My best friend, Doctor Frank Sloth. Species unknown, age unknown, motive not exactly known, gender un—oh, wait. If I make that faux pas again, he’ll have my ear for payment. I’m not kidding; he does that sometimes. Well, he says he does. I know he likes sarcasm, though, so maybe it was all a lie.
I’m who was known as Ylana Roue, until my parents saw a shooting star on my tenth birthday. I’ve been Ylana Skyfire ever since. That’s what everyone knows me as, fears me as, and respects me as. That’s what Doctor Sloth addresses me as and I’d be pleased if you did the same thing. It’s not because I like my new name. It’s because everything else I’ve done in my life is wrong; I must honor my parents in some manner or another.
I’ve given it a lot of thought. A lot of thought indeed, most likely too much for a name to merit. But here I am and the name that everyone knows me as is Ylana Skyfire. I intend to keep it that way.
Of course, there are always the few contacts I give my old name to. To them I’m “Miss Roue” and nothing more. I’m just another blue Acara after I’ve shed my usual arsenal of blasters and lock picks and helmet and scarves and that clunky bit of armor I’ve grown so attached to.
I don’t have to do that too often, though. In general, I’m known and that’s all it takes to get a bit of information. If it’s not given right off, I just have to back my suspect down into a corner and make them tell me. I can be very convincing when I have to be.
I still remember that shooting star in the sky. That was when I was still back in Meridell. I was a child, still young and naïve. It’s strangely refreshing to think about. It was late one night after the juppie harvest had been brought in and everyone in Meridell was celebrating the bountiful crop. King Skarl had proclaimed a feast for all—which meant that every family got juppies according to the number that there was in their family. For my family, that would have been three.
When I think back to that time, I can see myself, as if from a distance, staring up at the stars, taking an occasional bite of juppie. Just like I ate an apple on regular occasions, except juppie wasn’t quite my favorite thing to eat, so it didn’t leave my hand quite as quickly.
My parents were sitting with me, one on each side. Mother on my left, Father on my right. We were all star gazing. That was a time when I thought that the Space Station was just an unusually bright star in the sky and Kreludor was an uninhabited, completely peaceful chunk of rock floating in the sky. As I said, I was young and naïve.
I had been eating my juppie peacefully when my father suddenly pointed up to the sky. “Ylana! Look!”
I looked. There, shooting down from the heavens, was a shooting star. I was only to find out later that it was a missile from Kreludor. The war between the purple and orange Grundos had just started. It was a signal, rather like what we did in Meridell for celebration, except, of course, that it wasn’t happy at all. But at the time, it was just a shooting star and my parents took it as a reason to really celebrate the juppie harvest.
I was then Ylana Skyfire and hating every minute of it.
I managed to get out of my teen years sane enough. Though I was well and even happy, by then the world had changed. All the Meridellians were aware that there were other lands out there that we had never seen and places that we had never explored. I decided to be one of the first to go see all the foreign lands. One night I packed up a bag with all that I could take with me and treaded off down the path to the newly discovered Neopia Central. Newly discovered for me, at least.
It wasn’t long after I began to move around Neopia Central that I found out about the Space Station. I decided to take a visit, because after the incident with the “falling star” I had always wanted to know just a bit more about the stars in the sky. They had influenced my life too much for me to know as little as I did.
So then, right then and there, I decided. With my remaining money, I made the most foolish and brilliant decision of my life. I bought my way on to the Grundo transport that had landed there right next to the Money Tree and the next thing I knew I was being buffeted around into a tight corner, trying to regain my lost breathing room.
The trip seemed to take forever. I heard that the trips only took three hours, but this one must have taken twice as long. When I finally got off the ship, the stale air of the Space Station tasted as fresh as the air of my home in Meridell. I could only gasp desperately as the Grundos from the transport streamed out all around me, grumbling as they did so.
I had only just caught my breath when I made my first acquaintance on the Space Station.
Doctor Frank Sloth.
Now, there are all sorts of things I could say about the dear Doctor. I’ll say a few right now. He’s rude, snarky, overbearing, and far too single-minded. However, at my first meeting, I was charmed, because his few redeeming characteristics shone through in my first meeting. He is a leader and a genius, even though he says it much too often. It’s true, though not to the point that he’d have you believe. I respected the way he was able to order his troops about and his charm when he noticed that it wasn’t just Grundos on the ship.
