His Side of the Story: Apprentice
You may wish to start at the beginning...
Parlax stood, eyes closed, in the middle of the room. He held his blaster loosely at his side, mere centimeters away from the orange cloth that made up his spacesuit, and to anyone observing, he might have been caught in an engrossing daydream- there was even the faintest hint of a smile on his face. In appearance, therefore, he was utterly defenseless.
A quiet rustle echoed through the room, and a slim, black shape leapt down from the ceiling.
Parlax reacted instantaneously. His eyes snapped open as he swung the blaster up into the air, firing a single shot. As the laser beam shot out of the gun’s muzzle, he crouched down and somersaulted off to the side, keeping his legs and arms tucked into his body. When he jumped back up to his feet, his blaster was still smoking slightly, and the black shape was frozen in midair. Faint static lines rippled through it, destroying its mirage-like appearance.
Parlax sighed, and stuck his blaster back into its holster on his belt, switching the safety on in a fluid movement. He strode over to the room’s door and pressed a key on the keypad next to it. The screen next to the keypad instantly blinked into life, showing a distorted view of a green person who was looking at something off-screen.
“Doctor,” Parlax said quietly. “The simulation froze again.”
“If you don’t sit still, it’ll just hurt more,” Frank told the squirming Grundo with a slight edge of impatience. “And I won’t apply the medication if you keep refusing to cooperate.”
“This is dumb,” Parlax snarled, cringing back into his chair as Frank reached towards his forehead again. “You know I don’t trust you- just lemme do it myself.”
“And run the risk of the bleeding starting again? All over my ship? I think not.” Frank glared mildly at the x-shaped gash on Parlax’s forehead, then shook his head, looking over the young pet. “What did you use to stop it in the first place? Your jacket sleeve?”
Parlax flinched, a startled look in his eyes. “Y-yeah. How’d you know?”
“Your clothes are intact, you aren’t wearing a jacket, and there are threads stuck in the wound,” Frank replied wryly. “I’m assuming you left the jacket in the escape pod- you’re cleaning that up once I’ve finished with this, by the way.” As Parlax started to protest, Frank raised his voice. “If you leave your forehead like it is now it will surely lead to an infection, which may very well spread to your eyes and make you go blind. I’ll have to reopen the gash to clean it properly, but I can keep the bleeding to a minimum, and bandage it properly. Of course, none of this can happen unless you cooperate!”
The Grundo glared at him, still defiant.
Frank sat back, nonchalant. “Unless, of course, you’re afraid it will be painful?”
“Of course not!” Parlax snapped, sitting up straight. “Fine. Do it. It’s not like I care.”
Frank kept his smile to himself as he began to clean the wound. Parlax wanted to be brave very badly, he could tell, and was hardly twitching in his efforts.
“How did this happen?” he suddenly questioned, though he was sure that he already knew the answer.
“Sloth happened,” Parlax growled, keeping his head still as he grimaced. “We all thought he had been destroyed when the Space Faerie blew up his ship, so we weren’t as vigilant as we were supposed to be. An’ it was just me and Gorix and Aaron and Onex, and it was just exploring another part of the docking bay... it wasn’t supposed to be dangerous.”
Frank paused for a moment, looking down at Parlax and realizing again how very young he was. The Grundo wasn’t even telling him the story anymore- his eyes were closed, he was reliving the moment.
“Aaron and Onex had found a room off to the side, so they were investigating it, and Gorix was up in one of the abandoned ships on the other side of the bay, trying to figure out how to get it started. I was just next to one of the pods, since I wanted to find out what it was for, and- he got me. Grabbed me from behind, covered my mouth. Told me I was going to go out and bring him back some rations and energy packs from the supply deck, or he’d kill me. Told me if I did anything different, he’d get my friends. I- I panicked. I didn’t want to get hurt, and I couldn’t go and risk him getting the others. So I yanked myself away from him, and fell onto the panel of buttons on the pod. And the pod was humming and he was muttering threats at me as he grabbed the back of my jacket and this door in the pod started to open...”
Parlax drew in a shuddering breath, his shoulders tensing. Frank opened up the infection medication and started to gently rub it into the open gash, his mind caught in the story.
“I remembered I had a blaster, then, and tried to get it out, but he was quicker. He yanked my arm behind my back and twisted me around, trying to hit me with something, a broken piece of metal, I think. I ducked, and he got my face instead, twice.” Parlax flinched at the memory. “It hurt, it hurt so much, and I just wanted to get away, so I kicked him, and dove into the pod when he let me loose for a second, and I hit all the buttons I could see in front of me, and the door closed before he could get through. And then the pod started, it started moving, and I didn’t know what to do to make it stop...”
