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Chet Runner


by homsar_eggplant

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     Amidst Neopian skies, some means of hover cart pierces the clouds. Its glistening grey shell emerges unscathed, save for a fine layer of moisture reflecting a dawn’s sunlight. Within the control seat of the small craft, a set of hands firmly grasp two bicycle-like bars, functioning like the controls of a Virtupets ship. One of the hands moves to a glowing button reading “Message Alert” and presses it without hesitation. Upon the dashboard, a video emerges like an online pop-up.

     “Detective, I just want to reinforce the severity of this situation. Neopia Central Coding Division has been very clear about any sorts of anomalies or outliers. And on top of that, those who fail to properly discard subjects.” A Zafara’s face emerges from the driver’s seat, revealed against the soft glow of the video call. “You know the quality of my work, but this isn’t me anymore. That program has been done for years, retired like me.”

     The hazy form of a Mynci becomes clearer on the screen, as if adjusting a camera. Clad in sharp attire, his clean and well-tended uniform clashes with his aged and fatigue-ridden face. “Then you’ll finish the job and get paid. After all, you know that he’s here.”

     The Zafara draws a paw from his oversized trench coat, reaching for and pulling a red knob. “One last time, no more. Goodbye.” Before the refined figure in the call can respond, the connection is severed as the floating craft descends back through the clouds and on towards the ground below. Greens of the land and blues of the sea quickly give way to an orange haze, omnipresent and oppressive. What could have been a lush land had long since been stripped of most notable landmarks and life, save for the distant points of a tree’s remains and a sandwich-shaped building surrounded by a ranch property. The same sleeved paw reaches for a blue square above their head, “Open Record Screen”. A pop-up similar to the Mynci’s video feed emerges, this one showing data. An initial name is listed, “Chet Flash”. Below is a list of various possible sightings over the years, dating back to Y3. Scrolling down, the data begins to flicker and twist, as information begins to corrupt. The last coherent number before dates trail off into cryptic symbols is Y21. As corrupt leftover symbols begin to overtake and consume the file, a final passage sticks out, “Target is long dated, possible danger to system.” The front of the cart goes dark, shrouding the detective once more to land the craft in peace.

     As the craft lowers to the barren wastes below, the slight gust pushes the blades of an old windmill. The agitated tilt brings out a rusty screech from the relic. Its gradual descent ends as a circle of fine orange sand blows away before poking at the underside of the carriage. The detective finds himself reluctant to leave his cab, as his outstretched right hand slowly reaches for another button. This one raises the doorway to his left upward, unveiling the dusty grounds beyond. The comfortably blue tones of the car upholstery and glowing gadgets give way to a sharply contrasting hazy and barren orange wasteland. With his first footstep out of the vehicle, a small cloud of dust kicks up around his boots. It swirls and dances before falling back once more, as if it hadn’t encountered life in quite some time. The detective trudges through the powdery ground, much of it caking his long coat and boots. Through the smog, the image of a sandwich-like building emerges. As vision becomes clearer, the word “Chet” materializes on a rather crudely assembled signage. Gazing down at his pocket, a small beacon blips.

     “This must be it.” He paces carefully towards the property, fearing the prospects of traps or an ambush. But… nothing. Just an old wooden doorway awaiting a welcoming knock.

     A clenched right fist raps at the ramshackle wooden door of the lowly abode. TAP TAP. No response. BANG BANG! The Zafara detective shouts, “I’m with the Coding Division, I need to ask you some questions. First, is this the house of Chet Flash?”

     “I am here!”, a voice cries in excitement.

     “I’m aware of that,” sighs the disgruntled detective, “Could you please open the door, Chet?”

     “I am here!”, the voice once again exclaims.

     “Oh no, it’s one of these cases again.” The detective pulls his hat over his face, hiding his cringing face. “Chet Flash, would you please come to the door.”

     “I AM HERE!” bellows the voice as the door is flung from within. The hinges strain and squeak, as if ready to fall off. The figure behind the door also wears a long coat, but over a faded grey hoodie. The head from inside gives no discernable features, as if masked by an incomprehensible darkness. The “form” known as “Chet” examines the detective inquisitively before inviting him from the ramshackle and makeshift outside porch.

     “Today must be the day, let’s get this over with. I have places to go!” chirps the excitable Chet. “Also, please, let me lighten this atmosphere. It has been so dull here lately.” A hand-like limb slips out of the coat, just as unidentifiable as the rest of him. He grabs the envelope for a record, ‘Memories of Greens by Neoplant Bob’.

