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Needed Adventure: Part Eight


by tdyans

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Each hour in that place seemed agonizingly endless to Enzo. The cramped cage, the buzzing fluorescent lights, the cries.... Most of all the cries-- the terrified cries, the begging whimpers, the angry snarls of the other pets-- and the ignoring of them all by the two men as they strapped the pets down and zapped them over and over. Enzo himself had not been removed from his cage for one of these sessions yet, but instead of relief this filled him only with a sense of hopeless anxiety. The longer that he found himself in that room, the more his heart ached for the other pets and the greater he flinched when he heard that sickening crackling noise of the ray being fired until he felt he couldn't stand it any more. And yet, time went on, and so did the experiments. The hours turned into days, and days into weeks, and Enzo realized suddenly one day that he had lost count of how long he'd been there.

     He realized just as suddenly that he had ceased to care. He lay listlessly on the floor of his cage through most of his days, hardly moving except to wince at the horrible sounds that echoed around the room each day, hardly touching the food that the men slid into his cage each night, hardly making any effort to answer Whooter or Jonas or Cambry when they spoke to him. He grew thin, and his fur began to dull. He wished nothing more than to be able to sleep through it all but seemed never able to fulfill this desire.

     Even ever-meticulous Whooter had lost count of how many days they had spent together in that cage. It wasn't the cramped space or the bright lights or even the torturous experiments that bothered him most; though he was not without compassion for the other Neopets, it was not their condition that drove him over the edge, but Enzo's.

     It was seeing his friend-- the pup who he'd known from his first day on Neopia, who'd always been full of life and energy and determination-- seem to suddenly age now, to grow weary and despondent... to give up. This drove Whooter to distraction.

     And things only got worse the day that they heard the female scientist announce to her two underlings that they were ready to move into the final stage of testing on the color-safe ray. Whatever small spark of hope had remained in Enzo up until that point flickered and died then. The next day he would be the one taken from his cage and desperate to go back to it, as hated as it was. He would be the one strapped down. He would be the one whose cries for mercy would go altogether ignored by the two unfeeling men. And no longer would he be the one flinching as someone else was hit by that dreaded ray. That someone else would be him this time. And there was nothing that he could do about it.

     "Come now, Enzo," Whooter coaxed. "You've got to eat."

     He was answered only with a sigh.

     "At least have some water, then. You can't go on without water."

     "Later," Enzo mumbled.

     Whooter tapped his claws together and shuffled from foot to foot, gazing worriedly at the Gelert, who lay limp on the floor of the cage.

     Then, another voice spoke quietly through the darkness. "Enzo, please."

     Whooter looked up to see Cambry looking through the wire, her forehead creased with concern. He felt sure that had she been a whoot, or he a Gelert, their faces would have been near mirror images of each other.

     Enzo's eyes slid upward for a moment to meet hers. And then he grunted and lifted up off the floor. Whooter and Cambry's faces both broke into relieved smiles, until Enzo simply turned away from both of them and laid back down with another sigh.

     It was then that something in Whooter snapped.

     "That's quite enough, now!" He hopped onto Enzo's head and dug his tiny claws into the black fur.

     "Ow!" Enzo jumped to his feet, sending Whooter tumbling to the floor. He stared at the petpet for a moment in disbelief. "What's the matter with you, you little--?"

     "What's the matter with me?" Whooter chuffed, pacing back and forth across the small expanse of the cage. "You're what's the matter, Enzo! You and your moping about, feeling sorry for yourself--"

     "Hey, I--"

     "Let me finish!" the whoot demanded with such force that Enzo found himself dumbfounded. "You, Enzo-- you who wanted to have some grand adventure, to prove yourself some great hero. And yet as soon as you come up against the least bit of a challenge, you just... give up!"

     Enzo found his voice again at that, and with more emotion than he had shown in quite some time. "Now hold on just a minute! 'The least bit of a challenge'? Whooter, have you looked around lately? What do you expect me to do-- eat through steel, or maybe dig through it, huh?"

     "Your father would have come up with something!"

     Enzo opened his mouth to shoot back a response, but none came forth. He shut it again, and Whooter watched a cascade of different expressions flow over the Gelert's face in a matter of moments-- anger, hurt, denial, shame, and then... defeat. "You're right," he said softly, hanging his head, "and I'm nothing like him."

     Whooter sighed. This was not the response that he had hoped to bring about. "Now, that's just not true, Enzo. You are every bit your father's son, and you'll manage to prove it if you'll just stop feeling sorry for yourself and for goodness' sake, don't give up!"

     Enzo sighed, and the whoot continued. "Look, you helped Orla and Zinneus escape, didn't you?"

