Brain of Neopia: Part Four
The roar of the crowd reached a crescendo as Roan stepped into the large, open room. It seemed to be an indoor version of the Altador Coliseum, with the entire area surrounded with seats, which spread back forty, fifty, maybe even sixty rows back. And every seat in the house was full.
The main section of the room was devoted to the quiz. There were four desk structures, each with a buzzer attached. Three were occupied by the three other contestants – Roan took a seat at the fourth.
In front of the contestants was a solitary large black swivel chair, facing away from the contestants, and towards the podium on which Hugo stood.
Roan himself stood on such a stand, but even he had to admit that Hugo looked nothing short of majestic, with his cloak billowing around him (presumably for effect, as there was a Skeith frantically flapping a large piece of wood in his direction to create a draft). It was an impressive sight, and it seemed that this was the place that Hugo was born to be – hosting a game show.
Despite all that, Roan still felt resentment towards him. I wanted to be there, he thought.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have welcomed our contestants to the arena. Now, the questioning begins in earnest. Would our first contestant, Sulaila, please sit down in the Chair of Questioning?!”
The crowd bellowed as the Lenny removed herself from her seat, and sat in the black chair.
“Now,” said Hugo, looking sternly at the pet named Sulaila, “I believe that you are a librarian?”
“Yes,” said Sulaila, confidently.
“Sounds interesting,” said Hugo. A black mark, thought Roan. You should never appreciate the work of another. “And you claim to have read every book in there?”
“Really? What do you think on Grogcastle’s views on Neopian progressionism in the Late Early period?”
“I think that Grogcastle offers some interesting ideas, but they seem to be far too radical to be readily acceptable by the scientific community.”
There seemed to be murmurs of approval from the audience, although, next to Roan, Olvatra scoffed, muttering “Too radical, my tail.” Roan, however, was thoroughly lost.
“Anyway, let’s hope you’ve read up on him, because he is the subject of your first round. Start the clock now!”
Unfortunately, the quiz didn’t seem to have a real clock. What they had was a Skeith counting down out loud from sixty, extremely loudly, and with only a few mistakes.
In the time, Sulaila was asked seven questions. Without hesitation, she answered them all correctly.
“TWO... ONE... ZERO!”
“And you’re out of time, I’m afraid. Sulaila scores seven, ladies and gentlemen.”
The crowd, which had been silent during the questioning, followed Sulaila back to her seat with polite applause. Roan was now beginning to panic slightly.
Kzabah’s round was on the Shenkuu earlier history, and Olvatra on the life and works of Christian Shoyru. Roan had never heard of Christian Shoyru, and wouldn’t have been able to point to Shenkuu on a map, even if it was a map of Shenkuu.
“And finally,” announced Hugo, all too soon for Roan, who would have preferred a spare year or two to learn the Neopedia from cover to cover, “our last contestant. Roan, take a seat.”
Roan could feel the eyes of everybody in the room boring down into him as he rose from his desk and walked across to the big black chair. As he sat down, he saw the Producer in the audience, who caught his eye, grinned, and gave a thumbs up.
“Roan,” said Hugo. “You present a game show, then?”
“Yes,” said Roan.
“Surprised you didn’t go after my job then!” said Hugo, smiling. There was a slight chuckle from the audience.
“I did,” said Roan. “You only got it because I turned it down.”
The smile vanished from Hugo’s face, and he was taken aback for a moment, before forcing his face back into a strained smile.
“Really? That’s an... interesting story. Well, we don’t need to get to know you any more. Let’s start the round. Your topic is the Neopian Economy.”
Neopian Economy. Oh dear. Quick, what’s an economy? It sounds like a vegetable.
“Your time starts now. Roan...”
“...what is the estimated...”
“...value of a red...”
“Erm...” Roan was floundering, and numbers were pounding in his ears. “A red apple? As in the fruit?”
“No, as in the species!” said Hugo sarcastically. “Answer the question!”
“Er... two hundred neopoints?”
“No, the correct answer is one hundred and fifty five. You don’t get a point for that. How much...”
“...is the Pirate Captain’s...”
“...Cutlass in the Hidden...”
“...Tower? And it’s forty-nine.”
