Chapter 6: Bombing Mission
’It’s after 11,’ Cream noted, glancing at the clock above the flat-panelled tele-crate screen mounted on the wall next to her. It was another packed night at Vanilla’s Haven. The bartender kept her mind off of the dangerous mission Tails and the others were on by serving food and drink while making small talk to customers both familiar and new.
One of her regulars, a man with long, auburn swept-back hair, wearing an unopened black leather vest, a thin, white t-shirt and faded black jeans waved her over. He shot a lopsided grin at her. “Hey gorgeous, can I get another round?” he called, waggling his eyebrows.
Cream rolled her eyes at his antics, shook her head and smiled at him. “Johnny, you still haven’t paid your previous tab! I’m cutting you off!” she said, turning away from him. She continued working, serving up drinks and warmed food to salivating customers while keeping the pouting Human in the corner of her eye. After letting him stew for a few moments, she slid a bottle of a particular lager down his way.
The man easily caught the bottle in his hand. He beamed heartily at the barmaid. “Aw, thanks Cream! I promise I’ll pay ya back tomorrow, first thing!” he shouted gleefully over the crowd. He took a pull from the bottle, relished the smooth taste and then continued his conversation with the patron sitting beside him. “So anyway, I was saying…”
Cream turned away from the conversation and was about to queue the next customer at the counter when she heard a sweet, child-like voice call her name. She raised her hand to indicate that she’ll be right back and headed to the back hallway leading upstairs.
Sitting on the bottom step was Hope, wearing a set of pink pyjamas that were a size too small and clutching a ratty, brown teddy bear with a missing right arm tightly around her. The little girl looked up to the taller Mobian in front of her. “I can’t sleep,” she said plainly.
The rabbit kneeled to Hope’s level and looked softly at her. “I know sweetie,” she replied, her lips curled into a gentle smile. “You’re worried about your daddy and the others too, huh?” She then stood up and hoisted the little girl into her arms. “Tell you what; I’ll let you stay up tonight so you can wait for them. Once they’re back though, you have to go straight to bed, okay?”
Cream chuckled as she brought Hope back to the bar area. Placing her on a stool behind the bar, she looked at her in the eye. “Now, I want you to stay here and keep an eye out for anyone suspicious,” she said in mock seriousness. “If you can’t go to sleep, then I’ll put you to work!”
The little girl beamed brightly. “You got it!” she exclaimed, eager to help out.
Grinning brightly, Cream turned back to the crowd. “Alright everyone, listen up!” She hollered, catching everyone’s attention. “Hope here is gonna be keeping an eye on you guys, so you all better be on your best behaviour, understand?” She pointed at the little girl sitting behind the counter on the stool, scouring the crowds with a steely gaze and watching for troublemakers.
Stricken with mock fear, Johnny stood up from his stool and looked at Hope, clasping his hands in front of his face. “Oh, please Hope,” he pleaded, a hint of amusement gleaming in his eyes. “We’ll be really, really good, honest we will.” He arched back to his fellow patrons. “Right guys?”
A chorus of cheers, acknowledgements and shouts of “We promise!” answered back.
Hope blushed at all the attention. “OK,” she said bashfully.
Another raucous cheer broke out and Cream had to bite her lip hard to prevent herself from cracking up. She returned to the counter and apologized to her patiently amused customer for the wait.
Suddenly, the program on the tele-crate was interrupted by a large ‘Breaking News’ banner that flashed across the screen, catching the attention of those nearest to it. A zebra called out to the barmaid. “Hey! Can you turn it up for a sec?!”
Hastily grabbing the remote on the liquor shelf, Cream pumped the volume up to its maximum. The near-deafening crowds quieted to a hum as the brunette newscaster spoke.
