Instability Among Defenders
It was almost 2pm NST and the rain was starting to come down in Neopia Central; the beginnings of the day’s late downpour. Quantum Surge made his way up the front steps of the busy twelve-floored building, trying not to crash into any of the numerous frantic Neopians rushing hither-thither. Not that anyone would know this Lenny was “Quantum Surge”, one of Neopia’s fastest Defenders; sans costume he was just some plain ol’ brown Lenny in the mass of Lupes, Aishas, Draiks and all the other species hastily making their way in and out of the building with the words “Board Conditions and Mishaps” neatly printed on its front in a very modern fashion. Nope, there’d be no mistaking him for a superhero today.
After quickly running up several flights of stairs, the “plain ol’ brown Lenny” arrived at the ninth level of the building with the peculiar name. Ninth floor: Help-Chat Messes, Misunderstandings, and Mishandlings of Justice. Monitoring and mending business; definitely not your normal ninth floor, but then he didn’t just climb all those stairs to see a normal Techo...
“If you’re here to file a report, I’ll need your name and an explanation of your case, but don’t expect us to get back to you today as I’ve had it up to my horns with you lot...” The island Ixi certainly looked like he’d seen better days –the heavy bags under his eyes were a dead giveaway– and his subtle little outburst completed the picture, but what do you expect from a job where you have to listen to new and old Neopians alike come at you with every question and complaint under the sun?
“Give it a rest, Phil, the kid’s here to see me.” A yellow corporate-looking Techo marched briskly out of the office at the far end of the floor’s main hallway, her short red curls clashing with her harsh expression that screamed, “By Fyora, if I hear you take down one more case today, Phillip, I’m going to blow more fuses than Moltara’s got obsidian fragments”. Clearly the hint was picked up by Phillip, as he piped down instantly.
“So, Finch, what brings you here on a day only Sloth could enjoy?” The corporate Techo shut the door to her office behind them with no effort at keeping it from slamming. She closed the blinds over the door’s window.
“Well, I just thought I’d stop by. Maybe talk about old times?” He was avoiding the subject, and it was all too obvious.
“Old times, huh? Your team faced the Atomic A a few days ago, right? I think I saw it in the Neopian Times, ‘Defenders of a Feather Thrash Super Villainous Group: Atomic A escapes in the Commotion’. Quite the headline. You were wondering about her involvement with the Unstable Atoms, weren’t you?”
Way too obvious. So much for beating around the sword bush.
“I still can’t believe she used to be a superhero, let alone part of your old group...”
The Techo, whose office door had the words “Helga Setae: Accusational Affairs” printed on the outside of its smoky window, smiled tiredly and nodded. She motioned for the Lenny to sit down. There was a framed picture of Lawyerbot on the left-hand wall.
“I mean, how could she just switch like that? To one day be defending Neopia from scum and then the next moment she’s among their ranks?” His expression turned incredulous. “She had so much potential; why would she throw it all away like that?”
“You make it sound as if her decision happened out of the blue, without past consideration.” The Techo stretched, cracking her knuckles; it had already been a long day with that case of acclaimed stolen art, and it looked like the four o’clock end of shift wasn’t arriving any faster than at a slorg’s pace.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying, Finch, that you don’t have the full story...
Things were different back then; not really any better or worse, but different. In those days the Defenders of Neopia weren’t the bustling network of super-powered Neopians you know today. In those days the more prominent superheroes – Sergeant Brexis, The Marvellous Stretchy Chia, even Orig the Great – were all constantly bogged down with problem after problem caused by all manner of malicious creatures. The Defenders didn’t have nearly as many supers behind them as they do now. We were understaffed, to say the least, and it was because of this fact that Judge Hog decided to advertise and recruit regular Neopians to join our ranks. Ever take a good look at the old Battledome-oriented DoN comics? That’s just the tip of the darblat-infested iceberg, my friend.
It was during this time my team was formed. The idea came from some pets in suits that funded the Defenders. They decided a more organized approach needed to be taken when it came to watching out for Neopia. Because of this, we never really had a set leader like your team, Finch; we were mostly just six separate super-powered Neopians with a common commanding source.
In the months before we disbanded, my team was investigating a set of crimes the suits back at Headquarters thought were related. The most recent crime was perpetrated by ‘Doctor Renegade’, a messed up Quiggle in a mask with unlimited henchmen at his disposal. We found out he’d been working for the same unknown foe several other super villains alleged their crimes to earlier on in the year. We were informed whoever this organizing bad guy was had stationed their lair just outside what we now know as Shenkuu. So we divided ourselves up into two units; Atom Finder, Strewn Atoms, and The Atomic A took the south side of the complex, while Atom Crasher, Atomic-Gazer and I took the north. Now, before you say anything, we didn’t plan on the over usage of ‘atom’ in our names; the guys in suits thought we needed some sort of gimmick, and it just happened to be matching names – I’m still thankful they didn’t go with matching costumes instead.
The super-organized crimes would escalate if they weren’t cut off at the source, that much was certain, but although we might not have known it at the time, there was a general feeling as though the Neopian behind all this was just playing games with us, as if everything that they’d been responsible for was just a warm-up for something far more sinister. You didn’t see what this anonymous villain made Dr Renegade do to the entire eastern section of the Marketplace, Finch. It took a full two years before it looked the same.
While the Cybunny, Blumaroo, and Acara of our team were storming their end of the evil lair, Crasher teleported Gazer and me in. The place had your standard number of guards on casual duty set up sporadically. It was pretty easy dispatching them quickly and quietly, with Gazer’s energy-vision powers coming in handy there. The goal was to reach the inner sections of the complex and get to the control station where the villain was most likely to be. The three of us got there first with barely any resistance. When we peered inside to the monitor-covered walls, we were met with a great deal of emptiness.
