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Starshine: An Eyrie's Beginnings


by rainbow_daydreamer

--------

The little Eyrie lay in her insulated cot, purring softly in her sleep. Her blue paws twitched beneath the blanket as she dreamed baby dreams.

     Around her, the world was a strange one: not a sight known to many day-old Neopets. A canopy of stars shone down from the skylight above the Eyrie's head, and the walls around her were silver metal, the only barrier between her and the glowing lights. A handful of Grundos, dressed in a dark blue uniform, were bustling about, attending to various jobs just out of sight.

     A conversation drifted across the room, stirring the baby Neopet from her sleep. She opened one enormous brown eye slowly, unhappy to have been woken by the words she couldn't yet understand.

     "It's not my fault! That genetic combination was clearly marked as a Jetsam. I was as surprised as anyone when it was born with paws and wings instead of fins and a tail."

     "I don't care whose fault it is. That-" and a tall, muscular Mutant Grundo jerked one thumb at the cot-"is not a Jetsam. Specifically, not the Jetsam we needed for our hydro tank." There was a long, frustrated sigh. "Consider yourself demoted, Jemmer. Next time I'll send someone else."

     Somehow, the Eyrie kit sensed that she wasn't wanted. Opening her beak, she began to wail miserably. The sound echoed through the building, making workers look up from their jobs and hurry to see what the problem was.

     "So what do I do with that Eyrie?" persisted the younger Grundo.

     "I don't know. Train it. Maroon it on an asteroid. Serve it for dinner, for all I care. Just get it out of here!"

     Seconds later, the Eyrie felt her cot being wheeled away.

     "I'll put you in Staff Base," the unseen pusher muttered. "May as well teach you a decent job while you're here."

     "Jemmer?" Yet another Grundo stepped out of a side corridor. "How long are you going to be? We need someone to choose a trainee for the hydro-tank control, now we haven't got a Jetsam to guide the vehicle."

     "Anybody good?"

     "Nah. Between you and me, they're all pretty useless. He is not going to like it if we can't get an Aquatic Vehicle operator within the next few weeks."

     Jemmer sighed. He didn't like the sound of that.

     In her cot, the Eyrie gazed up at her surroundings.

     I wonder, Jemmer thought unexpectedly. A few weeks. I wonder...

     *

     "Amazing," murmured the supervisor. "I hate to admit it, but you've scored this time, Jemmer. That little Eyrie might have been born for this job."

     Inside the little glass bubble that was the Aquatic Vehicle Input pod, the Eyrie kit pushed levers and buttons with her paws, piloting a tiny vehicle that was almost out of sight in the depths of the hydro tank. She seemed absorbed in her work, instinctively knowing what to press or to slide.

     "She's a little beauty, isn't she?" Jemmer grinned. "I knew I was on to something there."

     "Don't get any ideas," his supervisor warned grimly. "If he doesn't like the look of her, well, out she must go, and no arguments. Don't ever forget that, Jemmer. She's only here to operate the AVI, and that's the top and bottom of it. What did I say?"

     "She's only for the AVI," Jemmer muttered, his good mood spoilt.

     The Eyrie's practice session was nearly done. She manoeuvred the little AV through the specially designed training tank, extending its metal claw and seizing the red target-bead while covering the vehicle with a screen of floating blue ink, making it invisible to the casual observer. Then, with one sweep of her back paw, she directed it to rise back to the surface, the bead in its grip.

     "Good work!" Jemmer smiled. "You'll be promoted by the end of the week." Laughing at his own joke, he lifted the Eyrie out of her pod.

     "C'mon. We'll get some rest before our next shift."

     "Jemmer!"

     "Only for the AVI," he recited flatly to please the supervisor. "Only for the AVI. Come on, little one."

     The two of them left the room, the Eyrie carried in her guardian's chubby white arms.

 *

 SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER

 *

     "Avi Girl! Avi Girl, wake up!"

     The teenage Eyrie shook herself awake, poking her head over the rail of her bunk. "What is it, Merric? Is there some kind of trouble?"

     "One of the scientist students hurt herself in the lab," came the anxious reply. "Please, get down here and stop her crying before someone sees!"

