KATIPO I: Restart: Part Three
It’s 7:30pm exactly, and you’re staring up at Riff’s house and worrying over whether or not you actually got enough information from the alien to make this trip worthwhile. Riff’s typically pretty good at putting together puzzles with only a handful of the pieces, and he’s got some weird sixth sense when it comes to knowing what other people had said during interrogations that he wasn’t even present for, but you still sometimes worry. Oftentimes worry. Most of the time, actually. Always, honestly.
Even before you’ve finished closing the gate of the delightfully cliché white picket fence that surrounds Riff’s pale-blue, two-story house, you can hear that he’s got some Fyoraforsaken metal album playing at full volume. The music is loud enough to be heard through the building’s old walls, and you’re half-convinced that he wouldn’t even hear his doorbell’s chime if you tried ringing it for his attention. Not to mention, Riff only plays his music this loud when he’s working, and when he’s working he can hardly be bothered to pay the rest of the world any mind. Half the reason he’s the favourite member of I/I among the rest of the academy is because of this — because he’s so dedicated to what he does. He’s willingly swallowed by his job when he needs to be, and refuses to shift focus until every little detail has been covered from head, to toe, to head once more.
If he’s working already, he might ignore you.
But, well, technically you’re here for work purposes too, so...
The more steps you take towards the doorway, and the louder the music grows, the more aggressively you start to think that you should try calling him instead... but you don’t have time to weigh the option before you find yourself ringing the doorbell, your metaphorical fingers crossed — and your physical ones, too. The bell is of those old, medieval-sounding chimes, and it rings clearly and darkly, even over the screeching of electric guitars. You hear a window slam shut from upstairs, and though part of you feels rejected by the sound of the smash, you breathe a soft sigh of relief in your now knowing that he at least heard the ring. You wait impatiently.
The music’s volume slowly decreases, then Riff runs down the stairs. You can hear it, surprisingly — hear his awkwardly loud footsteps — and you catch yourself smiling just the slightest bit at the mental image of his scrambling and tripping over his own two feet. You drag your heel across the dirty welcome mat as you wait, watching as you kick up a little cloud of dust; then, finally, Riff cracks the door open, peeking through with one bright blue eye.
Rafael Breslin is a tall, slim, and shy island Gelert who always keeps his thin, wavy green hair cut exactly one inch past his sand-coloured shoulders. Nobody calls him “Rafael” unless they’re trying to sell him something. People used to call him “Raff,” which was then changed to “Riffraff,” but finally people just stuck with “Riff.” He’s got a healthy, happy glow to his self that is often contagious, and he tends to giggle more than speak, especially around his friends and colleagues. Today, he’s got his hair pulled back, tied in place by a blue elastic, and slung over his left shoulder. Through the crack in the door, you can see that he’s dressed in a black tank top and some dorky grey pyjama pants that have a grey and white Arkmite-print pattern on them. He looks more casual than usual. Maybe he actually wasn’t working.
You’re positive that he knows who you are, even though you’re in this strange new body, but he still asks, “May I help you?”
You’ve known each other long enough that all you have to do is give him a look, and then he knows for sure that it’s you. He giggles lightly at your snarky grin. “Hey, Cam,” he says with a bright smile, then opens the door the rest of the way. “Come on in; what’s up?”
You skip lightly through the threshold, then look over your shoulder at him as he closes the door behind you. The expression you give him reads, Shouldn’t you know? but he’s not looking at you — yet.
So you answer, still sarcastic-sounding, but also genuinely curious to see if he’s forgotten. “Um... the KATIPO told you that you were supposed to document intel from my interrogation today, right?” you ask.
Riff’s spun around now, and the foot that lingers awkwardly in mid-step in front of him tells you that he was no doubt about to lead you upstairs, but he pauses in thought before doing so. He raises his eyes, stands straight, then shifts his weight slightly. “Is... today Thursday?” he asks, his words slow and gawky.
