Chapter 32: Infiltration
It was well into nightfall when Tails, Bark and Cream had finally reached the surface of Megapolis’ central structure. The climb to the upper plate took the better part of five hours to complete. They had crossed broken train tracks, traversed over pieces of the plate surface suspended precariously by massive cables and swung over a yawning chasm between a section of the plate and a rail line that had a partially derailed train on it. They had to use a thin, creaking bar that swung between the two sections in order to cross.
Getting through parts of the crumbling landscape would not have been possible without the two remaining batteries that the Ced, the junk shop owner and former Freedom Fighter, had given them. As Tails stepped out of a service hatch leading to the central part of Megaopolis, he made a mental note to thank the zebra if they ever got a chance to see him again. Bark and Cream joined alongside him shortly after.
The three Mobians then turned their gaze towards the Kintobor Building looming in front of them, nestled at the centre of the city like a colossal egg. Spotlights going around the building illuminated the smooth and polished exterior walls, which contrasted with the inky, dark skies above.
Tails stood in the lead, his hand gripping the hilt of the Buster Sword tightly. ‘This is it, no turning back now…’ he thought. He arched his head back towards Bark and Cream. Their eyes met his own.
‘Let’s do this.’
They ran forward and stopped just in front of the entrance. Bark craned his head up to the top of the egg-shaped skyscraper. “You should know this building well, huh, Tails?” he asked.
“…No,” the fox admitted, shaking his head. “Not really. In fact, this might be the first time I’ve ever been to the Headquarters.”
“I heard stories about this place,” Bark said, his eyes still trained on the topmost floors of the building. “Every floor above the 60th is reserved for the execs and top scientists. It ain’t easy for regular employees to get into…” He brought his head down, removed his cap and raked his yellow-white hair with his good hand. “That must be where they took Cosmo.” The polar bear then put his hat back on and peered into the glass at the entrance. “Security seems to be pretty light,” he muttered, taking note of the lack of bodies within the atrium space. He suddenly grinned and cocked his gun. “Let’s go bust some shit up then!”
Cream stood before the polar bear, a glare crossing her pretty face. “I don’t think we should do that,” she countered. “The last thing we need is to draw attention to ourselves! What if they move Cosmo because they found out that we’re here?!” She crossed her arms. “I think it would be better if we snuck in.”
“Hell no! Cream, c’mon,” Bark retorted gruffly. “They might be doing some weird sciency shit to Cosmo if we keep wasting time like this! The front door is right there! Let’s go bust in and demand her back!! And besides,” he waved his arms around. “Where do you see a way for us to ‘sneak in,’ huh?
“Actually,” Tails broke in, ending the bickering. “Cream’s right; let’s not cause too much commotion. As for sneaking in…” His eyes trailed from Bark’s frowning muzzle to a sign that said ‘Emergency Exit’. “…I think I have an idea.”
“‘Take… The stairs,’ he said…. ‘Don’t… Wanna cause… A ruckus,’ he said…”
“Bark, quit your eternal whining and climb,” Tails groused as they ascended the emergency stairwell. The egress was plain in nature, consisting of solid concrete walls and steps with numbers painted on each floor.
They had climbed the first six floors in silence until Bark broke it with his complaints. “Look, why… The hell… Do we… Need to climb anyway?” he gasped again as he trundled up the steps.
“Because I told you, I don’t want security on our asses while we rescue Cosmo,” Tails snapped back in Bark’s direction. “…I doubt that’s possible though.”
A few floors later, Bark suddenly let out a chuckle that Tails could hear. “What’s so funny?” he called back.
“Nothin’” Bark said, huffing loudly. “Just that… I had you figured… Wrong I guess… “
“What are you talking about?” Tails said, irritation growing in his voice.
“Even you… A mercenary… Would fight for… Someone, huh?”
Tails said nothing in response. He heard Cream giggle next to him. The fox was pleased to see that she was keeping pace with him. He arched an eyebrow at her. “What’s that supposed to mean, Cream?
