Chapter 33: The Wizard of Genetics
“They were talking about Cosmo… right?” Tails asked.
He, Cream and Bark were crammed into an exhaust duct that connected the men’s bathroom to the conference room, where they watched the meeting through a grate. The ductwork was surprisingly strong enough to support their combined weight and Tails mentally thanked whoever was responsible for putting it in this particular area.
They dipped away from the return air grille as the one named Fiona arched her head upwards, her nose crinkled. “Something stinks…” they heard her mutter as she stared at the grille. Disgusted, she turned her nose and sashayed out of the conference room. As soon as it was emptied, the three resumed their conversation in hushed tones.
“I dunno?” Bark said, shrugging.
“Probably?” Cream interjected, her head tilted.
“Let’s go follow ‘em,” Tails whispered, crawling through the duct back towards the bathroom. He kicked the large, square grate beneath him, sidled out of the duct onto the toilet and exited the stall. He waited for Cream and Bark to follow suit, the former shutting the grate closed as she crawled out last. They left the bathroom and kept close to the walls as they snuck through the empty hallway and around the conference room. Tails peeked around every corner before they proceeded. At the third intersection, just as they passed the elevators and the door leading into the large conference room, the fox brought his hand to halt the group as he spotted Nagus talking to himself near the stairwell. He was fumbling for something within his pocket.
“Nagus… huh?” Tails muttered, his eyes narrowed as he watched the enigmatic man open the door. As they followed him from a distance, Tails couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about the gnarled scientist. That feeling persisted as they arrived on the 67th floor. The door leading out of the stairwell was left wide open.
“I’ve heard about this Nagus guy before,” Bark said at once, stopping in his tracks. “He’s the head of the Kintobor Science Department. They call him ‘The Wizard of Genetics.’ Rumor has it that his face and arm got mauled by an experiment gone horribly wrong; that’s why he always wears a hood and his arm’s always in that sling.” The bear gave Tails a quizzical look. “Tails, don’t you know him?”
The fox racked his brain to see if he could ever recall meeting him. He saw brief images – flashes of people, places and things – but no real indication of if he had ever seen the hooded scientist. And yet, he felt an odd, unexplainable chill travel down his spine. “No, this is the first time I’ve actually ever seen him,” Tails admitted, turning his head away from the bear. “So… that’s what he looks like…” Clearing his mind of his uneasiness, he then strode towards the open door. “Let’s keep moving; Cosmo might be somewhere around here.”
The silence on the 67th was oppressive. Tails, Cream and Bark crept around the austere and cold hallways, their footsteps echoing on the steel-grey tiles. They passed rooms filled with scientists so engrossed in their work that they barely registered their presence. And while a small part of him wanted to stop and observe the experiments being done on this floor, Tails knew that this was neither the time or place to do so.
Passing a long hallway that led to a set of containment cells, the three soon entered a large, open area spanning half of the floor. Inside, wooden crates were placed around the room in an disorganized manner. There was a large, glass containment tank in the centre of the room, which Professor Nagus and one of his assistants were standing in front of.
Tiptoeing to a stack of crates nearby, the three crouched down as Nagus spoke to his assistant – a platypus with bluish-green fur and well-groomed hair. “Raise him to the next floor,” he instructed, his high voice making the hairs on the nape of Tails’ neck stand on end. “He shall meet the mother of his future offspring before we conduct the extraction and fertilization process.”
“Yes, Professor,” the assistant said. They heard footsteps receding to the back of the room. Hearing the scientist mumble to himself, Tails peeked over and saw the creature that he was peering at closely.
It was unlike anything he had ever seen before; a mass of green, polished rock hewn into a humanoid shape. It was lying in a large glass tank, it’s body curled up into a ball.
He couldn’t see Nagus’ face due to the hood obscuring it, but Tails could imagine that he was smiling at the thing in the tank. “Ahh… my precious specimen,” he cooed, his high, clear voice coming out like a hiss. He turned away from the tank and followed his assistant to the back. Tails heard the sound of a door sliding open and closed and took it as a sign that the room was empty.
