Chapter 31: The Former Freedom Fighters
The remnants of TORNADO had left Cosmo’s house around mid-morning, bound for the Wall Market. Tails would have liked to have left at the break of dawn, but Rose insisted that they rest more.
“You’re heading into the belly of the beast!” she had admonished the fox when he had brought this up to her. She had been using his Restore Emerald to speed up the healing process and she began to look haggard. “You need to rest! A few extra hours could be the difference between life or death!”
The fox had opened his mouth to counter, but Cream had kicked him in the shins before he could utter a word. Resigned, he allowed himself to recuperate until it was time to go.
After leaving the relative safety of Sector 5’s residential district, the trio passed through the broken wall into Sector 6 and climbed over the thoroughfare’s uneven terrain at a brisk pace. As they neared the Hell House’s domain, Tails held up a hand to halt their advance, his ears pricking upwards at the sounds of roaring in front of him. Moving carefully, he peered around the remains of a large crane and watched as the Hell House fought against a pack of Robians, who were prowling in the area.
The Mutate’s limbs – a bizarre combination of organic and biomechanical arms – had exploded out of the fragile shell it constructed and grasped at whatever came near its vicinity. Its bulbous head had broken through the window above the door, its wild, jaundiced eyes roving over the Robians battling it. The Hell House barreled forward, the several pairs of stubby legs that shot out from the bottom of its shell trampling over a Wolf Robian.
Cream and Bark soon joined him and the three collectively winced as one unlucky avian Robian was caught in between two of its arms. The Hell House then proceeded to rip its wings clean off of its body. Noticing that they were with him, Tails motioned for both of them to stay close to the walls and sneak across to the alcove leading forward. The chaos of the one-sided fight gave them enough cover to reach the other side without being detected.
Bark turned back after he had squeezed his large frame through the narrow gap leading onward. “Good thing we didn’t have to take care of that,” he said sheepishly.
The mood turned sombre as they soon entered the playground. Cream and Bark stopped in front of the still-smoking wreckage of the Sector 7 plate, haunted expressions etched on their faces. Tails joined alongside them after filching a Sense Emerald among the debris nearby. They all searched for words to say for the deceased, but nothing came to their minds. Tearing away from the horrific wreckage, the trio then entered the Wall Market.
Compared to his last visit, Tails found the atmosphere in the slum city to be tense and unnerving. The crowds were not as dense as they were the previous day and a great deal of people kept their eyes to the sky, in case the Sector 6 Plate decided to crash down on them as well.
As they rounded the restaurant where he and Cosmo ate at barely twenty four hours previously, Tails heard a familiar, reedy voice call out to him. “Hey Foxy! Behind you!”
Turning around, he came face to face with Viv, Cosmo’s ‘aunt’. She tottered over to the three and gave them a gummy smile. “Well, fancy seeing you here,” she twittered. “And in normal clothing too!”
Bark threw Tails a funny look, his eyebrow arched. “Normal? What the hell is she talking about?” he asked.
Before Tails could open his mouth, Viv cut in. “Oh, so you don’t know?” she chimed, ignoring the fox signaling to her not to say anything. “Well, it turns out that this gorgeous rabbit friend of his -” she pointed at Cream, who blinked in response, a tinge of pink on her cheeks, “- was in the clutches of Don Corneo and in order to save her, he had to dress as a woman.” Viv let out a pleasant hum. “I do say, he looked quite convincing!”
Bark head slowly swiveled back to the mortified fox, who blanched. The corners of the bear’s mouth twitched and his eyes started to water as he snickered loudly. Before long he collapsed into hearty, loud laughter, causing the on-lookers to jump in fright. “You… ha-ha-ha, You, dressed like a woman?!” Bark chortled as he wiped tears from his eyes. “Oh-hoh-ho, man, I’d pay good money to see that!?”
“Oh, shut up!” Tails snarled through gritted teeth, his shoulders bunched up and his ears flattened. He whirled around to Viv, who wore an innocent smile on her wizened face. “I’m glad we found you: You’re well-connected, right?” he asked, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice. Bark’s guffaws continued behind him. “Would you know of a way to get to the upper world?”
“I might,” she replied in a maddening tone that made the fox want to strangle her. “But here’s a question for you: where’s my darling Cosmo? Did you leave her at home?”
Tails suddenly turned his head away from her, his eyes downcast. “Uh… well,” he stammered, trying to find the right words to say, but she cut him off.
“Hm. I see,” she said matter-of-factly. “I think I can piece together what happened.” And without warning, she whipped the fox smartly on the head with her cane.
