Part 5a: Hey, Old Friend[6,069 words]

For part one, click here

The front office of Kreludor's Bounty Hunter Society was bustling with rough-and-tumble bounty hunters and their prized catches, anxiously waiting in line to be compensated for their grueling adventure. At the front of the line, an orange Grundo wearing futuristic rebel-style space garb handed his slip to the Mynci working the front counter. She looked it over before she began typing something into her computer, her fingers clacking away. Wheeling behind the Grundo was a flat cart with a cage atop it, and inside that cage was a green Alien Aisha, gnawing on the metal bars. The Aisha couldn't so much as dent them, but it didn't seem discouraged from trying.

"If you could refrain from allowing your bounty to drool on the office floors, that would be great," The Mynci said dryly, not once looking up from her computer.

The Grundo turned around, his bounty was slobbering all over the cage and licking the bars. "Hey! Cut that out, you!" He yelled and waved his hands around, causing the Aisha to jump back and cover its face with its antennae.

"Kiiiii-rrrrrrr" The Aisha grumbled out, sounding disheartened. It used its antennae to cover its eyes.

The orange Grundo looked back at the Mynci, sort of expecting some sort of acknowledgement or "thank you" for fulfilling her request, but she continued to stare monotonously at her keyboard. As she typed the last bits of information, she gestured to the printer on her desk.

"Your payment voucher will print in just a moment." Her voice was dull and uninterested. "Have a nice day."

As the machine on her desk began to whir, a little slip of paper was pushed out. The Aisha in the cage seemed mesmerized by the printer, it poked its nose through the bars and observed, mimicking the mechanical sound it made. Vrrrrrrrrr. The Grundo ignored his bounty's behavior, excitedly snatching the payment slip.

He looked at the amount, flipping it over to see if something else was on the back. His face quickly soured and he didn't seem satisfied.

"Fifteen-K in Neopoints?!" He stomped his foot. "You guys are out of your minds. I spent twice that just on the fuel!"

The Mynci rolled her eyes, unfazed by his outburst. "Next in line, please-" She interrupted.

"No!" The Grundo continued. "If you government loons think you can get away with forcing your dirty work onto those of us desperate for money, that's one thing. But if you ain't even gonna bother paying us for it..." He hesitated for a moment, and then tore his payment voucher in half, and then quarters, and then eighths, ripping into it more angrily each time he tore. "I'm letting this bounty out. We're tearing up the place. You hear me?!"

The Mynci suddenly huffed an angry puff of air and stood up on her desk to lecture him. She aggressively pointed her ballpoint pen at his face as she emphasized her words. "Listen here, young man. The Aisha is only here because it was a bothersome nuisance on some island where the locals apparently had enough free time to keep calling the pest in. We here at the society see bigger bounties come through this hall every single day, so I can quite certainly assure you not a single soul here is scared of that thing. And the price of the bounty reflects that." She cleared her throat and dusted her shirt off before taking her seat again, "Now, hopefully the payment counter will accept your ripped voucher, because I'm not printing another. Now, next in line, please-"

Before the next bounty hunter in line could cut off the Grundo, a voice from the distance did.

"Hey!" The yell was loud enough for all eyes to turn. The source was a grey Acara with a leather jacket and a pair of batty wings. She started pushing her way through the crowd too fast for many to identify her as the one who yelled. She was headed towards the grundo hunter and his Aisha.

Startled by the Acara, the Grundo pulled out his weapon, some sort of ray firing device, and pointed it at her. "Back off!" He yelled, trembling. His caged Aisha was scared and confused by the commotion and began to wail, pounding on the sides of its enclosure.

"Woah, dude, chill!" The Acara threw up her paws. "It's cool, I don't want to fight you. I'll give you more than whatever they offered for that Aisha, I swear-"

As she spoke, a purple Xweetok started sneaking around through the crowd, apologizing profusely to every single Neopet she bumped into. She looked very dainty, excessively polite. Everything about her was very out of place in the Bounty Hunter Society except for a jagged staff she carried, much more tall and intimidating than herself. She tiptoed towards the acara, calling out to her. "Thano! Psst, Thano! Thano, what ever are you doing?"

