Scars: X Marks the Parlax
Tension crackled between the five Neopians. Their waiter stood transfixed over them with their drinks raised on a tray above his head, fearful that even the slightest movement could provoke one of them into pulling out a blaster . . . .
A green Eyrie slammed his fist against the table. “That is completely preposterous!”
Across the table, a pink Alien Aisha scoffed at him. “Oh, and I suppose you were there?” She pushed herself out of her chair and leaned toward him. “You, an Eyrie from Neopia Central, know better than me, a journalist who’s lived on Virtupets for the past nine years, how Parlax got his scar?”
The Eyrie snorted contemptuously, craning his neck so that his eyes gleamed from underneath the shadow of his beret. “You are the very personification of a little community’s hotshot newsgirl—ignorant and haughty.”
She gritted her teeth and began to open her mouth when the orange Kougress next to her spoke up. “From what I’ve heard, neither of you is right.”
All eyes turned to the Kougra.
“Excuse me?” asked the Alien Aisha incredulously.
“You’re both wrong.”
The green Eyrie sneered. “The arrogance of some people.”
The Kougress, though visibly ruffled, continued. “Yeah, I’ve been talking to a lot of people around here, and there’s only one possible way Parlax got his scar, and it certainly isn’t that cockamamie you’ve been spewing.” She said the last with a nod at the Eyrie.
His feather collar puffed up with indignation.
A plushie Bori who had been sitting quietly with his fingers laced together on the table spoke up. "It's interesting, really, that none of our stories add up at all. My own research suggests something entirely different, of course."
The Alien Aisha dropped back into her seat and folded her arms. “I’ve been interviewing Kreludans for the past two weeks.”
“Which ones?” asked the plushie Bori with a sly grin. “The miners looking for a few neopoints, or the Parlax fangirls who want some media attention?”
She furrowed her brow at him, while the orange Kougress and a green Xweetok hid giggles beneath their paws.
“Look,” said the pink Alien Aisha, “Parlax’s scar is too prominent a scar to be accidental, that’s only logical. And he certainly got it back when he was working with Gorix for the Resistance.” The last she said with a venomous look at the green Eyrie.
The green Eyrie glared at her. “Listen, you—”
“Excuse me,” she said, pointing her finger at him, “I’m talking here. It all started when Parlax was called by the Resistance Captain to a meeting . . . .”
* * *
Parlax stared at the stranger across the table as Commander Valka introduced him as a Kreludan police officer. Parlax’s eyes narrowed. What could the Resistance want with a nobody like this Grundo?
“Parlax, Gorix,” said the green Ixi Commander, “Officer Zorin has come to ask to borrow one of our operatives with undercover experience.”
Parlax glanced at Gorix as if to say that he did not like where this was going. “And?”
The Kreludan leaned forward and laid his hands on the table. “Operative Parlax, you must understand. The smuggling of Kreludite off the moon is causing tremendous problems for the entire populace—and we have been completely unable to stop the Protectorate.”
“Thank you, Officer Zorin,” interrupted Commander Valka.
Parlax glowered at the Kreludan. What right did he have to interject in the conversation of two Resistance officers?
“Parlax,” said the Captain, “there is a small population of Grundos who had been mutated and enslaved by Dr. Sloth nine years ago, but have since been genetically rehabilitated. Moreover, these former slaves had worked in Sloth’s military force and therefore have military-grade skills in organization and fighting.”
“I am aware of that, Captain,” said Parlax.
“Well, apparently, with no other use for their talents, many of these Grundos have banded together to charge the local smugglers a percentage of all profits in return for protection from both marauding bands and the undesired interference of the authorities. They call themselves the Protectorate.”
Gorix shot Parlax a look warning him that he was speaking out of line.
“And what they are doing is illegal,” exclaimed the Kreludan officer.
Parlax turned his eyes on the Kreludan. “What they’re doing is all they know how to do. You weren’t one of Sloth’s slaves, were you, Kreludan?”
