Children of the Lonely Stars: Part Two
A space sky, but full of colors. That was the place where Paloma's mysterious lady was. At least that ruled out Neopia itself – if they had a whole planet to look through, Subi would have been forced to tell Rin that he was out of his mind. As it was, though, Subi was currently flipping through the K section of the Neopedia in the Space Station Library finding out where on Kreludor there might be any aurorae. That seemed like the most likely place. But there was still a lot of Kreludor – Kreludor City with the air base, a bunch of Kreludite mining towns, some Grundo habitations, the Spaceward Kingdom and its outposts – finding one damsel in distress would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
She flipped to the heading about weather and climate – not a word about aurorae. And the Space Station Library had a cheap collection of the Neopedia with no pictures. Figured. All of the good stuff was on the computers, which were all currently occupied. She asked, "Rin, do you have the A volume? Maybe Auroras will have something."
He shook his head. "Already looked there. Only talked about the ones on Neopia. If only we could get to the online version... excuse me, ma'am, are you almost done? I need to help my sister with a school project."
The scowl he received in return would have frightened a seasoned pirate. Rin stepped back hurriedly. "Sorry, ma'am. Never mind."
The woman returned to the game she was playing online, and Subi tried to stifle some uncharitable thoughts. The royal Blumaroo said, "We need pictures! If we could show her some pictures, she might recognize the place! Surely if a place has gorgeous auroras or a great view of space someone would have taken a picture of it."
Then Rin looked around. "Where's Paloma?"
That question was answered very quickly by a cursory glance around the square room – she'd left the reference section. Rin put a hand to his forehead. "Really, Paloma? Paloma!"
It was the woman with the scowl. Subi snapped at her, "If we could have gotten at a computer, we'd have found what she was looking for and she wouldn't have wandered off! Come on, Rin – it's not that big a library, and I don't think she'd have left entirely."
They went back out into the main floor of the library – the problem was that the library had been designed to be "cozy." In any other region of the Space Station, the shelves would have been straight and squared off, and all they would have had to do was walk along one aisle and they were bound to find her. Here, there were several different sections and clusters of reading chairs, and one small Shoyru could be easily overlooked. And yelling in a library would get them thrown out entirely.
Rin said, "She'll be thinking about the message. I'll go look over in nonfiction – she might be in the space books over there."
Subi said, "I'll try children's. You could tell she was getting bored with the reference books."
Rin paused. "On second thought, I'll go with you. That sounds likely, and if we split up we'll just get all three of us lost."
They went to the corner that was the children's section and almost missed her – Paloma was sitting in the small space between a reading chair and the wall, so engrossed in her book that Rin had to say her name twice before she even looked up. "Oh! I found it!"
Subi said, "And we had to come find you."
Paloma held up her book – the cover had a rocky landscape with a splendid aurora shining above it, and the stars so bright and clear that the atmosphere there had to be thin. Standing on that rocky plain was someone in sleek, dark armor, facing away from the viewer, holding a long staff with a light at the top. Paloma said, "It's about the kingdom of Filion, on one of the asteroids that orbit the sun in the belt beyond Kreludor. The kingdom's gone, but the asteroid's still there. And this book even says that it's the only place outside of Neopia itself that has aurorae – the asteroid's somehow got enough air to do it."
Rin looked at the book. "Out on the asteroids? That's a long way. Couple days' flight even in a fast ship."
Subi picked up the slender tome. Something about the way the armored man stood drew her in – it reminded her of the Kreludan Nocturnes, and the people who journeyed out into the darkness and found the beauty and the light there.
Paloma said softly, "She's still calling. It's just fainter – she's either trying a different direction, or she's just too tired. I think she's too tired. And I don't have any way to tell her that we're coming."
Were they coming? Rin was right – they'd have to be gone at least a week, and Subi's boss would be nasty about her taking that much time off. Not going with Rin and Paloma never even crossed Subi's mind.
And Subi realized that she wanted to go. If someone was calling and needed help, shouldn't they try to find a way out there? All reasons aside, though, there was something deeper in her that wanted to see that brilliant sky, to stand in a place with the stars bold and bright overhead and no thick windows in between her and the void. She asked, "Do any flights go out that way? We can charter one, but if there's a scheduled flight it'll be cheaper."
