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Week 401
You are on Week 402
Week 403

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Four Hundred Two Ends Friday, February 13

Zeran blinked a few times and tried to concentrate on the radar screen, staring at the hundreds of tiny green blips flitting across it. The Grundo could recognise most of them as the shuttles that carried tourists from Neopia to the Virtupets Space Station. The smaller, quicker blips were recreational vehicles that the citizens of the Space Station used to take trips to Kreludor, and the bright, slashing streak of blue was the mark of the Space Faerie on patrol.

The Grundo's eyes started to glaze over again as he gazed at the screen, and he drifted off into a daydream about his next assignment -- keeping the Lever of Doom clean and polished -- which seemed like the height of excitement after this job.

As Zeran pictured himself carefully scrubbing the lever's handle, a new blip appeared on the radar screen. He leaned closer to stare at it; the craft, or whatever it was, seemed to be drifting, not moving purposefully like a ship would.

"Sir, could you come look at this?" the Grundo called to his supervisor, a harried-looking Blumaroo named Merius.

"It could be space trash," the Blumaroo mused, watching the blip float lazily across the screen. "If that's that case, we'd better bring it in. Try to make contact and then tow it in."

"Yes, sir!" Zeran said. He clicked on the communications radio and said, "This is Virtupets Space Station, over. Please identify yourself, over."

There was no answer, other than the quiet beep as the thing moved closer.

***

After the object had been taken on board, Merius sent Zeran down to the Hangar to properly identify it. On first glance, it was just a regular ship, rather similar in size to one of the tourist shuttles. Inside, though, it didn't look like any shuttle Zeran had ever seen.

The main cabin of the ship was circular and its walls were lined with glass cases. The panes of glass looked steamed over, though, so Zeran couldn't see in. He tried wiping the steam away, but it appeared to be on the inside of the cases.

"Sir, it seems to be a cargo ship of some kind... I haven't figured out what the cargo is yet," the Grundo said into his radio.

"Keep trying," was Merius's response.

With a sigh, Zeran took his crowbar from his belt and jammed it into the door of one of the cases. After a few minutes of struggling, the door popped open, and something fell out of the case, knocking Zeran over with it.

"Aaaaaa!" Zeran cried, trying frantically to push the thing off of him until he realised that it wasn't moving. "What in Neopia...?" he breathed, as he found himself staring into the dead eyes of a giant Moach. "But... but that's impossible..."

Author: The space junk gets weirder and weirder...
Date: Feb 9th
Moaches simply weren't that large. Not in real life. Zeran was, of course, familiar with stories of giant Petpetpets. He'd been part of an excellent Blechy costume in a play once; it had made a great sensation in the audience. But nobody took them seriously. Real ones were supposed to be physiologically impossible. Oh, there was the occasional crazy professor claiming to have found a Mootix ten times the size of a Ruki in some lost area of Neopia, but that was nonsense. Anyway, how could you lose part of a planet? Especially once you had visuals from space.

The creature staring blankly down at him, however, did not seem to have been greatly affected by its own impossibility. Unless you counted being apparently dead. And it was much, much scarier than models or costumes, partly because it was so unmistakably real. The mandibles dangling beside him were sharp and real, the exoskeleton tough -- Zeran gingerly took hold and tried again to push it off himself -- and strangely light for its massive size. Lighter than he'd expected, anyway, and lighter than it had felt when it was falling on him.

He rolled the Moach aside, carefully and with greater coordination than his earlier flailing. Its limbs seemed spindly and fragile, but none of them broke or tore. He sat up and frowned at the case that had held it. Warm, moist air was still rolling out of it; the humidity was condensing into a low fog in the cooler ship air.

"Zeran? Zeran, come in!" Merius's voice was sharp. "Are you alive in there? What are you yelling about?"

He must have left his radio transmitting. Of course, his superior officer could override that to ask what was going on.

"I got one of the cases open, sir," Zeran said a little breathlessly. "It's, uh... a little hard to believe, but it's a Moach. Bigger than me. And dead. It was in a warm, humid environment inside the case. I'd guess the others have the same kind of contents and that's why they're all so fogged up on the inside."

