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Starlight Invasion: Star City


by rainbow_daydreamer

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War, they say, is about, has always been about, making sacrifices. Of course, it's the dramatic ones that always get the press. It takes bravery, naturally, to be one of those Neopets prepared to risk everything for a cause. And yet, whether in a verdant medieval kingdom or a windswept desert, a submarine world or, even, among the stars… they are not the only story. Certainly not the whole story of the Starlight Invasion.

     *

Bryne slouched against a pillar, taking in the passing crowds. Even now, when the stars were seen as the source of a threat, the Station was always busy at this time of day, with Neopians coming to play games and buy weaponry. "Morning," sighed the elderly Scorchio as the humans walked past. "Any of you thinking of adopting one of the nuisances in here?" No-one seemed to pay attention. Grundos queued in front of Gargarox's café; Aishas played Gormball in the Virtupet Garden. Man, Bryne thought as he did every day, I hate this job.

     In the warehouse behind Bryne, the hundreds of Grundo babies- identically goggle-eyed and gormless, the lot of them- lay dormant in their little cots. He privately contemplated whether anyone would particularly mind if he were to push the lot of them into an escape pod and fly them down to Neopia Central, out of his life. In two hours or so, they would all wake up and begin to cry. Despite ten years of working on the Station, he could only feed one at a time, holding the Neopet in his other arm. "I'm not a Tanglepus, y'know," he would sigh, pulling on his earmuffs to block out the wailing. "You lot cry worse'n Kadoaties in the dark. Shut up."

     "Adopt a Grundo, ma'am? Charming little bundle of annoyance to brighten up your day?" The royal Aisha gave him an odd look and walked on without a word.

     Bryne chewed on a Blunkabean he had taken from the café and stared out of the porthole. The view of dark night and glittering stars might seem attractive to those who lived on-planet, but it had grown boring over the years. The only addition over the past few months had been the ring of satellites to warn of any incoming craft, and hopefully grant everyone time to evacuate: Virtupets' one concession to the so-called Starlight Invasion. He sighed.

     "Adopt a Grundo, sir! Dear little nuisance to follow you around!" In answer, the human boy beckoned to his family. He already had four pets, all primly dressed in the uniform of one of the best Neoschools. Bryne returned to his bored contemplation of the starscape outside. Half-listening, he became aware that the buzz of conversation on the Station had changed. He was too lazy, though, to investigate.

     A shadow fell across the Grundo-hatchery, and the Scorchio turned. To his amazement, a tall, slender figure was approaching: not a human or Neopet, but a Faerie, dressed in practical dark clothes and with a visor perched on her head. She was actually heading directly for the Agency! Well, he reasoned, Faeries did sometimes need Neopets as assistants and errand-pets. Why not a Grundo, dim-witted as they were?

     "Greetings to you on this fine day, madam!" He bowed so low that his folded wingtips touched the floor, and his head-crest brushed against the newcomer's clothes. "May I direct you to the hatchery? We have many beautiful, intelligent, loyal young Grundos in a variety of colours." He crossed his claws behind his back. Perhaps I can even fix her up with more than one of the stupid brats. Who knows?

     "Oh, no." The Fire Faerie appeared to be biting her lip in sadness. "Please try to understand. This is going to be very hard for both of us…"

     Now that he looked at her, it seemed as if he recognised the filmy wings, the vivid red hair. "Do I know you?" he asked, gazing at her.

     "Maybe you do." She sighed and brushed back a lock of hair. "Ember Kindle, Mianne's lieutenant from Neopian headquarters." He didn't recognise the name Mianne, but now he could place the girl's features: he'd seen them painted on Gormball championship posters, the volatile ball raised high in her hands. That Ember had been younger, a child-Faerie still, without a care in the world.

     "Ember. Good to see you." He smiled. "Now, were you after one of my screaming Grundo dimwits, or did you just want a chat?"

     "Neither." Ember leant against the steel wall, her eyes closed. "Bryne… you always said you hated the job you were in, didn't you?"

     "Sure thing, missie." He chuckled. "One of these days, I might get a ticket out of here. Till then, the pay's not bad."

     "What if…" The Fire Faerie took a breath. "What if I told you that today was that day?"

     "What?" Bryne stared at Ember, not understanding.

     "Mianne sent me up here. You're the first name on my list." She stepped back, not taking her eyes off the old Scorchio. "We're… we're going to make some modifications to the Space Station and send it on, out of orbit. It's going to be a landing-station for anyone coming into or going out of Neopian space, with better defences and room for some humans and pets to live…"

     "Sounds good." Bryne's voice was quavering.

     "Which means that…" Ember could hardly talk. "Grundo adoptions are going to be handled at the Pet Hatchery in Neopia Central from now on. I'm sorry… Bryne, you're officially redundant." She clutched a hand to her forehead. "I should've found a better way of putting that…"

     Bryne staggered backwards, falling against the wall. His eyes were drawn, inexorably, to the room behind him. As if on cue, the first of the Grundos woke, and a thin wail echoed through the Space Station.

     *

     "Mummy… where are we going?"

     Ember watched as the human child- she couldn't be more than four years old, or perhaps only three- walked with her parents and their Neopets, packed cases rattling along on wheels behind them.

     "We're going to get you something you've always wanted," the father said gently, holding the girl's hand.

     "My own Neopet?" the girl guessed excitedly.

     "Right first time, kiddo." They entered the hatchery, still holding hands.

     Ember knew the new Neopet was a consolation. The girl's parents, long-time residents of Neopia, had signed up to be part of the new Station's inhabitants. Soon they would take the shuttle to the newly-named Star City, preparing for the long journey out of Neopian orbit.

     "A Neopoint for your thoughts?"

     Ember jumped at the sight of Mianne, looking kindly over her shoulder. The young Faerie lieutenant pulled off a sharp salute, scrambling to her feet.

     "None of that," Mianne smiled, placing a hand on her friend's shoulder. "You look tired. Why don't you get on up to headquarters and get some rest?"

     "Nah," Ember sighed. "I'll wait a little longer."

     Staring into her enchanted telescope, she saw the last shuttle dock with Star City, formerly the Virtupets Station. A few minutes later, a glow appeared in the sky. The station was taking flight.

     A few streets away from her, an elderly Scorchio was wandering alone. As he passed the Neopet Hatchery, he paused and listened to the sound of soft crying coming from within. The next moment, a pretty young Aisha in an official uniform flung the door open and collapsed out into the fresh air.

     "Problems?" Bryne asked wryly. The Aisha clutched her brow.

     "Tell me about it. Those Grundos cry all day and night, and no-one wants to adopt one. Nobody! I can't understand it, although I have to admit they're a bit weird and not too bright…"

     Bryne looked into the Aisha's eyes, feeling for a moment as if he was crossing a decade's worth of time. Then, straightening up, he reached a decision. Leaning over, he whispered something in the girl's ear. She stared at him incredulously, then dashed inside.

     A moment later, the Scorchio was filling out a form, his pen scratching neatly-formed letters on the white page. The hatchery attendant returned, placing a tiny bundle in his outstretched hands with a smile. As he held it tightly, the little creature began to wail loudly.

     Strange how things work out in this life, Bryne reflected, and walked out into the falling dark of the Neopian evening, his new Grundo charge in his arms.

     Above him, a new star glittered in the Neopian sky: the light of a silver city, far beyond the clouds.

The End

 
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