Emerging from their hiding place, the three Mobians approached the creature to get a better look at it. The fox assumed that the creature was a Mobian; the two triangular ears on the top made it obvious. The rest of its head and face was buried into its arms, which were covered in large, jagged chunks of viridian stone. It had a barrel-chested torso and thick, trunk-like legs.
Cream got up close to the tank and looked inside. “A precious specimen?” she queried, angling her head back at the bear and the fox. A concerned and sympathetic expression crossed her face. “Is it gonna be used for a biological experiment?”
“Man, what IS that thing,” Bark commented, folding his arms and cocking his head to the side. “It looks kinda like… a living Emerald or something? Weird…”
Tails turned to comment, but his eye caught something on the opposite side of the tank that made him do a double take. Moving away from the group, he approached the large steel door of a semicircular structure with various tubes and pipes coming out of the top. As he read the sign above the door, he felt his heart leap into his throat. ‘It can’t be…‘ he thought, his fur standing on end. He peered into the porthole and felt the blood pool from his face. His palms became clammy in his gloves and his heart started to pound painfully against his chest.
The figure inside the structure was a hideously grotesque humanoid that resembled a woman. A large heart-like organ was at its bottom. Above it were two slender legs, a torso and two arms that were drawn towards its back. Vestigial organs and tubes sprouted out of various parts of its body; the largest tube looked like an umbilical cord that went out of its navel and connected to the heart organ on its feet. Two wing-like stubbs were attached to its back. It had two breasts; the right one was bare but its left had an eyeball in place of a nipple. It was blood red with a slitted onyx pupil in the centre. It’s skin was an iridescent shade of greyish-black, while the tubes around its body were blood red and pink in colour. The monstrosity was headless, but Tails didn’t need it to know exactly what or who it was.
“Blakdüm…” Tails choked out, his throat tightening as he stared in horror at the creature. He could have swore that the eye in its breast turned towards him. And then, after a long, drawn out second of it staring at him, the repulsive organism twitched.
A ringing noise suddenly erupted in Tails’ head. He clutched at it with both hands as a cacophony of sounds and voices viciously echoed inside of his brain.
…Tails, let’s go…
…Hometown? Must be nice…
…I wanted to join SOLDIER to be like you!…
…a mysterious power?…
… I’m going to see my mother…
Tails screamed and dropped to his knees. The pain came in waves and he thrashed vehemently, wishing for his agony to stop.
Tails’ anguished cry pierced through Creams’s heart. She spun away from the stone creature in the tank and hurried to his side. “Tails!? Are you alright?!” she asked, kneeling down and placing a hand on his shoulder.
The fox raised a shaky finger towards the chamber in front of him. “Blakdüm…” he rasped, his mouth dry. “Blakdüm… Nazo’s… so… they’ve brought it here…”
Cream gripped his shoulder tightly. “Be strong, Tails,” she urged, her brows creasing.
Tails turned his head to both Mobians. “D-did you see it?” he asked, weakly.
“See what?” Bark responded, arching an eyebrow.
“It’s moving… Still alive?” Tails replied shakily.
Cream helped him to his feet, her eyes never leaving her friend’s face. He looked as exhausted as the day she first saw him again in Megapolis.
Bark looked through the porthole and recoiled at the sight. “What the fuck is that thing!?” he hissed, jumping backwards. “And where’s its fuckin’ head?! This whole thing’s stupid, Tails. Let’s keep going.”
“…Yeah,” Tails said, finally regaining his stoic demeanor. He shook Cream’s hand off of his shoulder and started moving towards the back of the room where Nagus went.
He moved a little too quickly in Cream’s eyes – as if he didn’t want to be anywhere near this thing any longer. She glanced at Bark, who met her eyes. They dared not say anything, for fear that the fox could overhear, but the rabbit guessed that they were both thinking the same thing: ‘What is going on with that fox?’
They caught up with Tails at the end of the room. He stood by an elevator that led up to the 68th floor and was also holding a Green Emerald that gave off a sickly, purplish-green hue. “Poison,” Tails explained, noticing Cream’s puzzled look. He placed it in his pocket and then turned to the lift in front of him. “It looks like this goes up to the next floor,” he said, his jaw tightening. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say that’s where we’ll find Cosmo.” Without another word, they silently climbed aboard and ascended to the next level.
