Come dance with the Wanderers... Circulation: 197,486,709 Issue: 985 | 16th day of Relaxing, Y25
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A Corsair Among the Stars


by zennistrad

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Doubt gnawed at Korzara’s inside as she stood before her destination.

     She had recovered the Resistance’s defence system blueprints, just like Doctor Sloth wanted. Now she had left her ship to idle in orbit over the asteroid housing Sloth’s base, close enough to the minor planet to avoid collisions with any of the other objects in the Asteroid Belt.

     In her hand was the thumb drive containing everything Sloth wanted, and probably all that he needed to win. If Korzara gave that information over, what would become of the Space Station? What would become of Neopia, or the rest of the galaxy? Sure, she would finally be able to feed herself properly for the first time in months. But at what cost?

     She wished there was a better way. As it was, she was caught between a meteorite and a hard place.

     Her eyes drifted over to the sensor display on the flight deck. As usual, it showed a readout of the energy signature of Sloth’s base... the weirdly specific energy signature, now that she thought about it. Where had she seen it before?

     There was something here, and it was something that could be important. And she was willing to take any chance she had to get out of this situation. She could already feel the gears turning in her brain.

     “Computer,” she said, “give me a closer reading of Sloth’s base. Try to isolate that energy signature you’re getting, and see if you can identify the source.”

     “Affirmative,” the computer beeped. “Analyzing energy signature...”

     After what felt like an eternity, the results of the analysis popped up on the ship’s sensor display. Korzara’s eye went wide at the sight of it. “Wait! This is... It’s not shielded! So that means...!”

     Already, an idea began formulating in her mind. This could be her big break.

     Her eye glanced to the floor of the flight deck, towards the tiny metal crate she had pilfered from the freighter ship in her previous job.

     “Computer, warm up the teleporter. I have a plan.”

     ----------------

     Once the plan was set in motion, Korzara docked with the outpost and briskly walked through the corridor, her newfound sense of assurance carried with every step against the dirty metallic floor. Before long, she was once again standing face-to-face with the holographic image of Sloth himself.

     “Good, You’ve returned.” said Sloth, grinning wildly as he sat behind his desk. “Then I assume this means you have the blueprint data?”

     “I do,” said Korzara. Before the fearsome visage of Sloth, she had almost forgotten her previous courage, but the thought of her plan ensured that her confidence remained. She reached into her pockets and pulled out the thumb drive, holding it between her fingers. “I have it right here.”

     Sloth raised an eyebrow. He could clearly sense something was off, but he didn’t quite appear to know what. “Then give it to me,” he said, extending a holographic hand.

     “Yeah. About that.” Before Sloth could even react, Korzara roughly threw the thumb drive against the ground. Then, before either of them could even blink, she brought a heavily armoured foot down against the storage device, crushing it into thousands of tiny pieces.

     “Deal’s off,” Korzara said. “You’re not getting a single blasted thing from me.”

     For several moments, Sloth could only stare, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, at the bits of plastic and silicon that used to be the data drive. Slowly, his face morphed into a visage of pure wrath that sent a sharp chill down Korzara’s spine.

     “...I see. In your infinite arrogance, you’ve decided to betray me,” Sloth sneered. “Then you will be rewarded exactly as a traitor deserves.”

     As if the entire outpost had read Sloth’s mind, panels in the walls of the room opened to reveal a dozen different blaster cannons, all of them aimed squarely at Korzara.

     “Do you have any last words, little Neopet?”

     Korzara had to fight as hard as she could to push down the fear that had swelled within her chest. Truth be told, she was utterly terrified. But she couldn’t show it. Not now, not when her plan was so close to going off without a hitch.

     And so she forced the corners of her lips upward, into a devious smirk.

     “Yeah. Checkmate.”

     “Wha—”

     BOOOOOOOOOOOM!

     All at once, the floors shook with the force of an earthquake, while an explosion ripped through the outpost’s artificial atmosphere, nearly deafening Korzara with its force. The computer monitors in the station flickered on and off, while an automated voice blared over the intercom.

     “Alert! Alert! Reactor core has gone critical! Evacuate immediately! Repeat! Evacuate immediately!”

     Sloth slammed his holographic hands against his desk, his eyes burning with a fury that outshone the flame of a thousand different suns.

     “You! Explain! NOW!”

     Despite facing the greatest and most terrifying villain in the galaxy, Korzara couldn’t help but laugh. “Ha! You think I wouldn’t notice that you’ve fallen onto just as many hard times as I have? Look at yourself. Trapped in this dingy old base, without any of the armies you once commanded.”

     Sloth grit his teeth, and gave a vicious growl that caused his body to flicker and pulse.

     “Without access to your previous supply lines, you couldn’t power your reactor core with Kreludite. You had to use much more unstable Neotonium instead. Not only that, you didn’t have the resources to give your core proper teleport shielding! All I had to do was send in a chunk of my own Neotonium, attach it to a mine, and set it to blow.”

