Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Outfoxing A Dilettante



Cream

“I wonder what the time is?” Cream murmured to herself as she sat in a waiting room within Corneo’s mansion. The walls were garishly decorated with red and gold.  She glanced over at the decorative scrolls depicting various sexual acts that adorned the walls. The images made the rabbit’s skin crawl and she looked away in disgust.

Ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing this… I should have listened to Bark and left this alone. But what would we risk if I didn’t?’ Cream buried her hands in her head and agonized at the thought of what lay ahead. She checked for what seemed like the hundredth time that her gloves were secured in a pocket sewn on the inside of the skirt and that her belongings were still next to her – provided at her request. Satisfied, she resumed staring at the door, a finger absently tracing the scar behind her long ears. ‘I just hope Tails and that girl, Cosmo will be here soon…’ she thought idly.

The mere thought of the stranger who helped Tails gave her pause. ‘I wonder who she is? Something about her… makes me want to trust her completely. Maybe that’s the reason why Tails is with her? Because he trusts her? But then, how exactly did she get involved in the first place?

She didn’t have long to theorize about Cosmo’s intentions when the door opened. Slithering inside was an orange and black snake wearing a wrap that looked like a suit, the light in the room reflecting the iridescent scales on his flat, triangular head. “Ahhh… Miss Cream,” he said, stressing his esses. “Your two friends have arrived.”

He moved out of the way, allowing two women to pass. The first was Cosmo, who wore a stunning, deep red dress that matched her hair blossoms, her viridian hair flowing behind her in waves. The other was an orange-yellow fox wearing a plum violet gown that covered everything from the neck down. Her blonde hair was tightly braided up in two pigtails. She had sharp, ice blue eyes that appeared to glow.

Glow? Wait, but… OH!’ Cream’s lips parted into an ‘O’ and her eyes widened with understanding.

“Please wait here,” the snake said in his smooth, deep voice, not noticing the rabbit’s shocked expression. “The Don will see you soon.”

Soon after he shut the door and was out of earshot, the fighter whirled around to the vixen in the room. “Oh my Goddess… Tails, is that really you?!” she exclaimed.

The vixen let out a deep, long sigh and then nodded. “Yeah. Looks like the scheme worked,” Tails said with some asperity.

“So, we’re here now,” Cosmo said to Cream, conveniently ignoring the pointed glare emanating from the fox. “What’s the plan?”

Cream heard the question, but couldn’t focus on anything else but the fact that Tails was wearing a dress. Despite the severity of their current situation, the rabbit couldn’t help but find the entire thing hilarious. “Right,” Cream started, biting her tongue to stop herself from laughing. “Right, OK so, one of us will need to… to…” she couldn’t hold it in anymore and suddenly lost it, bursting into peals of laughter.

Tails’ ears folded downward. “Cream…” he muttered, his face twisted into a mortified scowl. Beside him, Cosmo was grinning widely. 

“Goodness…” the fighter gasped, trying to catch her breath. “OK… Before we continue, I have to ask: How did you do the…” she pointed to her chest first and then to Tails’.

“… One of my tails is in a pocket crossing the chest…”

“That is genius!” Cream exclaimed, tears threatening to stream from her eyes. She grinned at Cosmo, who hugged her sides and guffawed loudly.

“Right, OK, I get it, I nailed it. Can we please focus here?!” the fox hissed, grinding his teeth. He looked as though he wished the floor would swallow him then and there.

“Alright, I had my fun,” Cream said, taking a few breaths to compose herself. She threw a look of sympathy at her friend. “I’m sorry for laughing, Tails.” Calming down, her face hardened and she addressed the two in a more serious tone, while making sure to keep her voice low to avoid being overheard. “So, one of us will need to grill Corneo and coax the information out of him. I’m sure that he’ll spill his secrets pretty easily if a woman’s involved.”

Cosmo and Tails both nodded in agreement.

“I’m guessing the two that don’t get selected will be given to others,” Cream continued, her brows knitted in thought. “Do you both have ways of defending yourselves?”

Cosmo smirked and hiked up her dress. Strapped to her upper left thigh with her belt was her retractable staff. “I’m covered,” she replied, before pulling the hem down.

Tails, who looked away from the flower girl’s exposed leg, shrugged. “My fist’ll do,” he said nonchalantly. “I’m not as skilled a fighter in hand-to-hand combat as you are Cream, but I can still hold my own.”

Suddenly, the door behind them opened. The group straightened up as the snake had returned to collect them. “Follow me please,” he said, slithering away. 

“I don’t need to ask,” Tails started, his ears lying flat once more. “But… there’s no backing out of this now, huh?”

Cream smiled at Cosmo. “You’re right,” she said. “There’s no need…”

“… To ask.” Cosmo finished, smiling back at the rabbit. 

“Hurry up please!” The snake called impatiently. “The Don does not like to wait!”

“…At least he’s polite,” Tails muttered sarcastically. “Let’s go.”

They left the room and found themselves in the main foyer of the mansion. It, too, was decorated in the same ostentatious manner as the waiting room, with deep crimson and gold adoring every surface. The space was opened to the high ceiling and was partially obscured by the second floor balcony. At the entrance was an attendant’s desk. To their left was a staircase leading up to the second floor, which they followed the snake up to.

On the second floor were three rooms. The first closest to the stairs looked to be a lounge, but they were steered away from it. The door furthest from the stairs was open, with rough, hewn stone steps descending into a dark, dank looking space. 

Cream felt a chill go down her spine. ‘I hope I don’t find out what’s down there,‘ she thought. ‘That place gives off an eerie vibe…

They soon stopped at the third door in the middle; a large, ornate set of scarlet red double doors bedecked in gold accents and trim, which lead to the Don’s personal office. The serpent unlocked the doors, pushed them open and led Cream and the others inside.

The office was spacious and lavishly decorated with various exotic plants and statues. On the floor was a plush, wine red rug that trailed up to Corneo’s desk; a large, carved oak table with a high backed chair, it’s occupant facing away from the door. On either side of the entrance were two large torches on stands, their flames flickering brightly. At the very end of the office was a privacy screen leading to another room in the back.

Standing to the left of the desk was a warthog with a blonde mohawk who wore dark sunglasses, despite the dim lighting within the room. He wore a sleeveless red denim vest with a black tank top, blood red jeans and white shoes. His tusks were polished to a mirror shine. 

On the right was a tall and muscular gorilla with charcoal-grey fur. He wore a forest green bodysuit and combat boots. The ape flared his nostrils as the two ladies and Tails entered the room. “Alright ladies,” he grunted, sweeping his hand horizontally with a flourish. “Line up in front of the Don!”

The three Mobians did as they were asked as the chair swiveled around to reveal Don Corneo. He was a wide bodied toad with olive green skin, very little neck and a shock of bleach-blonde hair on top of his balding head. He wore a white shirt with the collar and three buttons undone to expose his chest, blue pants that stretched at the waistline and a red coat with white fur trim around the wrists and neck. He chomped on a cigar as his yellow eyes roved over the three ladies in front of him. He grinned lecherously. 

“Oh-hoh-hoh!” He guffawed heartily as he hopped over the desk in an ungracious manner. “What a fine selection today! Now, who should I choose?” 

He walked over to Cream, his eyes trailing over every inch of the rabbit’s body. She suppressed the urge to retch and instead recalled her old master’s words. ‘Focus the mind and sharpen the spirit,‘ she mentally recited over and over again as Corneo stood in front of her.

“Should I pick this lovely beauty here?” Corneo asked loudly. He turned and walked to the other side of the room, standing in front of and scrutinizing Cosmo next. “Or this ravishing one? Hmm…” 

The toad took a drag on his cigar and blew out puffs of smoke as he then focused his attention on Tails. The fox kept moving his head away from Corneo every time the toad tried to get a good look at him and avoided any form of eye contact. 

After a few minutes, the toad hopped up and down excitedly. “I’ve made my decision!” he announced dramatically. ” And I choose…” he spread his arms wide, as though he was presenting something to Tails. “This mysterious vixen here!” 

Cream’s jaw dropped involuntarily. ‘Oh. My. Goddess…’ her mind raced incredulously. ‘… If we get through this alive, I will never let him live this down.

“W-wait a sec – I mean, please wait a moment!” Tails stammered in shock, struggling to adopt a more feminine voice. 

Corneo was chortling to himself so much that he didn’t seem to notice the slip in his voice. “Oooh-hoo-hoo!” he tittered happily. “I love when they play hard to get!” He then turned and waved a hand lazily to his two lackeys. “Scotch, Kotch, you can have the others,” he said.

“Yes sir! Thank you sir!” The pair replied in unison.

Corneo leered at the fox, who continued to stare at the floor. “Now then, shall we go my pretty?” he said, a simpering smile crossing his fat lips. 

Tails glanced quickly to both Cosmo and Cream and nodded subtly at both them. He then stepped forward and followed the Don to the privacy screen leading to the back room.

 Scotch – the gorilla – motioned to Cream. “You, you’re coming with me,” he ordered, beckoning her forward with a finger. 

As she was led out of the office towards the door on her left, Cream saw Cosmo being guided towards the dark stairwell on the right by the warthog. ‘I hope she’ll be OK…‘ she thought as the gorilla opened the door and led her inside.

Cream quickly surveyed her surroundings. She was in a lounge that wasn’t as lavishly decorated as the rest of the mansion. The walls were a dirty, concrete grey and the hardwood floors were rough and dark. On the side away from the door was a Tele-Crate showing nothing but static on the screen. Cushions were strewn haphazardly around the space and there were drinks and drugs aplenty on the large round table to her right at the far end of the room. Surrounding the table were five Mobians – a turtle, an oxen, a lizard, a hog and a weasel. Each of them wore t-shirts, a pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers. As Cream entered the room, she saw their heads turn towards her and their faces light up in excitement. All of them sported expectant grins.

“Hey fellas!” Scotch called out loudly, a broad grin plastered on his face. “We got ourselves a VERY special guest tonight! Let’s show her a good time, yeah?” His words earned a round of cheers from the Mobians at the table. “This is all thanks to the big boss Corneo, so three cheers for him!” 

As the men hooted, the gorilla turned back to Cream, his eyes flicking down to her ample chest unashamedly. The rabbit felt her skin crawl at the unwanted attention. “Don’t worry gorgeous, we’ll take good care of you,” he snickered, his face twisted in a leer.

The fighter suppressed a shudder and instead took stock of her opposition. The lizard and the ox had stun guns on holsters wrapped around their waists. The handles of a pair of clubs could be seen sticking out of the pockets of the turtle and the hog’s jeans while the weasel had a bulge in his pocket that she couldn’t identify. ‘That one could be trouble,‘ she thought as the men rose up and started crowding around her. 

Without thinking, she reacted on her first instinct – leaving the room. Unfortunately for her, the lizard quickly cut her off at the door. He flashed what he thought was a charismatic smile – to Cream, it looked more of a twisted, toothy grimace. “Woah now beautiful, what’s your hurry?” he said smoothly. “Stick around, we’ll treat you nicely. I promise!”

Cream smiled coyly while hiding her disappointment. ‘I should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy…‘ She kept backing away slowly and tried to formulate a plan as the lizard and the other four Mobians advanced on her. Their arms were outstretched and they reached for any part of her body that they could touch. Fear soon began to override her rational mind. 

She circled around to the table to get some space and forced herself to not panic. Her thoughts inadvertently led to Bark and Tails. She knew both wouldn’t hesitate to help her out of this jam, but she shook that out of her mind. She knew that she had to rely on herself to get out of this. ‘I’m strong enough to do this on my own!‘ Her eyes trailed to the table and suddenly, inspiration struck. ‘And I think I have an idea to get out of this.’

She wormed her way back to Scotch, who leered at her again. “Hey, what’s wrong honey?” he said. “Want me to keep you company?”

“N-no,” Cream forced herself to stutter. “I was just wondering… can I… put on a show? Over there?” She pointed to the table on the opposite side of the room.

Scotch’s eyes widened. “Why, yes you may, baby!” he said eagerly. He turned to the other men. “Hey! Clear off the table, she’s gonna put on a show for us!”

The men quickly cleared the table of bottles and drug paraphernalia. They led Cream to the table and helped her up. The lizard headed towards a boombox near the Tele-Crate and turned it on. A slow, sensual tune began playing. 

Alright, time for phase two…‘ Cream started to move her body to the music, keeping in time with the slow beat. The men crowding the table started wolf-whistling and hooting loudly at her. She slowly turned away from them and then squatted low to the floor, sending them into a frenzy. While she gyrated her hips, she slid one of her hands into the hidden pocket in her skirt, pulled on a glove and tapped the Ice Emerald lodged in the single slot. She drew the energy and quickly shaped it with her Mana, forming an ice ball in her right hand. ‘Get ready for the real show, boys,‘ she thought, rising back up from her crouched position. 

She looked over her shoulder, gave them all a smouldering look and then spun, calling “ICE!”

The Ice spell launched from her hands and hit the lizard dead on, freezing it in place. Cream didn’t wait for the spell to hit; she rushed up to the ox, jumped and slammed both of her elbows downward on the top of his skull, knocking him out. 

Recovering from their shock, the turtle and hog drew out their clubs. “Hey! What the hell was that for, ya crazy bitch?!” the turtle yelled. He and the hog lunged forward, trying to box in the fighter. Anticipating this, Cream jumped toward the wall, stepped off and aimed a kick at the turtle. The turtle retracted his head into his shell, sending the rabbit flying over his head and into the path of the weasel. He stepped aside, caught her and held her arms behind her back roughly. 

Scotch sauntered up to the rabbit, unholstering the stun gun. He grinned. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he hissed. “You would have enjoyed yourself. Now,” he aimed the stun gun at close range. “We’ll just have to help ourselves without you being conscious.”

Cream tensed up, eyeing the trigger. Just as the gorilla squeezed it, the fighter lifted herself up, rotating her shoulders as she did so and shot a foot out. Her heel connected hard with his nose, sending him backward. The gun went off and the prongs hit the weasel’s leg, sending a high-voltage charge through his body. The weasel then involuntarily released Cream, who dropped painfully onto the ground.

Wincing, she quickly rose up, but stumbled. She looked down to see that one of the heels had broken off. “Oh man, not again!” she muttered. “First the jacket and now these shoes… Jessie’s gonna kill me…”

She had no time to ruminate further as the hog approached her menacingly. Using the foot with the broken shoe, she flicked a cushion on the floor in his direction. The hog caught it in surprise and then received a painful kick to the jaw in turn. Cream then ripped off both heels and quickly pulled on her second glove as she rounded on the turtle. She settled into a fighting stance.

The turtle suddenly hesitated, unsure of what to do. That moment was all that Cream needed. Focusing her Ki, she slammed a fist into the soft underbelly of his shell. He sank to his knees and coughed up blood. The fighter finished him off with a cross to the face, knocking him out.

Suddenly, Cream was struck from behind at the base of her neck. She fell face first to the floor, her arms splayed out to break her fall. She rolled over onto her back to see Scotch stand over her holding a pistol – which represented the bulge that was concealed in the weasel’s pocket. His face was bloody from the kick he suffered.

“Not so tough now, are ya?” He growled, blood streaming from his nose. “Ya stupid bitch!” He leaned down and then cocked and aimed the pistol at her head.

Cream stared him down, her fists clenched as she waited for the shot. But it never came.

Instead, the gorilla dropped the gun, his face screwed up in pain. Standing behind him was Cosmo, who slammed her staff in between his legs. Cream shakily rose up from the ground and then delivered a powerful uppercut to his jaw, sending him flying into the wall. He slumped down to the floor and didn’t move.

Cosmo winked at the fighter. “Just in the nick of time, huh?” she said. 

The fighter flexed the fingers on her right hand. She shot Cosmo a grateful smile. “Thanks,” she said. “How’d you get out?”

She gave her a wan look. “Honestly, I got lucky,” she confided. “Those stairs going down? They leads to a sex dungeon or something.” She shuddered. “That guy – Kotch or whatever – he was chasing me around, threatening to punish me when he caught me. Eventually, I got up to the stairs and pushed him.” She huffed, a note of exasperation in her voice. “I know I said I was used to danger, but that was a bit too much.”

So, then why are you here?‘ Cream bit back the question. “Well I’m glad you’re OK,” she said instead. “Now, let’s go and help Tails. I hope he was able to wheedle out something for us.”

They cleared out of the room and into the atrium, which was empty. ‘The rest of Corneo’s goons must be out doing other things…’ Cream thought as she returned to the first floor waiting room and changed back into her fighting attire. She left behind the blue dress, which she was thankful to be rid of. Cosmo soon met with her in the foyer, wearing her white dress and green jacket. Her hair was done up in a messy braid and was tied with a pink bow. A golden chain with a pendant dangled on her neck. The two then raced up the stairs to Corneo’s office. With Cosmo in tow, Cream kicked the door down, crossed the office, tore through the privacy screen and finally entered Corneo’s private chambers. 

On the bed was Don Corneo, thrusting his pelvis in the direction of a wide-eyed Tails, who wanted nothing more than to be as far away from this situation as possible. Both men turned their heads toward the intruders and the fox heaved a sigh of relief. “Finally!” he said in his normal voice as he ripped the wig off of his head.

Corneo’s green face turned pale. “Wh-what the hell? A man?!” he shouted, spluttering. “Scotch! Kotch! Anybody! Where are-“

“Shut it!” Cream snapped, her eyes blazing with fury. “We’ll be asking the questions here, so you better get comfortable!” She turned to her friend. “Go get your stuff, we’ll keep an eye on him,” she said.

Tails obliged and within a few minutes he returned, fully dressed and equipped. Corneo looked fearfully at the three Mobians; between the massive blade on the fox’s back, the cold stare from the flower girl and the ferocity in the rabbit’s eyes, he wasn’t sure which one he should be more worried about.

“Now, why have your goons been tailing me these last few weeks?” Cream hissed as she cracked her knuckles.

The toad shook his head, his hair swaying vigorously. “N-no way, I d-dunno what the hell you’re talking ab-“

“You lie!” Cream shouted, startling the toad. “You know exactly what the heck you’re talking about! Talk! For if you don’t tell us…” she eyed the receding bulge between the amphibian’s legs. “… I’ll rip them off and shove them right down your throat!!”

