Into the Storm
“Better strap yourself in.”
My owner’s voice cut through my daydreams. I looked over at him, seated at the controls of our two-man Virtupets space fighter, then attempted to fasten the safety harness attached to my seat. It wasn’t easy, and I got a little tangled up in the straps.
“This wasn’t designed for a royal girl Uni,” I grumbled.
BG, my owner, flipped the fighter into autopilot, reached over, and fastened the safety harness for me.
“Thanks, BG,” I said.
“Anytime,” he replied, taking full control of the fighter again.
“Why did you want me to fasten the harness?”
“Look up ahead.”
I looked, and my heart jumped. There were black clouds stretched from one horizon to the other, right in our flight path. We were flying right towards a thunderstorm! Now I was scared.
“Um, BG?” I asked nervously. “The fighter’s hull is made of Kreludite, correct?”
“W-what is the conduction capacity of Kreludite?”
“It’s an insulator. Electricity won’t flow through it. That’s why the Sloth Clones carry lightning zappers: they’re unhurt by the feedback.”
“O-okay... Then... is lightning attracted to Kreludite?”
“...I don’t know.”
The clouds looked a bit closer now. I guessed that we would reach them in about a half-hour.
“Tell me why we’re out here again,” I said to BG, looking at him. “I know Judge Hog asked for a favor, but why are WE, specifically, out here?”
“A merchant ship carrying very important cargo to Mystery Island should have docked three days ago,” my owner replied. “It never appeared. The Defenders of Neopia asked us specifically because we have this fighter. They want us to find out what happened to the merchant ship.”
The fighter began to wobble a bit. The wind was getting stronger. I looked down at BG’s hands, which were on the control stick of the fighter. His grip was loose, yet firm. He didn’t seem worried. Yet I was beginning to sweat out of fear. I was very scared.
I forced myself to look away from the clouds and stare down at the sea instead. It didn’t help much, as I began to wonder what would happen if we had to ditch the fighter. I could swim, but we were miles and miles from any land. All sorts of scary thoughts began to parade through my head... thoughts of getting hit by lightning or crashing into the sea.
BG noticed my fright. He reached over and rubbed me between the ears. I instantly relaxed, as that was my favorite spot to be rubbed on.
“I-I’m rather scared...” I murmured to my owner.
“You’ll be OK,” BG replied gently. “I’m here. It’ll all be fine in the end.”
“For as big a pessimist as you usually are, I’m stunned that you said that!”
We laughed, but it was cut off suddenly as we heard a crash of thunder. Then there was a bolt of lightning some distance to our left, followed by another crash.
“Fyora have mercy...” I whimpered.
Then the rain began to fall. And it fell HARD. I couldn’t hear a thing over the drops pounding on the fighter’s windscreen, and I couldn’t see a thing either.
“BG!” I yelled. “Can you see anything?”
“No,” he yelled back, even though we were side by side. “I’m using the instruments to keep us level.”
The fighter began to rock side to side as the wind got much stronger. I could faintly see ice crystals forming on my side of the windscreen. I was panicking now, and my fear got even stronger as a bolt of lightning nearly blinded me. The thunder crash that followed shook the fighter.
“Fyora save us!” I wailed, pressing my front hooves over my ears and shutting my eyes tight.
“Hang in there,” BG responded, his voice eerily calm for such a terrifying situation.
I opened my eyes a little and saw him push a button on the fighter’s control panel. The fighter rocked slightly, but then everything changed. The rain was no longer hitting the windscreen, and the wind wasn’t pushing us around as much.
“What did you do?” I asked, perplexed yet relieved, slowly uncovering my ears.
“I put up the fighter’s shield,” BG told me.
“I didn’t know it had one.”
“Dr. Sloth doesn’t care about the creatures who fly his ships, but he wants the ships to remain airborne long enough to attack. So he puts rudimentary energy shields on his fighters. They won’t hold under heavy blaster fire, but they will handle rough weather.”
I could see again, and that meant BG could too. My owner tipped the fighter’s nose downward, and we began to descend.
“Why are we descending?” I questioned.
“I’d rather not risk getting zapped by lightning,” he answered. “The lower we are, the better off we should be.”
“But... shouldn’t we fly ABOVE the cloudbank? The sky should be clear up there.”
“This fighter doesn’t have scanners. If we’re going to find that merchant ship, we’ll have to see it with our own eyes.”
BG leveled out about fifty feet above the sea and turned on the floodlight on the fighter’s nose. The water was wild and rough below, but the thunder and lightning seemed farther away. I did feel a bit better, but I was still plenty scared.
“Listen, BG,” I stammered. “Please don’t take another Defenders request that involves flying over the sea in a thunderstorm.”
My owner nodded.
