"This is a drill. Please go to the nearest supervised classroom immediately," the pre-recorded voice on the PA system suddenly blared obnoxiously. Cylara jumped and spat out a mouthful of water into the water fountain and down the front of her sweatshirt.
"Oh, great," she muttered. They can probably wait a minute for me. It's just a drill, she thought as she stepped into the bathroom nearby. She grabbed a handful of paper towels and began vigorously rubbing the wet patch on her shirt when she felt her jeans pocket vibrate gently. She pulled out her VirtuCommunicator and read the notification on the screen.
1 New Message: Gorix
We need to pull you out of class. There's something you need to see.
Cylara: But we're under lockdown for a drill!
Gorix: That's a problem... But we still need to get you out of here.
Turn your satellite transmitter on so we can see you.
She turned on the transmitter on the device before responding.
Cylara: Done. All the doors are locked...
Can you unlock the doors remotely without setting off alarms?
Actually, let me try something. Is anyone in the hallway?
Gorix: Coast is clear.
Cylara quietly cracked open the door, glanced each way to check no one was there, then silently snuck across the hall to an empty classroom. She tried the door to find it was unlocked. She walked into the classroom, locking it behind her, and crossed the desk-filled room to another door. It was locked from the inside, and she unlocked it and quietly stepped outside. Cylara leaned against the brick wall and took out her communications wristlet but didn't look down at it. Instead, she pressed a button on the side.
"Send message to Gorix: I'm outside, full stop. Keeping lookout for security, full stop. End," she whispered the command into the microphone, not looking at the screen. The device vibrated as it obeyed. Cylara inched along the wall towards the back end, hoping that staying away from the main gate would allow her to leave unseen. She heard faint footsteps, and she dove behind a dumpster as four security guards in all black walked past. She looked up at the leafy tree next to her, back to the guards oblivious of her presence and climbed the tree as fast as she could. Once Cylara climbed about halfway up, she stayed as close to the trunk as possible while peering between the leaves. She took out her device again.
Cylara: Guards circling this building. In a tree now. I might be able to climb down and make it to the forest by the fence without being noticed. Where are the guards now?
Gorix: Can't see them through the radar. Should be safe since they're circling.
Cylara quickly and quietly climbed down, and ran towards the treeline. She hopped over the tall, chain link fence and continued into the forest.
Gorix: Stay put. Sarah's coming to get you.
A blue Zafara appeared not long after she received the message and waved. Cylara approached her.
"Good afternoon, Sarah."
"Hurry. It won't take long before they notice you're gone."
"Copy that." She sent a quick message to a friend saying that she left for "an emergency work meeting right before the alarms went off," and they walked through the forest to a small, navy blue hovercraft. Gorix greeted them once inside.
"Nice to see you again, Cylara. It's been awhile."
"Nice to see you, too." She smiled. The door closed behind them.
"Why'd you use your handheld? It would have been much easier if you used your wristlet the whole time."
"You know I can't wear the wristlet while I'm at school! The security team went bonkers on me last time I wore it. They only let me have the handheld since it represents the older models that have already been released. I still keep it with me though, just in case. Besides, I left the earpiece in my locker on the station again."
"Ha, alright then."
"Anyway, mind explaining what's going on?" They sat down next to each other and strapped themselves in as the hovercraft slowly rose into the air.
"There's some reason to believe that Sloth is back."
"What? I thought the spell trapping him in the token was permanent!"
"Let me explain. Do you remember how on April Fools' Day Dr. Death and his team pulled the retirement and foster pet prank?"
"Well, a Kreludan Defender Robot was one of the candidates to take over, and he mentioned how the pound pets would be 'new labor for his master's schemes,' or something like that."
"Do you think Sloth didn't think it was a prank? I mean, if he did think it was a prank, the robot probably wouldn't have something so exposing of his potential plans, preprogrammed or otherwise."
"Okay, I'll need to see a copy of the full candidate summary when we get there. Something seems a little off to me about this..."
"I don't know, that's the thing... Oh well. I'll probably figure it out once we get to HQ."
"YOU HAVE AUTHORIZATION TO VOTE. GET VOTING. THERE IS ONLY ONE ACCEPTABLE CANDIDATE: DESIGNATION KRULEDAN DEFENDER ROBOT 3291478. ALL OTHER CANDIDATES WILL BE DESTROYED USING THE LATEST UPGRADES OF VIRTUTECH. THIS UNIT IS FULLY ARMED AND OPERATIONAL. OUR MASTER WILL BE PLEASED WITH THIS ACQUISITION OF NEW LABOR FOR HIS SCHEMES."
