Halloween was over, and fall had long since come and gone. Farmers had gathered their crops into their barns to prepare for a lengthy winter; the forests, once beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow, had lost their leaves and gone dormant; and many animals had dug caves for themselves and gone into hibernation. The once-colorful Dreamland was now shades of grey and blue as snow and ice coated the countryside.
Many Dreamlanders were now either huddled up in their homes to keep warm, or outside dressed in scarves and hats and making snow-Waddle Dees. Others, however... were not doing so well.
"It c-c-c-COLD, C-Cuh'er!" Dagger stammered for the two-hundred-thirty-first (or so) time that day. Despite the fact that he was wrapped up in all his blankets, he was still shivering.
"R-r-rusty s-s-scrapmetal!" Cutter yelled, burying himself further into his own pile of blankets. "I kn-kn-know, D-D-Dagger! It's n-not m-my fault I c-c-can't a-f-f-ford to p-pay the h-heating b-bill this y-year!" The two were sitting on their couch wrapped in every blanket they could find, both trying to keep warm despite the total lack of heat in the house. Between the two on the couch sat a laptop with a half-finished program typed up into it. Cutter had been working on it, but that got to be a bit difficult when he couldn't even feel his paws.
"Whynot?" The Blade Knight glared a little.
"Dedede slashed my pay, again!" Cutter sighed, curling up underneath his blanket shelter in an attempt to keep warm. "I g-guess more people are becoming his m-minions... s-so he's just p-paying everyone l-less. So it was either f-freeze, or s-starve. I f-figured freezing would be l-less painful."
"Buh-buh-buh what 'bout... Whispy?"
"He's gone dormant, remember? He goes to sleep in the winter."
"Oh." Dagger blinked. "...Giveapples... when wakeup?" He gave a hopeful smile.
"...He'll wake up in the spring, when we won't need the heat anymore."
After a moment or two, the Blade Knight stared forlornly at the empty fireplace at the side of the room. "Makefire?"
"I'd like to, but we don't have any firewood." Cutter heaved a sigh. Suddenly he perked up, getting an idea. "Hey, here's something... If you go out and get some firewood, I'll make the fire! How's that sound, Dag'?"
Dagger brightened up considerably at that. "Yah!" he cheered, grinning and hopping out of his pile of blankets. He rushed over to the closet to put on his jacket and a scarf, and immediately marched out the door, shutting it behind him... and opened it again moments later, rushing back inside.
That was fast... Cutter thought, impressed.
Dagger stood there for a moment or two, kicking his foot a little. "...Cuh'er?"
The Kibble about fell over at that; he should've known it wouldn't be that easy. "...You have to chop down a tree and take the wood back here to get it."
"Oh! 'Kay." With renewed cheerfulness, the Blade rushed outside once more... only to come back a few moments later. "...Cuh'er?"
"What is it now, Dagger?" Cutter asked, rubbing his face in exasperation.
"How chopdown... tree?"
"...You get something sharp like an axe to cut it down."
"Oh! 'Kay." And once again, Dagger darted out the door. And once again, he rushed back into the house. "...Cuh'er?"
"Whereget... sharp thing?''
"Well, search me," the Kibble said with a shrug. He then paused, realizing how Dagger was likely to interpret that. "...No wait don't-!" With a yelp, the Kibble was yanked up out of his pile of blankets, and held up in the air by his boomerang-blade.
"Thankyuu!" Dagger exclaimed with a cheerful smile, still holding his friend up in the air.
"...You're welcome." Cutter reached up to the blade and unhooked it from his helmet, allowing himself to drop back down onto his blanket-nest. "Just be sure to bring it back, all right?"
"'Kay." With that, the Blade Knight rushed out of the house for the fourth time, this time staying outside. Once out, he examined the boomerang-blade he'd borrowed. He actually wasn't that great with weapons, but how hard could this be? He glanced around, soon spotting a dead tree not too far from the house. Grinning, he rushed up to it, and hit the trunk with the boomerang-blade. Immediately, all the snow that covered the tree dropped on top of him.
"BUUUUUH!" Dagger blurted out, shaking the snow off of himself and shivering. "ItCOLD!" He kicked at the snow at his feet, then glared at the tree. Well, maybe he'd be able to chop it down this time! Aiming the boomerang-blade again, he smacked it against the tree trunk. This, however, only caused the boomerang-blade to wobble, the tremor going through his arm, then to the rest of his body.
