Dream Like I Do
When I was younger, I had always wanted to travel around Neopia. Even as a Baby Neopet, I knew that there was more to the world than the little life I led in Neopia Central. My early years were hallmarked by this constant yearning for something more, and I could never really pin down just what it was. Was it a sense of friendship that I never had with other Neopets? True, authentic experiences? Peace of mind with enough Neopoints in the bank? Whatever it was, I was only sure of one thing - I was never going to get it here.
I saved up, but life finds a way to subvert plans sometimes. A ticket on a ship out isn’t cheap after all. Altador, Shenkuu, Lutari Island. Somewhere warm and far away from the life that I had led in Central would be thousands of Neopoints that I just couldn’t seem to hold onto. As a plain Red Xweetok, I wasn’t the most industrious Neopet. I couldn’t get the hang of the NeoStock Market, and constantly lost Neopoints naively buying high and panicking with selling low. I’d buy the worst items off of the shops around Central, and I’d end up selling them for chump change off the Shop Wizard, just so I could repeat the cycle over and over again.
But believe me, I tried. I tried over and over again, but I could never get to the point of holding onto enough cash to see the world.
Faerie Neopets fly everywhere. Their wings give them the freedom to remain unbound from the grasps of the land. Maraquans swim. Magma Neopets have free passage in just about any steamship that can find them. Matters become a bit more complicated when you’re an ordinary Red Neopet like me. We have a few options, sure, between the rails, the ships, and even rocket travel for Kreludor and the Space Station, but it’s a bit of work and a lot of luck getting to the point where those options are easy, so believe me when I say I tried.
Which is why I hope you don’t blame me when I decided to sneak onto a one-way passenger ship headed for Moltara.
Why Moltara? I don’t know. I wanted to see every square inch of Neopia equally, so I couldn’t exactly decide. I found an old map off the Money Tree, so I laid it flat on the ground, picked up a pebble, and closed my eyes. The pebble landed on Moltara, and that was that. Somewhere hot, somewhere exotic, somewhere most Neopets have never been to before. Perfect.
I planned out my little journey to the letter. After a long journey on-paw to Port Kiko Lake, I spent all my days observing the passengers arriving and leaving on the boats. I studied how they acted, what tickets they flashed to the conductor, what they’d wear and where they’d leave their bags. When I could, I’d chat them up at Kiko Lake Treats. I must have chatted up at least a hundred Neopets in that shop, piecing together what the trip was like and putting together what I’d need with the few funds I had available to me.
It was there that I met her - this Striped Lutari - that made me realize two things.
First, that I would never be ready to stow off onboard a classy passenger ship sailing across all of Neopia with these Neopets that were just much more well-off than I’d ever be. The culture was different, and my color alone would be a dead giveaway.
And second, that that didn’t matter, and that Neopia was just too beautiful for me to not explore. One way or another, I’d find myself in Moltara, in Shenkuu, in Altador, and I’d be experiencing life the way it was meant to be lived. There were Neopets out there who could see the world without realizing just how lucky they were, and I wouldn’t be one of them.
It was the month of Swimming when I met that Lutari. I remember because it was Kiko Day, and the whole city was out in the streets, celebrating. The few travelers that I could observe mostly kept to themselves, not wanting to interfere with their joys and jubilation. I did the same, of course. Most of these Kikos had spent their whole lives on the Lake, and I wanted to talk to someone who had experienced a bit more.
I ordered a Sour Apple Kiko Drink from the Purple Kiko chef behind the counter. He nodded, and passed me a round bottle with a straw sticking out. I took a sip and scanned the room. Full house. Mostly travelers, seeking refuge from the raucous outside. They sat in groups. An Eyrie and a Grarrl talking over some papers in one stall. A family of Kacheeks in another.
She was in a corner stall sitting by herself, reading a book. Just as good a Neopet to talk to as any, I figured, and I approached her.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “would you mind if I sat with you? The shop’s pretty full, and it’s crazy outside.”
She peeked over her book and smiled at me. “Of course. I’m not waiting for anybody or anything.”
