Mucige sighed deeply as he entered the passageway that led from the Hangar to the Recreation Deck. The air lock doors closed behind him with a whooshing sound that seemed to mock his own exhalation and the Darigan Grundo scowled more deeply for the offence.
I don’t know why my parents insist that we spend every Christmas with my cousin on the stupid Space Station, Mucige thought to himself as he navigated the sterile, metal hallways. I’d be happier to stay in the Citadel, by myself, where all the action is.
Mucige turned his nose up as he passed the Grundo Café. “Peasant food,” he muttered to himself. “When will the Grundos up here realise that there’s a whole world down there for them to explore? That they don’t need to eat like this anymore? That they don’t need to live like this anymore?” He said this last bit rather more loudly, intending for the Café patrons to hear his scorn, and several Grundo heads turned toward him as he haughtily strode on. A smile slowly spread across his red cheeks as he roughly cut through a group of Evil Fuzzles and sent them scattering against the walls, leading to an improvement in his mood that lingered as he knocked on his cousin’s door.
An affable orange Grundo greeted Mucige, beckoning him in to the pod.
“Hello, Maoush,” Mucige gushed. “How wonderful it is to see you again.” The Darigan Grundo flashed a simpering smile, ensuring his cousin couldn’t miss the dripping sarcasm.
Before Maoush could reply, however, a mechanical voice whirred to life, filling the silence.
“The trousers of the deceiver! Of the deceiver! Will be consumed by flames!”
“Um, what is that all about?” Mucige asked, the phoney smile relaxing into a frown.
“Oh, I’ve installed a Universal Translator, an invention of my own, in my new Adagio petpet. I’m still working the kinks out, though. For now it needs to take auditory information, process it as musical notes on this keyboard here and then retranslate that into words we can understand. As you can see, it is practising, and having trouble with, idiom.”
“No – ‘idiom’. Like sayings and clichés.”
“Oh, I heard what you said. Idiot. What is it trying to say?”
Maoush ignored the insult, a habit from long practise with his cousin, and replied, “Well, Adagios are wonderfully sympathetic to mood and tone. It noted your... ahem... joke... and said, ‘Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!’ At least that’s what it meant to say. Sometimes I need to translate for it, but I’m working on the program.”
Mucige laughed mockingly and asked, “Are you saying that you need to translate for your ‘Universal Translator’? That’s so lame, cousin.”
The mechanical voice interrupted once more. “You must return to the board of your sketches, son of my mother’s brother.”
Mucige continued to laugh wickedly as Maoush turned to the Adagio, and typing on its keyboard, said merrily, “Oh, I won’t be returning to the old drawing board, little fella. You just need some minor adjustments at this point.”
As Maoush concentrated on his tinkering, his Darigan cousin paced around the pod, scanning the titles of the comic books on the nightstand and stopping in front of the large Gruundo poster that dominated the wall above the dresser. Mucige tutted scornfully and turned with a sneer, saying, “Can’t you expand your tastes a bit, cousin?”
Maoush turned and replied, “What do you mean?”
“Well, yes, we’re Grundos, but don’t you ever listen to any other music? Have you ever even been to the Concert Hall in Tyrannia?”
The orange Grundo scratched an antenna thoughtfully as he answered, “Well, no, I haven’t. But I’ve never needed to either. Gruundo is my favourite band and they put on shows up here all the time.”
Mucige approached his cousin, and putting an arm around his shoulder, led him to the pod’s observation window. Pointing down at the sphere of Neopia, he said, “That’s a big world, Maoush. There is so much to explore, so much to experience. There are countless opportunities for a couple of ambitious Grundos.”
“A couple of ambitious Grundos like us, Mucige?”
“Nor a pair of legumes in a domicile unit.”
“Can’t you turn that thing off?” Mucige roared as he turned toward the Adagio. “That didn’t even make any sense.”
Maoush took a protective step toward the petpet and raised his hands to placate his cousin. “I believe what it meant was that you and I are not exactly ‘two peas in a pod’. Perhaps we are each ambitious, but not quite in the same way.”
“But that’s the beauty, don’t you see? You with your technical wizardry, me with my... schemes; we could be great assets to anyone with a viable plan for world domination.”
Maoush chuckled and shook his head good-naturedly. “World domination? Are you still obsessed with that?”
“What do you mean still? What else is there? You and I are Grundos, cousin, we were made to serve. I await the rise of Darigan, and like it or not, those of you on the Space Station here are merely pawns of Dr. Sloth.”
“One may not adjudicate the tome by its bindings.”
As Maoush opened his mouth to translate, the Darigan lunged toward him, howling, “I said to turn that thing off. Maybe you ‘can’t judge a book by its cover’... yes, I know some idioms too... but you and I are the same inside.”
