I worked for Dr. Sloth. Notice the past tense, please. I'm still trying to decide if the day Virtupets switched hands is the worst day of my life or the best. Jury is still out. But this story isn't about now, it's about then. When Dr. Sloth still terrorized the inhabitants of Neopia on an almost daily basis and I needed my cowering skills more than my technical ones. See, I do machines. That's kinda my thing. And with two pets I gotta work to keep them fed and entertained. So with nowhere else to turn... I worked for Dr. Sloth. And sometimes... things just went wrong.
For once, I had things going well. We were doing maintenance on the older systems in Virtupets and for once, it was working. As in, nothing was throwing weird errors, systems were starting up after the physical components had been replaced, and nothing was on fire. All in all, things were looking good. Being the sole human of the team (hey, I had to feed my pets somehow) I mostly stood around with a clipboard and let the Grundos handle everything. They could fit in the cramped areas where the wires and other thingamabobs I really didn’t have words for were.
Then, of course, Dr. Sloth had to go and mess it all up.
C’mon. When you’re a megalomaniac bent on taking over all of Neopia, you can’t just walk casually by, drop a glass vial and let it shatter on the ground, then walk off with a casual “Whoops.”
I’ve had enough of his problems causing problems for me. I threw the clipboard to the ground, stormed out into the hall, trying to ignore the unpleasant odor of rotten eggs that was emanating from the broken vial, and prepared my lungs for all the power a scrawny, barely over five-foot woman could muster. Oh yeah. Dr. Sloth was gonna get it this time. Honest.
That was when a Grundo crossed some wires, shorting out the circuit, and something got set on fire.
Things weren’t going well anymore.
The mess the fire made wasn’t going to put us behind schedule, thankfully. I’d learned that whenever we took on some project that I had to account for some time to take care of whatever went wrong. We just got the thing put out, took stock of damages, and shuffled some of the Grundos around to repair it while the rest moved on to the next portion. No one commented on the vial. I took care of it myself, for everyone else was – rightfully – too scared to and as far as we all knew, Dr. Sloth hadn’t been working on stuff that affected humans. Yet.
I left my Pteri and Lupe behind, after checking that they had food and all that. She muttered something about gormball and the lazy lump of a Lupe and that was all. I trudged to work, mentally calculating if I would have to get involved to get this done on time if we had another fire.
It was only an hour into my normal working hours that I realized I was the only one there. So I did what any rational person would do – I went to my boss. Now, my boss is pretty much useless. He, too, is a Grundo that barely shifts from behind his desk. Then again, when you work for a megalomaniac, it kinda inspires you to find reasons to not stir the waters any.
“Yeah,” he said, shuffling some papers, “They all called in sick.”
“All of them?”
“Something about being turned into mutants.”
And he just shrugged. I stormed off, pulled up the personal records on the nearest terminal, and took off through Virtupets. Nothing bothered me on the way there, except for some speakers that were nothing but faint static. Must’ve been what got set on fire the other day. I found the first of my workers in his apartment. It took a bit of banging on the door before he opened it, looking rather miserable.
“Oh hey,” I said awkwardly, “You’re my height.”
He nodded miserably. Somehow, he had mutated overnight, much as any poor pet that chugs a morphing potion would. But somehow, the process didn’t seem to have completed itself. I remembered the sudden odor of rotten eggs coming from that shattered vial. I said some not so nice words. The Grundo nodded in agreement.
“I’ll uh,” I stammered, “I’ll go see if I can’t fix this, okay?”
“Who is that?!” someone from the back bellowed. I cringed. It’s my only survival instinct.
“That, uh, your owner?” Again, the Grundo nodded. “Okay. I’ll uh, get back to you later. After I find out what was in that vial.”
And I bolted for it. Last thing I needed was another Neopian angry at me for my possible involvement in the accidentally half-morphing of one of Chickenhead’s experiments gone wrong. I didn’t bother checking on any of the other Grundos. I already knew the situation would be the same. That’s just how things operated around here. Some days I doubted Dr. Sloth really wanted to take over Neopia so much as he wanted to just cause as much trouble as possible while still playing mad scientist.