He drew back slightly. “No. But that does not excuse their behavior now. Their protection of the smuggling operations in the mountains has caused the price of Kreludite to plummet. Hard-working Grundos all over Kreludor can no longer make enough neopoints to live on—they’re starving. And until we can stop the smugglers, nothing can be done to help them. And we can’t stop the smugglers without getting the Protectorate out of the way.”
Parlax leaned forward. “And what do you expect the Resistance to do about it? We are in the business of defending all Grundos from Dr. Sloth, or hadn’t you heard? We are not in the business of taking up petty fights when the Kreludan police can’t muster the strength to do it on their own.”
The Kreludan turned red.
“Enough, Parlax,” said the Captain. “You are going to infiltrate the Protectorate and help the Kreludan police to destroy them.”
Parlax stared at the Captain, speechless.
Gorix’s voice betrayed false calmness as he spoke. “But Sir, Parlax is to ship out with me tonight.”
“Not anymore. Parlax is to assist the Kreludans as a gesture of good will. We help them now, and perhaps later when we need it, they will help us.”
“And now we get to the real reason,” Parlax grumbled as he folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
The Kreludan plopped a stack of folders on the table. “The Protectors do not have uniforms. All soldiers are marked, however, with an X-shaped scar across their face.” He slid a picture across the table toward Parlax. “The chain of commanded is headed by a General. Directly beneath him are the three Majors.”
Parlax stared at the Kreludan in disbelief.
“If you’re going to successfully infiltrate the Protectorate, you’ll have to prove to one of the Majors that you can fight, and that you were a soldier slave to Sloth, but now genetically rehabilitated. It should not be too hard to convince them, as they are supremely over-confident in themselves.”
Parlax sneered at the Kreludan. “I know how to infiltrate a small potatoes operation like this Protectorate.”
The Kreludan frowned. “Then get in there as soon as possible. We know they are having their annual meeting between their officers and soldiers within the next month. Find out when and where it is, and we can arrest them all in one swift act.”
“You say they are over-confident? If so, it will be no problem at all.” Parlax stood from the table and addressed the Captain. “I will be back in no more than six weeks.”
The Captain stood. "When you're sure you have them, when you know you're ready, leave us a message at the North Mining Tower. Gorix will be back by then to assist in your extraction from the Protectorate."
"Yes, Sir.” Parlax turned on his heel and left the office.
* * *
The lean split Grundo walked down the right side of the street in the ritzy part of town—a string of restaurants, theaters, and spas frequented by the local miners whose riches were acquired through smuggling, a practice made possibly only by the guardianship of the Protectors.
Parlax spotted a lounge where he had seen several Protectors bearing the X-shaped scar the day before. He walked in with purpose, and passed the concierge.
“Hey,” called the concierge after him, “you are not admitted unless invited.”
“I have business with the Protectors.”
The lounge had the look of thrown-together, cheap opulence. Gold-and-red-striped wallpaper hung by its last threads of glue to the walls of several small, loosely connected rooms, all with the same colors, but some with even gaudier printed wallpaper.
The concierge followed him, but Parlax spotted the only closed-off room in the place, and headed straight for it.
”Stop!” called the concierge, but Parlax ducked beyond the curtain into a large room overshadowed by an electric chandelier, flickering in mock candlelight. Parlax instantly recognized the company he stood before.
At the first of four backlit white tables sat an aged purple Grundo: Pho, the owner of Pho Mining Towers which comprised 60% of all mining activity for the surrounding 50 miles.
Sitting at an identical table across the room, Thur, (owner of the other 40% of all mining activity,) slurped up green noodles next to the brothers Kale and Brox. The two red Grundos oversaw virtually all smuggling activity for Pho and Thur.
At the center of it all, on a circular plush sofa, sat the Protectors. Parlax did not know the names of these Grundos; only the X-scared faces. The three majors and the General, a large green Grundo with leathery skin, sat on the sofa.
Parlax knew that he had surely been noticed, but none of the Protectors even looked at him. These were haughty power-players. So much the easier for a spy.
Parlax took a few steps forward and silently kneeled—a sign of submission in any culture—and waited to be recognized.
Several minutes passed before he was addressed. “You, Grundo, what do you want?”
