Daylight's Dirge: Part Five
The two months Sloth gave Fugelce to build his robots passed without any true problems. Fugelce got flustered at the harsh specifications Sloth gave, but each time Parlax handed in a report, the Pteri had managed to go above and beyond the specifications given. Each time Pariel came back form a salvage run, he marked most of his cargo specifically for Fugelce and his team, ensuring a relatively steady supply of metal for their projects.
Parlax reported every few days, streaming coded messages to Pariel’s salvager if he had to report while Pariel was on a salvage run. But the Grundo usually reported while they were on the space station, and he reported in person when possible. Fugelce occasionally joined those meetings, but more often Parlax simply included a progress report on the warbot project.
When the professor did join them, however, he always brought a robot to demonstrate what he and his team were doing. With each robot, Sloth’s approval grew, as each robot was closer to the warrior robot he wanted. When Fugelce brought a fully-functional warbot to a meeting, two months to the day from when Sloth issued his original orders, Pariel-Sloth took one look and smiled.
“Parlax.” Sloth didn’t turn his gaze from the Bori-styled robot. It was using its metal claws to good effect on a punching bag. Fugelce scurried in to pick up material as it fell out of the bag, careful to avoid his robot’s attacks. “Do you have anyone willing to go on a mission doomed to failure?”
The split Grundo hesitated. “That depends. How many do you want?”
“Two per group, I think.” The green Ruki nodded slightly, a smile on his face. “The volunteers should be able to command the robots in battle, if it’s necessary.”
“It won’t be,” Fugelce hurried to say. “The robots can find the best tactics for any given situation.”
Pariel doubted that. From what Fugelce had demonstrated of his robot, it seemed impressive for them to target the right team. Admittedly, the videos Fugelce had shown them were of robots battling each other, which was different than setting them loose among the peoples of Neopia, but it worried him.
Parlax narrowed his eyes. “Yes, my lord. I can do that. They’ll be fanatics, of course, so they’ll almost certainly use your name a as battle cry. Is that acceptable?”
“So long as our organization is well hidden.”
“It’s hidden.” Parlax frowned, typing a few commands into the computer. An image of Neopia filled the screen. “Where are you planning to attack?”
“Qasala.” Sloth expanded the city to fill the screen. “Almost nobody will care. Those who do won’t matter much. Choose an outlying town or area and tell your fanatics to destroy it.”
Parlax studied the image intently. “I’ll do my best, as will they.”
“How many warbots do you want for this?” Fugelce asked, fidgeting.
“How many do you have?” Pariel asked. He knew the answer, of course. The reports Parlax gave were thorough, and the lab data held more information that he knew what to do with. Sloth, however, spent hours going over the figures.
“I can have twenty ready by the end of the week,” Fugelce said.
“Send half with Parlax’s fanatics,” Sloth said. “Use the rest as test subjects as you try and improve them.”
The striped Pteri bowed. “As you wish, my lord.”
“Go. Prepare yourself.”
Fugelce hurried off, muttering to himself.
Sloth turned back to Parlax, arms crossed. “How likely is this to break our cover?” he asked softly.
“I don’t know.” Parlax sighed, blanking the computer screen. “At the first attack, unlikely that they’ll really know, or do, anything. After three or four? It’s harder to say.”
The Ruki closed his eyes, concentrating. “Make sure that we have enough spare robots for another attack two days after the attack on Qasala. And another two days after that. I don’t care what tricks Fugelce pulls to get that done. We need to keep surprise on our side for that long.”
“You’re just going to give more credence to the idea that you’re back, my lord.”
“What’s the other option?” Sloth shook his head, eyes open and focused on Parlax. “We’ll need to be able to pull off a schedule like that as soon as the robots are finalized. A harsher schedule, even. Let Fugelce begin worrying now. It’ll pay off in the end.”
It’s all I can do, right now. Sloth sighed. “I’ll be out in space when you begin the mission. Keep the video records from the robots for me.”
Parlax bowed. “I will, my lord.”
Sloth nodded sharply, turning to leave. As he began to open the door, Parlax spoke again. “Be careful.”
“Only if you are.” Sloth strode out of the room, into the empty corridors of the lab level. His footsteps echoed, ringing through the halls.
Do you really think they’ll manage that schedule? Pariel asked.
Does it really matter?
