Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 94,333,932 Issue: 184 | 1st day of Eating, Y7
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Escape Artists - Part Two


by moosuem

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"Breaking out?" whispered Cassandra, shocked at Midnight's intention. "But no one's ever broken out of the Pound before!"

      "We'll be the first, then," whispered Midnight angrily. "I, however, don't plan to stay here one more night, and it's pretty clear to me that none of us have much of a chance of getting adopted!"

      "Sounds good to me," whispered Thefoi enthusiastically. "I'm pretty fed up with this place too."

      "All right," said Midnight excitedly. The Pteri looked eagerly at the other two prisoners. "Any ideas?"

      There was a pause.

      "Okay, no one has any ideas," said Midnight, slightly less enthusiastic. "This could make it a bit harder…"

      "Why don't we ask Blue?" asked Thefoi.

      "Let's not," said Cassandra.

      "Who's Blue?" asked Midnight, puzzled.

      "Our resident escape artist," said Cassandra. "His full name's Blue Fir VII, but we just call him Blue. He's incredibly smart, but a little bit…" the Skeith trailed off, searching for a word.

      "Stupid," Thefoi finished bluntly. "And a bit crazy. He knows all sorts of stuff, but he's no good at using any of it. He's been trying to break out for years. Gets caught every time." As Cassandra reached her tail out of her cage to grab the end of a nearby pipe, the Kyrii added, "don't tell him I said that, though, or we'll never get anywhere with him."

      With a grunt, Cassandra pulled the pipe end until it was resting on the floor just outside her cage, then bent down and spoke into it. "Blue? Are you there?"

      There was a brief moment of silence, then a tinny, muffled voice came through the pipe. It was too unclear for Midnight and Thefoi to hear, but Cassandra kept one large ear intently on the pipe.

      "Oh, sorry," she said eventually. "I forgot. O Most Ingenious Brilliancy, might I request a short audience with your Advanced Intellect?"

      "Like I said," whispered Thefoi, "he's a bit crazy."

      In as soft a whisper as possible, Cassandra explained their intentions of breaking out. She was silent for quite some time as the voice from the pipe droned on, and on, and on…

      When dusk started to fall, Cassandra was still listening patiently to the voice. When Thefoi had gone to sleep and Midnight was just about to follow her example, Cassandra finally said, "oh, thank you! Tonight, then!" and pushed the pipe back to its original place.

      "Well?" said Midnight intently, suddenly wide awake. "What did he say?"

      "Tonight, he's going to tell us how to break out of our cages," began Cassandra.

      "Perfect!" said Midnight excitedly. "Then all we have to do is sneak past the guards and-"

      "No, it's not that simple," said Cassandra apologetically. "Besides the guards, the Pound also has an advanced security system, and all the doors are locked at night."

      "Great," muttered Midnight. "So what does this genius propose we do about that?"

      "He proposed a trade," said Cassandra.

      "Oh, no," said Thefoi, waking up. "Knowing Blue, it could be anything. You didn't agree to it, did you?"

      "Um… Actually, I did," said Cassandra uncomfortably.

      "Great," said Thefoi. "So what did he want?"

      "He wants us to get him out of his cage," said Cassandra. "After that, he'll help us the rest of the way."

      "Oh, no!" moaned Thefoi. "And you agreed to get him out? We've got a better chance of digging through the floor with our teeth!"

      "It can't be that hard," argued Midnight.

      "That's what you think," Thefoi muttered.

      "And it's worth a try, even if we can't get him out," Cassandra added.

      "After all," concluded Midnight, "what do we have to lose?"

      "All our food for a week?" grumbled Thefoi. The others grinned at her. "Oh, all right," she sighed. "Tonight it is, then."

      That night, with whispered instructions from Blue through the pipe, the three prisoners picked the locks on their cages and stepped quietly out.

      "This way," whispered Cassandra, turning left.

      "Shouldn't we go the other way?" whispered Thefoi. "It's shorter."

