Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Against All Odds - Part Six
Judge Hog looked around at the almost finished building. It was rising steadily and also sinking steadily, though that part would take much longer and be under construction long after the HQ seemed to be complete. Most of the Defenders Headquarters would be located underground. It made it safer in case Nefarious ever decided to attack the building directly. The main communication and computer hub would be on the top floor, but there would be an auxiliary on the final level. The rest of the ground floor would be a lobby and a lounge for the agents to relax in while not on missions.
There was a lot planned, such as tunnels that would lead out to various points throughout Neopia Central and even one that would lead into the ocean. It would also be equipped with a lockdown system. When engaged the building would seal itself completely from the outside. Bulkheads made of eight inches of solid Tyrannium would seal the doors and windows; it would be extremely difficult to get through.
Loraine had been invaluable in all this. She had a lot of connections within Virtupets, and was able to use them without revealing that she was still alive. Also, the half the world had pitched in. Rulers and leaders of the other countries had donated money to the cause, in hopes that one day the Defenders would have global reach.
The former Sloth scientists and engineers who were working on the building were still uncomfortable around Loraine. They were unable to shake the fear that she was pretending and was going to turn on them at any point. Loraine, for her part, genuinely didn't care. She was emotionally distant from everyone, her work seeming to be her only interest in life. Orig was working hard trying to make friends, afraid that the treatment she was given by the workers was contributing to her distant attitude.
Judge Hog kept telling him not to push so hard and give her space. Loraine was still grieving for the part of her she had lost. It was clear that Buzz was always on her mind. He knew that when Loraine was ready to begin opening herself again she would.
The computers had been installed and Loraine had designated herself controller. She had opted to stay out of the field. It was still too soon after her fake death, and she was likely to be recognized. Instead she intended to handle the business side of the DoN.
Every member of the Chia police had been wired with a Virtupets communicator so they could call for assistance where it was needed. Zorliz had come up with a brilliant idea, which the techs had made a reality. They had installed emergency terminals around Neopia Central. They were connected to computers that broadcast right to the computer in the HQ. Citizens could call the DoN for help from the terminals. The trials had proven successful and they were already preparing to install them in Kiko Lake and Roo Island. In time they hoped to have enough agents to extend the service to all corners of the globe.
Things were coming together nicely.
Nefarious hadn't shown himself since he attacked Loraine six months previous, but this only worried Judge Hog. He knew that Nefarious was waiting and planning. Judge Hog had made the game more interesting by adding Loraine and Orig, and building the Defenders of Neopia. Nefarious was clearly taking time to make the game more interesting on his end, too. The game was just getting started; Judge Hog knew the road ahead was going to be a long one.
Nefarious grinned at his pupil. The girl was confident and so stupid. Still, he trained her well enough to wreak some havoc for Judge Hog and his budding hero organization. The Plushie Draik twisted a strand of her straight black hair around her finger and smiled back.
"Go on, use your dark magic and make your name known across Neopia," Nefarious said.
"Yes, master!" she could barely contain her glee.
She hurried off, her black and red skirt swishing audibly. Nefarious smiled, this base was now useless to him and would be abandoned. It was time to find his next apprentice. She would not last long, but she would make chaos when she showed her face. That was the point after all, just little interludes to keep Judge Hog on his toes.
His computer pinged, a message from Vicki.
'Hi, Marcus. Veronica is home for two weeks on vacation. Would it be possible for you to visit?'
Proud to be your sis,
His heart suddenly ached; he couldn't see Vicki and Veronica. He had to keep them as far removed from this as possible. It was a cost he had forgotten about in his glee at the idea of something to keep him interested for a long time. For half a moment he considered giving up being Captain Nefarious. But, he dismissed that thought, it was unacceptable.
'Sorry, Sis. I'm just too busy right now. Tell little Veronica Uncle loves her. I love you so much.'
The roof of the building was almost finished; the only part remaining to be completed was over the lobby. The interior decorators had arrived and were beginning to fix up the place. Loraine sat in the stark control room in front of the massive computers. Judge Hog and Orig were also there, Judge Hog had a chair and Orig sat on the floor by the door, watching the roof being worked on. Below they could hear the workers building the lower levels.
"So, how are you today, Loraine?" Orig asked.
"Fine." The monosyllable answers had become more common lately. She seemed to have decided words were a precious commodity she had to be frugal with. Orig opened his mouth to press her some more, but Judge Hog gave him a look, and he closed it.
The computer beeped, and then wouldn't stop.
"What's going on?" Judge Hog asked.
