All in One
The middle aged yellow Lupe smiled to himself. It was field trip day for the Collared Greens. Over the last twenty years, helping young Lupes experience Neopia had gotten easier (if only because he had gotten more experienced). However, he had also learned that surprises were a part of life and things never went as planned. Field trip days were routine and Inc was ready for whatever happened.
~ ~ ~
Neopia Central. Neopia Central was boring. Brandi had been born and raised there. She knew all about it. Though, optimist that she was, she always found something to be happy about.
The orange Aisha was thirteen years old. Her parents now allowed her to travel anywhere in N.C. by herself! To say the least, she was thrilled to pieces at this development. She was also on a field trip with the other CGs. To them, everything was new and exciting.
They were currently at the Rainbow Pool. The other young Lupes had scattered. Adino, at least, was huddled underneath Brandi's umbrella with her. The sky was grey and it was raining intermittently. Ordinarily, Brandi hated rain, associated with fire as she was.
However, Brandi never skipped out on her Uncle Inc or the Collared Greens, especially on field trip days. So, she was enduring the weather. The weather had prevented other 'pets coming out. The Rainbow Pool was mostly deserted. Rain drops rippled the otherwise still, clear water.
"I don't understand the appeal of getting painted, Adino," Brandi said.
"Some Neopets are unhappy with their color. They long for change," Adino said.
"Wanting change I understand. Just never my color. Don't they understand that their color makes them who they are?"
"We both understand that change can be good and bad. Others must find that out for themselves."
A gurgly snort made the two friends turn around. A female mutant Aisha faced them. Drool spilled from her overshot mouth.
"Most 'pets believe that being painted is a milestone. A new beginning. They don't want to live with the stereotype of being 8-bit, baby or Darigan. They want to be accepted and treated like everyone else," the mutant Aisha said with the two mouths on her antennae giving her voice.
Apparently, the stranger's actual mouth wasn't fit for speech. Brandi bristled. How presumptuous of this 'pet! Now, Brandi was mostly respectful, especially to those older than herself. She was all for learning from others but not from a stranger!
Brandi took a step forward, leaving the shelter of the umbrella. "Well I say that those 'pets are cowards. They're running away from adversity and bowing to peer pressure."
The stranger's one eye glowed pink. "Don't judge others unless you've been in their position. You were born orange, a normal color with no labels given to it. You've no idea what it's like to be scorned!"
"How do you know I don't? You don't know anything about me! Not every problem is caused by a paint brush!"
More may have been said but a call made Brandi and Adino turn. The silver Lupe cast his gaze over Brandi for a moment. He knew that she could get excited easily. That didn't bother him. What bothered him was that his best friend seemed far more volatile recently and he didn't understand why, which was odd, for Brandi was as transparent was the paint brush color.
The two friends saw Inc approaching them, a look of mild concern on his face.
"Is everything alright? I heard yelling," Inc said, pausing as he reached the Rainbow Pool, keeping it between the young 'pets and himself.
"Oh, yes, Uncle Inc," Brandi said lightly with an easy smile and reassuring nod.
The older Lupe's yellow eyes flashed. He sensed a falsehood but wouldn't push the issue... for now. He flicked his ears and turned away, leaving Brandi and Adino alone. Brandi whirled back around and saw no one. Where had that infuriating mutant Aisha gone?
Brandi let out a frustrated cry, cutting it short, not wanting to draw her uncle back. She flashed heated blue eyes to Adino and he looked steadily back. Slowly, her anger faded and she reigned it in.
"Adino, I-," Brandi began, before cutting herself off.
Brandi looked away and began to walk, looking miserable. Adino kept pace with her easily. Abacuc, Brandi's Nedler, was perched on her shoulder. He hated rain just as she did but they did everything together. Like Adino, he was puzzled as to why Brandi had lost control like she had.
Unlike the silver Lupe, the Nedler knew how to make the orange Aisha feel better. Using his tentacles, he tugged lightly on Brandi's short ear. Brandi couldn't help but smile and rubbed Abacuc's ears.
"Let's get out of this rain," Brandi said, heading for the Auction House.
Even with the wet weather, there were still plenty of 'pets inside the massive building. The noise could be almost deafening at times. Brandi found all of the activity soothing, even bidding good-naturedly on a few auctions (though she won none). Knowing that Adino did not enjoy their current environment, Brandi did not stay overly long. Brandi was leading the way when she thought she caught a glimpse of the mutant Aisha.
A second look revealed not a mutant but biscuit Aisha. Brandi frowned, shook her head slowly and then changed course. Adino had followed his friend's gaze. He had not seen what she had but only gave a patient sigh and followed. They approached the auction that the biscuit Aisha was watching with interested pink eyes.
It was a stamp. Brandi rolled her eyes and grinned at Adino.
"Why would anyone pay millions of Neopoints for a sticker?" Brandi said in a low voice to Adino, mindful of nearby bidders.
The silver Lupe smiled at his friend. He noticed when the biscuit Aisha maneuvered herself next to Brandi.
