The Retracticity Core
The day starts with breakfast, like it always does. Borovan doughnuts today, imported from Neopia, just a rainbow ride away from Roo Island. Jeronie makes coffee for herself, musing while she does that 'rainbow ride' sounds like something in a book she'd once read to her brother.
Of course, she has to take said rainbow ride to get a lift to work. It's a weird world.
She brings the paper in, as she does every morning, and leaves the comics out for Horesay, as she does every morning, and tells the baby Blumaroo to pay attention in school, as she does most mornings.
"I have excellent grades," Horesay protests. "I'm very smart!"
"I know you are," Jeronie says, "but maybe today you can make an effort to write in cursive."
Horesay hmphs. "Have you ever needed cursive?"
"Yes, now finish eating and go to school. You have your holo-comm?" Horesay points to his backpack. "Good, I'll see you when I get home."
Jeronie is a blue Yurble. She would make a perfect spy, she's so inconspicuous, and she is, in fact, a perfect spy. She takes the rainbow train to Neopia Central, like so many others, and then she walks to the Virtupets docking station, like, well, considerably fewer others.
The spy organisation at the Virtupets Space Station, which we will from now on call Not Sloth's Government (or NSG), prides itself on its gadgets and technologic progress. The holo-comms in particular are Jeronie's favourite, simply because they allow her to contact her brother even when she's on the moon and he is not. The rest of the NSG uses theirs more appropriately, i.e. for tactical purposes.
The arrival to work is quiet. Work itself is rife with sound and chaos. This is not, in and of itself, unusual, but this is a different kind of chaos. It's messy.
Jeronie nudges her way through the small throng of spies and administrative staff to find her supervisor, Agent X. She assumes the X stands for Xweetok.
"What's going on?" she asks.
"The Thieves' Guild is here," he says, in between barking orders at his other spies.
"What did they take?"
"It doesn't look like they've taken anything yet. They're just being disruptive," X says, at his wits' end.
"Maybe they're looking for something specific."
"Good luck to them, then," X scoffs. "The records room is locked down and the armoury is sealed without an acceptable fingerprint."
That leaves the labs, Jeronie thinks. "That leaves the labs," Jeronie says.
X freezes. "Yeah that's not good."
The two agents charge through the station the best they can and burst into the main laboratory, where they find a single Neopian rummaging through boxes of prototypes and special parts and getting dangerously close to the vault of finished projects. The Neopian is wearing a dark cloak.
X turns on the light. The figure whirls around.
"Stay where you are," Jeronie says, more bravely than she feels presently.
"Where is the retracticity core?" the Neopian says.
Agent X blinks, feigns innocence. "What?"
"Where. Is. It?"
"Uh-uh, us first," Jeronie says. "Who are you?"
The cloak's hood is lowered. A green Acara is revealed.
"I don't think this was the Thieves' Guild," Jeronie says to X. "At least, not in its current manifestation."
"Yes, they would never be so sloppy," X agrees. "To what do we owe this pleasure, Masila?"
Masila laughs unpleasantly. "Oh, my dears, you already know."
"We don't know what you're talking about," Jeronie says.
"Well, well," Masila says. "If you won't talk voluntarily… I'll find a way to make you. You have a little brother, yes?"
"Leave Horesay out of this!"
"I will, if you decide to be more cooperative."
"You don't have much choice," X growls. "You're under arrest."
"Sorry, I'm afraid I really must be going," Masila says. "Lovely meeting both of you!"
Masila disappears, a wispy cloud of green smoke trailing in her absence, before either of the NSG operatives can respond.
Jeronie hmms. "I didn't know she had magic."
"I think it's more likely that she stole a teleporter," X says, inspecting the damage in the room, working on straightening up. "Where is your brother now?"
"At school, hopefully listening to his teacher."
"Do you want an agent stationed nearby?"
"No," Jeronie sighs, certain that Masila is grasping at straws in an attempt to regain some power. "It was just an idle threat."***
Horesay copies the loopy writing on his worksheet to the best of his ability, brow furrowed in concentration. When he looks up after a few moments, he notices that the rest of his class, teacher included, is frozen. It reminds him of the creepy wax exhibit in the museum.
He gets up warily, puzzled as to why he is not frozen. The clock isn't either, and the ticking sound seems abnormally loud. When he reaches the door, two black-suited Neopians grab him. His vision goes black.
It returns to normal a remarkably short time later, the blindfold removed to reveal nobody dressed in black, but one figure in a cloak that looks like the rug in his bedroom. Did someone make a cloak from the rug in his bedroom?
"Um, hi," he chances saying.
