Chapter 18: The Road Home
“Train’s leavin’! Cream, we gotta move!”
Darting out of the shadows in the Sector 4 train yards, Bark and Cream raced to a freight train that was en route towards the Slums. Cream arrived first, hopping onto the third last car and wrenching open the door. Holding onto one of the handrails, she stuck her hand out for the bear to catch, pulling him in and shutting the door before they reached the security gate.
Inside were hundreds of tightly sealed, steel barrels, sitting upright and arranged into rows, each containing depleted RINGTEK batteries of all shapes and sizes from Sector 4. The two raced to the corner of the boxcar where a set of large barrels stood upright. Hastily vaulting over the barrels and landing in the space behind them, the two Mobians pressed against the car wall as the train came to a sudden stop. They held their breaths as the car door slid open.
Two security guards – an older, heavyset Human woman and a slim, green-skinned iguana – entered the car to perform an inspection before the depleted RINGTEK was shipped off to a dumping facility in the Slums. They each wore a black and white uniform with scruffy black shoes, a protective vest and a belt holding a 22-calibre pistol and a long club.
The woman stood by the door, a disgusted look on her heavily made-up face as her partner started from the side opposite the two stowaways. “Can you believe this?” she said to her partner. “Back to back terrorist attacks! And by the same group too! I mean, I don’t understand, it just doesn’t make sense how the Company can allow these things to happen-”
“I know, but I’m mo’ worried about the eventual rate hike that’s goin’ to happen, now that two reactors are outta commission,” the iguana interrupted through an accented, slow drawl. He drew and swung his club absent-mindedly as he inspected the barrels and peeked around corners. “This job barely paid enough as it is to keep the lights on when all the reactors are runnin’. Just imagine how much we gonna be dinged once the end of the month comes ‘round?” He performed one last visual sweep of the area. “All clear here, did ya go check the other side yet?”
His partner slowly walked over to the other side of the car. She attempted to look over several barrels but instead groaned loudly. ”Look, let’s just be clear; no one’s gonna be stupid enough to try and smuggle themselves into the Slums, no one,” she said, her hoarse and loud voice echoing through the car. “If we were stationed on the bottom looking for whatever idiots were thinking of getting to the plate, I’d probably say otherwise, but really, who the fuck would willingly go to the Slums of all places?”
“Pro’lly the same terrorists who blew up the Sector 5 Reacta?” he replied, crossing his arms. “I know I would if I were ‘em.”
Bark suddenly felt a chill down his spine. He unconsciously started tensing his right arm, his left thumb on the safety as the iguana kept talking.
“Hey, just go take a peek, yeah?” he said to the woman, irritably. “Ain’t gonna do ya no harm-”
The woman huffed, her jowls wobbling as she cut in. “Look, we’ve inspected, what, twenty, twenty-five cars today? And we’ve found nothing! We never find anything!” she whined. “I’m old, I’m about to retire and I just want to go home, so let’s just close her up and get the hell out of here… please?”
Bark and Cream heard nothing but silence for a few moments. The woman’s partner then let out a long sigh. “Alright, alright,” the iguana droned, scratching the back of his head. “Le’s get outta here then.” He stowed his club and made his way out of the car. The woman eagerly followed suit as she hopped off the train and shut the door behind her.
The two TORNADO members waited with bated breath in the dim lighting for several minutes before the train started on its course down to the Slums. Once it picked up speed, they both relaxed, with Bark exhaling in relief. “Thank the Goddess… I thought we were done for,” he said to Cream, who was resting against the wall beside him. “Remind me to thank Wedge and his contact for hooking us up! We’d be stuck on the Plate if it weren’t for them!”
“Yeah,” Cream said, her head turned away from the bear.
Bark turned to look at her. “Hey, he’s fine,” he said to her after a pause. “He’s tougher than he looks! He’s a former SOLDIER and he can fly! Man, that guy’s the real d-”
“He was bleeding. A lot,” she interrupted, pulling her knees to her chest. The corners of her eyes started to moisten and Bark knew she was fighting to keep her emotions in check. “You saw it too, didn’t you? The piece of metal sticking out of his tail?”