"Strange," Merius said. "Well, don't open any more. They might not all be dead."

Oh, that was not a happy thought. Zeran had to admit this was more interesting than the general run of monitor duty, but as he heard a sharp clatter and scratch, he suddenly thought perhaps it was a little too interesting.

He turned, looking around at the cases, and was staring straight at one as its door rattled. A harder impact, with a cracking sound, and a minuscule crack appeared.

"Sir," Zeran said, "I'm not sure we're going to have a choice..."

Author: schefflera
Date: Feb 9th
"One of the things is still very much alive, and it's getting out."

Zeran's eyes were fixed on the crack in the glass. He watched with horror as the creature threw itself against the door and the crack widened.

"Sir, it's about to break out." The Grundo whispered frantically into his radio. Another rattling sound, the crack widened once more, but the glass still held. "Sir, what should I do?"

Silence answered him. Then, "I'm coming down. Get to safety."

Zeran didn't need Merius's command to know what he had to do. Even if the Blumaroo had told him to remain in the space ship and watch over the creature, he wouldn't have listened. Obeying to commands was essential in his job, but even that had its limits. When he had the choice between his job and his life, Zeran preferred to live.

So he turned away from the case, prepared to storm out of the space ship. Behind him, he heard shattering glass but he did not dare looking back. Getting out of there was most important right now, before the giant Moach that he was sure had just escaped caught him.

"Aaaah!"

Zeran had not even gotten out of the main cabin when he heard the cry. And it did not sound like a screaming insect.

Torn between finding out what was happening and getting to safety, the Grundo slowed down. Just a few more steps and he could slip out of the space ship, away from overgrown Petpetpets. Not much longer, and he would be safe. Only a few more metres.

But Zeran never made those last metres. Instead, he halted and slowly turned around.

Standing in the middle of the room, staring down at the giant Moach, was a Blumaroo. A Blumaroo who looked suspiciously similar to the one Zeran had just been talking to on the radio.

"What is this thing?"

His eyes darting between the radio and the Blumaroo, it took Zeran a moment to reply. "This is the giant Moach I told you about, Sir." How was this possible? How could Merius have gotten into the cabin? And what had happened to the creature that had been hidden inside the glass case...

Author: iloenchen
Date: Feb 10th
***

Merius was hurrying down the stairs that led to the space dock area, clutching his radio and wondering why the most bizarre incidents always happened when everyone was gone on lunch break.

The Blumaroo scrambled onto the landing and with a few powerful leaps was well on his way to the unidentified spacecraft.

Then he heard a shout:

"Aaaah!"

Merius skidded to a halt immediately in front of the spacecraft's entrance, and his face bore the mark of the most intense bewilderment: unless his ears had deceived him, he had just heard himself scream.

"What on Kreludor is going on here?" he muttered to himself, and he stuck his head around the doorframe to find an answer to that question.

It was a very frightening answer.

There was Zeran, standing with his back to the entrance -- and there, inexplicably, was Merius, talking with him -- and to complete the incongruity of the scene, an enormous dead Moach lay at their feet.

"What the heck?" said Merius. Zeran whirled at the sound of Merius's voice and did a triple take at his supervisor's head poking into the spacecraft.

"I second that question," said Zeran, sounding more brave than he felt. He began to back toward the door, then halted and stood between the two Meriuses, uncertain of what to do next.

"Catch him, he's an impersonator!" cried the Merius inside the ship, addressing the order to Zeran, who was looking quite confused.

"I'm an impersonator?" responded the Merius outside the ship, extremely vexed. "How can you insinuate such a thing, when you're the one popping into existence in a ship and looking exactly like me--"

The rant was silenced by the sound of a fist shattering glass in one of the cases immediately adjacent to the door. Merius's head was showered in the fine particles; he closed his eyes to prevent their being damaged -- and when he reopened them, he saw a version of himself and not one, but two Zerans standing before him.

"Oh... my..." said Merius. As one, he and Zeran -- the Zeran whose bewildered countenance confirmed that he was the real one -- fumbled for their radios in search of the panic button...

