“Are you a feeling Virtu?”
The robot Nimmo stared blankly at him with his electroluminescent eyes.
“What is your frequency?” the Nimmo asked quizzically.
The starry Eyrie cleared his throat. “Let’s say life philosophy.”
The Eyrie played with the almost empty galaxy glass sitting on the metal counter in front of him.
“Recharge your batteries during hibernation,” the Nimmo replied mechanically.
“Yes. Yes. Sleep is nice.” The Eyrie turned to the Nimmo. “But are you a feeling Virtu?”
The Nimmo did not reply and instead, bit into his metal cheese burger.
“Do you feel? Do you sense?”
The Nimmo’s eyes dimmed.
“Why of course I feel. My integrated circuits are capable of ‘bio-intelligence’. We robotics do not prefer the term ‘artificial intelligence’ and yes, we are capable of feeling and sensing. My Virtupets certification and manufacturer’s marks do not prohibit me from emotion, so I infer from your usage of the term. Whether I am a ‘feeling Neo’ or not is beyond my comprehension of your erratic diction.”
“No. No. My diction is not erratic.” The Eyrie ran his hand along the top of his head and drank the last drop of his drink. “Your comprehension is limited by your logic unit. It is why you cannot appreciate poetry. Perhaps I should explain better. Are you emotionally sensitive, first and foremost, in your personality or character, your defining trait?”
The Eyrie tapped the metal counter and a Grundo placed a galaxy energy drink in front of him.
“No,” the Nimmo replied metallically. “If you do not mind leaving my programs on standby, my internal fan cannot cool my overclocked processor.” The Nimmo shuffled off to the far side of the café to the recharge terminals.
The Eyrie overheard the exchange between the operator and the Nimmo. “2 VirtuCreds per minute.”
The Eyrie hunched over the Virtu-grade trichromium steel countertop and stared at his reflection on its polished surface. The VirtuSave fluorescent lighting was bright enough for him to see exactly where each dark blue feather turned to gold.
“Why am I a feeling Neo?” the Eyrie asked the Grundo behind the counter.
The mutant Grundo plated a Grobleen salad and waved the metal spatula in the Eyrie’s direction.
“Windan know why Gargarox let Windan sit at counter?” the Grundo grunted.
Windan looked up at the hulking Grundo Chef.
“Windan’s ramblings amuse Gargarox.”
“Yes. Yes. Apparently,” he replied wryly. He took a drink from his glass.
“Gargarox like talking ad. Talking ad good idea.”
“Really, you do?” Windan raised an eyebrow.
“Virtupets no sleep. Virtupets eat. Virtupets come Grundos eat.”
“Oh, of course.” Windan dug his fork into his beef rouladen and tore out a chunk. “I wonder if Heermeedjet knows that his brother was named after food,” he mused aloud. He looked at Gargarox again. This time the Grundo was filling a cup with a celestial mix. “Hey, Gargle Rocks, what is the difference between a roulade and a rouladen?”
“Rouladen have meat substitute.”
Windan dropped his fork onto the rouladen.
“Oh, that is very good to know. Did you know, 92 percent of all Neopians can’t tell the difference between meat and meat substitute?”
Gargarox grinned widely.
“Good to know. Meat substitute cheap.”
The Eyrie transferred VirtuCreds to the Grundo to pay for his meal.
“Now that is very nice,” he replied, swiping his receipt from the counter.
Windan slid off the stool and headed out to the magnetic elevators. A pink Aisha in a red polylon suit sidled up next to him while he waited for the next elevator to arrive.
“Kremlex Commander Gormos arlag, Windan,” the Aisha said in an alien tongue. “Tazarva lax.”
“Varada xen,” he replied, nodding slightly, as an empty elevator made its way up.
He entered the elevator and watched the doors close. He stood firmly with his hands in front of him. The green numbers on the panel next to him decreased as he ascended. Several floors up, a red Jetsam layered in heavy black-and-red space gear entered. The mirrored visor of the Jetsam’s helmet was down and the Eyrie could see the large yellow star that encircled the right eye of the Eyrie looking back at him. The Jetsam flashed an artificially white toothy smile.
