Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Two
Cassius watched as the Aurora drew closer to the outpost. Trinian, Bea, and Jory had all gone to fetch weapons – Yaxal and Zaraq were making ready in case they needed to escape Spaceward 6 quickly. Cassius knew nothing about any of these things, so he merely stood behind Yaxal, still as stone, while the Alien Aisha hit buttons and muttered to himself. Finally, he looked up. “Quit hovering, will you, Cassius? The climate control’s gone haywire in my bunk, and it’s hotter than the Lost Desert in there. You could go fix that.”
Cassius went. Go do this, Cassius. Go do that, Cassius. Get out of the way of the real work, Cassius. Wasn’t that how it always went?
He’d quit fighting it. There was no point, and he didn’t even have the energy to try. It was easier to just obey the orders and to retreat back to his bunk at the end of the day, then shut the door and listen to music and try to remember what it had been like when he had thought space flight would be glorious.
But before he reached the bunks, he decided it would be better to wait by the hatch. He lurked behind Bea and Trinian and watched to see what was going to happen – if it were bad, it wasn’t as if he could escape it. He gripped his wrench in his pocket as the hatch was opened from the outside and two people walked in.
One was a tall red Gelert, dressed in a military uniform that showed he was the commander of the ship. The other was a blue-eyed purple Grundo in an exotic outfit – a mix of silk robes and sleek, gem-studded silver and gold metals. The Gelert bowed. “I am Commander Janus. This is Advisor Marzai of Eoxan-zortha.”
Trinian said in astonishment, “The Spaceward Kingdom?”
Cassius had heard of the Spaceward Kingdom, on the far side of Kreludor – across the moon from Kreludor City and the Grundo settlements. It was a strange place, he’d been told – the culture there was more like Brightvale or Altador than it was to the rest of the space communities. Now the outfit made more sense. Marzai was a nobleman, and he looked the part.
Trinian bowed. “I am Captain Trinian. Our navigator, Yaxal IV, is in the cockpit, Zaraq is in the engine room, and these are Beatrice and Jory. Oh, and that’s Cassius.”
Janus said, “I’m glad we found you. This isn’t a standard shipping lane – Spaceward 6 is here to patrol for pirates. Has your ship been attacked?”
Trinian shook his head. “No, sir. The Aurora’s designed for long runs with small cargo. Most pirates wouldn’t consider her worth their time.”
Cassius thought that the rust spots all over the hull really did the most to protect them.
Advisor Marzai said, “Janus, you promised me help! A tiny ship with six crewmembers isn’t help!”
Cassius ran a finger along the scar on his cheek, trying to figure out what was going on, as the commander replied, “I’ve radioed Virtupets. In the meantime, this ship will be able to return you to your people.”
Trinian said, “Wait. His people? I never agreed to ferry no one nowhere.”
Janus looked around the dingy common room with a sneer that made Cassius want to hurt him. “Captain Trinian, if you do not agree to take Advisor Marzai back to Eoxan-zortha, I will have a full inspection done of your ship.”
Trinian scowled. “My ship’s spaceworthy.”
“Virtupets tightened their standards last year. While you were docking, I took the liberty of checking your ship’s records. I’m certain you are not in compliance with the new regulations. I will not hesitate to take this ship into custody and fine your shipping manager, which I doubt would reflect well upon you.”
Cassius asked, “Excuse me?”
Trinian said, “Not now, Cassius.”
Cassius continued regardless. “Commander Janus, could you perhaps explain to us why it is so critical that Advisor Marzai use our ship to return to Eoxan-zortha?”
Janus said, “We have no ships to spare – they’re all out on patrol. There have been more pirates than ever in these areas of space lately. Advisor Marzai’s ship was almost destroyed by them – it is no longer spaceworthy. But he must return to Eoxan-zortha at once. I will make sure your shipping company pays you in full for the cargo.”
Marzai nodded. “And you will be rewarded by Eoxan-zortha as well.”
Zaraq opened the door – he’d clearly been listening the whole time, and he still had his blaster in his hand. “Might as well, boss. Not like we were excited about taking building supplies to Virtupets.”
Bea pointed out, “None of us can afford to pass up a reward. Not with the petpet feed the shipping bosses pay us.”
Cassius added, “I could afford a new welder.”
Trinian sighed. “Did I ask any of you? We’ll do it, Commander. Advisor Marzai, when would you like to set off?”
