Kougra Detective: The Mootix Conspiracy
It was a dull, overcast day in Neopia. As I turned down the street, heading towards the office, I almost walked straight into a cluster of pets, with folded arms and chattering teeth, all braving the chill and drizzling rain as they waited in line at the weather bureau. What they won't do for an avatar! I chuckled to myself; a low resonate growl that startled a couple of young Chias, who eyed me cautiously until I weaved my way through the crowd towards the solid wooden door of the office. The lettering on the window was peeling and faded, you could barely make out the words; "Indigo Paws – Kougra Detective", I made a mental note to have it repainted.
The door chimed as I entered the foyer, and my secretary looked up from her desk. A Spotted Aisha, fluffy_wuzzles_189; she had a sordid history, having been abandoned at the pound more times than a JubJub could count on both feet, but despite it all, or perhaps because of it she excelled in this type of work.
"Two more missing petpet cases, a warf and a pet rock," she rolled her eyes as she reported, and handed me a stack of reports. "...And this one's interesting, the Neocola factory's had a break in and wants help to nail the perps."
I flipped through the file she passed me. "That's if they can afford to pay," she added. "Achyfi has been killing them lately."
"Well, more interesting than searching for a rock in any case," I chuckled; so few cases had any intrigue to them. I was resolved to head on over to the factory regardless.
I hung up my hat and headed into my office to pore over the missing petpet files, hoping to clear them up quickly. Paying customers had to come first, no matter how dull.
The pet rock case was all the way over in Kreludor. They had offered a lot more than our usual fee, though, so it seemed the trip would be worthwhile; though last time I'd seen a case like this in Kreludor, it had just turned out some Grundo had launched the rock from a catapult. I sighed; guess intrigue would have to wait.
I stuck my head out through the office door. "Fluff, book a return trip to Kreludor, shouldn't take more than a day or two. Get me a window seat, though; those space capsules make me ill..."
Fluffy wasn't alone; she was speaking to another pet who stood, back facing me, at the desk. The first thing I noticed was the shroud of purple hair, sparkling despite the dim lighting... Lola. I could feel my ears turn red, remarkable considering I'm painted Shadow; why did I have to mention getting space-sick? The Usuki Girl Usul spun around. "Hello, Indigo," she said, smiling pleasantly. "It's been a long time."
Not wasting any time, she breezed past me into the office, and I caught a whiff of lavender as she brushed past. I turned to see, that in true Lola form, she had seated herself behind my desk, so I leaned against the door frame and folded my arms. She grinned at me and casually flipped through the files on my desk, "Still as disorganised as ever, I see," she said.
"I take it you have a case for me?" I asked.
She paused, to clasp her paws together. "Maybe I just wanted to drop by."
"You never just drop by, Lola. What trouble are you bringing me today?" I asked, irritated, though secretly hoping for a juicy case.
She grinned again, and pulled out a pink, jewel-encrusted file from her purse. "You'll like this one, I promise..."
"The Neopian Fresh Foods store and Gargarox's have reported interrupted shipments of Neocola over the past two months. Neocola is adamant they were sent, but they never reached their destinations. Meanwhile Achyfi sales are going through the roof, but they aren't reporting bigger profits, or showing an increased standing on the stock market. Bets are Sloth's involved."
I snickered. "What, despite him being trapped inside a locket?" Lola always seemed to think Sloth was involved.
"Never stopped him before," she countered flatly. "Rumour has it that noises have been heard coming from his old quarters in Virtupets Station, and, here's the kicker – empty Neocola crates have been found orbiting Kreludor, they've taken them into evidence on the Space Station."
"I guess I won't be able to avoid that trip into outer space, after all..." I said, thinking. "We should check out the Neocola factory first; they've reported a break in, might be related to all this."
We arrived at the factory just after noon, most of the workers were sitting outside having lunch. A blue JubJub in a hard hat stood scowling at them all as they sipped their Achyfi.
