Brothers in Stars
Chapter 2: The Family Business
“Nice necklace, chief,” said a cloud Poogle who had looked up from where she was printing a long sheet of paper peppered with graphs and tables. She saw Reuben walk into the wide, circular room with his usual grey uniform, red jacket and badge designating him as Chief IT Officer and noticed that he had a new addition to his ensemble – which was what looked like a sword pendant dangling from a fine chain around his neck.
“Heh, thanks,” the white Blumaroo responded. “I had a bit of spare time in between tweaking the new simulation program, so I thought, why not engage in a little arts and crafts.”
The Poogle laughed. “It beats you hogging the coffee machine.”
“You actually had spare time in between all that?” a grey Wocky piped up blearily from where he was staring blankly at two screens. He punched in a few keys and watched one screen glow with new lines of numbers.
It was Reuben’s turn to laugh. “C’mon, you think all I do every day is code and drink coffee?”
The Wocky’s eyebrows lifted slightly, his mouth curving into a shadow of a smile. “Kinda.”
“Really, Hal, you gotta give me more credit than that. Elise, what have you got on that integrity check for the training simulation?”
“So far, so good. The firewalls are holding up, one hundred percent.” The Poogle gave Reuben a thumbs-up. “Thanks to you and General Reynold, we nailed this thing! Security is tight and all data lines are still clear!”
“It’s a team effort. Chalk one up for Team Nerd!”
“Go, Team Nerd!” an orange Grundo crowed from his seat, pumping a fist into the air.
“We’re one-three-three-seven! Isn’t that what the kids say nowadays?” a middle-aged alien Aisha added, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses and leaning back in his chair.
The Grundo slapped his forehead with his palm. “No, Fenlix, you read it as ‘leet’.”
“Leet? Oh, wait, you mean elite! Ohhh, I was wondering what those numbers meant…”
“Maybe you should go back to running those simulation programs.”
“But Pyxis, I’m getting the hang of this hip new Neopian slang!”
Reuben clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention as he walked into the central cubicle, which was partitioned off from the rest of the room with several computers and screens, plus a desk full of paperwork and three mugs. He stood next to his seat as he looked around – at his colleagues in their own grey uniforms, at the pewter-coloured panelled walls, at the plethora of other computers and control panels, and at the wide window that took up most of one wall and gave them a view of space, with Neopia a distant colourful dot amongst the stars.
“Okay guys, meeting time.” The Blumaroo paused. “Wait. Where’s Vega?” he asked Fenlix.
“She should be here any moment, just submitted a report to Logistics.”
The double doors of the hub suddenly slid open, and a pink Aisha stumbled into the room with a bundle of folders overflowing with papers. “Sorry I’m late! I heard the chief was already here, but Logistics just wouldn’t stop asking me questions!” She paused and hurriedly punched a code onto the keypad mounted on the wall, causing the doors to close.
“Right on time, my 1337 daughter!” Fenlix pronounced, spreading his arms.
Vega groaned and rolled her eyes. “Pyxis, are you teaching Dad Neopian slang?”
“I am not!” the orange Grundo protested. “It’s not my fault he likes to look these things up!”
Stifling a laugh, Reuben looked up from his station. Reaching out, he pressed a button, and the keypad near the doors lit up briefly with a soft white light. A loud click sound ensued which caused everyone else to look at the keypad and the doors briefly before turning back to Reuben.
“I just came from a meeting with my dad and Rohane. We’ll be delivering the plans for the Stellar Ray of Precision to the Orion Sector in a week.”
“Does this mean they’re ready to start work on it?” Fenlix asked as Vega sat down in the station next to him. He reached out to ruffle her ears, much to her chagrin.
Reuben nodded. “They managed to get the machinery from the Sagittarius Sector transported there several days back. Their team had a bit of a run-in with Commander Garoo, but they managed to outmanoeuvre him thanks to Lieutenant Talinia.”
“She’s said to be the best navigator from Sagittarius,” Elise remarked. “Wasn’t she already promoted to Commander, though?”
“If we’re dealing with Garoo, that means…Dr. Sloth again,” muttered Hal, folding his arms across his chest.
“Sloth wants the Stellar Ray plans,” Vega pointed out, sorting through her papers in her folder.