     The detective looks up, towards a dusty record player, as Chet casually marches forth. “Ya know, I haven’t seen anything like that album in a few decades. You have a real antique on your hands,” chimes the detective in casual dialogue. Chet does not respond, only setting the needle upon the disc and playing rather soulful music. The detective points out towards a dented duo of restaurant seats. “Not classy, but these will do. Please, take a seat. This’ll be quick.” Chet saunters over, casually sitting as the old seat squeaks in age. The detective, while gathering supplies, notices Chet gaze from the soulless void in his hood. Clearing his throat, the detective tries to make pleasantries. “I know this is rather formal work, but please, call me Booker. I’m here to help. Now, when you’re ready to begin, let me know.” Chet simply nods, no words stated.

     Detective Booker takes out a tablet, gently placing it on a table. Reaching into his bag, he also removes a pocket watch and a smaller tablet-like device. Looking up, he makes contact with the cloaked figure. “It’s okay, I shut down all surveillance. You can reveal yourself, Chet Flash. The chase is over.” Booker extends an arm out, as if to pull Chet from out of a hole of sorts. The figure shakes a “no” with their head and some of their body, remaining a shadow covered in clothes. A gloved hand does meet Booker’s though, granting a friendly handshake. Letting go, Booker ushers to the large tablet, which powers up to a “welcome” screen. Chet hunches towards the contraption, like an amoeba preparing to swarm around food. The latched device is pulled back towards the seemingly morphic form, as two eyes study the screen frantically. Booker tries to look for any features among the screen’s light, seeing nothing.

      “I take it that we’re ready to begin. Let me start here, I’m Detective Booker. I’ve been deployed because of some… let’s say disturbances. As you know, the program you clung to has long since ended. People like you have displayed a number of equal disturbances as a result. This led to appointments to discard their problems. But, first thing’s first, we have to run the test. Please, be so kind as to tap the ‘start’ on your menu and we’ll continue.” The mass within the dark taps the screen as it illuminates with a sharp chirp. He is now ready to begin. Booker tilts his head, with a look of inquisitive study upon his face.

     “This first one is from one of the new recruits… Pardon his ‘wit’… *ahem*, do programs dream of Math’s Nightmare?”

     - “Why would they? I never liked that game.”

     “Yeah, I’m sorry. The commissioner wanted that in there… You know, like the book. Anyway…”

     - Right.

     “There’s a Turtmid on a walking road, it’s stuck on its back. The searing rays of the Lost Desert sun bear down upon it. You come across the struggling petpet, you’re wondering why you should help it. Why?”

     - “Why would I help it? I feel like it can find a way back up.”

     “Thank you, next. You are given an anti-faerie text written by the infamous Xandra. It makes you feel disgusted, but you take it home to your family. They wish to read it and keep it in the house. How do you respond?”

     - “Hide it somewhere. I want to know how terrible it was… just to be sure.”

     A layer of static crackling begins to mix with his voice.

     “Next. You are within the Obelisk; there are numerous groups feuding around you. You could try to reach out to them. Do you?”

     - “I tell them to join me, we can all be together as one.”

     His head jerks a little, as if something within him went wrong as he said that.

     “Next. Tell me the earliest memory you still recall vividly.”

     - “It was this farm, I lived here before I went on a quest to travel the world. It was green, there were other petpets here. It was beautiful. My mother played piano often and my father liked to trade in town. I left in Y2, writing letters but never stopping home. They didn’t keep them after 20 years. They welcomed me in their new home before I left again.”

     His tics grow in intensity before calming down.

     “Where is here?”

     - “Neopia Central, my parents bought this building and added it to the farm, it used to be a business. It’s faded, but still a nice house-“

     His voice is cut off by an unnatural sound, as Chet cups his mouth.

     Booker leans a little forward, with paws both planted below his chin. A furrowed brow disrupts his calm demeanour. “That’s what I was afraid of. This is the eighth time I’ve heard that same story, and it’s not Y22 anymore… hasn’t been for a long time. The same could be said for Old Neopia Central. You do remember ‘The Big Incident,’ right? It’s why New Central was made.”