The bear deflated as he remembered seeing the blood dribble out of the pierced appendage. He shook his head to rid himself of the image. “Yeah, but-but that doesn’t mean he’s dead,” he responded. “For all we know, he coulda found the strength to fly down safely, y’know?”
“I know. And… you might be right,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I just… I think he might not be as OK as he lets on, you know?”
Bark looked at her oddly. ‘What the hell?’ “Whaddya mean by that?”
She faced him and took a breath to steady herself. “…I-I mean,” she started, curling up into a tighter ball. “He’s… well, you saw how he was back at the reactor?”
“So? I’m worried!” Cream said crossly, her brows knitted into a scowl. “Sure, he’s stronger now, but what did that strength cost him?! He’s having seizures, Bark!” She let out an exasperated breath upward that tickled her bangs and then rested her head on her knees. “I just… wish I knew what happened to him in the years he left home… I didn’t get a proper chance to ask him, what with keeping up appearances at the bar and preparing for these missions and all….”
The bear felt a stab of guilt at her words. “People change, Cream,” he said, masking his shame. “You can’t expect them to stay the same their whole lives?”
“I know… but his change feels too… drastic, I suppose?”
Bark didn’t know how to respond to that. Instead, he let the conversation lapse into silence, the barrels jostling noisily around on the train as it made its way around the central pillar. Bark checked his watch. “We gotta jump off soon,” he said to the brawler beside him. She nodded in response.
The bear stood up and stretched, his backside sore from sitting on the hard, steel floor. His eyes trailed to the car door in the distance. Idly, he half-expected the two-tailed fox to wrench it open and waltz in dramatically, his comically oversized sword in hand and an arrogant smirk on his face. Bark would have yelled at him for being late and Cream would have tried to defuse the situation. ‘Ha, that would’ve been a good laugh,’ he smiled ruefully at the thought. He suddenly frowned as the rabbit’s words came back to him.
‘“I didn’t get a proper chance,” she said… Oh Bark, you colossal moron,’ he chided himself, his shoulders slumping as he let out a deep sigh.
“I’m so stupid,” he said out loud, feeling defeated. Cream raised her head to watch him. “Tails.., He was right about it being a trap. He warned me several times, before and during the mission. I-I was just so caught up about hittin’ Kintobor hard, that I didn’t consider that they would be so many steps ahead of us…” He looked at her with a pained expression. “I’m sorry….”
“Bark… it’s OK, don’t beat yourself up about it,” Cream said, standing up and walking towards the bear. She placed a hand on his left shoulder and looked directly into his eyes. “We gambled and they called our bluff. Everyone knew the risks, even Tails, who’s a pretty cautious guy in general. And yet he still agreed to go with us. He still agreed to follow you.”
The gunner placed his larger paw atop the hand that rested on his shoulder. He squeezed lightly, understanding the hidden message in her words. “…Thanks Cream,” Bark said, smiling sadly. “…I needed that.”
Moments later, the two jumped off the freight train as they neared Kintobor’s special ID security checkpoint. Cream took point and followed the map in her hand down the central pillar. The conversation she had with Bark about Tails was still ringing in her mind. The bear’s words – while encouraging – did nothing to assuage her feelings about the former SOLDIER’s mental state. ‘Not now,’ she thought as they approached a maintenance shaft leading down towards the Slums. ‘I have to focus on what is, not what happened… we’re not out of the woods yet.’
She opened the hatch and wordlessly descended into the shaft, a visibly nervous Bark following close behind. Reaching the walkway below, the fighter honed her senses and watched for anything that loomed in the shadows. “Bark, try not to make too much noise down here,” she whispered as they stole through the passageways. “I don’t think we can handle an extended fight right now.”
Despite the brief rest she got on the freight train, Cream still felt exhausted from the ordeal in the reactor. She could feel stiffness creep up within her body due to the constant cycle of overexertion and rest she put it through in the last several hours. ‘I’ve spent too much time working behind the bar and not enough on training, that’s why I’m so sore,’ she mentally berated to herself. ‘I’ve gotta change that when we get back…’
After an hour and a half of bypassing the ID Checkpoint station, sneaking around Mutates and travelling down the central shaft, the two Mobians finally emerged out of a large scrapyard close to the Sector 6 Slums train station. They made their way around the ruined buildings that dotted the area before arriving at a chaotic sight.
