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Encountering Resistance: Part Nine


by moosuem

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"Oh, this is bad," muttered Roshen, looking over his shoulder at the hordes of Mutants thundering towards them.

      "I say, can't you go any faster?" asked Commander Pagger, staring nervously at Akzanti. The Techo had his entire unbandaged arm stuck into a panel on the side of their ship.

      "I'm going as fast as I can," snapped Akzanti, his pointed eyebrows furrowed in concentration. "Someone changed the door's combination lock. I've almost-" his eyes brightened as there was a snapping noise from deep inside the panel- "got it!" The Techo stood aside triumphantly as the door of the ship opened.

      As Commander Pagger, Samrindela, Roshen, and Trevor climbed into the ship, careful not to look at Caralen as she followed them, Astral pulled Akzanti aside. "I'll be taking a different ship," she said quietly.

      "What?" said Akzanti, surprised. "Why?"

      Astral pointed to the hordes of Mutants still running towards them. The spaceship hangar was an enormous room, so they hadn't reached the ship yet, but they were getting closer quickly. "As soon as we get out of here," the Lutari hissed, "every single one of those Imperial soldiers is going to be after us in a warship. We'll never be able to outrun the whole fleet in our own ship. If I take another ship, though, I can try to distract them while the rest of you get away."

      "But you'll be killed!" protested Akzanti. "If you're going in another ship, I'm coming with you."

      "Same here, Sir," said Commander Pagger, coming back out of the ship. The others, already inside the ship, had not heard the conversation between Astral and Akzanti, but the Lenny had stayed near the door to make sure they got on board safely. "Can't just let you go off on your own, Sir!"

      "Quiet, both of you!" snapped Astral, suddenly angry. "I am the leader of this Resistance Movement, in case you've forgotten, and I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself! Besides, the others need you much more than I do - Caralen's in no condition to do anything, Roshen's only been with us for a week, Samrindela couldn't stay in the real world long enough to do anything useful even if she could reach the controls, and Trevor - well, Trevor is Trevor." Pagger and Akzanti opened their mouths again, as if to protest, but Astral cut them off. "We don't have time for this! Get on that ship, now! That's an order!"

      An angry Lutari is not someone to argue with, especially when she has an entire fleet of angry Mutants running up behind her, and especially if she happens to be Astral. Akzanti and Commander Pagger turned without a word and ran for the ship. Astral shook her head and allowed herself one small smile as she watched them, then turned and flung herself into the closest of the little Imperial warships.

      Roshen and Samrindela were watching from the rear window of their ship as it pulled away from the Space Station at top speed, Trevor and Commander Pagger at the controls. They were the only ones who saw Astral's one tiny ship fly out of the opening of the hangar, and the only ones who saw the angry, boiling hordes of warships explode out of the opening after her.

      "Has anyone seen my detransmogrification ray?" asked Akzanti, bursting suddenly through the door to the room where Roshen and Samrindela watched. "I gave it to Astral while I was breaking the combination, and-" His face froze as it came to him.

      "I bet she still has it."

      Without another word, the Techo slowly crossed the room and joined Roshen and Samrindela at the window.

     * * *

      Astral did have the ray. Unfortunately, she was currently too busy to use it. The Lutari had managed to gain a bit of a lead on the entire Imperial fleet, hundreds of thousands of deadly little Imperial warships, as they dove in a ravening swarm at her one small ship. She might have been able to evade them for a while if she had tried, but instead, she backed up until her ship was nearly touching the outer wall of the Space Station. Even if she had had an escape route available, though, she never could have outrun the entire fleet.

      Besides, she had something else in mind. She had always known that it would probably come down to this eventually.

      Astral was carefully not thinking too far ahead. One step at a time, she thought. One step at a time. "I hope this thing works," she muttered as she wired the energy cables of Akzanti's little detransmogrification ray directly into the main power system of the ship. It seemed terribly small and slipshod in front of the gleaming silver menace of the fleet. She started making a few simple adjustments to the beam emitter.

      On the ship's control panel, a screen flickered on, bringing with it the sight of Luna's sneering face. Somehow, the other Lutari had managed to end up in a warship near the front of the fleet. "Well, sis," she said, "I'd say this is checkmate for you."

