Agent 00 Hog sat at his Cheat table, absent-mindedly flinging card after card across the hall. He was particularly good at flinging playing cards, but today, even that could not hold his attention. It had been a long and rather boring day, the yellow Moehog thought with a sigh. He had spent his time sitting, waiting for a challenger worthy of his skill, but no one had reached his table all day. Most of the players had stumbled in their first few games of Cheat, losing against his lower ranked companions. Only one had even gotten as far as playing a round with Princess Fernypoo, and, of course, the Neopet had lost.
As the Moehog flung the seven of diamonds across the room in a slicing arc, he saw a deep green Hissi in a smart black suit walk into the Cheat hall through the large double doors. However, instead of sitting down at the first table with Capara, Little Timmy, and Branston, he made a beeline towards Hog.
Hog blinked in confusion as the Hissi pulled out a seat and sat in front of him. “I’m sorry,” Hog said, flinging the next card. “But you have to play with the other opponents first.”
“I’m not here to play,” the Hissi said, sliding a small square of paper across the table. Hog thought it was a playing card until the Hissi withdrew his wing. It, in fact, was a business card. And written on it, very simply in embossed black ink, was:
Hog’s heart immediately started pounding in his chest, and his hooves began to sweat. This Agent 700 worked for N&T, the same agency that had hired Hog all those years ago, before he had retired to a life of card games. He hadn’t worked for them in years; he had told himself that he was done with the business.
And yet this Agent 700 was sitting in front of him, staring into his eyes expectantly.
Hog leaned across the table so that he was nose to nose with Agent 700. “What is going on?”
The Agent took back his business card and slipped it into his suit jacket pocket. “I’m sure you realize what the holiday is tomorrow.”
It took Hog a moment to understand what he meant. The N&T didn’t always follow the holiday schedule of the regular Neopian crowd. They had their own special days, and after a quick analysis, Hog realized that tomorrow was indeed a particularly important one.
“Fyora,” the yellow Moehog breathed. “A job like that requires hundreds of agents. The whole task force must be out.”
At his words, Agent 700’s face fell. “Unfortunately, there was an… incident on a recent sea mission that left almost the entire force… indisposed.”
Hog’s eyes widened. “They’re all dead?!”
Agent 700 shook his head vehemently. “Oh! No, no! Just really bad food poisoning from a company cruise trip. You should have seen it… or rather, maybe it was best you didn’t.” He folded his wings. “Either way, most of the agents are out of commission. That is why I was sent here to get you. I may be new to the agency, but I’ve heard about you. Your legendary feats of bravery and commitment to the cause are common knowledge at the agency, and once the incident happened, you were N&T’s first choice to call in for back-up.”
Hog felt his skin warm from the compliment. “Th-thank you,” he stammered. He was typically more suave than that, but the compliment really meant something to him.
“That said, we don’t have a lot of time.” Agent 700 glanced down at his watch. “We only have a few hours to ensure a successful mission, and I need your help. So, Agent 00 Hog, do you accept this mission?”
Hog looked around the barren Cheat hall and then picked up the Ace of Diamonds, his favorite card. He slipped it into his suit pocket, adjusted his bow tie, and nodded his head. “I accept.”* * *
Evening was already falling over Neopia Central, the sky slipping into a dusky violet, as they left the Cheat hall.
“We have three contacts we must meet with tonight,” Agent 700 explained as they carefully wove their way in and out of the shadowy side streets. “The first is known as Mr. M., and he lives right over here.”
They had reached a rather nondescript home on a nondescript street. Hog assumed it was nondescript for a reason; banality enabled locations to be much more discreet. Agent 700 reached out his wing and rapped on the door in a specified pattern: one knock, followed by a quick knock, and then, after a pause, one last slow knock.
Hog could hear the sound of shuffling footsteps from inside the residence. He readied his fighting stance, just in case the contact was not who Agent 700 said he was. However, when the door creaked open, Hog saw that Mr. M was a quite elderly Acara. He leaned on a cane that was carved with words like “indubitably” and “antidisestablishmentarianism;” they formed swirling patters that reminded Hog of smoke.
“Yes?” Mr. M rasped, peering at them through thick spectacles.
“Do you have them?” Agent 700 asked. The Hissi quickly withdrew his business card, flashing it just for a moment to confirm his identity.
The Acara nodded. “Come in.”
He led them into his home, which was filled with several large cardboard boxes. If Hog hadn’t known better, he would have assumed that the old man was moving. Instead, the Acara gestured with a shaky hand. “It’s all here.”
