Farside Base: Part Eight
“Karmapa!” I thought I shouted his name, but it sounded like a whisper. Rather surprised that my eyes were closed, I opened them.
“Geena, you need to quit,” Ciyan was saying. “Those things aren’t doing you any good, and whenever you’re stressed, you can’t stop yourself...”
Geena’s face appeared in my field of vision, replacing a patch of the violet tile that had greeted me when I opened my eyes. Predictably, she had a lollypop in her mouth. “I love you,” she said, her voice muffled by the large lollypop.
“Pressie!” Rai shrieked from somewhere out of sight. A moment later, her face appeared next to mine... and the next moment, something large and pink blotted out my vision.
“Stop that!” Ciyan shouted, as she snatched away the pink thing. “You’ll get us thrown out... and no, Explorer has no use for your blankie! She’s a grown-up, grown-ups don’t need blankies.”
Deciding I didn’t want to be a target for blankies, I sat up, to find another surprise. “I’m in sickbay?” I asked, pulling the oxygen mask off my face. “Oh... Geena, you didn’t see him bring me in, did you?” Geena’s ears turned bright red, and she busied herself with folding Rai’s blankie.
“She did,” Ciyan said helpfully. “She started screaming her head off... and nearly burst the rest of our eardrums. Kent ended up having to hold her back so Siljani could get to you... she kicked him! Right in the mouth!” Seeing my confusion from my face, she clarified, “I mean Geena, not Siljani. Siljani wouldn’t kick anybody, she’d just scratch them!”
“Who is Siljani?” Geena asked, sounding like she felt like giving Ciyan a kick herself. Rai didn’t help matters by imitating a Whoot.
“Doctor Hu,” Ciyan said, making a calculated leap across my bed, out to Geena’s reach. A good thing, as the next thing Geena said was...
And the next thing Ciyan said was...
“Yes, Doctor Hu, you must have talked with her a few times...”
At which point I realized that Rai was not imitating a Whoot. Actually, she was trying to say either “Hu” or “Who”. Therefore, I lifted her into my lap, away from Geena, who looked like she was about to explode... and thinking that I should clarify matters, I said, “She means Siljani Hu, Geena. Doctor Hu... the one who took that bug out of Kent’s ear, remember?”
“I never even knew her name,” Geena grumbled. “Everyone called her ‘Doctor’, and she’s never exactly been one for talking with anyone...”
“She talks to me,” Ciyan remarked. “A lot.”
“Won’t even eat with everyone else, has a little hotplate in her office and makes her own food...” Geena groused on. “Only time she ever even enters the kitchen is to make what she calls ‘nutritional assessments’...”
“She likes munchies,” Ciyan said loudly. “She says eating too much at one time slows the mind and stunts intelligence.”
And just as I came to the conclusion that this conversation was quickly turning absurd...
“Ahem.” There was Dr Siljani Hu herself. “I heard you all talking, so I assumed that our heroic pilot had awakened. It’s about time, too. You’ve been unconscious for seven hours... although I should point out that you probably needed the sleep. Well, how do you feel?”
I rubbed my eyes. “Fine,” I said, as if I was going to say anything else in front of Geena. “How are the others?”
“If by the others you mean your fellow pilots, they are doing as well as might be expected,” Dr Hu said blandly. “As far as I know, the ones with intact fighters are still out on a search pattern, trying to find the Commander and Farside Five. As if they will... Hmm, your eyes are weepy. Not surprising, with the fumes you were exposed to... let me see, your eyes are tearing, your nose is running, and I assume you have a sore throat and feel like you fell off the top of Farside Base? Is that what you mean when you say you’re fine?”
I flopped back down, too upset to argue. I had just realized why I’d awoken with Karmapa’s name on my lips... and if Dr Hu was willing to pass off the overwhelming misery that filled me for symptoms of smoke inhalation, so was I. Now if she could only get rid of Geena for a while, so I could cry in peace.
“I’ll get you something to ease that throat,” she said quietly. “Now, as for you, Geena, I’m prescribing a good long stretch of beauty sleep for you and the girls. No, no arguing. Doctor’s orders, and stay off the sweets for a few days.”
“Go on,” I said before Geena could object. “I’m fine, but if you’ve been up all night, you’re not.”
“I’m staying with you anyway!” Geena insisted.
