The Knowledge: Part Four
Mr. Hodgeson looked sternly across a makeshift desk at the Kyrii in front of him.
“What’s the quickest route to Kensington Avenue from here?” he demanded.
The Kyrii moved nervously in his seat, “I... I’d go down Grout Road.”
The Skeith nodded approvingly, making a mark on his clipboard. The Kyrii seemed to be put at ease.
“Suppose there’s road works on Batrin Way,” Hodgeson posed. “How would you get from Friars Road to the Longshanks?”
“By Wide Street,” the Kyrii answered confidently.
Hodgeson nodded. “It’s past midnight. How do you get from here to Kau Kau Farms?”
The Kyrii chuckled. “You want to go west of the river, at that time of night?”
“I’d go via the Old District,” the Kyrii said quickly.
The Skeith smiled deviously, as if he were a Spyder who had just caught a fly in his web.
“The Old District!?” he scoffed. “Past midnight even more Zombies than usual come out of the graveyard, clogging up the streets.”
Hodgeson took a large rubber stamp and slammed it down on the clipboard, before handing the form to the Kyrii.
“Failed,” the Skeith declared. “Next!”
The Kyrii was led out, and a fresh applicant led in. The small office in the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters that Hodgeson had been given wasn’t big enough for the hundreds of applicants, so the queues extended down most of the hallways back to the lobby.
Mr. Jennings was there for most of the morning, silently observing the exams from a chair in the corner of the room. Hodgeson appeared to expect nothing less than perfect knowledge of the city’s streets and traffic conditions. Anything below a perfect score on his test resulted in a fail.
Whilst this has resulted in a dramatic amount of failures, Jennings was curiously impressed with Mr. Hodgeson’s system. It weeded out everyone except the perfect, and ensured that only reliable taxi carriages would be able to operate in Neopia Central. The situation would be resolved, confidence in the system would be returned, and Jennings’s plan would work.
The Krawk left the small office mid afternoon, and lingered in the lobby only long enough to provide a curt nod to Judge Hog which the Moehog returned, before emerging out into the afternoon air. He found his temporary assistant, Johnny Twobit, waiting.
“Sir!” the Kougra said, saluting with his voice if not his body.
“Mr. Twobit,” Jennings greeted him. “I trust you bring good news?”
The Kougra nodded, “Just got back from the printing press. Tomorrow’s headline for the Neopian Times is already set, sir. It’s all about a new test that’s going to make the transport system better, sir.”
Jennings smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Twobit. You may return to the Docklands.”
The Kougra nodded and made his way off down the street. Jennings meanwhile straightened out his suit, glanced back behind him into the lobby of the Headquarters for a moment, and set off down the street in the opposite direction.
His route through the streets of Neopia Central was erratic, making his destination hard to pinpoint. In fact, Jennings was waiting for his destination to come to him.
He smiled with some satisfaction when he finally heard the carriage approaching him from behind. It sped past him, cornering hard and skidding so that the carriage’s door stopped right in Jennings’s path.
The door opened, revealing Mr. Brodman inside. The Blumaroo had a graver face than usual.
“We warned you there would be consequences,” Brodman announced.
Jennings cocked an eyebrow. “Mr. Brodman, I am an ex-soldier, and you are a... less than athletic man. What exactly is it you are threatening me with? Or is it this fictional evidence which you are going to deliver to the Judge again?”
“You have no idea what we can do. This is your last chance,” Brodman stated. “We’d rather do this the easy way. Tell me what was in Vault #792.”
Jennings remained silent.
Brodman nodded. “Then it’s the hard way.”
The Blumaroo’s eyes drifted over the Krawk’s shoulder for only a moment. Jennings reacted too late. As he spun to meet his attacker, a blunt instrument came down heavy on his head.
His vision blurring, Jennings collapsed to the floor. His last sight before unconsciousness was Brodman leaning down to scoop him into the carriage.
Jennings woke with a start.
The view of his office greeted him; he was sitting at his desk. The early morning sun shone through the windows, adding to the rapidly increasing headache.
Jennings groaned as he got to his feet.
He had been so stupid. He’d been so smug, thinking that Brodman was incapable of doing him harm... that he’d forgotten something so obvious. People like Brodman hired other people to do things for him.
But what had they done to him? The last thing Jennings could remember was being knocked out... had he really been unconscious for most of a day?
He instinctively checked his jacket pocket. Finding what he expected there, he took in his office. Everything looked the same, as if nothing had been touched.
Brodman must have done something... it was a lot of bother to go to just to take Jennings to his office.
The Krawk made his way down to the lobby via the lift. The gentle ting preceded the doors opening. As usual Jennings glanced over to the security guard’s station to see the Aisha return from his sleep.
Instead Jennings paused in his step. The Aisha was not there.
Jennings made his way over to the desk and peered over the edge. Asleep was one thing; absent was quite another. Jennings would have to speak to him at some point.
The Krawk made his way out into the Docklands morning air. The normal hustle and bustle outside the building that Jennings had grown accustomed to was strangely absent. He was suddenly acutely aware of something he had missed when he woke up. Something very obvious, that seemed to be pressing on his ears.
