Chapter 35: End of the Line
‘It’s official: I am part of the weirdest group of Mobians that the world has ever seen.’
It was one of many thoughts that ran through Cosmo’s mind as she, the Ex-SOLDIER Tails, the bartender/fighter Cream, the one-armed gunner Bark and Green XIII – a Mobian encased in living crystal and their newest ally – descended the stairs from the 68th to the 66th floor. Half an hour ago, she was certain that she would have been subjected to frightening experiments. Now, with every step she took downward, she felt closer to freedom and it was all because of her new friends.
‘Friends…’ she found herself lamenting as they approached the door to the 66th. ‘Apart from my ex, I don’t remember the last time I had any real friends, at least not of my age.’ She thought of Viv, the elderly alligator living in Sector 6’s Wall Market. Her mind then turned to her mother and the little girl who was now in her care. Cosmo wondered if they were alright as the group stole through the shadowed hallways towards the bank of elevators leading to their ultimate escape.
Tails jammed on the button to call the lift. “Nothing to do but wait,” he said to the others, who stood idling by the elevator doors. Bark and Cream both looked tense and Green XIII’s crystal face was as impassive as when Cosmo first saw her. Tails soon crossed his arms and began tapping his foot impatiently, a motion which the flower girl found interesting.
‘Again, just like him,’ she thought, tilting her head curiously at the action. ‘If he weren’t a fox, he’d be the spitting image of-’
Her thoughts were cut off by the ding of the elevator. It was followed by a second and then finally a third. The indicator lights above the door of each elevator flashed from red to blue. All three doors opened at the same time with each car revealing a large platoon of soldiers that quickly surrounded them. Flanking them were four very familiar Mobians wearing dark navy suits.
“Well, well,” Vector of the Chaotix whistled. His arm was bandaged and in a sling from the fight back in Sector 7. The lighting above him illuminated the large gold chain around his neck. “I believe you guys are looking to go up, not down.”
On his left, Knuckles scoffed. “I’m sorry to say that it’s the end of the line for you all,” he bristled at the group. He leveled an icy glare at them all. “I’m sure you all had a very fun time roaming around these floors. I’ll give you credit though,” he looked directly in Tails’ eyes. “I was impressed by the hack job you pulled off, fox. Had you not done that, we would have apprehended you before you reached the 62nd.”
Mighty stood by Knuckles’ left side, a dark look cast upon his face. He appeared to be struggling with something, but Cosmo couldn’t care less about what it could be. She recognized Espio, who stood beside the armadillo. His expression was as severe as Knuckles’. As she heard Tails growl softly from her right side, she felt her fists ball up tightly. ‘Why did I not see this coming?’ she thought angrily, her eyes squeezed shut to prevent tears from falling. ‘Knuckles or Kintobor wouldn’t let us go that easily! I should have said something!’
“Alright, enough dawdling,” Mighty said after a brief pause. He motioned to the guards. “Round ‘em up, we’re off to see the President.” As the guards surrounded them, confiscated their weapons and Emeralds and bound their arms, Mighty then added. “Oh, and as for the girl in the green and white dress? Take her away separately.”
“No!” Tails called out as Cosmo felt herself being roughly tugged away from the group by two MP’s.
“Let me go!” she hollered, struggling against their grip. However, they were too strong for her to break free. Helplessly, she watched as her captured friends filed into the elevator, the door sliding shut behind them silently.
As she ascended the elevator with his escorts to the president’s office on the top floor of the Kintobor Building, Green XIII reflected on the events that led her to this moment. With her arms bound tightly behind her back, all the golem could do at this moment was think.
A mere month ago, she was plucked from her home near the ruins of Mobotropolis and whisked to this giant metropolis on the other side of the world to be experimented on. All due to the fact that one of Kintobor’s scientists accidentally discovered the scaling of green crystals on her arms when she had forgotten to cover them up during a routine visit to the ruins.
‘That one little careless act had many consequences,’ the golem thought as the elevator they were on stopped at the 69th floor. ‘I wonder how everyone is holding up during my absence? Hopefully they don’t give Grandpa too much of a hard time…’ Her train of thought was broken as she was led out by the crocodile and a group of soldiers who were torn between fulfilling their duties and shying away from her hulking stone form. The golem suppressed a sigh as she tramped across the elevator lobby, past the stairwell and out to the main reception area.