You snort a bit in laughter. Then, “Yes, Riff,” you say.
He cringes before you’ve even said his name, then exhales loudly and sarcastically. “I, ah... might’ve forgotten, then,” he says, then gives you a terribly wide — and ridiculously fake — grin.
You roll your eyes as he begins to walk again, his long legs taking wide strides, but you follow him up the staircase without any sort of scolding. You feel like you have to run to keep up with him, though — this tiny Xweetok body seems Veespa sized compared to his tall, lithe frame. “Well, I hope you’re not too busy, then,” you say, oddly winded from your half-sprint, and you can tell that he can tell that you’re being honest — that you’re asking this to make sure that you’re not bugging him rather than to be snide. “I wanna get this over with so I can get home before Sam rifles through my journals again,” you add when Riff doesn’t respond immediately.
Riff finally chuckles a bit as the two of you reach the top of the staircase. He turns left down the hallway that now stretches before you. “I was just catching up on some reading, actually,” he says. “I’ve got plenty of time.”
You nod softly as the two of you reach the end of the upper floor’s corridor, then he kicks open the door to his room. You quickly follow him inside, trying to ignore the music that still blares.
Riff’s room-slash-study is darker than the rest of his house. Most of his house is painted either pale pastel pink or buttery yellow, but his room is a rich, dark purple. He’s said that it’s because he always wanted to paint his room purple when he was a kid, but his mum wouldn’t let him — something about it being too dismal and would cause him to grow up to be a total downer, or something. He collects art that features avian petpets and has two Pirakets named Arthur and Patsy. He also collects stuffed Tyrannian petpets and has a copy of nearly every Booktastic book ever written. He’s admitted, though, that he’s only read three or four of them.
Riff flips on the switch of a light that turns the walls a lovely shade of rosy violet, then pulls back his desk chair for you to sit in. You do, then he, after skipping over to his stereo to turn the music down to a whispering volume, hops onto his bed — crosses his legs, then grabs a pen and a pad of paper from off of the nightstand. He writes something down quickly, then asks, “So this was the interview with the cannibal, right?”
You shake your head, no. “This was the alien,” you say. “The cannibal is next Thursday.”
Riff looks up at you, his expression difficult to read, then looks back down at his paper — crosses out whatever he’d written, then writes down “alien” in big, blocky letters, speaking the syllables out loud as he does so — “Ay-lee-ehn...”
You snicker a bit at his endearing dorkiness, then mirror his posture, crossing your legs and resting your elbows on your knees — your cheeks on your fists. This little Xweetok body is small enough that you can curl up in the plush desk chair as if it were a little nest, and that makes this the first time in the past few days that you’ve been happy with your size.
Riff looks back up with his bright Gelert smile, then mirrors your posture, resting his elbows on his knees. “So did you find out what she did with the papers or whatever?” he asks.
You purse your lips at his awkward vagueness — he seriously doesn’t remember what we’re doing, huh? — then lift your right hand to make a teetering motion. “Yes and no,” you say, cringing slightly, then lower your hand again. “She insists that she didn’t take them, of course, and that it was actually someone named Marley—”
“Marley Reinhardt?” Riff asks, interrupting.
You shrug, then continue. “Dunno the last name. She didn’t give me one. She just said that he used to work for the KATIPO, then quit and moved to Maraqua.”
Riff nods — scribbles something down, then nods again.
You continue when the two of you meet eyes again. “She wouldn’t give me the exact specifics of her ability,” — you leave out the fact that you honestly didn’t ask her too much — “but she seemed genuine in the not-stealing-the-papers bit, at least.”
Riff nods some more — scribbles some more things down, then nods and meets your eyes.
Once again, you continue. “She definitely does have the ability, though,” you say, suddenly feeling your fur a bit more. You chuckle uncomfortably as the memories make your skin feel prickly. “She somehow managed to change me back into this” — you sweep one hand downwards in front of you, gesturing to your everything — “from a male mutant Buzz of about your height and build — can you believe that?”