The remaining colour drained from Corneo’s face. “Alright, I’ll talk, I’ll talk!” he said, his voice in a panicky whine. “I’ll tell you what you want to know, just please don’t do THAT!”

“So talk,” Cream countered coolly. She folded her arms and waited expectantly for his answer.

“… I-I made em follow you around so they can find out where the bear with the Gun-Arm was. B-but that’s all I was ordered to-” he clapped his mouth shut with his hands and emitted a squeak.

The fighter caught those words. She narrowed her eyes at him. “You were ordered to do this?! By whom?!” she interrogated. 

“N-no please, I beg you, I’ll be killed if they find out I-“

“Talk! For if you don’t tell us…”

Her eyes slid over to Cosmo, who got the message quickly. “I’ll smash them into powder,” the flower girl said plainly.

There was silence for a moment until the toad started bawling. “…Wahhhh! It was Kodos and the Chaotix!!” he howled as he scrambled to the farthest edge of the bed.

Cream’s jaw dropped at the mention of the name. “Kodos?!” she exclaimed, turning to the others. “He’s the head of the Department of Public Safety at Kintobor!” The fighter whirled back to Corneo, her teeth clenched in barely suppressed anger. “Why is Kintobor involved!? Talk! For if you don’t tell us…”

Her eyes slid to Tails, who drew his sword and pointed it first at the crime lord’s face and then to his crotch, the blade’s tip a millimeter from his nether regions. “I’ll chop them off,” he said in an equally sharp tone.

Corneo whimpered, sweat pouring down his slimy skin. “Y-you really are serious, aren’t you huh?” he croaked out, cowering at the sight of the weapon between his legs. “Fine, he-here’s what I know.”

Cream nodded to Tails, who relented. “Continue,” she said to Corneo.

“So, Kintobor’s lookin’ to crush that rebel group, TORNADO,” the toad started, running a hand through his mussed locks. “And they’re literally gonna do it too, by using the Plate above! They want to destroy the support pillar holding it up!”

“Break the support!?” Cream’s jaw dropped, fear erupting in the pit of her stomach.

He let out a maniacal giggle. “Hoo-hoo, yeah! And-and you know what’s gonna happen?” he said laughing. “The Plate’s gonna go PING and then everything below’s gonna be a pancake!” He let out a satisfied sigh. “Ahhh I’m just glad my boys found ’em in Sector 7. Can’t imagine what would happen if they were here in Sector 6…”

No, no, no! This was exactly what I was afraid of!‘ “Tails, they’re gonna destroy Sector 7!” Cream exclaimed. “Will you come back with me and help?”

Tails must have noticed the desperation in her eyes and voice as he nodded solemnly. “Of course, Cream,” he said.

Cosmo shuffled awkwardly behind them. “Well… We got what we came for,” she said. “So, let’s get going! No time to waste, right!?”

The three made their way towards the exit when Corneo’s voice rang out. “Hold on a second!” he shouted.

Tails rounded on him. “Shut it! You’ve lost, so get lost before we make good on those threats!” he said venomously. 

Corneo grinned. The sweat was still trickling down his face, but he looked much more confident than before. “Oh, I’ve lost huh?” he sneered, inching towards the headboard on his bed. “Well answer me this: how do you think scum like me feels when they’ve blabbed about the truth, hm?” 

His hands grasped a lever and he pulled it before any of them could utter a response. A trap door suddenly opened up beneath Cosmo, Tails and Cream. The three dropped down a chute and into the sewers below as Don Corneo laughed triumphantly. “The answer was ‘They know they’re gonna win!’ Have fun with my pet below!”


Christopher

Chris flew out of the elevator just as it opened to the 69th floor. Blowing by the reception desk, he sprinted up the plush, carpeted steps two at a time until he reached the president’s office on the 70th.

President Kintobor gave him a flat stare as he arrived, panting heavily. “Glad you could make it, Mr. Thorndyke,” he said in an even tone. “After this little meeting, you and I will speak about your performance over the last few weeks.” 

Chris gulped as he sucked air into his burning lungs. ‘What’s this all about?’ he thought nervously as he pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. His mind went back to his robotic friend that he left in his office on the 65th. ‘Did Fiona tell-

Before he could finish his thoughts, the aforementioned vixen sauntered up the stairwell, along with a large, muscular lion by her side. He wore a tight fitting, forest green military duster with decorative red trims on the collars and cuffs. Its front was adorned with brass buttons. The coat complimented the lion’s bronze coloured fur, which gleamed in the brightly lit office. Underneath the jacket, he wore a black dress shirt and a blood red tie. On his legs were a pair of black dress slacks. His platinum-gold hair was cut in a military flat top style and he sported a long and impressively groomed beard. He had a lantern-jaw underbite with his two bottom fangs jutting out and his amber eyes were set into a permanent glare. He marched forward at a clipped pace, the plush carpet muffling his footfalls from his black combat boots as he and his companion approached the president’s desk. They stopped and stood beside the disheveled-looking Chris.

Fiona turned her head subtly to the red-haired Human and winked slyly at him. Chris neither reciprocated nor acknowledged the gesture. Instead, he stood ramrod straight and looked in the President’s direction.

“Kodos,” President Kintobor addressed the lion, an edge of contempt in his voice. “How are the preparations going?”

Kodos scoffed. “They’re goin’ smoothly,” he replied, a similar sharpness in his voice. “The Chaotix are enroute -”

“The Chaotix?” Kintobor interrupted, his brows furrowing. “You mean that motley collection of fools who cannot even capture the Ancient?! Why not send SOLDIER to deal with this, instead?”

Chris knew that it took Kodos all of his willpower not to throttle the president at that moment. Instead, the lion let out a deep breath. “With all due respect, sir,” he said through gritted teeth. “The Chaotix are much more suited to these kinds of missions than SOLDIER. They specialize in eliminating threats and acquiring assets that would not be attainable otherwise. Furthermore, they are the only paramilitary and special forces group that has advanced the company’s agenda in the last five years, something that SOLDIER has failed to do.” 

He continued speaking and Chris could tell that he struggled to keep a measured tone in his voice. “Observing and retrieving the Ancient is but one of over a hundred missions that keeps Kintobor Incorporated where it is today. The task at Sector 7 is but child’s play to them. So, as I said before,” Kodos leveled another glare at the human. “They are enroute and will be in a position to strike within the hour.”

Kintobor snorted at the lion’s speech. “Such a regalling tale,” he mocked, his lips curled into a sneer. He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forwards, the lights above reflecting malevolently on his mirrored pince-nez. “Regardless of their accomplishments, it is unacceptable that the Ancient is still not in our possession and I now grow impatient,” he growled. “That girl is the key to this company’s future and with this rebel insurgency being crushed, a future is what the people need to maintain their trust in us.” Leaning back, he turned and looked out of the window towards Sector 7. “Instruct the Chaotix to bring her in by daybreak along with destroying TORNADO’s base, or else they – and by extension, YOU – will all be roboticized,” he said, moving towards his drink caddy and pouring himself a glass of bourbon. He faced the lion and swirled the liquid around. “I will find suitable replacements to do the task I’ve instructed you to do these last fifteen years.”

He downed the amber liquid and Chris watched as he relished the bitter taste. His own palms felt sweaty as the three stood silent, not daring to make a sound at the president’s instruction. 

After a pause, Kintobor addressed the vixen next. “Fiona, the weapon is ready?”

The hairs on the back of Chris’ neck stood suddenly as Fiona chimed into the conversation. “Of course, sir,” she purred playfully. “Thanks to Thorndyke here, the Emergency Plate Release system has been completely weaponized. All that’s left to do is to install the programming into the pillar’s monitoring station.” She turned and gave the human another toothy smile. 

…I can’t take this anymore! I have to say something!!’ “Mr. President!” Chris suddenly blurted out. “Are we really going ahead with this?” The three of them each gave him pointed stares. “I-I mean,” he continued, stumbling over his words. “It’s just… Dropping the Plate just to destroy a few members of a small group seems… kinda overkill, doesn’t it?”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence that followed his words. Kintobor pushed up his glasses with a finger. “What’s wrong Thorndyke?” he said calmly. “Do you want out of this?”

More than anything!’ was the response he wanted to give. But he bit back those words. He knew the consequences of what that action would lead to. “… No,” he said instead, turning his head away from the president’s gaze. “But as the head of the Urban Development Department, I’m simply requesting that we look at this in a different way-”

“Kid, we need to show those guys who’s really in charge here,” Kodos rumbled, cutting him off. “And besides, they may have more members lurking about, you don’t know? Dropping the whole Plate on ‘em will kill off any attempt to rebuild.”

The wicked grin the lion sported on his face made Chris feel sick. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ he thought, burying his shaking hands into his pockets. 

“Want my advice?” Kodos continued, oblivious to the distraught expression on the Human’s face. “Flush whatever damn personal problems you have in the mornings. We’re here doing great things here. Messy? Sometimes. But great? You better damn believe it!”

“…The mayor’s against this anyway,” Chris spat out weakly as a last resort.

“Mayor Buliani has no power here,” Fiona scolded lightly. Her eyes glinted playfully, as though she delighted in the man’s suffering. “He just sits here in this building, picking his thumbs and wishing he had what we have. ‘Mayor’ is just a symbolic title anyway.”

“Indeed,” Kintobor added, a rare smile crossed his lips at the vixen’s words. “Now, get back to work, you two. Thorndyke and I have… some business to discuss.”

With a salute, Kodos did an about-face and marched off towards the stairs. Fiona threw one last knowing look at Chris before she followed behind, her hips swaying with every step.

Kintobor turned his attention back to Chris, whose palms were sweating heavily in his pockets. “Thorndyke,” he started. “Fiona has brought to my attention that you’ve been overworked these days.”

Shit, here it comes…’ “Y-Yes sir,” Chris admitted, his shoulders slumping. “With the recent events happening, plus having to lay off 60% of my staff due to the budget cuts in the last quarter, I… haven’t had the manpower to get everything done in a timely manner.”

“…No matter,” Kintobor waved after a pause. “We’ll address the staff shortage after this little fiasco has passed. In the meantime, I’ll need you to do one thing for me.” He set the drink down on his desk and clasped his hands behind him. “I want a financial analysis of the damage done to Sector 7 after the attack. I want to share with the public just what this will cost them. And I want this cost to dissuade them from pulling off any further stunts. After that, I want you and your girlfriend to go take a nice, long vacation together. You look exhausted and I’m sure she’d be thrilled to have you back, after being stuck here for the last few days.”

A flood of conflicting emotions filled Chris’ body – relief, mixed in with sadness, fear, loathing and anger. Too choked up to say anything further, he nodded and wordlessly left the president’s office. 

Heaven help me,’ he thought as he stepped down the stairs, Kintobor’s words ringing in his ears. ‘Evil prevails when good men do nothing. I was that good man. And I did nothing to stop what will happen to the innocent people of Sector 7.’ Chris stopped in front of the elevator and looked at his trembling hands, fear and shame coursing through him. What… What would Helen say if she knew?’ He clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut as he imagined her reaction. 

As the elevator doors opened, Chris made a decision. He pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and got an answer just as doors closed and the car descended downward to his floor. “…Hey Helen?” he said, his voice breaking slightly. “…I need to talk to you about something…”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 24

Chapter 24: A Vixen For The Night



Cosmo

Cosmo entered one of the many dress shops within Wall Market after leaving the red light district. A disgruntled Tails followed right behind her and she could feel him glowering at her.  She knew that what happened at The Peacock Tail Inn was making him bitter towards her, but she paid it no mind.

Looking around, Cosmo noted mentally that this shop was less shabby than the other three they visited previously. The walls and floors were peeling slightly, but they were free of grime and dust. The racks were filled with dresses of various colours, patterns and styles and the garments themselves were of fair quality, with no visible holes or tears. At the back was a small dressing room, it’s curtain open and ready for use.

A bored looking yak with heavy, drooping eyelids stood behind the counter by the door, her eyes glued to a magazine in her hand. She looked up at the two a few moments after they entered. “Can I help you?” she drawled, chewing on a piece of gum.

“Yes,” Cosmo replied earnestly. “We’re looking for a dress.” 

The clerk gave her a tired smile, set the magazine down and walked around the counter. She led Cosmo to the back rack of dresses. “These ones are ready-made and need only a few alterations to fit,” she said. 

The flower girl picked through the rack while Tails remained by the counter. A pretty, crimson A-line dress with a V-neckline and thin straps on the shoulder caught her eye. The skirt flared out and had pieces of lace sewn into it to mimic the appearance of rose petals. The hem ended at the knee and on each side of the bodice going down the length of the dress were three thin stripes of sheer crimson fabric intermeshed with the dress material. 

Cosmo’s eyes hovered on the dress. ‘I wonder what Spikes would have thought about this one…‘ she ruminated as she ran her hands along the soft material. A pang of sadness struck her and she shook her head slightly to clear her mind. She turned back to the store clerk and cleared her throat to get her attention. “Uh… Excuse me, but do you have something that would… uh… fit him?” she asked, pointing her finger at Tails, who shot her another glare from the cashier counter he was leaning on. 

“Um…” the yak faltered, her eyes wide. Her gaze shifted between the two Mobians and she looked visibly uncomfortable. “Well, the thing is… that… umm…” She let out a deep sigh. “It might take a little while to get a custom dress, is that OK?”

Cosmo let out a breath she didn’t realize she held in. “Oh great! I thought you were going to say you wouldn’t make dresses for men!” she exclaimed. “You’d be the fourth one to say that-”

“Are you kidding me?” the clerk cut in, taken aback. Her lips curled into a broad smile. “My dad can make ANYBODY look good in a dress! He’s one of the best dressmakers in the slums. Possibly in all of Megapolis for that matter!” She suddenly sighed again, giving Cosmo a deflated look.

“What’s the problem?” Cosmo asked, frowning.

“Well, he’s been in a bit of a slump lately. Hasn’t been able to make any new dresses, so…” she trailed off looking away.

Cosmo nodded. “And where is your father?” she pressed inquisitively.

“He’s probably at the bar, getting plastered or something.”

“OK… so you’re saying we can’t get a dress unless we do something about your father?”

“Yeah, I’m so sorry,” the yak replied, apologetically. “He’s been a real problem lately and-” 

“We’ll help you find him.”

The yak paused, her mouth parting at the reassuring expression on the flower girl’s face. “… Really? You’d help bring him back?” she asked, bewildered. 

“Yeah,” Cosmo shrugged. “Well, we can’t get a dress if we don’t do something, right?”

“Oh thank you so much!” the clerk said, her voice thick with relief. “Please help my crazy old dad, I just don’t know what to do with him anymore…”

Cosmo winked. “Don’t worry, we’ll do something about it!” she said. “Now, could you tell us which bar he went to?”

Once the clerk had given them directions, Tails and Cosmo set out into the now busy streets. The fox was still scowling at her as they took the left fork towards the far end of the Wall Market when Cosmo stopped abruptly in the middle of the street.

“OK Tails, you need to get over yourself,” she admonished, turning around to face him. “If there was any other way to do this, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, this is the only plan we have.”

Tails was taken aback by the flower girl’s abrupt tone. He let out a sigh after recovering from his initial shock. “Yeah, I know,” he said, pinching the space between his eyes. He raised his head and looked at her. “…Sorry.”

Cosmo smiled gently at the fox. “Well, I can understand why you were mad in the first place,” she said swaying on the spot. “If I were you… I’d probably be mad too, come to think of it?”

Tails smirked. “Yeah. But we’re in the thick of it now, so I guess there’s no use getting upset over it,” he said. “Let’s go find this guy then and get it all over with.” He strode off to a bar on the left, opposite a junk shop. Cosmo followed behind him.

They entered the bar at the peak of the lunch rush. It was packed with Mobians and a few Humans who kept to themselves in a corner. They watched as one of their own bravely made their way to a karaoke stage at the far end of the bar.

Scanning through the throng, Tails spotted a lone yak with a weathered face sitting at the bar counter, nursing a drink, his head hung low. “That’s probably our guy,” he pointed out to Cosmo.

They approached and Cosmo tapped his shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said in a honey-like tone. “Are you the father of the girl at the clothing shop?”

The yak swiveled around on the stool he sat on. He squinted at the flower girl. “I own the clothes shop,” he slurred. “Buh I ain’t yer father.”

“I didn’t say that…” Cosmo muttered.

“Make me some clothes,” Tails interjected, stepping forward. He gave the dressmaker his most intimidating glare, but the older man laughed it off.

“Ha, piss off ya little shit,” he guffawed, causing the fox to falter slightly. “I don’t make men’s clothes and even if I did, I ain’t in any mood to make ’em.” He swung back to the bar counter. “Now, if ya excuse me, I’d like to get back to my drinking, so both of ya fuck off…”

The two stepped back from the drunk. Cosmo leaned into Tails’ ear. “Hey, let me take care of this,” she whispered. “Go check and see if they have anything good to eat while I deal with him.” She jerked a thumb back to the yak, rolling her eyes all the while. 

Tails sighed, gave her a look that said ‘I hope you know what you’re doing,’ and then moved to another table away from the bar.  

The flower girl steeled herself before approaching the yak once more. ‘Alright Cosmo, time to turn on that patented charm of yours…

She rested her back against the counter and turned her head to face the drunk seamster.”You know mister,” she said in an offhand tone. “That guy I was with, he always wanted to dress like a girl. So that’s why I wanted to get a cute dress for him.” 

The yak spat out his drink violently onto the counter and had a coughing fit. After bringing himself under control, he whipped his head towards the flower girl, his eyes bulging in shock. “You’re shitting me right?” he choked out. “That tough-looking guy?”

“Uh-huh,” Cosmo smiled. “So, how about it? Will you make him one?”

Despite being slightly intoxicated, Cosmo could see that he was mulling over his options. His eyes trailed over to the fox, who was reading off of a menu at another table away from them.