They never managed to reach them. With startling strength and speed, the Zeran and Merius doppelgangers launched themselves toward their respective twins and wrested their radios from their hands. Then, again with strength that seemed utterly abnormal, they grabbed Zeran and Merius and pushed them into the broken-fronted glass cases from whence they had themselves emerged.

Before Zeran or Merius could react, their living images had smeared a substance across the front of the cases, one which solidified on contact with the air -- and Zeran and Merius were trapped, while their replicas were free, and exiting the spaceship with horrific cackles.

Zeran kicked at his case with all of his might, and he could hear Merius doing the same thing in the next case down.

Their efforts were in vain: they had neither the strength nor the endurance required to smash through, and their struggles subsided and gave way to tired panting. The humidity and heat inside of the case did not help them feel more comfortable.

Zeran pressed his face to the glass, trying to see through the thick fog to make out how Merius was doing in his own case.

"Sir?" he called, hearing his own voice echoed back to him thickly in the fog.

"I'm two cases down from you, Zeran," called Merius, his voice muffled and distant. "We need to get out of these things!"

Zeran pressed his large Grundo eyes against the glass, trying to make out something in the case beside him. There was something tiny on the floor in that case, a minuscule speck -- the fog kept getting in the way, swirling by just at the moment when the speck was cleared -- ah, finally!

Zeran swallowed hard. In a brief parting of the humid fog in the next case, he had made out what the tiny dot was: a dead Moach.

With a shock, Zeran realised that the case next to him had been the one that he had first pried open, from whence the gigantic dead Moach had fallen.

Zeran called this piece of information as loudly as he could to his supervisor, who received it in puzzled silence.

"Zeran," came Merius's voice through several layers of glass. "The substance in these cases is obviously something that can take the shape of things at will. I think that the Moach got in there by mistake -- these cases aren't supposed to be contaminated by images to copy until they're opened -- do you follow my reasoning?"

"Yessir," answered Zeran. "So what do we do about it?"

"What do we do about it, indeed..."

A muffled thud informed Zeran that his supervisor had just kicked his container in frustration.

"In all of my years as a radar watchman at the Space Station, I've seen some pretty weird stuff and intercepted some pretty strange shipments... but none as weird as this. I wonder... I wonder..."

"We need to get out of here, sir," called Zeran, yoinking his supervisor out of his meditative state. He was himself feeling slightly tired; there was something in the swirling white fog that induced somnolence...

"The Space Faerie," said Merius suddenly, as if half-awoken from a dream. "We need to call the Space Faerie -- she must be informed..."

Zeran folded his hands together comfortably on his stomach and closed his eyes. Yes, yes, the Space Faerie... but how could he call one who was out there, swirling among the stars, when he was trapped here, just a little Grundo...

He did not know it, but the close affinity between Grundos and space, and between the Space Faerie and the same, would provide him the help he needed. Zeran's silent anxiety emanated from him like a beacon that only those with the most acute magical sensitivity to space and its invisible waves could possibly detect...

***

Next to Zeran's empty chair in the control centre, the radar screen blinked peaceably up to the vacant room. Upon it, the bright blue streak representing the Space Faerie's movements had suddenly halted its course and begun to turn...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Feb 10th
The Space Faerie stopped in mid-flight as she patrolled the outer orbit of Kreludor, suddenly crippled by an excruciating headache. The pain she felt behind her eyes connected her telepathically to a helpless Grundo, the species she had committed herself to protecting. Zeroing in on the source of the distress signal, the Faerie launched herself at supersonic speed toward the Space Station.

***

Zeran began to feel very drowsy and leaned his cheek against the glass front of his prison cell, hoping that its cool smoothness would refresh his senses. He no longer had the strength to call out to Merius and he couldn't see clearly enough through the swirling fog to determine if his supervisor had made any progress in his own escape. The longer he remained pressed against the glass, the less he cared about rescue; his anxiety had turned to ambivalence and that ambivalence was quickly leading to apathy.

The Grundo yawned, teetering on the edge of sleep, when a blue and red blur streaked into the spaceship, resolving itself into the Space Faerie, standing in an action-ready pose with her head tilted with curiosity. She approached Zeran's case and tapped the glass with a red-gloved hand and then took a step backward, commanding, "Stand back from the glass!"

