Sailing the Stars: Part Four
Meanwhile, on board Dr. Sloth’s star-ship, a tall, blue Acara scanned the large star-littered blackness of space from the ship’s viewing window. She was wearing a sleek, shiny, space-armour suit, complete with helmet. A loaded laser blaster hung from her utility belt.
The Acara smiled and got herself a cup of water from the dispenser nearby. She resumed her position in front of the window, looking out into the emptiness. So big, so possibly teeming with life, so much opportunity in which to make a million or two...
The door opened up behind the Acara and Dr. Frank Sloth came in, holding an ice-pack wrapped in a dishcloth to his bandaged head.
“Ahhh,” said Dr. Sloth, “you’ve returned. At last...”
“Indeed I have, doctor,” replied the Acara as she put the cup down and turned to face him, “and with no less than two hundred more ‘workers’ from the surface.”
“Excellent,” remarked Sloth, “your work and loyalty to your task are most commendable! I am impressed. However, we have more to deal with right now. I have a new mission for you.”
“I want you to go and bring me the body of that little ‘bug’ from Earth who’s just made off with the entire catch I’ve been gathering for the past two weeks!” replied Sloth, going from normal tone to shouting with rage as he went.
The Acara smiled. “Ooh,” she said, “that’s going to be a big job, doctor. Yes, much bigger than the others. I’m going to need a little extra dough for expenses...”
Dr. Sloth gave a really deep frown. “...How much extra?” he growled through his teeth.
“...I would say about 40... 50 percent the usual rate,” replied the Acara, “more if you want it done nice and slow...”
“I’ll give you 25 percent extra,” offered Sloth.
The Acara looked at him and thought for a moment. That sounded like a fair deal. “Done!” she said.
“Excellent,” remarked Sloth again, a grin re-appearing on his face. “I shall have my staff prepare your ship and gather your equipment for you. And don’t worry about the invasion forces. I shall put some of my best agents in your place. As for your payment, you will receive half the total now; the rest upon completion, and not before!”
“Naturally.” The Acara smiled. “Pleasure doing business with you, doctor. You shall receive your little package within three days. I guarantee it!”
Re-entry hadn’t been too rough. The flight back to Faerieland had been pleasant. The very fact that they were back on Neopia alive was enough to make anyone shake with excitement. However, Bugsy still hung her head with grief as the last few mutated Neopets walked down the gangplank and stepped onto the Faerieland Air Dock.
“Anyone else left?” Bugsy asked Shadow as they watched from the deck.
“Nope. I think that’s everyone,” replied Shadow.
“Good,” replied Bugsy sadly, “go and escort our guests to the Rainbow Fountain, would you? Maybe the Fountain Faerie will be able to return them to their original colours. I’ll hold the fort.”
Shadow took off and flew overboard, down to the grassy cliff where the pets were waiting. Bugsy leant against the wooden railing on the side of the ship, folding her arms and leaning her head on them. She thought of her pets... or rather, friends... slaving away on Kreludor, transmogrified beyond recognition, left behind because she and Shadow had gotten away too fast. Maybe even now, Sloth was making them pay the price for the rescued slaves, or worse...
Bugsy sniffed. A small tear rolled out of her eyes, down her face and dripped onto the railing. She would never forgive herself if...
Someone touched Bugsy on the right shoulder. “Are you crying?” said a voice, deep and gruff-sounding, yet with a touch of friendly concern.
Bugsy turned around. It was a Mutant Eyrie, almost twice her size, all green and scaly with cold blue eyes. Beside him stood a Mutant Techo, all blue and rough with its long tongue hanging out.
“Uh... no, good sirs, I’m all right,” replied Bugsy, trying to hold back another tear, “my lieutenant is currently escorting your fellow rescuees to the Fountain for help. Perhaps you would like to go and join them?”
The Techo took a deep breath. “...No...” he said, “our place isss here.” He spoke with a slight lisp whenever he pronounced an ‘s’ sound, like a Hissi.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Bugsy.
“Oh, come on, Captain,” said the Techo, “sssurely you know who we are...”