Agent 700 opened the nearest box and glanced inside. Hog recognized the contents: large metal sheets with small square letters balanced on top. It was a very heavy, and very delicate, set-up.
“Are you sure there are no mistakes?” Agent 700 asked the old Acara. Hog was surprised that he said it so harshly; then again, tomorrow was an important day.
Mr. M’s bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Do you doubt my sincerity to the cause?”
“One can never be so sure,” the Hissi said with a completely straight face. Still, he seemed pleased and reached into his pocket. First he pulled out a small bag and passed it to Mr. M. It was too small to carry the large sum of neopoints this job required; Hog assumed that it instead carried dubloons, which were worth much more and were a lot more convenient to hand off in sensitive matters such as these. Working out the conversion with pirates was always a hassle, but it was better to have the privacy.
Next, Agent 700 withdrew two small green vials. He uncorked the lids and passed one to Hog, clinking the vials against each other. “Well Agent 00 Hog, bottoms up!”
Taking an unlabeled vial from a near stranger might have seemed strange for any normal Neopian, but Hog was used to the odd rituals from his old life. He immediately downed the bottle, having recognized the distinctive texture, color, and smell. Within moments of the potion sliding into his stomach, he felt his whole body warm, particular the muscles in his arms and legs.
“A strength potion,” Hog said, setting the empty bottle on Mr. M’s side table and adjusting the sleeves of his suit. “Of course.”
“With the rest of the force out, we have to make due,” Agent 700 said. He nodded at the Acara. “Thank you Mr. M, for all your work.”
Mr. M inclined his head proudly. “Of course.”
Agent 700 looked at Hog. “Now come on. Let’s move.”
Together, they were easily able to stack and carry the large boxes. In fact, the boxes felt so light that Hog was worried that he would get careless and ruin the delicate nature of their cargo. So the Moehog focused on maintaining his balance, making sure to carry the boxes smoothly down the street to their next destination, Mr. P’s warehouse.
Hog knew Mr. P from his years as an agent. He was a slightly neurotic Cybunny who twitched on occasion and spoke a bit too rapidly. He was the type of Neopet who could be considered an agent’s worse nightmare, but he was excellent at his job.
“Move them in!” Mr. P said as they carried the boxes into a darkened warehouse. “Be careful, be careful! Mr. M does very precise work that I do not want to redo.” Then, when he noticed Hog, his face immediately brightened. “Double-O! What are you doing back? I thought you left the N&T business a long time ago.”
“Called in for an emergency,” Hog said, setting the boxes down. “Happy to be back for the night though.”
“Things going smoothly?”
Hog laughed. “You know if I answer that, I’ll jinx the whole night.”
“Well,” Mr. P said with a grin and a good-natured twitch, “then don’t answer. Just help me unload the boxes and we’ll get the show on the road.”
For the next few hours, Hog, Agent 700, and Mr. P carefully unloaded the large metal plates from the boxes and moved them into a nearby room that Hog knew all too well. It was a large space with no windows, allowing the room’s contents to be kept an absolute secret. And in the center of the room was a giant wooden contraption with whirling gears and large rolls of papers.
The Neopian Times press.
Together, Hog and Agent 700 set the metal plates onto the press. They were careful not to mess with the small stamps that spelled out each word for tomorrow’s issue, and they watched as Mr. P blotted ink and cranked the gears, printing each and every page. It was a tiring and meticulous process, but it had always filled Hog’s heart with glee. There was a certain magic to the activity, and Hog loved watching the blank papers transform as they filled with text.
It was nearly 4:00am when the last issue was finally free from the contraption. Mr. P carefully bundled the stacks with rope and then gave Hog and Agent 700 the spare twine, just in case the bundles came undone in transit.
“My job is done,” the Cybunny said with a twitch as Agent 700 passed him a small bag of dubloons. “All that’s left is to get them to the Weewoo carriers.”
“The roost isn’t far from here,” Hog said, remembering its location from his years of service. “And I can still feel the effects of the strength potion. We can get them all there within the hour.” He grinned. “Nice to see you again, Mr. P.”
The Cybunny smiled. “You too, Double-O. Take care of yourself! And save me a game of Cheat one day!”
Hog and Agent 700 left Mr. P’s warehouse, the bundled stacks if newspapers in tow. The sky was a deep black now, speckled with the pinpricks of glowing stars and an early morning moon. Hog and Agent 700 used the darkness to their advantage, inching alongside buildings, carefully crossing intersections, and staying clear of any nighttime passersby. However, in the end, their attempt at stealth was futile. As they entered the street where the roost was, they saw that their progress into the building was blocked.