“…Might be interestin’. I was gettin’ a touch bored makin’ regular dresses,” he murmured to her a minute later, his eyes sweeping up and down Tails’ muscular body. He then turned back to her and nodded firmly. “Screw it, let’s do it then girlie. How do you want the dress?” He took another sip from his glass.

Cosmo smiled giddily. “Great!” she said. She placed a finger on her chin and tapped it, thinking. “So let’s see… How about something soft… and something that shimmers.” She clapped her hands happily. “Yes! Let’s go with those.”

The dressmaker downed his drink and let out a satisfied sigh. “Alright, I got it,” he said. “You two help me back to the store so I can get measurements. When d’ya need it by?”

“Tonight.”

The yak harrumphed. “Gonna be kind of tight, but I’ll get ‘er done.” He turned to the barkeep. “Hey Jones, put ’em on my tab; you know I’m good for it!” Then he stood up, staggering. “OK girlie, let’s go.”


Tails

Tails ground his teeth as he stood on a pedestal, his armor and sword removed and arms spread out. The dressmaker – who introduced himself as Tom before he threw up on a wall next to the bar –  had layered fabric all over him and was pinning him in various places, all while muttering to himself.

“Hrm… what to do about that second tail…” Tom trailed off as he inspected the appendage. “…I think I got an idea…”

The fox suppressed the urge to both sigh petulantly and roll his eyes. ‘How much longer is this gonna take?’

Cosmo stood on the other end of the room, her hand underneath her chin. She looked critically over the fox, taking in all of the areas that the dressmaker pinned. “Something’s off here…” she said out loud. Tails then saw her face glow as a thought dawned on her. “A wig! That’s what will put it all together!”

Tom the dressmaker sniffed. “I figured as much,” he grumbled, inserting the final pins around Tails. Raising his head up over the fox’s shoulder, he addressed his daughter. “Nance, call up ‘The Beautiful Bro’ at the gym, tell ’em there’s a guy like him lookin’ to get a wig and some other stuff.” 

As his daughter picked up the phone, a happy smile crossing her lips, the dressmaker removed the fabric off of the fox. “Alright, you’re done, get off,” he said. He turned to Cosmo. “Girlie, go meet the Bro at the gym. It’s the right path in the fork near the bar ya two found me in. Dress’ll be done by quarter to eight.”

Tails strapped on his armor and sword and quickly left the shop with Cosmo. “… ‘like him’? I can’t believe this,” he muttered to her as they walked up the street. “Did you tell him anything back at the bar?”

Cosmo shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter Tails,” she said nonchalantly. “At least we’re getting ourselves a pretty dress for the operation tonight!”

The two took the right path and headed towards a large, domed structure at the far end. Inside was a large gym, replete with weights and fitness machines. On the side opposite the weights was a boxing ring. A jaguar and a gorilla were doing squats in the ring, both wearing tight wrestling singlets. At the centre, watching them carefully, was a statuesque tigress. She looked completely out of place; she wore a tight fitting skirt, a light blue blouse and her fiery orange hair was held back by a hairband. She tapped a heeled shoe impatiently as though she was waiting for someone. 

That must be the person we’re lookin’ for,‘ Tails thought as they approached the tigress. She turned to face the two Mobians and Tails recoiled in shock.

‘She’ was actually a ‘he’.

The tiger eyed them critically. “So, you two are the one’s dear Nancy had mentioned,” he said in an airy voice. “And you, darling,” he looked to the fox. “You’re the one who wants to be cute?”

“Yeah, cute,” Cosmo interjected before Tails could reply. “So, you’re the Beautiful Bro?”

“Of course honey!” He laughed delicately. “Isn’t it obvious? Anyway, I hear you’re looking for a few things for tonight, hmm?”

“That’s right,” Tails replied, his initial shock wearing off. “We heard you have a wig?”

“And that I do, sweetie!” The Beautiful Bro exclaimed, smiling. “But if you want it, you’ll have to earn it.”

“Yeah!” The two Mobians in the ring hopped out, standing side by side with The Beautiful Bro. The gorilla pounded his chest and bellowed loudly. “Little brother, the only way you’ll get cuter is by beating the Beautiful Bro’s squat challenge!” he exclaimed, his voice rumbling like thunder. “Are you brave enough to try?!”

A challenge?‘ Tails smirked, looking up and into the gorilla’s eyes. “You’re on. What do I have to do?”

As he listened to The Beautiful Bro explained the challenge, Tails dimly heard a voice in his head. It seemed familiar to him… 

…ails, Tails,” the voice tsked. “Have you learned nothing? The only way to get as fast as me is by doing lots and lots of squats! I’m tellin’ ya little buddy, you gotta get Quads of Steel if you ever wanna catch up with me!

“…so do you understand?” The Beautiful Bro asked the fox. 

“Yeah, do as many squats within 30 seconds, crystal,” Tails replied cockilly. ‘Where was that from?’ he questioned. ‘And who, exactly, was talking to me?

“Urrgh! Big Bro’s wig is MINE!” the simian grunted, breaking Tails’ train of thought. He was showboating to the now growing crowd. “You’re goin’ DOWN!”

“Settle down now,” The Beautiful Bro said, waving his hand. He turned to Tails. “It’s not fair for you to start right away without warming up. Would you like to practice?”

“Nope,” Tails replied, shaking his head. “Don’t need practice.”

“Fair enough, honey,” the tiger shrugged. “Then on the count of three, squat as many times as you can within thirty seconds!” 

The group around them started to cheer as the two competitors faced each other. “Good luck Tails!” he heard Cosmo shout behind him. 

I don’t need luck to win,‘ he thought to himself as he settled into position. ‘All I need are my Quads of Steel!

“Three… Two… One…  Go!”


Cosmo

“I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed,” Cosmo chortled as the two headed back to the dress shop. In her hand was a luxurious orange-blonde wig, a diamond tiara and a small, delicate looking bottle filled with clear liquid. “You certainly quieted the room! Thirty squats in thirty seconds-“

“It would have been thirty one,” Tails interrupted smugly. “I was halfway through that last rep when the clock stopped.”

OK there, hotshot.‘ “Well, at least we got the wig, and the Beautiful Bro was kind enough to throw in this tiara and perfume,” she said. “With all these in hand, we’ll have you looking like a proper lady in no time!”

“Don’t remind me,” Tails huffed, some of his bravado fading away at the mention of wearing a dress. 

Cosmo giggled. ‘Looks like I found his weak point.

They passed by a general store when Cosmo stopped suddenly. “Hold on a second Tails,” she said. “I just need to grab something from the store. Do you mind waiting here for a moment?”

Entering the shop before he could open his mouth, she hurried to the counter and purchased up a disposable camera. Stashing it into her coat pocket, she returned to Tails. “Thanks for waiting,” she said, smiling at him. “Let’s go.”

“What did you have to pick up?” the fox asked pointedly.

LIE!’ “Oh, just girl stuff,” she answered quickly, averting his gaze. “You’re so nosy sometimes, Tails.”

He rolled his eyes in response. 

The sound of arguing welcomed them back as they returned to the dress shop. “So let me get this straight; you’re seriously going to sell dresses to both women AND men?! ” Nancy yelled out, looking exasperated. “You’re crazy, there’s no way that’s gonna w-“

“Of course it’ll work!” Her father cut in loudly. He was grinning merrilly as he put the final touches on the dress. “It’s all about inclusivity these days ain’t it?!  I’m tellin’ ya, people from all kinds will flock to this shop for dresses of all different styles and tastes!” He looked to the door and saw Tails and Cosmo gawking at them. “And here’s the girlie and my muse!” 

Nancy walked over to them, nonplussed at her father’s demeanor. “Welcome back you two,” she said wearily. “As you can see, my dad’s got his mojo back.” She then dropped her voice down to a mutter. “Not sure if that’s a good thing though…”

“Hey, foxy!” Tom the dressmaker called. “It’s ready and waiting in the dressing room. Thanks to you two, I’ve been inspired, so the dresses are on the house. Yours and the girlie’s! On that note,” he inclined his head towards the dressing room. “Go try it on and see how it fits.”

Steeling himself, Tails entered the dressing room and shut the curtain. The sounds of ruffling fabric could be heard from behind the curtain as the fox attempted to put on the garment. “How… do you put this on?” he grumbled. “And what’s with this pocket on the inside across the chest?”

“Oh yeah, that’s where you put one of your tails through,” Tom said. “Try slippin’ that in first before puttin’ the rest of the dress on.”

As Tails continued to get ready, Cosmo pulled out the camera from her jacket pocket and pointed it at the curtain, her finger poised over the trigger. She snickered softly. ‘Oh man, this is going to be great!

The curtain was pulled back and Tails stepped out. He was resplendent in a shimmering, violet, form-fitting gown that covered his arms, chest and legs. He looked like he had breasts, thanks to one of his tails being stuffed in the inside pocket on the chest. On his waist was a red sash tied up into a large bow on his back. Atop his head were the blonde wig and tiara he won from The Beautiful Bro. His face was tinged in a shade of burning red as he slowly moved forward, the dress preventing him from taking his usual long strides.

Cosmo pressed the button on the camera several times as he came into view before quickly stashing it back into her pocket. ‘Hopefully they don’t come out blurry…’ “Oh wow Tails,” she chimed, watching him move towards her. “Can you do a little twirl for us?”

Tails glared daggers at her before turning on the spot. On the back of his head were two, braided pigtails. Cosmo sniggered, trying very hard not to laugh. “You look really cute Miss Tails,” she said.

“Holy shit,” Tom gaped, placing a hand on his forehead in disbelief, an ear splitting grin on his face. “I’ve really outdone myself here! These are gonna sell like hotcakes!”

“You’re… delusional, dad,” Nancy said sardonically, giving him a withering look. “Men with dresses? It’ll never work…”

“Alright, now it’s my turn,” Cosmo said, cutting in before Tom and his daughter could start arguing again. “And I know just what-”

“I’ve got just the thing!” Tom exclaimed suddenly. He peered through the dress rack behind him and picked out an off-white, off the shoulder cocktail dress with a high slit that went down to the ankles. “This one would really accentuate your hair and eyes! Give this a try!”

Nancy huffed loudly, her patience wearing thin. “Ugh, dad, that’s too conservative!” she groaned. She thrust her hand into the rack and pulled out a form-fitting, shimmering emerald green dress that ended just above the knee. It had a deep, plunging V-neck that went down to the navel. “This one would be perfect for you! Really brings out your skin tone and shows off those legs!”

“No, THIS one would show her features off better!”

“Dad, as a woman, I think I know better how certain fashions look on certain people-”

“But I’M the one who taught you all you know about fash-”

“I’ll take this one!” Cosmo shouted over the two, pulling out the crimson, flower patterned dress she saw earlier. “I’m going to change.” Both yaks gawked at her as she went to the dressing room. “And Tails,” she winked at him before she entered. “No peeking!”

She heard him grumble, “I wasn’t going to…” as she shut the curtain and shed her clothes, leaving the pendant on her neck. She took it in her hand and stared forlornly at the small, silver-green Emerald in its centre. 

Remember why you’re here, Cosmo.

She resumed dressing, slipping the garment over her head and then zipping herself up. She untied her hair ribbon, loosened her hair out of its braid and allowed it to spill down her back in waves. She checked her hair blossoms in the mirror before retying the ribbon at the back of her head. Finished, she then properly looked at her reflection in the mirror. She let out a gasp.

The dress she wore hugged and flaunted her curves and the crimson fabric illuminated her pale, peach skin. The skirt flared out below her hips and ended with a lace hem just below her knees. The petal-like patterns crossed upward from the bottom of her left leg to the top of her right. The mirror behind her revealed that her entire back – from the neck to her waist – was exposed. The strips of mesh-like fabric teasingly exposed her skin on either side of her body, from her chest down to her waist. A wave of embarrassment flooded over Cosmo and she blushed at the sight of her reflection. 

“I’m pretty sure Spikes would have gone nuts if he saw me in this,” she murmured to herself.

“What did you say, Cosmo?” 

Tails’ voice broke her out of her reverie. She sighed softly. ‘Back to reality, I suppose…

She opened the curtain and walked out. “It’s nothing. So, how do I look?” she asked them, twirling around to show them the dress. The hem of the skirt flared out playfully as she turned.

Tom’s and Nancy’s jaws both dropped at the sight of the beautiful Mobian. Tails however shrugged and looked away. “You look alright,” he said, his tone aloof and indifferent.

Cosmo whipped around and was about to give him a piece of her mind when she noticed the pink tinge on the fox’s cheeks. “Are you sure about that?” she said in a sing-song voice, grinning. The fox cocked his head to the side and gave her a bemused expression, to which she shook her head at. “Oh, you’re no fun,” she retorted as she placed her hands on her hips.

Getting over her initial shock, Nancy then rounded the counter, ducked underneath and then pulled out a small black travelling bag. She unzipped and opened it to reveal a set of cosmetics. “Dad may be the master at dresses, but making you look pretty on top of that is my domain!” Directing Tails and Cosmo to sit down on a pair of stools by the counter, the yak went to work applying makeup on both Mobians. Fifteen minutes later, she stepped back and admired her handiwork. “Perfect,” she said brightly.

Cosmo looked over at Tails’ side profile. Nancy did little to his face, save for a bit of gloss and colouring on his cheeks. ‘Gee, Cream wasn’t lying when she said he had pretty feminine features,’ she remarked, stifling a giggle.

Tom looked over the two and clapped his hands loudly. “Damn, you two look great!” he said eagerly. His voice still had a slight slur to it. He tottered to the back of the store and returned with two pairs of heels. “Here’s some shoes to complete the look,” he said, handing them over for them to put on – Tails with some difficulty. He also dug out a garment bag and handed it to Tails. “For your stuff, although I doubt your weapon will fit inside.”

“It’s alright,” Tails forced out through gritted teeth as he hefted his massive sword with one hand. He collected his and Cosmo’s items and stuffed them into the bag.

“Thanks again for all your help,” Cosmo said, bowing politely. 

“Not a problem,” Tom said, smiling. “Now, go and have fun, you two!” 

The two Mobians left the boutique as Nancy waved them farewell. Once they were out of earshot, Tails rounded on the flower girl. “This had better work, Cosmo,” he grunted as they navigated the streets. Passerbys halted in their tracks and stared at the two as they made their way deeper into the slum city towards the Don’s mansion.

“It’ll work out, Tails, trust me!” Cosmo replied optimistically, flashing him a brilliant smile. Her mind said otherwise, but she chose to ignore it. “Now, let’s hurry and meet up with Cream. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can get you out of that dress.” 

And the sooner I can get some answers.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 23

Chapter 23: Reuniting in Wall Market



Cosmo

Cosmo raced ahead to the Wall Market, Tails’ voice fading as she left him behind. She scampered into the gate and watched for the convertible among the growing morning crowds. She cursed softly. “Lost it,” she muttered to herself.

She hurried through the main thoroughfare and pushed through the crowds in search of someone. Cosmo soon found the individual she was looking for, standing in front of a dingy, one roomed shack next to a small diner. “Aunt Viv!” she called out.

An elderly, swamp-green coloured alligator turned her head. She was short and thin in stature and her wizened features stretched into a toothy smile at the sight of the flower girl. She wore a white, paisley-patterned frock, a pair of sky blue sandals, had a large handbag over her shoulder and supported herself using a gnarled cane. 

She began to trundle on the dirt path over to Cosmo, beaming. “Well, Goddess bless my soul, if it ain’t little Cosmo!” she said in a voice that was as reedy as she was. “How long has it been since I last-”

“I don’t mean to be rude, dear Aunt,” Cosmo cut in. “But I really need your help!”

Viv’s face fell at the flower girl’s panicked look. She straightened her back and looked Cosmo in the eye. “What happened,” she asked, her voice turning serious.

Cosmo quickly explained the situation. As she spoke, the alligator’s frown deepened. “Hmm… I see. So, where is this ‘Tails’ character anyway?” Viv asked. 

Just then the aforementioned fox appeared, his burning glare parting the crowd in front of him. “Cosmo!” Tails called. “What the hell was that all about? I can-” but before he could finish, Viv’s cane rapped him on his head. Not expecting the surprise attack, Tails hissed and looked to the direction of his attacker, ready to strike. He stopped himself once he saw the old alligator, who gave him a stern and disapproving look. 

“You… you whippersnapper!” she hollered, her thin body quivering with rage.. “You don’t yell at a lady when she’s addressing her elders! Who raised you?! A pack of dimwitted Humans?!”

Cosmo watched as Tails covered his ears through the verbal tirade. Once the elder reptile had calmed down slightly, she spoke to her. “Now Aunt Viv,” the flower girl said. “Don’t mind Tails, he excites easily. Specifically when it comes to a very pretty bunny girl, the one I was telling you about.” The fox harrumphed, scowling at her while rubbing the spot on his head where Viv whacked him. She ignored him. “Now, by any chance, did you see her pass by? She was in a grey hover car with the top down, but I lost her.”

Viv smiled gently at Cosmo. “Well, yes dearie, I did get a good look at her,” she said. Her eyes then danced mischievously and an impish smile grew on her face. “And I have to say, she must be very lucky that you and that decent-looking whippersnapper over there are out to chase after her. I mean, I would give up men myself just to spend a few moments with someone that gorgeous.” She winked at the two suggestively. “Makes me wonder if she’s into foursomes…” 

The reptile threw her head back and laughed heartily as both Mobian’s jaws dropped. Cosmo bowed her head and blushed a horrible shade of cherry red. ‘Oh Goddess… Glad to see that her perverted sense of humor is as embarrassing as ever… I’m a bit miffed that I’m still affected by it after all these years…

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the normally stoic fox’s face contort to a combination of horror, shock and embarrassment, his face also reddening. His left eye  also started to twitch. 

The alligator’s laughs started to subside as Cosmo regained her composure and gave her a withering glare. “Yes dearie, I did see her,” she said, still chuckling. She pointed a claw towards the east side of the Market. “That hover car you’re looking for was headed for the red light district, most likely the Peacock Tail Inn. Another one of Corneo’s ‘brides’ I’m assuming?” She eyed the fox, whose brows were furrowed darkly. “From the look he’s giving, it doesn’t seem like she’s here of her own free will…”

“Well… we don’t know,” Tails said after a pause. “Which is why we need to find her. Something’s not right here.”

