Author's note: Allow me to apologize for the lack of updates this past month. The business of college finals, plus the Christmas season, plus a number of other circumstance kept me from writing as much as I wanted. So, without further ado, I give you the chapter. Enjoy!
Nearly a dozen Rovers sat around a conference table. Their spirits somewhat rejuvenated, they patiently waited for their "debriefing," as the Master had called it. Following Taz's obligatory underwear joke, the Rovers had begun to chat amongst themselves, only to be cut off as the door to the conference room opened and an octet of figures strolled in.
One was nearly eight feet tall and covered in thick stringy brown hair. A pair of baggy pants and an open vest were his only clothing, and his hands and feet ended in sharp claws.
The next was an android, clearly designed to be a visually attractive female. Her chrome and purple plating gleamed in the room's lamplight.
Next was a man, wearing a red and purple tuxedo. Its overt gaudiness felt somewhat appropriate, given the glowing eye tattoo in the middle of his forehead.
Following him was a familiar-looking figure. He was tall and thin with deep red skin. There was an arrow-tipped tail between his legs and a pair of horns sprouting just above his glowing yellow eyes.
Behind him came three more familiar figures, Deborah, Morgana, and the Master, talking amongst themselves as they entered.
And finally, the final person to enter was a short, rotund figure. His white hair was in the latter stages of balding, and the simple black suit he wore seemed out of date by a few decades. The cane he used was tipped with a gold nob, and it made an odd clacking sound as he used it to support his weight.
As the small man moved to the head of the table, he cleared his throat.
"Please be seated, everyone," he said. "We have much to discuss."
"Rovers," said the Master, as the other beings took their seats, "allow me to introduce you to Team Psycho-Breaker, Squad A6. This is Reeko Drolraw, our yeti engineer."
The tall hairy creature nodded in acknowledgement.
"ADI, the Advanced Defense Intelligence."
The android waved and smiled.
"Adolphus Faustus, demon prince and master of infernal magic."
The horned being nodded.
"And, Justinian von Croy, master psychic and one of my oldest friends."
The man with the glowing tattoo gave an exaggerated bow before taking his seat.
"You all know Deborah and Morgana."
The two sorceresses waved.
"And last, but certainly not least, allow me to introduce the Director."
The small man smiled as he looked over the assembled agents.
"I would like to congratulate you all on today's excursion," he said, "and I would like to congratulate the Road Rovers for passing their test."
The Rovers sat in silence for a moment, unsure of what to make of this.
"Um," Hunter began, "how exactly does nearly dying at the hands of psychic robots count as passing a test?"
The Director chuckled.
"Oh, the test was never about defeating the Disciples," he replied. "I knew all along that you would fail. You see, I have a gift; some might call it a curse. I can see visions of the future. When I first learned of my gift, I tried to prevent the tragedies I would see, but I soon learned that the things I saw where what would happen, not simply what could happen. Three days ago, I had a vision of the Disciples entering the base and defeating all of you, and so, I set about making sure that this would happen on the Agency's terms.
"But, that's not the important part. When I received my vision, I saw an excellent opportunity. You see, long before you disappeared some twelve years ago, I had wanted to induct you Rovers into W.I.S.P. and make you proper agents, rather than simply proxies. However, before becoming proper agents, you would have had to pass the Iudicio Deficiendi, the Test of Utter Failure. All agents must pass the trial, in which they are put up against a hopeless situation. How they react to the situation and the inevitable defeat determines if they will become a full agent, and so, I decided that the Disciples' invasion would be your Iudicio Deficiendi, and I am pleased to say that you passed with flying colors."
The Director smiled as he watched the Rovers' faces, their jaws hanging open in shock.
"Not only did you persevere in the face of insurmountable odds, never once letting your adversaries go without a fight, putting your lives on the line in order to protect others, but when everything was over and your failure was fresh in your minds, you rose above your misfortune and resolved to fight another day. And that spirit, that tenacity, is far more important than any amount of power or combat prowess.
"So, it is with great pride that I would like to award you Rovers the title of "W.I.S.P. Agent, Level A1". Justinian, if you would?"
The psychic stood and nodded. Smiling, he waved his hand, and a briefcase rose from beneath the table, landing at it center. The Rovers watched as it opened, revealing within eleven rectangular badges. Under the influence of Justinian's telekinesis, the badges floated towards the Rovers.
"Starting tomorrow, you will begin your training as W.I.S.P. agents," the Director continued. "We will also be sending a team to retrofit your headquarters with new technology and add it to the W.I.S.P. teleportation grid, but until then, Rovers, take some time to relax. You've earned it."
For a few moments, the Rovers traded glances, looking from their new badges to the W.I.S.P. agents around them to each other. The looks on their faces told the others in the room that there was a hurried, unheard conversation happening between them. Finally, Gavin spoke up.
"Actually sir," he said, "we were hoping that we could all go home for a few days?"
"Home?" asked the Director.
He turned towards the Master.
"I thought you chose strays for your transdogmafication process."
The Master nodded.
"I did," he said. "However, the Neo Rovers were chosen by an automated program, and it would seem that they do indeed have masters."
The Director thought for a moment.
"Considering the fact," he said, "that you recently either came out of suspended animation, or have spent less than a week in your roles as heroes, I'll allow a week's reprieve before your training begins."
The machines within the Road Rovers' base were running impeccably, until a wave of energy swept through the cavern. The machines sputtered and powered down, before resetting themselves and rebooting. From the base's main courtyard, a dome of light appeared. Moments later, it vanished, leaving twelve Rovers and the Master standing in its place.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to Morgana's magic," mumbled Alex, briefly shivering in discomfort.
"Oh, don't worry," chuckled the Master. "By this time next week, they'll have a W.I.S.P. teleporter installed here."