      "Yes, but that nasty little Korbat's down that way," whispered Cassandra, "and he can see in the dark."

      Thefoi nodded in agreement, then followed Cassandra between the cages. She had no trouble moving nearly silently, as Kyriis can see fairly well in the dark, while Midnight was used to sneaking around. Cassandra, however, was not silent or used to sneaking; this was the first time in two years she had even been out of her cage. She groped her way nervously through the near-blackness, trying desperately not to bump into anything.

      "Almost there," whispered Cassandra. "Just a bit-"

      "Cassandra, watch out for-" began Thefoi.

      Too late. Intent only on avoiding the cages, Cassandra stepped squarely on the loose pipe on the floor, which immediately rolled out from under her. She fell heavily, landing with a THUD.

      From the ceiling of his cage across the room, Kevin the Korbat was immediately alert. Quickly scanning the dark room with his echolocation, he spotted the three loose prisoners in seconds.

      "EEEEE Neopets escaping EEEEE come get them quick EEEEE Neopets escaping EEEEE!" shrieked Kevin at the top of his lungs. This might get him an extra meal tomorrow! Already, a pair of Skeith guards could be heard thundering down the hall to the cage room.

      "I am going to kill that little vampire!" hissed Thefoi, instinctively crouching down while helping Cassandra to her feet. "Back to the cages, fast!"

      Abandoning all attempts to stay silent, the three raced back to their cages, leaping in and slamming the doors just seconds before the guards (delayed by the multiple padlocks on the door) burst into the room.

      "What prisoners? Where?" roared one of them.

      Kevin pointed triumphantly to Cassandra, Midnight, and Thefoi, who raised their heads and blinked sleepily in the sudden light. "Those prisoners…" he began, then realized his mistake.

      "Kevin, could you keep it down?" mumbled Thefoi groggily. "Not all of us are nocturnal, you know."

      "But they - they were-" stammered Kevin desperately.

      "Sleeping, obviously," grunted a guard, glaring at Kevin. "And so were we, until now. Don't expect any food tomorrow." Grumbling angrily, the guards shuffled out of the room and slammed the door behind them.

      "You were escaping, you little sneaks," hissed Kevin, baring his sharp teeth at Thefoi.

      Thefoi gave him an irritated glare, then grinned suddenly. "Prove it," she said, and went to sleep.

      The next night, Kevin kept a close watch on the three prisoners. He was going to get them caught if it took all night.

      He was so focused, he never even heard the Nimmo reaching through the bars of the cage behind him. One swift karate chop to his head, and the little Korbat dropped to the floor in a stunned heap.

      Alert at the soft thump from Kevin's cage, Cassandra, Midnight, and Thefoi looked over to see the Nimmo grinning down at the unconscious Korbat. Meeting the eyes of the three prisoners, she grinned and gave them a thumbs-up.

      Thefoi mouthed a silent thank you to the Nimmo, then picked the lock on her cage again. In seconds, she and the other two were back outside their cages. This time, they took the shorter route past Kevin's cage and soon arrived at Blue's cage.

      Midnight, who had never seen it before, could only stare. The cage looked as if it had once been an ordinary one, but it had so many extra locks, steel plating, chains, chewing gum, and other reinforcements welded to it that it was impossible to see inside.

      "He never remembers to cover his tracks," said Thefoi, noting Midnight's incredulous stare, "so every time he's broken out, they've blocked off whatever route he took. He tried lock picks; they caught him and put on combination locks. He learned to pick those somehow; they put on some high-tech fingerprint ID lock thing. He still hasn't figured that one out."

      "He kept bending the bars with karate or something for a while," added Cassandra, "but they just reinforced his cage, so it's nearly indestructible now."

      Thefoi sighed. "I think he might have run out of ideas, because he hasn't escaped in months. This is going to be tough."

