Chapter 25: Outfoxing A Dilettante
“I wonder what the time is?” Cream murmured to herself as she sat in a waiting room within Corneo’s mansion. The walls were garishly decorated with red and gold. She glanced over at the decorative scrolls depicting various sexual acts that adorned the walls. The images made the rabbit’s skin crawl and she looked away in disgust.
‘Ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing this… I should have listened to Bark and left this alone. But what would we risk if I didn’t?’ Cream buried her hands in her head and agonized at the thought of what lay ahead. She checked for what seemed like the hundredth time that her gloves were secured in a pocket sewn on the inside of the skirt and that her belongings were still next to her – provided at her request. Satisfied, she resumed staring at the door, a finger absently tracing the scar behind her long ears. ‘I just hope Tails and that girl Cosmo will be here soon…’ she thought idly.
The mere thought of the stranger who helped Tails gave her pause. ‘I wonder who she is? Something about her… makes me want to trust her completely. Maybe that’s the reason why Tails is with her? Because he trusts her? But then, how exactly did she get involved in the first place?’
She didn’t have long to theorize about Cosmo’s intentions when the door opened. Slithering inside was an orange and black snake wearing a wrap that looked like a suit, the light in the room reflecting the iridescent scales on his flat, triangular head. “Ahhh… Miss Cream,” he said, stressing his esses. “Your two friends have arrived.”
He moved out of the way, allowing two women to pass through. The first was Cosmo, who wore a stunning, deep red dress that matched her hair blossoms, her viridian hair flowing behind her in waves. The other was an orange-yellow fox wearing a plum violet gown that covered everything from the neck down. Her blonde hair was tightly braided up in two pigtails. She had sharp, ice blue eyes that appeared to glow.
‘Glow? Wait, but… OH!’ Cream’s lips parted into an ‘O’ and her eyes widened with understanding.
“Please wait here,” the snake said in his smooth, deep voice, not noticing the rabbit’s shocked expression. “The Don will see you soon.”
Soon after he shut the door and was out of earshot, the fighter whirled around to the vixen in the room. “Oh my Goddess… Tails, is that really you?!” she exclaimed.
The vixen let out a deep, long sigh and then nodded. “Yeah. Looks like the scheme worked,” Tails said with some asperity.
“So, we’re here now,” Cosmo said to Cream, conveniently ignoring the pointed glare emanating from the fox. “What’s the plan?”
Cream heard the question, but couldn’t focus on anything else but the fact that Tails was wearing a dress. Despite the severity of their current situation, the rabbit couldn’t help but find the entire thing hilarious. “Right,” Cream started, biting her tongue to stop herself from laughing. “Right, OK so, one of us will need to… to…” she couldn’t hold it in anymore and suddenly lost it, bursting into peals of laughter.
Tails’ ears folded downward. “Cream…” he muttered, his face twisted into a mortified scowl. Beside him, Cosmo was grinning widely.
“Goodness…” the fighter gasped, trying to catch her breath. “OK… Before we continue, I have to ask: How did you do the…” she pointed to her chest first and then to Tails’.
“… One of my tails is in a pocket crossing the chest…”
“That is genius!” Cream exclaimed, tears threatening to stream from her eyes. She grinned at Cosmo, who hugged her sides and guffawed loudly.
“Right, OK, I get it, I nailed it. Can we please focus here?!” the fox hissed, grinding his teeth. He looked as though he wished the floor would swallow him then and there.
“Alright, alright, I had my fun,” Cream said, taking a few breaths to compose herself. She threw a look of sympathy at her friend. “I’m sorry for laughing, Tails.” Calming down, her face hardened and she addressed the two in a more serious tone while making sure to keep her voice low to avoid being overheard. “So, one of us will need to grill Corneo and coax the information out of him. I’m sure that he’ll spill his secrets pretty easily if a woman’s involved.”
Cosmo and Tails both nodded in agreement.
“I’m guessing the two that don’t get selected will be given to others,” Cream continued, her brows knitted in thought. “Do you both have ways of defending yourselves?”
Cosmo smirked and hiked up her dress. Strapped to her upper left thigh with her belt was her retractable staff. “I’m covered,” she replied, before pulling the hem down.
Tails, who looked away from the flower girl’s exposed leg, shrugged. “My fist’ll do,” he said nonchalantly. “I’m not as skilled a fighter in hand-to-hand combat as you are Cream, but I can still hold my own.”
