Life of a Lab Rat: Part One
“Smoky, look at you! You’re a Wocky!” Gretchen smiled at me over her egg salad sandwich. “You know that old saying: one day a Ruki, the next a Wocky!”
“Yeah, what’s so great about it?” I pouted, glaring at my 2/3 carrot and pea omelette.
“Nothing.” Gretchen chewed thoughtfully. “You know, you’re lucky your owner has the lab. You don’t have to be a Green Aisha for the rest of your life like poor old me.”
“I disagree, Gretchen,” I told her. “It’s actually not that great. Being zapped a couple times, now that’s great. Being a lab rat? No...”
“Hey, guys! Sorry I’m late. I nearly forgot my new jacket!” A Yellow Scorchio plunked down beside Gretchen. His eyes widened when he saw me. “Whoa! Smoky! You look... um, furrier!”
Donald never had been the best at complimenting people. “Yeah, thanks, Don.” I nodded in his direction. I could see he was waiting for something. I paused before saying, “You don’t look too shabby yourself. Is that a Spiffy Black Leather Jacket you’re wearing?”
“Oh, that!” Don grinned and shrugged like it was nothing. “You see, Peach finally caved in to my plea for NeoCash! So now I’ve got this beautiful jacket and a bunch of dancing food in my lunchbox!”
“Fascinating,” Gretchen said, rolling her eyes at me when Don wasn’t looking.
“I know, right!” Don gushed. “Peach is the most amazing owner ever!”
Gretchen grinned widely; this was something she liked to talk about! “So is Lene! Omigosh, yesterday, yesterday she got me a Beekadoodle! Can you believe that?! I named it Rosi! She—”
I coughed loudly a few times. Gretchen glanced at me, and quickly clamped her mouth shut.
“Oh. Sorry, Smoky,” Don apologized, turning red.
My owner, Teri, was pretty much the polar opposite of my friends’ amazing owners. She never wasted any Neopoints on my brother Flint and me—we ate omelette and jelly at every meal. The biggest splurge she’d ever made on me was probably a Yes Boy Ice-Cream ticket, priced at a grand total of 1,000 NP. The band wasn’t even that good, anyway.
“It’s alright,” I sighed, “but could we change the subject?”
“Oh... sure.” Fumbling for a topic to talk about, all Don could come up with was, “Isn’t the weather nasty today?”
“Not really,” Gretchen disagreed. “It’s bright and sunny out, Donald.”
“Well, even the sun can be dull at times!”
They then broke into a huge argument about the weather. I didn’t join in; I tuned the pair of them out and picked the peas off my omelette, thinking. About Teri. About running away.
Alright, maybe I was being a brat. Sure, I didn’t have a Petpet, and sure, I was a lab rat, but at least I had a Neohome. My life was perfectly fine... wasn’t it?
“Come on, Smoky. It’s time for the lab ray!” I would’ve been surprised if I hadn’t heard those words coming out of Teri’s mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Every day, after Neoschool, Teri would take me to be zapped. We had walked there so many times that I could practically get there with my eyes closed.
“Well, that’s good.” Teri flipped through her book of tangram puzzles as we walked to the secret laboratory.
I stared at the sun until my eyes burned. “Why must you mock me, sunshine?” I grumbled under my breath.
“What did you say?” Teri mumbled, without looking up.
“Nothing.” I wasn’t in the mood to chat.
The mad scientist greeted me with a smile, a sight scarier than meeting an MSPP in person. “Hello, Smoky.”
“You two are early to—hey, where’s Teri?” The mad scientist peered over my shoulder.
“Oh, she’s coming.”
Just then, my owner popped into view, running at top speed toward us. “Next time, don’t walk so fast, Smoky!”
“Hey, you were the one reading the book,” I reminded her.
“Alright, that’s enough.” The mad scientist nudged me in front of his huge ray gun. “Now, this won’t hurt one bit.”
He said that every time, but it still hurt.
“Dang, stats again!?” Teri cried. “And this time, you lost two levels!” She sighed. “Is a good zap too much to ask for?” she demanded.
“Sorry, but I can’t control what happens,” the mad scientist admitted with a mischievous grin that suggested otherwise. “But I can offer you directions to the Mystery Island Training School.”
Teri rolled her eyes. “Duh, I know where it is. Besides, I don’t care about stupid STATS.” She flicked her long purple hair over her shoulder. “Come on, Smoky. It’s time to go home. After all, only one zap a day.” She glared at the mad scientist.