The rabbit didn’t respond, but pushed ahead, her long ears and cream-coloured hair bouncing left and right with every step.
The polar bear chimed in again after climbing several floors in silence. “Hey, this ain’t… One of those… Endless stairways, right?”
“Of course not!” Cream retorted. She was breathing harder now and beads of sweat started to form on her head. “Just keep going!”
“… Geez… Just asking…” Bark trailed off.
Tails said nothing, not wishing to join in on the banter. He kept Cosmo front and centre in his mind. ‘How could I have been so reckless… I should have told her to go home back in Sector 6.’ He recalled the conversation they had as they sat on the slide in the Sector 6 playground. It felt like years had passed since then.
“Yo, forget this…” Bark wheezed, breaking Tails’ thoughts. The fox halted in his step and looked down to see that the bear had stopped several floors before. “I’ve had… Enough. I’m… Turning back.”
Both he and Cream went down a few flights to see the winded bear, his organic arm resting on the wall. Cream frowned at him, her hands resting on her knees. “And take just as long going down as you did coming up?!” the rabbit said through gritted teeth. Her face was now flushed and her breathing became laboured. She then looked at the fox beside her with narrowed eyes. “And you… How are you not tired?!”
Tails shrugged. “SOLDIER makeup, I suppose?” he smirked.
Cream rolled her eyes and turned back to Bark. “C’mon Bark, pull yourself together,” she cheered as she slowly straightened up. “We’re almost there!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered in response. Pushing off of the wall, Bark took off his cap and started fanning himself. “Look, I’m just flesh, fur n’ blood. Well, minus this arm of mine.” He took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. “I’m no robot, nor am I some ex-member of SOLDIER or something,” he added, casting a dirty look at Tails, who arched an eyebrow upwards in response.
“Well, I’m neither of those things and I’m doing just fine!” Cream said hotly, her lips pursed and her shoulders bunching up. “Look, go down if you wish, but I’m going on!” She stomped up the stairs on her own but stopped at the top of the landing. She spun around to see Bark and Tails’ eyes on her and then suddenly turned a furious shade of red.
“Yaah!” she cried, crossing her hands over her skirt. “Bark! You go first!”
“The hell!? I wasn’t even… Ahhh forget it,” the bear conceded, hurrying up the steps and avoiding the rabbit’s eyes.
“Tails, you go on ahead too!” she said, glaring at him.
After what seemed like hours, the three made it to the top of the stairwell. It stopped at the 59th floor. Bark collapsed on the step and took deep, gasping breaths. “F… Finally, muh-made it,” he spluttered, pulling out a Potion and drinking it. “Nuh-Never wanna… See more… G-Goddess damned stairs for the rest of my life…”
Cream sat down on the step below and clutched the stitch in her chest while she caught her breath. “Oh… Well… This was a good warm up, right?” she asked, trying to sound chipper. She drank a Potion of her own and relished the bitter taste. “Eugh, just what I needed to pep me up.” She turned to Tails, who was leaning on the wall next to the door, his arms crossed and head bowed. “This is it, Tails,” she said to him. “We better get ready!”
“Right,” Tails agreed, pushing off the wall. “Bark, get up, we’re going.”
They waited for the polar bear to rise and steady himself and then quietly went through the door to the 59th floor.
They stood in a large, spacious lobby area dedicated to the upper executive floors. On the wall next to the emergency exit were a pair of elevators labelled for floors 1-59. On the opposite side of the room were another set of three elevators with wider doors. There was also a massive atrium spanning from the centre of the current floor they were on to the first floor of the building. Along the top of the atrium was a half wall that was lined with plush chairs covered in royal blue fabric. The lobby was devoid of people, save for the three armored soldiers standing in front of the elevators leading upward.
Wanting to get the upper hand, Tails drew his sword, jumped across the hole in the centre of the floor and incapacitated the grunt standing by the leftmost elevator using the flat of his blade. Instantly, the other two grunts turned and aimed their guns at the fox.