Suddenly, the door behind them opened. The group straightened up as the snake had returned to collect them. “Follow me please,” he said, slithering away.
“I don’t need to ask,” Tails started, his ears laying flat once more. “But… there’s no backing out of this now, huh?”
Cream smiled at Cosmo. “You’re right,” she said. “There’s no need…”
“… To ask.” Cosmo finished, smiling back at the rabbit.
“Hurry up please!” The snake called impatiently. “The Don does not like to wait!”
“…At least he’s polite,” Tails muttered sarcastically. “Let’s go.”
They left the room and found themselves in the main foyer of the mansion. It, too, was decorated in the same ostentatious manner as the waiting room, with deep crimson and gold adorning every surface. The space was opened to the high ceiling and was partially obscured by the second-floor balcony. At the entrance was an attendant’s desk. To their left was a staircase leading up to the second floor, which they followed the snake up to.
On the second floor were three rooms. The first closest to the stairs looked to be a lounge, but they were steered away from it. The door furthest from the stairs was open, with rough, hewn stone steps descending into a dark, dank-looking space.
Cream felt a chill go down her spine. ‘I hope I don’t find out what’s down there,‘ she thought. ‘That place gives off an eerie vibe…‘
They soon stopped at the third door in the middle; a large, ornate set of scarlet red double doors bedecked in gold accents and trim, which lead to the Don’s personal office. The serpent unlocked the doors, pushed them open and led Cream and the others inside.
The office was spacious and lavishly decorated with various exotic plants and statues. On the floor was a plush, wine-red rug that trailed up to Corneo’s desk; a large, carved oak table with a high-backed chair, its occupant facing away from the door. On either side of the entrance were two large torches on stands, their flames flickering brightly. At the very end of the office was a privacy screen leading to another room in the back.
Standing to the left of the desk was a warthog with a blonde mohawk who wore dark sunglasses, despite the dim lighting within the room. He wore a sleeveless red denim vest with a black tank top, blood-red jeans and white shoes. His tusks were polished to a mirror shine.
On the right was a tall and muscular gorilla with charcoal-grey fur. He wore a forest green bodysuit and combat boots. The ape flared his nostrils as the two ladies and Tails entered the room. “Alright ladies,” he grunted, sweeping his hand horizontally with a flourish. “Line up in front of the Don!”
The three Mobians did as they were asked as the chair swivelled around to reveal Don Corneo. Cream forced herself not to flinch at the sight of the Mobian. He was a wide-bodied toad with olive-green skin, very little neck and a shock of bleach-blonde hair on top of his balding head. He wore a white shirt with the collar and three buttons undone to expose his chest, blue pants that stretched at the waistline and a red coat with white fur trim around the wrists and neck. He chomped on a cigar as his yellow eyes roved over the three ladies in front of him.
“Oh-hoh-hoh!” He guffawed heartily, a lecherous grin growing on his lips as he hopped over the desk in an ungracious manner. “What a fine selection today! Now, who should I choose?”
He walked over to Cream, his eyes trailing over every inch of the rabbit’s body. She suppressed the urge to retch and instead recalled her master’s words. ‘Focus the mind and sharpen the spirit,‘ she mentally recited over and over again as Corneo stood in front of her.
“Should I pick this lovely beauty here?” Corneo asked loudly. He turned and walked to the other side of the room, standing in front of and scrutinizing Cosmo next. “Or this ravishing one? Hmm…”
The toad took a drag on his cigar and blew out puffs of smoke as he then focused his attention on Tails. The fox kept moving his head away from Corneo every time the toad tried to get a good look at him and avoided any form of eye contact.
After a few minutes, the toad hopped up and down excitedly. “I’ve made my decision!” he announced dramatically. ” And I choose…” he spread his arms wide, as though he was presenting something to Tails. “This mysterious vixen here!”
Cream’s jaw dropped involuntarily. ‘Oh. My. Goddess…’ her mind raced incredulously. ‘… If we get through this alive, I will never let him live this down.’
“W-wait a sec – I mean, please wait a moment!” Tails stammered in shock, struggling to adopt a more feminine voice.