      "Oh, good, you're finally here!" came a loud, excited whisper from the cage as they got closer. "I heard something happen out there last night, but they blocked off my best peephole when they added more metal the last time I escaped, so now I can only see the ceiling and a bit of that wall with the leaky pipe over there, and that's not much use, especially when you're waiting bravely for people to come rescue you like I was last night when you didn't come. What happened, anyway?" Without waiting for an answer, the voice continued, "I heard someone screeching about escaped prisoners, so I assumed you must have gotten caught, but you're here now, so whatever happened, you must have gotten out of it. You must be almost as smart as I am to have escaped from those guards, they're really mean in this place, though not as mean as my owner was - did I tell you about him? He was really mean and said I talked too much, even though I'm the most talented conversationalist I know, not that I have many people to talk to in here, since most of them are too sad or too stupid for my advanced intellect to be satisfied with their conversation, though that Skeith - oh, hi, Cassandra! Yes, you, I think you're almost as smart as I am, because you didn't need as much of an explanation for picking your cage lock as most of the other Neopets here do, you got it almost as quickly as I figured it out in the first place, though they only have easy locks on all of your cages because none of you are as good at breaking out of cages as I am."

      The voice paused to (finally) take a breath. Quickly, Thefoi interrupted, "thanks, Blue, very interesting. Any idea how we can get you out of here?"

      "Oh, that'll be easy for you out there," said Blue cheerfully. "I can't reach any of the locks through the little holes in my cage except that fingerprint one, and I don't think even I can figure out a way to open it, or if I did, it would take me years and years to figure it out, but the three of you together could probably figure out some way to just break it off or something, especially you, Cassandra, you're a Skeith, so you're really strong and heavy, and I can tell you how to open all the other locks on the outside, even the Chia Steel Encryption Lock 3000 on the top of the door, because I broke its encryption code even though it took me three weeks to work out the tertiary formula layer of-"

      There was a muffled crack as Cassandra jumped heavily on the fingerprint ID lock, snapping it off of the chain that held it to the cage. Blue quickly guided them through the picking of the other 27 locks on his cage.

      Half an hour later, Cassandra quietly pulled open the massive metal door of the cage.

      "Oh, thank you so much!" Blue began loudly, bouncing out into the room. Thefoi quickly clapped a paw over his overactive mouth, reducing his stream of gratitude to a muffled mumble. "Blue," she hissed angrily into his ear, "for once in your life, please shut up!"

      Blue nodded and fell silent. The room was still too dark for Midnight to make out his species; all he could see was a vague shadow, bouncing happily up and down. The shadow stooped to pick the fingerprint lock up off the floor. "I'm still going to break this lock, just you wait," he whispered. "I'm bringing it with me."

      Midnight looked around at the small group of escaping Neopets. "All right, that's one obstacle down," he said seriously. "Only three or four to go…"

      The guards came in the next morning to find five cages empty. One of them was that infuriating Blue Fir's again. The guards' assumption was that the escape artist had released other Neopets to help him escape, but they didn't really think about it for more than a few seconds. The main thing on their minds was the large number of meals they would be missing in the near future.

      "Search the whole Pound!" roared the biggest and meanest guard (the leader, of course).

      The guards searched every part of the Pound they could think of, but couldn't find the five escapees. After all, they didn't need to be very intelligent to be guards. Just strong and mean.

      Up on the ceiling of the Pound, hidden in the gloom between the rafters and leaking water pipes, Midnight, Thefoi, Cassandra, Blue, and the Nimmo who had knocked Kevin out watched the guards' futile searching and following punishment for carelessness (a stern reprimand from the Pound warden and no dinner for a week) with great satisfaction, as did all the prisoners who hadn't escaped.

      The guards didn't like anyone, and no one liked them.

      The next morning, Thefoi was woken at dawn again.

      "Rise and shine, everyone!" whispered Blue perkily, hopping from beam to beam and poking the other four. "It's morning!"

      "No it's not," mumbled Thefoi, who had not slept well on her roof beam. "Go back to sleep, Blue."