Yowling, Tails massaged the top of his head vigorously. Behind him, Bark laughed even harder. The fox glared at the alligator. “What the hell was that for?!” he shot out, hissing loudly before turning to the cackling bear. “And could you quit it!”
“‘What the hell was that for,’ he asks! I’ll tell you what!” Viv snapped back, glowering at him. “You were supposed to protect her, to keep her safe! Now, she’s in the hands of those bastards at Kintobor!” She threw her hands into the air out of frustration. “Do you have any idea, any at all, at what you’ve done?!”
“No, and I don’t really give a damn,” Tails fired back, his hackles raised. “Because we’re gonna get her back!”
“You heard me,” Tails said coolly. “We’re going topside to break into Kintobor’s headquarters and get Cosmo back.”
“A fool’s errand, boy,” the alligator sneered, her voice now taking on a hard, cold edge. “You wouldn’t be the first to try a dangerous stunt like that. I would know,” she looked out into the distance, a forlorn expression crossing her snout. “We did that almost fifteen years ago, back when I was part of the Freedom Fighters.”
Bark immediately ceased his laughter and gaped at the alligator. Next to him, Cream’s lips parted in surprise, her eyes wide and her brows raised to their highest point. “Y-you’re a Freedom Fighter?!” Cream said, awed.
“One of the original anti-Kintobor resistance groups,” Bark answered Tails’ unasked question. The former SOLDIER could see a sort of reverence in the bear’s eyes. “Before TORNADO, before any of the others, it was these guys who ran the show.”
“…Yes,” Viv said, dropping the feebleness from her voice. Her voice was now rough and hardened; the tell-tale signs of a battle-worn warrior. “…I lost the ability to walk properly because we had the same fool-hardy idea as you.” She shook her head and then stared at the gates leading out of Wall Market. A distant look was in her eyes. “Although we achieved our goal in getting those two out, I don’t know how we got out of there alive.”
Tails looked at her and cocked his head to the side, perplexed at the statement. He suddenly heard Cream gasp from behind him. “Wait a second, you guys were the ones who got Cosmo out in the first place?!” she exclaimed.
Viv scoffed and then smiled wistfully at the declaration. “That’s right, kiddo,” she said, her admission shocking the trio. She beckoned them to a secluded area nearby and then continued once they were out of earshot. “Back then, we found out that Kintobor had tracked down and captured the last remaining Ancients – Cosmo and her mother,” Viv explained, keeping her voice low. “At the time, we had no idea what they had planned for either of them, but it didn’t matter; we knew we had to get them out of their clutches. But… we screwed up on the extraction attempt.”
Viv looked away, her ancient eyes tinged with regret. “…We entered a pretty lengthy skirmish at the end,” she continued quietly. “…I got shot in the leg several times. Bullets shattered the bone clean, so though I healed, I’d never walk properly again. In the confusion, the two Ancient’s separated from our group and escaped. How they ended up down here in the slums, I’ll never know…” She sighed. “It’s a shame the mother died – crossfire or maybe even Mutates might have gotten her on her way down… But, at least Cosmo was OK.”
Her expression darkened and she glared hatefully at the fox. “…And now, the little girl we’ve sacrificed life and limb for is back in Kintobor’s greedy little clutches,” she spat. “And it’s all your fault, ya damned fox!”
“…So? Big deal,” Tails said brusquely, ignoring the scandalized looks from his companions. “Yeah, we screwed up, but that’s not gonna stop us. Even if you guys came out on the wrong side of things all those years ago, we’ll succeed in getting her out.”
“And why’s that?” Viv asked, her voice now venomous.
“Because you guys never had a First Class SOLDIER on your team.”
The alligator scoffed loudly and said nothing. Her eyes, however, scrutinized Tails for a very long time. “…Alright then,” she conceded, apparently satisfied with what she saw. “Come with me.”
Tails, Cream and Bark followed Viv as she wound through the alleyways. They passed by the bar, the gym and even Corneo’s mansion until they came up to a path that ended at the barrier wall separating Sectors 6 and 7. The top portion was broken off due to the Plate collapse. Three children were standing in front of a thick wire that dangled from the top of the damaged wall. Two Human boys and a deer girl were arguing about who was going to climb it.
Viv approached the children and put on her most chilling glare. “You damn whippersnappers!” she hollered, making them all jump. “What the hell are you doing, hanging around this place! Get your asses home, right now! ”The children squeaked loudly and then bolted from the scene.
