No Other Way: Part One
“Everything is in place,” said the general.
Sloth smiled. The words he had been hoping for.
“In place. The plans have been laid down. They will be able to infiltrate the Station, and complete the task you have left them to do.”
“Excellent. And, after this, the Station will no longer be a problem?”
“No,” said the general. “The calculations have been carefully checked. The Station will be removed with minimal damage to Neopia.”
“And you are certain that your... agent will do the job.”
It was the general’s turn to smile.
“I sense your unease,” he said. “But you may rest assured – the agent is trustworthy. This proves it.”
From inside one of his pockets, he produced a small glass jar, sealed, with a Petpetpet inside.
“What is that?” asked Sloth.
“A creation of one of the scientists,” the general said. “It’s a modified Squippit.”
“Modified in what way?”
“It’s quite the creation. It feeds on brainwaves. Any thoughts, any memories of the host it leeches from are consumed, and in the process transmitted across a local radius.”
The general lifted the lid of the jar, and the Squippit hopped onto the rim, quickly scanned his surroundings, and, without warning, leapt onto the head of the general.
Sloth stood for a moment, watching the general, with a slightly puzzled look on his face. And, suddenly
he was marching down a long corridor, shiny badge on his chest. It was his first day working for Sloth, and he had never been prouder. He strode to a door and saluted smartly to the officer guarding it, who saluted back before pushing a button, causing the heavy metal doors to slide swiftly apart. His legs began to shake, as he took the first step inside the atrium, the hallowed shrine that was the offices of Dr. Frank Sloth...
The general casually swiped the Petpetpet away onto the floor, and Sloth looked up with a start.
“My memory,” explained the general. “Transmitted.”
Sloth looked thoughtful for a moment.
“So you can use this to probe the minds of our soldiers?”
“It picks up on the thoughts and memories that are most prevalent in the mind of the host. These generally fade with time, unless it is of particular significance – which means that anything recent or important is picked up on and transmitted. If the agent was planning to betray us, this device would pick up any glimmer of that in the mind, and we would know about it. Nothing showed up in our scan. The agent’s clean.”
“Very well, general. Let the agent depart.”
The general saluted smartly and turned.
“Wait,” said Sloth, quietly, and the general stopped mid-rotation. “What about the device you showed me? Do you not need it for further testing?”
“It is immaterial,” said the general, catching Sloth’s gaze. “We have several more in the laboratories. It’s not worth the effort to catch them.”
“Are they not dangerous to leave unsupervised?”
“Not particularly. Once they’ve attached and fed from a host, they don’t feed again from the same body unless absolutely necessary. As long as there’s a fresh supply of minds, they won’t cause a problem.”
Sloth nodded again, and the general completed his turn, and strode purposefully out of the room.
Unnoticed, the Squippit hopped across the floor, oblivious to his cold metal surroundings, exploring this new world, an instant expansion to the various cages he had spent his life thus far in. His brain encouraged the search, hungry for another taste of a Neopian brain.
And he was in luck. Ahead of him, someone appeared, clad in black, making its way across the corridor. The Squippit’s antenna twitched excitedly, as he moved towards his next meal. The figure turned a corner, and, eager, the Petpetpet followed.
Turning the corner, he could see the silhouette talking to another pet, the general whose brain he had perused earlier. The figure nodded, the general saluted, and they parted, the general coming down the corridor towards him, and the Squippit’s original target disappearing into a separate room. Nimbly avoiding the approaching footsteps of the meal he had already consumed, he hopped through the opening after the mysterious shape, relishing the taste of new brainwaves.
A second later, the door hissed shut. A light flashed, and the escape pod it connected to disconnected itself from Sloth’s ship with a faint thud. It drifted through the blankness of space for a moment, carried solely by its own momentum, before the engines engaged, and the craft shot forward, fading slowly into the distance as it headed directly for Neopia. More specifically, for the Virtupets Space Station.
From the main ship, Sloth watched as the escape pod became smaller and smaller, until eventually he could no longer identify it from the faint pinpricks of light afforded by the stars. He smiled.
Soon, he told himself, the Station will no longer be a problem.
* * *
There was a soft thud. Drakav awoke.
The noise had not been loud, but he was a light sleeper. He groaned, and sat up in his bed, glancing across to the luminous display of the time on the wall opposite. 1:59 am NST.
The Blue Skeith recognised the noise – the familiar sound of a shuttle docking into one of the stations. It was his luck that the room that had been booked for him was right next to one of the ports – and that the incoming vessel had chosen that particular place to park.
He yawned, and lay back down into bed, closing his eyes. But it was no good. His mind had engaged itself, and he knew he wasn’t going to get back to sleep any time soon. Reluctantly, he stood up, stretched, and moved to the window.
Currently, it was dark, the synthetic light of the Space Station lowered to a state where it was dim, but still possible to see. The problem with orbiting Neopia faster than the planet rotated was that the sun shone in at irregular intervals – thus, artificial illumination, produced by Virtupets, was ever-present in corridors and rooms across the shuttle. The windows themselves were nothing more than glorified paintings at this time of night. Drakav, however, wanted the full view. He pushed a button, and the black panel slid smoothly away, to reveal the depths of space hidden behind it.
