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A Corsair Among the Stars


by zennistrad

--------

Korzara soon found herself standing in a place that shouldn’t exist. It was... it resembled outer space, an infinite black void lit by a backdrop of stars and nebulae.

     But it couldn’t have been outer space, because she was there without a ship, and without a suit to breathe.

     She was... standing, somehow, even though there was nothing beneath her feet. As though she was held up by an invisible floor. Tentatively, Korzara looked down at her feet and took a step forward. She could walk, it seemed, as though she were standing on solid ground.

     When she looked up again, Korzara saw something that wasn’t there before.

     It was a round tea table, with two chairs on either side, and a ceramic tea set with two cups in the centre. The chair closest to Korzara was empty, and on the opposite was a face she recognized, but had never seen in person. A face that every spacefaring Neopian would recognize instantly.

     “Hello, Korzara,” said the Space Faerie. “It’s nice to meet you.”

     “You,” Korzara said breathlessly. She rubbed her eye, to make sure she was seeing correctly. “I... I don’t believe it. What’s going on? Am I...?”

     “Don’t worry, you’re not dead,” said the Space Faerie. “Your body just needs some time to rest, that’s all.”

     “That’s a relief,” Korzara exhaled. “But if I’m not dead, then what is this place?”

     “A dream,” the Space Faerie answered. “Like I said, your body needs time to sleep off its injuries. You’re lucky you weren’t hurt much more badly.”

     “But if this is a dream, then what are you doing here?” said Korzara. “I didn’t think that the Space Faerie could visit dreams.”

     “Well, how do you know I’m really the Space Faerie?” she replied with a grin. “I could be Mira. But I could also be just a figment of your imagination. In a dream, who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t?” She gestured to the seat across from her. “Come, sit down. I’m sure you have a lot on your mind.”

     Korzara considered refusing, but thought better of it. It’s not like she had anything better to do. As she sat down at the table, the Space Faerie poured herself a cup of tea, while Korzara declined to have any.

     “So,” said the Space Faerie. “Why don’t you start by telling me what’s wrong?”

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Korzara insisted. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

     The Space Faerie took a sip of her tea. “There’s no need to deny it. Even ignoring how badly injured you are, you’ve been dealing with a lot of stress and hardship, haven’t you?”

     A deep, heavy sigh escaped from Korzara’s lips. “Not gonna let anything get past you, huh? Fine. I’ll admit it. My life’s been horrible lately. It’s been rough ever since I got kicked out of the Resistance, but lately, everything’s been just getting worse and worse for me.”

     The Space Faerie nodded, listening intently.

     “And I just... don’t understand it, you know?” Korzara continued. “I thought being a space pirate would make my life easy. And for a while, it did. But everything I’ve built for myself has come crashing down. I’ve run into trouble in ways I didn’t even think were possible. I have no money, my ship’s been totalled, I haven’t had a full three meals per day in months, and... I just... I...”

     Another deep sigh. There was a tension building in Korzara’s chest, one that had been present ever since she sat down with the Space Faerie, but now it was growing so thick and suffocating that it stifled any attempt to express her feelings in words. Another trail of moisture fell down her left cheek. This time, she didn’t make any attempt to hide it.

     “...I just don’t know where I went wrong.”

     Mira looked Korzara straight in the eye. The faerie’s expression was soft, the gleam in her red eyes full of compassion and understanding.

     “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through,” she said. “You don’t deserve to suffer as you have.” The faerie closed her eyes, and her lips pursed together, folded into a sorrowful frown. “But... I also think you’re deceiving yourself. I think you know exactly where it all went wrong.”

     “What...?” The Space Faerie’s words stung, but at the same time, some part of Korzara knew that they were true. She had been denying it for so long, forcing the truth into the back of her mind.

     But she couldn’t deny it any longer.

     “You mean... when I betrayed the Resistance,” said Korzara. “Not Sloth’s job, I mean. Fifteen years ago. When I... I went against my own mission. When I hurt the people I was supposed to protect.”

     Mira looked into Korzara’s eye once again. It was difficult to read her emotions. She looked equal parts disappointed, sympathetic, and stern.

     “You’ve always valued your freedom. That is an admirable trait. But I think you know that freedom doesn’t give you the license to hurt other people. Did the traders you stole from not deserve freedom, too? The freedom to live their lives, without fear of losing what they have?”

     “I... I just...” The tears were freely flowing down Korzara’s eye now. It had been so long since she’d felt so exposed, so vulnerable. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone! I-I mean, I guess I sort of did, but... I just thought... I-I really didn’t...”

     She closed her eyes, trying to shut it out, trying to hold back the feelings that were overflowing from within her, that had been building up inside of her for so long.