“This is Scarlet Garcia, reporting from the Kintobor News Network desk in the Sector 2 studio,” the woman sitting behind the news desk said. “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a breaking news update: We have reports of an incident at the Sector 1 Train Station this evening. Just after 11:00 pm, several assailants attacked the security detail guarding the station. Whether this has any relation to the ongoing labour dispute is not currently known, but we will provide an update on the situation as this story develops.” The screen then returned to its normal broadcast.
Cream felt her fists tighten reflexively at the news as the bar returned to its normal, boisterous din. ‘So, it’s started,’ she thought, slamming a glass down on the counter harder than she expected. She huffed loudly as a crack formed down the middle of the glass. Giving an apologetic wave to her current customer, the rabbit kneeled to the shelf underneath the counter to replace the cracked cup. Picking out another highball glass, Cream dropped her bartending facade and took several deep, shuddering breaths. Though she hid it well by keeping everyone’s spirits up, deep down she was worried about the team and Tails.
‘Come back safely… and don’t you all die on me,’ she prayed as she rose from the floor and set the glass gently on the counter. “Sorry for the wait!” she said once again to the patron on the other side of the counter and flashed a winsome smile at him. “So, what’ll it be?”
Sticking to the shadows, TORNADO made their way through the winding passages leading into the reactor, stealthily dispatching the lightly manned security detail along the way. They moved quickly and efficiently, mowing down each Kintobor grunt one by one with sheer numbers. Tails trailed behind, picking off the soldiers the group ignored in their mad dash through the passage.
‘You got to give it to them,’ the two-tailed fox observed as TORNADO progressed through the last of the security checkpoints. ‘Despite their amateurism, they seem to know what they’re doing. Colour me impressed.’
The team soon emerged onto the wide catwalks leading into the plant interior. Suspended a hundred meters above the slums, the walkways connected the main entrance from Sector 1 to an emergency exit leading to Sector 8, with another catwalk in the middle running perpendicularly into the reactor proper. The reactor itself, a towering mass of metal, was physically separated from the plates.
Biggs and Bark made a right at the T-junction and hurried into the reactor entrance. Wedge ran to the opposite end to secure the emergency exit leading into Sector 8, hiding in an alcove. Jessie and Tails brought up the rear. “Go blow this place to hell!” Wedge shouted as they passed him by.
As soon as the fox was through, the woman slammed a button on the nearby wall. A steel door slid into place with a hiss, preventing access from the oncoming security forces that were likely to follow.
Once inside, the three TORNADO members caught their breath. Tails crossed his arms and leaned against a wall, eyeing his charges as they recovered. Soon enough, Bark straightened up from his bent position, his massive chest heaving up and down. “OK, the easy part’s done,” he said, rolling his shoulders. “Biggs, go enter the codes.”
“You got it, boss!” With a grin, Biggs strode up to the first set of security doors at the far end of the room. Hastily pulling out and unfolding a sheet of paper, the man scanned over the codes before inputting them into a control panel next to the door.
While this was going on, Tails surveyed his surroundings. The interior was stark and industrial, with thick metal panels covering the floors and walls covered with reinforced concrete. The hallways were filled with an adequate amount of lighting necessary for workers to traverse through. Exposed pipes crisscrossing along the walls and ceilings made the space feel narrower than it was. The fox’s eyes then landed on the Human manipulating the door controls, muttering to himself as he did so.
His gaze was broken by his employer, who walked into his line of sight. “Is this your first time in a reactor?” Bark asked, eyeing him warily.
“No, I’ve been in plenty before. I did work for Kintobor, you know,” the fox replied candidly, running a gloved hand through the fur on his head.
Gritting his teeth at the mere mention of the company, the polar bear continued. “Well, I’m sure you know what these things do then. Energen isn’t just a convenient, cheap energy source; it’s the source of all life on Mobius. And these bastards keep sucking it all up with their weird machines and converting them into RINGTEK-”
“Look, I’m not here for a lecture,” Tails cut him off, turning his head away from the bear and raising his hand dismissively. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Fed up with his lack of understanding, Bark snapped at the mercenary, pointing his Gun-Arm at him. “Fine then, I’ve had it with you and your attitude!” he shouted, spittle flecking from his mouth. “You wanna get this over with?! Then do your damn job and lead us to the bottom of the complex! And I’ll be right behind you with a bullet ready to blow your brains out if you try anything stupid!”
