Dr. Sloth Returns... Again!: Part Two
The frightened Neopets cowered in their cages, obviously scared by the sight of Neopia's Handsomest Supervillain. Dr. Sloth surveyed his prisoners. There was a blue Kougra from Shenkuu, a pink Usul from Kiko Lake and a red Aisha from Altador. All three were crying or shivering or both. The Acara was continuously banging his head against the wall.
"I don't understand," the Usul whimpered. "What do you want with us?"
"Wow!" the Kougra exclaimed sarcastically. "You must be the smartest pet EVER!!"
"Silence," Dr. Sloth barked. "She might as well have asked because I was going to explain anyway. My last plan to conquer Neopia went up in smoke."
"Oh yeah!" the Aisha had stopped headbanging long enough to rudely interrupt. "I saw that in the Neopian Times! It didn't -"
"QUIET!!!" Dr. Sloth roared. He reached his hand into the cage and lightly held the Aisha's chin. "And quit banging your head against the wall," he instructed. "I need every little brain cell I can get." The Aisha moved to bite him, but he withdrew his hand faster than lightning. "I know why the last plan failed," the scientist continued. "Lack of preparation. Instead of testing first I dove right in. Well I know better than to make the same mistake twice. Whether you knew it or not, you three are surprisingly similar. Your families are comprised of no one more than you and your owner, you all have a reputation for running away, and your owners have no neofriends; no one to keep track of where they are on a daily basis. Not to mention they frequently leave you without warning for a long time, although they're all present now. And your locations. You three live in the last three places that anyone would ever look for me. And so the test commences." He pushed a button on the wall beside him. A panel on the back wall of the tree cages slid open to reveal three plain Sloth Day burgers - all of which had been tainted by Dr. Sloth's secret ingredient. "Eat up," he commanded.
"No!" the Kougra protested.
"Oh, feeling brave, are we?" Dr. Sloth taunted. "Here's the thing: that's all you're getting to eat, and I'm not letting you out of here until you do eat it. Don't think I won't keep you here forever. I assure you, I will." The hope had gone from his prisoners' eyes: they had accepted their fate. Dr. Sloth smiled. "Bon appetite!" He couldn't contain himself any longer. He broke into a maniacal laugh.
Jade was in her neohome in Shenkuu preparing dinner; like her pet would be home for it. Ice was almost never home, and the blue Kougra only came back to eat and leave or when he was sick. Suddenly the doorbell rang. That was odd. The owner never had visitors. She opened the door and sighed with relief.
"Ice!" she said. "There you are! You're just in time for dinner!"
"Mom, I found something cool," he told her in a monotone voice. There was something wrong with his eyes...
"What is it?" Jade asked. She felt like something was wrong.
"You have to see," he answered. "Come on." He turned around and started to walk away.
"Where are you going?" she asked him frantically.
"I have to show you. Come and see."
"Wait!" she shouted after him. He didn't even slow down. Jade took one last look into her neohome, and reluctantly followed her pet.
D was at a loss. Not a word from Sloth or the Resistance since the leak. The silence was killing her. As she pondered her sure to be impending doom, the doorbell rang. She got up off the couch and answered it, fearing the worst. She breathed a sigh of relief - it was just Athena and Myana. Athena was a full-time agent for Fyora, and a part-time agent for Darigan. She was only working for Darigan part-time because she helped blow up his castle. Myana worked for King Altador, and also played a significant part in the destruction of Darigan Castle. Ironically, the Darigan Castle incident was how they all became friends.
"Oh, it's just you guys," D breathed. "Get in here. We need to talk." Then she proceeded to the kitchen table and sat down without another word. Her friends followed her.
"D, we need to tell you something," Athena informed D.
"Is it about Sloth?" D asked desperately. "Tell me it's about Sloth. I haven't heard a word since the leak. The silence is suffocating me. And I just know he's up to something."
"Well, last night something odd happened," Athena continued. "We don't know who's behind it."
"What happened?" D was really curious now.
"A family in Shenkuu went missing last night," Athena informed her. "One pet. One owner. Gone." D's eyes widened.
"Really?" she marvelled.
"Yeah," Myana answered. "Same thing happened last night in Altador. One pet. One owner. Gone."
"It's true," Athena confirmed. "We looked into it, and there was a third disappearance at Kiko Lake. All three cases are almost identical."
"And we found this!" Myana said, pulling out a sleek silver bracelet with a button on it. "I figured you would know what it was." D's eyes widened.
"Of course I know what that is!" she exclaimed. "It's one of Dr. Sloth's teleport bracelets! All the minions have one!"
"What happened to yours?" Athena questioned.
"I sold it to the resistance for a very high price."
"Oh, you would..." Myana grumbled.
"So it definitely is Dr. Sloth?" Athena inquired.
"Oh, definitely," D confirmed. "The real question is, why does he need them?"