     The machine pilot known to everyone on Staff Base as Avi Girl launched herself off the bunkbeds and landed gracefully among the workers - mainly Grundos, but with a few other Neopets scattered here and there. "Bring her over here."

     The hurt scientist turned out to be a young red Aisha with a burnt paw. Avi Girl tied her bedsheet in a knot around the Neopet's paw and cuddled her in a two-winged grip. "There now. You're too old to cry, Milleya. You don't want to get into trouble. Here, I got a sweetsucker from the cafĂ©. Put this in your mouth and it'll be harder to cry."

     To Milleya, whose timeclock reported her as only nine years old herself, the tall blue Eyrie seemed immensely mature and knowing. For the pets growing up in Staff Base, Avi Girl was a familiar and comforting figure. It was true that she couldn't calculate on the spot like the young scientists, or lift broken furniture as well as the Mutant Grundo work hands. Even her underwater pilot skills, the techniques that had given her employment and a name, were satisfactory rather than spectacular. But her caring nature was in no doubt. Every pet on Staff Base had a story, like Milleya's, of being looked after by Avi Girl.

     Her job done for now, the Eyrie dropped the Aisha back into her bunk and flew to her own bed to sleep until her next shift.

     The bell to wake up rang all too soon, and she pulled herself out of bed to start her work.

     *

     Nowadays, Avi Girl couldn't actually see the vehicle that she was steering, or even see through its eyes. A radar device monitored obstacles and targets, and she moved the little craft through the water in an unknown place. Occasionally, she wondered who had designed the enormous tank that she was exploring. There seemed to be no end to its reach, no walls to bump against. The fact puzzled her, but she wasn't the type to let it bother her; and when she found whatever had been marked as her target, she was always congratulated, somewhat reluctantly, by her supervisor.

     Once, she had found amusement in this game. Now, she rather wished that her shift would finish so that she could return to Staff Base and perhaps put in a couple of hours at the cafeteria. There was only so much you could do with the ingredients that were served up for evening meals, but Avi Girl seemed to have an odd flair for cookery, and the other pets appreciated her skills.

     End of shift came at last, and she fluttered off to make the evening meal in the relative quiet of the cafeteria kitchen. This was the time of day she liked the most: serving food to the younger workers, making up beds and telling stories in Staff Base. That night's meal was tasty, if simple, and she filled her companions' plates before taking a seat.

     "Avi Girl?" It was a young Grundo, tugging on her wingtip. "Were you really on duty when we lost the station?"

     "Sure I was, Donniki," the Eyrie nodded. "Haven't I told you before?" The Grundo shook his head and settled down to hear the story.

     "For as long as I can remember we've been docking with this other ship, the station, for repairs and so on. According to my time-clock, I was fifteen and a half years old the last time it happened. The last time it would ever happen.

     "It was the first time I'd ever been allowed onto the station. They wanted me to bring my pod and sort out any defects I'd spotted. So I got my things and I climbed out of this ship..." There was an intake of breath from the younger pets. To go outside of their home! It seemed almost impossible.

     "The station looked a lot like home, only much bigger. There were Grundos and robots everywhere. I could hardly move for them. I carried all my stuff across the corridors and followed the supervisor who'd been told to lead me to the workshop.

     "Just then we saw a Grundo looking panicked. He ran towards us. 'You're a ship crew, aren't you?' he gasped. 'What are you doing here? Don't you know we might be in great danger?' He pushed the two of us backward, up against the wall. We didn't have a clue what was happening.

     "Then there was this enormous noise-" Avi Girl slammed her paw down on the table, making Donniki's spoon rattle in his metal bowl. "A really loud crashing. And it kept on happening. A door opened on the other side of the station and I saw someone who didn't look like any kind of Neopet I'd ever seen... " She waved a paw in an approximation of the stranger's figure. "She was all dressed in blue, the fur on her head too, and she had wings like this... " Another gesture.

     "We-ell, next thing I know this enormous mutant Kougra runs over to hustle us - the supervisor and me - back towards the ship we'd just come off. He shoved a few boxes into our arms and chased a group of Grundos after us. 'Go on!' he snapped. 'Get off this station! There's no way we can win this.'

