To Space!: Part Four
"Follow me. We'll visit the Neocola Machine," Agneza said, beginning to bound.
"Since it doesn't actually sell Neocola, why is it called a Neocola machine?" Brandi asked.
"You know it's a front for Dr. Sloth? No one is supposed to know, but everyone does anyway."
"I know what that's like. So who keeps it stocked? Dr. Sloth? It wouldn't make sense for him to do that. The machine gives out prizes, right?"
"Right. One of Neopia's mysteries."
"Mysteries are fun!"
They now stood in front of the Neocola Machine. It was so odd to see in the middle of Kreludor. It made no sense! Wasn't much of a cover, really. To Brandi, it was quite obvious that it was a front for... something.
"Evil as Dr. Sloth is, I don't think he's very smart," Brandi said with a frown, hands on hips.
"When someone doesn't understand someone else, they call them ignorant to save face. What I mean by that is that everyone has their reasons, whether we understand them or not. Now, I have three tokens, one red, one blue and one green. I'll go first to show you how it's done. Then, you can go next, OK," Agneza said, holding the tokens in her hand.
Brandi nodded her head in agreement. Agneza took the red token, put it in the machine, chose the flavor Dr Slother and then pressed the red button three times. Out came five hundred Neopoints and a Super Energy Blast Drink. The alien Aisha stepped back to let the orange Aisha have her turn. Brandi chose the blue token, put it in the slot, chose the flavor Smite and pressed the red button three times.
"375 NP and a Dented Can of Neocola," Brandi said, flicking one ear.
"You don't have to press the red button three times. You don't even have to press it at all," Agneza said.
The older Aisha used the green token, chose the flavor Dehydrated H20 and pressed the red button twice. Out came 127 NP and a Dastardly Evil Fuzzle. Brandi curled her lip in disgust.
"It looks just like Sloth! How typically egotistical," Brandi sneered.
"We'll just throw it away," Agneza said, picking up the Fuzzle with distaste.
"Hey, isn't there a crashed meteor around here somewhere?"
"Yes, would you like to go there next?"
The two Aishas headed off. Brandi loved taking the lead in her excitement but she of course didn't know where she was going. It was frustrating for the twelve year old but she kept pace with her escort. It took a few moments, even in leaps and bounds to reach the crashed meteor.
"Huh, this is in the middle of nowhere," Brandi said, looking up at the meteor that stood taller than she was.
"Yes, which is quite fortunate. No one was injured in the crash," Agneza said.
Brandi stepped into the blood red track left by the meteor, walking its length. Abacuc followed slowly beside her. They paused for a moment to look up at the giant rock, Brandi with her arms akimbo. She looked at her Nedler.
"This is where you came from, isn't it, Abacuc?" Brandi asked.
Abacuc waved a tentacle in affirmative.
"How I wish I could have been there!" Brandi said, throwing her hands up in the air. "I'm so glad you were given to me. You're my best friend along with Adino, of course."
Abacuc looked pleased, stretching out his tentacles to his best friend. Brandi took another step forward. She looked down, blue eyes widening in surprise.
"What's a stick doing here, Agneza? Wait, don't tell me, another mystery," Brandi said, stooping to pick up the stick.
The orange Aisha poked the meteor and then gave a yelp of surprise, dropping the stick as the meteor disappeared!
"Whoa! Agneza, did you see that?" Brandi squeaked out, whirling to face the alien Aisha.
Before the older Aisha could respond, a snicker was heard. Brandi whirled around to see a rainbow Grundo, around her age, looking highly amused at her reaction, a rainbow Baby Space Fungus beside her.
"I love hanging around the crash site. The reaction of tourists is priceless," the rainbow Grundo guffawed.
Brandi's natural reaction to being laughed at was to get angry but the rainbow Grundo's laugh was nice and there was no malice in the happy Grundo. She couldn't help it, Brandi laughed along with the stranger.
"You're right. It must be hilarious," Brandi said.
"It never gets old," the Grundo said, nodding her head in agreement.
"Where does the meteor go before it comes back?"
"No one knows."
"So, it's a-"
"Mystery," the two young pets said together.
They smiled at each other for a moment. Brandi flicked her ears. There was something familiar about the Grundo but she couldn't place what it was.
"I'm AJ. This is Colossal, my Baby Space Fungus," the Grundo said, introducing herself and her Petpet with a wave of her hand.
"My name is Brandi and that's Abacuc," Brandi said, pointing to her Nedler.
"My name is Agneza," the alien Aisha said with a nod of her head.
"So, Brandi, is this your first trip to Kreludor," AJ asked.
"Yeah! It's awesome," Brandi exclaimed.
"You've heard of the mines, haven't you? You should totally go on a tour. They give them for abandoned ones. Obviously, it's far too dangerous to visit an active one, being a cover for Sloth and all."
