Behind the Forbidden Door: Part Eleven
"Flingon!" Tishka's eyes shone with delight, and Lerox was
no less startled, happy and relieved.
The alien Aisha threw back his head and laughed.
"I hope your escort didn't frighten you too much - I thought it would add to
the surprise." A twinkle flashed in his eyes as he added, "And it's also good
to see that you didn't damage them!"
"We were scared stiff," Tishka answered honestly,
then joined Flingon in his laughter. "But you're right - this is an awesome
surprise, and that much better for being a relief as well!"
Even the six-pet escort had to laugh at that,
and when the laughter died down they quietly filed out of the ship, giving
Flingon and his friends privacy for their reunion. For a few moments there was
silence, then Tishka finally said, "This would have been an enormous relief
even if you hadn't sent your friends to scare us. I've been really worried about
Flingon looked suddenly solemn, and Lerox nodded
in confirmation. "Tishka even went looking for you in the DoN headquarters.
Kella, the receptionist, wouldn't tell her anything, so when Kella got called
from her desk Tishka slipped into the building. By the time they caught her
she had poked her head into every unoccupied room she could find, and had started
on the cells. She was afraid they might have decided to put you in prison as
punishment for serving Sloth."
Tishka smiled at her brother's unexpected modesty.
"The reason he knows all this is because he was there with me."
Flingon's reply was not designed to make the
young pets feel good - he was absolutely serious. "I'm as grateful as if I had
actually been in one of those cells." His gaze flickered away from theirs, then
slowly dropped to the floor. "It's good to know that you hadn't gone on and
forgotten all about me," he added softly.
"We could never do that. You're the best friend
we've ever had," Tishka answered quietly, and once again Lerox nodded his agreement.
Flingon's head snapped up and he stared in shock
at the children, completely overcome. No one had ever said anything like that
to him before.
For a while the stunned Aisha fought to make
himself understood, but his throat was so tight that it was impossible. Tishka,
her eyes wide with concern, placed her paw over his, just to let him know that
she cared and that she wasn't judging him for this display of emotion. When
he was finally able to speak again, Flingon replied softly, "And you're the
only friends I've ever had. Nobody else I know of would have risked their lives
for a Sloth minion, and you have no idea what it's like to have no one to turn
to, on your side or the other. That's why I had you brought here - I wanted
to thank you for standing up for me when no one else would." And with that,
he tapped the controls, and the ship came to life and streaked toward the end
of the runway.
Lerox's eyes shone. "You mean we're really gonna
have a stunt show - and be in the ship?" he shouted over the whine of the turbines.
Flingon was positively grinning now. "That's
exactly what I mean," he said as the ship lifted off.
Lerox let out one of his patented whoops and
Tishka couldn't wipe the grin off her face as the small aircraft sped through
the air, then suddenly reared into a loop. Just as the nose of the plane was
beginning to point toward the ground, Flingon grinned at Tishka and Tishka understood:
this was the same maneuver that had defeated Sloth's shuttle. The next half-hour
was filled with every kind of stunt Lerox could imagine: loops, hot-dog rolls,
lurches and dives, and once, a race straight upward followed by a free-fall
that took them almost to the ground. Tishka was beginning to panic by the time
Flingon pulled the plane out of the stomach-twisting drop, and both children
closed their eyes as the small craft passed only four feet above the ground.
Flingon was obviously a natural at this, and
it was plain that he enjoyed every minute of it. Tishka didn't know when she'd
been so happy - it was so good to see Flingon smiling instead of looking strained
or scared out of his wits.
Finally, after a particularly heart-stopping
series of loops and lurches, the engines quieted slightly as Flingon settled
into a flight pattern parallel to the ground and allowed the ship to cruise
out over the sea. Tishka blinked, dazzled by the brilliance of the sun on the
water, then turned to see Flingon gazing fondly at her and her brother. For
a long moment they sat there in companionable silence, gazing at the sky above
and the water below, then finally Tishka ventured, "Are you going to be staying
"Probably for the rest of my life." Tishka's
entire face lit up, and Flingon smiled as he continued, "Far from punishing
me, the Defenders of Neopia have actually rewarded me for my part in the battle
against Sloth. They gave me a home on Mystery Island and they gave me a job
which already looks like being successful. You may have wondered why you were
the only ones who showed up for the air show - well, that's because the directions
in the brochure I sent you were a little different from the ones most other
people got. There was actually quite a crowd there. I am now flying a stunt
plane for a living - a good beginning to a clean, new life. And you know what?"
Flingon added with a grin, "You two are welcome to join me anytime you want,
free of charge. My way of saying 'Thanks'."
