The Partnership: Part One
“Sir, your next assignment.”
I understand that these words don’t seem huge to you, nor did they to me at the time. As a seasoned secret agent, I had heard them just about every week, more or less. And yet it’s funny how one sentence, one choice, can have a profound impact on the way a person thinks and lives. Perhaps you are confused, but things will explain themselves in due time.
* * * * * * *
“Sir, your next assignment,” said Judge Hog as he handed me a stack of papers.
I sat down in the Moehog’s office at the Defenders HQ and casually took my next mission from his hands. “Are you actually going to give me a challenge this time, Judge?” I asked him, smirking, and flipping through the papers.
“Don’t get fresh with me, Eyrie. You know you are our top agent, but you are not invincible. This won’t be so easy,” was the reply.
I just shook my head and smiled to myself, as my gaze shifted to one of his walls. It was the “Top Honors” wall for the best employees in the Headquarters. Naturally, my portrait was one of those that hung there. It was quite a dashing picture, if I do say so myself, of a shadow Eyrie standing with arms crossed and eyes fierce. I was kind of a ridiculously photogenic pet. As Judge Hog had said, I received “Top Honors” because I was one of the best secret agents in Neopia. Perhaps you’ve never heard of me, but that’s only because I’m not supposed to be known to the public. I wouldn’t be a very successful spy if everybody recognized me all the time.
I had fallen into a sort of waking dream as I reminisced about myself, until a big blue hand slapped me upside the head. “Hey!” I shouted at the judge, as I rubbed my head.
“You must focus, Kataok! You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into here,” Judge Hog warned. “Now listen carefully and I’ll tell you the mission.”
If Judge was this serious about my assignment, then I knew it must be something epic. So I sat up and replied, “Ready to listen, sir.”
“Finally. Recently over on Krawk Island, somebody has been shipping in large boxes a couple times a week. The officials on the island have asked him to state what is in these boxes and what they are needed for, but have been met with no cooperation. It is going to be your job to find those boxes, figure out what is in them and why, then report back to us. Depending on the contents, we’ll go from there. Understand?”
I nodded my head. “Wait... do we know who’s taking these boxes in?” The wheels in my head were turning as I tried to sort everything out.
“Yes, yes, I was getting there. His name is Raould Firestone. He’s a Uni dressed as a pirate and lives in a mansion atop a hill in Krawk Island. Very mysterious and secretive,” concluded Judge Hog.
I couldn’t help but snorting, which resulted in a glass shattering glare from my boss. “I’m sorry,” I quickly apologized, “but I have a hard time taking Unis seriously.” Honestly I do, no offense to the Unis out there. They’re just so cute and delicate looking. I can’t imagine one being a hardened criminal. Any apprehensions that I had about my mission were doused now.
“Many a good agent has been harmed because he or she underestimated a possible enemy,” responded the judge, clearly not appreciating my pertness. “Anyway, if you’re still at all concerned about your assignment, you’re no doubt wondering exactly how you will be finding all of this information out. Naturally, you’ll be going undercover. Firestone put up a little advertisement in The Golden Dubloon, looking for servants at his home. The HQ managed to bag you the job.”
I smiled, for I had never fancied myself a servant, but could probably get into the part. I had been following along with his briefing on my papers. The whole event seemed simple enough. “So why exactly were you talking as if this thing was going to be so difficult?” I asked.
“Just about every other assignment you’ve been on, we have known about what and whom we were dealing with. This is different, because we don’t know if he’s shipping in something dangerous. That’s going to be the problem. Plus, there’s Firestone, whom we know nothing about, which seems to be the way he likes it. We don’t know what he is capable of. This is not like dealing with a simple villain such as Meuka. Judging by his covertness, he’s clever and probably unpredictable. And that is why you guys are going to need to be very careful in there.”
I nodded, while absentmindedly rubbing a scar that ran down my cheek, which I earned from a mission gone quite wrong. So maybe this assignment would have a slight challenge to it, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t be able to handle. My picture was on the “Top Honors” wall for a reason, after all. But then it hit me.
“What do you mean when you say, ‘you guys are going to need to be careful in there,’?” I cautiously asked the judge.
Judge Hog smirked. If he thought what he was about to say was funny, than that probably meant I wasn’t going to like it. Clutching my chair in anticipation, I leaned in.
“I suppose I mean just that,” he responded vaguely. “You and your partner will need to really watch your backs while you are in Firestone’s house.”