     Another sigh. "Yes... and then got myself caught again right away."

     Whooter gritted his beak. "Look, that's not the point! You pulled that off, whether it was a short-lived victory or not, and you can do this, too, if you'll just put your mind to it. Think!"

     "I broke out of Jason's house by stealing the key from him," Enzo said. "I doubt I'd be able to do the same with any of these humans, not that I'd even have the chance. They're not exactly taking me for daily walks like Jason did."

     "No, but they are taking you out tomorrow."

     "That doesn't change the fact that there's no way they'd let me get a hold of one of their keys, and there's no other way to--" He stopped suddenly, his eyes widening.

     "Enzo, what is it?"

     Enzo spun around, the hopelessness that had covered him like a shroud all day suddenly and unexpectedly replaced by excitement. "Whooter, I've got it! There is another way!"

     Whooter flapped his wings, bumping his head against the low metal ceiling of the cage and offering an uncharacteristic whoop of joy. He didn't know what Enzo's plan was and at that moment didn't much care; it was the unbridled enthusiasm on the Gelert's face that excited him. He felt as if he was seeing the real Enzo for the first time in ages, and he realized only now how very much he had missed him. "Well," he said more calmly, settling back to the ground and smoothing down his feathers, trying to compose himself, "what is it?"

     "Aye, lad, come on now. Out with it, and quick!"

     Enzo's head swung toward Jonas's seemingly-empty cage, then back the other direction to look at Cambry. He had nearly forgotten that the two of them were there as well, listening to everything. But of course that was perfect. He grinned. "Listen closely, you two. I'm going to need you to be able to repeat this after I'm done...."

     For several minutes, the smothering silence that usually hung over the laboratory at night was broken only by the whispers of three pets and a whoot-- hardly enough to make a hairline crack in the quiet. But then, suddenly, the whispers began to radiate outward, spreading from one cage to the next to the next, as Enzo's plan was shared and passed from pet to pet. Slowly, the noise grew until the whole room was filled with whispers, and more than that with excited-- with hopeful-- whispers, and though the words changed bit by bit as they were passed along, one phrase remained intact and echoed around the room more than all the others, shattering the silence once and for all: "We're getting out. We're all getting out."

     ***

     The two men walked into the lab early the next morning, still yawning and stretching. A few more minutes in bed might have been nice, but if the boss got there before they did, they knew there'd be trouble, and they took enough abuse from her as it was.

     The shorter and sturdier of the two went to wheel in the color-safe ray, while the taller and lankier checked the clipboard that hung on the wall. "First subject for final stage testing, number 1026," he read off, then turned to the wall of cages. "Ah yes," he said cheerfully, "1026. I bet you were starting to wonder if we'd ever get around to you, eh?" He headed toward cage number 1026, peering through the mesh wire at the shadow Gelert inside.

     Though the memory of the Gelert snapping at him when he was first brought in and the idea of getting a bit of revenge now, had initially delighted him, as he gave the matter a bit more thought, his demeanor darkened. Before the Neopet could be taught a lesson, he'd have to be taken out of that cage, to the platform in front of the ray, and strapped down. And if he acted like he had on his first day, there was little chance of avoiding really being bitten this time.

     So it was with great caution that he pushed the button to make the cage door swing open, expecting all the while for the Gelert to leap out and attack him. He was surprised when, not only was he not attacked, but not a sound or movement came from the cage at all. Hesitantly, he leaned in closer, trying to distinguish the dark form from the shadows of the cage. The Gelert lay perfectly still, his eyes closed. Though it wasn't unusual for the Neopets in the lab to sleep through much of the day, it was unusual for them to sleep through their cages being opened. An opening cage door meant either time for dinner or time to be experimented on, and both were great motivators for waking up.

     "Hey, what's taking so long?" the other man called out. "You get the easy job and still can't do it right." He crossed the room in a huff and came up beside the taller man. "What in the world are you gawking at?"

     The taller man turned to him and was about to shush him when he suddenly realized that it wasn't necessary. Even the loud grousing hadn't awoken the Gelert.

     The shorter man rose up on his toes to try to get a better look into the cage. "What've you done now, gone and killed him?"

     "I didn't do anything! He was like this when I opened the door." He held his palm in front of the Gelert's nose, feeling warm air blow gently against it. "Anyway, he is breathing. He just won't wake up."

     "Well, it doesn't much matter, does it? We're testing this ray to see if it changes his color, not if it keeps him awake. Anyway, that's that one that tried to bite you before, isn't it? I'd say we lucked out. No sense looking a gift Uni in the mouth."

