The Lonely Stranger: Part One
If I was asked today what I wanted more: to know who I am or to simply continue living as I am, I suppose with a long train of painful thoughts I would choose the second of the choices. It's hard to understand for many, perhaps that's why I don't often tell this story, but occasionally everyone needs to stop and acknowledge what was and what is-which brings me to a day, a time, and a place. One that is my beginning, and maybe even, my end.
It was my first memory, the first time I acknowledged my own existence. It was a simple event, a simple thing to take for granted: I woke up.
Yes, as confusing as that is, that is the first memory I have. I was five or so, I don't really know, and I was in a cardboard box. Just a simple box, without a blanket or food or any evidence of how I had gotten there. All around me there was sound, sound that my second pair of super ears picked up very well.
"Huh?" I uttered, standing up to look around. The entire area was circular, with cold metal walls and floors. Pets and people alike were milling around, but most were Grundos, happily going about their business. "Where am I?"
Many passed me, but most didn't notice me, and those who did gave me either dirty looks or tried to seem like they hadn't noticed me in the first place. I leaned forward a bit to try and get one Neopian's attention, but I ended up tipping over the box. I landed on my stomach, the air escaping my chest. My heavy earstalks tilted down close to my eyes when I stood, but I managed to keep them high enough that they didn't block my vision too much. I waddled along awkwardly, trying to get people's attention. They continued to ignore me.
This is the first time I came upon the realization that I was alone, and no one was going to help me along. I needed to rely on myself.
I sighed and looked around for a shop of some sort. Surely the owners would notice a potential customer. I went down some weird stairs that moved on their own and came to the marketplace section. I went to the first shop I saw, owned by a tall, friendly looking Mutant Grundo. I stood on my tiptoes to see over the counter.
"Excuse me, sir," I greeted in my tiny voice, barely believing I even had something as attention-calling as a voice. "Can you tell me where I am?"
He chuckled. "Why you're at none other than Grundos Café, the finest little Café on the Recreation Deck of Virtupets Space Station! I'm Gargarox, and you are?"
I blinked. Virtupets? What in the world was Virtupets?
"Miss?" he asked, confused. I could see Gargarox was worried about why I was so quiet. "Do you have a name?"
I sighed, ending my thoughts and looking back up at him. "Sorry."
"It's fine!" he laughed. "Takes a while for the newbies to get used to living off of Neopia. Hungry?" Gargarox put a plate of spiced apple pie before me, and I climbed up on the stool.
"Yes." I nodded. "Thank you."
I ate the food excitedly, and I can still say it was one of the most lovely things I have ever tasted. I thanked the man and left, wondering why others weren't all that nice.
But I soon learned that I most likely wouldn't be getting any more free food.
In a month I had learned the Space Station inside and out. I had also learned my position in this world.
I was an orphan, or at least, abandoned to some extent.
This meant that people would look down on me, I had no money to buy food or shelter, and I would most likely be turned down for any job I applied for. I resorted to stealing much of the things I had, although anything left behind by the constant tourists was free game. It was thanks to them that for my first year I managed to keep a low profile-just another nameless, easy-to-forget, generic looking Red Aisha. Just another nobody.
I often pretended to be a tourist, with some rich owner shopping around that would meet me at Grundos Café at noon, or whatever story I could come up with. I found some kind Grundos that ran this game in secret that they called Splat-A-Sloth. They were part of some kind of rebellion against the supposed leader of the entire Space Station. They took an old piece of metal on an angle and slid a green sock with a face down it. If you could whack the sock with a rolled up newspaper then they would give you a prize. I became good friends with one of the Grundos, a white one named Ifflarb, and I promised to keep their secrets if they kept mine. He would often give me food or clothes instead of the normal neopoints, always claiming I was the 'lucky player of the day.'
Sadly, most people were not as kind as the rebels, as the people of Virtupets were snobby conformists with high standards. So seeing an unattended little girl for them was like seeing someone walk on their hands down the street yelling out, 'I'm a flying tomato.'
I found that the Hangar below Virtupets was abandoned as of current, and there was a large mountain of broken crates. In the back I found one that was completely intact, except for one side being ripped off. It was out of sight, which was a good advantage, but it wasn't the comfiest, or largest for that matter.
"It'll have to do," I sighed, crossing my arms. It was either stay in the deserted Hangar or the Recreational Deck where I could be captured.
After a few months I had a collection of items in an old worn knapsack: a blanket, a canteen, my spare change, scarf, any food I had at the time, and a fake ID that made me seem like I had an owner. In my pocket I kept a small laser gun that had the ability to grow to regular size at the press of a button. I'd roam the aisles of the market, my feet blistered from the rough metal ground, not talking to anyone or making eye contact. If I saw something I wanted, I took it. If I was caught... well... let's just make it clear that I never was.
One day, I went to visit Ifflarb. He smiled, inviting me in.
"Hey guys! It's our friend, Red!"
They had taken to calling me that since I refused to come up with a name for myself. As far as I was concerned, I was already invisible and unwanted, so I really didn't need something no one would use.
Two Grundos were seated at a table in the back of the HQ, one a short blue and the other a shadow, sipping milky way shakes. The blue Grundo was Trixaf, and the shadow Grundo was Linear.
"Hiya!" Trixaf smiled. She was the newest recruit to Freedom HQ, a double agent working on special missions Ifflarb dare not tell me about.
Linear grinned. "What up, Aisha girl?"
I simply raised my hand to greet them, taking a seat and a shake. Ifflarb sat down as well.
They began talking about their intelligence operatives and recent messages received from Neopia when my mind began to wander. I looked around at the walls, which were a dark olive. Matching file cabinets lined them, and all the lighting (which wasn't much) hung down from the ceiling. The table and chairs were some of the only pieces of furniture, besides a beat up couch along the eastern wall. Above the couch were blueprints of several machines used by Dr. Sloth and some of the Space Station itself.
"And how's Kreludor?" Trixaf asked.
Ifflarb rolled his eyes. "Same."
Linear snorted, shaking his glass a bit. "Geez, can't those Grundos do anything right? They've been occupied for years!"
Ifflarb glared. "Watch yourself, Linear. They can't help it if Sloth's soldiers are everywhere."
"All we can do is hope," Trixaf nodded.
"And wait," Ifflarb added.
Philosophy does state that good things come to people who wait, but it caused me to wonder: How long? How long do you have to wait for good things to come? And how long can you actually wait before you have had enough and decide you just have to act?
And what about me? I had barely even begun to fit into the incredibly large and incredibly complicated equation of the world. Was I waiting? Or was I acting? And did it really even matter? I supposed I would always be like this, questioning what my name and purpose was, yet not wanting said name and purpose, both for reasons I didn't understand.
And I suppose it's important to note that I never did leave the Virtupets Space Station; no matter how much I hated the place; no matter how much it reminded me of that very first memory; no matter how much it kept reminding me that I was alone, and that I would be forever alone, with no one I could really trust. Even to this day, I still hate the place.
But I never left.
Something, some guardian faerie or lost intuition, kept me on that Space Station for all those long years. That something knew of what was to come, and could only wait for it to happen.
To be continued...