Wanmei and the Reset Button
Art by june_scarlet
"Why do you seek the Reset Button?" asked the Baby Grundo.
The Striped Meerca considered the Grundo for minute before relenting, "Because I made a mistake."
The Grundo considered inquiring further, but he didn't want to scare off his customer. At any rate, he didn't feel she would tell him. The Meerca was small, barely taller than him in his baby form, but she had a confidence that made him take her seriously. "Ah, what's it matter to me? You paid up, you can use the Reset Button for whatever reason you like, uh, I didn't catch your name."
"The name's Wanmei," the Meerca said, tipping her brown, wide-brimmed hat. "And why would you allow access to dangerous Sloth technology? I would ask you your name, but I know it doesn't work like that."
"That's right, you don't need to know my name. If Dr. Sloth were to escape the Space Faerie's Token and catch wind that I'm doing this..." The Grundo shivered. "As for why I'm going this? Well, I ran into Boochi, and Baby just isn't my color." The Grundo laughed, but it quickly petered out when he realized Wanmei wasn't laughing with him. "Anyway, that new spotted paintbrush won't pay for itself, so I decided to put my job in Dr. Sloth's Warehouse to good use."
"Interesting," said Wanmei, in a tone that indicated she found the subject anything but.
The Grundo took the hint. "Right. Well, then, the Reset Button's right this way," he said, leading her through a maze of Virtupets hallways until they reached a door marked "Room 501.2."
"This storage room doubles as my office," explained the Grundo as he opened the door. The room was about the size of a large bedroom, and was filled with black metal shelves.
The Grundo walked over to one of the shelves and pulled out a black remote with a single large button. "Here it is. According to the notes filed with it, you just recall the mistake, and it will alter one aspect of your timeline, changing the simplest thing that will prevent the mistake from happening." He shook his head. "If Dr. Sloth had managed to press this before being trapped in that Token, the whole history of Neopia might have been rewritten."
"That's just what I need," Wanmei said quietly.
The Grundo handed her the remote. "Also, all those in the presence of the Reset Button will remember the old timeline. This apparently was to prevent repeating the same experiment over and over again. So you'll remember what happened."
"I can deal with that," Wanmei simply said. After a moment's hesitation, she pressed the red button.
As the Baby Grundo watched, Wanmei vanished as suddenly and quietly as if he'd only closed his eyes. But they were open, and the light brown Meerca had disappeared.
Wanmei woke up feeling cold metal against her fur. She wavered a few seconds before she opened her eyes. The ceiling only a few feet above her was also metal, a burnished steel that allowed little reflection. She sat up, and looked around. Three of the walls were the same metal, but the fourth was grated with bars.
"When was I captured?" Wanmei thought.
Wanmei stood up, and put her hand to the grate. That's when she noticed that it was blue, not tan.
"What?" she exclaimed. "I haven't been Blue since I was in... was in..."
It hit Wanmei where she was. She listened closely, and then she could hear it, almost silent, but still there. The quiet sobbing, the rustle of papers, the whispers of pets long forgotten. She was back in the Pound.
Wanmei reeled. She had been to many places during her travels and adventures, but the Pound had to be her least favorite. She always felt so trapped here.
Had she gone back in time? She checked the tag clipped to the cage door, but it showed her current age. So at least she was in the present.
Wanmei immediately starting thinking of ways to get out of there. She could hope her owner, June, would eventually find her among the thousands of pet. That was, of course, assuming she figured out she was in the pound in the first place.
Wanmei quickly rejected that idea.
She could always pick the lock, and escape that way.
She reached for her satchel for her lock pick, but it wasn't there at her side like usual. It wasn't anywhere. She thought carefully for a minute, and then checked for her hat, which was also gone.
"You can't have wearables in the Pound," she remembered aloud.
She thought of more ideas, but each seemed more useless than the last. The Pound allowed no personal possessions, and offered little means of escape. Dejected, she curled up in her tail in a corner of the cage.
Why was this happening? Why was she the color blue again and back in the Pound? Why did pressing the Reset Button send her here? She knew the mistake had been fixed, but at what cost?
Dr. Death walked down yet another of the endless aisles of the Pound with his Clipboard. Years of watching heartless owners abandon their pets made him hard and cynical, but he still did his job for the reason he started it; he just couldn't stand by and do nothing.
But there was only so much he could do. The Pound was severely understaffed and overpopulated. He stopped and sighed as he clicked his pen and checked off yet another box on his form. Everyone in this row seemed ... well, okay enough.
He started walking again, only to trip. His paperwork and pen went flying as he crashed hard on the linoleum floor. He picked himself up, and looked to see what he had tripped over, but all he could see was the light blue tiles. He picked up his clipboard, and searched for his pen, but couldn't find it anywhere.
