The Lonely Stranger: Part Six
Trixaf smiled back at me, though it was in a condescending way. "Yes, hello, Red: hero of Virtupets, ally and friend to justice and the resistance!"
"I'm not a hero," I muttered.
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? That's not true. You were a hero to Ifflarb. You were a hero to all of Freedom. He even went as far as to declare you his successor! You were his favourite, everyone knew! It was no secret what his last wishes were!" She giggled. "Oh right, you disappeared."
"You're delusional," I hissed.
If there was one thing Trixaf never knew how to do it was shut up. She really should've learned, because one day it was going to get her slapped in the face, most likely by me.
Trixaf stood up, her royal-esque robes flowing down as she did. "Tell me, Red... or is it C.K. now?"
"I don't want the likes of you calling me anything."
She giggled again, walking up to me, gazing up with eyes that seemed almost innocent and childish. Only I could see that they were tainted with spite. "Alrighty then, no need to get feisty! Do tell me, what was it like to have the last thing he heard from you be yet again another rejection? How could you deny him his wishes, after all he had done for you?"
Linear's chair clattered to the ground. "Leave, C.K.! Leave now! Don't let her get to you!"
His words fell on deaf ears. The anger and resentment of that last day I saw my friend finally got to me, rising up in my stomach and clenching my fists so tightly that my nails dug into my palms. That anger wrapped its hand around my throat, forcing the words in me cut short. That anger glued my feet to the ground. It was the anger, the desperate need for closure that held me there seething down at the little blue Grundo girl. And it was clearly her obsession with Ifflarb and her lack of sanity that kept her there before me, smirking up as if I wasn't something to be afraid of.
She should've been afraid of me though. I think the fact that she wasn't scared me the most. I wasn't used to people not being disgusted or afraid of me. It always struck me as odd; left me speechless. The same thing happened every time Asheton smiled at me, or laughed, or threw one of his philosophies at me.
"Why don't you tell them all what happened, dear friend?" Trixaf sneered. "I'm quite curious myself as to where you went, and why."
It was obvious why. I had never wanted a part in any of Ifflarb's shenanigans. I had told him that bad things happened when I was around. And lookie here, they did.
Standing there in the marketplace with my ex-best friend was... to put it lightly, awkward. I was frozen. The last time we had talked it was four years ago, and had ended in a screaming match.
We spoke simultaneously, words gushing out.
"I'm... no, you first..."
Neither of us knew where to start. What had even happened? Had we really been stupid enough to let one fight ruin us? And why couldn't we just pick up where we left off like all the storybook friendships?
Ifflarb smiled weakly. "Missed ya, Red."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't call me that." It lacked any real anger. Ifflarb was the one person who could get away with it.
"Of course," he chuckled. "Do you prefer the Lone-"
I held a hand up to stop him. "I'd prefer to be nameless, as you very well know."
Ifflarb nodded, acknowledging the memory. "What do you think happened to us?"
I didn't answer.
He sighed. "I've come to ask you something. Join us, friend. We're going to attack Sloth's headquarters tomorrow and steal something that will win the war. I know I've asked you time and time before but..." Ifflarb looked up, his red eyes like a child begging for a toy. "...Just this once? For old times' sake?"
Really, I never had any legitimate reason to deny him. But then again, I never had a legitimate reason to agree. I didn't have reasons for anything, because I never got involved. For me, it was just easier not to. It was just easier not to have an opinion. It was easier not to care.
I voiced my next thought. "Why not?"
Ifflarb gaped for a moment, and then jumped into the air. "Yes! Oh you won't regret this, Red, you won't regret it!"
I sighed, taking the lead to Freedom HQ. I shoved my hands in my pockets and roughly muttered, "Don't call me that, idiot."
The next day I stood on the roof of Sloth's headquarters with Ifflarb and Trixaf. We were the main people who had organized this project.
"Now listen..." Trixaf whispered. "Because of my double agent work I have inside intel that in the underground chamber below the building there is a powerful new weapon in the making, the Amph-1-Pod, or Amphipod, as they've named her."
Ifflarb raised an eyebrow. "Her?"
Trixaf nodded. "Yes. The idea was to model the droid off of something harmless looking, that could go around undetected. They chose a young female Kacheek. She hasn't finished being programmed yet, so if we can steal her, we can program the Amph-1-Pod ourselves, with the help of C6, and we'll be unstoppable. I couldn't tell you about this earlier because I was afraid the others would get scared and not want to help." She lifted the grate that covered an opening in the roof, one that led straight down to the second floor. "Red and Ifflarb, your objective in this mission is to head to the chamber, locate the Amphipod, and attach this computer chip to her. It will program her temporarily to do whatever you say." Trixaf handed the chip to me, the expert thief. "Everyone down there will attack the headquarters as to make a distraction, and I will be with Sloth. Can't lose his trust, now can I?"
Ifflarb and I exchanged worried glances. I honestly didn't trust Trixaf, even though she was Ifflarb's best friend next to me. She seemed... different lately. Unsettled. Twitchy.
