Finding Boochi: Part Three
They found The Chesterpot Institute easily enough, hidden away at the back of the Supply Dock. It was a large building, and like everything else in the Supply Dock, it was a dull, metallic green. There was a booth by the door, with a serious looking Grundo receptionist sitting inside. They approached her cautiously. Charlie decided to let Mhewsie do all the talking. It had worked so far... and he found the Grundo's appearance a little intimidating.
"We're here to speak to Professor Chesterpot!" Mhewsie piped up.
The receptionist blinked from behind her large-rimmed, brightly-coloured glasses. "Do you have an appointment?"
There was an uncomfortable silence, during which Mhewsie's mouth opened and closed several times. Charlie's heart was racing in his chest. They were going to get thrown out. The worst-case scenarios tumbled through his head: being sent back to Neopia and thrown in a cell, being fined for the cost of their journey into space, his owner abandoning him after everything he had done...
"You can't see him if you don't have an appointment," said the Grundo matter-of-factly. Charlie felt his heart sink until it rested in the pit of his stomach.
"But we need to see him!" cried Mhewsie, bouncing up and down on her tiny paws.
"Now now, what's all this fuss about?" came a voice.
Mhewsie and Charlie turned simultaneously. Standing behind them was a haughty looking man with a mop of untidy grey hair. He looked down at them through his spectacles, clutching a pack of sandwiches to his chest. It was then Charlie noticed the lab coat that he wore.
"Professor!" said the receptionist. "I was just telling these two that they need an appointment to speak with you."
"Really, Martha? I'm not exactly flooded with work right now." The scientist rolled his eyes towards the heavens. "I'm sure it won't do any harm. What did you come to speak to me about?"
"Boochi!" cried Mhewsie excitedly, her tail wagging furiously behind her.
"Oh," said Professor Chesterpot. "Then you'd better come with me."
Charlie didn't think Mhewsie noticed the crestfallen look on the Professor's face. But he had noticed it, and he was already bracing himself for disappointing news. After all, there was nothing but disappointment in life now that he was painted Grey.
"As you can see, this is our archive room," said the Professor, as Mhewsie squealed in excitement beside him, "We have catalogued hundreds of Boochi appearances over the years, and they all reside here, in this room."
The room was filled with rows of file cabinets that towered towards the ceiling. Each drawer had its own brightly-coloured label, too. The Professor explained that they categorised by date, but also by location. "So," he concluded, "I can tell you the most recent sighting of Boochi."
"Hang on a minute," said Mhewsie, sounding disappointed. "There's got to be something else. You're scientists. Surely you can track his movements? And what about his ray? Don't you know how it works?"
"Boochi carries the ray at all times, and since we've yet to pinpoint his location, the answer to both of those questions would be... no."
There was a long pause. Charlie looked at the dull grey of the filing cabinets and felt tears well up in his eyes. An overwhelming sadness seized him. Was he cursed to be miserable like this forever? His owner would get tired of his misery eventually... she'd probably pound him.
He'd rot in there forever.
"The truth is," said Professor Chesterpot, scratching the back of his head. "We're shutting down our Boochi Project. It's wasting time, Neopoints and valuable resources. We need to make progress in science... and the Boochi Project has been deemed a failure."
Failure. The words echoed in Charlie's ears like a taunt. They had failed.
They walked back to the lobby in silence. Mhewsie's ears were drooping so low that they almost touched the floor. Charlie shuffled along behind her, watching his fluffy feet slide across the steel, dreading the moment they would reach the Space Faerie. They would have to tell her that all of this was for nothing. Charlie wished with everything he had that he could melt into the floor and become nothing but a pile of sludge. At least then he wouldn't feel so miserable.
"You're back!" the Space Faerie cried, floating towards them through a sea of tourists who were clustered excitedly around her. Her excited smile faded when she noticed the look on both of their faces.
They didn't even have to explain themselves..