“…Then you better get off of your ass and hop to it!” Viv exclaimed, waving her cane threateningly. Tails paled and backed away slowly, not wishing for another lump on his head.

“Thanks for letting us know where she went, dear aunt,” Cosmo said, giving her a hug. “I’ll see you again soon!” 

Viv called out to Cosmo as she left for the east side with Tails in tow. “Goodbye dearie! And teach that boy some manners!”

As soon as they were out of earshot, Tails spoke. “Who was that?” he asked, raising a hand up to shield his eyes from the bright neon lighted signs scattered around the settlement.

“That’s Viv,” Cosmo answered as they kept walking down the winding path. “She’s an old friend of my mother’s. She used to come around to visit us when I was growing up – back when the road was actually safe to travel through – and I’ve always called her Aunt because of that. She’s got a bad limp and can’t walk very far without being winded, so I make an effort to come visit her every once in a while to make sure she’s OK.” 

They continued to walk through the Wall Market. The large slum consisted of numerous shanties, some built for one person, others built for small families. Some of the shacks also doubled as storefronts or restaurants with the residents peddling wares of all sorts in order to eke out a living. The two stopped off at a reasonable looking dive to eat some breakfast.

She continued talking as the two entered the restaurant and sat in a booth. A sour-looking tabby cat soon took their orders and quietly served coffee for the two before retreating to the diner’s counter. “Viv’s one of those old folks that knows practically everything that goes on here in Wall Market. She has a bit of a reputation as an incurable gossip, but there’s no one else here I can trust to get information than her.” ‘Also, she’s a shameless pervert, but I think you already found that out for yourself…

“OK, so here’s a little more information for you, Mr. Know-It-All,” Cosmo chided playfully as they received their food. She then grew serious and spoke in a hushed tone. “Don Corneo is well known as an industrialist within the slums. If something built down here is not Kintobor related, it usually involves him. In fact, Wall Market grew from a small and decent place to live to what it is today: a centre for low-end knock-offs, sleazy entertainment and narcotics. And all of that happened because of Corneo.” She took a swig of water to wet her throat. “At least, that’s what Aunt Viv told me.”

Tails frowned and tapped the table with his finger. “OK, so he’s a bigshot around here. That doesn’t explain how Cream’s involved?” he questioned, his eyes narrowed in thought. “In fact, thinking about it now, this is highly uncharacteristic of her… Unless-” 

“In any case, Wall Market is a scary place to be, especially for a girl,” Cosmo cut in as she dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “So we’ve got to find Cream fast.”

Tails finished eating and then stood up. “Right, then let’s get going,” he said as he threw down several mobium bills to pay for the meal.

Leaving the restaurant, they headed for the red light district in the easternmost part of the settlement. The row was dotted with various love hotels and brothels with escorts and attendants loitering outside and cajoling passerbys into staying in their establishments.

“Hey there stud,” a squirrel outside one particular brothel spoke in a thick, seductive tone to Tails. She coquettishly batted her eyelashes to capture his attention. “Ditch the dirty little girl over there and come be with a real lady for the day. I promise you won’t regret it. 

“Not interested,” Tails replied bluntly as he strode past her. Cosmo giggled and stuck her tongue out at the squirrel, who looked haughtily and incensed at the retreating pair.

A few blocks later, they soon saw the inn Viv mentioned. It was the largest building in the area; a two story complex with an exterior facade consisting of thick plaster columns arranged evenly around the side facing the street Atop the columns on the second floor was a terrace where a group of scantily-dressed women of different species either openly lounged about or tried to entice the bystanders passing by the inn. One threw comely looks, while the other two wolf-whistled and yelled sexual come-ons. A large, royal blue sign on the front read “The Peacock Tail Inn” in gold lettering which was superimposed onto an image of several, golden tails belonging to numerous species splayed out in a fan-like pattern. 

The front entrance was guarded by two muscular hippos wearing identical black shirts, shoes,  jeans and dark sunglasses. A sharply dressed brown newt in a black suit stood in front as an attendant. 

As they approached the building, Cosmo had a thought. ‘How exactly are we going to get in? We shouldn’t cause a scene and there’s no way we can both go in individually… but…‘ 

She suddenly pulled the fox into an alleyway, her eyes alight with realization. She felt another painful spasm in her chest at the thought of what she was about to propose, but she pushed it down. ‘Again, now is not the time,‘ she thought sullenly as she rounded on the fox and pulled him in close. “OK, I think I have an idea on how we’re getting in,” she said, keeping her voice low. “But you have to trust me on this. Now, listen carefully…”


Several minutes later, the two Mobians left the alley and stepped towards the inn. Cosmo’s arm looped around Tails’. “Follow my lead,” she whispered into the fox’s ear as she released his arm and approached the newt. ‘Oh Goddess, I hope this works…’ “Hi there!” she called to the attendant cheerfully, her voice taking on a bubbly, airheaded tone. “Is this really the famous Peacock Tail Inn?” 

The newt smiled brightly at her. “Why yes it is!” he said in an oily voice. “How can I help you today, my vision of loveliness?”

Blech,’ Hiding her disgust, Cosmo leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “Well, you see, here’s the thing: that guy with the large sword? That’s my boyfriend.” She ignored another swell of pain in her heart as she continued. “He’s back from a very important mission and I wanted to treat him to something… s-special.” She cursed inwardly as she began to lose her nerve. “I’ve… I’ve always told him that I’m… I’m up for experimentation, which-”

“Which is why you’re here,” the newt finished, leaning back and flashing a smarmy grin. He didn’t notice Cosmo exhale in relief. “Here at the Peacock Tail Inn, we’ve seen all kinds of Mobians come and go from here and we cater to various tastes. If you two would like to enter and speak to Suzy at the reception desk, I’m sure she’ll help you find exactly what you’re seeking.” He looked back and nodded to the bouncers. They stepped aside. “Please, come inside and be our guests,” he said, brandishing another flashy smile.

Cosmo looped her arm around Tails’, who stared back at her, bemused. “C’mon baby, let’s go,” she said, her stomach churning as she pulled him inside. 

The reception area was small and dimly lit, making the space look exotic and mysterious. The walls were covered in a patterned royal blue wallpaper with gold trim on the edges where the wallpaper met the off-white floor and ceiling crown mouldings. In the back were a set of stairs covered in deep blue carpeting leading to the rooms on the second floor. The reception desk was made of a polished oak. Behind the desk on the wall was a screen displaying various women, their names and their measurements. The images cycled, showing a new girl every few seconds. Near the desk was a door with a sign that read ‘Employees Only.’ 

Alright, phase one complete…’ Cosmo looked around the space, her heart beating fast. Despite it being late in the morning, there were already a few Mobians loitering around. An old, wrinkled turtle sat on a chintz loveseat by the wall closest to the stairs. He had his hands around two girls and his grey bushy moustache was twitching excitedly. On the opposite side was a cockatoo with wild, spiky hair and sunglasses chatting up another of his species who batted her eyelashes playfully at him. Her finger danced along the collar of his black tank top.

The flower girl summoned up all of her courage and feigned intimacy by getting close to and giggling in the fox’s ear. She could feel him tense up in alarm. “Sorry, I hope you don’t mind me being in your personal space,” she whispered apologetically. “I’m only doing this so we don’t look too suspicious. Now, let’s go gather some information and find your friend.” She broke away and the two headed for the front desk.

The receptionist was a perky, giggly chipmunk wearing a black barrette and a blue and gold mini-dress. She looked up from the desk monitor and gave the two Mobians a large, exuberant grin. “Hell-o!” she squeaked cheerfully. “Welcome to the Peacock Tail Inn, where all your fantasies can become real! My name is Suzy! How can I assist you today?”

Cosmo was about to speak, but Tails beat her to it. “You know a girl named Cream?” he asked bluntly. He placed an elbow on the counter and leaned in expectantly.

Cosmo shot him a glare. “What are you doing?!” she hissed in his ear.

To her surprise, the chipmunk giggled again. “Oh! You’re quick on the uptake,” she exclaimed airily, turning her attention back to the monitor on her desk. “Cream is the newest girl here. She’s just finished her interview right now, but she can’t see anyone until tomorrow.” She nudged her head towards the Employees Only door. “At the Peacock Tail Inn, it’s customary for all the new girls to see Don Corneo at his mansion at the far end of Wall Market before they start. Did you know Mr. Corneo is a very famous dilettante?” she jabbered away, not noticing that the two Mobians looked to each other before slowly sidling over to the door she pointed to. “He’s looking for a bride to settle down with and he’s hoping that one of the new hires here can help him with that goal. So far, he hasn’t had much luck, but I’m confident he’ll find that special someone real soon – huh?” She looked back up to see that the two had disappeared. She grabbed the barrette off her head and started wringing it in her hands tightly.

“Oh no, not again!” she whined. “I talked so much that they just left!”


Tails

“Phew, I thought we’d never get away from her.”

Tails moved his hand away from the door, which he coated with a light Ice spell. He was pleased to find that his ability to use magic was unaffected, despite the injuries he sustained only a day ago. ‘Must’ve been Cosmo’s healing that helped with that,’ he thought as the pair stole through the staff corridor. 

Unlike the reception area, the hall they were in looked dingy and cold. Grey concrete walls lined the short passage which led to a dead end. The seven doors along the hall were evenly spaced out and had faded, peeling labels on them to describe their purpose.

Tails paused at each door they came across and pressed his ear against it to listen in. Four doors down, he stopped. “She’s here,” he said to Cosmo quietly.

Cosmo nodded. “OK,” she replied with a whisper. “But Tails? I… think you should let me go first.”

The fox raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

She frowned at him and placed her hands on her hips. “Because what if she’s changing or something? You can’t just barge in on her!” 

Tails crossed his arms and bowed his head in thought. “Hmm, yeah, you’re right,” he conceded with a grimace. “I’ll wait here then. Give me a signal that it’s OK to come in. And be quick too. I don’t want to stand out here too long in case that newt, the chipmunk and their goons start lookin’ for us.”

Cosmo nodded again. She grasped the knob and then turned her head back towards the fox. “Better not peek now!” she said cheekily, winking at him. She then opened the door wide enough so she could fit through and then closed it softly.

As soon as she entered, Tails crouched down to the floor. He then leaned against the door and angled his head so he could pick up the conversation. ‘Gotta love SOLDIER enhancements,” he smirked softly to himself. 

He listened as Cosmo approached Cream. “Cream?” she called. “It’s nice to meet you, I’m Cosmo. Tails has told me a lot about you.”

“Hm? Oh!” Cream exclaimed, startled. “You were the one with Tails earlier…”

“Yeah, with Tails,” Cosmo responded. 

“Oh…” was Cream’s response. Tails thought she sounded a bit crestfallen. There was tense silence before the flower girl gave a startled cry. 

“Ah! Don’t worry!” Cosmo reassured her. Tails imagined that the flower girl was shaking her head in denial. “We just met, it’s nothing.”

“‘Don’t worry’?” came Cream’s questioning response. She then gasped. “Oh, no, don’t misunderstand. Tails and I are childhood friends, nothing more.”

For some reason, the fox found himself feeling slightly hurt at the comment. He pushed it aside as he heard Cosmo chuckle. 

“Aw poor Tails, having to stand out there and listen to us call him nothing,” he heard her say mirthfully. “I know you’re listening, you can come in, it’s safe.”

Feeling slightly abashed, but still keeping his muzzle stoic, the fox stood up and entered the room. 

Cream gaped at him. “My goodness, Miles!” she cried out. “What are you doing here? Never mind that,” she cut in before the fox could talk. “What happened to you after the fall?! Are you hurt! Are you-“

“Hey, give me a chance to answer!” Tails exclaimed, motioning her to settle down. He heard Cosmo giggle beside him. “Cosmo and I… snuck in after we found out that you were here.” He didn’t dare tell her that they had to pretend to be a couple to get in. “Beyond that, I’m alright. Cosmo helped me out. And what did I tell you? Call me Tails,” he glared mildly at her.

Cream threw him a mollifying smile. “Sorry Tails,” she said sheepishly. 

“So what’s going on here, Cream?” Tails asked, his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed. “What are you doing in a place like this?”

“Umm…” The rabbit peered over Tails’ shoulder to Cosmo. The fox followed suit and saw the flower girl give them a knowing smile.

“I’ll be outside,” she said. She left the room and closed the door softly behind her.

Cream breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad you’re OK, Tails,” she said.

“Thanks. Now, tell me what’s going on,” Tails replied tersely.

As Cream explained how she got herself in this predicament, Tails swept his eyes over his childhood friend. Instead of the white cropped tank top, the dark brown skirt, steel toed boots and leather gloves that she normally wore, she wore a figure-hugging midnight blue dress that ended right over the knees. The dress had a halter and a V-neckline that stopped just above the top of her abdomen. Her ears were swept back and her hair was pinned in an updo with a blue clip. On her feet were a pair of matching blue pumps, raising her up a few inches. He had to admit, she looked extremely pretty. 

“So, remember that lech that was following me three weeks ago? When we saw each other again for the first time in s – five years?” Cream said. Tails noticed the hitch in her voice, but paid it no mind. “When Bark and I got back into Sector 7, he was tailing us again, which I thought was strange. We cornered him and… squeezed some information out of him.” Her eyes were downcast as she said this.

“I’m guessing that’s when the Don’s name popped up?” Tails said. ‘What’s with that look?’ he wondered as an afterthought.

“Right, Don Corneo,” Cream said quickly. “Bark told me to leave him alone, but… something’s been bothering me.” Her eyes looked to the side. “Why were Corneo’s thugs tailing me for weeks on end? I don’t think it’s because they wanted to recruit me for a job at the inn… I kinda felt that there had to have been some other reason?”

“I see, so you’re here to get the story straight from the source,” Tails said, a look of understanding in his eyes.

“That’s right. So, I applied for this position, knowing that I’d be in contact with Corneo directly,” Cream said. She suddenly started rubbing her arm and looked very uncomfortable. “But… but now I’m in a bind. Corneo is looking for a bride. He takes three girls every night, chooses one and… well…” she trailed off and looked away, unable to finish her sentence. 

Tails looked at the rabbit in disbelief. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me…

“What’s more,” Cream continued, her jaw tightening. “I’m the first new girl who’s applied in a month. Apparently, Corneo had his goons search for new girls as he wasn’t satisfied with the ones he already has. The attendant in the front told me ‘The esteemed Corneo’s tastes lean towards fresher faced girls,’” Cream mimicked the newt’s slimy voice and rolled her eyes as she did so. “Or so he says.”

“What does that mean for you?” Tails asked, feeling a burning sensation build up in the pit of his stomach.

“…That unless I get two more new girls to join me tonight… I’ll.. have to…” Cream gulped and then quickly changed the subject. “Anyway, I have to get in there somehow and confront him… but how?” she paused, letting out a deep breath.

At that moment, Cosmo barged in, a sheepish smile crossing her lips. “Sorry, I overheard,” she said unapologetically. “If you know the three girls though, it should be easy, right?” 

“True…” Cream answered from behind Tails, who was giving Cosmo a flat look.

“Well, we have two here, right?”

OK that’s enough!‘ The fox cut in, giving Cosmo a severe glare. “No way Cosmo, I can’t let you get involved!”

Cosmo shot him a beguiling look. “Oh? And it’s OK for Cream to be in danger then?” she said innocently.

He scowled back at her. “No, I don’t want her in-” he shot back through gritted teeth. He was cut off mid-sentence when Cream stepped towards the flower girl.

“Is it alright with you?” she asked Cosmo, who nodded in response. 

“I grew up in the slums,” she said. “I’m used to danger.” She then looked into the rabbit’s eyes, bright blue locked onto amber. “Question is: Do you trust me?” she asked.

Cream nodded back without hesitation. “Yes, I do. Thanks Ms. Cosmo.”

“Just Cosmo is fine,” she responded, waving a hand flippantly. 

“There’s just one problem though,” Tails jumped back in, his arms crossed. He looked thoroughly annoyed at the two women. “We still need a third. Who are we gonna get before tonight?” He snorted. “If you ask me, it’d probably be easier to barge in and get our answers by force.”

“But if we do that, we might be playing right into Kintobor’s hands?” Cream said, frowning. “Say we charge in and cause a commotion, that might tip them off and cause them to raid the Sector 7 Slums? We can’t risk that happening?”

Tails scoffed irritably. “So then, what’s the plan?” he asked, his brow knitted in thought.

The room went silent for a moment. It was broken only when Cosmo started giggling.

The two other Mobians in the room looked at her, perplexed.  “What’s so funny?” Tails asked, an eyebrow raised.

Cosmo giggles turned into full blown laughter and her eyes began to water. Tails and Cream looked at each other, both of them bewildered at her behaviour. Soon enough, the flower girl calmed down enough to speak.

“Tails… Y-you should…” she sniggered, exhaled loudly to steady herself down and then continued quickly before she could break down again. “Tails, you should dress up as a girl! It’s the only way!”

“WHAT!?” Tails gaped amid the flower girl’s cackling. “N-no way, I’m no-”

“That’s actually a great idea!” Cream chimed in, a mischievous grin suddenly growing on her lips. “I mean, it can work! You definitely have very feminine features, Tails.”

The fox whirled on Cream, a look of horror on his face. “C’mon! Not you too!?” he exclaimed as the rabbit girl fought back a chuckle. 

“OK, so that’s the plan!” Cosmo said, ignoring Tails’ complaints. “Cream, you tell those guys that you know two other girls who are willing to meet the Don. Meanwhile, I’ll handle foxy here and get him all dolled up for tonight.”

“Don’t I even get a say in this?” Tails moaned.

Cosmo gave him an admonishing look, placing her hands on her hips. “Well, you want to get Cream out of this, don’t you?” she asked. “And, like I said, this is the only way to do it, so buck up mister and let’s go!”

The fox let out a deep and resigned sigh. “… Fine,” he spat out, scowling. “But you tell… NO ONE about this.” 

Cosmo beamed at him before rounding on Cream. “So, how do we get out of here?” she asked the fighter.”We can’t go through the front; it’d be obvious where we went to?”

