Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 120,791,029 Issue: 244 | 16th day of Relaxing, Y8
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Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Two

by sarahleeadvent


Flingon's paw froze in midair, hovering poised above the button he had been about to push. He sat silent and still, listening tensely for a moment; then his narrow shoulders relaxed. He had been on this job far too long- he was beginning to hear things. Putting the phantom tapping out of his mind, the Aisha techie poked a few more buttons, then sat back and waited anxiously as the computer processed the data he had just entered. Had he gotten the code right this time? Would he be able to take over the computer system? No, the big, glowing blue letters on the screen displayed the same maddening message he had seen so many times over the past month: ACCESS DENIED. Flingon put his head in his hands and stifled a moan. Sloth was going to be furious.


      Lerox rolled his eyes. "Here, I'll do it," he muttered, then added under his breath, "What a wuss!"

      Tishka's paw started moving into a position from which she could effectively bean her annoying younger sibling, but the sharp sound of his paw striking the door brought her mind back to the mission at hand. "Remember," she whispered to Lerox, "We're just a couple of cute little know-nothing kids who couldn't plan a raid on the cookie jar, much less taking pictures of a restricted room."

      Lerox grinned, and then stepped aside as the door swung open, revealing a very irritated-looking alien Aisha.

      Flingon couldn't believe it. These same two kids whom he had just warned yesterday about messing with rooms labelled 'RESTRICTED. DO NOT ENTER' were back. Now what did they want?

      Tishka fidgeted nervously, but she stood her ground and resisted the impulse to look at Lerox to see what he was doing. If he did his job right, she would know soon enough what he was up to.

      "What do you want?" Flingon was not in the mood for being polite.

      Tishka figeted even more, but finally she stammered, "Mr. Flingon, when do you get off duty?"

      Flingon was surprised. That was probably the strangest question he had ever been asked. "Why do you want to know?"

      Tishka's confidence began to grow. She had spent awhile hashing this line out last night, and she liked what she had come up with: a way to scold her brother, get on Flingon's good side (a thing that might come in handy later), and possibly impress her parents. "Well sir," she began, "you were very nice about it yesterday, when Lerox came over here without asking, and I was wondering if you'd like to come over to our house for dinner. Our way of saying 'thank you'."

      Flingon was even more surprised, and more than a little nervous. The truth was that he rarely got out except to do his job at the station, and the invitation was tempting- but if Sloth found out, he would be suspicious, and there would be all kinds of uncomfortable questions. "Why did you accept?" "What did you tell them about the plan?" "Why weren't you working on the code, like you were supposed to?" Conversations with Sloth were frightening enough as it was, and Flingon really didn't want to make them even worse. Suddenly realizing that Tishka was waiting for an answer, he said as honestly as he dared, "I'd like to, but I can't. Some stuff I've been working on- I'm behind my deadline, and if I fall any more behind I'm in for it."

      Tishka had sneaked a peek at Lerox while Flingon was pondering, and her spirits had risen when she saw that he had managed to block the door with his foot, preventing it from swinging shut, and now he was leaning into the forbidden room, camera poised and ready.

     Oh no! Flingon was turning around- and if he saw Lerox now, with his head and camera poking into that room, both of them were doomed! Tishka grabbed for his attention. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time, sir. I just thought we could maybe make up for the interruption yesterday."

      To her surprise and relief, Flingon smiled slightly, and although he did not turn fully back to face her, at least he wasn't looking at Lerox. Oh, good- Lerox had taken his pictures, and was backing silently away from the door.

      "Don't worry about it," Flingon said. "I guess boys will be boys- just try to keep him in line," he added, his smile widening a little.

      Lerox was now a safe distance from the door, his camera hanging innocently around his neck by its string and his hands hidden behind his back. Mission accomplished, but... Tishka was beginning to like this tolerant, slightly shy Aisha, and as he turned away she asked quickly, "Some other time, maybe?"


      Beep-beep-beep! Flingon jumped slightly at the all-too-familiar 'incoming transmission' signal, and Tishka couldn't help but notice the grim, helpless look on his face as he hurried into the room. Oh horror- Lerox had that same diabolical smirk on his face that he had had when he had first tried to enter the room, and sure enough, there was his foot, preventing the door from closing. Signalling with his hand for Tishka to follow him, he darted through the door and into the darkness beyond. Tishka restrained a groan as she rushed after him, disappearing into a shadow beyond the beam of light that spilled into the room from the open door. As she joined her brother, who was hiding in a pool of deep shadow, Tishka wondered for a moment why the room was so dark. A moment later, horror drove all thoughts from her mind.