“Alright! Code deciphered!” Biggs shouted triumphantly as the security door loudly rattled open. Turning to the others, his face went chalk white at the scene in front of him. “Um… I miss something here?”
“Oh shut it Biggs, and give that here,” Jessie snapped, snatching the piece of paper from his hand. “You’re too slow! And boss?” She said, turning to Bark. “We need to focus; don’t you remember what’s at stake here?”
Bark broke his gaze from Tails at her words. “Hmph, yeah,” he muttered, lowering his weapon before turning his attention again to the fox. “Alright then merc, you lead the way once Jessie breaks through the next set of doors.”
“Fine,” Tails responded, his fingers gripping his folded arms tightly. He had to force himself to keep his cool as he was about ready to pick a fight with the obnoxious bear to set him straight. He took a few deep breaths to relax as Bark and the others headed to the next set of doors barring access to the Reactor and the Manufacturing Plant before following them. Inwardly though, he was a little impressed at Bark’s focus. ‘Huh, despite his temper and his paranoia, at least he has his priorities straight.’
Jessie hurried towards the access panel for the second set of security doors. Without hesitation, she riffed open the sheet she swiped from Biggs, pasted it against the wall and started punching the codes listed on them. “Thank the Goddess we were able to get these codes from our sources,” she called back to the group, trying to clear the tense air. “A lot of people lost their lives to get us these, so we can’t let their sacrifice be in vain.” It took only moments before she cracked the code and the doors opened. ”Code deciphered,” she announced.
Biggs walked up to her with his hand held out, his lips set in a grim line as opposed to his perpetual grin. ”Ok, I’m up,” he said. “Hand me the bomb and the signal relays and I’ll head into the manufacturing plant.”
The woman dug into her satchel and handed him several objects; several small, black antennas, wireless, RINGTEK-powered signal boosting boxes to connect each antenna to and a bulkier package which was wrapped in brown paper. “Here they are,” she said, piling them into a smaller bag Biggs brought with him. “Install the signal boosters as you go along the corridors; remember that the max radius of each is 75 feet, so keep an eye on your supply and your distance. Once you set the bomb, make sure it connects both to the signal relays and this router here.” She pulled out a thin rectangular box with a slim profile, mounted it inconspicuously near a stack of crates and switched it on. The device gave off a low hum that matched the din of the reactor. Turning around, Jessie looked at Biggs with concern flooding her features. “Look, be careful with this stuff, it’s all delicate. And… take care of yourself too.”
Biggs raised an eyebrow at her, his lips curling upwards once more. “Yeah, yeah, I won’t forget,” he waved nonchalantly. “And am I not careful as it is?”
Jessie shoved him playfully and beamed at him. “Oh shut up and get going,” she said, amused. “Oh, and don’t forget to use that data device I gave you too!”
The man nodded. “Yeah, I won’t forget! Good luck!” he replied before heading down the corridor into the manufacturing area. He turned the corner and disappeared.
“You two done?” Bark asked Jessie, who stood by the lift going down into the reactor. His eyes were set in a determined scowl and he tapped his foot impatiently. “Let’s get going.”
Appearing slightly mortified, the brunette stepped up to the lift and pressed the call button. The door slid open a few seconds later and the trio climbed aboard. Jessie then pressed the switch leading to the lower level. The lift doors slid shut with a clunk and the car began its descent towards the bottom level.
It was here that Bark decided to give Tails another chance to understand the significance behind this mission and its implications for the future. “Look man,” he addressed the mercenary. “All I was saying before was that sooner or later, these reactors will suck out ALL the life force that’s keeping this planet alive. Once that happens, it’s the end of all of us.”
