Voyage of the Starlite
The second in my “Voyage of” collection of short stories.
Captain Eon surveyed the bridge of his starship with pride. Everything was shiny and clean, just like the pictures he’d seen of the Virtupets Space Station. His small crew ran the little starship beautifully; Lieutenant Flame, the ghost Gelert in charge of weapons and the rocket engines; Dr. Loo, the baby Gelert genius who served as medical officer and kept all the sensory instruments running at peak condition; and Commander Nale, blind white Gelert and second-in-command. And, of course, Captain Eon himself, the starry Gelert now leading this daring expedition. The mission of the Starlite: to explore the uncharted Korbat System, a dangerous area of space. Hence the reason it was uncharted. Eon and his crew were the only ones willing to risk entering the system. For years, Virtupets had been sending ships and probes in to chart the area. None had ever returned.
Now, the famous Starlite Gelerts were determined to find out why.
They’d blasted off from Virtupets Space Station a week before. The Korbat System was fast approaching.
“Slow her down, Lieutenant,” Eon said. “We’ll observe from here for the night and enter the system in the morning.” Flame pushed a few buttons on the console in front of him, and the Starlite slowed to a weightless hover.
“There’s no day or night in space.”
“Huh?” Eon said, turning to the doctor, who was regarding him from his instrument station.
The baby Gelert rolled his eyes. “I said, there’s no day or ni—”
“I heard you,” Eon interrupted. “Yeah, I know that. But we’ve got clocks, right? So we sleep when it’s night on Neopia and wake up when it’s day there. But we don’t really have night and day.”
Dr. Loo nodded, a smug look on his face. “Just making sure you were aware... captain.”
Eon ignored the jibe. Mostly. “Scientists,” he muttered. “All right, men,” he said a bit louder. “Get some rest. I’ll take first watch and wake up Flame in a few hours to take over.”
“Aye, captain!” the three crewpets chorused, and filed out the door that led from the bridge to the bunkroom.
The night watch was uneventful, but luckily “morning” came fairly quickly, and the Starlite was soon under way. At the very edge of the Korbat System, Eon cleared his throat to speak.
“As you all know,” the starry Gelert began, “we’re about to enter the Korbat System. Virtupets has never been able to chart it, and they lost a lot of good ships out there, ships bigger and better equipped than the Starlite. But now they’ve sent us, an elite group of star explorers, to find out once and for all what happened to those ships, and finish the mission they never completed. It’s a dangerous enterprise, but I know this crew is up to the challenge.” The other crewpets rumbled their agreement. A slow smiled spread over Eon’s face. “Good. Now let’s do some star surfing!”
Flame hit a few buttons and warmed up the rocket engines. “Ready, captain!” he called.
“Ahead full!” Eon ordered. “Doctor Loo, fire up those sensors of yours.”
“Trel,” the doctor said.
“Trel. I want to be called Trel,” the baby Gelert said. “I don’t really like Loo, and you said to find something else, so... Trel.”
“Okay... Doctor Trel, fire up those sensors.”
“Aye, captain!” Trel said, saluting smartly. He started pushing buttons and knobs on his instrument panel. “Star probe, up and running. Long-range scanners, operational. Extra-terrestrial biological fluctuational sensor, ready to go.”
Flame burst out laughing from his steering console. “Psh, what’s that last one s’pposed to do? Scan for aliens?”
“Yes,” said Trel in an injured tone. “We want to see if there’s life out here, y’know. They might know something about all those missing ships.”
“Or... they might be the cause of it,” Commander Nale said ominously. He was standing stiffly, staring sightlessly out the front window at the stars and planets ahead.
“What’s wrong?” Eon queried, concerned.
The blind white Gelert shut his eyes. “Oh, captain, they’re all still here. The crews from the other expeditions... I can sense them.”
“They’re still alive?” Flame asked, surprised.
“Yes,” Nale said quietly. “They’re all alive, but they’re trapped here. They can’t get home, doomed to wander the Korbat System forever.”
“But my extra-terrestrial whatsit isn’t picking anything up,” Trel said, confused. “Maybe if I tie it in to the long-range scanners.” He hit a few buttons. “Yes! I’ve got them. They’re on the other side of that moon.” He pointed out the window to a big orange moon orbiting a cloudy planet nearby. “There are nearly fifty Neopets over there. What was the total number of missing pets?”
“Forty-seven,” Eon replied, thinking back to his mission briefing.
“Well, I’ve only got forty-six,” Trel said. “But I might not be getting an accurate reading from this distance.”
“Hang on,” Flame said. “I’ve got a visual. Spacepet approaching dead ahead!”
They all looked out the window and saw a pet in a space suit heading right for them, propelled by a jet pack.
“Shall I power up weapons?” Flame asked the captain. “It is standard protocol when approached by an unknown.”
Eon squinted at the approaching pet. “Standby, Mr. Flame. They have the Virtupets badge on their suit. Ready the docking bay, Doctor. It seems we have a visitor.”
