Petpetpet Meltdown: Part Three
“That’ll be 123 Neopoints please, thank you for shopping at Uni’s Clothing, the finest shop in Neopia,” droned the Cybunny as Ticcico approached.
“Hey, Samdi, I –”
“Please put the item on the counter so I can pack it for you,” said Samdi, still in a monotone.
“Samdi, it’s me!” This time the Cybunny looked up, and a slight smile crossed her face as she saw the Shoyru.
“Ticcico! I’m on break in ten minutes, talk then?”
Ticcico nodded, but wondered how on earth she was going to fill ten minutes in the clothes shop. But then she saw an interestingly shaped leaf hanging from the coat of a customer, and wondered exactly how it would work falling from the tree and then Samdi was tapping her on the shoulder and motioning out the door.
They sat together behind the shop, and Samdi began to talk.
“It was all so sudden! I don’t know how it happened. One day everything was fine; it was getting a bit difficult to find the petpetpets sometimes. The next all our Habitarium ones were dying and there were none to be found outside! I don’t know how, or why. I can’t even begin to understand it.”
“Were there any signs at all?” inquired Ticcico.
“Not really, they slowed down a bit, and then Poof! diamonds all over the place.”
“I want to try and help, could you get me some equipment?” Ticcico asked hopefully.
The Cybunny frowned slightly as she thought this one over. But eventually, she nodded.
“I’m not meant to enter the dome again, but I’ve got the spare set of keys. I’ll grab whatever I can find and send it to your house, OK?”
Ticcico thanked her, and told her the address. Despite having no idea what she was going to do with whatever she was given, she felt excited. This was going to be fun!
The next day Ticcico woke up feeling happy, but she couldn’t remember why. Then it hit her. And she rushed downstairs.
On the table was a package. Not as big as the one she’d hoped for, but that wouldn’t have fit into the house. Still, not too bad. The Shoyru grabbed it and ran upstairs, tearing at the opening before she even got into her room. Once she was there, she sat down and forced a few deep breaths before properly opening the package.
It was like the Advent Calendar, but better. There were petri dishes, magnifying glasses, even tiny grass Habitariums, carefully packed in mini glass boxes but lacking petpetpets. Ticcico gazed happily, then started assembling her new equipment and planning her next step.
An hour or so later, she was back in the field where she first found the Mootix. But not relaxing this time, but scanning the ground with her magnifying glass. The sun was beating down, but the Shoyru didn’t stop. Slowly it began to get cooler and dimmer, and she began to feel hungry. Then she felt a tickling on her foot and looked down. It was a Mootix. Too tired to feel elated, she grabbed her magnifying glass. It seemed silly to recognize individual petpetpets, but something about it seemed familiar. Maybe when the Professor had given up, not all the petpetpets were diamonds, and some had been released? Perhaps. It wiggled its antenna at her. Smiling, she placed it carefully in a tiny vial and took it home.
Once back in her room, she tipped the Mootix into one of the Habitariums. Its large eyes looked up at her and it yawned. She placed a tiny house in it, and it crawled inside. Ticcico decided it was her bedtime as well, leapt into bed and fell asleep almost instantly.
Over the next few days, she continued her hunt for petpetpets. It took a very long time and an awful lot of searching, but eventually she had several of each species safely up in her room. She fed them daily, and watched.
There seemed to be nothing wrong at all. The nesters produced and hatched eggs, the workers toiled away harvesting at twigs and flowers, and the soldiers repaired buildings and occasionally fought off an invader. After long and (she assumed) happy lives, they turned into massive diamonds. It all seemed very well-ordered. So what had made all of the Professor’s die off?
She thought. And decided that, as for any good experiment, she should try to replicate exactly what he had done. So she bought the same brand cheese, put the same number of petpets in each Habitarium, gave them the same amount of water. But she still ended up with happy, healthy petpetpets. Which was obviously good in one way, but was not helping her find out what was wrong.
Later that day, she was sitting by the window in her room, reading her textbook (“Petpetpets through History and their Contributions,” which was a remarkably short book), when the glare on the page from the sun made her move positions. She stopped. And moved back. THAT was a difference she hadn’t taken into account, the glass dome concentrating the light. Carefully, she grabbed a Habitarium, rooted around under her bed until she found the glass box it had come in, and put it back inside. She then placed it by the windowsill.
Two days later, the petpetpets inside had all turned into diamonds.
Alright, so it was the sunlight, heating through the glass roof, which had ended the Habitariums’ success and led to taking more and more from the wild. It hadn’t happened before because this was the first summer that Habitariums had been running properly.