“No,” I said. “I’m tired, and I don’t need to hear you jabbering all the time. To put it bluntly, go away.” It was an ungracious way to say it, but it was the truth.
Geena looked shocked. Then she threw her sucked-clean lollypop stick on the floor, stomped on it, and grabbing Ciyan and Rai each by a paw, stormed out, shouting over her shoulder “Well, thank you for your gratitude!”
“There was no other way to say it,” Dr Hu said. “Besides, she’ll get over it when she gets some rest. Now, as for you... I know you feel awful in more ways than one, but the physical pain’s all I can heal.” She gave me a sharp tap on the shoulder, grimacing as I yelped. “Your muscles feel like stone. Sit up.”
“Go away,” I said crossly, rolling onto my front and burying my face in the pillow. “I’m sore enough already.
“Despite the fact that all you actually have are bruises,” she said. “Your biggest problem is that you’re still as tense as you were in battle. That doesn’t make those bruises feel any better, so...” She placed her forepaws on my shoulders and began to knead them.
“Yeow!” I yelled, though she kept her claws velveted. I thought I’d rather be tense than have Dr Hu pawing at my aching body.
“It will help, you know,” she said. “Although if you don’t like it, I could always cover you in Scamander slime and sand, and wrap you in an electric blanket...”
“Yuck,” I said, squirming. “What good would that do, may I ask?”
“The same as this will, only much slower and smellier,” she said, and I thought she might be smiling. “Now, which would you prefer?”
“Oh, go on,” I groused. “I am not going to get covered in slime...”
Much to my surprise, Dr Hu’s shoulder massage did seem to work. “Where did you learn to do this?” I asked, as the pain seemed to seep from my body.
“Shenkuu, where else?” she said. “For that matter, where do you think I come from, with a name like mine? Speaking of which, it is seriously annoying that only about one percent of those I encounter get it immediately... Would you believe, until last year, the Demon thought my last name was actually spelled W-H-O? It wasn’t until I saw a report in which I was referred to as ‘Doctor Who’ that I realized. Silly creature... Now, the Commander was clever, she got it the first time around. I’ll miss her, but I suppose Farside will survive...” She stopped kneading my shoulders. “There, that should do it. Stretch out a bit, and take my advice... don’t think too much.”
“Explorer?” I closed my eyes tighter, pretending to be asleep. Then I recognized the voice...
“Karmapa!” I sat up, not daring to believe that he had somehow, someway, escaped Sloth’s wrath...
...which was a good thing, because he hadn’t, quite. The figure beside my bed was a Kau in a flight suit, his long locks held up in a neat coif... but the entire figure was glowing and semitransparent, enlivened only by its luminescent red eyes. In short, it was Karmapa... and he was a ghost.
“You are not going to leave me again,” I said loudly. “You are going to stay with me forever, even as a ghost... aren’t you, Karmapa? Please? Don’t leave me alone...”
“Don’t be a silly Mallard,” Karmapa said, sounding exactly like his old, pre-Karl Devilaris self. “I have every intention of making up for lost time... and besides, I don’t intend on being a disembodied spirit for long. I saw that doctor on the way in here, whatever her name is... Who? Is that it? She didn’t look at all surprised to see me like this, and she said something about how she was working on something she called a ‘ghost in a machine’ or something...”
I might have started crying again, had not Mel came in at that moment, a sour smile pasted across her face. “Mission accomplished,” she said, sounding less than pleased. “I’ve informed the papers in which Karl Devilaris’s column is syndicated that they just lost their correspondent. You’ll be pleased to know that I resisted the temptation to refine your prose... falling bravely in the defence of not just Kreludor, but Neopia itself, and all that. Quite honestly, I would never write something so soppy...”
“You’re the assistant who had to break the news,” Karmapa said, sounding annoyed. “I am...”
“A ghost-writer,” Mel said before he could launch into a Karl Devilaris spiel. I had to laugh.
Then a thought struck me. “You said syndicated,” I said. “Karmapa, you never told me you had a syndicated column. How many papers is it in?”
“I don’t,” Karmapa said. “Karl Devilaris did, but he’s gone now, and the papers will have to find some other bold adventurer to fill the gap. Not that it matters much; they weren’t really that many papers anyway.”
