Chapter 28: Aftermath
“Cosmo!” Tails and Cream both shouted out at the sight of the flower girl.
Bark lowered his arm, astonished and at a loss for words. ‘Who is that girl?’ he wondered, blinking. ‘And how did she get involved with Tails and Cream?’
The red echidna in the SkyTrans feigned surprise. “Oh, so you know each other?” Knuckles asked mockingly. “Well, isn’t this perfect. You get to see each other one last time before you die. You should thank me.”
Tails growled, his brows furrowing at the primly-dressed anteater. “What are you gonna do with Cosmo?” he asked angrily.
The echidna shrugged, his lips curling into a smile that was as cold as his eyes. “It’s not my call,” he scoffed casually. “We have standing orders to find and secure the last remaining Ancient. It’s taken us some time, but now I can finally report our success to the President.”
All of a sudden, Cosmo leaned out of the transport, cupping a hand around her mouth. “Cream, don’t worry!” she shouted. “She’s alrigh-”
Her speech was broken by Knuckles, who twisted around and slapped her across the face. She landed on her behind and clutched her now red and swollen cheek. She bit back tears as she leaned back over the door and called out to Cream once more. “Hurry and get out!” she croaked weakly.
Knuckles shook his head and scoffed. “It’s pointless,” he said to the flower girl, his voice carrying to the three Mobians on the platform. He turned to face them once more. “But you three seem like a tenacious lot. You’ve already escaped from two exploding reactors, a Robian ambush and a fall from the top of the Plate. Let’s see how you get out of this one. Good luck!” He then laughed long and hard as the transport rose upwards and flew away from the pillar. As soon as it cleared the Sector, the explosions started.
Chunks of the main support pillar started breaking off, the pieces descending to the ground below. One such piece from the very top of the support column dropped in an arc and smashed the stairwell leading downwards. The last remaining members of TORNADO were trapped.
Tails, Cream and Bark scrambled around, looking for alternate routes of escape. “Hey twin-tail!” Bark hollered amidst the explosions. “Can’t you fly us out!?”
The fox shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it that far,” he admitted, his jaw tightening. “We’d drop like the pillar pieces above us before we even make it halfway down this tower.”
Growling, Bark turned his head in all directions, looking for something, anything that could aid in their escape. ‘This can’t be how it all ends? There HAS to be something around here! There has-’ His thoughts screeched to a halt as he spotted a wire attached to a grapple point on the tower’s platform railing. Tracing its path, he found that the taut cable was attached to the top of the plate and acted as a support to prevent the tower from swaying. Below the support point was the checkpoint to Sector 6. The bear’s eyes lit up at the sight. “Yo! We can use this to get out!” he shouted to his two companions, pointing a beefy claw at the wire.
Tails inspected the cable in question. His eyes travelled the same path Bark’s did earlier and the bear could see him make the same calculations he made earlier. The fox nodded a few seconds later. “Good enough, let’s go!” he shouted immediately.
The bear climbed up onto the railing first and grabbed the cable tightly in his one hand. Cream followed suit, clambering over top Bark’s shoulder to get a proper hold. Finally, Tails wrapped his namesakes around his waist, sheathed his sword and scaled the bear’s other shoulder. Gripping their means of escape tightly, he looked down at Bark and nodded.
‘Now or never… Please let this work…’ Bark thought, sending a quick prayer to the Goddess. With his Gun-Arm free, Bark aimed at a point between his legs where the cable was attached to the railing and shot at the connection.
The wire anchor broke free just as the rest of the pillar imploded. Hearts leaping into their throats, the three Mobians veered away from the tower, not daring to look back as the Plate started to collapse. The girders and support beams that connected the upper section of the city to the main central column buckled and failed. Free from the things that held it in place, the Plate finally descended to the Slums below.
Amidst the loud screeching of metal shearing away, Bark could also make out the sounds of people screaming loudly below him. He looked up and watched as the Plate fell towards him, the massive hunk of steel getting closer and closer by the second. His heart hammered loudly in a panic and adrenaline forced him to maintain the tight grip on the wire.