Corneo was chortling to himself so much that he didn’t seem to notice the slip in his voice. “Oooh-hoo-hoo!” he tittered happily. “I love when they play hard to get!” He then turned and waved a hand lazily to his two lackeys. “Scotch, Kotch, you can have the others,” he said.
“Yes sir! Thank you, sir!” The pair replied in unison.
Corneo leered at the fox, who continued to stare at the floor. “Now then, shall we go my pretty?” he said, a simpering smile crossing his fat lips.
Tails glanced quickly at both Cosmo and Cream and nodded subtly. He then stepped forward and followed Corneo to the privacy screen leading to the back room.
Scotch – the gorilla – motioned to Cream. “You, you’re coming with me,” he ordered, beckoning her forward with a finger.
As she was led out of the office towards the door on her left, Cream saw Cosmo being guided towards the dark stairwell on the right by the warthog. ‘I hope she’ll be OK…‘ she thought as the gorilla opened the door and led her inside.
Cream quickly surveyed her surroundings. She was in a lounge that wasn’t as lavishly decorated as the rest of the mansion. The walls were a dirty, concrete grey and the hardwood floors were rough and dark. On the side away from the door was a Tele-Crate showing nothing but static on the screen. Cushions were strewn haphazardly around the space and there were drinks and drugs aplenty on the large round table to her right at the far end of the room. Surrounding the table were five Mobians – a turtle, an ox, a lizard, a hog and a weasel. Each of them wore t-shirts, a pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers. As Cream entered the room, she saw their heads turn towards her and their faces light up in excitement. All of them sported expectant grins.
“Hey fellas!” Scotch called out loudly, a broad grin plastered on his face. “We got ourselves a VERY special guest tonight! Let’s show her a good time, yeah?” His words earned a round of cheers from the Mobians at the table. “This is all thanks to the big boss Corneo, so three cheers for him!”
As the men hooted, the gorilla turned back to Cream, his eyes flicking down to her chest unashamedly. The rabbit felt her skin crawl at the unwanted attention. “Don’t worry, gorgeous, we’ll take good care of you,” he snickered, his face twisted in a leer.
The fighter suppressed a shudder and instead took stock of her opposition. The lizard and the ox had stun guns on holsters wrapped around their waists. The handles of a pair of clubs could be seen sticking out of the pockets of the turtle and the hog’s jeans while the weasel had a bulge in his pocket that she couldn’t identify. ‘That one could be trouble,‘ she thought as the men rose up and started crowding around her.
Without thinking, she reacted to her first instinct – leaving the room. Unfortunately for her, the lizard quickly cut her off at the door. He flashed what he thought was a charismatic smile – to Cream, it looked more of a twisted, toothy grimace. “Woah now beautiful, what’s your hurry?” he said smoothly. “Stick around, we’ll treat you nicely. I promise!”
Cream smiled coyly while hiding her disappointment. ‘I should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy…‘ She kept backing away slowly and tried to formulate a plan as the lizard and the other four Mobians advanced on her. Their arms were outstretched and they reached for any part of her body that they could touch. Fear soon began to override her rational mind.
She circled around to the table to get some space and forced herself to not panic. Her thoughts inadvertently led to Bark and Tails. She knew both wouldn’t hesitate to help her out of this jam, but she shook that out of her mind. She knew that she had to rely on herself to get out of this. ‘I’m strong enough to do this on my own!‘ Her eyes trailed to the table and suddenly, inspiration struck. ‘And I think I have an idea to get out of this.’
She wormed her way back to Scotch, who leered at her again. “Hey, what’s wrong honey?” he said. “Want me to keep you company?”
“N-no,” Cream forced herself to stutter. “I was just wondering… can I… put on a show? Over there?” She pointed demurely to the table on the opposite side of the room.
Scotch’s eyes widened. “Why, yes you may, baby!” he said eagerly. He turned to the other men. “Hey! Clear off the table, she’s gonna put on a show for us!”
The men quickly cleared the table of bottles and drug paraphernalia. They led Cream to the table and helped her up. The lizard turned on a boombox near the Tele-Crate and turned it on. A sensual tune began playing.
‘Alright, time for phase two…‘ Cream started to move her body to the music, keeping in time with the slow beat. The men started wolf-whistling and hooting loudly at the show she was giving them. She slowly turned away from them and then squatted low to the floor, sending them into a frenzy. While she gyrated her hips, she slid one of her hands into the hidden pocket in her skirt, pulled on a glove and tapped the Ice Emerald lodged in the single slot. She drew the energy and quickly shaped it with her Mana, forming an ice ball in her right hand. ‘Get ready for a show, boys,‘ she thought, rising back up from her crouched position.