Parlax looked up. It was the General. “Excuse me for interrupting, Protector. I need a job.”
“Can’t help you, kid.” The General turned his attention back to his Majors.
“I believe you can, Sir,” said Parlax. “My name is Parlax. I can fight. I know how to handle a blaster, and I know my place in the chain of command.”
“And just how are you so skilled in all these areas?”
“Former slave in Sloth’s army, genetically rehabilitated few years back.”
“You and everyone else on Kreludor.”
“Give me something to do and I’ll prove myself.”
The General looked him over for a minute. “So. You want to be part something bigger than yourself, Parlax?”
Parlax looked up at him and grinned. “Yes, Sir.”
“Major Van, Parlax claims to have the skills necessary to become a Protector.”
One of the Majors, a thin orange Grundo, looked at Parlax. “I’ll send him on patrols tonight.” Addressing Parlax, he said, “Come to the Mountain’s End Repair Shop tonight, at eight o’clock. Bring your blaster if you have one.”
Parlax saluted them, and waited to be dismissed.
“Stick around, Parlax,” invited the General. “See what kind of life you stand to gain if you prove yourself useful tonight.” He motioned for some of his subordinates below him at a nearby table to make room for Parlax.
Parlax bowed and took the seat made for him amidst four Protectorate soldiers. They generally ignored him as he sat; one made brief eye contact between laughing it up with his friends. Parlax saw a waiter pass and raised his hand. “I’ll take a Pan Galactic Gargle Slushie.”
The waiter, a hulking Grundo who must have been unable to afford genetic rehabilitation, barely looked at him out of the corner of his eye before acting as if he had not heard Parlax.
“Oi, waiter,” called the thin soldier sitting next to Parlax.
The waiter instantly flocked to the soldier’s side. “Yes, Protector?”
“This is a guest of the Protectorate”
The massive waiter blanched, bowed to the soldier, and turned to Parlax. “Forgive me, Sir. A Pan Galactic Gargle Slushie you said? We’ll have it to you right away—on the house.” The waiter scurried off, visibly anxious over his faux pas.
Parlax looked at the slender soldier who inspired such fear in their massive waiter. The soldier by no means looked fear-inspiring, for he weighed less than Parlax and did not appear of high rank What did that waiter see that Parlax didn’t?
The soldier must have felt Parlax’s eyes on him, for he turned to look him in the eye. “When you come tonight, don’t count on any of us to bail you out.”
With that direct look, Parlax saw what the waiter saw: an X seared across his face. A mark of unquestioned authority.
This was the Protectorate’s true power.
As the star set, the Protectorate soldiers stood from their tables, tightened up the slack in their belts, and holstered their blasters. The night shift patrols were about to begin.
Parlax took up an empty seat on a hover vehicle, took his blaster out of his jacket pocket and slid it into his belt.
“Not a very talkative bunch, are you?” Parlax dryly commented the soldiers sitting on either side of him.
“Just don’t get in our way and do as you’re told.” said the soldier on his right. “We’ve had reports that marauders will be in the area tonight.”
Parlax soon saw that they were headed for the west mining platform, where a week’s worth of mined ore was being stored for transportation the following morning. Upon arrival, he was given little to do, and therefore little opportunity to prove himself.
Instead of shooting down marauders, or even anywhere near the Protectorate soldiers, he sat on a purplish-grey rock, amidst other purplish-gray rocks, surrounded by purplish-gray mountains, patrolling a mining platform that was, creatively enough, painted purplish-grey. Sloth, he hated Kreludor.
The sound of soldiers talking reached him, but could not make out their words, so he turned his attention to the crest of the valley that laid no more than fifty meters from the mining platform. If marauders were coming tonight, the valley would be their best cover for surprise attack.
Parlax slid off the rock, looking intently at the crest of the valley. He thought he saw a puff of dust rising up—but what was causing it?
Three armored hover craft lurched out of the valley, barreling toward the mining platform. The soldiers yelled in surprise, pulling out their blasters to fire, but the energy beams bounced off the hover crafts’ armor.
