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Starlight Invasion: Giving Day At Last

by rainbow_daydreamer


People who talk of war sometimes speak as if the great battles of history were the only thing involved. The Battle of Maraqua. The fight with the Sakhmetian rock-beast. Jeran's face-off with Lord Kass. It's true that without these scenes of danger and triumph, the stories would hardly justify the name of war at all. Yet there are other aspects, always. Lisha in Meridell Castle, watching and guarding. Armin, saving Hannah's tiny, precious life on a snow-covered mountain. Who will dare say that these fragments of history are less important, less vital? Not the storyteller, who remembers them.

     And the so-called Starlight Invasion, still a vivid memory, is no exception. Like any war, it had its heroes and its villains, and its tales to tell. Tales of courage and cowardice, of love and hatred, of cruelty and kindness.

     What follows is but one of them.

     "Let joy and hope ring out anew,

     Let love and peace rain down…"

     Midnight had ticked into being on the digital clock, and I was well aware of it, and what day this was. Outside my window, the stars glowed as they always did, keeping a time of their own. When I was a pup, I'd dreamt about them, seeing them as a million sparkling lanterns in the sky. But the outpost, far from home and eternally dark, was no place for dreams. Still, I sang.

     "…For Giving Day is come at last

     To each Neopian town."

     My voice, clear and high, made the metal walls echo with a Giving Day carol I'd learnt at school, long ago. It was ironic, when I thought of it. Giving Day, the traditional time for presents, and good food, and family love. Yet I was alone, with two weeks yet before my shift at the outpost finished. There would be no presents, for there was no-one to give them. My own family were many miles away, on the planet that I was guarding. I was lucky, if you thought about it like that. A lot of humans had left Neopia a while ago, actually, when the imminent invasion was first announced. They promised they'd be back when it was safer. Most would. Some wouldn't. My owner, sweet Jonathan, had stayed to look after my little sister, back on-planet. I told myself emphatically that I didn't miss them, and that there was no reason why Giving Day should be different from any other day of the year. As for food-well. I examined the rations I'd been given: cherries jubalee and some sort of meat dish in a small packet. Nothing special.

     "From Peophins that swiftly swim

     To Faeries high above,

     All share the giving spirit

     And rejoice in heartfelt love."

     Why was I singing? There was no reason, really. Giving Day wouldn't come to a distant place like this one, not when I had work to do. Still, the song was comforting in its way. It reminded me of my Neoschool days, when I'd still been an idealistic pup. When did that change? When I volunteered for the Neopian Defence, I guess. I was a space cadet now, Cadet Merlie Davis, with a job to do and a station to man-well, to pet, I suppose-and I'd seen so much in a short time.

     "All Neopets and Petpets

     From the greatest to the least,

     Come join us in our happiness

     And share our festive feast."

     I watched the radar as I always did. That was why I was here, really; on the off-chance that something would cross into Neopian space. Invaders didn't care whether it was Giving Day or Adam's birthday or the first day of the rest of their lives. So neither did I. Right? It didn't matter to me that, somewhere down there, Neopets were receiving presents by a cosy fireside. That shining bead of water on my cheek had fallen from the tank I'd been inspecting earlier, or from the drink in my ration box, that had to be it. I brushed a paw across my face to obliterate it from view. Defending Neopia was the important thing, after all.

     "Each gives to someone else the gift

     Which is not bought or sold,

     The warmth that shines from loving hearts

     Worth more than any gold."

     "Cadet Davis?" The transmission screen crackled into life, breaking off my song. It was mission control over on Virtupets. Looking into the screen, I saw my commander, a middle-aged Nimmo in a smart blue uniform. "Anything to report?"

     "Not a thing, Commander. It's as quiet as the lab when the petpet's disappeared." I offered him my best smile, twiddling the controls to try and get a better picture. "Anything happening down there?"

     "Not much, Merlie. You're gonna get a databot coming through in a few minutes, so watch out for that. Oh, and-best wishes of the season, Cadet. Over and out." With a flicker of coloured pixels, he was gone.

