Defenders of Neopia: The Vacation - Part Four
Jackal nearly had a heart attack when he pointed at her, but her Defender training paid off and she only blinked.
“I want this pretty Lupe,” he announced gleefully. “She is very interesting. When did we obtain her?”
“Last night, Dr. Henderson,” replied the guard.
“Bring her in for me.”
It was all she could do not to gasp in relief, then – oddly enough – not to giggle. The idea of being so frightened was ludicrous. In fact, Jackal had been growing steadily less nervous as time wore on, whether due to lack of sleep or simply because she was now at least doing something. It wasn’t funny, she told herself sternly. It would have caused a great deal of trouble if they had spotted her as an impostor. They might have, but she thought it was unlikely.
The guard pulled her gently out of the enclosure, as though she were a Babaa being herded. Assuming that she was expected to, she followed without resistance.
He led her through a small, barely noticeable door at the back of the building and into a bare white hallway with lights as bright as the ones outside. There were, she noticed with interest, surprisingly few doors considering the length of the corridor. She wasn’t sure who had built it or why, but it was an odd building plan.
It wasn’t until they actually passed somebody, a harassed-looking Buzz in a white coat – a lab coat, of course that was what they were; they must be either scientists or doctors – that Jackal realized how empty the place was as well. Empty, and as silent as the town had been, save for a strange humming noise from some unidentifiable area in the walls.
They continued down the dizzying expanse of white hallway until at last the guard stopped in front of a door. At first she expected him to knock; instead he punched a long code of numbers onto the pad at the side of the door. Jackal did her best to remember it, but it was long and meaningless enough to prove elusive to memory. She thought it had started out with 631513... or had it been 635113? She was simply too tired, and even if either of those combinations were correct, they weren’t even half of it. She would have to rely on something other than the system to get out in case of emergency.
The door slid open smoothly, and she found herself in a large, bare, stark white room. Bare, that was, save for an odd sort of control panel in the corner, a table covered in what looked like neat rows of chemicals, and – this was strange – a gargantuan stack of newspapers. The guard pushed her down into a small chair on the other side of the room and left.
Jackal could not make head or tails of it. Everything fitted except for those newspapers. From what she had seen of these people, they were virtually obsessed with order and cleanliness – it wasn’t like them to read the paper while they worked, and certainly not to leave stacks of them... Even if they had been the ones to collect the newspapers from the curbs, which they probably had, why keep them around?
She was not, however, allowed much time for reflection. The Techo in the lab coat – Dr. Henderson – entered, carrying a clipboard. The door slid shut behind him.
“Ahh, my dear,” he said with an unpleasant smile, “if only you could know what I have in store for you! On second thoughts, perhaps it is best that you do not... you might be inclined to resist.”
Jackal decided that he was talking solely for his own benefit, since he clearly did not believe that she could hear or understand him. Therefore she did not bother to suggest that she might be inclined to resist in any case.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him preparing an injection, and began to wonder whether now might be the time to blow her cover.
“I don’t think you can give me that without my consent, Dr. Henderson,” she remarked.
He started and nearly stabbed himself with the needle, which he then instinctively jerked away from himself and dropped on the floor. Jackal’s reflexes kicked in and she snatched it up before he could react.
“Let’s talk,” she said, standing up with the needle in her hand. He stepped back.
“This is highly irregular,” he snapped in some distress. “Resistance cannot be tolerated. I’ll have to start all over again with the formula.”
He took another step back. “The formula I’m creating, you see.”
“And what formula is that?”
Now his back was to the control panel, but Jackal kept advancing.
“It’s a very brilliant idea, as I’m sure you’ll agree,” he explained hastily. “What is the need for war or conflict if one can simply pacify the opposition with a simple chemical formula? That, you see, is my idea, and you have seen its efficacy... except, of course, in your case,” he added with dissatisfaction. “I will have to perform several tests in order to ascertain what went wrong.”
At that moment the door opened and the two Tonu guards raced in, grabbing Jackal and tying her wrists before she even had time to be surprised. It only took her a few seconds to understand what had happened. He must have pressed some kind of call button on the control panel; she cursed herself for having been so stupid. Letting him get his hands on that! Judge Hog would have her stripes for sure if he found out.
They tied her firmly to the chair and went to stand on either side of the door. “You may leave,” Dr. Henderson told them. “I will, however, expect you to be on guard outside.”
Intelligent, Jackal thought in amusement. As if I can’t get out of a few yards of rope.
Then again, he probably wasn’t prepared for the fact that she was a Defender.
“I think I will do the questioning now... what is your name?”
“Jackal will do,” she replied, working at the ropes around her wrists.
“A suitably pretty name. In any case, you are an anomaly. At what point did the formula wear off? At what point did you regain consciousness?”
“I never lost it.” Jackal had decided that Dr. Henderson’s fatal flaw lay in his vanity – not uncommon with the villains that the Defenders often encountered. If she could only convince him that she was a member of the opposition, he wouldn’t be able to help himself. He would tell her everything before he killed her. Jackal’s version of the plan was similar, but it did not involve her death... then, hopefully, she would be able to do something to stop him.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, looking at her closely. “Not an anomaly, but a spy. An ill-informed spy, at that.”
“What do you mean by that, Dr. Henderson? I thought I was doing quite well, under the circumstances.”
He strolled over to the table and patted the stack of newspapers fondly with a gloved hand. “Don’t you ever read the news, Miss Jackal?”
Aha, she thought. It’s something to do with the newspapers. “Rarely,” she answered. “Why do you ask?”
“Because my chemical is brilliant, you see – transmitted through something that every Neopian touches every Friday. The Neopian Times.”
“That is very clever, but I must admit I’m a little confused.”
“How so, Miss Jackal?”
“My friend touched a newspaper, and nothing happened at all. He was gone the next day, though,” she added quickly. The last thing she wanted was for him to believe that she had outside allies.
“And therein lies the true genius. People would soon grow suspicious if they changed the moment they touched a newspaper! No, no, the chemical is only transmitted by the Neopian Times. It is not activated. The activation comes later, in the night, when we send out these signals.” He gestured grandly toward the control panel. “Then it is activated, and they follow it to the intended destination – our holding pen.”
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “I see some holes in it, I’m afraid.”
“Holes?” he gasped in indignation. “What holes? I do not leave holes, Miss Jackal.”
“Yes, but if the signals only come at night, then how can you keep them in the holding pen? What happens when the signals are turned off?”
“Ahh! The holding pen, you see, is surrounded with a field of something much more... permanent in nature.” She grimaced inwardly for Jason. Hopefully it was nothing irreversible. “There is certainly not a single hole in my plan.”
“It sounds too confusing,” she argued. “How do you know what to do when you want to turn the signals on and off? How do you remember which is which?”
“My dear Lupe, if I could not remember that, I would be in very poor stead. My machinery is extremely efficient. You see, this top control is the wide-range signal, and this bottom switch is for the holding pen.” He whirled around triumphantly and came to face her. “Now I imagine you are impressed.”
“Oh, extremely,” she assured him.
“Very well then! If you have no more questions, you understand that we will have to dispose of you... we can’t have you walking around knowing these things.”
“Naturally. You’re very bright, Doctor. I really must apologize.”
“For what?” he asked.
“For this,” she answered, flipping the chair up and smashing it over his head.
To be continued...