“Oh no you don’t!” Bark yelled out, pointing his Assault Gun at the guard closest to the Ex-SOLDIER. He fired a volley of bullets and was satisfied to see them pierce through the thick armor. The guard let out a moan and dropped down to the floor, blood pooling around his body.
The third guard backed away from his fallen comrades and fumbled for his radio. Before he could say anything, the device was mysteriously stripped from his hand by Cream. Zipping behind Bark as he provided cover fire, the fighter tapped into the Steal Emerald on her armour and nicked the radio from the startled guard’s clutches. She followed up by first clocking him in the face with a hard cross to stun him and then throwing him over her shoulder. The grunt’s head connected painfully on the polished floor beneath, knocking him out.
With the battle finished, Tails quickly roved around the floor. He soon found an unopened storage closet near the elevators. “Let’s put the bodies in here,” he said, before frowning at the mess on the floor caused by Bark. “…We can worry about the blood spatter later,” he added, glaring at the now contrite-looking polar bear.
As the trio hastily shoved the guards into the closet, Tails noticed something hanging out from one of their pockets. “Hm, what’s this?” the fox queried as he pulled out a keycard. “This must be what we need to get to the higher floors.”
“Then what the hell are we waiting for!?” Bark shouted out. “C’mon, let’s go!”
After sealing the door with a light Ice spell, Tails and the others piled into one of the large elevator cars, the doors closing shut with a swish. Three quarters of the car was encased in a glass tube that showed the inner workings that made up the smooth, egg-shaped facade of the Kintobor Building. The curved, one-way glass was held aloft by thin, steel structural beams. These beams were connected to another, thicker beam that was then connected to the inner building, like the spokes of a wheel.
“Will ya look at that,” Bark muttered through his teeth as he eyed the structure with disgust. “This building wasn’t really egg shaped after all, it’s just these walls that make it so.” He spat on the floor. “Talk about excessive…”
Tails swiped the keycard on a touchpad at the opposite side of the elevator. The panel lit up and presented him with only three options: 1, 59 and 60. ‘No choice but to go to the next floor.’ He selected the 60th floor and it started to ascend.
Bark crossed his arms as they rose upward. “This is the real thing,” he said, his fist clenching. “Don’t let your guard down.”
Cream looked at both of them, her eyebrows creased. “I hope Cosmo’s alright…” she added.
Tails didn’t respond, but in his head, he wondered the same thing.
The elevator soon stopped at the 60th floor. Tails and company slinked out to what appeared to be a reception area and made a break towards a secluded hallway on the left. The fox peered out to take stock of the situation.
“Two guards in front of those eight statues,” he whispered to Bark and Cream. “Four more by the desk at the back. From the looks of things, these guys are the night watch.”
“Hey,” Bark suddenly called in a low voice. He was on the other end of the hall. “There’s a door here marked ‘Security’, let’s check it out?”
The fox’s ears flattened. “Wait a sec!” he growled, annoyed at the polar bear’s recklessness. He and Cream followed along and met with Bark, who stopped right in front of the door. Tails approached the Security room and pressed an ear against the wall. He heard nothing but the dim hum of computer equipment on the other side. “Don’t hear anybody inside, let’s go”
They entered to see a vast array of security monitors. Tails inspected the console, his eyes lighting up. “This terminal looks to be connected to the building’s mainframe… If I hack into it…” he muttered out loud, detaching his sword and sitting in the chair. He started typing, his fingers dancing rapidly on the keyboard.
“What are you doing?” Cream asked Tails, her eyes on the monitors above.
“Masking our presence,” Tails answered, his fingers dancing around the keyboard as he worked. “ Kinda like what I did back at Reactor 1. I’m disabling and cancelling as many alarms here as I can so that they aren’t totally aware of our presence. I also put most of the cameras on a feedback loop. The only thing I can’t override is the door access controls. Seems like that’s being controlled through a separate server.” He huffed and sunk back in the chair. “We’ll still need a physical keycard in order to advance. And the one we have only goes up to this floor.”
