Brothers in Stars
Chapter 6: Into the Simulation
Trestin was a quaint little village, with houses, grassy fields and stone paths, as well as a few Neopets here and there going about their daily routines. A white Blumaroo with curly greying hair waited beside a simple house with a touch of smoke coming from its chimney, hands tucked into the pockets of her dress.
A second Blumaroo emerged from the front door, clad in a simple green and brown outfit, and with a rusting sword strapped to his side.
“Are you ready, dear?” She looked fondly at her son, who took after her. He stood tall, with one hand on the hilt of the sword at his belt. In response, he nodded with a determined expression on his face.
“Be careful, there are lots of monsters and who knows what lurking in the forests outside our home. But your father’s old sword should keep you safe. I know he would’ve wanted you to have it.”
Rohane was silent for a moment, bringing his hand away from his sword. He furrowed his brow; something had just occurred to him then, but it was suddenly torn away from him, like a leaf buffeted by the wind.
“Is something wrong?” Melissa asked.
“Huh? Oh, no, Mom.” He squinted as though whatever had escaped him was hiding in the horizon, where mountains stood tall to touch the clouds. “Sorry, I was thinking of something, but I can’t remember what it was.”
She frowned and reached out to grasp his hands. “Perhaps you shouldn’t go. It’s all right if you stay.”
Her touch sent a frisson of emotion through his entire being – sadness, longing, reminiscence. He was seized with the urge to just stay with her, but he fought it. The thrill of adventure and the great outdoors called to him, and their call was far louder.
“No. I’ll go.” Rohane embraced her tightly, and the temptation to remain with her reared up again. For several seconds he held Melissa closely, before quelling the feeling in his heart and turning away to march toward the outskirts of Trestin.
* * *
“Any luck, Reuben?” the pink Aisha asked, rubbing her forehead. “Because we sure haven’t got any. No signs of break-ins, no one else on the ship.”
“Actually, that’s something, Vega,” Fenlix pointed out. “If there are no break-ins, no outward damage to the shields and hull of the Gemini, no signs of a struggle, and the loss of our connection to the ship…this is the work of a hacker. Someone broke into our system and cut us off from Team Alpha.”
The white Blumaroo gasped softly, shaking his head. “And cut us off from the training simulation. I can’t send a message. The worst part is, Rohane seems to think he really is in the village of Trestin. He’s buying everything the simulation of Mom says, not asking any questions.”
“Oh, dung,” groaned Pyxis. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
“The system can mess with you if you’re in it for too long,” said Elise grimly. “Either that, or this hacker is so skilled they were able to convince Captain Rohane he’s part of the simulation. But now, the question is, where are Lieutenants Mipsy and Velm, and Commander Talinia?”
“My guess is that they’re somewhere else in the simulation, if they’re not in Trestin,” said Pyxis. “Can you jump to another part of the simulation, Reuben?”
Reuben punched in the pertinent commands, the keys making a lot of clicking noises. “Meepits. I’m stuck in Trestin and its surrounding areas. And unless we can break into the simulation, we can’t communicate with him at all. We were way too good at building this thing!”
“No, whoever hacked into the system is too good at keeping us out,” the orange Grundo corrected him. “Don’t we have any other choices besides brute-forcing our way in while Fenlix and Vega study the security footage?”
The white Blumaroo wordlessly removed the sword-shaped flash drive that was hanging around his neck. “Wait. We do.”
“You could’ve told us that earlier while we were brute-forcing our way into the Gemini’s system!”
“Dad wrote a failsafe program, which was supposed to be a secret,” said Reuben. “I almost forgot about it after everything that happened with the Stellar Ray plans and…you know.” He bit his lip before decisively inserting the drive into a portal on his computer. “He wrote it in case anything happened within the simulation.”
Elise hurried over to Reuben as he opened the folder within the flash drive, selecting a program entitled “Father’s Sword.exe”.
“Well, this definitely counts as something happening.”
“I know,” he told the cloud Poogle.
“But why would General Reynold think something would happen within the simulation?” Elise inquired. “We kept its system waterproof, foolproof, hack-proof, and everything-proof!”
Pyxis raised an eyebrow. “In case you missed it, something did happen, and it’s happening right now.”
“I mean, what would make him decide to make a failsafe? Did he know something we didn’t?”
“This really isn’t the best time to be asking those questions. Or asking them over my ears,” Reuben grumbled as he pulled up the program and booted it. Instead of the familiar text he had seen when Reynold showed him a glimpse of it while they were in the simulation of Trestin, he found a text wall of code and commands he didn’t recognize. He threw up his hands. “What in Neopia is all this? I can’t figure this out! Dad!”
Fenlix the alien Aisha looked up from where he was rewinding a chunk of the security footage showing a blue Acara and a red Techo playing Kacheekers in the mess hall. “Calm down, Reuben. Take it one step at a time. We’ll get through to your brother somehow.”