"I believe we got off on the wrong foot before," the biscuit Aisha said to Brandi.
Brandi was clearly confused. "Well, I don't know you. So, how could we have gotten off on the wrong foot?"
"How could you have forgotten our... disagreement so easily?"
Brandi took a step back, bumping into Adino. She studied the biscuit Aisha closely. Looking only at the shape of her face, Brandi felt like she may have seen her before. After another moment, she recognized the pink gaze (except that now two eyes looked back at her).
"You were the mutant Aisha I argued with not even a half hour ago! You got painted biscuit," Brandi said.
"Yes, I'm pleased that you at last recognize me."
"So, do you like your new color better than your old one?"
"It suits me, for now."
"Have you been following Adino and me?"
"No, I just get bored easily."
"I can understand that!"
The two Aishas smiled at each other, their past argument forgotten. Adino shifted behind Brandi. She glanced back at him then looked back at the biscuit Aisha.
"Adino and I were just leaving. Would you like to join us?" Brandi asked the other Aisha.
"Depends. Where were you headed?" the biscuit Aisha asked.
"Well, we were going to join up with our packmates."
"Your packmates? Not his?"
"Yes, ours. I'm as much a Collared Green as any Lupe."
The biscuit Aisha shook her head slowly, bemused. She studied Brandi and Adino quietly for a moment.
"Alright, I'll come," the biscuit Aisha said at last.
With that, Brandi led them out, just as more rain began to fall. Four young Lupes huddled under umbrellas near the Rainbow Pool. The youngest of them, an orange Lupe named Juzi, gave a bark of excited greeting as Brandi and Adino approached. Juzi was the newest Lupe to become a CG. He followed his older packmates worse than a shadow and could be overeager at times.
With an amused glance at the young Lupe, Agam looked at Brandi and Adino. "Where did you two get off to?"
"The Auction House," Brandi said with a smile.
"Figures. Noise and crowds draw you like honey to a Buzzer."
"Oh yeah and this is-oh, I never got... your name."
Brandi trailed off with an amazed glance t Adino, who looked just as shocked. In the place of the biscuit Aisha stood a starry Aisha. Now that they knew what to look for, they knew this was the same Aisha but this time, she had blue eyes. Brandi just didn't understand it! How was this possible?
"My name is Flutter. It's nice to meet you all," the starry Aisha introduced herself, stepping between Brandi and Adino to shake hands with the other Collared Greens.
"Flutter. That's an interesting name for a Neopet that can't fly," Juzi observed.
Flutter laughed, "Yes, I have heard that before. Well, I like my name. I'm not going to change it to please someone else."
"You shouldn't. Your personal preferences are all that matter," Brandi put in.
Flutter smiled at Brandi gratefully.
"May I ask why you've come out in this weather," Agam asked.
"Oh, nothing in particular. I'm not put off by weather. Now, I'm curious about you all. You call yourselves the Collared Greens and identify yourselves by wearing green collars. You've included an Aisha into your pack. Do you live in Neopia Central?"
"Yeah, we do. We live with our Alpha Inc-"
"That would be my uncle," Brandi cut in to Agam's explanation.
"Other than Brandi, none of us are related to our Alpha. Some of us have siblings here but not all."
"How many of you are there?" Flutter asked.
"Our numbers vary. Currently, there are nine of us."
"Where are the rest of you?"
"If I know my brother and, unfortunately, I know him all too well, then he would be in the bookstore. He's not crazy about rain. As for the other two, I don't care to know where they are."
Uncomfortable as the others were, they all reacted when Agam mentioned 'the other two' with ruffled fur, gleaming eyes, twitching ears and curled lips. Flutter cast a glance at Brandi with startling blue eyes.
"There is unrest everywhere it seems. May I ask why you all are so against the last of your pack mentioned," Flutter said, arcing one fine brow.
"Abene and Abaddon are not the oldest among us but they are the biggest-," Agam began.
"Baddest-," Juzi said with a shudder.
"Ugliest," Lavender, a purple Lupe, said.
"-pair of Lupes that have ever lived," Agam finished with a firm nod.
"A bit dramatic, don't you think," Flutter said with a snort.
"Hold your judgment until you've actually met them, Flutter," Brandi said, placing her hand on the other Aisha's arm.
"If you say so."
The group of mixed Lupes and Aishas chatted for some time before a few stomachs began to growl.
"Any preference for where we should eat?" Agam asked of the others.
"Galactic Gastronomy," Brandi put in at once.
"No!" more than one Lupe objected quickly.
Brandi flicked one ear. Not one of the CGs enjoyed space food.
"How about hot dogs?" Juzi suggested (by far one of his favorite foods).
No disagreements arose with that suggestion and the group began to head over to Hubert's Hot Dogs. Caught up in talking with Lavender and Sky, Brandi almost forgot that Flutter was with them. Then, they all heard a surprised exclamation from Juzi. They turned to look and saw a spotted Flutter where a starry Flutter had once stood.