“Windman! Just the Eyrie I was hoping to crash into!” the Jetsam greeted him. He dug his fins into his pockets. “Red Phoenix Squadron leader! Congrats!”
Windan glanced sidewise at the fumbling Jetsam and replied impatiently, “What is it, Wingman?”
“Ah. I must have left it in our quarters, but I need the bottom bunk for the week. Doctors orders.”
The Jetsam smiled again.
“I’ll be taking a week’s leave, so that will be no problem,” Windan replied.
The Jetsam hurried off and disappeared along the corridor when the elevator reached the next level.
Windan left the elevator and walked into a crowded section of the station. He slipped through the crowds, all the while trying to minimize the swift zipping sound caused by the fabric of his suit.
“Danny! Oh, Danny!” someone called out to him. A yellow Cybunny was waving at him. He zipped his way to her. “Danny! Oh, it’s so good to see you! This station is so big; one could get lost and never be found!” She pulled off her pair of silver opera gloves and mused aloud, “Oh, these were a wonderful gift, Danny. I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Zally.”
He bent over to hug her.
Zally asked the Eyrie excitedly, “Oh, have you seen Hannah yet?”
“I can’t say that I have ever met her,” he replied whimsically.
She covered her mouth and giggled. “Oh, don’t be silly, Danny!” She folded her opera gloves and placed them in her purse. “Hannah the Opera. Everyone has been talking about it. Neos, Virtus, Faeries, all of them. Oh, it is lovely! So much deceit, romance, action! I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything more spectacular, Danny.”
Windan teased, “I would love to hear more, Zally.” He looked away down a corridor on the far side of the station. A red Shoyru was pushing along a cart full of mail.
“It’s a Space Neopia production. Daxel Zaxor plays the ever-so-dashing Kanrik and the Farla Six plays the treacherous Masila. Oh, maybe next week we could go see it together.”
He brought his eyes back to her face and smiled. “Well, I’ve been busy. It would be nice to have some time to enjoy a good opera.”
“Oh, I hope you are working to rid this station of those dreadful talking ads. One can’t think with noise like that!”
“I only wish I were. It was good to see you, Zally.”
She hugged him.
“I hope to see you soon again, Danny. It was nice talking to you. Perhaps we can talk some more of Hannah when you get the chance to see it.”
“Will do. Windman out!” He saluted.
The Cybunny covered her mouth and laughed. “Oh, don’t be so silly, Danny. See you around.”
Windan rushed down the corridors and nearly knocked over a helmeted red Kacheek. The Kacheek slipped passed the Eyrie and turned around.
“Hey, I hear vooboor is back.”
“Oh, not that silly Grundo! I thought he was living with his cousin!”
“He was, but his cousin is visiting the station,” the Kacheek replied. “Well, be wary. I hear he’s on this level.”
The Eyrie walked faster down the corridors, keeping his eyes forward at all times. A red Shoyru pushing a mail cart called out to him.
The Shoyru waved him over.
“Why does everyone want to talk to me today?” he muttered under his breath.
The Shoyru shuffled through some packages to a small cardboard box with a black-and-red label neatly adhered to the top right corner. Windan signed for the box and the courier continued on his way. The package was light, as if it were empty. The only sound that came from shaking it was what sounded like a pebble in the box. He tore open the box to find a small trichromium key. He pocketed the key and turned back the way he came.
Neos shuffled back and forth across the vast terminal that led to the docking bay. Windan flew over the influx of Neos that were all murmuring about the Hannah opera. He landed by the wall of the lockers on the other side of the terminal. 3807. The fluorescent numbers glowed bright blue as he placed the key into the lock.
A green JubJub in thick goggles had called out to him.
“Hey, Winchman,” he replied.
“Red Phoenix Squadron leader! Grats! I wouldn’t be surprised if you make Wing Commander.” The JubJub looked over at the locker. “Wow. A trichromium key. Thrice the flash for your cash!” he quoted from the Virtulocks advertisements. “The Bossman must be smiling on you. Hey, you repainting Phöxfire?”