Riff whips his head up. His eyes read a genuine, almost fearful shock. “No way.”
“Dude, did you see it happening?”
You make a face. “I was actually blacked out.”
Riff matches the disgruntled expression, though it quickly changes to something you’re more familiar with — a bit of a caustic half-smile. “You let her knock you out?” The question is asked with undertones of sparkling laughter.
You roll your eyes, though you aren’t actually offended because you know that he’s mostly joking. Still, you answer the question as if he were serious — which, knowing him, he probably kinda is. “I didn’t let her do it,” you say, sounding sassy, “she just, like...” You twirl a hand in the air while trying to think of a proper explanation, but one doesn’t come to you. “She just did it, you know?” you eventually say.
The volume of Riff’s giggling increases. “No, I don’t know, Cam...”
You roll your eyes again.
Riff writes a few more things down as his laughter softens and you start to fiddle with the fur of your neck ruff anxiously. He checks over what he’s written so far, then looks back up when he’s apparently decided that he doesn’t need to change anything. “So then... she was no help is basically what you’re saying, yeah?” he asks, the smile that still curls the corners of his lips turning from soft to snide once more.
You shift in your seat — take a more offended-seeming position, though he probably knows it’s meant to be humorous rather than threatening — then reach into your coat pocket for the slip of paper that Tatum had handed you before your interview completely dissolved into pleasantries. You rifle around a little too long in search for it, though, brushing your fingers across forgotten pens and tissues. Thankfully, you find it before the situation turns embarrassing — and before you start to legitimately worry that you’d somehow misplaced it. You look down at the paper as you pull it out, scrutinising the logo once more. “Not entirely,” you say, the words slow and drawn out, then hand the paper to Riff, who takes it with a suddenly puzzled look and hesitant hands. “She gave me this, which looks a bit promising,” you continue to explain. “This was on the corner of a letter that this Marley guy had apparently sent to her — uh, so, the guy who actually did take the papers on the malfunctions. Allegedly.” You watch as Riff squints at the paper from a distance, then brings it up to the tip of his nose to examine the watermark more closely. “It looks like Brightvale castle, right?” you ask, leaning forward as if to look at the paper again.
He nods after a few more seconds of squinting. “Yeah, that’s definitely Brightvale,” he says. “You can see the li’l flags if you look closely enough.”
You match the nod. “And the firm name or whatever sounds promising, too,” you say. “Do you think... it’s maybe some organisation that’s dealing with the bugs? Or, uh, behind them, even?”
He shrugs, making an exaggeratedly exhausted face. “Meh, that’s not my job to figure out,” he says, “that’s Rhi’s. She’s a genius with solving mysteries or whatever. She’ll get it sorted out.” He says this all as he stands up, slaps the paper scrap against his palm a few times, then walks over next to you to rifle around the papers and devices strewn about the desk behind you. He eventually pulls out some strange sort of Kreludian machine that you’ve definitely seen before, but that you’ve never understood how to use. All you know is that it’s some sort of teleporter-slash-fax-machine-slash-communications-device-slash-who-the-heck-knows, or something. You scoot your seat to the side to give Riff some more room to work, then watch as he fiddles with the gadget a bit — hits some buttons, flips some switches, then lifts a small hatch to place the paper scrap and the notes he’s just taken inside the machine. Two more buttons pressed, then the machine makes a little fwoop! noise, and everything disappears in a flash of static.
You look up at Riff as he types something into the little computer screen that juts from the side of the machine, admiring his focus as he works — the way his demeanour has so totally changed now that he’s “on the job.” “You’ve gotta show me how to use that thing someday,” you say, casually waving a hand in the gadget’s direction, trying to make small talk to fill the silent space that’s settled between the two of you. Riff looks over at you with another little smile as you add, “It would cut out the middleman, you know?”
He giggles lightly again. “Cam, I am the middleman,” he says, “and this middleman needs his paycheck to pay the bills.”