Bark, Cream and Tails swung through the Sector checkpoint just as the Plate hit the ground with an audible, earth-shattering thud, sending dust and debris everywhere. The cable suddenly turned slack and the three Mobians crashed into the sandpit at the abandoned Sector 6 playground.
When he slid and rolled to a halt, Bark craned his head towards the checkpoint, raised his good arm towards the flattened slum and croaked, “H…Hope…” Exhausted and his heart pounding fearfully, the polar bear’s head dropped down into the dirt and he slipped into unconsciousness.
Gerald Kintobor stared out of the window of his office towards Sector 7, observing the destruction that had been wrought. While a small part of him lamented the extreme loss of life, he nonetheless smiled coldly at the carnage. “Magnificient,” he whispered as he downed another shot of his favourite bourbon. He turned back to pour himself another glass when the phone on his desk started ringing. Gerald pressed the speakerphone button. “What is it, Monica,” he said brusquely as he prepared another dram from the crystal bottle next to the phone.
“Sir, the media is congregating in the press room,” Monica answered, unperturbed by her boss’ blunt tone. “They’re expecting you to say something about the latest attack.” She let out a shaky breath and suddenly her professional veneer slipped off. “An entire Plate, sir… I-I can’t-”
“It’s alright,” Gerald responded in a more conciliatory manner. “We’ll get those bastards for this.” He drained the glass and relished the feel of the biting amber liquid down his throat. “Tell the press corps that I’m holding an emergency meeting here in my office in order to get all of the facts. Once I’ve finished, I will come down and provide a plan of our next steps.” He placed the glass down on the table, allowing his secretary time to write down the notes. “Contact Kodos while you’re at it and tell him to get up here-”
“Uh, sir?” Monica jumped in, her voice suddenly squeaky. “Uh, um, K-Kodos is already here. Uh, s-shall I send him up?”
Gerald snorted. ‘Speak of the devil and he shall arrive,’ he thought, gripping the glass on the table. “Let him in then,” he said curtly, ending the call and pouring himself another drink. “Looks like I’ll need to find a replacement Head…” he grumbled as he swallowed another shot of bourbon.
The moment he slammed the glass back down on the metal desk, Kodos appeared. He proudly strode forward on the plush carpet, looking arrogant and satisfied with himself. It was the one thing about the lion that Gerald despised the most, more than him being a Mobian. He gripped his glass so tightly that a crack started to form at the rim. “What is it?” Gerald demanded, his brows furrowing.
Kodos gave him a toothy grin, ignoring the hostile tone from his boss. “The deed is done,” he said. “Sector 7 and that rebel group are no more.”
“I’m fully aware of that,” Gerald snapped as he reached for the phone. “If that’s all you’re here to inform me on, then I might as well call the guards and have you and your cronies escorted to the Roboticizer!”
“Ah, ya might not want to do that just yet,” Kodos replied, dismissing his superior’s threat. He was still smiling. “Y’see, I got some more news for ya.”
Gerald’s hand hovered inches from the phone on his desk. “Go on…” he said tersely.
“Why don’t I just show you instead,” the lion responded, pulling out his handset. Activating the screen, he accessed a file and then turned the unit towards the president.
Gerald’s jaw involuntarily dropped at the sight of the photo on screen, but he quickly regained his composure and straightened up. Behind the cellphone, Kodos’ smirk only broadened. ‘He’s clearly enjoying this,’ the president thought dimly as he processed what he saw before him. “Well… This changes everything,” he said slowly. “…We shall hold a board meeting tomorrow night to discuss this.”
Kodos’ look of triumph melted. He narrowed his eyes and his face suddenly twisted into a scowl. “…Yes sir,” he said after a moment, putting away the phone.