“And don’t you forget it!” the mad scientist called after us as we walked toward the exit. “Bye now!”
As soon as we got outside, Teri reached into her pocket and pulled out her book of tangram puzzles. “I don’t want this anymore, Smoky. Here, you can have it.” She handed it to me.
I leafed through the pages. All of the puzzles were completed. “Gee, thanks,” I retorted.
“Don’t mention it.” Teri walked ahead.
As she turned her back to me, I threw the book in the grass.
“Smoky, can’t you pay attention for once?”
“Wha?” I looked up. “Oh. Sorry, Ms. Dongbat.” I sat straight up in my chair. I’d been daydreaming about my great escape from Teri again. Hey, don’t look at me like that—it’s not easy to pay attention in English!
Ms. Dongbat fluttered (she was a Red Korbat) over to the chalkboard and pointed a ruler at something written in chalk. “And THAT’S why the word ‘hour’ does, in fact, have one sylla—”
“Isn’t it time for lunch?” Don blurted out suddenly. I gaped at him.
Ms. Dongbat looked at the clock. “Oh, shoot,” she muttered, disappointed that she couldn’t torture us anymore. “I guess so. Go, children.”
Smiling, I grabbed my Lupe Warrior Lunch Box and thundered downstairs along with the rest of the pupils. We reached the school cafeteria, and I settled down at our usual table.
Gretchen and Don joined me a few seconds later. Don looked strange.
Gretchen noticed too. “Don, did you do something—”
“OH! Well, thank you for noticing!” Don grinned. “Yeah, Peach got me some Hazel Contacts from the NC Mall! Don’t they rock?”
“Yeah, um, they’re great!” I lied. I looked around the lunchroom. “Man, those popular girls sure are disgusting, aren’t they?” I asked, trying to steer the direction of our conversation away from our owners.
“Yeah. Just look at Mindy.” Gretchen shuddered.
Mindy was a Maractite Usul. She was always bragging about her color, and her Petpet, and, of course, her owner. She was pretty much the leader of the clique. Mindy disgusted me to death!
Then there was her little servant, Sweetie Pie. Sweetie Pie was a scatterbrained Rainbow Uni and was often mean as well.
And then, then there was the clique. The group consisted of nothing but rare species and rare colors, and there were about ten members. They definitely wouldn’t let Don, Gretchen, or me in there—not that we would even consider it. They ignored us constantly.
“Mindy is the queen of doom and gloom, I swear,” Don told us. “Speaking of which, the weather actually is dull today.” He smiled smugly at Gretchen.
“Yeah?” Gretchen shrugged. “Well, a little rain never hurt anyone.”
I looked over her shoulder at the window. Sure enough, heavy rain was pounding down. But there, in the back... what was that?
It was a rainbow. How cliché.
This time, Teri was poring over a book called Lucky Stars, ignoring me once again. Only this time I was on a short rope, so I couldn’t wander off again. And boy, was the walk tedious that day. Especially since it was raining!
“Come on!” I tugged on the rope and even tried chewing on it. No luck.
“Oh, be quiet!” she hollered. “I’m done! Alright?” She closed the book and started to run.
Relieved, I ran too, and didn’t stop until we were inside the lab. Then I shook out my fur, just to bother the mad scientist.
“Great. Now I have rainwater to mop up. Just great,” he said sarcastically.
“No need to thank me,” I retorted. “Now, let’s get this over with.”
The mad scientist sighed. “I just wish something would happen already and you’d stop coming here, Smoky. You’re really starting to get on my last nerve.”
Insulted, I hung my head and stepped in front of the ray. Now even the mad scientist, who rarely spoke in complete sentences, was turning against me. The only people I could depend on nowadays were Gretchen and Don. But even they were becoming a little shifty. Maybe all my troubles would end if I just—
My thoughts were interrupted as Teri and the mad scientist gasped in unison. “What? What is it?” I pleaded.
“Ohh.” Teri clutched her stomach, looking as though she might be sick. “Am I dreaming? Smoky... you are beautiful.”
“What is it!?” I asked again.
“See for yourself.” The mad scientist handed me a small compact mirror.
I looked at myself and bit back a scream. My fur, now red... wasn’t fur anymore. I had a large, pointy ear on either side of my head, and my eyes were red. Two majestic wings sprouted from my shoulders. I was a Draik.
I dropped the mirror.
To be continued...