You match the laugh this time rather than roll your eyes. “Well, it would cut out the middleman’s workload, then,” you say. “You’ll still get your paycheck.”
At the sound of the words, his eyes alight with genuine excitement, despite the fact that his face now reads a grossly exaggerated enthusiasm. He throws a hand over his chest — over his heart. “Getting paid to have someone else do my lame job?” he says, sounding excited. “I am so down.”
You laugh, and he laughs, then he goes back to fiddling with the machine while your eyes travel around the room, searching for something else to focus on.
It’s really not too hard to find distraction. Riff’s room is honestly a bit of an oddity. He’s one half of the KATIPO’s I/I’s tech unit, specialising in computers and strange gizmos like this little teleportation pod, or whatever it is, so he’s got a myriad of strange looking machines lying around as if they were nothing but children’s toys. Scattered among all the crinkled paperback novels and stuffed Niptors that line his shelves in crooked piles are colourful computer chips, pieces of long-destroyed technology that you could never even dream of understanding, and, most of all, useless-seeming wires. It’s quite a sight to behold, honestly. In times like these, when you’re stuck waiting for him to finish up his whatever-it-is business, you like to look for new additions to his collection of metal scraps and try to imagine what they could possibly be used for. Your ideas range from blasting spacecrafts into orbit to trash used as bookmarks. It’s easy to get lost in thought here. And you do. You almost always do.
Riff triumphantly hitting one last key on his keyboard, then standing straight with a loud sigh, knocks you back into what you’re here for. He spins around on his heels, then gives you that sunny smile of his one more time. “All done,” he says, lacing his fingers in front of him. “Do you fancy a game of Armada before you go?” he then asks. “I’ve been trying to work on my strategy.”
You laugh a bit into the palm of your hand at the suggestion. “If you really wanna get your bum kicked again like last time, then sure,” you say, then stand to follow him back downstairs.
You were in the middle of losing your third consecutive game of Armada when it happened.
It started in your kneecaps, as it almost always did, and the first word your brain was able to remind your mouth how to say was, “Great...”
Alex had looked up at you from across the coffee table, and she must have seen the look in your eyes, or something, because she cringed. You couldn’t see her cringing, but you could hear it — hear her sucking air through her clenched teeth. Two more seconds, and then she was at your side, slowly saying, “Just relax, Cam.”
You had laughed at her words. You said that you always try to, ha ha, and that you’re getting used to this, honestly, ha ha, and that it should be a breeze by this point, ha ha ha, but she knew that you were just trying to calm yourself down. You knew that she knew, because her voice was still hushed.
It started in your kneecaps, and then you felt the bones of your toes expanding. Your fingers were next to turn calloused, and then your tail grew thinner, and then your ears grew smaller. By the time your vision started cutting out was when the panic began to really set in — as it usually did — but you had trained yourself to deal with it by that point. You’d learned how to treat that whole sort of mess like a fun guessing game. What were you turning into this time?
Your tail was shrinking, but it was still there — thin and wiry at the tip. An Kau, maybe? No, no, you weren’t growing any horns... maybe a Moehog?
You could never really feel what colour your fur was turning, since your vision always cut out when your eyes changed shape and size, but you could sometimes guess based on everything else that was happening. The swirling black of the inside of your eyelids began to turn red, and you felt something pricking at your shoulder blades, and you felt your hair turn wiry, and you felt your jaw growing... tusks...?
So you managed to choke out a half-laughed, “Darigan Moehog. I’m guessing Darigan Moehog,” just as something in the back of your mind snapped. Then, for a few seconds, all became a blissful white.
