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File transfer complete.
What a wonderful topic. Anyway, I'm a gray zafara. I suppose you're going to ask about the arm. Or, if you're a stickler for details, the lack thereof. I've got a cybernetic limb in its place, courtesy of Neesboy's arcane programming. In case you haven't guessed already, to a virtual entity such as myself, programming is quite real, as well as the threat of hackers, viruses, and data corruption. But that's just being pessimistic (something I'm quite good at). And if you were wondering, no, Neesboy's not my owner. Not all of us pets are tied down to a user, you know. Who do you think runs the shops, delivers the Neopian Times, or in my case, staffs the police force?
Started December 2008
Blast! Almost seven! I hastily grabbed an omelette from the safety deposit box, and hopped on my hover board. That, at least, was something to be said for working for the police force: once you got off traffic duty, they got you access to broadband connection. No waiting as noobish users moving at dialup speeds clogged the intersections. I'm proud to say that I resist the urge to wave at them as I shoot overhead. Usually.
By the time I got in to the NCPD headquarters, it was almost seven, but only if you were going in the other direction. "CAL! Get in here, you one-armed witless weasel!" Ah, the melodious sound of my boss yelling his lungs out at me. I scrambled to get into his office as unobtrusively as I could manage with everybody staring directly at me. Mondays usually ended up something like this, actually.
"Yes sir!" I stated sharply as the Chief of Police loomed over me. Quite an impressive feat considering he was a Skeith, shorter than me, and sitting. If I ever feel that life is no longer worth living, I'll ask him how he does it.
The Chief glowered back. I would swear he could read my mind, if it weren't for the fact that I have trouble envisioning him reading much of anything at all. Well, Evil Plots for Beginners isn't much of a stretch. "You're late. As such, you'll have the privilege of taking care of the most recent report we've gotten in. Silent alarm was hit at the National Neopian. Some Lutari waltzed into the place with a crazy getup and a supersoaker. All well and nice, up until the thing starts shooting fire. Now either you keep this from turning into the biggest farce since Mr. Chuckles kidnapped Judge Hog, or I will personally barbecue you over the schizo's homemade flamethrower myself!" I'm not a terribly bright individual myself, but thankfully, my boss does not leave much up to intellectual guesswork. I got out of there like Sloth out of the Usuki Convention.
Officially, anybody in a costume gets handled by the Defenders of Neopia, which is what the obtuse "crazy getup" reference clearly indicated. Officially, however, Jelly World doesn't exist. In reality, the Defenders shove off a lot of the jobs onto professional grunts like us, and swoop into save the day only after a couple police have been shocked, encased in ice, or what have you. Even having the Defenders in the city didn't do much to cut back on crime. No matter how many times you say that crime doesn't pay, there will always be more people willing to check over the figures for themselves.
As I braked in front of the bank, it was clear that I'd arrived a little late again. At the top of the building, the yellow Lutari was perched at the roof edge. His outfit was certainly unconventional, at any rate. He was wearing an olive green trench coat, a bullet proof vest painted orange, and a pair of unseasonable ski goggles. Easily enough justification for me to consider him crazy, quite apart from the fact that he was about to jump off the building. With a helicopter blade attached to his back. Nuttier than a biscuit pet…
"You'll never catch me!" a shout came from above, just as the ends of the blades lit up and leapt forward. Fireworks were spinning it, and a second later, the Lutari was careening through the air, shouting incoherently above the combined noise of the explosives and the propeller. Note to self: never get to work late again.
The flight was short lived. I winced, pursuing on my board, as the escaping criminal dipped too low, clipped a tree, ricocheted off towards the brick wall of a building, and finally settling into a much calmer Zen as he became one with the pavement. Not much chance of anything more than dental records being intact after that.
Something was wrong. The wreck was still shouting, the words now discernable at a closer distance. "I spy with my little eye something that begins with 'D' and ends with 'coy,'" the voice blared from a speaker.
