Children of the Lonely Stars: Part One
The director stomped one foot as he silenced the choir and the orchestra with a savage flick of his baton – the third such flick in the last few seconds. "Do you think the Neopian Philharmonic would butcher a cutoff like that? Do you think the Neopian Philharmonic would not watch the conductor?"
In the alto section of the choir, Subi brushed some of her blonde hair out of her eyes. The royal Blumaroo had realized that Maestro Marcus believed the Virtupets Community Orchestra could be the equal of any musical ensemble Neopia had to offer, and no trifle like reality could convince him otherwise. And no one could convince him that the assembled tech workers and their family members that populated the community orchestra might not be capable of singing and playing the Kreludan Nocturnes.
Subi caught the eye of Rin – the shadow Ruki was one of the two violins they had, and was sitting close to the wrath of Marcus. He twitched one of his antennae, to show her that he knew exactly what he was thinking.
Once more, Subi wondered why she'd signed up for this. Sure, it was something to do of an evening, besides sit in her tiny apartment. At least Rin had his little sister Paloma for company. And it was still far more interesting than her day job in the data entry department of the shuttleport. But why did she put up with an extraordinarily mediocre musical life and a director who bordered on the megalomaniac?
Marcus shouted, "Begin at the top of 'The Asteroid's Call!'" The little white Grundo with his shock of wild hair raised the baton and gave the cue.
Subi started singing – this movement had no words, just the long, sighing 'ah's of the chorus, rising and falling over the instrumentals like dust blowing through the darkness of space. It was rich, it shone with stardust – the composer seemed to have stood out in the void and managed to bring word back. And even wobbling voices and hand-me-down instruments could manage to get that word across.
Ah. This was why.
They managed to run "The Asteroid's Call" and "Aurorae" before rehearsal ended – as usual, Marcus thought that the nine-o'-clock bell on the station was a cue for "one last run of measures 35-60." Subi wished they'd gotten to sing "Lay of the Star-Mariner" – that was her favorite movement in the entire Nocturnes. Hopefully they'd get to it at the next rehearsal. They only had four more before the dress rehearsal, after all.
Subi cut through the crowd to meet Rin, who was meticulously packing his violin into his case. It had originally belonged to his grandfather – it was a lovely violin, made of a silvery pale wood, and it had a glorious tone. It was Rin's most prized possession. He said, "At least the Maestro didn't yell at the altos again."
"That's because there are only four of us and you can barely hear us."
Rin grinned. "We can hear you perfectly well at the middle section of 'The Asteroid's Call.' Oh, wait, that's because all the sopranos fade out since only Kitrix and Daene can hit those high notes."
Subi decided not to reply – Rin had already heard her rant on how several of their sopranos couldn't actually sing high notes, but were there because they refused to sing anything besides the main melody. She said, "It's not too late yet, and I know there's no school tomorrow – want to go take Paloma for some ice cream?"
Rin nodded and smiled. "Thanks for being so nice to her, Subi. It's hard on her, being this far away from home."
Subi didn't mind. Paloma was a sweet little Faerie Shoyru, and always enjoyed the chance to leave their little apartment and go out with her big brother and his best friend. Better company than some of Subi's work-fellows, at the least. Subi adjusted the beanie she wore whenever she was outside of work – it was always cold in the Station – and followed Rin.
There was always a bustle in the corridors of the housing sectors. With so many people in so small a space, it was inevitable. Thankfully, Virtupets engineering was up to the challenge of soundproofing all the little cubicles.
But inn an ordinary apartment on the surface of Neopia that wasn't so well soundproofed, they would have heard Paloma sobbing before they entered the room.
The little Shoyru was curled up on the shabby couch in the main room of the apartment, crying into a pillow. Her curly, thick, dark hair was everywhere – the numerous pastel plastic clips in the shapes of moons and stars that normally held it back were loose throughout her long locks. Rin sat beside her immediately and gathered her into his lap, cradling her with his arms and his middle set of legs. "Paloma, what's wrong?"
Paloma sniffed, "She's lonely. She's lonely, and she's cold, and she's so afraid, and she needs help!"