Cylara squinted her eyes as she studied the text tinged green by the hologram projection on the wall. She spun around once on the navy swivel chair then leaned forward. She turned the chair slightly again to face Commander Valka, who was standing next to her.
"We've been monitoring space activity as closely as we can, given that Dr. Landelbrot's ship occasionally intercepts our signals given his position and the limits of our satellites."
"How far can something like the token travel in six years?"
She stood up and speed-walked around the room. "Does anyone have a large piece of paper and a pencil?"
Some of the pets laughed.
"What? I'm serious." Her only response was odd looks. "Fine, fine. Do any of the screens have drawing software on it?" A Kacheek walked over to the biggest touch screen, tapped it a few times, then motioned for her to come over. She walked over, grabbed the nearest stylus and began drawing. Commander Valka, Gorix, and a few others crowded around the screen behind her.
"Okay, this is Neopia down here," she drew a semi circle at the bottom edge of the screen. "And here's Kreludor," she drew a smaller circle on the left-hand side. "How far is Kreludor from Neopia?"
"It's 230000 miles."
"Okay," she drew a line between Neopia and Kreludor and wrote the number down next to the line. She then drew an ellipse on the right-hand side and wrote a big V in the middle. Cylara looked at the diagram, then back at them. She couldn't tell what they were thinking from their expressions.
"Don't judge my non-existent art skills. How far is it from the Space Station to Neopia?"
"Five hundred and twenty miles."
"Okay," she drew a line between Neopia and the Space Station and wrote the number down next to the line. Above and slightly to the right of the Space station, she drew another ellipse about the same size and roughly colored it in red.
"That's Sloth's spaceship before it blew up. So, if the token was here-" Cylara pointed to a point closest to them on their right. "-Then which way would the blast have blown it? Considering it's position on the ship, wouldn't have been blown roughly this way?" She drew a horizontal and a vertical line so they met at approximately where Sloth's office was and shaded in the upper-right quadrant. "I'm no physicist, but since Sloth's ship was too far away to be in orbit, then the Space Faerie Token wouldn't be either. However, the Space Faerie token's path would be altered by nearby planets, stars, and other stuff floating around that's big enough to have gravitational pull."
"What are you trying to imply here?"
"That the token has to have landed on a planet with a hospitable climate so that he could escape after all these years of being trapped inside." She walked over to the hologram projection. "Hang on a second. Pull up the picture of the robot."
The picture of the robot from the April Fool's day event was enlarged on the screen. She studied it intently.
"What do you see?" Gorix asked.
"Look at the color of the sky in the background, and what its standing in. It's a crater. Pull up the picture of the robot guarding the vacant mines."
The picture was pulled up. "Whoa!"
"They're identical! Also, the background and terrain are identical, too! That means the April Fool's day event picture was taken on Kreludor, possibly of the same robot!"
"So do you think it could all be a hoax? Someone trying to divert our attention from something else?"
"Maybe, maybe not. At this point it's hard to tell. We should keep an eye out for any other suspicious activity, both in space and on Neopia, but keep a close eye on this as we-"
Several loud bangs interrupted her. Everyone in the room froze and fell silent.
"It's coming from the air vents, probably just outside," Gorix whispered.
Cylara quickly pulled off her sweatshirt and jeans to reveal a tight, dark purple and black belted jumpsuit, with the luminescent green Resistance wristband partially sticking out on one of her wrists. She took the communications wristlet out of her jeans pocket and put it on her other wrist. Gorix grabbed his blaster from an adjacent room and tossed hers to Cylara.
"Gorix, Cylara, take the side entrance. I'll take the front with the others," Commander Valka ordered. They complied and snuck through the hallways.
"By the way, Cylara, where were you during last month's training exercise? You didn't show."
"I was sick for a couple of days and I had a paper due at the end of the week. I can't pass the the training with Sneezles."
"That's not fun. Feeling better?"
"Much better." She paused and heard the banging sound again. "Blaster shots."
"They're trying to break down the door!"