Pariel didn’t answer. The corridors he strode through were silent, filled with nothing but the buzz of electronics, the hiss of the ventilation, the occasional explosions from inside reinforced labs, and his own footsteps and breathing. Neither of them spoke until they reached the lift. Pariel thought ahead to the silence and peace of the salvage run he’d embark on in two days. What he could hear of Sloth’s thoughts focused on the missions to come, ones that would also start in two days.
It matters, Pariel said, calling the lift, because if they fail, they will blame themselves. And Fugelce depressed... I don’t want to see that.
Sloth sighed, leaning against the wall. They’ll manage. One way or another, they’ll manage.
Two days later, when Parlax delivered a final report before Pariel-Sloth left for a salvage run, the Grundo mentioned the accelerated schedule. “Fugelce says he’s going crazy with all this work, but he’s getting it done.” Parlax gave a rare smile. “I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on the battles to come, my lord.” He saluted.
Pariel-Sloth returned the salute absently, entering the airlock. When they took off, Pariel left the whole deal of Sloth’s now growing empire behind. Sloth, however, did not.
But when the green Ruki returned to the space station five days later, cargo bay full of metal scraps, Sloth’s hidden glee resonated through all their thoughts. In the corridor outside the hanger, a positively euphoric Pteri jumped onto Pariel-Sloth as soon as they emerged from the airlock.
“We did it!” Fugelce crowed. “My lord, it all went as you said.”
Sloth pried the over-excited Pteri off his back. “Wait until we’re secure, professor.”
“Sorry.” Fugelce didn’t look at all contrite as he flew ahead, calling a lift so that they could get to a secure place as soon as possible. Pariel-Sloth followed with a sigh. All the way to the Rainbow Room, Fugelce blathered on about anything that came into his mind. Once inside, Parlax glared at the striped Pteri, shutting him up.
“Now that you’re here, my lord, we can talk.” The split Grundo crossed his arms. “The missions were... well, it depends on your point of view. Qasala was a failure. You can see that for yourself.” He inserted a disc into the computer. “Sandstorms are the bane of all robots, after all. The fanatics did their best, but that fight took little more than ten minutes, if that. That’s from when they landed, by the way. It took the Qasalans a while to get to them.”
Pariel-Sloth stared at the screen. First one camera, then another, and then all of them flickered out. They all showed the same scene of sand flying through the air before dying. “Fugelce. Have you fixed this problem yet?”
“It’s difficult,” the professor admitted. “They need to be mobile, after all.”
“I asked if you had fixed it yet.” Sloth glared at Fugelce, crossing his arms. “I didn’t ask about whether or not it was difficult.”
“No, lord.” The Pteri scuffed the floor with one talon. “I haven’t.”
“Do so immediately.” Sloth looked back at Parlax. “The other two attacks?”
“Neopia Central and Altador.” Parlax shrugged. “They didn’t have environmental danger, and I wanted to test the actual fighting ability of these robots.” He pressed a button, and ten new windows opened on the computer. “As you can see, Neopia Central went fairly well, considering the speed with which the Defenders arrived.”
Pariel-Sloth nodded, eyes fixed on the screens. As soon as they all turned black, he spoke again. “You did well with that. Altador?”
“Well.” Parlax looked away, pressing a button to open the videos of the attack.
“We didn’t get there.” Fugelce let his wings fall to the ground. “Well. The capsule delivered them, but before they could get to the city, a Faerie destroyed them.”
Sighing, Pariel-Sloth placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “It’s to be expected that we lose in the beginning. Make sure this sort of loss never happens again.”
“We will do our best,” Fugelce promised. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off to work on the problem of sand-proofing the robots. And water-proofing. And anything-else-I-can-think-of-proofing.”
“Good.” Pariel-Sloth released the Pteri. Fugelce fluttered off, muttering calculations to himself. Pariel-Sloth turned his gaze to Parlax. “Now, tell me where you believe we should attack next.”
“Shenkuu. Terror Mountain. Tyrannia.” Parlax paused. “Perhaps Brightvale. I’m not sure.”
With a slight smile, Pariel-Sloth squeezed the Grundo’s shoulder. “The first three will do for the next wave. As soon as Fugelce has improved robots, begin attacking.”
“Tyrannia first,” Pariel-Sloth said, considering. “Do Terror Mountain at the same time, if you can. Then Shenkuu. If you have leftovers, then go ahead and attack Brightvale.”
Parlax bowed. “As you wish, my lord. Perhaps you will be able to watch the attacks as they happen, this time.”
Pariel-Sloth smiled, letting his joy at the events unfolding show. “I hope I will.”
To be continued...