Zeran was shocked by her sudden appearance, too shocked to wonder how she knew he needed her help, and shook off his lethargy long enough to stand clear as ordered.

The Space Faerie reached into the folds of her costume and took out a handful of small red balls with folded wings.

Are those what I think they are? Zeran thought to himself. I hope she doesn't break open all of the cases! It occurred to the Grundo that maybe he should warn the Faerie of the danger lurking inside the unopened cases, but even those Grundos not affected by sleep-inducing mists are not known for their quick wit or reactions. While Zeran was still forming an opinion on whether to warn or not to warn, the Space Faerie threw the Exploding Space Bugs in a perfectly aimed arc that saw each glass front explode in a shower of shards, releasing four clouds of fog and two dazed Space Station employees.

Merius and Zeran collapsed together on the floor, coughing and panting in the clean air of the spaceship, helpless to stop the four nebulae as they overwhelmed their rescuer. Immediately there were four Space Faeries standing in a circle, identical to the original save for their cruel sneers, and one lying prone and senseless on the spaceship's smooth metallic floor. The true Space Faerie was shoved abruptly into one of the compartments and one of the replicas sealed over the glass case before joining the others in streaking out of the shuttle.

Zeran recovered his senses enough by this point to run to the imprisoned Space Faerie's cell and futilely begin banging at the front with his fists and boots. Turning to Merius he asked, "Why is she unconscious? Those things didn't knock us out like that."

The Blumaroo shook his head thoughtfully and then shrugged, "Maybe it takes more out of you if they make more than one copy of you. Or maybe..." Merius became suddenly alert as a chilling thought occurred to him. "Maybe this ship, the clouds of fog, maybe they were prepared especially for the Space Faerie because she was the one they were sent to imprison."

Whether from the lingering effects of the mist or his natural lack of intelligence, the Grundo continued to look puzzled as he asked, "But who would do that? Why would anyone want to imprison the Space Faerie...?"

Author: mamasimios
Date: Feb 11th
"Well, Sloth's the obvious choice," Merius said.

"He usually does robot duplicates," Zeran put in dubiously. "Well, and potions. Transforming fog is... um... new. But I guess you never know."

"No," Merius muttered, starting to prowl restlessly around the shuttle. "We shouldn't get locked into one assumption. Could there be other Space Faeries?"

"Besides," Zeran said, "the four duplicates?"

"Yes. Or... some other kind of alien. Sloth brought you Grundos from some other planet originally, right? And then there's the Alien Aisha Empire. For all I know the 'normal' Aishas on Neopia's surface are some alternate form of them. Maybe there are other... powers, out in space."

"Obviously not one our Space Faerie knew about."

"No." Merius scowled. "We have to figure out what they're up to."

"And get her out." Zeran looked around, his original strategy finally occurring to him again now that the effect of the mind-numbing mist was wearing off, and picked up his crowbar.

It dissolved into a cloud of mist in his hand.

***

The four duplicate Space Faeries spread out through the Space Station. One headed for the control centre. One made her way toward the ventilation systems. One turned back into a duplicate of Zeran, found his seat, and slid back into it, intently studying the monitoring screen.

One zipped along a corridor, then slowed, stopped, and backed up a little. She looked up and down the hallway. Finding herself unobserved, she reached out a hand to the "Do Not Pull" lever...

Author: schefflera
Date: Feb 11th
...and slid it down. A mechanical arm flew out of the compartment and grabbed at her, but she sidestepped it. The duplicate Space Faerie's eyes glowed red with fury; she raised one hand and emitted a burst of blue energy that incinerated the mechanical arm. With a satisfied grunt, she continued walking to the nearest access ladder and began her climb to the top of the Space Station.

***

Zeran looked at the spray of fog that floated where his crowbar had been. "This is bad."

"No kidding," said Merius.

A hissing noise suddenly reached their ears, and Zeran and Merius looked at each other. "Gas!" they exclaimed in unison and ran out of the craft.