An angry crowd had gathered around the locked station gates, the people there shouting and hurling trash at the soldiers behind the fencing. Bark and Cream stealthily blended into the throng and then casually strolled past them to the old playground and finally towards the lineup of people waiting to pass through the checkpoint leading into Sector 7.
Entering the queue, Cream took several deep breaths to steady her frazzled nerves. She let her mind wander back to the haunting image of Tails in the No. 5 Reactor as she waited for her turn. ‘His eyes changed colour…’ she ruminated, fishing for her ID card to show to the checkpoint security personnel. ‘And that’s on top of the seizure and the mixed-up memories… Does this all have something to do with the incident 5 years ago? What really happened back then? I wish I could remember fully…’
She thought about the scar on her head; a thin, arcing line going from the base of her left ear to the back of her head, stopping short from the base of her skull. Her long hair hid the mark well, but she could still catch the pale, marred tissue in a mirror’s reflection if she looked hard enough. She chewed her lip as the line progressed. ‘…I remember a doctor telling me that this injury could have jumbled up my memories of what really happened all those years ago. So, maybe Miles really was in SOLDIER, and I just couldn’t remember?’
Cream remembered the look Bark gave her three weeks ago when he asked if she could truly trust him. He knew of the injury and of what it may have done to her memories. She shook her head in frustration. ‘No, my memories are fine!’ she insisted to herself as she resisted the urge to reach up and touch it.
“Ma’am? You’re holdin’ up the line,” the checkpoint guard grumbled. He was a large, muscular rhino, whose horn was chipped in a few places. He bore the look of someone who didn’t want to be here at this current time
“Oh! Sorry…” Cream said meekly as she handed the fake ID over to the guard for processing. She felt her stomach knot up as the guard passed the card through the scanner.
A few tense seconds later, the scanner beeped and the guard handed back her card. “You can proceed, ma’am,” he said to her.
Cream let out the breath that she held in as she waited for Bark to pass the checkpoint. She mentally thanked the Goddess that Kintobor’s scanner upgrades didn’t trickle down to the Slums. Once the bear made it through, they started heading for the bar. They only made it a few feet away from the bay doors separating Sectors 6 and 7 when the rabbit stopped in place, the hair on the back of her neck standing up on end.
‘Someone’s watching us…’ “Bark, hold on,” she said, stopping in place. She looked at him darkly. “We’re being followed, come with me.” She then hurried off from the crowded street to an alleyway between a set of buildings near the Sector 7 train station, a startled Bark following closely behind.
As she entered the mouth of the alley, she noticed a figure move in her direction from the corner of her eye. It was the same raccoon she had dealt with three weeks ago, his nose and face still bandaged from the vicious kick she gave him. She gritted her teeth and felt a wave of anger wash over her. ‘I swear, I kicked him to the curb and now he’s following me again!? Of all the days to face another creep, it had to be this one and I’m sick and tired of it!’
Cream ducked behind a dumpster and grabbed Bark as he passed her. She pressed a finger to her lips before peering out of the trash bin and seeing the stranger walk slowly in their direction. She faced the bear. “Bark, listen quickly and follow my lead,” she said in a whisper. “When I give the go-ahead, you jump out and push the guy following us against the wall.”
“Cream, what the hell is going on here?!” the bear hissed, completely bewildered at the turn of events.
The fighter cracked her knuckles and grasped the lip of the dumpster. “I’ll give you the full details later, but long story short, this is the second time I’ve been followed by this guy and it’s making me feel suspicious,” she said. Concentrating on the ever-nearing footsteps of the interloper, she waited a few seconds before hastily pulling herself up onto the dumpster, her sore muscles protesting her every move. She then jumped off the lip and landed right behind the raccoon, her legs splayed and her right hand on the ground to stabilize her landing before righting herself into a fighting stance. “Now Bark!” she called out.
The bear lumbered out, grabbed the surprised Mobian by the neck with his beefy paw and slammed him hard into the wall on his right. The raccoon choked out a cry of pain as his back connected with the solid brick behind him.