You woke up who-knows-how-much later to find Alex pressing a rag soaked in a diluted cooling ointment to your head and looking down at you, seeming proud, or something like that. She always seemed proud when you came out of an autozap doing alright. Once your eyes were fully opened, and you managed to give her a smile — though your jaw ached with reformation — she mimicked a gameshow bell — “ding, ding, ding!” — then handed you a bottle of water. “Darigan Moehog,” she’d said as you sat up, shaking a bit, though solely — thankfully — from physical exhaustion rather than emotional. “Good job,” she added as you drank deep from the cheap plastic bottle. “You’ve gotten one up on me now.”
Alex was the only other person you could keep score on this game with — she, the only other person who’d fallen victim to the lab ray’s devastating malfunctions. That fact helped you to feel safe when your bones contorted and your flesh weaved new patterns, honestly; but now...
Now you’re the only one who knows how it feels.
You’re in the middle of winning your third consecutive game of Armada when it happens.
It starts in your kneecaps, as it almost always does, and the first word your brain is able to remind your mouth how to say is, “Great...”
Riff looks up at you from across the coffee table, and he must see the look in your eyes, or something, because he cringes. You can’t see him cringing, but you can hear it — hear him sucking air through his clenched teeth. The next thing you know, he’s gotten up, rushed over, and placed a gentle hand on your shoulder, worriedly saying, “Just, uh... just relax, Cam.”
You laugh at his awkward gesture and the way that his voice trembles. You’re not surprised, though, because you know that he still isn’t used to seeing this happen to you. After all, how could he be? This whole stupid autozap condition is still so foreign and odd to everyone other than you and Alex... Still, you say that you always try to, ha ha, and that you’re used to this, honestly, ha ha, and that it’s definitely a breeze by this point, ha ha ha, and he knows that it’s best to just leave you to face this alone.
Riff has no idea what you’re going through. How could he? He pulls his hand away, and you manage to cast a short sideways peek at him, just to see him lacing his fingers and holding his knuckles to his chin, clearly worried. He takes a deep breath, and holds it, and that’s when your vision starts fogging over in yellow. Yellow, yellow, yellow, you catch yourself thinking. A Lupe, then, probably?
The awkward expanding of your skull then forces your eyes to close tight, but you still hear Riff stand to give you space. You hear him turn the sink’s faucet on, and the clink!ing of his hands fumbling to fill a mug with cold water. You feel your fur thinning, and you feel your muzzle elongating, and you feel something itching down your spine on both sides...
Riff has no idea what you’re going through, but he still tries to play your “favourite” game. “I think I know what it is this time,” he says, trying to sound playful, or confident, or calm, or something, though you can her him drumming his nails against the mug in his hands, and can hear the way that his gentle laughter shakes with worry.
Still, you know he’s trying, and you really, really do appreciate that. And anyway, you think you know, too. “Darigan Lupe?” you guess as you feel your muscles spasm with growth and your ears turning pointed.
Riff has to take a deep breath before answering. You can hear it, even though your ears are reforming, making everything sound like it’s buried beneath the Neopian Sea. Then, “Close...”
You finally feel something soft and light break free from your back, and you laugh a bit through your gritted teeth. “Faerie Lupe,” you say, sounding oddly triumphant. “Definitely faerie.”
You hear Riff snicker a bit. Then, “We have ourselves a winner, here, folks,” he says.
You probably should have kept better track of time while you were at Riff’s place...
When you finally turn down the cracking pavement pathway that leads to your home, it's minutes to midnight, and Sam looks genuinely concerned for once in her life. You probably should have told her you were going to be late... No, no, definitely should have told her...
You’re in a wildly different body now — a tall, muscular, male faerie Lupe — but she knows who you are. She always knows who you are. Once you reach the front door’s threshold, she throws her arms around you and hugs you tight. For the first time in either of your lives, you’re taller than she is — by just the teeniest, tiniest bit. She breathes deep over your shoulder, a frustrated, maternal-seeming growl tearing at the back of her throat, and the way she exhales in a huff once you lift your arms to hold her back makes it seem like she’s been holding her breath for hours.
