It was nice to be able to walk into the café on Virtupets Space Station without having some random stranger squeal at the sight of him. Being considered a hero had gotten old. It had been old the second his face was splashed on news feeds from Virtupets to Kreludor and on the Neopian Times headlines down on the planet.
"Gormos, a former commander in Sloth's evil army, is now being recognized as a hero for sparing the lives of Gorix and Cylara, which ultimately led to their bringing down Dr. Sloth with the help of the Space Faerie."
He had thought it would not spread from Kreludor; he was wrong.
In hindsight, the gigantic gold statue should have been a tipoff.
The Kougra had perfected the fine art of scribbling a nonsense squiggle that in no way resembled his actual signature when asked for an autograph. Along the line somewhere, he was pretty sure he had given two different "autographs" to two Neopets who had approached him at the same time. No one asked him to sign anything anymore; he liked to think it was because people had stopped thinking he was a hero, not that they had caught onto the fact that no two 'Commander Gormos autographs' were the same.
He didn't want to give that bumbling bunch of idiots the slightest amount of credit, especially the ones who had insisted that he was a hero in the first place.
He was being considered a hero for being a traitor. More importantly, he was being considered a hero for being a traitor to Dr. Sloth. Did those people think it wise to be Public Enemy #2 (Gormos liked to think that he was still slightly better in his former boss's eyes than the Space Faerie) of a vengeful villain who always managed to claw his way back, even from certain defeat? Just because he didn't particularly like Dr. Sloth did not mean he wanted to actively oppose him, either.
Judging by all the Neopets wandering the Space Station wearing Space Faerie shirts or balloons shaped like Gorix's head, apparently most of Neopia did not mind defying Dr. Sloth. But that was beside the point.
Gormos, personally, did not want to be an enemy of Sloth when the rogue attempted another takeover. At least, he didn't want to be an enemy with only the Space Faerie and the Resistance to call his allies. He had his own ideals and goals, and he did not want to be impeded every step of the way by their demanding that he be a good person and do as they wanted.
Each second of peace that passed was one second closer to Dr. Sloth's next takeover attempt, and Commander Gormos still had not even attempted something to earn him favor – or, more appealingly, to put himself in a situation in which he was in control of his own destiny.
But how would he go about accomplishing such a task? Becoming a lone power in Neopia was not an easy feat; it would require careful, dedicated planning and bold execution. It would require –
"Excuse me, mister," a voice with a childish lisp inquired from somewhere below and behind Gormos's elbow. His shoulders tensed and he turned to face the brat that dared to interrupt his thought process. The speaker was a tiny red Grundo, who squealed when Gormos turned to face him. "I knew it! I knew you were Gormos! You're my hero! My daddy tells me your story every night before I go to bed. I want to be just like you when I grow up!"
"Yeah? You want some advice on how to be like me? Spend most of your life working toward a goal and building up a reputation with your annoyingly self-absorbed boss, and then throw it away at the height of your career by making a stupid mental error, preferably one that injures your boss in the process," the shadow Kougra snapped before he could stop himself, his paw clenching around the disposable coffee cup and breaking it easily.
Gormos got up and stalked away, barely sparing a glance at the shell-shocked, teary-eyed child or the mess of coffee and torn Styrofoam he had left on the table. His anger seemed to radiate off him, as everyone in his path on the way to the hangar moved aside.
Fear and silence, the two reactions he liked best.
After Sloth's downfall, it had turned out to be a good idea that Gormos had put all his money from his paychecks into a bank account instead of blowing it on every new ray gun or shiny trinket that caught his eye. Turns out, he had needed the funds.
The gunship he had captained as commander in Sloth's army had been destroyed along with the rest of the fleet. The ship he had been in when Sloth was defeated had been commandeered by the Resistance for "research" purposes ("We do hope you don't mind... for old times' sake, eh?") when he landed on Kreludor.
In light of this, Gormos had had to use a chunk of his sizable savings (even though Dr. Sloth was an evil mastermind, Gormos found the pay to be fantastic once he earned a high rank – that was one advantage of Sloth having a bunch of Grundo slaves that didn't get wages) to buy himself a personal ship.