I thanked her and let my drink down on the table. I took a seat on the opposite side of the booth and before she could get back to her book, I asked her, “So you must be traveling then, right?”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, it’s Kiko Lake,” I reasoned. “All of the watery jobs here are taken by Kikos, fishing, boats, all that. I’m sure a Lutari like you would have someplace better to be.”
“Huh,” she said, “that makes a lot of sense, I guess.” She lowered her eyes onto her book for a few moments before responding, “Yes. To answer your question, yes, I’m a traveler.”
“You don’t say. Do you travel often?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. All the time, in fact.”
My eyes lit up. For the past week, Kiko Lake seemed to be full of passengers who had only been traveling for the first or second time, and they weren’t of much use to me information-wise. I was still looking for one key piece of information - how to hide my complete lack of a ticket once I was on the ship. I knew to sleep in the cargo hold where they held all the luggage, but during the day, there’s no way I was going to miss looking out the deck so I could watch the seas pass us by, and I had to make sure that I could do this without getting caught.
“All the time, huh? Do you like just seeing the world, or is there something else?”
“Something else,” she replied. “I don’t have much of a say in it. I don’t choose where to go or how to get there, it’s just in my life of work. Nothing special, really.”
“Nothing special,” I repeated to her in disbelief. “Nothing special? No way! Don’t you get how lucky you are? To be able to see Neopia, and get paid doing it.” My voice sounded manic, and I hadn’t intended to sound so hysterical talking to her. “That’s the absolute dream. There’s so much more to see than your hometown. Travel takes your worldview and stretches it, blows it wide open, and life is that much better off for it. That’s amazing!”
“Wow,” she said, taken aback, “I didn’t realize that you’d be so passionate about it.”
“It’s my only passion,” I replied.
“So you must do it a lot, then?”
“Not at all,” I answer. “I’ve only ever been to my hometown at Neopia Central and here, Kiko Lake. I tried, believe me, but a ticket’s just too hard to come by for a plain old Xweetok like me.
“That’s too bad. What are you going to do about it?”
I gave the room a quick scan before hunching over the corner booth table, speaking in hushed tones, “I’m going to stow away on a boat to Moltara.” She raised her eyebrows, as if she were amused. “There’s a boat that’s going to be leaving for Moltara soon. I have it all planned out. An hour before the passengers board, the crew and staff all gather together for the captain to brief them on the voyage. The route, the protocol, special passengers, all that. Nobody’s guarding the entrances,” I say as I smile. “That’s when I’m going to sneak onboard. They won’t see me coming.”
She mulled my plan over in my head a bit. “I see. Very clever.”
“That’s why I came up to you, actually. I don’t even like this shop, to be honest. I’ve been coming here to talk to travelers, ask them what the voyage is like, scope out the ships. And that’s why there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
“I’m only missing this last piece of the puzzle, right? The last bit of information before I finally reach my dream of seeing Neopia. I’ve worked out how to get onboard and how to leave the ship once we land on Moltara. I just need to know how to stay on the ship.”
“So what do you want to know?” She had laid her book back on the table, completely intent on helping me carry out my plan.
“You travel a lot for your work, so you should know this,” I start, “The conductor. The one who checks for passenger’s tickets. I know he looks at your tickets at the start of your voyage and once you land, but how often does he check for tickets during the voyage? Does he at all? It’s a long trip to Moltara, and I don’t have anything that could pass for one.”
At this, she smiled, before failing to stifle her own giggles and laughter. I was visibly annoyed at this.
“Hey,” I interrupted her giggling, “Knock it off! If you don’t want to help me with my dream, that’s fine, but you don’t have to laugh at me.”
“No, no,” she waved me off, “it’s not that. I promise. I’d never laugh at your dream, it’s just that you’d have such a hard time getting past the conductor. They’re ruthless for seeking out stowaways, and they’d spot you for sure. Imagine, conductors spend their whole lives talking to their passengers. They’d call your lie the second they lay their eyes on you.”
I felt crestfallen, like the wind had been knocked out of me. “Oh.”
“It’s not your fault.” I bit my lip. What was I going to do?
“I have to get going,” she said as she picked up her book. “I do hope you live out your dream someday, though.”
I stood up and shook her hand before she left. “I hope the best for you, too.”