There was silence.
Not even the echoes of distant activity in the Docklands reached his ears. Complete and utter silence.
Jennings set off at once at a brisk pace. Something was dreadfully wrong. He made his way out of the Docklands and into the more respectable areas of the city, but still he encountered no one until he came to the Marketplace.
There, standing patiently in front of the Shop Wizard’s tent, was Brodman.
The Blumaroo didn’t so much as smirk as Jennings approached, but it was clear on the inside he was beaming from ear to ear.
“I told you that you didn’t know what we are capable of,” Brodman stated.
“The entire city?” Jennings enquired.
Brodman silently nodded.
“That’s... quite an achievement,” Jennings remarked.
Jennings had been very foolish, this much he now knew. The amount of information that Area 26 had access to... it would be the work of a moment to create some sort of hoax and have the city evacuated.
“Just you, and me,” Brodman told the Krawk. “Now, show me what’s inside Vault #792 and this can all be over.”
Jennings was already backing away. “I must confess, I underestimated you, Mr. Brodman. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
Jennings turned and ran. Where he was heading, he had no idea, but he needed time away from Brodman. Time to think.
Brodman merely watched Jennings escape, almost bordering on a smile.
“You can run, Mr. Jennings,” he called after the Krawk. “But you can’t hide. Not from us. Not from me.”
Jennings didn’t look back. He turned a corner and was away into the maze of deserted city streets. He needed to get away from Neopia Central. He’d hide out somewhere, maybe Kiko Lake...
...no, that wouldn’t be far enough. Mystery Island, that should do it. It would be easier to tackle Area 26 when people had returned to the city.
He’d need a ship for that. As he turned back towards the Docklands, he only hoped that the evacuees had left at least one behind.
He paused as he saw movement on the edge of his vision, a sudden blur of orange disappearing down an alleyway.
Jennings pursued it, but found only the darkness of a dead end waiting. Puzzled, Jennings backed out of the alley. Brodman wasn’t likely to be the only member of Area 26 still left in the city. He needed to keep moving.
He began to run again, heading towards the Docklands. As he turned another corner, he felt a brief sensation of dislocation come over him...
... and suddenly he wasn’t in the Docklands anymore. He was standing back in the Marketplace. Brodman was still waiting outside the Shop Wizard’s tent.
“Like I said, you can run but not hide,” Brodman said conversationally. “No matter how hard you try, I’ll find you again.”
Jennings frowned slightly, before turning again and running back the way he had come from. Again he made his way back to the Docklands, but when he passed the threshold he again found himself standing in front of Brodman.
“It’s just you and me,” Brodman announced. “For as long as it takes, we can keep you here.”
Jennings took another look behind him, back down the street, before sighing and turning back to Brodman.
“Now,” the Blumaroo said. “How’s about we go see what’s in Vault #792?”
Jennings ran again.
He couldn’t think of anything else to do. He knew it was futile, that Brodman had somehow cast a spell on the city to stop Jennings escaping, but the Krawk refused to submit.
After all, if Jennings gave in and showed Brodman to Vault #792, he would cease to have anything of value. Jennings didn’t doubt he would be disposed of if he no longer had a use.
And that was a curious thing, Jennings considered as he turned yet another corner. He didn’t have the access codes to the Vault. The Tonu who worked at the bank did. Jennings could no more open Vault #792 than Brodman could. Surely the Blumaroo knew this?
Jennings once more caught the sensation of something moving in his periphery, again a blur of orange disappearing down an alleyway.
Jennings pursued the blur again. Before, he had found the alleyway empty, but now he found an orange Wocky waiting for him, a fearful look on her face.
“Who are you?” Jennings demanded.
“We don’t have much time before the Brodman construct finds you,” she answered quickly. “I will be as brief as possible – you need to know that this isn’t real; you’re not in Neopia Central.”
Jennings cocked an eyebrow and looked around. “It certainly looks like it.”
“This is a mental representation, created by your unconscious mind,” the Wocky told him. “This city is how your unconscious has chosen to represent your mind – that’s why you can’t escape it.”
“And Brodman is here... how?” Jennings asked.
“That’s not Brodman,” the Wocky answered. “It’s a synthetic virus Area 26 obtained from the Virtupets Space Station. It works like a computer virus, hijacking your body’s systems and searching through your memories until it locates the information it is looking for.”
“The contents of Vault #792,” Jennings surmised.
The Wocky nodded. “The Vault in this city is the representation of your power to resist the virus.”
“And who are you?” Jennings asked.
“A virus, similar to the Brodman construct, but benign in nature,” the Wocky answered. “An employee of Area 26 sent me here, Saline. Not everyone within Area 26 agrees with the way its run, Mr. Jennings. Some of us agreed with the late Mrs. Clasp.”
She seemed to catch a scent on the wind. “The Brodman construct is heading this way... he can’t see me here, or the cover will be blown. I’ll have to self delete. Good luck.”
The Wocky disappeared before Jennings’s eyes. Behind him, the Krawk heard someone enter the alley.
“You can’t escape me,” Brodman stated. “Now, why don’t we go and visit Vault #792?”
To be continued...