She looked over her shoulder, gave them all a smouldering look and then spun, calling “ICE!” just as the beat from the boombox dropped.
The Ice spell launched from her hands and hit the lizard dead on, freezing it in place. Cream didn’t wait for the spell to hit; she rushed up to the ox, jumped and slammed both of her elbows down on the top of his skull, knocking him out.
Recovering from their shock, the turtle and hog drew out their clubs. “Hey! What the hell was that for, ya crazy bitch?!” the turtle yelled. He and the hog lunged forward, trying to box in the fighter. Anticipating this, Cream jumped toward the wall, stepped off and aimed a kick at the turtle. The turtle retracted his head into his shell, sending the rabbit flying over his head and into the path of the weasel. He stepped aside, caught her and held her arms behind her back roughly.
Scotch sauntered up to the rabbit, unholstering the stun gun. He grinned. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he hissed. “You would have enjoyed yourself. Now,” he aimed the stun gun at close range. “We’ll just have to help ourselves without you being conscious.”
Cream tensed up, eyeing the trigger. Just as the gorilla squeezed it, the fighter lifted herself up, rotating her shoulders as she did so and shot a foot out. Her heel connected hard with Scotch’s nose, sending him backward. The gun went off and the prongs hit the weasel’s leg, sending a high-voltage charge through his body. The weasel then involuntarily released Cream, who dropped painfully onto the ground.
Wincing, she quickly rose up but stumbled. She looked down to see that one of the heels had broken off. “Oh man, not again!” she muttered. “Jessie’s gonna kill me…”
She had no time to ruminate further as the hog approached her menacingly. Using the foot with the broken shoe, she flicked a cushion on the floor in his direction. The hog caught it in surprise and then received a painful kick to the jaw in turn. Cream then ripped off both shoes and quickly pulled on her second glove as she rounded on the turtle. She settled into a fighting stance.
The turtle hesitated. That moment was all that Cream needed. Focusing her Ki, she slammed a fist into the soft underbelly of his shell. He coughed out blood and sank to his knees. The fighter finished him off with a cross to the face, knocking him out.
Suddenly, Cream was struck from behind at the base of her neck. She fell face first to the floor, her arms splayed out to break her fall. She rolled over to see Scotch stand over her holding a pistol – which represented the bulge that was concealed in the weasel’s pocket. His face was bloody from the kick he suffered.
“Not so tough now, are ya?” He growled, blood streaming from his nose. “Ya stupid bitch!” He cocked and aimed the pistol at her head.
Cream stared him down, her fists clenched as she waited for the shot. But it never came.
Instead, the gorilla dropped the gun, his face screwed up in pain. Standing behind him was Cosmo, who slammed her staff in between his legs. Cream shakily rose up from the ground and then delivered a powerful uppercut to his jaw, sending him flying into the wall. He slumped down to the floor and didn’t move.
Cosmo winked at the fighter. “Just in the nick of time, huh?” she said.
The fighter flexed the fingers on her right hand. She shot Cosmo a grateful smile. “Thanks,” she said. “How’d you get out?”
She gave her a wan look. “Honestly, I got lucky,” she confided. “Those stairs going down? They lead to a sex dungeon or something.” She shuddered. “That guy – Kotch or whatever – he was chasing me around, threatening to punish me when he caught me. Eventually, I got up to the stairs and pushed him.” She huffed a note of exasperation in her voice. “I know I’ve said I was used to danger, but that was a bit too much.”
‘Then why are you here?‘ Cream bit back the question. “Well I’m glad you’re OK,” she said instead. “Now, let’s go and help Tails. I hope he was able to wheedle out something for us.”
They cleared out of the room and into the atrium, which was empty. ‘The rest of Corneo’s goons must be out doing other things…’ Cream thought as she returned to the first floor waiting room and changed back into her fighting attire. She left behind the blue dress, which she was thankful to be rid of. Cosmo soon met with her in the foyer, wearing a long white dress, green jacket and brown leather boots. Her hair was done up in a messy braid and was tied with a pink bow. The two then raced up the stairs to Corneo’s office. With Cosmo in tow, Cream kicked the door down, crossed the office, tore through the privacy screen and entered Corneo’s private chambers.