“If you’re looking for some sort of recognition, then you should be grateful that you and those fools have been spared for the moment!” Gerald spat venomously, interpreting the lion’s sour face correctly. “…From now on, I shall be keeping an even closer eye on you all. I’ve found that there has been too much leeway given to this group. It should not have taken this long for you all to secure the target.” He walked to another window behind his opulent desk chair, his back towards Kodos. “You’re dismissed.” he finished without looking at the lion.
Gerald heard the Mobian growl lowly, followed by the sounds of footsteps muffled by the carpet runner leading down to the 69th floor. As soon as they receded, Gerald spun around and returned to his desk hurriedly. He picked up his phone and hit a button on speedial.
He received an answer after the fourth ring. “Yes?” a high, clear voice hissed on the other line.
“It’s me,” Gerald responded. He drummed his fingers and tried to keep himself calm. “I’ve news for you.”
The voice on the other line grumbled. “Mr. President, please be quick,” he said in an irritated tone. “I have an experiment here that has shown me such great promise -” he paused here and Gerald could hear the sounds of screams coming from the other line. The screams started high but then grew deeper in tone as the seconds passed. “Mmm… Yes, yes, the results… They are promising,” he murmured, unaware that the president was on the other line. “The muscle mass has increased and… solidified into a stone-like substance?! What a remarkable mutation!” he paused again and Gerald could imagine him nodding to himself. “… I will need to chip off a sample to analyze -”
“Nagus,” Gerald cut in quickly. Time was not on his side, he needed to go to the press room. “We have her.”
The voice on the other line stopped muttering immediately. “…Is this true?” the one named Nagus asked.
The president was unable to contain his excitement any longer. “Yes,” he said fervently. His breathing quickened and he could no longer keep the excitement out of his voice. “Yes! She is ours! The Ancient is ours once more!”
He was met with silence. Gerald wondered if the scientist had even heard what he said. “…Have your men bring her to my lab,” Nagus finally responded after a few moments. “I need to study her, now that she is fully matured. We will see if the plan continues as originally conceived, Mr. President.”
“Excellent, she will be delivered to you momentarily,” Gerald answered, a grin forming under his bushy greyed moustache.
Nagus hung up without a word. Placing the receiver back onto its cradle, the president straightened himself, his wizened bones creaking from the movement. He then grabbed the padfolio on the other side of his desk and started making his way down to the press room. Despite the falsified grim look that he plastered on his face, he could not help but feel inwardly content. The rebels were dead and the Ancient was back where she belonged.
He let a smile creep out as he entered the elevator. ‘The future of this company now looks bright,’ he thought happily as the doors slid shut.
Tails was abruptly awakened to the sound of Bark screaming at the top of his lungs. ‘How long were we out for?’ he wondered as he pushed himself up from the ground. As he steadied himself, Tails saw a flash of white-yellow fur fly past him at a frenzied pace.
The fox’s eyes followed Bark until they lay at the Sector checkpoint. His mouth parted in a mixture of awe and horror.
The plate had completely crushed the Sector 7 slums.
Cream sidled up next to him, looking slightly banged up from the fall. She brought a shaky hand to her lips and stared at the wreckage. “My goodness…” she whispered, the fingers of her other hand trailing up to the back of her neck.
“HO——-PE!!” Bark’s yells into the ruined slum snapped the two out of their stupor. They hurried to the checkpoint and watched as the bear tried to claw through the debris with his good arm, tears starting to form in his eyes.
“Biggs!! Wedge!! Jessie!!” he continued to call as he haphazardly threw junk behind him. Tails watched with a heavy heart as the bear’s frantic pace slowed to a crawl and then stopped altogether.
“Goddess damnit!” Bark suddenly cursed, slamming a fist into the wreckage. He continued hitting it with both arms, yelling out at every strike. “DAMNIT! DAMNIT ALL TO HELL!” He was now heaving, tears streaming out of his eyes and down the sides of his muzzle. “What the hell was this all for?!” he asked hollowly before letting out an inhuman wail.