"N-n-n-not w-w-w-w-wuuuurk!" the Blade stammered. Once he stopped shaking, he stomped away from the tree, grumbling. Maybe he could chop another tree down...
Ten failed attempts later, Dagger still had no firewood to bring back to the house. "Whynot wurk?" he whined, looking down at the boomerang-blade in his paw. He blinked, though, when he spotted something odd that was reflected off of the gold-colored metal, and looked behind him.
There, approaching him with a smug look on his face, was Blast the Poppy Bro. Sr, his companion Jolt the Plasma Wisp not far behind. "Heeey there, Dagger," Blast said, smirking at the Blade Knight. "Having trouble getting some firewood?"
"Buuuh!" Dagger shot a glare at the clown, hiding the boomerang-blade behind his back. "Nu! Not!" He really didn't want Blast and Jolt bothering him right now... The last time he'd run into them, they were trying to get him and Cutter in jail, so they probably weren't up to any good right now, either.
"You know... it might help if you stopped using the blunt side of that thing."
"Buh...?" He looked at the weapon again, examining it more closely this time. Sure enough, it was somewhat wider and flat at one side, and sharp on the other side. Blinking, he experimentally swung its sharp side at a small tree nearby, and easily chopped it down. Dagger grinned at that, but then looked back at Blast, giving him a confused look. "...Whyuu help?"
"'Cuz we're your pals, Dagger!" Blast wrapped his arm around Dagger's shoulders, then glanced back at Jolt. "Right?"
The Plasma Wisp shrugged. "I don't know... are we?"
"Of course we are!" Blast said a bit more loudly, turning Dagger away from Jolt. "That's why we're going to help you, again!"
"...Reelee?" Dagger asked, eyes widening a fraction.
"Yup! I have a..." He glanced to one side, then the other, before looking back at Dagger and grinning. "...secret."
"This!" With that, he pulled a sheet of paper out of his patch-ridden coat, and handed it to Dagger. "This here will solve all your problems. With the money from this job, you'll be able to afford to pay the heat bills at your house, and maybe you won't have to resort to stealing food again!"
"...But..." The Blade Knight blinked. "Didn'tstea-"
"Whatever. Just take that over to Cutter and have him read over it. He'll take it from there. And uh... don't mention that I was the one to give this to ya."
"...'Kay." With that, Dagger collected the fallen tree and made his way back to his and Cutter's house, leaving Blast and Jolt behind.
Once the Blade Knight was out of earshot, Jolt turned to his partner. "Zo... remind me why'zzz it we're helping him, zzzz...?"
"Do you remember what that job advertisement was?"
"It's from those people that're running Project Halberd." Blast's trademark toothy grin quickly returned to his face. "Hehehehe, if Cutter and Dagger wind up in THAT mess, they'll be ruined for sure!"
Meanwhile, Dagger returned home with the tree, which Cutter began slicing up to make firewood. "Sure took you a long time to get this..." the Kibble said. "What took you?"
"Um... nuthin'," Dagger replied, glancing at the paper in his hand.
"Well, c'mon then, help me load this into the fireplace."
With that, the two took some of the small logs that Cutter had just finished chopping up and carried them over to the fireplace. It didn't take long for them to make a fire, and both of them were soon warming themselves by it.
"Not as good as heating for the whole house... but still not too bad," Cutter said, smiling a little. "Thanks for getting the firewood, Dag'!"
"Uh... yuuwel'k'm." He looked down at the paper again. "...Cuh'er... noget paid... lots?"
"Huh?" The Kibble gave Dagger a funny look. "Yeah, I mentioned that earlier. That's why we can't afford heating in the house. Why do you ask?"
"Maybeget... 'nother job?"
"Another job? Dagger, where in rusty scrapmetal are we gonna get that?" He blinked when Dagger suddenly handed him a sheet of paper. "...What's this?"
Reading over it, it appeared to be some sort of job advertisement, but not one that he would see posted just anywhere. Something was different about it... but the Sir Kibble wasn't exactly sure just what it was. In any case, one of the things the advertisement listed as something these people needed help with was programming, which was one of the things Cutter did in his spare time.
The Kibble thought for a bit about this. Well... it's gotta be better than just being one of Dedede's lackeys... maybe I should give this a shot. He glanced up at Dagger. "Don't know where you found this, but... well... I wouldn't mind having a better job than my current one." He smiled a bit. "Hand me the phone; I'll call 'em up."