Grumbling, he set off for the front office for a new pen.
Wanmei watched as Dr. Death walked away. She hated having to trip the poor guy by threading her long, flat Meerca tail through the crack between the door and floor of her cage, but she'd got what she wanted.
She held up Dr. Death's pen. It was a higher quality click pens, which was exactly what she needed. Wanmei quickly unscrewed the pen, taking out the small spring that allowed the pen to click open and closed.
She stretched out the thin spring, then folded it in half, increasing the strength of the weak wire. She then took her makeshift lock pick and fiddled with the lock on the cage door. It wasn't actually that great of a tool, but the Pound had invested in cheap locks, so it clicked open fairly quickly.
She waited for Dr. Death to pass by again on his rounds before slipping out of her cage. None of the other pets took notice of her, caught up in their own self-pity, or simply not seeing the knee-high Meerca. She more or less remembered the layout to the entrance from when she was adopted by June last November. She snuck around until she reached the pink door that marked the entrance to the adoption center.
She heard voices, so Wanmei ducked behind a stack of empty cages. Rose, the adoption Uni, burst through the door, leading a perspective owner to the stacks of pets. Wanmei waited for them to pass, then sneaked through the still-swinging door.
From there, it was pretty easy to walk through the empty office, and then walk out the front door.
It was early evening outside in Neopia Central, still light out, but fading fast. Wanmei was hungry and weak from being in the Pound. She needed food, and a healing potion to boot. Luckily, her owner, june_scarlet, lived nearby. June didn't own a Neohome yet, but she rented one in Neopia Central until she could decide which land she wanted to settle in.
Wanmei set out for the Scarlets' home, knowing there she'd get the food and warmth she needed.
June sat on her couch, reading the latest issue of The Neopian Times. She dreamed of writing her own stories and comics for the Times, but she felt there was a character missing from all her ideas, so she hadn't created anything yet.
As June turned another page, she heard a knock at the door. Surprised because she didn't get many visitors, June set down the Times, and got up to answer the door. She opened the door and looked out at the dusk sky, but she didn't see anyone there. Then she heard, "You wouldn't believe what happened to me, June. I'm so glad to be home."
June looked down to see a little Meerca on her doorstep. She hesitated before saying, "I'm sorry, but who are you?"
The Meerca looked oddly at June "It's me, Wanmei. I was somehow changed from Striped back to Blue, but it's still me, June."
June frowned. "I don't know any Meercas. Do you have me confused with someone else, another June?"
The little Meerca faltered. "No, you are my owner. You adopted me last fall. I filled your fourth slot."
June shook her head. "No, that's not right. I only have three pets."
Wanmei prided herself on being stoic. She was good at "Cheat!" because she didn't let her emotion show.
So when she realized what the Reset Button had done, all that was detectable was a slight pause. The Reset Button had changed just one small detail of Wanmei's life, the simplest one that could prevent her mistake. She had never been adopted by June.
Wanmei took a deep breath and said, "Sorry, ma'am. You're right, I had you confused with a different June. I'll ... I'll just be going then."
Wanmei turned to leave, but just then, a speckled Zafara came bounding up, holding a tray. "The cookies are ready!" she said.
Noticing Wanmei, the Zafara bent down and offered her the tray. "Would you like a cookie, miss?"
Wanmei didn't feel it was right to take anything from the Scarlet Family, seeing as she was no longer a part of it. However, she was still dying of hunger from the Pound, so she accepted a cookie anyway. "Thank you, Yibit," she told the Zafara.
She giggled. "That's right, I'm Yibit! What's your name?"
Wanmei finished scarfing down the cookie, and wiped her mouth. "The name's Wanmei."
Having watched the exchange, June asked, "How did you know Yibit's name?"
Wanmei scrambled for an answer, some reason that would explain why she knew the Scarlets so well despite having never been adopted by them. She looked away. "Well, June, ma'am, I ..."
June narrowed her eyes. "Go on."
Wanmei sighed. She respected June too much to tell her a lie, even though she wasn't her owner now. She compromised with, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
June raised an eyebrow. "Try me."
Wanmei met her gaze, and said, "Fine. I used a Reset Button designed by Dr. Sloth, and it fixed my mistake by making it so you never adopted me."
June blinked. "What?"
Wanmei raised her shoulders. "Like I said."
June stared at Wanmei until Yibit said, "Yay! Time for a family meeting!"
Jane listened to Wanmei's story, sitting at the kitchen table with the rest of the Scarlets. As the oldest, the Red Xweetok was very protective of her family, and if she were to believe the Meerca's story, Wanmei was a part of it.
But Jane had trouble buying all of it. "You seriously thought it was a good idea to use stolen Sloth technology?"