The 68th floor consisted of a large, open laboratory theater filled with various scientific devices. To their extreme right was a massive apparatus that spanned a third of the floor. It consisted of a raised circular pad and several large, opaque tubes connecting to a machine above. Cream shuddered at the sight of the imposing mechanism. ‘What on Mobius is that thing?’ she thought. She leaned towards Tails to ask, but stopped short as his intense gaze was focused towards the centre of the room.
Nagus was standing in front of a large, cylindrical glass holding tank, a hand stroking his hooded chin. There was a sunken floor surrounding the tank, as well as a retractable walkway that connected it to the floor proper. Beside him was Cosmo, lying reclined on a medical bed with her arms secured to the sides and legs strapped securely into stirrups. She wore nothing but a thin, light blue gown.
“Cosmo!” Tails called loudly, drawing their attention. The flower girl’s eyes widened as she watched him advance toward the specimen tank with Cream and Bark in tow.
“Ah, so that’s her name,” Nagus said, his eyes still trained on the tank in front of him. “And what is it that you three want?”
“We’re taking Cosmo back,” Tails replied, glowering at the scientist. He grasped the hilt of his blade tightly as he spoke.
“Hmmm, how quaint,” Nagus commented, his eyes now finally moving to the intruders. “A trio of outsiders mounting a rescue mission. I must congratulate you on coming this far.”
“Save your breath!” Bark growled from beside the fox. He raised his arm towards Nagus, who arched an eyebrow at the action.
“Oh, are you going to kill me?” he asked, his high, clear voice taking on a mirthful tone. “Ha! A frivolous gesture that I don’t think you should entertain.” He then pulled out a large syringe and pointed it at Cosmo’s forehead. The tip rested directly on her skin. “Considering that if any of you make any sudden movements, the girl gets a lobotomy,” he continued, flashing a dangerous grin at the trio. “I need only her body for my experiment to succeed, not her mind.”
“Ugh,” Tails groaned through gritted teeth. He released his hold on his sword. Bark and Cream lowered their weapons at the same time.
“Good, it seems someone understands how to think logically as opposed to taking rash action,” the professor commented. He put the syringe back into his lab coat and then raised his good hand upward. “Bring the specimen forward!” he called loudly.
In a control room on the mezzanine above them, Cream saw Nagus’ assistant activate the controls for the specimen elevator. A circular door at the centre of the glass tank slid open and a lift from below rose up. Carrying it was the creature Tails, Bark and Cream saw in the small cell on the 67th.
The crystalline monster in the holding tank uncurled himself, stood up and stepped off of the lift platform, its face revealed. Standing at the same height as Tails, it had a set of three thick crystal spikes that jutted out from each side of what looked to be a muzzle. There was a triangular chunk of rock placed where its nose would be. Its head was covered in a mass of spikes similar to a swept back hairstyle. Its lips were closed in a tight line and its heavily lidded, multifaceted yellow eyes gazed listelesly from the professor to Cosmo as it stood motionless with its thick, massive arms by its side.
Cosmo’s face whitened and she screamed at the sight of the monster. “Tails! Help!”
The fox leveled a harsh glare at the scientist. “What do ya think you’re doing!?” he demanded, frustration clearly showing on his face.
Nagus leered at the three Mobians. “I could say that I’m ‘lending a helping hand to a pair of endangered species’,” he explained plainly, making air quotes. “But that would just be a lie. You see, I have always been in the pursuit of genetic perfection. These two are the last of their kind; both have abilities unheard of or unseen in any living creature!” A maniacal grin stretched across his shadowed face. “Think what would happen if these abilities could be unlocked and studied further?! Or better yet, if they could be combined into one organism?! I could usher in a new age in genetic evolution!” He cackled loudly, his one arm spread wide while the other, confined in the sling, bounced uselessly off of his body.
“You’re sick!” Cream yelled, horror-stricken by the professor’s declaration. “Cosmo isn’t some sort of experiment; she’s a living being!”
“You bastard! You’re gonna pay!” Bark snarled, his hackles raised and his fist shaking violently.
“Bark, shoot the door!” Tails hissed suddenly. Cream turned her head sharply at his words.