The space was simple, but lavish and looked fitting for an executive suite. On either side of the door were two, elegantly crafted wooden desks, the lights above reflecting off of the polished, dark brown stains. Through an open door to his right, he could see a set of tall filing cabinets. Ahead was a stairwell that curved up to the right and lined with fine, violet carpeting. Its mirror lay on the left side of the floor. A litany of colorful plants were tastefully strewn around the space. The sight – coupled with what she knew of Kintobor’s destructive policies towards the environment – made Green XIII’s stomach twist in a knot.
The guards had her stop at the desk on his right. “Alright, I can take it from here,” the crocodile said. The soldiers saluted and then turned back towards the elevators. Turning back to his charge, the reptile studied Green XIII. “Man… aren’t you an odd one?” he commented, cocking his head to the side.
Green didn’t respond to the croc’s small talk. Instead, the golem stared out of the windows on the opposite side of the floor. Gazing past the transparent egg-like facade and the illuminated city skyline, she focused on a point on the darkened horizon – towards what she assumed was directly southwest of Megapolis. The craggy extrusions that made up her eyebrows furrowed deeply.
‘Will I ever see my home again?’ she wondered.
A moment later, the other three Mobians she became acquainted with only an hour ago arrived, each handled by another Mobian wearing the same navy blue suit. ‘An hour of freedom… And now these three will suffer the same fate as I, I suppose,’ she mused sardonically as he glanced at them briefly.
A brunette woman with tanned skin and a willowy frame soon emerged from the filing room and sat down in a plush, leather chair. She pressed a button on the desktop phone. “Sir, I have the intruders here,” she said into the speaker, her hazel-green eyes narrowing darkly at the group from behind a pair of black, rectangular glasses.
“Send them in, Monica,” another voice – reedy yet powerful – responded. Green XIII felt herself being roughly shoved up the right staircase and into the president’s office. It was as big as the floor below it, with a high domed ceiling and tall windows giving an unobstructed, 360 degree view of the city. Before the golem could marvel at this, she was pushed towards the enormous, tech-laden desk at the back of the room.
President Kintobor sat in his chair, his greying moustache upturned into a snarl. “When I first met you at the No. 5 Reactor, I didn’t realize then just how difficult it would be to kill you all,” he said, a vein popping on his forehead as the group came to a halt in front of his desk. “Since then, you’ve escaped the destruction of Sector 7 and even managed to get through this building – MY building.”
He stood up and started pacing behind his desk. Green XIII watched as his hands clenched and unclenched as he spoke. “I would honestly be impressed if I wasn’t so infuriated,” Gerald continued, his voice quaking behind held back rage. “YEARS of genetic research has now been lost, my security systems and armed forces have been made a laughingstock and the central computer for the Roboticizer has been completely destroyed!”
“But all that pales in comparison to the fact that you all nearly, NEARLY took off with the company’s most prized asset!” he bellowed, slamming his gnarled fists onto his desk with such force that the noise echoed around the circular room. His glare, hidden behind his mirrored lenses, then centred on the Ex-SOLDIER. “I am going to skin each and every one of you to use as my new personal flooring for this insult!”
“…Where is she?” Tails responded coolly to the threats, his electric-blue eyes never wavering from the President’s own.
The President paused to regain his composure and Green XIII arched her head towards the fox once more. An uncomfortable feeling coursed through her – the same one she had when she formally introduced himself to the former SOLDIER and his friends after they had finished off 512. ‘Something is off about him…’ Green thought, studying Tails. ‘I get the feeling that I know him from somewhere…’
“…You need not worry about her, fox,” the president said, forcing Green XIII to pay attention. The human’s reedy, elderly tone took on a calm, yet venomous edge. “The Seedrian is in a safe place.”
“The hell are you on about?” Bark snapped back, his hackles raised. He struggled in his bonds and was held back by the sour-looking armadillo.
“Oho, so the wretch knows not of the Seedrians, hm?” President Kintobor responded mockingly, placing his hands on his desk and leaning forward, his jaw jutting outward. Bark snarled at the human and thrashed about, trying to shake the armadillo off of him, but he held fast.
“I suppose I should tell you, but be not surprised if your limited intelligence cannot comprehend this,” the President continued through gritted teeth as he ignored the frenzied bear. “We two – Mobians and Humans – are NOTHING compared to the Seedrians.” He straightened up and resumed his pacing behind his desk. “They lived thousands of years ago, cultivating and nurturing the planet into what it is today. Without them, we would not exist. Today, they are nothing but a footnote in history.”
