The Lonely Stranger: Part Three
I don't quite remember when 'finding things' turned to 'stealing things.' I don't even remember what I took, to be entirely honest, or who I stole from. I do remember what I heard. It was one word, one simple, bittersweet word.
It was another one of those 'beginning and ending' moments. It ended what had become my dull existence on the Station. It began my newfound purpose and almost child-like happiness. When I think about me being sent into such a stage of foolishness, I'm almost embarrassed. I sometimes wonder if I'm embarrassed about the wrong thing though.
See, the stealing became an addiction of mine. It was so wrong, yet so right, being able to stir up trouble like that. Being able to cause a commotion was fantastic. Being able to finally be seen? Well... it was icing on the cake. So I started to show off, started entertaining my audience. I took risks; talked back; made a scene if at all possible. Before me was a game of Chess, one that I always won. The only question was: how long could I go without losing?
While my reputation was slowly building up to something unforeseeable, Freedom was also expanding. They had recruited a young Green Grundo by the name of C6 a few months before, and I had yet to meet him. Ifflarb had told me this newbie was always working and they could barely get him to eat most of the time. He worked with computers, built droids, and disassembled and reassembled weapons faster than I could run.
"He's amazing, Red, you gotta meet the kid," Ifflarb chuckled to me one day when we were walking through the Recreation Deck.
I raised an eyebrow. "Kid?"
He nodded, his grin growing now that I was contributing to the conversation. "Fyora, it's unbelievable. We found the kid in the backwater orphanage around here. He's so smart, and he's only a little older than you! He's got a shy side, but I almost feel like he's the little brother I never had."
"Lovely." I rolled my eyes. Sometimes thinking back I wish I had listened a little more to what Ifflarb had said, but I can't say I always did.
Ifflarb lead me to the simple, understated building that was Freedom HQ. It was small (at least on the outside), with no windows. Only a simple wood door in the very front allowed entrance and exit. On the door was a rectangular panel that slid across so people could see who you were, just like in all the stereotypical books. Ifflarb knocked a pattern lightly. The panel slid open, revealing the eyes of Linear.
"Ifflarb. You're back already?" He didn't sound surprised at all when he said it. Years of enslavement and rebellion had stolen the element of surprise from him. He opened the door slightly, and we shuffled in. It was locked with several heavy duty padlocks behind us.
All in all, the room hadn't changed much in the past two years, except for the large supercomputer that now covered southwest wall. It had several monitors and a huge keyboard with letters from all different languages, and the mainframe reached up to the ceiling. Sitting in a pitiful rolling chair before it was a tiny Grundo boy, brow creased with frustration, goggles balanced atop his head, fingers dancing across the keyboard in record time.
Linear sighed. "He's been at it like that for twenty-six hours, Ifflarb. Make the kid stop."
His typing continued, unwavering, consistent. He didn't pause once; he didn't even twitch. It was insane. I stood over him, trying to decipher what he was doing, but I couldn't exactly read. His fist suddenly slammed into the side of the computer, making us all jump.
"Dang it!" he yelled. "Hacked! What a dirty trick!"
Ifflarb examined the screens, which were now slowly being infected with jumbled up letters and pixels. "What's going on?"
C6 huffed angrily, standing up to get himself a Neocola. "I tried to slip through the V.5832 Server System in hopes of shutting down parts of Sloth's command and there was a nasty bug hidden behind the firewall that the V.5832 was using to infect hackers. The darn thing's busted now!"
"Is there any way to fix it, C?" Trixaf frowned. "That equipment cost a lot of neopoints!"
He sat back down, opening up a black window and typing in some code. "I've prolly got about five minutes till the virus goes and destroys all our system files."
Ifflarb sighed sadly, leading me to the table. "The kid works like that all day and night. He suffers a lot of insomnia, so I often find him playing games or building programs in the middle of the night."
I nodded, watching him. The five minutes ticked by tensely, every second filled with even more rabid typing from C6. But as soon as it all started, it ended. C6 rolled back in his chair, crushed his empty can in his hand, and threw it into the waste bin.
"Phew..." he sighed. "Almost got burnt there." C6 chuckled. "Well I 'spose I'll just have to try again tomorrow."
This kid was insane. "You're going to try again?" I found myself saying.