The bear also swiveled his head towards him. “The hell are you talking about?!” he spat, confused.
“The panels on the door there, the blue ones!” Tails answered over the mad scientist’s cackling. “Shoot them! Now!”
Nonplussed, Cream saw that Tails’ eyes were trained not on Nagus, but the green monster inside the tank. Its head was tilted towards the fox and its own eyes swept up and down in a rhythmic fashion towards the aforementioned panels. Her jaw dropped. “Bark, just do it!” she yelled.
The gunner stepped forward, cocking the Assault Gun. “Alright then, stand back!” he called, roaring as he fired upon the panels.
The gunfire caused Nagus to cease his laughter. His mouth twisted into an expression of abject horror. “No! What are you doing!” he screeched as the bullets penetrated the panels, causing thin, web-like cracks to form on the door.
The beast inside rose a club-like fist and struck, shattering the door and freeing it from its confines. Without warning, it stomped out of the holding tank towards Nagus, letting out a guttural roar as it launched a powerful uppercut to the scientist’s jaw. The blow sent him flying away from Cosmo and onto the floor. The crystal figure bounded towards the scientist and wrapped its hands around its throat in an attempt to choke him.
As this was happening, Tails and Cream ran over to Cosmo’s side and started freeing her from her confines. Once released, the flower girl shakily got to her feet. “Thanks, you two,” she said, her voice tremulous.
“Y-you! How dare you all attack the professor!” a voice called out above them. It was the assistant from before. He flicked several switches from his position in the control room, snickering all the while. “Let’s see how you handle… THIS!” he yelled, slamming his palm onto a button.
“No! You… fool!” Nagus choked out under the golem’s grip to the assistant. “Sample 512… hasn’t been… properly mind-wiped yet!”
Behind them, the circular platform at the centre of the holding tank reopened. Tails and Cream spun around to see a spindly, flesh coloured arm shoot out. Long, grey talons gripped onto the floor and gouged the surface as it pulled itself up. The shoulder attached to the clawed arm was an enormous, purple mass of muscle, with an elongated and horrendous gaping mouth stretching across it and filled with rows of sharp, pointed teeth. Sickly, green gas poured out of the corners of the mouth. The rest of its body slithered out of the hole: a broad chest and back covered in pale, puckered skin, a tapered waist with a tube coming out of its navel. The left arm was a heavy mass of pulsating tissue, to which the tube from its abdomen was connected to. The blob-like ends of the arm had small tentacles that twitched and squirmed independently of the main body. It stood on thick legs which had the muscle fibers exposed and a set of broad, three toed feet. It’s head was skeletal, with numerous tendrils spilling out from where its maw would have been. It stood at its full height, which towered over the Mobians and bellowed loudly from the mouth on its shoulder, a sickened and pained screech echoing through the room.
The rabbit retched at the sight of the creature named 512. Her heart hammered painfully against her chest, the rapid beat tattooing against her ribcage as the monster swayed about in the holding tank, taking in its unfamiliar settings.
“He’s rather strong. I’ll help you all out,” a rough, deep and gravelly voice called from behind.
Cream spun around and gaped at the green stone creature, who released Nagus from its grasp. “It talked?!” she yelped, her eyes as wide as saucers.
“Look, I’ll talk as much as I want to, milady,” The golem grunted in response as the scientist shuffled away from them.
Cream readied a retort, but Tails stopped her. “Cream, I need you to get Cosmo out of here,” he said. HIs focus turned to the monstrosity in the holding tank. It started to step gingerly out of its confines, a suffering wail escaping from the mouth in its shoulder.
The golem turned to Cosmo. “Your belongings might be in a storage locker on the 67th, by the holding cells,” he said before addressing Cream. “Lady rabbit, you should go with her and keep her safe.”
The rabbit opened her mouth to protest, but closed it after realizing why. “…Alright,” she said reluctantly. “We’ll be back shortly.” She turned to Cosmo and took her hand. “C’mon, let’s go.”
As the two ran back towards the lift leading to the 67th, Cream glanced back to Bark, Tails and the mysterious golem. “Good luck,” she whispered softly, the lift doors sliding shut.