Sympathy was not what he was feeling at the moment, Frank realized. That was good- he loathed sympathy. Nor did he feel the need to protect this young pet who had gone through a great deal in a short period of time- Parlax was not the sort of pet who would welcome that. But, if he could, he did want to help. He wanted to see this young pet mature, see him grow more experienced, wiser. It would surely be interesting.
“I don’t see why I’m telling you,” Parlax suddenly grumbled, crossing his arms over his worn shirt as he opened his eyes. “You look just like Sloth. You’re probably just as dangerous. What, are you both the same species of Neopet?”
Frank stared at Parlax for a moment, startled. When he looked away again, he could barely keep a smirk off of his face.
“Yes, it’s something like that.”
Frank turned so that he was facing the screen, his red eyes unfazed. “I thought I taught you how to reset it last time,” he said, his fingers flashing over his keyboard.
“You did. But this time, the figure didn’t disappear, so I think it’s a different glitch.”
“Hmm.” Frank paused in his typing for a moment, apparently looking at something off-screen. “Looks like you’re right. The reset sequence should still set things straight, but you’ll need to resubmit the statistics you require.”
“Got it.” Parlax started carefully typing out the code he had recently memorized into his keypad, then glanced back over at the video screen, fingers still moving. “Have you figured out what caused this one yet?”
Frank, who had started typing again, lifted his eyebrows without looking at Parlax. “Come now, how many times do I have to tell you--“
“- your battle simulation system is rudimentary to begin with, and errors are generally expected from the company that produces it,” Parlax grumbled, impatient.
“Then why keep asking?”
Parlax grinned mischievously. “Well, it just seems like you ought to be able to figure it out, seeing as you know practically everything else in the world- or out of it.” Frank rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I’m just curious.”
“Of course. You want to learn everything, after all.”
“I believe I’ve told you this already- don’t follow me.”
Parlax frowned as he leaned against the wall nearby, crossing his arms again. “Maybe I just want to make sure you aren’t up to something.”
Frank shook his head as he started to type on the keyboard. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m always doing something.”
“Up to something bad, then.” He leaned forward, trying to get a glimpse of the screen. “What language is that?”
“Neskiani, from five stars away, and you’d never need to know it.”
“Because this computer was manufactured there, and thus its programs were written in the same language.” He jabbed one of the keys, his voice impatient. “Now, will you let me think?”
For a few minutes, Parlax stood on tiptoe to read the labels on the boxes stored in the room, and Frank was free to type without interruption. Then--
“What’s an amplifier?”
Frank ground his teeth.
“Amplifier comes from the word amplitude,” he grumbled, “which I’m assuming you already know. That one is probably used to increase current--”
“The current with electricity?”
“Yes, the current with electricity.” Frank paused, and looked back at the young Grundo. “I’m surprised you remembered that.”
“I like understanding things. Remembering helps.”
Frank closed his eyes. For the past few days, ever since Parlax had been stranded on his ship, the Grundo had followed him doggedly, and questioned him continuously on what he was doing and why. It annoyed Frank to no end, but the reason for the Grundo’s actions was, perhaps, more complicated than he’d originally thought.
“Is that why you’re following me, then? To understand things?”
“Partially,” Parlax replied casually, brushing off a film of dust on a box’s label. “Of course, I also have to make sure you aren’t in league with Sloth against the Resis-“ He suddenly clamped his mouth shut and glared at Frank.
“The Resistance? You Neopets would go for an obvious name.”
“It’s what we are,” Parlax replied simply, turning his scowl to his feet. “I don’t know what you’re doing up here, but someone’s got to protect the Space Station from Sloth, especially now that he’s trying to recruit.”
Frank frowned at the word ‘recruit’- his job would be much more difficult if there were Neopets in league with his clone. “So, you’re a member of this ‘Resistance’, never mind that you’re, what, nine--”
“I’m twelve, thank you--”
“You’re a child. You have no business putting yourself in dangerous situations, do you realize that?”
“I want to help!”
Frank looked at the young Grundo’s face and laughed in disbelief. “Help? No, no, you aren’t a- a charitable type. What you want is power, Parlax, and you think the Resistance can give you that. Don’t frown at me; you know I’m right.”
Parlax paused before speaking. “I’m good at leading,” he said quietly, his voice dark. “I’m good at taking charge and making sure things go as planned. But people never let kids do that. And in this case, experience, age, all that is useless. Everyone’s starting from the beginning in the fight against Sloth, and I’ve got every chance to get to the top. Yeah, I want power, but because I can use it, and use it right. All I need to do is learn.”
Frank was quiet for a moment after Parlax was finished, because he was surprised. Somehow, somewhere, he had come to respect the Grundo- and for him, respect always needed to be earned. Still, he knew what his task needed to be.
