Chapter 9: Five-Star Social Services
"So," Cobra put his sunglasses back on, "are you going to let me into the house?"
"Yeah, sure," Nani mumbled, opening the door fully while simultaneously sending a death glare to Lilo. "Come in, I suppose..." she added, sighing in defeat.
There was no way Cobra was going to have a good impression of her now.
Not a chance.
Cobra walked through the front doorway with Lilo in tow, before taking a seat on a chair. "When I took her here, I heard Lilo call you Nani. By any chance, is your name Nani?" he tilted his head in mild curiosity.
"Yeah," she nodded, "I am Lilo's sister, Nani."
"Alright then. Now, I must inform you, Nani. The state sees you as not only Lilo's sister—as of last year, you were also your sister's legal guardian. You are aware of the role a guardian plays on a child's development, right?" Cobra continued speaking before even waiting for Nani's response. "A guardian is a legal ward that can make decisions on behalf of a minor, and above all else, be a caretaker for a young child like Lilo. I cannot stress how much responsibility is required to undertake such a daunting task." He frowned, looking back and forth between Lilo and Nani. "So, that leads me to my first question. Where exactly were you earlier?"
Nani cringed. Cobra wasn't going to like this answer, but since Lilo knew the truth, lying would backfire so hard that it wasn't worth it.
"I was asleep…"
"You were asleep," Cobra repeated, raising his eyebrows. He took out a notepad from his suit pocket, shaking his head along to those three words. Clicking his pen, he continued, "You were asleep and you had no idea about the whereabouts of your sister? Do you know where I found her, Nani? In the forest. Six-year-olds are curious little creatures. They can run surprisingly far from figures of authority." Nani just nodded along, groaning at the prospect of trying to weasel her way out of this. Why couldn't her sister make things easier for her by just keeping out of trouble?
"Anyway," Cobra stood up, gazing around the house, "I hope you don't mind if I have a look around this place. Where is Lilo's room?"
"Hey, Mister Cobra?" Lilo tugged on Cobra's suit, taking the man's attention off Nani for the first time since he stepped foot in their house. "Why do you want to see my room?" she asked out of curiosity. "I keep all my secret stuff in there," she lowered her voice to a whisper before adding, "like my practical voodoo kit."
"Practical Voodoo Kit?" Cobra shook his head in sheer disbelief. "I'm sorry, but did I hear that correctly?"
"She's just joking!" Nani immediately rebuked before Lilo had the chance to reply, "What a lovely sense of humour my sister has!" she added, hoping Cobra would buy it.
"What lovely humour, indeed. Now I've decided that I want to see her room for myself." Cobra crouched down to Lilo's eye level, unconvinced. "Lilo, can I see your room?"
"Okay," Lilo answered. "It's right up the stairs! Come on!" she said with excitement in her voice as she skipped up the stairs. "I'll lead you straight to it!"
As Cobra followed the enthusiastic Lilo, Nani trudged along behind, trying her best not to wring her fingers out of frustration. She prayed in vain that maybe, just maybe, the Hawaiian deities would have mercy on her and turn this meeting around.
Although judging by her luck, probably not. Those same deities probably had some grudge against her, just for their comedic amusement. I know you all hate me, she screamed silently.
"Ta-da! This is my room!" Lilo beamed as she led Cobra into the small room.
Cobra gazed around, taking note of every minute detail. "Is it always this messy?" he asked, noticing the pile of pillows near the window.
"Not usually. It was only like that today because I climbed out of the window," she shrugged, not noticing Nani cringe from her response.
"The window… alright, I won't question that," Cobra took out his pen again to jot down more pointers to Nani's chagrin.
"And this is Scrump!" Lilo said as she held up a small green doll with a bow in her hand. Cobra observed that "Scrump" was hand stitched and looked very unlike what a regular doll would look like.
"Scrump, meet Mister Bubbles. He's a nice guy."
"So it's an imaginary companion you have around?" Cobra questioned.
"Scrump isn't imaginary!" Lilo retorted. "She's right there!" she said, physically pointing to the doll. "She just... doesn't talk much. I am usually the only one that talks to Scrump."
"So... you mean something like ventriloquism?"
"Like what?" Lilo cocked her head, puzzled. "I'm sorry, but I don't understand that word."