“Damnit,” Bark cursed. “Well, at least now we won’t have to worry so much about the entire army being on our asses.”
After a few minutes, Tails entered a final command on the terminal and then stood up. “Alright, I’ve locked the settings,” he said, satisfied. “They’ll have a hard time trying to sort that out.”
“Now, we just need to get to the next floor,” Cream said. She peeked out of the door to the right of the security monitors. “I can see a stairwell on the other side of this floor. We can probably get to it if we use the shadows of the statues to sneak by the guards.”
Ignoring Bark’s protestations about more stairs, Tails nodded. “I like that plan, I’ll go first.” He sheathed his sword, approached the door and kept his eyes trained on the patrolmen. “When I get to the centre, I’ll start waving you over. Stay by the door and wait for me to signal you.” When the guards were not looking, he stole across to each statue, hiding behind each until he reached the large reception desk in the centre of the room. Turning back to the security room and monitoring the guards, Tails started waving the other two over.
He repeated this process by the door leading to the stairwell. He felt his heart jump into his throat when a guard stopped in his tracks, noticing the back of Cream’s boot as she stumbled towards the second to last statue.
“Hm… Must be a trick of the light,” Tails heard the guard mumble. He took this opportunity to wave the rabbit over to the last statue. They then sidled around the wall and into the stairwell.
“Whew, that was close,” Cream shook her hands and legs as the door slid shut, loosening the tension in both.
“Alright! Time to rock!” Bark said loudly, earning a glare from both Mobians.
“Bark, be quiet!” Cream shushed. “Remember, we’re here to save Cosmo!”
“Hell, I know that!” Bark retorted, rolling his eyes.
They climbed up to the next floor and passed through a door that – to their surprise – was jammed open to emerge at the 61st floor. The three Mobians found themselves in what looked to be an executive lounge. In the centre of the room was a large tree. Surrounding the tree were tables and chairs. There were food and beverage kiosks dotted around the space, along with tele-crates and various comfortable armchairs facing out towards the high glass windows that overlooked the illuminated city. Tails, Cream and Bark huddled in the hallway by the stairs as they watched over the few Humans and Mobians that stayed behind to work overtime.
“Alright, so we need a key to go up,” Tails said quietly as he observed the movements of each employee. “Question is: how do we do that?”
“Could we try stealing one?” Cream suggested, pointing to the Steal Emerald on her arm.
“No, too risky,” Tails replied, shaking his head.
“What about if we hold up one of these corporate slugs and demand a key to the upper floors?” Bark whispered, scratching his chin with his good hand.
“That’s even worse, Bark!”
“Alright then, smartass, what do you suppose-”
“-Uh?” A nasally voice behind them made Tails’ fur on the back of his neck stand up. He whirled around with a hand on his blade’s hilt to face a terrified looking sheep. He wore a simple, buttoned up dress shirt, a pair of charcoal slacks and scuffed dress shoes. He looked flustered and disheveled and his glasses were slightly askew. “A-are you here… for the door?” he stammered, trembling at the sight of the three warriors.
Tails blinked. ‘…Roll with it.’ “Yes, we are,” he answered coolly, loosening the hold on his blade.
The sheep let out the breath he was holding and wiped his brow. “Oh good, then you must be part of the extermination squad I called for earlier!” he smiled. “The door to the stairs has been stuck like this for a while now; I thought one of Professor Nagus’ experiments might’ve caused it to happen, which is why I called!” He suddenly looked at the three of them in earnest. “Um… by the way, do you mind checking out the floor above us too? My boss is up there, but I’m… I’m gonna hang out here until the coast is clear.”
“Sure, it won’t be a problem,” Tails said, shrugging nonchalantly and ignoring the pointed looks from Bark and Cream. “Problem is, we lost our keycard dealing with something on the floor below us,” he continued, hoping that the sheep would buy the flimsy lie. “Got by with a spare, but it’s only good up to this floor.”
