I awoke in my shop to someone pounding on the door. It was dark. A glance at a lit-up NST clock on the wall told me it was 7 pm NST.
Jhudora had come around 3 pm NST. If she was to be believed… I held up my right paw and stared at the ring.
Twenty hours left.
"DeSoni! I know you're in there! I can hear you breathing!" called out Rocky, my best friend.
Rocky is a super-powered red Ruki. The superpowers are my fault – another stupid mishap to add to my rather long list. I tested the complete version of XG12C on him. And somehow it had fused instead of only lasting a few hours like it was meant to.
Wow. I really can't do anything right. Friend? I should be his worst enemy. I turned him into a freak like me. At least he looks normal… so far. Who knows what other miscalculations I made. I didn't anticipate the fusing… how could I be so sure that it wouldn't turn him into a monster in the future?
After all, it was the unfinished XG12C that mutated thousands of Grundos and Neopians during Dr. Sloth's rebellion… and even since then. Versions of the potion are still regularly circulated on the black market.
And, as always, it's all my fault.
I smiled slightly. How stupid this all was. What was I so worried about? He got superpowers out of the deal, just as those mutants had strength and abilities many times what their previous forms had been capable of…
The science behind it all is fascinating… Maybe if I had…
"DeSoni – are you okay?" called out Rocky's voice, now with a touch of anxiety.
A touch of irritation worked its way into my skull at having my thinking process interrupted, but I quickly shoved it aside. This was Rocky, after all. Of course he was worried. I was constantly getting myself into trouble, and dragging him along with me. Selfishly pulling him into danger to satisfy my own insatiable curiosity.
Whatever. We had fun, right? Not like he held a grudge or anything. Not like he brought it up every other day… Yeah, right. He always does that annoying 'told you so' thing. How irritating. Why are we friends again?
"I'm fine," I grumbled, finally getting up from the couch. "Coming, coming."
Rocky was silent. When I swung open the door, he grabbed me in his claws and hefted me way up to his eye level. While I'm inordinately on the smallish side, my friend is abnormally tall.
Honestly. You'd think a 'friend' wouldn't rub it in all the time. He knows I have a complex about my height! I bet those stupid scientists back on my homeworld messed me up with all those stupid tests and experiments they ran on my in my childhood. If you can even call life mostly spent strapped to an operating table a 'childhood'.
"What is my name?" Rocky asked slowly, his huge eyes staring into mine.
"Rickster_Rocker, you idiot. Now put me down!" I demanded. Part of me was stunned at the ferocity in my tone, but a growing part just didn't care. After all, how dare he ask such a stupid question?
But why was I so mad about his concern? Concern is a sign people care about you, right?
Rocky's grip tightened and his eyes focused on my face, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Well, I suppose being irritable is rather out of the ordinary for me. I always play the idiot, after all. Heh, funny, since I'm usually with this big idiot.
"Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?"
"Moron," I grumbled. "Can't even recognize me?"
Rocky's eyes widened with pain at my insult. And it hit me that this was wrong.
It stung, seeing the hurt on his face. Stung enough to shove my annoyance back to the rear of my mind. Enough to make me feel guilty.
He didn't deserve that. What on Neopia had I been thinking? What on Neopia had I not been thinking? Because I certainly hadn't been thinking about my best friend.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing myself back into... well, myself. "I'm sorry, Rocky. That was uncalled for."
That was better. That sounded more like me. I suddenly remembered what he was doing here.
"Oh! I completely forgot we were going to see that new film at the Movie Theatre! I completely lost track of the time!" My eyes went again to the clock. "Man, I'm sorry! Entirely my bad."
He relaxed a little and set me back down. Then his eyes narrowed as he spotted the ring on my right paw.
"What's that?" he demanded.
I held up my right paw to examine the ring.
You know, it really was awfully beautiful. So obviously handcrafted by a skilled faerie artisan…
Accept the truth. You'll feel so much better.
