The Right Reason: Part One
Scrap the Gnorbu sat on the roof of the cabin of the SS Primella, watching the sun set over Krawk Island. With a sigh, Scrap swept off his cap and wrung the day's sweat out of it.
Pretty gross, he thought. That old Ogrin works me hard! But he really didn't mind...
The apprentice sailor made a rather clumsy exit from his perch and made a snappy salute as Captain Rourke, a tall Ogrin in a long black coat, strode out from the cabin.
"I'm going into town, kid, so keep out of trouble. Now, you've got enough work to keep you busy. The deck still needs to be scrubbed,- and I mean scrubbed!,- you still haven't cleaned the cabin's windows, there's dishes in the galley that need tending too..."
As Rourke spoke, he began heading off the Primella; probably to go to the tavern to find some work. The moment Rourke's back was turned to Scrap, the young Gnorbu began to mock the captain. This had become something of a routine for the two of them. Scrap pulled his cap over his eyes, stuffed his paws into his trouser pockets, and shuffled along, miming out of the corner of his mouth. Rourke never missed a beat.
"...and I expect my tools to find their way back to their box when you're done. And wipe that look off your face, boy!"
As Scrap's jaw dropped in surprise, the Primella's captain stepped onto the dock and disappeared into a crowd of busy Neopets.
The old man never looks, and he still knows! mused Scrap as he took the mop from its hook on the wall. He hoped Rourke wouldn't be too long; the docks were pretty spooky at night.
Still, it was hard to believe that this time eight weeks ago, Scrap had been searching the docks for food and somewhere to spend the night. Now, he had a home, and someone to look out for him- no matter how grudging his patron pretended to be. And the Gnorbu had friends, real friends, and even if he hadn't seen them in three weeks, he still wrote to them. He had Roxton's latest letter in his back pocket. The Lutari was off in search of some rare gem, and wouldn't be able to write for a while. Scrap wished he could have gone, too.
Scrap tossed the unused water over the side with a sigh, but even over the splash he heard an unpleasantly familiar sound: the laughter of a bully.
Or make that bullies, plural.
A group of Neopets stepped out from behind a stack of crates on the docks. They were all bigger than Scrap, a lot older, and all wore the same brutal expression on their faces. Scrap recognized them immediately; this was the same gang that had forced him to stow away on the Primella a long time ago.
The gang leader, a red Kougra named Thomas, walked onto the Primella's deck and snapped his fingers. The rest of the gang obediently boarded the ship. A muscular Shoyru grabbed Scrap by the scruff of his neck and easily lifted the younger Pet off the ground. Scrap clung to his mop, the bucket forgotten on the deck.
"Well, look who it is," sneered Thomas. "It's the Scraps!"
"You're t-trespassing," Scrap stuttered. His knuckles on the mop handle were white.
"And why do I care? You're too little to do anything about it. Drop that stupid mop!"
Scrap dropped the mop at once.
Thomas waved to his gang, who followed him off the ship, chuckling darkly and cracking their knuckles. The Shoyru dropped Scrap, but held the Gnorbu's arms so he couldn't escape.
"There. We're not on your precious boat anymore."
"Ship," said Scrap automatically. "Wh-why, you j-j-jealous?"
Thomas threw his head back and laughed.
"Jealous? Yeah, right. But while we're here, punk, we might as well pay you back for escaping us before."
Scrap began to protest, but Thomas grabbed the Gnorbu's ear and twisted it, forcing Scrap to squeal with pain.
"You see," the Kougra went on. "Without you there to take the blame like you were supposed to, we had to take the punishment for our little heist. Let's put it this way, pipsqueak: be glad the sentence wasn't as harsh as it could've been. Your beating won't be as bad as I was planning."
"But I d-didn't d-do anyth-thing!" Scrap blurted out. His face flushed. How could he stand up to 50-foot-tall Petpetpets without blinking an eye, but when it came to Thomas, his legs turned to Jelly?
"That's why I'm still going to beat you into the ground," said Thomas, with the air of explaining something to a Baby. The bully rolled up his sleeve.