On the bed was Don Corneo, thrusting his pelvis in the direction of a wide-eyed Tails, who wanted nothing more than to be as far away from this situation as possible. Both men turned their heads toward the intruders and the fox heaved a sigh of relief. “Finally!” he said in his normal voice as he ripped the wig off of his head.
Corneo’s green face turned pale. “Wh-what the hell? A man?!” he shouted, spluttering. “Scotch! Kotch! Anybody! Where are-“
“Shut it!” Cream snapped, her eyes blazing with fury. “We’ll be asking the questions here, so you better get comfortable!” She turned to her friend. “Go get your stuff, we’ll keep an eye on him,” she said.
Tails obliged and within a few minutes, he returned, fully dressed and equipped. Corneo looked fearfully at the three Mobians; between the massive blade on the fox’s back and the ferocity in the rabbit’s eyes, he wasn’t sure which one he should be more worried about.
“Now, why have your goons been tailing me these last few weeks?” Cream hissed as she cracked her knuckles.
The toad shook his head, his hair swaying vigorously. “N-no way, I d-dunno what the hell you’re talking ab-“
“You lie!” Cream shouted, startling the toad. “You know exactly what the heck you’re talking about! Talk! For if you don’t tell us…” she eyed the receding bulge between the amphibian’s legs. “… I’ll rip them off and shove them right down your throat!!”
The remaining colour drained from Corneo’s face. “Alright, I’ll talk, I’ll talk!” he said, his voice in a panicky whine. “I’ll tell you what you want to know, just please don’t do THAT!”
“So talk,” Cream countered coolly. She folded her arms and waited expectantly for his answer.
“… I-I made ‘em follow you around so they can find out where the bear with the Gun-Arm was. B-but that’s all I was ordered to-” he clapped his mouth shut with his hands and emitted a squeak.
The fighter caught those words. She narrowed her eyes at him. “You were ordered to do this?! By whom?!” she interrogated.
“N-no please, I beg you, I’ll be killed if they find out I-“
“Talk! For if you don’t tell us…”
Her eyes slid over to Cosmo, who got the message quickly. “I’ll smash them into powder,” the flower girl said plainly.
There was silence for a moment until the toad started bawling. “…Wahhhh! It was Kodos and the Chaotix!!” he howled as he scrambled to the farthest edge of the bed.
Cream’s jaw dropped at the mention of the name. “Kodos?!” she exclaimed, turning to the others. “He’s the head of the Department of Public Safety at Kintobor!” The fighter whirled back to Corneo, her teeth clenched in barely suppressed anger. “Why is Kintobor involved!? Talk! For if you don’t tell us…”
Her eyes slid to Tails, who drew his sword and pointed it first at the crime lord’s face and then to his crotch, the blade’s tip a millimetre from his nether regions. “I’ll chop them off,” he said in an equally sharp tone.
Corneo whimpered, sweat pouring down his slimy skin. “Y-you really are serious, aren’t you huh?” he croaked out, cowering at the sight of the weapon between his legs. “Fine, he-here’s what I know.”
Cream nodded to Tails, who relented. “Continue,” she said to Corneo.
“So, Kintobor’s lookin’ to crush that rebel group, TORNADO,” the toad started, running a hand through his mussed locks. “And they’re literally gonna do it too, by using the Plate above! They want to destroy the support pillar holding it up!”
“Break the support!?” Cream’s jaw dropped, fear erupting in the pit of her stomach.
He let out a maniacal giggle. “Hoo-hoo, yeah! And-and you know what’s gonna happen?” he said laughing. “The Plate’s gonna go PING and then everything below’s gonna be a pancake!” He let out a satisfied sigh. “Ahhh I’m just glad my boys found ’em in Sector 7. Can’t imagine what would happen if they were here in Sector 6…”
‘No, no, no! This was exactly what I was afraid of!‘ “Tails, they’re gonna destroy Sector 7!” Cream exclaimed. “Will you come back with me and help?”
Tails must have noticed the desperation in her eyes and voice as he nodded solemnly. “Of course, Cream,” he said.
Cosmo shuffled awkwardly behind them. “Well… We got what we came for,” she said. so, let’s get going! No time to waste, right!?”
