Chapter 21: A Night at Cosmo’s
Cosmo realized something far too late about her mysterious bodyguard known as Tails: He was way too fast for her to keep up with.
Despite having survived a hundred-meter fall from atop the Plate, severely lacerating his left tail and overall looking very exhausted, the fox flew through the junk mountain, hopping and skipping around the debris with precise coordination.
‘He reminds me of Spikes,’ Cosmo thought idly as she slowly climbed up a mound of discarded tele-crate sets. She puffed hard at the exertion. ‘Despite being hurt from missions or through training, he never sits down to rest; he’s always going fast…’ She looked ahead for Tails and groaned as he pulled further ahead. ‘Oh come on!’
“Wait… I said wait for me!” Cosmo called out as she quickly, but carefully climbed down the mound and hurried to the now still fox. After carefully skirting past a pile of scrap, she jumped onto the metal platform he stood on. She bent over, placing her hands on her knees and panted heavily. “Slow… Down…” she struggled to say as she caught her breath. “Don’t… Leave me… Behind…”
She heard him scoff. Angling her head upwards, she saw Tails wearing a smug, cocky smile, his arms folded. “Funny,” he said to her, his glowing eyes twinkling with amusement. “I thought you said you were cut out to be in SOLDIER?”
Cosmo slowly straightened up and glared at him, her hands firmly planted on her hips. “Oh! You’re terrible!” she said indignantly. Her glare softened as she broke out in a fit of giggles after a pause, with Tails chuckling alongside her.
As the laughter subsided, Cosmo suddenly blurted out a question to the fox. “Hey, Tails? Were you… ever in SOLDIER?” ‘Way to be subtle,’ she mentally chided herself.
Tails ceased his laughter. He tilted his head and looked at her curiously. Cosmo fought the urge to squirm under his arresting gaze. “…I used to be,” he said after a moment passed. “How’d you guess?”
‘Oh, well it’s because you have my ex-boyfriend’s – actually no, I can’t say that…’ “…It’s your eyes,” she said, leaning forward with her hands behind her back and looking at Tails with mild curiosity. “They have… a strange glow to them.”
“It’s an aftereffect of the Energen infusion process,” Tails said. “A mark of SOLDIER,” he paused and cocked an eyebrow at her. “…You’re pretty observant. How did you know about that, anyway?”
‘Crap!’ “Umm… It’s just a wild guess, really?” she said, trying her best not to look suspicious.
“Yeah, really! Now come on, let’s get going, Bodyguard!” she said, racing ahead of him. ‘Yeah, he’s totally suspicious now,’ her inner critic railed on her as she climbed down the junk pile back towards the main road. ‘Great going Cosmo.’
The two soon reached the bottom, both jumping off of a fallen pillar. Cosmo bent over and caught her breath while Tails leaned against the pillar waiting for her.
“Whew… Finally, we made it down,” she said, straightening up. She looked around for a moment before pointing in the direction away from the church. “The coast looks clear, so we can head back to the residential district; that’s where my house is. Let’s get going before those people find us.” She started in the direction she pointed towards with Tails following closely behind.
As they walked, Cosmo continued. “So… My mother used to work as a nurse. I bet she’ll be able to take a look at your tail and see if there’s any lasting damage.”
“…Sounds good,” was his response, his eyes darting around and looking for any sign of the Chaotix, Mutates or Robians on the path.
From behind him, Cosmo frowned. ‘So, there’s a difference between the two at last,’ she thought as she watched his movements. ‘Despite the earlier jokes, Tails is a bit more serious… and a bit cold too…’ She tapped a finger on her chin thoughtfully. ‘I wonder why?’
The pair made a right at a fork in the road and arrived at the gates leading into the residential district. The district was smaller than Sector 7’s, with several single-story structures made from scrap lining the perimeter. The buildings looked like they could be knocked over at the slightest push. It was a depressing sight.