“Go all the way to the end of the hall. The last door there leads to the back alley,” Cream said, her face screwed up to prevent herself from laughing at her friend’s predicament. “No one really goes there except for the smokers, so you should be safe from view. The end of that alley should lead you out of the red light district.”

“Alright, let’s go and get this over with then,” Tails grumbled, stomping out of the room. ‘I can’t freaking believe this…

Had he paid any attention as he left, he would have caught Cream whispering to Cosmo, saying “Please get that on film!”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Playground Chat



The Void

“…You seem pretty tired?”

Tails opened his eyes at the sound of the familiar voice. They suddenly narrowed upon seeing the white expanse. ‘Here again?’ He turned his head to see the familiar, black garbed figure standing to his side. Despite the hood obscuring its features, Tails could have sworn that he was smiling.

With a hand planted on its hip, he gestured towards the fox, beckoning him forward. “Haven’t slept in a bed that soft and comfortable in quite a long time, no?” he said as Tails approached.

The fox stopped and crossed his arms. “Not true,” he replied, eyeing the figure suspiciously. “I slept alright at Cream’s?”

The figure shrugged in an exaggerated fashion. “Yeah, but right now? You’re completely conked out,” it said. Tails could practically hear the smile in its voice. “I doubt even the dead could wake you right now. Anyways, come closer. I wanna show you something.”

Still eyeing it with some skepticism, the fox wordlessly walked towards it. ‘Why do I get the feeling that I know this guy from somewhere?’ he thought as he stopped in front of the robed figure.

“So, again, do you remember the last time?” The black figure asked. When he saw Tails give no response, it shrugged. “Here, I’ll show you,” it said. Waving its arm with a flourish, the space around them transformed.

Below the fox’s feet, a roughened, hardwood floor started to appear and began spreading outwards. On the northern end, the wood transitioned to slate grey cobblestones. Where the floors ended, walls began to materialize and they rose up to a vaulted, timber ceiling above Tails’ head.  The space slowly took the shape of a small home as more items started to appear; a small kitchen with a stove, a refrigerator and a sink where the cobblestone flooring ended. A pair of beds along the southern wall with a night stand in between. A landing on the western side of the house with a water heater in one corner of the room and a stack of boxes in another. Forest green accents dotted the space and golden sunlight peered through the small window in the kitchen.

Two figures then materialized into the scene. One was a younger Tails wearing his SOLDIER uniform and splayed out on one of the beds. His namesakes were bunched up behind his head like a pillow and his unfocused gaze drifted up to the ceiling. The other was an older fox with golden yellow fur wearing a navy blue cotton dress and sandals humming pleasantly to herself while standing by the stove in the kitchen.

The older Tails watched stoically at the sight of his mother preparing one of his favourite meals. He studied her face as she turned to his younger self on the bed, shutting off the stove at the same time. It was as though he was seeing a female image of his future self. 

She had the same eye shape and colour, the same ears and the same muzzle, but while his features were hardened and sharp, hers were softer and more feminine. Her shoulder-length hair was tied into a messy ponytail and a smile stretched out at the sight of her son.

“My goodness, how you’ve grown,” she said, her voice playful. “I bet the girls never leave you alone?”

“Not really,” the younger Tails said nonchalantly.

His mother’s smile turned wistful. “You know, there are a lot of temptations in the city,” she said. “… I’d feel much better if you had a girlfriend and settled down.”

Young Tails shook his head. “…I’m alright,” he replied after a pause.

“I think you should have… an older girlfriend,” his mother continued. “One that will take care of you. I think that would be the perfect type for you.”

“…I’m not interested,” came the fox’s response.

His mother sighed and said something else, but the older Tails stopped paying attention as he felt something tug at his senses. He turned away from the scene towards the landing with the water heater in the corner. On the wall was a simple, wooden door. ‘Was that there before?’ he thought as he approached it.

Before he could place his hand on the knob, a gloved hand clamped around his wrist. Tails turned to face the hooded figure, and for the first time he could catch a glimpse of his eyes from underneath the hood. They were a shade of glowing, jade-green.

“It’s time to wake up, little buddy,” the figure said to Tails. Suddenly, he, it and the space around them disintegrated into darkness.


Tails

Tails’ eyes snapped open to reveal an unfamiliar ceiling above him. He took a moment to process his surroundings before remembering that he was still in Cosmo’s house.

“I must’ve fallen asleep,” he muttered as he slowly rose out of the bed. Looking out of the window and up through the unfinished portions of the plate, he saw the sky lightened ever so slightly. “It’s morning,” he surmised quietly.

He looked to the wall where Cosmo’s room was behind. He could hear her breathe steadily and rhythmically in slumber. Tails stood up, his eyes still on the wall. He still wondered why he was so drawn to the flower girl. Something about her evoked a sense of familiarity within the fox, despite only properly meeting her yesterday afternoon. The more he thought about it, the more his head began to hurt.

The fox shook his head to clear the cobwebs netting up his mind. ‘Sector 7 is just past Sector 6… I should be fine on my own.’ Tails carefully walked out of the door and quietly snuck past Cosmo’s room. He paused to confirm that she was still asleep and then continued down the stairs to the first floor.

As he moved through the dim space, he spotted a parcel lying on the dining table with a note that had his name on it. He picked up the note and unfolded it, his heightened vision allowing him to read it in the low lighting:

Tails,

I left these for you. Thank you for helping Cosmo. 

Rose

Inside the parcel were a set of phials: two Potions, an Ether and an amber coloured liquid labeled “Phoenix Down.” Pocketing the restoratives, Tails gathered his sword, slinked out the front door and closed it softly behind him. 


Cosmo

Cosmo lay awake in her bed. 

She waited until she deduced that he was truly asleep and then quickly changed out of her pyjamas and into a fresh set of her everyday clothes. Tying her hair into its customary braid, she then lay on the bed and stared into the ceiling. Her mind kept wandering around the events over the past few days and their relation to the mysterious fox resting next door, which prevented her from getting a proper night’s rest.

Turning to her alarm clock, she flinched at the red numbers that flashed back at her. ‘It’s 5:00 am?’ She stretched out, stifled a yawn and then began breathing in and out rhythmically, as though she was asleep so as to not arouse Tails’ attention.

“Stargirl, if you weren’t my girlfriend or were suddenly playin’ as a Chun-nan sleeper agent, I’d be very afraid of you right now,” she recalled Spikes saying to her once when he stayed over for a night. “Seriously, I couldn’t tell if you were awake or asleep? That’s some skill…”

Though she smiled on remembering the comment, thinking about him now brought the sorrow and grief that she pushed down within herself to rise back up to the surface. She wanted nothing more than for things to return to normal, but she knew that fate had other plans for her. While she finally made the decision to follow along with what Mobius was planning for her, she was still battling through the negative emotions that roiled within her. 

She was angry and frustrated that she still couldn’t make sense of the visions she received both at the church and at the broken pipe in Sector 8. She remembered the fear that rooted her to the spot, waiting for the moment when the former SOLDIER would arrive from the reactor’s wreckage. She remembered the anguish choking at her insides on seeing the sword on his back. What made her squirm the most were the icy blue eyes that froze her veins. They were cold and unfeeling, compared to the warm, deep green she was used to seeing.

Cosmo suppressed a sigh when she thought of those eyes. ‘Now’s not the time.

She suddenly heard sounds coming from the aforementioned fox’s room. Soft, slow footfalls padded through the room he occupied, towards the stairwell and then down to the first floor. If she was asleep, she would have never noticed him sneaking out.

Her face fell. ‘So, he’s leaving. Just like the visions said he would.’ 

The moment she heard the front door close, Cosmo hopped off her bed and looked out of her window. She watched the two-tailed fox leave her home towards the residential area. “There he goes,” she whispered to herself. 

Moving quickly, she pushed open the window and dropped a rope made from sheets attached to her bedpost. Tugging the makeshift rope to make sure it was secure, she swung one leg out. Before her descent, her eyes trailed over to a folded sheet of paper on the dresser, her heart tightening in her chest.

‘I’m so sorry Mom.’

Pushing her guilty feelings aside, Cosmo quickly climbed down and headed in the fox’s direction. Instead of following the main road that he was on, she skirted through pathways and side streets known only to the locals to get ahead of him. As she neared the entrance leading to Sector 5’s main thoroughfare, she wormed her way into an alcove between the large pipe occupied by the sick ferret and a rusted tractor trailer, shimmied down a narrow, junk filled passage and finally arrived in front of the abandoned checkpoint separating Sectors 5 and 6. 

Cosmo didn’t have to wait long when Tails entered her field of vision, a look of surprise on his normally stoic face. “Well, well, looks like someone’s up early,” she said to him, relishing the shocked look on his face. “If you’re ready, we’ll head to the Wall Market in Sector 6. The trains are still out of commission, so we’ll have to take the long way through instead. We’ll grab some breakfast, find my guy who makes fake ID’s and we’ll be in Sector 7 grabbing a drink and a bite to eat at your friend’s bar by late noon.” 

She walked towards the checkpoint gate and hopped over the turnstiles. “You coming?” she said, smiling at him. She heard him scrambling to catch up and couldn’t help but let out a giggle. 

Soon, the two passed the thick barrier wall and were in Sector 6. Compared to Sectors 5 and 7 with its bustling streets, the main thoroughfare within the slum was severely uneven and littered with abandoned buildings and construction equipment. The ground had shifted so much that pieces of the road raised and dipped, creating walls, cliffs and canyons that made travel difficult for the layperson.

Tails sniffed at the sight. “Another one of Kintobor’s failures,” he explained to Cosmo. “It’s likely that they were trying to develop the slums to be like the cities on the plate above. Urban Development probably ran out of money, which is why it’s in the state it is today.”

Cosmo nodded wordlessly. ‘Well, isn’t he a wealth of information,’ she mused. ‘Always with an explanation, unlike-

Tails suddenly grabbed her hand and stopped her before they could round the bend. He pressed a finger to his lips, his burning gaze compelling her into silence. “There’s something up ahead,” he said, in a low, harsh whisper. “Get ready for a fight.” 

He drew his sword, placed his hand on one of the Emeralds and drew out golden-yellow energy. Nonplussed, Cosmo’s fingers brushed the hilt of her retractable staff as Tails crept around the corner to face what was there. 

“Huh?” she heard him say. “Why is there a house here?”

The colour drained from the flower girl’s face. Without thinking, she grabbed onto one of the fox’s tails and yanked him backward. “Tails get back! It’s a Mutate disguised to look like a house!” she hissed at him over his surprised yelp as the structure in front of them shuffled to life.

The ‘house’ had a shabby, gabled roof stained blood red with two crooked spires on either end. It’s flimsy walls were uneven, cracked and were barely holding together. A low moan escaped from what appeared to be the front door and a single, yellowed eye from a window above the door looked out at the Mobians. 

Still holding a magic charge in his hand, Tails sheathed his sword. Motioning to Cosmo, he spoke softly so as to not attract further attention. “Don’t make any sudden moves.” With the house’s eye still on them, the two Mobians backed away slowly. 

As they neared a raised section of the road, Cosmo leaned into Tails’ ear. “Through here,” she whispered, pointing to a recess created by two unfinished concrete walls jutting out from the uneven ground. Keeping a wary eye on the house shambling in their direction, Cosmo slid into the space first with Tails following right behind.

After passing through the crevasse, the flower girl turned around and felt her blood go cold as she came face to face with a trio of Robians. Two of them were red bodied avians brandishing bladed pinion feathers on their hands and sharp talons on their feet. Behind them was a grey wolf, it’s metallic tail swaying up and down, the metal plates that replaced the natural fur crinkling softly with every movement. It crouched low with its long sharp claws extended and ready to pounce.

Cosmo dimly heard Tails speak words of relief as he passed through, her attention was solely focused on the three Robians that appeared in front of her. “Uh… Tails?” she said, with a touch of worry in her voice. “We got company!”

The avians suddenly emitted a shrill, metallic cry from their curved, wicked beaks, their red eyes honed in on the two. The fox whirled around, drew his sword and launched himself at the three.

The flower girl got over her initial shock and extended her staff. Knowing that the Robians watched the swordsman’s movements more than her own, she surreptitiously placed her hand on the Fire Emerald. The green gem glowed brightly at her touch as she quickly drew and shaped the magic. Letting go of her staff, which began floating in midair at waist level, she brought both hands to the sky, swept them down and called “FIRE!”

Instantly, a plume of flames engulfed one of the avian Robians, just as it was about to charge and run the fox through with its talons. The fire was so hot that it melted its outer shell and fused its joints, rendering it immobile. 

Without missing a beat, Tails leapt forward and severed the melted Robians head. Using the momentum of his swing, he then took on the wolf. The Robian, however, caught the blade between its teeth and growled madly at him. The third Robian then turned towards Cosmo.

Cosmo gulped. She gripped her staff tightly as the avian approached her menacingly. ‘OK, yeah, I can take this thing on, no problem,‘ she analyzed, fighting the overwhelming urge to panic. ‘I just need to get some space first-

Her train of thought was broken as the avian suddenly rushed forward to attack. Cosmo barely got her staff up in time to block the bladed wingtips as it swiped furiously at her from all sides. A talon shot out and scratched her arm, causing her to yelp sharply from the pain. In desperation, she thrusted the staff out and caught the Robian in its eye. The eyepiece shattered from the strike. 

Cosmo pulled the staff back and quickly followed up with a swing that caught it in the head. She avoided a retaliating strike using the momentum of her swing and then – with both hands – thrust the polearm out once again and caught it in the gut. The force of the blow, coupled with the avian’s light weight, sent it sprawling back a few paces.

There!’ Feeling a small dribble of blood ooze down her forearm, Cosmo quickly drew another charge and called “FIRE!” Another pillar of flames appeared around the Robian and its metal body warped and melted in the same way as its partner’s did. The red eyes on its fused husk were soon extinguished along with the flames.

Turning her attention to Tails, she saw him beat the wolf back with the flat of his blade before severing it from the waist. He finished it off by plunging the sword into its head. Wiping the oil off and placing his sword on his back, he faced Cosmo and shot her a grin that looked more like a grimace. “Took those two on by yourself eh?” he said, breathing hard. “Not bad.”

Cosmo’s eyes trailed from the pained look on the fox’s face towards his tails. Between the fight just now and the moment she yanked one of them to get his attention, the small spots of blood on the wrappings indicated to her that his wounds had reopened.

The flower girl’s mouth opened in shock. “Oh Goddess, Tails,” she said, her heart heavy. “I-I’m sorry for grabbing-”

“It’s OK,” came his terse response as he regained his breath. “It’s minor, should start healing soon enough.” 

Healing… That’s it!’ Cosmo’s eyes widened as she remembered what the fox told her back in the church. “Hey, do you still have that Cure Emerald?” she piqued. 

Tails looked at her quizzically before he shared the same look of realization. With a small grin plastered on his muzzle, he pulled the gem out from his pocket. “I kinda forgot about that-” 

Cosmo reached her hand out and cut the warrior mid-sentence. “You’re still in no proper condition to use magic,” she said tentatively, biting her lip. “So… if you want… Uhh… I can do it for you?”

The fox stared at her, his expression turning to one of bemusement. After a few moments, he scoffed and then placed the Emerald into her open palm. He then unwrapped and extended the wounded tail to her, his icy eyes locked onto her.

Cosmo swapped the Fire Emerald on her staff with the Cure Emerald and placed her hand on it. ‘I have to control myself… ‘ she found herself thinking as she drew out the light green energy within the gem. ‘Can’t overdo it; I just need to do enough to close the wounds and stop the bleeding. Simple, really.’ “Not,” she muttered quietly to herself.

“What?” 

Goddess-damned super hearing!!’ “Nothing, let me concentrate,” she replied tersely. Cosmo shaped the energy with her Mana and then placed her brightly glowing hand on Tails’ tail. ‘Please let this work…’ “Cure!” she called.

Within the moment of casting, she could instantly feel the healing magic penetrate and repair the damage done to the appendage. A pale green aura enveloped the tail and then dissipated a moment later. Cosmo let out a content sigh and then beamed brightly at Tails. “There, that should do it,” she said proudly. “You can remove the bandages.”

Tails nodded, his lips turning upwards slightly as he tugged on the fastenings. As he unwrapped the stained gauze, the flower girl’s face went from pleased to shocked. Her face blanched and she felt beads of cold sweat go down her back as she saw the fully healed tail… with half grown fur instead of the bare patches she intended to leave behind. ‘Oh man, I overdid it…’ 

The former SOLDIER looked at her with astonishment. His mouth parted, but words failed to come out of them. “…Between the fights from yesterday and today and just now… You definitely got some raw talent there,” he said after he gathered himself. He then slouched, crossed his arms and smirked at her. “Still looking to join SOLDIER? You might not have the physical build, but your magical abilities could more than make up for it.”

Relief swept through the flower girl as she looked into his bright, twinkling eyes. ‘Roll with it Cosmo, he doesn’t know what you are…’ She placed a finger on the side of her chin and tapped it thoughtfully. “Mmm… nah, I think I’ll pass on that offer,” she said cheerily.

Ignoring the flat look the fox gave her, she resocketed the Fire Emerald back into her weapon and then handed the Restore Emerald back to Tails. “Now, let’s keep going. We’re almost there.”

The two then climbed over a fallen crane and descended down a set of girders to reach the entrance to a small playground. It was abandoned and unkempt from years of neglect. To their left was a swing set, its chains covered in a layer of rust. In front of the two was a sandbox littered with broken glass, used needles and other paraphernalia. Just past the sandbox was a play dome that had four entrances. On top of the dome were a pair of round ears and cat-like eyes. Beside it was a tall, domed slide with the same aesthetics as the structure next to it. Both were covered in a layer of grime.

“Wow, I can’t believe it’s still here,” Cosmo said, surprised. She walked up to the swing set and turned to face Tails. “I used to play here long ago, before the shifting ground made it impossible to get around.”