He did not do much with it other than bounce between Kreludor, where he had bought a small, functional Neohome that was fairly isolated, and the Virtupets Space Station. Ylana Skyfire had messaged him after the dust had settled with an invitation to join the mercenary company she occasionally worked with, but Gormos had been unable to decide if he wanted to join. After a year had passed, he had assumed the offer was no longer on the table.
He just wasn't sure his stomach could handle it if Queen Fyora or the Space Faerie ever hired him.
Occasionally, he would ferry people between Virtupets and Kreludor, but during these trips he instated a strict 'do not disturb the pilot' policy. That policy included a clause stating that disturbing the pilot would result in doubled rates, and Gormos found that this was highly lucrative and worth the long rides and the minor annoyances.
But for now, taking a leisurely fly out to Kreludor seemed like the best idea. Certainly he would not get bothered by any giddy children or by the odd adults who acted like giddy children around him.
Gormos had spared no expense in getting a top-notch ship. It was quick to start and a breeze to steer. He was out of Virtupets Space Station mere seconds after a light on his dashboard flashed green signifying that he was free of the dock. Setting the coordinates to Kreludor, he overrode his previous command to go fast. He wanted time to think.
It's only a matter of time before Dr. Sloth returns. I need some way to defend myself, preferably without the involvement of those Resistance fools or the Space Faerie. I am sick of being others' servant boy. It's time for the world to see what I can do – to see how much better it would be run my way! But what should I do? It's not like there are books on how to build an army and take over the world. If there were, then they probably got blown up along with Sloth's flagship.
No brilliant ideas wormed their way into the shadow Kougra's head during his entire flight, and he began to develop a newfound, grudging respect for Dr. Sloth's varied attempts at takeovers over the years. And yet, he felt a persistent tickle in the back of his mind. Some brilliant idea was waiting in his subconscious, like the forgotten word on the tip of one's tongue. Unfortunately, his ship's fuel was running low so he would have to stop at Kreludor instead of flying around longer to piece together his thoughts. Hopefully those stupid Grundos would not bother him too much.
Gormos felt something slide into place in his mind. The one constant in all of Sloth's plans was that he had an both an army and a labor force and the cheap, disposable grunts that formed the bulk of both were the Grundos. If Gormos wanted to assemble a mass of Neopets to do his bidding, they seemed like the best starting place.
As he stared at the Grundos wandering in droves around Kreludor, however, he realized this might not be as easy as it had been for his former boss. Back then, they had not known freedom was an option. They had been easy to control because of their general stupidity. Now most of them were tolerably intelligent and it was a pastime on Kreludor to see who could read the most books from the Booktastic Bookstore.
Until he built up a reputation as a legitimate villain and lured darker-souled Neopians out of hiding and into his service, he needed a large military whose collective intelligence could not match his own. That left his options as put fliers around Kreludor and Virtupets, give applicants an IQ test, and hire only the dumb ones, or build a machine that was capable of brainwashing a large number of Neopets into being his mindless servants.
Although building the machine might require a degree of rocket science, making the decision to do so certainly did not.
It would not be an easy feat, however. Gormos was a reasonably intelligent Kougra, but even he had to admit that he had no experience – and no idea where to start – building a brainwashing ray. Turns out the Grundos deciding to get smart and build a bookstore that sold quite a few technical manuals wasn't such a bad thing after all.
"Are you sure this is the one you want?" the orange Grundo shopkeeper asked as he examined the book Gormos presented to him. "I mean, I'm legally obligated to sell it to any paying customer, but... truth be told, I was trying to save it for my friend, Jerry. It's just newly released, you see, and it would give him a bit of a leg-up on the competition for the Booktastic Book Award."
"Yes, I am sure this is the one I want," Gormos replied. He pushed his Neopoints across the counter. "What Jerry doesn't know won't hurt him."
And when my plan works out, there'll be a lot that Jerry doesn't know...
"Well, I suppose," the Grundo said as he slowly pulled the Neopoints toward him. "I'm sure I'll get another one in stock. Maybe I'll just buy it for his birthday or something... to be sure he gets it."
"You do that."
Gormos snatched the book and strode from the store. Ray Gun Structure and Mechanics. What were the odds that a book describing exactly what he needed would be in the bookstore when he went to look? He was beginning to feel pretty positive about his endeavor.