The Sector 5 train station leading up to the Plate was at the far end of the district. To Cosmo’s surprise, it was fenced off and closed to the public. A crowd was gathered at the fence to protest the closure, hurling invectives at the stony-faced guards behind the enclosure. The guard’s rifle was resting in a neutral position across his chest, but his fingers were dancing with the trigger as he watched the crowd pushed against the fencing, as though he was daring them to make a move. Cosmo averted her eyes from the sight.
“Probably due to the attack on the upper plate,” Tails said to her, glaring at the station entrance. He spoke so suddenly that Cosmo was startled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was happening all over the Slums.”
Cosmo nodded, collecting herself. “Yeah, I suppose,” she replied. She tugged at his arm in the direction away from the station. “C’mon Tails, let’s go.”
As they walked up the street and passed by a large pipe that someone was using as dwelling space, the two were accosted by a gazelle wearing a plain grey dress, soiled lightly from the dead and dusty ground. “Oh Cosmo, thank the Goddess I caught up wit’ ya,” she said breathlessly to the flower girl, speaking with a heavy accent. “You know that man in the large pipe o’er yonder? Remember how he was quiet? Well, he be startin’ to say some really odd things now, y’know? Might wanna go check in wit’ yer ma and see if’n she could do summin about it?”
Cosmo smiled at the gazelle. “Of course, Bettie, I’ll go talk to mom,” she said, her hands clasped in front of her. “Goddess knows though if she can help with the situation?”
“Well hun, it can’t hurt to try,” Bettie the gazelle responded. Her eyes caught the sight of Tails beside her, a crooked grin splitting her lips. “Oh and who’s this strappin’, young fella?” she asked Cosmo, her eyes looking up and down the warrior with interest. They stopped on the sword on his back “That’s a mighty big sword ya got there, stranger. Kinda looks fami-”
“Oh, Tails? He’s just a friend,” Cosmo interrupted quickly, looking away slightly. “He helped me out while I was walking home from the church, but uh… he got injured in the process, so I’m taking him to mom.” She shrugged. “Kind of like a reward for protecting me, I suppose?”
“Ah, well that’s nice of ya Cosmo!” Bettie said, smiling. “Well, with that, I’ve gotta go; have ta fix up a meal for ma husband. That is if he ever gets home…” she trailed off, looking at the closed train platform. Crestfallen, the gazelle walked off and left the two Mobians to themselves.
Cosmo glanced towards the aforementioned pipe and then back to Tails. ‘Maybe…’ “So, Tails, um… this guy here? He’s not well,” she said, pointing to the pipe’s entrance. She clasped her hands behind her back and gently swayed on the spot. “I know I said my mom would take a look at him later, but… I was wondering if you could look at him as well? It wouldn’t hurt to have a second opinion?”
She saw Tails take a moment to make a decision. His eyes were narrowed and his hand was stroking his chin in thought. ‘Another difference between the two,’ Cosmo mused. ‘He takes the time to think things through, rather than act first…’
Tails soon nodded, making up his mind. “OK, let’s take a look, but I can’t promise you anything,” he said to her.
They entered the makeshift dwelling. The sparse, cramped space had nothing more than a pallet bed, a light and a bare shelf. The subject in question was sitting on the bed – a ferret with a glazed, faraway look in his eyes. He was rocking back and forth on the edge and moaning softly. He wore a ratty and tattered shirt, dirty overalls and a pair of shoes that were falling apart. His dark brown fur was matted and greasy-looking, like he hadn’t washed for some time.
The two grimaced as their noses filled with the scent of filth emanating from the Mobian. “That’s him,” Cosmo said to the fox. “Won’t you help him?”
She watched as Tails walked up to the ferret and looked him over for a few minutes. He turned back to the flower girl and shook his head.
“Listen, I’m not a doctor,” he said softly to her, his nose wrinkled. “There’s obviously something’s wrong with him, but I can’t figure out what. This guy needs an actual medical professional.”
