Farside Base: Part Five
“Sweet Fyora, what now?” I hadn’t been expecting to see Geena in the briefing room, let alone arguing with the Commander to her face! Yes, she had a tray of drinks, but that was no excuse; they should have been sent through the dumb-waiter, not by an intruding civilian! Besides, nobody had even asked for them...
“I don’t care what you say about not having an unlucky number, I know you just don’t like me!” Geena shouted in front of the room full of pilots. “I’m loyal, I’m someone who’d put myself in danger to help you, I did put myself in danger in the sim... and you chose Explorer over me!” Standing in the doorway as I was, I was visible to the whole room; no sneaking off was going to get me away from this situation, so I entered and sat down as though nothing was going on. Meanwhile, Geena continued to yell, “She left us to burn, and you let her in! And then sent me, loyal me, to work in the kitchen! You have some pretty mixed up standards, Commander!”
Commander C sighed and turned off the computer screen at the front of the room. Raising a hoof to quell the murmurs of unhappiness among the pilots, she said, “I figured I’d have to explain this to you, Geena. You would make a perfect member of Farside Patrol, even better than Farside Five, except for that very fact you mentioned. You are far too loyal. You crashed with me instead of returning to Farside Base to inform the others.”
“Yeah, and that’s...” Geena started, but was cut off by the Commander.
“You come from Neopia Central, correct?” she asked.
“Yeah, and so do Explorer and Mr Devilaris,” Geena answered. “So?”
“So I think you all need to know something that you probably were shielded from when you were younger,” the Commander said. “I assume you were always told that Neopets can’t die?” Geena nodded, and I had a sinking feeling that she was being set up for a fall. Indeed she was, for the Commander said “Wrong. Neopets don’t die. Don’t die naturally, that is. We’re immortal as far as natural causes go, and stronger than lesser species like petpets, but we are not unkillable. Geena, what do you think would have happened to you if that crash had been for real?”
Geena looked stunned at the thought. “You mean...” she said slowly.
“That I can’t take someone who disobeys my orders and destroys herself when it won’t do me any good,” the Commander said. “I’m sure you can see that I have perfectly good reasons.”
“But... but... but...” Geena stammered, “but why the kitchen? Why did you send me to work in the kitchen? Why not something to do with Farside Patrol?”
The Commander’s voice was gentle. “Two reasons,” she said. “First, you have two young Neopets dependant on you, and the kitchen is one of the few areas of Farside Base where youngsters are tolerated. Were you a pilot, it could be arranged for somebody else to look after them, but not if you were ground crew or working at a desk, and you could have them with you at neither of those jobs. And second... if you worked in close proximity to Farside Patrol every day, how would you feel? How would you feel to see them taking off in their fighters, leaving you grounded?”
Geena sighed. “Jealous, I guess,” she said quietly, looking at the floor.
“Exactly,” the Commander said. “And since you have two friends who have been accepted into Farside Patrol, I think it’s better for your friendship that you work in the kitchen, far away from all thoughts of spaceflight. Now, my dear, could you please make sure there’s a snack ready for us when we get back from this flight? I think there’s some ripe lychees just ready for eating, so how about those, toast and peanut butter, and some ice cream? I like borovan ice cream, you know. And Purple Juppie Java, of course.”
“There’s no coffee,” Geena said, and the tone of her voice leant viciousness to those innocent words. “Learn to like Earl Grey, or go without.” She walked out without a backwards glance.
“Tea-drinking traitor, tea-drinking traitor...” the other members of Farside Patrol taunted Geena as she entered the command room between Karl and the Commander. I felt angry tears spring to my eyes as I followed them in, and was very grateful when an unexpected voice of reason spoke up.
“Will you stop it?” Mel inquired mildly, stepping out from behind Vile, who was silent and brooding. “She’s not a traitor, and neither is Kent. As a matter of fact, he’s a very nice fellow, who just has a tendency to get up to his ears in hot water. I realized that as soon as I saw the briefcase chained to his wrist.”
“That’s standard for couriers, dear,” the Commander said condescendingly. “Now, why don’t you be a good secretary and type up your boss’s newest story for him?”
“Because I’m not Karmapa’s secretary,” Mel said simply. “I can’t even type...” She wiggled a foot in the air and got a few chuckles at that. “But I have met Kent before, when he was called Kento, and he’s the same now as he was then. Not actually bad, just too into anything he thought made him look cool, and a bit gullible. Everyone else blamed him then, and they’re doing the same now. But it’s not his fault he was bugged, for Sloth’s sake!”
“Ewwww! Kenty buggy earry!”
Kent swatted at Rai, but it was too late. He’d been scratching at his ear for days, and now the Commander had an excuse to pounce. Never mind that we were sitting at dinner and that Kent was chewing on a bite of turkey and carrots.
The Commander leaped up from her seat and headed for him. She had clearly planned for this, as she drew a fine-toothed metal comb from one of her many pockets as if it was a weapon. “No buggy heads in my squadron!” she snapped, shooting a glance at Karmapa’s and my luxuriant locks. I found myself unconsciously scratching my head, and although I stopped as soon as I realized it, a cook sitting farther down the table shouted something about long hair being a nest for petpetpets.
“Is it a petpetpet?” Kent asked hopefully as the Commander examined his ears.
“No,” she said, sounding rather puzzled, “but it’s not any kind of bug I’ve seen before either.” She tugged at something I couldn’t see, and Kent yelped, knocking slices of turkey off his plate as he tried to get away from the Commander’s icy hooves. Muttering under her breath, she extracted a magnifying glass from a pocket and looked at whatever it was through it. Whatever it was clearly startled her, for she dropped the magnifying glass and let go of Kent’s ear. He leaped up and made a run for the door, knocking my plate of broccoli and sprout wraps off the table, but the Commander was faster. With two long steps, she had seized him, and shouted “Farside Three, lend me a paw, will you?” Rather unwillingly, I went to help her restrain him.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, while Kent looked around frantically for an escape and the rest of the room stared.