The orange Grundo didn't notice the xweetok, his eyes glittered with cautious hope as he listened to the Acara's claim. He didn't lower the weapon just yet. "...What are you offering?"

Thano kept one of her arms in the air as she reached into her pocket, the Grundo noticed that her other arm still up in the air was heavily bandaged. Her good arm ever so slowly crept out of the pocket, as she was taking care not to startle the guy who was holding a zap ray. Her arm came out clutching something star-shaped. As the light hit the object, the Grundo realized that she was holding none other than a shining Platinum Nerkmid. He gasped and hesitantly lowered his weapon.

"Well, I'll be..." He whispered.

"It's a real genuine Nerkmid. Ask your little Aisha buddy if you don't believe me-"

"No, no, I believe you. I've... never seen anything sparkle like that before." He put his weapon in his belt. "You got a deal."

Thano extended out her good arm to offer the Nerkmid, The Grundo snatched it quickly and took a moment to examine it. Thano relaxed both of her arms once the hand-off was done, relieved to have seemingly earned his trust. He didn't once look up from his new shining token of wealth, mesmerized and distracted by it as he attempted to unlock the cage. His hand misguided the key a few times, bumping against the edges of the lock before finally sliding in.

"She's all yours." He opened the cage door and the alien Aisha uncovered its head to look around. "Thank you... I really mean it."

The Acara was too distracted to properly accept his thanks, she crouched down by the cage and beckoned towards the Aisha. "Hey, old friend! You remember me, right?"

The Aisha perked up immediately. "T-t-t-t-antan!" She bolted after Thano and tackled her down, licking her face over and over again.

"Hey! Awww, woah- careful with the slobber, you! I know that tongue gets in some weird places..." Thano sounded too overjoyed to be truly disgusted.

"Brr-rrr-eee!" Brrrr-rrrr-eeee!"

"I know, I know, I missed you too-"

"Psst!" Another voice interrupted their reunion. Thano turned around and found Schmuse with one paw on her hip and the other clutching her staff. Her lips were pursed and her brows were furrowed in an intimidating look. "I don't mean to interrupt, but just what do you think you are doing, Thano?"

"Relax, purple!" Thano smiled warmly, having a hard time looking up at Schmuse while the Aisha kept licking her face. "I'm just repaying a favor-"

"You're causing a scene! We're getting stares! This was not the plan!"

"Excuse me!" Thano, Schmuse, and the Grundo noticed the Mynci was standing on her desk counter again. Her fists were trembling with anger. "This is a law enforcement agency and that bounty is government property-"

The Grundo scoffed. "I thought this Aisha was a harmless nuisance. Surely it's not a problem if she leaves with someone else-"

"Regardless of the bounty's threat level, we have countless rules and regulations that you're breaking. Accepting unauthorized funds for a bounty, releasing a bounty to unauthorized persons-"

As the Mynci rattled on, Schmuse kept scolding Thano.

"What is even going on, Thano? Did you hear what she just said? Bounty hunters? Law Enforcement Agency? What is this place?! I thought we were here for your ship!"

"Yeah, yeah. We were."

"What do you mean we were?! Why would your ship be at a Bounty Hunter Society, anyways?!"

"I mean, it's obviously not here, I was gonna ask to put a bounty on my ship. You know, pay someone else to find it." Thano grumbled out. "But this Aisha is way more important to me!"

The Aisha made a trilling sound happily in response.

"Are you kidding me, Thano? You can't put a bounty on a ship! Do you even know what a bounty is?" Schmuse rubbed her temples. "This is a government agency! They're trying to catch real, dangerous, criminals! They don't have time to chase down some sedan with a neon-lit interior and a bumper sticker that says "I BRAKE FOR HOT MOMS", Thano! Are you hearing yourself right now-"

"Excuse me!" The Mynci cleared her throat. "You two aren't even listening to me! I'm adding contempt for a government official to your list of crimes. I might as well put bounties on the both of you!" Her fingers began to tick-tock away at the keyboard as she created new criminal files as fast as she possibly could. Thano swore she could see a vein bulging out of the Mynci's forehead.

"So, uh, now would be a great time for that smoke spell of yours, Schmusey-"

"What?"

"Come on!"

"You want me to help you escape from a government facility with a criminal?"

"Yes! Now!"

