Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 185,375,381 Issue: 495 | 20th day of Hunting, Y13
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The 404: Part Three

by fuzzymonkey31


"But why?!" Uuvie moaned, sounding for the world like a child who just found out her mum is making eggplant casserole, rather than getting take-out.

     "I didn't think that's where it would lead!" I sobbed, trying not to break down completely. "I thought, stupid me, that Oh! this'd be a conversation that wouldn't end me up in hot water!"

     "Little did you know that Sloth has an affinity for live concerts," Xion hissed glumly. "I bet he'll come in and frighten everyone away, and out first concert will be a failure."

     "Yeah, and Fyora and Space Faerie fans will desert us in cold blood, thinking we condone the horrific stuff what's he's done!" Terrence sobbed, burying his face in his hands.

     "But then again," said Xion, her face appearing thoughtful under all that makeup, "we could attract Sloth fans because of it."

     " 'S'not the point!" cried Pen. "We shouldn't be 'filiating ourselves with anyone! Not Fyora, Sloth, Lord Darigan, neither of them fat Skeith kings, not NO ONE."

     Vic nodded. "Exactly. We should be loved or hated only for our music. Not for anything else. Not for who comes to the shows."

     "But still, Sloth will scare people away, just because..." Terrence looked sheepish. "Well, he's Sloth! Whether he's a good or nice guy or not, people have presupup... presupppp..."

     "Presuppositions?" I suggested.

     "Yeah! Them! They'll have them things about him and will assume he's mean and'll force-feed them all transmogrification potions! Or summit' like that. People can be weird," he finished, staring off into the middle distance in a sort of trance.

     "But we can't just put up, like 'SLOTH XING' sign!" cried Vic, throwing his hands up into the air.

     "And we can't really forbid him from coming; it's not p'lite," added Pen.

     "What if we changed the location and time?" suggested Uuvie hopefully.

     "That'd still be rude," Loris said, speaking for the first time in ten minutes. "Besides, we don't even have a solid time!"

     "AND," I added, feeling I should point this out, lest they forget, "if we did that, it'd be me who'd have to deal with his hurt looks and pained glances."

     "Sloth gives you hurt looks and painted glances?" Vic asked incredulously.

     "Of course he does!" I said bitterly. "And he never, ever, ever just comes out and says what he really feels."

     "Bit of a girl, ain't he– OUCH!" Pen rubbed at where Loris had punched him. Uuvie gave her a high five, as did Xion. "Meanie," he whimpered, eyes watering.

     "He's... emotional. And delicate, really," I said, trying to avoid the same fate as Pen. "Delightful personality traits, I've always thought," I added.

     "No reason to suck up, Bif," Loris said, smirking at me. "I'd never punch you; you've got manners. It's just that Grundo that don't." And she jerked a thumb at the whining Pen.

     "Oh. Thanks," I said, smiling in relief.

     "Still not forgiving you for giving Sloth an open invitation to crash our party," she added.

     "Oh," I said, and wilted.

     – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

     I slumped back into my apartment building and up the stairs around two in the morning.

     Of course my apartment was still dirty. But I was tired, so I simply evicted the mootix-infested banana—now a thriving democracy—and curled up in my bed.

     – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

     I woke up around nine o'clock. No reason to go back to sleep; I could feel myself waking up all-too clearly.

     I opted for Grundo's Cafe for breakfast and ordered a Cheese Star Sandwich, Galaxy Energy Drink, and a Chocolate Sloth Head for dessert, because there's nothing as delightful as eating a dessert fashioned in the shape of your employer's cranium.

     As I sipped at my energy drink, I heard a calming commotion in the background. Someone was having a bit of an argument with Gargarox over the ingredients in something or other. I didn't listen. I was still 49% asleep, and if it had only been over 50% I wouldn't have been up and moving anyways. But, sadly, sleepiness had lost the vote, despite all its efforts and mud-slinging in the campaign.

     I wiped my face off with my napkin, paid the waiter, and wandered off to the bowels of the great Space Station.

     Having nothing better to do, I went into the rec room and collapsed into a beanbag chair, feeling overwhelmingly weary.

     Sleepiness was demanding a recount.

     – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

     It was finally eleven o'clock and I went to report for kitchen lunch duty. If I'm not called to anywhere for anything more important, I work a lot in the kitchen. They like me there, although I'm not sure why.

     I helped serve up the unmentionable glop that we serve the workers here. If they're smart, they eat out or pack a lunch.

     I watched them all crowding around the mess hall tables, chatting and laughing, sharing dastardly plans, and generally swallowing as much of the food they could before their stomachs figured out what they were doing and demanded that their gag reflex to do something about it.

     Then I heard my name being buzzed out over the loudspeaker, and I ran off to where it ordered me to go.

     – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

     After I had dealt with the sobbing mutant Grarrl who had been begging for his mum (I honestly don't know why they called me in, but I didn't mind getting out of the kitchen) and a few other odd jobs that people wanted me to do, I found it was a few minutes after two o'clock, and I ran back to the kitchen.

     I assembled Sloth's 2:22 snack of meepit-shaped biscuits and milk (which is, actually, the only thing that's described as my real job on my contract) and set off for his office.