All around the hangar bay, a white gas billowed out of the vents, and Zeran felt a tingling sensation shoot down his spine. Merius, with his powerful Blumaroo tail catapulting him forward, reached the oxygen tanks first, clasping a mask over his face. As Zeran ran, he suddenly realised that he could not feel his fingers or toes, and he saw grey stars creeping around the edge of his vision. He collapsed to his knees, and began to slump to the floor.

Merius clasped a mask over Zeran's mouth and helped him strap the oxygen tank to his back. Slowly, Zeran's vision and feeling returned.

"Merius," Zeran panted, "what do we do now? It's doubtful many on the Station could grab oxygen masks in time. They're really only for space walks, and this is one of the only places they're stored."

"The duplicates are already taking over," Merius said grimly.

Zeran nodded and looked back in the direction of the mysterious spacecraft, but he could barely see its outline through the gas. "What do we do, Merius?"

Merius strapped the oxygen tank to his back and headed for the hangar exit. "I'm going to find a Virtublaster and see if I can blast the real Space Faerie free. You go back to your station, check the radar, and see if there are any more craft like these coming."

"If there are?"

Merius glanced over his shoulder, annoyance creeping over his face. "Contact me by radio, and we'll try to prepare this time."

"But how will I know it's you, and you'll know it's me?"

Merius stopped in his tracks. "Right. Let's use a password. Like 'I just drank 42 Pan Galactic Gargle Slushies.'"

"That's kind of long, isn't it?"

"Less chance that the Faerie duplicates can guess it."

Zeran shrugged as Merius ran around the corner, out of sight. Suddenly alone, Zeran's skin became covered with goosebumps at the thought of his own double walking around somewhere on the Station. He quietly jogged to the access ladder, and climbed up to his radar station on the floor above.

The white gas prevented him from seeing more than a few feet ahead, but he knew the corridor like the back of his hand. He walked through the door into the radar station, and saw someone sitting at his monitor. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked as he approached. "There's something bad going--" He stopped short as the figure swivelled around in the chair.

He was staring face-to-face with himself.

"Oh, no."

"Do not feel bad, Zeran," said the duplicate. "It is too late for you to do any good."

Zeran looked over at the radar screen. A tiny green blip providing no identification code flitted across the screen, and halted against the large grey figure representing the Space Station.

"We're being boarded," whispered Zeran.

The duplicate smiled.

***

The third Space Faerie duplicate was not panting when she reached the top of the Space Station. She merely stepped onto the deck, to the pre-arranged meeting place in an unassuming part of a corridor. There she waited.

Soon, a buzzing sound reverberated through the corridor. A few feet from her, a drill pierced through the hull, and a large tube slid through the opening.

The duplicate stood at alert.

A pink Alien Aisha with white hair slid down the tube and landed on the metal floor.

The duplicate raised her hand to her forehead in salute. "My Lady Sophix."

The Alien Aisha smiled. "Ah, it is good to be back..."

Author: tashni
Date: Feb 12th
Lady Sophix dusted her space suit with a flourish and looked around, as glamorous and dazzling as ever.

"Have you taken care of...?" she started to ask, then, with a giggle that was as coquettish as it was chilling, stopped. "Never mind. There is only one way you could have assumed your current shape. I am glad that she is out of the way."

"To the Control Centre, then, Lady Sophix?"

"To the Control Centre, cadet. Lead the way."

The Space Faerie duplicate gave a smart salute and guided Sophix to the command room.

***

Meanwhile, Merius had obtained an old Virtublaster from a little-used storage room just off of the Hangar and was returning with it to the troublesome ship.

When he arrived, the Space Faerie was no longer in her unconscious state but showing signs of life -- and very vigorously, at that. The case that she was in shook with the force of angry magical blasts from within.

"H-hold on!" cried Merius, stammering in spite of himself in front of the faerie's wrath. "I'm going to try to blast you out!"

Unlike the Space Faerie, Merius was fully aware that he should not under any circumstances hit other as-yet unopened cases. He held the Virtublaster in a well-practised grip and aimed for the very centre of the transparent surface of the Space Faerie's case, its weakest point.