"Excuse me, folks!" cried the faerie, addressing the crowd as she allowed Mhewsie to climb forlornly onto her shoulders. "I have to get my friends here home. Goodbye!"
The Space Faerie scooped Charlie into her arms. The crowd cheered and waved as she took to the sky, carrying both of them. Why did the crowd have to cheer? There was nothing to celebrate. If they had succeeded, this would have been the fanfare of their victory. Instead... instead it was mocking Charlie, reminding him of his fate.
The journey back to Neopia was sombre. The Space Faerie was unusually quiet, too, and Charlie wondered if she was regretting helping them at all. They flew past another pod on the way back, and people waved and grinned, but Charlie turned his face away, closing his eyes, tired of it all.
They landed somewhere close to Neopia Central, in an open field. The Space Faerie set them both down, and Charlie immediately flopped onto the grass, his shoulders sagging.
"I'm sorry, Charlie," said Mhewsie, sniffing as tears filled her eyes. "I thought I could help you..."
"You've been a good friend, Mhewsie," Charlie answered. He meant it, but the disappointment clouding his heart was thick and unpleasant.
"Do not fear, little ones," said the Space Faerie, raising each of their chins in turn. "You will have your happiness. I have seen your determination, your courage... your friendship. It will not be in vain. I promise you that."
And she turned and shot into the sky, leaving a trail of sparkling blue behind her.
Charlie and Mhewsie looked at each other. They had no idea what the faerie meant. Up in the sky, the Space Faerie was smiling. Because if anyone could track Boochi, she could.
Mhewsie was walking alongside Charlie, tears streaming down her cheeks. Charlie didn't have the energy to comfort her.
"Charlie," she said quietly, through her tears, "I'm sorry we couldn't find Boochi... I wanted to help you."
"You've been a good friend to me, Mhewsie," said Charlie. And he meant every word. He couldn't fight the gloom that filled his heart, but at least he had a friend to share it with. Perhaps sitting under his favourite tree wouldn't be so bad if he shared it with her.
Still, he couldn't hide his sadness. He hadn't realized how much he had wanted to find Boochi. The truth was, being Grey was exhausting and upsetting. He missed his old self. He missed having fun with his owner, enjoying arcade games, making friends, shopping, and... adventures. No matter how big or small they were.
Now, though? He was exhausted. He never wanted another adventure again as long as he lived.
Unknown to him, this adventure was not quite over.
Because a small, plump thing fell out of a tree in front of them. Mhewsie was so startled that her fur stood on end and she gave an alarmed hiss. Charlie was stunned into silence. It couldn't be. His eyes must be deceiving him.
There was a spiralling ray gun pointing at his nose. Behind it, he could make out two large eyes and a beak. Before he could speak, or do anything, a flash of light blinded him, and there was a surge of electricity in his body.
Everything seemed to shrink. His body caved in on itself, churning and changing. His fur became fluffier, like a rug on the hearth. His mood lifted, and he felt he could collapse into a fit of giggles. Amazed, he looked down at his paws.
Tiny. Unbelievably tiny.
Mhewsie was screaming, leaping up and down in front of him. There were still tears streaming down her face, but she was laughing and babbling incoherently.
Boochi, who seconds ago had pointed his ray gun at Charlie, had vanished into thin air.
Charlie hugged Mhewsie, delighted, as the Space Faerie beamed into existence beside them, a sparkling trail behind her, as usual.
"I told you," said the faerie, "I told you that your happiness would come back."
"You found him, didn't you? Thank you so much," cried Charlie, through a burst of laughter. "I can't believe it!"
"How did you do it?" cried Mhewsie, bouncing excitedly in Charlie's embrace. "How did you find him? How did you get him to zap Charlie?"
The Space Faerie winked. And there was something more behind that expression. Like she knew something, or was part of something, that they would never know about... "Let's just say nobody can resist a little bit of faerie dust..."