Good Foundations: Part One
Neopia Central is a city, vast and teeming with the lives of millions of Neopets. From its humble beginnings as a travelling group of trading gypsies, it has always been a free economy, unbound by real laws or authoritarian rule.
There are no Kings and Queens, no elected officials. No taxes to pay, no real deeds of ownership. It is a free-for-all; claim what you can and then sell it on to the highest bidder.
In the past, people have looked upon this state of affairs and sought to manipulate it to their advantage. They claim power wherever they can, in the vain hope of uniting the city under their rule.
Most fail, though handfuls succeed in claiming parts of the city as their own. Most form criminal organisations around themselves, with presentable legitimate fronts. The construction industry in the Docklands, the high rise towers of the Business District, or the affluent charities of the Hills. All of them run by criminal masterminds that exist in peaceful harmony, to mutual gain. Neopia Central continues in a downward spiral as they line their pockets.
Yet once in a while a new player will enter the game, and the cards will be reshuffled.
Once in a while, Neopia Central changes.
Thaddeus Oldnose stood back and admired the blank canvas than now lay before him.
The diggers had been in, and the entire lot of land was bare. It was up to him to create something out of it.
It was moments like this that he lived for... or rather died for.
Thaddeus Oldnose was a Zombie, and while in life he had been an artisan, in death he had been forced to take a far less lofty career in the Neopia Central sewers.
But all that had changed. So much had changed really in a few short weeks. He’d been approached to draw up the blueprints for a grand new skyscraper, one that would rival any in the Marketplace.
It was a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the construction workers he would have to carry out the task were also Zombies, and had the annoying habit of losing limbs whenever they handled heavy machinery.
A polite cough interrupted Oldnose from his thoughts.
“Ah! Mr. Jennings!” the Meerca squeaked, caught quite off guard by his new employer.
“Mr. Oldnose,” the green Krawk replied, leaning slightly on his diamond tipped black cane. “Are these the plans?”
An imposing green Grarrl that Oldnose knew only as Mr. Black stood behind Jennings, staring blankly.
“Y-yes, sir, I foresee no problems with the basic construction,” Oldnose explained, standing aside so Jennings could see the blueprints. “We’ll be able to source most of the basic materials from near the city.”
“Good... good...” Jennings mumbled as he examined the plans. “Yes, I think this will do just nicely. You can start immediately?”
“I can have the foundations in by the end of the week, sir,” Oldnose replied happily.
“When do you expect to be finished?” Jennings asked.
“It will be a couple of months at best, sir. We have to put up all the support beams, which means cranes and such, you understand?” Oldnose explained.
“Yes, yes of course.” Jennings nodded. “That will fit in fine, I’m sure. You may begin with utmost haste, Mr. Oldnose.”
“Thank you, sir!” Oldnose beamed.
Jennings and Mr. Black left Oldnose to his calculations with the blueprints. Outside the construction yard, there was a Whinny-pulled carriage waiting.
Jennings climbed inside as Black took the reins, and they were off through the streets of Neopia Central before they knew it.
Everything was progressing so well for Mr. Jennings.
Who would have thought when he was exiled from Shenkuu all those years ago that he would be able to carve out such a name for himself in Neopia Central?
Of course, it wasn’t his name per se that he was carving out. Mr. Jennings had been a convenient alias. These days everyone knew he was really Qin, disgraced Shenkuu General, and enemy of the Empire.
Yet Qin was somehow still drawn to his assumed name. There was something about the city, the way it gave everyone a second chance. This was his, a new life, the life of Mr. Jennings.
Jennings leaned forward and tapped on the front wall of the carriage.
“We have an appointment with Judge Hog,” he instructed.
“Quite so, sir,” the gruff voice of Mr. Black came back from outside.
That was the thing about Mr. Jennings. He wasn’t just making a name for himself by dabbling in a few shares on the Neopian Stock Market.
He was a criminal.
He’d abandoned all sense of law when he had been dismissed from the Emperor’s service. He had arrived in Neopia Central and immediately saw it for what it was.
Rotten to the core. Run by criminals and thugs.
Yet there was something else Jennings had observed. He noticed how the various gangs of Neopia Central, the thugs who claimed to run districts by intimidation and blackmail, all worked against each other.
Very quietly, the city tore itself apart.
Jennings had set about a plan, a plan to unite the city towards a common goal of greatness – and profitability, of course.
He had started with a few protection rackets on the Marketplace shopkeepers, but had quickly moved onto other things.
He’d brought in cheap Shenkuu labour from some of the poorest parts of the Empire, and set them to work in Kau Kau Farms. Perhaps most ingeniously, he had purchased a great deal of companies on the Stock Market, including the Defenders of Neopia.
When you owned the Defenders and the cells in their headquarters, it was very difficult for them to lock you up. Jennings had seen his hand freed to make deals with the Thieves Guild for mutual gain.
And then, most recently, and quite by chance, he had come across the problem of the Zombies.
Or, not really a problem, as it turned out. The Zombie populace of Neopia Central were facing extinction, and he had offered them a way out. They would become his employees, and while they would gain decent wages and full rights, Jennings had gained something far more valuable – a workforce.
Before it had just been him and Mr. Black, and while they had survived and made dents here and there, they needed people in order to really make an impact.
Because that was the thing about Neopia Central. There was only one way for Mr. Jennings to unite the city. He had to get past the people that stood in his way.
And there were people... they had stepped out of the shadows only briefly, but Jennings had their names. A list of four people, the first of which had already been crossed out.
