Daylight's Dirge: Part Three
The striped Pteri looked at him, astonished. Pariel half-wondered why. It wasn’t like that was an odd idea. But then, Professor Fugelce didn’t know that he was talking to Sloth.
“Say again?” Fugelce managed. “I thought I heard you say you wanted to take over Neopia.”
“I do.” Sloth shrugged Pariel’s shoulders, stepping towards Fugelce. “Do you doubt me?”
“Who are you?”
“Doctor Frank Sloth, your lord and master.” Sloth smiled slightly, watching Fugelce’s face transform from anger to disbelief.
“But you’re a Ruki.”
“That is simply the form I have to work with, as it was a Ruki who found the Space Faerie’s charm out in the rubble of my fleet.” Sloth glared at the Pteri. “Would you like me to quote the order I gave you when I told you to start working with artificial intelligence?”
Professor Fugelce backed against the wall, eyes wide open. “No, no. You don’t need to do that, Lord. I believe you. What do you require of me?”
“Spread the word among the scientists still loyal to me,” Sloth said, pacing back and forth through Fugelce’s cluttered lab. “Tell them that I am back, to stay quiet about it, and to resume work on whatever I had last ordered them to do, so long as it will not be obvious to Valka. And tell them...” Sloth paused, smiling. “Tell them that I will succeed this time, and there is no doubt. Do you understand?”
The Pteri nodded.
“Oh, and begin work on warrior robots, if you can hide it from Valka.” Sloth turned, exiting the room. Without warning, he gave Pariel control of his body again. Go to a public computer. One where they don’t ask for your ID.
Pariel nodded, heading back to the lifts. The civilian levels had plenty of public computers, since nobody at Virtupets had found a way to issue them all IDs. “Just remember that we’ll need to enter a valid name,” he muttered, entering a lift. Pressing the button labeled ‘9’, he kept talking. “How’re you going to do that?”
Civilians had nametags when I controlled the station. I assume they still do.
“Oh. Yeah.” He’d forgotten about that. His job didn’t require seeing civilians in more than a passing way, after all. At least, it hadn’t. He sighed, stepping out of the lift into chaos. The levels dedicated to civilians were a riot of color and light. Panels on the ceiling showed images from the outside of the space station in real time, and Pariel kept dodging visitors more interested in the ceiling than paying attention to where they were going. At least it was easy enough to glance at the nametags.
As soon as Pariel stopped in front of an empty computer, Sloth took over. His finger raced over the keys, entering a name without pause. Pariel didn’t recognize the name, but he’d been more worried about not running into anyone than looking at nametags. When Sloth had entered the system, he glanced at the links and sighed. A few taps on the keyboard later, he’d entered an address for a message to be sent to.
Wait. You’re sending a message to Fyora?
“Yes,” Sloth muttered, keeping his voice quiet enough not to be heard over the endless babble around them. “And you’d do well to remember that you have no idea what you’ve gotten into. He may have spoken, bringing you to the charm, but there is still much to do.”
Why are you sending a message to Fyora?
Sloth sighed. “Because, despite what it seems like, we’re friends.”
Pariel tried to reply to that, but couldn’t come up with any words. Especially as he read the words Sloth had written. ‘Bright Star – the time is coming.’
“Be quiet, Pariel. We’ll talk more after you write a message for hackers to find.” Sloth typed a command, sending the message off to its destination, and then released control of their body to Pariel. The green Ruki was left staring at a blank screen. Don’t forget to make it obvious only to hackers.
“Like I have any idea of what hackers know that most don’t,” Pariel muttered, beginning to type. ‘Sorry for this message. Lior kind of forced me to send it. Of course, you just want to know what this is all about. There’s a message spreading through the station, and nobody knows where it started. Historically, that only happens when someone’s trying to say something that people don’t want known. I don’t know what this message is for, but I thought you might want to know about it. So yeah. Berate me if you want. Actually, don’t. Conk me on the head with a rock, like a Tyrannian might. ‘kay, this message is over now.’
“Is that acceptable?” Pariel’s fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to send it off into cyberspace whenever Sloth commanded. Instead, Sloth took over his body, editing the passage before sending it into a completely separate database that Pariel had no idea existed.
“It’s where hackers make their living,” Sloth said, still typing. “They hack into this and think that they’re so special for figuring out how to get in. I don’t see why they imagine other people can’t get in; it’s not that hard.”
Says you. Screens flickered past almost faster than Pariel could register them. How do you type that fast?
Sloth laughed. “I created the system.”
Which is why you know all the loopholes.
“Of course.” His fingers paused for a moment, leaving the screen on the image of a spotted Lupe. Sloth inhaled sharply. “He’s still around?” Pariel glimpsed the name under the Lupe. Fideus. Almost as soon as Pariel read the word, Sloth began typing again and the screen returned to a flickering blur.