Subi asked, "She? Who's she?" She wondered if Paloma had gotten ahold of a book that had scared her – Subi herself had had nightmares as a kid when she'd read a novel about a haunted mansion in Neovia.
Paloma cried, "I don't know! I can't see her, I can just feel her! She's cold and she's afraid!" The Shoyru took a few sobbing breaths, and added, "But I could see the sky. It was a cold sky. A space sky, but full of colors."
Subi sighed. Whatever book Paloma had found had obviously done a number on her mind.
But there was something in Rin's face that worried her. He looked at Paloma, and her worries were confirmed when he asked, "What else did you feel?"
Paloma said softly, "Something bad's happening to her. Not just to her. She's not just scared for herself. She's scared for other people, too. I think... she's got hope. Just a little. But she's scared there's not enough of a chance!"
Subi was a little disturbed by just how seriously Rin seemed to be taking this. As soon as she thought that, Paloma asked, plaintively, "Have I ever lied to you, Subi? Have I ever made up stories?"
Subi said, "Paloma, your mind's not a Neomail account. You can't just get messages from other people there."
The little Shoyru cried, "But..."
Rin said, "Paloma, go to your room. Just for a few minutes."
Paloma went to one of the two tiny bedrooms that were to the side of the apartment's main room. Rin said seriously, "Subi, please sit."
Subi sat on the couch beside her friend. He said slowly, "Subi, I haven't had cause to bring this up before. It's not something we ever talk about, not really. But she's always been a little... different."
Rin said, "When she was just two, she went and got Mom and Dad and told them I was hurt. I'd broken one of my legs playing Yooyuball at recess. I was at school. She was at home. And they realized later that she actually told them about it the same minute that it happened. The exact same time.
"There were a few other incidents like that – knowing things she shouldn't have known about, she couldn't have known about. Then there was the Faeries' Ruin, a few years ago. She told us all that we shouldn't go into work because of the living shadows. We all took her seriously enough to listen to her. That was the day of the riot in Neopia Central when the wraiths attacked – the first day anyone saw the wraiths. We all could have been hurt if she hadn't kept us away. As that all wore on, she kept telling us about the battle and the kings and the thief. And then the Neopian Times reports came out about the fight to beat Xandra and it turned out everything she'd said was right."
Subi asked, "So she's..."
"I don't know. I don't think the word psychic really covers it. It's nothing she does, not that she thinks she does, at least. She just... receives. It's a big part of the reason Mom and Dad sent her with me, you know, to let her go to school here for a year or two. They wondered if she'd pick up less a little further away from the surface of Neopia. Or at least get a little better about keeping it to herself."
Subi said carefully, "I've never noticed anything... odd... before."
Rin said, "It hasn't been as bad here. She was getting in trouble all the time at school back home. When she... receives... it's all so emphatic for her that she can't help but feel it all herself. She doesn't know how to keep it in. You saw that."
Subi asked, "So, what are you going to do?"
Rin said, "I believe someone's in trouble. She's good enough that I think she's got to be right. And if someone's in trouble, we can't just do nothing. Come on, Subi – you were at the shuttlegates picking up paperwork and you screamed at that agent because he only let half of that family onto the shuttle."
Subi blushed, glad that it wouldn't show against her coloring. "You know they always have extra seats on shuttles. He was adhering to bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy."
Rin said, "Well, they're off school tomorrow for teacher's meetings. I've got a few personal days to take off. You?"
Rin asked, "Would you come with me? I'll take Paloma to the shuttleport and to the library – anywhere where we can try and find a sky like the one she received. I don't think multicolored skies are all that common out in space."
Rin was too serious, too earnest – and he wasn't the sort of person who played practical jokes. He'd thrown a copy of the Virtupets Phone Directory at Holden at the office when the Lutari prankster put salt in his coffee instead of sugar. Faced with his certainty, Subi couldn't find it within herself to disbelieve the tale of Paloma's strange powers, as odd as it seemed.
Rin was right. Subi might be a low-level office drone, but she knew right from wrong. And knowing someone was in danger and not doing anything about it was wrong. It couldn't hurt to at least find out where this place was. If it wasn't too far, maybe they could shuttle it and notify the local Defenders.
It couldn't be too hard, could it?
To be continued...
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