Wanmei threw her hands up. "What do you think I am, an Ixi? I'm no thief. That Reset Button never left Virtupets."
Before Jane could retort that at least most Ixi had roguish charm, Jill serenely said, "What happened, happened. You can't change the past."
June nodded at the Rainbow Cybunny. "Jill has a point. Well, apparently you can change the past, but it's not something you want to do." June shook her head. "All this stuff is confusing. My life feels real, but if you're correct, it's like the Reset Button crossed out one bit of reality, then proceeded to scrawl a new past right over the old one."
"Maybe we could unchange the past, then," Yibit chimed in.
"And how would we do that?" asked Jill.
Wanmei considered. "Maybe the Baby Grundo knows how to undo the effects of the Reset Button. I can't afford tickets to the Space Station though."
"Well, I have some NP saved up. And if you're family like you say you are, I would be fine buying the fare for you," June offered.
Jane couldn't hide her suspicions any longer. She stood up, her chair scraping the floor. "Yes, if you are family, but there's no way to prove that, is there? All you've done is told us things about the Scarlets that you could easily look up. You come in here, claiming some story about a Reset Button, and you expect us to buy it? And buy you a shuttle ticket as well? If you're going to be a con artist, at least do a decent job."
Wanmei stood up on her chair, but she still had to gaze upward to look Jane in the eye. "I am telling you the truth."
Jane glowered at the Meerca until Jill said, "There's no need for shouting. I'm inclined to believe Wanmei's story, but you're right, Jane, we need to exercise skepticism. I'd suggest that we all go to the Space Station, to see the truth for ourselves."
Jane sat back down, and smiled. "Yeah, show us this 'Reset Button' in person."
Wanmei shook her head. "I can't let you guys join this mission; it's too dangerous."
Jane leaned forward. "One, you let us come, or we won't buy the tickets. And two, I can handle myself."
Wanmei considered a few seconds before leaning back, crossing her arms. "Fine. I agree to the terms. Get five tickets to Virtupets," she said coolly.
Jane smiled. She had her there. "I'll go buy the tickets now. We'll leave in the morning."
Jane got up from the table, and grabbed a jacket hanging from a set of hooks next to the back door. "Later, guys." She opened the door and left.
"Well," said June, "I guess the meeting's over."
Wanmei was setting up her makeshift bed on the couch when Jill hopped in carrying a tie-dye fleece blanket that was nearly as colorful as her rainbow fur. "Will this do?"
"You'd really let me use your favorite blanket?" Wanmei asked.
"How did you know it was my favorite?" Jill said, puzzled.
Wanmei raised her eyebrows.
"Oh, right," Jill said, shaking her head, "This whole thing is very confusing."
Wanmei sighed. "I'm sorry, it's my fault, and I had to go and drag all of you into it."
Jill sat down on the couch, and set the blanket next to her. "If you don't mind me asking, what was the mistake, the one that caused you to seek out the Reset Button? You were very detailed about the rest of your story, but skipped that part."
Wanmei looked down. "Well, you don't need to hear the whole adventure, but I trusted the wrong person, and so the villain got away, and got the treasure too. The whole thing was very humiliating."
There was a minute of silence, each pet busy with their own thoughts. Then Jill quietly said, "You know, Wanmei, everyone makes mistakes. The important part is what you learn from them."
"I'll remember that." Wanmei said, with a small smile.
There was another minute of contemplation before Jill said, "It's getting pretty late. Good night."
"Good night." Wanmei replied.
She watched the rainbow Cybunny hop out of the room before adding, "I'm sorry for all the trouble I'm causing you guys."
Yibit liked to get up early in the morning, when she could have the whole house to herself. The only other morning person in the family was Jane, but she liked to stay in their shared room and read.
Yibit walked out of the bedroom to make breakfast, stopping in the living room to wish Wanmei a good morning. But all Yibit saw on the couch was Jill's folded up tie-dye blanket. "Wanmei, where are you?" Yibit quietly called, trying not to wake up the others.
Yibit looked in the kitchen, the bathroom, even the yard, but couldn't find Wanmei. Giving up, she walked back into her room, and asked Jane, "Have you seen Wanmei?"
Jane set down the book she was reading next to her on the bed, and it disappeared in a poof of yellow smoke. "What do you mean, Yibit?"
Yibit shrugged. "I can't find her nowhere in the house."
"Anywhere. You mean you can't find her anywhere in the house, Yibit," Jane corrected. Then she realized what she was saying. "You mean she's not here?"
Alarmed, Jane leaped out of her bed, and rushed to her desk. She picked up the tickets she had bought the night before, and counted them. "Four. There are only four tickets. That little thief stole her ticket to Virtupets!"
