Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 171,606,722 Issue: 178 | 18th day of Awakening, Y7
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Subject G20K

by child_dragon


I am not a very dedicated person, nor am I very focused with what time I do commit to a project. It's extremely difficult for me to concentrate on one thing, especially when there are more interesting events occurring all around. Working for Dr. Sloth on Virtupets… well, every day is full of all sorts of going-ons that I am irresistibly drawn to. Combine lots of activity, a bored programmer, gobs of caffeine and sugar and you have a recipe for disaster.

      Well, maybe not disaster. But I do end up working late a lot.

      It was a week after the incident with the spy and I was preparing a report of my department's security procedures. It wasn't so difficult - I had already established what I believed to be a rather strict password and login/logout procedure. Of course, after I wrote it down on paper it looked quite pathetic. Then I went around and quizzed the Grundos I worked with about their own personal security habits. The answers were not good ones.

      Bottom line: I didn't want to hand this report in. It was going to the Grundo in charge of security around here and I'd probably wind up hearing about it later on, possibly from someone higher up in the Sloth hierarchy. Knowing my luck I'd get yelled at by Sloth himself, which sadly, I was used to. But the prospect was not a very pleasant one. So I procrastinated, stuck my busybody nose into everyone else's business, and found myself staring at a "on my desk by morning" deadline shortly after everyone else had gone home for the evening. I got myself some coffee and reluctantly sat down to finish up the report.

      It only took a couple hours but by the time I polished the final copy the only people around were me and the mutant Grundos that were our security personnel. I shut down my station and slipped out the door, flipping off the lights and punching in the code to lock down the room behind me.

      The office of the chief security Grundo was not too far from mine - only a couple twists and turns away - but I took the long route. Although it often wound me up in trouble I did enjoy being in the middle of things. It always made good stories for later when I was telling my rainbow Pteri, Miriane, about my day.

      Well, this time I swung by Dr. Sloth's personal lab. It was always shut and locked, the red light at the top glaring down like an eye at anyone that would dare bother the Dr. while he was working. However, this time the light cast a calm green glow over the metal corridor and a rectangle of light streamed through the open door. I sidled to the doorway and peered in.

      The air was sterile and reeked of disinfectant. I could see beakers lining the shelves and countertops. There were cabinets all along the walls and in one corner an immense terminal arrayed in a semi-circle around a metal table. The Dr. himself was standing at the nearest countertop to this, writing on a chart. I leaned in further; trying to determine what was lying on the table. It was a large shape and almost looked like a NeoPet.

      "I suggest you either say who you are or leave very quickly," Sloth said calmly, not even bothering to turn around.

      Ice spread through my blood as terror temporarily flooded my system. There's certain things in life that just send alarm bells ringing - the "I'm in deep trouble now" alert. Being caught eavesdropping on Sloth was one of those.

      "It's me," I replied, "I'm sorry. I just saw the light."

      "Oh. Kid. Come in if you want but don't touch anything."

      Still not looking at me. I swallowed and realized that if I didn't act on this opportunity to nose around I'd regret it later. So I stepped in and watched where I walked, staying a good distance away from the equipment. There was a glass cabinet a couple feet behind where Dr. Sloth stood and I stopped before this, looking inside at the contents. I wasn't quite ready to inspect whatever was on the table.

      "Transmogrification potions," I said outloud.

      "Yes. I'm testing a new variety, one that only has to come in contact with the skin."

      I turned from the potions to look at the NeoPet. It was a Lupe, unconscious and laying on his side. He was mutant and I had no doubt that this was Sloth's latest test subject. I walked over and carefully put one hand on his shoulder, rubbing along the bone and smoothing out the fur.

      "Unfortunately, it still needs a lot of work," Sloth continued. "The potion takes far too long to take effect and is distinctly noticeable by the pet. They'll just wash it off before being transformed."

      "What do you mean?"

      He moved slightly and a couple drops of liquid landed on my arm.


      I grabbed a handful of my shirt hem and frantically rubbed it off. The skin was reddened and blistered and it felt like I'd just been stung by wasps.

      "That-" I managed to say through gritted teeth, "was uncalled for."

      "But you understand the problems this batch has. I'll need more test subjects…" He was musing to himself. I turned my attention back to the Lupe.

      "So, this was your latest… test subject?" I didn't like the taste of those words.


      "The poor guy. What are you going to do with him now?"

      "I am not telling you," he replied, annoyed.

      "What? Why?"

      "You're crying. Humans."

      I didn't say anything. I had thought he wouldn't be able to see my few tears. Chickenhead left into a back room for a bit and I stayed where I was, stroking the Lupe's fur. His breathing was slow and regular and I was glad for that. Sedated most likely. For some reason he looked familiar but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. There were lots of Lupes running around Neopia; surely I was just having a déjà vu moment here. Eventually Sloth came back, this time with some files stacked up in his arms. I tried catching a glimpse of them but Sloth's bulk obscured my view.

      "Why do you stay late all the time?" he asked, writing something while he spoke, "You obviously don't like what I do. The other few humans here are dedicated because they want power. You show no interest in it. So why not just go home?"

