KATIPO I: Restart: Part Two
The alien’s house is a castle-like mansion, perched on top of an empty mountain in Shenkuu like the nest of a lone Vullard. It’s got cream-coloured walls and tall, red-framed windows with dozens of horizontal panes jutting through them. It’s about three stories tall with what looks like a garden on the roof — there are some red flowers on vines tossed over the edge of the building, the shade of the petals awkwardly bright against the windowframes. The whole place is very gothic. It’s definitely got the feel of some evil villain's reprieve. A modern-day, spruced-up Castle of Eliv Thade. There are pink poppies in wooden planter boxes lining the path to the house. There’s a wreath of dead branches and fake Beekadoodles hanging on the door. You have the keys, so you let yourself in.
The rooms are huge — tall and wide — and there are honestly more windows than walls. Across from where you stand, there are two arched doorways made of glass that open to the sloping, misty hills outside. Now that you’re inside, you can see that the mansion is actually a semicircular fortress of sorts, framing a large pool and jacuzzi that look out towards the sunset. Through the glass doors, you can see an alien Aisha sunbathing in a poolside plastic beach chair. Her long antennae and bright green ears droop over the back of her chair. She's tightly clenching a can of diet Neocola. She’s staring over into the valley and you can’t help but wonder what (who?) she’s watching, but you turn away and continue to look through the house instead of getting too lost wondering about what's happening in her mind.
There’s hardly any furniture in the room that the front doors have opened into — a desk in the corner, a couch and a chair encircling a coffee table, a large mirror on the wall reflecting nothingness... There are long, curved hallways to your left and right, one leading to a mess of doorways, and the other leading into what looks like a kitchen. You go towards the kitchen. Closed doors give you the spooks.
The hallway is entirely too long, and it’s the only part of the house you’ve seen that has no windows. It’s dark, but you eventually find your way to — you were right — a crowded kitchen. So far so good, you suppose.
The whole place looks like it’s made of porcelain, yet it’s nothing special. There’s a refrigerator, a sink filled with old bowls, a dishwasher that’s cracked open, a rack on the wall with rows of keys hanging on it... You flip one of the switches on the wall, but it does nothing. You turn the other one on, and you get light. It’s blue, oddly enough. It makes the place glow. You can see fingerprints and stains on the walls.
You then hear a sliding glass door slam open from somewhere behind you and your heart drops into your stomach. You turn the lights off and spin around, only to find the alien looking down her nose at you, and you let out a frightened, "Waaah!"
Tatum Xaine is wearing a black bathing suit and a glare cold enough to make the Snowager reach for a sweater. Her hair is golden blonde, sunbleached, and her green skin is tanned almost moss. Her arms are crossed, her shoulders hunched, her fingers drumming angrily on her surprisingly muscular biceps. She's tapping one foot on the ground, her hips cocked. She’s somehow much taller than you, even in your rather large form. Your head is spinning.
She doesn't actually say anything — just huffs, grabs you by your left wrist, then drags you back into the main room. Your jaw is flapping, but you can't seem to say anything, either. She's muttering to herself in a language you don't understand throughout the walk until you finally find yourself being thrown onto the couch, your heel hitting the coffee table painfully. Her pace never breaking, she sits in the large chair across from you and crosses her legs with a huff. You watch her and try your hardest to stay completely emotionless. “Why am I being interrogated now?” she finally asks with a flip of her hair.
You're too stunned to really think of anything witty or... well, intelligent-sounding in general... to say. You sit up, try to get comfy, pretend that you're not totally surprised, then choose to answer truthfully: “I have no idea.”
Thankfully, she smiles. She has a friendly smile. Her smile is so big that that her already small Aisha eyes crinkle at the edges. “Well, maybe I should just tell you what I heard then, yeah?” she suggests.
So much for introductions... "Uh..." You still haven't quite grasped what's happening. A clock from somewhere down the door-lined hallway chimes. She doesn't really seem at all surprised to have found someone snooping around her home, and that only heightens your nervousness. Still, you manage a meek, “Sure,” though you’re actually embarrassed by how small your voice sounds.
When she smiles brightly again, you're not quite sure what to think. You’re genuinely surprised by how quickly her demeanour has changed from hostile to homely, but you don’t say anything on that matter. Besides, she’s already talking before you have the chance to make an attempt at figuring her out. “They say they’re worried about me being the one causing the lab ray to go all whacko, but they’re just being childish. They think I’m evil.” She pauses to take a sip from the can of Neocola that she's still clenching, her angry grasp leaving dents in the polished aluminium. You wonder why she seems so okay with talking to you. Maybe she just doesn’t want to be kept long. Maybe she’s lying. She’s probably lying... “Maybe I am evil,” she says, “but that’s not the point. Want something to drink?"