Who was that? Pariel asked, not bothering to try and look at the screen anymore.
Sloth didn’t answer until he cleared the screen, leaving it ready for the next user. “An old acquaintance of mine,” he said, turning and walking through the crowd. “He knows all of us, actually, but he’s never told any of us how.”
All of who?
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Sloth smiled, and Pariel felt it through the muscles they shared. “For now, how long can you stay on the station without people noticing?”
A week or so, I think. Depends on how soon the others who share my hanger get back and how soon they want to leave. I’m always the first out, usually by a day or so. Why?
Sloth entered a lift, returning control to Pariel. Because we’ll need to wait for these messages to bear fruit.
“Which means waiting.” Pariel sighed, pressing the button for level 15. “How long ‘till the first replies come in?”
In optimal circumstances? Probably two hours. Four’s more likely, in these.
Pariel nodded, leaning against the wall of the lift as it rose. He could feel the effects of gravity lightening, the bonds holding him to the floor growing weaker. By the time the lift stopped, only the most tenuous touch kept him from floating. Pariel smiled, leaping out of the lift with a gentle push. Spreading his arms to keep the walls a safe distance away, the Ruki bounded down the corridor. He’d left his magnetic boots in his room, and he didn’t particularly care.
Catching hold of the airlock’s handle, Pariel brought himself to a stop. The airlock’s indicator light shone green, and Pariel quickly entered, barely glancing at the matching light on the next door before passing through that one as well. The dock was perfectly empty, except for Pariel’s salvager. The dark green and red craft sat in the middle of the dock, blocky shape anything but beautiful. All of its pincers were folded by its sides, and the cargo compartment was sealed.
With two long leaps, Pariel reached the cargo door. Typing in the access code as quickly as he could, the Ruki barely waited for the door to open before he entered. Reaching to the side, he turned on the lights, illuminating the pile of scrap metal. With a sigh and a smile, Pariel set to work, dragging out any pieces small and light enough. The low gravity helped, of course, but there was still only so much he could do.
After half an hour of carrying metal, Sloth spoke up. You could have brought robots. Then you wouldn’t need to do any of this.
“But then I wouldn’t have done anything,” Pariel said, setting down a twisted hunk of metal that looked like it might have been a firing ray at one point in time. Flexing weary fingers, he added, “And I need to get exercise somehow. Even if this isn’t much, it’s something. And a whole lot more fun than using the gym.”
Sloth stayed silent, and Pariel returned to work. After an hour, the green Ruki sighed, sitting down on a chunk of metal. Of the small scraps, what was left in the cargo bay could wait. He’d come back tomorrow and bring robots to carry out the giant beams. Going to check for messages now? Sloth asked.
Pariel jerked upright. He’d forgotten that Sloth could read his mind. “Go ahead,” he mumbled, letting himself fade to the background. “I don’t know how.”
Sloth laughed, the rich sound coming from Pariel’s throat. Rising, Sloth took them back out of the hanger, breezing through the airlock without care. With a few precise jumps, they were back at the lift, and Sloth called it, crossing his arms as he waited for the lift to arrive. Drowsing in the background, Pariel found it amusing that Sloth’s thoughts were filled with memories of when it took bare seconds for lifts to come from the lowest depths to the highest.
Was that in the days when there were only a few levels? he asked.
“In a way.” Sloth’s thoughts misted, and Pariel found himself looking at nothing more than the reflections of his own mind and what his eyes – Sloth’s eyes – saw. The lift arrived, and Sloth entered, pressing the button labeled ‘8’ without even looking. “It was from a place you will never know.”
What do you mean? Pariel pried at Sloth’s thoughts, but they remained opaque to him. Don’t we share a mind now? Won’t I know everything you do?
“In time.” Sloth’s deep laugher echoed in the lift. “But by that time, who will you be?”
The lift’s door opened, and Sloth stepped out into the crowd. Pariel wanted to question him about what he’d just said, but by the time he’d figured out what to ask, Sloth was at a computer station. You see, Sloth said, it’s a simple enough matter to get the message out there. The interesting part is seeing who replies, and how. His fingers paused, and an image filled the screen. Pariel peered at it, trying to figure out why Sloth put it on the screen. It was just a picture of a Faerie Pteri in flight.
Then Sloth’s fingers moved again, and the left eye of the Pteri enlarged to fill the screen. ‘Rainbow Room,’ tiny text read. ‘0300 6/12. We will meet.’
What does that mean? Pariel asked after a moment.
Sloth blanked the screen, adding a secondary command Pariel didn’t recognize. It means we’re making progress.
To be continued...