The stars twinkled and glittered in the distance, shining out into the darkness of space like a lighthouse on the rocks. The Virtupets Space Station was tumbling through the vacuum, spinning towards Neopia faster than the eye could follow. Out of a window, set deep into the bottom was a face. A blue Blumaroo stared out onto the world spinning below him. His name was Zelroo.
With a sigh, he forced himself to turn away from the window, back into the deafening bustle of the space hanger before him. The room was filled, from side to side, with a hundred different types of spacecraft. Set high in the rafters above him, bright bulbs shone down, flooding the floor with their incandescent light. The noise was incredible, as his staff of Grundo workers milled around, doing their final checks on the craft before takeoff.
"Excuse me," squeaked a voice to his left. There was a small Grundo, green of course, clutching a clipboard tightly with one hand. The other was raised as if to tug at the Blumaroo's arm. Perhaps he had thought better of it when he saw the metal casings. "Sir, I've been told to inform you that Engine B in the X-A88K space craft has failed."
Zelroo sighed. The X-A88K was the newest, and most troublesome, of his designed space ships. With some effort he turned to face the small neopet in front of him, his bionic legs clunked on the metal flooring beneath him as he moved.
"Specifics?" he queried.
"Well, sir," came the squeaking voice of the Grundo, "it appears that the main turbine has failed in the start-up phase. Jimmy... I mean, Inspector Jimmy, sir, seems to think that one of the fans has come loose again, sir."
"Neton. Engineer, 3rd Class. Sir."
Zelroo sighed listlessly again. Dr. Sloth was not going to be happy when he broke the news that his fleet wouldn't be the most technological able that it could be. That was his job after all, in repayment for his robotic body. He gestured Nolon to follow him with a jerk of his hand, who immediately complied, as all Grundos did. Zelroo strode over to the spacecraft in question, Neton almost breaking into a run to keep up. A large group of engineers were there, arguing loudly about the best way to fix the turbine. There's Inspector Jimmy, 1st Class, thought Zelroo, still sporting that ridiculous pair of goggles, I see.
The crowd quieted as the Blumaroo approached, parting slightly. Zelroo stood before them, almost a head taller.
"A loose fan again, sir," confirmed Inspector Jimmy smartly, almost saluting. "Should be replaced by now, sir. Sorry to trouble you, sir. Should we run through a quick power-up, sir?"
Zelroo sat thinking for a moment. The Grundos milled around him, pretending to be useful. One of them, that wretched small one, Ninnin, was tapping the door of the space craft, listening to the echo. Zelroo had to catch himself from snorting in derision. Foolish engineer, he thought, he will always remain 3rd class if he keeps this up.
"Do it," he said abruptly, Jimmy the Inspector jumped slightly.
"Yes sir," he responded, with no hesitation, before swiftly switching to a bellow, "Alright, you lot! Clear the area! Begin engine start-up phase one. Let's see if we can get this beauty up and flying again."
The Grundos retreated to a safe distance, Zelroo following slowly afterwards. The turbines of Sloth's great space fleet could be dangerous things indeed. You wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of an engine's output. And I should know, thought Zelroo with an air of melancholy. The engines began to sputter into life. Jimmy looked down at a clipboard, beginning a swift run through of the preliminary checks.
"Starboard engine exhaust, check," he listed, shouting over the noise of the screaming turbines. "Port side engine exhaust, check. Phase one complete."
Zelroo's face remained stoic as ever; he never tried to let any emotions in his face show to his staff. However, he couldn't stop his mechanical heart from beating faster as the engines roared successfully into life. It was always exciting to see one of the ships like this, as if his drawings had sprung into life.
"Starboard engine power, check," continued Jimmy, raising his voice even more, trying to prevent the tremor that the vibrating craft exuded throughout the warehouse from cracking his voice, "Port engine power in..."
Jimmy's voice trailed off as the craft ahead of them suddenly blasted forward. The automatic airlock activated as the spaceship careered towards it, seemingly out of control. Before the first steps to the emergency shutdown had been taken, the X-A88K space craft had shot out into the vacuum of space. The warehouse was left in a stunned silence.
Then it burst in an explosion of noise. The Grundos leapt to blame one another for the space craft's disappearance. Zelroo eyes remained staring, where the ship had been previously before.
"Quiet," Zelroo commanded, a voice of complete authority.
His staff heeded this abruptly. A few looked bashfully at their feet, almost ashamed.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir," babbled Inspector Jimmy, a look of wild shock in his eyes, "I can't even imagine what happened; full forward thrust shouldn't have been applied until the second round of testing! We hadn't even achieved complete init..."
"Silence," said Zelroo, raising himself to his full height, towering over the Grundo. I have never lost a ship before, he thought, and I do not intend to do so now. The inspector shrunk back, afraid of Zelroo's wrath. A bionic body would do that to people, despite any evidence to the contrary.
There came a clatter from the entrance to the hanger as a troop of Garoo's elite guard came storming in, blasters held at the ready. They began routing through the hanger in earnest, gesturing threateningly towards the Grundo workers with the blasters lest they impede their search.
"Did you see them?" barked the front Blumaroo towards Zelroo, "Did you see where they went?"
Zelroo flashed red. The impertinent little...
"Cylara and Gorix, of course," spat the lead guard. "They've escaped. We lost them momentarily, but we've tracked them here. Have you seen them."
Zelroo felt a sense of dread seeping through his blood. A lost spaceship. Missing prisoners. How will I ever explain this to Sloth. The Blumaroo guard looked at Zelroo's face, following his stare to where the spaceship had been.
"They've escaped?" he said, his voice turning to a squeak. "How could you let them escape?"
"Go," Zelroo spat at Jimmy, motioning to another spaceship.
Jimmy saluted again, beginning to bark orders at the Grundos surrounding him. Zelroo watched as they frantically boarded spaceships, initiating Ship Retrieval Plan Priority 1.
"Destination?" Zelroo demanded pointedly toward the Blumaroo guard.
"Uh," hesitated the Blumaroo, before frantically checking with his cohort, "Kreludor. Possibly. We're not a hundred percent sure."
That was a worry; Kreludor was only six cosmoclicks from the Space Station at this time in the day. If it were Neopia, then that would be another matter. They would need all the ships they could muster. If only they didn't all take so long to start. It was at this point that the insignificant little Grundo Nattil interrupted him. The Garoo guards had hurried back out of the hanger, presumably to ask for further orders – or to tell Sloth.
"Sir, Inspector Jimmy sir, he wants to know how many to send, and," the Grundo looked at the clipboard in front of him, "when you want them sent, sir."
Zelroo gave Nister his longest, most penetrating stare.
"Now," Zelroo continued.
"But sir, we can't send them all at once," said Noptoi frantically – Zelroo glowered. "We'll have to send them as and when they're ready, sir."
"Fine," barked the bionic Blumaroo. The Grundo ran away to find Inspector Jimmy.
He watched as the first Virtupets Fighters screeched their way out of the hanger, in pursuit of the escaped resistance fighters. They couldn't escape. Surely, they wouldn't manage to escape to Kreludor.