Cream marched up to the trapped raccoon, her eyes blazing with fury. Grabbing his shirt collar and wrestling him away from the bear, she slammed him back into the wall. “Alright, I want answers,” she said, teeth bared into a snarl. “Three weeks ago, I beat the heck out of you and I expected you to stay away from me. Now suddenly, I catch you sneaking around and following me again!? What gives!?”
The raccoon spat at her face. “Fuck you, I ain’t tellin’ you shit!” he yelled out contemptuously. His eyes then trailed to her chest and a lecherous smile crept upon his muzzle. “Buuuuut, if you give me a good, long look at those melons underneath your shirt, then I’d be happy to share what I know?” he continued, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Whaddya say, baby?”
The brawler felt the heat creep up her neck, both from embarrassment and anger, at the raccoon’s suggestion. Beside her, Bark motioned to step forward, his hand ready to snap the lecher’s neck. Cream, however, raised a hand to stop him. Her eyes never left the bruised and battered face of her assailant, who now started to struggle in her unbreakable grip. “…I hope you’ll be sorry,” she said to him, her voice seething and her eyes narrowed into slits. “Because I won’t be after what I’m about to do to you.”
She then took a single, slow, deep breath, looked into the raccoon’s frightened eyes and grasped his left forearm with both hands. Cream then brought her right knee up and violently snapped the bones inside. Still holding the arm with her left hand and ignoring his screeching and piteous howls, she struck the elbow with a Ki-enhanced palm strike, breaking it. The fighter then grasped his upper arm, planted a foot on his leg and then pulled to dislocate his shoulder. Finally, she lifted her foot off of his leg and shattered his left knee with a low side kick. The Mobian crumpled to the ground and let out an agonized scream, which was silenced as Cream grabbed him by the neck and squeezed his windpipe. She then picked him up off of the ground and slammed him against the wall once more.
“Now that your bones and your pride have been shattered, maybe now you can tell me why you’ve been following me?!” she asked, venom dripping from each word. She threw a hook at the raccoon’s already bruised face and then released some of the pressure off his neck so he could speak.
She nearly backhanded Bark when his hand rested gently on her shoulder. Cream arched her head towards the bear and saw that he was looking at her with genuine fear in his eyes. He leaned in close and spoke softly into her right ear. “Hey, easy girl,” he said in a placating voice. “Let’s leave this lech alone and go home, OK?”
“OK, OK… I-I’ll talk…” the heavily injured raccoon said suddenly, his voice hoarse from his sobbing. “I’ll-I’ll talk… just please… don’t-don’t hurt me anymore…”
Cream tore her gaze away from the concerned bear and leaned in closely. She could smell the rank stench of alcohol and cigarettes on his breath. “Then, answer my question,” she said slowly. “But be careful. If you say anything other than the answers that I’m looking for, I start breaking more things. Are we clear?”
The raccoon nodded quickly and started speaking. “I… I didn’t wanna come back here… N-not after what you did to me the last time, b-but the boss told me to-”
“Who’s your boss?” Cream interrupted, her hand tightening on the raccoon’s neck.
“Ack! It… it… the… Don…” he choked out as he desperately tried to extricate himself out of the rabbit’s immense grip.
“The Don?! You don’t mean Don Corneo?!” Bark shouted as he let loose a stream of invectives. “What does that motherfucker have to do with all of this?!”
Cream narrowed her eyes at the trapped pervert and slammed him back on the wall. She then loosened her grip on his throat. “Answer his question!”
“He… talks to someone on the phone… sounded real important,” the raccoon forced out. “The Don then orders us… to hang around Sector 7… Wanted us to look for someone with a gun on his arm…”
“And who is this important person?!” Cream butted in as she cocked a fist back.
He flinched and began sobbing hysterically. “I-I swear-r-r! I don’t know-w-w! I’m just a flunky-y-y!”
‘… I guess we’re gonna have to get it from the source then…’ Cream then lowered her fist and waited for the Mobian to calm down. “…How do we meet Corneo?” She asked after he regained control of himself.
“…C-Corneo’s looking… for a bride,” the raccoon said, gasping every couple of words, his damaged windpipe making it harder to speak. “Crime business runs itself… so now he… wants to settle down with a girl. Every week, he picks three girls from the brothel he owns… chooses one and determines if she’s bride material…” Despite his plight, he smiled ruefully at Cream. “Part of the… reason why I was… following you was to… recruit you. You’re just his type.”
