A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Part Five
On Monday after the skirmish ended, Sierra hurried into the National Neopian museum and walked over to the front desk.
"Hey Lucy, I'm back!"
"Hello, Sierra! Where've you been?" Lucy tossed her her set of keys.
"...Around. I'll explain it later. Thanks!" She walked into the hallway next to the reception desk and rushed down the stairs. She swung the doors open to reveal a library with many doors leading to the vast system of corridors branching away from the mahogany and book lined room. Circular wood tables were scattered all over the library, each one piled high with stacks of paper or equipped with a typewriter.
"Sierra! You're back!" Several pets greeted her enthusiastically.
"Hello everyone!" She greeted them back with a smile. "I didn't miss a lot, did I?"
"Not very much at all- Oh, here's the edited draft of your weapons report released last month." A blue Aisha handed her a small stack of papers. "Where have you been?"
"Thank you, Goodwin. I've been... doing a separate research project off-site. I have a lot to do today."
"Then I won't keep you from your work."
"Don't worry about it. It's great to see everyone again."
"It's good to see you, too! Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon." She began walking over to one of the vast shelves when she spotted a green Shoyru carrying a large pitcher of lemonade and placing it in the refreshments corner. His labcoat was covered in a rainbow of stains. She walked over to him.
"Hello, Sierra! I heard you've been gone for a while on a research project. Would you like to try some of my lemonade? It's a new formula!"
"I have, and no thank you. I have a little something for you." She pulled out the vial of hot chocolate from her bag and handed it to him. "Would you do me a huge favor and run this in the mass spec, please?"
"Of course! Come, let me show you my new lab. I'm an 'assistant scientist' no longer! I never liked those war aliases anyway." He motioned for her to follow him through a well lit hallway.
"Congratulations on your promotion!" She smiled.
"Oh, and before I forget, Marcus told me and a few others to tell you that he would like to see you when you get back."
"Alright then, thank you. How has he been?"
"He's been fine. Last time I saw him he was asleep at an enormous stack of essays, probably reading and grading them to see who should replace him."
"Ah, typical," she laughed.
He laughed. "How have you been? What's this external research project?"
"It's about the Sway. I'm..." She lowered her voice. "I'm trying to find out more about them since we know so little, so I joined them for the skirmishes. I had a meeting with Lord Norheim the other day, you'd know him as Cunning Mastermind. To make a long story short he offered me this hot chocolate but it tasted funny."
"Did you drink it?"
"No, I just pretended to."
Gyro unlocked the door and they walked into the room. The wooden walls they saw through the corridors were replaced with white painted walls and linoleum flooring. Desks filled with stacks of papers lined one side of the wall, while white cabinets above black countertops lined another next to a giant fume hood. In the center of the room, two elaborate systems of clear plastic tubing attached to large glass vessels and glass spiral pipes were set up on long tables. To the back a mass spectrometer was set up next to two Virtupets display screens. Gyro walked over to the spectrometer while Sierra wandered around the room.
"I see you've got some Virtupets stuff in here."
"Yep, we're trying to incorporate it into the labs so we can keep up with progress and the times and all that."
"How'd the committee approve that?"
He shrugged. "Someone had some pretty powerful persuasion skills, much more than me."
"Anyway, it takes about fifteen minutes for it to run a composition analysis."
"Alright. I won't be here for very long, so I'll go talk to Marcus in the meantime."
"I'll see you later then!"
Sierra knocked sharply on the dark wooden door. There was no response, so she let herself in. She found a well-dressed red Scorchio snoring loudly in a leather chair at a cluttered desk, his head resting on a stack of papers. She sighed.
"Professor Bellshire!" He continued snoring.
"Professor Bellshire? Professor Bellshire!" Her mentor didn't budge. She groaned in exasperation.
"Ah!" He gasped and nearly jumped out his chair, sending nearby papers flying. "Oh, hello, Sierra! Dear goodness, I fell asleep again, didn't I? Whatever is the time, anyway?" He stumbled out of his chair and began to collect the papers on the floor.
She checked her pocket watch. "Eleven twenty six. I just came to let you know that I'm back. I'll be gone for several days after today most likely but then I'll be back again."
"Very good. It's good to have you back. The team missed you, you know. You got your latest report back, didn't you?"