You feel like if you spend any more time trying to decipher her strange mannerisms, your frazzled brain will literally explode. Your heel has finally stopped throbbing, so you lower your legs and sit up straighter. You blink slowly, clearing your mind, then politely tell her no, but thank you.
She shrugs and takes another sip, then clears her throat and continues talking, her leftmost antenna batting at a breeze that's just blown in through the still-open glass doors. “I guess it’s because they still think I stole all those lab ray papers,” she says, “but I didn’t. That was Marley. I don’t think you know Marley, but he’s a good guy, sorta, in his own way. I dunno anymore. He moved to Maraqua.” She takes another sip. “He and Ritch, but you wouldn’t know him, either.”
“He’s the one you shot into deep space, right?” Your words come out jokingly enough for you to not regret saying it.
She rolls her eyes, but she’s still smiling. “I didn’t do that, he was the one who hit the button.” She says this in a tone of feigned, girlish innocence.
You fold your hands in your lap, but you match her grin. “Ah.”
She uncrosses her legs, then immediately crosses them again. “I don’t know why everyone just assumes it was me, especially since he was known as a klutzy doofus, but, oh well. I’m fine with being a space fiend.”
You’re tapping two fingers anxiously against the armrest of the couch. You two are looking directly into each other’s eyes. It’s a tension made less stressful by the odd tinge of friendliness in the air. You hate the fact that her hospitality is making you comfortable; even trusting. You don’t say anything until she finishes her Neocola. Then, “What about your ability?” you ask.
She brings the rim of the now-empty can to her lips once again and looks into it. “Hmm?”
“The mod who briefed me said something about you having an ability that mirrors the lab ray bugs.” After you say this, you’re wondering if this is information you should be giving her. But she seems indifferent. She’s just expecting you to continue. So you do. “I figured I might as well ask,” you say.
“Well...” She lowers the can and swirls the nothingness inside it. “I fix things,” she says. “I make things how they should be, see. I make them how I want them. Or others want them. You know?”
You shake your head once, no, not entirely.
“Well...” She places the empty can on the coffee table, stands up, then begins to approach you slowly. “You were a..." — she makes a puzzled face for a few seconds, but then her expression lights up with epiphany, and she snaps her fingers — "a Xweetok last night. Female. Red — no, yellow.”
She didn’t phrase it as a question, but you respond as if she had, nodding once, slowly and sheepishly. You're trying to pretend that her knowledge of this doesn’t frighten you, but you're almost positive that it must be showing on your face. Still, you let her approach.
“Let’s see,” she says, then her hands are suddenly on your shoulders.
It takes a few seconds for your vision to stop clouding from the brightness of the afternoon sun, but once the lights stop winking, you find that everything looks exactly the same. You're both back in your seats. She has another can of Neocola — cherry. She’s changed into a lovely white sundress, her hair and antennae pulled back with a poofy-looking black scrunchie. She’s leaning over in her chair to look out of the sliding glass doors and into the valley again. The sun hasn’t shifted much, so you couldn’t have been out for long. Or it could be the next day.
Realization then hits you: your face is a lot lighter, your legs are less bulky, your useless wings are gone, and your body feels a lot warmer than before. You look down to find you're fluffy and brown again. Your yellow-blonde hair spills over your shoulders, perfectly styled. Your outfit feels baggier, but it still fits. You're only a little lightheaded.
So you ask the stupid question: “Did you change me back?”
She shifts her gaze from the horizon to you. You expect her to laugh cruelly or smile proudly, but instead, she looks a little worried. “You, uh, did prefer this form to your Buzz one, didn’t you?” she asks, perhaps feigning the worried tone, but she sounds sincere.
You realise that you're hunched over, so you sit up straighter. “Well. Yes. But. How?”
She uncrosses her legs. “I fix things,” she says, looking to the floor as if she were ashamed. “But sometimes, I just make things better.”
You close your eyes and pinch the bridge of your nose. The blackness inside your eyelids is swirling. You’re getting sick of these mind games, but you thank her anyway. Then everything goes silent.
It’s hard for you to avoid staring at the seemingly embarrassed Aisha, so you look around the room to distract yourself. She has framed photos of herself at various places on the desk in the corner — Tatum at the Roo Island Merry-Go-Round, Tatum with a Hubrid Nox lookalike, Tatum at Meri Acres Farms, Tatum eating macaroni at her old desk at HQ...
The ticking of the clock down the door-lined hall is the only sound that can be heard, save for the stirring mists outside. It echoes. It stings your ears. Your temples are throbbing. You’re extremely hypersensitive to sound right now, probably because you have big Xweetok ears again. You’ve just recognized this, and now you can’t stop focusing on it.
Finally, she decides to break the silence. “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”
You’re snapped halfway back into reality by the sound of her voice. “Oh! Oh, yeah. Um. About the stolen papers ordeal a few years back.”
