The Colorful Aisha and the Secret Lab
It was an incredibly foolish risk to take, but as Nayha followed the path laid out by the worn, wrinkled map she held, she knew she would not turn back.
It had taken the better part of a year to save for the map even with her brother and sisters pitching in with any neopoints they could spare. Even when she could afford the map, finding the pieces she needed had taken several months longer--not to mention the time spent taping the thing together. With so much already invested, and so much left to gain, she refused to contemplate all of the chances for everything to go horribly wrong.
The path was shorter than she had expected. After leaving her home on Bread Street in Neopia Central it was a short trip to Mystery Island. Renting a rowboat from there had been easy. The idea that something so strange, and maybe even dangerous, could be as close as a day trip to her favorite island gave the little Aisha chills.
Checking once more that her oars were secure, Nayha looked up to get her bearings. Her rowboat seemed to be in the right spot; she sat a few minutes from Mystery Island's shore with a view almost directly between Mystery Island and Krawk Island.
She looked down at the map again, suddenly unsure. She was almost definitely positioned where the map indicated. But nothing had happened yet. The map was woefully unspecific about what happened next.
Nayha looked at the map once more before shoving it into her pocket. Casting another glance at Mystery Island, Nayha wondered if it had been wise to refuse the offers her siblings had made to accompany her. Nerc, Kataz and Dru were waiting for her by the Tombola Booth. Shandryis, Kvaeli and Sinclair eagerly awaited a full report back on Bread Street. As she gripped the oars firmly in her hands, Nayha knew they would all be waiting for her when she finished. But now she began to wonder if they would recognize her when she returned.
Knowing it was too late to waste time on second thoughts, Nayha leaned over the side of the rowboat and stared down into the choppy water. The waves were too strong to make out much beneath the surface. Once she thought she saw movement but she when she tried to get a closer look it was gone.
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Nayha pushed her hand through some of the water as she called "Hello?!" as loudly as she could manage.
Just as she was wondering if all or part of her map was forged by an industrious liar, she felt something happening beneath the waves. She held the side of the rowboat as it began to lurch downwards, slowly at first but gaining momentum all the time. She grabbed at the oars and pulled them into the boat before they could be swept away.
As she continued her descent Nayha noticed with interest that the boat still sat on the water. A large clear box surrounded her on all sides now. She heard a sucking noise, as the top of the box surrounding her sealed itself shut just before the boat moved beneath the surface.
Moving lower and lower into the water, it felt like she was on the best glass bottomed boat tour of her life. Nayha was almost too dazzled by her close view of the sea life to be scared or even nervous.
Eventually, the sea life disappeared as the clear box containing Nayha and the boat was pulled into some kind of structure. She couldn't make out much before being brought inside but she thought she saw the glint of metal and a strange glow almost the exact hue of some of the Maractite coins Sinclair had given her from the Maraquan Ruins.
Soon, a ladder was lowered into the box that still contained Nayha and the boat. She felt giddy as she climbed the ladder. Finally, after so much time saving and preparing and searching, she had found it. She was finally stepping into the Secret Laboratory she had heard so much about.
The lab was much as she expected, filled with smoking beakers and bottled filled with unsavory looking specimens and substances. A large device that could only be the Secret Lab Ray dominated the back of the lab.
As she made her way toward the lab ray, Nayha looked around for the Lab Ray Scientist. Shandryis and Sinclair had both warned her to be wary of him.
An eccentric Yellow Scorchio, no one knew how long the Scientist had been in the lab. He had to venture out for food and supplies, probably. But no one ever saw him. From everything Nayha had been told, she thought that might be for the best.
"You there! What are you doing here?" a voice snapped from behind her.
Nayha turned to find herself face to face with the Lab Ray Scientist. He stood close enough that she could smell the burnt Pyramibread on his breath. Maybe it was his bedraggled white hair or the lab coat, but there seemed to be a distinctly crazy glint in his eyes.
Before she could let herself worry too much, Nayha reasoned that he must not want to hurt anyone. After all, wouldn't someone who had invented such a wondrous thing want to help people?
