Petpetpet Meltdown: Part Two
Samdi led Ticcico through a pair of massive crystal double doors set in the transparent dome. And the Shoyru gasped.
The massive dome let in and seemed to amplify the sunlight, so it was baking hot and light inside. And at first the floor looked like a field stretching into the distance. She knelt down to look closer and saw that the stretches of grass were actually divided into tiny squares. As her eyes adjusted to the tiny landscapes, she could almost imagine tiny buildings nestled among the green blades.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?” came a voice from over her head. She almost turned around, but Samdi started talking in a rapid, conciliatory tone, explaining the situation. Ticcico thought she should be listening, but was that a flash of blue among the grass?
After a few moments, she dragged herself away and stood up. A yellow Kougra was looking intently at her. Despite an aged appearance, he looked sprightly and energetic, although his glasses were slightly lopsided.
“Samdi has been explaining – thanks for the Mootix!” He held up a small vial that now contained the petpetpet. “I’m Prof. Milton Clodbottle, would you like the grand tour?”
Ticcico nodded enthusiastically.
“Now, I don’t normally do this, but you have helped us out, so I’ll make an exception.”
First, he showed her around the main part of the dome.
“This is our growing-up room. Here we keep little populations of the three petpetpet species we use in our Habitariums; Mootix, Larnikin and Pinchits. Separate groups of the different species mean we can use plenty of nesters to produce nests. We then harvest most of the eggs, while hatching some to keep the populations going. These eggs I then give to new Habitarium owners of Neopia, ones that have lost their nesters or have achieved a new level. Your Mootix will join a colony of other Mootix.” He tipped up the vial, and Ticcico’s Mootix fell into a tiny square of grass. The professor handed Ticcico a magnifying glass and she peered through it. There was a semi-circle of half a dozen Mootix looking at the new one. After a few seconds, one moved forward and they touched antenna. The new Mootix jumped happily and was soon part of the group, who then went to harvest some pollen from a nearby flower. Ticcico smiled.
“It’s important to always have new Mootix joining our captive populations. It allows variation and keeps everything healthy! They’re difficult to find though, hence why Samdi startled you earlier, she had been looking for one for days. Anyway, let's move into the next room.”
They moved through a door into a circular room which was right in the center of the fields. It was full of testing equipment. Test-tubes, petri dishes and bottles of brightly coloured liquids lined the walls and teetered in towers well above her head. Ticcico stared in awe.
“This is our testing facility. It’s where we develop new ideas and setups, and it’s where I came up with the idea for the Habitarium in the first place. It’s not in use anymore; it’s just left as it was for history’s sake. The Habitariums are all working well and we have no need of anything new – everything is perfect!”
Ticcico was still gazing at the rows of scientific gold. She was itching to get her hands on the equipment. And she made a split-second decision.
“Professor, could I please come and work for you? I think I’d be really good at it, I can find petpetpets easily and I’d love to help in this lab with development and experimentation.”
The Kougra smiled ruefully.
“I’m very sorry, but we don’t need anyone else at the moment. And this lab is basically obsolete. I think Samdi can handle finding occasional petpetpets; she doesn’t generally need the help she got today. Thank you anyway, though.”
Ticcico felt her heart drop like a stone. It was a hundred times worse than leaving the Clothes Shop earlier that day. This job she wanted more than anything else. But once again she turned and walked away, remembering to wave to Samdi as she left, who was carefully distributing microscopic pieces of cheese into each square of grass.
A short while later Ticcico arrived home, to a happily expectant owner.
“Wow, it’s late, your first day must have gone really well!”
Sighing, the Shoyru set herself to explaining to an increasingly disappointed owner exactly how her day had gone. And then she slowly walked upstairs to sleep.
It was a few months later and Ticcico was in the field again, sitting up in the grass. In the distance she could see Samdi, hunting in the grass. This wasn’t unusual, the Cybunny often came petpetpet hunting, and they would wave to each other, but they hadn’t spoken again. Ticcico had been let of the hook for job-searching for the time being. Her disastrous first attempt had been seen by her owner as a sign, and she was free. Earlier, this would have been the best news ever, but now she always had a faint longing in the back of her mind for the amazing science lab she had been introduced to for such a short time. She had become more interested in petpetpets since the visit to the Master Habitarium, and kept her eye out for them daily, but recently they had been more difficult to find.