"Yes, Goodwin gave it to me." She briefly paused. "I need to talk to you about something, Professor," she began.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Sierra, please call me Marcus! I'm not even a professor anymore, anyway! 'Professor' is much too formal for a funny old chap like me. Now, what is that something you would like to discuss?"
"Well, I've been conducting a separate research project while I've been away. You've heard about it, haven't you?"
"All I heard about was the morse clicker idea that you came up with. Quite a genius idea for security breaches, I say."
"Well, I've been trying to gather information about the Sway and their tactics and plans from the inside, so I've been fighting with them this time around." She explained their interest in her essay and its connection to her house robbery.
"...This has evidently taken quite a personal turn." He paused. "I'm glad to see that you haven't been swayed, though!" He laughed at his own joke. Sierra set her head in her paw and shook her head.
"This is no laughing matter, Marcus."
"You're right, this isn't. I'm sorry."
"Anyway, I need permission to access the vaults so I can get more information on the Sway and their connection to the Obelisk." She lowered her voice. "I have to find out exactly what they're going to do, what they have planned."
"...And how does the anonymity of them have anything to do with us?"
"Marcus, they know too much about me. They know all about me and my position here. That not only makes me a target, but you, Lambert, Katie, and anyone else who is remotely influential in our organization. If I don't find out the whole truth, then all of us and our research could be at risk."
Marcus sat back down in his chair, eyes widened. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "Dear Fyora, what have you gotten yourself into?"
"That's why I need your help."
"What do you need?"
"Let's see... I'll need access the the archive vaults here and in Brightvale in the sectors where the Obelisk, faction notes, and promotional videos are. Can you do that for me?"
Marcus wrote a note on a scrap of paper and handed it to her. "Take this to Lucy, and she'll loan you the keys to sector 5 here, third door to your left. The note should also get you the keys to sector seven in Brightvale."
"Thank you so much."
"What are you going to do about your essay?"
"What do you mean? They've got it now. I can't think of anything I can do to get it back."
"Right... What did you say about its importance to them again?"
"That it's a key to their success,they kept influencing its rejection to the Neopian Times and they went to great lengths to get it. They think that it has to be their secret in order to- What exactly are you suggesting?"
"Well, I was thinking that you could get your essay back somehow in order to foil their plans..."
"But then that will expose me! I can't afford that!"
He scowled. "Sierra, you foolish girl! Did you really think you could get out of this unscathed? Of course you're going to be exposed eventually. You just have to make it their undoing in the process."
"Well... I..." She stammered as she attempted to retaliate, only to realize the sense in his words. I wonder what other foolish assumptions I've made...
He interrupted her thoughts. "Do you think you could get your article into the Neopian Times?"
"I'm not sure... Why- that's it. I have to put it out there and make it known and available to the other factions so the Sway can't make it a part of their plan. Perfect! You're a genius, Marcus!" She heartily shook his paw in gratitude. "I'll submit it after I leave home and before I leave for Brightvale. They'll get the latest edition on Thursday afternoon, but they can't change it once they receive it since it is being prepared for circulation for Friday afternoon's weekend news. How does that sound?"
"Three days sounds like a risky buffer time, but they might be preoccupied with other things before they find out about your submission."
Suddenly, there was a loud, sharp knock on the door. "Marcus? It's me, Gyro."
"Come in." The door swung opened and the flustered Shoyru hurriedly entered.
"Whatever is the matter?" Marcus asked.
Gyro turned to Sierra. "I need to show you something in my lab. I've gotten some rather... unusual results."
"Go on then, Sierra," Marcus replied. "Keep me up to date, will you?"
"Yes, I will. Good afternoon!" Sierra rushed out of the office with Gyro. Once they reached his lab, Gyro brought up the results on one of the display screens. "Now, I found normal amounts of cocoa, sugar, milk, caffeine and the like in the hot chocolate, but what I was not expecting was this," he pointed to one of the higher bars on the graph. "It's sodium thiopental, a barbiturate-class anesthetic-"
"Gyro!" Sierra interrupted. "Something I can understand, please? I'm a weapons specialist, not a chemist."
"Right," he laughed nervously. "Sorry. Anyway, sodium thiopental is an anesthetic, the kind of stuff that they give you in hospitals to knock you out before performing surgeries. It can knock you out if given in high enough doses, but low doses usually impairs judgement. Neohospitals don't use it very much anymore. Now, on its own it doesn't last very long, only about five to ten minutes, and it has to get to the bloodstream through an IV or injection. With magic, however, it can be incredibly powerful and last over hour, and it can also be effective if ingested as a white powder. The powder was mixed into the hot chocolate. The amount in the sample was relatively small, but it could easily seriously impair your judgement to the point of you not remembering what you said if you drank an entire mug."
