Chapter 42: On Our Way
“…So, how do we get down from here, genius?”
A chorus of groans and scoffs erupted from the other four Mobians as they were bathed in the golden orange morning sunlight. Tails pinched the bridge between his nose and shook his head in exasperation. “Way to kill the moment, Bark,” he muttered.
Cream wore a wan smile on her face as she turned towards Tails. “But, he’s right, Tails,” she said. “How’re we getting down from here?”
Tails looked around and stroked his chin in thought. His head stopped at a nearby crane. Looking over the boom, he saw that it was long enough to extend past the city walls and into the outskirts below. ‘Perfect.’ “… We’ll use that to get down,” he said, pointing to the crane.
Bark looked at him, an eyebrow cocked upwards. “Uh… Have you ever used a crane before, foxy?” he asked skeptically.
Tails swept a hand over his hair and smirked. “Bark,” he said in a sardonic tone. “I’ve hacked my way through building security systems, analyzed mechanical robots for weaknesses AND had once taken a clunker of a truck apart for a client in the Sector 7 Slums and put it back together again with it running sweeter than when it was first built.” He paused and grinned at the polar bear. “Operating a crane? It’s like taking a nap for me.”
“… I should’ve never asked then,” Bark deadpanned.
The group chuckled, but Tails moved to silence them. “Well, we can’t dawdle around for too long,” he said, catching everyone’s attention as he headed over to the shoulder closest to the crane. “I’ll lower the crane’s chain onto the highway. Once you guys grab hold, I’ll move you to the outskirts and lower you down to ground level.” Drawing his sword, the fox leapt off of the shoulder and spun his tails, taking flight towards the crane.
Bark watched as Tails flew off. He let out a sigh as a thought suddenly occurred to him. ‘I just realized… If I’m goin’ on this journey, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Hope…’
He felt his heart constrict tightly at the thought of the little Human girl. ‘I wonder if she’s even OK? I mean, she’s a tough kid, but she’s only four…’ The polar bear let out another frustrated breath as his frown deepened. ‘I wish I could hear her again… I didn’t even ask Cosmo’s mom if she had a number I could call to reach her –’ His head perked up. “Oh shit, that’s right!” he mumbled as he turned towards the flower girl.
“Hey Cosmo?” he started, watching as the Seedrian tilted her head to the side. “Does your mom… I dunno… have a phone or somethin’?”
Cosmo regarded him curiously for a moment. Understanding soon dawned on her and she smiled at him. “Yeah, she does,” she said. “When we find a phone, I’ll give it to you.”
“On that note,” Sally – the Mobian formerly known as Green XIII – chimed in. “Where are we going, anyway?”
The polar bear folded his arms and wrinkled his brow in thought. “Only one place we can go,” he said after a moment. “Mercia, to the north. It’s the closest city to Megapolis.” Bark looked out towards the mountains on the horizon. “… I got a contact there that could help us out. If he’s still there, that is…”
The sudden sounds of creaking metal startled the group. Bark brought his Gun-Arm up instinctively and flicked off the safety, before realizing that he had no bullets left. “Shit…” he cursed, his teeth gritted as he watched for incoming enemies.
“Up there!” Cosmo shouted, her finger pointing towards something in the sky.
The bear and the others craned their heads upward to see the boom arm of the crane Tails flew to swing towards them. It stopped in their vicinity with a jolt. The reel brake from the crane released with a loud clunk and the four watched as a thick, steel wire slowly dropped towards them.
“Alright everyone, here’s our ride!” Bark shouted, waving his arm to call the other three over. He grabbed a section of the wire. “Let’s get the hell outta here!”
As the four slowly made their way down the hundred or so meters down to the ground level, Sally found herself thinking about many things.
She was normal again, something that she thought would never happen after Nagus’ experiments caused her crystalizing skin condition to undergo a monstrous transformation only a day or two ago. Then again, her capture and study of the odd, gem-like lesions that covered her arms would have never occurred had she been discovered by those scientists.
Her mind then went to the Planet observatory on the outskirts of the ruined city of Mobotropolis – her home. ‘Well, not really,’ she corrected herself as they crossed the halfway point towards the ground. ‘It’s more of a temporary residence at the moment. Regardless… It will be good to return and to see everyone again.’