"Puppets," Cobra clarified in simpler English so that a young child like Lilo could understand. "It involves throwing your voice so a dummy appears they're talking."
"Yeah, that sounds cool!" she smiled. "But I don't throw my voice for Scrump! She really talks back to me, and I like talking to Scrump too. Scrump'll always listen to me."
Cobra perked up. "Really? How?"
"Yep! I know what Scrump is saying when she replies because I can hear her! I tell her stories all the time!"
Cobra's face took on a contemplative expression. "She feels alone, lonely enough to create her own voice in her head she projects as an imaginary friend to talk to. Such an environment is not conducive to a young and impressionable six year old girl," he scribbled down his thoughts onto the notepad, right before something unusual caught his eye.
"What is a jar of pickles doing there?"
"Oh, the pickle jar?" she pointed, "That's part of the creepy voodoo stuff I have! I use it to punish my friends when they—"
"Funny joke, right?" Nani interjected. When it came to Lilo, her hearing was extremely sharp. "I mean, the whole voodoo thing, it's so funny! After all, it's Hawaiian culture to—"
"The intent for harm is there," he responded curtly, countering Nani's argument. Nani closed her mouth, knowing that Cobra had figured everything out and saying anything else would be futile. With a sigh, Cobra placed the notepad and pen back into his suit. "I think I've seen enough here. Lilo, you stay here, okay?"
"Alright!" she replied, not aware of the reason why Nani looked so tired and resigned. "You have fun! I'm going to talk with Scrump about the falling star!"
"Nani," Cobra signalled as he shut Lilo's room door, "Come with me downstairs. We need to talk."
"Ohhhhhhhh!" 626 grinned, unable to contain his excitement at the sight in front of him.
A glorious hotel resort stood tall in his line of vision. So big, so orderly, so systematic! He chuckled to himself, his mind already thinking of ways to cause trouble.
As he walked up the steps to the entrance, a bellboy suddenly blocked his path. "Hey, no dogs allowed," the bellboy said, waving his arm to try to shoo 626 away, unaware that the blue creature in front of him wasn't really a "dog".
In response, 626 showed the bellboy the sharp claws on his arms, daring him to make a move. As the bellboy froze in fright, he began to smile devilishly and started to walk towards the still man. The fear in the bellboy's eyes as he slowly approached was one 626 relished.
Oh, how he lived for this, knowing that he was all powerful and that these puny beings would eventually end up grovelling at his feet for mercy. It was the experiment's salvation. He was the destroyer of cities, no, of worlds! It was what he was made for, what he lived for!
Eventually the bellboy could take no more. As 626 went closer and closer, he suddenly noticed 626's two extra limbs and ran off, screaming like a baby. "Help! A mutated stray dog is about to maul me! Someone call security! Save me!"
626 only laughed in response, barging through the double front doors without further resistance and walked straight into the lobby of the building. He began to grow excited as he saw the interior of the hotel.
The first floor of the place was basically like a small shopping complex, filled with hundreds of shoppers. The hotel facilities consisted of a bank, fine dining restaurants, some amusement park rides and potted plants with statues around purely for scenery and decoration.
Where should meega start, he thought, as his brain processed everything in his surroundings. However, before he could make his decision, he felt something hard jab into his back.
"Don't run, don't call for help, and don't be making any sudden moves."
626 felt a twinge of fear, recognising the voice from behind him. It took him less than a second to realise what the object that poked his back was. He only hissed in response, knowing he was trapped.
"Hush now, six-two-six!" Jumba admonished, almost like he was speaking to a young child instead of a dangerous genetic experiment. "I might have made you fireproof, but plasma shot from blaster at point-blank would still deal significant damage to you. Jumba would prefer if we avoid that unfortunate situation. After all, I do not think you would want to be shot, am I right?" he asked rhetorically. Seeing as he only got more gnarling from 626, he continued his demands. "Let's not draw any attention to you. Retract your lower limbs."
He obliged, sucking his two lower arms into his body. At least that demand was reasonable and easy, unlike what Jumba had wanted last night at the crash site.
"Now you will be following me to hotel check-in area. We will be looking and playing the part of two tourists. No one will be suspecting anything amiss." He jabbed the plasma blaster to 626's back again. "As long as you don't try anything funny!"