She stared wistfully at the swingset, remembering the times her mother would bring her to play with the other children. She cleared her head and turned towards the massive metal doors on the other side of the playground. “Over there is the checkpoint between Sectors 6 and 7,” she said. “The path next to it leads to the Wall Market, which is where we’re heading to. I don’t think my friend will be up yet for the ID card, so let’s take a break here.” 

“Sure,” Tails nodded. 


Tails

Tails watched as Cosmo suddenly raced to the slide, climbed up to the top and sat on the very top. She waved down to the fox and patted the space beside her. “Over here!” she called. 

Tails shook his head and smiled, amused at her antics. He unlatched the sword and stuck it in the ground near the slide. He double checked that his Ice Emerald was placed in his armour before climbing up himself. Settling himself beside the flower girl, the two sat and stared off into the distance.

“So, I guess when you get your ID card, you’ll head back to your old life?” Cosmo asked.

“Hmm… probably,” Tails responded distantly. He looked back to her suddenly. “Have you used a fake ID yourself?”

The flower girl huffed. “Well, having a fake ID helps me to get to the Upper Plate without the Chaotix tracking me, so yes, I have used them from time to time.” Tails smirked at her response, which only made her glower at him. “Look, it wouldn’t be good for my business if those weirdos were chasing after me all the time!”

Tails let out a chuckle. “OK, OK, I get it,” he replied. He felt relaxed around her, which caused him to wonder. ‘She’s a complete stranger to me, and yet I feel like we’ve known each other for years… I don’t understand?’ 

He suddenly thought of Cream. 

“So… you wouldn’t mind coming with me to Vanilla’s Haven?” he asked, changing the subject. “I think… that Cream would want to meet the person who helped me out.”

“… Well I could?” Cosmo said, tilting her head and tapping her chin in thought. “But… wouldn’t I be in the way?”

Tails raised an eyebrow. “…In the way of what?” 

“Oh, nothing then,” came the response. Cosmo then started shuffling beside him. She pulled out her staff and removed the Fire Emerald. “Here, you can have this back.”

The fox shook his head and pushed the gem back into her hands. “You keep it,” he said. As they brushed hands, he idly noted how warm hers were. “It’d be better off in your hands anyway, in case the Chaotix come back for you.”

She flashed him a brilliant smile that stirred his heart. “Thanks,” she said sweetly. They both settled back into silence.

“… What rank were you,” Cosmo asked a moment later.

What’s with all these questions?’ “Rank?”

“You know, in SOLDIER?”

Tails smirked. ‘Still on about the SOLDIER thing.’ He looked up to the Plate ceiling, thinking. “I was…”

A brief flash of white obscured his vision. He blinked in surprise and then continued speaking.  “I was ranked First Class.”

Cosmo drew her knees up and rested her chin on them. “Just the same as him,” she said.

“The same as who?” Tails asked, his curiosity piqued. 

Cosmo glanced at him for a moment. She then looked away, towards the distant shutter doors blocking access to the wastelands beyond the Megapolis outskirts. “My first boyfriend,” she replied, a tinge of sadness in her voice. She tightened the grip around her knees as she spoke.

“…You were… serious?” Tails asked after a pause.

“No, not really,” Cosmo shook her head, her tresses bouncing lightly. “But I did like him for a while.”

Tails brought a hand up to his chin and stroked it in thought. “I probably knew him,” he said. “What was his name?”

The flower girl straightened her legs out, her lips in a thin line. “It… It doesn’t really-”

She was interrupted by the sound of klaxons going off, followed by the rattling noise of metal doors opening from the Sector 7 checkpoint. The two Mobians turned to watch a pair of guards wave something through the gate. Coming into view was a grey convertible hovercar with its top down. It hung a left, heading towards the Wall Market just as the checkpoint doors began to close.

The driver of the convertible was unremarkable, but it was the backseat passenger that caught Tails’ eye: A familiar rabbit with cream-coloured locks wearing a blue, figure-hugging dress. “What the hell? Cream!?” he exclaimed. “CREAM!”

He saw her face turn towards his voice and saw her jaw drop as the transport went out of view.

“That girl in the back? That was Cream?” Cosmo said, her eyes narrowing. She suddenly let out a gasp, slid down the slide and started running towards the Wall Market.

“Wait!” Tails called out to Cosmo. “I can handle this on my own! You… go… home…” he trailed off as she, too, disappeared from view. Gritting his teeth, he leaped from the top of the slide, plucked his sword from the ground and gave chase. He wracked his mind, trying in vain to figure out the connection between the mystery transport and Cream’s involvement.

‘What’s going on here, Cream?


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 21

Chapter 21: A Night at Cosmo’s



Cosmo

Cosmo realized something far too late about her mysterious bodyguard known as Tails: He was way too fast for her to keep up with.

Despite having survived a 100 meter fall from atop the Plate, severely lacerating his left tail and overall looking very exhausted, the fox flew through the junk mountain, hopping and skipping around the debris with precise coordination. 

He reminds me of Spikes,’ Cosmo thought idly as she slowly climbed up a mound of discarded tele-crate sets. She puffed hard at the exertion. ‘Despite being hurt from missions or through training, he never sits down to rest; he’s always going fast…’ She looked ahead for Tails and groaned as he pulled further ahead. ‘Oh come on!’ 

“Wait… I said wait for me!” Cosmo called out as she quickly, but carefully climbed down the mound and hurried to the now waiting fox. After carefully skirting past a pile of scrap, she jumped onto the metal platform he stood on. She bent over, placing her hands on her knees and panted heavily. “Slow… Down…” she struggled to say as she caught her breath. “Don’t… leave me… behind…”

She heard him scoff. Angling her head upwards, she saw Tails wearing a smug, cocky smile, his arms folded. “Funny,” he said to her, his glowing eyes twinkling with amusement. “I thought you said you were cut out to be in SOLDIER?”

Cosmo slowly straightened up and glared at him, her hands firmly planted on her hips. “Oh! You’re terrible!” she said indignantly. Her glare softened as she broke out in a fit of giggles after a pause, with Tails chuckling alongside her.

As the laughter subsided, Cosmo suddenly blurted out a question to the fox. “Hey Tails? Were you… ever in SOLDIER?” ‘Way to be subtle,’ she mentally chided herself.

Tails ceased his laughter. He tilted his head and looked at her curiously. Cosmo fought the urge to squirm under his arresting gaze. “…I used to be,” he said after a moment passed. “How’d you guess?” 

Oh, well it’s because you have my ex-boyfriend’s – actually no, I can’t say that…’ “…It’s your eyes,” she said, leaning forward with her hands behind her back and looking at Tails with mild curiosity. “They have… a strange glow to them.”

“It’s an aftereffect of the Energen infusion process,” Tails said. “A mark of SOLDIER,” he paused and cocked an eyebrow at her. “…You’re pretty observant. How did you know about that, anyway?”

Crap!’ “Umm… It’s just a wild guess, really?” she said, trying her best not to look suspicious.

“…Really?”

“Yeah, really! Now come on, let’s get going Bodyguard!” she said, racing ahead of him. ‘Yeah, he’s totally suspicious now,’ her inner critic railed on her as she climbed down the junk pile back towards the main road. ‘Great going Cosmo.’ 

The two soon reached the bottom, both jumping off of a fallen pillar. Cosmo bent over and caught her breath while Tails leaned against the pillar waiting for her.

“Whew… Finally, we made it down,” she said, straightening up. She looked around for a moment before pointing in the direction away from the church. “The coast looks clear, so we can head back to the residential district; that’s where my house is. Let’s get going before those people find us.” She started off in the direction she pointed towards with Tails following closely behind. 

As they walked, Cosmo continued. “So… My mother used to work as a nurse. I bet she’ll be able to take a look at your tail and see if there’s any lasting damage.”

“…Sounds good,” was his response, his eyes darting around and looking for any sign of the Chaotix, Mutates or Robians on the path.

From behind him, Cosmo frowned. ‘So, there’s a difference between the two at last,’ she thought as she watched his movements. ‘Despite the earlier jokes, Tails is a bit more serious… and a bit cold too…’ She tapped a finger on her chin thoughtfully. ‘I wonder why?

The pair made a right at a fork in the road and arrived at the gates leading into the residential district. The district was smaller than Sector 7’s, with several single-story structures made from scrap lining the perimeter. The buildings looked like they could be knocked over at the slightest push. It was a depressing sight. 

The Sector 5 train station leading up to the Plate was at the far end of the district. To Cosmo’s surprise, it was fenced off and closed to the public. A crowd was gathered at the fence to protest the closure, hurling invectives at the stony-faced guards behind the enclosure. The guard’s rifle was resting in a neutral position across his chest, but his fingers were dancing with the trigger as he watched the crowd pushed against the fencing, as though he was daring them to make a move. Cosmo averted her eyes from the sight.

“Probably due to the attack on the upper plate,” Tails said to her, glaring at the station entrance. He spoke so suddenly that Cosmo was startled. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was happening all over the Slums.”

Cosmo nodded, collecting herself. “Yeah, I suppose,” she replied. She tugged at his arm in the direction away from the station. “C’mon Tails, let’s go.”

As they walked up the street and passed by a large pipe that someone was using as a dwelling space, the two were accosted by a gazelle wearing a plain grey dress, soiled lightly from the dead and dusty ground. “Oh Cosmo, thank the Goddess I caught up wit’ ya,” she said breathlessly to the flower girl, speaking with a heavy accent. “You know that man in the large pipe o’er yonder? Remember how he was quiet? Well, he be startin’ to say some really odd things now, y’know? Might wanna go check in wit’ yer ma and see if’n she could do summin about it?”

Cosmo smiled at the gazelle. “Of course, Bettie, I’ll go talk to mom,” she said, her hands clasped in front of her. “Goddess knows though if she can help with the situation?”

“Well hun, it can’t hurt to try,” Bettie the gazelle responded. Her eyes caught the sight of Tails beside her, a crooked grin splitting her lips. “Oh and who’s this strapping young fella?,” she asked Cosmo, her eyes looking up and down the warrior with interest. They stopped on the sword on his back “That’s a mighty big sword ya got there, stranger. Kinda looks fami-”

“Oh, Tails? He’s just a friend,” Cosmo interrupted quickly, looking away slightly. “He helped me out while I was walking home from the church, but uh… he got injured in the process, so I’m taking him to mom.” She shrugged. “Kind of like a reward for protecting me, I suppose?”

“Ah, well that’s nice of ya Cosmo!” Bettie said, smiling. “Well, with that, I’ve gotta go; have ta fix up a meal for ma husband. That is, if he ever gets home…” she trailed off, looking at the closed train platform. Crestfallen, the gazelle walked off and left the two Mobians to themselves.

Cosmo glanced towards the aforementioned pipe and then back to Tails. ‘Maybe…’ “So, Tails, um… this guy here? He’s not well,” she said, pointing to the pipe’s entrance. She clasped her hands behind her back and gently swayed on the spot. “I know I said my mom would take a look at him later, but… I was wondering if you could look at him as well? It wouldn’t hurt to have a second opinion?”

She saw Tails take a moment to make a decision. His eyes were narrowed and his hand was stroking his chin in thought. He then nodded. “OK, let’s take a look, but I can’t promise you anything,” he said to her.

They entered the makeshift dwelling. The sparse, cramped space had nothing more than a pallet bed, a light and a bare shelf. The subject in question was sitting on the bed – a ferret with a glazed, faraway look in his eyes. He was rocking back and forth on the edge and moaning softly. He wore a ratty and tattered shirt, dirty overalls and a pair of shoes that were falling apart. His dark brown fur was matted and greasy-looking, like he hadn’t washed himself for some time.

The two grimaced as their noses filled with the scent of filth emanating from the Mobian. “That’s him,” Cosmo said to the fox. “Won’t you help him?” 

She watched as Tails walked up to the ferret and looked him over for a few minutes. He turned back to the flower girl and shook his head. 

“Listen, I’m not a doctor,” he said softly to her, his nose wrinkled. “Obviously something’s wrong with him, but I can’t figure out what. This guy needs an actual medical professional.”

“Hm, I guess you’re right,” Cosmo replied, her shoulders slumping. “Maybe my mother would know better?” She peered over Tails’ shoulder towards the ferret. Her eyes landed on a discolored patch of white fur on his wrist. “Hey Tails, what’s that on his wrist?” she asked him, pointing at the hand in question. “It looks like a tattoo of the number 2? How strange…”

The fox twisted and followed her eyes towards the paw in question. Cosmo watched him frown before he turned abruptly and made his way out. “…Doesn’t matter. Let’s get going,” he said to her. 

Cosmo watched him go, surprised at his sudden and abrupt departure. She looked back sympathetically at the ferret before following the warrior out. As she left the pipe, she felt a chill go up her spine. It felt as though the sick ferret was watching her as she left.

‘It’s just my imagination,’ she reasoned to herself. However, she found that she couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was off about the Mobian as she and Tails walked through the district towards her home.

They passed an armament shop, went through a secluded alleyway and finally emerged in a large, open clearing. Unlike the rest of the slum, the dell featured a well-built two story house with red shingling. Beyond the house were shrubs and mounds of dirt covered with various flowers atop a set of plateaus. Each of the plateaus were accessible either by wooden ladders or makeshift bridges. A small river flowed beneath some of the bridges. Faint rays of sunlight peeked through the unconstructed portions of the Sector 5 plate and illuminated the area. 

Tails piqued an eyebrow upon entering. “Interesting,” he said to Cosmo, his lips quirking upward. “An area untouched by the industrializations of Kintobor. It’s like walking into an alien world.”

She smiled back at him. “I know, it’s beautiful, right?”

The fox didn’t answer back. He suddenly turned his head to his right as his keen eyes spotted something in the distance. He moved past Cosmo, climbed a ladder and headed towards a bush on one of the plateaus. He crouched down and plucked the purple, glowing jewel that was hidden beneath the leaves of the plant. Returning to the flower girl, he presented it to her. “See? Told ya you can find them anywhere,” he said, smirking. “Looks like this is a Cover Emerald.”

Cosmo closed her mouth – which fell open after Tails produced the Emerald – and shook her head mirthfully. ‘Showoff,’ “Alright, c’mon you,” she said to him, opening the door.

“Mom! I’m home!” Cosmo called out as she entered. 

From her right, her mother walked out of the kitchen. She gave her daughter a relieved smile as she entered. Upon seeing Tails enter behind her, however, her eyes widened and her smile turned into a tight line, her fur raising on end. “And… who is this?” she asked.

Oh crap… I should’ve put a little more thought into this.’ “Ah, mom i-it’s OK,” Cosmo stammered as she attempted to placate her mother. “This is Tails, my bodyguard.”

Cosmo’s mother frowned. “Bodyguard… You mean you were followed again?!” She rushed forward to look her over, all while shooting a critical glance at the fox behind her. “Are you alright?! You’re not hurt are you?!” she asked.

Cosmo gently took her worried mother’s hands and cradled them into her own. She brushed her knuckles with her thumbs in a soothing manner. “I’m alright mom, I had Tails with me,” she reassured, smiling. “He kept me safe, but got hurt, so I brought him here for you to help him out? You are the best nurse around, after all?” ‘C’mon mom, you know I’m buttering you up, please don’t kick him out!!

Her mother’s eyes went back at the fox, then to her daughter and finally at the fox once again. Her mouth twitched into a terse smile. “Thank you… Tails,” she said tightly. She gently stroked her daughter’s cheek before returning to the kitchen. “Dinner will be ready in a bit, sweetie,” she called. “I trust our… guest will join us tonight?” 

“Uh, yeah mom, I’ll set a place for him,” Cosmo answered. Inwardly, she felt self-satisfied at her actions. ‘Heh heh, still got it.’ She started to set the table for dinner. 

“How far is Sector 7 from here?” Tails asked bluntly.  

Cosmo turned to see the fox rest his sword near the threshold. She fought to restrain a sigh. ‘I suppose subtly is also not his strong point. Well, everyone has a character flaw, I suppose.’ “Sector 7 is just past Sector 6,” she answered as she pulled dishware from the nearby armoire. “Getting to Sector 6 is easy; the checkpoint’s been abandoned since last year, so it’s easy to slip through. Getting into Sector 7 though might be tricky.” She placed the last plate on the table and began to arrange the cutlery. She faced Tails. “Do you have an ID card, by any chance?”

He shook his head slowly. 

Cosmo suppressed a sigh. “OK, well I know someone in the Wall Market who’s really good with fake ID’s,” she said. “We’ll pop by there first, grab it and get you to the slum. Easy peasy.”

Hearing no response from the fox, Cosmo continued setting the table in silence. Moments later, she faced him once again with another question in her eyes. “Why there, if you don’t mind me asking?” 

“I need to head to Vanilla’s Haven. Cream’s bar,” he said.

Hmmm… time to dig.’ “I see. Is this ‘Cream’ a girl?” 

“Yeah?” 

“A… Girlfriend?” She had to bite her tongue from laughing as she watched his eyebrows raise sharply.

“N-no way!” Tails said, shaking his head. 

Cosmo sniggered once before bursting into peals of laughter. “Hee, hee, you don’t have to get THAT upset,” she said after calming down. 

The fox gave her a flat stare. Cosmo tried to fight her urge to flinch at the sight of his glowing eyes, but failed to do so. Memories began to surface and she fought to tamp them down. ‘Don’t girl. Just… don’t think about him right now…’ “Well… that’s nice,” she said awkwardly. “Um, so, we can go after we eat then, OK?”

Tails looked taken aback at the suggestion. “What?! Why would you want to put yourself in danger again?” he asked.

The flower girl shrugged impassively. “It’s no big deal. I’m used to it,” she said.

“Used to it?!” he exclaimed. Shaking off his shock, he turned away and crossed his arms in thought. “…Well, dunno,” he mumbled out loud. “Getting help from a girl, I mean bu-”

“A girl! What do you mean by that!” Cosmo interrupted, glaring darkly at him. Tails whirled around, a grimace crossing his face. “You expect me to just sit here and listen to you say something like that?”