What the hexadecimal!? My pay grade doesn't cover the psycho sociopaths being clever to boot. I spun my board around, scanning the growing crowd. There! Headed towards the nearest link station was a yellow Lutari, only just breaking into a run as he neared the transfer station. He'd ditched the giveaway outfit, but a large duffel bag was slung over one shoulder, and he was trying to run with both it and a cumbersome supersoaker. I slid my board to maximum altitude gain, and it shot up over the onlookers with a groaning complaint.
The crook glanced back to see me coming at him, and dropped the bag, pointing the water gun at me menacingly. A butane torch was attached to the front, and the pressure pump had been replaced by a tube leading to what I presumed had to be a compressor on his back. "Stay back! Otherwise I torch you and the cash," he shouted, a tad manically. Not much chance of him actually carrying through with the threat on the money. If he did, I'd arrest him, and he'd get even more jail time. On the other hand, you kind of have to expect that as the final outcome when you go to rob a bank with a home-made flamethrower and a rocket-propelled dummy. Not exactly the sort of person inclined towards collected, rational thinking under pressure.
I slowed to a halt, backing up a little. "Look, there's no need for that. We can talk this over…" I said, holding up my hands reassuringly. Right. Point of fact: I don't reassure people, particularly nuts who rob banks. I fired my grappling line, a CO2 cartridge propelling it forcefully towards the Lutari's forehead. "…once I've knocked you silly." I jumped down, forcing him to the ground and putting him in handcuffs. "Don't try anything funny. I'm more than willing to bet your freedom on a quick game of Bloody Knuckles," I warned the still-groggy future inmate.
It took another half an hour for our resident DIY bank robber to be carted off and the bank thoroughly checked for any leftover unpleasant surprises. After the matter was wrapped up on the practical end, that only left heading back to the police station to deal with the joys of bureaucracy. These are numerous, and include writing and filing a report, following up to identify the person being put into jail, looking over the robbery footage a couple dozen times for future security (yeah, stop the guy in the trench coat and goggles before he's in the building), and last and least, coming up with a creative excuse for being late to work. By the time lunch hour rolled around, I was more than ready to ditch the cubicle. I had an errand to take care of anyways, so I finished up the leftover scraps of omelette and headed out the door.
The programming fees I pay, ever a constant drain on my income, do not, thankfully, just go towards maintenance. If I keep my arm in good shape and manage to refrain from punching an excessive number of brick walls, Neesboy, my programmer, puts the extra time towards pet projects that he thinks might help me out. He'd recently left a neomail saying he had something ready for pickup, so I made my way over to the transfer station and caught a link through the guild central to Shukumei. It's a private guild, but I can get in by virtue of being an enforcer of justice and the common good. That, and Neesboy usually lets the folks at the gate know. But if he ever forgot, I could get in by virtue of being an enforcer of justice and the common good.
I strode into the message room, giving one last check to make sure my avatar was set to the official police department one. Last year April Fool's, somebody switched mine out for Usuki Frenzy, and the guys have been doing it to each other ever since. The room was full of people chatting at the moment, so it was a minute before I located a grey Wocky named Cisc. His normally bright eyes were glazed over, indicating that Neesboy was using him. Bit of a creepy thought, being an active pet. They can't be made to do anything they wouldn't do normally, but it still gives me the creeps looking into somebody's eyes and knowing there's somebody else looking back out. Cisc seems to get on all right, though. I waved to get his (their? I never know which to call it) attention.
"Well, glad you could make it on over. I heard a bit about what happened at the bank. Probably going to be all over the Times tomorrow morning," Neesboy said, the Wocky grinning for him.
"Well, I don't know about that, but I'm just glad the thing's over with. Normal bank heists are bad enough to begin with. But what'd you want to show me?" I inquired. "And use little words, okay?"