“Hm, I guess you’re right,” Cosmo replied, her shoulders slumping. “Maybe my mother would know better?” She peered over Tails’ shoulder towards the ferret. Her eyes landed on a discoloured patch of white fur on his wrist. “Hey Tails, what’s that on his wrist?” she asked him, pointing at the hand in question. “It looks like a tattoo of the number 2? How strange…”
The fox twisted and followed her eyes towards the paw in question. Cosmo watched him frown before he turned abruptly and made his way out. “…Doesn’t matter. Let’s get going,” he said to her.
Cosmo watched him go, surprised at his sudden and abrupt departure. She looked back sympathetically at the ferret before following the warrior out. As she left the pipe, she felt a chill go up her spine. It felt as though the sick ferret was watching her as she left.
‘It’s just my imagination,’ she reasoned to herself. However, she found that she couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was off about that Mobian as she and Tails walked through the district towards her home.
They passed an armament shop, went through a secluded alleyway and finally emerged in a large, open clearing. Unlike the rest of the slum, the dell featured a well-built two-story house with red shingling. Beyond the house were shrubs and mounds of dirt covered with various flowers atop a set of plateaus. Each of the plateaus was accessible either by wooden ladders or makeshift bridges. A small river flowed beneath some of the bridges. Faint rays of sunlight peeked through the unconstructed portions of the Sector 5 plate and illuminated the area.
Tails piqued an eyebrow upon entering. “Interesting,” he said to Cosmo, his lips quirking upward. “An area untouched by the industrialization of Kintobor. It’s like walking into an alien world.”
She smiled back at him. “I know, it’s beautiful, right?”
The fox didn’t answer back. He suddenly turned his head to his right as his keen eyes spotted something in the distance. He moved past Cosmo, climbed a ladder and headed towards a bush on one of the plateaus. He crouched down and plucked the purple, glowing jewel that was hidden beneath the leaves of the plant. Returning to the flower girl, he presented it to her. “See? Told ya you can find them anywhere,” he said, smirking. “Looks like this is a Cover Emerald.”
Cosmo closed her mouth – which fell open after Tails produced the Emerald – and shook her head mirthfully. ‘Showoff,’ “Alright, c’mon you,” she said to him, opening the door.
“Mom! I’m home!” Cosmo called out as she entered.
From her right, her mother walked out of the kitchen. She gave her daughter a relieved smile as she entered. Upon seeing Tails enter behind her, however, her eyes widened and her smile turned into a tight line, her fur raising on end. “And… who is this?” she asked.
‘Oh, crap… I should’ve put a little more thought into this.’ “Ah, mom i-it’s OK,” Cosmo stammered as she attempted to placate her mother. “This is Tails, my bodyguard.”
Cosmo’s mother frowned. “Bodyguard… You mean you were followed again?!” She rushed forward to look her over, all while shooting a critical glance at the fox behind her. “Are you alright?! You’re not hurt are you?!” she asked.
Cosmo gently took her worried mother’s hands and cradled them into her own. She brushed her knuckles with her thumbs in a soothing manner. “I’m alright mom, I had Tails with me,” she reassured, smiling. “He kept me safe, but got hurt, so I brought him here for you to help him out? You are the best nurse around, after all?” ‘C’mon mom, you know I’m buttering you up but please don’t kick him out!!’
Her mother’s eyes went back at the fox, then to her daughter and finally at the fox once again. Her mouth twitched into a terse smile. “Thank you… Tails,” she said tightly. She gently stroked her daughter’s cheek before returning to the kitchen. “Dinner will be ready in a bit, sweetie,” she called. “I trust our… guest will join us tonight?”
“Uh, yeah mom, I’ll set a place for him,” Cosmo answered. Inwardly, she felt self-satisfied with her actions. ‘Heh heh, still got it.’ She started to set the table for dinner.
“How far is Sector 7 from here?” Tails asked bluntly.
