They Think it's All Over: Part Seven
Little Shenkuu was a curious and recent development in the life of Neopia Central, created and fostered entirely by Mr. Jennings soon after he decided he might like to have control over the city.
It was, essentially, a district of the Docklands. Jennings had purchased most of the west side near Kau Kau Farms, and evicted most of the original occupants to other parts of the Docklands. At the same time, he was smuggling Shenkuu citizens into the city to populate the vacant houses. Some had been exiles like Jennings, but most were poor citizens from the misty valleys of the Empire, fleeing Shenkuu in the hopes of a better life in the big city.
The result had been Little Shenkuu, a small slice of the Empire, and home from home for the immigrant community of Neopia Central. What had started as a farming community had expanded to include businesses of all types.
As Jennings stared out of his carriage window, the smells of the local Shenkuu food greeted him and put him in mind of his youth, in the days before he had been exiled.
He may have left the Empire behind, but there were some elements of Shenkuu that in all honesty he missed.
At last the carriage came to a stop and Jennings got out. The tailor’s shop was small by any standard, and like most of the buildings in Little Shenkuu looked run down.
Mr. Black waited outside as Jennings opened the door. A gentle bell rang as Jennings made his way inside, and an old red Scorchio poked his head around the bead curtain that led into the back room.
“Master Shin, the tailor?” Jennings asked, coming to a stop by the counter and resting on his cane.
A small gasp escaped the Scorchio’s lips as he recognised his visitor.
“Indeed, sir!” he said, rushing forwards to the counter and bowing. “It is an honour to have you visit the shop, sir! How may I help you today, sir?”
Jennings smiled. “I was wondering if I may speak with your daughter, actually. Hoshi, I believe her name is?”
“Hoshi?” Shin asked, sudden worry on his face. “Is she in some trouble, sir?”
“No, no trouble at all,” Jennings replied sincerely.
Master Shin nodded, and called for his daughter. The white Xweetok emerged from behind the curtain, and did not disguise the look of contempt which she gave to Jennings.
“The General has graced us with a visit, Hoshi,” Shin explained. “He wishes to speak with you.”
“I have nothing to say to him, Father,” Hoshi replied bluntly.
The Scorchio gave a nervous glance towards Jennings before scolding the Xweetok, “Hoshi! Do not talk of the General in such a way! I am sorry, sir, she can be... less than respectful at times.”
“I quite understand,” Jennings replied. “Allow me to explain, Master Shin. You may have heard, we are attempting to put together a Yooyuball team for Neopia Central – I believe Hoshi may be the perfect goalkeeper, the one element we are currently missing.”
“I do not wish to play for any team of his,” Hoshi snapped.
“Hoshi!” Shin hissed. “You will not disrespect the General in such a way! He saved this family! If he wishes you to become a Yooyuball player then you will become a Yooyuball player, it is the least this family can do to repay him for his kindness.”
“Kindness?” Hoshi laughed bitterly. “He has exploited us all!”
Shin gave another nervous look to Jennings.
“I apologise, General,” he said. “Hoshi will play for your team; she will not bring shame on this family by disobeying her father’s orders.”
The Krawk held up a hand. “Please, I’m not here to force Hoshi to play – the freedom to choose is after all an advantage of living in this city. She would not hold such a luxury in the Empire, and if we deprive her of her choice, then we would be no different from the Emperor. I only came to ask if Hoshi would consent to assisting us in selecting a different goalkeeper. The coach we are using, a Mr. Beastbanks, has exhausted all other options. We hope that, as she possesses the required raw talent, she may be able to spot potential that has been missed by others.”
“I do not wish to help this man, Father,” Hoshi repeated.
“He is not asking you to play, Hoshi,” Shin told her. “Just to look at some other people play, there is nothing criminal in that – you will do as he says, for your father if nothing else. Do I make myself clear?”
The Scorchio’s hard glare seemed to buckle the girl’s defences.
“Yes, Father,” Hoshi relented.
“Excellent.” Jennings smiled. “You remember the construction yard you made a delivery to? We will be holding a second round of tryouts for potential goalkeepers there tomorrow.”
“She will see you there, General,” Shin confirmed.