We didn't know things could go so wrong.
Ifflarb and I only got to the first floor when he was hit by a laser's blast. My friend plummeted, coughing furiously and unable to move.
"Ifflarb!" I cried, falling to my knees. I could hear the soldiers running, getting closer. They were almost here.
"Red..." He winced at the pain in his ribs when he spoke. "Listen to me..."
I nodded helplessly.
"You have to go find the Amphipod..." he said. "....I'll be okay... and even if I'm not... I... I want you to run Freedom from now... from now on..."
The world stopped then and there.
"...Red, I want you to... I want you to do that for me..."
I was frozen in despair. "No, Ifflarb! I won't do it!"
Ifflarb tried to sit up a little, but couldn't. "The others don't understand... you do... it's not about who you are... or where you come from... or how long you've been around... it's about what you do when you're here... and you'll be able to do great things..."
That one statement just then stuck with me, even though I would still deny him. It was one of the many things Ifflarb taught me.
But I knew I couldn't. So I stood up and ran like mad. I ran down the corridors and through the halls. I ran, denying the tears rushing down my cheeks. I ran and ran and ran.
I ran... away.
I didn't finish the mission. And I never visited Freedom again. As far as I know, Ifflarb went missing, and was never found or heard from again.
But as I watched the battle from far away, I trembled. My face was hot against the icy tears. "Ifflarb... don't make me into a hero... don't make me be someone I'm not..."
"You left us," Trixaf smirked. "Don't you feel bad? Don't you want to fulfill his wishes, Red? Don't you even care?!" Her hysterical mocking was driving me insane. "You, and C6, and all the rest of them that left! You're all traitors to Ifflarb! Liars! You make him sick! Don't you wanna apologize, Red? Don't you wanna get on your knees and beg for forgiveness, just like Ifflarb begged you so many times to lead?!"
I could see Trixaf was on the brink of insanity. All that manipulating she used to do to get information out of people must've really messed with her head. She was practically twitching before me.
"I'll give you that chair!" Trixaf laughed hysterically. "I'll let you make him happy! All you have to do is ask! All you have to do is get of your high horse and ask, ahaha!"
"Trixaf stop!" Linear yelled.
I glared. "No, Linear! She's right."
Trixaf was left twitching in utter amazement. "What? I'm... I'm right?"
I nodded. "You're right. Indeed I was a coward."
The shadow Grundo at the table tried to figure out was exactly was going through my mind, but it was all unnecessary.
Trixaf nodded slowly. "Yeah... ehehe... I am right."
I smirked. "And you know... a human taught me that you should never try and run from your past. A human taught me that if you stand up and look someone straight in the eye, you'll realize you aren't afraid of them."
I stepped over to the chair. "That's why I'm taking you up on your offer." With that, I sat down, a feeling of power coursing through me. It was a practically hysterical feeling. It was the kind of power that turned people into dictators. Luckily, I had an incredible authority complex. I hated leaders, even if the leader was myself. I'd be swift. "You." I pointed to a trembling Kacheek. "Fetch me my guards. I'd like to meet them."
The two guards lumbered in moments later. "Yes, Governor, miss?"
I smiled, turning to Linear. "You know Linear, my friend, there's something Ifflarb taught me."
He blinked in confusion. "What was that?"
"It's not about who you are." I flashed my pearly whites at Trixaf. Her gaze was shifty; I could see her mind racing behind those ruby eyes. I could see her try and decipher my moves, but she would fail no matter how hard she tried.
"It's not about where you come from." I glanced at Linear. He was also very confused. All in due time, my friend.
"It's not even about how long you've been around." I smiled my most polite smile yet, turning back to Trixaf. "It's about what you do while you're here. And I'm about to do something very good. I'm about to make Ifflarb proud. Guards!"
"Yes, Governor!" they saluted.
"Take her away! Throw her on the first ship headed far away from Virtupets!"
Trixaf exploded as they dragged her out. "You can't do this! This is mutiny! This is dung! You'll regret this, Red! RED!!!!"
I frowned, answering her with what I had told people so many times before. "That's not my name."
There was silence.
I sighed, turning to Linear. "Well, this place is yours. I'm heading home, one way or another. Like I said, it's not about how long you've been around, it's about what you do while you're here. Don't you think, in the short period of time that I was here, I did something good?"
Linear nodded. "B-but, what about the Station?!"
"You handle it. You be the Governor."
I sighed again, suddenly exhausted. "Something's telling me that you running the Station and Kreludor is what Ifflarb really wanted. Let's not make the mistakes of the past anymore. Let's do something right."
"B-but I can't d-do anything right!"
He was so naïve. "Ifflarb taught you to be humble. Ifflarb taught you to be cautious. Ifflarb taught you all the skills you need to do it. So do it. You'll have the approval of the Lonely Stranger. You'll have a 'hero' behind you, or whatever you people wanna view me as. You can do it, Linear. I know you can."
With another cautious frown, he broke. Linear nodded.
And with that, I left. For real this time.
I'd like to think Ifflarb would be proud.
To be continued...