It was nearly midnight at the laboratory. Everyone had gone home for the night. Not a soul remained, except for one.
In a small cage in the corner of a large room, an alien creature slept. It was about the size of a person and its general body shape looked like a lizard, but it was coated in dark red fur, its tail was shaped like a table-tennis paddle, and its hands and feet were webbed.
The cage was covered by a tarp, and locked electronically. A small plaque posted just above the cage read, "Subject 138Z."
For now he remained asleep, but that might have been about to change.
Aha, this must be the room.
Normally a laboratory would have been boring for Rouge the Bat, but she had... business here. They had recently begun work on something top secret, and she had been promised a good amount of money in return for information on what it was.
The room that included Subject 138Z's cage also sported a ventilation grate in the middle of the ceiling, held in place with four screws. One by one, three of them unscrewed themselves and fell out, after which a gloved hand used the fourth screw as a hinge to swing the grate to the side.
Rouge then dropped out of the grate, opened her wings all the way to slow her descent, and touched down gently.
This is it, all right. Now, where's that super-secret project?
The instant the first screw hit the floor, 138Z woke with a start. The vibrations the screw's impact sent through the floor were barely discernible, but this creature's sense of touch was at a far higher level than that of any Earth-born creature.
138Z cautiously peered under the tarp to see what had caused the vibration from that and the other two screws, and nearly jumped when the vibration of Rouge's landing reached him.
Who is that? Nobody ever comes in here at this time of night.
It didn't take very long for 138Z's cage to catch Rouge's eye. She could almost see someone in the cage, peering at her from under that tarp.
Aha. Let's see what's behind Curtain #1...
Rouge slowly made her way to the cage, footstep by footstep. Once she was right in front of it, she grabbed the tarp and yanked it off with one smooth motion, revealing its occupant.
138Z shrank back in fright as this mystery intruder approached him. Every step boomed to his senses. Then he felt her grab the tarp, and yank it off. He let out a small whimper as he looked at her; her physical details were hard to make out in the darkness, but she looked like some sort of demon.
He let out a small series of clicks and hoots from his mouth; by itself it would be impenetrable alien language, but somehow Rouge would be able to understand what he meant.
Don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me.
Rouge blinked as the creature "spoke". It shouldn't have made any sense to her, so why did she know exactly what it'd said?
"Did you just... did you just speak to me?"
(Note: 138Z's "speech" will now be indicated using ~~ marks.)
138Z looked up at the bat. At least he'd confirmed she was capable of talking back to him.
~What are you doing here? Nobody ever comes here this late at night.~
Rouge took a step back, still not sure if she could actually understand his language or if she was just making lucky guesses. She tapped her foot gently on the ground.
"Why don't you tell me what you're doing here? I'm sure it's a much more interesting story."
Maybe this is the "top secret project" I'm supposed to find. Who knows?
~I was born on another planet,~ 138Z explained. ~A rather complicated accident tossed me into space, and I landed on this planet. Someone found me and called the police, and I was taken in by this laboratory.~
He bowed his head. ~The people here perform all sorts of painful tests on me. And they're always walking around and doing who-knows-what. I have a powerful sense of touch, so I can feel every footstep they make and it gives me a headache. Speaking of which... could you stop tapping your foot?~
Rouge stopped tapping her foot when 138Z asked her to.
"Oh, sorry. Let me guess, you want out of there?"
138Z perked up excitedly.
~Yes! Yes, I do! To unlock the cage, you need to enter a five-digit combination on that keypad over there.~
So saying, he pointed to a numeric keypad on the opposite wall. It was a standard model, with buttons for 1234567890, as well as CLEAR and ENTER.
"I'll see what I can do, honey," Rouge replied with a wink. She then proceeded over to the keypad and examined it for a moment.
Damn. They didn't even leave a note.
Rouge turned around. "Say, you wouldn't happen to know what the combination for this thing is, would you?"
138Z paused for a moment, then glanced at the floor.
~Yes and no. I could feel the pulses in the floor when someone entered the code, but I don't know what numbers they correspond to.~
Suddenly, he perked up.
~I've got an idea. Enter 12345 on that keypad, then clear it and enter 67890. Press each key slowly so I can feel the pulses.~
Rouge paused for a moment.
Hmm... well, it sounds crazy, but I suppose I can trust him.
She then brought her finger up pressed the 1 key, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, pausing for about a second between presses. She then pressed CLEAR, then went through 6-0 in the same way.
When she was done, she turned around to face 138Z. "Got it?"
~Almost. Give me a bit of time to work it out.~
138Z went over the pulses in his head for a moment, carefully matching them up.
~Okay, got it. The combination is 38519.~
38519. How could he have-? Well, let's find out if he was right.
Rouge cleared the results of her tests from the keypad, then entered the five-digit number 138Z had mentioned. When it was all in, she pressed the ENTER key, then turned around to see the effect.
138Z perked up instantly as an affirmative BEEP-BEEP sounded. The cage door suddenly unlatched, and he scampered out and approached Rouge.
~Thank you! I must repay you. Tell me, what do you call yourself?~
Rouge turned around as 138Z ran up to him, just like an anxious puppy.
"Rouge the Bat. You can call me Rouge. I don't believe I caught your name either."
Rouge? Is that kind of name normal on this planet?
138Z glanced at the floor for a moment as he pondered how to answer Rouge's question.
~I have no name in your language. The scientists always referred to me with the tag name 138Z.~
Rouge folded her arms.
"138Z? That'll never do, it makes you sound like you're in a prison camp. Can I call you... Zoey?"
Zoey? I suppose it wouldn't hurt to adapt an English name as long as I'm here...
~Zoey. I like it. I can't thank you enough for letting me out. Is there anything I can do for you in return? Anything at all?~
Rouge paused to think for a moment.
"Maybe. I already know you've got a nice sense of touch-" she stomped her foot lightly to prove her point- "but is there anything else I should know about you?"
138Z, or should we say Zoey, jumped when Rouge stomped her foot. That action was analogous to taking a megaphone directly to someone's ear, but he calmed down and answered her question.
~Maybe. I have sticky pads on my hands and feet so I can stick to walls and ceilings, and I'm a natural swimmer and can breathe underwater. Also, I can communicate with anyone no matter what language they speak. Is any of that of use to you?~
Communication in any language? That explains the weird discourse we've been having up until now.
"I think you might have a future as my accomplice, Zoey. I'm a professional thief, and I came here to investigate some top-secret project that the labcoats were working on here. After this I'm planning to stop by a museum downtown and relieve them of a few treasures. How does all that sound to you?"
Zoey nodded his head.
~I'll help you in any way I can, Rouge. It's the least I can do. I believe this is known in your language as 'quid pro quo'?~
During the previous conversation, Rouge had taken the time to take pictures of a few significant documents with a night-vision camera. Now she was ready to go.
She opened her wings and flapped them a few times to get the necessary lift, reaching the vent she'd just came out of. She managed to climb out, pausing only to look back to make sure Zoey was following her.
Zoey was indeed following her. He couldn't fly, so he instead ran over to the wall, stuck himself to it, and climbed his way to the ceiling, and from there into the vent.