      "No," said Astral simply. Interesting - here they were, the two last Lutaris in existence, twin sisters about to kill each other. How ironic. "It's not checkmate. It's just game over." Stopping for a fraction of a second to enjoy the look of uncertainty on Luna's face, Astral pointed the detransmogrification ray directly towards the approaching fleet and put one claw on the trigger switch.

      There was a slight jolt as Astral's ship brushed the outside of the Space Station. Her ship's computer reported that the foremost ships of the fleet were now within firing range.

      "Goodbye, Luna," said Astral quietly. "I wish things could have been different."

      Then she pressed the switch.

     * * *

      Thanks to Astral's modifications, the detransmogrification ray no longer emitted a single beam of energy. Instead, it emitted a wide cone of energy, which spread across space, passing straight through the hulls of the warships and enveloping the entire fleet.

      The Emperor's fleet pilots were chosen and trained to be strong, ruthless, expert pilots with not a drop of mercy in their cold, thoughtless minds. Obedience, agility, and cold-bloodedness were the only things they needed, and were what had made them a practically unstoppable force. They had no weaknesses, physical, mental, or emotional.

      But, in fact, they did have one weakness, one that the Emperor had bred directly into them without realizing it.

      They were all Mutants.

      So, when Astral fired the detransmogrification ray at the fleet, the effects were immediate and disastrous. All the pilots in it reverted to their natural forms. The chaos this caused was devastating. Suddenly, the Krawks had only two eyes, while the Aishas and Meercas were trying to see with twice as many as they had had all their lives. The Jetsams and JubJubs were suddenly missing all their tentacles, while the Grundos and Draiks shrank to such relatively tiny sizes that they could no longer even reach their controls. Luna was the only one not affected by the change, but her ship was so tightly hemmed in by the others that she could not break free from the formation. In this brief, complete lack of control, the fleet spun wildly but kept its course.

      In seconds, the course of the fleet had not changed, but its destination had. Instead of destroying only Astral's ship, the roaring barrage of sheer mechanical power was now heading straight for the Space Station behind it.

      The Emperor, watching the scene from his window, had just enough time to realize what had happened. He ran for the door of his chambers, knowing it was too late. He was the only one left on the Station, and - try as he might - he had no one to blame but himself.

      The explosion of the Virtupets Space Station lit up the skies of Neopia for a full ten minutes. The light of the glaring orange ball of fire cut right through the thick layer of smog over the sky. For ten minutes, it was as bright as day on that side of the planet.

      The other six members of the Resistance had all gathered in front of the window. The stars were obscured by the gigantic fireball where the Space Station - and their leader - had been.

      Not one word was spoken. Not one eye was dry. The Emperor was dead, his palace destroyed, his Empire scattered.

      But Astral was gone.

     * * *

      "And that," said the Mutant Aisha, "is why Neopia is the way it is today." Slightly out of breath from talking for so long, he leaned back against the trunk of the tree and looked out over the crowd of small - and many not-so-small - Neopets. When it was obvious that that was the end of the story, the children turned to each other and started talking loudly. Many of them came over and asked him questions - "Was that really the end of the Empire?" "What happened to the Resistance after that?" "Did you really do all that stuff?" "Astral didn't really die, did she?"

      At this last question, Roshen winced and sighed. Yes, she had. They had regained Akzanti, but not Astral. That was the hardest part of telling the story; after all these years, the memory still hurt. He had known Astral for little more than a week, but the Lutari had been the kind of leader who could inspire strong devotion in much less time than that. "Well, don't ask me," he said, laughing despite himself at the sea of eager, upturned little faces. "Go ask Samrindela. She's the historian, not me." He smiled after the rainbow of small Neopets as they ran off across the grass to pile onto the tiny Kacheek librarian, who was still smaller than most of them. The library built from her tremendous memory towered behind them.

      "I'm still amazed by all the colors," he said.

      "Yes, they are quite something, aren't they?" said Pagger (no longer Commander Pagger; he had retired from the military life).

      "Yes, they're something else," said Akzanti warmly.