The first thing he said to me was a bit blunt, but at that time in my life, I couldn’t help admire it, because of how different he was from King Skarl, who was lax and prone to being inattentive. The first thing that Doctor Sloth said to me was something I’ll never forget.
“You don’t belong here.”
The remark, of course, made me rather self-conscious of my Meridellian clothes and the patched sack slung over my shoulder, but it also roused my temper. “Yeah? Why not?”
“You stand out.” Doctor Sloth is only longwinded when the mood strikes him. Most of the time he’s rather short of words. He can go on and on about plans of mass destruction, but when it comes down to the facts, he’s a bit scroogish about the things he says. Still, this often has a remarkable effect. It affected me.
I crossed my arms, a snarl coming to my lips. My sack almost slid off the shoulder I was balancing it on, as my hands were no longer supporting it. I hastily recovered it before any of its contents could be harmed. After setting on the floor with a cheek-burning delay, I looked back up at him, his height rather imposing over mine. I crossed my arms again and glared up at him, my embarrassment enforcing my anger. “I only stand out if I want to!” I said with all the force I could muster. Doctor Sloth gave a quiet chuckle.
“I see your point,” he said. “You can make yourself known very well. Before you were just a piece of garbage. Now you’ve attracted a few unwanted eyes. Unless you wanted to be thrown off the Station so soon?”
I looked over to see some brawny Grundos that were sitting at the café. They had looked over, annoyed looks on their dull faces. I cringed back automatically. Sloth laughed a loud, booming laugh. It echoed around all the hard metal, ricocheting off through all the air vents that surrounded the room. I flinched even lower. I was cowering so distastefully low in fear that it was hard to make a comeback that would save my new reputation on the Space Station. I regained my composure and took one of the greatest risks of my life in one fell swoop.
I quickly stood up, feeling the flush of my face disappear in the cold anger that trembled its way all the way down to my toes. “Maybe you’re the one who’s attracted the unwanted attention,” I said softly. “I hear the Space Faerie has been hot on your tail.”
Doctor Sloth’s eyes narrowed. “She hasn’t caught me yet,” he hissed. “Nor will she ever. I just like to keep her happy.”
He had gone on the defensive. I couldn’t resist a little smile when I saw that one of the Grundos at the café was choking on his orange rambus because he was laughing so much. It was stupid, idiotic laugh to be sure, but I had stood up in a way that even someone that brutish could understand. I could make my way here. I was sure of it. Still, Sloth managed to catch my by surprise. The Doctor had just finished the agonies of resentment he felt when he stuck out one green hand.
“I have a proposition for you,” he said.
I was taken by surprise. “I... yes?”
“You could use some training, but I think that you could survive here. You’d need a job, of course...”
It was obvious what he was leading up to. “I could always try something out for a few days,” I said casually. Oh, what a trap it was. I wish I had known it then.
“Of course,” Doctor Sloth said smoothly. “A few days, just to see if you like it. I want you to stay here. I think we could do with a little bit of excitement around the Space Station. Liven things up a bit.”
Right. Excitement. I stuck out my hand and shook his, though a shiver went down my spine at his firm grip. It was a grip that never let go, even when we parted ways, I down one corridor, he down another. It tightened over the years. And now it’s so tight, I can barely breathe. I’m hoping that one day I can get free. Go back to my parents. Apologize to them for what I did all those years ago, what with leaving so suddenly. Maybe even today! I know enough now to leave without Sloth knowing. I’m sure of it. At least enough for a quick hello down in Meridell—
“Ylana.” A quick snapping of fingers. “Girl, get back here, so help me. Don’t go drifting off.”
I snapped back to attention, my eyes widening. “I—yessir?”
“Tell Commander Gormos that we leave tomorrow morning to take a survey of Mystery Island. And do finish your job from a few weeks ago. I need those files and I need them tomorrow.” There was sound colder than all of Terror Mountain in his voice. That same shiver from all those years ago went down my spine.
I can’t go back. Not now, not ever.