Both Tails and Cream went to the bear’s side. “Hey Bark!” Tails called, grabbing a shoulder. He shook him in an attempt to break through to him. “C’mon, snap out of it!”
“Bark, stop,” Cream added, her voice tremulous. “Please stop, Bark…”
Bark suddenly lifted up his Gun-Arm and Tails moved to unsheathe his sword to protect Cream and himself from his rage. Instead, the bear pointed it at the twisted metal and emptied the rest of his ammunition into the wreckage, howling all the while.
Tails relaxed his grip once the Gun-Arm’s feed was emptied. However, Bark continued to fire. The sounds of his gun clicking on nonexistent bullets within its chambers mingled with his wails. At long last, Bark ceased firing and dropped to his knees, his great frame shaking. “Damn… it all…” he sobbed hoarsely.
Seeing that it was safe to do so, Tails and Cream each put one of Bark’s massive arms around their shoulders and led the bear back to the playground. As they hobbled back, Tails noted dimly that the crash caused steel beams and rebar to be embedded into the playground equipment. He spotted a glint of yellow, but ignored it for the time being. Together, he and Cream settled Bark down on a swing that was still intact.
The bear slumped forward, arms leaning on the chains of the swing and his face awash in grief. “Hope…” he said thickly, wiping his snout with the back of his hand.
All of a sudden, Cream gasped out loud. Her eyes went wide with realization and Tails could hear her heart quickening. “Bark!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Hope… I think Hope is alive!”
The bear snapped out of his trance. “W-What?” he stammered, rubbing his eyes vigorously. “Don’t fuck with me Cream, are you serious!?”
“Yes!” she answered, a hopeful smile stretching on her face. “Right before they took Cosmo, she said, ‘Don’t worry, she’s alright.’ She must have been talking about Hope!”
The bear chuckled incredulously at the rabbit, a glimmer of relief on his muzzle. “R-really?” he breathed.
She nodded. Her eyes travelled to the Plate and her smile dropped. Tears once again welled in her eyes and Tails knew she was doing all she could to hold them back. “But…” she started.
“Biggs… Wedge… and Jessie,” Bark continued for her.
“All three of them were in the pillar.” Tails finished for them, his fists clenched.
“You think I don’t know that?” the bear shot back at Tails, scowling. He then shook his head and let out a defeated sigh. “We all fought together… I… I don’t want to think of them as dead!”
Cream nodded in agreement. “…and all the other people in Sector 7,” she added glumly. She continued to rub the back of her head absently with a hand, her fingers playing with the hair at the base of her skull.
As the conversation lulled into an uncomfortable silence, Tails thought of Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. Though he initially cared little for them, he could freely admit that he had some begrudging respect for what they stood for. He respected the fact that they believed in the righteousness of their actions – despite them being extreme – and that they believed that they were protecting Mobius and its people from Kintobor.
Now, they were dead, along with the many others who were unable to escape from the Plate falling on top of them. The fox felt a fire ignite in the pit of his stomach and his jaw clenched at the unspeakable carnage the company inflicted on its own citizens. Now, that same company had Cosmo in their clutches…
“This is all screwed up!” Bark shouted suddenly, his voice breaking through the thick tension in the air. “They destroyed an entire slum just to get us! They killed so many people-”
“Are you saying it’s us?” Cream interrupted, a hollow look in her eyes. She now gripped her head with both hands and looked down to the ground. “I mean… Because TORNADO was here? Innocent people… lost their lives because of us?”
Bark hopped out of the swing and shook his head violently. He spoke, but Tails didn’t hear him. His mind buzzed and his thoughts moved away from the countless dead, instead wandering first from Cosmo, to Knuckles – the Chaotix member who captured her – and then finally to what he said before they left.
“We have standing orders to find and secure the last remaining Ancient.”
‘Ancients…’ Tails contemplated as he mindlessly walked towards the playground entrance leading to the Sector 6 thoroughfare. He dimly heard Bark calling for him, but he ignored him as a dull thumping sensation in his brain suddenly dampened the sound around him. ‘The last time I heard that term was… five years ago…’
“Hey Tails! Wait up!” the bear shouted from behind.