Construction was already beginning at the yard the following morning. The wooden skeleton of a Yooyuball stand surrounded the pitch where Beastbanks and Jennings were once again sat at a desk. This time, however, they were joined by Hoshi, who looked quite uncomfortable sat next to the Krawk.
It was the same as before, applicants came and went, but somehow they lacked the spark of talent which the Xweetok possessed.
“I completely understand your opposition,” Jennings remarked to Hoshi in between applicants.
“If you understood how I feel, you wouldn’t be doing this,” Hoshi snapped. “This is all just another of your schemes to make profit out of the people in the city. I’m not like my father; I read the papers – seems a bit convenient you want to set up a Yooyuball team with diplomatic immunity right after Altador stops your smuggling.”
“That was my original intent, you’re right,” Jennings admitted, taking Hoshi by surprise.
“The situation changed,” Jennings added. “The world is ending, Hoshi – smuggling into Altador is no longer my concern. I give you my word, this team will never be involved in smuggling if I have anything to do with it.”
“Your word means nothing,” Hoshi muttered.
“Perhaps,” Jennings said. “My motive is now to protect the people.”
“Oh, really?” Hoshi scoffed.
“Yes,” Jennings said, deliberately missing Hoshi’s cynicism. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the situation in Meridell, have you? The riots were only the beginning – bandits are now plaguing the land. With impending doom hovering over their shoulders, normally peaceful farmers have found their moral code significantly loosened. The rule of law has completely evaporated, and the situation is being repeated all across the planet. Yet not in Neopia Central. Here, at the very epicentre of the coming explosion, we have relative peace. The riots have died down, and now we are all focusing on a new goal. This Yooyuball team is giving us all hope, Hoshi. At a time where hope is a premium commodity.”
“How generous of you,” Hoshi remarked bitterly.
“There’s more,” Jennings added. “This city is fractured, Hoshi. You’ve seen it yourself, the way Shenkuu immigrants are treated by others in the Docklands. There’s mistrust, and lingering hatred, just as there was with the Zombies before you. The xenophobic people of this city fear all that is different, and they hate what they fear. This team... we have deliberately picked a diverse selection of citizens. We have someone from the Hills, the Docklands, trained by a Zombie, the Altador Cup’s first mutant. Well, if you ignore Weldar Xupenfarb, but he’s a Grundo so he hardly counts for anything... and you are the missing element, a representative of Little Shenkuu. Together, you can unite Neopia Central under a common banner, Hoshi. You can change this city, and heal it in ways I could never dream of undoing. No more insults, no more tin cans being thrown at your head or being spat at in the street just for who you are or where you live.”
Hoshi remained silent, staring at the Zombies that were busy building the stadium around them.
“This team may never even make it to the Altador Cup, Hoshi,” Jennings told her. “All I want is for you to help me save this city – no catches, no hidden clauses. If you feel you hate me so much that you can’t work for the greater good, then so be it. But I think you are better than that, Hoshi. You can give this city hope. There’s an old saying in Shenkuu, it translates roughly as ‘today there were rockslides, but the new day may be a great big bowl of tentacle rice’. You know the one? You can give people hope for a good future, Hoshi.”
Hoshi thought carefully before replying, “You’re an evil, evil man. You’re trying to manipulate me into doing what you want, so you would say anything.”
She turned instead to the other Neopet sitting at the desk, “Mr. Beastbanks, what do you think? Will Yooyuball make Little Shenkuu a better place?”
Beastbanks gave a little smile. “I’m an old cynic, Hoshi. But I’ve seen the world in my time, and I’ve seen what happened with the Altador Cup. Maraqua and Krawk Island, Darigan and Meridell... who would have ever thought they would be able to bury the hatchet and play against each other? Yooyuball doesn’t heal wounds; it won’t bring back the dead, that’s for sure, but it makes sure those wounds don’t get any worse. It lets people understand each other. In my book, that makes it worth a try, if nothing else.”
Hoshi nodded slowly. “I will play in your Yooyuball game, Mr. Jennings.”
Jennings smiled. “Then our team is set, Mr. Beastbanks – we have our goalkeeper at last.”
To be continued...