Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part One
Cassius the shadow Xweetok looked at the leaking pipe in the machine room and muttered, “Just my luck. If this gets out of hand, we’ll lose half the cargo.” And if they lost half the cargo, Captain Trinian might lose the contract with the shipping company, and thus the ship.
But, of course, after how poorly they’d been paid for the last shipping run, there was nothing to fix it with but Mallard tape, rubber bands, and a little tube of glue. But if there was one thing he’d learned to do as the repairman of a rust-ridden excuse for a spacecraft like the Aurora, it was how to make repairs without the materials he actually needed.
He wound some of the Mallard tape around the leak, then some of the rubber bands, and more tape, to make a sort of seal. He’d done this before on plenty of other pipes in the Aurora. Finally he used his old wrench to make sure the seal was as tight as possible, and spread a bit of glue over the whole thing for good measure.
Then he heard a voice call, “Cassius!”
It was Zaraq – the orange Grundo who kept the ship’s engines and mechanics in good order. Cassius didn’t know anything about the circuits and wires necessary for that job – his expertise was more in hardware.
“Cassius, hurry up! I’ve got oil dripping from somewhere and I don’t know where!”
That probably wasn’t good – in his spare time, Zaraq liked playing with sparks, little lights, and other, more dangerous things, which could probably set the oil on fire if he didn’t fix it and clean it up quickly. And then he had to put the pot of coffee on before everyone came in from getting the space fungus off the hull of the ship – that job always made them crabby.
“Mira’s heart, Cassius, will you get in here before the engines blow up in my face?”
“I’m coming, Zaraq, keep your goggles on! If you hadn’t noticed, this whole Sloth-blast-it ship is falling apart, and I’ve got a to-do list that’s longer than you are!” Not that that was saying much – Cassius wasn’t especially tall, but Zaraq didn’t come up much above his elbow. He grabbed his meager supplies and dashed down the narrow corridor to the engine room.
After he’d fixed Zaraq’s emergency – turned out that a container of grease had spilled behind the engine – Cassius went up a level to the galley and the crew’s living quarters to finish making the coffee. Trinian, Jory, and Bea wouldn’t take much longer to clean off the hull, and they’d come in wanting something hot.
Just as the machine beeped, the hatch to the airlock swung open, and a tall camouflage Kougra stepped into the room. He’d removed his helmet, but kept his red-lensed battle visor on – Cassius had never seen Captain Trinian without it. He asked, “Is the coffee done?”
“It’s right here, Captain.”
“Did you weld that blaster handle back together for me?”
“Had to use Mallard tape, Captain – I’m out of welding supplies.”
Trinian slammed his hand on the table that filled the center of the common room just beyond the galley. “What are you doing, Cassius? If I wanted that blaster fixed with Mallard tape, I’d have done it myself!”
Cassius replied as he brought the coffee pot out, “There’s nothing else. I’m out of welding supplies. Even if I had any, the busted pipes in the machine room are more important than blasters. But, as it is, I have no welding supplies, and fairly soon this ship will be more tape and glue than it is steel.”
“Well, ain’t that the life.”
The speaker was a faerie Ixi – not as tall as Trinian, but taller than Cassius, and clearly muscular under her nondescript black and silver spacesuit. Despite the mood the captain was putting him in, Cassius smiled at her as she climbed through the airlock. “Hello, Bea.”
She slumped down at the table next to the captain. “Cut the pleasantries and pour the coffee, and could you do something about my helmet? It’s dissolving from space fungus slime.” She looked almost ethereal, as all faerie Neopians did, but her demeanor was far from dainty.
Cassius nodded. “I’ll get the bottle of slime remover – you’ll have to use a spare until we get to the Space Station, though. I don’t have anything to patch it.”
Trinian asked, “Why do I keep you around if you can’t fix anything?”
Cassius hissed, “Despite the size of my ears, I can’t just pull materials out of them. I need to have the right tools to do my job, and I don’t! I do the best I can with what you give me, Captain. And what I’ve been given is Mallard tape, rubber bands, and glue.”