     It was then that Korzara felt a soft hand across her shoulder. She opened her eyes, and saw Mira gazing into her with deep, gentle eyes.

     “It’s only natural to harden your heart, when the universe is cruel to you,” the Space Faerie said. “But that doesn’t mean you should let the good in your heart be suffocated. And just as much as there is cruelty in the universe, there is also kindness. I know that one day you will find the good within you, and the kindness in the world around you.”

     “You... you really think so?” Korzara sniffled.

     The Space Faerie smiled warmly.

     “I know so.”

     ----------------

     Korzara’s eye opened to an unfamiliar sight, and to the soft mattress of a warm bed.

     She wasn’t sure where she was. The last place she had been was on a hill overlooking Brightvale, and then...

     Before she could even think about where she was, Korzara felt her heart jump inside her chest. Sitting on a chair beside the bed was something she had never expected to see.

     It was a human. One of those strange beings who called themselves ‘owners,’ whatever that even meant. He was a man, by the looks of it, with pale skin, a short tangle of blonde and curly hair atop his head, and stubbly facial hair.

     “Oh?” he said. “You’re awake! That’s good. Given how badly you were hurt, I was worried you’d be out for much longer.”

     Korzara jolted upright in her bed, and rapidly glanced around the room. It was a small bedroom with simple furnishings, decorated in the characteristic green-and-white colours of Brightvale. She could see her blaster tucked away in the corner. Thankfully, she seemed to still be wearing her Space Trooper armour, as gross as she felt sleeping in it.

     “Ugh, I’m gonna smell so nasty when I take this off,” she muttered to herself. Putting that aside, she shot the human a vicious glare. “Who are you? Where am I? And what do you want with me?”

     “Hey, take it easy! I promise I’m not gonna hurt you, okay?”

     Korzara glowered at the human. She didn’t fully believe it, but... he did have every opportunity to hurt her while she was asleep, and he didn’t. That had to count for something, at least.

     “My name’s Zenn,” said the human. “I found you on the outskirts of town. I’m not sure how you got so badly injured with a blaster that strong, but I wasn’t about to just leave you there. Are you feeling okay? Can you walk?”

     Tentatively, Korzara stretched out her arms, then flexed the muscles in her legs and tail. There was still a dull, throbbing ache across her entire body, but the intense and searing pain following the crash had vanished.

     “Yeah, I... I think so,” she said. “I think I just needed to sleep it off. I should be good.”

     Before Zenn could ask any further questions, a very loud growl came from Korzara’s gut. She felt her face flush in embarrassment, while the human simply smiled.

     “You sound hungry. Why don’t you come and join us for dinner? There’s more than enough food to go around.”

     “Um... sure?” Truthfully, Korzara didn’t know how to respond. But she wasn’t about to turn down a free meal in her state. “Wait, who’s us?”

     “You’ll see,” said Zenn.

     ----------------

     ‘Us,’ as it turned out, was quite a lot of people. Zenn took her to a very large dining room, where she counted six other Neopians helping set the table. Among them was a Brown Shoyru, a Faerie Hissi, a Mutant Ruki, a Desert Kau, a Royal Girl Lutari, and an Orange Kougra.

     It was such an unusual group of Neopians to see under one roof, that it could only raise Korzara’s suspicions. She could think of only one reason they would all be together, and it wasn’t a reason she liked.

     Were they the humans’... pets?

     No. She didn’t want to think about that. It was too repulsive to even consider.

     But thankfully, she didn’t have to think about that for long, as what followed was one of the best meals she’d eaten in a long time. A full roast turkey, large enough for everyone to share, with sides of succulent Brightvale fruits, soft loaves of bread, and even a wheel of cheese.

     And when it was all finished, Korzara had felt more nourished than she could even remember. Months of strict rationing, of living on energy drinks and sugary smoothies, had left her feeling like a hollowed-out husk of a Techo. And she had been running on fumes for so long that she hadn’t even realized just how bad it was for her.

     So many new emotions swelled up within her, a warmth that filled her heart and spread to every other part of her body. She didn’t know what to say, or think about it. She’d simply never imagined having anything this good before.

     But it wasn’t long afterwards that she found herself yearning to leave. She couldn’t stay in one place, in a single house. Why she couldn’t stay in one place, she didn’t really know. But she couldn’t.

     Making sure to grab her blaster and sling it across her back, Korzara headed for the door. As she reached for the doorknob, she heard a familiar voice call out to her.

     “Hey, where are you going? Leaving already?”

     Korzara turned around, and saw Zenn staring straight down at her. There was a gleam of worry in his eye, matching the deep crease in his brow.