“Oh! Is that so?” The sheep replied, his eyes widening. “Well, in that case, take mine. I have a spare of my own. Check in on my boss, willya? He seems pretty frazzled, especially with the explosion that happened last night.” He stared out at the ceiling and shook his head in disbelief. “Can you believe that a bunch of terrorists dropped the Sector 7 plate?! Thank the Goddess that Kintobor’s search and rescue team were there… Imagine how many more people would have died without them?”
Bark opened his mouth to retort but Tails silenced him with a warning glare. “Look, we might not have much time, if this experiment is still out there,” Tails remarked to the sheep curtly, turning back to face him. “Hand us the key and we’ll take care of it.”
“Ah! Right,” The sheep said, taken aback by the fox’s direct nature. He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out his card. “Here ya go. And thanks again for your help!” He turned around and returned to one of the tables near the tree.
As they clambered up the steps up to the 62nd floor, Bark was fuming. “Can you believe the nerve of that kid?!” he bristled. “‘Terrorists dropping the plate’ my ass! It was Kintobor who did it in the first place!”
“Bark, we can’t produce any physical proof saying otherwise,” Cream responded. “And besides, Kintobor controls the media outlets in Megapolis. They can say whatever they want and people here will deem it the truth, because no one else will say otherwise.”
“Still,” the bear harrumphed. “That don’t make it right.”
They got out of the stairwell and into the 62nd floor, which consisted of four large rooms arranged in a two by two array and a small office. The floors were waxed and polished and the cream coloured walls gave off a pristine glow from the ambient lighting above.
“Hey, didn’t that kid say his boss is up here?” Bark whispered as they maneuvered the floor. Each had a plaque by its door that listed one of the four core departments within Kintobor Inc. “I’m just saying, if it’s only the one guy, we can overpower him, take his card and be on our way! I mean, this guy must be pretty high up, right?”
Tails let out a frustrated groan as they turned the corner past a room that read ‘Space Development’ and approached the small office. “Look Bark, you’re right,” he said wearily. “He’s the only person here who can give us the card, but let’s just try to convince him to give it up without a struggle? I’m not gonna remind you again; we need to be discreet until we get Cosmo out.”
Turning away from him, Tails missed Bark pulling a face and mouthing his own words behind his back mockingly. The office door slid open on approach and the three entered.
The room was small and cramped, with a large desk made of polished and stained cedar covering almost half of the available space. There was a flat-paneled Tele-Crate against the corner of the room. Right beside where they entered was a smaller table that was covered with neatly stacked papers.
Sitting at the desk was an older man with coiffed grey and black hair, a rounded nose and lines across his pale forehead. He wore a black suit with a red striped tie and smiled at the unexpected company, showing pearly-white teeth. He stood up from his chair and hailed at them in a deep, orotund voice. “Hello there. And who might you be? Wait, let me guess,” He cut in quickly before the three Mobians could get a word in. “You must be those… terrorists, aren’t you?”
The room descended into a thick, ringing silence for a few moments. Tails didn’t want to risk bringing a hand towards his sword for fear the human might sound an alarm.
“Hm. Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am Carlo Bulliani, Mayor of Megapolis,” the man spoke without concern. “Well, actually I’m Mayor in name only, since the city and everything in it is run by Kintobor Inc.” He made an exasperated noise and looked beyond them to the table covered with stacked papers.. “My real job is to watch over the company’s confidential documents… A glorified librarian is all I am these days.” He turned back to the Mobians, clapping his hands. A smile returned to his face. “I assume you’re not here just for a friendly visit?”
“No,” Tails answered, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the Mayor. “ We’re not.”
“I see,” Buliani replied, stroking his chin. “So then… how can I help?”
The three Mobians looked taken aback by the Human’s words. A wan smile suddenly crossed the Mayor’s lips. “Surprised? Don’t be,” he said, his shoulders sagging forward slightly. “In all honesty… I’m tired of this place. I’ve neither agreed with Gerald’s draconian policies towards Mobians, nor endorsed his treatment of those living in the slums. I put up with both because I was too scared to do anything else. But dropping the Plate… Well, that was the last straw.” He looked into the fox’s eyes desperately. “They need to be stopped. Before they can do any more harm to the people here. And I get a strong feeling that you’ll be suitable for the job.”