"It's a doppelganger. A decoy, if you haven't already had enough of them," he clarified upon seeing my blank -disallowed_word- okay, a dummy other than myself) for them to shoot instead was even better.
"Don't suppose it can do my paperwork for me?" Not likely, but worth a shot.
"Sorry, no luck there," Neesboy said with a chuckle. "It can't so much as pick up the pen. I'm afraid you're stuck doing it the normal way like the rest of us. Actually, I needed to talk to you about what I had in mind next. The double is mostly just waiting for approval from folks higher up, so I can get started on something else. I was thinking about an electrical output system for-"
He was interrupted by a loud beeping from my arm, alerting me to an urgent neomail. "Hang on, something's come up," I stopped him, reading over the message. Sloth's socks, this was not my day…
"Hmm? What is it?" Neesboy enquired, glancing over at it.
"Not good. They're getting reports of a hacker on the loose, so they're calling everybody they can get back to headquarters. It sounds like it's an experienced one," I answered as I finished up the message.
"Well, still, it's just one hacker. Can't you report them and have TNT take care of it?"
"Just one hacker? That's like saying, 'Oh well, it's only one Monoceraptor coming to eat us.' I know you have to go through the proper channels to get anything coded, but they can rewrite reality however they darn please," I said, grabbing my board and starting towards the door, the grey Wocky following behind. "If they cover their tracks, there's no way to pin them down. They're not exactly going to leave themselves searchable, after all. We have to track them down 'the normal way,' as you put it." As much as I'd have loved to stay and chat (anything to avoid getting caught up in a hacker hunt), there wasn't time. As soon as I was outside, I took off back to work.
The police office was a hectic mess, with people running back and forth with updates, rumors, and more coffee for the boss. He, in turn, sat at the center of the chaos, directing proceedings at the top of his lungs. Jobs were on the line, decisive action was being taken, and more workers were streaming in. This was him at his finest. The rest of the time looked pretty much the same, but was over petty theft instead of a threat to civilian lives. Chief did not do things on a small scale.
The Skeith looked up, and spotted me. "All right, anybody with any experience related to coding whatsoever, raise their tin can of an arm!" And to think, some people look for more attention and recognition in their job. I hurried over to his desk, not wanting to waste any time. Well, I wanted to, but I was also intent on surviving to see tomorrow's dawn. I'll take odds on surviving the hacker over my boss any day of the week. "You're the only one in this place who's got a scrap of familiarity with custom coding, so I'm sending you and Krin out to investigate our most promising lead. He's already been briefed." Not one to bandy words, my boss turned to berate another cop and grab a report from somebody passing by.
Krin, who was waiting nearby, was a regular associate of mine, a hulking Eyrie with the general build of a brick wall. Together, we made a perfect combination of brawn and pretty much more brawn. 'Course, in my line of work, the math doesn't get much further than the 'he's fired four shots, so he's got… let's see… forget this, COVER ME!' variety. "So what's the tip off?" I asked my partner in crime-fighting. "It would really make my day if you said Mystery Island, you know." One always has to be thorough in checking up after an operation like this, after all.
Krin snorted. "Close. How's the Haunted Woods sound?" Then again, there's something to be said for the ol' get-in-get-out approach. "There have been reports of weird stuff going on, but they were ignored. Boss said he'd be more concerned if we stopped getting reports of weird stuff going on there. But this was a different kind.
It's not a good sign when the Haunted Woods Watch calls in for outside help. During full moons, their paperwork is pretty lax if the crooks don't make it all the way to a holding cell. "Well, that's lovely. He's been messing around for who-knows-how-long because nobody notices anything weird out there since it might notice back.
Krin nodded. "That's about it. We don't have anything terribly specific, just a general area, unfortunately. But we'd better get going if we're going to get to the link in time," he added, getting his own board as we navigated the bustle out to the door.
