Number 400: Part Three
“Hey, Cyan, what do you want to be in the future?” Paria asks me, her blue eyes glinting with curiosity.
“Well...” I let my imagination soar as I begin picking my vocation, “Maybe I’ll join the Defenders.”
“Che... what a cliché dream.” Her voice is playful, but not mocking.
I stand up indignantly, “Well, what do you want to be then?”
Her voice grows distant, “The future is so far away, Cyan, I don’t know.”
I hear a tinge of melancholy in that babyish voice. “You must have something in mind,” I probe her.
She rolls over on the patch of grass she was lying on and keeps silent.
“Well then, whatever you decide, I’ll always be there for you.”
She smiles at me. “For me, that’s something to really dream about.”
She says that in barely a whisper before closing her eyes and falling asleep. I think that I have the rest of my life to figure that out.
But then, sometimes the future is not that far away.
I was discovered. It was not surprising, really, as the Grundo’s cries of ‘MUMMY! MUMMY! SOMEONE TRIED TO KILL ME’ would have roused some attention. I gaped at him in shock and he smirked at me.
“Heh... you’re in deep trouble now. Someone’s not gonna be happy when she finds out that her gun is miss-” was all he managed to get out of his mouth as my paw connected with it.
He went sailing down the corridor as I made a break for it. I heard footsteps pounding behind me as I willed my legs to move faster. Turning sharply at a corner, I immediately regretted my actions as it brought me to a locked door.
“Oh no,” I cursed under my breath as the sounds got louder. I wasn’t about to get caught, not when I was so close to Paria!
But then I noticed that the door’s handle was blinking with the words ‘enter identification code’. Without thinking, I typed in 400.
Miraculously, the door clicked open and bade me entry. I found myself in a rather cheerful room. The bed and walls were quite brightly colored and the windows showed a magnificent view of the world outside the space station. The curtains were drawn all out so that the view seemed to encompass the whole room.
For some strange reason, this made me feel more warmly towards ‘Number 400’.
But time was not what I had. I had to rescue Paria and get out of this place. Home was waiting for me.
Suddenly, the door slammed open. An angry blue Acara burst through and I had just barely enough time leap on top of the cupboard to hide.
“Come out here, ya little runt,” she snarled. “I know you’re in here!”
I decided that offense was the best defense and leapt once again, but off the cupboard and onto her head with a war cry that I must say, I was quite proud of. She yelped in surprise but managed to throw me off and hurl me into the wall.
Fortunately, I had landed quite near the ventilation shaft. Wrenching the grills off, I crawled through, my breath catching and heart pounding. She screamed something incoherent but probably not very polite as she watched my retreating form. Perhaps she was this ‘Number 400’ that got Paria. She didn’t seem to have any qualms destroying the furniture in his room at any rate.
I was too caught up in escaping and didn’t notice that the once horizontal floor had suddenly given way to a steep slope. Screaming, I plummeted head first down a dark chute.
Strangely, I chose to think about the moment when Paria was refusing to go to sleep the night before she disappeared. Cyan will be there in the morning...
I burst through a narrow opening at the end of the tunnel and found myself in a dimly lit room. Strange boops and beeps were heard and random lights flashed about. But perhaps those were the ones going off in my head.
“So this is the runt you’ve been playing with, Ylana?” A deep voiced echoed from the recesses of the room.
“Tch.” I turned back to see the blue Acara sliding down the path I had come from. Albeit with a lot more grace and style.
“This brat did something to my blaster,” she growled angrily, making slicing motions at her throat in my direction, “And it cost me about a million Neopoints.”
“The doctor will reimburse you.” The voice sounded slightly weary. “Now, what have we here?”
“You guys took my sister!” I found myself hollering. “I’m here to rescue her. Come out and bring that ‘Number 400’ with you! My fist has something to say to him!”
There was a tense silence. Ylana muttered something along the lines of ‘I’m so not paid to do this’.
“Um...” The voice sounded unsure, but it was hard to tell. “I’ll have to make a call.”
I heard whispers and mutterings. I took a sidelong glance at Ylana and she glared at me.
“Enough, Garoo,” a cold voice broke the silence, “the Doctor is here.”
Garoo? Doctor? I found myself panicking. I thought I was on what was a brave mission to rescue my sister, but it seemed that I had gotten myself into much more than that. What would sweet, innocent Paria have to do with these dangerous people?