     The taller man nodded slowly. His co-worker was right, of course. He'd best take advantage of this good luck while it lasted. He reached into the cage, picking the Gelert up carefully, still half-expecting him to wake with a snarl. But still the Neopet did not move, and with growing confidence, the man walked over and set him down on the platform, where the ray had already been set up and aimed. He reached over for one of the straps that hung from the sides of the platform.

     "What are you doing?"

     "What does it look like I'm doing?" he said, annoyance creeping into his voice. "What I always do, of course!"

     "Well, you don't need to do it this time, do you? There's no sense in strapping down a pet who's not even awake."

     He looked down, hesitating. "Well...."

     "Come on," the shorter man said, moving toward the machine's controls. "Get out of the way and let's get this over with. With this one having been so easy, maybe we'll be able to finish the day's assignments early-- if you'll hurry up, that is."

     The taller man dropped the strap and moved around to stand by his co-worker's side.

     Neither of them noticed the strange, expectant silence of the other Neopets... nor the small smile that crept across the Gelert's muzzle as they took their final aim....

     ***

     Enzo tensed as he heard the horrible mechanical buzzing that meant the ray had been turned on and was warming up. Lying still while they opened his cage and carried him over had been easy enough; this would be the real test. He struggled with the instinct that told him to leap up and run away now. He had to wait, or the plan wouldn't work, and he only had one chance at this. He struggled even to keep himself from opening his eyes; if one of the men saw, the game would be over. He had to go by sound, and the sounds of the ray were familiar enough; he just had to hope that this one was the same in that regard as all of the others. He suppressed a shudder at the thought of what could happen if it was not, or if he timed this wrong. Only one chance, he reminded himself again. For me, and for everyone.

     The buzzing grew, crackling with electricity. It sounded almost deafening in Enzo's ears, but he knew it wasn't time yet-- not just yet. He thought he could see even through his eyelids the unnatural glow that was building at the end of the ray, the power that was collecting there, ready to leap forth and strike him at any moment. Not yet, not yet, he chanted silently. Almost, but not y--

     ZZZZZ--

     Enzo leapt from the platform before he could even open his eyes.

     --AAAAPPP!

     The bolt of electricity struck the podium, missing him only by a hair's breadth. He spun around, heart racing and paws sliding against the smooth floor, to see the platform burst into flames where the ray had struck it.

     The two scientists stood, staring over the bulk of the ray, gaping at the Gelert and the fire. It seemed to take them a few moments to shake themselves out of their stupor and actually speak.

     The taller man shook his head in bewilderment. "What in the--"

     The shorter man collected himself more quickly. "She's gonna kill us," he almost shouted. "Hurry up and get the fire extinguisher!"

     Both men went running for the door, only to crash into their boss. She somehow managed to stay on her feet while the two of them went crashing back to the floor. She glared at them for a moment, then lifted her gaze upward to see the fire that engulfed the platform. Her frown deepened.

     "What have I told you two blundering-- gah!" She threw her arms up. "Just get up off of the ground and go get the fire extinguisher... NOW!"

     The two men scrambled to their feet, falling against each other and muttering. They charged around her, only to stop short abruptly. She gritted her teeth. "What is it now?" She spun around and came face to face with Enzo, who stood barring the way, teeth bared and hackles raised.

     The two men were backing away fearfully. She merely looked annoyed. "Move out of the way now, little pet. We need to put this fire out."

     Enzo growled. "No, we're all staying right here until that fire sets off the alarm. And if you'd like to argue with me, you'll find that 'little pets' have big teeth."

     She scowled at him, still looking more disgusted than frightened. But she made no challenge, nonetheless. Instead, she turned calmly to the two men. "Put the fire out. Little pet can't guard both the door and the fire." She sneered at the Gelert.

     "Er," said the tall man, "how?"

     "Do I have to figure everything out for you? Use your coats to smother it or something!"

     Looking cowed, the two men walked obediently toward the growing fire, flinching at the heat that it was throwing out. They took off their coats, shook them out flat, and brought them down over the fire-- which swallowed them up, simply shooting the flames even higher with the added fuel, so that they caught onto the ceiling and began to spread there. The men leapt back from the burst of heat and smoke.

     Enzo was about to laugh when he was cut off by the sound of an alarm. And every cage in the room swung slowly open....

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Needed Adventure: Part One
» Needed Adventure: Part Two
» Needed Adventure: Part Three
» Needed Adventure: Part Four
» Needed Adventure: Part Five
» Needed Adventure: Part Six
» Needed Adventure: Part Seven
» Needed Adventure: Part Nine



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