It Must Be True
As he orbited around the vast Neopian globe beneath him, Sim the blue Grundo gazed down through the window of his monochromatic room with bright eyes and great wonder. Having never once left his home of the Virtupets Space Station, his mind often fluttered with curiosity of what was beyond those metallic walls.
To most Neopians, Virtupets® Orbital Space Station #4 was a unique place to visit for an exciting outer space excursion. With boundless views and the most advanced space technology on board, visitors could immerse themselves in intergalactic recreation for days. But for the small population of permanent residents, growing up on a space station was a fundamentally different experience.
While even the inhabitants of Kreludor were free to roam around the terrain of the moon's surface, the residents of Virtupets remained confined within the walls of the large, mechanized structure they called home. Raised to work behind the scenes in maintaining the day-to-day operations of the orbiting satellite, their interactions with residents of the other Neopian lands were mostly limited to overhearing conversations of visitors throughout the day as they worked. Thus, the residents of the space station essentially felt like they were part of their own world, separate from the rest of the lands they could oversee from above.
Sim, along with his two closest friends Flip and Zena, had an even shallower pool of insight into the rest of Neopia to draw from. Being part of the hangar maintenance crew, their jobs predominately required them to work after the doors to Virtupets were closed and the station was done taking in visitors for the day. Without any interaction with citizens of the other lands, their knowledge of Neopia outside of Virtupets would predominately be based on second-hand stories relayed to them from other workers and whatever news they read in the Neopian Times every week.
Sim was entranced with what he saw down below. He could imagine the pristine beaches of Mystery Island, the five-star underwater cuisine at kelp, and the buzzing streets along the shops of Neopia Central. These were the things he grew up hearing so much about, but since workers on Virtupets couldn't leave without permanently giving up their jobs, he knew he would likely be unable to experience them first hand.
The Grundo gazed up at the clock above his window and sprung into action.
"Uh oh, I'm going to be late!" he exclaimed.
He quickly composed himself and rushed out of his home to find Flip waiting for him just outside his door.
"Did you fall asleep?" the red Gelert asked.
"Sorry, I just got a little distracted," Sim replied.
"Zena's waiting for us on the Recreation Deck by Grundo's Cafe. We'll have to eat quick so we can get to the hangar and start working," Flip said.
"I'm so bored of all this. It's the same exact routine every day," Sim complained. "We get up in the middle of the night, eat our so called breakfast, work until morning, eat our dinner, and then go home and go back to bed just so we can do it again. Every single day! I bet it's not like this down below."
"I know what you mean, but I bet down below there are also lots of folks with no work and nothing to do at all. At least we know what we have to do every day," reasoned Flip, just as the two entered the nearly empty Recreation Deck.
Flip often sympathized with Sim's pipe dreams of leaving Virtupets and exploring the rest of Neopia, but having been raised in such a sheltered structure, he feared whatever was down below may not be as good as what he had. While the two's feelings towards exploration differed somewhat, it was Zena who would constantly butt heads with Sim over talk of Neopia.
The white Aisha sat at a table just outside of Grundo's Cafe reading a newspaper as Sim and Flip made their way to their seats.
"Look here!" she said. "There's been another reported robbery at the National Neopian Bank in Neopia Central. Crime is just getting so bad down there, isn't it?"
Sim rolled his eyes. "You know, there's crime up here too," he remarked.
"Maybe, but it's almost like we read about a new major crime or disaster down below every week, especially recently," replied Zena. "The Defenders must be working around the clock down there! Yet it's been ages since they've had to come up here."
"The stories we hear from others don't make Neopia sound nearly that dangerous," said Sim.
"I'm just saying, we can deal with whatever problems we have ourselves," the Aisha said. "Thanks to the Happiness Mission, Virtupets has got to be the most fair and peaceful place in all of Neopia."
Sim cringed at hearing those words, 'Happiness Mission.' While universally accepted as a necessity among the other residents of Virtupets, Sim could never fully buy into the concept. Boasted as the foundation of Virtupets' balance after a time of great turmoil in the aftermath of Dr. Sloth's quick rise to power and simultaneous downfall, the Happiness Mission took a percentage of Neopoints from all citizens of Virtupets as a mandatory contribution every week to purportedly support the space station's status as an amusement park of sorts for visitors from down below.
In doing so, the local economy could flourish and Virtupets would be able to provide steady work and standard living conditions for its citizens in a stable environment. Sim however, never quite understood what exactly all those Neopoints were being used for.
"I wonder where all of our Neopoints go after we dump them down the contribution bin. I mean are they really doing anything that helpful?" he asked. "I feel like I might as well just be dumping them in the garbage."
"Well, I would think so," Flip responded. "We can't really complain about the way things are up here."
"I just wish we could have the chance to see what else was out there. Some of the stories we've heard—top notch restaurants, stunning sunsets on the beach, wondrous mountains full of snow—it sounds incredible. But instead, we're stuck here, having to work every day," Sim lamented.
Zena gave a sly smile. "Hey, I'm fine with that," she said. "We have a system here and it's important we all do our jobs to keep it working. If it isn't broken, then why try to fix it?" she asked rhetorically.