She huffed and turned towards the kitchen before Tails could utter a word. “Mom! Hold off on dinner for now, I’m taking Tails to Sector 7,” she said hotly. ‘He has some nerve… “Getting help from a girl.” I should’ve left him on the floor at the chur-’ 

Her mother walked back out with her hands akimbo in frustration. The action broke through her thoughts. “Cosmo, dear, I give up,” she said, throwing her a pleading look. “You never listen once you make up your mind. But if you must go, you should go tomorrow – it’s already dark out.” She pointed to the window. 

Cosmo followed her finger to see that the rays peeking through the Plate above were dimming. Night had fallen. She huffed and pouted. “Yeah, I guess you’re right Mom,” she conceded. 

The woodchuck smiled. “I’m glad you see it my way,” she said before rounding on Tails. “As for you, I suppose you have something you want to say, young man?” she admonished gently.

The fox hung his head, his eyes averting both women. “I-I’m sorry, Cosmo,” he mumbled, shamefaced. “I shouldn’t have insulted you like that.”

“Good,” her mother replied, a satisfied smile crossing her lips. She suddenly gasped. “Oh, where are my manners!” she cried out. “I haven’t introduced myself! My name is Rosemary, but please, call me Rose.” She bowed politely. “Please, have a seat. Dinner will be ready soon. And Cosmo?” Rose addressed her daughter. “Once we finish eating, could you please make a bed in the spare room for our guest?” As she turned towards the kitchen, Rose looked back to the fox and his bandaged tails. “As for you, I’ll look at those injuries for you after our meal.”

Tails nodded. “Thank you.” 

“Great, apology accepted,” Cosmo said happily. She turned to Tails with a playful smile etched on her face. “We’ll go to Sector 7 tomorrow. For now, let’s eat.”


Tails

Tails fought the urge to fidget as Rose inspected the wounds on his namesakes. Cosmo had headed upstairs to prepare the spare room, leaving the two of them alone at the dining room table. 

Rose, wearing surgical gloves, undressed the bandaged tail and tsked at the still-healing gash. “Hm, as I thought,” she muttered, speaking in a tone loud enough for only the fox to hear. “The eyes were pretty much a giveaway, but the way the skin is healing on your tail here is proof positive; you’re from SOLDIER, aren’t you?” She pulled out a set of tweezers from the medical kit on the table and started fishing out bits of shrapnel that Cosmo missed.

Tails nodded. “Yeah, well rather I used to be,” he answered, hissing in pain as he felt the pieces being pulled out.

“I’ve tended to the injuries for a lot of you at the city barracks, right before the war against Chun-nan started,” Rose said, continuing to work methodically. “The funny thing is, I’ve never heard of a SOLDIER with two tails before? Mind you, I left the military service when it began, so you may have been a new recruit at the time.” She examined the tails, her eyes scouring the flesh beneath the fur for more shards to extract. “Were these tails a result of an Energen-induced mutation, or possibly a physical graft? The Science department at Kintobor was notorious for their -”

“Neither; I was born with them,” he cut her off flatly.

Rose stopped her ministrations and looked apologetically to the fox. “I’m sorry, that was rude of me to assume,” she said, her face flushed.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Tails replied sourly. “Definitely won’t be the last.”

To the fox’s eternal gratitude, Rose then stopped asking questions and continued to work. The room had gone silent, save for the occasional sounds of bloody shrapnel bits being deposited into a tray. Fifteen minutes later, she set down the tweezers, cleaned the wounds with antiseptic fluid and then wrapped it up with fresh bandages. “There, all finished,” she said, removing her surgical gloves. “With your SOLDIER makeup, it should take no less than a few days to fully heal. The fur however will take a bit longer to grow back.”

“Alright,” Tails said. He stood up and headed towards the stairs. Before he could reach the landing, the woodchuck called out to him. 

“Wait,” she walked up to him, a pained expression on her face. “…I don’t know how to say this, but…” she paused before letting out an uncomfortable sigh. “Could you… Could you please leave tonight? Without telling Cosmo?”

Tails craned his head towards Rose. “… That shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, nodding. 

Rose let out a deep sigh. “Thank you,” she said, relieved. She returned to the kitchen, but Tails’ heightened hearing picked up her mumbling as she retreated. “SOLDIER… The last thing Cosmo needs is to have her feelings hurt again.”

Tails frowned, perturbed. ‘Again? What’s that supposed to mean?’ Shaking his head, he headed upstairs.

Cosmo came out of the spare room as Tails arrived on the second floor. She had changed into a pair of loose, cotton pyjamas and her hair was tied into an equally loose ponytail.  She smiled warmly at him. “Oh good, I just finished getting your room ready,” she said brightly. “You’ll have to pass through Sector 6 to get to Sector 7. It’s a bit dangerous though, so make sure you get plenty of rest.”

The fox nodded wordlessly and slipped past the flower girl. Before he could enter the room, she called after him. “Tails… Good night.” She then entered her own room and closed the door before he could respond.

Blinking, Tails crossed the threshold into the spare room Cosmo prepared. He sat on the bed, his weight sinking down into the soft mattress. He ran his hands through the fur on his head as exhaustion creeped in.“Oh man,” he muttered tiredly. “What a day.” 

Thoughts racing between concern for Bark and Cream, to the words President Kintobor told him at the reactor and to the mysterious flower girl, he flopped backwards onto the bed, his arms splayed out. He listened carefully to the next room over, waiting for the sounds of Cosmo sleeping so he could sneak out.

However, the weariness of the day’s events – coupled with the comfortable bed – soon forced the fox to fall asleep.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 20

Chapter 20: An Urban Dilemma



Christohper

The eleven floors between the 60th and 70th at the Kintobor Building housed the majority of the Kintobor Company’s patents, intellectual properties, experiments and confidential files. It also held the offices of all the major departments critical to the Company’s success, including Science, Weapons Development, Peace Preservation and Urban Development.

Of those four, the president had little interest in the Urban Development department. As far as Gerald Kintobor was concerned, building up and improving the city of Megapolis for its residents, both on the Plate and in the Slums, were on the lowest of priorities compared to improving RINGTEK and Energen production, expanding the limits of biological science and bolstering his armed forces. Global dominance was all that mattered to him. The citizens, who both resided in the city and lined the company’s pockets through taxes and the purchase of Kintobor’s RINGTEK products, were but a means to an end.

Those were the cynical thoughts going through the mind of one Christopher Thorndyke, the overworked head of the Department of Urban Development. He had shut himself in his office on the 65th floor and requested not to be disturbed unless it was urgent. 

The past few days were the most he had ever worked since he took over the role from his father, the lead architect who designed the floating city of Megapolis. Chris needed no cajoling to pick this profession; he saw from his predecessor’s work that once the city was complete, work would slow down enough that he would be able to coast on the job until retirement.

‘After this week’s back-to-back terrorist attacks, I’ll be lucky if I ever have free time again,’ the Human thought, running a hand through his unkempt, reddish-brown hair. His face, while rounded and normally handsome-looking, showed evidence of exhaustion. He had bags underneath his eyes and his skin was sallow and pale due to stress and isolation. His charcoal grey suit was rumpled and there was the distinct aroma of stale coffee and body odor permeating through the air.

The large corner office he currently resided in would have been more spacious had it not been so cluttered with things. On the side closest to the window was his workstation, which was covered in piles of paper strewn around in a disorganized manner. Next to it were two large drafting tables, laid end to end. Each table had large stacks of  architecture drawings on top that displayed several revisions of the city’s key plan. The topmost set of drawings showing the main, birds-eye-view portion of the plans had two of the Energen Reactors crossed off with red ink. The first being the Sector 1 Reactor and the other on the Sector 5 Reactor, which was freshly marked after this morning’s attack. A plush sofa sat in the middle of the office, which Chris was currently using as a bed. Filing boxes were placed haphazardly around the room, each filled with plans, structural documents, building permits and other things related to the fields of urban development and architecture.

He was not sitting at his desk by the window, but instead at the opposite side of the room where the sofa was, which acted as a divider to the room. Another large drafting table sat against the back wall. On the desk next to it was another workstation that was larger and more powerful than the one he had on his actual desk. On his side and behind him were shelves covered with stacks of boxes. Each of these were filled with robotic parts, computer chips and electrical materials. The overall chaotic appearance of the office gave it a very cramped and confined feel, but the occupant had no real time to organize it and make it neat. 

He looked towards the blank screen of his work-issued PC by the window and had a nagging feeling that he was supposed to focus on something else. ‘The President wants a report tonight for the plans to rebuild the reactors and the surrounding areas… even though we both know that he wouldn’t care about the city side of things,’ he mused darkly as he remembered his task. ‘I’ll just halfass something – as long as he knows that reactor reconstruction takes top priority, he won’t complain too much. Meanwhile, I have other things to concern myself with…

Putting his actual job responsibilities to the side, he glanced at the monitor in front of him and observed the readouts on the screen. ‘Everything is progressing as planned. Soon, it will be time.’ He turned away from the screen and moved back towards the drafting table.

On top of it was an unfinished robot, complete from the waist up. Its forearms consisted of dull yellow gauntlets with orange-brown trim. Its chest plate, in the same colour as the gauntlets, had three, single Emerald slots in the centre arranged in a triangle. Its head was round with two large, oval eyes and two white plates where its muzzle would have been. It had a brown crest that started from the forehead and arched back towards the top of its head. The sides of its head consisted of flat, circular orange plates with a thin slot going diagonally across its diameter. The neck, waist and upper arms were covered in dark brown, flexible casing. Its hands were of the same colour as the casing, which were resting in a neutral position with its palms facing upward. The robot was connected to the PC Chris was working on through a long cable which was attached to a port behind an access hatch on the top of the robot’s head. 

Chris eyed the monitor until the various download status bars read ‘Complete.’ He then input commands on the terminal and initiated the boot-up and activation sequences. Knowing that this process would take some time, he opened the drawer beside him, pulled out a video recorder and set it atop a nearby stack of boxes. Activating it and checking to see that both he and the robot were visible, he hit the ‘Record’ button and started to speak.

“My name is Christopher Thorndyke. This is… The forty second test of my experimental robotic assistant project: the Enhanced Mechanical Robian Lifeform or EMRL.” He paused and then looked aside. “…I’m still workshopping the name,” he muttered. 

He then straightened up and turned back to the terminal command window. He spoke loudly and described the current processes to the camera. “I’ve downloaded the new programming into Emerl and initiated the start-up sequence. He should be operational right… about… now.”

As if on cue, the robot’s eyes lit up, the oval eyes going from dull grey to light blue in colour. Chris swiveled back to the robot, smiling. “Hi there Emerl, how are you doing?” 

The robot turned its head and regarded the Human for a short moment. “I am doing well,” it said in a smooth, computerized male voice. “How are you, Christopher?”

“Wonderful,” Chris replied, grinning from ear to ear in elation. “Just wonderful.” ‘So far so good! Now… the real test begins.’ “OK Emerl, I’ve programmed a set of laws into your core matrix. I’d like you to please recite them for me.”

“Certainly. 1: I must not harm or allow harm to come to any Human. 2. I must obey my orders given except if said order conflicts with the First Law. 3. I shall protect myself from harm as long as my protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws,” it said slowly and methodically.

Chris felt his chapped lips split painfully as his smile widened. ‘Ten years… of breaks between architecture school, of neglecting my job, shutting myself in at home and keeping myself awake, the failures, the arguments with the family… with Helen… all of those have led me to this very moment,’ He faced the camera and cleared his throat. ‘And now, the real test begins…

“Now we will test Emerl’s nanomachine drive and copy ability. The ability was inspired in part by the creatures known as Chao,” Chris announced, turning toward Emerl. “Chao are renowned for their adaptability – they can copy the DNA of living things and incorporate it into their own genetic structure, altering themselves as they grow. In this case, I’ve been able to replicate that ability to work with non-organic objects.”

He turned to the robot. “Now Emerl, I’d like you to access your nanomachine drive,” he instructed, stepping back slightly. “I want you to replicate a ball using your nanomachines. You should already have an image of that in your memory banks-”

“Well, well, someone’s hard at work.”

Chris jumped at the sultry voice behind him. Whipping around, he stood face to face with the Head of Weapons Development, Fiona Vulpes, leaning on the wall next to his open office door. ‘When the hell did she come in?!’ he thought, cold sweat forming on his back.

Fiona was an auburn furred fox of unnatural beauty. She wore a sleeveless black dress with a high slit and a deep, plunging neckline that went down to her navel, all of which flaunted her curves and her leggy frame. She wore an ornate, bejewelled necklace that sat at the top of her exposed cleavage. A pair of six-inch high black stilettos lay on her dainty feet to complete the look. The dim office lighting highlighted her reddish-brown hair and striking features. Her lush, glossed lips on her petite muzzle curled up into a smirk and her caramel-brown eyes twinkled at the sight of the Human sitting stiffly in his chair. 

“So, this is the reason why you’ve been ignoring your emails today,” she said, sauntering towards Chris, her groomed auburn and cream-tipped tail swaying back and forth slowly as she walked. “I see you’ve made quite a bit of progress since I last spoke with you…”  She stopped by the drafting table and eyed the robot’s hand with mild curiosity. “Interesting… did it just create something using nanotechnology?”

Chris whirled back around to face Emerl. In the robot’s left hand was the ball he requested it to make, perfectly replicated. “My… My goodness…” he whispered, his fingers trembling with excitement. “Emerl, you… you did it! You actually did it!”

“Ahem.”

Not noticing her walking towards him, Chris turned to his left to see Fiona crowding his personal space and leaning down, her ample bosom dangerously close to his face. He could feel the heat rising on his neck as he averted his gaze away from her and towards his passion project on the table. She leaned in close to his ear and the Urban Development head couldn’t help but notice the sweet perfume wafting from her fur.

“Thorndyke, be a good boy and read the email I sent to you,” she whispered, her voice as smooth as silk. “It’s very important.”

He quickly pushed off from the table and moved away from the fox, the caster wheels on his chair squeaking loudly on the floor. He fought to maintain a neutral expression on his face, despite the rising, embarrassed blush that captured his face. While Chris did consider her attractive for her species, he was disgusted at the thought of being with her in that way. Though, his revulsion couldn’t stop himself from getting flustered by her overly flirtatious behaviour. ‘Like this moment, for example…’ 

He stood up and headed for his actual workstation. He turned it on and waited for it to awaken from sleep mode. Emerl’s head turned to look at him and Chris could hear the servos on his neck whirring.

He also heard a sound of amusement coming from Fiona. “Mmm… Thorndyke? Am I making you uncomfortable?” she said coyly, but the Human ignored her.

As soon as he opened the email client, Chris let out a crooked, wistful smile. ‘485 unread messages, that’s a new record,’ he thought absently as he narrowed his search to the ones sent by Fiona. She had sent several missives with the same subject in the last hour, so he looked at the first email she sent. His eyes widened and he swiveled around to face Fiona. “You want information on the Emergency Plate Release system?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Yes Thorndyke, I sent you several requests on this in the last hour alone,” she demurred, her tone husky. “Kintobor was asking if I knew something of it and I told him I’d message you for more details. If you would have read and answered my emails instead of concentrating on your little friend here, I would have had something ready for the President a half hour ago.” She flipped her hair away from her eyes. “You know how he is when he doesn’t get what he wants in a timely manner. And now because of that, I may risk roboticization.” She pouted at him. “You… wouldn’t want that to happen now, would you? Especially since I know of your dirty, little secret here?” She then folded her arms and tilted her head to the side, her eyes narrowing dangerously. “Need I remind you who it was that helped you procure all of these resources at your request?”

Chris winced at the jibe. He remembered the rumors that swirled about her when he first met her after taking over from his father. It was said that she only got her position as the Head of Weapons Development by using her looks and shameless disregard for the Taboo to procure blackmail material from some of the high-ranking executives within the company. However, he found her to be quite unlike what he imagined her to be. She was intelligent, shrewd and a visionary; three qualities that made her so effective at her job. While the President created the concepts, it was Fiona who engineered and brought them to life.

So when Chris approached her several months ago to ask for her assistance with his robotics project, against his better judgement, she complied with his request. What was unusual at the time was that she had asked for nothing in return, save for the occasional visit or two to see his progress. ‘I guess something has changed… Otherwise, she wouldn’t be here now asking for my assistance with something…’ “…Of course not,” he replied as he rubbed the nape of his neck.  “You know how much I enjoy our little chats.”

He heard Fiona smirk behind him. She walked towards his desk, her heels muffled underneath the soft, carpeted floors of the office. He saw the fox take a picture frame with him and a pretty, blonde-haired woman who sat in a wheelchair, her aquamarine eyes twinkling in the light. “How is that darling Helen of yours?” Fiona asked, running a well-manicured finger against the framed picture. “I surmise you haven’t seen much of her in the last few days?”

Chris snatched the frame out of the fox’s surprised hands. “…Enough,” he said curtly, setting the photo down face first onto a stack of files. “Cut to the chase, Fiona. What do you really want this information for?”

“Simple, Thorndyke. I want to weaponize it,” Fiona said, her eyes glittering malevolently.

“Weaponize? Why?” he asked, his brows furrowing. “What reason would you need to weaponize an Emergency System? It’s only to be used in the event of -”

“Hmm… you haven’t heard have you?” she interrupted. Her amused expression sent a chill down the Human’s spine. “We’ve determined the location of the terrorists. Sector 7 to be precise.”

The Human jumped out of his chair, shocked. “You found them?!” he asked.

Fiona scoffed. “Don’t act so surprised Thorndyke,” she said, giving him a coy look. “Of course we were going to find them. It was only a matter of time until the Chaotix finally tracked them down.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Although, if you cooperated a little bit earlier by providing the detailed survey of the Slums the President requested weeks ago, we would have stamped them out well before the first explosion and we wouldn’t be dealing with this fallout. Instead,” she looked back at Emerl. “You were building this bot here. One would think that their job is more important than some silly passion project, but then again, I’m not in charge.” She looked at him accusingly. “You’re not hiding anything are you?”