      "I stay... because there's nothing better to do. My pet is out late most nights and that's all I have here on Virtupets."

     "Then you are lonely."

     I wanted to change the subject. "Is that why you work so late on these," I gestured at the potions, "as well?"

     "It amuses me when you make assumptions. You're assigning human emotions to something that isn't human."

     And he laughed because to him it really was funny, while I wished I weren't so easy to read or that I could have the upper hand for just once in my life. My eyes were filling with tears again and I blinked quickly, trying not to look down at the pet sprawled across the metal table. He was so helpless and I wanted to stay and protect him. That's what we humans do, right? We protect our pets. Well, this one didn't have an owner and I was the only one around to be a stand-in.

     I've said before that it was difficult to work here, that my conscience refused to remain buried at times and stabbed sharp needles into my thoughts, pricks of guilt and a keen desire to make things right and atone for my actions. Most of the time it was late at night when I was trapped in the darkness of my room.

     But now - it couldn't be ignored.

     "Sloth. This Lupe."

     "Subject X92C."

     "Yeah. Since you're just getting rid of him, can I take him home?"

     A pause.

     "I'll forgive you that request because you're a weak little girl subject to human emotions and frailties. No. He's a subject of an experimental potion and needs to be destroyed."

      "What?! No you can't!"

      Mistake number one - disagreeing with Sloth. Mistake number two - yelling at him. And now for mistake number three. He rounded on me and glared. It's a very frightening thing to face the wrath of an annoyed Dr. Sloth. I did what I usually did in this situation - cringe and stagger backwards away from him. Only I forgot where I was and true to my nature, my elbow snagged a glass beaker on the counter and sent it falling to the floor to land in a terrific explosion of noise and shrapnel.

      "You IDIOT!" Sloth roared and I flattened against the far wall, heart in throat. He stomped towards me.

      "You," he snarled, seizing the collar of my shirt and dragging me towards the door, "annoy me. And for your information, X92C used to be named Davis, the spy who tried to force you to give up the system password. The one you helped capture. So even if he wasn't an experiment I still would have him destroyed."

      And he threw me out into the hallway. I slammed against the far wall and hit the floor in a heap. The door to the lab shut and the light switched to red, signifying that it was locked. I curled into a ball and cried into my arms for a short time as my heart turned to pure empty space.

      The smart course of action would have been to go home and quietly forget about the incident. I'm not the brightest person at times though. I still had a report to drop off and this time I made a beeline to the security office. The door was locked so I just slipped it under the door. Then I hesitated, sidled up to the control panel that ran the door lock and slipped a pocketknife from my jeans.

      I don't quite understand the reasoning behind what I did. It's not precisely moral to pry off a control panel and unlock the door by rearranging the wires inside. It's even less moral to access the head of security's computer. So I don't know why I printed out a map and inked out the route to where Sloth stored the NeoPets he used for experiments. I'm not sure why I found and recorded the access codes that I'd need. It's just something I had to do. I was partly responsible for what happened to Davis and even though my involvement was involuntary, I still could not just walk away and leave him. Things had gotten fuzzy. Was Davis really my enemy? Perhaps. Or maybe Sloth was. I didn't know. All I knew was that I had cried because my heart was breaking and if I didn't do this I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror again. If I didn't protect him no one would.

      The best time to get the Lupe out of there would be tomorrow evening, once the station wound down into night cycle. I will admit it, I was terrified. When I arrived at our apartment my pet Pteri could tell and tried to find out what was going on. I didn't tell her much, just that she needed to be very careful for the next couple days. She looked at me like I'd betrayed her for keeping secrets and went to her room until I left for work in the morning.

      I never stopped to ask myself any questions. Things like, what would happen if I got caught? And why was I so willing to risk my skin for this Lupe? Above all, why did Sloth let me see Davis to begin with? I can be clever but sometimes I don't think of the obvious things. In all the time I'd been here this was the first time I'd ever seen the lab open. Why? Like I said, I didn't stop to reason things out completely. I had a Lupe to save.

      It was easy to find something to keep me occupied after normal quitting time. This is me. I'm the resident master of distraction. The local night owl. Caffeine queen. You get the idea.

      I tried to appear casual as I wandered down past Sloth's lab. The storage area was just around the corner. The door to the lab was shut this time and the red light felt like it was boring a hole in my back. I had to fight to not turn around and see if there was anyone watching me. The corridor was empty. I hadn't heard anyone approaching. I was alone.

      I'd memorized the access code to the storage area that morning. The inside was dark and I could see the small lines of metal in what little light came from the ceiling and doorway. The cages appeared to be empty. I moved from row to row, straining to see in the darkness, until I found one that was occupied. I squinted and tried to read the tag on the door. X92C. Davis.

      "Hey," I breathed and the shape stirred. Two bright eyes opened to look at me. "Let's get you out of here."

      The cages were coded shut but I had memorized that as well. It sprung open with a soft click and the Lupe just stared at me.

      "Please. We need to go. Davis?"