"What do you mean?" Myana pried. "Why would you think he needs them?"
"If he didn't need them for something you would have found some lovely piles of sludge," D explained. "He needs them for something. And I have no idea what."
"Alright, guys, I'm back!" D announced as she walked in the door. "I stopped by Tropical Foods on the way home."
"You were at Tropical Foods?" Flame questioned, confused.
"We get to eat something that wasn't free?!" Serphine exclaimed excitedly.
"What has Sloth done to you?" Chris asked, as if she was genuinely concerned.
"Yes, no, and nothing," D answered, exasperated. "You would not believe the day I'm having." She plopped down onto the couch exhausted.
"What happened?" Serphine inquired.
"Ok, so I'm going around Neopia, doing my dailies, and I start in Tyrannia, as usual, when I noticed it: The Giant Nothing," D explained, pausing to note her pets' confusion. "You know how there's usually this Giant Omelette? Well, this time there was just a Giant Nothing. So I go to Town Hall to see if Sabre-X was in. Which he wasn't. As a matter of fact, no one was. This made me a little nervous. So I continue around Neopia and discover that there's not a single scrap of food anywhere. Not a crumb. Anywhere. Even the Soup Faerie was gone. Bowl was empty. Couldn't even lick the spoon. I began to feel desperate, so I went all the way out to the food shop in Neopia Central, which I never do for any reason, and I found something there. It didn't make me feel better."
"What did you find?" Chris queried.
"Sloth Day Burgers," D answered in her best fake perky voice, fishing around in a brown shopping bag. "Plain and Wheaty!" she continued while pulling the respective kinds of burger out of her bag. Both oozed Fyora-knows-what all over D's hands.
"Ew," Chris whined in a perfect valley girl voice.
"I'm not eating that," Flame insisted. Her sisters readily agreed.
"How dare you even suggest that I would ever be so cruel as to feed you something like this?!"
"Well, you did feed me pickled leeches that one time."
"And you ate them, so don't complain!"
"Why did you bring them home if we weren't going to eat them?" Serphine asked, changing back the subject.
"What exactly does that mean?" Flame wondered, not because she didn't know what analysis meant, but because it could mean so many things.
"It means we get to cut them open and look at their guts!" Serphine answered a little too excitedly. Chris looked at her sister.
"There's something wrong with you, isn't there?" she remarked.
"The problem is," D continued, "I have no idea where I'm going to get the equipment. I'd need a full blown lab!" Suddenly she noticed that Flame was averting her eyes and biting her lip. "Flame, what are you hiding?"
"I... uh..." she stuttered, "I... oh, I'll just show you." She scampered off to another corner of the neohome, and stood by the red rug on the floor. D and her neopets quickly followed. They stood around the rug and stared at it for a couple seconds.
"Well," D said at last, "it's a rug. Explain why it's special."
"No! Not the rug!" Flame answered. "I... oh..." She pulled the rug back to reveal what looked like one of Dr. Sloth's paw print scanners. She scanned her left paw. There was a louder-than-Sloth-when-he's-angry mechanical grinding sound, and a section of the floor slid away to reveal a dark staircase. Lights popped on row by row heading downward. Unfazed, Flame calmly escorted her confused owner and slightly frightened sisters down into the newly revealed basement.
"Who built all this?" D asked in amazement.
"I did," Flame replied simply.
"You were gone for like, two years, Mom. I had time." The group arrived at a door. It slid open automatically. They walked in and stared. Their basement was the biggest laboratory in history! At least, the biggest one D had ever seen. Suddenly she began to worry.
"Where did you get all this with what money?" she exclaimed.
"You're not the only one who can 'borrow' from Dr. Sloth. And anyway, I'm certain it has everything we need."
"Well, then. Let's get started."
Ten minutes later, D was pacing the floor nervously. Flame was staring intently down the barrel of a microscope, Serphine was practicing her Battledome moves, and Chris was trying desperately not to get any Sloth Burger guts in her fur. Suddenly Flame perks up.
"I think I've worked it out!" she exclaimed. D and the others rushed over to hear the news. "I found a smaller, simpler microchip in the burger-guts that resembles the one we found in the cap. After running some tests, I deducted that it must be for the same purpose. The smaller, sturdier microchip would survive digestion to enter the bloodstream, then riding it all the way up to the brain. Once there, they activate and begin to receive signals from Dr. Sloth's control tower."
"And how long would that take?" Chris asked.
"After ingestion... more or less a day, depending on the species."
"And you're sure it will actually work this time?" D questioned.
"Absolutely. The chips would be applied directly to the brain, so there wouldn't be anything to block the signal."
"We're doomed," Chris stated, all bored like.
"But not every neopet in Neopia eats regularly. Not to mention there are owners like Mom who hoard food like there's no tomorrow." Serphine pointed out.
