No Other Way: Part Four
Drakav paced impatiently.
“So, what can we do?” he asked.
“Nothing, by the looks of things,” said Allso. “Now we’ve been locked in here.”
“But there must be something!” said Jomoro, anxiously. “There must be some way out! Patsy, you know the Station, don’t you? Isn’t there something you can do?”
“No!” wailed Patsy. “I can’t do anything. I’m just a hostess – I don’t know how this place works.”
“You may not,” said Drakav. “But the spy certainly does.”
“Oh, for Fyora’s sake!” said Jomoro, exasperatedly. “Stop going on about your blasted spy! They’re not going to be able to help us out here. We’ve got, what, seven minutes left until the Station’s unrecoverable, and we’re trapped!” He smashed the door with his fist. “Trapped... in... this... stupid... room!” He kicked angrily at one of the consoles.
And then he froze.
“What?” said Drakav. “What is it?”
“I can feel something,” said Jomoro, carefully. “There’s something... crawling. On my neck.”
“Like a bug?” Drakav asked. Jomoro nodded. “Hold still.”
The Skeith moved forward, but, even as he stepped, he felt the strange sensation again, as the world faded out of sight, and a new one entered his mind.
The last note echoed out from the saxophone. The hall filled with the sound of polite applause as Jomoro smiled, bowed once to the left wing, once to the right, and left the stage. As he stepped off, he passed the host for the evening, who smiled at him.
“Well played,” he said. Jomoro nodded, and the brief exchange ended. The host stepped onto the stage.
“And that was Jomoro and his saxophone,” he said. “But now, the supporting acts are finished. Now, we reach the reason you’re all here. Please welcome onto the stage, the musical genius, Bezart!”
The crowd went wild as a small Green Moehog with a violin stepped onto the stage. Ignoring the crowd, he sat down on a chair, put the sheet music on the stand in front of him, and began to play.
Jomoro watched from the side. Every note reverberated through his brain; he noticed every note, perfectly played; Bezart’s hand moving up and down the strings of the violin with a professional, natural ease.
He felt a tap on his shoulder, and he turned, to see the beaming face of a Red Tuskaninny, wearing glasses and a joyful look.
“Jomoro, my boy, that was excellent!” he said. “Truly magnificent. Did you hear the noise from the crowd at the end? My lad, they loved you!”
“Yes, I heard the noise,” said Jomoro, quietly. “It was about a tenth of the noise that he got.” He jerked his thumb backwards towards the stage. The Tuskaninny frowned.
“But Jomoro, he’s a prodigy. An absolute musical genius, my boy. He’s famous all through Neopia! And he wanted you to support him. You, my lad. Nobody else. You. You should be honoured.”
“But why?” asked Jomoro, with a harsh tone in his voice. “Why is he the one with all the recognition? What has he got that I haven’t?”
“Er...” The Tuskaninny looked flummoxed. “I’m sorry, my lad, but I don’t really have time for all of this at the moment. I mean, congratulations on the performance and all that, but I’ve got another concert to go to. In the Tyrannian music hall.”
“What?” said Jomoro, his eyes smouldering now. “I thought there weren’t any places available for your musicians in the Tyrannian music hall?”
“This is Tamaya. You remember Tamaya, my lad – she’s the one you met the other week, when I told you about tonight’s booking. She’s excellent on the piano, truly magnificent. Tell you what – how about you come along with me, and I’ll see if I can get you a ticket to see her tonight. What about that – how does that sound?”
“No!” said Jomoro. “I don’t want to go and watch. I want to go and play!”
The Tuskaninny’s face became more serious and formal.
“Look, my lad. You’re very good at what you do – you’re an excellent musician. But people like Bezart, like Tamaya, they’re... exceptional. Brilliant, and talented enough to deserve world recognition. And you, my lad, you’re... just not in that league, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.”
