What does it mean to be a Neopian? To live, breath, simply exist? There are
so many lives woven together in so many ways it would be simply impossible to
answer that question. So instead, look at a scene or two and see through the eyes
of someone else, if only for a short while.
If she kept her eyes open any longer, her eyeballs would
just fall out on their own. At least, that was the thought that kept running
through the yellow Grundo’s mind as the screen of the terminal seemed to bore
right through her skull into her brain and out the back again. Her eyes flickered
to the bottom of the screen, the green lights reflecting numbers off her half-shut
red eyes. Too late to still be here. The overhead lights had been shut off hours
ago and everything was set to nighttime settings. Even the corridors of Virtupets
Space Station itself had been dimmed to simulate night in this monstrosity of
steel and wires. And here she was, imprisoned in the very bowels of the machine.
Propping her chin on both hands she stared at
the screen before her, rereading the lines appearing on it for about the billionth
time under they blurred into one continuous stream, flowing off the terminal
into a wave of light that formed a halo about her antennas. It turned into a
river then, one where birds twittered in and called to each other from the shade
of the tree that sat near it, overhanging the vegetable garden and the small
cottage on the outskirts of Meridell…
No. She sat bolt upright in the chair, realizing
she had almost fallen asleep. It wouldn’t do to fall asleep here – for one thing,
keyboards were most uncomfortable for napping. Or so claimed her friend, Marcus
the orange Kougra that worked alongside her in this prison of code. She didn’t
understand how he managed to fall asleep while on the job – their supervisor
was constantly breathing down her neck it seemed. Perhaps Marcus was a special
case and immune from being constantly harassed.
With a sigh she rubbed her eyes and re-read
the screen once more.
‘while (x > trans;
if (trans==1) Run1;
There. That should do it. She had spent all
day writing the Run1 and Run2 functions and now that should be sufficient for
testing it the next morning. A couple runs through and hopefully all the bugs
would be out. With another jaw-cracking yawn she slid from the chair and exited
the room where she spent most of her day, staggering off down the corridor for
her own little apartment deep within the station.
It wasn’t her ideal job. It really wasn’t. Sure,
she’d been interested in technology as a kid growing up on the station and programming
seemed the ideal choice – someone had to keep this massive construct running
behind the scenes. And yet, after the initial glamour wore off, there wasn’t
much left. She didn’t feel like she was part of anything special, just another
overworked and underpaid Grundo suffering under the harsh glare of her supervisor.
Marcus had listened to her complaints once and the next day she found a folder
slipped under her keyboard containing nothing but pictures of Neopia. It seemed
heavenly and she swore that one day she would go there. Perhaps the Kougra had
done it – perhaps he too wanted to leave Virtupets. Perhaps one day she would
That night, she dreamed of Meridell and knights
jousting with lances made of computer code. It was an odd dream.
Marcus met her in the hallways the next morning,
at a fork that connected the two wings they lived in. He silently handed her
a cup of hot borovan and winked as she protested that he shouldn’t have.
“Anything to see Miss SunnyDays smile,” he chuckled.
“Heard you were up working late last night.”
The Grundo didn’t reply as she sipped her drink.
Her name wasn’t really SunnyDays – it was Shanna – but that was just what Marcus
liked to call her. She’d never seen the sun in a blue sky. In the folder of
pictures she’d been given was one of a sunset over Mystery Island, the sky streaked
in all the hues of the rainbow. She had pinned that one above her bed.
“Trying to get the test harness for those functions
done,” she muttered. “I ran into a bunch of compiling errors simply because
I left the pound sign out of one of the include statements. And why do you name
your classes such weird names?”
“Because I like being difficult. And leaving
out a pound sign? Tsk, Sunny, that’s sloppy. Nothing like I’d do. I prefer to
forget about semicolons myself.”
“You nearly chewed your tail off in frustration
last time you did that,” she reminded him gently, “so I think I’m entitled to
spend a semi-sleepless night trying to catch my error.”
Marcus shrugged and gently flicked his tail
in memory as they came up upon their work space. It was a rather spacious room,
designed to accommodate four programmers at various parts of the rows upon rows
of computers. Here they worked on whatever the station needed doing with a burly
blue buzz as their overseer, ensuring that the final program directed the station’s
solar radiation shields instead of controlling the lifts on section E-X3.
The majority of Neopia had no clue her profession
existed, much less what it entailed. Those that lived on the station and did
understand called it the most mind-numbingly boring job in existence. Perhaps
it was. She herself didn’t call it that and wouldn’t mind spending the rest
of her life quiet in some little hole programming away, not bothering anyone
and not being bothered. It was safe. But there was the small fact that metal
and wires and the occasional glimpse of stars was wearing thin on her. She felt
trapped, suffocated, and sometimes she woke in the middle of the night in a
blind panic, wondering if she had just floated away into space to never be heard
from again. And on the worst of those nights, she wondered if anyone would even
care. She’d wake again in the morning with her pillow wet from tears.