Tishka couldn't stop grinning. "This is awesome!"
she said, then added with a shy smile, "but I'd be glad to see you even if you
weren't on an ship."
Lerox nodded. "That goes for me too."
"Thank you- that means a lot to me." Flingon
gave them a conspiratory smile, and both children fell silent, sensing that
something more was coming- something they would like. "A stunt pilot isn't the
only role I'm filling at the moment. In fact, you are now looking at the very
first member of the Defenders of Neopia's new JDPP. I don't suppose you'd guessed
that this ship is armed?"
Tishka was confused. "What's a JDPP, and what
do weapons have to do with it?"
Flingon grinned broadly and replied, enunciating
each syllable proudly, "Junior Defenders Protection Program. This thing is equipped
with all the latest weapons and scanning technology, including a lot that we
recovered from the ship we shut down and took over. We now know as much as Sloth
does about the technology he uses, and it could be a long while before he feels
that he is ahead enough to challenge Neopia again, but when he does we want
to be ready."
Lerox was ecstatic. "You mean Tishka and I are
officially Junior Defenders?"
"Everyone at headquarters agrees that you've
earned the position, although it was my idea. And one more thing - just this
morning they found an underground Sloth facility at the base of Terror Mountain.
They've checked it out and disabled all the failsafes, and they want to give
you two a tour of it."
Tishka and Lerox were delighted. "Mom and Dad
are going to totally freak out," Lerox said with a grin. "Just wait till they
find out! We still haven't told them, you know. Judge Hog told us not to - I
"Because he thought it would sound much better
coming straight from him. He's at your house even as we speak, giving your parents
the biggest bundle of news they've received for a long time."
"THEY DID WHAT?" Shyla collapsed into a chair,
and Judge Hog shook his head. 'Biggest bundle of news' was obviously an understatement.
"I told you you would want to sit down for this.
And it only gets wilder from here..."
"I cannot BELIEVE you didn't tell me about that!"
Shyla's voice echoed off the walls of the dark subterranean corridor of the
abandoned research facility.
Lerox sighed and grinned. "I can just hear myself
now. 'Oh, by the way, Mom, Tishka and I are going to visit the Haunted Woods
in hopes of getting into a fight with Sloth and his Spider Grundo. We might
be a little late for dinner, so don't wait for us, OK?'"
Flingon smiled at the young Grundo's tactful
omission, and although he didn't say anything he inwardly added, 'You forgot
to mention that this fight was for the sake of a former Sloth minion- and the
'former' wasn't even official.'
Several people chuckled, including Xanro, who
smiled proudly at his offspring and said, "I'm glad to see you've been putting
my old weapons to good use. My grandchildren will hear a good story. I'm so
proud of both of you."
Shyla smiled ruefully and said, "I am too -
although I hope you don't intend to do anything like that again - at least,
not in the near future. Our grandchildren won't hear anything if they never
exist. Although from what I hear, you two are now in pretty good hands," she
added, giving Flingon a gently teasing smile. "Our Junior Defenders. I never
would have guessed. For all I knew, you two were playing Splat-a-Sloth on the
"Mom," Lerox replied with a grin, "you've got
to admit, that game is totally boring... when you compare it to the real thing."
Even Tishka had to agree.
As the tour progressed, Tishka and Lerox allowed
themselves to fall behind the main group, and for a while they walked side by
side in silence, each lost in memory. Tishka's mind was filled mainly with images
of Flingon: the grim helplessness she had seen when he heard the 'incoming transmission'
signal... the terror on his face during the Spider Grundo attack... and finally,
the peace and joy he had shown aboard the little stunt plane. What a change
from the anonymous staff member she had met ten days ago! She hoped it would
always be like this: being able to see her Aisha friend with no fear or pain
or strain of will on his face. More than anything she wanted him to be able
to live a long and happy life - he deserved it after all he had been through.
"It's hard to believe it was less than two weeks
ago that all of this began," Lerox finally said, breaking the silence. "It feels
"I know. It's so weird," Tishka responded in
a whisper, feeling that this conversation should remain between her and her
brother. "You know Lerox, I agree with Flingon. I'm really glad you poked your
head into that room."
Maybe that wasn't the best thing to say, for
at that exact moment the little Grundo paused beside a solid iron door. Printed
on the door in hard black letters was: RESTRICTED AREA. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL
Tishka shook her head. "That doesn't mean it's
always a good idea, you know."
Lerox grinned at her reassuringly. "Don't worry,
Tishka - I'm not going to go in," he promised.
Tishka let out a sigh of relief, then seeing
that they were getting left behind she hurried to catch up with the others.
Lerox, however, lingered beside the cold, forbidding door, and with a grin on
his face and a gleam in his eye he whispered under his breath...
"I'll just take a tiny peek."