He blinked in shock, and then laughed even harder. "'Course. All it'll take is a virus of my own. I'll infect them, sneak in during the chaos, flip the switch, and run out like nothing happened. Piece of tigersquash pie!"
Ifflarb nodded. "Yes, very well. Please sit, C6, I have something I'd like to talk to you about."
C6 sat across from me. "What's up, Chief?"
"This is a comrade of mine, Miss Red." Ifflarb said, gesturing to me. "You will treat her with the utmost respect and gratitude, as if she were your own kin, understood?" He was answered with a nod. "C6, please tell Miss Red why you hate Sloth."
The boy's relaxed grin slowly morphed to a thin frown across his face, his pupils full of regret. "They... they took a boy... a little Brown Grundo... a blind one... my friend. They transferred him... to Kreludor... because he wasn't 'worth their time.'"
Now, you may wonder why this was important to me, this little sentence. To be honest, it wasn't at first. But later in life I'd meet that very same Grundo C6 had befriended.
Ifflarb nodded, smiling, and turned to me. "Your turn."
There was a flash in my mind. A box. People everywhere. Tripping and landing on my stomach.
"I hate everyone," I muttered, shaking the nasty memory. "I feel there is no reason why I shouldn't hate him all the same."
C6 looked at me for a moment, something in his eyes like confusion, but then stood up. "Very well. If that's all you have to say to me Sir, I'll take my leave now." He filed out of the room, down to a level below the HQ, where the recruits slept.
It was silent.
"Why did you have him tell me that? Why should I care?" I glared at Ifflarb. He was obviously up to something.
Ifflarb chuckled heartily. "You will learn, dear friend, that you cannot escape from caring for things. And that everything happens for a reason."
"Pfft," I snorted. "Reasons? What a load."
"I'm being entirely honest with you."
"Honesty's for suckers."
He sighed, shaking his head. "One day my fellow Stationer, I'm sure you'll realize why you were brought here."
"Cuz I'm worth nothing?"
"No, that's not it, you silly Aisha."
"Don't call me 'silly.'"
Ifflarb chuckled at my sarcasm. He had always found my killjoy mood quite entertaining for some reason. "Anyway, there's something else I'd like to talk to you about." He flicked a newspaper onto the table. His voice suddenly became dark and brooding, and even with my big ego, I'll admit I was scared out of my skin. "What on Neopia is this?!"
The squiggles on the page were foreign to me, and while I knew he was probably talking about the words on the page, I simply didn't know what it said. So I took the second best guess. "...A newspaper?"
He glared, forcing it towards me, reciting the front page headline from memory. "7th Day of Relaxing, Y4! Recreation Deck under Attack by Rabble-Rousers! Local merchants have made reports of an increase in thievery on the Recreation Deck! Many report that a young Aisha may be at the center of all the thievery, and want Dr. Sloth's soldiers to step in! Some suspect that secret resistance groups may be allied with the street-thief/thieves. Red! Do you know what this means?!"
I raised an eyebrow. "That the media enjoys blowing things out of proportion?"
"Red!" he exclaimed, flailing his arms as if to emphasize his point. "You're putting us all in danger! We're not big enough of an organization yet to fight off an army, and they know you're with us! Because of you and your ridiculous big-headedness, you've gone out with a huge sign that says, 'I'm with the resistance! Come hunt me down!'"
"Hey!" I cut in, standing up so quickly my chair fell. "I'm not with you people! I'm loyal to myself, and myself alone, so don't tell me what to do!"
Ifflarb gaped angrily, his fists clenched. "...Us people? You act like we're some disease! Like we're so different from you! Have you forgotten all we've done for you?! All we've given to you?!"
"I don't need you!" I screamed back, fighting the lump in my throat. "I don't need your stupid help! I don't need anyone! The world doesn't want me and I don't want it, so quit trying to act like I'm some rotten do-gooder with no sense of reality like you people!"
He frowned, sighing. "Red... is that what this is really about?"
"Shut up!" I spat. "And don't call me that! That's not my name!" I stalked towards the door, yanking it open, but not before I heard a final muttering from Ifflarb.
"Then what is?"
Fyora, I would've liked to have been able to answer that question.
To be continued...