“So, the Seedrians do exist after all,” Green XIII popped in, her rough and gravelly voice catching everyone’s attention. “And this girl is one of them? Unbelievable…”
Kintobor stared at Green XIII, though his mirrored lenses prevented the golem from seeing the old man’s eyes. “…Yes, she is the last Seedrian,” the President finally said, his tone more measured and controlled than before. “The Seedrians, or Ancients as they are known, will lead us to the ‘Fertile Grounds.’ I expect much from her.”
“The Fertile Grounds!?” The golem replied, astonished. She arched a craggy eyebrow upwards. “Impossible, it’s nothing more than a legend!?”
“…Be that as it may,” Kintobor replied, the edge returning to his voice. “The research indicates that the legend may have some basis of reality. And if it’s real…”
“Then there’s gotta be Energen!” Bark interrupted, ceasing his struggles. His face was horror-stricken.
“Precisely!” Kintobor said, a wide grin stretching across his lips. His bushy moustache curled upward, matching his smile. “And that’s where the Energen Reactors and the next and greatest iteration of RINGTEK will be manufactured. The abundant Energen will just flow out on its own, driving down extraction costs and allowing for optimal profits.” His tone became more hurried and excited and he spread his arms out wide, his face the picture of rapture. “And that is where Neopolis will be built, the crown jewel of Kintobor Power Incorporated-”
“Oh fuck that!” the polar bear cut in once again. “That’s never gonna happen! Quit dreaming and wake up!”
The president strode up to Bark and pulled off his mirrored spectacles. He got up close to the bear and stared into his eyes with cold hatred. “Dreaming?” he sneered, grey eyes aflame with malice. “I assure you that this is no dream, but merely a reality that will happen. It’s a shame,” he straightened up and placed his spectacles onto his face. “That neither you nor your friends will live to see that come to pass.” He paused, letting the words sink in before continuing. “Nagus needs new data to restart his research and I can’t think of better candidates than you four.”
Green’s shoulders slumped. ‘And there it is…’ She thought sadly. ‘We’re all doomed.’
“This meeting has concluded. Take them away,” Kintobor ordered, turning away from the group and staring out of the window.
As she was led away from the President, Green heard Bark roar loudly. “Hey! I ain’t done with you yet!” the bear spat as he struggled against the armadillo’s tight grip. “You think you can get away with this?! The blood of all of the Mobians you’ve either killed or roboticized are on your friggin’ hands! The blood of all of Mobius itself is on YOUR HANDS!”
Green missed the rest of the exchange as she was pulled down the stairs to the reception hall by the reptile. They soon joined the echidna and the chameleon by the elevators. Minutes later, the armadillo dragged in Bark – who was still struggling with his bonds – and joined the throng that congregated in the vestibule.
“Alright, lock ‘em up in the holding cells on the 67th,” the echidna instructed, pressing the call button. “Two to a cell.”
The fox stared at the door of the cell that he and Cream shared, chewing a morsel of stale bread as he tried to come up with any options for escape. Swallowing, he set the tray of food on his lap next to him and turned to her when she called.
She lay on the stiff cot to his left, looking up at him. Tails could see the spots on her body where she was either bruised or cut during the several battles spanning the past 72 hours. Despite the battle injuries, her beautiful face still radiated an air of optimism and a glimmer of hope continued to shine in her amber coloured eyes. “What’s up,” he answered quickly, realizing that he was staring.
“So, can we get out of here?” she asked.
He smirked. “Leave it to me, I’ll get us out of here,” he replied, giving her a thumbs-up. She flashed him a smile in response and lay back.
Inwardly, Tails wasn’t entirely sure if they could get out. Weapon-less and without Emeralds, he didn’t feel as confident as he sounded. He went to the wall on the opposite side and sat on the floor. The back of his head bumped softly against the wall and he closed his eyes.
‘We were almost out of here,’ he brooded, his eyebrows knitted. ‘And now… well now, we’re screwed. There’s no way out of this one.’ He sighed under his breath. ‘I wonder how Cosmo is doing?’
Just then, he heard a tap-tap-tap on the other side of the wall, followed by a sweet, feminine voice. “Tails?”
“Cosmo?! You’re alright?”
“Yeah, I’m alright,” she replied.
Tails’ lips quirked. He suddenly felt a warmth envelop his body upon hearing her voice. He didn’t understand this feeling, but he relished in the comfort it gave him.