Hestitantly, she replied, "I . . . I heard about the lab ray. I bought a map and came to find it."
The scientist rubbed his hands together. "Well, then, you want to try it, don't you?" he asked gleefully. "It isn't entirely finished yet. But if you are willing to take the risk, I suppose I can let you have a go."
Before Nayha could even smile, the scientist continued as though he were reciting an often repeated line, "I should warn you this process could cause severe damage. Having made you fully aware of this danger, the Secret Lab takes no responsibility for anything that happens after the ray is activated. Do you still want to try the ray now that you are aware of the consequences?
She nodded immediately, "Oh, yes."
The scientist nodded as if he approved. Or maybe he was just shaking his hair out of his eyes. With another nod/head shake, the scientist ushered Nayha towards the lab ray. "Let us carry on with the experiment!" he bellowed to no one in particular.
Nayha couldn't help but smile even as a maniacal Kookith skittered past before disappearing behind one of the lab's walls. As the scientist adjusted her position in front of the ray, Nayha looked down at her pink paisley arms for what would hopefully be the last time.
Disco would always have a special place in her heart, but Nayhe knew this was the right choice. The Eventide pets caused a sensation when they first appeared around Neopia Central. At first there were only other Aishas, like her, but that was enough. Nayha had always felt like something was missing--like she could be more herself somehow if she only tried. She still remembered seeing Arizona up close for the first time with her starry blue ears and her magenta hair. She hadn't know how, but she had known right away that she had to paint herself Eventide.
Unsurprisingly, the paint brushes were impossible to find. The ones that were available cost millions of neopoints that Nayha would never have no matter how much her siblings helped. She didn't think she would be as lucky as her new friend Arizona to earn a favor from the Fountain Faerie (not when the Fountain Faerie had already helped Nayha get her Disco look years before). Then, Shandryis and Sinclair had hesitantly mentioned a secret lab that could change everything.
The scientist soon finished adjusting countless knobs and levers. Nayha closed her eyes and tried not to worry when the scientist cautioned that the zap of the ray might cause an uncomfortable pinching sensation.
It was over so quickly, she almost missed it. Cautiously, she opened her eyes. As she turned her head to examine herself she felt an unfamiliar weight on the top of her head. Reaching up she thought she felt . . . horns? No that wasn't right. Her nose seemed unbelievably large and red. Suddenly she realized the weight on her head was from a new set of antlers.
"Christmas?!" Nayha exclaimed in dismay. "Kataz and Dru are already Christmas pets. Our closet doesn't have enough holiday clothes for another Christmas pet," she whined to the scientist who was already making notations in a notebook lying on a nearby table.
The scientist shrugged. "No responsibility for anything that happens after the ray is activated," he muttered without looking up.
She stamped her foot. The collar around her neck gave an irritating jingle. "Unacceptable. I came all the way here from Neopia Central. The map alone cost millions of neopoints."
"No responsibility for anything that happens after the ray is activated," the scientist said again.
Nayha crossed her arms obstinately. "I'm not leaving here until I'm Eventide," she said with an air of certainty that she didn't really feel. If the scientist had built the lab ray himself, she worried what contraptions he might have in store to eject annoying neopets.
The scientist still seemed deeply uninterested in her distress. He shrugged as he said, "You can only have one zap a day. That's how the machine is built. It's just the way the device works."
As she fingered the map in her pocket, Nayha heard a crinkling sound from cellophane. She had been so upset she'd forgotten her talk with Arizona that morning as she set out for Mystery Island.
"I've heard the Secret Laboratory doesn't always work out how you want," she had said with a frown.
It was nothing new to Nayha who had heard the same thing countless times from her sisters. "I think I'll be okay," she had said. "I'm feeling really lucky."
Arizona had smiled hesitantly. "Then you probably won't need this at all," she said as she pushed something into Nayha's hands. "But just in case, bring this along when you go the lab today."
Nayha had smiled and thanked her friend as she absently placed the cookie into her pocket. Looking at it now, she was still unsure how a cookie was going to help.