He looked at Parlax and nodded, suppressing the sudden urge to smile. “You need to learn? Then I’ll teach you.”
Parlax pressed the last key in the sequence, and the figure hanging in the air evaporated. The screen showing Frank split in half, one side showing the video feed, the other a list of instructions in a language he still couldn’t read. He had done enough experimenting with the commands that he knew what each did, though, and pressed the symbol that resembled a circle with two lines striking through it. The screen changed, and he started tweaking the options back to the states he liked them in.
He paused before pressing the final key to loosen his blaster in its holster, right hand lightly holding the grip. The training routine always varied in starting delay time, to teach anticipation, so he had to be on his toes the entire time. Then, as quickly as possible, he pressed the key and stepped back into the swiftly dimming light.
Silence; there was no movement in the room. He had closed his eyes, as sight was useless when the enemy was probably behind you, but his antenna were alert to any possible scrap of noise. When a second had passed with no attack, he opened his eyes again and twirled around on his feet, using the chance to put the wall at his back.
As he moved, he caught a glimpse of a dark shape hurtling down from the ceiling to his left, almost noiselessly. It didn’t take any thought to grasp the blaster more tightly and yank it out, switching off the safety and firing at the shape in one fluid movement, but it did take an instant for him to formulate a method of retreat. He dove to the right as red lasers beamed into the air above him, keeping his shooting arm free and his head tucked in, but stumbled on the landing. His balance had never been good, despite his many attempts at improving it.
In the meantime, he had heard the tell-tale pattering of feet coming from the other side of the room, sound effects generated by the system to add a sense of reality to the simulation. Muttering under his breath, he rolled onto his back and aimed at the dark shapes heading towards him, firing three times. The third bolt caught one right in the middle, dissolving it in midair, but the second missed altogether, and the first only clipped the other figure on the side. It turned the dull gray of disabled but dangerous.
He was near the corner now, and he scrambled back up to his feet, trying to get a steady eye on the rapidly moving black shape ahead of him so he could get a decent shot off. But before he could even raise his arm, he felt a small, hot circle appear on his back.
The lights went back up from their dimmed state, and the figures all evaporated. Parlax grumbled as he turned around, searching for the numbers on the screen. He hadn’t even heard another enemy come up behind him, but one had certainly gotten him that way. He still had training to do.
As he approached the screen, he noticed that the Doctor hadn’t cut off the video feed. That was unusual, as he was usually preoccupied with whatever he was up to at the time. But this time, he still had it going. And... he was watching.
With a sinking feeling, Parlax realized that the Doctor had figured out what he was planning to do, but a week too early.
Parlax stared in utter rapture at the small object before him.
“It’s just a pen,” Frank grumbled, slightly annoyed.
“But it contains the ink inside the tube,” Parlax said in a hushed voice, “so you can write without interruption, with no need for an inkwell. And it can even hide the point inside itself, to keep the ink from spreading carelessly!” Yet again, he clicked the top of the pen with great relish, watching the point retreat automatically.
“I don’t see how you can take in concepts like particle physics and robotic engineering with complete ease, yet still become stupefied at the sight of a ballpoint pen.”
But even as he was saying it, Frank realized that he did understand. Those concepts were just that to Parlax- concepts. They were completely removed from anything he might have learned before, and something akin to magic to him. They could be taken for granted until he came to completely understand them, but a ballpoint pen would seem like a miracle to someone who’d used quills their entire life.
Parlax seemed to shake himself awake, and took the pen in hand with something akin to reverence. “Alright, fine, so tell me- why does this need to be done by hand? I thought your data entry had been perfected to the point where everything could be done electronically.”
Frank made a sound that could have been a snort, if it had come from a less dignified person. “Paperwork, dear Parlax, is the one thing the universe cannot seem to get rid of.”
Parlax ignored the sarcastic edge to his voice and glared up at him. “It shouldn’t be necessary for me to file all these reports, anyway, since it isn’t like we can teach you anything.”
“On the contrary- scientists are always looking for new worlds where strands of magic are developing, never mind how little progress has been made in investigations. From a research position alone, many leaps in knowledge could be made from investigation on Neopia.”
“That doesn’t make these forms any less boring.”
Frank’s mouth twitched. In some ways, Parlax was still very much a child.
“And what about your side of the bargain? You need to teach us, too, according to your own galactic policies.” Parlax glanced up from his writing. “And I know you’ve been holding out on me.”
“Oh, but there’s a great deal that you pets aren’t ready to learn yet,” Frank said with a sigh, completely serious now. “There are some design plans for weapons that you need never see. Cloning’s another example--“
Frank mentally cursed himself. He had walked right into this one. “It’s when you make an exact duplicate of a person,” he said casually, keeping his face composed. “Now, medicine is a different case entirely--“
Parlax’s voice was very quiet and calm. “Doctor- is Sloth a clone of you?”