But before Bugsy could respond, a female Mutant Shoyru flew out of nowhere and landed just to the left of the two other Neopets. “All right, all right, you guys, lay off!” the Shoyru snapped. She turned to Bugsy. “Don’t let our transfigured appearances fool you, good Captain,” the Shoyru said, “just look inside your heart. You’ll find us eventually.”
Bugsy looked back at her, then at the Eyrie and Techo. They all smiled at her. She thought for a moment... and understood.
“Buckbeak...” she whispered, “ZoshiDevil... Nikolikan... is it really you?”
They all smiled again. “Of course,” replied the Shoyru, “who else do you know that nursed you back to health while you were unconscious with a bad arm?”
“Or fell asssleep during Night Watch?” asked the Techo.
“Or tried to swipe at a faerie disguised as a Fleaf?” asked the Eyrie.
Bugsy’s heart stood still. Her face lit up. She burst into tears of happiness as she threw her arms around the three pets, each one hugging her back. “Oh, Buckbeak!” she cried, “Nikolikan! ZoshiDevil! IT IS YOU!!”
They all stood there on the deck, hugging each other. Suddenly, there came another voice. “Is this a private celebration, or can anyone join?”
Bugsy and the three pets all looked up, across the deck. There was Shadow, smiling open-mouthed, arms outstretched, ready to welcome his crewmates back!
“Shadow!” cried Nikolikan. She broke away from Bugsy, Buckbeak and ZoshiDevil and leapt into Shadow’s arms. “I thought I’d never see you again!” she said, hugging him tightly.
“Nikolikan, you’re safe...” murmured Shadow as he hugged her back. For a minute, Bugsy, Buckbeak and ZoshiDevil all stared at them; then Buckbeak broke away and stepped in front of Bugsy.
“Captain, please... forgive me...” he pleaded, hanging his head in shame, “when Sloth invaded... we tried to fight them off, but without your leadership... I’m sorry I failed!”
Bugsy frowned. She reached out and began to stroke Buckbeak’s brown, murky mane. “There, there, Commander,” she soothed, “don’t blame yourself. You did not fail! If anyone’s to blame for Sloth capturing you, it’s me. I shouldn’t have gone away and left you all for so long!”
“Pleassse,” hissed ZoshiDevil, “no-one’sss to blame! Who among usss could have done anything to caussse Sloth’sss attack?! What mattersss now isss that we’re all together again, with no harm done.” He turned to Bugsy and put his paw on her shoulder. “It’sss good to have you back, Captain!”
Bugsy smiled. “The same to you... my friends,” she said.
After a quick dip in the Rainbow Fountain, Buckbeak, ZoshiDevil and Nikolikan were all back to their original colours. Buckbeak was a magnificent sky Blue; ZoshiDevil, a perfect pine Green; and Nikolikan, a beautiful golden Yellow. Their forms, voices and accents had reverted back to normal too; and, best of all, it seemed their personalities had not been changed by the transmogrification process one bit!
That evening, as the sun was setting, Bugsy and the crew were sitting with Fyora in her private meeting room in the Faerie Palace, discussing the day’s events.
“Phew,” sighed Fyora as she wiped her forehead with a handkerchief, “I knew you were bringing back a lot of passengers, Captain, but I never expected five hundred! The Fountain Faerie’s going to be working for days to return them all back to normal.”
“Oh my! I hope it isn’t too much trouble!” replied Bugsy, nervously.
“Don’t worry,” said Fyora, “she’s used to it. She changes hundreds of Neopets’ colours every day, what with giving out quests to random humans and all.”
“Oh, that’s a relief,” replied Bugsy, wiping her own forehead. “So, what’s our next move?” She glanced at Buckbeak and the others. But before anyone could say anything, there was a knock on the door and an Air Faerie came in, looking frantic and waving a Neomail.
“Your majesty,” she said quickly, “we’ve just heard! Sloth’s troops have landed in Tyrannia and have taken over! The inhabitants have tried to resist, but their primitive weapons are no match for Sloth’s space technology! A number of residents have either gone missing or into hiding, and a lot more have been enslaved! And that’s not all! Several flocks of Sloth’s ships have been spotted, heading for Shenkuu, Kiko Lake and Meridell!”