     “I dunno. Somewhere else,” Korzara muttered. “I don’t stay put. It’s not what I do.”

     The worry in the human’s eyes intensified. The next question he asked pierced through Korzara’s armour more easily than any weapon could.

     “Do you have a home?”

     It was a simple question. And the answer was simple, yet at the same time infinitely complicated.

     For now, Korzara decided to go with the simple answer.

     “Well, um... no. Not really.”

     The human knelt down, and placed a soft hand on Korzara’s shoulder. His soft gaze pierced straight into Korzara’s soul as he looked her in the eye.

     “Listen. I can’t pretend to know what it is you’ve been through, or what kind of life you’ve lived. But why don’t you stay with us for a while?”

     “St-tay with... you?” Korzara felt her heart begin to race.

     “Well, yeah,” said Zenn. “I don’t know if you know this, but most of the Neopets here didn’t have a home before I found them. So why don’t you stay with us?”

     Almost by instinct, Korzara smacked the human’s hand away. “I’m not a pet! I don’t belong to you! I can take care of myself!”

     The human frowned deeply. He held Korzara in his gaze. There was no malice in his eye, nor any sign of anger. And for several seconds, the two simply stared at each other.

     “Well,” Zenn finally spoke up, “if you don’t want to be a pet, then why not stay as a friend?”

     Korzara was left stunned by the response. It was so far out of left field, so far out of the realm of anything she expected, that she didn’t even know what to say. “A... friend?”

     “Of course. We’re all part of a family here,” said the human. “I don’t want you to think you’re less than me, or anyone else. We all help each other, because we all care for each other.”

     Once again, Korzara felt the same warmth from before swell up within her. It was such a strange feeling, such an alien feeling to her. How many people did she know who she could truly call her friend? There was... Gnib, maybe. And that was about it. And she only ever visited him when she needed a job.

     For as long as she could remember, Korzara never really had anyone else but herself.

     It was a lot to consider. There were so many things about this that didn’t make sense.

     “I’ll let you think about it,” said Zenn. “If you’re going to leave, then don’t feel bad about coming back, okay? My home is a place for anyone who doesn’t have a place of their own.”

     “Right. Thanks,” said Korzara. “I guess I'll just... go.”

     “Don’t be a stranger, alright?”

     “Sure,” Korzara muttered.

     As Korzara turned around to leave, however, a thought popped into her head. As he admitted, the human had no idea what she had just been through. And as far as she could tell, nobody else in the house knew either.

     She had personally encountered, and defeated, the most feared villain in all of Neopia. She was a former Resistance mercenary, now turned into one of the most wanted criminals in the solar system.

     Most importantly, she had information on Doctor Sloth that no one else in the universe knew, information that would be crucial to the Resistance were they to face him again. But she couldn’t just give that information to the Resistance. Not after she burned all her bridges, and seemingly stabbed them in the back.

     But this human... he could have given her exactly the answer she needed.

     “Wait,” said Korzara. “This is... Brightvale, right? Are you a Brightvale citizen?”

     “Yeah. Of course. Why?”

     “Good. That’s exactly what I need. When can I sign the adoption papers?”

     ----------------

     Several days later...

     Korzara stood in front of the remains of her ship, exactly where she had agreed to meet the others. While the wrecked Liberada could no longer serve as a functioning space vessel, its communications systems and auxiliary power thankfully remained intact. With this, Korzara was able to transmit a message to the Virtupets Space Station.

     Now, all she had to do was wait. Thankfully, the response that she expected didn’t take long.

     A large falling star appeared in the sky above her, growing larger and larger as it descended onto the earth. Soon enough, it revealed itself to not be a falling star, but a spaceship.

     Korzara’s eye narrowed as the ship came into view. It was a green Resistance vessel, and judging by its size, it was likely a personnel transport that could carry an entire squad of soldiers at once.

     The ship rotated its thrusters towards the ground, kicking up a cloud of smoke and dust as it slowed its descent. Korzara winced from the debris as the ship finally achieved touchdown.

     There was a hiss of hydraulics as the troop transport’s main door opened, becoming a ramp that led from the main hold onto the ground. Korzara’s eye narrowed as she saw who it had carried inside.

     A large group of soldiers descended the ramp, and at the front of it was none other than Commander Valka himself. He was an old man now, or something close to it, as evidenced by the significant greying of his facial fur and wrinkled forehead. Nevertheless, he carried himself with the poise and confidence of an experienced veteran. Following closely behind him was Scout, and behind her was a squad of about a dozen Resistance fighters.

     Commander Valka looked Korzara over, an anger beneath his eyes that was nearly as strong as the one he had shown fifteen years ago.