"A lot of reports coming in. They all seem to be of the same thing. Someone, not Nefarious, is attacking the business district. She's using dark magic. She's not a dark faerie, she is a, according to this, 'a Plushie Draik dressed like a doll'. You had better get going. I'll keep you apprised of any new details," Loraine told them.
Judge Hog and Orig took off for the business district. When they reached it, there were clear signs of damage, but no sign of the Draik.
"Loraine, can you give us the location of the Draik?" Judge Hog asked.
Before she could respond, a blast of dark magic hit Orig. He started to plunge, but Judge Hog caught him and held him aloft until he managed to shake the blow. They looked in the direction the attack had come from and saw the Draik.
The description they had been given matched. She had long, straight black hair with perfect bangs. A charming red and black dress with ruffles and bows, red and black striped fingerless gloves, and gleaming black shoes with red stockings. Her face was painted up with deep pink blush, too wide eyes, and thick black lashes.
She clasped her hands together and smiled charmingly.
"Dear me! If it isn't Judge Hog!" she cried in a false childish voice.
"And you are?" Judge Hog asked.
"I'm the Painted Lady," she told them.
"Cease this or we will use force."
"Oh, dear! You wouldn't!" Lady gasped. A sadistic smile spread across her face. "I have a message for you. Captain Nefarious sends his regards."
Before they could do anything she unleashed a barrage of magic orbs. They turned away to withstand the attack. When they turned back she was gone.
"So, Nefarious is taking on apprentices now? This might be our chance," Loraine said over their coms.
"What makes you say that?" Orig asked.
"If we capture her, I can make her tell us everything she knows about Nefarious." There was a touch of malevolence in her voice, a bit of Lynette.
"Perhaps. We'll have to catch her first," Judge Hog replied.
The Painted Lady appeared again two days later. This time they arrived on the scene quicker. She seemed primed for a fight. That fight was over quicker than the arrogant little lady could have believed, thanks to outside help. Judge Hog and Orig were having a hard time getting close, her ranged attacks keeping them at bay.
She put her hands on her hips and laughed at them. "What's wrong, little boys? The Painted Lady too tough for you?"
Suddenly something wrapped around her, pinning her arms to her sides. The face of a Blue Chia appeared in front of hers.
"Young lady, this is completely inappropriate. You're causing damage and hurting people. Doctors have enough to do on an average day; we don't need people like you contributing to it."
"I'll hurt you!" she shrieked.
Her entire body glowed with dark energy. She released the magic; it blew the Chia off her, stretching him in all directions. She turned back towards the superheroes just as Judge Hog's fist collided with her jaw. She went down, knocked out. He quickly put special cuffs around her wrists. They had been given to them by the Faeries for when they caught her; they would prevent her from using magic. Orig picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder.
Judge Hog went to the Chia, who was pulling himself back together. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I seem to be. That was a bit of a nasty shock," the Chia said, brushing himself off.
"Who are you?" Judge Hog asked.
"I'm Dr. Flexo. I'm a real doctor, and a real puzzle. I can stretch my body to ridiculous lengths and then pull it back together. I was actually on my way to the Defenders HQ when I happened upon this. I figured that somewhere in the building you must have a medical bay; I was coming to see if you were taking applications for a doctor to staff it. I also figured that maybe with some training, given my unique body I might make a decent addition to your superheroes."
"Well, come back with us. You can speak with the lady who is charge of that business," Judge Hog invited.
Judge Hog walked and found Loraine typing rapidly.
"Have a report for me?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I am in favor of hiring on Dr. Flexo. His qualifications as a doctor are impeccable and I think his talents will add to our team greatly. If it meets your approval I will hire him on tomorrow and put Orig in charge of his basic training, sir."
Judge Hog wanted to strangle her, the solider talk killed him and she knew it.
"And the Painted Lady?" he asked.
She lost her prim, solider demeanor. She slammed the buttons on the keyboard. "Nothing! Nefarious is too clever, he expected us to catch her. She's just a pawn to keep his game interesting. She knows nothing about him. She gave us a base, but she told us that he hasn't returned to it, and promised he would not after he set her on her own. She told me all about her training, but nothing in it told us anything we didn't know already about him. He's too clever."
Loraine forced herself to calm down. She pushed a stray lock of lavender hair back behind her ear before saying, "But you already knew this would be the outcome, didn't you, sir?"
"I suspected. He is too clever, and he wants this game to go on for a long time to come. Revealing too much to someone that inexperienced would be stupid. She is a pawn, and this was just the first move. I'm sure many more pawns will take to the board before we see the king again."