1. Mr. Jonathan Entwhistle.
2. Mr. Seth Vargo.
3. Mr. Alfonso Might.
4. Lady Floretta Cambridge.
Seth Vargo was next on the list, an overweight yellow Skeith that had controlled the Docklands area of Neopia Central for as long as anyone could remember. His construction industries provided most of the work for people in the slums of the Docklands, and his hired goons ensured the loyalty of the rest.
And so Mr. Jennings had set up a construction company, with his new Zombie employees as the workforce. They would build him a skyscraper in the heart of the Docklands, Neopia Central’s poorest slum.
This, Jennings knew, was sure to get Vargo’s attention.
The carriage pulled to a stop and Mr. Black opened the door for Jennings.
They were outside the Defenders of Neopia HQ, an elegant white building that gleamed in the sunlight. Jennings, despite having full access to the accounts, had never been able to figure out just how it was kept in such a sparkling condition. The pollution of the city had blackened and tarnished most nearby buildings, yet the Defenders building was still pure white despite no cleaner ever being paid.
Jennings mused on this as he made his way inside. A receptionist looked up from her work, but on seeing Mr. Jennings, she quickly returned to it and acted as if he wasn’t there.
That was a common feature of the Defenders. None of them really wanted to admit that Jennings owned the place. Instead, most had elected to just ignore him completely unless there was absolutely no alternative.
Jennings paused by the twin lifts that stretched up to the higher floors. Black called one, but Jennings seemed to do some calculations in his head before calling the other.
“It is a Friday,” Jennings informed Black as the lift doors closed behind them. “He always gets in the right hand lift on a Friday.”
There was a gentle ting as the lift came to a stop on the second floor.
“Floor 2, High Security Detainment, Canteen, and Accounts,” a metallic voice announced from the walls.
The door slid open, revealing the dashing figure of Judge Hog on the other side. His cape billowed despite the lack of any wind in the immediate vicinity. As soon as he caught sight of Jennings, his face fell.
“Jennings,” he muttered as he walked inside and pressed the button for the top floor.
“A pleasure as always, Judge,” Jennings greeted him. “We really must stop meeting like this.”
“I am entirely in agreement with you there,” the Judge snapped.
“But,” Jennings continued as if he was largely talking to himself, “as we’ve met you we do have some business to discuss.”
Silently, Mr. Black reached out and pressed the lift’s emergency stop button. It ground to a halt between floors.
“Certainly, sir,” the Judge said mockingly. “What can I do for you today?”
“As I’m sure you’re aware, there have been reports that the Defenders of Neopia seized a great deal of gold from the Lost Desert from a warehouse in the Docklands last week,” Jennings explained.
“Stolen from Princess Amira’s treasury,” the Moehog confirmed.
“Well, the owner of said warehouse, a Mr. A Lias, has been in touch with me and seems dreadfully concerned as to the whereabouts of the gold,” Jennings continued.
“We’re not handing it back to you,” the Judge said flatly, cutting through the political talk.
“Back?” Jennings asked innocently. “My dear Judge, it was never mine in the first place. I am only here on behalf of a concerned citizen.”
“I’m sure you are,” the Judge replied knowingly. “It’s in Evidence, impounded until our investigations are closed.”
“Which I am sure they will be, with haste,” Jennings said in his polite little voice, with just a hint of acid.
“Gold’s at a premium these days, Jennings,” the Judge pointed out. “You’re... feud with the Emperor of Shenkuu is disrupting supply lines for the National Neopian. Princess Amira is very keen to see the gold returned.”
Behind him, Mr. Black coughed and handed over a piece of paper.
“Regardless to Princess Amira’s claims to the gold, Mr. Lias has provided me with this document,” Jennings said as he handed it to the Judge. “As you can see, it is a deed of ownership for the gold, signed by one Mr. Kanrik of the Wealth Redistribution Front.”
“You mean the Thieves Guild?” the Judge chuckled. “You seriously expect me to believe that Kanrik and his mob of crooks just happen to legally own enough gold to fill a room?”
“Alas, it is a legal document,” Jennings pointed out.
The Judge deflated under the pleasant gaze of the Krawk.
“Excellent,” Jennings smiled, without a word from the Judge. “Mr. Kanrik and his associates would like their property back as soon as possible. I was thinking, perhaps, that it could be placed in the usual cavern in the Catacombs tonight?”
The Judge nodded reluctantly as Mr. Black pressed the button and the lift resumed its progress.
“You can’t keep doing this, Jennings, just using us to protect your friends,” the Judge told him. “Sooner or later the Times or someone will get a whiff of what’s happening. I don’t care how much of this building you own; if the public opinion is against you, we’ll have no choice but to bring you in.”
The lift came to a gentle stop on the top floor.
“Floor 31, Stationary Supplies, Seamstresses, Deathbots and Administration,” the mechanical voice informed them.
“Do not misunderstand, my dear Judge,” Jennings replied, his voice taking for a moment a more serious tone. “Mr. Kanrik’s gold, whilst in the possession of Princess Amira for some time, was never hers. It was stolen from the late Baron Nehlaki long before Amira was even born. Is it really theft to steal that which has already been stolen? Regardless, we both know that the Thieves Guild will not hold onto the gold for long. Sooner or later it will end up back in the hands of the Princess, all we are doing is generating a little profit while it is moved around.”
The doors slid open, and the Judge left in silence.
“I think it is time we went home, Mr. Black,” Jennings announced with a sigh.
“Quite so, sir,” Black replied, pushing the button for the ground floor.
To be continued...