Breaking News: Part Three
It was Wednesday, at 3 p.m., sharp.
There was already a steady queue outside the Channel 9 Studio on Friars Road when Peter Hopkirk arrived.
The green Bruce waited patiently in line, silently judging the competition in front of him as they moved ever forwards. Most of them seemed to be business-like, with sharp suits and stern expressions. Peter noticed the odd person who had more erratic hair and dress sense, but they were the exception rather than the rule.
It wasn’t long before Peter found himself at the front of the line, and was shown inside by a burly green Grarrl.
He was sat firmly in front of a makeshift desk, behind which a green Krawk sat, smiling pleasantly back at him.
The mere sight set Peter’s heart racing.
“Tell me, Mr... Hopkirk, do you know who I am?” the Krawk asked.
“Mr. Jennings,” Peter replied.
Somehow, despite only saying the name, Peter managed to convey that he also knew about the Krawk’s alleged criminal activities.
“Good, this makes things so much easier,” Jennings said, glancing down at Peter’s CV. “You were let go from the Neopian Times recently, Mr. Hopkirk. May I ask why?”
Peter subconsciously straightened his tie. “The editor felt certain stories I had been working on weren’t in the paper’s best interests.”
“Such as?” Jennings inquired.
“I was investigating Alfonso Might,” Peter told him. “You may have heard he’s in talks to buy the Times... my angle didn’t go down too well.”
Jennings glanced at the Grarrl behind Peter for the merest of moments.
“Not afraid to hold superiors to account...” Jennings said, making a note in his papers. “A plus point, if ever I heard one.”
Peter fidgeted in his seat.
Here was Mr. Jennings, a notorious criminal, and he was working as some kind of producer in a Neovision studio? What was happening?
He couldn’t hold himself back.
“If I may ask, sir, why are you doing this?” he asked.
“As you no doubt know, I am interested in the well being of this city, Mr. Hopkirk,” Jennings explained. “It’s public services, housing development, civil rights of the people... but recently I have become concerned as to the entertainment industry.”
Jennings stood up.
“Neovision isn’t as popular as it once was,” he continued. “It’s mostly just local news programmes or cheap soap operas... it’s lost the heart that it used to have, and with Mr. Might controlling all of the channels, I have come to the conclusion that a monopoly has damaged the industry. I intend to inject a little healthy competition, to rejuvenate the sector.”
“You’re starting with news?” Peter asked.
“Why not?” Jennings asked. “People like to stay informed, and everyone loves to gossip. The Neopian Times doesn’t sell copies because it prints in a very attractive font, after all. But no... I don’t just want to make a news programme, Mr. Hopkirk. I want something more... something better. Have you ever heard of the Qasalan Expellibox?”
“Yes, of course,” Peter replied.
“Good, a method of shipping scarabs instantly across the planet,” Jennings continued. “Yet, it doesn’t only ship scarabs. Anything can be thrown in; it just happens that Qasala has a lot of scarabs to hand. It’s not just objects either... electricity, sound, information can be transferred.”
“How does this matter to you?” Peter asked.
“The Royal Qasalan Expellibox Office has kindly constructed an Expellibox input conduit in Neopia Central. The Neovision signal from this studio will be beamed into the Expellibox, and because the Expellibox leads practically everywhere, our signal will reach practically everywhere. We will have a truly global news station, providing news from across the planet to the entire planet.”
Jennings sat back down. “It’s been tried before, of course, but back then they relied on Virtupets technology to beam the signal across the planet via satellites. Suffice to say that the idea was not a success, the Space Station gets thrown into a state of military occupation so often that people woke up to find their Neovision sets spouting pro-Sloth propaganda on many mornings.”
“That sounds... interesting,” Peter replied.
“Yes, and on the basis of this interview I would like to offer you the position of anchorman,” Jennings told him suddenly.
Peter was taken aback. “Are you sure? I was only expecting a minor reporting job, and this hasn’t really been an interview as such.”
Jennings glanced at the Grarrl for a moment again, giving Peter the distinct impression that something was not being said.
“You have all the qualifications we are looking for,” he said diplomatically. “Do you accept?”
“Yes!” Peter said, shaking the Krawk’s hand.
“Good.” Jennings smiled. “Our first broadcast will be Friday. Rehearsals are tomorrow.”
Alfonso Might rode the lift up to his office. It had been an eventful day, two of his plays on Wide Street had sold out almost instantly, and he had been able to smuggle at least a dozen Moltaran stage hands into the city.
He opened the door to his office, and paused immediately. Someone was sat at his desk.
“Do come in, Mr. Might, you’re causing quite the draft,” Mr. Jennings said amiably.