Mel smirked. “The Mystery Island Monthly,” she recited, “the Maraquan Messenger, some rag in Faerieland I forgot the name of, another in Tyrannia as well as the Ugga Ugg Times, the Meridell Herald, the Battledome Digest, Kiko Lake Happenings... I think that’s it. Not many papers at all, are they? And now...” She snorted in annoyance. “I’m out of work, aren’t I? No Karl Devilaris means no assistant...”
Yes, I laughed. What else could I do? Cry?
I tried to stifle a cough. It didn’t quite work, but at least coughing didn’t feel like I was sandpapering the inside of my throat anymore. I hadn’t been very keen on drinking the noxious-smelling brew of Cobrall Root and mushroom powder Dr Hu had made for me, but did so after she threatened to smear Bagguss concentrate on my neck instead. Unsurprisingly, the nasty potion, as I’d come to think of it, did help... but I did think it would be a long time before I drank coffee again. This was just as well, as there now wasn’t a bean to be found in Farside Base.
I sipped my strawberry spice tea gingerly, wondering why the three of us were assembled in the Demon’s office. Kent was awkwardly drinking a glass of Grennana iced tea, which he claimed Geena had introduced him to. And then, of course, there was Dr Hu, her back paws up on the Demon’s desk, a cup of Sourmelon Brew in her forepaws. The fountain burbled, the music played, the incense stick slowly burned down in its holder... but the Demon, who had instructed us to be in his office for this mysterious meeting, was nowhere in sight.
We had all finished our drinks by the time he entered the room. It was all too clear that the cyborg was tired, and I couldn’t blame him. Kent had been reinstated to his position in Farside Patrol, and was slowly adapting to his position as leader, but he was no replacement for the Commander, of whom there’d been no sign since the night of the battle. The Demon found himself running much more of Farside’s activities than he was used to, and I could tell he didn’t like it... nor was he particularly good at it. Although Geena had, like Kent, been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Demon still refused to speak with her, and still carried on his battle with the kitchen staff. I hoped he hadn’t grouped us here to vent his anger on the three of us now...
“Kent, you first,” he said. “I have received word that the Kreludan Embassy in Neopia Central needs a new deputy ambassador, and that, due to your reputation as a trustworthy jack-of-all-trades, you have been appointed to the post... if I agree to release you from your position in Farside Patrol. Now, were I now as responsible as I was a few weeks ago, I would warn the Embassy that you are not at all trustworthy, and rather appalling at most of the trades you try your paw at... but, as I am now, I think I’ll take advantage of the chance to be rid of you with no questions asked. So I’m firing you, and telling you that you had better be on the next three-day wonder to your new job... unless you want the tale of your bugging to be common knowledge both here and on Neopia? Or... perhaps you would like me to inform the Embassy of the contents of...this disk?” He reached into his desk and pulled out the disk Karmapa had given to the Commander that night long ago.
Kent shook his head and jumped up. “I’d love to be deputy ambassador,” he said. “I’ll pack my bag at once!”
“Wait!” the Demon snapped. “Doctor Hu, would you say that Explorer is fit to resume her duties as a member of Farside Patrol?”
“Yes,” Dr Hu and I said at the exact same moment.
“Good,” the Demon said. “The newly-appointed deputy ambassador will need to be accompanied by a member of Farside Patrol as a bodyguard. Since I have received word from the Embassy that your owner, Freefalldreams, has been growing increasingly annoying in her search for you and your brother, you will be that bodyguard... and both you and your brother are given leave to remain on Neopia as long as you please. Quite frankly, I don’t see how he can hold more than an honorary position in Farside Patrol in his present... condition. Is this understood?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling deliciously happy as I digested what he had said. We would be going home... home to Freefall...
“And finally,” the Demon said, “Doctor Hu, your family has asked that you return home. I assume you know what that means?”
“Yes,” Dr Hu said, and she did not sound enthusiastic at all. “I assume my replacement...”
“...will be arriving on the same ship you will leave on,” the Demon said. “Are you all right with that?”
“I’ll have to be,” she said.
“What...” Kent said, but was cut off by Dr Hu.
“Noyb,” she said, “and that’s spelled N-O-Y-B.” At that, she stood up and headed for the door.
“That means,” the Demon clarified, “None Of Your Business.”