Sweeping his arm to include all of the Space Station, Mucige continued, “We are all the same inside. Grundos exist to serve the uprising; that is something we can’t control. But we can choose which side to serve on. You can do nothing and wait for Sloth to make his move, or maybe you can join me in the Citadel where plotting and scheming are always afoot. Or you can be like our Maraquan cousins and navigate the seas, awaiting another attack on Kelpbeard’s kingdom. There are Grundos in the Haunted Woods and Terror Mountain and Faerieland, all of them waiting to join a plot for world domination. Don’t think that sitting here and playing with... with toys like that... that... thing... means you don’t have to choose. That is a choice; it means you choose Sloth, which is a choice I don’t, personally, understand. He has had his chances, and it is time for another to make a move.” As Mucige ranted, he became ever more hysterical until, spitting and waving his arms wildly, he concluded, “Am I still obsessed with world domination? Of course I am, and so should you be! What are you doing instead?”
Mucige stood panting, sweat dripping from one antenna, waiting for his cousin’s response. When it came, Maoush’s voice was calm and quiet. He stated simply, “It’s Christmas.”
Mucige allowed his jaw to drop open with exaggerated shock and then asked simply, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You know,” Maoush replied with a shrug, “peace and goodwill toward all.”
“That’s what everyone is thinking and that’s why you must be extra vigilant, cousin. This is when anything could happen, and you don’t want to be caught by surprise.”
Maoush shrugged again and picked up a screwdriver from his desk before returning to his tinkering. “I can’t live like that, Mucige.”
“You can’t survive like that,” the Darigan retorted before spinning on his heel and striding dramatically out of the automatic sliding doors.
No sooner had he entered the dimly lit corridor than a gang of Evil Fuzzles, floating unnaturally through the air and gnashing at him with their furry jaws, surrounded Mucige. He swung his arms to keep them at a distance, but countless more swarmed into the hallway and overwhelmed the Grundo. Powerless to resist their numbers, Mucige allowed himself to be compelled along through the labyrinthine tunnels of the Space Station, complaining loudly to the deaf ears of the Grundos who busied themselves at their labours, and soon arrived at a recessed doorway; an entrance not immediately obvious nor yet quite hidden.
The doors opened with a sudden swoosh and the Evil Fuzzles herded Mucige into a small conference pod. As he took a hesitant step forward, the Fuzzles turned and exited, the doors closing behind them with a click that told the Grundo he had been locked in. He began to explore the room, and as he examined the unfamiliar symbols displayed on a terminal screen in the corner, the doors opened behind him, forcing the Grundo to jump with alarm at being caught snooping.
“This is the one you picked up coming out of Habitation Pod P-6224?”
Mucige spun around to see the speaker: a blue Blumaroo dressed in full military regalia, surmounted by a serious scowl. He was surrounded by several of the Evil Fuzzles who nodded in the affirmative, clicking and whistling their assent.
“Right then. Back to your posts guarding the door.” As the Fuzzles exited, the Blumaroo approached the Grundo, narrowing his eyes with mounting menace. “We have you now. You do know who I am, don’t you?”
Mucige nodded despite his confusion and replied, “You’re Commander Garoo.”
“And you do know why you’re here?”
The Grundo shook his head vehemently. “I think there’s been some...”
“Silence!” Garoo barked. “Traitors like you always try to protest your innocence. Why not just admit to your seditious thoughts if you hold them so dear?”
Mucige’s mind began to spin. Could there be some kind of surveillance in the pods? he wondered. Could someone have heard me telling Maoush that Sloth’s time has passed? Thinking that Sloth might be on the verge of unveiling another world domination plot, Mucige said, “When the uprising begins, I will be ready to join in.”
Garoo sucked in his breath and released it slowly as he studied the Grundo’s sincere features. “While I applaud your courage, I think you and I both know where your confession will lead. I’ll return in the morning.”
The Blumaroo walked to the door and entered a code on the keypad beside it. The doors opened to allow his passage, and then reclosed with a click that caused Mucige to shudder. The Grundo searched the pod even more closely, but other than the display screen with the foreign symbols, he could find nothing of significance. He sat down at the conference table and drummed his fingers on its smooth surface, trying to work out an escape plan, eventually falling asleep upright in the chair.
The Grundo awoke with a start as he heard the door’s distinctive whooshing sound behind him and he wondered how he had been able to sleep despite his imprisonment. Steeling himself for a confrontation, knowing that he would not allow himself to be moved without a fight, he slowly turned in his chair. He was facing the open door when a small robotic petpet, a metal bear with rolling tracks and a piano keyboard, came trundling into the pod, followed closely by his cousin, Maoush.
“Mucige! We’ve found you, come quick!”
“But how?” Mucige asked, jumping to his feet. “How did you... look out! The Fuzzles!”
Maoush turned with a smile and scratched the fur on the Evil Fuzzle closest to him, causing it to whistle and hum with pleasure. “Not to worry, cousin. We have an... understanding.”
“Plasma has a higher density than pure liquid hydrogen and oxygen.”