Standing in the middle of the road were two Neopets who had clearly been waiting for them to show up to the roost all night. One was a svelte pink Nimmo, her blond hair tied up in a long ponytail. The other was a stout shadow Mynci with a pierced ear. Both wore dark suits and even darker sunglasses.
“Hand over the goods,” the Nimmo said as she cracked her knuckles.
Hog didn’t recognize the girl, but he did recognize the gold pin on her suit, which was forged into the shape of delicate wings; she worked for the Faerieland Gazette, one of N&T’s toughest competitors. He shook his head firmly, refusing to back down. “Never.”
The Nimmo frowned. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”
Quick as a whip, she darted towards Agent 700, faster than Hog knew was naturally possible. “Speed potion!” Hog shouted as a warning, but it was too late. The Nimmo had knocked the Hissi to the ground before the word “potion” had escaped Hog’s lips.
“GRAAAHHH!” the other agent—the short Mynci—yelled as he charged towards Hog. This guy clearly hadn’t taken a Speed Potion, but as Hog raised his hand to defend himself, he could feel the strength behind the Mynci’s blow. This guy had taken a Strength Potion. Thankfully, Hog’s was still in effect.
Hog grinned suavely at the Mynci’s confusion. “Guess we’re on an even playing field,” he said.
The Mynci was strong, but he was also slower than Hog who, despite his years of playing Cheat, also enjoyed running during his time off. Within just a few moments, Hog had managed to outmaneuver him, running laps around him and meeting him blow for blow. When the Mynci lost his balance and fell to the ground, Hog took a piece of spare rope Mr. P had given him and tied the Mynci up tightly.
“Aha!” Hog announced with a rush of pride. “Take that!”
“Don’t be so excited,” came a whisper.
Hog looked to his left and saw that, while he had made easy work of the Mynci, Agent 700 had clearly succumbed to the Nimmo. He was tied up on the ground, looking ashamed, and the Nimmo towered over him.
She narrowed her eyes at Hog as she took in his appearance. “Agent 00 Hog,” she said. “I thought you traded away a life of missions for a life of card games?” She spat out the last word with distaste.
“This is no time for small talk,” Hog said, adjusting the lapels on his suit jacket. “You are not taking these papers.”
The pink Nimmo laughed. “Oh, I will be taking them. The Faerieland Gazette is going to have its biggest boost in sales tomorrow, all thanks to me. And you are not going to stop me.”
One moment she was talking, and the next she was gone, having vanished in a blur of motion. She raced around Hog as a streak of pink, and he felt dizzy trying to focus on her location. Finally, she left him and darted towards the stack of newspapers Agent 700 had dropped on the ground.
“You can’t stop me!” she cheered, reaching for one of the issues. She only needed one copy to bring back to the Faerieland Gazette headquarters, and her eyes glinted manically as her hand closed on the newspaper. “You’re not fast enough.”
Hog narrowed his eyes. “Oh yeah?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Ace of Diamonds. “Try this for fast.” And with a flick of his wrist, he threw the card.
It flew as fast and as true as it always did back in the Cheat hall, and it struck the Nimmo’s hand with sharp precision. She yelped in pain and dropped the newspaper, but Hog hadn’t stayed to watch. Instead, he had sprinted the remaining few feet to the roost building and flung open the doors. “Help me!” he cried into the nest, where Weewoos cooed and purred, preening their feathers. “Help! Someone is trying to jeopardize the issue!”
Instantly, hundreds of Weewoos flew out of the nest, swarming in the sky like a great white cloud. The pink Nimmo’s eyes widened as she stared up in horror, and without a word, she sprinted away at lightning speed, empty-handed.
Agent 700 cheered from his spot tied up on the ground. “You did it Hog! You saved the paper.”
Hog grinned, watching as the postal Weewoos began to pick up the newspapers with their talons and fly off into the early morning sky, delivering the issue to the citizens of Neopia. “All in an agent’s work,” Hog replied with a glistening grin. “Now, let’s get you untied.”* * *
The next morning, Hog sat at his Cheat table by himself. So far, no one had challenged him to a game, but today, he didn’t mind. His mind was a bit sluggish from the lack of sleep, so he was content to simply sip some coffee.
He also was too busy reading the 700th issue of The Neopian Times. As he read each comic and examined each line of text, he couldn’t help but smile, remembering the night where he had, for just a bit, been a true agent once again.