      Flingon was beginning to wonder whether something was wrong with the door- all of a sudden it wasn't closing properly. The 'incoming message' icon on the screen and the incessant beeping warned him that Sloth was still waiting on the other end- and past experience warned him that any delay would make the impatient tyrant furious. Flingon kicked at the door, and to his relief and Tishka's horror it closed securely. Whirling as quickly as he could, Flingon opened the channel to Sloth's hidden ship, and instantly the hideously familiar face appeared. It didn't look very pleased about having been kept waiting.

      "Flingon!" Sloth snapped. "What took you so long?"

      "I'm sorry, Sir- there was someone at the door."

      Sloth's eyes narrowed. "Someone at a door labeled 'RESTRICTED. DO NOT ENTER'?"

      "A couple of children with a question. Why at my door? Who knows."

      Sloth looked decidedly dissatisfied with Flingon's explanation, and for a long, horrible moment their eyes met, and Flingon struggled to meet that piercing blood-red, bloodthirsty gaze. Finally Sloth broke the silence, using that same low, cruel, cutting tone he had used the day before. "If you don't get that code by tomorrow, it's the Spider Grundo for you." And with that, Sloth signed off. Just like that. Do it or die. And Flingon knew there could be no two ways about it.


      Throughout the whole conversation Tishka had crouched in terror beside her brother, her wide eyes fixed on the screen as she silently begged Sloth not to notice her. Only when the viewscreen had gone dark and the horrible image of Frank Sloth had been replaced by numbers and figures did the terrified Acara dare to turn her head enough to look at her brother. His eyes were gleaming excitedly in the dim light of the screen.

      'This is all just a game to you, isn't it?' Tishka thought bitterly. Lerox met her eyes, and with all her might she willed him to stay as still and silent as possible. Fortunately there was little need; Lerox wouldn't have given up the opportunity to spy on a real live Sloth minion for all the Nerkmids on the Space Station. For several slow, dragging minutes the two siblings crouched motionless on the floor, watching intently as Flingon entered code after code with what looked like increasing desperation. To her surprise, Tishka began to feel sorry for the harassed Aisha scientist. He sure did seem to be in a tough situation. But at the moment, her mind was mostly occupied with a more immediate problem, with which she silently confronted Lerox the next time he met her eyes: OK, genius, you got us into this. How do you plan to get us out? For the first time since this adventure had begun, Lerox looked uncertain of himself. The truth was, he had no idea how they were going to get out, besides the obvious choice of waiting until Flingon's spell of duty was over, then making a very risky break for it as he left the room and hoping they didn't get locked in: a move they would have to make with stiff and cramped legs.

      But this time, circumstances were merciful to the two trapped Neopets. There was no washroom in the small computer lab, and after about half an hour Flingon got up, strode quickly toward the door, opened it and slipped out. Tishka and Lerox waited until they were sure he would be out of sight of the door, then hurried over to it and tried the handle. Thank goodness, it wasn't locked. As quickly as they could, the two siblings left the door, the room, and the dark secrets behind them as they dashed down the corridor.


      As the ferry took them from the space station to their home on Mystery Island, Tishka and Lerox excitedly discussed their strange adventure, feeling glad as they did that there was no one else in the passenger section.

      "So Lerox, how are we going to get those pictures developed without anybody seeing them?"

      Lerox grinned. "Way ahead of you, sis. This is one of those cameras that develops the film while it's still inside the camera, so all I have to do is press this button and- presto!" With that, he pressed a button on the side of the camera, and a small photograph slid out.

      "Here, give me that!" Tishka grabbed for the photo, and Lerox let her have it. As she studied the picture, Tishka's eyes grew wide. Sure enough, there was the map Lerox had told her about, with the Sloth's Ship icon. The label beside it was just barely readable in the dim light of Flingon's viewscreen. Turning to her brother, Tishka asked in an urgent half-whisper, "Did you take any more?"

      His grin widening, Lerox pushed the button again and handed Tishka the second picture. The young Acara scanned it quickly, but could make no sense of the mathematical jargon she saw. She turned to Lerox questioningly, and he shrugged. "I don't know what it means, but someone's sure to. Who are we gonna take this to?"

      Tishka frowned. "Judge Hog, maybe- and probably Mom and Dad. And whoever's in charge of the space station, too."

      "Somebody's busted!" Lerox sing-songed, and Tishka got a funny feeling inside. The truth was, although she was more than glad to reveal Sloth's plan, she didn't really want to see Flingon 'busted.' She hadn't been lying when she said he had been lenient with her and her brother- it looked like he had even risked Sloth's wrath to do so. Risked it... and found it.

      For a long moment silence reigned in the ferry's passenger room, then Tishka suddenly spoke. "No," she said firmly. "I want to get to the bottom of this first."

