Chapter 14:

The Alliance


After living in the gray concrete prison at Lester’s base, Lucky’s first taste of nature is in the humid street lined with royal poincianas. Even if she enjoyed engorging herself on digital meals in the modern ambiance of McDonald’s, its overly manufactured vibe is exposed for what it really is as she breathes in the atmosphere of Pinecrest Gardens. It’s a whole world all it’s own. It doesn’t pretend to strike a balance between the organic and the artificial, but allows itself to be a full immersion into nature’s offerings.

As Lucky follows the stone path with imprints of various palm fronds, she looks up and admires the gray Spanish moss swaying gently from the trees. Underneath them, an old and derelict fountain in the shape of a dove is overrun by green vines and wildlife. Lucky can just make out the letters running down the front of the fountain. They read PEACE.

As they continue to walk up and down the path, the oak trees shelter them from the sun, much to Viper’s relief, if the lack of irritation in the flick of his tail is anything to go by. Lucky notices a dirty crusted sign that says this part of the gardens is called the Hardwood Hammock. There’s a whole explanation about the ecosystem of this place, but she doesn’t really care for the details. Her system automatically produces explanations for each plant automatically, and it stays stored in her memory systems permanently; she doesn’t exactly need to review. 

As Lucky continues her guided tour thanks to her internal systems, she absorbs everything with wonder and delight. A stream of water running underneath a limestone bridge piques her curiosity, and she peers her head down to look more closely. There are koi fish in the water, much to her surprise.

“There are real animals here?” she wonders aloud.

“A marvelous three thousand and eighty-seven, actually!” One looks down and admires the koi along with her, a gentle smile on his face. It’s not a pleasant one. “The GACHA system has been awful to us Pets, but the real animals have been thriving due to environmental protection laws,” One explains. “There’s hardly any restrictions on what you can do with Pets, though.”

Lucky looks away from the koi, the resentment scratching at her chest as if begging to be let in. The fish—fat and oblivious as they are—have done nothing wrong. It’s people that have done something wrong, as always. Still, the fact that little animals with nothing but instinct ingrained in their bodies are treated better than them is a cruelty that Lucky is sure she’ll never forgive. 

They continue to make their way down the path, and false bird of paradise hang down in vibrant magenta waves to their left. The smell of scented lip gloss fills the air as they pass the pine cone ginger and ruffled fan palms, but Lucky can’t make out which plant is producing the refreshing and playful scent. It’s a shame that she doesn’t that she’s only able to use visuals to identify the plants, and not scent. In any case, she’s grateful to get the scent of burgers and fries out of her nose.

Eventually, the smell fades away, and Lucky really gets something to look at as they’d tumble upon a cluster of nude sculptures. Lucky feels a sense of longing as she looks at how the sculptures dance freely in very loose connection with each other. It’s not as structured as other dances, where you have a dance partner or dance in a neat circle in synchronization. Still, Lucky gets the sense that they are very much dancing together. 

It’s only once they reach some of the first steps in the gardens that Lucky notices just how many Pets are part of this resistance movement. Surprise, surprise, it’s a good hundred!

Unlike the Pets she saw at the fast-food restaurant, these Pets are far more advanced— they’re just like them, really. She can’t help staring, even if Bliss nudges her for being rude. How could she not look? There’s a dragon curled around a cactus, a cute little owl, humanoids with wildly unrealistic looks, and even a unicorn. A u-ni-corn. Again, how can she not look?

As for their reactions towards them, the Pets seem curious, if a bit cautious. Lucky can tell that they’ve interrupted so many conversations at this “tea party” that it’s rippled all the way through the gardens, turning even the real animals silent.

Viper and Bliss seem unnerved by this silence, but Panic Button quickly fills it up with chatter, as if he’s attempting to fan the flames of a wet,  dead fire all by himself.

One, for his part, seems amused about the whole situation, his black devil-like tail Lucky swishing behind him playfully. She wonders what his story is, but before she can ask, they arrive at the top. All of One’s playfulness is quickly stuffed away, almost like he’s trying to hide it in his pocket or something, as they stand in the open stone pavilion at the summit.  Lucky stands on her hind legs and catches a glimpse of a lake filled with flamingos on the side opposite to them.