Cutter still remembered his interview with King Dedede, and it was absolutely nothing like this. He and Dagger were in a cold, dark room in what had turned out to be a hidden underground... place. The only thing remotely similar here was the fact that he was being interviewed by a giant bird. This time it looked like some kind of hawk, though, not a penguin.
"So..." the bird began, looking over something on a clip-board, "your name is Cutter, correct?"
"And your previous employment was with King Dedede?"
"Um... well, I-I haven't exactly quit the job yet..."
The bird's eyes narrowed a little.
"I-I mean! Um... I'll p-probably-er, I will quit that job if I'm hired here... o-of course." Cutter mentally smacked himself in the face, wishing he could remember some of the stuff he'd looked up about interviews.
"You didn't exactly specify what you did for Dedede."
"...Nothing much, really. I, uh, had to wander around Whispy Woods every day and be on the lookout for Kirby, and attack him if I ever saw him." He sighed a little. "Dedede's not really the best guy to work for, though."
"...Ah," the bird said, and Cutter wondered if that was a good "ah" or a bad "ah." "The job you're applying for is quite different from your previous one."
"Yeah! I-it is. It... it said in that job advertisement that you guys needed help with programming stuff, right? Never done it for a job, but... I've gotten really good with stuff involving computers and all that, programming included."
"Have you ever programmed AI?"
"Artificial intelligence. Robots."
"Um... I've done a little, but not a lot. I've read a lot about it though! I guess I could give it a shot."
"...Well, in case you're worthless in that respect, we could always use general lackeys in case we run into trouble," the bird muttered. "What about your friend there?"
"Uh... Dagger?" Cutter looked over at the Blade Knight, blinking. "He's not really here to interview for a job..."
"What was his previous employment?"
"He... never worked before. He is good at fighting, though, I guess."
"Yah!" Dagger grinned at that, nodding. "Istrong!"
"Well, fine, like I said, general lackeys," the bird said.
"Wait, you mean you'd consider him for a position, too?" Cutter asked, surprised.
"Perhaps." The bird folded his wings. "It depends."
"Depends on what? Um... Dagger really is strong! He's saved my life bef-"
"That's not what I'm talking about." The hawk walked up closer to Cutter, and bent down so he was looking him directly in the eye. "This is serious business we're talking about here, not some burger-flipping job. Kid, do you even know what Project Halberd is?"
"Um..." Cutter blushed a little, realizing that no, he actually had no idea what this was all about. "I-I guess... um... I d-don't..."
"We're going to be making some changes around Dreamland... for the better, of course." A strange smile came across the bird's beak as he straightened up again. "There'll be no more overweight penguins ruling this place by the time we're through."
Dagger looked from Cutter to the interviewer, becoming increasingly confused. Cutter, however, understood immediately. "Y-you mean..." he said, swallowing, "you'll be taking over D-Dreamland?"
Cutter felt rather sick at hearing that. He just thought this was some new job, not a takeover operation... Was this really something he wanted to get involved in? I've only worked for King Dedede before... but what kind of king steals from his own people? Maybe working for these guys would be the better choice... You'd have to try pretty hard to be a worse king than Dedede!
"Captain. Captain Vul."
"...Well, C-Captain Vul... I think I agree that Dreamland could use a better ruler." Cutter gulped, but tried to look determined. "I can definitely try to help you guys with this!"
Seeing his friend looking so determined, Dagger grinned, and donned a similar expression. "Yah! Wehelp!"
"Good. I'm glad you're seeing things our way," Captain Vul said with a smirk. "Oh, one last thing..."
"Reveal any of our secret information to the public, and we will kill you."
Cutter felt a shock of cold run through him, and he felt like he would pass out when he saw Vul casually fiddle with a revolver. The bird was not kidding about that, apparently. "U-uhh..."
"C'mon, Vul, you don't need to intimidate every new recruit," came a somewhat familiar voice from the darkness behind Vul. A short knight stepped into view, wearing a three-pointed helmet and goggles that resembled insect eyes. "We need Heavy Lobster to be completed as soon as possible, so another person joining the programming team would definitely help speed things up a bit."
"Hrmf, why don't you let me have some fun once in a while, Mace?"