But in the wild, it got just as hot on some days. So what was different? There must be something the Professor hadn’t noticed before.
And so Ticcico returned once again to the field, this time to just sit and watch. It took her a while to find any petpetpets, let alone populations of them, but after days of searching she was successful. The spot she found was ideal. It centered around a large tree, which is why she guessed all the petpetpets were there, for shade, food and bark. There were several colonies there, separated into groups of Mootix, Larnikins and Pinchits. She watched them closely for days, leaning back against the tree trunk and taking notes.
The petpetpets toiled industriously, harvesting their resources and defending their miniature buildings from invaders. But for all intents and purposes she could have been watching her own Habitariums, they behaved exactly the same. Until one day a month later.
It was boiling hot that morning, and Ticcico trudged back to her tree. She never had any trouble concentrating and loved watching the little creatures, but it was dispiriting, so much time without any results. But as she sat, down, she saw something was different.
The petpetpets in each population were still harvesting resources, but they didn’t seem as dedicated to it as normal. They stopped every few seconds to look up.
And they were rewarded around noon. Suddenly the Shoyru’s view was obscured by a mass of wings. As she blinked, the wings organized themselves into more tiny petpetpets. A swarm of Vernax! All the petpetpets on the ground instantly stopped what they were doing and stood still. As they landed, each Vernax paired itself up with an individual on the ground, and spread its wings. The Mootix, Larnikin and Pinchits stood still as they were shaded. Occasionally the Vernax flapped their wings, creating a tiny breeze.
After about an hour, and as if by a signal, the Vernax folded in their wings and the other petpetpets began to move again. Each collected a little pollen, grass and wood, laying them in front of their partner. The Vernax chirped, grabbed the resources and flew off once more in their swarm.
Ticcico stared, as the petpetpets went back to work as normal.
It happened again the next day, and the day after that. The Vernax would appear, shade the working petpetpets during the heat of the day and be rewarded with resources. It seemed to be a longstanding agreement. And the shade was what meant the colonies could survive in the hot summer! The Habitarium populations were missing this crucial way to escape from the sun.
After a week, Ticcico felt that she was sure enough to present her idea to Samdi and Professor Milton Clodbottle. She ran to Uni’s Clothing, forgetting her intense dislike of the place. The Cybunny was still working there.
“Samdi!” called Ticcico over the noise of the shop, “Come with me!”
The Cybunny looked only too happy to abandon her workspace, ignoring the protests of the Usul, who seemed to recognize Ticcico and about to yell as the pair of pets escaped out of the door.
It didn’t take long to explain the theory to Samdi, and to take her to the tree, where she showed the Cybunny exactly how it all worked. She sat back in disbelief.
“Amazing! I never would have thought of it!”
“Can you contact the Professor?” asked Ticcico. “We can easily solve the problem now, either by adding shade or by introducing Vernax to the Habitariums. But I don’t know where to look for him!”
“Have you tried neomailing him?” questioned Samdi, smiling.
Ticcico shook her head. Oops! And a few seconds later a message was winging its way to the Lutari.
A reply came the next morning. It said, briefly “Meet me at the Dome.”
Excited, Ticcico ran all the way there.
Professor Clodbottle was waiting in front of the doors when she arrived, with Samdi next to him.
“She’s told me everything!” he cried happily. “I can’t believe you figured all of that out. But I can fix everything now!”
It was amazing how quickly things returned to normal. They tried introducing Vernax to the Habitariums, but it appeared that they hated gathering resources and were just in the way of the other petpetpets. Ticcico guessed that they probably stockpiled the rewards they were given during the summer and survived on them through the winter. They probably shaded several populations a day, which would give them just enough.
So the problem was solved by adding tiny shade parasols to the Habitariums, and on sunny days in the dome, the Shoyru could see the tiny petpetpets taking breaks to cool off. The wild populations soon became just as big as they once were, to the annoyance of most of Neopia. Some things never change.
Ticcico worked at the massive glass dome now, was hired on the spot after her breakthrough. As the “Manager of Experimental Design” she was responsible for new innovations and figuring out any future problems that might occur. It was the best job she could have dreamed of, and her attention never wavered for an instant.
She still found time to sit in the field though, watching the wild petpetpets. Occasionally one of the Mootix waved at her. And one very cloudy day, she thought she caught a glimpse of a few Bumbluz among her familiar populations, lighting their houses.
Happily, she picked up her notebook and a vial.
There was always more to learn.