     "So we backed away, and the last thing I remember seeing is hundreds of Neopets. More than you could ever fit in Staff Base, and tons of different species, too. All pouring in the door after that blue girl. Then we got into the ship, us two and a bundle of other pets from off the station. The supervisor slammed the door and that Kougra raced over to the control module. We were leaving the station, and we would never be able to come back again, he said. I don't know what those Neopets must've done to it, but it can't have been a good thing." Donniki shivered on cue.

     "Avi Girl, is all that really true?"

     "It's as true as I'm standing here right now." The Eyrie nodded, ruffling his ears with one wing. "But we seem to have managed all right without the station since then."

     "Still," the young Grundo sighed, "I would've liked to know what it was like to go outside of this ship... "

     "Maybe you will one day, Donniki. Maybe you will."

     *

     The main timeclock on the wall said that this was NIGHT, which was the name of the shift that Avi Girl had free to herself. Most of the younger pets were already tucked up in Staff Base, quietly sleeping. The Eyrie herself was restless, and had left her bunk for a leisurely flight around the ship.

     As she turned the corner, she heard distant voices; voices coming from her own AVI unit, by the sound of it. Intrigued, she paused to listen.

     "What do you mean, lost? You can't lose a city!" The voice was not one she knew. It sounded commanding and impatient, like a higher-up version of her own supervisor.

     "Destroyed, then," came the reply, calm and resigned. "It seems that a passing band of pirates accidentally invoked an ancient curse. All reports say that the city has disappeared forever in a catastrophic whirlpool. There has been very little loss of life, but-"

     "Confound the loss of life!" Avi Girl heard a hand being smacked against the metallic surface of the wall. "What about the rare minerals? The silver sand deposits? The Maractite gems?"

     "Gone, sir, I'm afraid, along with everything else."

     "Gone." The unseen speaker seemed unwilling to accept it. "We spent eighteen years working on an aquatic raid unit for it to come to this. I don't believe it!"

     "Well..." There was a sigh. "I'm afraid it looks as if this AVI unit is effectively defunct, sir."

     Avi Girl clamped a paw into her beak to stop her automatic gasp. Defunct? She knew what that meant. Defunct machinery had to be scrapped and incinerated, or recycled into new mechanical parts. She'd done it herself, her enormous paws gripping the twisted metal as if it were no weight at all, dismantling the equipment and throwing it into the recycling pods.

     What would happen to her, now that the same process was the fate of the AVI?

     What would happen to a girl who'd been told all her life that she was only there for one job?

     Only for the AVI. The phrase was so familiar that she answered to it as readily as a name.

     Only for the AVI.

     She clutched at the handrail on the stairs, feeling dizzy and unstable. Her paws felt slippery and unsafe beneath her, and she tried her best to stay upright. However, her best efforts were in vain. Avi Girl tumbled down the steps and collapsed to the floor, a bundle of fur and feathers. There she lay unnoticed.

     *

     A shrill alarm brought the blue Eyrie back to consciousness. At first, she thought the noise was only a ringing in her ears. That illusion vanished as the little Aisha scientist, Milleya, dashed around the corner and towards her crouched figure.

     "Oh, Avi Girl!" The child's scarlet fur was streaked with anxious tears. "Something awful is happening! They called the supervisors to the control room a few minutes ago, and we've all got to come back to Staff Base and strap ourselves in..."

     "Back to Staff Base?" Avi Girl extended one bruised wing. "But it's the middle of the day-shift." A memory of her own lost state flashed across her mind, and she put it to one side for now. She could deal with that later. "Come on, then, Milleya. Mustn't disobey the announcers."

     The two of them fled in the direction of Staff Base, the alarm wailing in their ears.

     "Repeat: all personnel please return to your bunks and fasten seatbelts. This is not an emergency drill. Repeat, this is not an emergency drill."

     "Avi Girl? Are we going to die?" Donniki's eyes were wide, and it was clear that only the restraining seatbelt was stopping him from seeking shelter in the Eyrie's gentle wings.

     "No, we're not," Avi Girl snapped in mock-severity. "I warn you, Donniki, anyone dying will be in serious trouble with me." There was a weak giggle from the opposite bunk.