"Not much brand loyalty these days," he said as we approached. "Look at them all! No regard for the prosperity of their company!"
"Dung to your prosperity!" called out a rough looking Jetsam. "What about my prosperity? I haven't been paid all week!"
"Is the situation really that dire?" asked Lola.
"The Chia over at the food store, says he won't keep stocking us if our deliveries keep going missing, and with interruptions in the supply chain, our customers are switching over to our competitors, even when our deliveries do make it through." The JubJub looked very worried, and added in a whisper, "All these pets don't realise how close we are to shutting down; if they did, well, maybe they wouldn't be drinking Achyfi."
"What can you tell us about the break in?" I asked, figuring we may as well cut to the chase.
"Better than that, I'll show you," the JubJub said, gesturing for us to follow him into the building. "We kept the workers out of that section; we can only afford to keep half the factory running anyway."
We followed him down a dusty hallway and into a large stock room. Broken crates and empty cans were scattered all about the room.
"What was taken?" asked Lola.
"It was quite weird, actually. It seems they drank all our product." He gestured towards a pile of empty cans. "I had Steve from sales do a count. It seems all the cans are accounted for; they're just empty!"
"Who could drink that much Neocola that quickly!" exclaimed Lola.
"I can't imagine even a Skeith could drink all this," I said, gesturing to the room at large. "Must have been a group effort."
At that moment one of the cans sprang to life and seemed to dart across the room. Lola stuck out her foot to stop the can in its tracks and bent to pick it up.
"There's something in this one," she said, giving the can a shake. A distinct rattle emanated from the can, and she tipped the contents out onto her paw. Then, quicker than a Uni to a sale at the Grooming Parlour, she cried out, "Ouch!" and stuck her paw into her mouth. "It bit me!"
"What was it?" I asked. A speck seemed to have darted across the room and hopped out the window, too fast to identify.
"Oh, just a Mootix," she said, looking at the sore red spot on her hand and frowning. "I've never seen one move that fast!"
"Too much sugar perhaps," I said. "It's probably been drinking up the dregs our perp left behind."
We swept the room once more for clues, but there wasn't so much as a stray hair, feather or scale to hint at the thieves. The JubJub lost interest and left to go yell at a Pteri for making too much noise in the hall. Finally, we gave up. "I think that's all we're going to get from here," I said.
"Hmm," Lola agreed. "Fancy taking a trip then?"
We boarded our flight to the Space Station. Our seats were next to a young family of Elephantes. The Baby Elephante wouldn't stop trumpeting and the older kids kept running up and down the aisles, stomping their feet noisily as they went. I grimaced; this was going to be a long trip.
Lola, completely ignoring the spectacle, placed her petpet carry case on the seat beside her, fished out a comb from her purse and started running it through her magenta locks.
I stared out the window for most of the trip, watching Neopia shrink away further into the distance.
Finally we docked at the Space Station. A Grundo wearing a potato sack and tin foil hat approached us.
"Welcome Miss Vavoom!" he exclaimed, cheerfully, greeting Lola. "This must be your associate?"
"I'm a private contractor..." I said, shaking the pet's hand, and wondering what Lola must have said about who works for whom.
"Yes, lovely," he said, clearly not meaning it. "Shall we go then?"
The Grundo took us to a computer lab, where he introduced us to another pet, an Electric Bori, known as Sparks.
"He's our resident technician, he input all the data you'll need about the crates into the base computer, and he'll give you access to it."
"Where are the crates?" I asked.
"Oh, we've sent them down for demolecularisation with this morning's trash," said Sparks. "All the data's right here, he said tapping a computer screen, covered in useless numbers and various squiggles.
"We'd prefer to look over the crates themselves; it tells us more than reading a bunch of numbers off a screen," I said.
Sparks and the Grundo exchanged a confused glance.
"We... That's not how we usually..." said the Grundo.
