.
“Good,” he said, and, chuckling slightly to himself, he continued down the alleyway, paint brush in hand, leaving Patsy sitting, alone in the semi-darkness, tears beginning to trickle their way down her face.
She had no idea how long she sat there, as the wind blew, and her world collapsed around her. Now, she had nothing. Everything she possessed, everything she’d ever worked for, had been taken away in an instant, and her life, which had been so vibrant and hopeful, seemed to have darkened, shattered beyond repair.
The footsteps barely registered in her brain, and she only noticed the Kougra when he sat down next to her, and began to talk.
She told him about the theft, with many pauses for sniffs and more crying, and he listened carefully. And then, he extended her a lifeline.
“You see, I work for Virtupets Space Station,” he said. “And I’m down here for recruitment. One of our hostesses is leaving, and she needs replacing. It pays excellently – you’d be earning back the money you’d lost in no time at all. Comfortable hours, as well – we wouldn’t work you too hard.”
Patsy looked at him, her eyes shining through the tears.
“You... really would?” she said. “You’d give me a job?”
The Kougra beamed.
“Certainly,” he said. “You can start as soon as you’re ready.”
Patsy smiled back at him.
“Thank you!” she said. “You... won’t regret it.”
And, as she shook hands with the Kougra, she realised that he had been the beam of light that she so desperately needed to lighten the misery that had settled around her. For now, she had something – faith. Faith in Neopia. Faith in the kindness of strangers.
* * *
“Patsy, the kitchen floor needs mopping – the chef’s spilled the soup again. And the gentleman in Cabin 221A is complaining again. Apparently, his neighbour’s accusing him of making too much noise. Oh, and the late night Krawk Island shuttle is due to arrive in an hour – make sure the observation decks are clean. Got it?”
Patsy nodded at her boss.
“Mop floor, sort out argument, clean bay. I’ll get right onto it. Er... sir?”
The Kougra frowned at her.
Patsy took a deep breath.
“You said you’d get it to me as soon as possible. You said that a week ago.”
“Patsy,” sighed her boss, “do you really need it now? It’s two in the morning!”
Patsy bowed her head.
The Kougra sighed.
“I’ll get it for you,” he said. “Wait here.”
Patsy curtsied, and the Kougra left, into his office. A moment later he reappeared, envelope in hand. He passed it over.
“Here you go,” he said.
The Tonu took the envelope gratefully.
“Thank you, sir.”
The Kougra’s features softened slightly.
“That’s not a problem,” he said. “You’re a good worker. Now, this ship won’t clean itself. Go!”
Patsy turned, and walked down the corridor, in the direction of the kitchen. She wasn’t relishing the idea of having to clean up after the cook – he was very temperamental, and, if it had been any other night, she might have solved the conflict or cleaned the bay first. But she knew that, just outside the kitchens, she wouldn’t be disturbed.
When she was sure that she was out of sight of her boss, she sank to the floor, leaning against the wall, as she nervously opened the envelope and read the contents.
Then, she reread them.
“No...” she muttered. “This can’t be right.”
But she knew it was. The amount inside the envelope, supposed to represent a month’s work, was a pittance, hardly a fraction of what she had been hoping for. Her thoughts had originally been about earning enough to replace her paint brush in a matter of months. Now, she had barely enough to feed herself.
And there was an awful sinking feeling in her stomach when she replayed the words that the Kougra had said to her. “It pays excellently... comfortable hours...” She’d been betrayed. Again.
But her thoughts were taken off-track by a wailing noise from outside. The alarm. Quickly, she turned towards the kitchen, in the hope that she would be able to avoid the emergency by being locked in there, but no luck – the door slammed shut and locked itself before she even had time to think. She was stuck in the corridor.
From around a corner came three other hostesses, awaiting instruction, and Patsy joined them. A moment later, her boss was bounding up the passage.
“Spread out,” he ordered the four pets. “Enfermera, Alumno, take the east wing of the Station. Verplee, take the north. Patsy, the west. If any passengers are out, take them to one of the observation decks, and keep them out of the way. I’ll go and check with the technicians and find out what’s happening. Go!”
The five parted ways, and Patsy found herself rushing back down one of the corridors, heart pounding. She had never had to deal with an emergency of this magnitude before, and, although she knew what she had to do, she didn’t know how she was going to reassure passengers when she couldn’t reassure herself.
Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be anybody around. She moved swiftly towards the observation deck, passing the control room, where a technician was entering, and down towards the observation deck, ready to check the passengers on board the Station, and ensure that they remained calm, safe and out of the...
Had it been a technician?
Patsy stopped. The glance had been perfunctory, and she’d assumed it had been a technician, but, now she came to think about it, it could have just been a normal figure. A civilian.
She turned, and headed back towards the control room. After all, she told herself, the worst that’ll happen is that the room’ll be full of technicians and I’ll be told to leave.
Reaching the room, she peered inside. There was a technician in there, it was true – young Morlock, who hadn’t been working there much longer than she had – but there was somebody else too. Somebody new.
She stepped inside the room, and instantly realised that something was wrong. For starters, Morlock wasn’t in the room – he was on the other side of the glass partition separating the room from the escape pod. And the other pet in the room, a smartly-dressed Mynci, didn’t look like the sort that was going to change the situation any time soon.
“Perhaps,” he was gloating to Morlock as Patsy entered, “you should have planned your assault on here a little better.”
Patsy took a deep, nervous breath.