The three made their way towards the exit when Corneo’s voice rang out. “Hold on a second!” he shouted.
Tails rounded on him. “Shut it! You’ve lost, so get lost before we make good on those threats!” he said venomously.
Corneo grinned. The sweat was still trickling down his face, but he looked much more confident than before. “Oh, I’ve lost huh?” he sneered, inching towards the headboard on his bed. “Well answer me this: how do you think scum like me feels when they’ve blabbed about the truth, hm?”
His hands grasped a lever and he pulled it before any of them could utter a response. A trap door suddenly opened up beneath Cosmo, Tails and Cream. The three dropped down a chute and into the sewers below as Don Corneo laughed triumphantly. “The answer was ‘They know they’re gonna win!’ Have fun with my pet below!”
Chris flew out of the elevator just as it opened to the 69th floor. Blowing by the reception desk, he sprinted up the plush, carpeted steps two at a time until he reached the president’s office on the 70th.
President Kintobor gave him a flat stare as he arrived, panting heavily. “Glad you could make it, Mr. Thorndyke,” he said in an even tone. “After this little meeting, you and I will speak about your performance over the last few weeks.”
Chris gulped as he sucked air into his burning lungs. ‘What’s this all about?’ he thought nervously as he pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. His mind went back to his robotic friend that he left in his office on the 65th. ‘Did Fiona tell-’
Before he could finish his thoughts, the aforementioned vixen sauntered up the stairwell, along with a large, muscular lion by her side. He wore a tight-fitting, forest green military duster with decorative red trims on the collars and cuffs. Its front was adorned with brass buttons. The coat complimented the lion’s bronze-coloured fur, which gleamed in the brightly lit office. Underneath the jacket, he wore a black dress shirt and a blood-red tie. On his legs were a pair of black dress slacks. His platinum-gold hair was cut in a military flat top style and he sported a long and impressively groomed beard. He had a lantern-jaw underbite with his two bottom fangs jutting out and his amber eyes were set into a permanent glare. He marched forward at a clipped pace, the plush carpet muffling the footfalls from his black combat boots as he and his companion approached the president’s desk. They stopped and stood beside the dishevelled-looking Chris.
Fiona turned her head subtly to the red-haired Human and winked slyly at him. Chris neither reciprocated nor acknowledged the gesture. Instead, he stood ramrod straight and looked in the President’s direction.
“Kodos,” President Kintobor addressed the lion, an edge of contempt in his voice. “How are the preparations going?”
Kodos scoffed. “They’re goin’ smoothly,” he replied, a similar sharpness in his voice. “The Chaotix are enroute -”
“The Chaotix?” Kintobor interrupted, his brows furrowing. “You mean that motley collection of fools who cannot even capture the Ancient?! Why not send SOLDIER to deal with this, instead?”
Chris knew that it took Kodos all of his willpower not to throttle the president at that moment. Instead, the lion let out a deep breath. “With all due respect, sir,” he said through gritted teeth. “The Chaotix are much more suited to these kinds of missions than SOLDIER. They specialize in eliminating threats and acquiring assets that would not be attainable otherwise. Furthermore, they are the only paramilitary and special forces group that has advanced the company’s agenda in the last five years, something that SOLDIER has failed to do.”
He continued speaking and Chris could tell that he struggled to keep a measured tone in his voice. “Observing and retrieving the Ancient is but one of over a hundred missions that keep Kintobor Incorporated where it is today. The task at Sector 7 is but child’s play to them. So, as I said before,” Kodos levelled another glare at the human. “They are en route and will be in a position to strike within the hour.”
Kintobor snorted at the lion’s speech. “Such a regaling tale,” he mocked, his lips curled into a sneer. He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forwards, the lights above reflecting malevolently on his mirrored pince-nez. “Regardless of their accomplishments, it is unacceptable that the Ancient is still not in our possession and I now grow impatient,” he growled. “That girl is the key to this company’s future and with this rebel insurgency being crushed, a future is what the people need to maintain their trust in us.” Leaning back, he turned and looked out of the window towards Sector 7. “Instruct the Chaotix to bring her in by daybreak along with destroying TORNADO’s base, or else they – and by extension, YOU – will all be roboticized,” he said, moving towards his drink caddy and pouring himself a glass of bourbon. He faced the lion and swirled the liquid around. “I will find suitable replacements to do the task I’ve instructed you to do these last fifteen years.”