As much as 626 wanted to knock the plasma blaster aimed at his back away, he calculated that Jumba's reaction time would be faster than the time he would need to turn around and grab the blaster, which meant that he was guaranteed to be shot if he retaliated right now. Stewing, he obeyed his creator for now, following him to a couch, accepting that he would need to wait for a better opportunity to get away unscathed.
As the two sat down together, 626 found that he was no longer at Jumba's front. Seeing that he could finally look at Jumba, he turned to his left and was surprised to see that his creator had drastically changed his appearance. The scientist had ditched his lab coat for a local yellow shirt and baggy pants, with a pair of goofily large sunglasses covering his four eyes. Although his right arm was holding the plasma blaster, his left was holding up a newspaper, albeit upside down. In short, Jumba looked and played the part of a local tourist. The only thing that wasn't human at all was the very-alien plasma gun, conveniently obscured from prying eyes and closed-circuit cameras by the newspaper carried in Jumba's free arm.
"What do you think, six-two-six? Ingenious local disguise, no?" Jumba asked with a smile.
"Naga," 626 stuck his tongue out. If he was going to be his creator's hostage, then he was going to make Jumba as miserable as possible while the scientist played the role of captor.
"Do not be spoilsport," Jumba replied, slightly upset over 626's remark. "Jumba had gone through considerable amount of trouble to disguise myself."
"Why do yuuga even need disguise?!" 626 glared at his creator. "This place full of weaklings, so yuuga have no need to spy!"
"It is not spying that is problem. It is stupid Galactic Federation that is big trouble for Jumba!" Jumba clenched his left hand in anger, accidentally crumpling part of the newspaper. "When you and Hamsterviel set off via hyperspace from Galaxy Defence Industries, you unintentionally made the grave error of taking me along with you, making me violate my curfew bail terms. It is partially your fault," he grimaced, taking a cold, hard stare at 626, "After all, you were the one who set off ten second countdown. Now all my planning has gone to waste, since I am once again wanted by Galactic Council. They will hunt me down for breaking bail terms, and if they catch me they will be locking me up for very long time. That would be very significant problem, so Jumba no want that! Hence for the past few hours, I had been thinking about how to escape their bounty, and have come to one conclusion. I need you, my glorious six-two-six, to help me stand a chance fighting against those pesky annoyances," he stated, prodding the experiment with his blaster.
Sensing that Jumba was open to a more amiable conversation, 626 decided to stop beating about the bush and ask the one question he was genuinely interested to know. "Then how yuuga know that meega would be here?"
"Hahahaha! You are thinking that Jumba is mind reader? So naive," Jumba chuckled at 626's query. "Jumba know you better than you know yourself, six-two-six. I programmed you to be causing destruction to largest cities of my planet of choice!" Jumba then sheepishly lowered his voice, changing the topic. "Of course, I did not happen to choose this planet by choice, which leads to very interesting scenario. Normally I would never, ever be sending you to planet like this. And why is that, you may ask?"
"Isa no challenge!" 626 took a wild guess, "People here all cowards!" It seemed like a legitimate reason at the least. He felt that this place would be a cinch to take over for him, hardly worthy of his talents.
"Not at all, six-two-six," Jumba grinned, disagreeing with his answer. "In fact, it is quite the opposite. This place would actually be a challenge for you to take over completely."
"Pffft," 626 scoffed, not believing Jumba's words for a second.
"Do you want to be making bet on this?" Jumba challenged, amused. "I have spent the past few hours researching everything I can about this pitiful little place, and have found out something unique. Turns out that Planet Earth is approximately only thirty percent land! The remainder seventy percent is the problem. Unfortunately for you, my little experiment, that means that you have a weakness here, one I can exploit!"
"Gaba?" 626's ears flopped down. "Meega have weakness?! What weakness?"
"Water," Jumba spat. Somehow, just him saying that one word caused 626 to involuntarily shudder. "Water is your weakness. Your molecular density is too much dense compared to water. Now, if you were to fall into something like mercury, you might float. But water? You will be sinking to bottom and drown!"
626 shivered, contemplating the scenario and instantly deciding that sinking and drowning was definitely not how he intended to go down in the slightest.