Reminiscing about home brought forth another thought: the fox who had rescued her. Ever since their initial meeting in the Kintobor Building, she felt a strange and unsettling feeling about the former SOLDIER. ‘…I don’t understand it… but I get this feeling that he looks familiar…’ Sally thought as she approached the ground. ‘I can’t place where, but it’s as though he was a younger version of-’
And then it hit her.
Sally felt her pulse quicken and the hands she had on the steel wire tightened into a vice-like grip as she recalled an old memory from 15 years ago, back when Mobotropolis and Megapolis were at war with one another. ‘Yes that’s it…’ her mind raced, the pieces starting to link together. ‘Though the face may look younger and he doesn’t have the scars or the eyepatch… Tails could be a dead ringer for the man who cost me my whole livelihood! That’s why I felt so unnerved around him!’
Her feet suddenly touched the rocky, lifeless floor of the Megapolis outskirts and she quickly let go of the crane wire. She felt her hands tremble – whether it was from holding on for dear life or the realization she just made, she wasn’t certain. ‘One thing’s for sure… I need to know more about Tails and about who he really is. Because if he’s truly related to Amadeus, the one who made it possible for Kintobor to conquer Mobotropolis and the one who stole my family away-’
“Gre- I mean, Sally?” she heard Cream call next to her, snapping him out of her thoughts. She turned to face the rabbit, who looked at her with concern. “Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“Uh… Yeah,” she replied breathlessly, moving out of the way as Cosmo and Bark dropped behind him. “I’m fine… In fact,” she suddenly smiled as the beginning of a plan started to form in her mind. “I’ve never felt better in all of my life.”
Nonplussed at Sally’s odd behaviour, Cream turned her attention towards Bark and Cosmo. She approached both of them and smiled as they dusted themselves off. “You two alright?” she asked.
Bark flashed her a grin and a thumbs-up while Cosmo nodded, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Yep!” she chirped.
“Great,” Cream replied, letting out a soft exhale. She then folded her arms and looked skyward. “Now, all we have to do is wait for Tails…”
The four stood around casually as they waited for the ex-SOLDIER to show up. While they waited, Bark pulled out a set of military-issued MRE bars from his pocket and shared them out with the group. “Found these near our stuff. I figured we’d need something for the road,” he said as he sat cross-legged upon the ground and tore open the wrapper. He bit into the brownish bar and his face contorted in a mix of disgust and wonder “Erm,” he grumbled as he chewed. “It… kinda has a strange taste to it?”
Cream raised an eyebrow as she opened the wrapper of her own ration and took a bite. The bar tasted revolting and she forced herself not to spit out the contents. Screwing up her face, she swallowed and then gagged. “Eugh, it tastes like one of my mother’s carrot pies, but really stale and dry!” she exclaimed. “Are you sure these are safe to eat, Bark?”
The bear shrugged in response as he kept eating.
Rolling her eyes, Cream turned to Cosmo to ask what she thought of the disgusting rations when she stopped. Her friend was staring into the distance, her expression crestfallen. “What’s up, Cos?” the fighter said softly, approaching and placing a hand on the flower girl’s shoulder.
Cosmo angled her head, her lips curled into a tight-lipped smile. “Oh, nothing in particular,” she said in a quiet voice. “Just… Wondering about the upcoming journey, that’s all…”
Cream frowned. ‘That’s not like her,’ she mused, her nose wrinkled. ‘She seems… Anxious? I wonder what I could say to cheer her up…’ Her eyes widened as she remembered something. “…Hey Cosmo?” she asked, a sly grin suddenly crossing her lips.
“I’m sorry… but we got bogey’s tailing us at six o’clock?”
She laughed as the flower girl’s face went as red as a tomato. “H-hey!” she cried. “I saw that on a TC show once with my mom! I thought it sounded cool!” She then burst into laughter alongside Cream.
“Oh-oh yeah!” the rabbit gasped, tears streaming from her eyes as her sides ached. “D-do you still have that camera?!”