Parlax aimed his blaster, but paused. He knew eight soldiers patrolled this side of the platform, with another five around the other side. Judging by the reaction of the soldiers around him, Parlax figured that they had not expected an attack this large—three armored vehicles carrying at least seven marauders each.
Parlax stashed his blaster in his jacket pocket, turned toward the mining platform, and ran.
“Coward!” howled one of the soldiers behind him. “We’ll have your hide after this!”
If he had a hide after this, that is. Parlax leapt up onto the platform and found the maintenance entrance. He nearly ran into the doors, expecting them to open.
“Of course they’re locked,” he grumbled to himself. Ripping the keypad out of the door, and started sorting through the myriad of cords—the only cheerfully colored objects he’d seen on the whole platform.
He heard the hover craft come to a halt, and the blaster fire intensify. He glanced over his shoulder, quickly identifying about twenty-five marauders coming out of their hover craft, and the Protectorate soldiers swarming into defensive positions.
Split the yellow cord, zap the blue one—he could smell the burning plastic from laser fire. The door swished open and Parlax leapt inside, manually closing the doors behind him. He surveyed the maintenance room: small, brightly lit, with a small shaft headed down into the ore storage room.
He heard the shooting outside, and knew that the marauders were clearing a path between the Protectors. He waited and listened, until he heard boots stomping up to the door. As he heard them splicing together the wires to open the door, he backed up against the far wall and fell to the ground, letting his jaw hang open in terror.
The door swished open, and silhouetted against the starry sky lit up by Neopia’s light, stood three marauders bearing laser rifles.
“Please—no!” sobbed Parlax. “Don’t hurt me!”
“Heh, picked the wrong time to come in for maintenance work, did we?” mocked the leader, a Skeith.
Parlax sat frozen in terror.
The other two marauders began laughing and waving in more of their people. Two Techos rushed in and headed down the shaft into the storage room.
“I can’t believe how easy this is,” said the Skeith to his companions. “This mechanic is the biggest threat we’ve faced today,” he concluded with a scoff.
One of the others headed for Parlax.
“You ain’t kidding,” said Parlax. The three marauders started at the change in his voice as he drew his blaster and fired three times. They slumped to the floor, unconscious. Parlax jumped up and looked down the shaft, where the two Techos were reaching the bottom rungs of the ladder. He fired two more shots, and they fell to the ground below them.
“Fish in a barrel,” chuckled Parlax to himself. He sidled up next to the door where he could not be seen and shouted, “Bring re-enforcements up here, pronto.”
In walked three more unsuspecting marauders. They gaped at their unconscious companions while Parlax came up behind them. Three shots, and a grand total of eight marauders out of commission.
“Everything okay in there?” called someone from outside.
Parlax jumped up against the wall, out of firing range of anyone outside.
“Oh man, they’re all unconscious in there!” cried the same voice.
Parlax slid one of the doors closed for cover. He dropped to the ground and peered outside. Blaster fire lit the murky light of Kreludor’s night, and he could see that the marauders had split the Protectorate soldiers in half, leaving the marauders a pathway between their armored vehicles and the maintenance room.
Another two marauders headed for the door, but these held their blasters forward, prepared for battle. Parlax peeked around the door and fired twice. One gripped his arm in shock, while the other darted out of range.
Parlax continued firing, calling the attention of the marauders holding off the Protectorate soldiers. Forced to turn their attention to Parlax’s position, the marauders retreated from the soldiers, taking up a defensive ring in front of Parlax.
Protectorate soldiers swiftly encircled the marauders as Parlax continued firing at the ring. Quickly becoming outnumbered, the marauders focused their fire power on the soldiers that stood between them and their armored vehicles, but the soldiers refused to yield an inch of ground to them.
In minutes, the last marauders fell to the dusty Kreludan ground, unconscious. Parlax immerged from the room, and the eyes of the soldiers fell on him with surprise.
A tall green Grundo met him outside the room, and seeing the unconscious marauders inside, said, “Wow. Nice work. What was your name again?”
His lips curled into a smile. “Parlax.”