He downed the amber liquid and Chris watched as he relished the drink. His own palms felt sweaty as the three stood silent, not daring to make a sound at the president’s instruction.
After a pause, Kintobor addressed the vixen next. “Fiona, the weapon is ready?”
The hairs on Chris’ neck stood suddenly as Fiona chimed into the conversation. “Of course, sir,” she purred playfully. “Thanks to Thorndyke here, the Emergency Plate Release system has been completely weaponized. All that’s left to do is to install the programming into the pillar’s monitoring station.” She turned and gave the human another toothy smile.
‘…I can’t take this anymore! I have to say something!!’ “Mr. President!” Chris suddenly blurted out. “Are we really going ahead with this?” The three of them each gave him pointed stares. “I-I mean,” he continued, stumbling over his words. “It’s just… Dropping the Plate just to destroy a few members of a small group seems… kinda overkill, doesn’t it?”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence that followed his words. Kintobor pushed up his glasses with a finger. “What’s wrong, Thorndyke?” he said calmly. “Do you want out of this?”
‘More than anything!’ was the response he wanted to give. But he bit back those words. He knew the consequences of what that action would lead to. “… No,” he said instead, turning his head away from the president’s gaze. “But as the head of the Urban Development Department, I’m simply requesting that we look at this in a different way-”
“Kid, we need to show those guys who’s really in charge here,” Kodos rumbled, cutting him off. “And besides, they may have more members lurking about, you don’t know? Dropping the whole Plate on ‘em will kill off any attempt to rebuild.”
The wicked grin the lion sported on his face made Chris feel sick. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ he thought, burying his shaking hands into his pockets.
“Want my advice?” Kodos continued, oblivious to the distraught expression on the Human’s face. “Flush whatever damn personal problems you have in the mornings. We’re here doing great things here. Messy? Sometimes. But great? You better damn believe it!”
“…The mayor’s against this anyway,” Chris spat out weakly as a last resort.
“Mayor Buliani has no power here,” Fiona scolded lightly. Her eyes glinted playfully, as though she delighted in the man’s suffering. “He just sits here in this building, picking his thumbs and wishing he had what we have. ‘Mayor’ is just a symbolic title anyway.”
“Indeed,” Kintobor added, a rare smile crossing his lips at the vixen’s words. “Now, get back to work, you two. Thorndyke and I have… some business to discuss.”
Kodos did an about-face with a salute and marched off towards the stairs. Fiona threw one last knowing look at Chris before she followed behind, her hips swaying with every step.
Kintobor turned his attention back to Chris, whose palms were sweating heavily in his pockets. “Thorndyke,” he started. “Fiona has brought to my attention that you’ve been overworked these days.”
‘Shit, here it comes…’ “Y-Yes sir,” Chris admitted, his shoulders slumping. “With the recent events happening, plus having to lay off 60% of my staff due to the budget cuts in the last quarter, I… haven’t had the manpower to get everything done in a timely manner.”
“…No matter,” Kintobor waved after a pause. “We’ll address the staff shortage after this little fiasco has passed. In the meantime, I’ll need you to do one thing for me.” He set the drink down on his desk and clasped his hands behind him. “I want a financial analysis of the damage done to Sector 7 after the attack. I want to share with the public just what this will cost them. And I want this cost to dissuade them from pulling off any further stunts. After that, I want you and your girlfriend to go take a nice, long vacation together. You look exhausted and I’m sure she’d be thrilled to have you back, after being stuck here for the last few days.”
A flood of conflicting emotions filled Chris’ body – relief, mixed in with sadness, fear, loathing and anger. Too choked up to say anything further, he nodded and wordlessly left the president’s office.
‘Heaven help me,’ he thought as he stepped down the stairs, Kintobor’s words ringing in his ears. ‘Evil prevails when good men do nothing. I was that good man. And I did nothing to stop what will happen to the innocent people of Sector 7.’ Chris stopped in front of the elevator and looked at his trembling hands, fear and shame coursing through him. ‘What… What would Helen say if she knew?’ He clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut as he imagined her reaction.
As the elevator doors opened, Chris made a decision. He pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and got an answer just as doors closed and the car descended downward to his floor. “…Hey Helen?” he said, his voice breaking slightly. “I’m coming home tonight and… I need to talk to you about something…”