      It was like looking into a well. His eyes were so blank and so empty. There was absolutely no recognition in there. Whatever Sloth had done to him it had destroyed his memory and perhaps a lot more. Was he even worth saving?

      Yes. Of course. I reached in, grabbed his scruff, and pulled. He came out and landed on my feet like a sack of potatoes. I wanted to sob from frustration. I tugged on his skin some more, trying to wrap my hands around his chest and pull him up. It was far too late that I heard the sound of footsteps.


      I yelped and spun, tripping over the nearly comatose Lupe's foot and falling on my rear. There was a human form in the doorway, legs spread and hands clasped in the unmistakable firing stance of a blaster. I didn't move.

      "Hands on your head. Now."

      I knew the voice. I'd seen him once but never really spoken to him. The only reason I remembered was because he was one of the few humans that actually worked for Sloth. Managed part of security, mostly the non-technical stuff like Grundo patrols and guard stations.

      "Just let me go," I whispered, "Sloth is going to kill this Lupe for no good reason. I want to save him. That's all."

      He was walking slowly towards me. I got to my knees.

      "I said, freeze."

      "Please. This is a Neopet here. Don't you care?"

      "Not at all."

      And by the tone in his voice I could tell that he meant it. I lunged, trying to reach the blaster and pull it out of his hand. He jumped back and swung the butt of it down. I saw a glimpse of metal and then my vision blacked out for a moment to be replaced with a swimming haze. There was warmth spreading across my forehead and I fell backwards onto the ground, landing next to the Lupe. Too much pain… I was going to faint. I managed to curl around the Lupe, shielding him with my own body before I finally slipped away.

      I caught snippets of voices. Both complaining. They wove in and out of my struggling mind.

      "…didn't have to hit her so hard…"

      "…not my fault… …waking up I think, hand me that…"

      And I registered a quick prick on the arm and the next I knew I was waking up in a quiet room with the smell of disinfectant and bright lights overhead. My head hurt, but not as badly as before, and I could feel some gauze taped to the skin, just a bit below the hairline. I turned my head and my heart skipped a beat or two. I knew this place. I'd been here before, just once before. Sloth's lab; except this time I was the one laying on the metal table. Sloth himself was nearby, writing in some of his records.

      "Don't move," he said and I was amazed that he'd realized I was awake without even looking at me, "Not yet, at least. You have a concussion."

      The file was labeled G20K. A photo was taped to the inside but I couldn't tell what it was of before he shut it.

      "Greg brought you here to be patched up so as to avoid the mess of getting you elsewhere for medical attention. The blaster left a gash on your forehead that took five stitches. They'll fall out naturally when the wound is closed."

      "I'm… confused…"

      "You do have a concussion. But I'll try to explain and maybe something I say will manage to lodge itself in that human brain of yours."

      Sarcastic. A good sign.

      "This file," he began, tapping on the folder, "is yours. I started keeping it shortly after hiring you, when I realized that you were nothing like the other humans I keep around. They're here for power and personal ambition. Easy to understand because they are like myself in some regards. They're also not the ones I'm interested in.

      You see, in some regards humans and NeoPets are the weakest creatures in existence because of their willingness to do something contrary to their nature for another being. You compromised your morals to work for me so that you could have money to feed your pet. And yet, it's this very tendency that has thwarted me more than once in my attempts to dominate Neopia. Humans and pets that would normally be too timid to stand up for anything will fight and die for those they love. And you risked everything tonight for a pet that you only knew as a spy with no inhibitions against hurting you to get what he wanted.

      X92C wasn't my primary experiment. You were."

      He crossed over to stand by the table. His hand wrapped around my shirt and he pulled me into a sitting position. It was an effort to stay like that and I licked my lips several times, trying to keep down both nausea and dizziness.

      "All this was a test. I had no reason to not let you have the Lupe but I wanted to see what you would do if I refused. And although the results were not unexpected the reason behind them is still a mystery."

      "I just couldn't leave him," I whispered.

      "But why? You're the enigma - if I solve it Neopia will be mine. If I can find a way around your stupid and selfless courage nothing will stand between me and victory. There will be no humans or pets to challenge me because there will be nothing for them to fight for."

      "Conscience," I replied, tired, "and I can't explain it. It's something we're made with. It just depends on how good we are at ignoring what it says. Those that can completely disregard it we call evil. For the rest of us it's only a matter of time. We can try, but in the end we won't be able to ignore its call and we will stand and fight for our homes and those we love. You can't win against it Sloth."

      He smirked and said in a low voice, "We'll see."

      "What are you going to do with me?" I asked as he walked away, back over to the counter.

      "Place you in the infirmary to be monitored until your condition is stable enough for release. Then you can return to work and even take X92C home with you if you still wish to."

      He gathered up the files and started to walk them into the back room. I stared at my feet.

      "I don't think I have to tell you," he said evenly, "that you are under surveillance and have been so for quite a while now. Don't do anything stupid. I'm not done with you yet, subject G20K."

      I didn't even try to reply. My head hurt and I was tired. I lay back down on the table, curled up, and fell asleep.

The End

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