Drakav stood, and marvelled. He had spent a lot of time on the Station in the past, and he had seen space from here more than most Neopians, but it still filled him with wonder every time he saw the stars from this close, with no clouds obscuring the view – nothing but the endless, aching peace of the void. Pinpricks of light shone out from the black canvas of the sky, untouched by Neopian hands. For once, the sky was in sync with the time, as dark and lifeless as it should be at that time.
He could have stood there for hours watching, observing. But, although he loved the view of the empty, infinite sky, the one sight that he cherished above that was that of Neopia from above. Unfortunately, he knew that he was currently on the wrong side of the Station for that. Observation decks, however, remained open at all times, and there would be one that he would be able to see the planet below from. He carefully closed the panel across the window again, removing the faint specks of light from the sky, and returning to the artificial semi-darkness.
Carefully, Drakav walked across his room, and opened the door into the corridor. The light levels here were slightly higher, with small lamps placed approximately every twenty feet, giving the place an eerie glow. The Skeith let the door close behind him, looking around him as he did so. The place was deserted – not surprising, given the time.
Still, he wished that there was somebody else around. Somebody that he could talk to for a while. By itself, the Station was a bit lonely. A bit quiet...
And suddenly, an alarm blared out across the Station.
Immediately, Drakav was alert. This was no ordinary alarm – he recognised the loud wailing pitch of the emergency bell ringing out. Generally, alarms on the Station were kept only in the areas that were relevant to the problem that needed fixing. A system-wide alarm meant only one thing.
There was a clicking sound, that instantaneously sounded from every door, up and down the corridor. Drakav instinctively turned, and tried the handle of his room. Locked – another safety precaution. The signs were bad, and he felt a rush of adrenaline as he realised. His mission here had not been in vain. It really was happening – and it was a good job that he was here.
Mentally, he assessed the situation. All the doors would be locked now, and the system had been designed such that the majority of tourists on the Station would be unable to reach anywhere significant. But the docking station needed access to all the important areas in the Station, and would therefore have an uninterrupted run to all the control rooms. And his room opened onto that corridor.
Drakav began to stride purposefully down the corridor, keeping a careful eye on every door, every corner – he had learnt before that you could never be too cautious. The place, though, remained mostly deserted.
Which, now he came to think of it, was odd. No technicians, no engineers, nobody was running about the place, ensuring that everything was okay. He passed a deserted control panel, and his pulse began to quicken. Why was nobody doing anything? He began to run, desperately searching for the place that he was looking for.
And he found it. Just before the now-closed-off observation deck, on the left, was an open doorway. The sign above it read, in large, red letters, the words ‘Control Room’.
Drakav carefully approached the door. He could hear movement and shouting on the other side of the door. He stiffened – this was not the organised, professional conversation of qualified pets trying to fix the station. This was something else. He took a deep breath, and stepped quickly into the room.
As he stepped in, a light flashed once above his head, there was a hissing sound from behind him, and, as he turned, the sliding doors crashed shut behind him. Had he decided a moment later to enter the room, he would be stuck on the other side, rather than inside the room with...
Drakav quickly returned his attention to the room. It was chaotic, and it took a moment for him to realise that, other than himself, there were only three pets in the room. A Yellow Mynci, dressed very smartly, was standing in the centre of the room, talking loudly to nobody in particular. Behind him, a Krawk was desperately hitting a glass wall with a metal contraption in his hand, whilst a Tonu, dressed in a uniform that Drakav clearly recognised as that of a hostess on the ship, was trying to pull him away from the screen.
The closing of the door had clearly attracted the attention of the hostess, who turned her head to face Drakav.
“I need a hand!” she called to him, and Drakav’s instincts took over. Swiftly, he moved across the control room, and grabbed the arm of the Krawk – which, he saw, was holding a saxophone. The pet had been attacking the glass with a musical instrument.
The Krawk struggled against Drakav for a moment, but the Skeith was stronger, and, between him and the Tonu, they managed to pull the aggressor away from the glass screen, and Drakav was able to see what was behind it.
Or, rather, who. A Green Techo in a scruffy technician’s uniform was on the other side, in a small steel capsule, one end of which opened out onto the glass window that separated him from the rest of the room. He looked terrified.
“You need to fix the Station!” he said, quickly, staring at Drakav. “All of you. You need to save it!”
“What about you,” asked Drakav, reading the name from the badge affixed to the technician’s uniform. “Morlock? Why can’t you help?”
Morlock’s eyes flew right, and Drakav followed his gaze, to a panel displaying red, flickering numbers.
1:56... 1:55... 1:54...
“You’re trapped in there?” Drakav asked, a chill suddenly crawling up his spine. The Techo nodded. The other pets in the room had fallen silent, observing the exchange between the two.
“I’ll be ejected soon,” Morlock said. “And then you’ll be on your own.”
The technician moved closer to the glass, his wide eyes meeting Drakav’s – and the Skeith could see the fear and the panic in his eyes.
“Listen to me,” he said, urgently. “The Station is in danger. We’re all in danger. And only you can stop it.”
“What’ll happen if we don’t?” asked Drakav, quietly.
“Then... the world will be destroyed.”
To be continued...