Still feeling doubtful, Nayha held up the cookie so the lab ray scientist could see it. "What if I gave you this cookie?" she asked, waving it to get his attention. "Would the lab ray still give only one zap then?"
She had the scientist's full attention now. "Is that a fortune cookie from Noda's booth? Those are my favorite. They're so hard to find at the trading post or smuggler's cove. I haven't had one in ages."
Nayha smiled as she closed her hand around the cookie. "Maybe we can work something out."
Nayha examined her wrist cuffs as she felt her headdress. "Do I look like Lady Osiri?" she asked. "I bet I look just like Lady Osiri."
The lab ray scientist shook his head as he happily nibbled part of his cookie.
"You don't," he said with his mouth full of cookie. "We agreed on two more zaps after that one. Do we carry on with the experiment or do I finish my cookie in peace?"
She carefully set aside her new cuffs and headdress in a pile with the antlers, red nose, and jingle bell collar. "Let's try again."
Nayha heaved a huge sigh, admitting that this entire trip had been a mistake. It was hopeless. She had wasted all of her family's neopoints on a map to a fickle machine that would never do what she wanted. Her collar felt incredibly heavy and even if she had wanted to, she doubted she could raise her mouth out of its frown.
What a terrible waste of time.
The scientist put down his cookie. Nayha was certain the frown on his face matched her own.
"Oh dear. I always worry when a pet turns Grey here. I think we'd better use that next zap, don't you?"
"Is there really any point?" she asked with another sigh.
"Yes," the scientist said to himself, "it is definitely time to carry on with the experiment."
Nayha felt inexplicably lighter as soon as the lab ray powered down. With a shudder she thanked her lucky stars that she didn't have to stay Grey for long.
She closed her eyes, afraid to see what this latest zap had brought.
"What color am I now?" she asked very quietly.
She heard the scientist chewing the last bit of cookie. After he swallowed she heard him move closer to her. "You know, it's a bit hard to tell what with the sun setting and all. Maybe you should see for yourself in this mirror."
He took Nayha by the shoulders and moved her to a large mirror. "Open your eyes."
For one confused moment, Nayha thought Arizona was looking back at her. Slowly, Nayha realized the Eventide Aisha in the mirror was really her reflection. As her grin grew wider and wider, the scientist chuckled behind her.
"Silly me," he said with a smile. "The sun is nowhere near setting. It's just you."
She turned and hugged the scientist with her golden arms. "Thank you," she said against his lab coat. "It's everything I hoped it would be. I'm so glad I found you."
The scientist smiled and awkwardly patted one of her starry ears. "Thank you bringing me one of my favorite cookies. I'm glad our experiment worked. You should head along now if you want to get back to Neopia Central today."
Nayha nodded. The scientist was right. It would be a long trip and she wanted plenty of time to tell her family all about her journey, the lab, and the scientist. She also had to find Arizona to share her good news and say thank you for that lucky cookie.
As he helped her back into her boat, the scientist cautioned, "Now don't go telling everyone this all went smoothly. I can't be bothered zapping neopets all day. I have important scientific things to do. Though, if you happened to suggest they bring some of Noda's cookies I might be able to make an exception now and then."
Nayha promised she would pass along the message to everyone she could.
The trip back to Mystery Island took much longer as Nayha kept stopping to marvel at her new color. She wondered what she would do if her family didn't recognize her but as soon as she reached the shore, those fears were dashed.
Before she had even moved away from the rowboat her brother and sisters were running toward her.
"Nayha!" Dru screamed as she pulled her into a hug, "I can't believe it's you!"
Nerc reached them soon after, he put his arm around Nayha. "It suits you," he said with a wink.
Kataz hopped over to them, completing the group hug. "Kvaeli, Sinclair and Shandryis will be so excited! I knew you'd get what you wanted."
Nayha's grin was so wide her cheeks began to hurt but no matter how much she tried she couldn't relax her face. "I'm so happy I'm back," she said as they began to cross the island together. "I have so much to tell all of you."