      Lerox stared at her, surprised, then smirked and mocked, "Oh, but Tishka, you're gonna get us in trouble!"

      "I probably will. You must be rubbing off on me. Remind me to avoid you for awhile when this is over, OK?"

      Lerox grinned again. "OK. And spying on Sloth sounds like fun!"

      "Well, just don't get us locked in again, OK?" A question popped into her head, and Tishka quickly voiced it. "So, Lerox, what did you think of that conversation between Sloth and Flingon?"

      The young Grundo shrugged. "Sounds to me like they're trying to take over the Space Station- although why they'd want that boring place..."

      Tishka frowned slightly, but chose to ignore the remark. "Flingon sure looked scared."

      Lerox nodded. "After all the work it took to take the Station in the first place, the coding around the main computer's probably pretty complicated. I think Flingon is spider food for sure!"

      Tishka's frown deepened. "Doesn't that bother you?"

      "Let Sloth and his minions kill each other off."

      "Come on, Lerox, think about it. 'Kill each other off'? This looks more like one person getting killed for not doing something he couldn't do."

      Lerox looked at her strangely. "He's a Sloth minion, sis. What are you so worried about?"

      Tishka looked her brother in the eye. "Do you want to know why I want to get to the bottom of this myself? I want to know whether or not Flingon is even in it because he wants to be. And if he's only in it because Sloth forces him to be- well, how would you feel if you were one of Sloth's mutant Grundo slaves? You'd want to be freed- don't tell me otherwise."

      Lerox wrinkled his nose. "Yeah- those mutants may be strong, but are they ever ugly! I'd hate to be stuck doing Sloth's dirty work."

      Tishka smiled slightly. "So you agree with me?"

      Lerox looked thoughtful. He may have been a brat sometimes, and adventure was still his main aim in this whole crazy venture, but now that he thought about it the idea of rescuing one of Sloth's brow-beaten servants from his evil master was appealing. A slow smile spread across his face. "Let's do it."

      Tishka's face lit up. "When we get home I'll run to the library and borrow a book about Sloth, so we'll have an idea what we're up against."

      Lerox nodded. "Get one about the Spider Grundo, too- it sounds like that's where Flingon's headed, and anyway the Spider Grundo's cool."

      Tishka resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Lerox seemed to have no real concept of trouble or danger- but for once in her life, Tishka was glad of this. It would help to have someone along with her who wasn't scared stiff. "OK," she said. "Oh look, we're just about there!"

      A few minutes later, Lerox was sitting on Tishka's bed, waiting impatiently for his sister's return. It seemed like forever, but actually it was only a couple minutes before the blue Acara appeared in the doorway, breathless but triumphant. The eager young siblings spent the rest of the evening poring over the two books Tishka had found: Tishka with her nose buried in a detailed compilation of everything the author knew about the big, green, stinky evil genius, and Lerox staring with rapt fascination at paragraph after paragraph of all that was known about the Spider Grundo.

      'This,' he thought, 'is going to be the coolest thing I've ever done. Wait'll the kids at school hear about this!'


      His head ached with weariness and his eyes were blurred from staring at the computer all day, but Flingon had no choice but to feed code after code into the computer, hoping fervently and in vain that one of them might be right. There it was again, flashing at him like a death sentence: ACCESS DENIED. Flingon turned wearily to look at the clock. 3:47. He was running out of time. Not only that, but he was also running out of ideas. If only Sloth knew just how many different combinations of numbers and letters there were... millions, at least! And Flingon had only been on this assignment for a month- not nearly enough time, unless he was extraordinarily lucky, which he most certainly was not. The hours passed, and Flingon began to nod in his chair. Each time he slipped nearer to unconsciousness before coming awake with a jerk, and each time his period of consciousness was shorter. Finally, the digital clock glowed softly red with the numbers 6:00, but Flingon didn't notice. He was slumped over in his chair, sunk deep in forgetful sleep.


      Beep-beep-beep! Flingon leapt with a start into vivid awareness, and immediately felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. His eyes darted desperately between the words 'incoming transmission' on the screen, and the numbers on the clock: 10:00. He had just slept away his last chance to break the code and save his life. Flingon took a deep, shaky breath to try and calm himself, then opened the channel. Instantly Sloth filled the screen, glaring down at Flingon menacingly.

      "Well? Have you got the code or not?"

      Flingon swallowed hard, painfully aware that his face was pale and his paws were trembling. "No, sir, I didn't have enough time."

      Sloth's eyes narrowed. "Meet me at these coordinates in one hour. Or else."

To be continued...

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» Behind the Forbidden Door: Part One
» Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Three

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