He heard her shift on the other side of the wall. “I knew you’d come for me,” she said warmly.
The fox scoffed in response. “Of course I would,” he said. “I’m your bodyguard, remember?”
“The deal was for one date, right?”
“Excuse me, but what’s this about a date?” came Cream’s voice. There was a frosty bitterness in it.
Tails suddenly felt a chill in the room. ‘Oh man…’
“Wha-! Cream!?” Cosmo exclaimed. Tails could practically hear her do a double take. “Wh-Y-you’re… You’re there too!?”
“I’m sorry for barging in,” she said, not feeling very sorry at all. Her tone then shifted. “But, I do have a question for you, Cosmo.”
“…What is it?”
“Do the Fertile Grounds really exist?”
There was a pregnant pause that loomed in the air before Cosmo answered again. “… I don’t really know,” she answered. “But what little I do know comes from what my mother told me. My real mother.”
Tails and Cream heard Cosmo stand up. She began to pace around the room. “She told me that the Seedrians were born of Mobius and they take root in her soil to speak to her and unlock its secrets,” she said. “And… then the Seedrians will return to the Fertile Grounds; a land that promises supreme happiness.”
“…What does that mean?” Cream asked after taking the flower girl’s words in, her head tilted in wonder.
“Beyond her words… I don’t really know…”
“…Speak with Mobius?” Tails butted in. He folded his arms and furrowed his brows, trying to make sense of it all.
“Just what does Mobius say, anyway?” Cream added.
“It’s too noisy to hear on a regular day,” came Cosmo’s response. Tails and Cream heard her sit on the hard bed in her cell. “There’s too much going on and too many people about. That’s why I can’t hear what they are saying…”
“What about now?” Tails asked
“Well… I’ve only ever heard it at the Church in the Sector 5 Slums,” Cosmo said. “But I’m sure if I leave this city, I’ll be able to hear it better.” She let out a long sigh and the cot creaked as she lay down on it. “Mom – my real mom – would always say that I would leave Megapolis, speak with Mobius and find my Fertile Ground.” Her voice started to crack. “I-I thought I would stop hearing her voice as I grew up, but…”
Silence permeated the space once more. The fox’s gaze went towards his childhood friend, who was staring at the wall separating their cell from Cosmo’s. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, her brows were creased and her lips were downturned. She put a hand on a spot behind her right ear and rubbed it absently. A memory suddenly flashed in Tails’ mind; he saw the reactor on Mount Mobius, where a younger Cream was kneeling by the body of an older rabbit with caramel-coloured hair. ‘That’s right, Cream lost her mother too…’ he recalled.
There was a knock on the opposite wall, causing Cream to snap out of her reverie. “Yo, Tails? Cream?” Bark’s baritone voice called out.
“You alright?” Tails responded, keeping his voice low so that the guards couldn’t hear him. “And keep it down, will ya?”
“Ah shit, sorry,” came the bear’s response. “Yeah, I’m good. Oh, and our crystal friend is here as well. Say hi, man.”
“…Hi,” Green XIII greeted dryly.
Tails heard the polar bear grunt as he shifted on the floor. “So foxy, what’s the plan?” he asked.
The fox let out a long exhale of breath at the question. “Got nothing yet,” he replied. He tilted his head to the dim light on the ceiling. His vision started to swim as exhaustion crept in. ‘Getting tired…’ “It’s been a long couple of days for all of us,” he continued. “We should all probably get some sleep.”
His suggestion was met with silence. “…Yeah, you might be right,” Bark eventually said. “A couple hours of sleep might give us some new ideas, right?”
“Yeah,” Tails replied, his eyes getting heavy. It wasn’t very long before he fell asleep.
Tails opened his eyes to see the white expanse of the Void. “Is this gonna be a reoccurring thing?” he asked aloud, repressing a sigh.
“No, this may be the last time,” a voice answered. In front of the fox was the familiar black garbed figure, his arms folded. The fox could feel the smile beneath his hood. “For a little while at least.”
Tails tilted his head in confusion. “‘Last time?’ How come?” he asked.
“It’s because of what I told you a few nights ago,” a second voice called from behind.
The fox turned around in surprise to see another hooded figure. He squinted at the figure for a moment, before his eyes widened. “You… You showed up the night after the first bombing,” he said slowly, understanding dawning on his muzzle. “And you,” he continued, facing the other figure. “You were there after I fell down from the No. 5? What’s going on here?”