Bark’s loud voice brought the fox out of his stupor. He looked around and saw in surprise that he was already halfway towards Sector 5. Bark and Cream then ran to his position.
As soon as the pair caught up, the bear leveled his eyes at Tails. “You know where Hope is, don’t you?” he asked, the fire returning to his eyes.
Tails blinked. “Yeah, I have a hunch,’ he responded, his brows knitting together.
“Then take me to her,” Bark demanded. “Please.” He let out a smile when Tails nodded again. “Thank you…”
“You’re going to help Cosmo?” Cream asked as the three set off.
“Yeah…” Tails said, stopping in his tracks once more. “But before that, there’s something that’s been bugging me…”
The rabbit tilted her head, concern flooded her face. “What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s about… the Ancients…” And as he said it out loud, he felt a jolt run through his body. Words that weren’t his own suddenly overwhelmed him. He then heard a voice call out. A deep and commanding one that was very familiar to him.
“In my veins courses the blood of the Ancients! I am one of the rightful heirs to Mobius!”
The feeling in the fox’s body left as fast as it came forth. He dropped to a knee, his hands trembling and his breath shaky. “…N-Nazo?” he stammered.
Cream stooped down beside him. “Are you alright?” she asked, biting her bottom lip.
“Hey! Pull it together, man!” Bark scowled, his arms crossed. “I need you to take me to my daughter!”
Tails pulled himself up and glared irately at the bear’s insistence. “Right then, let’s go,” he said wearily.
The trio traversed through the ruined, canyon-like pathways of Sector 6. Reaching a familiar place, Tails then carefully instructed the other two on how to avoid the disguised Mutate he now dubbed the “Hell House.” Once they slipped out of the monster’s sight, they hurried through the broken checkpoint leading into Sector 5.
Continuing onward, they soon reached the residential district. Tails felt thankful for the lack of resistance from both the Mutates and the Robians. ‘The crash must’ve scared ‘em all into hiding…’ he surmised as he led Bark and Cream through the gates leading into town.
Sector 5 was completely silent. While not as bustling as the Wall Market, the fox couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the lack of bodies on the streets. They stole through the narrow pathways in between buildings and entered into the clearing that led to Cosmo’s house.
While Bark and Cream marveled at the sight of the natural vegetation, Tails stopped and stared at Cosmo’s front door. His brows were furrowed into a scowl. “Oh man, I just remembered,” he moaned.
“What?” Bark and Cream said together, joining him at the threshold.
“…We’re gonna have to tell her mom what happened.”
Surprise had coloured Bark and Cream’s faces and their mouths were shaped in an ‘oh’. Tails would have found the sight comical, if not for the seriousness of the matter.
He turned to knock on the door, when it opened. Rose stood behind it, her eyes puffy and cheeks red. “Come inside,” she said, retreating into the house.
When all three Mobians had entered, the woodchuck faced them. “Tails, yes?” she started. Seeing him nod, she continued. “It’s about Cosmo-”
“I’m so sorry,” Tails cut in, shaking his head. “Kintobor has her.”
“I know, they took her from here,” she replied. Seeing the shocked look on their faces, she let out a tired sigh and pressed on. “She wanted this… no, she knew this would happen. She always knew this day would come.”
“Why does Kintobor want her so badly?” Tails asked, his arms folded and his eyes narrowed.
Rose’s shoulders slumped. “Because she is an Ancient,” she said matter-of-factly. “The sole survivor.”
“Ah, now I get it,” Bark spoke suddenly. Everyone turned to look at him. “I mean, it was obvious from the onset but now, it really makes sense. You’re not her actual mother are you?”
“…Yes,” she said, sitting down at the dinner table. The three other Mobians followed suit. Rose placed her hand on the table, took a deep breath and then began her story. “It all started fifteen years ago…”