“Well... if you were a good negotiator, you could probably get it down to about fifty neopoints...” Roan smiled nervously. Behind Hugo, the Producer was making frantic ‘higher’ gestures with his hands. “But, paying full price, you’d be looking at about two hundred...” The Producer continued to wave. “...million...” The Producer looked alarmed, and turned his hands around. “...but, at its proper price... ten million... twelve... fourteen... sixteen... sixteen!”
“Correct,” said Hugo. “Although quite a roundabout way of going about it.”
“Just carry on!” said Roan. “Time’s ticking.”
“Very well. A sixteen percent rise in the profits of a company initially valued on the stock market at twenty-five thousand neopoints would see the new valuation of the company as what?”
“Er... good question.” Desperately, Roan started to count on his fingers. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...”
“...five, six, seven, eight, nine...”
“...seven, eight, nine, ten...”
“STOP COUNTING!” bellowed Roan at the Skeith. “I’M TRYING TO COUNT HERE!”
“I need an answer, Roan,” said Hugo, calmly. Roan could see that he was enjoying himself.
“Seven, eight, nine, ten...”
“You’re never going to get there at that rate, are you?”
“I will if I don’t get interrupted,” growled Roan. “Now, where was I?”
“No, I was higher than that.”
“Are you sure? I seem to recall you saying five at least three times. If you’re not there, then why say it?”
“I... stop being confusing!” Roan snapped. “Ten, eleven, twelve...”
“Do you even know the answer?”
“I’m getting there.”
“Not fast enough. How much longer does Roan have?”
“TEN!” bellowed the Skeith.
“No, no, I can do this...”
“Honestly, I can. It’s...”
“...multiply through... carry the four...”
“...divide by eight... multiply by eight, that was wrong...”
“...take the natural logarithm of the exponential...”
“...no, that doesn’t make a difference...”
“...divide by twenty-five...”
“...multiply by four...”
“...give up and shout a random answer...”
“...er... twenty-nine thousand!”
“I’m sorry, you’re out of time,” said Hugo, smiling sweetly. “The correct answer was indeed twenty-nine thousand neopoints. You were a little bit out of time, but you can have the point. You need all the help you can get, really.”
Sweating, Roan eased himself out of the seat, and walked back to his desk. The crowd was silent, stunned at what they had just seen. The Producer’s smile was glassy. There was a collective, subconscious thought travelling around the room at lightning speed. What was that?
“And, after Round One, the scores,” said Hugo. “In the lead at the moment is Sulaila, with seven points.” Polite applause. The audience had remembered how to reward success. “And, joint second, a point behind, are Olvatra and Kzabah.” More applause. “And...” Hugo paused for a moment, “...some way behind in rock bottom, lies our quiz host Roan, with two points.” More silence. The Producer clapped once or twice, before stopping under the glare of the people surrounding him.
“Now, before we move on to Round Two, let’s get to know our contestants more. Roan!” Hugo turned his gaze onto Roan, smiling broadly, like a predator with its prey in its sight. “So, how come you’ve scored so low? Economics not your strong point?”
“Not really, no,” said Roan.
“Do you have a strong point?”
“I know how to present a game show.”
“Really?” Hugo’s smile widened. “Evidently, you don’t know how to compete.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You have two points.”
“It’s two more than nothing.”
“You’re four points behind the next person.”
“It’s a start.”
“It’s an appalling start!”
“A start, nonetheless.”
“Anyway, we move on to Round Two. This round will see each contestant asked two more questions. If they get it wrong, other contestants are allowed to buzz in with the correct answer. Are you ready?”
Roan pushed his buzzer.
“Yes!” he announced confidently. “Do I get a point for that?”
“What? That wasn’t even a question!”
“Why did it have a question mark at the end?”
“Is that relevant?”
Roan pushed his buzzer again.
“Yes. Excellent, another point for me. Looks like that four point deficit is looking smaller now.”
“No, you didn’t get any points for that.”
“You think I got zero. I think I got two. I’m prepared to meet you halfway.”
“Not a very good haggler, are you?”
“That’s thoroughly irrelevant.”
“At least I’ve answered more questions correctly than you have.”
“I’m the question master!”
“So you should be good at answering them. Clearly you weren’t a very good choice for the job.”
“Moving on...” said Hugo, firmly. “Round Two. We’ll start with our person with the lowest score. That, surprisingly, is Roan. Roan, what was the name of the first Neopet to travel to both the top of Terror Mountain and the bottom of Maraqua?”
