Tales from Neopia Central: Part Nine
Burn After Reading – the Spy's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and far too quickly for Saline.
It was hardly a surprise to Saline, though – she'd been one of the first to know when Mr. Jennings had died. It was her business, her calling.
She was, at present, the head of Area 26 – the closest thing Neopia Central had to spies. Once the organisation, buried deep beneath the city, had been run by the Governors, corrupt old business leaders who manipulated the information they gathered for their own gain.
And they did gather information. Through a network of informants and surveillance there was a time when a pin couldn't drop within the city without Area 26 finding out. There were archives filled with vast files on all the city's visitors and inhabitants – a complete record of Neopian history.
And then Mr. Jennings had found out about it – and very quickly put a stop to it. The Governors and the then head, Mr. Brodman, had been arrested, and Jennings had taken over. The Krawk had given directions that the archives were to be made publicly available at the National Neopian Museum, but privately to Saline he had instructed that this operation was to take a long time – so that certain sensitive materials in the archives could be found and selectively removed.
But now Mr. Jennings was dead, and the wizards at the Museum had magically sealed the doors for reasons even Saline couldn't find out. As the city turned inwards to destroy itself, Saline and her fellow agents did what they knew best – tried to gather information. Not for Area 26 to use, not any more. Now they were feeding information directly to Channel 9 News, who were using it to broadcast updates across the city via Neovision.
That was why the orange Wocky had made her way to the Batrin Bridge that stretched across the river. Underneath the western side, there was a small cardboard city that the Beggar's Guild called home. They were an effective network of informants, one Saline used regularly.
There, she approached the grey Aisha warming himself by the fire – around these parts, he was known as Bampfylde Boswell, head of the Beggar's Guild. Saline had enough experience with these people to know the truth, though – he was a double whose real name was Norm. As a result she gave him a curt nod and walked straight past.
Bampfylde was the yellow Wocky who lurked somewhat effectively in the shadows under the bridge. He was notable for one thing – firstly, that he liked to pretend to newcomers that he was Norm, and served as a translator of sorts for Bampfylde, and secondly that he wore a set of grubby pink pyjamas that when pressed he denied existed.
"Bampfylde," she greeted him.
"What can we interest you in today, Saline?" he asked, quite rationally for someone who was clearly a little unstable.
"What have you got?" she asked.
"What have you got?" He smiled a knowing smile.
Saline handed over a used pie tin. "Satellite dish for your new home."
Bampfylde smiled as if he'd just been given a priceless artefact, rather than junk from a bakery.
"Johnny Twobit's in the Docklands," he told her. "Looks like he's closer to finding out who the Smuggler really is. Kanrik's planning on meeting Judge Hog – he wants to pull out of the city. Zombies are meeting again in the Old Quarter... and there's something else – something recent."
"What's that?" Saline asked.
"Lefty McCaskey's outside the Defenders Headquarters," Bampfylde told her. "Something's going on there – something big. He thinks maybe some people are breaking out."
Saline nodded. "Thank you."
She turned and left the small community of tramps and headed back to the road, where a fancy carriage with a modified Neovision antenna on top was waiting. It was a familiar sight for Saline these days – the mobile news crew of Channel 9 were never far away.
Normally they operated from a studio on Friars Road, but the fast paced events of the past few weeks had forced them to adapt – now all reports were given on the move.
A green Bruce in a tie that was too tight for him was waiting – Peter Hopkirk, the news station's normal anchor.
"Before you start, I've got Helen Scott over at the Old Quarter with the zombies," he announced.
"You'll be wanting someone in the Docklands," Saline told him. "Things are about to kick off there."
"I'll see if Roy Castle's in the area," Peter agreed.
"And the Defenders Headquarters, you need to have someone there – a breakout might be underway," Saline explained.
"Hmm..." Peter thought aloud. "Hattie!? Hattie! Who do we have near the Defenders HQ?"
A white Cybunny, the Channel's normal weather presenter, poked her head out of the carriage window.
"I think Clive Dunstable might be nearby," she told him. "You want me to redirect him?"
Peter nodded. "Anything else, Saline?"
"Not at the moment," Saline replied. "I'll contact you again in an hour with another update."
Peter nodded again, and climbed up onto the carriage. He addressed the green Pteri who was driving.
"Let's get over to the Defenders, Jeremy," he instructed. "I smell the makings of a good story."
"Beekadoodles!" the Pteri screeched insanely, before setting off into the night.
Saline turned to leave, aiming to return to Area 26 and give out a fresh batch of orders to her operatives, but she found a sudden pressure against her neck as someone approached her from behind. It was a knife, there was no mistaking it.
"Hello, Saline," a voice she thought she recognised whispered into her ear.
Then a handkerchief laced with some sort of chemical was forced into her face, and she collapsed to the floor.
Saline came to when a bucket of water was thrown into her face. She spluttered back to reality, realising her hands and feet were bound. She was kneeling, and in front of her was a very familiar man.