"We always use the raw data; data never lies. We have all the dimensions of the boxes..." said Sparks, slightly upset by our lack of confidence in his data, "which is in correlation with the size of a standard Neocola shipping box, if you use algorithms to account for the slight warping incurred from their time in space. So we were able to confirm through our data the origins of the..."
"...Or you could just read the label on the side of the box," Lola interrupted.
"Perhaps we can head down to the incinerators, before they vaporise our evidence?" I asked hopefully.
"Well, they turn them on in about half an hour, so you'd have to be quick," Sparks provided.
"I really wouldn't recom..." the Grundo began, but we had already ran from the room and begun our descent down a flight of stairs towards the incinerator rooms.
There was a clock over the incinerator room's door, counting down to the next vaporisation. It appeared we had reached the room with ten minutes to spare.
I wrenched the door open. "Stay here, and tell me when I'm out of time," I said to Lola, and entered the incinerator.
I waded through countless piles of junk, many of which smelled unidentifiable.
"Five minutes left!" called Lola from the door. "Hurry up!"
I still hadn't found our crates, and I was running out of time. I continued searching through pile after pile of useless junk, until finally...
"Two minutes, Indigo! Get out of there!"
...I found the crates. They were too large to lift, so I would have to inspect them here. The crates were crawling with petpetpets, Mootix and Larnikins everywhere. I tried to feel around the insides of the crates, as it was difficult to see any contents in the dark. I felt a few damp sticky spots on the inside of the crate, remnants of Neocola no doubt. The cans themselves were nowhere to be seen, but that couldn't tell me anything for sure, as they could have been dumped out somewhere else. Something crawled up my sleeve, just as Lola called out, "10...9... Hurry up!"
That was all the time I had; I bolted for the door, and had just slammed it shut behind me when the clocked beeped twice and the contents of the room were no more.
Lola hit me on the shoulder. "What do you think you're doing? That was too close!"
We stopped for lunch at Gargarox's.
"Did you find anything of use at least?" asked Lola, sipping on a Broccoli Achyfi.
"Nothing definitive," I said. "There's something I just can't put my finger on..." I scratched my head thoughtfully, and a Larnikin fell from my sleeve.
Lola laughed. "That's what you get for traipsing through all that rubbish. Cute little guy... He looks hungry."
She tried to coax the critter into drinking some of her Achyfi, it took one sip and spat it out again with an ever so faint, "Yeuch!" sound.
"That's it!" I exclaimed. "I've solved it!"
I gathered everyone up, and we headed for Sloth's old quarters. Abandoned since his last defeat, the rooms remained unchanged, as most people on the Space Station still feared his wrath. I had Sparks enter the code to unlock the door, and led my assembly inside. I only had one more piece of the puzzle to find, I scoured the room, until, finally I found Sloth's Habitarium.
"Neglected since his banishment, Sloth's collection of petpetpets have grown unruly. They've expanded beyond their Habitarium, and their numbers have grown exponentially!" I began, "Since then, they've exhausted their food supply and grown hungry... They've had to branch out and find a new food source..."
Most of the group just stared at me blankly, but Lola had started nodding in agreement.
"Brilliant!" she exclaimed. "And with Gargarox's so close..."
"They've gotten into his Neocola supply..."
"The sugar makes them hyper active... Like the one that bit me at the factory!"
"Once they exhausted Gargarox's supply, they bounced all the way over to Neopia Central, where they knew Neocola is manufactured. They infested one of the warehouses at the factory, and drank everything they had in storage. They piggybacked their way around in all the crates being delivered and consumed everything. The Achyfi supply chain wasn't affected, because they can't stand the taste! Once the sugar had worn off, they grew homesick and used some leftover crates to ship themselves back home, which is why you found them in orbit. "
"Amazing..." said Sparks.
"The only thing I can't figure out is where Achyfi's profits are going..." I said, curious.
Lola picked up and snuggled into her pet Meepit, who had just appeared at her feet. "Beats me," she said, as the Meepit blinked ominously.