Book
1
Welcome to the
Outside

Chapter
0
Prologue

The black of space, then, white. Only a small sliver was visible, a crescent thinner than paper. And soon, like the haze around the edge, it would all be red. The view pans out to the yellow of a blinking button on the side of a screen.

Mission control was silent, the only sound being the low hum of computers. Massive monitors took up the entire wall: one displayed a rectangular, squashed projection of the planet, and another showed what the television stations were showing the public. It was about 30 minutes behind, just in case something needed to be cut out. One screen in the lower right corner was a camera pointed to the sky. To the moon.

The enormous room looked like an amphitheater for humming computers, and the scientists & engineers who operated them. For now, only a few remained. Weary and exhausted, those gone took whatever precious time there was to relax. Two of the ones who remained —who both wore white button‐up shirts and black dress slacks— read printouts and sipped their cups of coffee.

A third engineer walked in: coffee in one hand, and a tiny slice of chocolate cake in the other. She was a blue Ixi in a white suit, with long hair, little black horns, and thick rimmed glasses.

Hooooo‐wee! You all coming to the party?

A red Kacheek with black hair spoke, but didn’t look up from his papers: Not now. Too early for that.
Aww, come on, they’re about to go behind the moon. We won’t even have anything to do. And they haven’t said anything in minutes.

The red Kacheek adjusted his own glasses, then looked up from his work. His eyes darted around the screens on the far wall. He sighed, Maybe. You’re probably right. Still gonna have to pass on the invite. I don’t really feel up for it. I can’t relax.
She shrugged and nodded, That’s fair. I just can’t wait to see it though.
See what?
The eclipse! Have you seen a lunar eclipse before?
I uh, sure, yeah.
Not like, in a book, I mean in real life!
Oh, uh… no.

There was a few seconds of silence where all three watched the screens. The blue Ixi turned to the third neopian, a green Ogrin, How about you? she asked.
How about what? he said back with a smile, his voice monotone.
What?
The moon or the party?
Oh, the party.
Nah, they replied, I’m gonna have to pass. I’ve uh… I’ve been up for about two days.
Oh goodness. Uhh, well I guess that just leaves Arastū.

The other two glanced at each other, then down. She’d scanned the whole room, but hadn’t found him.
Hey… she looked back toward the Ogrin, …where the heck is Arastū?

I don’t know, he turned to look at the Kacheek, and spoke in the most facetious tone professionalism would allow, …where the hell is Arastū?
The Kacheek glared, as he looked up from his coffee, Do I look like his dad to you?
You’re his manager.
Yeah, well, I don’t control what he does with his life.

The blue Ixi sipped her coffee and raised her eyebrows, as she realized too late that she’d brought up some sort of office conflict, and regretted it.

I didn’t see him at the launch either. she turned and looked back to the wall of screens, to the moon. She’d known Arastū, I didn’t think he’d miss this for the world.
The Kacheek looked towards her. I thought so too… but, hell, what do I know.

Someone a couple terminals over stood up slow, his chair scraped against the floor as he started to press on the controls. The Kacheek and the Ixi looked over to him. The room was still and quiet enough that even the slightest movements or sounds were impossible to ignore. He spoke:

Florin 12, Brightvale uh, would you verify that your radar transponder is off, over?

The question hung in the air. Silence. Four seconds. Five seconds. She felt a bit of a chill, even though the room wasn’t cold. Eight seconds. She swallowed and lowered her coffee as she stared at the engineer, then at the control panel below him. Twelve seconds. Thirteen seconds.

…Uhh, it’s not, but I’ll get it off.

A faint crackle had broken the intimidating stillness. It was one of the astronauts. His voice was distorted from the great distance, but calm.
Rog’, uh, the engineer replied, We were seein’ some— b’lieve it or not, we were seein some funnies on the uh… lander’s radar, and that was the only theory we had… that uh, looked like it was a good one.

She exhaled, as she hadn’t realized she’d held her breath. Why was I stressed out so suddenly, over such a simple question?

She took a closer look at the screens embedded in the panel. Blobs and geometric patterns outlined themselves in the sweeping line. Was it broken? And who’s the we they’re talking about? she thought to herself.