"Are you serious?"

"Please!"

The xweetok angrily shook her fist and struggled to come up with a rebuttal. She looked around at the antsy crowd who was beginning to catch onto the scene that Thano had just caused, and the Mynci furiously typing away at her computer to finish the criminal files for Thano and herself. I don't really have a choice, do I?

She sighed and gripped onto her staff with both paws. She closed her eyes and whispered something to herself, and then she raised the staff in the air. Thano anxiously and impatiently looked up at it. Schmuse swung it down with great force. As the tip of the staff touched the ground, a burst of thick smoke came rushing out of it, multiplying in size and spreading rapidly until it touched every wall.

Many coughs could be heard, but vision became impossible. Thano carried the Aisha in her good arm, and pushed her way through the crowd to the door. Schmuse had a hard time keeping up, clutching the skirt of her dress with one paw to ensure she wouldn't trip.

As they made their escape, Thano led Schmuse a couple of blocks through the city of Kreludor before making it to a secluded alleyway. They sat down and took a moment to catch their breath. Thano set the Aisha down gently, but it still seemed shaken up a bit.

"Schmuse!" Thano cheered and shook the xweetok around a bit. "Oh, thank you Schmuse. You saved my a-"

"Just what was that all about?" Schmuse interrupted Thano, setting down her staff to cross her arms.

Thano flinched a little, seeing the Xweetok so upset. "Hey, I'm sorry, I know that was a bit much-" She extended her good paw towards Schmuse, who smacked it away.

"A bit much?!" She was offended. "You almost got us arrested, Thano! Arrested in space!"

"Rah! Rah! Rrrrrr!" The Aisha was upset with Schmuse for yelling at Thano like that. It jumped in front of the Acara defensively and showed off its teeth.

"Hey! Shhh- She's okay-" Thano put a paw on the Aisha's head to calm her down.

"Rrrrrrr" The Aisha grumbled before sitting down, signaling a reluctant tolerance of the Xweetok.

"She's just a bit scared. She's never been to space before, let alone Kreludor."

"I am not scared! I am concerned-" Schmuse interjected.

"It's fine-" Thano reached her good paw out once more, which Schmuse didn't reject this time. The acara gently put her arm on Schmuse's shoulder. "The cops here are incompetent. Trust me, they didn't even get a photo of us before we left..."

"No, Thano! I don't like your whole ‘Oh, it will all be fine' attitude!" The Xweetok slumped a bit, to get further away from Thano, but the Acara's arm around her shoulder pulled her closer again. Thano tried to get a reply in, but Schmuse kept going. "I asked where we were going, and you just kept saying ‘to get my ship'. And then you led me into a building, a building that did NOT have your ship, because you thought that there would be some off chance someone else would find it for you. And then we almost got arrested because you caused a scene in that building! And you think it will be fine just because they didn't get our photo? That place probably had cameras everywhere! They don't need a photo of us when they have CCTV footage!"

"Listen, I know this place is completely different than what you're used to... but trust me. Kreludor is a lot more push and shove than Faerieland."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that doing the right thing isn't always the same as doing the most legal thing. Would you have done the same to save your sister? Or Fyora?" Thano stroked the Aisha's head calmly as she spoke, trying to calm herself and the little green Alien down a bit. "Or me?"

Schmuse thought hard about the question. She wanted to say no, to insist that she would have found a better way to rescue her loved ones. She could have gone on some tirade about doing the time for doing the crime. But seeing Thano tenderly hold onto this Aisha made her feel something. She thought about the question again, and imagined her sister or Fyora, or even Thano in pain and crying out for help. She tried to picture their faces, panicked, scared. She began to understand what Thano did. Forget the law, she would have moved mountains for her family... and for her Acara.

"I'm sorry." Schmuse leaned back into Thano and spoke to the little green Aisha. "I was upset, but I shouldn't have yelled in front of you. You must be really important to Thano, and I'm glad we saved you. My name is Schmuse." She held out a paw for the Aisha to sniff.

"Schhhhh-Schhhh" The Aisha responded.

"Yeah!" The xweetok chuckled. "That's close enough. It's nice to meet you." She replied sweetly. "Do you have a name?"

