A Victim of Circumstance: Part One
Balfair closed his eyes and prepared himself for the impact. His paws became clammy and beads of perspiration began to appear on his forehead. He squeezed his eyelids closed as tightly as he could because he knew that any second now it was coming... Why did he put himself up for this again?
Balfair felt the static rip through the air and the slight crackle in the atmosphere that usually followed. Something drastic had happened, he could just feel it. Slowly, very slowly, he opened his eyes and looked down at his unfamiliar body. It took a few seconds to realise what he had become. Despair washed over him. He knew that agreeing to become a lab pet meant taking a risk but before now he hadn’t fully considered the consequences. The day he had become a Lutari had been the happiest of his life and he never dreamed that he would become anything else ever again. Already, memories of what it felt like to be a Lutari were slipping out of his mind as he looked down at his new body; the body of a Gnorbu.
No longer would he be able to whirl through rivers and perform feats of water aerobics for the delight of all his friends. He missed the feel of his long, silky coat, now transformed into short, wiry hair with an unmanageable mane. It would become dreadlocks before long, Balfair was sure of it. His elegant paws had become ungainly hooves and when he tried to stand on two legs, he ended up in a jumbled heap of unfamiliar body parts of the floor of the laboratory. It wasn’t that there was anything especially wrong with a Gnorbu; they were just so... ordinary, Balfair thought to himself. He wanted to be exceptional.
Things began to change for Balfair. His clothes and accessories were taken off him and given to his brothers and sisters and at first, Balfair thought his owner was just making adjustments due to his new species, but new clothes did not appear. His owner played with him less and less, and when Balfair was booked into the Neolodge, it was no longer Hotel Opera but Fleapit Motel. Yet despite all of this, Balfair was still being subjected to the daily ordeal that was the lab ray. Each day he was led away from his comfortable Neohome and taken to the secret laboratory. He had walked the path so many times that he could have done it blindfolded. Unfortunately for Balfair, since the day he had lost his elegant Lutari body, the ray had been yielding few results. Only minor stat changes occurred and once he even became a female! However, that was swiftly rectified and still, Balfair remained his unexceptional self.
It was a stormy and tempestuous morning when Balfair woke up in a cold sweat. He had a sick, foreboding sense in his stomach but he could not explain it. Perhaps it was just a build up of stress due to extended use of the lab ray, yet it felt like something terrible was going to happen.
As Balfair was leaving the house to go to the secret laboratory his owner said to him, “Before we head off to the lab, we’re going to take a little detour to Neopia Central to pick up some shopping.” Balfair’s sense of foreboding increased significantly but he still could not explain why.
Balfair’s throat was dry as they walked through the bustling streets of Neopia Central. They walked past the Book Shop, Food Shop and the Bank and Balfair noticed that his owner kept shooting him sheepish looks.
‘Odd,’ Balfair thought to himself, ‘where on earth are we going?’
Suddenly, it dawned on him, but by this stage it was too late. He was being gently pushed into the pound and through the door marked ‘Abandon’, where a nasty looking Techo stood waiting with the admission forms. Balfair looked up at his owner in despair but it was too late; she had already begun walking away. How could she do this to him? He’d been a good pet, hadn’t he? He’d put up with months on end of zapping, all for it to end like this. It wasn’t until a blue Kacheek came and tapped him on the shoulder that Balfair became aware of his surroundings. He was in a sterile-looking white room, with basic coloured Neopets scattered all around.
“Hey! Hellooo!” The blue Kacheek was waving his hand in front of Balfair’s face, bringing to a halt his inspection of the room. “My name is jk_13121999, but people round here normally call me Jak. What’s yours?”
Balfair let out an involuntary giggle. What kind of a name was jk_13121999?
“Everyone thinks it’s funny at first; you’ll get over it,” said the blue Kacheek, impervious to Balfair’s scorn. Balfair felt a pang of guilt. He realised that he should learn to be less judgemental, now that he was no longer unique and currently ownerless. He needed all the friends he could get.
“Sorry, my name’s Balfair. Nice to meet you... err, how long do pets usually stay here?”
A smile spread across Jak’s face. “This is your first time in here isn’t it?”
“I should have guessed. It’s always the first timers that are most eager to leave. But as to your question, it varies. I’ve been here without being adopted for a longer stretch than any of the pets here. In fact, it might even be a record. I wouldn’t know, they don’t tend to count these things.” Balfair looked at Jak with amazement, curiosity aroused.
“So, uh, exactly how long have you been here? If you don’t mind me asking, I mean,” Balfair asked.
Jak gave him a cheeky wink. “Makes you awful curious, doesn’t it, kiddo? Well, I’ll tell you at another time, wouldn’t want to scare you on your first day. Usually, pets are only in here for a couple days to a week or so but every so often, we get a real fancy one who thinks he’s better than the rest of us just because he’s got some elaborate paint job. They only usually last for a few seconds. A minute at most. You’ve got a pretty good chance with a name like that. You might be lucky and we mightn’t ever see you again. Not that we wouldn’t want to, of course,” he said with another endearing smile.
“I might as well make myself at home then,” Balfair said dispiritedly.
“So, what’s your story anyway?” Jak asked. Balfair looked away shyly. He didn’t quite feel comfortable with the story himself, let alone telling it to a near stranger.
“C’mon, everyone who comes here has a story. But I can see you don’t want to tell, so we’ll leave it at that, right? As for me... well, you don’t want to hear my story. Not just yet anyway. As I said, I wouldn’t want to scare you.” Jak wore an uncharacteristically gloomy face as he said this, inflaming Balfair’s curiosity tenfold.
“Follow me and I’ll give you a tour, introduce you to a few people,” Jak offered, bouncing back to his exuberant self. He signalled Balfair to follow as he began to walk around the room. And so the Gnorbu followed the Kacheek, one full of energy and optimism, the other feeling lost, confused and left out in the cold.
“Balfair, I’d like you to meet 83_escarvelo_4, otherwise known as Bruiser.” A surly looking Skeith looked up from his game of pyramids and nodded vaguely in Balfair’s direction. “We call him Bruiser but it’s a bit of a joke, really. You wouldn’t hurt a fly, would you, Bruiser?” He didn’t look up from his cards a second time. “Not much of a talker,” Jak explained.
“What’s his story?” Balfair asked.
“Bruiser? Well, he was created to fight in the Battledome but then his owner ran short of cash. He couldn’t afford to train him anymore and decided he wanted a cuter, fluffier pet instead. Bruiser was replaced with a newer model, in short. It’s always the way ‘round here,” Jak concluded, shaking his head sadly.
“Righto, this is magashawn_3_2_1, or Maggie, as we call her. She’s a kind of mother to some of the younger pets here, as you’ll see.” The yellow Shoyru was leaning over a distressed Aisha as Jak was talking, too wrapped up to notice. “Her story’s the same as most others in the pound. She was created in the height of the Shoyru phase and as the general popularity of Shoyrus went down, the amount we came to see in the pound went up.”
Jak continued to lead Balfair around the sterile white room, introducing him to all the regulars, until they reached the dormitories.
“This here is where we all sleep. It’s certainly no Faerie Castle, but the beds are comfortable enough. Just be wary in the middle of the night, some of the younger ones like to play tricks on the newcomers. Good fun to watch sometimes... not that I’m ever involved, of course,” Jak added hastily, but Balfair couldn’t work out if his seriousness was genuine or not.
“So, here ends our tour. It’s been a tiring day, you might want to...” but before Jak hadn’t even finished speaking, Balfair’s eyes had closed and he’d left the land of harsh realities to a kinder one of dreams and fantasies.
To be continued...