Chasing Moons: Part Two
The walk was long and, as much as Katie didn't want it to be, contemplative. She took her last glances at the village, and the dusty earth of Kreludor. Soon, she would be on the moon. Neopia. She tried to focus on that place in the distance, but thoughts of the world she was leaving behind trickled to the forefront of her mind like a bad headache. I didn't even like it here!
It wasn't that bad.
But I need to go!
I don't know, just because! I need to wake up to something besides fields of rock for once.
So what are you going to do when you get there? Ask for the tour? Find somewhere to live? Are you ever going to come back? Will you ever see your mother again?
...I don't know.
No, you don't. The accusation hung there in her mind as the ship came into view. Her footsteps on the gangplank were abruptly loud. The gangplank swung in behind her and sealed shut as she surveyed the bridge. She slid into her chair, running her hands over the controls. The Kreludan morning was bright and clear. The gravity was fairly low.
She flicked a switch and the ship hummed into life: buttons and panels bursting into patterns of light, halogens brightening every inch of the ship, and the deep whirr of the engine. On the dashboard were the only two books she had read for the past four years. The book on Neopia had been printed on poor quality paper, and was now an old, yellowed memory, enticing her with ancient promises. The spaceship book, her guide, was a hardback, and remained stiff and proper after all these years. One book taking her to another, but the journey seemed so much more solid than the destination...
She pushed the throttle forward.
The engine screamed and the ship thrust forward. Katie was thrown back in her chair as the craft scraped over a crater and gained a few feet of altitude. The view through the windshield was a chaotic swirl of purple and black. She had to drag her hands around the array of buttons to ignite the secondary jets. This was, if it could so be called, the tricky part. If she added the jets to the mix too early, they would burn out before she got high enough to clear the atmosphere, and she would crash. If she waited too long, she would crash. And if she didn't do anything, she'd crash anyway. The odds were not that appealing.
She made herself wait, finger touching the switch, until the time was right. The view shifted, until it was all a mass of black scattered with stars. Katie's teeth were tightly clenched.
She flicked the switch. The secondary jets burst into ignition, and the ship swooped upward. The Grundo slowly exhaled, eyes flickering madly across the horizon. She pulled down on the throttle as she cleared the atmosphere. The ship slowed, floating weightless in the void. The frenzy of start slowed, stilled, and now she could focus on the fact that she was in space. Not just on Kreludor, watching the stars, but among them, with them. She grinned broadly and let out a whoop of joy. She had made it!
Katie turned the thrusters on lightly and made a wide turn to the right. Having no experience with spaceships, the movements were jerky and she needed to stop halfway through, but soon she was looking down at Kreludor. Her home seemed... small. She knew Kreludor wasn't that populated, but the sheer expanses of surface were so huge. No wonder she felt so tiny, trapped in a field of craters, surrounded by a barren stretch of land. From this distance, she couldn't even see any sign of the village. What had been, for most of her life, her world wasn't even noticeable from a distance. This was why she had to leave.
She turned around again, smoother this time. Angling the ship down--or whatever direction it could be called in space--the girl pushed on the throttle once more. Steadily, the ship began to circumnavigate Kreludor. She made sure to keep her home in sight, lest she lose her direction. The empty mountains and valleys and plains ran together in a bluish blur.
Then, on the horizon of Kreludor: a faint crescent of white and blue. Neopia. She sped forward, urging the jets on. The moon swelled before her, and the colours were just as breathtaking as she remembered: the rich blue that you couldn't find anywhere on Kreludor; the smooth, creamy white that somehow floated across the surface; the deep green-brown to balance all the dizzying colours. It was so perfect. It was so different.
But it was also far away. She wouldn't reach Neopia until tomorrow, at least. So she set the steering on auto pilot, making sure that the ship was heading towards the mighty moon. As the stars whizzed passed her, she clambered into her hammock and stared at the ceiling. She was on her way now. Finally heading towards what had been her singular goal for the last five years. Only time would tell if it was worth it.
She tried to pursue this thought further, tried to cling to it and justify her journey. But it was late, and she had had a long day, and no matter how hard she fought, sleep soon claimed her.
The crash threw Katie violently from the hammock and she fell to the floor with a painful thud. With a groan, she grabbed the hammock and pulled herself up. The ship was shaking erratically, tossing her every which way like a marble in a jar. There were horrible clatters and screeches as objects flew from their places and the walls of the ship creased slightly. Gripping onto anything that was bolted down, Katie staggered towards the bow of the ship.