Tails shrugged off his words and then crossed his arms. “It’s not my problem,” he retorted.
The polar bear slammed his left fist against the car, rattling it. “For fuck’s sake Tails, the planet is dying!” he roared angrily, his whole frame shaking with rage.
“And I’m telling you that the only thing we should be worried about is finishin’ this job before this place is overrun by Robians and Roboguards,” Tails responded coolly, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. ‘Well, I was wrong about his priorities,’ he reflected. ‘Too concerned about saving the planet and less concerned about staying alive… Either he’s cocky or he’s an idiot-’
“Hey, d-do you think that Robians are really gonna be here?” Jessie asked, cutting through the fox’s thoughts.
Tails opened an eye, which glowed brightly in the dim lighting of the elevator car. “Positive,” he responded, grateful for the change of subject. “You guys may have reduced the security detail here down to its bare minimum, but the reactor’s here are their stomping grounds. Robians don’t get paid and don’t need breaks. Guarding secure, classified locations like these and prowling the Mutate-infested areas within the slums are their only functions in life now. We’ll definitely encounter at least one.”
As he finished speaking, the elevator stopped. The panel on the side of the elevator displayed the words ‘Refinery And Transfer’ and the doors opened to reveal a vast, cavernous area littered with pipes of all different sizes running around the space. Some went upwards into the Manufacturing Plant, but many of them went out of the sides of the concrete walls in the distance. All of the transmission pipes originated from the refinery; a massive industrial plant that stood several stories high.
Gun-Arm raised, Bark peeked out of the car to check their surroundings. He spied the pathway that snaked around the refinery and led further downwards towards the centre of the reactor’s operational control and their primary target – the main pump chamber. Seeing that the coast was clear, he motioned for Tails to take point while he brought up the rear. Jessie was sandwiched in between the two Mobians. She drew a high calibre pistol from her hip and held it steadily in her hand.
They traversed several staircases and ladders as they winded down the path to the bottom of the reactor. Every now and then, they stopped as Jessie installed the signal relays required to link the bomb they would plant here to the one Biggs would install in the Manufacturing Plant.
On the climb down the third ladder, Tails’ supernatural hearing started picking up sounds of mechanical rasping that would have otherwise been hidden amongst the industrial noises of the refinery. They soon approached the door leading into the main pump chamber, separated by a high, steel-cladded wall. The fox abruptly halted a few feet in front of the door. “I hear something coming,” he said, gripping the hilt of his Buster Sword.
Bark swung his arm around wildly. “What do you mean?” he asked, aiming at nothing. “I don’t hear shit all. Quit trying to scare –“
With a screech sounding like nails on a chalkboard, three Squirrel Robians suddenly dropped from above and surrounded the three in a pincer formation, with two in front of Bark and Jessie and one in front of Tails. What were once normal Mobians were now merciless killing machines, their bodies given metallic form and their free will stripped through the roboticization process. Their lithe bodies were covered with chrome and gun-metal grey plating, they had wickedly curved claws on their hands and feet for gripping onto walls and for rending flesh and their segmented tails were round, bulbous and designed for bludgeoning.
The warrior drew his sword and stared down at the Robian in front of him. It hissed as it lashed its tail out at the fox. Tails ducked down to avoid the swipe, rolled forward to get in close and then threw three, wide sweeping slashes. The first two sliced off its arms and the third lopped off its head. The squirrel dropped to the floor and became motionless, sparks flying from the dismembered portions of its body.
Tails turned around to see Bark and Jessie attempting to gun down the remaining two Robians. The polar bear roared, firing a volley at the first squirrel as it bore down on him. Its hide was thick enough to prevent his shots from penetrating. The Robian drew near and swung its tail hard, catching Bark on the stomach. He staggered backwards, winded, but not seriously injured due to the protective band around his waist. Claws raised, the squirrel let out a metallic shriek and bounded towards the vulnerable bear.
