a/n: This is a new fic to an awesome Netflix series called Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. If you’re not familiar with it, I can’t recommend it enough! This fic has changed a bit as new seasons have been released, but I hope you enjoy it all the same!
Thirteen years ago…
Perhaps if Hugo had arrived on the surface and found a friend right away, his life might have still turned out differently.
No, not even a friend. If he had arrived to find various mutes who were simply willing to live and let live…well, he might have been lonely in that case but not terrified. He wouldn’t have run screaming from every tiny noise. He wouldn’t have been so desperate.
Instead he spent days seeking what little food and water he could get. Several times he tried returning to sleep at the dilapidated store where he’d found the star-patterned paper–the closest thing he had to a reminder of home. When the screeching, massive, two-headed bird returned, he gave up on trying to come back and focused only on venturing as far from danger as he could. Staying hydrated was the most difficult task. After a day of walking, when he finally found a water fountain that functioned, he didn’t question for a moment how it worked. After all, everything back in his burrow had worked just fine, and it was much more advanced technology than this. Much of the surface was in ruins, but surely it wasn’t odd to find the occasional working machine. The old store had still had the paper after all…
As Hugo quenched his thirst, he noticed the water tasted a bit strange. Quite suddenly, the bowl of the fountain filled up from the drain, and water began to spill over the sides. Hugo gasped and backed up. What had he found now?
The water kept coming, only now it rose up of its own accord into some kind of shape…
“A-a mute?” Hugo gasped.
The creature towered over him, looking vaguely like an oversized blue pill bug. It waved its stubby claws in greeting. “Well, hello there, traveler. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing this fine day?”
“U-uh…I’m H-hugo,” Hugo managed to stutter out. Every instinct he had told him to run. This mute was far larger than him, and he had no way to defend himself. No reason to think he could bargain with it, either. Yet his feet remain firmly planted on the soggy ground.
“Greetings, Hugo. My name is Tad Mulholland. I’m here to be your guide on a special journey through your perfect fantasy.”
“Um, no thank you,” Hugo said, trying to back away, only for the strange creature to shift forms into a liquid again, flowing around his legs and rebuilding behind him, blocking his escape.
“Sound too good to be true?” the creature–Tad something–asked. “I understand. But it’s really no trouble at all. Especially since…” Here Tad did a poor job of stifling a giggle. “…you just drank me,” he finished.
Hugo had the sudden and horrifying sensation of every memory of his childhood being pilfered like a ransacked bookshelf. No thought, recollection, or emotion was secure. Everything was being laid out for this massive mute’s perusal.
Hugo clutched the sides of his head. “Y-you stay out of my mind! Those memories…they’re not yours to see!” He tried to say it aggressively, assert his dominance over the strange creature, as he’d seen the other mutes do who didn’t get pushed around.
But Tad’s deep voice only chuckled softly–this time coming from right inside Hugo’s own mind. Oh, now, now. I can’t make a beautiful dream for you if I have no material to work with. Now…let me see here…
Hugo had the sudden sensation of a hot liquid oozing into brain, of tiny hands riffling through his deepest secrets and most desperate longings. But as had happened so many times up here on the surface, Tad ignored every plea to stop and helped himself to every private thought. Hugo felt the mute’s mood grow heavy at what he found.
Oh, dear. So much hurt. And so much abandonment. Yes, I’ve got the perfect dream for you…
Hugo squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. The sounds about him faded, and for the briefest moment, there was total, unnerving silence. Then another noise started up–the whir of a machine…the pounding of footsteps that were neither approaching nor retreating…someone panting…
The treadmill? In the lab? Hugo held himself as he shook with fear. What was it the strange mute had said about a beautiful dream? This was a nightmare!
“Come on, Dr. Emilia,” said Lio’s voice. “Run faster. Don’t you want to know how it felt? Run faster.”
Cautiously, Hugo opened his eyes. To his astonishment, he was back in the lab. Everything was intact, and in the awful glass prison that Dr. Emilia had trapped him in…now she was running, panting, and sweating.
“I’m…sorry…” she managed to say through her heavy breaths. “I…understand now. I was wrong. I am a very bad person…and I am so sorry!”
Lio gave a hearty laugh before pressing a button on the enclosure that both made the treadmill stop and a glass of water appear out of a compartment for Dr. Emilia. She grabbed it and began taking large gulps.
“Thank you, Dr. Oak!” she said, giving him a thumbs up and a wide smile. “You have shown me the error of my ways! I am going to sit in here a while and contemplate a better path in life.”