The Space Faerie curled up into a ball amidst the swirling fog -- and Merius pulled the trigger on the Virtublaster.

An explosion of sound and light, the musical shattering of glass, a blue-black blur -- and the Space Faerie was standing in front of Merius, by all appearances unharmed save for the slight sleep-haze she had fought against in the case.

"You did well," she told Merius in a voice as soft as the velvety black skies she lived in. "But we have more work to do here."

"Thank you -- y-yes, there are duplicates running around, I'm not sure what they're made of or who they’re working for, it's crazy..."

"Hush," said the Space Faerie, placing a calming hand on Merius's head. Merius felt as though his thoughts and emotions were being spoken to her through the point of contact between his skull and her palm. "Merius, is it? I see what has happened here. You will be of help to me yet -- you will be of help to Neopia yet."

Merius was silent as the Space Faerie's red eyes narrowed momentarily. "But where is Zeran, your friend? The one who called me? You sent him -- where?"

Instead of waiting for an answer, the Space Faerie turned and held out her red-gloved hand as though she was feeling for something.

"The Control Centre," she said. "And he needs our help."

***

And so two groups with two very distinct agendas were converging toward the Control Centre. Sophix and her troops, and Merius and the Space Faerie. One group was on a mission to do damage, the other to rescue. One had malice, spite, and acquisitiveness as its forces, the other had mobilized new friendship and ancient magic -- and powers as old as the stars.

And neither had expected to crash headlong into the other in the main corridor leading to the Control Centre...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Feb 12th
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!"

With a feral and rather screechy battle cry, Merius pulled the trigger of the Virtublaster before he could think. It left burn marks all over the corridor, but only managed to graze the wing of the fake Space Faerie.

At least he had hit the right Space Faerie. She snarled... and began to melt.

"What the..."

Meanwhile, the real Space Faerie soared and dodged as Sophix blasted away with her own ray gun -- a larger, pinker version of Merius's weapon.

"You can't stop us!" the Aisha growled. "In no time at all, the Space Station will be ours!"

And at that moment, the melted stuff, neither solid nor liquid, was forming again -- this time into another Sophix. But as she reached out for Merius's Virtublaster, the Blumaroo gave her a swift kick in the face.

The second Sophix crashed into the wall, and before she could recover, Merius pointed his Virtublaster at her.

This time, he lost count of the number of times he pulled the trigger.

* * *

"But I can stop that!" Zeran reached out for one long, bronze-coloured lever. He pulled it all the way down, and watched as the gray spot on the radar screen began to lurch to the right. Then it lurched back, ramming into the unidentified green blip.

"You do realise that you're damaging your own station as well, right?" the copy pointed out, scowling. "Idiot."

"A little damage is a small price to pay to keep the invasion from happening!" His fingers skimmed across the keyboard, hoping to move the Space Station a little more to at least stop more invaders; they would deal with those that managed to get on later.

"In that case..."

The fake Zeran launched himself on the hapless Grundo, and they crashed into the control panel. Several lights went on, and the air was full of ominous clicking, beeping, and whirring sounds.

As they struggled, neither of them noticed the prominent gray figure tilt dangerously to the left. It hit the green blip, which disappeared; that was a good thing.

The bad thing was that the Space Station kept on tilting faster and faster, heading straight for the great blue and green globe that was Neopia.

* * *

Sirens went off. Merius and the other Sophix could feel the floor slip beneath their feet. The entire corridor was bathed in an eerie red glow. Somewhere in the distance, there were frantic footsteps and the unmistakable cacophony of blaster-fire and screaming.

But for just a moment, the Blumaroo was blind and deaf to everything else that was happening around him. He didn't see the Space Faerie manage to trap Sophix under a gossamer net with bright red and blue weights, or hear the Aisha's yells of frustration and fear.

A minute ago, the little silver crystals on the tilting floor had been a puddle of what looked like molten metal. And that puddle had been a copy of Sophix.

"I know how to beat them," he whispered. Turning to the Space Faerie, Merius repeated in a louder tone of voice, "I know how to beat them! But... what's going on?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure it can't be good! Come on!" the Space Faerie called back. She zoomed to the Control Centre, and another batch of Exploding Space Bugs demolished the door.