“Partner?” I gulped. “No thank you.”
“Hey, guess what?” the judge asked me with a smile.
“What?” I answered hopefully.
“It’s not your choice!” he retorted with mock enthusiasm. Judge Hog grabbed a file out from a cabinet and set it on his desk. “Her name is Scout.” He held up a picture of a white Kougra with a goofy grin on her face.
“...She looks like she’s really excited because she just found her favorite plushie. Why does she seem so young?” I asked in disgust.
“Well, she may seem young because she is young. The HQ is trying out a new operational unit that is comprised of the younger generation in Neopia. Scout is our first test, and you are the first mentor,” the judge explained.
I made a face. “When you look at me do you think, ‘Now there’s an Eyrie that can baby sit!’? Because if that’s it, you’re wrong... sir,” I retorted, searching for a way to get out of this.
“Kataok, you’re the best this HQ has. Scout needs to learn from you, or she may never make it in the field. She’s been through the same training as every other full-grown agent and defender Neopia has.”
Scowling, I asked unreasonably, “If she’s been through the training, then why does she need me at all?”
“Don’t be obnoxious and this isn’t even a discussion. You will take her under your wing, no pun intended, and you will teach her everything you know. I won’t be hearing any complaints from you or,” he looked pointedly at me, “from her. Working with a partner is going to be good for you, Kataok. Someday you have to realize that you cannot do everything by yourself.”
I can try, I thought, as I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms.
Judge Hog called to his secretary on the other side of his door. “Please bring in Scout to meet her new partner.”
Clenching my teeth, I fixed the Moehog with my biggest glare. I could already feel a headache coming on, and I had yet to meet the kid. A door slammed open and I heard clumsy feet pounce through. Without looking, I knew she had arrived.
“Reporting for duty, Sir Judge Hog, Sir!” a white Kougra yelled enthusiastically as she scrambled up onto the chair next to me.
Judge Hog laughed, as if he actually found her amusing. “Scout, I would like you to meet your temporary partner, Kataok, for your very first mission. Kataok, this is Scout.”
“Oh boy, Kataok is my partner? We learned all about you during training, Mister Kataok! You’re, like, the best agent ever in all of Neopia!”
I had never met somebody so instantly annoying in my entire life. It was like Scout didn’t understand the concept of controlling voice volume. I already knew that the first thing I was going to teach her was how to use an inside voice.
I grumbled something in response and slid down in my chair a little, watching her out of the corner of my eye. I had handled taking down Balthazar and had beaten the highest level in the Defenders of Neopia challenge, but Illusen help me... that’s nothing compared to dealing with kids.
Her gaze fell upon the open file on Judge Hog’s desk and she squealed. “That’s me! I remember the day when I got that photograph taken, it was right after I found Pickles, my favorite plushie. I was so happy! He’s a red--”
“Enough!” I growled, cutting her off.
“....Lupe,” she faltered, trailing off. There was a look of confusion in her eyes that almost made me feel bad for snapping at her. Almost. She seemed to recover quickly though, because after just moments of silence, she continued talking. “Hey, you know how you’re the best agent and everything? Well I was the best in my class at something too! You want to know what, Kataok?”
“No, I don’t,” I responded, earning myself a glare from Judge Hog.
Scout laughed. “You’re funny, so I’ll tell you anyway. I could untie ropes the fastest out of everybody! Isn’t that cool?”
“Yeah that’s great, kid,” I replied unenthusiastically.
Scout looked down at the file again. “Agent Scout, that’s me. It sure has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it Kataok?”
The fact that she never stopped talking amazed me. “You’re not an agent. You’re the HQ’s trial run for a project that’ll probably fail.” This finally shut the kid up, and quiet fell over the room.
Finally, Judge Hog cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sure that you have read the packet briefing you on your mission, right, Scout?” She nodded, and the judge continued, “Very well then. Kataok will be able to answer any questions you have about your assignment. You both leave via ship tomorrow. Dismissed.”
Scout grinned at Judge Hog and hopped off the chair. “See you, Sir Judge Hog. I won’t disappoint you, I promise!”
I got up, not as eager as Scout was. All of a sudden, I felt very old. I gave an acknowledging nod to Judge Hog, feeling both disgusted and worried about this assignment all the sudden. “This is going to be....”
“...a character building experience,” Judge Hog finished.
That wasn’t exactly what I was going to say.
To be continued...