But this day was different. Samdi was running towards her once more, looking just as flustered. She didn’t even bother with any pleasantries, beginning at once.
“Ticcico! Have you seen any Larnikins around recently?”
The Shoyru thought for a few moments. Actually, she hadn’t. It must have been a few... weeks, maybe? Which she told Samdi.
“I knew it! I knew we were taking too many!” the Cybunny wailed. “Recently our Habitariums have started to shrink. Petpetpets are turning into mini diamonds all over the place and we can’t stop it! I’ve tried changing the food, the water, the resources... but it means I have to find more and more from the wild. And it seems we’re running out.”
“Neopia can’t run out of petpetpets!” Ticcico replied. “It’s impossible. It just can’t happen, it’s insane.”
“But it is! They’re going. And soon they’ll be gone. And then where will we be?”
And with that, the Cybunny hung her head and ran off in the opposite direction. Ticcico sat down to think. But she couldn’t think of a reason why the Habitariums suddenly weren’t working. It was very strange.
Soon, people across Neopia began to notice a lack of wild petpetpets. There were less petpets catching them as a tasty snack, and Itchy Invasion was no longer giving out high scores. This, as any event, disaster or barely noticeable change, brought deep and lasting divisions to the Neopians.
There was already the “Neopets Is Better Without P3s!” group with their perfectly groomed gruslens and other petpets.
There was the “Bring Back The P3s at ANY Cost!” group, made up of avatar collectors and Habitarium owners.
The “Neopets Was Better When I Was A Newbie” group, which seemed to be made up of people with every account age imaginable.
And the “We Want UC pets back” group, who didn’t know what was going on with the petpetpets but tended to show up whenever more than three people gathered to wave slightly battered banners and eat sandwiches.
Ticcico just watched all the fuss in bemusement. How would talking and arguing solve a problem like this? It would take something else.
And ran as fast as she could back to the massive glass dome.
She arrived out of breath, and slowly walked up to the entrance. The magnificent crystal doors had a handwritten note taped to them, written in a careful hand.
“Closed due to failure. Sorry, don’t ask for any more eggs. G’bye.”
That was it. Peering through the walls, she could see the field of grass, but it now looked brown and withered. They had closed it down! Well, that wouldn’t do. Over the past few hours various ideas had flown through her mind, experiments she could conduct, theories she could test. But she needed equipment to try them out.
Ticcico wandered back into Neopia Central, wondering where Professor Milton Clodbottle would go, once he closed his life work and abandoned it. As far away as possible – Kreludor? Or maybe somewhere remote, like Mystery Island. Wherever he was, she wasn’t a globe traveller and doubted her ability to track him down.
As she decided to go home and think some more, her owner appeared as if from nowhere.
“Ticcico! I am surprised and impressed! I asked you to meet me here this morning and here you are, you are getting better at listening.” She beamed.
Ticcico jumped, but managed to grinned as if this was an arranged meeting.
“You thought I’d forget? Honestly.” She smiled, and got swept up behind her owner.
“Right, first we’re heading to Uni’s Clothes Store. I saw some lovely socks in here the other day and... Ticcico! Don’t be silly and pull that face. Yes, you are coming in. No, it won’t be embarrassing. Now. Come. On!” and she yanked the resisting Shoyru over the threshold into the shop.
As her owner cooed over various wearables, occasionally holding them up against Ticcico to see how they’d look, the Shoyru gazed around and tried to remain inconspicuous and pretend to now know her owner. This was difficult on both counts, as the clothes held out in front of her tended to be rather lurid and bright.
But still, she was gazing anywhere but at her owner when a Cybunny caught her eye, by the counter serving customers. It was Samdi! Working here!
Excusing herself, she rushed over. The Cybunny looked tired and worn, and Ticcico guessed that this place probably wasn’t her idea of a dream job either. But right now was not the time for feeling sorry for someone, now was the time to act. And now she could enlist help.
To be continued...