     “You... You... YOU...!” Sloth shouted incoherently as the entire facility rumbled and shook. “YOU HORRID LITTLE NEOPET! DESTROY HER! DESTROY HER NOW!”

     “Unable to comply,” the automated voice of the outpost replied. “Weapons systems have been taken offline. All auxiliary power diverted to life support. Destruction of base from reactor meltdown imminent. Evacuate immediately! Repeat! Evacuate immediately!”

     “Well, it’s been fun,” said Korzara. “But I gotta get out of here. See you around, Sloth. Or hopefully not.”

     “No! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

     As Sloth’s howls echoed through the crumbling chamber, Korzara spared no time in making her escape. She sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her, bolting through the corridor as the outpost crumbled and shook beneath her feet.

     When she made it back to her ship, Korzara’s heart was pounding so intensely that she could feel her veins throbbing in her head. She undocked from the outpost and shut the airlock, before sitting down at the flight deck and gripping the yoke as tightly as she could.

     The thrusters of the Liberada soon engaged, but just as it began to lift off of the ground, another explosion ripped through her eardrums. The spacecraft shook with violent force as it was subsequently launched upwards, beyond the orbit of the asteroid.

     Korzara fought wildly with the yoke to get her ship under control as it sped through the cosmos, towards the inner rings of the solar system. By the time she was able to stop her ship from spinning, she realized that she hadn’t slowed down. She moved to disengage the thrusters, only to find that the throttle of the ship wouldn’t move.

     “Computer! What’s going on here!? Why can’t I slow down!?”

     “Information. Thruster control has been disabled by damage to the engines,” the computer replied. “Unable to slow down. In their current state, thrusters will remain active until all fuel is spent.”

     “What!? You’ve gotta be kidding! What am I supposed to—”

     “Alert,” the computer interrupted. “Approaching the planet of Neopia at dangerous velocity. Estimated time to collision: T-minus fifteen seconds.”

     “WHAT!?”

     Korzara turned to look back at the viewscreen, and sure enough, she could see Neopia very clearly in the centre, rapidly growing larger, growing closer. For the longest ten seconds of her life, she fought with the controls to steer the Liberada away, but by then it was already too late. The planet’s gravitational pull had only added to the ship’s existing momentum, causing it to plummet towards the earth. Multiple alerts beeped loudly as the atmosphere began burning away at the already-damaged hull, and the ship began to spin wildly as it fell.

     “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! ABANDON SHIP! ABANDON—”

     The Liberada crashed into the soil, and Korzara’s entire world was engulfed in an explosion of light and fire.

     ----------------

     Korzara didn’t know how she was still alive.

     When she crawled out of the remains of her starship, it was nothing more than a smouldering wreck, completely beyond any hope of repair. Even if she could salvage any of its machinery, she wasn’t sure what she would even do with it at this point.

     And then there was the pain. The burning agony that engulfed her entire body as she dragged herself to her feet, and forced herself to walk one excruciating step at a time. She didn’t know where she was going. She didn’t know if she even had anywhere to go. But she refused to fall over, refused to succumb. If she lost consciousness, she wasn’t sure if she would ever wake up again.

     Her thoughts turned to her life, and everything that had happened to bring her to this point. Ever since childhood, she had only ever known adversity. It was a constant throughout her every waking moment so far.

     She was born on Scurvy Island, that much she knew. But who her parents were was a mystery, and she didn’t know if they’d died or simply abandoned her. Her formative years were spent begging on the streets, scrounging for scraps, and sleeping against the cold, hard cobblestone of the port.

     It would seem only natural that she’d take to piracy, but it wasn’t really her choice. She was discovered by the leader of a large pirate ship, a Grarrl by the name of Captain Sharktooth. He promised Korzara food and shelter on their ship, as long as she worked to make herself ‘useful.’

     How naive she was, to think that this was a fair deal. The only food she was given was deemed too inedible to give to anyone else. Maggot-infested hardtack and rotten gruel was the bulk of her diet. It was a wonder she ever found a way to stomach it all.

     And the less that was said about the way that the other pirates treated her, the better.

     Keep scrubbing! And ye’d best not leave a single SPOT on that deck, or I’ll make ye regret ever being BORN!

     As the memory of Captain Sharktooth’s voice echoed in her mind, Korzara felt a strange wet sensation running down her good eye. She was...

     ...no, she wasn’t crying. She couldn’t be. She was better than that. She’d overcome so many hardships, survived against so many impossible odds, made a name for herself with nothing more than her own sweat and ingenuity.

     As Korzara continued wandering aimlessly, she eventually crossed a hill. Her ragged footsteps brought her to its peak, where she stopped to see what was on the other side.

     It was a city. A small kingdom of dirt roads, lush green trees, vibrant fruit orchards, and stained glass windows. In the centre, a shining castle of brilliant green and white, standing before a horizon of great mountainous peaks.

     “B... Brightvale?”

     The pain finally became too much for her body to bear, and Korzara collapsed onto the hill’s grassy soil.

To be continued…

 
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