“Let’s see... I think we have a decent amount of provisions for the trip,” Ciyan said, hefting a large basket experimentally. “Chocolate chip cookies, raspberry cakes, some nice cheese and tomato sandwiches... Mr Devilaris won’t be wanting any food, will he?”
“My name is Karmapa!” I jumped, and Ciyan dropped the basket. That was no ghost’s voice!
“What?!?” I said. I was looking at a robot Koi. Balanced neatly on fins and tail, it looked imposing, not at all like a fish out of water.
“Oh, so Siljani got you a body?” Ciyan asked blandly. “I was hoping she’d get that to work before we left... it might be a bit hard back on Neopia.”
“Well, what do you think?” Karmapa was as vain as ever. “I’m sure I can primp it up a bit, get a better paint job...”
“Excuse me,” I said, “why exactly are you a robot Koi now? Why not a Kau? And...” I had just caught on to what was odd about the computerized voice Karmapa was speaking in. “Is that a female voice you’re using?”
“Well...” A metal fin flipped dismissively. “Koi are nice, prettier than Kaus. And I’ve been both male and female due to the Lab Ray, and... well, you won’t agree, but female’s more fun. I mean, you don’t get half the flack about your hair as I do... I mean did.” His voice dipped in sadness. “I suppose I could try the Lab again when we get home, see if I can get a more normal form, then try growing my hair back...”
“What?!?” Geena had entered the garage. Putting down the four thermoses she had been carrying, she asked, “Is that you, Karmapa?”
“Yes,” Karmapa said, and seemed about to wax eloquent again.
“Good, you look nice,” Geena said absently. “Now, I’ve got Sourmelon Brew for the Doctor, Tchea tea for the rest of us... there’s a kind of fake coffee I made for you, Explorer, but if you don’t like it, there’s also strawberry spice tea...”
“What?!?” Kent was standing in the doorway, rather stupidly clutching a baby bottle and bunch of lollypops. “Uh, Mr...”
“Oh, cut it out!” Ciyan said, sounding annoyed. “He’s Karmapa again now, he just said so.” She grabbed the bottle and lollypops away from him. “I’ll take these... Rai’ll spill the bottle if she gets it, and Geena’s supposed to be kicking the habit! Now... get the car ready, will you, Kent? Karmapa, get your assistant to stop fussing over her looks, she’s nearly as bad as you. Geena, go get Rai, and don’t wake her up! She’ll throw a fit about leaving if you do!”
I wasn’t sure whether to grin or groan. “This is going to be a great trip,” I said, and I meant it. Sort of.
That wasn’t quite the end of our stay at Farside, though. Just before we left, someone unexpected entered the garage: the Space Faerie herself. I was quite surprised at her appearance... no longer semi-transparent, she looked somewhat closer to the other faeries. Instead of tapering off into nothingness, she wore starry tights... or did she? The stars sparkled, and I wondered if her legs were made of space itself...
“I haven’t got loads of time,” she said, “but I wanted to thank you for such a good show of technomancy. My personal favourite kind of magic is that which involves technology. I do think I should warn you to keep your skills honed... Explorer and Karmapa, you’ve both been slacking off, and your ill will toward each other hasn’t helped your magic. I don’t know if you know it already, but your skills are linked, so you both work better if you’re on good terms with each other. You may have already noticed degrading of your spells while you were cross with each other... notice any of them being harder to cast? I thought so. So no silly squabbling with each other!”
Kent looked at the Space Faerie, licked his lips, and then said, “Is... do you know if the Commander...”
“I’m sorry,” the Space Faerie said. “I haven’t found any trace of her either. That’s not to say you won’t ever see her again... I just don’t think it likely.” She smiled, and her teeth sparkled like the stars. “She is a hero, you know. As are the rest of you. Gorix and Cylara might be getting the ticker-tape for this war, but you’re the heroes of Farside... and I think you might have some medals waiting for you at the Kreludan Embassy. At least if I have anything to do with it... oh dear! It seems I need to deal with a shipping accident...”
I would have been less surprised if the Space Faerie had disappeared with a loud bang, a trumpet fanfare, or at least a pop! Instead, she just seemed to... dissolve, turning more and more transparent, until she was gone completely. I stared at the air where she had been... until a loud shout of “CANDY!” came from the car.
“Rainbow dung!” Ciyan snapped. “Rai’s awake!”
I grinned. In all likelihood, we would deserve a medal just for surviving this trip.