Upon seeing Bark being pushed back, Tails quickly placed a hand on the second green Emerald on his sword and drew blue energy out of it. Sheathing his sword, he shaped the magic with his Mana. The magic collapsed and formed a ball in front of his chest. Focused on the robot that was approaching the gunner, he then pushed his hands outward and called “ICE!”
A blue-white beam shot out from his hands, barely scraping the polar bear’s right shoulder, and hit its target. The magic showered the Robian with Ice energy, slowing it down its movements and giving Bark enough time to recover and avoid being slashed by its claws. Rolling out of the way and landing in a kneeled position, he pointed his arm and fired another salvo. This time, the bullets tore through the Robian’s body as Tails’ spell made its armour plating weak and brittle.
Seeing that Bark was able to handle himself, the fox turned his attention to the third Robian. The wild swings from the squirrel’s claws forced Jessie back until she hit a wall. Tails reacted, hurrying towards the woman as the Robian wrapped its tail around her waist. He swung the great blade upwards and cut the appendage just before it could squeeze and crush her. The warrior then followed up by wrapping his tails around the mechanical beast’s arms and pulled hard, ripping both of them out of their sockets. He then finished it by crushing its head with the flat side of the Buster Sword.
“W-What the hell was that?” Bark cursed. He winced and rubbed at his abdomen as he stood up. Nearby, Jessie wriggled out of the Squirrel Robian’s tail. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and she struggled to catch her breath.
“Trouble,” replied Tails, his eyes narrowing as he picked up the sounds of something skittering along the walls. “And there’s more of it coming!”
Two more Squirrel Robians jumped off and landed in front of them. The one closest to the three lashed out wildly and tore a gash in the polar bear’s left arm. Bark roared in pain and grabbed the robot on instinct. Forcing his Gun-Arm into its mouth, he pumped its insides full of lead and then threw its lifeless husk away from him.
The Ex-SOLDIER then leapt over Bark and brought his sword behind him. At the apex of his jump, he swung it forward and cut the second Robian in two. Landing in a crouch, the fox’s eyes widened in alarm as his ears picked up the sounds of mechanical legs stomping up behind them. The unknown mechaniloid whirred and a hissing noise blared out. The two-tailed fox recognized what it was about to do. “Sweeper’s behind us, everybody duck!” he shouted, dropping to the floor.
Bark and Jessie hastily followed suit as bullets whizzed past them. Clenching her teeth, the brunette hastily dug into her satchel and produced a grenade from it. Pulling the pin out, she counted to three in her head before lobbing it in the vicinity of the Sweeper. The grenade landed right near its spiked feet and exploded, cutting its barrage short. Tails got up from his prone position, his hand holding a charge filled with yellow-white energy. He thrust the hand holding the magic outward and called “BOLT!”
The spell shot out of Tails’ palm, snaked into the Sweeper’s damaged legs and its rectangular shell. The lightning wreaked havoc on its internal systems, short-circuiting it and leaving it nothing more than a hunk of scrap in its wake.
Jessie got up first and she shivered at the sight of the mechanical remains. “Ugh, those things give me the creeps,” she muttered, staring at the Sweeper’s metallic grill. Letting out several shaky breaths, she turned to Tails and flashed a small smile at the Mobian. “Thanks. If it weren’t for you, we’d all probably be dead by now.”
The fox shrugged. “No problem,” he said coolly. “Just doing my job.” He looked around and piqued his ears, using his enhanced senses to scan for any more unwanted encounters. “I don’t hear or see anything coming our way,” he announced. “Now would be a good time to recuperate before we carry out the rest of the mission. More of ‘em will show up eventually, but we should be on our way out before they do.”
His left arm soaked with blood, Bark got up and walked over to Jessie. She stuck a hand into her satchel and pulled out some medical tape, along with a thin phial filled with blue liquid. The label ‘Potion’ was stamped on the side.
