"Shut the door, Kimmy," Buzz instructed grimly.
I winced as I did as I was told. Whenever Buzz Johnson told me to shut the door to his office, it meant that whatever was coming wasn't going to be something pleasant. It was probably a new mission from the Meepits, which was never fun. Buzz waived me to a chair in front of his desk, and as I sat down, I noticed the Grey Lupe looked older.
"Kim-" Buzz started, and then amended, "Kristy."
That threw me. I had known Buzz for years and he had always called me by my surname. I had chalked that up to his military background. If he was breaking from that tradition, whatever he wanted wasn't business.
"You know about my past, don't you?" he asked.
"You mean about being one half of the most feared duo to ever serve Dr. Sloth? Yeah, Sloth told me about that, actually. Of course, it isn't hard to find out all about that, except why you two vanished. Sheila said Lynette died," I replied.
Buzz nodded slowly. "Yes, fast approaching twenty years ago now. She was the most remarkable young woman I have ever met. Her loss was truly a tragedy."
"Buzz, I am so sorry," I said, wishing I could find words that didn't seem so hollow.
I really was sorry for him, which would have once surprised me. Over the years, in spite of his threats, his temper, and his cutting words, I'd grown to like Buzz. I used to wonder how Sheila could manage to be so cheerful while being his secretary, but I'd discovered that she'd learned to like him too and see his acidity of character as part of his charm.
Buzz didn't reply to that, but went on. "Not long before she died, she was attacked by Captain Nefarious. He told her it was on my account. After she died, I decided to find out who he was. I had planned on giving him payback; I thought it might help me to move on. That's why I left Dr. Sloth's employ. However, Judge Hog figured it out first and took him down, and I left things go. A few years later, my curiosity finally got the better of me. I wanted to know how I had crossed paths with Nefarious and made an enemy of him and not known it. Digging back, I found this," Buzz handed me an old newspaper clipping.
It was an obituary of a scientist named Marcus. He had perished in a lab accident the day after the famous battle that had ended Nefarious' reign of terror.
"Yeah, I know about Marcus. I wrote an article on him and the cures he created on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of his first cure. You shot that article down so fast I swear I saw Sheila's head spin."
Buzz handed me a Virtupets portable computer. I skimmed through the information displayed, almost choking on the air I had been breathing as my mind tried to process what I was reading.
"He worked for Dr. Sloth?" I demanded. "That two-faced little conman! He's been honored in several prestigious academies as a hero."
Buzz chuckled. "It gets better. He was also Captain Nefarious."
I looked up at Buzz, waiting for him to call the joke. He never joked, I knew that, but I thought that had to be the first joke he had ever told. His face was dead serious. I finally gave up hoping that was a joke.
"I don't suppose Sheila saved that glowing article I wrote? I'd like burn it," I said.
"I did that for you," Buzz chuckled.
I couldn't help chuckling too. "So, you and Marcus had a tiff while you two worked for old Frank?"
"Something like that. I don't even remember what started it. We hated each other. Lynette, she, she was remarkably kind to Marcus given our feud and where she stood on it, in my opinion. It is unforgivable that she nearly came to harm because of me. It is something I'll never be able to myself or him for," Buzz explained.
"Okay, so why all the confidences? Are we breaking this story? Because, I don't like that idea. The Defenders had to have known who Nefarious was, so if they didn't tell and created this fake story about Marcus' demise, they must have had a good reason for it. Buzz, my kid works there," I said, figuring that he was giving me a heads up for Chloe's sake.
"No, we're not breaking the story. The DoN did have a reason for suppressing the story, and I respect that. However, Nefarious wasn't content to go down quietly. He left a legacy," Buzz said.
He flicked his paw across the screen I was holding, bringing up an image of a Magma Gnorbu and a Mutant Acara.