“I know, I really don’t like this either,” he sighed. “But I keep my word. And the cargo that the merchant ship was carrying is very valuable, so we’ll likely get a decent reward out of this.”
The thunder, lightning, wind, and rain kept up, but the fighter’s shield made life a bit easier for me. I slowly began to relax a bit more, but every time a bolt of lightning hit the sea, I jumped.
After maybe fifteen more minutes, I spotted something up ahead.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing it out to BG.
“Looks like...” His sentence was cut off as we flew over a large chunk of wood.
“...wreckage,” we said at the same time, realizing what this meant.
“The ship might not have survived,” I commented, noticing more and more pieces of wood floating around.
“Here’s hoping that this is some other ship, and not the one we were sent to find...” my owner grumbled.
“Is there any way we can ID the merchant ship we’re looking for?”
“It’s called the S.S. Marak, and the figurehead on the bow is a golden Peophin Waverider. Help me look for something like that.”
Not even two minutes after BG told me that, we flew over a large chunk of wood that was clearly from the bow of the wrecked ship. There was no figurehead visible, but the remains of the name plate on the side of the hull read “...arak.”
We knew what we had found.
“We’d better look for survivors,” I said.
“Way ahead of you,” BG replied, turning the fighter and beginning to fly in expanding circles.
There was quite a bit of wreckage floating below us. Most of it was large pieces of wood, which seemed to indicate that the ship broke up before it sank. But what could have caused that? I didn’t know about any hidden shoals in this area... but then again, I knew almost nothing about this area at all!
“What do you think sank it?” I asked.
“I have no clue,” BG replied. “But, given the strength of this storm, most likely it was a rogue wave that snapped the keel.”
“That would make it break up like this?”
“Easily. Some rogue waves can be taller than the Sakhmet palace. When one of them comes down on a ship... that’s it. Sunk.”
After about forty-five minutes of circling, I spotted what appeared to be a lifeboat.
“There!” I yelled, pointing it out to BG. “There’s a lifeboat!”
He brought the fighter around sharply and flew over the lifeboat. My heart sank to see that it was flipped over, meaning that if there had been Neopians on board, they were not there any longer.
“I don’t think anyone survived...” my owner said. “And the cargo is lost to the sea.”
I felt rather sad about that. Still, we had found what the Defenders asked us to find, so that meant we could head home.
“Let’s get out of this storm,” I suggested.
“I agree,” BG responded.
He pulled back on the fighter’s control stick, and we rose into a steep climb. The weather got worse the higher we went, and as we flew through the clouds, lightning seemed to be everywhere. Yet after a few minutes, we came through the clouds and found ourselves flying through sunny, still skies. What a relief.
“Ohhhh, this is so much nicer,” I sighed happily, finally relaxing.
BG chuckled and rubbed me between the ears again.
“We’ll fly up to Neopia Central and let Judge Hog know what happened,” he said. “Then we’ll go home.”
“I’m so glad we don’t get storms like that in the Lost Desert. At least, not too often.”
The trip back to Neopia Central took another couple of hours. I was beginning to feel stiff from sitting all that time. Unis like me aren’t supposed to sit on our haunches that long. BG unbuckled my safety harness and let me rest my head in his lap while he petted me.
“You’re the best,” I sighed happily. “I honestly don’t think I’d have kept my sanity if you weren’t there with me during that storm.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he replied. “Not just to take care of you, but to help you through the rough spots on the journey of life.”
We left the storm behind near Meridell. There was nothing but clear, cloudless skies from Brightvale to Neopia Central. BG landed the fighter next to the Defenders building. When the cockpit opened, I vaulted from my seat and collapsed on the grass.
“Whew, solid ground again!” I sighed.
“You can run around out here for a while,” he told me. “I’ll go report to Judge Hog.”
He went into the Defenders building while I ran around crazily, like I had been stung by a Buzzer. The grass beneath my hooves had never felt so good. After a few minutes BG came back, carrying a sizeable bag of Neopoints.
“I like that!” I laughed, looking at the bag.
“I requested stress pay from the Judge,” BG responded, also laughing. “I told him that he needed to compensate you for all the terror you went through out there. He was quite willing to do so.”
“Aw, BG. That’s too nice of you.”
“You deserve it, my little one.”
We got back into the fighter and turned it towards our Neohome on the outskirts of Sakhmet. I was looking forward to a long, peaceful nap when we got home. All that time that we had been out in that storm, I had been running on adrenaline. Now, I was thoroughly burned out.
“It’ll be naptime when we get home,” I murmured, already about to doze off.
BG smiled down at me.
“Go ahead and rest,” he said. “I’ll wake you up when we get home.”
I smiled at him and promptly went to sleep with my head in his lap.
It felt good.