     A databot? It was more than a week since one of those had arrived. They were little unmanned spacecraft, generally containing new machine-keys and an interactive manual on the latest modifications to the controls. Nothing very interesting, but at least it was nice to know I wasn't the only Neopet in the universe. Sometimes it felt as though I was.

     I opened my pack of cherries jubalee and tried to make the most of the bittersweet taste, letting each mouthful take as long as possible. The radar was a circle of empty space-no, wait. What was that? I had my paws on the firing mechanism before I realised it was coming from the wrong direction. It must be the databot they'd told me to expect. Relaxing, I waited for it to dock with the outpost.

     There it was, entering the shaft with a barely audible click. I walked across to the other side of the room-hardly twenty short pawsteps-and opened the hatch to reveal the small silver craft.

     Sliding open the panel on the databot's side, I was puzzled to find not the dark machine-key boxes I'd expected but a number of larger, white packages. Perhaps they were extra rations; mission control often worried I'd run short. There was a transmitter-clip, too, probably a manual or training lesson. I picked it up and padded over to the screen, where I dropped it into the slot.

     At first, there was no picture. My commander's voice rang out across the outpost: "Cadet Davis, this is a special transmission recorded in Neopia Central. Stand by." I sat up, confused. Why would anyone take the bulky, awkward transmission equipment all the way down to Neopia Central? What could be so important?

     I pulled open the first of the white packages, hoping there would be some explanation there. Instead, I found a small pink object: nothing that I could have expected. It was, in fact, a sugar bunny; not the sickly pink goo we ironically called Sugarbunny Surprise at cadet school, but a real, delicate creation with carefully crafted ears and fluffy tail, a perfect pink Snowbunny sculpted from sweet sugar. A sugar bunny? What in Neopia…?

     Then the screen flickered into life. And I gave a cry of astonishment as I recognised the figure that appeared, standing facing me with her paws on soft white snow.

     "Hello… Merlie…" the tiny Wocky stammered. "I can't see you, but this Nimmo says you can see me. I've got a message for you." She seemed to be considering it, as if she'd temporarily forgotten. Then it came to her. "Happy Giving Day from Jonathan and me!"

     I couldn't say a word, not that she'd have heard me if I did. I simply stared.

     "I've sent you some presents," my baby sister giggled with the air of someone who has a beautiful secret. "Look in the parcels. It's all for you! From me!"

     The sugar bunny! Jumping to my paws, I tore open the white paper on the remaining parcels.

     There was a book: A Grundo Christmas. There was a pretty, artificial holly wreath, with glossy green leaves and shiny red berries. There was a cracker, which burst open as I tugged at it to reveal a flimsy paper hat and a tiny plastic whistle. And in the last parcel, there was one of the toys my sister had always loved best: a Usuki Doll. She adored playing with Usukis and Usul plushies, making them the heroes of her games and fairytales; she'd even gone through a period of drawing everyone she loved as a Usuki doll. This one, though, in its silver frock and pretty headscarf… I remembered seeing her play with it, over and over again.

     "Jonathan says you're all alone, Merlie," she continued with her enormous eyes gazing out at me. "So I sent Jennifer to be your friend. She's the very bestest Usuki in all the world!"

     I was glad that no-one but the smiling doll could see me as tears spilled helplessly from my eyes. Meanwhile, my sister seemed at a loss for what to say next. She shuffled her baby paws and looked around for inspiration. In the background, I heard my owner whisper "Sing! You forgot to sing!"

     "Oh, yes!" She faced the screen once again and smiled at me. "At school we've been learning a song. Would you like to hear it?"

     "I'm sure we both would," replied Jonathan from offscreen.

     The little Wocky took a deep breath.

     "Let joy an' hope ring out anew,

     Let love and peace rain down…"

     In my little outpost far from Neopia, Giving Day had come at last. And not all the invasions in the universe could stop that.

The End

Author's note: I will be writing other stories about the Starlight Invasion (entirely my own invention... so far). If you're reading this, may I take the opportunity to wish each and every Times reader a very happy Day of Giving and a prosperous New Year!

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