Brothers in Stars
Chapter 7: Brothers in Stars
Night spread its dark mantle over the kingdom of Meridell and brought with it a sprinkling of stars like many jewels strewn across black silk. Even from the farthest corners of Meridell, the stars could be seen, twinkling their ethereal show for anyone who wished to watch.
Two young white Blumaroos stared out the window of a small house in the village of Trestin tucked within the northwestern mountain range, gazing up at the sky in awe, elbows parked on the sill.
“They’re so beautiful,” Reuben breathed reverently before pointing to a group of six stars arranged to look like a cross. “Look at that constellation, little bro. You see it? That’s the one for the hero you’re named for – Lord Rohane, the Pathfinder of Meridell.”
“That’s the one?” Rohane straightened up and leaned forward for a better look at the constellation. Reuben grabbed the back of his shirt to keep him from falling out the window and pulled him back. “Wow…are those stars supposed to be his arms?” He pointed to the row of three stars in the middle.
“Some say it’s supposed to be his magic sword, Guide. Never leaves home without it. Others say it’s supposed to be a Blumaroo, with those small stars beside them as his tail. Either works. Or both.”
“Is Dad in there now?”
Reuben chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, they’re probably in the Perseus Sector like they always are. It’s where he works, with all his friends, to keep outer space safe.”
“Dad calls them his ‘brothers in arms’. But they’re not really his brothers, right? Not like us.”
“Nope, not like us. That means they’re like brothers, but not real brothers. I mean, they knew each other for a long time. Longer than we’ve been alive.”
Rohane turned away from the sky to stare at his older brother. “That’s a very long time.”
“Yeah. That’s why they’re brothers in arms.”
“But what about us?”
“What d’you mean?”
“What kind of brothers are we? Besides…well, the real kind.”
The older Blumaroo grinned. “Us? Hmm…” Then he sat up and snapped his fingers. “I got it. We’re not brothers in arms, we’re brothers…in stars.”
“Brothers in stars?”
“Think about it. We love looking at the stars, and when we grow up, we want to work with dad at Perseus. Up there, with the stars. That’s us. And it sounds a little like brothers in arms.”
“I guess it does,” said Rohane, nodding slowly. A smile appeared on his face like the dawning sun. “I like it! We’re brothers in stars!”
“We are.” Reuben clasped his little brother’s hand in his tightly. “And we’ll always be brothers in stars.”
* * *
Brothers in stars…
Rohane came awake with a jolt and looked around. He was still inside his tent, his father’s sword in its sheath and another, newer sword next to it, and a blue Acara fast asleep on the other side. Extricating himself from his sleeping bag, he sat up, touched his ears, and looked around.
He had heard a voice – it was familiar, and yet, he had no idea who it belonged to. But was he hearing things? It had been loud enough to wake him up, but his travelling companion remained in Dreamland. She turned over, her wand clutched tightly in one hand, and continued to doze. The white Blumaroo decided not to disturb her and slowly got up, stepping out of the tent.
It was probably the middle of the night, and the stars and Kreludor were nowhere in sight. He craned his neck and gazed into the sky as though searching for answers but found none. The clearing in which they had set up camp remained miraculously empty except for the smouldering remains of a campfire and a log they had used as a bench. There were even a few stray patches of scorched grass, the signs that Mipsy had attempted some new spells.
“Brothers in stars,” Rohane said to himself as though he could find some code within the words.
“Rohane, I thought you were asleep.”
Whipping around, he saw that Mipsy had peered out from the tent, rubbing her eyes.
“I was. But I thought I heard a voice. Did you hear it?”
“No.” The Acara shook her head. “I did hear you rustling around and getting up from your sleeping bag, but that’s it.”
A cool night breeze blew from the south, prompting Mipsy to step out of the tent. But as Rohane faced the direction from which the wind had come, he thought he heard the voice again.
“Mipsy! I heard it again!”
The Acara stared at him sceptically. “Maybe you just need sleep. You’re so tired, you’re hearing voices.”
* * *
“It’s working!” Reuben yelled, his voice cracking. He coughed.
