Just Another Grundo
If you look at Natariul Zykling, you won't see much. He looks pretty much like your average Kreludorian working stiff, with the hard hat and overalls, the whole construction Grundo getup, you know. Not too many that live there now, but business is on the upswing, and the higher-ups are hoping to attract rich folks from Virtupets. Nate has no idea how they can get anyone to live in this dead gray place, least of all the Stationers, but then again he's not the brightest bulb in the box. Working Grundos don't get much of an education. But Nate's something else, though he mightn't know it yet.
It starts out at five pm on Friday, when Nate's shift ends. He's been acting distracted today, nearly dropping a girder, knocking someone in the back end with a drill, that sort of thing. Usually he's on top of the game, but not so much right now. Maybe it's destiny coming up behind him and giving him a hard shove in the right direction, because when he's coming down from the roof of the big coffee shop they're building, he falls clean off the side and twists an ankle. Definitely a bad day.
"I'll give you Monday off," the foreman tells him gruffly. "Get better, y'hear?" Wearily Nate nods and heads for home.
He lives in a rickety apartment complex just south of the boomtown. It's tiny, dirty, and riddled with Zytches. When he unlocks the door, it practically falls off the hinges. Typical. Nate limps over to the pantry and finds himself a vegacapsule or two. They don't satisfy the tongue, but he doesn't work for tongues.
Anyway, he checks his mailbox. "Nope, nothing as usual," he mutters. Lately he's been talking to himself more often. Can't explain why. He's just sick of the emptiness, that nagging feeling that he hasn't done anything, that he'll never make a difference in this world. Keep your head down, don't talk back, get your paycheck at the end of the day. At least if he speaks up, he can hear his own voice.
Nate's jolted out of his gloomy thoughts by a soft tinkling noise. It takes him a few moments to realize that he's getting a letter for the first time in about a year. With the kind of pathetic excitement reserved for lonely pets grabbing at a sliver of variation in their dull lives, he leaps up and scrambles for the letter, magically dropped in the box just moments before.
It's been ages since we last talked. I hope this letter finds you well, though with all that construction it's not likely. There's some interesting information I need to share with you, so meet me outside the Craterdash Grill at six. Be there or be square!
Nate chews his lip, insofar as Grundos have lips. He and Emmett used to be pals in school, but after the whole Snorkle Snout incident things just sort of fell apart. When the dun-colored Ruki landed a post at the top-secret (and absurdly swanky) Virtupets Data Corp., he went off to the bright lights and the big city without looking back. Nate can't say he's too glad to have him back, but it won't hurt to meet up once, will it?
When he gets to the restaurant, Emmett's already there. He's dressed in a rumpled polo, with a suit jacket awkwardly tossed over it, and his black hair's all slicked back in what Nate guesses is the current Station chic. They exchange some uncomfortable greetings before being escorted inside.
"It's on me," Emmett promises as he orders fried Moach plates for them both. They eat quietly for a few minutes. Then Emmett suddenly speaks. "You deserve better."
Nate looks up, startled. "What?"
"I'm serious," he insists. "You could be working at the Station now. The Boss's been putting out calls for high-talent Grundos."
"Sorry, but that's not me," Nate says politely.
"Don't kid. You know you're better than this. Better than this dusty mess of a place. You could go far."
Nate scoffs at this. "Even if you weren't blatantly flattering me, I wouldn't do it to save my life. Look, with what I'm earning I can barely afford the rent. You're asking me to sell everything I own and move to Virtupets - for what?"
Emmett looks around furtively, then leans in. "I could solve that for you."
"The rent. See here, I just got a promotion. The Boss says I can start recruiting the good stuff, and I think you're as good as it gets. I've been cleared to cover all your expenses. Everything. Your bank balance is going to soar higher than the Space Faerie."
Nate narrows his eyes. "Yeah, so what's the catch?"
The Ruki blinks innocently. "Nothing much. One thing, that's it. You need to talk to the foreman."
"Talk to him?"
"Just get him out of the office. A minute or two'll do it. Then nab his Neopoint card. We've got intel on him, and he usually leaves it under the potted tulips by his desk."
Nate frowns. "What exactly do you and your 'Boss' have against the foreman?"
"That's for us to know and you to not know."
Just like a Stationer to be ultra-secretive. "I can barely walk!" Nate snaps, losing his patience. "How am I supposed to steal his point card when my ankle's the size of a Sniddberry?"
"That'll make it easier," Emmett says slyly. "Tell him you need extra bandages. Ask for an ice pack. Do whatever it takes. I don't care if you fall off the roof again, so long as you get the goods."
Nate stares resolutely at his half-eaten pile of Moaches. "I'm not a thief."
"I know you aren't," Emmett replies consolingly. "But you're smart, and beneath suspicion. That's all we need." He stands up abruptly. "Well, it's getting late. I'll meet you here again on Monday. Ta-ta!" With that, he's off so fast Nate barely sees the door swing shut.
By Monday Nate's ankle is feeling a little better, but his heart isn't. One minute he's imagining himself surrounded by heaps of gold and cutting-edge Virtupets tech; the next he remembers what he owes his foreman. Sure, he doesn't know the Zafara all that well, but he likes him. Everyone does. Last week, the foreman was telling everyone how he'd finally saved up enough for a trip to Mystery Island - his first time away from Kreludor in his entire life. Nate doesn't want to be the one to take that away.
Finally, he tells Emmett thank you, but no. As the Ruki storms off, Nate can feel a warm glow pulsating through him. He's not so empty now. He's made a difference.
Later that week, Emmett is standing nervously before a huge swivel chair shrouded in shadow. Its occupant seems displeased.
"Well, how did it go?"
"He said no," Emmett replies, a tremor in his voice. "I did the best I could, sir."
"Shame." The mysterious individual sighs. "That Grundo had real potential. We can always hire another one, though. There're a million of them down there."
"Maybe it would've helped if you'd informed your recruit about that Zafara's arrest some years ago on multiple counts of embezzlement, identity theft, and smuggling."
"He wouldn't have believed it, sir. The foreman's got all of Kreludor wound around his pinkie."
The Boss nods pensively. "Well, the plan proceeds apace. Find another Grundo. They're all the same, anyway. Once the Zafara's behind bars, everything will be in place."
Emmett nods and flees the room. He has no idea what's coming.