Grand Central Page, or Explore, as the users generally call it, is always busy, but weekday traffic is a bit less chaotic. No preferential treatment at the hub; King Skarl himself would have elbow his way through the crowd. Skarl, however, does not have the decided benefit of an elbow like mine. Krin did all right on his own, simply presenting people with the irrefutable fact that they would make room for him. Between the two of us, we managed to cut a swath to the next link out to the Haunted Woods in time to get decent seats. I grabbed a copy of the Neopian Times and flipped to the comics section. By the time I'd gotten through "Pint Sized," the link had pulled into the station, and we disembarked.
The station wasn't nearly as crowded as Grand Central. Apart from Halloween, the only real peak time was Friday the Thirteenth, when all the superstitious users came to play Wheel of Misfortune. Someday, Neesboy is going to explain that one to me and it'll make sense. I turned to Krin, who was following behind and glaring at any of the shadier individuals with their eyes on us. "So where are the reports from? Even the boss doesn't hate me enough to make me comb the entire woods for something weirder than grammatically challenged ghosts, pie-throwing evil robot clowns, and Edna's recipes.
Well, he might, but lucky for you, he wanted this whole thing done with as quick as possible," Krin answered. "'Bout half way from here to Neovia. No boards, by the way; the last thing we want is the hacker finding us before we find him." He was, regrettably, right. We'd have to trudge through the forest ourselves. It seemed like I was having to do an awful lot the 'old fashioned way' these days.
As we headed towards Neovia, the crowd thinned and the woods thickened in a manner that almost suggested the latter was predatory. The fact that they occasionally tried to grab us by the neck did more than just suggest. They were, however, still wood, and no match for a solid left hook from me. "Like Ma always said… eat your veggies or they'll eat you," I muttered, fending off a hopeful twisted oak.
Our twisting path eventually came to another fork, but this time it had a sign. That, and a two-headed mutant Hissi dressed up in a pair of battered top hats and what probably passed as high fashion in the Haunted Woods and Second Hand Shoppe rejects in the rest of Neopia. I groaned. "Not this! I thought they got rid of this sort of thing after people finished rescuing the town, lifting the curse, and what have you.
The sign was standard plot fare: "One head always tells the truth, the other always lies. One path leads to certain death, the other to safety. You may ask one question." Neesboy's the sort who enjoys this sort of thing. I, on the other hand, prefer to simply take my normal approach. Interrogation.
All right. Sign says I get one question. Now, which of you wants me to beat them upside the head until they tell me which path leads to safety?
The heads looked at one another, and one of them got a rather sick look on his face. "I do," he said at last.
Fine by me." I said, grabbing his neck and giving him a sharp cuff to the back of the head. That being unproductive, I repeated a couple times until the Hissi relented.
That way! That way!" he shouted, pointing to the right. "That's not the way that leads to certain agonizing death by mysterious causes! Please don't stop hitting me now!
There we go, Krin," I said, starting down the indicated path. "No trouble at all if you know the solution. Now come on.
Krin stared back at me. "But that was the one who always lies! You're supposed to take the other path." Honestly, sometimes Krin was a little slow on the uptake.
Well of course he's the liar. So naturally this path is the one that leads to certain agonizing death by mysterious causes, right?
Krin nodded, still unconvinced.
Well, that's exactly what we're looking for, isn't it? If I wanted to stay safe, I would have run away to Shenkuu the minute I heard there was a hacker on the loose. Now hurry up!" Krin having finally caught onto the thread of my logic, we left the Hissi to massage the back of one head while the other lectured it on the matter of honesty as the best policy.
It was only a couple minutes before we noticed that things were indeed weirder than the Haunted Woods background strangeness level of 'moderately disturbing'. The trees were keeping to themselves, almost trying to look unobtrusive. The ones that were alive, at any rate; half of them had huge claw marks running along them. That wasn't terribly surprising, considering that half of the trees along the path we'd already come had fist-shaped dents in them. It was the area around the gashes that was so strange. It was rotten, the wood riddled through with holes.