"His final apprentice and his beast of a niece, Colonel Iniquitous and Veronica," he told me. "Honestly, I don't know who to despise more. They are picking up where Nefarious left off, in theory. They are serious about taking over the world, Nefarious just wanted to play a game of Angelpuss and Miamouse with Judge Hog."
"Okay," I said slowly, not sure what he was getting at. "So, we need to dig up more information on them because they are rivals of the Meepits?"
"No, we need to dig up information on them to stick it to dear old Marcus," Buzz said with a sadistic grin.
"Buzz!" I cried, flabbergasted. "Lynette and Marcus have both passed on a long time ago. If you're going to stay stuck in this void of hate, you're never going be..." I thought about that a minute. If I knew Buzz, he was never going to be happy or peaceful. "Remotely content in your life," I finished lamely.
"Regardless of my motivation for it, getting information on them will benefit Neopia. They are criminals, ones at the top of the Defenders of Neopia's most wanted list. Kristy, I'm not asking you to like it, or to save me from what I am. I'm asking for your help, and I never ask that lightly."
I frowned and took a deep breath. I couldn't say no to a request like that. "Count me in, Buzz. Whatever you need, I'm your girl."
"Good, because I've got a job for you," he said.
"Why does that sound like the peals of doom?"
I couldn't believe it, even though I was looking at it. Or rather, I was looking at me. I didn't look like me, I looked like an Aisha. It wasn't magic or science, just good old fashioned stage makeup. A bit of putty to reshape my face, plastic based paint that created the illusion of smooth blue skin, and shoes that added almost seven inches to my height and gave the pretense of Aisha feet inside the shoes at the ends of the long legs. There was a wig that had the four pairs of ears merged into it. The tail was hooked onto a rig that attached to my legs so it would move naturally to match my gait.
I spun around again, surprisingly stable in the elevated shoes.
"Okay, this is freakish," I said as I ran my hand through the waves of my platinum blonde wig. "I wouldn't recognize me."
Buzz was leaning against the wall nearby, smirking. Demi, the makeup artist just grinned. The Acara opened a closet and proceed to pull out clothes. I was wearing a sleeveless unitard, the leggings on which only extended a few inches past my knee.
"Okay, this is two outfits in one, right here. I'll need to coach you on how to do a quick change in case you need to dump the Aisha identity in a hurry, but right now I think Buzz wants to brief you on the mission," Demi said, bringing over some clothes.
She draped the clothes over a chair and then proceeded to help me into the outfit as Buzz started to talk.
"Okay, Kimmy, here's the mission. Philip Degrass, one of Vile's henchmen, is holding information critical to one of Iniquitous' schemes. Iniquitous is sending a middleman to pick it up, an Aisha by the name of Leena. Degrass only knows she's a Blue Aisha. Here's where you come in. Pickup time is 11:45; Degrass will be there for a good hour beforehand. It is a popular hangout for Vile's men, so he'll be shooting the breeze with his pals. You'll show up early, convince him you're Leena, and leave with the information. Easy enough, right?"
"Is there a password or something?" I asked.
"No, because no one should know about this but the concerned parties. I've got a contact in Vile's gang who owes me a lot. He knows to report to me any information concerning Iniquitous and Veronica, which is why I know," Buzz explained.
"Buzz, this is dangerous. Why aren't we turning this information over to the DoN? They have the resources to do this safely," I pointed out.
"Because in an exclusive place like that, the patrons will be quick to notice newcomers. The DoN would not go in alone, and that would send off massive red lights to Degrass. Also, they wouldn't risk sending in one of their female agents as Leena, they are too obviously supers. So, who would they be likely to send, of course under protective care, which would tip off Degrass and cause the loss of the information?"
"Who?" I asked.
"One of their secretaries. Your daughter would be a good candidate. She's a good fighter, she wouldn't mind morphing into an Aisha, and she'd be under protective watch, but do you really want her there? We can handle this. Don't forget, you've been an undercover agent for years now. You know how to do this, even if you've never gone this deep. You know how to lie convincingly, and even be a different person than you are based on the circumstances. You can do this."