"A gift," I responded casually.
Rocky gave me a strange look. Puzzled and suspicious at the same time.
I grinned. "Hey, she was cute."
He tried to smile, but it just didn't come out right.
Why am I hanging out with this loser? His IQ is, what, 80?
This time I frowned and smacked the heel of my paw against the side of my head. That last thought was just WRONG. It did NOT belong in my head. If it had come from anyone else, I would've tried to beat them up… Well, pull a mean prank of some sort on them, since my trying to beat someone up would probably be on par with a 3 year old in a tickle fight… Make that, losing a tickle fight…
Well, I could do some serious damage if I just…
No no no. Not falling for that one. That totally falls in the evil category, which I AM NOT.
Rocky was looking at me funny, so I pasted on a resigned and apologetic smile and plopped down into one of the many chairs in front of a table lined with broken miscellaneous gadgets, furnishings, and toys. I grabbed whatever was closest to hand and started fixing it. Mostly… yeah, I'll admit it was mostly to avoid meeting Rocky's accusing eyes. If he saw my face he would totally catch on that something was wrong.
Well, not really 'wrong', just a little… different.
This time I ignored the stupid voice. "Totally lost track of time," I said casually, managing to sound a little stressed and behind schedule. "Got to finish up here, then we'll head out." Even for me, I was talking way too fast. Trying to block out that weird voice that sounded so suspiciously like myself in a really bad mood.
"Tell you what, you go ahead and I'll catch up. Miss Dalino is picking this whatnot up tomorrow at 6 for her daughter's son-in-law's wedding, and I totally haven't even gotten…"
Oh, Fyora, I sound like an idiot… an idiot so obviously trying to change the subject…
"You sure you're okay, Soni?" asked Rocky uncertainly.
Well, I was acting weird. Even for a freak like me.
Yeah, that's it. Can't get him involved this time. I totally got this. Not like he could help anyway.
"Well, if you say so… I'll grab a smoothie and see you in front of the theatre in an hour. Sound good?"
"No prob. See ya," I replied, waving dismissively.
He frowned, but finally left. Undoubtedly glancing over his shoulder every couple seconds.
As if. Why should I waste my time seeing a movie with an overprotective, talentless, oversized Ruki? All he IS is a mistake! The only thing going for him is those superpowers I gave him on accident.
I growled at myself and glared at the ring.
"Shut up!" I whispered fiercely, not sure any longer if it directed at myself or the ring. Since, you know, it's really hard to actually scold yourself… That and arguing with yourself totally falls in the 'crazy' category. But this voice was just going too far! No way was I gonna let comments like that slide!
"He's my best friend! He's got a great personality, and a… a…" My mind blanked. Or rather, the part of me that wanted to defend Rocky fell short.
Surely that's not all?
"Of course it's not! He's just a great guy, okay? And it's not his fault he has superpowers! XG12C didn't work right."
Yeah. It's my fault. He's just a normal Neopian. If it weren't for me…
I don't like Neopians. They make me look bad.
"That's NOT true. Neopians are far nicer than Alien Aishas ever were to me. They've done far more for me in a handful of years than the Alien Aishas did in my whole life."
That's why I HATE Alien Aishas.
"That's stupid. I am an Alien Aisha. You can't hate what you are…"
I can't hate them. Right? I don't hate anyone. But… I can't deny what they did to me.
They did experiments on me, starting literally just hours after my birth. Just because I looked like a Neopian. Even after DNA and blood testing proved me an Alien Aisha and my parents' kitten beyond any doubt. I still have the scars, which I've never showed anyone, though I suspect Fyora knows. I've seen the pity in her eyes. Looking down on me.
Because of what they did to me, to a defenseless kitten, I have those horrible nightmares.