"Hold him tight, Larry!"
The last thing Scrap remembered was Thomas' fist coming towards his face.
The first thing Scrap felt was the soothing rocking of a boat at a dock. Am I dead? he wondered. Then something cold, soft, and wet pressed against his cheek. It stung when it was lifted again, and a little salty, syrupy water leaked into the young Pet's mouth. It was sea water. Somewhere above him, Scrap could hear a familiar voice muttering under its breath.
Slowly, Scrap opened his eyes. At least, he opened his right eye; his left was so swollen it hardly opened at all. Everything hurt. Big time.
Turning his head a little, Scrap could see Captain Rourke sitting on a stool next to the Gnorbu's hammock in the Primella's cabin. Two things surprised Scrap: the first was that Rourke wasn't wearing his customary coat. The coat was tucked in around Scrap, and Rourke wore an old sweater that was surprisingly white. The second thing that shocked Scrap was the unmistakable look of concern in the old Ogrin's eyes. A look of concern that was hidden the moment Rourke realized Scrap was awake.
"Do you know how hard it is to find good hired hands anymore? What would I have done if they'd beaten you worse?"
" 'M not hired," Scrap mumbled. It hurt to talk, and it felt like the apprentice Gnorbu was missing a tooth or two. "No' paid."
The captain snorted and stood.
"Of course I don't pay you. You haven't earned it yet."
As Rourke spoke, he ladled something out of a pot in the corner into a stoneware mug.
"By Kreludor, boy, you're lucky I came back when I did."
He handed the mug unexpectedly calmly to Scrap. His voice became more gentle.
"Well, it's late now. Drink this and get some sleep. We'll see how you feel in the morning."
Suddenly, Scrap was ashamed by his cowardice. Hot, salty tears streamed down his cheeks and got into his cuts. The pain only made more tears. If Rourke saw, he said and did nothing, but kept his back turned to the Gnorbu until the tears stopped, as not to embarrass the kid. When the captain did turn around, he wouldn't meet his apprentice's gaze.
"Drink that and get some sleep," Rourke repeated. He made to say something else, but seemed to think better of it. Instead, the older Neopet went over to his hammock and climbed in. Within minutes, he was asleep.
Scrap forced down about half the cup before he felt like he was going to be sick. It wasn't much longer before he, too, was asleep.
When Scrap woke up the following morning, he was a lot sorer than the night before, and he still couldn't open his right eye. The mug on the stool had been refilled with the same unidentifiable stuff as the night before; Scrap suspected that it had started out as soup until it had had some medicine added to it. He made himself drink all of it. By the Faerie Queen, it was nasty.
The Gnorbu stood unsteadily and began folding Rourke's coat. He had to talk to the captain, but he wasn't the easiest Pet to talk to...
Just walking made Scrap dizzy, but he shuffled out onto the deck anyway. Rourke was standing near the bow, bent over crates of scrap metal and boxes of tools. He looked mildly surprised when Scrap appeared at his elbow, the Ogrin's coat neatly folded. When he spoke, it was in the same gentle tone he'd used the night before.
"You shouldn't be up, kid," Rourke said, accepting his coat and pulling it on with a flourish.
Scrap shrugged painfully. "I've still got the windows and dishes to see to, Captain."
The Ogrin studied the kid for a moment, a hammer held loosely in one paw. His gruff voice made a swift comeback. "Dishes are done, but if you're set to clean the windows, who am I to stop you?"
Rourke bent over the crates again, as if to say conversation was over. Scrap filled his bucket and attacked the dirt and salt stuck to the cabin's windows. Both Pets worked in silence for several minutes, but Scrap was never silent for long.
The captain grunted to show he was listening.
"Did... did you ever have any bullies when you were younger?"
Scrap's scrubbing slowed while he waited for a reply.
"Not that I remember. Why are you asking?"
"J-just curious. And if you had had a bully, what would you have done?"
The captain's voice became muffled as he dug deeper into a crate.
"Fight back, obviously."
"And if you couldn't fight back?" asked Scrap nervously, partially unaware that he'd been wiping the same area for some time, despite the fact the glass was quite clean.