"He was trying to get me to talk." Her eyes widened in realization.
"That's what it seems like to me as well."
"They must already be suspicious of me. After all, they wouldn't do this if they weren't. Gyro, make sure these results do not leave this lab nor are known to anyone else save Marcus."
"Thank you so much. I owe you one big time."
"So, I've got all the information I need now, just the notes on the Obelisk." They walked through the poorly lit rows of meticulously labelled boxes stacked on metal shelves.
"Are you sure it's in this sector?" Katie asked.
That's what Bellshire and Lambert both said. They were stopped at the O section, and had pulled out and put away every box in search of the notes.
"I found it!" Katie's excited voice echoed through the vaults. "The box is hard to open, though."
"Here." Sierra used a pair of scissors to cut through the clear tape around the edge of the lid. She lifted it off, and they both gasped.
"It's... empty..." They rechecked the label of when it was last opened.
"It was last opened by Lambert, but he was positive that all the notes were back in there!" Katie said, confused. "He was sure it was this box, too."
Sierra heard a rhythmic clicking noise echo slowly through the vaults. She brought a finger to her lips and Katie nodded. Sierra kept one paw on the hilt of her dagger. She proceeded in front as they quietly crept towards what she thought was the source of the sound. The clicking noises echoed louder, and sounded more like footsteps. No one else is supposed to be in the vaults now!
The noises stopped suddenly. She peered between the boxes and she thought she saw a shadow move. She silently drew her dagger and placed it lengthwise between two boxes, and carefully adjusted the angle to catch a reflection. The shadowed figure was a camouflage Acara. She adjusted the collar of her black trench coat, then turned and looked straight at Sierra's dagger. The eye contact made Sierra jump, and she heard the familiar chi-chick of unlocking a blaster as soon as she grabbed her dagger. She peered around the shelves of boxes and her nose narrowly missed a blaster fire. She swung her dagger around and knocked the blaster to the floor. The Acara muttered a curse, briefly nursing her injured hands.
"Run!" she yelled to Katie. Sierra ran with her as the Acara scrambled for her blaster, then ran towards Sierra. Sierra whirled around and dodged a kick, and lashed out towards her shoulder with her dagger. The Acara attempted to block her and grab the dagger, but failed with her injured hands. Sierra kept slowly backing up the direction of the door. She kicked the intruder in the stomach, then bolted for the door, weaving through the aisles. The Acara ran back to get her blaster, and fiery laser blasts shot around her, burning holes in boxes around her and deflecting off of the metal shelves. She stumbled as a laser blast grazed her shoulder and bit her cheek hard to silence a yelp. Ignore the pain ignore the pain ignore the pain! She finally burst through the door, shutting it behind her and locking the Acara inside. The wound on her back burned as she ran through the hallways. Sierra grit her teeth as she continued to attempt to ignore it. A Skeith wearing a black blaster proof vest patrolled one of the halls.
"Security! Armed intruder in archive sector seven, risk level red with possible Sway affiliation. Also Obelisk notes in box O 455 MIA, again possible Sway involvement."
The guard rushed over to a security with a series of buttons. He pressed a few of them and a shrill alarm went off. He picked up the PA receiver. "This is security. This building is going under full lockdown due to a code red 890 security breach. Please do not be alarmed. Everyone in the museum, please stay calm and stay where you are. All security members report to sector seven with necessary gear." He set down the receiver. "Thank you."
She nodded in acknowledgement, then picked up the receiver. "Also would Katie Lambert please report to the front desk immediately. Thank you." She handed the receiver back to the security guard.
"I think so, she was with me down in the vaults, but she got away while the intruder was focused on me. Good afternoon, I must go now."
"Miss, your shoulder!"
Sierra winced in pain as she touched the back of her throbbing shoulder, and cringed when she looked at her fingertips. "Fyora, it's worse than I thought. Thank you!"
She made her way back through the hallways and flights of stairs back to the front desk. Katie was waiting for her, pacing in concern. She looked up to see her. "Sierra!"
"Katie, you're alright!" Katie ran over and gave her a hug. Sierra winced again. Concern washed over Katie's face again. "You're hurt," she said.