The door opened to Room 501.2 of Dr. Sloth's Warehouse, and in walked a Baby Grundo, dragging briefcase nearly as tall as he was. He walked a few paces into the room before setting the briefcase on the floor.
As he fumbled with the briefcase lock, Wanmei leapt from a low shelf and landed in front of the Grundo, only the briefcase separating them. Startled, he stumbled backwards just as the lock clicked open. "Where did you come from?"
"I've been waiting here for you all night," said Wanmei.
"Who are you?" asked the Grundo.
"Wanmei. I used the Reset Button yesterday."
The Grundo peered at her. "Ah, yes, I recognize you now. You've changed colors though. Don't tell me that was your mistake." He laughed, but seeing Wanmei just stare coldly at him, he quickly turned it into a cough. "Right, what do you want, then?"
"I want you to undo the effects of the Reset Button," Wanmei said evenly.
"I think the only way to do that would be to use the Reset Button again, treating the pressing of it as the mistake. Results would be unpredictable, of course. However, if you want another try at it, be my guest. You just have to cough up the dough."
Wanmei gave him a cutting look. "I'm not paying for your lousy service. It doesn't work. And I want a refund too."
The Grundo took a step closer to Wanmei. "The Reset Button worked exactly the way it was supposed to." He shrugged. "But I can see you won't take no for an answer. Let me just get you what you need."
Wanmei folded her arms. "You see you do that."
The Grundo opened up his briefcase, and pulled out a small silver disk. Before Wanmei could even wonder what it was, he threw it at her. It expanded into a net before collapsing on her, capturing Wanmei in a fine silver mesh.
The Baby Grundo stood over Wanmei as she tried to move in the snug mesh. "It's quite secure; you won't be able to escape."
Wanmei said nothing, instead giving him the dirtiest look she could muster.
The Baby Grundo looked thoughtfully at Wanmei. "Now, what am I going to do with a nosy little Meerca that won't pay up?"
Suddenly a flash of brown and red fur leaped over Wanmei, knocking the Baby Grundo over. "Don't you dare hurt my sister!" exclaimed Jane as she swiped at his head.
June came next into Wanmei's line of sight, taking off her backpack and pulling rope from it. "Here, tie him up," she said, handing the rope to Jill.
Jill took the rope and wrapped it around the Grundo while Jane kept him subdued simply by baring her teeth at him in a fierce expression.
Wanmei heard Yibit above her say, "I wonder what happens if I pull this red link?"
She felt a tug near the top of her head before the net collapsed back into the silver disk, freeing Wanmei. "Yay!" exclaimed Yibit, "I freed you!"
The Grundo having been restrained, Jane ran over to Wanmei to help her up. "I'm sorry I doubted you; it was all here, exactly like you said."
Wanmei stood up. "It's okay, you want the same thing I do, what's best for the family."
Jane smiled and nodded.
June kneeled on the floor so she could look the Baby Grundo in the eyes. "It wasn't Wanmei who made the mistake. It was you who made the mistake when you let a Scarlet use the Reset Button. And this is a mistake you are going to fix." June turned to look at Wanmei. "Bring him the Reset Button."
Wanmei fetched the red-buttoned remote. The Grundo glared at her and said, "And how am I supposed to press it if I'm tied up?"
Wanmei grinned. "With your face!" she said, smashing the remote's button into his face.
The Reset Button fell to the floor with a clatter as the Scarlets watched the Baby Grundo disappear. They stared at the place he'd been until June said, "Wanmei, you're Striped again!"
Wanmei looked at her paw, happy to see it was back to her familiar light brown. "That's right! And how's the memory?"
"Confusing," said Jill. "I still remember the version of my life without you, but it's like remembering a story I read once."
"This reality feels correct, "Jane agreed. "What do you suppose happened to that Grundo?"
Wanmei laughed. "If it's anything like what happened to me, he was probably thrown into a whole new life."
The Grundo woke up to the intriguing scent of garbage. Gagging, he quickly sat up to find himself surrounded by five foot piles of the stuff.
A Green Grundo walked between two piles of trash, and saw him sitting there. "Hey, what you doing? This ain't no time for resting! Get back to work!"
The Baby Grundo blinked. "Work?"
The red Grundo laughed. "Yeah, you gotta get this junk outta here, to make room for the incoming stuff."'
The red Grundo left, leaving the Baby Grundo staring hopelessly at the mountains of trash.
Later that day, Wanmei sneaked through the catacombs in Neopia Central. Long ago, artists and writers had claimed the catacombs as their own, but since then, Roo Island had become their new base. The caves were deserted, which was exactly what Wanmei needed.
She searched the ragged walls until she found a nice crack. Glancing around one last time, she took the Reset Button from her satchel and stuffed it into the cranny. Satisfied, she walked back home. No one would ever have to suffer the Reset Button again.