Of Menaces, Hopes and Icky Space Food: Part Two
Art by ssjelitegirl
Tim, who'd been listening with fascination, had scaled the maze of corridors on autopilot, keycarded himself and the gang of Meepits through three doors, and heading towards large double doors at that point. Upon the talk about food, he stopped.
"What should I tell the guards?"
"You have guards at the mess hall?" Bloody Mary asked incredulously.
"Well, of course, otherwise someone might come and poison the food. That's why everyone must identify themselves," Tim explained, puffing up a bit with pride that he knew something his multi-mentor didn't. "But you don't look like you have cards, or even one between you."
"Do petpets really need cards?" Justice asked just as incredulously.
Tim paused to think. "Uh, yeah, of course they don't. Didn't think of that."
"I vote that the next one we find should be a bit brighter," said Joe the Chef from the bottom of the bucket-pile. The bucket echoed with tiny agreements.
"The problem here is-" Justice began, and fell quiet as a new face came into view. It was the face of a Tonu, it was a big and very no-nonsense sort of face, and it was very far up, because its owner was enormous.
"Bringing your own meal now, kid?" he rumbled, and chuckled at his own joke. The Meepits sunk lower towards the bucket's bottom. People who are a) big and b) laugh at their own jokes are best left as alone as possible.
"That'd be a nice change in the grub," Tim said. The guard chuckled again.
"Daddy send those for you to help with the scrubbing? Do they sing and sew clothes as well?"
"Actually," said the Usul, expertly sliding past the guard and through the door, "I was planning to teach them to play ball and charge tickets to see. If you're nice, I might admit you too."
"This I gotta see," said the guard, now a bit more amiably, the door slid shut and they were in the mess hall.
Justice clambered to the top again and gave Bloody Mary a Look that the latter tried and failed to ignore.
"You forgot again," she said bluntly.
"Did not," Bloody Mary parried unconvincingly, "it was a test of fortitude. Which Tim here passed well, I should add. Good going, kid."
Meepits were expensive. It was easy to forget when your cost was an arbitrary idea made up by someone else and you couldn't use that in any way (they'd tried the old "sell a Meepit from the gang and break him out later" trick but the breaking out part turned out to be too difficult to bother. Bloody Mary eventually resolved that he never wanted to see another stupid cage in a stupid safety deposit box full of stupid rotting omelettes and plot keychains again and they'd gone back to the old ways).
But they did walk their little vagabond ways as sought-after markers of prestige and took trouble to make sure that their "bite a lot" reputation stayed above their "something to brag with" reputation. And now the kid they'd latched onto had walked into a crowded hall carrying a bucket full of Meepits.
People turned. People looked. People sniffed a bit and turned back to their food.
Tim went to the counter, glowering a bit, and ordered a trayful of stuff with names like Galactic Mash and Orbital Blaster Berries. As far as the Meepits were concerned, they would've been more aptly named Yellowish Goo and Squiggly Purple Goo.
"So," said Justice, climbing out onto the table once the Usul had sat down. "What's the kid of an extremely rich mogul of some sort doing washing floors in the space station?"
Tim's face clouded over. "So you do know me."
Justice pondered pulling another Sage Piece of Wisdom, but then figured that actual wisdom would be nicer to the kid. "You just walked into the mess hall carrying a bucket of very expensive petpets. People didn't say anything, except for the guard who cracked a bad joke about you dad. It's not really difficult connections to make."
Tim shoveled space-food of dubious foodness in his mouth with a heavily sulky look, taking his time before responding, "He's an advisor in Brightvale, okay? Big political genius, the king's pillar of support, took to the field at an early age, yada yada. You might've heard of him."
"We might've stolen food from that castle once," Bloody Mary said, thoughtfully screwing up his face.
"They had those little weenies on toothpicks wrapped in dough," Joe the Chef said helpfully. The Meepits chorused a happy memory of good weenies on toothpicks and resumed their various glum pokings at the plate of goo.
"We're not very politically minded," Justice said. "Gastronomically, sure. Politically-"
"-not much space left over for that after gastronomicals," said Bloody Mary, well aware of the expectations his group placed on him.
"So you're getting pressure from dad to make something of yourself?" Justice pressed gently.
"No," Tim grumbled, "I want to do something with my life without dad stomping all over it." He'd evidently decided that pouring his heart out to his mentor took precedence over sulking and leaned forward on the table. "I mean, right, sure, I have a lame name, but being called "the kid of that advisor" is even lamer. How'd you like to be thought of as someone else's appendix?"
"That would be dark," Santa chirped.
Tim stared pitifully at Bloody Mary. "Look, you're my mentor... s," he added after a pause. "Can you make me a hero? Isn't that why you showed up?"
"Iiiiiii," said the Meepit, realizing a bit too late that this is exactly what they signed up for when they decided to take a sulky teenager on as a host.
"The worth is in you, waiting to be found," Santa said solemnly.
"Yes, that, thank you," Bloody Mary said, relieved.
Tim looked like he was about to protest when the exchange was cut off with someone's nasal voice exclaiming, "Look, daddy sent his little boy some toys to play with!"
"Go jump out an airlock," Tim said gruffly as the Meepits froze on spot and then turned around slowly.
Three lanky Blumaroos were approaching the table, wearing identical jumpsuits and equally identical grins. One was red, another green and the third one blue with a mohawk to top it off. And they all swaggered with the confidence of youngsters whose confidence hasn't yet been tested properly.