Alfonso glanced back over his shoulder. There was no one else around, aside from the Grarrl stood behind Jennings.
“Do relax, Mr. Might,” Jennings said. “If I were here to kill you, I can assure you that you would most certainly already be dead.”
Alfonso closed the door slowly, and leaned on it, afraid of approaching the desk.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I’m here to propose a deal, Mr. Might,” Jennings said.
“What kind of a deal?” Alfonso asked.
“I’m sure you are aware of my ambitions, in regards to the city,” Jennings answered. “At present, your operations stand in my way. I am offering you a way to resolve this matter peaceably.”
“What kind of a deal?” Alfonso repeated.
Jennings smiled. “You will agree to work for me, or leave the city completely, never to return. Either is an acceptable clause.”
Alfonso laughed. “And if I decline your deal?”
“Mr. Seth Vargo made a similar choice,” Jennings said. “We all know what happened to him.”
“Do we? I certainly don’t!” Alfonso remarked.
“Mr. Vargo has retired,” Jennings said bluntly. “It is a curious thing, but he decided to do so at exactly the same time that a sizable amount of concrete was poured into the foundations of my building in the Docklands.”
Alfonso gasped, “You...? He’s...? That’s...!”
“Yes, all of the above I should imagine,” Jennings said, standing up suddenly. “If it is a no, then I’m afraid that makes us competitors, Mr. Might.”
“You’re setting up a Neovision studio,” Alfonso noted.
“Our first broadcast is tomorrow, 6 p.m. sharp. I do hope you’ll be able to tune in,” Jennings smiled.
He and the Grarrl made their way to the door, and Alfonso helplessly stood aside as they let themselves out.
He stood there in silence for a while, before he made his way to his desk, and collapsed in his chair.
Excitement was at a high in the Neovision studio.
Peter watched as the various Neopets rushed backwards and forwards across the set, adding the final details before they went live. A makeup lady was busily applying products to the Bruce’s face.
Some distance away, a nervous looking Kacheek dumped a pile of papers in front of Mr. Jennings’s desk.
“The script, sir,” he announced, speaking busily into a head mounted microphone.
Jennings smiled and took a pen as he leafed through the papers. He carefully crossed out some lines, while adding in others.
“Drop the story about the Crumpetmonger’s new oven,” he instructed.
“Sir?” the Kacheek asked. “I thought the idea was for us to cover the facts from all across Neopia? That’s what news is all about.”
Jennings smiled. “If only it was that simple. No... news is a complex formula of facts times by their importance. Drop the Crumpetmonger story.”
The Kacheek nodded and rushed off to inform the reporters.
There was of course in theory a producer, and a director, but everyone knew that Mr. Jennings had the final say. His reputation often preceded him.
The makeup assistant drew back from Peter and gave him a critical eye.
“It’ll do,” she decided, before rushing offstage.
“Are you ready?” a pretty red Xweetok asked from beside Peter.
“As I’ll ever be, Helen,” he replied, straightening his tie.
“Just think, the entire world will be watching us,” Helen said, her eyes glazing over for a moment. “I didn’t think I’d ever end up in this position when I started out on Gossip! Weekly.”
Cameras were being wheeled in front of them. Lazar, the wizard Mynci, was prowling around them, making sure there were no technical faults.
A white Cybunny trotted across the stage and took her position by the weather chart in the corner of the studio, while a blue Techo sat down at a smaller desk next to the one Peter and Helen were sat at.
“I used to work at the Late Night Sports Review over on Channel 22,” the Techo told them. “It wasn’t anywhere near as big as this is going to be, but we still had good viewing figures. It gets easier after the first time, trust me.”
Mr. Jennings made his way over to the desk. “We’ve just heard from Jeremy; he’s in position above the city and should be within broadcast range for at least the next hour. We’re all set, more or less.”
The gathered Neopets nodded.
“We won’t let you down, sir,” Helen said bravely.
“I didn’t think for a moment that you would,” Jennings replied, before making his way back out of the shot of the cameras.
Somewhere at the back of the studio a bell sounded, signalling everyone to get into their positions.
Peter hastily shuffled the papers on his desk. In front of him, Lazar the wizard held out his hand and counted down.
He fell silent, counting down the rest of the numbers with his hand.
As he reached zero, a little light flickered to life on the Neovision camera. The lights in the studio faded up, and a dramatic theme tune began to play.
Peter caught the faintest of sparks coming out of one of the cameras... and then everything changed.
The fear, the nerves, all of it evaporated. Something new took over inside Peter. The air seemed charged with new potential.
He opened his mouth to speak.
“Good evening Neopia, and welcome to Channel 9 News...”
To be continued...