"Flutter! How-What-," Agam spluttered.
"I've never come across magic quite like yours," Brandi said thoughtfully.
"I'm certainly not going to tell you how. It is a magic of sorts that I've had for years," Flutter said.
Then that means you weren't born with your power, like I was!"
"So, you could have wings, if you wanted them," Juzi said.
"Yup! I can be any color I want, as long as Aishas can be painted or zapped that color."
"Can't you make up your mind what color you want to be?" Sky asked.
"Nah! Too confining for my taste."
The group got into line at Hubert's. Brandi, Agam and Juzi each got a Bacon and Cheese Hot Dog, Sky and Lavender each got a Chili and Cheese Hot Dog, Adino a BBQ Onion Hot Dog and Flutter a Cheese and Mushroom Hot Dog. They ate their hot dogs seated at a table.
"I'm surprised you don't have more questions for me," Flutter said.
"It's not that we don't have them," Agam said.
"It's just a matter of you answering them," Brandi said.
Flutter looked thoughtfully from Lupe to Aisha and back again. "Well, I don't know any of you all that well. Why should I share so much with you?"
Agam cast a glance outside. Rain fell and the light was fading. "After we finish we have to head on home. Flutter, as long as Alpha Inc doesn't mind, I'm sure you could come over tomorrow."
"Sure. I'd like to meet the other Lupes in your pack."
"There's Alpha Inc! He has Adisa, Abene and Abaddon with him," Juzi said, starting up from the table.
"Best ask him now," Brandi suggested with a nod at Flutter.
The group filed outside and introduced Flutter to Inc.
"You could certainly come tomorrow. As long as you don't mind rowdy young Lupes," Inc said with a smile.
"I can handle them, I'm sure," Flutter said.
"Then we'll see you tomorrow."
The next day dawned clear.
"Since your new friend Flutter is coming to visit and the weather is no longer unpleasant, today shall be a free day for you," Alpha Inc announced after breakfast.
Most of the young Lupes cheered. The older yellow Lupe left them to enjoy their free day.
"This Flutter is no friend of mine," Abene growled.
"She doesn't have to be your friend then," Brandi snapped.
"She wants to get to know all of us. It's why she's coming today," Agam said.
They were waiting in the front yard and saw a gold Flutter coming to meet them. With the sun shining, they had to squint at times when the light hit her. Seeing that they all stared at her, Flutter beamed at them (blinding them all some more with a painfully white smile).
"So, what are we going to do today," Flutter asked.
"What do you normally like to do?" Lavender asked.
"Oh, whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes influenced by my color of the moment."
"How about a game of soccer then," Agam suggested.
"We can't play Yooyuball anymore, thanks to Brandi," Sky said with a sigh.
"Really? What happened?" Flutter asked.
As the game began they kept up a stream of chatter. The Collared Greens were open with the newcomer. Taking a break from their game, they sprawled out in the grass.
"Flutter, we're all born a color. I understand some 'pets are painted or zapped but what about you? What was your original color?" Juzi asked, sitting up, arms draped lightly over his drawn up knees.
Flutter seemed startled by the question. She looked from one of the group to another. Then, she seemed to come to a decision. She rose to her feet and took a step back. Then, she began to change.
The end result was shocking. It was no one color that any of them had ever seen.
"Flutter, you were born this way?" Agam asked.
The Aisha nodded, "Yes. No one knew what to make of me. Others treated me as an outcast. 'What are you?' they would say. I never had an answer. My power allows me to blend in as I will it."
"Yours must be a hard life."
The CGs rose to their feet as their alpha approached. They were all startled by his arrival.
"I don't know what you mean, Inc," Flutter stammered.
"Oh, I believe you do. We all need roots. For a season we may not settle but then that season ends. I was lucky to find my place at last. It's not easy."
"That being the case, for the past two decades, I have brought young Lupes into my care, hoping to smooth the way for them, as others once did for me. Yet, where is your support? You power makes it difficult to share with others. No friends, no family, no home. No one who fully understands what it means to be Flutter."
As the yellow Lupe spoke, Flutter's ears drooped. It seemed that all Inc said was true. The CGs listened in silence. This was between their alpha and new friend.
"Today, I hope that has changed. You can always come here if you ever need or want to," Inc said.
The Aisha looked up, eyes wide. "I-Thank you. Your offer means a lot to me. I do like it here. You've all accepted me for me, not for any of the colors that I've been or my power."
"Then that's settled."
"Welcome to the CGs, Flutter!"
At Inc's final words, the young Lupes and one Aisha rose to their feet and clambered around their new packmate, no matter what color she chose. They didn't want to control her. They didn't care that she was different from them in more ways than one. For the Collared Greens, none of that mattered. The only thing that did was that Flutter could be herself.
~ ~ ~
Inc ran a hand through his still thick hair. He had given refuge to a 'pet that needed it. He did not regret the decision. Flutter was good and while she hardly needed guidance like the young Lupes did, there was much that could be gained from them sharing company. He opened his journal and began to write.