“I am a good musician!” he yelled, and, behind him, the haunting music coming from Bezart’s violin stopped abruptly, as the Moehog turned, angrily, to the source of the noise from offstage. Jomoro noticed, but he didn’t care. “I’m excellent! And I deserve the chance to do something with my life too! I don’t want to be one of these pets who wastes their life doing mundane, ordinary chores. I want to be different! I want to be remembered!”
The host was striding purposefully across the stage now, with an angry look in his eye. The Tuskaninny took Jomoro quickly by the arm, and pulled him away from the stage, giving the host an apologetic gesture.
“Listen, my lad,” he said, quietly, but with an undertone of authority. “You’re tired. You don’t know what you’re saying”
“No, I’m not!” said Jomoro.
“Listen to me!” said the Tuskaninny, firmly, and Jomoro fell silent. “You need a holiday. Take some time off, and go and relax somewhere. Come back when you’re feeling better.” He turned, and walked away.
“No buts!” said the Tuskaninny, without looking back. “Go and rest. I have other people to attend to.”
Jomoro watched the retreating back of his manager, as he stood, limply, saxophone by his side, and the saddening violin music started up again behind him.
* * *
Jomoro sat in the observation deck, and played. It was night – certainly, it was past 2am – and the Station was practically deserted. Aside from the odd employee or sleepless passenger walking through, there was nobody to disturb. Nobody to care.
He played a few bars of improvisation, before bursting into his favourite piece ‘The Waltz of the Earth Faeries’. He knew it by heart, had done ever since he was a child.
Four notes in, his fingers made a slip. He cursed under his breath, and tried again. This time, he made it through three bars before another wrong note slipped in. And then another. Frustrated, he threw the saxophone to the ground. It was pointless. His agent was right – he was never going to make a name for himself like this. Bezart would. He knew Bezart would. And he would fade into the background, never being noticed at any concerts, never being recognised, never making anything of himself. He sighed.
He heard rushed footsteps coming down the corridor, and he stood up quickly. Into the room hurried four technicians, all of whom ignored him, passing the musician to head into the corridor on the other side.
“Wha... what’s happening?” he asked the last one.
“Flux levels are down in the other control room,” the technician said, without breaking stride. “Nothing major; it won’t be a problem as long as we get there in time. You sit tight – everything’s going to be fine.” And he was gone. Jomoro was alone again.
He sat back down, the vestiges of nerves beginning to creep in. Yes, the technicians seemed to have it under control, but what if they didn’t? What if something went wrong and the Station crashed? Who would remember him? Who would miss him?
The Station shuddered slightly as he waited, his anxiety heightening with every second. Surely, any second now, the technicians would come back, and everything would have been sorted out...
An alarm blared out. There was a clicking noise, and the doors around the deck snapped shut. Jomoro rose and tried one of them. It had been locked.
Now, he was scared. And the fear gave him determination.
“This isn’t it,” he muttered to himself under his breath. “I’ve got more to do. I’m getting off here. This isn’t it!”
He scoured his memory. He vaguely remembered hearing a friendly hostess explaining to him as he entered where the emergency escape pods were, as part of the safety announcement. Where had they been? There was one in every shuttle dock, and one...
One in the control rooms.
He turned, hearing footsteps coming his way. But they stopped, and turned, fading away into the distance before he even heard them. Instantly, his mind made the connection. Somebody else was looking for the escape pod in the control room.
“No!” he screamed, and, picking up his saxophone, he ran across the observation deck, and down the corridor where the steps had come from, the alarm still blaring in his ears. It didn’t take long for the control room to appear on his right, with a large sign above the door. This was the place.
As he entered the room, he encountered a Tonu in the doorway.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said in a calm tone, although she was shaking, “but I think you should leave...”
Jomoro pushed past her and moved into the room, looking around. And there was the pod. There was a Mynci standing in front of it, and – to his horror – somebody already inside it. A technician, of all people – a squat Green Techo, fidgeting nervously inside a small, metal booth.
“Don’t worry, civilian,” said the Mynci. “We’ve caught the culprit responsible.”