The room, despite its attempts at looking the control-station part, was devoid of information, with its empty cabinets and shelves, and its lifeless equipment. Before we could process this, we heard a commotion coming from the south side of the lair, exactly where the other half of my team was supposed to be arriving from.
It didn’t take long to reach the noise and once we did I regretted getting there so quickly, as the battle was just starting. The noise we heard had come from Finder; that much wasn’t hard to figure out. He was sprawled out on the ground like he’d been thrown, and you could tell that his legs had been broken in multiple places. Strewn’s brain was still coming to terms with what just happened, and I could see the confusion on her face as she was readying her powers. This wasn’t going to be like any other battle we’d seen ourselves through over the time we’d defended Neopia. I would rather have missed it all – as ashamed as I am to admit it – because it wasn’t a random miscreant we were fighting. It was one of our very own team members.
The Atomic A took out our long-range power wielders first, tearing off a section of window-laden wall from the building adjacent. It happened too fast; Strewn’s wind-manipulating powers protected her from most of the concussive force of the brick and glass shards, but Gazer’s powers were more focused, and there was too much debris for him to take out before making contact. He’s blind now, and hasn’t been able to use his powers since.
Crasher and I charged, but the Atomic A saw this coming too. Bringing both her fists down to the concrete in one fell swoop, she sent off a tremor in the ground which jolted everything within the complex. This was her way of dealing with Crasher, as the unstable footing when he teleported threw off his orientation for the shortest of seconds. It was long enough for the Atomic A to get to him before he could teleport away again, and she landed a punch that sent him flying.
So it was down to me, and while I almost fell over when her little tremor shook the empty cabinets in the control room a good few inches, I was still running at her, all the while willing my density up and up, providing a good substitute for the effects lent by super strength. I connected with a density higher than I’d ever reached before, and the punch was strong enough to stagger her greatly. But a single punch wasn’t strong enough to do much more than that. Before I knew it, I was through the wall of another of the complex’s many small buildings, and I sure didn’t get there by phasing. When I got up, trying to prepare myself to go at it again, and looked through the crumbling me-shaped hole, it was already too late; she was gone.
Our team fell apart shortly after. With so many of our members requiring long term hospitalization and the occasional Juicy Elixir it seemed imminent. But the most prominent nail in the coffin was the fact that someone we all trusted for years had not only betrayed us, but had been planning to do so for who knows how long. And if someone could hide something like that, what did it say about the rest of us? What kinds of secrets were we hiding from each other?
The office grew quiet. Outside, Phillip the cranky island Ixi was telling off a startled Krawk about her Tarla question.
“Wait, Atom Finder had some sort of mind-reading powers, didn’t he? How could you not know what the Atomic A was planning if he can just pick up Neopians’ thoughts?”
“That’s what the pets in suits thought too. When he was well enough to put up with all the questions the suits were itching to ask him, they interrogated him ‘til the kaus came home. Finder had always made a point not to invade Neopians’ minds without their knowledge and permission, the non-villainous Neopians that is. Even so, in all the time we worked together as a team, he never sensed anything odd from the Atomic A.
When I think about it, how she picked us off like that, I have to wonder how long she was planning our battle. And to be able to mask any outflowing thought patterns from Finder’s view would take a knowledge of your teammates’ capabilities before you met them.”
The Techo stopped; the troubled look in her Lenny friend’s eyes told her his mind was elsewhere. “I didn’t tell you this to scare you, Finch. But you needed to know; and I can’t help but feel that whenever your team faces The Atomic A, she goes easy on you guys, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike for real.”
The office door opened, and a pink Elephante popped her head in. “Ms Setae, you’re going to have to tell Phillip to go home, as he’s asleep on the secretarial desk and snoring so loud- ... oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt...”
“It’s fine, Esme.” The Techo strolled to the door, making Esme back out of the office. “I was just going over a few details with the errand-boy.”
“Oh...” She gave the brown Lenny a curious look. “Okay, but someone still needs to take care of the Phillip problem since now there’s no one to send all those Neopians with the right forms to-”
The yellow Techo shut her office door and let out a sigh.
“Errand-boy?” She looked up to see the Lenny’s face was wearing a smirk.
“It’s what came to mind first. Our business – that of super heroic identities – requires an amount of comfort with lying. Maybe the fact that the Atomic A pulled the gnorbu wool over our eyes so easily shouldn’t be such a surprise when the superhero lifestyle is full of false-truths. Now, I’ve rambled on enough for three afternoons let alone two hours; if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wake a certain Ixi up.”
Quantum Surge grinned. “Sure, I’ll let myself out.” The Techo gave him a quick smile, and then marched out, putting on her harsh Phillip-dealing expression again.
Surge stood in Helga Setae’s office for a few seconds. The Techo’s story certainly left an impression, and he couldn’t stop thinking about what she said about the superhero lifestyle enabling one to lie convincingly. Would his team turn out like the old Techo superhero’s team had, falling apart over malicious secrets kept from one another? He forcibly stopped that train of thought. Things were different now, Helga had said it herself, and just because it happened to one team doesn’t mean it’ll happen again... there were routine background checks and everything on new recruits to the Defenders of Neopia these days...
He made his way out of the office. When Quantum Surge reached the end of the hall, he glanced back at the island Ixi hastily apologizing for his impromptu nap. The brown Lenny turned the corner and headed for the stairs he came up through.
Pictures of 'The Unstable Atoms' can be found at www.neopets.com/~Atomic_Dispersion