Satisfied, Viv approached the wire, with Tails, Cream and Bark in tow. “The trains aren’t running and the city is basically on lockdown,” she said to the three. “This is likely the only way to get up to the upper city now, but it’s not gonna be an easy climb. Especially for you,” she motioned to Bark and his one arm. “Fortunately, I know a guy who could probably jerry-rig something up.” She started tottering back out of the alleyway. “Let’s go.”
Bark threw his other two companions a face-splitting grin. “Aw yeah! We’re gonna climb this damned wire to the top!”
“Hold on a second,” Tails protested, glaring at the polar bear. “There’s no way we can do this. You know how far up this goes?”
“What’s the matter?” Bark’s nose crinkled. “Whatever happened to that bravado earlier, huh? Was that just bullshit?”
“No, but I’m just being realistic-”
“-To hell with being realistic!” Bark argued back loudly, cutting the fox off in mid-sentence. He pointed at the wire. “What does that look like to you?”
“…A normal wire?” Tails shrugged, his brows raised.
“Oh yeah?” the polar bear said, folding his arms, his head held high. “Well, to me, it looks like a golden, shiny wire of hope!”
His declaration was met with silence.
“…I hate to admit it, but he’s right, Tails,” Cream said after a moment, her eyes trailing up the wire to the top of the city. “We have nothing else to go on. This could be our only way to get up to Kintobor’s HQ…”
Tails let out a long, hollow sigh. “OK, that was a bad analogy,” he said dryly, before glancing back at the bear. “But, Bark… I understand how you feel.” He half-smiled at his enthusiasm and then made a decision. “… Eff it, let’s go for it, then.” Both Cream and Bark grinned in response.
“Hey! Are you three coming or not!?” Viv bellowed impatiently, startling the trio. She stood at the mouth of the alley, her feet tapping in annoyance. “Bloody damn whippersnappers, wasting an old lady’s time…”
Wishing not to further arouse her ire, the three Mobians followed alongside her. Viv led them to what looked to be a giant junk pile that was nestled between the gym and the karaoke bar. They made their way through the mounds of scrap and up to a thick steel door, which the alligator knocked with her cane.
A slot at the top slid open. “Who is it?” a gruff voice barked out.
“It’s Viv, open the door, you lazy ass,” the alligator insulted, a ghost of a grin in her voice.
The door rattled as its occupant turned and unbolted the locks. It swung open with an audible, rusty creak, revealing a middle-aged zebra with a paunch. He wore stained, brown corduroy overalls over a faded, grey t-shirt and dark brown work boots that were caked with grease and grime. “Viv! You ornery devil!” he cackled gleefully, a toothy smile crossing his lips. He approached and gave her a hug. “What brings you to my joint?”
“Cut the shit, Ced. We have a problem,” Viv interjected, extricating herself from the embrace and getting straight to the point. “These guys behind us need our help. It’s about little Cosmo.”
Ced’s face fell. “It-It finally happened?” he gawked at the reptile’s serious demeanor. She nodded. He stood aside and motioned the four Mobians in. “Come on in,” he ushered. “Quickly, now.”
Shutting and bolting the door, Ced crossed the floor, muttering to himself all the while. He got behind the counter and took a seat on his stool. “OK, so what’s the situation Viv?” he asked, his tone all business.
“Kintobor has Cosmo,” Viv explained, pointing to Tails, Bark and Cream with her thumb. “And these guys are the rescue team.” She paused and then added, “They’re what’s left of TORNADO. Our ‘descendants,’ if you will.”
The zebra whistled appreciatively. “Ain’t that a fact,” he murmured, a wistful look crossing his muzzle. “You guys were ballsy, blowing up two reactors.” He chuckled. “You made us look pretty bad bad.” Ced noticed the withering glare Viv shot him and hastily continued. “Alright then, so part-rescue, part-revenge mission, huh? I’m guessing Viv’s already told you about the wire? Well, lemme ruckus up somethin’ in the back.”
He went around to the rear of the junk shop and the sounds of things being rummaged around were heard for a few moments. Ced soon returned with three cardboard boxes. Setting them on the table, he revealed a set of bangles, a pair of gloves and three, small black cubes..
“Here’s what I got: Three pieces of armor bangles made of raw Mythril scraps with a linked slot – my design, of course. A set of metal knuckles for the beautiful lady… and three batteries.”
“Batteries?” Tails raised an eyebrow, picking one up and inspecting it. Each of the cubes had a set of alligator clips and wires soldered onto what the fox suspected were positive and negative leads. “Why do we need batteries?”