Handing it over to the bear, he broke the top off and held it in place with his teeth. With a slow and practiced movement, Bark poured about half of the solution onto his wounded arm and hissed in pain as the liquid made contact. The antiseptic components of the Potion reacted with the blood and formed a paste that sealed the wound. Taking the phial out of his mouth, he downed the remaining contents and retched at the bitter taste before discarding it onto the ground. He then placed the medical tape through one of the barrels of his Gatling Gun and, using it as a dispenser, he bandaged his arm. Tossing the tape back to Jessie, he threw her a thumbs-up and grinned. “Yeah, we’re good to go!” he exclaimed.
Bark strode towards the entrance to the main pump chamber but stopped as he passed Tails. He arched his head and stared down at him. Tails half expected the bear to berate him once more, but to the fox’s surprise, Bark’s lips curled upward into a slight smile. “You ain’t half-bad Ex-SOLDIER,” he commented lightly. He opened the door leading onwards and beckoned the other two to follow, his lips now set in a tight line. “Alright, let’s move.”
After splitting from the group with the second bomb, Biggs snuck past plant operators and light security detail as he headed for the main control room of the RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant. He paused from time to time to covertly install the signal boosters necessary to connect the bomb to the central router at the rendezvous point. Stealing through another corridor, he noticed the heavy use of security cameras, which were all reprogrammed thanks to the Mobian Ex-SOLDIER. Biggs smiled to himself, thinking about the hardened warrior. ‘It’s a damn good thing we have that guy on our side,’ he mused. ‘Without him, this mission would’ve gone south long ago.’
He soon found himself in front of the control room, its door wide open. He peeked inside and saw five figures. Three of them were Human; two dark-haired men and a blonde woman. The remaining two were Mobians; a canine with long flowing brown locks and a toad with a shock of black hair on his slippery head. Each wore the same uniform: a light blue, short sleeve work shirt, dark blue denim overalls with beige gloves tucked into the front pocket and dark brown work boots.
Seeing a closet in the corner of the room that he could hide in, Biggs stealthily entered the room. Keeping himself low, he opened the closet door and tucked himself into it. His heart racing and praying that he wasn’t seen, he reopened the door a crack and stole a glance out of the window separating the control room from the main plant.
A litany of machines occupied the large room and all were used to forge RINGTEK batteries of all kinds and sizes. The TORNADO member watched as a thin, ionically charged grey ring was inserted into one of the moulds. The moulds varied in size, from large fuel cells for vehicles and heavy-duty machinery to tiny cells used for personal electronics. Biggs remembered from his research that the grey ring was made up of various metals that caused slow, powerful chemical reactions with the Energen once bonded. At the end of each ring and exposed outside of the hermetically sealed mould was a pin-like socket used to insert the RINGTEK into machinery to power it.
Pipes from below the refinery transported Energen into the manufacturing plant, where various nozzles injected it into the moulds. Once filled, the moulds were then subjected to supercooled water flowing through a heat exchanger that crossed the doughnut-shaped die. The supercooled water caused the liquid Energen to harden and bond with the inner ring, creating a powerful, self-contained battery. Once cast, a mechanical arm extracted the rings and inserted them into specially designed containers to cool the rings further, increasing their durability. The fully cooled rings were then transferred to another department for testing and quality assurance. The entire process – from casting to cooling and transport – took less than a minute to complete.
Biggs stifled a sigh as he watched the RINGTEK being created. “All this technology helped to advance and modernize our world…” he mumbled to himself. “But the cost… it’s way too high.” Feeling that the time to act was close at hand, he then checked his wristwatch. The digital display noted the time as 11:29 pm.