“Oh, right.” She crosses her ankles, then takes another sip of her Neocola. "Basically, that wasn't me. That's all there is to it. That was Marley. Marley worked for the Academy for years and years and years, and he trained me, and we were great friends, but then he stole the papers and blamed me for it and moved to Maraqua. You've probably seen pictures of him around HQ, right? Blue Draik, green eyes, green hair?" You know what she's talking about — there's a portrait of the man she's just described hanging in the middle of the I/I unit’s “employee of the month” hallway that spans back several years — but you purse your lips at her and give a little shrug, pretending that you don't. You're not sure why you're lying, but you're doing it. She shrugs back in response. "Anyway, that was Marley. Who knows what he wanted with the papers. But he was always pretty shifty." Her tone suddenly turns grave, and she stares into the can she's clenching tightly, swirling the contents gently. "He was my best friend, but he left me to be blamed for the documents going missing. It was awful. But, whatever. I guess I prefer being on my own, anyway."
You realise you're looking down into your laced fingers a little too late. When you look back up, she's examining you with narrowed eyes. It's a little disconcerting. You cock an eyebrow at her, and she looks away, quickly, giggling to herself. "Sorry," she says. "You're just very polite. Most people in I/I aren't this nice."
You laugh a little, thinking of all your coworkers and the way they tend to shout. You love them all to death, but, Tatum is right. They're overbearing, to say the least. "I try," is all you say.
You're not sure why she's thanking you, but you accept it with a nod and a smile. Neither of you really know where to go from here, even though you know that you should know. This is your job, after all. You're supposed to know what you're doing. You decide to just start talking and hope that something helpful comes out. "Is there any more information you can give me on this Marley guy?" you ask. "Any clues on why he may have wanted the papers? Maybe an address?"
"Mm..." She lifts the rim of her can to her lips, but just inhales the scent rather than drinks. She taps one finger against the can while she thinks out loud: "I don't know exactly where he moved, or what he's doing. I haven't really heard from him since he framed me. But, um..." She taps the can more agitatedly; then, "Oh! I've got it."
You lean back in your seat as Tatum hops up, placing her can on the table and skipping across the room. Some of the cola splashes out of the can and stains the coffee table. You're not sure if she didn't see or didn't care. You watch her as she skids to a halt by a bureau that you didn't realise was across from you until now, then rifles through some drawers until she pulls out an old envelope. She examines it, then pokes through the contents, eventually pulling out a folded up note. She reads it silently, shifting her weight from hip to hip as she reads, then nods to herself and tears a corner off of the letter. She skips back to you and hands you the scrap. "Does this help?"
The paper she's handed you has the watermark of some company or business or something on it — "AJ & Associates — Equalising Neopia." You've never heard the name before. You're sure your face conveys your puzzlement completely. You don’t try to hide it. "Is this his company?" you ask.
She shrugs, then sits back down, twirling in a circle before doing so. Her skirt dances around her knees as she picks back up her cola and takes another sip. "Dunno, but he sent me a letter on that paper," she eventually responds. "I dunno if he works there, or if it's a new alias, or if it's just some random paper. But it's all I've got."
You nod as you continue to examine the watermark. There's a picture of what looks like Brightvale Castle behind the words. Or maybe it's Old Maraqua. You can't tell. The paper looks centuries old. "Do you know who this AJ is?"
You look up to her, waiting for a response, but she just shrugs again. "Who knows?"
Then everything falls silent again.
"Well, I suppose I have everything that I need."
Tatum laughs. She knows as well as you that nothing was really accomplished in the hour that the two of you have just spent together. All you really found out was that you both think Grundo's Café is overrated and you both have a grandmother named Betty. The two of you have spent the afternoon bonding more than working, but that doesn't really bother you. Everything she said about the lab ordeal, she seemed genuine. You just hope she's not an actress.
She walks you to the door, humming pleasantly to herself, then opens it to let you out and let the cool Shenkuu breezes in. It's calming. This whole afternoon has been calming, actually. It all went better than expected. Still, you can't fight back a strange twinge of discomfort in your stomach — something you had talked about, but you can't remember what it was... you probably should have been taking notes... but, whatever. It probably isn't important. All that matters is you need to make it to Riff's before the sun completely sets.
Tatum holds the door open for you, and you leave muttering a quiet thanks. She giggles again. "Tell them I'm not a space fiend, won't you?" she says as you begin to find your way back down the path away from the villa. "I really did enjoy my job."
You don't want to face her, but you angle your head over your shoulder slightly. "I'll do my best," you say, but it's mostly a lie.
She doesn't seem to care. "Bye-bye, now," she says, then you hear the door close gently behind you.
Something in the back of your head tells you that you shouldn't trust her, but you're too tired to care. You just want to finish the day's work so you can get back home and rest.
To Be Continued...