I needed no more convincing. I grabbed the purse from Demi and slung it over my shoulder. "Let's do this."
I took a deep breath and looked at my watch. It read 11:20. Buzz was standing the alley, carefully out of sight, but close enough to talk to me.
"It's time," he said.
I couldn't respond, just in case anyone was watching. It would look odd that I was talking to the air.
"Get the information, get out, and get back here. If you're not back by 11:45, I'll be coming in after you. Good luck, Kristy."
I turned and walked coolly down the street. The restaurant where I was to meet Degrass was around the corner and a ways down. I know I looked like a confident woman going about her business, but I felt like a scared child in her first school play. Desperate to do it right, but certain when it came to her line, she would draw a blank.
I came to the doors of the restaurant and pulled it open, no hesitation. The real Leena wouldn't pause for a second, I knew. Her cool would never slip, so I couldn't let mine, no matter how badly I wanted to pause to hyperventilate.
I walked into the establishment and looked around. Seated at a table near the back was my mark. Phillip Degrass was a tall Yellow Kyrii who used too much hair gel. His clothes were flashy, meant to look more expensive than they were. I walked over there, not taking my bored gaze off his table, even knowing everyone was watching me with suspicion. The Kyrii had his back to me, but he knew I was there by the way his cohorts stiffened as I stopped behind him.
"Phillip Degrass?" I inquired in a cool tone, crossing my arms and shifting my weight to one leg.
He turned around in his chair, looking at me suspiciously.
"Leena? You're early."
"I always am," I replied. "Keeps people off my tail. Have you got my commission or not?"
Degrass pulled a folder out of his coat and handed it to me. I tucked it into my bag and returned it to my shoulder.
"Got a back door?" I asked.
He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Oh come on," I said disdainfully. "You don't leave by the same door you came in by in my profession. Even you should know that."
Degrass looked embarrassed. He pointed to a door a few feet away.
"Do you want to stick around? The coffee here is really quite good," he said.
"I'm on the clock," I replied as I pushed the door open.
I glanced back at the front door as I shut the back door and noticed the outline of an Aisha on the other side of the frosted glass. Leena was here early, too. I'd only beaten her by a few moments. I knew I'd only have a minute or two before Vile's men would spill out of there, looking for me. I ran out of the back alley and down two streets.
Hurrying into an alley, I pulled the folder, a belt, and a pair of black flats out of my purse and turned it inside out. The purse was double sided. I shoved the folder back inside and pulled the wig off. My long blonde hair was pinned up, and I shook it loose. I started pulling the paint off my skin. It pulled away cleanly, and I was quickly my pale human self again. I pulled off the skirt I was wearing; the shirt I was wearing was actually a tunic, which I belted around the waist with the belt from my purse. I ripped a ruffle from the neckline of the tunic and pulled the tail rig off. Finally, I pulled off the fake legs, and was suddenly much shorter again. I stepped into my flats as I stuffed all the pieces of my disguise into my purse. I took off my coat and turned it inside out and quickly buttoned it up.
Slinging my purse over my shoulder, I exited the alley and started walking casually up the street. At the intersection, two Neopets nearly ran into me. I took a step backwards to let them pass. The first started on his way, but the other stopped.
"Hey, missy. You seen a Blue Aisha woman in the last few minutes?" he asked.
"Um, no, I haven't," I said. "Is everything okay? Do you need help or anything? I could run to the DoN terminal if you need."
"No, that's not necessary, she just left her purse. Me and a few friends were just trying to catch her, nothing to concern yourself with. Good evening," he said hurriedly, and then took off after his cohort.
"I hope you find her!" I called after him.
I was trying hard not to smirk. Until I had safely met up with Buzz at the rendezvous, I couldn't let my guard down.
I smiled as I tossed the pieces of paint in the garbage can in Buzz's office. Buzz was sitting at his desk reading the contents of the folder. I came over and looked over his shoulder, scanning the contents.
