Beware the Robot Petpet...
“A nother N-4 Info Retrieval Bot? How many of these can you win in a day?”
Blebix the grundo, custodian of the Virtupets battledome, tried very hard not to grin as an angry-looking lupe and his owner walked by him, robot in hand. When they had walked out of sight, he continued whispering his song, the tune that had gotten him through this past month of watching hundreds of spoiled neopets and their owners complain about their robot prizes.
“The day is almost here. The day is almost here”
Blebix almost skipped in his excitement. Dragging his mop along in a dance, ignoring the slime that trailed behind it, he cackled maniacally. His years of patiently waiting were almost at an end.
The virtupets robots, the most common prize of the Virtupets battledome, were the creation of Dr. Frank Sloth. Dr. Sloth’s original interest was in building a robot petpet army. Inspired by his failures in mind control, he sought to create a robot capable of following simple instructions, one that would be a laboursaving device to his soldiers and lieutenants.
For years Dr. Sloth worked diligently in secret on his petpet robots. What changed the direction of his efforts was his own demise by the Space Faerie. He realized his end was at hand, and quickly changed the direction of his efforts. The petpet robots were re-programmed to serve normal neopians and provide all manner of useful help. Save for one thing: an override chip, installed in each robot petpet, which was ready to revert the petpet back to its former state. To be at the beck and call of Dr. Sloth. His goals would have been unknown, had his notebooks not been discovered by an underappreciated, disgruntled member of the cleanup crew.
Blebix had tried to impart his philosophy of Dr. Sloth appreciation to a series of cleaning crew partners, only to have each one report him. It did not occur to him that his fellow grundos would view Dr. Sloth as a figure deserving of horror and contempt. Instead, he concluded that members of the cleaning crew were too weak and temperamental to share his views. In one respect he in fact concurred with the other grundos: he was better off being left to work alone. So he cleaned the battledome arena alone, a thankless task for which his colleagues were very happy to have him do.
And so, alone, he had pawed through Dr. Sloth’s notebooks. He devoted himself to the study of robot petpets, and offered multiple reasons to the grundos who questioned his strange interests. First, a robot petpet would be a radically more efficient cleaner than any grundo, whose vision was naturally short-sighted. Second, were robot petpets not a wonderful item for tourists to acquire and collect? But privately, he saw it as an opportunity for an even greater purpose: if the petpets could be programmed to obey Dr. Sloth, could they not be programmed to obey a grundo?
His success was at hand, and Blebix saw no better time to go through with his plan: Sloth Appreciation Day.
“Tomorrow! Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” Blebix sang ecstatically. His mop was flinging mud and slime everywhere now, and the Neopians exiting the battledome were giving him wide berth. With the amount of robot petpets being given out every day, there must be a robot petpet in the home of every neopian by now.
A small paw was tapping him politely on the elbow. Blebix turned to face a small baby gelert who was staring up at him, eyes wide. A small drop of slime was trailing down her cheek.
“What?” Blebix croaked at her. He tried to lift his mouth into something resembling a smile.
“I just – I just wanted to say thank you.” The gelert’s voice was cracking, betraying her nervousness at talking to a stranger, but she beamed up at him. “Being a custodian is such a difficult job. Bu-But it’s so important.”
And then she was off, racing clumsily to catch up with her owner and another gelert who had the annoyed look of an older sibling.
Blebix became aware that he was staring at where she had been, his mouth open. When was the last time he had interacted with a Neopian? It had been a long time.
His cleaning duties over, Blebix threw his mop and bucket into the janitorial closet. He felt strange, odd. Uncertain. He was making his way to his sleeping quarters through the main hangar when stopped suddenly, and looked around him.
The roof and walls were all made of clear glass, allowing undiminished views of Neopia. Currently, the direction of the station was allowing sunlight to pour through the enormous chamber, and the hall was filled with sparkling colours of red, orange, yellow, and blue reflecting through a large stained glass window of the Space Faerie.
“It’s so beautiful.” The statement of awe sounded out from a tall yellow Lenny, recently arrived from Neopia, who was craning his neck so high he was almost falling over. He wasn’t talking to Blebix, but to the petpet in his arms, a Valentine Rock.
Blebix normally would have scowled at the Lenny and muttered something about tourists being easily impressed, but he was suddenly at a loss for words. He had never considered the work that had gone into creating a space station almost entirely of glass, so that at any moment you could look out and see the infinite number of stars.
* * * * * * * *
Blebix woke the next morning with a sour taste in his mouth and a headache from lack of sleep. It was Sloth Appreciation day. His day was here. He could almost taste his own triumph – all he had to do now was press the right button, and the robot petpets of Neopia would be his. No more feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. No more tourists complaining or the smells of robots. So why didn’t he feel happy?
Blebix had planned to wake up and immediately begin his plans of world domination: have the robot petpets of Neopia take over and install him as supreme ruler. But his dehydrated fungus kept getting stuck in his throat. He ate the same thing every day, for every meal, but the taste of the fungus was beginning to make him feel sick.
For the first time since he could remember, Blebix went to Grundos Cafe. His floating pigs in a blanket and space coffee did little to settle his stomach, but he could not deny that it tasted delicious. It was even worth the interaction and pleasantries he had to exchange with Gargarox.
The face of the young gelert kept popping into his mind. Her earnestness and bright look. He wondered what she was doing now. It felt churlish and childish to try and take over Neopia.
But still, some kind of token acknowledgement of his power, and of Dr. Sloth, seemed necessary. When he thought of a solution his stomach eased and he was able to finish his food with relish. The morning was still bright and early, so he was able to grab an elevator to his room where he tinkered with robots without much of a wait.
It took an hour of work, but this time it was with an eased mind and a certain amount of satisfaction that he finally pressed his red button. For a panicked second, nothing happened, and then he heard it – a mechanical voice that he knew was being echoed a thousandfold all over Neopia.
“Happy Sloth Day! All hail Sloth!”
* * * * * * * *
Visitors at the Virtupets battledome were left deeply disappointed the next day, when they arrived for their daily battles. The doors to the battledome were closed. A hastily-scrawled sign was hanging over it.
“Closed while the custodian goes on an extended vacation. Please come back soon. We are looking to hire temporary replacements.”