"As it turns out," Jumba continued, smiling slightly as he saw 626 flinch in fear, "to my great fortune, Hamsterviel's ship has crash landed on island of Kauai, completely water-locked from any big civilisation!" 626 flinched back as Jumba told him this new information, not liking the idea of having a small audience to witness his destructive programming. The experiment had wanted a crowd of screaming innocents, not a mere handful!
Jumba grinned slightly as he saw 626 at a loss of words, unable to comprehend the increasingly stacked odds against him. "Ah, you are finally getting situation now. The navigation system in your brain turned you away from the coast because this island is surrounded by water, and therefore your instincts would have driven you to the largest landmark in this pathetic tiny town," he laughed, as 626 scowled in realisation. "So all I had to be doing was look up what the largest hallmark is, and I got my answer. The hotel resort that is standing right here is largest and most important building in this 'Kokaua Town'. And my theory was proven correct, since you were indeed drawn to this place. So now you get how Jumba knew that you were here, six-two-six? Ain't I clever?!" he finished with a confident smile, the sort professors give when they are done giving a lecture to their students.
626 clapped his hands together slowly, in a mocking fashion. Despite his sarcasm, he was actually impressed by Jumba's explanation. If he was a bystander instead of being the target of Jumba's hypothesis, the praise he gave Jumba would have actually been genuine. 626 made a mental note to be very careful around him in the future. Underestimating his creator would be a bad idea since it became rapidly obvious that Jumba knew much more about him than he had originally thought. Keeping secrets like that meant that Jumba could pull sudden trump cards on him at any moment.
After 626 stopped his clapping, there was an uncomfortable silence, with both the experiment and mad scientist staring at each other, waiting for the other to talk. At this point, to unsuspecting tourists, they actually looked like a tourist and dog, with the exception of the alien gun that one was pointing at the other, obscured conveniently by the newspaper.
"Ahem," Jumba coughed, "Let us cut a deal, six-two-six. You do not know dangers of what will happen if round metal container remains inside of you. Please, Jumba beg you, allow me to be cutting you in half."
"Naga," 626 responded, refusing to back down on Jumba's demand. "Inga tu smeeshta!"
"I'll put you back together again!" Jumba's eyes flickered with desperation. "Just trust me, I promise that you will be unhurt! I know you inside-out, right down to the last molecule! I made you!"
626 contemplated, before shaking his head vigorously. "Naga means naga!" he said, his tone firm in conviction.
Jumba sighed. Of course it had to come down to this. "So you want to be playing it hard to get, eh?" his face turned grim. "Fine, looks like I'll just have to be knocking you out cold with this blaster!" he declared, preparing to fire.
626 had been waiting for this.
Jumba's mistake was changing his original position from being behind 626 to being beside him when they sat down on the couch, which gave him a chance to counter Jumba when he fired.
Throughout the entire conversation, he had waited for the moment where Jumba would threaten him with the blaster. 626 had to time it just right. A second too early and Jumba would catch on to his plan. A second too late and he would be hit by burning plasma.
Wait for it, wait for it... Now!
Right as Jumba squeezed the trigger, 626 performed a roundhouse kick at the blaster, knocking the barrel upwards with his feet. Caught by surprise, Jumba couldn't block his hit and the green plasma fired upwards, hitting the ceiling.
Before Jumba could finish his sentence, 626 spat right into his face. With mucus and saliva all over his sunglasses, Jumba's vision was completely blurred. Unable to see a thing due to the goop, he was forced to drop the newspaper and take off his sunglasses, cleaning them with his shirt. As he did so, 626 scurried away from the couch, hiding out of sight using the crowd.
"So much for subterfuge," he muttered, putting the sunglasses back on after wiping them clean. "Where did you go, six-two-six?" he asked, raising his voice. He was starting to attract attention around the lobby, with many people wondering what the commotion was about. "Ha! You are definitely a sneaky one, using your spit as a distraction. But you can't stop me now! I know you are somewhere in this hotel lobby! There's no point hiding! I will find you, and when I do—"
"Yuuga forgot about plasma shot, Jumba?" came 626's voice from elsewhere across the hotel lobby. "Look out above!"