The banging noise grew louder as they approached it. Cylara put her blaster handle between her teeth, jumped up, and hoisted herself up onto the metal support grates above them. "Guard the door. I'll check the vents," she whispered after she set her blaster down. She removed the screws with her claw, and quietly took the metal grate off. After setting the grate down, she picked up her blaster and jumped, using her paws and the rafters around her to pull herself up and squeeze into the air vent. Cylara used her wristlet as a light source, and she kept her blaster aimed in front of her. She climbed in as far as she could with out getting stuck, waited a minute, then shimmied out and landed back on the metal support grates.
"Cylara!" Gorix hissed. The banging sound got louder and louder, and they heard indistinguishable voices as well.
"Got your back," she whispered. She laid down and held her blaster with both of her paws, positioning herself so she had clear shots to the door on her right and the hallway on her left. The security alarms suddenly blared and red lights flashed, tinging the blue walls and floor purple. Gorix turned to her.
"Talk to them or something!" she hissed.
Gorix faced the door, scowling. "What do you want?"
"Let us in!" a muffled voice responded.
"No unauthorized access is allowed! You should know that!"
"You and your pathetic group have no right to be here!"
"Sloth supporters," Cylara spat. "Hey, I thought Sloth Appreciation Day was four months ago!"
"The fight for the rightful master that you heartlessly trapped in that blasted token never ends!"
"Let us in! Let us in!" one of them began to chant. The chant grew louder and louder as more 'pets joined.
Cylara pressed the side of the face of her wristlet. "Send emergency audio message to Commander Valka: S.O.S., requesting immediate backup, intruders are Sloth supporters and armed, end."
The chants turned into cheering and multiple blaster shots were fired at the door. Several welts from the metal in the door weakening from the blasts appeared in an arc pattern.
"Gorix, they're going to break down the door!" She climbed down partially to another metal grate and backed into a crawl space between two metal panels. "Are you wearing any armor?"
"No," he replied. He kept his blaster pointed to the door, his outstretched arms frozen in place. He slowly stepped back. More sharp bangs echoed through the hall, this time less muffled than the previous. The welts now appeared near the edges, near the panel the door slides into when it opens, and near the lock seal. The bangs got louder and more frequent as the minutes passed, the two pets frozen in anticipation.
The thick door wobbled eerily, and it suddenly fell to the ground in front of them with a deafening CLANG! There were about ten pets standing into the doorway, all wearing red and black jumpsuits and holding black blasters. They began firing at them almost immediately, before either of them could tell the Sloth supporters to put their weapons down. Cylara stayed where she was, firing at the assailants as they approached Gorix. He was running and ducking around the room, making sure not to turn his back to them. Cylara ducked, and narrowly missed several red laser shots near her head. Cylara shuffled out of her hiding place, firing rapidly. Several of the intruders were down, lying sprawled on the floor, but the ones still standing were more vicious than ever. She stepped onto the metal grate and jumped down, kicking a pet square in the forehead.
"Cylara!" She heard Gorix yell over the chaos, and instinctively ducked. Several blue blasts sailed over her head. She turned to glance at him to see a red blast delving straight into his left shoulder, knocking him to the ground before he could yell. The sight of him being shot at by Sloth himself flashed before her eyes for an instant.
"No!" she screamed. She whirled around, firing at the pets if necessary, and located a fire extinguisher. She hurled it towards the other pets as hard as she could, and it smashed open, spreading a thick, white fog over them. Cylara turned and dragged Gorix out of the path of the fog and around a corner by his good shoulder. She propped him up against the wall and inspected his injured shoulder. He looked at her wearily, then at his injured shoulder. "Is it bad?"
She carefully tore and separated the burned jumpsuit cloth from the edges of the wound, and he took in a sharp, pained breath and gritted his teeth.
"Sorry." She smiled apologetically. "You'll be fine once we get it cleaned and bandaged up." She wadded up the pieces into a ball and gently pressed the synthetic cloth to the wound. He grimaced again.
She gently placed a paw to the side of his head he hit when he fell. "How's your head?"
"Hurts, but it's fine. I can still think straight, at least."
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Yeah, you don't have a concussion, but it's still pretty bad. The fire extinguisher's wearing off. I need to go out there and deal with them."
"By yourself? No way! There's too many of them."
"I'm no doctor, but if you move around then you'll make your wound worse."
He shot her a look, and she sighed.
"Well, can you stand up and move your good arm okay?"
"Yeah, I think so." He stood up with a little help from her, and tested his good shoulder. "That old trick of yours, huh?" He grinned.