“Get out of my way,” Jomoro muttered, and he approached the control panel. There were a lot of controls – an array of buttons, levers and handles. Some were labelled, some had pictures, and some were described in characters that he had never seen before. But there was one that was flashing at him, one that had a picture of a box and an arrow on it. The escape pod.
“Don’t press anything...” shouted the Tonu from behind him, but it was too late. Jomoro pressed the button.
Instantly, there was a loud beep, and numbers appeared on one of the screens on the panel.
“What’ve you done?” shrieked the Tonu. The technician seemed equally disturbed.
“You’ve locked me in!” he shouted. “You’re going to throw me out of the ship!”
“Serves you right,” said the Mynci. “Maybe next time, you won’t be so swift to vandalise the ship.”
“For the last time, this was not me!” the technician cried.
“Why did you lock yourself in the escape pod, then?”
“I...” The technician fell silent. Jomoro approached the glass separating him from the Techo.
“You need to take me with you!” he shouted. “I can’t stay here. I need to get off the ship!”
“I’m sorry,” said the technician. “But I can’t. I’m locked in here.”
“Let me in!” shouted Jomoro. He raised a fist, and hammered on the glass, punctuating every word with a blow. “Let... me... in!” He tried to lift his other hand, and realised that he was still holding the saxophone. Well, his music wouldn’t save him now.
He raised the saxophone, and smashed it against the glass. Neither the window nor the instrument yielded. He did it again.
“Stop!” shouted the Tonu, rushing forward. “You need to stop!”
There was a hissing sound from behind, and a Skeith entered the room. Jomoro ignored him, though. He needed to get through the glass – there was no other way out that he could see.
He couldn’t stay in the crashing Station. He couldn’t leave Neopia without it knowing his name.
* * *
Jomoro shuddered for a moment, and then sat down. Drakav quickly moved towards him.
“Is it still there?” he asked.
“The thing on my neck?” Jomoro lifted a hand and felt. “No, it’s gone.” Drakav sighed. “Why is it important?”
“I felt something on me, just before you all saw my memories,” said Drakav. “I thought that it might be...”
“Is that all you’re bothered about?” asked Jomoro. “Your little neck creature? My heart and soul were just bared for you to see, and you talk about whatever was crawling about on me beforehand?”
“Look!” said Patsy, suddenly, and all heads turned in her direction. She was pointing excitedly at the floor. “Look!”
And they looked. Set into the floor, so well disguised amongst the steel floor panels that it was virtually indistinguishable from those around it, was the unmistakeable outline of a hatch, embedded into the ground, with a small handle.
“It must be one of the service ventilation shafts,” said Patsy, moving across to the middle of the room. “We can crawl out and get help!”
As the console behind her beeped, and registered a six minute warning on its screen, she lifted the hatch back, and let it fall on the ground. Instantly, from the uncovered hole in the ground, a purple gaseous substance began to rise, and Patsy coughed.
“What’s that?” asked Allso. Patsy, one hand over her nose and mouth, indicated with the other for somebody to cover the hole again. Drakav stepped forward and picked up the metal cover. As he pulled it back into place, he caught a whiff of the gas coming out, and coughed and spluttered as well – it smelt disgusting, and toxic.
“What is it?” Allso asked again.
“It’s the waste gas from the engines,” said Patsy, massaging her throat. “Extremely dangerous. The system goes all around the Station, collecting it from where it’s generated and discharging it out into space.”
“So this would connect to the other control room?” said Drakav.
“But it’s not a nice passage. Every inch of the way is filled with that stuff – you’d barely be able to see. And the fumes would give you all sorts of illnesses. If you went in there for any period of time, you’d be lucky to come out the other end.”
“But one of us has to,” said Drakav. “There’s no other way out of this place.”
The four of them stared at the hatch, as the gas that had been released into the room diffused carefully into the surrounding air. The Station needed saving.
One of them would have to do it.
To be continued...