"No. I don't have those anymore. Haven't in years…"
Liar. I've never gone more than a month without jolting awake in a cold sweat. And it's only gotten worse since that time that creep Galba caught me…
I don't want to think about that. I want to think about something else. Gotta find something else to distract myself…
I hate the feeling of laying on an operating table. The cold metal against my back, the thick straps binding my paws and body in place… I wonder if those scientists and doctors have ever had to lie on that table for hours on end, unable to move, knowing your cries will be ignored or downplayed… as whatever the huge monsters hovering over you are doing is SO much more important than how much pain you're in…
Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Not thinking about this. Things worked out well in the end, I was saved, Geiger…
Geiger's a weak-willed fool that had the NERVE to call himself my best friend. He didn't stand up for me ONCE in college. What, just 'cause he was my roommate and didn't actively torture me on a daily basis I was supposed to be grateful and jump to save his stupid hide? Pah! He got captured because he's a politician now, of all things. All words, no action.
"Shut up," I growled, grabbing my drooping earstalks and squeezing, hoping the pain would distract me. "I don't blame Kregor. He's shy, not weak. There's a difference. And he's been trying so hard to change things…"
Too little too late. Doesn't help me any. Doesn't mean I'll ever get to go home again. Doesn't mean my parents will ever love me. Doesn't mean I'll ever get a single apology from any of my own people who cut me open when I was baby to try figure out what was wrong with me.
"Not right," I whispered aloud. My voice was shaking. I realized my eyes were shut tight and opened them, glaring at the stupid ring. "That's not right!"
I'm all alone. Pah, that idiot Ruki. For a second I'd thought he'd noticed something was wrong. That maybe, just maybe, he was special. A real friend. Then he runs off to get a smoothie while I'm trying not to go insane. And that 'family' of mine is no better…
"SHUT UP!" I screamed, grabbing the first thing that came to paw, a glass vase, and flinging it against the wall. "STOP PRETENDING YOU'RE ME!"
Wow, I'm pathetic. I know it's just me. A part of me I used to try so hard not to listen to.
"NO!" I screamed, throwing another vase, then a plate, then a lamp, some Virtupets gizmo. "No! It's not! I'm not like that!"
I don't want to admit that I'm the one in the wrong! So here I am, throwing a temper tantrum like a kitten!
My paws shook. The next object I was about to chuck slipped from them and smashed into the floor. My knees gave out and I fell to the ground, finally noticing the damage I'd just caused.
I'd just shattered items I'd spend hours repairing for clients. Clients who trusted me to do my job.
Can I not even do such a simple job right? Must I fail at everything? Why does everything have to be my fault?
I stared at the pieces for a while. What a mess. It wasn't worth cleaning.
What was I doing as a shop owner in the first place? What possessed me to become the neighborhood Mr. Fix-It? It doesn't suit me.
Me, with my off the charts intelligence that frightened the Madam Commander herself. With my genius skill at chemistry, biology, physics, mechanics, and oh so much more! ME, the creator of the brilliant potion XG12C and countless other formulas doubtless still used by the Alien Aisha Military today – for the simple reason that they could find nothing superior to what I had made!
"It's not my fault. None of this is my fault. They used me. I did nothing wrong and they ruined me."
That's right. There's no reason to punish myself. It was never my fault to begin with. Whatever I did was their fault for turning me into this!
But… shouldn't I have…?
Stop. Don't go there. Nothing was my fault. It was all their fault. They used me, then they blamed me when their wicked plans backfired.
Yeah… that's right…
How DARE they use me? ME? Reduced to a shopkeeper, in the care of a human, pretending to be a Neopian, having to rely on faeries for protection instead of myself. Having to wear a disguise and lie about what I was, who I was, just so I could be accepted, so I could be 'normal'. Why should I be ashamed for something THEY did? Why should they be allowed to pretend I don't exist while I've lost everything?
"I'll get them for this."
Yes, that's what I'll do. They deserve it. It's about time.
I felt a smirk curl my lips. "And I've got some great ideas too…"
Time for some fun, Sonix style…