     The whole ship juddered violently, and the younglings screamed in alarm. Then, the fast movement stopped: the ship had come to a halt, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

     "Stay here," the Eyrie commanded. "I'm going to see what's happening."

     "But, Avi Girl-"

     "No arguments!"

     She didn't have far to go. A Neopet unlike any she'd seen before came bounding down the corridor, a flag clutched in its mouth and a long cape flapping out behind it. The royalgirl Kougra took a deep breath. "Out of the way or surrender!"

     "Out of the way?" Avi Girl looked back at her in anxiousness. "What are you going to do? There's a staff base full of kids down that corridor, and if you're planning to do even so much as upset them..."

     "Kids?" The Kougra's face changed in a moment. "They never told me there were kids on this ship. Humans or Neopets?"

     "Um, Neopets, I guess," she stuttered, wondering desperately what a 'human' could be.

     "Get 'em out here, then. I warn you, if this is a trap... " The Kougra flexed her claws experimentally. It was clear she was still quite prepared for battle.

     A few minutes later, the last of the Staff Base younglings were hustled out into the corridor with Avi Girl following. They looked around, dazed, at the Neopets before them. None of them, the Eyrie included, had ever seen such a vast array of different colours and appearances in their lives on the ship.

     "In the name of the Space Faerie," the royalgirl Kougra announced triumphantly, "I claim this Virtupets ship as Neopian property. Doctor Sloth can try coming back if he wants to!"

     The pets behind her gave a loud cheer. Opposite them, the huddle of Staff Base kids blinked in confusion and tiredness.

     "Wh-who are you?" Avi Girl managed. "What's Neopian property? Who's the Space Faerie?" She took a deep breath.

     "What's going to happen to us?"

     *

     "Species, red Aisha... gender, female... no distinguishing marks..."

     The form-filling had gone on for most of the day. The beautiful Station, which had started out as a novelty, had quickly become a prison of boredom for Avi Girl as she waited behind her charges to find out what would become of her.

     Milleya ran to her, jumping into her paws.

     "Avi Girl! You'll never guess what they told me?"

     "What?" The Eyrie ruffled her friend's fur with one paw.

     "There's an enormous place somewhere down there..." She waved a vague paw towards the window. "Full of Neopets! And since I'm just a kit, they're going to find someone to look after me down there! Not a whole load of kids, just me!"

     "Wow, Milleya!" Avi Girl put on her best smile. "That's wonderful."

     "Donniki's staying on this station. He's gonna be a mechanic. Merric is going to stay at a base somewhere called Kreludor..."

     "You next, miss! The blue Eyrie."

     Avi Girl padded the length of the room, finally reaching the wooden desk at the front.

     "Name please?"

     "Avi Girl." Already she could see how odd it sounded, as a name.

     "I assume you're like all the rest? No known owner, home or means of support." She nodded, and the Shoyru went on. "However, since you appear to be over the age of sixteen, there's no legal requirement for you to have a responsible owner. As soon as we get down into Neopia Central, you're free to go wherever you want."

     She nodded again, trying to take in the new information as her mind went into overdrive. Would she stay with Milleya? With Donniki, or Merric? Could she ever learn to settle for being with only one of them?

     "Now as for the name thing. Neopian names have to be unique, and..." He checked something. "Avi_Girl is already taken."

     "But that's my name," she protested.

     "Whether it is or whether it isn't, you can't have it for the records. Isn't there anything else you were ever known by?"

     "No." She hung her head. "That was the whole point. I was only... for the AVI..."

     "What? Oh - right. Hold on a tick..." He hit a few keys, then returned to facing her with a smooth smile. "Only4theavi the Blue Eyrie, miss. Registered as you requested."

     "No! Wait, I..." Her protest faded into silence as he called up the next worker in line.

     Where am I going? she wondered.

     What's going to happen to me?

     First the AVI was gone. Now all my kids are leaving me. What's left, after all?

     The stars glittered outside as Avi Girl gazed out of the window. Somewhere down there, they said, was the place called Neopia Central...

     Somewhere there, she thought, was the first day of the rest of her life.

The End

Author's Note: No, I don't know any of this for certain. But my Eyrie's peculiar name is real enough, and there had to be SOME kind of explanation for it. (If you know better... maybe you owned her... feel free to get in touch.)

 
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