"Come on, Serphine, do you really think that Dr. Sloth wouldn't come up with a plan for those neopets? He's not stupid."
"We're doomed," Serphine said, mimicking her sister perfectly.
"Given all the factors, I would say we have... a month maybe?" D calculated.
"We're doomed," Flame repeated.
"Not quite," D comforted. "I have time to pull a plan together. It'll work out. You'll see."
The yellow Lupe joaeifneiow9 rolled over, trying to ignore the hollow burn in his stomach. His owner had left and never returned. He and his sister oiWNFVIEOow3, a red Acara, hadn't eaten in years. He could hear her whimpering behind him. Suddenly he heard something new; someone was knocking at the door. Maybe it was just his imagination. The illusion persisted.
"Come in," the Lupe rasped. The speech only irritated his already parched throat. The door flew open and a tall green - was it a human? - walked in, his long black cloak trailing the floor. Two giant Grundos followed him in carrying a table. The hot smell of grease hit the Lupe's nose and he immediately snapped to attention: the table was loaded with burgers. Beautiful, slime-covered, mohawk-wearing burgers. Now he knew he was hallucinating.
"I... is this..." his sister muttered weakly, "is this for us?"
"Why of course!" the stranger replied warmly. "I simply can't bear seeing hopeless pets like you abused like this. You may eat 'till your heart's content."
"But what about our owner?" the Lupe challenged.
"She will never know. You are as good as abandoned. She's never coming back. And even if she does, I'm sure she will be grateful that such a kind soul as myself has taken on the burden of feeding you two." That was all the Lupe needed to hear. He dove at the table with all the passion of a hundred Skeiths.
All of Dr. Sloth's important agents (minus the treacherous D, of course) were sitting around the dark, silvery metal table in the boardroom, with the green man himself sitting at its head.
"Alright," Dr. Sloth opened up. "Status report."
"Ninety-nine percent of Neopians are infected, sir," the head scientist informed his master. This was pleasing news. Sloth smiled a little bit.
"And the Soup Faerie?" This time he looked to his most trusted subordinate, Commander Garoo. The commander looked rather ruffled as opposed to his usual demeanor.
"I... I couldn't find her sir. Believe me I tried, but..."
"Of course you couldn't find her. I sent Ylana Skyfire after her. I decided that I didn't want my property damaged. She should be here any minute now." It was barely a moment later when the door slid open and Skyfire strode in. She looked at Sloth and smiled impishly, opening her hand. A corked glass bottle containing something small, yellow and extremely irritated was revealed. One of the genius's minions reached for the bottle only for the bounty hunter to snatch back her hand.
"My pay?" she quietly demanded.
"Of course." Dr. Sloth snapped his fingers. Two Grundos ran out pushing a cart, the top of which was overflowing with golden neopoints. The bounty hunter smiled.
"You always have rewarded me quite handsomely," she pointed out, tossing the bottle to Sloth.
"The best for the best," he clarified, catching it expertly in one hand. Ylana smiled, took her money and strolled out of the room. The door slid closed behind her. The genius slid the bottled faerie into his pocket. "Dr_Death, how are we doing at the pound?"
"Very good, sir. All our detainees are contaminated and I even managed to slip some nanochips into that blasted pink Uni's coffee."
"Excellent. Gruugga, has the giant omelette been disposed of?"
"Ugga! Ugga ug, ug rugga ug ugga," the Tyrannian Grundo replied excitedly.
"Good. And Sabre-X?"
"Ugga ug." He smirked wickedly.
"Great. So, now, I want the Insignificance Report." The scientists and spies in the room looked around nervously. They had a right to, too. Dr. Sloth hadn't told them about this one. He savored their nervous and frightened expressions and then realized just how starved of evil he really was.
"We... we don't know what you mean, sir," a Quiggle in the front row stammered.
"Of course you don't," Dr. Sloth replied. "I never told you." There was a chorus of collective groans and sighs from around the room. Sloth smiled. "I want to know every single little detail that you haven't told me because you thought it wasn't important but then it actually turns out to be the one gaping hole in my incredibly well thought through plan." Silence throughout the room. Suddenly one scientist piped up.
"I can't think of anything," he said. "This plan was incredibly well thought through."
"Well..." another agent mumbled, "There was one thing..."
"Yes?" Sloth demanded, eager to hear.
"One of the test slaves returned from the meeting place without his teleport bracelet. But I don't see how..."
"Oh no..." Dr. Sloth moaned, covering his face with both hands. "Where do you think he left it?"
"Shenkuu, most likely."
"But how could..."
"D has friends all over Neopia. I've kept her in the dark all this time. By now she'll be desperate to know what I'm up to. She'll have had someone on the lookout in Shenkuu, I'm sure of it. And by now she'll have taken the bracelet and figured out exactly what I'm up to. She'll be here any day now. We must be ready for her! When she gets here, she'll have fallen right into my trap."
To be continued...