There, from the shadows, was the green hulking figure of what was undoubtedly Dr. Sloth. He held in his arms a small, forlorn figure. Paria.
“Paria!” I screamed. “Give her back, you oversized sock!”
Behind me, Ylana stifled a giggle and mumbled something that sounded like ‘well, his head kinda DOES look like...”
Dr. Sloth, however, was not amused. But he did not look angry either. There was something written on his face. Something incomprehensible; or maybe it was just too dark to tell.
“Bring me,” I said in a fierce whisper, “Number 400.”
“She is here,” he replied, “lying in my arms.”
I glanced at the figure I presumed to be Paria. My presumption was correct, and she was staring at me with those wide, blue eyes. I almost expected her to morph into some grotesque mutation of his, but she stayed Paria, complete and whole.
“You’re the one lying,” I spat at him.
I expected some form of rebuttal from him. But instead, Paria jumped from his arms and sat at his feet. All along she looked at me, but did not say anything.
“I am,” she began in an uncharacteristic monotone, “an ex-Grundo minion from the very first experiments the doctor conducted. My identification number was 400.”
I could only stare at her as she said these words. She must have been under some form of mind control, I thought desperately. It’s not possible.
“When I was defeated,” Dr. Sloth said the word ‘defeated’ with a cold venom, “she was sent to that accursed ‘Adopt-a-Grundo’ agency. That was not in my calculations.”
“Why?” I asked him. “What do you care for the fate of one of your minions.”
“She was precious to me,” he told me, unflinchingly, “One of my best warriors, loyal to the very end. She was peerless in my battlefield, but now she sits before you in that accursed form you see now.”
“I wasn’t born a Xweetok.” Paria had spoken again. “I was a Grundo, and Rachel made me what I am today.
“I had planned to escape the agency and return to Sloth’s side the minute I was caught. But those fools were a little more competent than I had expected. Then I planned to escape from that bothersome little girl the minute I got adopted. And here I am now.”
I stared at both of them, breathless. It was like a nightmare. Something that would end, end with Paria gently shaking me awake so I opened my eyes to her cerulean orbs. So I opened my eyes to my world.
“I loved you,” I choked out, hating how pathetic I sounded. Hating the fact that I had played right into her scheme. The scheme of a Sloth minion. I hated how those words tasted in my mouth. But, for some reason, I couldn't hate her.
She looked away, and continued her story, “The marble collection I was amassing was actually part of some complicated formula to erase everyone’s memories of me. For some reason, you were immune to it, and followed me here.”
“That also wasn’t part of my calculations, by the way,” Sloth felt the need to interject.
“I thought you were-” I began, but she cut me off with her cold cruel laughter.
“You thought I was what? A little baby you could mollycoddle your whole life?” She shuddered bitterly. “Your saviour? Your precious, innocent little sister?”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped at me. “I hate that name.”
She looked away furiously, as if angry at me, or angry at herself.
“I see,” I said stiffly. “Then I think I better go now, Number 400.”
She didn’t flinch, and muttered ‘leave’. But her voice was soft so I didn’t hear her.
“Ylana, escort her out.” Sloth’s demanding tone returned, “Garoo, I’ll have those milk and cookies now...”
The blue Acara grabbed me by the ear and lead me to a nearby lift. I fought with emotions unknown to myself. So this is what it felt like to have your whole life shattered and the pieces thrown back at you again. How could I have been so stupid, not to see this, any of this... a conspiracy woven right under my nose. Woven by the one who had unthreaded the trauma of my past.
Ylana glanced at me. “Hey, brat, chin up.”
I glanced curiously at her, and her face seemed to be contorted into one of sympathy. “Didn’t you think it weird that she only managed to escape after so long. She’s been with you guys for what, three years now?”
“Four,” I found the need to correct her.
“You’d think she’d be able to get 400 marbles in less than a year. Especially since that oversized sock thinks so highly of her...”
Ignoring the fact that I had probably inspired some form of nickname, I went, “She miscalculated?”
Ylana seemed to smile, or perhaps she had eaten something bad for breakfast, “She did.” She sighed whimsically, “and you know what that miscalculation was?”
“You.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled note and handed it to me saying, “It’s not like I’m purposely being nice to you or anything; I was paid.”
I unfolded the note, and written on it, in a rather messy and babyish scrawl, were the words:
We’ll meet again sometime.
The future is not so far away.