"Boo," a voice said from behind, sounding rather disinterested. The two of us wheeled around to see the hacker. "Don't look so surprised. You've triggered three alarms already. You don't think I'd let people just waltz in to have a look around, do you?" he continued. His form was rather indistinct; while it was possible to make out two legs, two arms, and a head, his body was constantly blurring and flickering, as if not quite in synch with the rest of the world.
"Hardly think we need to have bothered," I shot back. "Frankly, I don't mind somebody clearing out a bit of the local flora. Is that really the grand plan? A tree blight?" That would make for a nice change, really. Somebody with all the power of programming at their fingertips, and they decide to do a bit of judicious deforestation.
The hacker snorted derisively. "Don't you just wish. It's a negligible side-effect. The treatment itself is for pets, of course. So considerate of the site staff. Zombie pets and a pre-existing disposition for mutation. Do a little coding, bury it in what they already have, and voila… an untraceable plague that players will pay to spread. At least at first, but after that, there'll be no point in trying to stop it. But you really ought to see for yourself. After all, I've been looking for more test subjects." Snapping his fingers, he strolled off. From off of the path, a disconcertingly loud crunching noise drew closer.
"You go after him! You'll be faster. I'll take care of whatever it is," I told Krin, turning to face the sound. He in turn nodded, taking off and pumping his wings to get above the tree line. "All right, then. Come out, come out, whatever you are…"
Whatever it was did indeed step out into sight. A Meerca. Admittedly, it was rather like a mutant Meerca, but with long, sharp claws and proper fangs in place of buckteeth. It was also fairly evident that the thing was not entirely alive. Its eyes were sunken in, it was missing a fair portion of its fur, and it had enough stitches to make a plushie pet jealous. Still, not exactly what I'd choose for a plague-carrying minion. On the matter of plague carrying, the claw marks on the trees had been infected, so that was probably how it passed on the viral script. Note to self: don't get sliced open by the large, pointy claws; they're unhygienic.
The creature snarled, springing at me suddenly. Blast… for something that looked like it had an expiration date some time in the previous century, he was awfully fast. I held my arm out in front of me, activating the shield. The metal plates slid out from one another like a Shenkuuian fan, forming a tough metal disk about two feet across. There were sometimes advantages to having what would normally be considered an unhealthy level of iron. Still, the force of the impact was enough to knock me back. Furious, the Meerca tried clawing at the shield with not much effect. No wonder zombies were always looking for brains.
He wasn't a stupid as he looked, though. A second later, his tail had snaked around my arm and seized my throat. "No fair… that's cheating," I managed to choke out while holding him at arm's length. The corners of my vision were beginning to sparkle, and I had to act quickly. Giving my metal wrist a quick twist, I fired the grappling cable. Right up against the forehead, it couldn't fail to send even a mindless zombie for a loop. I pulled the tail off my neck, held on tightly to it, and began to turn around in place. I'd never tried shot-put before, but this seemed like as good a time as any to start up. After a couple turns around, I let go, allowing the creature to fly off in a graceful ark. It would have been a fine shot, if it weren't for the fact that the Haunted Woods was called that because it had a lot of trees. He would not be following any time soon, at any rate.
I hurried along the path I'd seen Krin fly off over. In a couple minutes, I caught up with him. He was lying sprawled along the ground, likewise comatose. That was not a good sign. Krin was a lot of things, and easy to knock out was not one of them. It was only when I tried to catch up with the perpetrator that I realized what had happened. I slammed into something that wasn't there. A few seconds of probing revealed it to be a wall, quite solid, and quite invisible. Krin had been flying when he'd made the same mistake I had, and it had been like a bird into a -blocked- Eyries were considerably tougher than your average weewoo, though, so he'd be all right in the long run. What the hacker cared about was keeping him off his tail. And me now, too, it seemed. I didn't have time to check the wall. It could run for a few hundred pixels, or it could stretch on for a couple thousand.