Cosmo turned to see the fox rest his sword near the threshold. She fought to restrain a sigh. ‘I suppose subtly is also not his strong point. Well, everyone has a character flaw, I suppose.’ “Sector 7 is just past Sector 6,” she answered as she pulled dishware from the nearby armoire. “Getting to Sector 6 is easy; the checkpoint’s been abandoned since last year, so it’s easy to slip through. Getting into Sector 7 though might be tricky.” She placed the last plate on the table and began to arrange the cutlery. She faced Tails. “Do you have an ID card, by any chance?”
He shook his head slowly.
Cosmo suppressed a sigh. “OK, well I know someone in the Wall Market who’s really good with fake IDs,” she said. “We’ll pop by there first, grab it and get you to the slum. Easy peasy.”
Hearing no response from the fox, Cosmo continued setting the table in silence. Moments later, she faced him once again with another question in her eyes. “Why there, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I need to head to Vanilla’s Haven. Cream’s bar,” he said.
‘Hmmm… time to dig.’ “I see. Is this ‘Cream’ a girl?”
“A… Girlfriend?” She had to bite her tongue from laughing as she watched his eyebrows rise sharply.
“N-no way!” Tails said, shaking his head.
Cosmo sniggered once before bursting into peals of laughter. “Hee, hee, you don’t have to get THAT upset,” she said after calming down.
The fox gave her a flat stare. Cosmo tried to fight her urge to flinch at the sight of his glowing eyes but failed to do so. Memories began to surface and she fought to tamp them down. ‘Don’t girl. Just… don’t think about him right now…’ “Well… that’s nice,” she said awkwardly. “Um, so, we can go after we eat then, OK?”
Tails looked taken aback at the suggestion. “What?! Why would you want to put yourself in danger again?” he asked.
The flower girl shrugged impassively. “It’s no big deal. I’m used to it,” she said.
“Used to it?!” he exclaimed. Shaking off his shock, he turned away and crossed his arms in thought. “…Well, dunno,” he mumbled out loud. “Getting help from a girl, I mean bu-”
“A girl! What do you mean by that!” Cosmo interrupted, glaring darkly at him. Tails whirled around, a grimace crossing his face. “You expect me to just sit here and listen to you say something like that?”
She huffed and turned towards the kitchen before Tails could utter a word. “Mom! Hold off on dinner, I’m taking Tails to Sector 7,” she said hotly. ‘He has some nerve… “Getting help from a girl.” I should’ve left him on the floor at the chur-’
Her mother walked back out with her hands akimbo in frustration. The action broke through her thoughts. “Cosmo, dear, I give up,” she said, throwing her a pleading look. “You never listen once you make up your mind. But if you must go, you should go tomorrow – it’s already dark out.” She pointed to the window.
Cosmo followed her finger to see that the rays peeking through the Plate above were dimming. Night had fallen. She huffed and pouted. “Yeah, I guess you’re right Mom,” she conceded.
The woodchuck smiled. “I’m glad you see it my way,” she said before rounding on Tails. “As for you, I suppose you have something you want to say, young man?” she admonished gently.
The fox hung his head, his eyes averting both women. “I-I’m sorry, Cosmo,” he mumbled, shamefaced. “I shouldn’t have insulted you like that.”
“Good,” her mother replied, a satisfied smile crossing her lips. She suddenly gasped. “Oh, where are my manners!” she cried out. “I haven’t introduced myself! My name is Rosemary, but please, call me Rose.” She bowed politely. “Please, have a seat. Dinner will be ready soon. And Cosmo?” Rose addressed her daughter. “Once we finish eating, could you please make a bed in the spare room for our guest?” As she turned towards the kitchen, Rose looked back to the fox and his bandaged tails. “As for you, I’ll look at those injuries for you after our meal.”
Tails nodded. “Thank you.”
“Great, apology accepted,” Cosmo said happily. She turned to Tails with a playful smile etched on her face. “We’ll go to Sector 7 tomorrow. For now, let’s eat.”