“Sir Kerfuffles, we have some guests who are interested in joining our alliance.” One says it almost tonelessly, a single glowing blue eye looking back them expectantly. 

Lucky doesn’t exactly meet whatever those expectations are. 

Lucky quickly covers her mouth with her ears to muffle a laugh, but it seems that Viper is unable to hide his laughter, quickly making the very brief introduction a million times more awkward. Lucky levels a glare at him. He’s always laughed at awful, stupid jokes, but she didn’t think that extended to silly names too!

Silly name or not though, Lucky can’t help but think it suits him. He’s a creamy brownish bunny rabbit with small floppy ears, yet there’s an air about him that exudes wisdom. He has cute and saggy furry eyebrows, but even underneath them she can see the X over where his left eye should be. She gulps. He looks like a veteran, the picture-perfect leader for a resistance movement.

Kerfuffles raises a furry brow at them. “I know my name is ridiculous, but you can’t even pretend it isn’t, can you? I guess I know which members not to send on stealth missions.”

Did they offend him already? Probably. It’s nothing that Lucky can’t fix though!

“Actually, Panic Button here is perfect for stealth missions,” Lucky says, pushing him forward with her ear, like a peace offering.

“Oh, really? Do tell.”

Before Panic Button can get a word in edgewise, Lucky continues, “He has a really handy noise cancellation skill!”

“Hmm, hmmm, hooo. Panic Button would make a great partner for Bodyguard Two. She has a skill that nullifies sight.”

“Bodyguard Two?” Bliss asks.

“Well, when there’s a one, there’s usually a two too,” One says nonchalantly. “We’re twins. Both in the past and in the present.”

“Past and the present? Does that mean that you…have your memories?” Lucky looks up at Bliss, and notices the tension in the way her cords tighten underneath her skin to a degree that’s almost monstrous.

As Lucky looks over her shoulder, she notices the other Pets poking their heads in on their conversation, quietly whispering amongst themselves. While Lucky is used to getting attention for being a stuffed dog, it must not seem so unusual among Pets that are this exotic. Lucky looks at Bliss and her big bear paws that are connected to bulging cords that seem ready to burst from underneath her fur any second. They put her back together as best they could, but Lucky knows it was a poor attempt at best. Bliss is still basically stuck together with a hope and a prayer.

To the Pets here who are products of costly and luxurious design, Bliss must seem like the odd one. It’s no wonder they’re interested, including Sir Kerfuffles himself.

Kerfuffles smiles. “Yes. But we can discuss that another time.”

“No,” Bliss presses. “Now. We need to talk about it now.”

Viper places a paw on her shoulder. “Bliss—”

She shrugs him off with a wolfish snarl. He backs off, which Lucky knows is for the best, as Bliss continues to stand up to Kerfuffles. Honestly, Lucky never expected her to be so defiant, but she is curious to see how Kerfuffles will react. Will he kick them out for their insolence, or show a little benevolence?

Sir Kerfuffles shakes his head at her. “I’m sorry, but there are more important subjects that we need to chat about first.

Bliss slams her big bear paw against the concrete, and it cracks underneath the power of claws. “I need to know what I saw! That girl who started the fire—”

One summons a ball of fire of ball to his hand in warning. “Watch yourself. You’re on our turf, you follow our rules.”

“Don’t be too hard on her, One. We’ve all been there.”

“Hmph.” One looks none to happy about it but he extinguishes his flame, much to Lucky’s immense relief. Going by the way Panic Button clutches at his chest, she’d wager he feels the same.

“You have to understand,” Kerfuffles explains kindly, “this place is a well guarded secret. It’s almost impossible to find Pinecrest Gardens on your own. You may be a spy for the enemy, and we can’t risk leaking inte to someone who is untested.”

“Makes sense,” Panic Button says, sounding perfectly reasonable in a way that annoys Bliss enough for her to flick him with her tail.