Frank called himself an idiot in the twelve different languages he had learned on previous planets before answering. “Yes, Parlax.” He smiled wryly. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you- my full name is Frank Quinn Sloth. For obvious reasons, I’m planning on going by my first name while I stay near this planet.”
For a very long moment, Parlax was completely silent, still. When he spoke again, his voice was strangely poisonous. “You know there’s only one question I want to ask.”
Frank closed his eyes, smiling inwardly- he loved making speeches. “Neopia is a young world, with great potential to develop, but it’s in a stasis- there’s no catalyst to ignite a change. How long will it take for corruption to set in, if events continue as they are? How long before someone whose thoughts are centered on profit, rather than research, stumbles upon the vast natural resources here? How long before the different Neopets on the surface form their own individual societies, and war against each other, with no thought for cooperation? By bringing an individual, alien element into factor, the people of Neopia must bond together and form one nationality, a single nationality that will keep them all bound together through any challenges that may hit them in the future. I’m playing the part of chance, Parlax, by giving Neopia this opportunity to grow, to strengthen, to prepare for whatever may come in the years ahead. Yet I’ll still be up here, in control, so that no great damage will come about from my actions.”
“You’ll have to be careful with that,” Parlax said casually.
Frank opened his eyes, surprised. “But--”
“I don’t take a normal view of things; you know that already. Gorix always told me I was practical to the point of brutality.” Parlax frowned down at his pen abstractly. “But most people aren’t as, uh, logical as I am. And I doubt that most people would take the time to figure out that you know what you’re doing. So do yourself a favor, and don’t get too drastic.”
“I’m not stupid,” Frank protested.
A wide smile flashed across Parlax’s face. “Oh, I know that.”
Frank considered the young Neopet for a moment before the corner of his mouth twitched up in a small answering smile. “I’ve never given you a proper tour of the ship, correct?”
Parlax shot him a wary look.
“Oh, come on. That paperwork can wait- we’ll start with the battleroom, I think. You’ll like that.”
Parlax tried his best to prevent the inevitable. “Um, so, you know what I said before--“
“Please, Parlax, spare me the theatrics. You’ve still not a good bluffer.” Frank rapped out a pattern on the keyboard in front of him, and a column of data scrolled down Parlax’s screen. “You’ve been pulling up the construction files of escape pods frequently these last two weeks, continuously monitoring the location of the ‘space station’, and now I find you training yourself in a horridly slapdash and hurried fashion, when you’re usually thorough in everything you do. The only conclusion I can come up with is that you’re planning on leaving soon.”
“Well...” Parlax sighed, and gave up. “Yeah. That’s just about everything.”
A few awkward seconds passed. “I thought you were enjoying learning here,” Frank finally said, almost petulantly.
“I have been.” He started to scratch at the thin bandages on his forehead that had replaced the heavier ones a few days previously, then caught himself. “But I have to go back. I need to help.”
“You mean you need to secure your position in the Resistance.”
Parlax didn’t bother with trying to argue. After a few more moments had passed, he forced himself to look back to the screen, where Frank was leaning back in his chair, frowning. He tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind.
“Well.” The green figure on the screen cleared his throat. “No one’s forcing you to stay here. Certainly I’m not. Do what you want.”
“Doctor--” Parlax grimaced when the connection was suddenly broken, and the image flickered out.
“Have you ever had a best friend?”
Frank looked up, surprised that he hadn’t heard Parlax entering the room. The young Grundo was leaning against the control room window, looking down at the planet below with an unfathomable expression.
“No,” Frank replied quietly, turning back to his screen. “I was a loner as a child, and I haven’t stayed in one place for long enough to befriend a person since then.”
Frank sighed, and turned back towards Parlax. He obviously needed someone to talk to, and as Frank was the only other sentient being nearby, he would have to do. “This Gorix personage, I assume?”
“Yes.” Parlax closed his eyes. “He’s a year younger than me, but he’s a smart kid, and loyal to the core. He can get overly emotional, sure, but he’s never let it get in his way. I’d do anything for him.”
“You miss him,” Frank replied. It was a statement, not a question.
“We have the most amazing conversations,” Parlax murmured, lost in memories, “about the difference between good and evil, and...”
Frank listened quietly as the little Grundo continued to talk, trying (with some difficulty) to analyze how he was changing his attitude towards this person who could only be a transitory acquaintance in his life. There was nothing special about Parlax, and absolutely positively no reason for him to still be intriguing. He, Frank Sloth, could not possibly be fond of this child.
And certainly, he couldn’t be saddened by the fact that he knew the Grundo wouldn’t stick around for long.