“You’re a little too quick to jump in and help us?” Cream said after a brief silence, frowning at Buliani’s behaviour. “So, what do you want in return?”
“Oh, nothing really,” Buliani replied, sticking a hand in his jacket pocket and taking out a keycard. “I just want you all to promise me one thing: Give them hell and make those assholes suffer greatly.” He walked out of his desk and handed the card to the fox. “Kintobor needs to pay for their crimes. I figure screwing them over would be just as nice as seeing the President and most of those Department Heads dead.”
The room fell quiet once more, the only noise being emitted was the Tele-Crate blaring in the background. “We’ll do it,” Bark said solemnly after a moment. His eyes locked onto the man’s own hazel ones. “We’ll make sure they pay dearly for what they’ve done!”
Buliani smiled sadly. “Thank you,” he said, his voice thick as he bowed his head downwards. He took a deep breath to compose himself and then faced the three with an unsettled look in his eyes. “… So, the keycard I gave you will usually take you up to the 65th floor,” he started slowly and with uncertainty. “But… this morning when I got into the office, I noticed that the 66th floor was coded into it for some reason. There’s a department meeting happening tonight and perhaps someone in IT accidentally assumed I would be part of it?” He shrugged and let out a sigh. “I don’t know, but in any case, you three are lucky.”
Tails looked at the keycard in his hands and then towards Buliani. “Yeah, lucky us,” he said flatly as he turned to leave. “Thanks for your help.”
“Woah, waitaminute!” Bark called, causing Tails to halt in mid-step. He turned to see the polar bear address the human. “So, downstairs, an employee of yours asked us to check in on you. Seemed kinda worried, so… uh, you better make sure to let him know that you’re OK, yeah?”
The Mayor blinked. “I’m… Sorry?” he said, a bemused expression on his face. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about? My budget prevents me from employing anyone, save for an intern, and I have no one working for me at this current time…”
The colour drained from each of Tails, Cream and Bark’s faces. They then thanked him again after a pointed silence and turned to leave.
Once they were out of earshot of the Mayor’s office, Tails rounded on his two companions. “Something’s off here,” he said to them, his expression darkening. “Why would that sheep on the 61st tell us that he works for the Mayor, only for the very man to say otherwise?”
“And then there’s the keycard,” Bark added, his arms crossed and his brows furrowed in thought. “He said that his card usually went to the 65th, except for today? Doesn’t that seem kinda odd?”
“You think it’s a trap, Tails?” Cream inquired, a worried look in her eyes. “Like what happened at the Number 5 Reactor?”
“…Even if it’s a trap, we’re already here,” Tails commented after taking in both of his companion’s opinions of the situation. He folded his arms in thought. “We’ve long past the point of no return, and sides, we’re not leaving until we get Cosmo out. Trap or no, we have to keep going.”
“Well, then what the hell are we waiting for?” Bark grumbled as he trundled forwards and jammed his finger on the elevator call button.
The car soon arrived and the three entered the elevator. As the doors slid shut, Tails’ eyes were fixated on a plaque labeled ‘Scientific Research’ and he suddenly felt a tinge of regret. ‘I… I wish I had some time to look into these files,’ he found himself thinking forlornly. He shook the thought out of his head as the elevator jolted upwards, earning looks from both Cream and Bark.
Reaching the 66th floor, they piled out of the elevator and again hurried into a secluded hallway as the elevator beside them dinged. Flattering themselves against the wall, Tails, Cream and Bark watched as two occupants got off the lift.
The first was a vixen with sleek, auburn fur and reddish-brown hair. She wore a sleeveless, figure-hugging black dress with a high slit, plunging neckline and matching black stilettos. Beside her was a massive lion, bronze furred with a short, flat-top haircut and a long groomed beard, both coloured platinum blonde. He wore a green military-style duster over black slacks and marched forward on polished combat boots.