Cosmo took a deep breath to steady herself and then placed a hand into her pocket. Withdrawing it, she revealed the disposable camera. “Still got it!” she cheered and then smiled tenderly at it. “Thank the Goddess that they didn’t take this away from me when they caught me…” The flower girl then blew a strand of stray hair from her forehead. “It’s too bad about my satchel though…”
“… Tell you what,” Cream found herself saying, taking Cosmo’s hands into hers. “When we get into town, you and I will go on a shopping spree. We’ll get you a new satchel, and maybe some new clothes while we’re at it!”
“And we’ll have Tails be our pack-Chao!” Cosmo added, grinning ear to ear. “That’ll be perfect!”
“Hey!” Bark hollered suddenly, catching both women’s attention. “Look who finally decided to show up!”
‘Speak of the devil…’ Cream mused as Tails hovered down from above. He fanned out his bushy, twin tails and glided down to their position, landing softly with a flourish.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he wrapped his tails around his waist and sheathed his weapon. “I was hiding the motorcycle I procured from Kintobor. It was damaged during the fight.” He then sighed at the flat looks Cream and the others gave him. “Look, it’s a really cool bike! If we somehow make it through this whole thing alive, I want to recover it, take it apart, fix it up and add a few modifications to really make that puppy fly.” He grinned and Cream noticed that something was off about it.
‘He looks less cocky… and more like his old self… like he was before he left Knothole,’ the rabbit observed, narrowing her eyes. ‘Something about this duality, combined with those fits he’s had over the last few days, is making me more than a little skeptical about him. I’m gonna be keeping a close eye on you, Miles “Tails” Prower…’
‘Because I don’t know if you are who you say you are…’
“How’re you holdin’ up Bark?” the fox asked.
Bark stood up and stretched. “I’m fine,” he said half-heartedly. He then looked down, his eyes downcast. “…Y’know how we told Cosmo’s mom to get out of the city?”
Tails nodded. “Yeah,” he said, patting the massive polar bear’s right shoulder. “Hope’ll be fine. She’ll be safe with Rose.”
Bark’s expression softened. “Thanks man,” he said.
Tails quirked his lips upwards. His eyebrow then rose at the sight of the MRE bar in the bear’s hand. “Are those… What I think they are?”
“Yup, they’re rations,” Bark said. “I found ‘em by our stuff when we were captured.” He held one up to Tails. “Want one? They’re actually not that bad?”
“… I’ll pass,” the fox said, wrinkling his nose. “I’d rather starve than eat another one of those, to be honest.”
Bark shrugged. “Suit yourself, then,” he said, tearing open the fox’s share and wolfing it down.
Sally approached from Bark’s left. “I’ll be travelling with you all as far as my home, across the Central Ocean,” she said, a sudden hardness in her voice. “After that, well… we’ll see.” She turned away and stared out into the distance, a frown setting onto her face.
Bark and Tails looked at one another. ‘What was that all about?’ the warrior wondered, quirking an eyebrow at the enigmatic chipmunk. Deciding not to worry about that for now, he moved away from the two and approached Cream and Cosmo.
“…I guess this is the start of our journey,” Cream said plaintively when he stood next to her.
“It’s gonna be dangerous,” Tails replied, folding his arms. “You’ll need to be prepared for anything.”
Cream nodded and then turned to him, a small, hesitant smile on her face. “…True,” she said. “But you know, it’ll be alright, so long as you keep your promise?”
The fox chuckled and then moved over to Cosmo. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“OK, I guess?” came her response. She then let out a long exhale. “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever left Megapolis…”
“Really? You worried?”
The flower girl shook her head. “A little…” She then brought a hand up to her lips and giggled. “OK, maybe a lot. But I have you and the others with me, right?” Her brows suddenly raised upwards. “Oh! You know what we should do?!” she suddenly exclaimed, taking out a camera from her pocket. “We should take a photo!”
Tails gave her a flat look. “This isn’t gonna be fun and games here, Cosmo,” he said sourly. “We’re chasing after a madman who wants to take over the world.”
“I know,” she said, shrugging. “…But, this is more for me than anything else.” She stepped forward, a hand clutching the pendant on her neck. “…I want to capture these moments and… Have something to look back on when it’s all done, you know?”