As it crumbled into ashes, two Zerans rolled out, locked in a struggle of their own, and on the radar screen, the globe that was Neopia was getting bigger by the second...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Feb 13th
"Oh, my precious Neopia!" cried Merius.

It was a silly exclamation, he knew. Neopia belonged to thousands and thousands of others; it certainly wasn't his. The last time he had actually been on Neopia was very long ago. But he couldn't help the strange, protective rage that flared up within him. For so many years, he had been a guardian of the Space Station. He had supervised the day-to-day operations, the patrols of the skies, the surveillance of incoming spacecraft, the nitty-gritty maintenance. Now all of that was being threatened.

He lunged for the control panel, but something crashed into him, knocking him to the floor. He tried to raise the Virtublaster, but his arm was paralysed under a crushing weight. Gasping with pain, he glanced up into his own face.

"You stupid!" he seethed. "Don't you understand what's happening? We're going to crash into Neopia! Let -- me -- go!"

The other Merius simply laughed. "I don't care," it said. "I can take the shape of anyone I wish. You will be nothing, but I will thrive."

"But you're not REAL!" Merius struggled wildly. "You're nothing but a clump of shapeless mist, a crazy dream that can't come true. Go back to where you came from. Go back to your world of emptiness. And let me go!"

The background noise took on a slightly different rhythm. Somewhere, the Space Faerie was fighting against the various duplicates. Zeran -- which one? -- tumbled into vision, shouting, "Which one of you is Merius?"

"Are you really Zeran?" the Blumaroo yelled back, using his free hand to pummel at his own face.

"I just drank 42 Pan Galactic Gargle Slushies!" roared the Grundo.

"What?"

"I JUST DRANK 42 PAN GALACTIC GARGLE SLUSHIES!"

"So?"

"That was our password, you dimwit!"

"Oh, right, right! Just blast this other Merius for me, will you? We're about to crash into Neopia, and only I have the authority to start up the emergency engines!"

But the duplicate Merius was turning around, putting a deliberate punch into Merius's stunned face. "He didn't know the password! I'm the real one. Blast him!"

"No! Zeran, listen to me!"

Zeran stood uncertainly, large eyes confused.

Merius summoned his last strength. "Zeran, when you blast a duplicate, it melts! When you blast a real Neopet, you know what happens. If you have to blast both of us to find out, do it. Argh..."

And, in that locked grip with his other, wrong self, he closed his eyes, waiting for the impact. Any time now. Any time, and the ship could crash into Neopia.

Oh, hurry up, Zeran. Just hit the trigger and get it over with. Let me get to the controls. Let me steer the ship away from Neopia...

The blast came.

***

Some time later, Merius's fingers were still sore and throbbing from the desperation with which he had jabbed at the buttons. The computer screens were scratched, and some backup computers had been knocked over, but the biggest screen was still intact.

It showed an expanse of glittering space, with Neopia turning serenely away, as the grey figure of the Space Station danced on in orbit.

Zeran mopped up the silver crystals. It was strange how threatening they had been just moments earlier, when they had taken on such familiar forms.

The blue streak of the Space Faerie flew like a shooting star. She never stayed around for very long. Elsewhere, other Grundos were in need. Elsewhere, other evil plans were in the making, watched over by such figures as Lady Sophix, who never seemed to tire.

But for now, Merius was tired. Tired from a day's good work. Neopia was safe once more, and for as long as he lived, he would make sure that it continued to be safe.

"Bring me a Pan Galactic Gargle Slushie, will you, Zeran?" he smiled weakly. "I need a little energy booster before we bring in the maintenance team to fix up this mess. And we need to contact the cleaning crew too. Can't have any more Moaches running around, now, can we?"

Zeran smiled. "You got it, sir."

And all across the tranquil darkness, the stars seemed to sing.

The End

Editor's Note: Due to a holiday, the Storytelling Contest will be on hiatus until Tuesday, February 17, when a new beginning will be posted. See you then!

Author: yoyote
Date: Feb 13th



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