The Grundo was moving his hands in nervous, fluttery little motions as he replied, “As soon as possible. I have to get back to the city.”
Cassius wondered what was so important, but Trinian was already speaking. “Cassius, do we have enough food to get us to Eoxan-zortha?”
“No – just enough to get us to the Space Station.”
“Then what are you doing? Go get us some more supplies! We’ll make the ship ready – I want to be off in an hour at the outside. If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right.” As he turned, he muttered something that sounded a whole lot like “Commander Valka would never have even considered...”
Cassius walked out – no point in hanging around. He wouldn’t be needed for takeoff, so the sooner he brought the food back, the sooner he could lie back on his bed, listen to music, and pretend they weren’t being forced into becoming errand boys.
Why did he even care? All he did with his life was follow orders – what did it matter who gave them to him?
All he had to do was get the food, and then he could sit back and relax.
As the boosters hummed to life, Cassius slid a CD into his old battered stereo. Jub Zambra and the Cobrall Charmers – he liked that music. He liked closing his eyes and pretending to be in the desert. It was as far away as possible from here. He imagined a land of kings and princesses and magic and adventure like everything he’d read about and been told about – city-states rearing up among the dunes and travellers finding shelter at oases.
But today, he couldn’t lose himself in his fantasies as he normally did – an imaginary voice that sounded like Trinian kept intruding, telling him that they didn’t have nearly enough water to reach the next oasis and that he’d done a horrible job of polishing their swords and armor.
He rolled over and put his pillow over his head. He really should have listened to his parents and gotten a nice stable job in a nice stable office in Neopia Central like they had told him. But he’d thought that space flight would be an adventure. Glorious. Glamorous. Not trying to keep a rust-bucket like the Aurora from falling apart mid-run, and getting nothing but disrespect from his fellow crewmembers.
Well, Jory had never taken him for granted. But Jory probably only said one sentence a week, so that didn’t really count.
Someone knocked on the door. Bea called, “Hey, Cassius, are you going to make dinner? I think Zaraq’s ready to start chewing on our guest if someone doesn’t feed him soon.”
If Trinian had asked, he wouldn’t have done it. But Bea was halfway pleasant about it, so he turned off the stereo and pulled the box where he kept his cooking spices out from under his bed – he didn’t want anyone else abusing them when he was running out of everything as it was.
Everyone except Yaxal was gathered around the table – Advisor Marzai merely slumped with his head in his hands as the ship speeded toward Eoxan-zortha, which lay on the side of the moon that faced away from the planet. Zaraq cried, “There you are! What’s for dinner?”
Dinner was a stir-fry of some shrimp that Cassius had found and some rehydrated vegetables – when the attendant in the supply room of Spaceward 6 had given him the shrimp and the cooking oil, he’d almost hugged the man. With some of his secret spice mix, it seemed like a feast that he wouldn’t have minded serving to a king.
To his surprise, Marzai ate more than any of them – Cassius had intended for there to be leftovers, but the purple Grundo cleared his plate three times. Zaraq sniffed. He’d always prided himself on his appetite, and Cassius was afraid that they were about to see some Orange-Purple rivalry. But there was none of that in Eoxan-zortha, so Marzai wouldn’t return the insults. There were more other Neopians there too, he knew, not just Grundos.
Marzai said when he was done, “I’m very sorry – it’s been a trying couple of weeks.”
Trinian said, “I was going to ask about that. Why is it so urgent for you to return to Eoxan-zortha?”
Marzai sighed. “We have a sorceress attacking our city allied with fiends and brigands, our princess and the Chief Mage have gone missing, our warriors are outnumbered, and our chances of victory grow smaller with each hour reinforcements don’t reach us. Commander Janus could do no more than ask –”
Bea cut him off. As Cassius’s stomach sank, the Ixi asked, “You mean you got Commander Janus to force us to fly into a Fyora-forsaken war zone? Someone go tell Yaxal to turn around!”
Marzai cried, “You can’t! With the princess missing, I –”
Trinian sighed. “We can’t, Bea. Or Janus will have the Aurora confiscated.”
She crossed her arms. “Better a confiscated ship than a ship shot full of holes by pirates.”
Jory sighed and said, “I knew this would come to no good. I did tell you.” Cassius realized that he’d never before heard the old Wocky speak as much as he had today.
Trinian said, “Yaxal will keep flying. But, Advisor Marzai, I believe that you owe us a full explanation of what’s going on. And I’d like to hear it now.”
To be continued...