* * *
Major Van rested his finger on his chin as the squad leader reported Parlax’s heroism. The squad leader stood before the major in that same gaudy lounge as before, only this time, Major Van sat alone, without his cohorts. He remained silent as the story progressed; only the furrow in his brow deepened as he heard that Parlax ran into the maintenance room, seemingly to hide.
At the end of the account, the squad leader bowed and stepped back, motioning for Parlax to take a step forward. He did.
Major Van stretched his back out against the back of the chair. “So, Parlax, it appears you do have the skills to become a Protector.”
Parlax bowed silently.
“You will be officially announced and introduced to the other Majors at the annual meeting. You will then be given an official assignment in our ranks. Small at first, mind you.”
Parlax bowed again. “I am honored, Major Van. When is this meeting to be?”
He shook his head. “You will be informed twenty-four hours in advance of the time and location.”
Parlax was silent a moment, lightly chewing his lip. “Major,” he said slowly, “when will I be marked as a Protector?”
“Perhaps the General himself will do the honors at the annual meeting.”
“I would rather attend as a soldier, with the mark on my face.”
The orange Grundo cocked his head. “Indeed? Many a soldier has feared the procedure.”
“It is the mark of a soldier, Sir. It is to be esteemed.”
He nodded. “As you wish.” Van motioned to one of the soldiers, who left the room and soon returned with a medical laser. Taking the laser in hand, Major Van called Parlax closer to him.
Parlax ascended the two steps up to the Major’s seat, and kneeled before him.
Behind him, the soldiers softly chanted the rites of the soldier: “To protect. To defend. To never forget who we are....”
The Major flipped a switch on the instrument, a beam of hard light emitted from it. Parlax felt the soft heat prickle his skin as it approached his face. He closed his eyes, and felt the unquestioned authority of the Protectorate marked visibly onto his soul, never to be taken from him, not even by the Resistance.
Two weeks later...
Gorix was in his office when one of the recruits came in and handed him an envelope. He opened it and immediately recognized Parlax’s hand. “There will be an assembly of the Protectors tomorrow at the EMP Storage Facility. I’m ready.”
Gorix stood up from his desk and headed straight for the Captain’s office.
* * *
When the dust settled over the EMP storage facility, and the Protectorate leaders were in custody, Gorix found his friend standing at the top of the stairs, analyzing the damage with a cold eye. Splashed across Parlax’s face was the mark that Gorix had feared to see on him: the X-shaped scar of the Protectors.
Gorix walked up next to him, but Parlax did not speak.
“I’m glad to have you back, Parlax.”
He nodded in response and turned to look at him.
Gorix lowered his eyes at the sight of the scar.
Parlax chuckled. “It’s alright. I rather like it. It’s a sign of power.”
Gorix frowned at his friend. Sometimes he wondered what would have become of Parlax had he not joined the Resistance as a child. Gorix slapped him on the back. “I’ve got work to do. Why don’t you take the next couple days off? I’ll see you back at headquarters on Friday.”
Parlax nodded as Gorix walked away. A day or two away from headquarters sounded good.
Parlax walked into the lounge of gaudy red and gold, this time admitted without question by concierge. He was conducted into the great room where he had first met the Protectors. Inside, the miners and their smugglers were in chaos, arguing, yelling, fighting over what to do without the Protectors.
All eyes fell to the only one in the room with the mark. Parlax smirked to himself, and walked up to the vacant circular sofa. He sat on it and leaned back. All eyes looked to him.
The miners sat at the tables with their smugglers, and continued their arguments, but in subdued tones to respect the surviving Protector. Who was he? How did he survive?
Parlax saw a younger Grundo sitting next to a smuggler watching him. Parlax returned the look. The young Grundo walked up to the base of the steps surrounding the sofa, and kneeled before Parlax.
Parlax grinned. “So, you want to be part something bigger than yourself, kid?”
* * *
“And that’s how Parlax got his scar,” concluded the Alien Aisha.
“That could have been a nice story,” retorted the green Eyrie, “if the plot were not so completely ridiculous.”
Her face reddened. “I’m telling you, I interviewed a Kreludan police officer myself—Parlax chose to take that scar as a mark of power—”
“No, no, that’s not it at all....”
To be continued...