"Now, what does that mean?" Jumba pondered, before suddenly hearing a snapping noise from the ceiling. "What the…" he started, looking up, before gasping out loud, as all four of his eyes stared at the rapidly increasing black shadow that fell across his face. Less than a second later, he was hit directly by fifty pounds of metal before he even had time to yell. The golden chandelier hanging from the top of the hotel lobby ceiling had snapped and fallen down right onto the mad scientist after its support was chipped by the plasma shot, exactly as 626 had planned it.
A second later, realisation dawned across the other hotel guests. Screams were heard all throughout the lobby as panicked tourists fled the scene, not wishing to the next unfortunate person squished like a pancake.
"Earthquake! The place's collapsing! Things are falling! Run!"
"Someone was just crushed in the rubble, dude! We gotta get out of here!"
"I think I left my luggage behind!"
"Forget the luggage, let's just scram!"
"B-but my passport!"
"Do you want your passport or your life, doofus?!"
The experiment chuckled at the chaos before slinking away, unseen and unnoticed amidst the commotion.
Barely ten seconds after the chandelier fell to the ground, the entire hotel check-in area was empty. As a result, no one saw Jumba crawling out of the twisted metal, clutching his head in agony. "Curse you, six-two-six!" he shouted to a deserted lobby, "Sure, I must be admitting that redirecting my shot to cause chandelier to fall on me was brilliant and evil plan. But still, curse you!"
"I'm so sorry!" a man in a pink shirt apologised, running into the ruined lobby. "Were you the one hit by that falling chandelier?"
Jumba almost wanted to hit the man for that stupid question. Calming down, he answered as calmly as one could possibly manage when they had just been crushed by a pile of metal. "As you can probably see from the scratches on my face and half-torn clothing, yes."
"Oh my, that's nasty!" the man cringed as he walked closer. "Do you need an ambulance?"
"I'm fine! I do not need no ambulance!" Jumba was almost insulted by the man's offer. Does random human actually think that Jumba would be requiring visit to hospital? Pah, looks like humans are much more fragile than Jumba originally thought!
"Sorry, I must apologise. You see, I'm the owner of the Birds of Paradise Hotel, Mr. Jameson." He reached his arm out toward Jumba's for a handshake, hoping to make amends. "I assure you, we will fully investigate the cause for that falling chandelier. I will take full responsibility for compensation of your injuries. A full investigation will be carried out and proper measures put up to prevent a repeat incident from happening again."
"Bah, you be getting out of my way!" Jumba glared at Mr. Jameson, declining his handshake by shoving his hand away. Due to Jumba's size, the shove accidentally caused Mr. Jameson to fall to the ground as well. "Jumba does not wish to be reimbursed, not when my priceless experiment is getting away from me!" Without any warning, the injured Jumba broke into a run for the exit, finally recovering from his dizziness enough to resume his chase with 626.
"But, sir... Sir!" Mr. Jameson got up, trying to chase Jumba. "You're injured! At least let me call the hospital!" The hotel owner eventually gave up his run when he saw Jumba dashing out of the hotel, unwilling to listen to him. Turning to a bellboy, he spoke in a tired tone, "Don't just stand there, get a cleanup crew. I have a feeling that tourist won't be coming back to Birds of Paradise for the rest of his life," he moped, upset by how he had handled the situation. "There goes our five-star rating. I can't wait for the tabloids to get their mits on this one…"
"Anything else, Mr. Jameson?" the bellboy asked.
"Tell finance department to order a new chandelier immediately." Just as the bellboy was about to leave, Mr. Jameson took one step forward and raised his voice, making the poor unfortunate bellboy tremble. "And add a personal memo from me — make sure that it WON'T fall on my paying tourists again!"
As the bellboy ran off for help, Mr. Jameson just stared at the wrecked remains of his hotel lobby before he straightened his collar.
"I swear, this is just another one of those batty days..." he muttered under his breath, clenching his eyes shut to avoid seeing the carnage.
"Look, I can explain," Nani began as she and Cobra walked down the stairs to the living room.
"Don't try to give me any excuses." Cobra cut her off with a wave of his hand. "I must say, Nani. I am not happy by what I have seen here today," he spoke bluntly as he sat back down on a chair.