“I mean, if I were Sloth, I’d want the Stellar Ray plans, too,” said Reuben. “This ray is capable of tracking and harnessing the energy from the nearest star for a blast that you can aim from many lightyears away to a single point in Neopia. But aside from being potentially destructive, at its lowest settings, it can help us map the farthest points in space and measure large distances. Think about it – the Ray is on Point A, you aim it at Point B, and compute the distance based on the time it takes for the beam to travel to Point B.”
“Exactly, Pyxis. Rohane – I mean, Captain Rohane will lead the team that will carry the plans to Orion.”
“Not General Reynold?” asked Hal, tilting his head to one side.
“Dad will accompany them, but this is Rohane’s mission,” Reuben replied. He fingered the little sword hanging from his neck. “But we’ll be here to back him up, to plot his course and watch his back. So, it’ll be all hands on deck once he and his crew take off.”
The grey Wocky blinked and remarked slowly, “Your little brother and your father leading the charge and you manning the IT. It really is a family business, huh.”
No one could tell whether he was joking, sarcastic, bored, or simply being his grey self; the rest of the IT crew no longer speculated on this every time Hal used that tone of voice.
* * *
Reynold unrolled a star chart and map on the table and began gesturing to it with his pen.
“This is the shortest route to Orion. Unfortunately, we will be passing by the area near Asteroid 52 where the Sagittarius team had to fend off Garoo.”
Rohane tensed in his seat as he watched his father trace the path on the map, which was mostly space, marked stars, asteroids, and the faraway globe that was Neopia. The yellow Blumaroo reached out and briefly placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“The Fornax should be well-equipped with blasters and shields. That’s why it’s my favourite starship.” Reynold chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you and your team. I may be getting old, but I like to think I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
That made the white Blumaroo smile slightly. “Is that even allowed? Coming with us, I mean.”
“Heh, it’s not in the rules, but it’s not prohibited either. I had to persuade the other generals, but they gave me permission.”
“Thanks, Dad.” But the smile was short-lived. “I’m just…nervous. This is my first mission as captain, and I hope it’s straightforward, without fighting of any kind. Especially against Commander Garoo.”
Reynold nodded. “I know. I’m sure we can protect the plans from him, but any of us would rather not face him at all. But like I said, we’re all in this together – you, me, and your brother, who will be watching your course. If we encounter anything, Reuben will be the first to know.”
Rohane fell silent, staring at the chart and map on the table, his father’s pen resting on the area marked “Perseus Sector” – their sector. He frowned in thought before looking up to meet Reynold’s eyes.
“You’re sure about this? Letting me lead the mission?”
“I wouldn’t have approved your promotion or chosen you for this if I didn’t think you were ready. Just like when I had Reuben promoted to Chief IT Officer.”
“You think I’m ready?” Rohane grimaced and rubbed his temples. “I don’t feel ready. Oh, sweet Fyora, I don’t even feel like I was promoted. No, I feel like my stomach’s in knots.”
Reynold paused for a moment and laid his pen aside, his forehead creasing in concern. His gaze was melancholy, almost reminiscent.
“Honestly, that’s how I felt after I was promoted to captain, too. I had to lead a mission, and though I knew the strategy, the plan, and remembered most of what I learned from the Academy, I was afraid of messing it up. Afraid of forgetting something important. But I had my team with me, my brothers – and sisters – in arms, and they had my back. We worked together, did our best, and we got through, with flying colours.” The old general’s face lit up. “It’s okay to feel afraid, or nervous. But this is the start of your new life as captain. After this, it’ll be smooth sailing, and the rest of Perseus will always be here to help you out. Especially me and Reuben.”
After a couple of seconds, the younger Blumaroo managed a short laugh. “This really is the family business. Hal keeps mentioning that.”
“Well, he’s not wrong.” Reynold shrugged and stood up from the desk. “Now then, it’s time you met the team who will be accompanying us.”
* * *
The Perseus Sector was well-equipped not only with the latest in information technology, space weaponry and ships, but it also had an extensive training ground that included a shooting range on the east side. The domed range was empty today, except for a green Eyrie who had a simple blaster in her hands as she took aim at the target in the middle, and a blue Acara and a red Techo watching from the benches next to a row of locked closets and cupboards. The Eyrie took a deep breath, focused on the target, and fired. A jet of energy pulsed from her blaster to strike the dot in the center.