"Yeah. She got me with her blaster, the darn rascal," she replied.
Katie climbed over the front desk, then appeared a few seconds later with a first aid kit.
Sierra smiled. "Aww Katie, you're so sweet!"
Katie smiled back. "It's about time that I pay you back for you bandaging me up after another encounter with a bully and Gladstone was home sick." She took out a small black device from her skirt pocket as she pulled out supplies from the bag. "I almost forgot, here's the clicker you asked for, all tested and ready to go."
"Thank you so much."
"How did she injure her shoulder?"
"Reports tell me that she said it's from a training accident."
"Liar!" The purple Lenny scoffed. "She didn't go to the training school yesterday. She was in Neopia Central."
"Why would she lie about something like that?" Lord Norheim poured himself more hot chocolate.
"She was doing something she wasn't supposed to."
"What do you mean?"
"It's so obvious, Norheim. She's the spy."
His eyes widened. "Of course! We must dispose of her immediately, then!"
"No. We must squeeze every drop of knowledge and information out of her first. Then we shall dispose of her. We didn't win this time, but that's alright. We must continue to convince and confuse them with patterns of who wins and gains the Oracle's blessing."
"Very well. But what about our agent who was taken into custody in the Seekers' global headquarters?"
"Once they release her, we will interview her and ask her the details of what happened. I know we can trust her." She paused. "As for Sierra, I have an idea that will prove that's she's the spy and has been lying to us the whole time."
"Simple. We'll give her an assignment."
Norheim smirked, knowing exactly what she was thinking.
"Sierra!" Damien walked up to her locker.
She shoved some books into her backpack and slammed her locker shut. "What's up, Damien?" She slung her backpack onto her shoulders.
"I just got a message. We need to talk." He motioned for her to follow him to somewhere less crowded. They walked out of the school building, along the paths and to the back end of the gym. They set their backpacks down and Damien opened the letter.
"We can't go to school tomorrow. They want us to go on a mission and we have to be at the mansion by nine in the morning."
"Where are we going?"
"... Well, that's the thing. We're going to the National Neopian Museum."
Sierra's eyes widened. "The Seekers..." she whispered.
Damien nodded slowly. "They want us to go the vaults there. She specifically mentioned that since you know all of the security protocols so we can avoid them."
Sierra hoped he didn't hear her heart pounding. Keep your cool keep your cool don't give him any hints! "Alright. Sounds good." She nodded.
"...Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Seriously! They're testing me, I know it."
"Why would they want to do that?"
"To make sure that I am as loyal to them as I say I am."
Sierra adjusted her dagger belt, then wrapped her thin cloak around her as they approached the back of the Museum. They stopped by the line of trees near the building's edge. Sierra quickly climbed one of the trees.
"The two back doors have an armed guard at each. If we follow the trees along the right, there's an unguarded maintenance door that we can get into undetected. It will be guarded soon though."
She climbed down and they crept along the tree line and through the door. She peeked through the keyhole to make sure the coast was clear, then quietly entered. She motioned for him to follow. They quickly ran through the halls, then stopped at one of the doors for sector four. Damien picked the lock.
Sierra discreetly put a paw in her trousers pocket. This is it. Let's hope they don't figure it out too soon. She looked at the ring on her other paw that was turned so the insignia was hidden, then repeatedly pressed the button on the clicker forming "SOS" in morse code. She repeated this pattern six times, then repeated the number "four" six times as she followed Damien through the vaults to the boxes they were looking for. He put on a pair of leather gloves, then began systematically searching through the boxes and pulling out specific papers. Sierra did the same. She took some of the papers they pulled out, neatly folded them and placed them into her shoulder bag hidden by her cloak. She heard rushed, muffled footsteps from the floor above them walking towards the staircase that led to the vaults. Damien looked up, noticing them as well. He quickly placed the lids back on all the boxes, stuffed the papers in his pockets and returned the boxes to their places.
"Security's coming," she breathed. "Someone must have seen us on our way in."
Damien nodded. "She won't be happy about this." They made their way to the center of the room, where the shelves could hide them better, and drew their daggers.
The security team burst through the doors and spread in small groups throughout the room, their footsteps echoing loudly.
"Clear," one group called out on one side of the room.
"Clear," another group called out from the other side.
"Clear." They were getting closer.
"Clear." They would find them now for sure. Sierra and Damien leaned against the boxes.