Maoush laughed and translated, “Yes, blood is thicker than water, Adagio.” Turning back to Mucige, he said, “When we saw that you weren’t coming back, we went looking for you. My little petpet here was able to translate and help me to communicate with the Evil Fuzzles who were patrolling the passageway outside my pod. The Fuzzles said that they had picked up the resident of P-6224 and brought him here to this holding cell. They thought you were me, I’m afraid. Now that we understand each other, the Fuzzles and I are great friends, aren’t we, huh?” The orange Grundo continued to scratch the Fuzzle, who continued to voice its delight.
Mucige shook his head with mounting confusion. “But I was the one who was talking negatively about Sloth. Why would they want to pick you up?”
The orange Grundo suddenly looked serious and replied, “I have much to tell you. We need to get going to somewhere we can talk privately, but first, is that...? Yes, just what I’ve been looking for. Hold on a second.” Maoush approached the display screen in the corner of the room and motioned for the Adagio to follow him. Once there, the Grundo attached a cord from the petpet to the terminal and said, “It will just take a second to upload this so the Adagio can begin the translation.”
The Darigan stood in mute shock as he watched his cousin work with a focus not seen before, at least not by Mucige himself. When the Adagio was finished uploading the strange symbols, Maoush unplugged the cord and headed for the doorway, motioning to his cousin to join him.
The pair of Grundos crept through the hallways of the sleeping Space Station, followed by the Adagio who was speaking with a pair of protective Evil Fuzzles in their unfamiliar language. When they reached the end of a deserted looking tunnel, Maoush looked carefully over his shoulder before bending down to unscrew the cover from a ventilation shaft. As soon as it was removed, he silently waved for Mucige to enter.
After lifting in the Adagio and replacing the shaft’s faceplate, Maoush crept up beside his cousin and said, “You must have some questions.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Maoush chuckled and said, “Well, then, all I can do is show you. Come on, where we’re going isn’t too far.”
They crawled along the metal shaft, carefully and quietly, until they reached a bend. As soon as they turned the corner, a bright light flashed in their eyes from a ventilation grate and they headed toward it. Maoush knocked a distinctive series of raps and the cover was removed from the other side, an orange hand appearing in a gesture of aid. Maoush grabbed the hand and was pulled out of sight and Mucige moved forward until the hand reappeared. Allowing himself to be pulled out of the shaft, the Darigan Grundo soon found himself in a large well-lit pod, surrounded by four orange Grundos with rock star hairdos.
“Gruundo?” Mucige asked with disbelief. He turned to his cousin and said, “OK, you can explain all of this now.”
“Well, remember what you were saying earlier? About making choices and choosing sides?” When the Darigan nodded, he continued, “This is my choice. We are a part of the Resistance. We watch Space Station activity and gather information about any ‘world domination plots’, as you like to call them.”
“You, you all, do this?”
“Not just us. As you said yourself, there are Grundos in every land, watching and waiting. As often as not, these are Resistance members. Those who fight for peace.”
Mucige considered this and asked, “And the Adagio? The Universal Translator?”
Maoush smiled broadly and replied, “My proudest achievement. What you earlier called a toy is a sophisticated tool in insurgency detection. We have been trying to crack Dr. Sloth’s new encryption technology for months; you may have noticed a terminal screen in that holding cell that was flashing with odd symbols. Now that the Adagio has a complete translated sample, Gruundo will be able to bring it to Tyrannia tomorrow and pass it on to the leaders of the Resistance.”
At this news, the members of Gruundo cheered and clapped Maoush on the back with congratulations.
“Tyrannia?” Mucige asked. “Why would they be going there?”
“It’s Christmas tomorrow, the 25th, and Gruundo plays at the Concert Hall on the 25th of every month,” replied a Grundo with a bright green thatch of hair running from his forehead to the nape of his neck. “Makes for a good cover, don’t you think?” With a wink he added, “We could never have foiled that little scheme of Scarblade’s last year without your cousin’s help, you know. A lot of lives were saved, a war averted, peace preserved. All thanks to this little guy here.” The Grundo squeezed Maoush’s arm with deep affection.
Mucige was at a total loss for words. He was seeing his cousin in a new light and the warmth of admiration he was feeling began to stir him to the core. He suddenly remembered the lecture he had given earlier about the powerlessness of Grundos, how they were all merely pawns in the power plays of others, and a wellspring of shame began to erupt. Looking around him at these strong Grundos who risked their lives for peace, remembering the selfish, scheming ways in which he had been spending his own years, the shame burst forth as bitter tears.
“Tell me how I can help,” Mucige said as Maoush put a comforting arm around his shoulders.
“You’ve made the first, probably the hardest step, cousin,” the orange Grundo replied. “Changing your world view is the hardest thing to do. But it’s Christmas Eve and I’m sure our parents have re-hydrated a feast of Chicken Cordon Bleu and Gaseous Moonpies. The Resistance can wait now that Gruundo has Sloth’s code.”
Mucige started to chuckle through his tears and replied, “But who will save us from re-hydrated Chicken Cordon Bleu and Gaseous Moon Pies?”
The Adagio whirred to life once more and stated, “The blessings of the faeries be upon us one and all.”
Mucige grinned and said, “I think that’s a statement that needs no translation.”