Chapter 14: A Rough Morning

Garbage Gatherer approached Bugtopia carefully. The strong web walls that surrounded the place were the same, but there were many more guards on them than she remembered. Most of them were GIFTS, but there were several GIFTR and GIFTC as well. Many of the guards were missing a leg or had some other injury. Obviously, there had been a lot of fighting recently.

She approached a guard she recognized. "Psst! Spider!" she called up.

Spider didn't hesitate. "Help! Rebel at the wall! Help!"

"No, wait! It's me, Garbage Gatherer. I'm not a rebel, I'm just here to--"

Several bugs joined Spider on the wall. One chitrach threw a large rock. It struck Garbage Gatherer on the head, knocking her unconscious.

"Is there anyone else out there?" he asked.

"I don't think so," Spider said.

"Then it's probably safe to go down there. Spider, climb down and bring the rebel up. Refuse Mover, report this incident to Chief Spider."

---

Dintiradan and the Lurker tiptoed back to their beds just in time. Schrodinger got up well before dawn and disappeared into the Moderator Board to continue examining the bot.

Nalyd woke up not long after. He shook Azuma awake. "Come on, let's go."

"But... but it's still dark out."

"No one else is up, so you can teach without interruption. Please?"

"Well, I guess so."

As they passed through the Tech Support Forum, their footsteps woke Chatter up. He saw the stack of boxes that Jewels and the others had brought back and decided to look through them. He climbed up to the top box and tried to pull the lid off. "How do you get this stupid thing off?

The crickets crawled out of Ephesos' pocket and chirped.

"What?"

"Chrrk!"

"Oh. Why would it be stacked upside do--ahhhh!" He slipped and the whole stack collapsed.

The crash woke Nioca. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"I was looking for, er, something."

"Like what?"

"You know those shiny rock things that you can rub and they'll take you somewhere you've been before?"

"You mean recall crystals? Yeah."

"I was hoping to find one of those."

"Well, good luck. We haven't gotten any of those in our shipments for ages. Jeff said they got too expensive."

"Oh. Okay then."

Nioca checked on Ephesos. He was still soundly asleep. Then Nioca looked at his watch. "Ugh. I'm never going to get back to sleep. I might as well get breakfast."

"Ooh, breakfast. Can I join you?" Chatter asked.

"Uh, sure."

"Yay! You're so nice. And very cute, too!"

"Chrrrk?"

"Of course, you're very cute and nice too. Want to join us?"

"Er, I don't know if Ephesos would like that," Nioca said.

"Chrrk!"

"They said they want to come." Chatter scooped the crickets up.

Nioca sighed. "All right, follow me."

---

Arancaytar looked around slowly. Everything was horribly out of focus. He could tell there were two people, and that one of them was Student of Trinity by the distinctive labcoat, but he couldn't be sure who the other person was. He closed his eyes. "Okay, look, my memory is pretty messed up. I can't be sure of anything that happened or that didn't happen over the last few days. But there's one thing I'm pretty sure of. Why am I a freaking bot?!"

"I wish I knew," Student of Trinity said.

"Yeah. No offense, but you were a lot more attractive when you looked more like Harry Potter," Nikki said.

Arancaytar sighed. "You would have to be here for this."

"Oh, don't mind me. I'm just the one who saved your life."

"Okay, let's back up. Where are we?" Arancaytar asked.

"We're currently on a Google vehicle on our way to Spiderweb," Student of Trinity said.

"Wait. When was the last time you were there?"

"A little over a day ago."

"And it's fine? It hasn't been destroyed?"

"No."

"And no one is permadead?"

"Nope."

"So then... then... arrrgh! It doesn't make sense!"

The vehicle rolled to a stop.

"Nikki, you get the rats to Spiderweb. I'll stay here until Arancaytar is feeling better."

"The... the rats are good, then?" Arancaytar asked.

"Oh, yes."

Arancaytar sighed again. "I wish I could figure out exactly what's what."

Nikki got out of the vehicle. ***** approached him. "Thank you for helping us. Now, how do you want us to approach Spiderweb?"

"Um, I don't know. You come with me. We'll get it figured out soon enough."

Attorukkip joined them. "I need to come too, to speak with Ephesos."

Nikki shrugged. "Okay, sure."

---

The vehicle carrying Filth Finder and the nymphs also came to a halt. Filth Finder looked around carefully before stepping out. It looked deserted, but he had the feeling he was being watched. "Stay here. I'm going to take a better look around."

"But what if someone shows up when you're gone?" Grime Grubber asked.

"Don't worry, I won't go very far."

He had gone less than a block when a GIFTS climbed down from the roof of a nearby building. A GIFTC followed directly behind. Filth Finder retreated to the ticket booth.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Filth Finder asked.

The chitrach moved closer. "I'm Trrrch, and this is Spider. We're guarding. We stay up there and see who comes in."

"Yes, I'm well aware of the concept of guarding. Why are you guarding?"

"For the rebels, of course. Trash Seeker told us this morning to guard here, so here we are."

"What about last night? Were you here then?"

"No. Why?"

"Because I would like to know where Garbage Gatherer went."

Spider stepped forward. "We didn't know anyone was coming, so no one was around. She was caught and taken into Bugtopia. You'd have to talk to Trash Seeker about it."

Filth Finder glanced back to the vehicle. "Where can I find Trash Seeker?"

Trrrch followed his gaze. "Oh, I didn't realize you had nymphs. They're adorabibble!" He started towards them.

Filth Finder jumped in front of him and hissed loudly.

"Well, this complicates things a bit." Spider entered an address into the ticket machine. "This is a safe place for your nymphs. We'll send someone to meet you soon with more news."

Filth Finder looked at the URL suspiciously. "Fine. This had better not be a trick." He climbed backed into the vehicle.

---

In the kitchen, Nioca sipped tea and ignored Chatter and the crickets' conversation. Chatter rubbed his forearms together to communicate so he could eat without interruption.

Other Spiderwebbers were awake now too. Synergy sat down next to Nioca. "Are you ready for a bright new day?"

"No."

"Oh, come on, where's your sense of excitement? Adventure? Wonder?"

Randomizer joined them. "No, I agree with Nioca."

"What about your sense of fun?"

"He squished it," Randomizer muttered, glaring at Chatter.

Tyranicus knocked over the glass of juice he was trying to pick up. "Lacking opposable thumbs should've counted as a negative effect!"