"Oh, I'm so excited!" exclaimed Hunter. "I can't wait to see Bill and Hilary again!"
"Actually, Hunter," said the Master, "I'm not going to be sending you back to the Clintons."
Hunter stopped as a confused look crept over his face.
"But, but, why?" he asked.
"Does this mean we won't be going back to our old masters?" asked Blitz.
"Everyone, please understand," the Master explained. "I would love to send you back to the humans who cared for you for so long. However, we have been gone for so long that, were you to show up on their doorstep, unchanged by the passage of time, they would not believe you were really you. Twelve years is the nearly the lifespan of a normal dog, and to send you back to your old masters could potentially put all of your lives in jeopardy."
The five original Rovers hung their heads, sorrow on their faces.
"So we're never going to be normal dogs again?" asked Colleen.
"Oh! Oh no no!" the Master responded. "I'm going to be looking for new civilian homes for you as soon as humanly possible."
The Rovers brightened at this.
"I don't want you to spend the rest of your lives as heroes; you are dogs after all. And it would be remiss of me not to find you new homes after unintentionally taking away your old ones."
"Um, Master?" asked Alex, a concerned look on her face. "We're going home, right?"
The Master turned to the Neo Rovers and smiled.
"Of course, you're going home," he said. "Now, off to the transdogmafier, while I double check the retrieval system."
As the Neo Rovers scampered off, the Master headed for the main control console, but before he had gone far, he felt a paw on his shoulder.
"Master?" he heard Gavin say.
Dr. Shepherd turned to see the Border collie looking back at him with a concerned look on his face.
"I don't know if you knew this," began the canine, "but…I don't have a home."
"You were a stray?"
Gavin nodded, his head hanging in disgrace.
"Then, we'll just have to find you one," replied the Master. "You're welcome to stay here until we do."
Sighing in sorrow, Gavin sat down on a nearby bench. Pulling his legs to his chest, he buried his muzzle between them. After a few moments, he felt a paw on his shoulder.
The Border collie looked up to see Alex staring down at him.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her face drawn in concern.
"I guess I'm not really looking forward to getting a new master," he said. "Everyone else either has a master, or good memories of their last one. Me, I don't have either. I guess I'm just afraid that my new master won't like me, or worse yet throw me out. And I'll be right back where I started."
"Well," Alex smiled shyly, "you could come home with me."
Gavin's breath caught in his chest as he looked back up at her, his eyes wide in surprise.
"You…you mean it?" he asked, uncertainty on his voice.
"My master Hector has been thinking about getting a new pet," she said, smiling, "and I don't think he'd mind if I picked one out for him."
Gavin leapt to his feet and gripped Alex in a bear hug, his tail wagging furiously.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Alex!" he exclaimed.
"It's really nothing. I just – Mmph!"
Before she could say a thing, Gavin had gripped both sides of her face and planted a kiss square on her muzzle. A moment later, the Border collie's eyes opened slightly, before snapping open in shock. Taking a hurried step backwards, he stammered as he stared at Alex's stunned face.
"I-I-I'm sorry, Alex. I-I-I wasn't thinking. I just – Mmph!"
Gavin's nervous stuttering was forcibly ended as Alex threw her arms around him and kissed him. The force of her attack send him backwards onto the ground. After a moment, the shock of the kiss and the fall wore off, and Gavin returned the kiss. For several moments, the pair lay on the ground, their lips locked in a curious dance. Finally, the pair separated. As they both inhaled deeply, Gavin smiled up at Alex.
"Ow," he said, a twinkle in his eye.
"Sorry," Alex replied, turning her face away. "I just got caught up in the moment."
"Hey, it's okay," he said, nudging her chin back towards him. "I can handle a little back pain, for a first kiss like that."
A smile blossomed on Alex's face as they stared into each other's eyes.
A moment later, their reverie was broken as someone cleared his throat.
"Ahem, so I take it the train to Victoria has two passengers now?"
The pair turned to see the Master, along with the other Rovers, staring down at them. Alex looked around in a slight panic, before landing back on Gavin. The Border collie gave her a lopsided grin and shrugged his shoulders.
"Um…yes," she said, at last.
Uproarious laughter filled the cavern, as the pair rose from the ground and the entire group made their way to the transdogmafiers. Goodbyes were said, hugs and handshakes given, and the Neo Rovers stepped into the machines. Smoke filled the air as the alteration process took hold of the canines. Moments later, five dogs emerged from the machines and made their way to transport pods. The Master gave them each an affectionate scratch, before securing the doors.
"You're good, good dogs, Rovers," he said, "and you did great these past few days. See you in a week!"
The other Rovers called out their goodbyes as the Neo Rovers vanished in a flash of light. With that, the Master turned to the remaining Rovers.
"Okay everyone," he said, "you all have a week before your W.I.S.P. training begins. Go make the most of it."
With several cries of excitement, the Rovers headed off into their old base, intent on seeing how much of the base had survived their twelve year absence. As the cano-sapiens vanished into the base's buildings, a figure walked up beside the Master.
"So, what do you think, Shepherd?" asked the figure. "Do you think they're ready?"
"I don't know, Morgana," he replied. "I know my original Rovers have years of heroism and experience behind them. I think they'll do quite well as W.I.S.P. agents. The Neo Rovers, though, I am unsure of. According to the Neo Rovers, the W.I.S.P. AI that I installed here took on a persona that reflected myself. However, it seemed to have grown much more aggressive over the years, focusing on a team built around power, rather than cooperation."
"Do you think the more powerful Neo Rovers will overshadow the others?" asked the sorceress.
"I don't know," replied the Master, his face drawn in thought. "The Neo Rovers have great potential. Only time will tell if they live up to it."