Tails looked at her blankly and then suddenly smirked. “I get it,” he said understandingly. “Sure, then. Let’s do it.”
“Hey! Gather around everyone!” Cosmo shouted, waving her arms. “It’s picture time!”
Cream grinned and joined alongside her, followed by Bark and Sally, who loped slowly towards the group.
“OK, squeeze in-”
“-Scooch over a bit, please?”
“Here,” Tails cut in, taking the camera from Cosmo’s hands. “I’ll take the shot.”
The five Mobians crowded in together as Tails held the camera lens-first towards them. Cosmo’s lips split into a wide grin. “To new journeys and adventures!” she exclaimed.
“To new journeys and adventures!” the other four chimed out simultaneously.
Tails pressed the button and there was a loud click that sounded out. As the group dispersed, Tails handed the camera back to the flower girl. “…What else is on there?” he asked suddenly.
Cosmo’s body suddenly felt hot. ‘Don’t tell him about the dress!’ “Uh… nothing in particular?” she said, an uneasy smile on her face. Nearby, Cream started to snicker. “Look, don’t worry too much about it, alright?”
“…Sure,” Tails said, rolling his eyes. He then turned to the rest of the group. “Alright, then. Let’s get goin’.”
“We’re gonna need a group leader for our journey,” Bark said suddenly. “I’d vote for myself… but really, I think you should be that leader, Tails.”
“It’s the best choice,” the bear responded, his arms crossed and a pointed expression on his muzzle. “I mean, let’s face it: you’re a natural at this stuff. Sides, I’m old enough to know better than to force myself into a leadership role at this point. So, it’s your show, foxy. Don’t screw it up.”
“I agree!” Cosmo said. “It would have to be Tails.”
Bark nodded. “Then it’s settled,” he said. “I told these guys before, Tails, but our first priority should be getting over to Mercia; a city northeast from here. If we take the ring road and circle around Megapolis to the west, we should hit a service station that we can use to get some food or even get a ride to town, if we’re lucky. From there, we’ll hit the Inn and I’ll get in contact with a friend of mine.” He paused, a smile growing on his face. “The inn apparently has some really great food. We honestly deserve a decent meal after all the craziness over the last few days.”
“Hear, hear,” Cream said, a hand on her stomach. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”
“Then, let’s not waste any time,” Tails said, a smile crossing his lips as he strode towards the dusty road ahead. “Let’s mosey, everyone.” The other four Mobians followed suit.
They were several hours out on their journey and the afternoon sun beat down on top of them as they trudged through the wastelands. They passed quickly around the Sector 7 ruins, still smouldering from the recent Platefall.
As they moved farther and farther away from the city, Cosmo could feel something within her strengthening. ‘Is this… the Planet itself?’ she wondered as she felt her connection with Mobius grow minutely stronger with each step she took away from the city. Along with this strength, however, came a growing sense of dread. She could feel… that something was very, very wrong with the Planet itself. Something that was greater and more terrifying than what Kintobor was doing to the world.
The five crested a ridge overlooking the city, cutting across a pack of Mutates that congregated on the main road below. At the top of the ridge, Cosmo stopped and took one last look at the place she called home her entire life.
Suddenly, the sky around her turned a deep, bloody shade of red. Her heart racing at the sudden change, she then felt the wind pick up violently around her, scattering dust and debris hither and fro. Dark, crimson clouds formed above her head and lightning flashed around her, illuminating the city with fierce and jagged bolts of light.
A moment later, the clouds parted above. It was as though a pair of giant hands stuck through and pulled them apart to form a giant, Megapolis-sized circle above the city. What she saw next caused her to drop to her knees in fright…
A giant, red-streaked meteor descended rapidly upon Megapolis. The bottom half was blown apart, revealing a long, needle-like nose and a pair of three triangular rock formations jutting out from the sides of the half-circle. She once again heard her mother’s voice as the meteor began crashing into the city, the screams of millions of people and Mobians echoing out as it tore through the planet’s surface.
“Remember, Cosmo… You are our world’s greatest hope.”
THE END OF BOOK I