“That would be Aabaroo,” said Roan.
“Surprisingly, that is correct,” said Hugo. “You know something. Olvatra, what is the population density of Meridell, per square kilometre?”
“Erm...” said Olvatra, clearly confused. “Is it... five?”
“No,” said Hugo. “Good effort, though. The point goes on offer.”
Roan pushed his buzzer. Hugo ignored it.
Roan pushed his buzzer again. There was a second’s pause, and Kzabah buzzed in.
“Yes?” said Hugo, pointedly not looking at Roan.
“Six!” said Roan, before Kzabah could speak. “According to the Technical Neopedia, at any rate.”
“The question was not directed at you,” said Hugo.
“But I buzzed in first.”
“I think I would have spoken to you if you had done that.”
“Me too. Clearly you’re not as clever as you look. And that takes some doing.”
“Well, since you insist you buzzed first, I’m forced to give you the benefit of the doubt, and a point.”
“See? You’ve given me two points now. Was that so hard?”
“Next question,” said Hugo, returning to his stance of ignoring Roan. “Kzabah, when and where did Bruno Kacheek die?”
“Meridell, Year 6,” said Kzabah, confidently.
“Sadly wrong,” said Hugo. “Roan, do you know this?”
“No,” said Roan, truthfully.
“Care to venture a guess?” said Hugo, patronisingly. “Or are you going to be a coward and stay silent?”
“I think the coward option sounds good,” said Roan.
“Very well. The answer I was looking for was the Deserted Fairground, Year 4. Sulaila, where are the Lost Desert Archives?”
“The Lost Desert?”
“Is that really a question?” interjected Roan.
“Yes. It did have a question mark at the end.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, I think Sulaila is the one with the smallest ego here. Ergo, she is the one that deserves to win. Besides, I can’t risk somebody who doesn’t know anything winning a round, and you look like you might be about to do that. Your next question – Yannick the Lenny writes a column for which famous Neopian newspaper?”
“The Neopian Times,” said Roan.
“Sadly correct. Just out of interest, do you know any other Neopian newspapers, or did you just answer that because it was the only one you know?”
“I answered it because it was correct. Any other knowledge is unnecessary.”
“A sentiment you seem to have taken all too literally. Olvatra, which popular Neopian game show is hosted by Roan?” Hugo squinted at the paper. “No, that can’t be fair.”
“I don’t know,” said Olvatra. “I’ve never been to see a game show.”
“Well, that can’t go on offer,” said Hugo.
“And why not?” asked Roan.
“You know too much about it. It’s about you!”
“So I’m not allowed to answer questions about things I know about?”
“But everybody else is?”
“Yes! I thought you knew that.”
“Anyway,” said Roan, pushing his buzzer, “the answer is the Meepit Show, and I believe I get another point for that.”
“Why not. I answer the question right, therefore I get a point. QED.”
“I said QED,” interrupted Roan. “That means I’ve won.”
“Oh. Very well. Kzabah, what is the name of the book you wrote?”
“Any of them.”
“Er... I did a chapter in ‘Fascinating Algae of the Fifth Year of Neopia,”
“That’ll do. Have a point. Sulaila, in which aisle in your library are the children’s books kept?”
“Aisles 31B to 32C,” said Sulaila, promptly.
“Correct. You’ve earned another point.”
“But those questions were deliberately directed at the people to whom they referred!” Roan complained. “That’s not fair.”
“Yes it is. The questions are written down.”
“Here,” said Hugo, flashing the card at Roan, too quickly for anything to be read. Despite everything, he does have good technique, thought Roan.
“And, at the end of that round, the scores are as follows. In joint fourth place, with six points, are Olvatra and Roan.” Applause removed itself from the audience, and displayed itself to the general public. “In second place, with seven points, is Kzabah.” More noises of people making one hand hit the other repeatedly. “But, in the lead going into the final round, is Sulaila with nine points!” Clapping continued to echo around the room. Sulaila looked very pleased with herself.