“I don’t know, but Doctor Hu will,” the Commander said grimly. “Which is why we’re getting Farside Two to her right away.”
“Doctor who?” I asked, having never actually learned the name of Farside Base’s Camouflage Kougra doctor. Kent’s reaction sounded the same, but was clearly inspired by different feelings. “Doctor Hu?” he asked, sounding appalled. “I don’t have a computer in my head, I’m not a sabotage robot in disguise, you know that, you’ve known me for ever, I’m not like Akkeola, you know I’m for real...”
“Yes, Farside Three,” said the Commander, ignoring Kent, “Doctor Hu just happens to know the most about bionics and implanted machinery this side of the Space Station. And from what I saw in Farside Two’s ear, she needs to see him.”
The command room broke into laughter as the pilots remembered that evening. Geena hung her head and blushed to the tips of her ears, and I knew she was regretting her conduct that night. Of course, it had been funny...
“See?” Mel said. “It’s not her fault either. She felt sorry for him getting bugged like that, so she tried to help him make up for it. No wonder they got a bit attached to each other, no wonder if she hid him when he was blamed for the leak!”
I agreed, although, to be honest, I thought Geena was more frantically worried about Kent that night than feeling sorry for him...
Dr Siljani Hu wore a beautiful shell necklace and a very calm attitude. This came in handy, as Kent was so upset that we had to hold him down on her examining table as she peered into his ear with a very strong magnifying glass. He kept moaning that he wasn’t a security risk, really, it was probably just an odd-looking Mootix, until Dr Hu straightened up and said, “It’s not a Mootix, but it’s not another Akky situation either. However, I’m afraid you must be considered a security risk of the highest degree until the bug is removed, as well as retroactively from the time it was attached.”
“What is it?” Commander C demanded, while I asked, “What’s an Akky situation?”
“Bug, Commander,” Dr Hu said. “Not the icky head-scratchy kind, just the nice clean spy kind. It’s only attached under the skin so it doesn’t fall off, no implanted circuitry or anything, so I can remove it any time you like. And I’d recommend at once, since it’s transmitting everything Mr Odnurghovitch hears to parties unknown.”
“See, I told you I wasn’t like Akkeola!” Kent said, shrugging off the Commander and me. “I bet it was when we were on the three-day wonder, this silly little Xweetok insisted she wanted a picture of me in a phoney space helmet she found somewhere...”
“And you obliged her, I assume?” the Commander said, rolling her eyes. It was very disconcerting to see the globes of ice move in their frozen sockets, and Kent looked away.
“I didn’t think it could compromise security,” he said. “I mean, I had the case chained to my wrist all the time, and I did everything I was supposed to, I mean I was profiling Mr Devilaris’s party all along...” The look on his face as he trailed off told me he wasn’t supposed to have said that in my presence.
“Pah!” the Commander said, looking angrier than I’d ever seen her. “You would have unchained the case so as to dance better if you had the key. And you mean to say you’ve been bugged all this time and didn’t know it? You, a courier, drilled in security?”
“I... I had figured I was bugged for a while,” Kento admitted shamefacedly. “Even before my ear started itching, things were happening too odd. I know I should have told you... but... I... I was scared...”
“Of what?” the Commander demanded, sounding like she wanted to break something.
“That it had turned my brain into a computer and you’d try to take it off and I’d crash like Akkeola did!” Kent wailed, sounding like he wished, at the moment, that he would.
Of course, it was at that moment that Geena rushed in, sobbing hysterically and tripping over the hem of her blue dress and her own hooves, while her pink apron hung from around her neck, its waist strings untied. She flung her forelegs around Kent’s neck, and began babbling that she was afraid the Commander would cut his head open to get the bug out. The only sane response for the rest of us was to shake one’s head and forgive Kent for his foolishness, and for the Commander and Dr Hu to tell me what an Akky situation was.
“Akkeola,” the Commander said rather sadly, “used to be a records clerk here. Rather a nice Eyrie, she seemed, and clever for a Tyrannian, but very gossipy indeed. Well... in the end, we found out that she’d been making it look like we were squandering everything we got from Orange Central. Very nasty situation, as they cut off all deliveries for a while... well, it was all for the better, as it made us more self-sufficient. But anyway, when Akky was confronted, she just slumped over her desk and acted like a robot that had crashed. Turned out that was what she was, a brilliant robot in a clone-flesh casing. We still don’t know who planted her...”
“I’m not like her,” Kent said, patting Geena on the back. “I know I’m a little stupid sometimes, and I’m sorry for causing trouble, but get this bug off of me and I’ll do all I can to repair the damage.”
“I’ve come to fix things.”
The entire room spun at the sound. Kent stood in the doorway, dressed in his flight suit and with his helmet in one paw. The other paw clutched a sandwich that looked like it contained egg salad and cheese. In the moment of stunned silence, Kent took a bite of it, chewed slowly, and swallowed.
Then, as the Commander slowly opened her mouth, he said, “Not a bad last bite before the battle. Speaking of which, we’ve got ten minutes until midnight. Anyway, I’ve been seeing the results of what we leaked... what I leaked, rather... anyway, it’s worse than I thought. Ever played Neverending Boss Battle? I hope you’re good at it, because that’s what it looks like Sloth’s going to throw at us. One big ship, against twelve tiny fighters, so I’ll admit our odds are twelve times better... but that’s not much.”
To be continued...