They are sending her away now, the Nimmo who was just zapped Purple. The name she has is barely a name: it's a long string of consonants that no one can pronounce. And she wasn't here long enough for me to learn a nickname. She was adopted yesterday. She'll be abandoned again today. The Lab Ray worked quickly this time, in a stroke of rare luck—good luck? Bad luck?
Bad, I think. She's gone already. My owner is leading her back to the Pound.
This is what she likes to do. She takes pets from the Pound. She feeds them, grooms them, plays with them until they're delighted, buys them a month's lodging in the Neolodge, sometimes gives him a Petpet—usually a Petpet that I've fished up from the Vortex, a Surzard or a Noak, because those Petpets are better than cheap: they're free.
But those Pound pets don't mind; they think it's just another sign that she loves them; they think it's a sure indication that they'll be kept. They endure their visits to the Lab Ray. And then once their fur is a particular color, they're walked back to the Pound. I've accompanied my owner on some of those walks. The pet's always cheerful. "Are we going shopping in Neopia Central? I want to see the Kadoaties!" Then they see the Pound.
Some of them start crying. I remember a Skeith; I think we nicknamed her Bella, for her name was an awful one. When she was adopted, she asked our owner, "Why did you adopt me? I'm a Skeith. I'm uglier than all the other pets. There were Usuls in the Pound. Why me?"
Our owner said, "Don't be silly. I think you're gorgeous."
And Bella came home and met all of us, and ate dinner with us, and went to bed in our Neohome, and the next morning Bella walked to the laboratory. It took a few weeks, but then Bella got her lucky zap! Good luck? Bad luck?
She turned Mutant. My owner patted her on her head—the head that had now grown a huge horn. And she looked into Bella's eyes—the scleras were now black—and said, "This is really great! Someone's sure to adopt you now!"
Bella sobbed. She was hideous and nothing would convince her otherwise. My owner walked her to the Pound.
What is it like to be a Pound pet? I know, as my sisters don't. My name is Gipri, and I am a Royal Bori now, but once upon a time I was just Blue. There are thousands of stories and most of them are true. We don't have food or toys. We're kept in very small cages. We stay in one spot for weeks and months and years. My owner liked me. She adopted me and painted me Royal and now here I am.
But the others aren't so lucky.
I remember the first time we took on a foster pet. He was a Yellow Peophin. I thought I'd finally have an older brother. She zapped him White and left him at the Pound's doorstep. That night I didn't eat dinner. My owner said, "Gipri, what's wrong?"
"Are you going to abandon me?" I said.
"What?" she said. "Why on earth would you think something like that?"
And my sister, Wonder—a Speckled Xweetok—said, "Don't be silly, Gipri!"
"You're a Royal Bori, first of all," my owner said, laughing. "You're too pretty to abandon! And secondly, you're family."
"Wasn't he family?" I said.
"Who do you mean?" she said. She'd already forgotten him.
My second sister, Sapphirine, an Island Kacheek, said, "I think she means Xx_Fishyface3149924—" or something to that effect; I don't remember his real name anymore, only that he'd decided Fish was his best choice for a nickname.
"Oh, that's different!" my owner said. "He was only temporary. He's a non-Basic color now, anyway. He'll be quickly adopted by another family and he'll live perfectly well. Don't worry about him."
"But what's the difference between me and him?" I said.
"Gipri, seriously," said Wonder. "You're our sister! No one's abandoning you."
"But what made me your sister, and why didn't it make him our brother?"
"Because," said my owner, "I love you very much, and I want to keep you forever. Now eat your dinner."
"Didn't you love him?"
"Gipri, for Fyora's sake," groaned Wonder. And nobody would answer me.
So that we might have the space to foster a pet, my sister Viridri, a Fire Uni, had been sent to our cousins' home in Altador. Occasionally she flew back to Meridell, where we lived, to visit, but not very often, since she had to fly over a mountain range and the Haunted Woods, and the mountains made her tired and the Woods gave her the creeps.
I missed her, though. Viridri wasn't condescending like Wonder, and she didn't think she was so much smarter than me just 'cause she'd read two hundred books, like Saphy. Viridri was Viridri. She liked insulting people and teasing me and committing petty arson with her hooves. But she didn't lie.