Ced scoffed. “Trust me,” he assured with a knowing smile. “You’ll need ‘em for the climb up. Now, normally I’d charge about 3000 Mobium for the lot, but since you’re friends with Viv and Cosmo, I’ll cut you a deal: 1500.” He grinned, despite the glum looks he received. “Hey, I gotta make money as well, right?”
Resigned to his fate, Tails dug into his back pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. Inspecting it, he narrowed his eyes. ‘Damnit, this is practically all my money… but I can’t worry about that right now,’ “…Deal,” he responded, tossing him the cash and pocketing the rest.
“Knew you’d make the right decision,” Ced said as they gathered the equipment. His eyes stopped on the polar bear’s arm and he did a double take. “Well I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed, his jaw dropping. “Is that a Gun-Arm?! I thought I’d never see one of these in person! Do you mind if I take a looksee?”
Hesitantly, Bark stepped forward and placed his arm on the table, to which Ced inspected. “Hmm… Looks like a first generation model. Good stopping power, but wholly inaccurate…” he muttered. He raised his head and met the bear’s eyes. “Tell ya what: since you’re gonna be sticking it to the Kintobor, I’ll give her an upgrade on the house – I’ve been lookin’ for an excuse to get rid of it anyway. You’ll also need a grappling attachment: can’t really climb a wire with one hand, huh?”
Bark looked nonplussed as Ced returned to the back room. He hollered out as he searched for the Gun-Arm parts. “Hey Viv! This is gonna take an hour or two; mind taking those other two young’uns to gather supplies?”
“Fine!” Viv hollered back. She motioned to Cream and Tails with a gnarled hand. “You two, come with me. Getting up to the plate is gonna be the easy part but surviving will be your main challenge. Let’s get your properly suited up. Oh,” she then smirked at Tails. “And don’t worry, dearie. We’re not getting you another dress.”
The fox reddened as he and Cream left the junk shop, with Bark’s loud guffaws echoing from behind him.
It was mid-afternoon when Tails, Cream and Viv returned to the barrier wall with provisions for the trip. They were met by Bark and Ced. The polar bear tapped his foot impatiently as he stood by the wire. “Finally! Where were you two?” he questioned, a note of irritation in his voice.
“Don’t blame us,” Tails muttered, his eyes pointing to the hobbling alligator beside him.
Ced, meanwhile, sat on a stool beside Bark’s arm, a rusted toolbox by his feet. He wore a set of small, round spectacles and had a screwdriver between his teeth as he inserted a device into the bottom of the bear’s modified weapon. Gone was the six-barreled Gatling Gun and in its place, the new Gun-Arm sported a longer, sleeker body that was attached to a conical plate. It was equipped with two barrels; a six-inch long barrel on the top and a shorter, two inch barrel on the bottom. Both barrels were fed by four rifle cartridges inserted into slots along the side and underneath the gun. On the very top was an iron sight, painted red. Behind it were two Emerald slots, which were linked together. Connected to a port on the underside of the weapon was a hastily put-together apparatus that consisted of one of the batteries they had purchased and a mechanical clamp that kept opening and closing.
The zebra smacked Bark on the leg. “Stop doing that, you’ll kill the battery!” he grunted, installing a case over the apparatus and then securing it with a few screws. “There! All finished.” His knees creaking, he stood up from his stool and admired his handiwork.
“You know?” Bark said to Ced, admiring the grappling claw on the bottom. “I always thought this bottom thingy was an exhaust port or something…”
“No, ya idjit!” Ced groaned, putting a palm into his forehead. “That port’s built for sensory expansions, like this grapple attachment.” He beckoned him towards the wire leading upward. “Just do what you were doing before, but don’t overdo it. Wouldn’t want you to run out of energy and fall to your death.”
He handed the bear a new magazine bandolier which he affixed around his broad waist. “Don’t worry either about trying to find extra ammo,” Ced explained, reading Bark’s skeptical expression. “That new Assault Gun of yours uses the standard infantry clips. Sure, it doesn’t empty as fast as your old gun, but this baby packs enough of a wallop that you can take down a whole mess of things with just a clip!” The zebra rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, sniffed and then beamed.
“Hah, thanks old geezer,” Bark grinned, tugging his cap.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Tails cut in before Ced could issue a retort. His eyes were fixed on the wire. “Let’s get going. The longer we hang around here, the more Cosmo’s gonna suffer.”