Tails fought the urge to fidget as Rose inspected the wounds on his namesakes. Cosmo had headed upstairs to prepare the spare room, leaving the two of them alone at the dining room table.
Rose, wearing surgical gloves, undressed the bandaged tail and tsked at the still-healing gash. “Hm, as I thought,” she muttered, speaking in a tone loud enough for only the fox to hear. “The eyes were pretty much a giveaway, but the way the skin is healing on your tail here is proof positive; you’re from SOLDIER, aren’t you?” She pulled out a set of tweezers from the medical kit on the table and started fishing out the bits of shrapnel that Cosmo missed.
Tails nodded. “Yeah, well rather I used to be,” he answered, hissing in pain as he felt the pieces being pulled out.
“I’ve tended to the injuries for a lot of you at the city barracks, right before the war started,” Rose said, continuing to work methodically. “The funny thing is, I’ve never heard of a SOLDIER with two tails before? Mind you, I left the military service when the war against Chun-nan began, so you may have been a recruit at the time.” She examined the tails, her eyes scouring the flesh beneath the fur for more shards to extract. “Were these tails a result of an Energen-induced mutation, or possibly a physical graft? The Science department at Kintobor was notorious for their -”
“Neither; I was born with them,” he cut her off flatly.
Rose stopped her ministrations and looked apologetically to the fox. “I’m sorry, that was rude of me to assume,” she said, her face flushed.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Tails replied sourly. “Definitely won’t be the last.”
To the fox’s eternal gratitude, Rose then stopped asking questions and continued to work. The room had gone silent, save for the occasional sounds of bloody shrapnel bits being deposited into a tray. Fifteen minutes later, she set down the tweezers, cleaned the wounds with antiseptic fluid and then wrapped it up with fresh bandages. “There, all finished,” she said, removing her surgical gloves. “With your SOLDIER makeup, it should take no less than a few days to fully heal. The fur however will take a bit longer to grow back.”
“Alright,” Tails said. He stood up and headed towards the stairs. Before he could reach the landing, the woodchuck called out to him.
“Wait,” she walked up to him, a pained expression on her face. “…I don’t know how to say this, but…” she paused before letting out an uncomfortable sigh. “Could you… Could you please leave tonight? Without telling Cosmo?”
Tails craned his head towards Rose. “…That shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, nodding.
Rose let out a deep sigh. “Thank you,” she said, relieved. She returned to the kitchen, but Tails’ heightened hearing picked up her mumbling as she retreated. “SOLDIER… The last thing Cosmo needs is to have her feelings hurt again.”
Tails frowned, perturbed. ‘Again? What’s that supposed to mean?’ Shaking his head, he headed upstairs.
Cosmo came out of the spare room as Tails arrived on the second floor. She had changed into a pair of loose, cotton pyjamas and her hair was tied into an equally loose ponytail. She smiled warmly at him. “Oh good, I just finished getting your room ready,” she said brightly. “You’ll have to pass through Sector 6 to get to Sector 7. It’s a bit dangerous though, so make sure you get plenty of rest.”
The fox nodded wordlessly and slipped past the flower girl. Before he could enter the room, she called after him. “Tails… Good night.” She then entered her room and closed the door before he could respond.
Blinking, Tails crossed the threshold into the spare room Cosmo prepared. He sat on the bed, his weight sinking into the soft mattress. He ran his hands through the fur on his head as exhaustion crept in.“Oh man,” he muttered tiredly. “What a day.”
Thoughts flitting between concern for Bark and Cream, to the words President Kintobor told him at the reactor and to the mysterious flower girl, he flopped back onto the bed, his arms splayed out. He listened carefully to the next room over, waiting for the sounds of Cosmo sleeping so he could sneak out.
However, the weariness of the day’s events – coupled with the comfortable bed – soon forced the fox to fall asleep.