"We really need to take this to the DoN, Buzz. The Meepits will have no use for this information, or any reason to step in, and there is nothing more we can do with this," I said.
"You're right. I'll have this handled by an outside party. They are going to want to know how we came across this information. I don't want them digging. I've worked very hard to bury my past, and I don't need that cropping up now."
"I can handle this, Buzz. I've worked for you for years now; I finally know how to lie convincingly. I think I proved that in tonight, huh? Besides, I don't even have to lie in this case; just leave bits of the truth out. Leave it to me. We are a news agency, it isn't at all weird for us to have this information," I said.
I had expected him to argue or at least be annoyed with my insolence, but instead he just clapped me on the shoulder.
"You did. To be honest, I don't know if I really believed you could do it, but you did it. Okay, you're right. No need to lie here. You can take it up to them in the morning. I want to make a copy of this information for my own use."
"Compiling all the data you can to gain a greater understanding of the enemy?" I asked.
"You're not as dumb as you usually come across," Buzz replied.
"I have my moments," I chuckled. "Okay, I should get home before my girls start having fits. You know them; they worry about their ditzy mom even when she says she'll be really late."
I waved as I left the office. Outside, as I walked home, I felt good. Regardless of Buzz's motivation for helping to track this Iniquitous, we were actually doing something for the good of Neopia.
I walked into the Defenders' HQ the next morning, folder in hand, and waited in the lobby. Chloe came out to meet me. The Purple Kyrii grinned at me.
"You're looking very cheery. You must have blown up the house and are trying to tell me gently," Chloe teased.
"You've got the worst opinion of me," I replied. "Take me to your boss or whoever I'm supposed to hand in tips to. I've got a good one."
"Oh," Chloe said, looking surprised. "I can probably handle logging that away. About whom?"
"A Gnorbu with a really pretentious super villain name."
Chloe's face froze. I knew these guys were at the top of the DoN's list, but I was beginning to feel that they might be more serious than I had realized. I was starting to wonder if Buzz and I had done a stupid thing messing with these people. There was only so much protection being a minion of the Meepits afforded.
She waved for me to follow and brought be to a lounge. Judge Hog was sitting at a chess board across from Orig the Great.
"Hey, Boss," Chloe said, politely but urgently enough to get both their attention. "Kristy's got some information pertaining to Iniquitous. I thought you should see it right away."
I handed the folder to Judge Hog and opened it, quickly skimming through it. He handed the folder to Orig.
"Take that to Loraine and get on that right away," he instructed.
Orig left in a hurry and Judge Hog turned his attention back to me.
"How did this come into your hands?"
"I'm a journalist, Judge Hog. A lot comes into our hands, much of it from confidential sources. You don't have to worry, the Weekly World will not be running this story," I said.
"Oh, come on, Kristy!" Chloe cried.
"I cannot betray a confidential source. Also, I don't know. My boss told me to take this information down here. However, he would never betray a confidential source, and he could probably toss you out the window if you asked, Judge Hog."
"She right and he'd probably would. Kristy's boss is not a guy you mess with," Chloe said resignedly.
"Okay, I need to get back to work, or he'll toss me out a window for dallying. Good day, sir. Have a great day, honey," I kissed Chloe on the cheek and left.
In the hall, part of their conversation echoed down to me. "Nothing we can do, Chloe. I don't want to alienate a possible source of tips by creating hostility towards us at the Weekly World. Don't hassle your mother about this."
"How'd they take it?" Buzz asked as I walked into his office.
"Not happy I 'couldn't' reveal the name of the confidential informant the information came from. However, Judge Hog knows better than to push us for it. They aren't going to ask how or from whom we are getting the information, they'll just be happy to get it. Chloe will probably be mad at me for a day or two, but such is life."
Buzz nodded. "Good, because we are only getting started."
Pushing aside my concerns, I put on a smile. "Let's get them."