"She doesn't really-"

"Frrrrr! Frrrr!" The Aisha interrupted Thano with a trilling sound.

"What? Since when do you have a nickname?!"

"Aish, vrrrr. Fi-fi!"

"Why would they call you that?"

"Vrrrrr, rrrr-rrrr? Keee-eeee-eeee!"

"You little rascal! Is that why you're not on Mystery Island anymore?"

The Aisha nodded.

"Well, don't worry, we'll get you back on the island as soon as I get my ship. Just promise to stop eating other people's stuff, okay?"

The Aisha's head drooped. "Rrrr...." It reluctantly agreed.

"What did she say her name was?"

Thano laughed. "You wouldn't get it. Just call her Flori for short."

"What do you mean I wouldn't get it?"

"Do you want to hear about how we met?" Thano changed the subject. "Flori and I. It's a funny story, actually." She began to stand up, ready to move on out of the alleyway. The Aisha bounced up, eager to go on the walk.

"Where are you going?" Schmuse hastily grabbed her staff and composed herself so she wouldn't be left behind. "And please, tell me the truth this time-"

"To the Kreludan chapter of the PPL, the Petpet Protection League." Thano wiped something off her brow. "If I can't find my ship, I may as well go pick up my petpet. And I'm telling the truth this time, I promise you. It will be in and out, no unknowns, no secret pitstops, just me going to reunite with my scrappy lil guy."

As Schmuse caught up, the Aisha curiously looked up at her. She noticed that its little stumpy feet were moving so fast compared to Thano's long striding legs. It made a mechanical whirring sound, Schmuse didn't know if it was out of admiration, contempt, or something else, but then it turned back to face where it was walking.

"Well," Schmuse asked. "Are you gonna tell me the story?"

"Right, right." Thano laughed. She swung her good arm back and forth as she walked. "You've heard of Dr. Sloth, right?"

"I read about him numerous times in my life, yes. Mostly from Mira's memoirs, but he is often cited in research related to Neopet DNA-"

Thano rolled her eyes and chuckled as Schmuse rattled on. She looked at Flori and whispered "She's a nerd" to which the Aisha faintly giggled.

Schmuse didn't even notice. "And ever since graduating from the University, he's worked as a scientist on the Virtupets Space Station where he manufactures transmogrification potions for the purpose of creating Mutant Neopets."

"Woooow! Very impressive!" Thano said, an edge of sarcasm in her voice. "So you know what the most expensive kind of transmogrification potions are, right?"

"Well, actually, I can't say I've ever been in the market for one, so-"

"That's okay, cause I know. Acara. It's always been Acara. With those bony claws, a sleek mahogany coat, and the cosmic facial structures, us Acaras really won in the Mutant game." Thano laughed, slicking her horns back with her good arm. "Very popular choice for exotic Neopet handlers, Kreludan Grundo militaries, and collectors. I can't blame them. We make gorgeous mutants. I bet that's how Sloth makes most of his money, actually."

"I've never actually seen a Mutant pet..."

"Of course you haven't, purple." Thano gave the Xweetok a playful shove. "Faerieland is pretty good at sheltering you guys from the real world. Anyways, Dr. Sloth wants a lot of Acara Transmog potions, but you can't make a Transmog potion without using... well, DNA, so...."

Thano's demeanor instantly changed. She slowed her pace and looked just a little disturbed, rubbing the backs of her elbows. Flori nuzzled up against her ankle to comfort her. She gave out an awkward, forced laugh before speaking. "Well, there was.... the Acara room, and that was actually my home as a kid. Just hundreds of thousands of us, it was crazy. Management ended up running out of cages for us all, so he gave up and we all just kinda ran around in one big room." Her arm trembled a bit.

"Was it bad?" Schmuse didn't know why she asked that. Of course it was bad.

"Oh Schmuse, you have no idea. You couldn't even see the floor, there were so many of us. The smell, the heat, it was awful. I don't even know where he got that many Acaras, but-"

"I'm sorry..." The Xweetok pursed her lips together and fumbled with her paws. "Do you.... want to talk about it?

Thano snorted. "Um, no? I'm trying to tell a funny story, not have a therapy session, purple. that was just some necessary context."

"Sorry, sorry" Schmuse was embarrassed, but she chuckled. "Keep going."