Mace... where have I...? Cutter started as the events from a few months ago came back to him. Oh great, this is one of those crazy knights we ran into when we were running from the police! Scrapmetal, if he recognizes me, I'm in trouble...!
"Well then, Cutter," Captain Vul said, snapping the Sir Kibble out of his thoughts. "You heard helmet-head over there."
"H-huh?" Cutter stammered, blinking in surprise. "Y-you mean... I'm hired?"
"Yeah. You and your friend need to show up here first thing tomorrow, and you can get started. Go on, then." With that, Captain Vul and Mace Knight departed, heading deeper into the underground fortress.
"Yay!" Dagger cheered, giving a short hop and striking a victory pose. "Weget job!"
"Uh... yeah, I g-guess we did," Cutter remarked, still rather stunned at how quickly everything had happened, and, really, what had happened. "...Dagger?"
"...K-keep your mouth shut, a-all right? I r-really don't want to die!"
Mace Knight followed Captain Vul out of the room and deeper into the base. He glanced back at where they'd come from, scratching the back of his head. "Do you really think those guys showed any potential?"
"None whatsoever," Vul replied, crossing his wings behind his back.
"Well, the Kibble did say he could program AI."
"He said he dabbled in it. He'll likely be worthless for that, and in the end he'll just be another lackey. Same with that friend of his." He then gave a cough that suspiciously sounded like "cannon fodder."
At that, Mace sighed, rubbing a gloved hand across his face. "Where'd the boss come up with this guy?" he muttered to himself.
"I AM A PERFECTLY CAPABLE CAPTAIN!" the bird squawked, whipping out his revolver and firing at the knight with a loud blast.
Immediately the knight scurried away with a yelp, eying the bird from a safe distance. "Okay, okay, I get that you're the captain, but please put that thing away!" he whimpered, covering his helmet with his arms and adding in a whisper, "Man, I picked a bad time to leave my mace in my room!"
"You shouldn't question your master's hiring me as captain, anyway," Vul said, crossing his arms. "I'm sure he wouldn't like that, would he?"
"Yeah, I know..." Mace said, rolling his eyes. "But Axe is the one steering the ship, though. I thought that's what the captains normally did... So what the heck will you be doing?"
"Aside from ordering you idiots around... firing the weapons." The hawk spun the revolver around with one finger before slipping it back into its holster.
"Why am I not surprised...?" The knight smacked his hand against his face.
"GUYYYYYYS!" called a new voice, which made both Mace Knight and Captain Vul cringe. Immediately following, a round figure wearing a horned helmet and skull mask and carrying a large axe charged toward them, nearly bowling Mace over. "Did we get some new recruits? Huh? Did we?"
"Sheesh, calm down!" Mace shoved the other knight away from himself. "Yes, we did! Just a Sir Kibble to work on programming Heavy Lobster and a Blade Knight as a general crew member. Why do you ask?"
"...I dunno! I forgot."
The taller knight slumped a little, heaving a sigh. Axe was going to give him a serious headache if Vul didn't blow his head off first.
"...Oh! Wait! A Kibble and Blade Knight?" Axe exclaimed. "That sounds familiar!"
Mace blinked. "...Hey, you're right, it does!"
"I wonder why..."
The two stood there for a moment, thinking, while Captain Vul gave them a funny look.
"...Oooooh! I remember now! Two of those guys used to guard our old fort!"
"Which you happened to blow up, as I remember."
"I did not! I just made that self destruct switch 'cuz of Trident!"
"Who happened to be drunk when he made that suggestion."
"How was I supposed to know that?"
The sound of a revolver firing silenced both of them, and they turned to see Captain Vul looking none-too-happy. "Finally," the bird said, putting the gun away once more. "Go report to your master about the new recruits, and shut up already!"
"...Yes sir." With that, the two turned and began to march down the dark corridors of their fortress. As they walked, though, Axe glanced at Mace. "It still wasn't my fault!"
Mace swiped Axe's weapon and smacked him with the handle.
"How's it comin'?"
"Just a few more lines of coding and I should be all set with this part..."
Cutter sat at a console, watching the green text appear on the black screen as he typed. He'd only been working for a week, but things had been progressing pretty fast, at least, as far as the project he was working on was concerned. He'd become part of the Heavy Lobster team-or, more specifically, the part of the team that was working on programming the artificial intelligence of the robot.