Bloody Mary realized just as late that this was also what they signed up for when they decided to take a sulky teenager on as a host.
"Ooh, these toys are expensive," the green Blumaroo said appraisingly as the trio reached the table. "You don't mind sharing, do you?"
Bob Squeaky shot Bloody Mary a heavy scowl, shot a glare at Tim, another at the Blumaroo trio, remained staring at the latter and demanded, "Right, where's the girl?"
The Blumaroos were taken aback.
"What girl?" the red one asked suspiciously.
"This," said Bob Squeaky, giving Bloody Mary another accusing look, "is a bleedin' high school drama is what it is. Lone underdog kid, check. Bullies full of themselves and a lot of hot air, check. Where's the girl? There's always a girl. Captain of the... security team or whatever."
"I think the current captain of the security team is Commander Gormos," Justice said with a thoughtful frown.
"Hey!" said the green Blumaroo, finally realizing that the "full of hot air" part had been an insult.
"Like that ever stopped an angsty teenager or several," Bob Squeaky said drily.
"Hey!" Tim and the blue Blumaroo said in unison. The stocky Meepit turned his focused glare at the latter.
"Do you at least have a creative nickname for him?" he demanded. "Cos I didn't hear one, and you can count your lucky stars that I choose to overlook the thoroughly original brainwave that was 'little boy'. If you're gonna go down that route, at least have the base-level decency to take a stab at 'Tiny Tim' or whatever. No? Well, why do you bother then?"
The Blumaroos, thoroughly confused, opted to slink off.
"And this," said Bob Squeaky to the world at large and especially to several fascinated Neopets at all tables in earshot, "is what's wrong with today's world. Right, kid, let's get the exposition over with. Which one of those three is the captain of the yooyuball team and which important game is coming up?"
"Who were they?" Justice asked, figuring that Sage Female was an easy role to take up for this undertaking.
"The Garoo Elite Junior Squad," Tim said with equal parts baffled and sulky. "They were involved in that takeover plot of Dr Sloth a while back, spying and reconnaissance and intelligence and such, minus the intelligence," he added cattily. "They were pardoned when Sloth lost the war because the new authorities thought that they were just a group of young impressionable teenagers and weren't accountable for the damage they did." He snorted derisively.
"What do you got?" Bloody Mary asked absentmindedly, having finished off most of the goo in the interim.
Tim stared at him in confusion. "What?"
"Sorry, yes, backing up. You're convinced that they're still up to no good and are probably working against the space station as we speak but you're also convinced that adults are useless and if anybody's going to reveal their nefarious plan, it's gonna have to be you so you've been stealthily and subtly and sneakily been spying on them to catch them in the act. What do you got?"
Tim stared at him in dumbstruck awe.
"I take no pride in this deduction," the leader noted grimly.
"Well," the Usul dropped his voice to a conspiring stage-whisper, "just three days ago I caught them loitering in a secluded hallway saying something about 'a new shipment coming in soon'!"
He leaned back with a triumphant look, which faltered a little when the Meepits didn't share his enthusiasm. Instead, they exchanged a number of thoughtful looks.
"Equal shot between actually-on-to-something-who-woulda-guessed and wacky-misunderstanding-because-out-of-context, I would say," said Bob Squeaky the tactician, to tentative nods.
Justice tilted her head. "Did they see you and how did they react?"
"Yes and they stuck my head in a toilet."
The Meepit nodded impatiently. "I figured, but I mean- wait, don't they have those weird vacuum toilets up here?"
"I was sort of oblong for a while, yes," Tim admitted sullenly.
"What I mean is," Justice said patiently, "do you remember how they reacted when they saw you? Think, Tim. Only that very second when they thought they were alone and then noticed you were there."
The Usul fell quiet and knitted his brows. The Meepits, knowing when things were serious, waited in silence and cleaned off the plate.
"Sort of," Tim ventured, "sort of... angry and guilty, and shocked. Bit terrified. Then they all got angry and started up the usual hey-daddy's-kid business."
Looks were exchanged again.
"It could still be nothing," Bob Squeaky said.
"Assuming it is something, do we want our noses in this business?" Bloody Mary asked soberly.
Tim bugged his eyes. "But, but you're my mentor! You're supposed to help me solve this possible treachery!"
"Hey, ain't no such clause."
The Usul looked about ready to cry. "But that's not how it goes! Aren't you all the least bit curious?"
"Sort of, but mostly nope."
"Also sort of, but nope."
There was a longish pause, after which beady eyes turned to Justice, who hadn't yet said anything.
"Let's assume," the female said slowly, "that something is, in fact, brewing. Seeing how we're in a metal box floating high in the sky, I'd say I am, in fact, curious to know some details in case someone wants to take over said metal box with no ways out."
"Happens here on a regular basis anyway," Bloody Mary pointed out. "Wouldn't it be more prudent to just figure out all emergency exits and hop to the nearest as soon as something goes down?"
"There aren't any," said Justice. "Not in the case of a hostile takeover."
Tim nodded along, to everyone's mild surprise. "If any sort of emergency anything happens at the station, the exits get sealed first and foremost, as protocol, to make sure nobody tampers with life support. Emergency exits then operate on the assumption that nobody's trying to stop you from evacuation. The idea is that hostage situations can be negotiated but an entire station exposed to the vacuum would be, uh, messy."
Bloody Mary sighed. "Congrats, Tim. You're about to learn how the stealthy, subtle and sneaky thing is really done."
To be continued...