The hatch opened one more time – Old Jory wandered in with his typical slow limp, took his seat at the table, and started shuffling his deck of cards to lay out another game of solitaire. The old grey Wocky didn’t speak. He rarely did. He and Bea were supposed to protect the ship, but a rust bucket like the Aurora didn’t have to worry about space pirates. So they kept the fungus and the Fuzzles off the hull, and when he was off duty Jory sat here at the table, played cards with himself, sipped his coffee, and occasionally sighed.
Cassius didn’t know what had happened to him, and he didn’t want to know. He knew it wouldn’t be a happy story. No one intended to end up crewing a ship like the Aurora. The only people who were here were those who had no other choice.
Bea drank her coffee in two gulps. “I’m going to take a nap. Wake me if you need me.”
Trinian said, “I’m going to turn in, too – Cassius, we aren’t through talking.” He muttered, “When I served under Commander Valka, he would never have accepted this...”
Cassius sighed – he knew the captain would yell at him more later, probably with several more references to Trinian’s career under Valka on the Space Station thrown in. It helped him relieve his stress to have someone else to blame things on. He should have known better than to talk back – it wasn’t as if Trinian would fire him. Who would replace him? Who could do his job? Janitor, repairman, cook, and punching bag... in his third-rate way, he was necessary to this third-rate ship.
He mused out loud, “Maybe I can get Zaraq to put his tinkering to use – make me a new welder. He always seems to have the parts he needs. What do you think, Jory?”
Jory didn’t answer – Cassius hadn’t expected him to.
Just then, the ship began to shake. Cassius looked out the porthole – they were caught in a tractor beam! He banged on Trinian’s door, then Bea’s. “Come out – come out quickly! Bring your blasters – someone’s got us caught like fish on a line!”
Jory was even looking up from his cards – Zaraq threw the door open as he adjusted his goggles, his coat flying behind him. The little Grundo asked, “What’s going on? What’s going on?”
Trinian said, “To the cockpit, all of you! Jory, you, too!”
And the five Neopians ran to find their sixth crew member.
Yaxal IV, an Alien Aisha, sat in his chair as always, looking completely flummoxed. Trinian asked, “What’s going on? Who’s got us in a tractor beam?”
Yaxal pointed out the window. Cassius looked. Floating at the other end of the tractor beam was one of the Virtupets outposts – massive space ships that were basically floating towns, that looked to the Space Station as their capital city. They helped keep the space around Neopia safe.
Trinian said, “There’s not normally an outpost in this area of space – we weren’t supposed to see another one until Hyperspace 8, two days on.”
Yaxal hit the radio. “Coming in, this is Yaxal IV aboard the Aurora, registration 845-6FD. Yaxal IV aboard the Aurora. Requesting contact with unknown outpost and statement of objective.”
Trinian elbowed Cassius to the side. “Get back – I’m the captain!” He leaned close to the microphone. “This is Captain Trinian of the Aurora, speaking.”
“Radioing the Aurora, this is Commander Janus of Outpost Spaceward 6. Your services have been deemed necessary. You will be compensated for both your duties and your time, and your cargo will be taken to its destination.”
Bea said slowly, “Hey, wait a second – what in Mira’s name did we just get ourselves signed up for? I want to know what’s going on before I go risking my tail on some government business.”
Trinian swished his own tail. “Ixi don’t have much of one to risk – don’t worry, Bea.” He muttered under his breath, “Not as if they’ve given us much of an option at this point.”
Zaraq said cheerfully, “Look on the bright side – I might get a chance to use this!” He hefted something that looked like it might be a blaster, but larger and more complicated than one ought to be. “It’s my own invention!”
Cassius sighed. Trinian asked, “Do you still have that Mallard tape, Cassius?”
“Tape him to the engines before he hurts somebody with that thing, will you?”
Bea snorted and Yaxal laughed. The radio crackled as Janus asked, “Aurora, are you there? Aurora, respond!”
Trinian said, “We’re listening.”
“Prepare to be boarded when you land in the hangar – this mission requires secrecy and utmost haste.”
Bea whispered, “Do they know that they’re talking to six people on a piece of junk that barely flies?”
Yaxal muttered, “Apparently not.”
And then Jory spoke – enough to make them all turn and look at him. The old Wocky said, “I’ve been in situations like this before, and I’ll tell you one thing for sure – absolutely no good’s going to come of this.”
To be continued...
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