The next day, I readied my things. My notebooks, my maps, my food rations for whenever I couldn’t find access for the ship’s food hall…and for if the conductor found me out and sent back to Kiko Lake on a lifeboat. I was much less sure of myself than I had been a month ago, but had dreamt of this trip for far too long to give up now. I put on the fanciest clothes I had, but even that wasn’t enough to match the most casual clothes most of these passengers seemed to wear while they traveled the seas.
At exactly an hour to boarding, I made my move. Messenger bag full of belongings to my side and a long wooden plank that I hefted along on the other, I rushed to the dock and there I saw it. The majestic KL Legacy, a four star Faerie Class passenger ship capable of transporting five hundred Neopets and years’ worth of dreams.
Where the deck met the ship the closest, I lay down the plank and allowed myself just enough peace of mind to make sure that it wouldn’t fall into the lake while I was on it. Nobody was watching me, so I made my way onboard. The plank teetered and creaked a bit, but I had done it. I was on the KL Legacy. I was on my way to seeing the world.
I pushed the plank off board and it fell into the lake with a small splash. I didn’t have much time to enjoy my triumphant plan working this far, though, because before long, the crew would be out and about and welcoming travelers onto the ship. The KL Legacy’s floorplan was imprinted onto my mind, and I knew exactly where to go. I sprinted across the deck, into the cabins and the inner corridors, and a few doors later, I was in the cargo hold. There was no passenger luggage to hide behind just yet, but the provisions for the voyage were neatly packed and organized into tight rows of wooden crates and barrels. I found one with enough space for a Xweetok, and there I hid.
I waited. And waited. I must have waited for hours…maybe even a day? The first day would be the most dangerous, with the conductor inspecting the ticket of every Neopet he could see. Eventually, my world began to gently sway, side to side. The rumble of the steam engines and furnaces powered by Magma Neopets roared to life. I did what I could in that wooden crate full of kitchen linens before I couldn’t take it any longer, and I emerged from my hiding spot, ready to see what the sea breeze would feel like on my mane.
There was nobody in the cargo hold with me. A good start. Once I got out, the only thing I’d have to worry about would be the conductor, as long as I stuck to where the passengers were supposed to stay. I jumped out of the crate and took my bag, and I made my way out of the hold.
Outside, my whole vision seemed to erupt into a bright, joyful light as I opened the doors onto the main deck. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, and we were officially on the Neopian Seas. The air, it was a briny wash of salt and seaweed, and I loved every bit of it. Other passengers seemed to be seasick, but I felt like I was born to be on this ship. For some, home is a place. For others, home is a journey.
I was enjoying myself by the rails, looking at the patterns of white and blue that were forming and re-forming in waves under the boat, when I felt a tap on the shoulder.
“Conductor here, sir,” the voice said.
I broke out in a cold sweat. No way. There was no way. To be caught off-guard by the conductor on the first day? This early? I was going to be thrown off the ship with a small boat, back to Kiko Lake, and I hadn’t even been on the KL Legacy for a day. I was on my way to my lifelong dream, my only passion, and it was going to be cut short this early? What had I done wrong? Should I have stayed in the hold for the whole trip?
There was nothing for me to do. I was caught, and that would be the end of it. I turned around to face the conductor. “Sorry, I must have left my ticket in my luggage, and-“
It was her. That Striped Lutari that I had met in the shop with her book. She was wearing her conductor uniform now, with her official nameplate and the crest of the KL Legacy.
“Sorry, sir,” she began, “Didn’t mean to disturb you. It’s just that we found this ticket here,” she raised an unmarked ticket in her right hand, “and we’ve been looking for its owner, sir. Is this yours?”
Dumbly, I accepted the ticket. My jaw was agape, and my eyes were wide in disbelief. She was smiling at me the whole time.
“Yes,” I stuttered. I flipped the ticket over and put it to the light. That slip of paper was real. “This is mine.”
“Good to see you take what’s yours then, sir,” she said. She gave me a wave as she turned away, “Have a nice trip, sir!”
“You too,” I answered.
It was a long time coming, but I was on my way. It was a difficult road getting there, but I was going to be a traveler, an explorer. It took a lot of luck, but my dream was coming true, because life? Life finds a way sometimes. You just have to keep moving on forward.