Hearts of Fire: Part Two
Carmen helped Niklausse up onto the top of the escape pod. They both squinted in the early-morning sunshine – they weren’t used to it at all after a few years on the Space Station. The Draik looked around. “Isn’t it marvelous?”
The big Skeith grinned. “Oh, yeah!” He leaped off the roof and his wings snapped out as he took to the air. “This is great! Carmen, Pinkerton, come up and join me! Oh – wait – you don’t have wings. Sorry, Pinky.”
Pinkerton scowled as he disappeared below the hatch. From below, they heard him call, “And don’t call me Pinky.”
Carmen sprang up into the air and was quickly flying above her much larger companion. They both strove for altitude, soaring as high as they could comfortably so they could see what lay around them.
Much of what they saw was sea. But over to the east of them was a group of green islands, without any of the telltale sparkle and gleam of cities. She looked at Niklausse, who nodded. “Looks like a good place to me. Is there a Neo-Atlas in the back of the Neopedia we have?”
“I think there is. Will you be able to pick the islands out?”
“I’m sure I can.”
The Draik and the Skeith smiled, satisfied, and dived back toward the escape pod.
Back in the pod, Carmen growled, “Musetta, will you stop eating in my ear?”
The Zafara stepped back from the desk, finished chewing and swallowing, and then joined the others again in hunching over Susanna as she pored over the atlas. “You say you saw these islands?”
Carmen nodded and read the label at the bottom of the page. “The Gemaron Islands.”
Susanna flipped back to the Neopedia and read, “Semitropical flora, uninhabited except for the central Isla Molta, which is home to the gateway to the subterranean civilization of Moltara.”
Next, Susanna flipped to “Moltara.” There was quite a lot of information, but the Gelert read only the introduction. “Moltara is an underground civilization, consisting of two major bodies – the city and the magma caves beneath. Both of these realms were introduced to the larger world in Year Eleven by the explorer Roxton Colchester III and the researcher Clara Chatham.”
Pinkerton, looking down from his perch on the life-support tank, said, “If the only other thing on these islands is the gate to Moltara, I think it sounds like a fine place to go. Who’s with me?”
The others looked to Carmen first. She nodded. “I’m with you, Pinkerton.”
Then they all murmured their assent.
Susanna opened the atlas again. “So, how small did the islands seem to you? What do you think the angle was that you were viewing them from?” With Carmen’s guessed number, the information in the atlas, and some statistics in the escape pod’s manual, Susanna scribbled numbers onto a spare piece of paper, did some figuring, and circled her final answer. “We’ll be to the Gemaron Islands in four hours.”
Musetta beamed. “We’re almost home, everybody!” She handed Carmen some of the nuts she had been eating to celebrate – Carmen grinned ruefully as she started to munch on them.
Pinkerton shouted, “You don’t have time to eat, Carmen! You’re the real pilot here – get your tail in that seat and take us home!”
Carmen ate two more nuts just to remind Pinkerton that he didn’t get to boss her around, and then sat back down. Susanna called, “Water mode initialized!”
Then she took the controls and began to motor their little craft toward the Gemaron Islands, and hopefully a place where they could start anew.
That night, the five friends rested on a white, sandy beach. Musetta had managed to make a nice meal out of condensed fruits, nuts, nutrition bars, and some fish that Susanna and Niklausse had caught. Carmen smiled – she didn’t remember a meal that had ever seemed this wonderful.
She looked around her at the work they’d done already in the afternoon they’d been here – a hut in the edge of the jungle made of wood, metal, and cloth from the escape pod, tanks set up to catch rainwater, the raft tied up onshore with makeshift fishing nets atop of it... she was sure that Sloth had never meant his simulations on how to live in any climate on Neopia to be used like this!
Pinkerton lay back in the sand and pointed up. “Look! I think that’s the Space Station.”
Carmen followed where he pointed and saw what looked like a dull reddish star. On her other side, Musetta shivered. Susanna growled into the fire, and Niklausse muttered, “Hopefully the Space Faerie will blast it out of the sky.”
Carmen reassured them, “There’s no use worrying about it. We’re free now – they’ll never be able to find us. Look at what we did the first day! Everything will just get better from here on in – we’ll make our house bigger, we’ll start growing food... maybe we’ll even be able to start trading with the Moltarans for supplies. It’s going to be great!”
It had worked – they all started discussing more plans. Susanna was drawing gadgets on her big pad of paper, along with lists of pieces she could take from the escape pod.
Carmen got up and walked to the edge of the beach, just above the tide line, and looked at the sign she had placed there. It read:
ONASIS - THE MUTANT HOMELAND
In honor of IXI 3870 and all the others who never got the chance to escape.
We look toward the future with you in our hearts.
She didn’t dare tell the others about her hopes – that someday, other mutants would find their way to the island that she and her friends had decided to call Onasis. Here they could all live, in a place where they would all be safe.
And maybe, one day, even if it didn’t come for years, there would be enough free mutants here that Sloth would find himself brought down by the very Neopians he had meant to be his soldiers.
Thoughts of triumphing over that evil tyrant made her smile a little as she went back to the shelter and joined the others in preparing to go to sleep.
Soon, ten days had passed. The five free mutants grew stronger here, out in the open and away from the artificial environment of the Space Station. With the help of the Neopedia, they managed to figure out which of the many plants surrounding them were actually good to eat.
On that tenth night, Carmen and Pinkerton sat on top of the lookout post they had erected in a nearby tree. Pinkerton pointed at a bright streak streaming through space. “Look – a shooting star!”
Carmen said, “The stars never looked this pretty from the space station.”
Pinkerton nodded. “No one is ever getting me into space again. No way, no how, no chance. I like it down here – I’d rather die than even chance going near the Space Station again.”
Carmen looked down at Musetta, Susanna, and Niklausse, talking and laughing close to the fire as they tried roasting various fruits they had found on a foraging expedition. The Skeith and the Gelert occasionally spit out various foods that proved disgusting, but Musetta never turned down anything that was edible. Pinkerton said admiringly, “She’s probably the hardiest of all of us – even if you locked her in a bare cell, she’d just eat the walls.”
He jumped down the ladder, taking the rungs three at a time. “Want to go try some?”
Carmen lifted into flight. “Try to catch me!”
Pinkerton laughed and shouted, “Cheater!” as the two mutants raced each other to the warmth and the fun.
On an island neighboring Onasis, two Neopets in all-concealing uniforms and helmets finished packing up the materials that they had used to send their capsule back to the space station. It contained soil and plant samples, stolen technology from the Moltarans, and reports written by the two spies of all they had seen and heard.
The radio crackled. “SHOYRU 2564, XWEETOK 3241, report!”
The Shoyru picked up the microphone and said, “Commander Gormos, the sampling capsule has been sent to the Lord Doctor Sloth. It should intercept the Space Station in a matter of minutes.”
“What of the inhabitants? Were you seen?”
“We were not seen by anyone. The Moltarans rarely surface, and the visitors to the cave-dwellers rarely stray from the main paths of Isla Molta.”
The Xweetok took the microphone. “We have also located the five deserters on a nearby island. We watched only. They have not made contact with the Moltarans. They seem to be settling in a permanent base on an unnamed island.”
Commander Gormos chuckled darkly. “It will be easy enough to take care of the traitorous deserters when the first forces arrive. But five foot soldiers and an escape pod are only a sideshow in the grand scheme of things. It will not be long before we have finished analyzing the samples and prepared the soldiers for what they will encounter on the islands.
“And then the conquest of Moltara will begin...”
To be continued...