I don't know if there's a better relief than stepping outside the Pound Transfer Tunnel into the Exchange.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Transfer Tunnel, consider yourselves lucky. You see, since TNT began remodeling the different lands of Neopia, they've included a quaint portal feature (modeled after the portal from Faerie City to Altador) that allows you to poof from city to city, as long as your destination has a portal with which to receive you. In fact, the efficiency of it has all but replaced the Eyrie Cab system. But there's a catch. Both the city you leave and the city you wish to arrive in must have portals, otherwise you will get lost in the portal abyss and probably be relieved of your limbs.
Just kidding. You'll just move to the nearest city with a portal.
But I get off topic. Forgive me; it's a bad habit.
Anyway, TNT apparently didn't believe in the 'Keep Moving Forward' portal system for Pound transfers. So instead of just poofing from the home of your old owner to the home of your new one, you have to take the underground Transfer Shuttle.
The Shuttle itself is not that bad. After all, it was considered top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art Virtupets tech, back in Y10. All sleek steel and tacky-chic forest-green pleather seats.
But the tunnels are what really gets me. Trapped thousands of feet underground, a small dirt tunnel with the periodic steel supports, rickety train tracks. Very eerie down there. Once I think I saw a flashing pair of eyes, just outside my window.
Then again, as a popular 'dream pet' I spent the first eighty-six days of my life as a trading pawn, so I've been on the Shuttle many a time and have my own superstitions about it. I've gotten over the trading thing since then and have forgiven my old owners; you learn to become hard and emotionless after awhile. Trust no one. Mama won't be around much longer. Don't like your new siblings? Don't worry; you'll have new ones soon, depending on how good your new Papa is at advertising.
Simply put, I lived a jaded childhood. Permanent homes belonged right in the storybooks with wizards and sword-toting knights of Meridell. Don't go pitying me; there are hundreds of other pets that lead similar lives.
For a while, I lived like this. A hard shell instead of the bright and bubbly child I had carefully kept under wraps.
Now it was on to a new owner. Again. This one didn't even have a Neohome; supposedly she and her old Draik I had been traded for lived in the Neolodge. AstroVilla. At least this new Mommy had plenty of cash. Maybe I'd be customized this time. A cheap filler petpet? My heart wasn't swelling with hope yet.
The Shuttle is lonely. Just like everywhere, you have cliques. The one group of unconverted pets who huddle together at the back of the car like the bad kids on the school bus. They've been around the PC for longer than I've been alive. They laugh and jeer loudly; using fake extrovert covers and obnoxious giggles to hide the pain of being shipped to yet another home. Then there are the fosters. Sweet, naïve souls who still believe in life and loyalty and familial love. Mostly decently-named, mediocre colors. But that's not what matters. They have clothes and suitcases bursting with pieces of their life they are dying to tell you all about. Often they have petpets: permanent BFFs the foster owner couldn't bear to take away from 'the little lostlings' just to make a few extra Neopoints.
Then you have the loners like me. We sit alone, blending into the pleather upholstery. I wrap my skinny arms around my knees. My eyes squeeze shut, mentally begging for the shuttle to come to a stop. I hate being underground; as a Maraquan Draik I belong in the ocean. This was practically inhumane.
Finally the old train rumbled to a stop. Doors slid open with a WHOOSH as pets rose from their seats, stretching and groaning. The gruff old conductor snaps at us to condense into a single-file line as we are escorted off of the shuttle. A new group of pets waits to board. Some, the first-timers, have fear in their eyes. And awe. I offer a shaky grin to a terrified-looking Plushie Cybunny. Her lips twitch up in a responding smile.
We walk down the muggy metal walkway to where another set of steel double-doors WHOOSH open.
Which leads us to the present. I stand in the doorway, breathing in cool, air-conditioned oxygen as I take in the surroundings.
The Exchange is slang for the official Trading Center. It's basically a giant warehouse-type building with a sloped ceiling. On the shortest wall sit the kiosks where owners go to fill out paperwork for exchanging pets. A large screen on the tallest wall shows incoming arrivals and Shuttle departure times, for those coming from and being shipped to cities other than Neopia Central. Those coming from and going to Neopia central are often directly exchanged in the Lobby. The Lobby is a set of roughly fifteen couches and thirty plush chairs arranged in various positions around a glass coffee table topped with a vase of Black Roses and Glass Roses. All of the furniture is very modern. Here is where owners negotiate trades and agree on transfer fees with the transfer attendants that work for the Pound. Lots of fights break out here.
The third and last section of the Exchange is certainly not the least. Here there are two massive lines. In one line there are those that wait to be directly transferred to new homes without expecting a pet in return; these are usually the pets being adopted out. The other line is the Exchange line, where pets being exchanged for one another line up. The latter is often much more congested than the former. I actually have no idea why they're in two separate lines; I suppose the ones in the Exchange line get the faster Shuttles, as their trader owners are usually in more of a hurry.
I glance around for my own trader owner. I was told she would be waiting on Couch #7.
I bite back my anxiety and venture forth, browsing amongst fancy furnishings until I spot Couch #7. I peek up at the girl who I know must be my owner. She has blonde-highlighted light brown hair, threaded eyebrows, and green eyes. Dressed in black tights and a royal blue beaded, lacy top. She suddenly looks up, and our eyes lock.
I know those eyes. They still have the dancing gold threads in them.
She trembles as she stands, biting her lip as she glances at me almost shyly. She begins to stride towards me, and I shuffle towards her, as if I'm sleep-walking, or dream-walking. Finally, as if she can no longer stand it, the girl breaks into a jog. Then a run, then we collide in a shower of metaphorical sparks.
And I'm swept into her arms again, like we used to be. A fish-like look of confusion is frozen on my face as shocked years bubble up and cut shiny tracks in my face. I cry silently, unable to sob.
My owner is sobbing like a baby as she squeezes me like nothing else matters. Other owners stop and gaze upon our display; some in disgust, some in longing, and others with those 'happy tears' feels.
"Ellie... I, I..." she chokes, searching for the right words. I place my fin on her quaking lips, effectively shushing her.
"What happened doesn't matter anymore. The only thing that DOES matter is what is happening now. I've let go, you must let go as well. Okay?"
She nods, smiling through her tears.