One squats down and looks at them curiously. “I’d like to know how you got in here too. I’m super high level compared to you guys, no offense.”

“Well, you want the long version or the short version?” Lucky asks, plopping herself down and making herself comfortable for a nice toasty talk.



Kerfuffles and One share a look, and in an instant, One’s answer quickly changes to “long” too.

Thus, Lucky begins unpacking the tale of their captivity in a laid back way that made the experiences they went through somehow sound far more ordinary than they actually were.

Her explanations were so detailed and sharp she might as well have held up a picture of each event and explained it to them. Lucky chalks it up to her great no-longer-human brain. She remembers everything except her past with a clarity that is almost frightening.

After she nears the end of her explanation, she decides to round off her story nicely by explaining how they managed to get into the gardens. “Bliss unlocked a teleportation skill, so when we tried to escape, we were able to make it here thanks to her.”  She could have answered their question straightaway and saved them all some time, but she’s not going to just give them the answer and allow them to ignore her story.

“Ah, that makes more sense,” the bunny says. He hops up and down once, as if affirming that all the puzzle pieces are finally beginning to fit into place. “I never really considered someone would be able to come here through chance, so it’s good to know that it’s possible. One will have to fortify security based on that possibility from now on.”

One bows. “As you command, Sir Kerfuffles.”

“Anyhoo hoo hoooo,” the bunny continues, “Lucky, you really are a special kind of Pet. To overpower Barkley, you’re the first I’ve heard capable of doing that.”

Uh-oh. Lucky doesn’t like that gleam in his eyes. “I’m sure that they must be aware of your power. I imagine they’re afraid of what might happen if they can’t get you under their control.”

“If we have you, we have what they want. You may be the single most important member of our alliance.” Kerfuffles hops down from his pedestal and gestures at the other Pets lurking nearby with a wave of his furry paw. “We’re a group of Pets that come from all kinds of circumstances. Some of us are strays who escaped their owners—others were abandoned. In some special cases like One, there are even some among us who still have owners who are not resistant to our cause.”

Kerfuffles stands on two legs in front of Lucky, looking up at her with as much authority as a little bunny can. “With you on our side, we’re no longer just trying to protect ourselves. We’ll prove to them that we’re superior! If anyone deserves to rule over others, it’s us! Not them!”

The crowd of Pets roar and cry out in approval at his words, and the sound rings so loudly that the flamingos take flight and fly away from the lake into the forested part of the gardens.

Lucky wishes she could do the same. She doesn’t really think herself superior to humans; she also doesn’t think herself inferior to them either. Also, to rule over others? She’s never wanted anything like that. She just wants the truth.

With the way that Kerfuffles is looking at her though, it doesn’t seem like there’s any way they’d let her go now. She wonders if she should try to use her skill again, but even if she did, there’s no guarantee it works on multiple Pets at once.

Lucky feels Bliss’ paw between her shoulders. She leans down and talks slowly in her ear, “Should we book it?”

“I…think it’s too late. Besides, you want to know about your memories too, right?”

“I do, but I think I’ve already been plenty selfish. You three have already saved my life, and that should be plenty.”

“Well, it’s not good enough for me. I also want to know more about my memory. As long as Viper and Panic Button are on board, we should stay. Let them waste resources on us until we decide what we want to do for ourselves.”

“I don’t think they’d object, honestly, Bliss says. “They told me once that they don’t really care to remember, but they don’t want want to be left alone either.”

Lucky laughs. “What’s with that? They never tell me stuff like that.”

“You’re like the little sister. They want to be cool and reliable older brothers to you.”

As Lucky watches the two of them whisper with each other as Kerfuffles indulges in the cheers of his followers, she smiles. “They already are.”

“So?” Kerfuffles asks, no longer distracted by the attention. “Will you help us?”

Lucky offers her ear, and he shakes it with his. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be in the long run, but if you’ll have me,” she says, pretending to be humbled by his offer.

“Oh, trust me. You’ll turn the GACHA system upside down.”
Steward McOy