All that heroism I had mustered the day before? I managed to drag it back up and it lasted up until the point I actually got to Dr. Sloth’s office. Then it all was gone.
“Um,” I said, twisting my hands together nervously and staring at my feet, “Sooo.... the staff are all... uh... mutated.”
“It worked!” And Dr. Sloth laughed. Not a happy laugh either – the deep, resonating megalomaniac laugh. “Finally! An airborne mutation agent! Now, to find a way to mass-produce it and Neopia...”
Someone had to bust his bubble. I swallowed hard.
“They’re, um, half-mutated.”
He stopped laughing and stared at me.
“And, uh,” I continued, “The communications system seems to be down and there’s no one to fix it.”
“You’re not mutated.” I’m not sure if the disappointment in his voice was because his experiment had only half-worked or because humans were still immune.
“I can’t fit.”
“The stuff was built by Grundos. I’m too big.”
“It’s not my problem you eat too much ice cream, Girl. Go fix it.”
That is how I wound up on my stomach, peering into a dark cubby hole with a light while my Pteri hummed while pulling out scorched wires and putting in new ones at my instructions. My Lupe was asleep across my legs, which not only pinned me in place but concerned me greatly, as I could no longer feel my feet.
“Okay, that’s ruined,” I said, “Just yank it off. Yeah. Umm... Hang on, let me check the diagram...”
I tried to shift to get a better look at the blueprints. My neck ached and we were only an hour into the job.
“I’m bored,” my Pteri said.
“Welcome to my world,” I muttered.
There were some heavy footsteps from the hallway, a ping, the sound of glass shattering, and another ‘whoops.’ My Lupe raised his head suspiciously as I desperately tried to scramble out from under his bulk and discover that my feet were indeed sound asleep. I about lost my balance as feeling returned in a rush of pins and needles.
“No no no no!” I shouted, “No mutating my pets!”
I skidded to a stop. The broken vial smelled like regular eggs now.
“I’m not mutating your pets,” Dr. Sloth replied, staring down at me, “That’s boring.”
I was interrupted by an odd tickling in my lungs. For a moment I stood there with a confused look on my face with the resident mad scientist watching in interest. Then I sneezed. And sneezed again.
“Huh,” Dr. Sloth said.
I kept sneezing and finally fell firmly on my rump. By this point my pets were watching in interest, wires hanging from my Pteri’s beak.
“She’s turning all red and blotchy,” she commented, dropping the wires.
I could feel my throat tightening and my gut twisted in sudden terror. I wasn’t going to be able to breathe in another couple seconds.
“Another failure,” Dr. Sloth said with a sigh, “I don’t think that counts as drastic mutations. What do humans call it...? Oh, right, allergies.”
And he started to walk off. My pets just kinda stared vacantly and I tried to suck in another breath. Then it clicked in that little Pteri brain and she went running off down the hallway. As my Lupe came over and sat on my legs – again – I could hear her yelling at Dr. Sloth, their voices growing fainter.
“Wait!” she cried, “Hey! I just remembered – allergies make humans stop breathing! That’s bad, right!?”
In the end, Dr. Sloth did recall that allergies and breathing didn’t mix so well in humans and figured getting some medical help might be the benevolent thing to do. A few days later and all my Grundos were back to normal, something that Dr. Sloth found very disappointing. Not only did his airborne mutation strain fail to completely mutate the subject, but it was temporary. I was tempted to yell at him for using us as experiments but, like usual, lacked the backbone. I asked my boss to do it for me. He looked at me like I was crazy and reminded me I had a project to take care of.
Which was now completely off-schedule. I showed up that Monday morning with two large boxes. I’d made a special trip to Neopia for this.
“Hey guys,” I said, “So you all know we’re behind, right?”
A bunch of miserable Grundos nodded at me.
“So after you all got mutated and Dr. Sloth nearly killed me with an allergic reaction,” I said, setting out the boxes, “I got us a treat. Donuts and coffee. Lots of coffee. Cause it’s going to be a long night.”
Yanno, working for Dr. Sloth is ALWAYS a long night.
(for previous stories following these characters, see issues 168, 172, and 178)