“I think that’s quite wise, Dr. Emilia,” Lio said. “I’ll leave you to it.” Then he turned his back on her so he could face Hugo. “You doing okay there, buddy? You look nervous.”
Hugo rubbed his hands. He did feel nervous and yet he couldn’t explain why. If he backtracked the events of the last few days, they were jumbled together. He was sure the glass enclosure had shattered…that he’d been hurt. Yet as he brought his hands to his face, there were no scars or gashes there. Perhaps the glass shattering had been a bad dream?
“It’s because we’re finally going to the surface, isn’t it?” Lio asked. “Don’t worry. We’ll be safe as long as we’re all together.” He started to walk towards their quarters.
Hugo panicked and grabbed Lio’s arm. “B-but the guards! They’ll see us leaving. They’ll catch us!”
“You mean the guards who all ran crying for their mommies after you used your pheromones on them?” Lio laughed. “I don’t think they’ll bother us.”
“I did?” Hugo didn’t remember doing this. Then again, it wasn’t like Lio to lie. Especially when the topic was so serious. Before he could press the issue, something more urgent occurred to him. “Where’s Song? Is she okay? Did she have the baby yet?”
“No, not quite yet,” said Lio. “But we’ve got all the medical equipment we need thanks to Dr. Emilia’s generous donation.” He gave Hugo a wink. They were halfway down the hall now. He could see the door to their quarters from here.
Hugo stayed silent for a long while before he finally spoke his mind. “But…you said using my powers was wrong.”
Lio paused in front of their door and rubbed the back of his head. “Look, Hugo. I know what I said. But the thing is…I was just scared. Scared of what you could do. But now I realize it was a silly feeling to have.” He placed a hand on Hugo’s shoulder. “The only thing that’s wrong is ignoring what makes you special. Superior, really. Those guards ran because you’re better than them, Hugo. You always have been.”
The look of pride that Lio gave Hugo was one he’d longed to see for a long time. He saw it the first time when he said his name. Again when he read his first book. Again when he composed his first song. How warm and comforting it felt to see that expression bestowed on him again. “Are there any other primates being kept in the labs?” he said excitedly. “We could release them. They could help guard Song while she has the baby.”
“That’s a great idea!” Lio said as he opened the door. “Song? Honey, Hugo’s just had the best idea!”
“Coming!” Song called from the bedroom. “I’m just packing the last of the baby’s things. Hugo made her a new blanket, remember?”
Hugo smiled. Yes, he did remember doing that…how could he have forgotten?
Lio asked him to stand guard while they finished the packing. Hugo stood by the door, basking in pride. Everything was perfect…he had saved his family. They loved him. He and his parents and new little sister…they would escape to the surface thanks to him. Yes, they would always be togeth–
“Oh, dear…” came the baritone voice of Tad Mulholland, distant and far away. It almost sounded like an echo. “I do get excited. Now I’ve gone and broken that old fountain…have to get a new one…”
“A crash…?” Hugo said aloud. Song and Lio did not hear him, busy as they were packing in the next room. He thought he heard Lio humming, but…
That crash. He’d heard another one like it not long ago. No, it had been more than a crash then. It had been an explosion. He’d called for help, but no one came. No one looked for him. No one…
A splitting pain seared across Hugo’s head. Broken…shattered…
This wasn’t right. It wasn’t reality. This mute was showing him a dream he wanted to see. If he stayed here, he could live that dream forever. If he woke up, it would be to a world where he’d stayed trapped, running at Dr. Emilia’s command until the whole place exploded around him.
A world where Lio and Song never came for him. Where his trust in family was just as shattered as the glass.
I won’t live in a dream! Hugo promised himself. I’ll be stronger than that!
His eyes flung open. He was laying in a pool of water with Tad Mulholland looming over him and looking thoroughly shocked. Before the huge mute could react, Hugo dove for dry land. When he pulled himself onto the grass, he coughed and gagged until the strange water he’d swallowed earlier was forced out of his throat.
“Wait!” Tad called. “Don’t leave, traveler! I’ll make your dream even better! How about I turn Dr. Emilia into a bunny? Or you a mega-mute? No one would ever hurt you then. Oh, wait! I could make your whole family mega-mutes!”
Hugo didn’t listen. He ran as fast as he could, hoping to never see the strange creature again. When he’d run as far as he could, he collapsed against a tree. Tad did not seem to have given chase. And why would he need to? When he could so easily overpower anything that came his way, there was no reason to exert such energy. I will be stronger, Hugo promised himself. No one will ever hurt me again. But it won’t be in your pitiful dream world. It will be the reality I make for myself!