Sim let out a big sigh as he got up from the table. Deep down, he was ready to leave Virtupets and go on his own adventure, but on the surface there was nothing he could do but report for duty and continue the routine he and his friends had already repeated so many times.
As the trio finished their shift in the early hours of the morning, they headed back to Grundo's Cafe to get something quick to eat before going to bed. As they arrived, there was quite a stir among the other residents. The newest Neopian Times issue had just arrived and had everyone in a panic as they frantically passed copies of the paper from one to another.
"What's going on?" Zena asked.
"Check it out, it says that Altador is going to take over Virtupets!" said a purple Grundo. "They want to try to expand the Altador Cup into outer space and develop a new galactic version of Yooyuball!"
"They can't do that!" shouted Zena.
"The Happiness Mission has put out an emergency bulletin. We are closing the hangar doors to visitors until further notice. It's also being requested that all residents of Virtupets increase their contributions as much as they can and get them in as soon as possible to help prevent the takeover so the space station can remain the same," the purple Grundo informatively instructed.
Zena picked up the Neopian Times and read the article. "It's true! I can't believe this, why does Neopia have to drag us into their chaos?" she asked. "We have to do everything we can, we can't let this happen!" she added. "Let's go now! We need to get every Neopoint we can and give it to the mission!"
The three rushed back to their rooms. Zena and Flip scrambled to fill up bags with every Neopoint they had, piling up their entire life savings as they rummaged through every nook and cranny. Sim on the other hand, couldn't help but feel puzzled by what was happening and decided to take a closer look at the article.
"Altador to Invade Virtupets," the title read.
He then carefully read the name of the author. "Hank L. Frost" Something about that name was peculiar, somehow both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Sim decided to take his suspicions to Flip.
"Something's strange about that Neopian Times article," said Sim.
"What do you mean?" he asked as he tied a large sack of Neopoints closed.
"Isn't it odd that this story pretty much came out of nowhere? Don't you think we would have heard at least something about this beforehand?" the Grundo inquired.
"The Neopian Times is the most reputable source of news. Why would they print a fake story?" Flip rebuffed.
"I'm not sure. Maybe they didn't know, what it was the writer that got it wrong," Sim replied. "Has he written any other articles in the past? There's something about his name..."
The pair searched through their archives of past Neopian Times issues and found various articles written by this "Hank L. Frost" published from the last few weeks. Each one seemed to cover a more serious problem happening in Neopia than the next.
An article of his from three months ago featured a story about the cost of Neohomes becoming too expensive for the general population. There was an article from a month ago about thieves stealing expensive clothing and accessories from Neopians' closets. Three weeks ago he also reported on severe weather causing major problems as well.
As Sim scanned each article, the name began to sink in more and more when finally, it hit him. "Frank Sloth," he whispered. "Hank L. Frost rearranged spells Frank Sloth."
"You don't think he could be behind this?" asked Flip.
"It has to be, it all makes sense. He must be trying to collect Neopoints to help fund his next invasion!" Sim said.
"So the Happiness Mission has just been a scam all along?" Flip deduced.
"He's just been taking our Neopoints little by little, waiting for the chance to make one last big steal," Sim said as he shook his head. "We have to let everyone else know the truth!"
The two rushed to alert Zena, but by the time they reached her room she was gone. They then raced to the supply deck to reach the Happiness Mission contribution bin and alert everyone of the scam.
When they arrived however, it was already too late. Zena walked back from the donation bin with a small stack of empty Neopoint sacks. Beaming with a proud smile on her face, she along with the dozens of other residents that had just done the same thought they had helped save their idyllic home from an unwanted takeover.
Sim stared down the dark hole of the contribution bin where the life savings of all his friends and neighbors had just vanished into, just as Flip began to open his mouth.
"Everyone," the Gelert said aloud, drawing the attention of the small community. "There's something you need to know..."
"We're going to have a party to celebrate all of our dedicated work!" Sim enthusiastically interjected.
Flip looked at Sim in bewilderment before pulling the Grundo off to the side.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
"Look how happy everyone is," Sim replied. "Do you really want to ruin that for them?" He continued, "The damage has already been done. They'll all eventually figure it out for themselves, but for now let them believe what they want to believe."
Flip nodded his head in agreement, but he himself couldn't bare to remain on that space station with the knowledge that his entire life up until then was built around a deceitful con job. He decided to finally leave Virtupets for the first time the following day, hoping Sim would follow.
But instead, Sim chose to stay behind, telling his friend, "I'd like to stay with Zena, at least until she finds out the truth about Dr. Sloth and the Happiness Mission. She'll need a friend when she does." He added, "Hopefully we'll both go and meet you down below, when the time is right."
A few days later, Sim woke up to meet Zena so they could have their late night breakfast before heading to their shift on the hangar. The Aisha sat at their usual table, reading the Neopian Times.
"Can you believe this?" she asked. "There's nothing in here on the Altador takeover plans being terminated. It's like the story never even happened!" she exclaimed.
All Sim could do was smile at his friend as she read her newspaper, invisibly comforted in blissful unawareness.