In a sudden burst of quick thinking (the good kind, not the "if I make a dash for the door I won't have to answer the math problem" variety), I grabbed the little code packet that Neesboy had slapped on earlier. Finding the controls, I tapped in the instructions and ran back a good distance from the wall. The hacker had to be close by. If he could have escaped quickly, he would have done so rather than coding a wall. That, and the wall would have been such a quick job that he'd have to be maintaining it or it wouldn't hold. Probably he was waiting to find out the outcome of the fight. The hologram duplicate of myself appeared up ahead. Smiling, I started moving towards the wall. Neesboy had said it would just walk through stuff, and that's exactly what it did when it got to the barrier. Before I reached it myself, a blast of energy lanced out at the duplicate. It passed through, of course, giving away the trick, but it had served its purpose. With the hacker distracted, the ramshackle wall wouldn't have him supporting it. A solid punch and I was through.
"You!" The hacker spun around to face the real me. Funny what you notice, but his voice was surprisingly normal. I'd always sort of thought his sort would have a something a lot more dramatic. Even the Pant Devil could manage an ominous, chilling voice when the occasion called for it. "Obviously the plague will need some modifications, and you'll be the first to experience them. Any last words?"
"How about, 'Nice try'? TNT is already on their way. They'll have seen the corrupt authorization signature by now."
My nemesis smiled in a decidedly unfriendly manner. "Not likely. I did take the precaution of sealing the area before I set up shop here. No neomail gets out, so you can't have alerted them. And I cover my tracks quite neatly."
I grinned back in an equally non-amiable fashion. "But not my tracks." I pointed at the hologram. He turned to look at it, and I made a break for it. Naturally, so did the hologram, which was following my actions. Flames leapt after the decoy in a futile attempt to get rid of it. TNT flickered into view, and several constraining tables leapt up around as the TNT programmers encased the hacker in layers of immutable HTML. "Have fun in Iceland," I called, waving jovially. Hey, I'm allowed my fun.
In the end, wrapping up the situation was somewhat less fun. There were an awful lot of questions, mostly along the lines of why I had a piece of open-access coding, why the authorization signature had random numbers and letters in it, and so on. Eventually, I managed to explain that the coding for the double image of me had been fine. When I'd set it up as a diversion, I'd destroyed the bit that registered it as accepted script. With everybody on full alert for a hacker, something so blatant would get spotted in an instant.
And so, despite all the odds, I once again managed to survive. The paperwork, that is. Hackers are no biggie by comparison. Sure, they might implant viral code to turn you into an undead plague carrier, but it's the about the same net result, only quicker and with less agony involved. This time, however, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Namely, a few hundred thousand neopoints as a hefty reward. What to do with all that money: one of the few questions I enjoy.
No superhero is official without a shiny, laminated licence, of course. If you would care to register with the directory of Neopian superheroes, please simply fill out the following and neomail it to Neesboy.
•Other: Please be sure to include any other important details, such as normal wings, natural skills, and other aids in heroing that could potentially belong to anybody.
•Link: Include the 50x50 image link for your page. If it's animated, one frame will be taken from it.
Rules: Don't take somebody else's, remove the link, claim you made it, issue your own, bend, fold, or mutilate. The last three are permissable if required in defeating an archnemesis.
Hero in Training
This liscense is intended for those who don't have links or detailed pages. Don't remove the link back, and don't swipe the idea! If you really want to try entering it in the Beauty Contest, your sense of style needs serious examination.
Friends and Enemies
What can I say? Some people appreciate getting saved from nutty Lutaris with flamethrowers. Neesboy tells me these are for the page, but I'm pretty sure folks are more concerned with feats of derring-do than measly page content.
Link to Me
Sorry, but I really have to get back to work. If you want to drop by again, feel free to. I trust you're clever enough to find your own way out.
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