She nodded. "Now let's take these rascals down." She stood next to him with her back against the wall.
"Around the corner on three," she whispered, and he nodded in reply.
"One... Two... Three." Cylara crouched down and they whipped their head and shoulders around the corner with their blasters drawn. They fired at everyone they saw in the area, both of them drawing back for a moment to dodge a blast before firing again when they needed to. Some of the pets were severely scratched by red shards from the fire extinguisher. There were three pets left standing, and they walked closer to the corner Cylara and Gorix shielded themselves behind as best they could. A red blast grazed her right arm, making her yelp in pain. She almost dropped her blaster, and had to jump out from the corner to reach it. She leapt to her feet, and kept her blaster pointed at them. She bit her cheek to distract herself from her burnt arm. They kept her blaster trained on her, then on Gorix as he slowly walked over stood next to her.
"Drop your weapons," Gorix said.
"No, you drop your weapons," one of them, a Krawk, snapped.
"I would listen to them if I were you," a voice said from behind Cylara and Gorix. A Lupe, a Mynci, and two Grundos wearing green Resistance wristbands stood next to them, forming an arc around the Sloth Supporters.
"Don't back down! Remember what we're fighting for!" The Krawk barked at the remaining members of his team. A pet on the floor moaned quietly in pain.
"Sloth's been gone for six years, and he's never coming back." Cylara glared at them.
"The fight never ends!"
"There's nothing left to fight!"
"You're fighting for something that will never happen, no matter how hard you try. We're giving you a choice. Stand down and drop your weapons, or end up like the rest of your team," Gorix added.
One of them dropped his weapon, but the other two didn't flinch, their cool glares on them unwavering. The Resistance Mynci walked over to the surrendering pet, cuffed him, took his weapon and escorted him out of sight.
"You're outnumbered, two to five. Just face it, either way it's over," the Lupe said.
The pink Wocky's finger moved slightly, catching Cylara's eye.
She's gonna fire! Her heart beat rapidly, keeping her eyes focused on the Wocky. Should I wait or should I duck now? She narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth. An idea popped into her head, and she cleared her throat before looking over at Gorix. She discreetly mouthed "false retreat" to him. He nodded, then mouthed the same to the rest of them.
"Come on, hurry up, we haven't got all day," the Wocky complained.
Cylara took a step back and warily lowered her blaster, keeping a finger on the trigger. Everyone else followed her. They took a few steps back towards the corner and Cylara hid behind the wall.
"That's right, keep retreating- hey, back where I can see you!"
She waited a couple of seconds, then whirled around, blaster drawn, and fired at them in rapid succession. A blaster shot hit her in her right side just above her waist as they fired back, but both of them fell. Gorix and the other resistance members shot them a couple of times for good measure.
Cylara's breathing suddenly became shaky, her eyes wide, and she slowly slid to the ground with her back against the wall.
"Cylara!" Gorix rushed to her side, but promptly yelled in pain and gripped his injured shoulder.
"Are you- Ah! Ow ow ow! Are you alright?"
She looked at him silently for a second, dazed, then responded, "I... I don't know. I... I..." Her breathing picked up again irregularly, frightened that her usually collected thoughts were now scattered.
"We need to get you two to the hospital immediately," the Lupe said. Cylara slowly stood up, her head spinning from the pain. The two Grundos put an arm around each of them to support them as they slowly walked to the headquarters so emergency pods could take them to the Space Station hospital.
"I'd like to commend you both for demonstrating such bravery during the emergency," Commander Valka announced two days later. Cylara and Gorix each sat in a chair, still bandaged up but grinning from the recognition. "I was unable to provide more assistance or go help myself as there were more of them by the front entrance, but I'm glad that you were able to keep the situation under control."
"Thank you so much!" they both said.
"I hope that you two will be well enough to go back to work as soon as possible so we can continue working on the theory for locating Sloth's location and next moves. I'll call for Dr. Thindrel as soon as possible so we can begin making the calculations."
"Alright. But what bothers me," Cylara said. "Is that they acted like it hasn't been six years, that Sloth isn't lost in space and that he's still here.
"Maybe they know something we don't," Gorix offered.
The tension between the three of them grew from the realization of the endless possibilities, and the thought that on a planet several million miles away, Sloth could be free from the Space Faerie token and devising pernicious schemes at that very moment.