* * *
“Take it one step at a time, Rohane. You know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles.”
Rohane flinched as his mother bandaged his leg. “Sorry, I know I said I would be leaving, but…”
Melissa tut-tutted and moved to tend to his arm. “Oh, dear, you know I can’t turn you away from the house where you grew up. You’re always welcome. In fact, do you want to stay here before you continue your journey?”
He stared at her, reaching up to touch a bruise on his face. As she carried on treating his wounds, he remained silent, and glanced at the sword that he had left on the dining room table.
“There. You really should spend the night and recover.” Melissa shook her head. “Those Bearogs really are something else.”
“Dad might have been able to fight them.”
“No doubt he would. He was a great warrior, you know. If only he could see you now.”
“But I couldn’t defeat the Bearogs,” Rohane mumbled, folding his arms across his chest in frustration. “I had to run or else they would kill me.”
The female Blumaroo let out a soft breath. “Maybe you can’t right now, but you can become stronger. I believe in you, my son.” She sat beside him and embraced him tightly. “My young warrior.”
“Mom…” He felt his eyes water, and he sniffed as he began blinking back tears. It hadn’t been long since he first left the house to pursue adventure, but for some reason, it felt like he had been away from her for much, much longer than that.
“What’s wrong? Does anything else hurt?”
“No, no, I just…” He leaned his head against her shoulder, and he truly felt as though he were home.
* * *
Reuben stared hard at his computers. One monitor showed the meadows and woods surrounding Trestin as it was depicted in the simulation, and the other was a seemingly never-ending wall of code.
“Dad, you could’ve left me with an instruction manual,” he grumbled as he desperately untangled the strings of characters within the failsafe program that was entitled “Father’s Sword.exe”. Every few minutes he reached out to take a sip of his coffee. After setting his mug down onto a coaster made to resemble Kreludor, the white Blumaroo typed out a simple message onto the monitor where Trestin was depicted.
If you can see or hear this, wave your sword at me.
But the letters just disappeared, and an error message appeared over the screen, obscuring Reuben’s view of Rohane walking through the virtual wilderness.
“Oh, come on!” he groaned, slapping his table with such ferocity that several thick books tumbled from their shelf and onto the floor. “That was the string I ran when we were testing the simulation! It should work!”
“Reuben, calm down,” said Vega, rushing over to pick up his books. She hid a yawn behind a free hand once she had slid all but one of the books back into their place. After watching him drain his coffee mug in a single gulp, she added, “Maybe you’ve had enough coffee for the night. You should rest.”
“I can’t,” he rasped. “Not while Rohane is trapped in the simulation and doesn’t seem to remember anything about…about us. About me.” There was a troubled, anxious look in his eyes that made Vega pull up a chair to sit next to him. “My dad gave me a failsafe program to use if something happened with the simulation, but I can’t crack it. But maybe I’m getting close. I don’t know.”
He buried his face in his hands. “I promised Dad I would protect Rohane. And now, it’s just my brother and me. He’s counting on me.”
“We know,” said Fenlix, dropping his tone of voice and gesturing to Pyxis and Elise, who were fast asleep at their desks. Elise had managed to clear everything off her worktable except for her computer so she could lie down properly, using her chair cushion as a pillow. “That’s why we’re still here. We’re not going to let Team Alpha out of our sight.”
“But I thought we agreed to work in shifts,” protested Vega. “Dad and I were supposed to take over for you so you could sleep, even for a few hours.”
“I need to be able to send him something. Anything. Just to let him know I’m still here.”
“And we’ll work on that,” the alien Aisha said, gesturing for Reuben to stand up from his workspace. “You’ll be the first to know when Vega and I are able to contact Rohane through the simulation.”
At first, the white Blumaroo looked as though he was ready to finally get some rest. But instead, he turned back toward the monitors and resumed typing.
“Shifts…you said shifts…what if I shift this line of code that starts with ‘shift’…”
“Reuben,” Fenlix began steadily, “come on, even Team Nerd needs their rest. You’ll be able to hack into the simulation better after a nap.”
“No, wait. Wait. I think I’ve got it.” Reuben rubbed his eyes before resuming his typing. “I’ve unlocked part of the program!”
“You do?” asked Vega incredulously.
He flicked open his speaker and slammed the Enter key decisively before shouting his message. “Rohane, don’t you dare forget about me! We’re brothers in stars, remember? Remember! Fight through the simulation, we’ll get you out!”
And like a beacon of hope, the words flashed across the simulation screen, vanishing without a trace of an error message.
“You did it!” Vega cried as Elise and Pyxis began to stir from their naps.
“Wh…what happened?” the cloud Poogle asked groggily as she sat up, still perched on her table.
“We’re going into the simulation,” Reuben announced.
To be continued…