He took the book to his small Neohome and sat on the single chair in the bare living room. It sat before a computer terminal, into which Gormos deftly entered in a request and payment for the maintenance crews at the Kreludor docks to refuel his ship. Upon finishing that errand, he leaned back and cracked open the manual. He could see from just the list of materials needed to construct a ray gun that building one would be as costly as it was complicated.
Complicated he could handle, but he was as susceptible as the next Neopet to the limitations of money. His first order of business after assembling his mindless army would be to collect taxes from them.
But first, he needed a machine to build said army, and for that he needed materials. It was well after nightfall (although who could really tell on Kreludor unless they were looking at a clock?) by the time Gormos finished his first read-through of the book, and he immediately went into a second skimming with a pen in hand, writing down everything the book mentioned that he would need.
His eyes were sore and his stomach was snarling, but at the end of his second read of the book, he had compiled a very nice shopping list of what he would need. The clock on the wall told him that it was 3 a.m. Neopian Standard Time. He could visit shops and scrapyards tomorrow; they weren't likely to be open this late anyway.
Gormos yawned and ambled into the kitchen. He grabbed a chunk of omelette and ate it quickly, not even noticing how it tasted – or what flavor he was even supposed to be tasting. When his stomach was satisfied, Gormos walked back into the other room and fell onto his small, firm bed. He fantasized briefly about how great the world would be once he was in charge after setting his plan into action the next morning, but he was asleep within minutes.
Tomorrow would mark the beginning of a new chapter in Neopian history.
Gormos stood back and admired his handy-work. The ray gun was large and bulky and not at all appealing to the eyes, but as long as it got the job done Gormos did not care about aesthetics. He was surprised how easy it had been to build the device; the hardest part had been programming it, but even that had not been too difficult. The book's authors had included a step-by-step section on how to do so. Gormos would have to thank them for their fine book during his coronation speech.
He had chosen a cleft in the shadow a large rock far away from civilization on Kreludor to begin crafting his device. He wanted to be far enough away that wanderers would not stumble upon him while he was working, but still close enough to lure people to him when he was ready to set his plan into motion. As Gormos gazed at it, he noted that his choice to paint it a dull black had been had been smart; unless someone was looking for a ray gun, they would not notice it until it was too late.
Now, the only thing left to do was test his new creation. He pulled a tiny transmitter that he had bought out of his pocket and typed in a quick, standard distress signal. Hopefully a small task force from Kreludor's law enforcement would come to investigate, and unwittingly walk into his trap. If things got hairy, then Gormos made sure his blaster was armed and ready before crouching the darkness beside his matte black ray.
Seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into a full hour before two Neopets finally poked their heads into the cave. The taller one was a Techo and the shorter one was a Kyrii. Both were dressed in space armor and had weapons, but Gormos concluded that their demeanors suggested space pirate rather than law enforcement.
"I don't like the look o' this, Danny," one said. "Anythin' could be in this cave."
"Quit bein' a baby, Richard. An' keep your voice down," the one named Danny replied. Through their dark helmets, Gormos could not tell which one was which.
The two Neopets fell silent and crept further into the cave. Gormos had put the box emitting the distress signal at the exact spot his ray was aimed; he just hoped it would hit them both.
Danny and Richard stopped when they reached the little cube. One reached down and lifted it up hesitantly, turning it over in his paw.
"I told you I didn't like this," protested Richard. "There's no ship here and it don't look like there's any hurt Neopets either. What if we're walkin' into a trap?"
Gormos hastily reached over and swatted the button to activate his ray while his two victims were still in range. The whitish-blue beam shot out and struck the bandit holding the cube. A bright light enveloped both Neopets. When it dissipated, Gormos saw the two of them standing and looking around.
"Where am I? And who are you?" the voice belonging to Danny asked.
"I don't know. Who are you?" Richard replied in turn.
Gormos stepped out from the shadows, not even bothering to hide his smirk. "You are One, and you are Two," he said pointing at the Tech and Kyrii in turn. "And I am your boss."
"Yeah... One, that does have a ring to it," One replied. "Thanks for reminding me, Boss."
Before Gormos could muster up a proper evil grin, his ears picked up a faint crackling. He turned around in time to see sparks shooting off his ray gun. They preceded a small boom and smoke began pouring out from the seams and from the ray itself.