“Could you ask Winkman for me?”
“Can do, Squadron Leader.” The JubJub saluted him with his foot and wheeled a cart of bulky boxes through the crowd.
Windan turned back to the locker. It was empty except for a piece of paper folded neatly into a square. He unfolded it.
“Hello Windan of the future. I hope you, or I actually, did not forget.” Windan winced and continued reading. “11-07.”
He searched the locker for clues but there was nothing else. He slammed the locker shut and the key popped out. After picking the key up, he sat on the floor and covered his face with his hands.
A staticky voice came from his pocket, “Windman. Windman. Come in, Windman.”
The Eyrie dug an earpiece and microphone out from his pocket.
“Windman here. How’s it flying, Winkman?”
“Booted and ready to go,” a voice said over the earpiece. “You need to use the comm more often. Winchman said you wanted the Phöenix Fire painted. 09, right?”
Windan’s face brightened.
”I’ll prove it,” he said.
The Faerie Pteri mocked a scoff.
“I’ll do it. I’ll prove it to you. Ten years from now, I will bring you three of your favorite flowers right to your door on the day before the Pteri Flying Championships.”
The Pteri replied, “That would be sweet, but we’ll see.”
“I have no doubt that I will not forget. Unforgettable. That’s what you are.”
“You are F1, Winkman. Thank you.”
“Eh, no problem, Squadron Leader. Squadron Leader?”
“Never mind. Winkman out.”
Winded bulleted over the crowd and down the halls to his quarters.
“Welcome, Windan,” a soothing female voice greeted as he entered.
“Computer, what is today’s date?” Windan asked.
“The first of Storing on Neopia, Windan. Do you require any more assistance?”
“No. Thank you, computer.”
Windan quickly changed into informal attire and packed a suitcase. The door slid open with a soft whoosh. Down the hall, the red Shoyru was pushing a half-full cart of mail. He called out to the courier. He gave him thirty VirtuCreds for his help and headed down to the Neopia Terminal.
“Hey, WD!” a blue Ogrin in black uniform shouted as he approached a shuttle to Neopia. “Long time no see.”
Windan waved and entered the shuttle. The Ogrin followed.
“Going to Faerieland. Huh,” the Ogrin commented.
Windan replied dryly, “On the mark as always, Vaede.”
“Hey, GC!” Vaede called out to the pilot. A hulking blue Grundo turned his head around his chair. “Take care of this guy for me. He’s my man. Best tipper there is.”
Windan watched Vaede exit.
“Can do,” the Grundo boomed. “Black Ghost ready for departure in: Drei... Zwei... Eins... Luft!”
The shuttlecraft transitioned smoothly into the vacuum. Stars shone brighter and the void was blacker outside. The world of Neopia was a small marble that Windan could fit in his hand.
Vast cumuli platforms spread out above him. He could see a few Blumaroo bouncing on the one to his left. Windan wriggled his bare toes on the clouds. Two Carmarillers fluttered by, chasing one another. Windan turned around and headed for the houses behind him. He passed a handful before he found the one he was looking for. The pink door was bright and cheery. He covered his mouth, yawned, and knocked on the door lightly. A Faerie Wocky answered the door.
“Uh... I’m looking for Phoenix,” Windan said.
“Oh, I’m sorry...” the Wocky replied.
“Oh, no, not that...” the Wocky said. “I’m a little slow between sentences... She moved...”
Windan sighed. “This is going to sound cliché, but did she leave a forwarding address?”
“Yesh... I mean, yeah...” She scribbled onto a piece of paper. “Do you want me to tell her that you are coming? ...My Beekadoodle can fly very fast...”
“No. No, thanks. I wanted to surprise her.”
“Haven’t I seen you before?...”
The Wocky tilted her head slightly.
“Um, I doubt it.”
“You worked with my cousin, Wocktronia, haven’t you? ...She can’t stop playing Warf Rescue Team and I don’t know why...”
“What day is it today?” Windan asked in a tired tone.
“The third of Storing.”
“The fourth is tomorrow, right?”
“What day is it today?” he asked again.