"Hey, Blaze," he asked, glancing over at the Burnin' Leo he was working with, "uh... why's it we're programming a lobster? I mean, lobsters aren't really intimidating, are they?"
"I dunno," the fiery Dreamlander said with a shrug. "Why, what would you have it be?"
"Uh... maybe something scary... like a Grizzo! They've got fangs and claws and..." He shuddered. "Well, they're just scarier. I mean, lobsters just have weird eyes... and giant tails... and big... huge... claws..." Wait... was something poking him in the back? Looking over his shoulder, Cutter found himself face-to-face with a mechanical lobster, and let out a yelp, ducking under the console.
Immediately Blaze began to crack up. "You're actually scared of lobsters?"
"SH-SHUT UP! I AM NOT!" Cutter blurted out, blushing furiously. He looked up from where he was hiding, and saw a Waddle Dee co-worker holding a miniature model of the Heavy Lobster robot they were working on. "H-he just... surprised me, is all!"
"Right, right, I got ya, I got ya..." the Burnin' Leo said as his laughs quieted. "So I guess you won't be scared of the one that's right behind you?"
"WHERE?" Cutter darted out from his hiding spot, wide eyed, but saw no crustacean crawling around behind where he'd been crouching. However, he did notice Blaze and the Waddle Dee laughing their heads-errr, bodies?-off. "...H-ha ha, guys, very funny!"
"I'm tellin' ya, Cutter, you're the best fun we've had in weeks!" Blaze said with a laugh. "Right, Wade?"
"Yeah," giggled the Waddle Dee. "It's been pretty dull around here."
"Well I can see why you're not getting any work done..." Cutter grumbled, stomping back over to the console and taking a seat again. "You two've been doing nothing but goofing around!"
"Yeah, so what?" Wade asked, tossing the Heavy Lobster model over to an empty spot on the console and missing. He watched as the model clattered to the floor and shrugged, turning back to Cutter. "D'you really think this'll get off the ground?""
"Well... I don't know, but I do know this..." Cutter stared blankly ahead, his mind wandering back to when he'd found out about King Dedede's stealing the Power Stars. "...In case this thing does get off the ground... I-I hope it succeeds."
Blaze and Wade exchanged glances. "Really?"
"Yeah." Cutter glanced back at the other two Dreamlanders. "I think Dreamland could use a new ruler."
The Burnin' Leo's eyes widened a little. He glanced at Wade for a moment, then looked back at Cutter, placing a paw on one of the Kibble's shoulder guards. "Hey, Cutter?"
Blaze leaned in close, looking him right in the face. "You take your job way too seriously."
Immediately the two relapsed back into hysterical laughter, leaving Cutter to sit there dumbly. "Rusty scrapmetal..." He shut his visor as his face began to take on a red color yet again. "I-is it really that bad th-that I want to g-get some work d-done?" he stammered, voice echoing in his armor.
"Not at all."
Blinking, Cutter lifted his visor, wondering what in the name of Popstar had made his two annoying co-workers shut up so suddenly. He glanced over at them, noting that their eyes were wide, their faces had gone deathly pale, and they were both staring at something behind him.
With a gulp, the Sir Kibble turned around, and startled when he was met with the gaze of two solid yellow eyes, partially shadowed by a silver mask. His eyes widened, and he somehow managed to find enough of his voice to squeak, "S-Sir Meta Knight...?"
Although everyone working under Operation Halberd knew they were working for Sir Meta Knight, former servant of King Dedede, few of them had actually seen him. It was rare enough to be able to see him in his office, but randomly visiting another section of the fortress?
Cutter swore he saw the knight's eyes flash. "You are working hard, then?" Meta Knight asked, voice betraying no emotion.
"...Y-yes, Sir... I-I mean, I'm t-t-trying t-t-t-" His terrified stutter prevented him from saying much more.
"Very good, then." Without blinking, the knight turned to fix his gaze on Blaze and Wade. "I suggest you do the same."
With a whirl of his cape, Meta Knight turned and left.
The three Dreamlanders watched their superior leave, expression never changing from the stunned expression he'd left them with. As soon as Sir Meta Knight was gone, the three, in unison, whipped around and began to type at their respective stations at the console with more speed and fervor than they had ever done during their time working under the operation.
Well, one thing's for sure, Cutter thought as he typed, unlike Dedede, Sir Meta Knight sure knows how to get his employees to work!