A New Line of Work: Part Three
++19th Day of Relaxing, Year 13, 2:43PM, Orbit Over Neopia++
Moriarti had just made his departing flight for Virtupets Space Station. He took a seat in the back of the small shuttle, away from the rest of the passengers. This flight looked to be far from full, with only a handful of tourists occupying the cabin. They all mostly seemed younger, assorted pets in their teens, talking about some new game the Station's arcade had recently rolled out.
The agent didn't bother to listen in. He was anxious to reach his destination. Through the viewport, he could see the spattering of stars against the black background of space, and the Virtupets Space Station as it orbited over Neopia, lit up brilliantly against the inky black of the cosmos spread out behind it. His attention was on Kuvah, attempting to figure out what had happened and what he'd find when he reached the space station.
The events played through his mind: his assistant was about to tell him something important when an explosion had cut their communication to a halt. There was a scream, Kuvah's scream, then silence. The sound of glass beneath a foot. And then there was the challenge. "Well, you have his ticket, Mori. I think you know what to do with it."
Moriarti was almost always cool under pressure, but there was something about the situation that caused his stomach to somersault half a dozen times over. That voice was familiar, and he knew he was walking into a trap. When he had examined the ticket he'd found more closely, he'd found a location hastily scrawled on the back: Corridor 556, Lower Level, Bay 8.
He rubbed his forehead as he thought about things. He had a place and little else to go on after being attacked in Sakhmet. West had turned out to try and do away with Moriarti (or at least distract him from the real scheme in an increasingly complicated plot), and it still looked like the ball was in the other side's court.
The shuttle attendants made their way down the aisle to remind everyone to fasten their seatbelts and prepare for docking. The giddy teenagers at the front of the craft seemed almost ready to charge the exit as soon as the bulkhead doors were open.
With a sudden thud, the shuttle docked along an external docking boom and held the shuttle in place. The door was opened and the passengers were allowed to stand and exit the craft. Moriarti brought up the rear of the group. "Thanks for flying with us today, sir," said the forward flight attendant with a quick bow, which the Draik returned with a slight nod of his head as he disembarked.
As he walked along the docking boom, he stopped and turned to look out one of the large viewports that gave a pretty good view of the part of the station. His gaze wandered down to the bowels of the station, which seemed to be far less well lit and trafficked by shuttles. A cargo hauler or two meandered around down there, but not much else. He wondered about who and what was waiting for him down there in the darker service corridors and industrial parts of the station. He knew one thing for sure, though, and that was if he ever planned on saving Kuvah, he had to confront this unseen force head on.
++19th Day of Relaxing, Year 13, 2:47PM, Corridor 556, Lower Level, Bay 8++
"Let's move it, Thirteen! We don't have all day!"
"What- What- Whatever you desire. I s-swear to you it will happen!"
"It better, crazy robot. Moriarti's shuttle just docked, and I'm sure he's on his way as we speak. I don't want any hitches with my retirement."
"Don't trouble yourself, boss. We're ahead of- We're ahead of schedule. It's our move to make, and I know you didn't hire me- hire me- hire me- hire me for just any reason."
"Alright, just keep the system running. We're still sticking to the agreed upon time table; I'll go meet our nuisance and make sure this interference is his last. Where'd you put our guest?"
"In the airlock. And let me tell you, this game is gonna be... FABULOUS!"
"... crazy robot."
++19th Day of Relaxing, Year 13, 3:00PM, Corridor 556, Lower Level++
Like clockwork and without fail, as Moriarti stood waiting in the lower corridor on board the Virtupets Space Station, he heard the sound of footsteps coming in the opposite direction. There was a curve, due to the nature of the station, and slowly from around the bend, he finally saw Kuvah, walking towards him slowly. The further she came towards him, the more apparent it became it wasn't the whole story. Soon, a hand was seen, then slowly the man behind the events of today was revealed.
"Good to see you again, Mori. You're looking well, but we can fix that later."
Lugenbrau removed his sunglasses as the pair came to a halt in front of him some several meters away.
"Norton Aquila. Didn't take you for the type to set up one of your employees and kidnap another," Lugenbrau said. Norton merely laughed.
"Just trying to ensure my retirement goes smoothly. I sure ain't getting any younger!" the Eyrie replied.
Moriarti was dumbfounded at this point. "What does your retirement have to do with you kidnapping my secretary?"