The docking bay was under the deck of the bridge, and could be accessed by a hatch in the floor.
“The spacepet is approaching the docking bay doors,” Trel called out. “They’re aboard, sir.” Trel turned in his swivel chair until he was facing the captain. “I’ve closed the docking bay doors. Airlock in place. It’s safe to open the hatch.”
Just as he said this, they heard a pounding on the hatch in the floor. Eon unlatched it and pulled it open. The visitor climbed up to the bridge. She’d already taken her space helmet off, and the Starlite crew could see she was a striped Xweetok.
“Well,” Eon said. “I think we’ve found our forty-seventh pet.” He saluted to the newcomer. “Captain Eon of the VSS Starlite, at your service, miss.”
“Commander Jade of the VSS Entrepreneur,” said the Xweetok in a bored tone, returning the salute half-heartedly. “And believe me, I could have thought of a million better names.”
“The Entrepreneur was one of the first ships to disappear in this sector,” Eon said. “You’ve been here a long time.”
“Yep,” Command Jade replied.
“Do you usually come out to greet new ships?” Nale asked.
“Yep.” From the Xweetok.
“I guess that would explain your, uh, bored manner,” Nale said.
An awkward pause.
“So,” Eon said finally. “Why don’t you apprise us of your situation, Commander?”
“Fine,” Jade said tersely. “We’re stuck in orbit around that moon. An alien civilization has us caught in a force field, and we can’t escape. Our ships are intact; we’re just stuck.”
“And... the force field?” Eon prompted.
“Generated from the surface of the moon,” Jade replied. “They knocked our weapon systems out of commission when they first captured us. There’s no way for us to destroy the generator and escape. What ever shall we do?” she added without emotion.
The Gelerts gathered in the center of the bridge for a conference.
“We have to help them,” Nale said firmly.
“Of course,” Eon agreed. “It’s our mission.” Trel and Flame murmured their agreement.
“We need a plan,” the ghost Gelert said.
“Okay, I’m leaving now,” said Jade, starting to climb back into the docking bay.
“Thanks, Commander!” Eon called over his shoulder.
“And close the hatch!” Trel shouted. A striped paw reached up and perfunctorily yanked the hatch down. The baby Gelert reached over to his control panel and pushed a button. A few moments later they saw Commander Jade rocketing out of the docking bay, heading for her ship on the other side of the moon.
“Anyway,” Eon said, recalling their attention. “Plan. First of all, the Starlite is a lot smaller than those other ships. We can get much closer to the surface of the moon where we won’t get caught in the force field. Flame.” The captain turned to the ghost Gelert. “Can you compensate for the increased gravity from being so close to the moon, and keep us in the air?”
“There’s no air in space,” Trel whispered.
“Whatever,” Flame said, cuffing the baby Gelert. “You know what he means. And captain, no worries; I could do it in my sleep.”
“Good. Trel, I’ll need you at the weapon’s station—”
“What?!” Trel burst out. “That’s Flame’s job! I’m a scientist, not a... whatever you call it!”
“Flame’s gonna be busy keeping us up in the nonexistent air,” Eon replied. “And it’s not like Nale can do it.”
“I can’t hit the broad side of a Kau barn,” Nale said, winking an unseeing eye at the doctor.
“Fine,” Trel said huffily. “But what about the sensors? We won’t know what’s going on out there!”
“Nale will take your station,” Eon replied. “He can turn on the audio setting and the computer will tell him what’s happening.”
“Why can’t you do that?” Trel asked.
“I need to be free so I can coordinate our attack,” Eon said.
Flame grinned at the word attack. “What’s our target, Captain?”
Eon smiled determinedly and pointed out the window. “The force field generator on the surface of the moon. We’ve got some lost explorers to send home!”
Everyone went to their duty stations. Flame gunned the engines, and they zoomed toward the moon that held a dozen VSS ships hostage.
Nale, a pair of headphones over his ears, began calling out sensor reading as they approached the moon.
“There’s a structure of some kind on the far side,” the blind Gelert said. “It’s sending out energy waves into the space above it. It’s like a big bubble of energy, sir,” he said to Eon. “And the other starships are inside it.”
Eon nodded as he thought about the problem. “Okay, Flame, take us in low. I don’t think they’ll be expecting an attack so close to the surface.” The lieutenant brought the Starlite closer to the moon. Its dusty orange surface, pockmarked by craters, seemed dangerously close, but Flame steered the starship confidently.
“All weapons systems are standing by,” Trel called. “Awaiting target.”
“Approaching the energy generator,” Nale said. “Should make visual contact in ten seconds.”
The other Gelerts looked eagerly out the window. A few moments later a structure loomed on the horizon. It had shiny metal beams supporting a glowing purple sphere in the center. A thin purples force field emanated from the sphere, and inside the force field, high above the moon, were all the missing ships that had been sent to explore the Korbat System. They were trapped... but not for much longer.
