Farside Base: Part Two
“An hour from now, we shall be on the surface of Kreludor!” Karmapa said in a melodramatic voice, spilling vegetable soup down his front. I tried not to laugh into my Achyfi Ice, not at his words, but at the absurdly oversized wristwatch he kept checking.
“Let’s just eat breakfast, shall we?” Ciyan suggested, digging into her bowl of mushy peas. “I don’t see why you have to make such a fuss, it’s not as if this thing’s even landing.”
“Another awful shuttle ride,” Geena groaned, grabbing Rai’s cup of iced borovan before she could knock it over. Rai, busy devouring a large bowl of strawberry ice cream without using her spoon, ignored her. “Why can’t we land and stay in gravity? Or dock somewhere and just drift through a zero-g tunnel, like when we got on?” Both Geena and I had been dreading another trip without gravity, and were eschewing all options on the varied menu to avoid being sick.
“Because this ship can’t land,” Kent said patiently, taking a chocolate cookie and a vanilla cupcake from the basket in the middle of the table, and drawing a glare from Mel as his dangling briefcase nearly knocked her plate off the table. “The centre of this ship was docked to the centre of the Space Station, so she didn’t have to stop spinning.”
“Spinning?” I asked, rather confused.
“Of course,” Kent said. “You’ve noticed that the ship is shaped like a dumbbell, haven’t you? Well, that’s why. We entered the ship at the centre of the dumbbell, and we’re now sitting in one end. The other end’s just a counterweight, only some cargo storage.”
Ciyan clapped her paws. “You mean it’s spingrav!” she cried delightedly, snatching the last cookie before Kent could get it, and knocking over my drink in the process. Soda and ice cubes slopped across the table and onto the floor. “I’ve read about that, it’s such a nice idea, everything fits together perfectly!”
“Try explaining it to your dumb older sister, then,” Geena said, sounding very confused.
I knew what Ciyan was talking about, having read about it in my favourite science fiction book, but I was curious to hear her take on it, so I concentrated on using a bit of magic to clean up the mess. Kent also seemed happy to let her explain, and merely settled his briefcase on his lap.
“Well,” Ciyan began, waving the cookie in the air, “this ship is rotating around the centre of the pole between the two ends. Of course, the pole’s really thick and has the corridor we came in through in it... ” Kent coughed and sipped his borovan, and Mel yawned loudly. “Oh yeah, the point... Well, anyway, this isn’t gravity we’re feeling, it’s centrifugal force.”
“It feels like gravity to me,” Geena said. As if to stress the point, Rai threw her empty cup across the room. It hit the floor and rolled across it, drawing annoyed looks from the other diners. Mel shot Geena a dirty look and muttered something about “keeping children under control”.
“Well, it is gravity, at least for all intents and purposes,” Ciyan said, “but it’s actually centrifugal force. You know what would happen if the ship stopped spinning?”
“Do I want to know?” Geena asked warily.
“Considering the circumstances, probably not,” Ciyan said with a wicked grin. “All the gravity would go away, and the whole room would upchuck.” She dipped her cookie in her glass of chocolate milk.
“Language!” Geena snapped, looking quite disgusted.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Mel grumbled. “Will someone get me some more tea?”
I stared at the clock. Apparently only three minutes had passed. Well, they were three minutes less until midnight... I went over to where Geena was fussing over the stove, and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Geena, I need to talk to you,” I said quietly.
“Sure, talk all you want,” she said. “I’m quite busy, testing out a new recipe for tomato-broccoli-apple soup, but my ears are free.”
I sighed. I would rather go somewhere a little more private, but I didn’t want to antagonize Geena now, or ruin her soup. “Geena... ” I started.
She looked up at me, a half-smile on her face. “This is the good bit, right? Where the fighter pilot realizes how badly they’ve been treating the girl, and they have a really dramatic conversation.”
I stared at her, feeling rather flustered. “Well, yes,” I said, “but... ”
“This place is made for naff clichés,” she said, turning back to her pot. “I’m one of them, and so, in a way, are you. Not your beloved Commander, though, nor the Demon, and that’s why they lord it over us paper dolls.”
I couldn’t figure out what had gotten into her. Geena hadn’t used to talk like this... but then, I hadn’t really talked to her for a while, had I? Well, I had to talk to her now. “Geena,” I said, “I’m going to be going into battle in less than an hour. Anything could happen, and... well, I just want you to know... you know that I’m doing this for you, don’t you? You and Ciyan and Rai... ”
Geena sighed. “Very good, Explorer. Word perfect, in fact. But aren’t you channelling the reporter formerly called Karmapa a bit? I mean, you’re acting like he did when we were trapped in Meridell Castle. Remember what Mel said after that, when you two re-enacted the Jeran and Lisha scene? Neopets don’t die.” She stared at me. “Remember that when you do your drama act.”
I felt something explode inside me. “Geena, we’re not in Meridell any more!” I shouted, ignoring how crowded the kitchen was. “Don’t you remember what Commander C said after she chose me for Farside Patrol? Don’t you remember? She said that Neopets don’t die unless they’re killed. And I’d say being blown up by Sloth kind of fits the bill for that!” Geena’s eyes seemed to be looking far beyond me, and I wandered if she was lost in memory too. Putting my paw on her shoulder, I said in a calmer voice, “I don’t want to upset you, Geena. I know you’re happy here in the kitchen. It’s just that I don’t want you tearing yourself apart if I don’t come back.”