She saw that the engineer wore an earpiece with microphone. She turned her head up towards the large glass panel behind them, in the opposite wall. The room she was in was two stories tall, and where the room ended, there was an observation deck behind a picture window on the second story. It was filled with important computers and more engineers. And someone else.

There was a desert Lutari, in a beige trenchcoat and flat cap, with long blonde hair and intense blue eyes. He had a severe expression, and stared at the same radar screen she had looked into earlier.

There was a moment where the button to transmit signal was held down, before Micheal, the astronaut, spoke.

…Good theory.

She could tell by his voice that he was busy with something up there, in space, but nothing stressful. The strange patterns on the radar were most likely nothing. she reasoned. She looked back over at the Lutari. He held one of those headphones with a microphone up to his right ear, instead of on his head and over his hat. He sighed. That one in the trenchcoat must have been the we they were talking about. she thought.

His eyes darted over to her. Her breath caught in her throat as his gaze met hers. She forced her eyes away, and stared at the wall of screens. They knew. she shuddered, They knew I was looking at them..

Hey. Are you okay? The red Kacheek had noticed her reaction.
Hm? Oh! Uhm. I’m fine. Who’s that…? Who’s that up there? In the observation room?
He turned, nonchalant, and looked up, Oh. Them. I dunno who they are. The people around the office have been calling ‘em the spook.
She raised an eyebrow.
Like, government kinda spook. he clarified, They must work for somebody way higher up in the government. Maybe Neopia Central. I think. They’ve been talking to a lot of important people, so I hear.
I… see.
They’ve been here even before the launch. Just lookin around all the time. Maybe they’re an inspector. Did they freak you out?
No… well, yes. But it was more than that. They just distracted me from the other thing. Did you feel it?
…Feel what?
That. As soon as that one over there got outta the chair and started talkin, I just… she looked over to the Kacheek, I’m not the superstitious type, ya know, but I just got a really, really bad feeling. Like something was about to happen.
Yeeesh. Don’t say that, you’re gonna freak me out.

She looked back to the spook. His gaze wasn’t on her anymore. She tried to steady her breath. They looked right at me. It was too quick to just be a guess. She tried to put it out of her mind. The camera pointed at the moon caught her eye. All while she was distracted, in conversation or with radio transmission, the moon had moved. The eclipse was about to start, just as they were to go around the moon. It had gone completely dark, but a moment after… it was beautiful. The moon glowed with the brilliant red of every sunrise and sunset on the entire planet, simultaneously. Then, an even more saturated red outlined the moon in a thin circle.

That… tht can’t ▒░ normal. Brightvale I’░░seeing s▒░methin▒░.

Static. Everyone looked back to the console.

Ther░▒s ▒░s▒▒▒▒░ —
The message was garbled by noisy interference. The engineer leaned further forward as he pressed the button to speak. Micheal? Mr. O’Cullane can you tell us what’s happening up there?
— in░▒s oing on. Ev▒░░thngs red. I▒░▒▒░░t’s from thlunar s▒▒▒░░░. There’s some k░▒▒ of r░▒… wall ▒▒ light c▒▒░░░

The room turned cold. She could feel her knees get weak.

Micheal I can’t understand you, could you please slow down? Can you hear me?
W░░▒▒░░th░░traj▒▒▒▒░░░░s░▒oing t▒▒░░▒▒us through it. Brightv░░▒▒▒▒re yo░▒▒eading th▒░▒▒▒▒ightva░░░
…Do you read? Micheal, do you read?

▒░░▒░▒░▒▒▒░░░▒▒░░▒▒▒

Static. There was a crackle, as the public affairs officer’s scheduled voice fell from the speakers embedded in the ceiling.

This is Florin Control. We’ve had our scheduled Loss Of Signal, now. …At the present time, we show… Florin 12 in an orbit… uh with a… h— high point of about 115 point 9 kilometers, and a low point —or, uh pericynthion— of 101 point 7 kilometers. The spacecraft is traveling at a speed of 1,632 meters per second. …We’ll reacquire the spacecraft… in, uh, a little over 45 minutes… on the uh, 29th revolution. At 131 hours, 3 minutes, this is Florin Control, Brightvale.

The Ones
Who
Remember