Daylight's Dirge: Part One
Pariel touched the controls of his salvager, bringing himself to a stop relative to the scattered chunks of space refuse. Following the battle against Sloth, there had been a great demand for salvagers as Neopia did its best to scoop up all the reusable pieces of metal that had formed the warships. Even now, there was still plenty out here. He doubted the tourists realized just how much junk there was out in space, and how difficult the junk made navigating through the void.
It was still beautiful, though, just as the ships that had created the scraps had been beautiful. Pariel remembered seeing Sloth’s flagship. It had been glorious, and when it had blown up, he’d been torn between celebrating with everyone else or mourning the loss. In the end, he’d done neither, instead withdrawing and leaving the others to their celebration.
All the talk since then had been about the battle. Pariel shook his head, guiding the pincers of his little ship. Tightening his grip on the joysticks, he gripped a slab of metal, slowly drawing it back to the hold of his ship. The battle was nothing. Neopia had beaten Sloth by luck and magic. In pure strategy, Sloth had done so much better. He’d had an actual army, not just a resistance group and a couple smart kids. With the slab of metal now in his hold, Pariel pressed down on the rear pedals, easing his ship forward and scanning for more salvage.
A glint of neon light to the right caught the Ruki’s attention. Gently touching the thrusters, he maneuvered closer to it, adjusting the magnification on his display screen. Peering at the shining object, Pariel’s mouth fell open. The Space Faerie’s Charm? Without another thought, he gently picked it up in a small pincher and brought it into the cargo bay. Pariel’s hands rested lightly on the control panels for a moment. As he began turning back towards the giant disk of the space station, he wondered how nobody else had found the charm before.
It had to have been floating in space since the battle. It was almost incomprehensible that nobody had found it before now, since everyone had probably been searching for the key to the Resistance’s victory. Pariel smiled, thinking about it. He, a nobody, was the lucky one to find it on a salvage run. Turning the main engine on, Pariel accelerated towards the station. When he cut the engine off, the Ruki glanced back at his cargo hold. There wasn’t any atmosphere in there, but he was wearing a pressure suit.
Biting his lip, Pariel turned back forward. He couldn’t go and look. Not while he was still in the salvage yards. Pressing the thrusters, Pariel wove through the pieces of space junk. He winced each time a crash shook his little vessel, telling him he hadn’t dodged well enough. It was impossible to dodge everything, he knew, but there were competitions between the salvagers to see who could get a full cargo out without getting their hull dented in a hundred places. And that was only a little bit of an exaggeration, the way some people flew.
Having four feet and pedals tied to the thrusters helped, of course. Especially since he still had hands for the maneuvering jets and main engines. He was one of the best flyers within the salvagers, and his name topped most of the record lists. Including the daredevil one, but that one was worth it. Remembering those adventures, Pariel sped towards the space station, watching it grow in his view-screens.
The space station was the most beautiful object ever created, in Pariel’s opinion. The glistening disk of solar panels that gave the station its distinctive shape was below him, a sea of black and silver held together by red struts. In front of him was the giant ball of the station itself, colored silver and black with spots shining out where windows were. Flashes of light near the surface of the station marked the repair ships that were constantly making sure it was in perfect condition.
Pariel smiled, looking at it. Hitting the reverse thrusters with one hand, he slowed his salvager down, drifting towards the hangers. As he neared, Pariel fiddled with the maneuvering jets to bring himself to a stop, relative to the station. Now ‘on top’ of the space station and drifting along with it, he turned his radio on to contact his hanger. “Excavator One-Four-Echo-Jigsaw to Sigma-Sigma-Hag-Oh-Six-One. Excavator One-Four-Echo-Jigsaw requesting permission to enter hanger. Over.”
The radio crackled for a moment before a voice came through. “Sigma-Sigma-Hag-Oh-Six-One to Excavator One-Four-Echo-Jigsaw. Excavator One-Four-Echo-Jigsaw cleared for entry. Over.”
“Copy. Excavator One-Four-Echo-Jigsaw out.” Pariel clicked off his radio, tapping his maneuvering jets to begin drifting into the hanger. As he neared, the dull metal plates covering the hanger pulled back, revealing the brighter interior. It was empty, as Pariel had expected. The three salvagers who shared the tiny hanger with him were all out when he came back. Of course, it meant that he had to leave from a crowded hanger, but that was usually simpler.
Guiding his craft through the entry, Pariel slowly set it down. The thump of the craft touching down was a harsh vibration, and Pariel winced slightly, cutting the engines and beginning the power-down sequence. It only took a few minutes, and when he finished Pariel undid the straps that had kept him firmly in place during the flight. Taking the final one off, the Ruki stood, bouncing a little in the low gravity. Slowly turning around in the cramped space, Pariel made his way to the hatch, jumping to reach the door on the roof of the craft.
Climbing up into the bright lights and space of the hanger was a relief, as always. Spending days alone in space in a spaceship that barely had enough space for him to fully stretch out made him truly appreciate the size of the space station and the effort that must’ve been required to build it. Hopping off his ship, Pariel slowly fell down to the hanger deck. When he landed, there wasn’t any sound; the hanger was kept depressurized. It made it easier to open and close the hanger doors.
Grabbing hold of a rung on the side of his salvager, Pariel swung himself to the cargo hatch near the front of the ship. Entering his code on the touchpad, Pariel waited impatiently for the door to slide open. The dark chamber he entered was filled with pieces of metal, some twisting towers that leaned against the walls, some plates that lay flat against the floor, others just crumpled pieces that propped up the other pieces. It was a maze of metal, and somewhere within the maze was the gem, the charm that the Ruki was looking for.