From the windshield, she could see a mass of grey metal pressed close to the nose of her ship, which had dented and bent the obstacle severely.
She snatched at the throttle, wrenched the wheel, and the ship lurched back. The grey metal--the side of a ship, she realized--shot forward but tilted awkwardly. It was broken.
The ship slid past the side of hers. The noise that the grinding metal and squealing rivets produced was unbearable. The other ship eased off a bit, and the ship stopped vibrating. Katie slumped, gasping, into the pilot's chair.
She tried to back up and put some distance between her and the unfamiliar ship, but the jets were unresponsive. Frantically, her hands skittered around the control panel, trying to put some distance between the two ships. She glanced out the side window. The other ship's engines weren't on, and it seemed to be caught in the exhaust port of hers. The ships were, for now, stuck.
Katie rose from her chair and over to the spot where the other ship was closest to her. The entire wall was dented and bent out of shape. She looked around the mess of the ship for the book--surely it had some safety manual section to it--and then heard a strange, irritating buzz emerging from the wall.
She watched in confusion as a burst of sparks flew from a point in the wall. The line of fire sliced along the wall towards the ceiling, turned sharply and started to turn on itself. When it had completed a rather large square, the section of the wall collapsed inward. Flinching back, Katie stared as a chunk of glass--a windshield--fell in as well, followed by the creature who had, she realized now, cut his way through the front of his ship and the side of hers.
The creature was something she had seen from the book, but she couldn't remember the name. It had a weird bulgy face, a coat of rainbow-striped fur--the only rainbow creature she had seen beyond her Aunt Margot--and a long, skinny body. It had a tail, and pointed ears, and its face-bulge twisted into a frown when it saw her.
"Why," it snarled in a male voice, "did you not have your radio on?"
"M-m-my what?" Katie asked, eyes wide. She wasn't sure if she was afraid or overjoyed. Something different, something new. Something that wasn't Kreludor. A scary, something, admittedly, but still!
"Your radio!" the thing cried, climbing over the burnt piece of what used to be wall. Katie stumbled back, feeling herself touch the smooth, hard metal of the other side. "You're supposed to have your radio on at all times, so you can receive incoming signals. You know, like the one I sent you? That would have meant, had you received it, us not crashing? Now my life support is down, and my nose is caught in your exhaust--horribly bulky, by the way, why on Neopia did you go for that model? Anyway, now I'm stuck here until I can radio some help, and that could take days!" The thing paced back and forth angrily.
"Actually," Katie said, "there weren't any plans for a radio in the blueprints, so I couldn't include one when I built this."
The creature paused in his tirade. "You built this? Yourself? Where'd you get parts?"
"Scraps." Awkwardly, the Grundo held out her hand. "...I'm Katie."
The creature roughly shook her hand. "Max."
"Now, don't take this the wrong way," Katie said slowly, "but what exactly are you?"
The two space travellers cleaned up their ships, and decided to meet in the small table near the engine of Katie's ship. Max had created a fair-sized portal between the two ships, and when Katie expressed alarm about the vacuum of space, Max pointed to the black tape he had affixed to the gap between the two crafts. "It's atmo-tape. Totally airtight. We're fine."
"You're saying you patched up a potentially fatal leak of oxygen into the vacuum of space with duct tape?" Katie was a bit concerned, but Max assured her it was safe, and when she passed her hand over the tape, she felt no suction.
The Lupe--he said she pronounced it funny while she maintained that his species was named funny--had brought tea with him, and so Katie and Max sipped as they wondered where to begin their extensive lists of questions.
"You're from Neopia?" Max nodded. "What's it like on the moon?"
"Neopia. What is it like to live on the moon?"
Max shook his head. "You're from Kreludor, you tell me."
This went on for several minutes until Max went to his ship and returned with a book. He passed it to Katie. On the front, in dark, glossy letters: Kreludor--Your Guide to Neopia's Moon! With shaking hands, she flipped through it in silence. It knew everything. It knew more about her world than she did. And it was undeniably true. The lunar chart was accurate; it had detailed maps of Kreludor's metropolis, and pictures upon pictures of everything on Kreludor. What did she have to go on? A tattered old book full of daydreams.
She exhaled, closed the book, and passed it back to Max. "All this time, you had no idea?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. My mother--she--why did she lie?"
