Agent of the Sway: Induction - Part Two
The Headquarters of the Defenders of Neopia was the closest thing Neopia Central had to a fortress. The building had been constructed at the end of Judge Iron's reign of terror and was thirty one floors filled to the brim with variously superpowered, highly trained warriors. There were state of the art security systems protecting every single floor and not once in the fifteen years or so since the building's construction had it ever been breached.
This of course didn't fill Clayton with a great deal of confidence, given that he would have to reach the Research and Development Laboratory on the eleventh floor.
Access to the lobby was easy enough, as it was a public area, though Clayton had to ditch the cloak and the dagger to avoid unnecessary attention. The stairwell and lift were both heavily guarded though, that proved more of a difficulty.
Instead, Clayton approached the reception - he'd gain access to the only other place the public were allowed.
"Are visiting hours still open?" he asked.
The receptionist Cybunny glanced up from her work. "Yes, though you'll need to be quick - they are only open for the next hour. What's the prisoner's name?"
Clayton needed to think fast with this one. Certain high-profile criminals he knew of were placed in high security - which meant no visitors under any circumstances. But Clayton was from the Docklands, he knew enough people who had been collared by the Defenders for minor crimes.
"Jason Holderness," he said.
"Five Fingers Holderness? The forger?" she remarked. "Not often he gets visitors..."
"There a problem with that?" Clayton asked.
"No, of course not, he's entitled to them just like everyone else on that level," she backtracked quickly. "I didn't mean any offence. You'll need to check in on level 9, provide identification and the like. Here, this pass will open the lift for you."
She handed over a small plastic card. Phase 1 complete.
Clayton thanked the receptionist and headed over to the lift, nodding at the Defenders guarding either side of it. The life doors slid open and when they closed behind him, Clayton inserted the card into the panel nearby.
The lift lurched upwards, and Clayton set about his work, taking a long metal rod out of the back of his shirt. He pressed the emergency stop button, bringing the lift to a sudden halt.
"Is something the matter?" a voice called out over the intercom.
"I don't know," Clayton replied innocently as he used the crowbar to open up a panel in the roof. "It just suddenly stopped. I'm heading to floor 9 for visiting."
"Just hold tight, we'll have it sorted before you know," the voice came back.
Clayton was already on the roof of the lift, and jammed the crowbar into the mechanism. Just in time, as the Defender on the intercom must have tried an automatic recall of the lift. The gears ground with a satisfying clunk, the crowbar preventing their movement.
"There seems to be a problem with the mechanism," the voice said below him. "We'll send someone down to fix it - you may be there for a few moments, but you are perfectly safe."
Clayton smiled as he began to scale the cables up a few floors. The lift had stopped just between the maximum security levels. Guards there wouldn't be able to leave their posts, meaning someone from further away would be dispatched. That gave him more time. But he only had a matter of minutes, even then. He had to work quickly.
He reached the door to the eleventh floor and swung himself across to it, neatly perching on the ledge. Checking his pocket watch, he silently counted to himself before forcing his fingers into the gap between the doors and pushing them apart. They moved freely, thankfully, and as Clayton emerged into the corridor, another door at the end of the room slid shut. The researchers had just gone for their 2-hourly breaks in their break room - all Defenders were entitled to them. The laboratory would be empty, hopefully.
Ahead, he forced himself into the laboratory proper. All manner of projects were spread out across the workspace, from strange staffs and weapons to new suits for the Defenders made of more durable fabrics. But Clayton's target was self-evident. There was a large space shuttle in the middle of the room. It was sleek and silver, designed as a ship for use by Captain K, a new Defender with dreams of exploring the solar system. At the back between the twin engines, a section of the bodywork had been removed, revealing the inner workings of the craft. There, undoubtedly, was what Clayton had been sent for. It was a small blue orb that pulsed with magical energy. It had to be the power source.
To test the theory, he disconnected the wires from it and removed it. The ship made a low pitched whirring noise, as if it was powering down. That was all the evidence Clayton needed. He hastily tucked the orb into his shirt and made his way back down the lift shaft, closing the doors to the eleventh floor behind him and dislodging his crowbar as he returned to the lift.