"Anyways, that was my life as a kid. Until one day, there was a factory emergency."

"Eeee! Eeee!" Flori interjected excitedly.

"Hold on, Flori! No spoilers, I haven't gotten to that part yet." Thano replied. "But yes, turns out an Alien Aisha chewed through the wires to an important fusebox, so the mechanical locks were without power for a while. Including the ones in the Acara room."

"So you all got out?" Schmuse asked optimistically.

"Well, ‘all' is a bit generous. I wouldn't even say most of us got out." Thano shrugged. "But I got out. I think a few others did too."

"...What happened?"

"You see, mutant Acaras are a popular choice for militaries, like I said earlier. Including Sloth's own security team." Thano chuckled. "He actually sent one after us escapees. I don't think most of them survived, actually."

"What?!" Schmuse was shocked. "That's... horrible. But how did you survive, then?"

"Aiiyee!" Flori jumped up as she yipped.

"Flori wants to tell this part of the story."

"Rrrr, yeee aaaaaiiiiyyyeee!!" Flori enthusiastically agreed.

"You're kidding, right?" Schmuse grunted. "I can't understand Flori-"

"Awww, Schmusey-poo..." Thano suddenly grabbed the Aisha under its forelegs and held it up to Schmuse. Its eyes began to water and its bottom lip stuck out in a pout. "You would rob this poor, sweet, little alien baby of telling her favorite story?" Thano peeked out from behind the Aisha and gave Schmuse an equally pathetic puppy-dog face.

Schmuse rolled her eyes, aware of exactly what Thano was doing. "Fine." She rubbed her temples. "Flori, I would love to hear you tell this part of the story."

"Rrrrr, kikiki!"

"Uh-huh"

"Juuuuu-jujuju-kyyyy"

"Wow!"

"Aiiiii!"

"Enticing! You have such a way with words."

"Ai-ai" Flori licked her paw and smiled, signalling that she was finished speaking.

"I positively loved it. Thank you, Flori." Schmuse nodded and patted the Aisha's head. "Now, perhaps I could also hear Thano's story? I really liked yours, I promise, I just want to compare them-"

"I dunno." Thano shrugged. "I think Flori summed it up pretty well. Besides, we're almost at the PPL-"

"Are you kidding me?" Schmuse whispered, intending for only Thano to hear. "I don't speak Alien Aisha!"

"Wow!" Thano retorted. "That's incredibly bigoted of you, Schmuse. You know, not every Alien Aisha speaks the same language-"

"I can't tell if you're messing with me or not." Schmuse mumbled.

Thano shook her head and went tsk, tsk, tsk "I'm serious. Don't say that kind of stuff out loud when we're inside, I don't want us to get maced by a local."

Schmuse grumbled, unsatisfied with the end of this story, but they had arrived at the PPL. They entered through the glass doors and were greeted with a fanciful lobby. The fountains were lined with white marble and gold plating, though it was much too vivid and artificial looking to be real gold. There were vines growing along the walls, a difficult feat for any Kreludan gardener to achieve with the minimal sunlight that touched this planet, and the olive colored carpet matched the foliage.

Schmuse seemed relieved to be in a clean upper-class building again, a sense of familiarity that was rare to find on a whole separate planet. Thano and Flori, however, seemed a bit overwhelmed in comparison to their purple friend.

"Unbelievable!" Thano scoffed. "My lil' guy is spoiled. This is really where they keep petpets?"

"Hello! Welcome to the Kreludan chapter of the PPL-" A Mynci waved to them from the front desk. She sort of resembled the Mynci from the Bounty Hunters Society, but this one was much more courteous. Flori seemed a little uneasy with this familiarity, but the other two hardly noticed. "How may I help you?"

"Hey!" Thano stepped forward. "I'm here to pick up my petpet, it was transferred here when I ended up in the hospital-"

"The hospital?" The Mynci was taken aback. "Oh dearie, you poor thing. I'm so glad you're feeling better now. What's your little guy's name, species, and coat color?"