Rourke's voice was no longer muffled.
"I'd convince them that they were fighting me for the wrong reasons."
"Look, kid. I don't know what happened last night, but I'm not stupid and I'm getting a pretty good idea. Now, I can teach you how to fight- and I plan to- but I can't teach you any of this... philosophy... behind it. That you've got to do on your own."
There was a pause before the rattle of supplies in the crates filled the air. Only then did it occur to Scrap how quiet it had been just moments before. Rather reluctantly, he re-wet his the rag and began cleaning another window. Rourke's voice was muffled once more, and it had a softer quality to it.
"I don't want you doing much else today. When you've finished with the windows, you need to clean your side of the cabin. Then I want you in bed for the rest of the day." Another pause. "OK, kid?"
Normally, a half day would excite Scrap, but he now just didn't care.
"All right," he replied glumly.
It didn't take too long to clean around Scrap's hammock- he didn't have many possessions to keep in order. But he couldn't deny how nice it was to lie down after standing for even a short amount of time.
Scrap slept lightly for most of the morning, only half aware of Rourke's presence when the Ogrin came to check on him. When the bruised Gnorbu finally did fall asleep, he had an odd dream.
Roxton A. Colchester III was sitting on a mossy log in the middle of a jungle, polishing a hunting knife with his handkerchief. He looked up, startled, but smiled when he saw his visitor.
"Hey there, Kiddo. Long time, no see. I must say, though, I don't like what you've done with your looks. Purple really isn't your color."
Scrap ran a hand over his bandaged ear.
"Hello, Mr. Colchester. I got beat up."
"I can see that, young fellow. And you know better than to call me Mr. Colchester."
"That's quite all right. Now, why did you 'get beat up', to use your phrase?"
"'Cause I hid on Captain's ship with you guys."
"Ah. I see. And you let them beat you?"
Scrap spread his paws in defeat.
"I'm too little to stop 'em. And anyway, Captain said he'd teach me to fight, but he said I'd have to learn how to fight for the 'right reason.'"
"Ol' Cappy said that, did he?" Roxton grinned and folded his handkerchief. "Never thought he'd be much of a fighter."
"But, Mr. Col- Roxton, what about my 'right reason'?" Scrap cried, exasperated. "I mean, come on! I stood up to gigantic Petpetpets, why not a couple of normal-sized bullies?"
Roxton tested the blade of his knife against his thumb.
"Well, Scrappy me lad, you had a reason to stand up to those Petpetpets, right? You wanted to help save your friends. Now, my question to you is: what reason do you have to stand up to those bullies?"
Scrap shrugged and made to speak, but the Lutari explorer shushed him. He gestured at the young Gnorbu with his knife as he pulled a whet stone from his pack.
"Think, Scrap. What do you have that those other fellows don't?"
Scrap thought for a moment, wringing his hands as he watched his friend sharpen the knife.
"Well," he said slowly. "I have a boat to live on..."
"Very good. What else?"
"Someone to take care of me, and to teach me. And friends like you."
Roxton grinned in an embarrassed way.
"Exactly. And the others...?"
"A crumbled-down warehouse and helpless victims like me," Scrap recited without hesitation.
"But you could be like these other fellows, couldn't you? Living in an old warehouse? Stealing honest folks' goods?"
"I suppose so, but I'm not. I don't want to be like them."
"Precisely!" Roxton smiled at his young friend. "You see? There's your reason: you could be like them, but you don't want to be. If you keep that in mind, you'll be fine. Well, you'll still get hurt, but at least you'll be able to fight back..."
"Yeah..." said Scrap, a smile spreading across his own face. He stood thinking for a moment. Then he remembered.
"So, did you find the gem?"
Roxton snorted unhappily, sheathing his knife.
"No. It would seem someone else found it before me." The Lutari sighed. "Oh, well. So's the business. But, I suppose that means I might be seeing you again in a few weeks. Until then, kiddo, keep your hopes up."
"Is this a dream?"
The reply was very un-Roxton-like.
"Depends on if you want it to be."
To be continued...