“Ugh, I hate this conference room,” the female muttered to her companion, her voice as smooth as velvet to Tails ears. “Would it kill Gerald to hire a contractor and seal off the duct leading to the bathroom?”
“Quit your griping, Fiona,” the lion growled, his bottom jaw jutting out and making his large underbite more pronounced. “I’m already in a bad mood as it is. Let’s just go in and get this over with. I hate these meetings.”
The three TORNADO members watched as the two Mobians approached a set of ornate, wood paneled doors across from the elevators. The lion brought forth a keycard from his jacket pocket and tapped it on the reader beside the doors. It beeped once, the lock disengaged and the lion pulled the door open to enter the room, the fox slinking in right behind him.
Tails turned to his companions as the door clicked shut. “We need to listen in on that meeting,” he whispered as the conference room doors closed with a faint click. “If I were a betting fox, I’d say that this whole meeting’s about Cosmo. They might give us a clue as to her whereabouts.”
Cream tapped her chin thoughtfully. “But how are we going to do that?” she asked.
The fox took a moment to think. His ice blue eyes glittered as he recalled the words the scantily dressed fox said before she and her companion entered the conference room. “I might have an idea,” he said, his lips quirking upward. He beckoned the two to follow him down the hallway on the left hand side of the conference room. “C’mon, we gotta find a bathroom.”
Chris entered the 66th floor conference room with a stack of papers in his hand. He took his seat at one corner of the table and started laying them out along the desk. He looked distinctly less disheveled, having travelled to the rec area on the 64th floor and taking a shower for the first time in several days. While his face was impassive and expressionless, inwardly, he felt cold and hollow. His mind had been replaying the sounds of screeching metal and of the Plate crashing to the hard earth below with a sickening thud.
He suppressed a shudder, knowing that both Kodos and Fiona had their eyes on him. They were in the middle of an animated conversation as he came into the room, but then grew silent as he got to his seat. The lion scowled deeply at him, while Fiona shot him a coy look. He acknowledged their presence with a jerk of his head just as the conference room doors opened again.
Coming into the room was a short, wiry man wearing a tan suit. The newcomer had a pale, pointed face, a large hook nose, watery eyes, thin, balding hair and a pencil neck. In his hands was a mug filled with tea. “Kodos, Fiona, Thorndyke!” he called, his high, nasally tone jovial. “So good to see you all! Especially after such a rough night.” He took the seat opposite of Chris and took a sip from his mug.
‘Great, Snively’s here…’ Chris thought darkly, giving the little man across from him a hooded look. Snively responded with a simpering smile and then took another sip. He smacked his lips loudly, which only added to Chris’ ire.
After a few moments of waiting, President Kintobor entered the room. The occupants stood at attention as he made his way to the head of the table. “Be seated,” he instructed, lowering his aging frame into the high-backed chair. Gerald turned his head to Chris as he sat down and indicated for him to begin.
Chris cleared his throat. “I have here the damage estimates for Sector 7,” he said, indicating the papers on the table. “Considering the various investments we made in the areas that have now been destroyed – factories, service-based industries and residential development – we expect to see damages in the range of 10 billion Mobium.”
He was not surprised to see that his words had no effect on the occupants in the room. Gerald maintained his stony composure, his eyes imperceptible behind his dark, round glasses. Kodos picked out lint in his ear with his little finger, his eyes glazed over. Fiona leaned back in her seat and examined her nails, a bored expression crossing her muzzle. Snively sipped his tea, making loud slurping noises and again smacking his lips to Chris’ dismay. The sounds made the red-haired man grip the underside of the table tightly as he repressed the urge to lunge over and throttle him. Instead, he forced himself to be calm, and then continued speaking.
“…The estimated cost to rebuild Sector 7-”
“-We’re not rebuilding,” Gerald interjected.
Gerald leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table and his fingers steepling. “We are not rebuilding,” he repeated slowly, ignoring the scandalized look the redhead gave him. “We’re leaving Sector 7 as it is and restarting the Neopolis plan.”