“Now, we enter the final round. This is a buzzer round, so press the buzzer if you know the answer. If you get it right, you will gain a point, but get it wrong, and a point will be deducted. The subject of this final round will be General Knowledge, an area some of us,” Hugo stopped, and stared at Roan for a moment, “may have difficulty with. If you get the question right, you have the opportunity to earn a free bonus point with an additional correct answer – although if you get the question wrong, you are not penalised. The round will run until the Grarrl reaches zero. He’ll start at sixty, and count down at a number a second. In theory, it should take a minute. In practice, it’ll probably be nearer three. The round begins... now!
“In Neopian history, which infamous battle was fought between the Kougras and the Nimmos?”
Sulaila buzzed in.
“The Kougra-Nimmo Confrontation?”
“Incorrect,” said Hugo. “In the interests of bias against the Kougras being listed first, the war has been renamed the Dual Species Confrontation. I cannot accept Kougra-Nimmo Confrontation.”
“But that’s how it’s listed in all the books I’ve read!” wailed Sulaila.
“But my card is more up to date than your books,” said Hugo. “Next question: Which famous Neopian explored the whole of Neopia in search of a neopoint?”
Before Roan’s brain could object, his hand decided to press the buzzer.
“Yes?” said Hugo.
Roan’s hand apologised to his brain, which was frantically searching through his mental filing cabinet for a name. It was a small filing cabinet, but, then again, it was a slow brain.
“Erm...” said Roan.
“I’m going to have to hurry you,” said Hugo. “Actually, I don’t have to. I just really want to.”
Suddenly, Roan’s brain produced a piece of paper, waving it triumphantly.
“Ruwacha!” he said.
“Irritatingly, that is the right answer. And, for a bonus point, what species was she?”
A brief consultation with the imaginary piece of paper was all that was required.
“A Nimmo!” declared Roan.
“Another point!” said Hugo, who was beginning to look more and more annoyed. “Which area of Terror Mountain was recently refurbished by an award-winning architect?”
Roan’s brain was getting into its element here. He pushed the buzzer.
Hugo ignored him.
He pressed the buzzer again.
Hugo ignored him.
“I know the answer!” shouted Roan. It was the only way he could think of that would get Hugo’s attention.
“Sadly, that is not the right answer. You lose a point. Final question...”
“ZERO!” shouted the Skeith.
“And we reach the end of the round. I am allowed to finish the question. At the moment, anybody could go through, but Sulaila is in the lead. What is the stock price of the General Neopedia?”
Roan slammed his hand on the buzzer, at the same time as three other fists crashed down on their respective noise-making devices. Desperately, Roan shouted out:
“Three thousand neopoints!”
“The buzzers all sounded at the same time,” said Hugo. “Sadly, in that case, the point goes to the first person to shout out the correct answer. That person, surprisingly, was Roan. You get the point. Happily, though, that means you are level on points with Sulaila, but, since Sulaila has been consistently better over the course of the round, I declare...”
“What about my bonus question?”
“Oh... bother!” said Hugo, with feeling. “Very well. To win the round...” Hugo shuddered. “No, that can’t happen... to win the round, name three other Neopedias available to purchase.”
Roan’s heart was racing. Racing his brain, actually, and the brain was winning.
“There is the Children’s edition...” said Roan, thinking hard. What had he been offered? “And... oh yes, the Technical edition. And...” his brain strained, searching for the right answer, through the history of his mind. The history of his mind... the history... “The Historical edition!” he shouted, hysterically.
Hugo looked as though somebody had just cancelled Neoschools.
“That...” he said, hoarsely, “is the correct answer. You... get another point. Which means that, tonight...” he looked as though he couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth, “our winner... going through to the next round... with the highest score... despite being our thickest contestant by far... is Roan.”
There was a slightly stunned silence. Then, the room began to applaud. Quietly at first, but the claps built up into a louder and louder noise, until the whole room was erupting with celebrative sounds. The other three contestants sat, dumbfounded, as Roan, who was merely flabbergasted, stood up, and went across to shake Hugo’s hand.
“Amazingly...” said Hugo, who was now struggling for words, “Roan... you have won this round.” He was repeating the words, hoping that, by saying them enough, they would stop being true. “And you’ve moved on... to the next stage.”
Hugo shook Roan’s hand. Roan could feel him squeezing harder than normal, as if he were hoping to forcibly remove the success from his veins.
“Congratulations,” said Hugo, in a voice that suggested the complete opposite. “You’ve made it to the next stage...”
To be continued...