The former head of Area 26, a blue Blumaroo that had practically radiated order – Saline had never once seen him express an emotion, and she had always considered that was why the Governors had chosen him. He was the perfect servant, and the way he could absorb and recall information like a computer made him a logical choice for Area 26.
But somehow, the Blumaroo that stood in front of her was different. His crisp blue suit was creased and untidy – and his face wore a crazed, incoherent smile with an occasional twitch. The rusty dagger in his hand was plainly evident, warning Saline not to try anything.
"Brodman...?" she questioned. "What... happened to you?"
Brodman gave a smile – the act was uncharacteristic for him, and he seemed unfamiliar with how to do it.
"I have been liberated, Saline," he sneered. "No longer a prisoner."
"I didn't mean that... you broke out of the Defenders Headquarters, I guessed that," she answered. "But... what happened to you?"
"I have been liberated." He smirked. "No longer a prisoner – no longer constrained by the rules and orders of the Governors. I dealt with them during my breakout, you see? I dealt with so many people who might have been able to get in my way. It was quite fortunate really, memorising the layout of the building... I knew exactly where all of the deadliest poisons were held."
"You've gone mad," Saline told him.
"Have I?" Brodman asked, not sure if he meant the question or not. "Look outside, Saline... look at the people looting on the streets, the people destroying their own homes. Have I gone mad? Or has everyone else? Maybe you are all the mad ones... maybe I've just become sane."
"You killed the Governors?"
"Oh yes," Brodman laughed. "It was revenge, you see, for what they did to me. They found me as a child, moulded me into their perfect little tool – and that was my undoing, you see? I've had a lot of time to think about it, and I've finally figured it out! That's why Jennings was able to out think me, because he wasn't limited in the same way that I was."
He ran his finger along the edge of the rusty blade. "But I'm not limited by the Governors any more – I'm free now, I can stop him. I can take from Mr. Jennings what he took from me – everything."
Saline laughed. "You're a bit late. Haven't you heard? He's dead. That's why all this is happening."
Brodman's face contorted in a look of rage – it was clear he hadn't heard.
"He was washed out to sea," Saline told him.
"They found the body?"
"No," Saline answered. "But it's been weeks – if he was going to wash up, he would have – and no one could survive at sea for that long."
Brodman scrambled forwards, bringing the blade close to Saline's chin.
"They let you replace me with thinking like that!?" he spat. "We are Area 26! We don't make assumptions! No body means no death!"
"Fine, fine," Saline attempted to talk him down. "But dead or not he's not here – so you can't have revenge on him."
"True," Brodman admitted bitterly.
But then a look of pure delight crossed his face, "But there are other methods of revenge... I cannot destroy his body, but I can hurt his soul in ways he couldn't ever heal from."
"Destroying his businesses in the city won't do a thing," Saline guessed his thinking. "Half of them are already on the verge of collapsing thanks to the riots."
"I'm not talking about that!" Brodman snapped. "I heard whispers about the Smuggler in Little Shenkuu on my way here... you and I both know who that is. No, I can hurt Jennings, even if he is dead. I can have my revenge."
"So what are you going to do to me?" Saline asked.
Brodman looked back, a wicked grin on his face, "You recognise this place?"
Saline looked around the small interrogation room. The desk and papers had been thrown to one side, and the two way mirror on the wall had been cracked.
"Area 26 interrogation room," she sighed knowingly. "One of three in the city – completely sound proof."
"I understand you don't use them anymore," Brodman sneered. "So no one will come looking here. They used to call them drop boxes in my day..."
"You're going to interrogate me?" Saline asked.
"Oh yes," Brodman replied, running his hand along the dagger again. "And it's going to be painful, regardless of if you talk or not. I've been away for some time, Saline, and I need to catch up. Who better to tell me everything than you, Saline?"
Brodman advanced towards his prisoner, rusty blade in hand.
The green Krawk opened his eyes – the groggy feeling was worse than ever, his head span as he attempted to sit upright.
There was someone new sitting in the hut – a grey Lenny in a green coat, one the Krawk recognised.
"Solomon... Moody?" he croaked, hoping the words came out correctly.
Regardless, the Lenny seemed to understand.
"Poor Mr. Jennings," he remarked. "What have they done to you?"
"What are you doing here?" the Krawk asked.
"Does that matter?" Moody replied.
The Krawk's throat was dry, he reached for a glass of water, almost knocking it over in his stupor.
"Still haven't figured it out, eh?" Moody asked. "I thought you didn't believe in magic?"
"I don't," the Krawk answered, swaying.
"Then how's he doing it?" Moody asked, eying the water.
The Krawk's eyes went wide, and he threw the water across the room.
"Now you're getting it." Moody smiled.
"I've been... drugged!" the Krawk spat.
Magic – he'd been tricked again, this shaman was nothing more than an elaborate chemist.
"Are you real?" the Krawk asked. "Or am I hallucinating?"
Moody smiled. "Does it matter? Rest, you'll need your strength for tomorrow."
"What happens tomorrow?" the Krawk asked.
"Tomorrow, you escape."
To be continued...