"That sounds so cool! Let's go!"
Brandi jumped in place, since she had no idea which direction to run off in. Agneza ran a hand thoughtfully over her long ears, a habit of hers. She felt uneasy about this suggestion but she wasn't sure why. It was a sense she had picked up from her ghost friends over the years, a sense she had always trusted. Yet, what could she possibly say?
Brandi wanted to go. Agneza had invited the young Aisha because she truly enjoyed her company and wanted to help her fulfill her dream. Brandi's parents trusted her to take care of their daughter. Agneza mentally shook her head. There was no easy answer to the situation.
They would go but Agneza would stay on the alert. The abandoned mine happened to be nearby. There was a small crowd of tourist, about a dozen. A cheerful transparent Grundo was the tour guide.
"Good day, everyone! I'm known as Greeny and I'll be your guide today. Please stay together. Feel free to ask any questions you may have. Do not get ahead of me. So, that's it. Let's go," the tour guide said, entering the mine.
The excitement of the group was palpable. Things went well as Greeny began to talk about the mine's history and its uses. Brandi soaked up the information like a sponge.
"AJ, I'm so glad you suggested we come! I'm learning so much," Brandi said to her friend.
"You're welcome. I do have good ideas," AJ said with a grin.
Again, Brandi got the feeling that AJ reminded her of someone. If only she could remember who! The rest of the group, Agneza included, was beginning to move on. AJ and Brandi were about to join them when Brandi froze. Her ears twitched before she looked at AJ.
"Did you hear that?" Brandi asked.
AJ shook her head. "Grundos aren't known for their hearing. What is it?"
A low murmur was what Brandi heard. She turned and realized that she and AJ were standing next to a shaft.
"I hear voices... real ones," Brandi said quickly when AJ began to look skeptical.
"Down the shaft, you mean? Neat! Let's investigate," AJ said eagerly.
Normally impulsive, this time Brandi hesitated. She looked towards the group, with the last stragglers going out of sight. Agneza seemed not to have noticed she was gone. Before she could come to a decision, AJ interrupted.
"Hey, what's the problem? Let's go already," the rainbow Grundo said, hanging onto one half of a rope pulley.
"OK, let's go," Brandi said, trying to get just as excited as her friend.
The young orange Aisha grabbed the second half of the rope pulley. It seemed to be stuck. So, the two friends began climbing down, Abacuc tucked safely in Brandi's jacket and Colossal climbing down after them. It took them a few moments, longer than Brandi would have liked. At last, their feet touched bottom.
Hearing nothing, Brandi stepped out into the open. There were strings of lights along the walls. Posts and lintels could be seen roughly every ten feet. She frowned and looked at AJ.
"I thought this was an abandoned mine," Brandi said, eyebrows raised.
AJ shrugged. "It's supposed to be."
The two young pets moved forward. They hadn't gone far when Brandi heard a metallic clank. AJ and Brandi looked at each other, eyes wide. There was nowhere to hide! Then, AJ did something that completely surprised Brandi: the rainbow Grundo pulled out a blaster.
The orange Aisha stepped back, highly uneasy. She had never seen a weapon up close before.
"Why do you have that? Do you know how to use it?" Brandi questioned, voice taut.
"It's a long story, Brandi. Yes, I know how to use it. If we can't hide, we defend ourselves. You don't' seem like the type to run away. You can stand behind me, if that helps you," AJ said.
"No, thank you. I don't run away. I can defend myself."
Brandi's gaze hardened and she spread her hands at her sides. The Grundo and Aisha stood side by side, facing the direction of the noise. Then, a robot Wocky appeared, moving mechanically forward. As it sensed them, the robot froze. Then, it registered the threat and moved into an aggressive stance, letting out a metallic screech that made Brandi wince.
AJ fired her blaster and as she did the Wocky crouched and a laser came out of its tail! The blaster and the laser met and gave off a flash of bright light that made Brandi squint. With AJ keeping the Wocky busy, it was now Brandi's turn. She aimed fireballs at the Wocky to no avail. Of course, fire wasn't that effective against metal.
For a moment, Brandi was discouraged. As AJ fired her blaster, Brandi sent a fireball right on the tail end of one, hitting the Wocky right on the red spot of its neck ruff. There was an almost inaudible crack, then the crackling of burning wires.
Smoke began to curl from the joint casings of the Wocky's body, closely followed by bursts of flame. Realizing that it was on fire, the Wocky turned tail and ran awkwardly away. Battle over, AJ and Brandi looked at each other.
"Let's keep going," AJ said, looping the handle of her blaster in her green overalls.
"Where there's one robot, there may be more," Brandi said.
"Are you scared?"
To be continued...