“So, how does he find out if a girl’s ‘bridal material’?” Bark asked, cutting in before Cream could say a word. He pointed his gun at the raccoon’s head and glared darkly at him.
The raccoon said nothing but gulped loudly as he quaked in fear, his eyes moving between the bear’s ferocious look and the metal prosthetic aimed at his temple.
Cream let out a revolted noise at the raccoon’s insinuations and released the lecher. He slid to the ground and lay there in a heap. “Let’s go Bark,” she said, walking back towards the main street. “We got what we need from him.” The bear raised his arm, engaged the safety and quickly followed her out.
As soon as the two left the alley and turned the corner, Cream stopped and leaned against a wall. She felt sick and horrified at what she had done and part of her wanted to run back and apologize profusely, despite her saying otherwise. ‘I can’t believe I just did that…’
“Cream, what the hell was that all about?” Bark asked her quietly, his eyes narrowed. “That was way outta character for you?”
“I… I dunno?” she replied, shaking her head. She tilted her head back and bumped it lightly against the wall, her eyes vacantly gazing at the Sector 7 Plate above. “…H-he was there when… when I saw Tails for the first time in-in years.” She then turned her head away from Bark’s, her eyes downcast and focused on the dirt road below. “When I saw that goon again, on top of everything that happened at the reactor, it just made me feel so mad… I remembered everything that I lost – my home, my friends… and even parts of my memory… and I just… snapped.” She sighed deeply, her shoulders sagging. “I feel terrible about what I did…”
“…But we didn’t come away empty-handed,” Bark said, folding his arms. “Corneo seems to be involved in all of this. Why he would want anything to do with us seems really suspicious…”
“Yeah,” Cream nodded. “We need to find out what he knows and how far up this goes. In fact…” She closed her eyes and mentally prepared herself for what she was about to say next. “…I have to go to him myself and get the information from him directly. And I have to do it alone.”
Bark jumped back in shock. “What!” he exclaimed, his jaw dropping. Collecting himself, he looked at her with scorn in his eyes. “Are you friggin’ crazy!? There’s no way in hell I’m letting you do that!”
“Bark! We’ve been compromised!” Cream shot back hotly. “If Corneo knows about us, then who else does?! What if Kintobor knows?! We could all be in danger here! I have to do this! I’m the only one who can do this!”
Bark gritted his teeth, let out an aggravated howl and slammed his fist into the wall that Cream leaned on. “…Fine,” he fumed darkly, his eyes screwed shut. “…Before I saw what you did to that guy back there, I’d said no, dragged your cotton-tailed butt back to the bar and that would be the end of that…” He turned to look at the fighter with stern, disapproving eyes. “…But now… I ain’t interested in having my only good arm ripped off in the process.”
Cream flinched and her lips pressed into a grimace. “I’m sorry,” she said meekly.
“…And ‘sides,” Bark continued, ignoring her apology. His voice grew morose as his gaze turned to the dirt path beneath their feet. “You getting the scoop from Corneo might be a better plan than any that I could come up with…”
Cream pushed off of the wall and once again placed a hand on the bear’s shoulder. Her eyes softened. “Bark, you’re a great leader,” she said calmly. “Great leaders make mistakes, that’s true. But they also care about their team and their input on things. Don’t ever forget that.”
Bark scoffed, the corners of his lips turning upward at Cream’s words. “…Well, c’mon then,” he said, straightening up. “We gotta head back to base to share the bad and worse news to the team. Then… I guess we’ll go from there.”
Cream nodded silently as the bear put a comforting arm around her shoulders and the two walked back to Vanilla’s Haven.
An hour after his assaulter and her partner left, Fleet finally found the strength to move his body. Biting his tongue to prevent himself from crying out in pain, he pushed himself up and against the side of the building and rested his back against the wall.
“Fuckin’ rabbit,” he muttered to himself, hissing as he re-positioned and snapped his dislocated shoulder back into its socket. Reclining back onto the wall, he suddenly chuckled to himself. ‘Well… they’re fucked now,’ he thought to himself smugly. ‘I know exactly who they are… That bastard with the gun for an arm must be the guy that Kintobor was lookin’ for-’
The sudden sounds of footsteps down the alleyway caught his attention and cut him off mid-rant. Fleet shrank against the wall and started to quake. He was convinced that the crazy rabbit and the gun-armed bear had returned to finish him off.