     On the way I passed by innumerable mutants, Grundos, doors, and opportunities to be slowed down. I felt like, once more, I was in a video game. Dodge the two alien Aishas carrying a sheet of plate glass (yes, they really were there)! Duck between the legs of a lanky Ogrin carrying about two dozen rolled up battle plans and the like! Leap over the rolling barrel!

     After I made it through what seemed like three levels of classic 8-bit gaming glory, I arrived at Sloth's office. On time. I opened the door, and slid happily in.

     I nearly fainted.

     "Hey, Bif! Like my new robe? Got it custom made!" Sloth sang out, waving happily. On the front (and, I later found out, back) of his normally solid black robe was a clear, bright red "The 404".

     I did faint.

     – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

     Sometimes, should such a thing happen to you, you might encounter children. These children might be dastardly devils who make your life horrible. But they might be rather sweet and eager to please, and just incidentally make your life horrible without trying, and are really honestly sorry they did.

     Sloth is like the second type of small child. Granted, he's an evil and villainous overlord, but he's really a big pushover, and weirdly desperate to please.

     When I came to, he was hovering around me, obviously concerned.

     "Did I upset you?" he queried, face twisted. He had changed out of his custom-made robe and now was back in his traditional, solid-black one. "I only wanted to show my enthusiasm and support for your project."

     "You haven't even heard the music!" I shouted, leaping to my feet and glowering furiously at him. "For all you know, we could be horrible! But even if we aren't, you might not even like the style! This is ridiculous!" I threw my hands up into the air and turned around to storm out dramatically.

     But I didn't get very far, because I noticed the plate of cookies and milk. The milk had tipped and spilled when I fainted, but the cookies were undisturbed. The sight of these things ruined the moment, so I just gave up on being angry, picked up the cookies, put them on his desk, and said, "I'll get another glass of milk."

     When I returned with the new glass of milk, he was sifting through those weird collections of coloured index cards he keeps around, scribbling something on one of them. When I came in, he put them down and looked at me, very seriously and quite apologetically.

     "I'm sorry I keep doing this to you. I just can't understand why you never seem to be happy with me," he muttered, looking at his feet (which up were on his desk).

     I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "Because you just don't get it, sir. I am your employee, not your best buddy."

     I suddenly realized I had said the wrong thing, because Sloth's eyes got a bit squinty, and noticeably more moist. "No, no, sir! I just meant, I mean... Oh, bug." I finally gave up, cursing myself for being tactless. I trotted over to his side and patted his arm gently.

     "Don't worry, you're my friend, sir," I said soothingly. "We'll always be friends." What shocked me most about hearing this coming out of my own mouth was that I could tell, somehow, deep down inside, it was true. "It's just that, well, I work for you. Sometimes it's, well, awkward, for you to be so chummy. Y'know; making me wear dresses."

     Sloth smiled reflexively. You can't mention cross-dressing without him cracking up. I don't know why, but oh well.

     I continued, "And then you dragged me along to fight faeries. When I tried to get a new job, you rigged it so I could only come back here. You woke me up early in the morning one day to go have breakfast just because you 'had coupons' and wanted to hang out. You've played lots of practical jokes on me, most recently utilizing a mutant kau mask, and now you've tried to insert yourself, once more into my private life."

     Suddenly I wondered why I worked for this guy, much less why I was his friend.

     Oh yeah, I signed a contract.

     But Sloth was still chuckling, at least until I said that last part. "I'm sorry, Bif. But I really would like to go to the concert. I haven't been to one in so very, very long... the Tyrannians were so touchy when I turned one of Neopian Philharmonic's piccolo players into a mutant Chia, I've just never had the courage to go back and buy another ticket."

     "You saw the Neopian Philha–...? You turned their piccolo player int–...?" I just couldn't imagine Sloth at the Tyrannian concert hall, much less him listening to fancy-pants classical music.

     "I couldn't help it! She was butchering Vivaldi's Piccolo Concerto in C!" he exclaimed, eyes burning with anger.

     "Who's Vivaldi?" I asked, a bit confused.

     "He's..." Sloth froze. It finally hit him that he was referencing someone who didn't exist on Neopia (I suppose this "Vivaldi" person is a music composer from that "Earth" that Sloth insists on believing exists).

     "OH! that's why it sounded wrong! It wasn't Vivaldi! That clears some things up!" Sloth exclaimed, relief flooding his emotions. "But I'm still not going back to the concert hall in a good, long time," he added defiantly.

     "But why do you have to come to my concert? My band-mates aren't so happy about it. They're afraid you'll alienate other fans," I queried nervously.

     "Why, you're my friend!" he said, looking at me warmly. "Besides, I'll buy my own ticket. I'm not mooching or anything. Could you take these dishes to the kitchen?"

     I jumped a bit as he changed the topic, nodded, and removed the dirty dishes.

     This hadn't really cleared things up, but somehow, I felt better. Not that that'll calm the others down, but oh well. I'm the one who has to work with him!

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» The 404: Part One
» The 404: Part Two
» The 404: Part Four
» The 404: Part Five

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