A minute passed and a loud buzzer emitted from a speaker in the wall. Biggs sat where he was and listened to the workers leaving for the break room, all of them complaining about the labour strike that has crippled production. When the last operator left and the door shut with an audible click, the man slowly got out of his hiding spot and quickly raced over to the main control console. Knowing that he only had exactly ten minutes before the workers returned, he quickly extracted a thin, rectangular data stick and inserted it into the terminal in front of him. The programming inside the stick automatically executed its preloaded subroutines. Biggs watched the monitor in front of him as the programming began discreetly searching for and downloading a wealth of critical data.
Seeing that the operation was in process, Biggs then pulled out the explosive Jessie gave him. It was a carefully constructed rectangular box with an LCD and several coloured buttons – black, green and blue – underneath the screen. Peering underneath the console, he spotted an area where he could place the package without it being seen. After adhering it to the spot, he installed a thin antenna into a slot on its side and then pushed the black button.
The LCD screen came to life and displayed the words ‘AWAITING CONNECTION’ in black lettering after a few seconds. Biggs crossed his fingers and then pressed the blue button, hoping to the Goddess that he spaced out the boosters enough. The screen flashed twice before returning a message: ‘CONNECTION OK! PRESS BUTTON TO ACTIVATE.’
Biggs exhaled loudly. “Oh man, I was worried there for a second,” he muttered, wiping sweat from the bridge of his nose. He then pressed the green button and activated the bomb. “Done,” he said, getting out from underneath the console and standing to look at the monitor in front of him. The words ‘Download Complete’ came up in a popup in the left-hand corner of the screen. ‘And so is this thing too.’
Pulling out the stick, he placed it in his pocket and looked at the time. It read 11:38 pm. “I got two minutes left,” he whispered to himself, pulling out his sidearm and adjusting his headband. “Time to blow this pop stand.” He crouched down again and slinked out of the room just before the buzzer rang for the end of break time.
After hopping over to another platform and climbing down another set of ladders, the three stopped at a wide walkway suspended above a glowing pool of raw Energen. At the very end of the path lay the extraction pump chamber; the heart of the reactor.
The entire apparatus consisted of an oblong, twelve-foot-tall pumping assembly that jutted out of the concrete wall. The main pump itself was massive, consisting of a four-foot-tall body and a giant, 2,000 horsepower motor that was anchored in place by several guy wires and hangars. An array of pipes, both thick and thin, sprouted out of the top of the pump assembly, the set spreading out like a web from the current level they were on up to the refinery plant on the next level above. On the bottom, a series of huge pipes led down from the machine and into the pool of gold and silver below. A large hand wheel in the centre of the structure operated the pair of enormous, eighteen-inch isolation valves that would halt the flow of liquid in an emergency. Next to it were the main controls for the entire structure.
Jessie handed Bark the second, much larger explosive from her pack and then stood by the ladder. “I’ll wait here,” she said to the two Mobians, her mouth set into a grim line as she watched for incoming enemies.
Bark nodded and motioned the fox to follow him. Tails started but paused when an object on the floor caught the corner of his eye. It was a tiny, brilliantly cut, hexagonal green jewel, similar to the ones installed into the slots of his Buster Sword. He walked towards it and picked it up. “An Emerald,” he said softly. Peering closely at the gem, Tails saw a soft and warm green light emanating from it, eliciting a smile from the mercenary. “Looks like Restore magic.” He was about to switch it out for the Ice Emerald on his sword when Bark lumbered up, his face contorted into a scowl.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked roughly, snatching the item out of Tails’ hand. Looking at it in confusion, he kissed his teeth loudly in annoyance and then pocketed the jewel. “C’mon man, we got a job to do here! Once we’re done here, this place is gonna be nothing more than a hunk of junk!” He held out the bomb and Jessie’s instructions to the fox. “Tails, you set the bomb.”
Tails raised an eyebrow, his glowing eyes staring coldly at the bear. “And why should I?” he questioned icily. “This is your show. I’m nothing more than an escort.”