The roar hit her like a physical blow and she
reeled for a moment, only half-conscious of Marcus removing the cup from her
hand before she dropped it. Before her towered their supervisor, hands on his
hips and glaring down at her from his faceted eyes.
“I ran your program this morning,” he said and
her stomach twisted into knots.
The Kougra shot her a sympathetic glance and
hurried over to his own spot, diving into the chair and causing it to do a full
360 before stopping before his keyboard.
“And?” she asked weakly.
“IT CRASHED THE WHOLE SYSTEM!”
Blue skies and a stream. Leaves falling onto
the water, sending out little ripples along the surface. That’s all she wanted
out of life.
“THE NEXT TIME YOU DECIDE TO WRITE A TEST HARNESS
THAT CONTAINS AN INFINITE LOOP – DON’T!”
Infinite loop. She’s forgotten to iterate the
control variable. Of course. That was just about as bad as her include statement
error or Marcus’s infamous semicolon incidents. At the thought of him she glanced
over to where he had just finished logging in to his programming account.
“HONESTLY, WE’RE NOT PAYING YOU FOR THE HECK
OF IT HERE!”
She wondered if he’d just keel over from lack
of oxygen. Indeed, she wanted to keel over just from having to listen to him
“IF YOU’RE SO DANG SMART, THEN WHAT ARE YOU
DOING HERE WRITING INFINITE LOOPS ON THE MOST BASIC OF TEST RUNS!?!”
“You’re right,” she replied, suddenly feeling
all the blood rush from her head, leaving her dizzy.
It was like walking on clouds, or perhaps being
a cloud herself. The room grew deadly quiet and every programmer in there swiveled
to look at her.
“You’re right,” she repeated. “What AM I doing
And still in a daze, feeling like she was just
some spectator watching this scene being played out by an actor, she walked
out of the room.
Programmers are rational beings. That’s what
she had told herself for so long. They weigh things like an equation – if two
and two doesn’t equal four than it simply wouldn’t work. Well, things definitely
had stopped equaling four. She felt like the rulebook had just been left behind,
burned by the scorching sands of the Lost Desert that called her name in their
rays of heat waving under the heavy sun. She was sick of being rational. She
was sick of weighing pros and cons and typing day after day on things that always
had to be perfect, that always had to make sense. Sunny days were waiting for
her and she wasn’t going to waste her life away with could’ves chasing her dreams
as she spun around and around the world below her.
“Hey! Wait up!”
She froze at the voice as for a moment her dream
came crashing down, reality breaking free at last. What WAS she doing? This
was unthinkable. Marcus was tearing down the corridor after her now, her ears
back and tail fluffed from tension. He’d fetch her back, off the brink of this
madness to where she was safe. Perhaps he’d even talk to the supervisor for
her, chalk it up to stress. Yeah, that’s all it was. She shouldn’t have stayed
up so late.
The Grundo turned to face him, apologies on
her lips. But Marcus merely beamed at her, whiskers quivering in delight.
“You’re going to Neopia,” he said, “getting
off this hunk of metal we call home, right?”
“I – I”
“Well good! And I’m going with you.”
Forget reality. It was stupid most of the time,
“Com’n, I betcha anything we can catch a shuttle
down there within the hour!”
He seized her hand with his paw and started
dragging her towards the bay, pulling her into a sprint.
“But, but!” she protested, glancing back over
her shoulder, “My things!”
“Forget them. We’re starting over. You’re right
– what ARE we doing here? Wasting our lives away imprisoned while there’s so
much that needs being done, so many things to see! I don’t want to turn into
that code I program, I want to LIVE first.”
“My pictures, though!” she cried, one last protest.
“SunnyDays, what do you need those pictures
for,” he retorted, shooting her one glance as they skidded to a stop before
the immense shuttle bay that was their ticket away, “when we’re about to get
you new ones, ones of your own that will last forever in your memory?”
Tears welled up in her eyes as the two of them
stepped forwards and the Kougra announced their desire to board a ship down
to Neopia. Soon. So soon would it be leaving. Part of her longed to back out
yet, to return to where it was safe. She dreamed so often but not all dreams
were safe and not all dreams were meant to be pursued. But then she remembered
seeing the birds flying in that tree, down to the stream, and she knew that
she was like them. One day, she would have to stretch her wings. Why not make
today that day?