Geena stared at me, and I was horrified to see that she was crying. I realized that with my words, I had guaranteed she would tear herself apart. “You will come back,” she said loudly. “You have to, for the same reason you have to go out there.” She dropped her ladle into the pot of soup and hugged me. Others in the room started to laugh, and Commander C cleared her throat loudly, but all I heard were the words Geena whispered in my ear, the words nobody else could hear: “That’s why I did what I did. For you. Always understand that.”
“Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” Karmapa shouted over his shoulder.
“Late for what?” I demanded, glancing over my own shoulder at Mel, who was having a dispute with Geena over how young Neopets should be disciplined. “We’re in Orange Central; what’s the hurry now?”
“We don’t want to be out after dark,” Kent said quietly from beside me, checking his watch. “Not to worry, we’ve got a car waiting for us... Mr Devilaris! Look out!”
Karmapa was in such a hurry that he didn’t realize that a flight of steps downward was just in front of him. He might have caught himself if we’d been on Neopia, but the gravity was much lower here, and he wasn’t used to it. Flailing wildly, he launched himself out into the air and cartwheeled slowly downwards, dropping the typewriter case. Kent flung himself forward into the air and grabbed Karmapa by his collar. For a surreal second I thought they would both crash to the floor, but Kent kicked at the banister and sent them both higher.
“Let me down!” Karmapa shouted, sounding both angry and embarrassed.
“In a moment we will go down on our own,” Kent said. “You’re going to have to get used to the gravity here; it’s less than a third of Neopia-normal.”
“I’m already used to it!” Ciyan said loudly. Flinging herself out and down the steps, she intercepted the typewriter case in mid-air, landed on all fours, and raced off down the corridor while Kent and Karmapa were still landing.
“What did you do?” I whispered fiercely in Geena’s ear, which was drooping near my mouth.
“You’ll see,” she whispered back, and pulled away from me. Wiping her eyes, she turned back to her soup.
“Explorer will be fine, Geena,” Commander C said, strolling over to us. She put an icy hoof on Geena’s skinny shoulder.
“I know!” Geena snapped, pulling away from the Commander.
“Then why are you crying?” Commander C asked, and even I thought she sounded a bit patronizing. “Does your soup need tears to turn out right?”
“It needs salt!” Geena said, glaring at the Commander.
I felt a tug at the leg of my flight suit. Rai was looking up at me from the floor. “Candy?” she asked.
“Be grateful for the food you have!” For once, Kent sounded annoyed, but I couldn’t blame him. Here we were, in a moon buggy travelling across the surface of Kreludor, he was driving, and Rai, sitting in the nearest of the two middle back seats to him, was trying to insert a gooey cookie in his ear. Meanwhile, Karmapa, sitting on the opposite side of the front seat from Kent, was bitterly complaining that his own cookie was stale, Ciyan, who was sitting behind Karmapa, had covered her seat and self in Tigersquash paste, and Mel, who had been told to practice what she preached and keep the girls in check by sitting between them, was spitting wads of chewing gum onto the floor.
“Here, have a drink to wash it down,” Geena, who was in the middle front seat, said, handing Karmapa a pouch of Kreluberry juice. Karmapa snatched it a bit too forcefully, and juice squirted out, soaking Kent and Geena. The car swerved, causing me (I had been forced to sit in the back with the girls and Mel) to spill my fruit in a tube on Rai, who threw a cupcake at the front window. Kent snarled something under his breath and speeded up, and after a moment, his passengers calmed down a little.
After a long time, Kent said, “I hope we get in sight before sunset; you’ll want to see Farside by daylight.” He seemed rather annoyed when the only answer was Ciyan mentioning that we were nearly out of cookies.
A while later, the distance in front of us started to look dark. It became more and more noticeable, and Kent was muttering under his breath more often than ever. Then we topped a hill, and he gave a satisfied sigh and stopped the car. The ground in front of and below us was dark, but rearing in front of us was a spiky mountain, still lit by a golden glow. The glow slowly climbed the mountain, highlighting features that did not look at all natural, until it only touched the shiny dome at the top. Bright orange sparks flashed off the transparishield for a moment, and then the whole scene was cloaked in darkness. In the suddenly dark car, lit only by the lights on the control panel, Kent turned to us, and actually had a quiet audience; for once, even Mel didn’t have a sarcastic comment.
“Welcome to Farside Base,” he said, before driving on toward the mountain, where lights were flickering to life.
“I... have... had... ENOUGH!” The shout pulled me back to myself. The Demon had just burst out of the closet, and he was furious. So furious, in fact, that he didn’t seem to notice his dishevelled state. A large blue dishcloth was draped around his head, one of his feet was tangled in a bucket full of wet rags, and he was waving a yellow duster at Karl. His words were directed at Commander C, however.
“You and your stupid pilots caused this!” he screamed. “This place would be better off without you! You wouldn’t talk to me!” Before the Commander could reply, he flung the duster at Geena. It whizzed over her shoulder and splashed into the soup, as the Demon roared, “It’s her fault! She distracted me while that traitor locked me in! She’s working with him!”
“Explain yourself,” Commander C said lazily, barely bothering to add “...sir.” Geena muttered something about ruining good food and shot the Demon a dirty look.
“She’s working with that traitor!” the Demon screeched. He spat the name out. “Kent! Your own second-in-command, Crystal... the traitor spy!”
For the first time in all the time I’d known her, Commander C’s frozen face showed an emotion that actually looked like it came from her icy heart. She looked from the Demon to Geena and back again, and a look of disappointed embarrassment slowly crept over it.
To be continued...