Bark glowered wearily at the quizzical fox. “Just do the damn thing already,” he grumbled. “I wanna see if you’re willing to bite the hand that feeds you. If not, then I know where your true loyalties lie.”
The fox rolled his eyes. ‘Goddess-damned bastard doesn’t give me a break…‘ “Whatever, fine,” he huffed, snatching the package. He approached the mechanism with the polar bear behind him, his arms crossed as he watched him keenly. As Tails was about to place the bomb on the central console, he froze as a high-pitched buzz erupted in his head, like it was signalling him. Clutching his head with one hand, he suddenly heard a sharp, childlike voice speak out to him.
“Watch out! Something’s off about this reactor!”
Bark watched the Mobian stop in place for a few moments and then shoved him out of his stupor with his gun. “What’s wrong?” he asked, glowering at him.
“Huh?” Tails blinked in confusion for a few moments as he returned to reality.
The impatient bear growled. “What’s wrong, Tails, hurry the hell up!” he demanded.
Tails shook his head and cleared his mind. “Yeah, sorry,” he apologized. He set the charge against the central console on the reactor. The main unit consisted of a powerful explosive with a tiny control board mounted on it. Reading the instructions, Tails extended the two, flexible antennae on its side and then inserted a cable from the control board into the service port of the central console. He then pressed a black button on the top corner to initialize the bomb.
Drawing power from the central console, a small, rectangular LCD on the top left corner of the charge activated. Upon startup, the screen flashed the words ‘AWAITING CONNECTION’. Tails pressed the blue button as per the instructions and waited as the machine transmitted its signal through the boosters Jessie installed throughout their journey. The words ‘CONNECTION OK! SYNCHRONIZATION OK! PRESS BUTTON TO ACTIVATE,’ soon flashed on the screen, indicating that all was ready.
Before Tails could push the green button to arm the device, a klaxon began to blare out loudly and strobe lights flashed red emergency beacons.
Bark furiously pressed his Gun-Arm against the fox’s head at that instant. “What the hell did you do?!” He bellowed.
An intercom beat out the two-tailed fox before he could speak. “Warning! Unidentified tampering detected at main pump chamber!” the female voice announced. “Dispatching Roboguardian designate E-89 ‘Guard Scorpion’ to eliminate threats! Field shall be modified to accommodate!”
The railing on the walkway suddenly detached and folded underneath it. Next, two thick steel plates slid out from the walls on either side of the chamber. Each plate was lined at the incoming edge with tapered tabs like gear teeth which meshed with strategically placed holes in the walkway to form a single, seamless platform. On the left-hand wall, a large, twenty-foot-tall by fifteen-foot wide panel slid open to reveal the Guard Scorpion.
Created to emulate the look of an actual scorpion, the red mechaniloid stepped out onto the platform on its six, segmented legs, each the size of a tree trunk. Atop its legs was a heavily plated, oblong torso. Concealed beneath the thick, bulletproof glass on its center was a set of large, mechanical lenses that acted as its eyes. Its head consisted of a round dome with several antennae jutting out from it and a small, pivoting rectangular scope, used by the guardian to obtain environmental and targeting data. In place of pincers were a pair of long, heavily plated crimson arms, each equipped with 20mm Vulcan cannons. By far, the most fearsome and intimidating part of its body was its tail; a segmented, flexible appendage with an enormous, diamond-like spike at its end. The joints of each leg, arm and tail segment, along with its torso, were covered with a flexible, black polymer shielding. The reflections from the gold and silver pool below cast an eerie glow against the polished steel as it leered menacingly at the two Mobians in front of it.
The robotic monstrosity vented grey-yellow exhaust fumes out from various ports along its body, before moving towards the intruders, its legs stomping thunderously on the thick metal platform.
Bark turned his gun away from the fox and towards the Roboguardian. “OK, well there’s my question answered!” he yelled as Tails stood beside him, sword drawn. “Head’s up foxy, here it comes!”
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