“Uhm... the third of Storing?...”
Windan set down on the green grass. He held pink flowers up to his beak and inhaled its sweet aroma. Pulling his dark blue cap down, he headed down the street. He straightened his collar and adjusted his cap again. He knocked on the orange door. A Faerie Pteri answered.
“Hello, I have flowers here for an, um, Il... Ily.”
“Ilyvera,” the Pteri said.
He tilted his head lower. “Could you please sign here?” He held out a clipboard to her.
She scribbled her name and he handed her the flowers.
“Who are these from?” she asked.
He replied, “It’s not my job to know. I just deliver.”
“Well, okay. Do you need anything else?”
He paused for a moment and replied, “Uh, no.”
“Okay,” the Pteri said and closed the door.
He opened his eyes to the blue Grundo pilot.
“You schlief ein, er, fell asleep,” the Grundo said.
“That was a very smooth ride,” Windan replied.
The Grundo smiled. “It’s my craft. That’s why I call it Black Ghost. You can pilot it mit ein hand, er, one hand no problem.”
The Eyrie paid and tipped the Grundo.
“Here. Take care of that craft.”
“Will do,” the Grundo replied, looking over the tip.
The Eyrie stepped out onto the cloud platform. He proceeded as he had in the dream, up to the bright pink door. There was no answer. He knocked again. A Faerie Draik opened the door.
“What do you want?”
Windan drawled, “Uhm...”
“Look, don’t waste my time,” the Draik said.
“Does a Phoenix live here?”
“A, um, the previous resident, a Faerie Pteri?”
“What? She moved out several years ago.”
“I don’t suppose you have—”
“What? A forwarding address?”
“And who are you?”
“An old friend.”
“If you really were an old friend of hers, then she would have given you her new address.”
‘Well, you see, that wasn’t possible.”
“Uh huh.” The Draik slammed the door.
Windan knocked again, but there was no reply. He walked out of the town and lay on the cloud. In the distance, a blue Grundo was also lying on the cloud. The Grundo appeared sadder than he was. Windan stood and walked over to the Grundo. It was only a plushie. He picked up a plushie and turned it over in his palm.
“Well, it’s only you and me out here,” Windan sighed to the plushie. He placed the plushie back into its position and lay supine on the cloud. “Cirrus unicinus clouds are quite beautiful. It’s no wonder why they're called Unis’ tails, although I’d rather have a look at clouds.”
He picked up the plushie and propped it up so that it was looking at the bright wispy clouds as well.
“They don’t have clouds in space, you know. Maybe interstellar clouds and I’ve seen several of those and nebulae. They’re like clouds blasted with opalescent oils and frozen in time. There’s no weather in space. Quite breathtaking, but I enjoy these clouds more. It’s simply something simpler and tangibly intangible, like childhood, you know?”
He looked over at the plushie before continuing.
“When you see a child make a breathtaking discovery, you are simultaneously amazed, rediscovering what you have known for so long, what you take for granted in daily life. And every moment from that point, you can’t help but be amazed again. Let me tell you. You have it, but at the same time you don’t and you don’t know why. Sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t.”
The starry Eyrie looked at the plushie.
He sat up and turned around. A Faerie Pteri was waving her wings at him. She hop-glided over to him.
“Hello,” replied Windan, furrowing his brow.
The Pteri turned her head slightly to the left. “You don’t remember me? I’m Lyvvy’s sister.”
“Yes, but no one calls me that anymore.” She straightened her head. “I thought that was you out here. How have you been?”
He stood up and dusted the cloud from his feathers.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked, briefly looking over at the Grundo plushie.
“Looking for Phoenix.”
“Lyvvy lives in Meridell. I thought she would have told you?”
“I bet she would’ve if she could’ve, but she couldn’t.”
“And why not?”
“Because I told her not to.”
“That was stupid.”
Windan set down on the green grass. He tugged downward on his black cap and looked up the dirt path that curved up to a small cottage with a simple oak door. Smooth gray stones lined the path on either side. A fountain sat comfortably nestled in the gentle bend. He trod slowly up to the door. He turned slightly to the left and raised his hand. The door opened. The Pteri who opened the door looked up.