Feeling to the left side of the door, Pariel pressed the light switch. The lights flickered, warming up, but soon filled the chamber with a soft light. Smiling, Pariel entered, ready to begin searching for the blue and gold charm. The thing about finding it was that the chamber was large and the charm was small. Technically, he could hold off looking for it until after he’d checked in and gotten some robots to help him take all the large chunks out. He didn’t want to. Closing his eyes, Pariel sighed. This was going to be difficult.
A whisper of thought filled his mind. Without opening his eyes, Pariel climbed over a sheet of metal, fingers tracing the edges as his four feet kept him stable while he transferred his weight to what felt like a girder.
Making his way down the beam, Pariel followed the whisper. As he set foot on the floor of the ship, his head crashed against another piece of metal and his eyes snapped open. Right in front of him was the charm that he’d been searching for. Pariel stared at it in shock. “How in all the worlds did that work?” he muttered, reaching out to take the bauble. As his fingers closed around it, the Ruki saw a flash of green-gold light, similar in color to his own skin. Shaking his head in amusement at the trick of light, Pariel tucked the charm into a pocket.
Turning, Pariel climbed back up the beam before jumping down to the door. Drifting slowly in the low gravity, Pariel caught himself on the wall and dropped down. Exiting the craft, he closed the door behind him. Leaping again, Pariel made his way to the airlock. Glancing up at the indicator light, Pariel nodded slightly. It was green, as he’d expected. Nobody came to the hangers if they didn’t need to. Placing one hand on the touchpad to unlock it, Pariel opened the door with the other.
Stepping into the airlock, he pulled the door closed behind him. As soon as it closed, a soft hissing filled the air. Pariel watched the pressure gauge, waiting for it to climb up to 100. When it finally did, Pariel pulled off his helmet and gloves, revealing green skin. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Pariel pushed the door into the station open. His boots clunked on the floor, the slight magnetism of the station’s corridors allowing him to move along at a regular speed despite the low gravity.
Nobody else was around, which was the way he liked it. At the lift, Pariel hit the call button and leaned against the wall, waiting and looking out a window. Windows dotted most of the upper-level walls, a reward for those who spent their time in the lower gravity. Despite how much time he spent looking at the stars, it was hard to break his eyes away from the intricate patterns they made. The constellations known in Neopia shifted, blurred, transformed into new patterns with the addition of more stars.
The soft beep that marked the arrival of the lift broke Pariel’s star-induced trance. He entered the lift quickly, fingers already hitting the button for the level his quarters were on. It was in the band that mimicked, or nearly mimicked, Neopian gravity. The most normal band was reserved for tourists who didn’t want to get too disoriented, the heavier levels were for those who needed strength, and the lighter ones for the space-walkers and space-workers who spent most of their time in null-gravity anyway.
Most of the gyms that the space-workers were told to spend time in were on the heavier levels as well. Pariel smiled slightly. The workers didn’t like that, but since most of them dreamt of returning to Neopia one day, they obeyed. Another soft beep and the hiss of opening doors marked the lift’s arrival at his level. Pariel stepped out into the relative noise and chatter. Almost everyone wore the standard space-suits, simply because most of them were either on their way to null-g and the void or because they were returning.
It was a sea of gray-green cloth and silver metal and plastic, all covering people of all species and colors. Entering it, Pariel worked his way towards his room. Spacers were sorted by hanger and by crew, and if his hanger was empty, his room would be too. Finally reaching his door, Pariel opened it and entered as quickly as possible, leaving the noise of the crowd behind for the quiet darkness. Not bothering to turn the lights on, Pariel turned to the left, taking the few steps necessary to reach the door into his room.
Once inside, he turned the lights on and closed the door behind him. Dropping his helmet and gloves onto his already messy bed, Pariel pulled out the charm. It pulsed with a steady green-gold light, dimming and brightening like a heartbeat. Hypnotized, Pariel lowed himself to the ground, legs folding under him. “What are you?” he whispered. “I never heard of anything doing this before.”
A deep laugh flickered through his mind. I am known to you as Doctor Sloth, a voice said, and now you are my servant, my voice in this world. Pariel Zupan, you have no choice in this matter. Accept me, or I shall force you to.
Pariel stared at the charm. The blue crystal and the gold setting swirled underneath the green-tinged light that covered it. Green like Sloth. Green like him. Green like the world below, where everyone lived happily and peacefully, safe in the belief that Sloth had been banished by the Space Faerie.
The Space Faerie. The voice sounded angry now, and it was stronger, coming more easily into Pariel’s mind. She used to like me, but now she traps me. It’s for my own good, according to her. Sloth was bitter, Pariel realized. The powerful Doctor who had almost ruled Neopia was bitter about this. What do you believe, Pariel? I know how I can be freed, but I require a voice to convince others to help me.
Pariel took a deep breath. It was hard to believe he was doing this, hard to believe that Doctor Sloth was talking to him, hard to believe that he’d been chosen as the new voice for the greatest lord in Neopia. But since the other option was that he was a madman, driven crazy by solitude and space...
“I accept this duty,” he said. “Take my voice, take my body, take whatever you need from me to become the ruler you should already be.”
The charm glowed brightly, and Sloth’s laughter echoed in Pariel’s ears, in his mind. It was overwhelming, all-consuming. It felt like tendrils of thought were wrapping around his brain, enveloping his mind, shutting him down and taking his place. The last thing he heard before he fell into darkness was Sloth’s voice.
To be continued...