Two individuals soon entered within the range of his vision. The first was an armadillo with black fur, a polished, maroon-coloured armour shell, tanned, toned limbs and funnel-like ears. He wore white leather gloves on his hands and dark red shoes with white soles and overlay lines crossing the tops. He wore a serious, granite-like expression on his face.
His partner on his left was a large crocodile who was covered in scales of viridian and had short, copper-red spikes going down his back. He wore gloves with black and gold metal bands protecting his wrists, along with black boots with golden lining on the seams. Around his neck was a thick, gaudy gold chain that clinked with every step. Unlike his partner, he wore a content grin on his snout and rhythmically snapped the fingers on his right hand as he listened to the music coming out of a pair of yellow and black headphones atop his head.
Both Mobians wore identical navy blue jackets, slacks and white shirts, all neatly pressed and immaculate. The armadillo wore his shirt buttoned up to the collar with a navy blue tie. The crocodile had only the bottom third of his shirt buttoned and left the top of his muscular, yellow underbelly exposed.
The perverted raccoon grinned at the sight of the two Mobians, his pain forgotten for the moment. “H-Hey… you two,” he rasped, coughing to clear his throat. He waited for the crocodile to remove his headphones before speaking further. “If… if you’re at the bar… with loads of cash…what would you spend… it on?”
The two sharply-dressed Mobians looked at each other for a brief moment before turning their eyes back to Fleet. Suddenly, the crocodile slammed his right foot on the raccoon’s broken forearm. Pain shot through his arm and he howled in agony. “I’m not saying that Goddess-damned passphrase again, Fleet!” the crocodile growled, addressing him by name as he ground his foot against the shattered bones. His voice was coarse, as though two stones were grinding against one another.
“Easy Vector, lay off of his arm,” the armadillo beside him said, his voice deep, smooth and calming. “Too much pressure and he’ll probably pass out from the stress and pain.”
“Whatever Mighty…” Vector muttered, releasing his foot from Fleet’s arm. He grabbed his collar and brought him up to his long, toothy snout and hardened amber eyes. “So, what happened to you? Didja get beat up by a girl again?”
‘Asshole…’ Fleet looked away from Vector’s eyes. “…Not just any girl,” he retorted, his voice wheezy. “But she was travellin’… with the guy you’ve been lookin’ for. The one with the gun on his arm…”
Mighty moved to the opposite wall, folded his arms and frowned. “Huh, it seems that two of the three have survived,” he commented. “But them being here doesn’t prove that their base is here. They could’ve been just passing through the Sector?”
Fleet shook his head tiredly and faced the crocodile with a scowl. “…That girl, she owns a bar here,” he continued. “It’s a front though; there’s some… secret elevator shit goin’ on there…” Flint suddenly coughed loudly, his throat scratchy and raw from his windpipe being crushed. “Tried… getting close… got booted out by some… lady and a kid…”
The reptile sniggered. “First a girl and now a kid? Sheesh, it’s just not your lucky day, man,” he chortled before turning to his partner behind him. “Ain’t that right, Mighty?”
The armadillo looked back with an expression of complete disinterest.
Vector rolled his eyes and then rounded on Fleet. “Alright then, so what did you tell ‘em?” he asked. “The bear and the rabbit? It looks like they did a number on you, but left you alive, so I’m guessing that you spilled something?”
“N-n-n-nothing! I said… nothing at all!” he stuttered out, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down. ‘Now, could you get off my case and get me to a fuckin’ hospital, please?!’
Vector’s eyes bore down at the raccoon for several moments before releasing him from his grasp. Fleet dropped painfully onto the ground and he scrambled piteously back to the wall in terror. The crocodile folded his arms and put his right hand under his chin, stroking it in thought. “You’re lying,” he deduced, to the raccoon’s surprise.
“N-no way! I’m-I’m not lying! Really!” Fleet said, visibly shaking. ‘How? How does he know?!’