Sam likes to act as if she doesn’t care about you, but she tends to worry when you don’t come home. In reality, she worries far too much, and you worry about her worrying. Still, it doesn't take her too long to get over it, now that she knows you’re safe, you guess. She pulls out of the embrace, stands up straight, then scratches behind one ear; cracks her back, yawns with a little snarl, then says, “You got, like, twenty missed calls. I didn’t check the number.”
“It was probably the KATIPO,” you say coolly.
You both enter the house as if nothing had happened — as if she wasn’t just terrified, and you weren’t a Buzz the last time she’d seen you. Sam immediately walks into the kitchen once the door has been shut tight behind you. “You should check those,” she says.
As if that wasn’t already your intention... but you let it slide this time. “Yeah, yeah, yeah...”
Sam flings open the fridge with a half-twirling flourish, her ill-fitting dress spinning around her hips like a tutu, then gives the old snacks and leftovers that fill the fridge a fangy yawn. "Want something?" she asks, picking at some tinfoil to see what’s hidden inside.
You know that there's nothing in the fridge anyway, so you say a simple, "I'm good," then begin a tired trek down the hall.
When you finally enter your room, you can hear the KATIPO's communications hub ringing, and can see the faint green glow of its lights casting shadows across the walls, so you speed up pace in a halfhearted rush to find the source of the sound. It feels like an impossible quest, though — this room is a mess, and the light seems to be coming from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Maybe you’re only struggling because you’re tired... but you’d rather blame your need to frenetically fumble around on the mess from your past self rather than the mistakes of the current.
When you finally manage to find the communications device, you scramble to press the answer button on the last ring, and thank Fyora you somehow manage to do it. The number reads “Unknown,” which either means that Tony’s friends are prank calling you again, or Zinux or some other mod has been trying to contact you for the past few hours. Honestly, you kind of hope it’s the first...
When you answer, though, it is, unfortunately, Zinux.
He starts off the bat by saying, “You are required to meet Rhian Sevenson in one point two seven hours to discuss the information that she has gathered from Rafael Breslin’s transferred notes. You are to mee—”
“Why did you call me thirty times?" you interject, clearly annoyed.
You hear him take in a deep breath, as if frustrated by your interrupting him, then gives you a sardonic sigh. “Well, Mister Jacks,” he says, “you, as an operative, are required to be in access to all forms of communication twenty-four seven.”
“And if one of those means of communication is down,” you retort, “you, as a mod, are required to try other means.”
The short silence that follows implies to you that he knows you’re right, and you feel a bit smug... but then he just keeps talking. “You are to meet Rhian Sevenson at the Pin Nine bowling alley in three poin—”
“A bowling alley?” you interrupt once more, your volume increasing a little too much for the old communications device to handle without clipping. “Are you... are you kidding me?” You pinch the bridge of your nose. “It’s almost midnight...”
“It is located in the Haunted Woods, Mister Jacks,” Zinux says, sounding... actually helpful, for once. It’s weird.
But you try to ignore it. “That’s still, like...” You count the time difference on your fingers —one point two seven plus twelve plus eight is... “That’s, like, nine in the morning,” you say, clearly exhausted. “Why are we meeting at a bowling alley at nine in the morning...?”
“It was not a location of my choosing, Mister Jacks,” he replies.
You snort. “In that case, it’s genius,” you say, deciding to be the snarky one this time.
You hear him breathe in sharply, and you actually feel kinda bad, worrying that you might have genuinely hurt his feelings... but the worry only lasts a second, because then, he laughs lightly. It’s a surprisingly pleasant sound — more pleasant than you thought someone as obnoxious as him could ever produce. “Cheeky,” he says over snickers, then he immediately hangs up.
You sigh long, a bit relieved that you’ve seemingly found a way to get that obnoxious mod to keep his mouth shut in the future... But then, you’re forced to rub your temples as a wave of static pain jolts the back of your eyes. Your feet are sore. Your back is stiff. Your fingers ache. But, most of all, you just wish you could take a nap...
To Be Continued...