“Captain!” Nale said urgently. “Space craft approaching on both sides. These are not Virtupets make! Repeat, these are hostiles!”
The Starlite was rocked by a blast from the alien ship. The crew was nearly knocked to the floor from the impact.
“Hull is holding, captain,” Nale shouted.
“Returning fire!” Trel called, hitting a switch. They heard a muffled blast from outside.
“One enemy craft down,” Nale said. “But there are three more. They’re coming around for another pass!”
The ship shook again. “Hull integrity failing!” Nale yelled.
“Initiating evasive maneuvers,” Flame said. Starlite zoomed to the left. “We’ve dodged another blast, Captain,” the ghost Gelert said with relief.
“We have to get to that generator!” Eon said.
“On our way, captain,” Flame said. The force field structure was coming up fast.
“I want all weapons locked on the generator, Doctor Trel,” Eon said.
“But sir, the enemy ships!” Trel protested, horrified.
“Just do it, doctor!” Eon ordered. “If we don’t destroy that thing, our mission is all for nothing!”
“Aye, sir,” Trel said reluctantly, adjusting his weapon systems.
“Sir, the enemy is approaching fast!” Nale said.
“Are we in range of the generator?” the starry Gelert asked.
“Aye, Captain,” Trel replied.
Eon took a deep breath. “Fire when ready, doctor.”
Trel punched a huge red button on the console. A burst of energy shot out of the Starlite and struck the generator. The sphere in the middle absorbed the energy, and for a few seconds nothing happened. Then everything exploded. The generator erupted in a huge fireball. The force field around the Virtupets ships flickered and disappeared.
“YeeeHAAAWW!” Flame howled, veering the Starlite away from the explosion. “Way to go, kid!” he said, high-fiving Trel. The two laughed and danced around the bridge, cheering.
“Sir!” Nale called. “Enemy fighters still closing in!” Trel and Flame bolted back to their stations. Starlite shook violently. “We have a hull breach!” Nale shouted as a red light sprang to life on the wall.
“I’ll take her to the other ships,” Flame said. “They can protect us!”
“No,” Eon said, quiet but firm. “Commander Jade said their weapon systems were knocked out, remember? They can’t help us. Our mission is to get them out safe. We have to lead the enemy away from them so they can escape.”
“But sir!” Flame and Trel protested.
“I know,” Eon assured them. He looked up at the Virtupets ships. They were powering up their engines. Just a few more minutes and they’d be heading back to Neopia, safe and sound.
The Starlite shook again, and a terrible wrenching sound came from behind the wall where the engine room was.
“We’ve lost engine power, sir,” Flame said gravely. “We’re dead in the water.”
The crew of the Starlite stood bravely on the bridge with solemn faces.
“Good work, men,” Eon said. A wan smile played at his muzzle. “Mission accomplished.”
“Yes, sir!” they replied, trying to sound cheery.
The Starlite rocked beneath another barrage, but it wouldn’t hold in the next round.
The little ship, Starlite, and its brave crew were never forgotten by Virtupets, especially by the forty-seven Neopets they gave their lives to save. They would go down in history as the Starlite Gelerts, heroes of the Korbat System.
Luke, Xilau, and Naleapy stared at their brother, stunned.
“Dude,” Luke said at last. “You just blew us up.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Tep, a starry Gelert, replied. “But we totally won, anyway!”
“But,” the baby Gelert insisted. “We blew up.”
Naleapy, the blind white Gelert, spoke up. “Things don’t always turn out the way we hope.”
“I thought it was awesome!” the ghost Gelert, Xilau, exclaimed. “Blaze o’ glory! Woohoo!”
“Yeah, but now we can never play Starlite again,” Luke grumbled.
“Eh, I was getting bored, anyway,” Xilau said dismissively.
Naleapy nodded. “And we can always make up a new ship.”
“I guess,” Luke conceded.
“Let’s go inside,” Tep said, slapping his shoulder. “The Mozitoes are starting to bite.”
The boys opened the hatch in the floor and climbed down out of the treehouse.
“By the way,” Tep said to Naleapy. “Icy did great as Commander Jade. Great for Icy, anyway. How’d you get her to play along?”
Naleapy ducked his head. “Well... let’s just say we’ll be doing her chores for the next week.”
Tep’s jaw dropped. “What?! But that means....”
“I know,” Naleapy admitted dejectedly. “Dishes every night. I thought we could all take turns, and it wouldn’t be so bad. But hey, it was worth it, right?”
Tep heaved a sigh. “With her performance, I’d say we should only wash dishes for three days. A week’s way too long. But still....” He paused for a moment, thinking. “Do you suppose she’d play with us again tomorrow if we offered to clean her room?”
Naleapy grinned. “It’s worth a try!”
Fan mail is wicked awesome. =D And if you have an idea for a subject of a later Voyage Of story, let me know!