"The guy's a nutjob if you haven't already figured it out, Moriarti," Kuvah cut in. Norton seemed rather displeased with being called a nutjob.
"Now, now, we're all friends here! There's no need to be so stubborn and angry, Kuvah. It's bad for your complexion," Norton replied, causing Kuvah to scowl and look about ready to punch the aging Eyrie in the beak. Moriarti was surprised she didn't.
Finally, he came to a realization: the way Kuvah and Norton were standing, it was probably safe to assume that Norton was holding her hostage; his assistant didn't dare move for fear of getting an incapacitating laser blast to the back.
Norton coughed, breaking Moriarti's concentration. "Well, Mori, how 'bout we go on in to this hangar and we make everything make sense now, hm? That sound like a plan? C'mon, Kuvah, let's go," he said, nudging the Wocky towards the door, which slid open with a hiss. Norton waved at Moriarti to go ahead of them, something the Draik had no problem complying with.
Stepping through the open door, Moriarti found himself standing in a hangar on the lower level of the space station that was filled almost completely with electronic devices, servers and all manners of computing equipment. Wires and cords ran haphazardly all over the floor, plugging into the front, backs and sides of various machines, all of which were humming and producing a rather loud collective din. Even over the oppressive noise, Moriarti could still make out a voice singing a conglomeration of several popular songs on the Neopian charts, including a few sung by an all-female group of Chocolate painted pets. The voice, however, was distinctly male and sound like it was being sung through a metal helmet.
Norton and Kuvah followed Moriarti into the cavernous room. "What do you think?" inquired Norton. Moriarti turned around to face Norton as he shoved his secretary over too him and leveled his blaster pistol at the both of them.
"Impressive. But I still don't know how this ties into anything," Moriarti admitted. His assistant clutched at his arm for a moment before regaining composure and straightening herself up. "You used your retirement money to buy up a hangar full of electronic equipment?"
Norton shook his head. "Not quite. I bought something even better! Thirteen! Get over here!"
Moriarti noticed the singing stopped at this. There were a few clanks, then some louder clanks, a thud, and a crash as two pillars of electronic equipment listed over and collapsed onto the metal floor. From the apparent carnage, though, a hooded figured poked its head up and looked around. Underneath the cowl, a series of blinking red lights and the glint of metal could be seen. On the figure's head, two long, pointed spikes pierced the back of the fabric hood it wore. Next to Moriarti, he thought he heard Kuvah mutter, "oh, Fyora, not this guy again."
The figure righted itself, revealing a robe matching the hood and lead-colored metal hands. Norton tapped his foot impatiently as the robed figure scampered over to where the group stood.
"There you are, Thirteen. Go ahead and introduce yourself to Agent Moriarti here," Norton said. Moriarti looked at Norton, then at this "Thirteen," looking underneath of the hood. Now that he was closer, he could see that this was a Robot Ogrin. The Ogrin was short, about 5'2", and looked up at the Draik.
"I'm Marshall of these parts," the Ogrin said. Moriarti noticed the voice changed when he gave his name, becoming more clipped, deliberate and cold. However, it immediately went to a suave, slight country accent, which made absolutely no sense.
Moriarti examined the robot under the hood for a moment. His brass-colored casing was dented, in some cases quite heavily, and scorch marks along the left of his face were visible. "You bought a crazy robot, Norton?" Moriarti asked, wondering why anyone would buy a robot that looked to be in as bad shape as this one was in.
"I resent that remark," Thirteen replied, in a voice that was unlike the previous two. Moriarti thought it a tad strained, as it if took some large mustering of strength to use it.
Norton decided to intervene before things escalated between the two of them. "Now, now, Thirteen. I'm sure Mori didn't mean anything by that. He's just had a rough day is all," he said. Thirteen seemed to twitch, though whether it was a nervous tic or something else, Moriarti was unsure. "How're the preparations coming along?"
Thirteen turned his head to look at Norton, then suddenly moved it back to its original position and made the same exact movement again. "Sys-Sys-Sys-systems report fully operational. Game servers running at- running at peak capacity," he informed, stuttering over certain parts at random and repeating them exactly the same way each time, both in voice and body movement. Moriarti felt it safe to assume there was something more than a tad wrong with this robot.