“Don’t forget these,” Viv said beside him. She handed the fox a burlap bag. Inside were a pack of restoratives and a set of five Emeralds: Fire, Ice, Lighting, Restore and an All. Tails distributed the supplies to Bark and Cream before pocketing the gems. “Now, go up there, get Cosmo back and kick Kintobor’s ass.”
Tails’ lips quirked at the alligator. “Thanks,” he said, his expression softening. Turning around, he, Cream and Bark then approached the wire and started their ascent.
“Good luck,” Tails heard the reptile whisper behind him as he pulled himself up, hand over hand, on the thick cable leading to the upper world.
Cosmo stared listlessly at the steel grey ceiling from the bunk she was lying on. She was held in a small cell in one of the research and development floors within the Kintobor Building. Apart from the hard bed, there was a small commode on the other side of the tiny room. The walls were swathed in the same shade as the ceiling.
She was unaware of how much time had passed since she was left in the cell. All she recalled was that she was strippped of her clothes, weapons and equipment and given a gown similar to the one her real mother wore when they escaped. She shivered as the thought of her dying mother’s blood covering the flimsy garment bloomed in her mind. ‘At least they had the courtesy to let me keep my undergarments…’ Cosmo thought miserably. ‘But thankfully, they didn’t take the most important thing from me…’
She sat up, opened up her right hair blossom and plucked the pendant that she stashed at her first opportunity out from the folds of petals within. “Mom was always telling me to keep it safe,” Cosmo murmured to herself, running her fingers over the smooth, amber surface. “Guard it with your life, she told me. But I never knew why? Could it be related to -”
The sounds of footsteps approaching her door snapped Cosmo out of her musings. Gasping, she shoved the pendant and chain back into her blossom. It closed shut just as the door slid open with a swoosh.
“Good,” a high, clear and cold voice rang out. “You’re awake. This will make things much easier.”
The stranger entered the door and Cosmo felt a wave of revulsion washing over her. He wore a hooded lab coat that partially obscured his face in shadow. She could see his leering red-amber eyes, the pointed chin and a gleeful grin that spread wide across his lips. He reminded her of a child reuniting with a lost toy or plaything.
His left arm was covered in bandages from the elbow down to his fingers and was bound in a sling. He walked into the cell with a slight limp, his right leg dragging behind him slightly as he crossed the floor. Two human MP’s flanked him and stood by the door, their masked faces impassive as they watched the hooded figure pull out a syringe from his coat using his right hand as he approached the flower girl.
Cosmo wanted nothing more than to run and hide somewhere far away from this man, but she felt frozen in place by the cold and unfeeling eyes that roved over her. He stopped in front of her and bent forward, inspecting her as though she was a piece of meat that he was purchasing at the grocery store.
“Did you know,” he said, his high, clear voice chilling her to the bone. “That the genetic difference between you and your mother is quite vast? You look exactly like her, but the DNA you had inherited from your biological father is likely interrupting your ability to utilize your latent powers.” He leaned back and tapped his chin with his good hand. “Whereas your mother was aware and able to willfully control her powers at a young age, you, on the other hand, have not even shown the slightest glimmer of your abilities.” He shook his head condescendingly. “You may have a gift to call upon more of an Emerald’s power than the average living organism, but that pales in comparison to what you should be able to accomplish, in comparison to your mother. This will not do at all.”
Hatred welled up in the flower girl’s body, followed by a deep sense of shame and inadequacy at what the scientist said about her. She glowered at the hooded man, her face growing hot and her fists shaking beside her.
“Luckily,” he continued, unaware of her anger towards him. “We may have a workaround in place to speed things up. I shall take one last sample from you to analyze before we commence with the extraction process.”
Cosmo’s anger towards him suddenly turned into confusion. “E-extraction process?” she faltered, her brows creasing.
He flashed another smile that nauseated her. “Why, for your eggs, of course!” he gloated. “Did you think that you Ancients were the only creatures connected to this planet? If we can’t get you to use your powers willfully, we’ll make someone who can!” The hooded man then threw his head back and cackled, his right arm outstretched while his left bounced uselessly against his chest. “This shall be the finest wizardry I’ll perform yet!”
The flower girl’s face went as pale as the gown she wore.
Once the man’s laughter subsided, he motioned to the two guards behind him. “Hold her down,” he said.
“Yes sir, Professor Nagus,” they answered in unison.
Cosmo scooted back towards the corner, her lip trembling as the MP’s loomed over her and clamped down on her arms. She squirmed fruitfully as they forced her left arm into position. As she watched the needle go into her arm, her mind went to the two-tailed fox.
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