"Oh good, you're literate," the cloaked Neopian says. "I was told your handwriting left something to be desired."
"What's going on?" Horesay says, struggling to free his hands. "Where am I? Why am I here?"
"Don't worry, darling, you'll be perfectly safe. I just need you to help me with something!"
"With what?" Horesay asks suspiciously. "What could you possibly want from me?"
"Your sister has something that belongs to me. I need you to get it back."
Horesay is even more suspicious than before. "Jeronie isn't a thief! She can arrest you!"
"Oh she tried," the figure says. "But unfortunately for you, the charges… didn't stick."
"What do you want? Please let me go!"
"Do you know what a retracticity core is?" the voice says quite conversationally. After Horesay shakes his head, she continues, "I can use it as part of a machine that, shall we say, reads minds."
"Oh, it's not a trick, dear, it's quite real!"
"Why am I here?" Horesay asks again, glaring.
"We're waiting for your darling sister to show up, of course!" Right on cue, Horesay's holo-comm beeps rapidly in his backpack. "Your sister is quite punctual. Answer it," she says, holding the cube to his face.
"Hi, Jeronie," he says, swallowing thickly.
"Horesay! Are you all right?!" Jeronie asks, panicked.
"He's absolutely fine, and he'll remain that way unless you decide to end our conversation in a similar manner as before," Horesay's captor says.
"Masila," Jeronie growled.
"My, your entire family is so intellectual! Would you mind terribly coming to visit us? We're rather lonely. And don't trouble yourself bringing that bothersome Agent X. Just bring the core with you."
"Why would I negotiate with you?"
Masila raises an eyebrow. "Your brother means nothing to you? I'm proposing a trade, after all."
"The harbor at Mystery Island. I have somebody there you can bring you here. And he'll make sure you're alone when you arrive."
The tiny shimmery image of Jeronie disappears as she disconnects her holo-comm. Masila places Horesay's in his backpack with more care than he expects.
"I trust you won't go anywhere," she laughs, leaving Horesay blessedly free of her company.***
The exchange begins silently. Jeronie meets Horesay's eyes briefly, but puts most of her attention on Masila, who exaggerates the action of cutting the ropes holding Horesay's hands, but stops him from running to Jeronie the second he's free.
"The retracticity core?" Masila asks, holding out a hand.
Jeronie considers the glowing blue sphere in her hands. "What do you want this old thing so badly for?"
"A girl has to get her rightful place in the most prestigious guild back somehow," Masila says.
"Too bad you're better at kidnapping than thieving."
"Well, this way we both get what we want! A fair deal, if I do say so myself."
"You first," Jeronie says.
Masila tsks. "So distrustful! Very well. Off you go, darling," she says, ushering Horesay across the room.
He hides behind Jeronie, peering around her to see what's going on. Jeronie tosses the core to Masila, who grins maniacally. Horesay looks up at Jeronie, confused.
"I'm smarter than you think I am," Jeronie says.
"You? I'm the mastermind here!" Masila says. "But do congratulate yourself. It could have been much worse for you."
"It can't get much worse for you."
Masila ignores her, popping the sphere into a larger metal piece, waiting… and waiting… "Why isn't it working? What did you do to it?"
"Nothing. That's just a prototype. It doesn't work correctly," Jeronie says.
"You're telling me I have nothing? Oh, my dear, you underestimate me. You can't get out of here without me, so unfortunately… I'll be taking my bartering chip back now."
"Unfortunately," Agent X says from behind her, "that won't be happening."
Masila whirls around, much the way she had in the lab previously. She narrows her eyes. "Would you mind filling me in on how you got here?"
"We bribed your guard at the docks. You should probably pay your men better."
"I can still disappear," Masila points out.
"Sure," X agrees. "And you can continue looking for something that doesn't even exist."
"We gave up on the project," Jeronie says, "after the first working core made the user disappear. He might be able to read minds now, but we'll never know. I don't think it would be in your best interest to keep looking into it. It, and he, are gone."
"You're bluffing me," Masila says.
"I refer to my earlier statement," X says. "It's your life."
"In prison!" Horesay shouts, as Agent X leads a very perturbed but predisposed Masila out of the building.
Jeronie smiles and ruffles his hair. "Did you learn cursive today?"
"I don't know, you'll have to ask my teacher tomorrow. Do you think he's unfrozen yet?"
"That's an excellent question, kiddo."***
The day starts with breakfast, like it always does. Jeronie reads the news and Horesay reads the comics over cereal, noting with disappointment that the heroes pale in comparison to his sister and Agent X and the NSG.
He likes comic villains better, though.