"Excellent!" Norton said, rather enthused by this. "Now, Mori, I don't suppose you'd be interested in hearing what today has all been about? I don't think it'd hurt to tell you since I'm probably going to lock you and Kuvah in an airlock and open the outer door, but we'll get to that in a minute! It's my understanding that people in my situation are supposed to gloat before winning."
Moriarti looked at Kuvah, who was hunched forward, staring blankly at Norton with her mouth open and eyes wide; he decided against trying to break her from her obvious shock. "Yeah," he began, "that... sounds like it'd be nice. What's your plan, Norton?"
Norton through his arms wide: "My endgame is a cushy retirement! Sipping tropical drinks on Mystery Island and lounging around on beaches! Skiing on Terror Mountain! Spelunking in Moltara! The world can be my oyster!" He brought his hands down and paced to the left, saying, "for a while now, I've had a bucket list. We perform some fairly dangerous jobs, Mori, you know that. There were so many things I wanted to do before I died. And then I came down with Neomonia a while back, and I got to thinking ... I need a plan. I want to do a handful of things instead of running around eavesdropping on people."
The elderly Eyrie looked at Moriarti. "So, I came up with a plan. I had some savings put aside, but it wasn't enough to do half the things I wanted to. So, I got some help from West to look into the possibility of hiring someone to start something that might be able to get us both out. That's when he gave me some information on Thirteen Thirty Seven." When he mentioned the Ogrin, his face lit up and he smiled. Moriarti looked over at Thirteen, who was looking at the floor and chittering and clicking, seemingly not paying any attention. "You see, Thirteen there was actually one in a line of advanced robots made for software development, analytics, and serving coffee in a friendly manner. However, during the software installation process, one of the programmers working on the project forgot to add a zero and Thirteen snapped and proceeded to set fire to the lab he was working in, more or less destroying the others like him in the process. Sure, he has some peculiarities, but they make him who he is."
Thirteen looked at Moriarti: "If that doesn't have Neopie written all over it, I'll eat my invitation to the awards ceremony," he said in a cheery voice.
"And how," Norton added. "So, I pulled my savings out and hired him to see about cracking the encryption we use on all the files at work. Even the classified stuff some of our high-end users ask us to keep for them and hold the keys to. Thirteen there took it one step further and built a puzzle game he introduced upstairs. 'Spy Game,' he calls it. It's a real hit with the younger generation, and the puzzles all go towards cracking encrypted, secret files I can then use to bribe and blackmail my way to an early retirement! Aren't I a genius?"
Kuvah still hadn't regained her composure; in fact, Moriarti was inclined to say her jaw had become even more unhinged than last he checked. Norton was smiling cheerily as he awaited his employee's feedback.
"Well, you really did come up with a pretty off-the-wall plan. Never would have figured it out if you hadn't told me," Moriarti said. This seemed to make his already beaming employer all the more cheery.
"I'm happy to hear you say that. We've thought of everything. Thirteen there is even live-linked with the entire thing to make sure no hackers or anything try and break in and steal my information. So far, we haven't cracked anything yet, but we're close! And more users are getting interested by the hour!" Norton said with a smile.
This left the group in an awkward silence for a moment. Moriarti used this opportunity to gingerly take a finger and push Kuvah's lower jaw back up, though she still seemed stunned.
"Well, then, if there are no questions, I suppose we can just get on to the part where we lock you in the airlock over there," Norton said, creepily still cheery at this. "Thirteen, why don't you move them in there and lock the door? We can work on spacing them later."
The Ogrin looked at the Eyrie. "This armor's heavy!" he replied, voice once again changed to something that gave the impression that his speech was slightly slurred and faintly noble, though still had that metallic tinge to it. Though whatever complaint he gave, he still moved to push Kuvah and Moriarti towards the airlock, all the while proceeding to make clicks and whirs. Norton followed behind them.
The airlock door was opened and Moriarti and Kuvah were pushed inside; they turned to face their captors. "Well, Mori, guess this is goodbye. Probably won't see you for a good long while," Norton said.
Moriarti shook his head. "Never say never, Norton," he replied. Norton wasn't too pleased with this response, whatever cheery mood draining from him into an air of grave seriousness.
"I intend to ensure this is the last I see of you," he said, giving a curt nod to a waiting Thirteen Thirty Seven.
And with that nod, the airlock door was sealed and locked.
To be continued...