"Bingus!" Thano beamed. She could hear Schmuse giggle over the name behind her, but she paid no mind. "Bingus the Purple Kepru"

As the Mynci worked on typing the information into her computer, Flori began to lick the shiny tile floors. She seemed disappointed by the lack of flavor, as nothing would stick to the sleek porcelain tiles. It was nothing compared to the wonderful flavor of licking outdoor concrete. Schmuse tried to stop her to no avail.

"Ah! Bingus! I found his file and room number, a staff member will go get the little guy right now. By the way, Thano, it says I was instructed to give this note to whoever picked up Bingus-"

The Mynci quickly printed the note through her little desk printer. The Aisha was equally mesmerized by this printer as she was by the one at the Bounty Hunter society. Vrrrr. The Mynci handed the paper to Thano and she quickly examined it.

Thano was teary-eyed reading the note. "I can't believe it," She laughed joyfully. "It's gonna be okay..."

Schmuse anxiously peeked over Thano's shoulder and read the note. "Who is CC? You saved their life?"

"Aiye! Aiye!" Flori hopped up.

"You're right, Flori." Thano nodded. "We saved her life. I just can't believe that after all this time, she still remembers..."

Schmuse scoffed. "Will you please answer my question? Who is CC?"

"Oh, relax, purple." Thano laughed. "Are you getting jealous?" She gave the xweetok a noogie on her head scruff.

"No, of course not! Just answer the question!" Schmuse furiously swatted the Acara's paw away and tried to straighten out her hair.

"Oh, don't get your fancy little dress in a bunch." Thano joked. "It's not like that. Cotton Candy was like a little sister to me."

"Cocooo! Cocoo!" Flori replied.

"Yes, I am talking about Coco! You remember her, right?"

The Aisha cooed back to her.

"Like a little sister?" Schmuse asked.

"Yeah, she was another Acara. From the Acara room. She didn't deserve that, so I tried to help her out when I could."

Schmuse tried to think of some reply. Well, you didn't deserve that either. What makes her so special? And who was there for you? Was anyone helping you out? She couldn't come up with something that didn't sound so... possessive.

"Excuse me-" The Mynci interrupted before Schmuse could say anything. "I don't mean to interrupt, but Thano- he's ready!"

Thano gasped and looked up. The Mynci was holding a little Kepru, slender and with a sleek, violet coat. He bore a gold necklace around his neck.

"Bingus!" Thano had tears in the corners of her eyes. She hastily extended both her good arm and her bandaged arm, ready to catch the Kepru that was already leaping out of the Mynci's arms to come towards his beloved owner.

"Myaa!" The little petpet jumped right into Thano. Schmuse could tell it hurt her bad arm a little bit, as she winced in pain, but Thano didn't even seem to care. She was too ecstatic with her Bingus back in her arms.

"Oh my goodness! Hii! Hellooo! I know, I know, hey, old friend." Thano spoke in a tender voice. "I promise, we're going on adventures again. Don't you worry, we'll never be separated like this again..."

"Myaa! Myaaaaa!" The little Kepru mewed. Its tail was wagging so fast that Schmuse could feel a little gust of wind from it.

"They're so darling, aren't they?" The xweetok murmured to Flori while Thano kissed Bingus's forehead over and over. "Thano has a lot of friends here in space..." She began to think about all of the things she had just learned about the Acara. "She took in a younger sister to look after... She got you out of that awful facility... She even takes care of a petpet." Schmuse sighed. "I've spent my whole life researching magic so I could help Fyora and my sister. And here's Thano, who hasn't so much as touched a book in years, and yet she's improved more lives than I ever will." She felt a little bittersweet.

Schmuse wasn't sure why she was telling Flori these things. She wasn't actually sure if Flori could understand her, and even if she could, she wasn't sure if Flori had the intellectual depth to really understand what Schmuse was trying to articulate.

"Rrrr- Tan-tan Sccch! Tan-tan Scchh!" The Aisha replied.

"I know..." Schmuse replied. She was truthfully unsure what Flori had said.

Flori seemed confused. She shook her head at Schmuse, as if she was telling her that she gave the wrong answer, and lifted a stumpy paw to point towards Thano. "Tan-tan li Scch! Tan-tan li Scch!"

"Are you... trying to tell me something about Thano?"