      "According to my watch," said Blue, holding a small, scuffed wristwatch in front of her face, "It is 5:02 am NST. This means it's morning, as morning officially starts at 12:00 am and it is now five hours-" he glanced quickly at his watch "-two minutes, and seventeen seconds past that time."

      Thefoi grunted.

      "Which means it's time to start planning our grand escape from the pound!" said Blue triumphantly.

      "Oh, all right, just calm down!" hissed Thefoi, sitting up slightly. "You're going to get us caught if you don't keep quiet! How can you be so chipper, anyway? You've been locked in your cage for the past three months!"

      "I've been composing an Epic Poem to keep my mind busy," said Blue cheerfully. He cleared his throat.

     "'Trudge onward, men,' the Usul squeaked, 'we march throughout the night;

     To Jelly World, to Jelly World, all fluffy Pets unite!'

     They marched through fog, they marched through mist, they marched through glacier hot

     Until they stumbled on a place where Jelly World was not.

     The Usul cried, 'this is the moon! The map must be all wrong,'

     But on they marched, past beach and shore, all singing different-"

      "Okay, okay, I'm up already!" whispered Thefoi loudly, jumping to her feet. "Just stop that!"

      Soon, all five Neopets were gathered on the main roof beam, except for Midnight and the Nimmo, who perched among the network of wires and pipes around it. The Nimmo had not said one word since joining them, but she had indicated that she would help them escape.

      "Well," said Blue. By the faint light of the sunrise through the one small window, Midnight could see him for the first time. Blue was a thin, energetic Zafara who looked as if he had once been, not surprisingly, blue. His fur and skin had paled considerably during his time in his nearly lightless cage, so he was nearly white now. None of this had drained any of his hyperactive energy, however. Bouncing up and down lightly, he asked, "okay, any ideas on how to get out of here? I've come up with a few myself, but I want to hear if anyone else has one first, even though they probably won't be as good as mine, but that's all right, because you can't really expect most people to come up with plans as good as mine, as I know this Pound like the back of my paw and I'm a Super Genius, too, not that I like to talk about that, it might sound like I was bragging, and that just wouldn't be like me." He looked around expectantly.

      "What?" said Cassandra, suddenly waking back up. "Oh, I'm sorry."

      "First things first," said Midnight decisively. "How do we get past the guards?"

      "Oh, they're easy," said Blue dismissively. "They're stupid. No problem. The problem is the security system. I've never managed to get a very good look at it."

      "Before you were caught, you mean,"

      "The best course of action, I think," Blue said, ignoring Thefoi, "would be for one or two of us to provide some sort of distraction while the others work on the security system. If it was a good enough distraction, it could keep all the guards busy, but we'll have to think about that."

      "I'll help with the security system," said Cassandra firmly. "I've been studying a lot since your last escape attempt. That Blumaroo next to me gave me a book about lock picks, alarms, and that sort of thing before he left."

      "Good!" said Blue, beaming. "At this rate, you might end up almost as smart as I am some day!"

      "That's not hard," Thefoi muttered, then added out loud, "has anyone thought about what we're going to do once we get out?"

      There was a pause.

      "There aren't very many opportunities for ownerless Neopets in Neopia," continued Thefoi. "We can't buy Neohomes, we can't own shops, we can't get bank accounts…"

      "I don't care," said Midnight vehemently. "Anything's better than this place. At the very least, we'll be able to pick our owners instead of the reverse."

      "I agree with Midnight," said Cassandra.

      "We can figure that out when we get there," said Blue.

      The Nimmo nodded.

      "Oh, all right," grumbled Thefoi.

      "Well, that's settled, then," said Cassandra happily. "Now, about that diversion. I had a few ideas…"

      Cassandra and Blue continued to work out the escape plan for most of the rest of the day, with occasional suggestions from Midnight and Thefoi. The Nimmo sat and listened calmly.

      That night, as soon as the Pound's lights had been shut off, they put their plan into action.

To be continued…

 
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