“Chief, I think you need a drink of water. Coffee isn’t water.” Pyxis filled a cup with water and offered it to Reuben, who drank it gratefully. “But yeah, it looks like Rohane is getting our directions. Good thing too because he really doesn’t look like he remembers his way around the simulation.”
“Mipsy doesn’t remember either,” Elise reported. “Lieutenant thinks she’s a real wizard.”
“You’re a wizard, Mipsy!” said Fenlix, chuckling. “I mean, she makes a pretty good wizard so far.”
Reuben scrolled through the map of Meridell within the simulation. “Okay, they’re in the desert. If they can get through this part, they’ll be close to the end. But we have to do our part. Fenlix, have you figured out how to get them out of the simulation?”
The alien Aisha sighed, scratching one of his ears. “No. We’re able to send short directions and clues into the simulation, but that’s all. We can’t break into the simulation booths’ controls. I’ve tried sending in a message about their ship pitching toward the nearest star, but I got an error.”
“Whoever hacked into the Gemini and the simulation is really, really good. Almost as good as Team Nerd,” Pyxis commented. “But we’re not gonna lose! We’ve managed to get tabs on Lieutenant Mipsy as well; hopefully we find Lieutenant Velm and Commander Talinia too.”
“Who is this hacker, anyway?” Elise wondered, glaring at the error window that popped up on her computer. “They really planned for everything we’re throwing at ‘em! I still can’t figure out who they are!”
“Remember what we’ve learned from this trade,” said Fenlix. “Every hacker leaves distinct footprints in their work. It can be common lines or features in the code. They can’t hide forever.”
“Keep looking for them so I can pound them when I find out who they are.” Reuben cracked his knuckles before studying the map of the simulation again. He let out a sigh of relief. “They got past the Sand Grundo in Phorofor. They’ll be transported to a tower next. I’ll have to figure out a way to mark out their path so they don’t walk around in circles while figuring the rest of Dad’s program.”
Vega rewound a segment of the security footage and snapped her fingers. “Ugh, I thought I saw something there, it turned out to be Velm arguing with Talinia over something. Anyway, Reuben, you said you and Rohane were ‘brothers in stars’. What does that mean?”
The Blumaroo smiled wistfully but didn’t take his eyes off his view of the simulation. “It was something we came up with when we were kids and we wanted to follow our dad’s footsteps, working in space. That night, we found the constellation Rohane was named after, the Pathfinder. From Meridellian folklore.”
“He better live up to his name if he’ll be navigating this entire simulation,” Vega noted.
“Don’t worry, we’re giving him hints,” Fenlix reminded her. “We’re 1337 that way!”
Pyxis and Vega just slapped their foreheads with their palms.
* * *
“I hate this tower!” Mipsy complained. She fired a blast from her wand at a charging Destructive Wocky, who dodged it easily. She grabbed Rohane by the wrist and they rounded a corner down a stone corridor.
“Not that way, this way!” He planted his boots into the floor and pulled the blue Acara toward the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the Wocky was still running toward them. It leapt toward Rohane, who sidestepped with his companion in tow before slashing at it. The Wocky shrieked in pain until it went down from another spell that found its mark.
Mipsy leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. “I thought this was a deserted tower! Why can’t we show up in a one hundred percent deserted tower!”
“I wish I knew,” said the Blumaroo simply. The Wocky had dropped a healing potion, and he picked it up to stash it in his pack. “Anyway, you were going the wrong way. This will bring us out.” He pointed down the east hall with the shortsword in his hand.
“How do you know?”
“This might be a sign.” Rohane gestured toward a small arrow etched into the stone. “I just hope it’s not a booby trap.”
“If you lead us into a trap, I’m going to turn you into Blumaroo Steak.” Mipsy twirled her wand and tried to glare dangerously at him.
* * *
Elise and Vega stepped in front of the coffee machine. There were dark circles under Reuben’s eyes, his uniform and jacket were rumpled, and his expression was glazed as he ambled toward the machine with an empty mug.
“Ohhhh no, Chief,” said the cloud Poogle resolutely, extending her arms to either side of her. “I thought Vega said we were working in shifts. Yours ended twelve hours ago!”