"Don't call me that," he snapped. "I don't particularly like my last name."
"Oh, uh, sorry about that. But—"
"Let's get straight to the point. We should discuss the elephant in the room," Cobra interrupted. "When did Lilo start acting this way?"
Nani fidgeted, kicking her feet around, "She's always been different, but things escalated ever since a year ago…"
"Ever since both your parents passed away, leaving the two of you as orphans," Cobra finished. Seeing Nani's shocked face, he decided to clarify how he knew this crucial information. "I've read your file, I'm very aware of your family situation. Ever since a fatal car accident one year ago, you've had to drop out of school to support yourself, as well as your younger sister." Cobra pulled off his sunglasses, locking his eyes with Nani as he asked his question. "So then, Nani. Tell me the truth. Do you feel that you are an acceptable replacement for your parents to Lilo?"
Nani opened her mouth to speak, but nothing could come out.
Seeing Nani speechless, Cobra leaned back onto the chair. "I thought so."
"Look, I know what you're going to say, Mr Cobra—"
"Please, just Cobra." Before Nani could continue, Cobra held up a finger to silence her. "Let me make this situation clear, Nani. Your sister is currently not in the best situation. From what I've seen, she is socially outcast. She's so lonely that she even talks to her doll like it's her imaginary friend. This harsh environment is not good for a growing child. I'm sure you understand, right?"
Nani nodded. Despite the fact that Cobra was reprimanding her, she accepted his criticism solely because he had hit the nail on the head. Unlike the previous social workers, all of which had dismissed Lilo as a raving lunatic upon seeing her behaviour, Cobra was patient and observant and as a result, had been the first to figure both sisters out completely.
"I'm currently stationed here in Kauai on business for about a month—" he suddenly kept his lip shut, almost as if he had said too much. Shaking his head once to regain composure, Cobra then changed his posture, leaning towards Nani to reassert his authority. "Hence, I'm going to give you that same amount of time to pull yourself together and prove to me that you are capable of being Lilo's legal guardian. If I do not see progress by the end of four weeks, I will be forced to take corrective measures."
"Corrective measures?!" Nani almost yelled. This couldn't be happening! Lilo had driven away countless other social workers with her weird quirks over the past year, but not once had a single one of them ever brought this up as an option.
On the other hand, most of those social workers weren't even trained or competent in the slightest. Heck, most of them didn't even have a relevant Bachelor's Degree.
"Yes, corrective measures," Cobra repeated to confirm. "If it is necessary, I will step in and make adjustments to correct the situation as I deem fit." His voice lowered to a grovel as he next spoke, "I'll let you be the judge of what I mean by that."
Nani swallowed hard, breaking out into a cold sweat. She had a pretty good idea as to what Cobra was implying, but wisely chose not to say anything. She gripped her seat tightly, struggling to stay calm and maintain a neutral expression. I can't take this much longer, she thought.
Cobra stood up and strolled towards the front door. "For the next couple of weeks, I will be back at random to check on your progress. The next time I visit, I expect to see some improvement." Before he closed the door, he added, "For your sake, and Lilo's."
The moment the door swung shut, Nani's facade broke. She immediately ran up to Lilo's room, face in her hands.
Up in her room, Lilo was talking to Scrump, blissfully unaware of what had happened downstairs.
"...and that was when Mertle used up the last of the three wishes the falling star had. Do you know what her last wish was, Scrump?" she lowered her voice to a whisper, eyes darting around as if she expected Mertle to hear her and storm into her room. "Her final wish was to be an all-powerful tormenting genie!"
Suddenly, her door flew open and Nani burst into her room.
"Nani!" Lilo exclaimed, "Don't interrupt Scrump time! I'm telling her about…" she suddenly trailed off upon taking a closer look at her sister.
"Are you crying?"
This chapter's a bit more on the emotionally heavy side.
This is just what I personally think, but I feel that Lilo makes up Scrump's replies in her head during her chats with Scrump. Before she met Stitch, Scrump is literally Lilo's only "friend", the only one she can talk and relate to besides her sister. The doll is sort of like a companion cube, so to speak. To further reinforce this, before Stitch is about to leave for space in Leroy and Stitch, Lilo talks to Scrump again, almost as though it's back to the status quo.