Max shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she wanted to give you something to chase."
"When I was little--really little--my mom would take me out to the backyard. She'd set up chairs and make popcorn and we'd sit and stare at Kreludor. She said, 'Max, I've been staring at the moon since I was your age. If you never do anything else in the world for me, I want you to catch the moon.' I said I would and she smiled and told me to go to bed. I didn't figure out that I couldn't catch the moon for her until I was older, but she gave me a destination. She gave me a place to go, and let me get there however I wanted. I think that was the important thing. I didn't need the moon, I needed something to chase, because the chase was the best part."
"And she'll be happy when you come back saying you've seen the moon?"
"...Last year. Neoflu."
Dinner was quiet. Neither Max nor Katie spoke or looked at each other, and the purple Grundo was relieved when Max retired to his ship--he had fixed the life support, but was too tired to attempt to remove his ship from Katie's--promising to leave his radio on. Katie once again settled into the hammock, but this time sleep wasn't a possibility.
Her head was spinning. The revelations of the night were dancing around her mind. Kreludor was the moon. Her mother had lied. Max had actually spent time and money trying to come to Kreludor--a concept that was totally foreign to Katie. Why anyone would put effort into an investigation of a barren rock was beyond her.
But something Max said stuck with her. The chase. The journey--that was the most important part. Was it true? She had spent the past five years trying to get to Neopia. She had had, for those five years, a purpose. And that had felt good. Everyone needed a purpose. But wasn't it all to get to Neopia, to that magical place she had seen in her book? Maybe it was just to get away from Kreludor, just to go for going's sake, because sometimes that was what you needed to do. Just pick something, a person or a place you want to be, and go.
The night, with its snaking thoughts and contradictions, was long.
Several hours later, although Katie could not say if she had been awake or asleep for that time, the girl saw a figure in the shadows enter from the passage in her wall. She peered at Max's face in the gloom. His expression was unfathomable. He beckoned her with a paw, then returned to his ship. Confused, she followed.
Max's ship was, unlike hers, a disorganized mess. It was full of books, which was somehow comforting to see. He had several large windows, and outside stars swirled in the void, reminding her why she was here. He slept on a pull-out couch; silently, he returned to it and shut his eyes.
This was, Katie thought, his way of showing solidarity. Or maybe he just felt lonely too. Before she settled in the chair next to him, though, she wandered around his craft, taking in what she could.
There was a picture frame on the counter. It was a picture of a starry Lupe, standing on a stone bridge that spanned a river. Behind her, in the background, was the wor--the moon. Her moon. Max's moon. Max's mother's moon. She stared at the picture, taking in the grace of Max's mother and the beauty of the moon seen from afar. It wasn't an ugly old rock, not from far away. It was a beautiful, mysterious orb. Like Neopia inverted, a swirl of dark, cool colours. She could almost see why Max wanted to chase it.
And in that moment she decided. Returning to her ship, she eased into the pilot's seat once more and started the ship. It wasn't long before Max tore into her ship, eyes wide.
"What are you doing?"
Katie paused for a moment, becoming unusually interested in a blue switch before responding. "If you're coming, you better seal up that wall."
Max didn't move. "Are we going to Kreludor?"
"Well, where are we going?"
Katie swivelled in the chair and looked at Max. "Does it matter?" she asked softly. Max held her gaze, emotions flitting across his face. Wordlessly, he obeyed and began to tape the section of the wall back into place.
When he finished, Katie began to gently wriggle her way out of their knot. It took several minutes, but Katie managed to free her exhaust from Max's ship's nose. She pushed away from it slightly, the thrust sending the abandoned craft spinning lazily through space.
Max moved up to join her. "So, we're just going to go?"
Katie nodded. "That's the plan."
"Any particular destination?"
She pointed. "That cluster of stars looks pretty."
"And what if there's no life out there?"
Katie gestured to the radio that she had removed from Max's ship while he slept. "I've taken precautions. There's sure to be something out there, though. There's always something out there that you haven't seen. Ever heard of Doran?"
"My mother said it was the Grundo homeworld. Which may or may not be true. Worth finding out, don't you think?"
Max smiled, for the first time since the two had met. "I suppose. We have food to last us for quite a while, anyway. We have a radio. All that's left is the journey."
The ship eased forward, the universe beckoning to it eagerly.