“But I’m on a roll!” Reuben protested hoarsely. “They made it to Ramtor!” He pursed his lips. “Hmm, I can’t remember how difficult I made him to fight at that level…”
“We’ll keep your roll going while you sleep,” Vega pressed, reaching out to push the white Blumaroo away from the coffee and back to his workspace. “Pyxis, how are they doing?” After a moment’s thought, Elise joined her.
The orange Grundo looked up from his computer. “Pretty well! They’ve got the evil Bruce cornered! I really hope once they finish this part of the simulation, they can get out of it…”
“They better, because we still haven’t cracked open the simulation doors!” Reuben groaned as he struggled against his colleagues.
“And we’ll keep working on that,” Vega insisted. “There will always be at least one or two pairs of eyes on Captain Rohane and Lieutenant Mipsy, you have my word. Now get some rest.”
“But – and Dad’s failsafe – “
“They did it!” Pyxis shouted. He zipped over to Reuben’s computer and gasped. “They’re no longer in Ramtor’s tower in the simulation!”
“They did it?” Reuben echoed, and his eyes seemed to shine with a new light.
“I hope they this means we can finally get them out,” said Fenlix worriedly.
* * *
Cold winds, an overcast sky and the crunch of snow underfoot welcomed Rohane and Mipsy to the next simulation. They looked out at the vast white landscape guarded by tall, rugged mountains and wrapped their cloaks tightly against their bodies; whatever they had brought from Meridell was clearly not enough to withstand the chill at the base of Terror Mountain.
“T-T-Two things,” said Mipsy, shoving her hands deep into her robe pockets. “One, we’re back in the simulation and somehow, back in Meridell, we really thought we were a wizard and a warrior. And two, you really think it was your brother sending you messages and signs to get us through?” She blinked. “Wait, that was three things.”
Rohane nodded, pushing his ears into his cloak hood. She stepped closer to him for warmth and they huddled there, looking around for a clue as to their next destination. As it turned out, they didn’t need a clue; up ahead was a small, bustling town.
“B-But who would trap us in the simulation booths?”
“Most likely s-someone who w-wants the Stellar Ray plans,” said Rohane, stroking his chin. His breath formed a thin white cloud before his face.
“Maybe. Or G-Garoo.”
“No more spec-speculation!” whined Mipsy. “I need warmth! I need a nice cup of virtual coffee! Let’s head for that town!”
Rohane grabbed her arm. “W-Wait! Wh-what if Reuben has a clue f-for us here?”
“I’m sure he’ll make sure we find it! Come on!”
* * *
Vega pounded her desk. “I’m going to strangle this piece of Poisonous Jelly, whoever they are. I still can’t get the simulation booth doors open!”
“Well, at least Rohane and Mipsy now remember who they are,” said Fenlix. He gripped her shoulder gently. “That’s something. Guess they just needed to come out of the simulation to regain their bearings. And now we know they have to complete the entire thing to be able to leave.”
The pink Aisha rested her face against her hand tiredly and propped her elbow up next to her cup of tea. “It’s still not enough. They don’t know that the Gemini is on a one-way trip to a star. I know we told Reuben to get some rest, but I understand him wanting to save his brother and the others as soon as possible.” She looked up at him. “I would do the same if you were trapped, Dad.”
The corners of Fenlix’s mouth turned up into a smile. “Thanks. But of course, I’m quite sure I’ll be able to pwn whatever they throw at me within the simulation…”
“Again with the 1337 speak? Really?”
Fenlix just laughed, but he stopped when all the monitors within the control room began to flicker and go blank.
“Hey, I haven’t even saved my work!” Pyxis wailed, throwing up his hands. He brought his hands back down onto his keyboard, hitting several keys and pressing some at once. “It can’t be the power. The lights are still on!”
Reuben was struggling to keep his eyes open. “I was in the middle of trying to tell them what to do! That town they went to speaks an entirely made-up language, and they have to complete a battle before they can buy anything, like winter wear!”
“I thought we told you to rest!” said Vega.
Suddenly the monitors flicked back on. But they didn’t show the map of the Terror Mountain part of the simulation, or the voluminous amounts of code and text the IT team was sifting through to save Team Alpha. Instead, what appeared on every screen was a message in green glowing font.
Give me the Stellar Ray of Precision Plans through this simulation, or Team Alpha’s next destination will be to the center of a star.
To be continued…