They were both silent, Nefarious weighing heavily on their thoughts.
Two more months passed, a lull before the next pawn appeared. Fang showed up next. He was a smooth talking Hissi, dressed like a gentleman with a bone mask and metal hands. He was quick and the metallic hands possessed almost as much strength as the superheroes. After three weeks of pursuit they finally caught up to the slippery Hissi in the Haunted Woods. It ended with a drawn-out slugging match, which Judge Hog won. Fang knew no more than the Painted Lady had, but they expected that.
The Defenders of Neopia expanded their operations to Roo Island and Kiko Lake and took on a few new recruits of their own. To the people of Neopia, it looked like the Defenders were locked in a stalemate, though the Defenders knew that Nefarious always had the upper hand.
It was two in the morning. Judge Hog came up the elevator and looked around at the empty HQ. The ground level was complete in every aspect. It was quiet and the lights were dim, the HQ felt even more massive during the night.
In the future they would have it staffed 24/7, since crime never sleeps, but currently they just didn't have enough members. He walked towards the lobby, but stopped when he heard the keys of the keyboard in the control room being pressed at the rate so furious it could only be Loraine.
He turned and went into the room. She was there, staring hard at the computer, her face desperate. She immediately realized she wasn't alone anymore. Everything on the screen closed as she whipped around to face him.
"By Fyora, I thought you went home hours ago!" she shouted at him.
"Your shifted ended hours ago; you should have gone home hours ago," Judge Hog replied.
"I was filing the mission reports. We had a lot today," Loraine lied sullenly.
It was true; they had had a lot more missions that day. But, Judge Hog knew that Loraine was too prompt to have fallen behind in her work. He came over to her.
"Why are you lying to me?" he asked gently.
She looked away in silent defiance.
He got down on one knee so he was closer to her level instead of towering above her. He put an arm around her shoulders.
"Loraine, you know I trust you, and I won't judge you. I know who were, what you did, and who you are now. Whether you need my friendship or not, I'm here for you. You don't have to tell me what is going on, but if you want to, you can at any time," he told her.
She swallowed hard and blinked rapidly, as if fighting tears.
"I can't find Buzz," she said, her voice shaking.
"What?" he asked.
"He resigned from Dr. Sloth's employ. I can't find him. I can't find where he went. No one knows where he was headed, and he hasn't been seen anywhere since he left almost three months ago. I have more resources available to me than Sloth does, and I can't find him. It's been so hard since I faked my death, but knowing where he was and how he was doing helped. Now, now I can't function when I don't have any work to do. I lie awake all night, my mind racing over every single horrible scenario it can come up with. When I do sleep I see him accusing me, telling me this is my fault, because I left. I'm going insane and I don't know what to do." She lost the last of her self-control and cried, tears pouring down her cheeks.
"Loraine, Buzz is fine. I don't know where he's gone, but he is not the type of person to have disappeared without purpose. Wherever he is, he is fine. He'd want you to be fine as well. Wherever he is, he's fine," Judge Hog attempted to reassure her.
"You're right. He would. Even though he'd hate me for what I did and the choices I've made, he would. I'll be fine; I'll be fine because that's what he'd want. I'll be fine," her voice was hysterical, but it was a good sign that she could try to reassure herself.
Loraine gave him a half-hearted smile through the tears. She brushed them from her cheeks, though they were quickly replaced by new ones.
"I've fallen so far from my solider days. I would never even have let Buzz see me cry like that. I don't mean that I think he would have thought less of me for it. It just wasn't something you did up on the Space Station. As silly as it sounds, I might have believed that all along, but I just needed to hear someone say it. So, thank you, sir."
"If you really want to thank me, you can do me a favor," Judge Ho said.
Loraine looked perplexed.
"You can be nicer to Orig. The poor kid is trying so hard to be your friend because he thinks you're cold because you feel shunned by everyone here," he said.
"Poor Orig. He's so good. I didn't believe people as honestly good as he is existed before I came here. I feel terrible for the things I said to him when I recaptured Zorliz. He looked so devastated that I could turn out to be the bad guy." Loraine laughed self-consciously. "I'll do that. I'll even say good morning first when he comes in today."
Judge Hog smiled at her and she smiled back.
"And, Loraine," he said. "You can talk to me about anything. I got you into this, and I'll be here for you through anything, no matter what."
"You don't owe me anything, sir. You saved me from Lynette. But, I appreciate that, and you can count on me to be here, come what may."
"Come what may," Judge Hog echoed in agreement.
To be continued...