"Ick." Ebsidia stared down the hallway of the Space Station, coated with a dry, crusty slime. She looked over her shoulder at the Alien Aisha who had been assigned to come with her, Barlhox, and grimaced. "Are we really supposed to clean this mess up?"
"Really? Really? You were the one who wanted to come up here and see how the Space Station works!" The Aisha rolled his eyes. "This is how it works."
"I wanted to see the banks of machines that keep the thing floating, the ships that run things back and forth between here and Neopia, that sort of thing. Not... halls covered in... whatever this is."
"Believe it or not, this is way more important than any of that stuff. This is the kind of work that keeps everything moving. No ships? Whatever. We'll just stay here. Filth everywhere is a real problem."
Ebsidia sighed and reached for one of the buckets and a stack of rags that the two had brought with them from the maintenance deck. She started on the right side of the hallway, Barlhox on the left.
A few minutes later, she stopped scrubbing—it wasn't going very quickly, what with caked slime and only rags to try to rub it off with—and listened. "Do you hear that?"
"No," Barlhox answered. He had made about twice as much progress on his wall as Ebsidia had made on hers.
"Seriously, listen." There was a rattling sound coming from what sounded like a floor beneath them. If it hadn't been for the loud crashes that punctuated the regular metal-on-metal sound, Ebsidia might not have noticed it at all. "What's down there?"
"Look, I know this isn't how you wanted to spend your week, babysitting some ungrateful Shoyru who's just playing at being the space-and-technology sort, but you don't have to be rude."
Barlhox laughed. "I answered your question. There's nothing down there."
"Well, that's certainly not true," Ebsidia answered. "There is something down there, and it's making an awful lot of noise. We should go investigate."
"No, we should finish cleaning this hallway."
"I'll make you a deal. If you show me how to get down there, and we discover what's making all the noise, I'll clean the entire hallway myself AND you don't have babysit me anymore. I'll find things to do on my own."
"Deal!" Barlhox said. He dropped his rag in his now-also-disgusting bucket of water, and started toward the far end of the hallway.
"Do we have to go that way?"
"You wanted me to show you how to get down there, didn't you?"
"But, there's... slime that way."
"Yep," Barlhox said. "Come on."
Ebsidia followed, beating her wings fiercely to keep contact with the slime-coated corridor to a minimum. The ceiling was low and the walls were close, making staying centered between them very difficult. She suddenly understood why the Volcano Run Scorchio had such a hard time of it.
There were two doors at the end of the hall, one with a giant green circle with white lettering just beneath the itty bitty window in it, and the other with a small scanner off to the side, no label, and no window. Barlhox pressed his paw to the scanner. It blinked a few times, flashing red, then blue, then finally green, and made a clicking sound. The unmarked door swung open, revealing a dark staircase. As soon as the Alien Aisha stepped through it, overhead lights flicked on, flooding the stairs with brightness. "You first," he gestured to Ebsidia. She landed on the stairs and started to walk down, the red glow of her Dimensional body adding a strange tint to the air.
The door at the bottom of the stairs was un-extraordinary. It was made of wood instead of metal, and had a knob. Ebsidia opened it and walked through.
"Oh, this is awful," she murmured.
"Welcome to the depths of the Space Station," Barlhox said, closing the door behind him. The slime on the walls, much like the slime of the corridor they had been tasked with cleaning, was mixed with dust here. "See why cleaning is so important?"
Ebsidia managed a nod.
This hallway was lit by a different kind of light than the ones upstairs, much dimmer, spaced farther along the ceiling. Ebsidia couldn't see more than a few feet in front of her at a time, but she could tell that the rattling sound she'd heard from upstairs was coming from just beyond her range of vision. She swallowed and started forward, Barlhox's footsteps not far behind her own.
The hall ended in a T. She peered around the corner, saw a flash of something moving, and ducked back.
"You said there was nothing down here," she whispered.
"There shouldn't be." Barlhox took his turn looking around the corner. "Nope, that's definitely two somethings."
"You're sure a cleaning crew wasn't sent down here?"
"Positive. This part of the Station has 'abandoned' status. No one should be here. Ever. For anything."
The rattling turned to a low, guttural, almost groaning sound. Ebsidia had never heard anything like it. "What is that?"
"I have no—oh no." He started to back away from the corner, toward the direction they had come. "Oh no. Quietly. Slowly. Back up."
"Now. Just. Do. It."
Ebsidia started to move back, but the sounds grew louder, closer.
"What is it?" she whispered, wanting to be prepared for whatever was about to come around the corner.
"The Mutant Aisha Twins."
"I've never heard of them."
"You haven't? They have a NeoDeck card and everything. Oh man, this is bad. They eat Neopets. We should stop talking."
Barlhox kept walking backward, his eyes glued to the corner. A blue and green, mouth-ended Aisha ear stalk appeared. It swiveled toward them. The two had made it halfway back down the hall when the rest of the first of the Aisha twins appeared.
"The brother," Barlhox whispered. "He's more, uh... well, he's slower, but stronger. He takes the orders. At least, that's what they say. No, don't stop. Keep going. Keep going!"
He stopped and sat in the middle of the hallway, just looking at them. That didn't last long—he sat up and howled, an awful, low howl that bounced off the metal walls and ceiling and magnified. The other twin, the sister, appeared before the howl died down.
"Run!" Barlhox yelled. He turned around and sprinted toward the door. Ebsidia did the same thing. She could hear the Aishas running down the hall after them.
Barlhox got to the wooden door. He turned the knob, but it broke off in his hand. "Oh no. Oh no. Oh no."
Ebsidia looked behind her. They had seconds, if that. "I have an idea. Stand with me in front of the door, and when I tell you to, jump toward the wall. Got it?"
"Now!" She leapt out of the way to one side, and shoved Barlhox off to the other, just as the Mutant Aishas would have crashed into them. Instead, they crashed into the door, splitting it wide open and temporarily stunning themselves.
Ebsidia didn't have to say anything to get Barlhox to follow her over the Aishas' bodies, even as they started to recover from their collision with the door.
"Quick," he said, panting hard as he sprinted up the stairs.
They made it to the top before the Mutant Aisha Twins started up the stairs. Barlhox opened the door, and he and Ebsidia half-lept through it. He put his paw on the panel again, and the door slid closed. Two seconds later, they felt more than heard something slam into the door.
"Fortunately," Barlhox breathed a sigh of relief, "that door is made of metal."
"Mutant Aisha Twins, huh?" Ebsidia leaned against the wall to catch her breath. She didn't even really notice the slime. "That's it, I'm out of here."
"You promised you'd—"
"After that, of course. I'm done with this place."
"What about being Dimensional and all that?"
"Dimensional doesn't have to mean Space Station, does it?" she asked. "And if it does, I guess I'll just have to go back and visit the Lab Ray Scientist."
"You know, there are rumors that the experiments that created the Mutant Aisha Twins were performed by that guy, right?"
"On second thought, I'll just be Dimensional in Neopia Central. Yep."
"Kiko Lake is probably safer."
"Kiko Lake it is, then."
Ebsidia got to work scrubbing the slime from the Space Station walls.