I didn't want to wait for her visit which would be who-knows-when, so I put on a pair of wings and flew to Altador. The house there was huge, white and gold with marble columns, so pretty compared to the brick-like castle home where we lived. An Eventide Peophin, my cousin Lumenare, answered the door. Right behind her was a Rainbow Lutari: my other cousin, Venose. A little Hasee, her Petpet, bounced around near her tail.
"Gipri!" said Lumenare. "We weren't expecting you. Is everyone here?"
"Just me," I said.
"You're looking for Viridri, right?" Lumenare said.
"She's probably in the backyard, setting something on fire," said Venose. Just then her Hasee bounced up to my head and tugged on my braid. "Pomona!" Venose shrieked. "Stop it! LET GO OF HER HAIR!"
Then a pair of terrifying orange eyes appeared above us all.
Pomona the Hasee squealed in terror, let go of my hair, and bounced off. Venose turned around and glared at my sister. "You didn't have to do THAT," she said.
"Well, Pomona let go of her hair," said Viridri. She was wearing a pair of Possessed Eyes contact lenses. They glowed frighteningly orange. She turned towards me, and I shrank back despite myself.
"What are you doing here?" she said. "Don't tell me you flew here on a pair of detachable wings? That's stupid. And dangerous. Mostly stupid."
"I wanted to ask you a question," I said.
"What? Me?" she said. "You live with Sapphirine the know-it-all."
"Please?" I said.
She sighed. "Let's go outside."
In the backyard, there was a little garden surrounded by white marble pillars. One was broken; Viridri sat on its stump and took out her contacts. Her real eyes were starry blue and sort of tired-looking.
"So what is it?" she said. "I guess it's something important. You know, you could've written a letter."
I told her about foster pets, and about Fish the Peophin, and how they'd thrown him back into the Pound, but they hadn't thrown me back in, and I didn't know why, and I couldn't figure it out.
"Fish?" she said. "Seriously? He was named Fish?"
"That was his nickname. His real name had a lot of numbers and an underscore..."
"Oh," she said. "Well, that explains it. His name was awful. Yours isn't. It's why you're here."
"My name?" I said. "Gipri? But it's not even a pretty name."
"But there aren't any numbers or symbols, and the first letter's capitalized. Our owner only likes those sorts of names. She was careful to give us names like that when she created us. It's why Sapphirine is Sapphirine and not Sap-underscore-phire or something like that, even though that would've been shorter, and closer to Sapphire."
"Why couldn't she just name her Sapphire?"
"There's a rule in Neopia," Viridri said. "No two pets can have the exact same name. It's why people give pets with names that have numbers and underscores—no one wants those things in a name, but sometimes the name they want is taken already, so they have to resort to that. But the thing about names with numbers is that people think they're bad names. And our owner thinks they're bad names. She pities the pets stuck with them—because we are all stuck with our names. Colors and species and genders can be changed, after all. Names can't."
"Oh," I said. "But even so—she doesn't have to go around adopting pets and taking care of them and then just abandoning them again! It's so mean. I hear them crying sometimes."
"Do you mean you have nightmares, Gipri?"
"I mean in my memories, when I remember them."
Viridri sighed. "The thing is, she wants to help them, and she does that by feeding them and zapping them until they're a special color. They're more likely to be adopted if they aren't basic."
"Do you think she's helping them?" I said.
"It doesn't matter what I think—honestly, I think it's all stupid. I wish it would end. I want to go home and sleep in my own room again. But if it makes our owner feel like she's doing a good thing, well, she's not going to stop doing it."
For a moment, we didn't talk. Viridri's pet Vaeolus, who was named Mulciber, was perched on top of a nearby pillar and clawing at the marble. That was the only sound, then—the scrape of his claws. Finally Viridri said, "Did I answer your question?"
"I guess," I said. "But I still don't like it."
"That's a real shame," she said. She was back to being sarcastic. "Why don't you go petition Queen Fyora to get it all fixed?" She began to put her contact lenses back in. "Let's have dinner before we fly home."
"We?" I said.
"Do you think I'm letting you fly home alone? Stupidhead, your wings could come off in midair."
So that was the end of it.
My family was delighted to see Viridri, although she seemed a bit annoyed with them. They'd already adopted a new pet, a Blue Aisha who didn't have a collar. His nickname was Theodore. His real name, I knew already, was a mess.