      That had been one of the most amazing things about the end of the Empire. And it had ended, swiftly and decisively. The Emperor had liked the feeling of complete control and had never expected to die, so he had not bothered to leave any way for the Empire to continue without him. It had begun to fall apart within days; the people of Neopia, finally free from the watchful eyes of the Emperor, had quickly wrecked what was left of the Empire. Once its last scattered sub-leaders had been captured and locked up, the Faeries had gone to work on the atmosphere. Within a few years, they had cleaned all the transmogrification potions out of it; how exactly, no one knew. A year or two after that, the non-Mutant children had started being born. They were all colors now, green and crimson and violet and midnight blue...

      With the taint of the Empire out of the atmosphere, the smog had vanished and the sky had become clear for the first time anyone could remember. Slowly, the world had started to return to the way it had been meant to be from the beginning. The Lost Desert, its name found again thanks to Samrindela, was slowly turning orange again, shedding the gray pallor it had had for all of Roshen's life. Terror Mountain was losing its oppressive heat; a few weeks ago, there had been reports of a few flakes of snow falling there. Neopia Central, also restored its true name by Samrindela, had been patched up and cleaned. Some of the old warehouses were being made back into the shops they were meant to be. Faerieland, the original home of the Faeries, had been completely obliterated by the Empire. No one could imagine how the Emperor could wipe out an entire country, but the Faeries refused to talk about it. They were busy gathering clouds together. All they would say was that they were rebuilding their home. No one could guess what the clouds were for.

      And then there was Meridell.

      Pagger and Akzanti smiled as Roshen lay on his back in the tall green grass and looked up at the trees. The two old castles were ruined beyond repair, but the sunny fields and green forests of Meridell had quickly regained their former glory. Roshen had fallen in love with the place at first sight. Now, it was nearly impossible to persuade him to go anywhere else.

      "Well, I'd better be getting back to the airport now," said Akzanti reluctantly. "I can't believe I've been away from Kreludor for two whole days now, listening to you." He laughed. "You were always so quiet. Who would have thought that you'd be better than any of us at telling the story? That really was something else. It was like being there again." Before Roshen could say anything, he continued. "But now that it's over, I shouldn't stay any longer than I can help. The mechanics on Kreludor are learning quickly, but they were all Empire-trained, so they've got a long way to go. If I'm lucky, there'll still be a moon base for me to come back to." He grinned again at Roshen, gave Pagger a salute, and strolled off in the general direction of the airport.

      "Well, I'm off for supper," said Pagger cheerfully. "Caralen just got a fresh shipment of omelette from Tyrannia, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. Why don't you join me?"

      "I'd love to," said Roshen. He looked over towards Caralen's restaurant, the first to open after the fall of the Empire. The Kyrii's fur gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight, golden yellow once more now that the Faeries had started making paintbrushes again. After being half-starved almost all her life, the joy of food, good food, was something Caralen couldn't get enough of.

      "We'll be there in a moment," said Roshen, turning back to the crowd of children on the steps of Samrindela's library. He found his daughter easily; her beautiful striped fur stood out in any crowd, at least to him. The fact that she was currently climbing on Trevor's head with a few small Myncies didn't hurt either. The huge Grarrl was patiently standing still while the children used him as a large jungle gym.

      "Astral!" called Roshen across the grass. "Time for dinner!"

      The small Aisha leapt down from Trevor's head and bounded across the field. Then the Mutant Aisha and his daughter walked off for dinner, followed by the Kacheek and the Grarrl.

      Over their heads, the slowly healing moon was rising over the green fields and blue oceans of Neopia. The planet was healing slowly, but it was also healing steadily, and everyone on it had more hope for the future than they had had in a long, long time.

      Neopia was free at last.

The End

Author's Note: Well, if you're reading this, you must have read the rest of the story. (If not, what are you doing here at the end? Go back and finish it!) If you liked it, feel free to Neomail me. If you didn't like it, please Neomail me and tell me why; my writing can't improve if I don't know what about it needs improvement.

Many thanks to my family and the Neopian Times editors for putting up with me while I wrote, edited, and re-edited this long, dark story - and thank you, whoever you are, for reading it!

-Moosuem

 
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Other Episodes


» Encountering Resistance: Part One
» Encountering Resistance: Part Two
» Encountering Resistance: Part Three
» Encountering Resistance: Part Four
» Encountering Resistance: Part Five
» Encountering Resistance: Part Six
» Encountering Resistance: Part Seven
» Encountering Resistance: Part Eight



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