The second figure walked past Tails and joined alongside the first and the fox could now see the distinctions between the two. The second figure was shorter than the first and while the colours of their shoes were identical, the patterning was different. The smaller had a two tone style – white in front and red in the back. His companion had a thick white stripe across the top of the shoe.
“Yeah, OK, so… there’s two of us,” the first one said placatingly. He waved his hands in a calming manner in an attempt to soothe the now perturbed fox. “I know, I know it’s a lot to take in. But it’s really important that you listen to us carefully, little buddy.”
“He’s right,” The second chimed in. Tails recognized the serious tone from their first meeting. “You need to be ready.”
“Ready for what!?” Tails yelled, his patience finally hitting the breaking point. “What the hell aren’t you telling me?!”
“You already know what’s going on!” the smaller one fired back. He clenched his now-shaking fists at the Ex-SOLDIER. “You’re an intelligent being, you can connect the dots, can’t you!?”
“…You told me that ‘It started moving,’” Tails said through gritted teeth, remembering their earlier conversation. “I understand now that you meant Blakdüm-”
“And?” the taller one cut in calmly, a hand against his hip. “What do you think that means?”
“I don’t know what that means!” the fox roared back, his frustration building. “And I don’t care if it means anything! And why do I keep coming-”
Suddenly, his mouth clamped shut against his will, cutting him off mid-speech. He tried to pry open his mouth with his hands, but they then snapped to his sides. Finally, his legs froze in place. Tails looked at the hooded figures, his eyes blazing with cold disdain as he stood frozen like a statue.
The smaller one had his hand outstretched towards the fox, his fingers curled like a puppet-master’s. He turned his head to his companion. “He’s not ready,” he said darkly. “He won’t understand what’s going on here, not in the state he’s in. His claws are in too deep.”
The tall one placed a hand to his forehead and let out a groan. “I know…” he resigned, shaking his head. He then walked up to Tails, who looked utterly bewildered. “Look little buddy,” he said softly. He started to place a hand on the fox’s shoulder, but faltered mid-way, his arm swinging back towards his side. “…All I want you to know right now is that… none of what happened in the past was your fault. I want you to remember that, OK?”
Tails glared right into the hooded figure’s eyes, which were a glowing shade of bright jade. ‘What the hell are you talking about? What am I not ready for? And who else is here?!’ were all questions he wanted to ask. He felt confused and frustrated at these visits.
“In time,” the figure continued, as if he was reading the fox’s mind. “All will be revealed. You’ll figure out what to do with it all when you do learn. I know you will.”
“We’re running out of time here,” the second figure called back, his voice strained. “That thing’s become aware of our presence.”
‘What has?!’ Tails mentally shouted as he tried to break free. ‘What else is here?!’
The first turned to his companion and started walking away from the fox. “Ah well, can’t be helped, huh?” he replied nonchalantly. “S’OK, I have faith that he’ll pull through. You should too.”
“Hmph,” the smaller of the two grunted. “Fine.” He then relaxed his body and Tails suddenly regained control of his own.
Roaring angrily, the fox rushed forward, his hands balled into fists. “Who are you?! Who else is here?! Answer me!!” he yelled, lunging towards both hooded figures, his arms outstretched. He passed right through them and collapsed into a heap on the ground. He craned his head back and saw that they vanished into thin air. “Why is this happening to me!?” he hollered out in rage, his fists striking the floor at every word. His chest heaved as he stared at the thin, web-like cracks that formed from his immense strength.
Suddenly, the cracks started to grow. Pieces of the floor started chipping and falling away to reveal a darkness that made his skin crawl. Soon, larger pieces of the floor fell away, which alarmed Tails. “Damnit, the place is collapsing,” he muttered under his teeth. “I can’t leave now, I need answers!”
He got up and started running. He didn’t know where he was going, but he let his instincts guide him. As the Void continued dissolving into nothingness, Tails spotted a door in the distance. It was the same one he saw in his previous visit, when he stayed the night at Cosmo’s house for the first time.
The Void’s disintegration rapidly intensified to the point where it was disappearing faster than the fox could run. He unwrapped his tails and took flight, pushing himself closer and closer to the wooden door. As he flew, he heard the rumblings of a familiar laughter that chilled him to the bone. It was a cold, rough and deep chuckle that reverberated through every fiber of his being. Just as he managed to get a fingertip onto the brass knob, he felt his stamina give out and he tumbled down, down into the darkness with the laughter echoing through his brain.