     The hoodie-clad shadow reels in discomfort, as if he has been found out. Chet begins to squirm from his chair and towards a bookshelf. The mass scrambles towards a dusty tome labelled “scrapbook”. He flips the cover open, rapidly turning pages with the flick of a finger. Booker peers over before slowly rising and approaching the mysterious Chet. The crouching shadow hunches over a spread open page, now being gently laid upon a rickety wooden coffee table. Booker straddles around the form of Chet, to see a scratched-out photograph. The print was of a figure, presumably Chet, crudely removed from the photo. Besides him, two other Neopians standing in front of the Movie Theater in Neopia Central for its Grand Reopening. A note is tucked next to the photograph, which Chet carefully removes before reading aloud. “A local celebrity graces us, the esteemed traveller known as ‘Chet Flash’. This city is full of surprises! May Y24 be our best one yet! – Lois.” Chet slips the note back in before carefully closing the book and placing it back. Booker slides his head back a little, his eyes rotating down to meet the hoodie-wearing form. “You realize the last time flash was around, right? Year 21 or so. Even 24 is too late,” sighs Booker, his face now worn with grim expectation… the same as his superior’s before.

     The hovering set of hoodie and sweatpants speaks once more, “You’re right, but that couldn’t have been long ago either. So, these rogue programs. Did all of them try to stop you?” Booker nods a yes, unaware of Chet’s shift in body language for just a brief second. “So… why shouldn’t I?” Before Booker reacts to the ominous statement, Chet lunges towards Booker with the ferocity of a hunter and the panic of a cornered petpet, knocking the detective to the ground. Words no longer come out of Chet’s mouth, but the sounds of an old computer dial-up connection. Light begins to flicker and flash underneath his clothing disguise, proving once and for all that he is something far beyond organic. The tumbling crash dislodges a ceiling lamp, which plunges and clanks Chet on the back of his head before he can get a proper grasp of his target. The data creature called Chet spasms in brief shock. Seizing his chance, Booker pushes him back, gasps for breath and scrambles backwards.

     After reaching for his neck in shock, Booker quickly slinks his hand into the long duster style jacket, revealing some sort of device. Upon it is labelled “decommissioner”. Chet, frozen in place after retaliating, is drawn to the weapon of sorts. The small glowy orbs amidst the shadows follow the ‘tool’ as it is removed and pointed towards him. Booker’s stern face brakes as wrinkles show among a sagging expression. “I hate doing this, but at least this is the last time. I’m glad you were here, Chet.” And with the press of a button, a pulsing wave shoots out and hits Chet straight on. The form falls to the ground, the unnatural light emitting far brighter. The figure, lying limp, removes his hood. It’s strings of letters and numbers whirling around, living code. The data being called “Chet Flash” props himself against a corner, the computerized noises ceasing.

     He struggles to speak once more, “Y-you all have seen my travels. You knew where I’ve been. Sloth ships on fire off the shoulder of Kreludor. I watched spell beams glitter off the dark of flying Faerieland. Even Lutari Island, you have seen me there! The return of the Neopian Times in New Central, it was graced by me. But in the end, you never knew me, I was what you called a meme, a traveller. And in the end, I have more of a soul than you ever will. Life and memory gone, like discarded information. Goodbye, Detective Booker.”

     Chet collapses back on the ground, instantly dissolving into chaotic bursts of visual data. Strings of code fly out in all directions, smashing plates on the mantle place, toppling chairs, making plugged in devices explode into showers of sparks, igniting wooden furnishings and crashing through windows. The light displays caused by disturbed appliances begin to catch fire. Booker glances at the hoodie left behind, “Still never got a proper look. Shame about this place, had good memories here ages back… before all of this.” Dancing fire begins to hop out of a blasted kitchen, as Booker quickly picks himself up and makes his exit.

     As fire begins to consume the building, the crudely tagged entrance signage falls behind the detective. Its simple script, no longer clouded by the dust, reads in full “Chet Flash WUZ here.” The spray paint long since faded, the detective bends down to pick up the old hunk of wood, giving a brief examination before turning it over and setting it upon the dusty orange-brown dirt. Another old hunk of wood, far more faded, reads “Food Shop” before the jumping flames leap from the sandwich building and taste the vintage signage. In no time, the glowy orange inferno makes the building’s shell match the colour of the ground. The roaring and crackling of the flame clashes with the creaking and snapping of old wood. And there, the detective stares, almost entranced for a moment in time. As the foundation begins to crumble, he slowly paces the rest of the way to his vehicle.

     The lonesome detective, gazing only at his grey kart, places a palm upon the door. Rather than opening it, he continues to stare longingly at the window in contemplation. With another loud sigh, he clicks a handle and sits within the small kart cabin. Preparing for liftoff, he also activates the same signal button that launched the video of the older Mynci. The Neopian in the video feed simply waits in expectation, not a single word comes from his mouth. Gazing coldly at the screen’s feed, Booker states, “It’s over, Chet Flash was here.”

     The End.

 
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