“Hi. Can I help you?” she asked.
“Uh, yes,” the Eyrie said looking down at his clipboard. “I have a delivery here for a Miss Ilyvera.”
“I didn’t order anything.”
Windan looked at the Pteri and then at his clipboard again. “Well, we have the delivery address marked here. The billing address is different. It may be a gift. I just need you to sign here.”
“Well, okay.” The Pteri hesitantly took the clipboard and scribbled a signature. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“Yes. Can you tell me what day it is?”
“The seventh of Storing.”
Windan scratched his cap and asked, “Tomorrow’s the Pteri Flying Championships, isn’t it?”
“A Happy Pteri Day to you, miss.”
“Thank you.” The Pteri looked around. “Where’s my delivery?”
Windan turned around to the right.
“Greif?” Ilyvera’s expression softened. “Greif is that you? Greif?”
Windan held out three pink lilies and removed his cap.
“I keep my promises, although I had a bit of trouble getting these through customs twice,” he joked. “And I told you that I wouldn’t forget.”
“You gave me a scare! I can’t believe you remembered!” Ilyvera smiled as she took the flowers. “I’ll have to put these in a vase.”
Windan looked around as the Pteri went to place the flowers into a vase. She returned a moment later.
“I was going to go out, but I didn’t expect to see you.”
“Well, I have heard of your great deeds and could use your assistance with a matter of grave importance,” he quoted.
“I love that opera!” Ilyvera exclaimed. “It is one of my favorites after Neovia.”
“I was there opening night, and Neovia is a musical at any rate.”
“Oh! What’s the difference! I didn’t see you there.”
“I was backstage. Security for the day.”
He scratched the back of his head and smiled weakly. A breeze began to blow across his feathers from the west.
“Not very good outside. A little orange gremlin jumped out at me and shouted, ‘VOOBOOR!’ Scared me half to death! He disappeared before I could get a good look.”
Windan chuckled, “That’s vooboor, although technically not a gremlin since he doesn’t mess with the technical stuff. He’s very fast. No one has been able to catch him.”
“Speaking of catching, perhaps we could catch a showing of Neovia tomorrow if you don’t mind going over to Brightvale?”
“That sounds nice. I have a day of leave left before I have to return.”
“A day? That sounds awful. How can we fit ten years in two days?”
“We don’t have to,” he replied.
Ilyvera smiled. The wind picked up for a moment and then hushed itself.
“Can I ask you something? Something a little personal?”
A brown leaf dared to twirl in front of Windan’s face for a moment. He watched as it picked up by a light breeze and float off.
“Why am I a feeling Neo?”
Ilyvera stared at him for a moment.
“I wouldn’t say you are. Neither of us is. From the years I knew you, know you, you don’t seem to have changed. Neither of us have changed too much. You still call me Phoenix and I still call you Greif. I bet you can still look at something and talk about it for hours on end. I don’t know if you can find enjoyment in the simplest of things, maybe you do with the delivery joke. You seem to be too busy to enjoy those things anymore with maintaining security and whatever else you have done for the last ten years. I wouldn’t say you are a feeling Neo. You can be so cold sometimes. A feeling Neo wouldn’t be like that. Can you tell me how many Neos, Virtus, or Faeries you honestly care for?”
Windan looked away to the horizon.
“We haven’t seen each other in ten years, but we act like it was only ten days.”
Windan looked back at her.
“I wouldn’t say you are a feeling Neo. Maybe sometimes you may feel a little sad or a little happy. You can wish someone well and mean it but never think about them again. Maybe I’ve been feeling it too. You just need someone you can honestly talk to, freely and free of inhibitions, you know?”
The Eyrie took a seat on a bench over looking a small patch of flowers. The Pteri took a seat next to him. The patch was lined with pebble stepping stones. A thick ring of snap draiks encircled a smaller circle of autumn sunset daisies.
“Nothing.” He smiled. “I just wanted to make sure you were there.”
“How do you know this isn’t just another dream?”
“It doesn’t matter.”