“…Then, the Ancients?” Chris asked, recovering from his shock.
“Yes,” Kintobor finished, his moustache stretching into a cold smile. “The Fertile Grounds will soon be ours.” His gaze turned back towards Chris’. “I want you to raise the Energen rates by 15% in every area,” he instructed. “And raise RINGTEK prices by another 20%.”
“Wahahahaha-hooo!” Snively erupted in a fit of laughter as he slammed his mug into the table, the contents splashing onto the polished wood. All eyes turned to him. “A rate hike! Simply marvelous idea, Granduncle! Now… if you could just include the Space Program in the new budget-”
“-Christopher and Fiona will divide the extra income from the rate increases,” Kintobor said impassively, glowering at his grandnephew.
Snivley wilted under the President’s gaze and fell silent.
“But Sir,” Chris stood up, his shoulders hunched and his hands splayed on the table. “If you raise the rates, the people will lose confidence!”
“Nonsense,” Kintobor waved. “The ignorant citizens will not lose confidence, not after our response to last night’s attack. In fact, I’ve received poll numbers that indicate trust in Kintobor Inc. has risen 25 points.”
“Ha ha ha!” It was Kodos’ turn to laugh. “Kid, we saved Sector 7 from TORNADO! Of course the people are gonna love us!”
Before Chris could make a retort, the conference room door swung open with a loud bang. Startled, Chris turned to see who was entering. Limping into the space was Professor Nagus, his amber eyes shimmering from beneath the hood he always wore.
“Ahh… Nagus,” Kintobor greeted, his moustache twitching upwards. “Good on you to finally join us. How is the girl?”
Nagus brought his left hand to his chin and started stroking it. “I’ve taken several samples from her over the past 24 hours and have analyzed them,” he said, his high, clear voice ringing through the room. “The girl does have similar powers to her mother, but they appear to be inert in comparison. An utterly inferior specimen, in my opinion.” He started to pace the room, his eyes still trained on the President. “The difference thus far is about 20%, but it climbs as I perform further tests.”
“And how long will the research take?” Kintobor asked, a slight edge to his voice.
“Currently, my estimates place it at 120 years,” Nagus answered and quickly continued, seeing the throbbing vein that sprouted on the President’s bald, liver-spotted head. “Luckily, the last sample I took a few hours ago has confirmed my suspicions that she is indeed quite fertile. I believe breeding her with an individual possessing similar powers will reduce that research estimate by about 95%.”
“… Possessing similar powers?”
“Ah, yes,” Nagus acknowledged. He stopped pacing and faced Kintobor. “We came across a Mobian around the outskirts of the ruined Mobotropolis. She would have been unremarkable, save for the odd, Emerald-like growths along her arms. We captured her and I coaxed out her latent abilities, as you already know from an earlier conversation.” He paused here, a grin creeping on his lips from beneath the hood. “Though she is a female, I managed to extract several stem cell samples from her and, with a little in vitro gametogenesis, I was successfully able to create-”
“-Nagus,” Kintobor interrupted through gritted teeth. “Enough of that. What about the Fertile Grounds? Will this scheme of yours work?”
“Ah, forgive me,” he said, bowing. “Yes, Mr. President, we will be able to create a new, more powerful lifeform from these two Mobians. As for the company’s plans for the Fertile Grounds, it will all be dependent on the Ancient… She is quite strong-willed, but I believe she can be tamed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll need to prepare…” He trailed off, wandering out of the boardroom.
Gerald let out an exasperated sigh. “Meeting adjourned,” he said wearily, climbing out of his chair.
Chris followed suit. He collected his papers and walked at a clipped pace out of the door. As he mashed the elevator call button, he heard Fiona say something, but he paid it no mind. The doors soon opened and he climbed in. He tapped the reader with his keycard and slammed his hand on the 65th floor button. “Screw all of this, I’m getting my robot and going to see my girlfriend…” he muttered as the elevator door slid shut and the car descended.