Vector smirked. “Wanna know how I know?” he asked, as though he was reading his mind. “Well, it’s not the trembling,” he began to pace back and forth in front of the raccoon, his hands behind his back. “Nor is it your dilated pupils either. Both of those are caused by a combination of fear and pain.” He then stopped in front of the raccoon and stared down at him. “Nah, I can tell that you’re lying by the way a vein on your throat twitches, which is what it’s doing right now.”
Fleet touched his throat and felt the very vein the reptile was talking about move under his fingertips. He hung his head, knowing that he was caught. “Alright… I-I only told ‘em… that the Don was… involved,” he said dejectedly. “I-I never mentioned… you guys or-or Kodos or whoever, I-I swear!”
“Well… Alright then, that seems legit,” Vector said flippantly, another toothy smile on his face. “And because you answered so honestly, you’ll be getting a nice little reward; Mighty, tell ‘em what he’s won?!”
“Of course,” the armadillo said, pushing himself off the wall. “Fleet, we’re gonna get your arm, leg and throat fixed up, no problem.”
Fleet felt himself being picked up. The armadillo then allowed him to use his body as a crutch. The raccoon smiled, tears welling up in his eyes. ”Th-Thank you,” he said, sniffling loudly.
As they started walking, Fleet noticed that they were heading deeper into the alleyway, instead of towards the main street. Fleet craned his head back towards Vector, who held his phone to his ear. He wore a darkened expression on his snout.
“Oh, there’s one little catch,” the crocodile said to Fleet, who was now struggling against the armadillo’s iron grip. “See, you shouldn’t have lied to us in the first place. Though you told the truth in the end, I don’t know whether to take you for your word or not. Instead of going to a hospital to treat your wounds, well… let’s just say that Sector 2 requires new Robians, you know what I mean?”
Mighty kept a firm grip on the struggling Mobian as he dragged him towards the other end of the alleyway. Two Human MP’s were waiting. “Take him,” the armadillo said, shoving Fleet roughly into the arms of the to his left.
The raccoon writhed in the soldier’s hands, his fear and panic overriding the pain in his arm and leg. “Wait, stop! Please?!” He begged as the armadillo walked back into the alley. “Please, y-you can’t d-do this to me?! Plea-”
He was struck and stunned by a blow to the back of his head. The last thing he saw as a living Mobian was Mighty turning to face him. The armadillo stared at him forlornly. “May the Goddess have mercy on your soul, Fleet,” he heard him whisper before turning back around.
A second, harder strike caused Fleet to black out.
Vector stowed his phone away and pulled out a cigar as he watched the raccoon’s body being dragged away. Placing it into his mouth, he tapped an Emerald on one of his wrist guards, extracted a sliver of energy and snapped his fingers. A small flame appeared on his index finger. Moving it towards the cigar, the crocodile lit it and took a long draw. Extinguishing the magic, he held the smoke in for a few heartbeats before releasing it through his nose, the grey plumes rising into the Plate-covered sky.
He glared at his partner, who approached him. “Mighty, what have I told you?” He asked as the armadillo returned, his head bowed. “You can’t keep looking so guilty every time we hand another low-life to the Roboticizer patrols. It’s gonna make us look bad.”
“Save your breath,” Mighty grumbled. He returned to his spot on the wall and crossed his arms, scowling. “You know how I feel about us throwing members of our own race under the bus and forcing them to become robotic slaves for the Humans.” He exhaled deeply through his pointed, black nose. “Why do we keep doing this, Vector?”
“You know the answer to that question,” Vector snapped, taking another drag from the cigar. “So stop asking it. Unless you wanna trade places with Fleet over there?”
Mighty turned sharply away from the crocodile, who continued to smoke for several minutes. The armadillo spoke once more just as he was halfway done with his cigar. “If what Fleet said – or didn’t say – is true… then the groups top two may be onto our operation here. We know that they survived the reactor explosion and that their base is here in Sector 7… Shouldn’t we take ‘em down now?”
Vector shook his head as he finished his cigar and flicked the nib away. “Nah, we maintain orders,” he said, once again pulling out his phone. Activating it, he selected a number and hit the call button. The line connected after the third tone.
“Hey Knuckles? It’s Vector. TORNADO’s hideout is here in the Sector 7 Slums.”
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