The Aisha looked behind its shoulder at the Acara, as if to make sure she wasn't looking. Thano was distracted with Bingus, still, as he became enticed with a loose string on her jacket. Once Flori confirmed the coast was clear, she turned back to face Schmuse. She slicked her Aisha antennae back behind her head, resembling the curled horns of an Acara. She tried her best to stand up on two legs and put her face into a mean scowl.

"Rrrr!"

Schmuse chuckled a bit. "Okay, okay. I'm doing my best to follow. So.... right now you're Thano?"

The Aisha nodded.

"Okay, I got it." Schmuse noted. "Keep going."

While still mimicking Thano, Flori did this angry, stomping, march towards Schmuse. She halted a couple paces before reaching her, and suddenly smiled upon seeing the xweetok. Her march turned into a more cheerful frolick, but her antennae remained slicked back, a telltale sign that she was still acting like Thano.

"Sch! Sch!"

"What? You think Thano started walking differently after she met me?"

Flori's antennae popped back up for a brief moment out of character. She put her stumpy paw over her face and shook her head, ashamed. She put her antennae back in their Thano position, and then tried puckering her lips and making a kissy sound.

Schmuse laughed. "Now what are you doing?"

The Aisha was growing impatient. She furiously pointed at Thano, and then at Schmuse, and then at Thano again, and then at Schmuse again.

"Oh! You think that Thano..." Schmuse quieted her voice. "...likes me?"

The Aisha gleefully nodded. "Sch! Sch!"

"And.... you really think I improved her life and made it better?"

The Aisha kept on nodding.

"Oh, goodness. I can't believe I didn't realize sooner." The Xweetok brushed her hair back and began to blush. "She really likes me... To be honest, and don't tell her this, I was hoping she did, but I wasn't sure if she felt the same... I thought she just liked to kiss her friends on the cheek for fun... and to snuggle up with them in bed for warmth...."

The Aisha's jaw dropped. She put two paws over her face and shook her head, extremely disappointed.

"I know, I know. I'm sorry, okay? I've never done this before!"

"...Done what before?"

Schmuse and Flori had become so engrossed in their conversation that they had forgotten Thano was just one Bingus-getting-bored-of-her away from rejoining them.

Schmuse's face burned bright red. "Nothing! Nothing! I've never done anything before!" She panicked.

Thano laughed. "Okay, weirdo." She turned to face Flori. "I'm warning you. Don't hang out with her too much, Flori. Her nerdiness is contagious, I think it's already too late for me-" She teased. Flori snickered in response. "Anyways, I got Bingus, so if you guys are ready to bounce, let's go pick up my ship." She began striding towards the exit of the PPL, the kepru proudly riding her shoulder.

"So, um, Thano..." Schmuse straightened out her dress as she caught up with Thano, Flori trotting close behind. "Can I ask you something?"

Thano turned her head. "What is it, purple?"

"You... have so many friends... It sounds like there's a lot of us out here that care about you-" She rubbed the back of her paws as she walked through the door that Thano held open for her, thinking about how her only real friends were her sister, her adoptive mother, and some Acara she met from her time with Jhudora. "So... why did you go straight to the Bounty Hunter Society to look for your ship? It sounds like your friends all would have been willing to help-"

Thano started walking more quickly "Didn't want to bother anyone-"

"Oh, please." Schmuse laughed. "Didn't you save that CC girl's life?"

"That was mostly Flori's doing, I just did the easy part-"

"Crrrrr!" The Aisha trilled.

"Come on, Thano!" Schmuse insisted. "I'm sure you made a valuable contribution."

"Maybe, maybe not."

"Well, what even happened?"

"I already told you. Flori chewed through some wires on accident, the power went out, the locks were down." Thano insisted. "I just helped her get to the door-"

"Kiiiiii!" Flori protested.

"Alright, alright." Thano agreed. "I helped with that, too."

"With what?" Schmuse inquired.

"Oh, just fighting off the mutant that was trying to get us." Thano smiled. "That was the first time I used my Void Blade... It was kind of awesome, I tore through the sky, Wssssshhhhh!" She swung her good arm as if she was wielding a sword. "And it made this rip in the air, like a dark void. He got sucked into it, the mutant. He was lost in limbo forever." Thano seemed to have immediately cheered up once she got to talk about her swordfighting. Her pace quickened and her posture improved.