Fyora got to her feet. “Send re-inforcements to Tyrannia at once to support those who’ve managed to evade capture!” she ordered. “And send a squadron each to Shenkuu, Kiko Lake and Meridell to warn them and provide assistance if an attack happens!”
“Yes, your majesty,” replied the Air Faerie. She bowed her head in respect and backed slowly out of the room.
“He’s at it again!” snarled Bugsy, immediately. “He’s moving up into top-gear, enslaving innocents and taking over their homes! We have to stop him! But how?”
“Well, for one thing,” said Nikolikan, “we’re all going to need to team up in order to build enough force against him.”
“Good point...” added Bugsy. She thought for a moment and turned to Fyora. “Your majesty,” she asked, “are you willing for Faerieland to unite with other Neopian Realms in order to stop Sloth?”
“Why certainly,” replied Fyora, “if that’s what it takes. But who could we unite with that has technologies equal, if not greater, to Sloth’s, so that we have a good chance of defeating him?”
Bugsy smiled. “I think I know the very place...”
“This is Commander Kommet of Virtupets Space Station. Who might I ask is calling?”
Bugsy looked at the video screen. It showed a picture of a small, orange Grundo dressed in a dark blue jacket with a matching cap on his head; his antennae sticking out through holes in the top. Queen Fyora was standing at the screen, talking with the Grundo by video-phone in the Communications room. Bugsy and her crew were there too.
“Greetings, Commander. This is Queen Fyora of Faerieland,” answered Fyora. “I’m sure you are aware by now that Dr. Frank Sloth is once again attempting to take over our lands and enslave our people.”
“Ah, yes,” replied Commander Kommet, “we are indeed aware of Sloth’s threat and are currently preparing to mobilise against his star-ship.”
“As it happens, we are also aiming to build resistance against invasion,” said Fyora, “so if you consider what we could both do as one? Only by working together can we hope to eliminate Sloth once and for all. That’s why, with all due respect, I am proposing an alliance between us; Virtupets and Faerieland.”
Commander Kommet smiled. He raised a paw to his chin in thought. “Hmmm... of course,” he said, “your faerie magic will come in useful against Sloth’s mere technology. And with us backing you up, and vice versa... consider your proposal accepted!”
“Excellent,” replied Fyora, smiling. “I shall be sending my troops up to you first thing in the morning, so that we can organise a battle plan.”
“We’ll be waiting!” The Grundo smiled. “Commander Kommet out!” And the screen went blank.
Fyora turned around and came away from the screen, dusting her hands as she went. “Well, that was easy,” she said. Then she turned to Bugsy and the crew. “You should get some rest, Captain. You look a bit exhausted.”
“I am, your highness,” replied Bugsy with a slight chuckle. “It’s been a trying day, both physically and mentally, not to mention... emotionally.” She glanced at Buckbeak and the others, smiling. They all smiled back.
“But I still want to fight!” added Bugsy with determination, turning her attention back to Fyora. “After all,” she said, “I did say when I came back that Sloth was going to pay for his actions; and that’s a promise I intend to keep!”
“Here, here!” yelled Buckbeak and ZoshiDevil.
“But Captain!” squeaked Nikolikan, “We can’t go up against Sloth’s ship! He has laser beams, floating mines, rockets and all sorts! We only have cannons, snowball launchers and lock-on missiles! Plus, our ship’s made of wood! We’re going to get ripped to shreds!”
“Ah,” said Bugsy, “but we have something Sloth doesn’t; magic on our side!” She turned to Fyora. “How about it, your majesty?”
Fyora frowned and thought for a while. She seemed quite reluctant to let them go. “....Very well,” she said finally, “you shall join the Faerieland army in your ship as they travel up to Virtupets Space Station tomorrow. But only once you are all refreshed and ready to go! I shall remain in Faerieland, as I have things to take care of down here, but rest assured I’ll be in touch.”
Fyora walked up to Bugsy as she spoke, putting her hand on Bugsy’s shoulder. “Good luck to all of you,” she said.
To be continued...