Rin looked at her, eyes wide in his dark face. "Are you really willing to do this, Subi? You don't need to come."
Subi smiled at him. "What would you do without me?"
Rin sighed, but his smile was grateful and real. "Probably lose my antennae, if they weren't stuck to my head."
Paloma slammed into Rin and hugged him tightly. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" He said wryly, "You'll thank me best by never, ever telling Mom and Dad about this."
Paloma said, eyes wide, "But if we save her and everyone she's afraid for, you'll only have good things to tell Mom and Dad about, so it will be okay."
She wasn't quite old enough to understand that "I took my kid sister out to a remote asteroid on a whim" wasn't something that any parent was going to be happy about – it would take saving all of Neopia to smooth that one over, and Subi really hoped it didn't come to that.
Rin said, "Well, let's head over to the departures area and see if anyone's headed out to that sector. Is there a map in your book, Paloma?"
Paloma nodded. "It's a bit artistic, but it looks like it's to scale. I'll go check it out."
Their next step was departures, which required taking the interior shuttle to the other side of the space station. Subi kept her head down as they passed data entry's exit off the shuttle. It only took reading the board at the entrance to the passenger corridor to see that no one went out by Filion except for a few miners, and mining flights were going out to stay for a few months. Subi sighed. "Looks like it's going to be a chartered flight, then. Hopefully someone's up for pretty scenery and adventure."
Rin sighed. "Hopefully someone's up for pretty scenery, adventure, and not too much pay. And, Paloma, this is one of those times Mom and Dad talked about where you don't mention the things you receive. We'll just say we're... oh, sweet Fyora, what are we going to say?"
Subi looked at the book in Paloma's hands. "We're writing a book. We're dissatisfied that all of the literature on Filion is about its ancient history and we want to... uh... find out what it's really like today."
Rin asked, "Would journalists make more sense?"
Subi shook her head. "Journalists need to have credentials. Aspiring authors don't."
There was a lounge where pilots who chartered individual flights often waited, and a counter beside it. An Alien Aisha with eye-wateringly orange hair and a worse hot-pink jacket was arguing with the attendant there. "I'm a pilot! I can fly the blasted spaceship!"
"Not without passengers, you can't. Not using Virtupets fuel."
"Let me buy the fuel, then!"
"That's not company policy."
"Company policy can go kiss a Meepit! I don't have the time to wait about until some maniac takes it into their head to fly out to Filion!"
"Captain Strixa, I ask you..."
Filion. Subi strode forward. "Excuse me, Ma'am. My friend, his sister, and I would like to book passage out to the asteroid Filion. We're working on a book."
Rin gave her a look – half exasperated, half grateful. She thought it should be mostly grateful. Honestly, if this was a pilot who already needed an excuse to go out there, she was both willing to take them and hopefully willing to take them without too much extra cost.
The Aisha's eyes widened. "See! I've got three passengers now. Now can I register for a departure slot?"
Rin cut in, "We still need to go back home and pack. Give us at least two hours."
The counter worker sighed. "Two hours, thirty minutes. I want to see your trail by then, Strixa. Management will have your hide."
Strixa sighed. "They can have my hide if they can catch it." She spread her arms, guiding them away. "I should be down there – last one on the left. Thank you, by the way!" She turned pensive. "Though I'm not entirely sure this will be a peaceful trip for writers. The readings from that sector have been a little strange."
Rin shrugged. Subi rubbed her nose. What was out there?
Paloma asked, "Can I bring my library book?"
Strixa grinned. "I don't think the librarians are going to come after you with lasers for taking a book off-station, kiddo. Now go! Pack! Come back quickly – as soon as my ship is ready to go, I want to be going!" She ran off, ears and hair bobbing in a dizzying contrast of color.
Paloma took off running in the other direction. Rin said quickly, "Readings are strange out there. Don't you think that's weird?
Subi said, "We know there's something strange going on out there. Paloma wouldn't be receiving distress calls, otherwise. I think we've signed on for weird."
Rin sighed. "Then let's go get packed."
To be continued...