“Excuse me, sir?” she said, in a tone which was a lot calmer and more professional than she felt like using. The Mynci turned. “What are you doing?”
“What am I doing?” echoed the other pet. “I’m saving the Station. What do you think I’m doing?”
“But that’s one of the technicians,” explained Patsy. “He’s probably trying to fix the Station.”
“Nonsense,” said the businessman. “That pet is an imposter! He’s trying to destroy your precious ship. You should be grateful that he’s locked himself out of harm's way.”
Behind him, Patsy could see Morlock shaking his head slowly, an I-have-no-idea-what-he’s-on-about smile on his face.
“I’m sure this is all a big misunderstanding,” said Patsy. “No technician on this Station would do something like that – I have the utmost faith on them. Now, I suggest you let Morlock out of the escape pod. One false button press and you’ll eject him from the Station, where he is at the moment.”
“What’s your name?” asked the Mynci.
“Well, my dear Patsy, I think you’ll find that your trust is sadly misplaced. Tell me,” the Mynci turned to Morlock, “technician, what’s wrong with the Station?”
“The thrusters have cut out on this side,” said Morlock. He didn’t look particularly worried. “The Station’s going to start falling towards Neopia. Towards the ocean”
“Right.” The Mynci made an elaborate, almost theatrical nod in the direction of Morlock, before turning to Patsy. “Now, I’m no expert in these matters, but I’d assume that the engines are controlled by the Engine Power lever, yes?” He gestured to a lever – or, rather, the stub of one. The rest had been crudely broken off. “Now, technician, would you like to show Patsy what you’ve got in your hand.”
Morlock didn’t need to show her – she could already see the handle nestled in his palm.
“But...” she stammered, “he’s a... he wouldn’t... I trusted...”
“Ah yes,” said the Mynci. “Trust. Something you have to be very careful with. Unfortunately, the one you’ve chosen to trust has broken the engines, snapped the lever and locked himself in one of the escape pods, and now he intends to leave us stranded here, with the Station plummeting down towards Krawk Island. It looks like you have some trust issues.”
“Krawk Island?” asked Patsy, horrified. Behind the Mynci, she could see Morlock’s eyes widening.
“That’s what the monitor there says,” said the Mynci. “Good job I caught him, then, wasn’t it?”
“But... why?” Patsy asked, looking at Morlock. “Why would you do something like that?”
“You need to let me out,” said the technician. “Now!”
“Don’t do it!” warned the businessman. “It’s what he wants you to do.”
Patsy stood still. She had to make a decision as to who to trust – but she couldn’t. Her trust had been battered and bruised over the past month, and now, she was lost.
“I’ll... I will...” she faltered, before resuming in a slightly more professional tone, “I’ll go and... get another technician. They’ll know what to do.”
She turned to leave the room, and came face to face with an angry-looking Krawk.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, “but I think you should leave...”
The Krawk pushed past her, and she stopped, brushed aside again. Ignored. Unconsidered. Alone, with nobody to trust. Nobody to put her faith in any more.
* * *
The room returned. Drakav pounced.
Patsy shrieked as the Skeith hurtled towards her, but his hands were aiming for the right part of her neck, and his hands clasped firmly around the creature as it leapt off the neck of the Tonu. He landed heavily, almost crashing into the console, which beeped at him, reminding him that only four minutes remained.
“Did you get it?” Patsy asked.
Drakav nodded. He felt a faint nip on his hand from the creature, and
Drakav stood at the window and marvelled. The expanse of space really was something to admire...
“Yes,” he said, firmly. “This is it.”
Carefully, he opened his hands a fraction, and peered inside. Sitting in the small, dark space, peering curiously up at him, was an ordinary Squippit.
Allso looked over his shoulder.
“Is that it?” he asked. “Is that what’s been causing all of this?”
“By the looks of things,” said Drakav.
“Well, it’s a good job you’ve got it. Now we can get back to trying to work out how to get to the control room. You’d better seal it away someplace...”
“...so that we don’t get bothered... what?”
“No,” said Drakav, simply. “I’m not sealing it away. Not yet.”
Allso looked puzzled.
“Why not?” he asked.
Drakav stood up.
“Morlock is out in space because of you. Patsy left him there because of your judgement. Jomoro wants to be you. I need to find out who the spy is, and it could be you. And you haven’t been honest with us.”
“What do you mean?” said Allso.
“I want the truth,” said Drakav. “And I’m going to get it.”
“You’re being unreasonable!” said Allso. “I’m a respectable businessman, and I know what I saw.”
“With all due respect, Allso, I haven’t seen a shred of anything I would trust in you yet.”
“And with all due respect, Drakav, I don’t see how it’s any of your business.”
“We have only your word to go on about Morlock,” said Drakav. “You seem so certain that he’s the spy. We need your evidence. And,” he said, brandishing his cupped hands in the direction of the Mynci, “there’s no other way we’re going to get it.”
Allso looked from Drakav’s stern gaze, to Patsy’s concerned features, to Jomoro’s look of curiosity. He sighed.
“Very well,” he said. “You want the truth? You can have it.”
Drakav walked up to the smartly-dressed Mynci. He knelt, and held his hands against the neck of the businessman. And then, he opened them.
The Squippit looked around for a moment at the new fur in front of him, before it leapt forward and landed on Allso’s body.
The room began to fade out of view once more, and Drakav watched as Allso’s world arranged itself in front of his eyes. And then, the memory began to play.
To be continued...