Schmuse caught onto this change in demeanor and decided to keep talking about swords in order to keep Thano's spirit up. "How did you manage to get a sword in there?" Schmuse gasped. "Wasn't this a secluded laboratory?"

"Easy, Flori had just thrown it up a couple minutes before." Thano laughed. "It was still warm!"

Schmuse looked repulsed, but Flori cheered.

"...What? She threw it up?" Schmuse was disturbed. "Wouldn't that tear up her insides?"

"You don't know anything about space Aishas, do you, nerd? They're not like the Neopian ones." Thano teased. "They have stomachs like steel. They eat so much garbage, and I mean literal actual garbage. I guess she found it outside a bit earlier." The Acara shrugged.

"Wow.... and you fought off a mutant with this.... slimy... vomit sword?" Schmuse tried to be respectful, but she felt light headed discussing this matter.

"Oh yeah, it was awesome! We totally escaped. And I kept the vomit sword for years to come."

"So... it sounds like you saved both of their lives." Schmuse stated, trying to steer the conversation away from vomit-related matters. "Contrary to what you believe."

"...I guess."

"I'm serious, Thano." Schmuse sighed. "Living with that old hag Jhudora for a year has messed with your head. You were really important them that day, and you still are. You have more value than your pockets full of Nerkmids..."

Thano didn't have anything to say in response to that. She silently stroked Bingus's forehead while he napped.

"So... What happened after that?" Schmuse continued. "Was that goodbye?"

"Oh, of course not." Thano chuckled. "Flori, Cotton Candy, and I used to hang out together as a trio after that. Looking after each other, you know, CC and I were pretty clueless about the outside world, and Flori was pretty clueless about safety and common sense. So we helped each other. Flori showed us the best dumpsters to eat from, the best overpasses to sleep under, all that-"

Schmuse covered her mouth with her paw and gagged. She was trying to figure out how this conversation had already become so disgusting once again.

"But anyways..." Thano digressed in order to save Schmuse the trouble. "We all moved on from those days. Flori found a shiny postcard one day while dumpster diving. It was for a magical, tropical place called ‘Mystery Island' on Neopia. The moment she saw that thing, she decided she didn't want to live anywhere else. I mean, she always stared at it, day and night, I'd never seen her get like that" Thano twiddled with her paws, looking down at them. Schmuse wasn't sure if she was watching where she was going. "So, when I raised enough money from battledoming to get us a small ship, I went down there and dropped her off. Cotton Candy decided she wanted to live on Neopia, too. Some other place called Shenkuu, apparently beautiful in the springtime. But I couldn't leave the cosmic dome behind, it was a thrilling life, so I stayed up in space. I missed them a lot, though."

"That's really sweet of you, Thano." Schmuse smiled warmly. "You've got a big heart."

Thano felt her cheeks burn a little bit.

"But... What is Flori doing back up here?"

"Rrrrr!" Flori grumbled in response.

"I know, I know. Those cops were a bunch of meanies." Thano agreed. "But they're just gonna put another bounty on you if you keep eating other people's stuff! Stick to the dumpsters, those are fair game-"

"Is that... Why they put a bounty on her? Seems awfully harsh-"

"I know!" Thano grunted. "I guess the law enforcement on Mystery Island is either non-existent or useless, because those lazy tropical jerks decided to call in the Bounty Hunter Society. Soooo entitled."

"Yeah..." Schmuse grunted. "Don't worry, Flori. We'll get you back down there once we get Thano's ship. We just have about twenty minutes of walking left-"

"Aiyyeee! Aiyeeee!" Flori cheered.

Thano felt her heart melt a little bit. Schmuse and Flori were so cute bonding together like this, her two best friends from completely different worlds.

"You know, Thano-" Schmuse interrupted the Acara's thoughts. "You said that Kreludor was a lot more push and shove than Faerieland, but I think you've shown both of us today that the flower of friendship can blossom anywhere!" She was beaming with a smile, and reached out to hold the Acara's paw while they walked together.

Thano happily accepted the paw, but groaned in response to what Schmuse had just said.

"Schmusey.... I can't be seen with you in public if you're gonna say sappy-faerie stuff like that."

Deep down, she knew the Xweetok was right, and quietly smiled to herself.