     “You have a lot of nerve contacting us after the little stunt you pulled. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have you taken prisoner here and now.”

     Korzara flashed the commander a grin. This was exactly the moment she had been preparing for.

     “Easy. My owner is a Brightvale citizen.” She had to fight to stop herself from gagging at the word ‘owner.’ Some things about her, it seemed, would never change.

     “Own— come on, be serious,” the Commander baulked. “You don’t really expect me to believe you let a human adopt you?”

     “I did. And I’ll tell you why,” said Korzara. “See, because my... guardian is a Brightvale citizen, that means I’m now a Brightvale citizen too. And given the Resistance operates mostly in secret, I expect you’ll have a lot of explaining to do to King Hagan if you detain me here.”

     The Commander’s eyes went wide with dawning comprehension.

     “Clever girl,” he said, stroking the fur on his chin. “You’ve made sure we can’t hold you accountable for your crimes without risking a diplomatic incident.”

     Scout, meanwhile, crossed her arms and glared daggers at Korzara. “But that still doesn’t explain why you called us here. Just what are you planning now?”

     Korzara took a deep breath, then exhaled through her nostrils. This would be a lot to explain.

     “...Okay. Where to start. So, uh, you know that little heist I pulled on your Headquarters?”

     “It’d be hard for us to forget,” Scout deadpanned.

     “Well, see, here’s what really happened...”

     And so Korzara relayed her story to the Resistance.

     It didn’t take long for her to have their full attention, and by the end of it, every single person present was left utterly dumbstruck.

     Scout looked towards Valka, her entire body visibly tense.

     “Commander, do you think this is...? I mean, could Sloth really be...?”

     Valka, meanwhile, held a hand to his chin, his brow furrowed in deep contemplation. He hesitated to answer, but the answer was a shock to both Korzara and Scout.

     “She’s telling the truth. I’m certain of it.”

     Korzara breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank the stars, I was terrified you’d think I was crazy.”

     “Of course I believe you,” said Valka. “You may be a scoundrel and a pirate, but you’ve never once lied to us. You made armed robbery honest work, as much as that doesn’t make sense.”

     “Um... thanks? I think?”

     “Don’t let it go to your head,” said the Commander. “Either way, I’m glad that you destroyed your copy of the blueprint data before Sloth could get his hands on it. That said, now that we know what Sloth is really up to, our plans for upgrading the Station’s defences will likely prove insufficient.”

     “Well that’s just great,” said Scout. “What exactly do we do now, then?”

     “It won’t be easy,” the Commander answered. “If Sloth is a being of pure data now, he won’t wage war on a conventional battlefield. He could infect the Station’s computer network and assume direct control of it that way. We’ll have to refocus our efforts on cybersecurity. We should also split the network into several different partitions, so that no one computer can ever have control over the entire Station. And Korzara?”

     “Yes?”

     The Commander paused for a moment. The anger in his eyes was gone, but there was still a grudge visible in his frown.

     “...As much as it pains me to admit it, you have my sincerest thanks. The information you’ve just relayed to us may very well have saved all of Neopia.”

     “Wait, really? I mean, I guess that makes sense, but...”

     “Just to be clear, this doesn’t make us allies yet,” the Commander clarified. “Given your reputation in space, it’s in our best interest that we pretend this meeting never happened. But I’ll see what I can do to get that bounty of yours pardoned.”

     Korzara could almost feel her heart skip a beat. “You’d do that for me!?”

     “It’s the least I can do,” said Valka. “But in the meantime, I would advise that you lay low on Neopia for a while. I’d imagine Sloth has a personal vendetta against you now, and Brightvale’s medieval technology level means he’s unlikely to look here.”

     “Works well enough for me. It’s not like I can leave the planet with my ship totalled anyway.”

     “Excellent,” said the Commander. “If we have any need for your skills again, we’ll find a way to contact you. Just stay out of trouble. And don’t rob any more civilians.”

     “Understood,” said Korzara. “And... thank you.”

     Commander Valka gave a nod to the other soldiers, and one by one they each boarded the personnel craft. With a roar of the thrusters, the ship soon rose into the stratosphere, before disappearing into the horizon and rocketing into space.

     Once the Resistance craft was gone, Korzara was left with a moment of peace to reflect on everything that had happened. Through all of her suffering, through all of the stress and pain she had been put through, it had somehow managed to all work out in the end.

     A smile crept along the edges of her lips. She took a deep breath, letting the cool, crisp air of Neopia fill her lungs.

     What Korzara’s life held in store for her next, she had no idea. There was no guessing what sort of danger she’d find herself in, or what hardships she would endure.

     But maybe, despite everything, it would turn out okay after all.

     The End.

 
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