"Found something!" Three guards had their blasters aimed at them. Damien whipped out his hypnosis amulet and the guards froze with blank faces. He took her wrist and led her towards the hypnotized guards. He turned towards the closest door, but she ripped her paw out of his grasp and turned the other way, placing her dagger back in its sheath. He ran after her as they avoided blaster fire. Suddenly, two security guards appeared from one of the aisles and grabbed them. She struggled to get free, than an idea came to her. She continued struggling as they dragged them to the door, then she jumped up and kicked one of the shelves hard, causing heavy boxes to tumble down. She ducked in time, but Damien and the other guards didn't anticipate it, the boxes hitting them on the head and knocking them to the ground. She stood up and faced the guards pointing their blaster at her. She felt a pang of guilt run through her as she saw Damien lying unconscious on the ground.
"Stop! It's okay, I triggered the alarm," she announced, and held out the clicker. One of the guards approached her, blaster still pointed at her, and she handed the clicker to him. He inspected it.
"Put your blasters down; she's one of us." They all obeyed. She put the clicker back in her pocket.
"Why are you here?"
"I can't explain right now, get Katie, Professor Lambert, or Professor Bellshire to explain. They know, just ask about Sierra Hardingson. They won't be out for much longer, and they need to be treated for concussions." She gestured to the unconscious guards. "Once you do that you need to take him and me into custody. We will be released in time, but he can't know about what happened." She pointed to Damien. She knelt down and ran her paw along his forehead where he was hit, and felt another pang of guilt run through her. I'm so sorry. She sat there with him for a moment while the guards regrouped and the hypnotized guards came to their senses. Sierra emptied her shoulder bag and placed the papers on one of the shelves. The guards confiscated their weapons, then picked Damien up and took them out of the vaults and out of the building while she followed. The guards loaded them into a Uni rickshaw, which transported them over the cobbled roads to the dungeons.
Damien moaned and opened his eyes. He raised his paws to his head, not realizing they were handcuffed. "Ow, my head!"
"Hey, shh, it's okay. We'll get some medicine for it in a minute."
"Where are we going?" he asked weakly.
"I'll explain when we get there."
A few minutes later, they were escorted into the dungeons and into a cell. The guards laid Damien down on a cot and placed a bag of ice on his head, then locked their cell. Sierra sat down next to him.
"Hey, can you get him some pain killers or something and some water? His head injury is pretty bad."
One of the guards disappeared for a moment, then returned with a small glass bottle and a glass of water. He supervised them as she dispensed the medicine and offered the tablets and the water to him.
"Take this, it'll help."
He complied obediently, and she handed the bottle back to the guard who then disappeared out of sight.
"Where are we?"
"The dungeons. I kicked the boxes in an attempt to free us, but they knocked you out as well as the other guards. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay." He cringed as he tried to sit up.
"No no no, lie back down. You've got a bad head injury." She gently pushed him back down.
He sighed, and adjusted the ice pack on his head.
"Wait, how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Is your vision blurry at all?"
"No concussion, then."
Silence fell between them for a few moments.
"Are they going to come get us?"
"I don't know, but I'm beginning to think that they won't."
"Oh." She paused. "What are they going to do now that we failed? We don't even have the papers we came there for, they took them away."
"I don't know, Sierra." He stared at the ceiling, then turned over to face her. "Whatever it is, we won't like it. She doesn't take failure lightly."
"I still have no idea how the security could have changed so much in only a week. That only usually happens when there are important visitors to the museum, or they're doing special testing in the lab."
"When I went to the mansion to pick up my cloak and get some stuff before I went home, I heard rumors circling that another agent was taken into custody during a mission to the vaults on Monday. There were two people there doing research, and one of them attacked the agent, leaving his or her hands and shoulder cut up."
"Fyora." Her heart pounded. Stay calm stay calm stay calm! "That would most definitely do it." She paused. "How's your head?"
"Hurts like crazy. Apart from that I think it's okay."
"You should get some rest to help it. I'll wake you up if they come."
"Aww, you poor thing." She patted his shoulder sympathetically. "Is the medicine working yet?"
"No, but I'll be fine."
She leaned back against the cold, gray stone wall and watched the shadows from the flickering candles dance on the walls and the ceiling outside the cell.
They'll find out eventually. It's simply a matter of time, just like being stuck here is.
To be continued...