The Acara and the Techo clapped excitedly.
“Wow, Commander, they weren’t kidding about you being the best shot of Sagittarius!” the Acara remarked as the Eyrie blew a tendril of smoke from the barrel of her blaster. “On top of being the best navigator…”
“Call me Talinia,” the Eyrie replied. “You’re Lieutenants Mipsy and Velm, right?”
“We were both transferred from Engineering,” said Velm, the Techo. “They said we were going to be working under Captain Rohane from now on.”
“Captain Rohane?” Talinia repeated. “General Reynold’s son and the brother of Reuben, the IT chief?” Her amber eyes widened. “That’s impressive. I can’t believe he’s already captain.”
“Honestly, it’s a bit scary,” said Mipsy. “Knowing that we’ll be under the General’s son and all. But we heard he’s a good guy, at least. Real serious. Climbed up the ranks pretty quickly.”
“Oh? How quickly?”
“Took him less than a year to make captain. We’ve heard things about him being a good tactician and leader, and levelheaded in a pinch. He once took over the former Team Alpha when Fenlix, our resident alien Aisha, got injured on the job, and pulled off a successful mission to Kreludor.”
Velm’s brow furrowed as he added, “Still…there are a few folks in Perseus who aren’t thrilled. They’re suspecting favouritism from the general, since this isn’t the first time he promoted his sons.”
“But Reuben and Rohane are both good at what they do, aren’t they?” asked Talinia. “From what I’ve heard, Reuben helped build an entire training simulation…”
“They are. That’s not going to stop people from whispering anyway,” said Velm gravely. “Some say General Reynold bypassed other candidates for promotion.”
“Would he – “
“There you are, Commander.”
The three of them jumped to attention, Talinia hurriedly stashing her blaster back into its holster on her belt. The door to the training ground slid open smoothly to admit two Blumaroos.
“General Reynold, Captain Rohane,” the Eyrie said, saluting. Mipsy and Velm did the same, albeit less snappily.
Reynold smiled in greeting. “We’re so glad to have you from Sagittarius. I imagine it was hard for them to part with their best navigator and markswoman, but you will be a big help to us for the mission next week.”
“Thank you for your service in delivering the machinery for the Stellar Ray to the Orion Sector, Commander Talinia,” said Rohane cordially, extending a hand for Talinia to shake. “I look forward to working with you.”
“Likewise,” the Eyrie answered. After he shook her hand, he moved toward the Acara and the Techo, doing the same.
“Lieutenants Mipsy and Velm. A pleasure. From Engineering?”
“Nice to meet you, Captain,” Mipsy answered, but Velm merely nodded and offered a formal smile.
“You four will be our Team Alpha for this mission,” said Reynold. “Rohane will be your leader, but I will accompany you. This is very important, and we need to get these Stellar Ray plans to the Orion Sector.”
Velm cleared his throat. “With all due respect, sir, why not e-mail them to their info team?”
The yellow Blumaroo chuckled. “No doubt Dr. Sloth has hackers who are waiting to crack our data lines and emails. We can’t take that chance, even with Reuben at the helm. Besides, Reuben has already done his part, safeguarding the plans here at Perseus within the training simulation. He deserves a bit of a break.”
“Except that he’ll still be keeping his eyes on us,” Rohane pointed out.
“Well, that’s true. Anyway, we’d best start briefing all of you on the plan – or rather, as your captain, Rohane will be briefing you. I also need all of you to put in double training time with the blasters and laser swords. The flash grenades…no, you’ll be working with imitation ones. I’d rather not have a repeat of what happened when Reuben and Rohane – “
“They don’t need to know that, Dad,” the younger Blumaroo interjected, shaking his head vigorously as Talinia, Mipsy and Velm traded a look and a soft laugh.
“But what if we do?” Talinia pressed, her tone even and her face straight. “We need to know whether we can trust you with the ship’s grenades, Captain.”
“You can trust me, Commander. You have my word.”
“’Talinia’ is fine.”
“Shall we go, then?” Reynold asked, gesturing toward the door before walking toward it and pressing his palm to a sensor pad next to it. He, Rohane and Talinia were the first ones out, with Mipsy and Velm bringing up the rear.
“He seems okay, but I guess we’ll find out soon whether or not the general does play favourites,” Velm whispered.
To be continued…