A few minutes later, the Defenders descended into the lift, apologising profusely. After being a little confused as to why the lift mechanism didn't appear to be jammed at all, they sent the lift on its way again and they arrived on the ninth floor. But by that time, visiting hours had ended and there were, the guards on duty stressed, No Exceptions.
So Clayton was forced to head back down in the lift, and out of the lobby - his crime was complete.
Clayton didn't get a chance to use the big door knocker on Fraversham's grand front door. As soon as he reached for it the door was opened by a Lupe who must have served as the Lord's butler.
"The master has been expecting you," he said with a little distaste.
He led Clayton back to the library, where Faversham was busy writing at his desk.
"You were successful?" he asked, though seemed to say it more as a statement, as if he already knew.
Clayton took the orb from under his shirt and tossed it at Faversham. The Kyrii gasped, leaping forwards to avoid it hitting the desk.
"This is incredibly rare!" he snapped. "And incredibly fragile! Not something to be thrown about."
"You said you'd explain what's going on," Clayton reminded him.
"Ah yes, I did," Faversham said with a smile. "Well, it is... something of a long story."
"I have time."
"Indeed you do," Faversham agreed. "Though not all of us have that luxury. Dr. Sloth is an ancient being, perhaps as old as the Faeries who live in Faerieland. Our earliest records suggest he may even have been on this planet before Neopets evolved."
"That's impossible, no one can be that old," Clayton said.
"Being impossible rarely stops things from happening in Neopia," Faversham chuckled. "Regardless of his origins, Sloth is certainly the oldest creature we have knowledge of - but for countless centuries, he has been lying dormant in space, constructing a series of space stations and focusing on Kreludor and the enslavement of the Grundo race."
"Space stations?" Clayton frowned. "You're telling me there are people orbiting the planet?"
"Of course," Faversham replied, hastily writing something in his documents.
"That's impossible, we would know," Clayton stated.
"Would we now?" Faversham smirked. "Neopia Central has lived in blissful isolation from the rest of this world for centuries now. Did you know there is a desert beyond the Haunted Woods? No, of course you didn't. You think in terms of this tiny little city - Roo Island probably seems like a long distance to you - Mystery Island, a distant galaxy. Regardless, the current 'Virtupets' Space Station, as Sloth calls it, is the fourth such construction. Neopets are living up there, and indeed, suffering up there."
"Virtupets," Clayton echoed, "That was what Dr. Sloth's message called the thing he's giving us."
"Yes," Faversham agreed darkly. "It is nothing more than branding, a clever smoke screen. You heard the static at the end of the message, yes? The part that hurt your ears? It was an encoded message revealing the doctor's true intentions. Even now, the Island Mystic on Mystery Island is working on breaking the code. Me and my associates, however, already have. We have known of Sloth's endgame for some time now. Virtupets are not something new, but in fact a horrible mutation of normal Neopets. The disappearances have been Sloth taking test subjects for his experiments. He intends to construct a machine in space that will mutate every single Neopet on this planet in one go. And when he does that, he will no doubt aim to rule over us all with an iron grip. We cannot allow it, and this orb will help us stop him."
"Who is us?" Clayton asked. "You and your butler?"
"I am a member of an organisation committed to protecting Neopia from harm and furthering its development, at any cost," Faversham explained.
"What's it called?"
"That, as with all other information regarding it, is on a need to know basis. And you do not need to know, Clayton. Perhaps, in time, you may come to learn our secrets. If, that is, you would consent to helping us some more?"
"What else do you need?" Clayton asked.
"This orb will be used to construct a far larger version of the craft you saw in the Defenders building, one capable of large scale transport to and from the Space Station," Faversham explained. "Once there, we will attempt to halt Sloth's mutation ray by any means we can. It will of course be dangerous, but I can guarantee a better life than if you continue to hunt in the dirt for Bori artefacts with Galem Darkhand."
"You can protect me from the Guild?" Clayton asked.
"It will be as if you have never existed," Faversham assured him.
"Alright then," Clayton agreed. "But I have to say goodbye to some people."
"Of course." Faversham nodded. "The rocket will likely be completed by morning. I don't doubt the Island Mystic will have broken the code by then, and there will be a mad rush for the rocket to try and stop Sloth. It is being constructed at a launch pad in the Industrial District. Meet me there are dawn, and hopefully, we shall be at the front of the queue."
To be continued...