The Kougra snarled as he mashed on the button, but to no avail. The ray gun was unresponsive. "No! You have got to be kidding me." He turned to glare at his two brainwashed servants, "This is all your fault!" Even if it wasn't, they could do the grunt work for him while he repaired it.
"Is everything okay in here? Kreludan Law Enforcement here," a voice called.
Oh, what now?
Two Grundos – both purple – waddled into the small grotto. They were wearing suits that identified them as law enforcement, as they had said. One of the Grundos was tapping at a device on his wrist. The other's eyes lit up in recognition as he saw Gormos standing beside his would-be minions.
"Oh! Gormos, sir. I see you beat us to the punch. We followed the distress signal here and outside we found a ship filled with stolen goods. These two ruffians must have been the ones responsible for all the robberies that have been reported recently. But you probably already knew that," he explained.
"But, I –" Gormos started to protest, forgetting himself for a moment.
"Boss, what's going on?" Two wondered.
"I told you this was your fault, and now you're going to pay for it!" the Kougra snapped, thinking quickly.
"You're the boss, Boss," One said. "Whatever we did, we're sorry. We won't do it again."
The Grundos smiled approvingly. "Nice touch there, Gormos, making them docile. We were afraid we would come in here and get into a fire fight, but you saved us from that. And I'm sure the citizens who were robbed will be very happy as well when their goods are returned!"
"It was my pleasure," Gormos ground out in a voice that would have been better suited to say 'I would like to wrap my paws around your throat.'
"You go on home. We'll clean up here, you've done enough already."
Gormos sighed and trudged off, defeated and dejected, toward his home. He prayed that somehow, someway, his name could be kept out of this.
Gormos, formerly a commander in Sloth's army but who was famed for being a key part in the downfall of the evil villain, once again emerged as an unexpected hero by thwarting the plans of two thieves who had been terrorizing the airways above Kreludor by intercepting distress signals and looting the compromised ships. Reports indicate that the two bandits had been building some sort of ray gun on Kreludor, but Gormos was able to reprogram it to brainwash the ne'er-do-wells into submitting to arrest without resistance, after which he destroyed it so that no one could find it and misuse it. Gormos declined to make a comment.
Donning his black hooded cloak, Gormos growled as he slammed the newspaper down onto his kitchen table. He could hear the lunatics outside calling for comments and autographs and photographs and requests to go out for coffee. They had been at it for days on end, and even at night. Apparently they did not care if their precious hero was able to get any sleep.
At first, Gormos had thought he could just ignore the crowd and let them disperse on their own. But he had to admit that they were winning the battle of wills. He wanted to be outside his house. He wanted peace and quiet. He wanted to sleep.
Making up his mind, the shadow Kougra snatched his more valuable belongings – for he knew that his house would likely get ransacked after he left it unguarded – and stormed out the door. He kept a stoic face and stared over the heads of the assembled crowd. He heard squeals, most of which sounded like his name, but he did his best to tune it out. Thank goodness most of the assembled Neopets were short Grundos.
Pens and microphones bumped into his chest, but he stalked by with the same blank stare, focusing on his goal: the hangar where he kept his ship.
Thankfully, the dock guard took pity on Gormos and did not permit the majority of the crowd to follow him, citing that they would only disrupt the people who actually had business at the docks. Some of the more aggressive reporters began to bicker with the guard, and in the confusion some managed to sneak in, but not before Gormos had gotten into an elevator car.
Unfortunately, he was not alone.
"Hey! You're Gormos. Good job the other day."
Gormos glanced down and saw a Chia standing next to him. "Thanks," he said stiffly, hoping that this was the end of it.
"So... I was wondering. Are you stopping by the Space Station?" the Chia continued.
"Could I... could I possibly hitch a ride?"
"No," Gormos denied.
"But... but you've given me a ride before," protested the Chia. "I'll pay you, I'll even pay you double what you charged me last time!"
"The hero needs time to reflect on his latest... heroic deed," Gormos roared, pausing only slightly.
The Chia nodded, as if that reaction and explanation made perfect sense and waddled through the open elevator doors. Gormos went aboard his ship, thankfully alone. Several onlookers had gathered and waved as he flew away. The Kougra ground his teeth in frustration.
It's only a matter of time, you blithering fools. Keep thinking I'm a hero, if that's what you want. This entire universe will be under my rule some day, and you will all pay the price for making a mockery of me. Just you wait.