Chris looked at her darkly. ‘Are you friggin’ serious?’  “Are you saying I’m covering up for these terrorists? You do know that the Urban Development department is severely understaffed. Or need I remind you that you personally asked Kintobor to divert the funds earmarked for Urban Development to your Weapons R&D program?! I could have used those funds to hire additional help to finish that study and prevent this whole catastrophe from happening!” He flung his hand outwards towards Emerl’s direction. “My department running on a skeleton crew is one of the main reasons why I started building him in the first place!” ‘And the reason why I asked you for help, in the end…

“Be that as it may, this doesn’t look good on you Thorndyke,” Fiona replied coolly. “Kintobor is not amused at these events. He’ll be less so once I tell him that you’ve been shirking your duties to work on your little project here. But I can help you.”

Chris paled, the colour rapidly draining from his face. ‘That’s why she never asked for anything in return for helping me,’ he realized, his teeth gnashing as his anger rose. ‘She was playing me from the start, waiting for the moment that she could wrap me around her fingers… The rumors about gathering blackmail from other executives were partially true after all, I suppose?

Noticing the look of horror on the Human’s face, Fiona folded her arms and gave Chris a smug smile. “If you hand over the original coding for the Emergency Plate Release system, I’ll continue to help you and I’ll keep my mouth shut about your little project here. If you don’t,” she looked towards Emerl and smiled wickedly at him. “Well, I could always say I was coerced into helping you build your little friend here as an act of insurrection against the company? I doubt the President would like that, though? And while you rot in a cell for the rest of your life, I could have my way with this little bugger’s nanomachine drive! Kya-ha-ha-ha!” she cackled loudly. “Just imagine the practical applications this technology can bring to warfare!?”

‘Ugh, damnit! She’s got me cornered,’ “Fine,” he conceded, his head hanging low as Fiona laughed at his misery. “You win.”

Chris stood and rummaged around his office, checking the labels on each of the boxes until he found the one he was searching for. A box labeled, “Dad’s Stuff” sat next to the desk by the window. Kneeling down, he opened the box, stuck his hand in and searched the contents. Half a minute later, he pulled out a data stick. He stood up and handed it to Fiona, scowling. “Take it and get out of my office,” he said to her, his teeth clenched. 

Fiona gave Chris a jubilant smile. “Thank you so much,” she said, her voice cloyingly sweet. As she turned to leave, just before she left the office, she turned her head back around. She gave Chris a predatory glare. “Oh, one last thing,” she said venomously. “I’d get rid of that recording, if I were you. Should anyone find and watch it, well… I don’t think I need to remind you of the consequences pertaining to our little… moment.”

‘Ah yes, if anyone saw this footage, they’d think we’d be in an intimate relationship.’ Chris ruminated hotly. ‘And whether implied or not, we’d both be put to death based on the laws barring any Human-Mobian coital relations. The Taboo. So sure, we’ll call it a ‘moment’,’ He walked to the camcorder and deleted the recording, showing her the empty device. ‘Probably better anyways… Helen doesn’t need to know about this…’ “Done, see? No footage,” he said, shutting the unit off and tossing it onto the couch.

Fiona smiled brightly. “Thanks for being such a sweetheart about this,” she said, walking back up to him and patting his cheek. She turned to leave but stopped in front of Emerl. She pouted. “Oh, I’m so sorry I can’t stay, my little friend,” she said to him in a saccharine, infantilizing tone. “But maybe next time I come visit, I might get a chance to play with you. Until then, ta ta for now!” Cackling once more, she took her leave, the automated office door sliding closed with a thump.

Chris waited as he heard the clacking of her heels on the polished floor outside. The moment he heard the elevator doors open and close, he slid down against the wall, placed his hand on his face and groaned loudly.

From beneath his fingers, Chris saw Emerl swivel his head around towards him. “Are you alright Master Chris?” he asked, 

‘No.’ “Yes Emerl, I’ll be fine,” he said, running his hands through his hair. ‘Except that I gave Fiona the worst means possible to wipe out the terrorists…‘ Pushing himself off the wall, he walked back to the computer by Emerl and sat down on the chair. “Let’s continue testing shall we? We won’t re-record what we’ve lost, but we can still complete the rest of the diagnostics on your AI and systems and then I can get started on installing your legs.”

Chris imaginined if Emerl could smile, he’d have the biggest one yet. “Fantastic, I cannot wait to be able to walk around,” he said, his computerized voice sounding chipper.

Chris smiled himself as he monitored the readouts on the screen. Inwardly, he was conflicted. ‘How could I have been so stupid… And selfish! I did the opposite of what I should have done! I sacrificed the many to save the few.’ He turned to watch Emerl. The robot was now observing the movements of his hands with wanton curiosity, as though it was a little child. Chris smiled at the action. ‘But if my creation here can end up saving the many, then the sacrifice… Well… It just might be worth it.

I just hope that… my family and my friends will forgive me for what I’ve done…


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 19

Chapter 19: The Chaotix



Tails

Tails stared down at the sloppily dressed, fedora wearing weasel-wolf who stood nonchalantly at the church entrance. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you better get lost,” he said.

“Hey, hey, chill out for a sec here, mate?” the stranger said, his arms raised and a disarming smile crossing his face. “Don’t wanna be makin’ any idle threats now, unless you wanna see the pretty girlie there get hurt? Catch me drift?”

‘Who does this guy think he is?’ the fox thought, his eyes narrowed at the stranger.

“You know who he is, little buddy,” a voice suddenly responded in his head, startling him. He shortly realized that It belonged to the hooded figure he kept seeing in The Void. “Look closely.”

Heeding the instructions, Tails looked over the hybrid’s dishevelled appearance, his eyes quickly sweeping up and down at the navy-blue slacks, the matching jacket and the rumpled white shirt. A flash suddenly went off in his mind as he recognized the uniform and its importance.

“I know who you are,” the fox said as his expressions darkened. “Oh yeah, I definitely know…” Tails narrowed his eyes. “That uniform…”

The intruder cocked his head to the side and arched an eyebrow, bemused at the fox’s behaviour. “Well, guess the jig is up,” he said flippantly, before snapping his fingers. 

Three MP’s entered behind him each holding onto a leashed, mutant mutt. Each of the animals were covered in coarse dark blue fur. The mutts snarled and barked at the two Mobians as the soldiers fought to restrain them. The long, tentacle-like tails jutting out from the base of their necks rose threateningly into the air.

The stranger threw a lopsided smile towards Cosmo. “Oi sis, this one’s a weirdo, innee?” he said to her.

“Shut it, Kintobor spy!” Tais exclaimed, scowling. 

One of the soldiers turned his head to the stranger. “Nack, do you want us to take him out?” he asked.

Nack removed his hat and idly started spinning it around on his right index finger. His eyes roamed around the space, taking in everything except the SOLDIER and the flower girl in front of him. “Hmm, not sure yet,” he said, smirking. “I’m leanin’ towards-”

“Hey, could you not fight here!” Cosmo huffed crossly, interrupting Nack as she snatched up her retractable staff from the pew next to her. “You’ll ruin the flowers!”

“Love, I think you need to-” Nack paused as his eyes trailed over to her and the fox. He froze suddenly and his jaw dropped. “W-wait a tick…”

Before he could act, Tails felt Cosmo seize his arm. Taking advantage of Nack’s surprise and inaction, she pulled him towards the back of the church. “Hurry, the exit’s back here,” she said, leading him through the door and barring it behind them.


Nack

Nack continued to stare in disbelief at the spot the fox once occupied. Placing his hat back on his head, he walked forward absent-mindedly and his eyes trailed towards the door at the back of the church. 

One of the MP’s shifted uncomfortably, tugging the leash as his mutt strained to chase after its prey. ”Sir? Shouldn’t we -”

“Did you lot see his eyes?” Nack asked, cutting the soldier off. “Those were Energen eyes…” ‘And I’ve never heard of anyone in SOLDIER with two tails? There’s something odd about that bloke,’ he added mentally. ‘Somethin’… familiar.’ 

He shook his head to clear his thoughts and faced the soldiers. “Hmm. Yeah, alright you sods, back to work now,” he called out as he moved towards the rear door. He stopped, turned back around and added, “Oi! Don’t step on the flowers, eh!”

“Uh, Nack, sir? You’re stepping on them.”

The hybrid looked down to see his feet beneath the delicate yellow and white plants. He swore vehemently as the guards behind him jeered in tandem with the barking mutts.

“Oh man, you’re dead!”

“They’re all ruined!”

“You’re gonna catch holy hell!”


Tails

“Here, you better hold on to this.”

Tails handed Cosmo the Fire Emerald that was in his pocket after moving through the back room of the church and up the stairwell leading to the upper balconies and rafters. 

Cosmo wordlessly extracted her staff and installed the gem into the single slot of her weapon, her mouth set in a grim line.

Tails took the brief opportunity to observe his surroundings. The walls were in bad shape due to years of neglect and were stained from the pollution of the skies below. The roof was pockmarked with holes of various sizes caused by waste and scrap dropped from the top plate. A large pillar that should have acted as one of the main supports for the back half of the church partially lay atop the stairs leading up to the second level and stretched all the way into the basement. Tails and Cosmo had to veer around the broken support and scramble up the stairs that were undamaged to quickly reach the upper floor. 

From their vantage point, the fox had a clear view of the attic space and the vaulted ceilings above. He looked up and noticed the sizable hole he made in the roof when he fell from the Sector 5 reactor. Right next to it was his sword, which was embedded into one of the ceiling joists.

“Look,” he said to Cosmo, pointing out to the opening on the other side of the church. “I bet we can escape through the hole I made earlier.” 

Her eyes brightened at the suggestion. “Yeah, that would work,” she said. “There’s a huge mountain of waste surrounding the church. We could  lose those guys by climbing over it and back down to the main path.”

Tails nodded. “Alright then, let’s move.”

They circled around the left side of the upper level and made their way to the set of stairs that went up to the rafters. As they crossed the walkway towards the landing, Tails’ ears suddenly pricked at the sounds of splintering beneath him as his weight bore down on the rotting wood. At the halfway point, he heard an audible snap as the planks started to give way.

“Cosmo, get back!” he yelled as he jumped towards the landing. The wooden boards he had stood splintered and cracked into two pieces, the nails securing the boards on struts at either sides barely holding them in place. The fox swore softly to himself and then turned to the flower girl, who stood on the opposite side. “You’re gonna have to jump it,” he said. Noticing her hesitation, he stretched a hand out to her and urged her on. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you.”

Cosmo gave him a slow, but curt nod and backed away to give herself some space. Just as she broke into a run however, Nack, the three MP’s and their mutts broke through the back door. 

Quickly observing the situation, the hybrid pulled out two concealed pistols from the inside of his jacket and fired several shots towards Cosmo’s position. The bullets shattered the support struts on the piece of the balcony where the flower girl stood. Cosmo stumbled as the floor beneath her gave way. She shrieked as she plummeted onto the large pillar and slid down into the basement, where she landed in a cloud of dust and debris.

Nack twriled the pistols and holstered them with a flourish. “Damn, I’m good,” he goaded loudly, smirking. He then turned to the soldiers behind him. “Alright mates, make away with the Ancient. If that twin-tailed wanker gets in the way, ice ‘em. And don’t rough her up too much!” The soldiers dispersed and released the mutts from their leashes. 

One of the blue-furred creatures jumped down a floor and landed right in front of Cosmo, who rose up with a pained look on her face. She turned to the snarling beast and the MP who soon joined it and started backing away slowly, her eyes widening. “Uh… Tails? A little help here?!” she called out to the fox three flights above her.

Cursing, Tails looked around and explored all of his available options. ‘In my condition, any magic use would do more harm than good… And even if I could fly, she’ll be captured before I could even reach her…  There has to be a workaround here, think Tails, think!’ His eyes went skyward and they caught the sight of several barrels on a platform in the rafters, near the back wall of the building. He then peered over the thick wooden beams and started running calculations through his head. A smile slowly formed on his muzzle. ‘…This ought to do it!’ “Cosmo! Keep moving slowly towards the wall behind you!” he hollered, thundering up the stairs and towards the platform. 

Picking up one of the heavy barrels with some difficulty, he carefully but hurriedly walked onto one of the large beams. He fanned his tails outward to provide stability as he positioned himself just above the soldier and his mutt and dropped the barrel. The heavy object landed on both animal and soldier simultaneously and knocked them both out.

Cosmo looked upwards and beamed. “Thanks Tails!” she said, moving past the two unconscious bodies and up a set of stairs to return to the main level.

As he watched the flower girl progress, Tails stole a glance at Nack. He languidly stood by the doorway leading into the church with his hands shoved into his jacket pockets. The fox narrowed his eyes as he spared a thought. ‘It figures that those guys’ll let the soldiers do all of their dirty work.’ Breaking his gaze, he turned towards Cosmo, who was stopped again by another mutt and its handler. 

He headed back to the platform where the barrels lay, but stopped suddenly. His ears shot straight up at the sounds of mechanical claws skittering on the ceiling. He gritted his teeth and turned towards the stained glass window at the back. ‘Ah shit, not now…’  

Three hedgehog Robians burst through the glass and landed on the opposite end of the platform. Each was a head shorter than the fox with several long and sharp spines jutting out from the back of their round heads, large black eyes with ruby-red irises and a pointed spike for a nose on their mouthless muzzles. Their bodies and spines were painted a faded burgundy and their thin arms and legs were coloured in a tarnished, gun-metal grey. The bipedal machines stood poised to attack, their sharp claws raised and pointed towards the fox. 

The sight of the hedgehog Robians caused Tails to freeze in his tracks. He stared at them with a slack jaw as another flash went off in his mind. This time, he saw a blurry image of an individual’s face. The fox could only pick out two details from it; it’s fur was coloured cobalt blue and it had glowing jade green eyes… 

“Tails!”

The flower girl’s voice caused the fox to snap out of his furore just as the first of the three Robians got up close with its claws outstretched. Letting his instincts guide him, Tails ducked under the thrust, grabbed its arm and threw it over his shoulder. The hedgehog crashed into a set of barrels set against the wall. The swordsman then turned around, vaulted over the other two before they could crowd him and ran to his sword. “Cosmo! You’ll have to fight them off!” he said as he reached his weapon. “Use that Emerald I gave you!” ‘And please don’t bring this place down on us…’ he added mentally as an afterthought. He plucked the Buster Sword out of the joist and faced the three Robians.

The machines spread out into a V formation with each one standing on a separate beam. The Robian that Tails threw stood on the same beam as him. It bounded forward, leaped up and then curled up into a ball at the apex of its jump. Tails flipped over to the beam on his left as the hedgehog’s spiked carapace smashed into the wooden joist. He was then accosted by the second hedgehog who swiped wildly at him with its claws. Tails blocked the first two slashes and then countered with a quick horizontal cut of his own. The blade sliced through the hedgehog’s paper-thin armour and penetrated the oil pump in its chest. The Robian spasmed and then toppled to the ground below. 

Tails then heard the sound of Cosmo’s voice as she loudly called out “FIRE!” From the corner of his eye, he saw a bright, orange-yellow glow illuminate the wall behind the flower girl. The shrieks of pain coming from both the mutt and the MP soon followed afterward.

Tails paused, keeping his sword in a defensive stance. ‘Hm, she’s not half bad?’ he mused, surprised at the woman’s control of magic. His thoughts were interrupted when the other two hedgehog Robians landed on either side of him. The one on his left lunged out at him, with claws outstretched and aiming for his jugular. The fox easily blocked the strike with the flat of his blade. He then used the flat to push back and create space between them and followed up with a diagonal slash that cleaved the bot in two. He then rounded on the final bot. 

It – like the ones before – lashed out wildly with its claws at the swordsman, who was able to block most of the strikes. An errant claw, however, found its way onto one of Tails’ injured namesakes and the fox hissed loudly as the scratch hit close to the bandaged wound. Growling, Tails held his stance and watched as the hedgehog jumped upward and curled into a ball. As the spiked sphere sailed towards him, the fox turned the blade and brought it upward in an arc over his head. The slash connected and split the hedgehog in two. The halves then veered away from either side of the swordsman and crashed into the walls behind him.

“Tails! I could use a little help here!”

Ears pricking at Cosmo’s plea, Tails quickly sheathed his sword and ran back to the platform with the barrels. He spotted Cosmo dashing up the main stairway leading to the second floor with the third MP and mutt following close behind.  Picking one up and carefully maneuvering in position, he dropped the barrel. “Cosmo! Move out of the way!” he called out as the heavy barrel plummeted. 

It landed between the flower girl and her pursuers with a thud and started rolling down the stairs. The MP managed to get out of the way by hopping over the banister, but the mutt was unable to react in time. The animal howled as the barrel crashed into it, breaking its forelegs and sending it sprawing at the base of the stairwell by the fallen pillar. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Tails saw movement from Nack, who withdrew one of the pistols from under his jacket. Vaguely hearing Cosmo yelling out her thanks, the fox bounded back to the barrels, picked up the first one he could lay his hands on and hurled it in the hybrid’s direction. 

Nack barely had enough time to react. He ducked as the barrel sailed over his head and crashed into the wall behind him. As he stood back up and stepped forward, his foot went through a rotting floorboard. “Ah damnitall, me leg’s stuck!” he cried out as he struggled to pull his leg out of the hole.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Tails returned to the second floor just in time to see Cosmo run towards the gap in the floor at full speed. She jumped and sailed over, but the gap that Nack made with his shots made it too far for her to land. Her arms flailed about in an attempt to catch the edge. Anticipating this, Tails reached out, grabbed her arm and hoisted her up before she could plummet once more. 

She smiled gratefully at him. “Thanks Tails,” she said, her eyes twinkling prettily in the dim lighting.

Ignoring the strange and warm sensation he felt in the pit of his stomach, the fox turned around and started climbing back up to the rafters. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. 

The pair carefully walked along the thick beams until they reached the hole in the roof where Tails fell through. The former SOLDIER climbed out first and then hoisted Cosmo up onto the gabled roof.


Nack

Nack watched the two get away as he freed his leg from the rotting plank he stepped through. He holstered his weapon and looked back down to the two remaining grunts, a scowl marring his features. “What the hell are you lot gawking at?!” he yelled. “Gerrout and fossick through the surrounding area for her! She can’t have gone far!”

One of the MP’s shuffled nervously. “Wh-What about the-”

“Forget ‘em,” Nack interrupted coldly, ignoring the piteous whines coming from the mutated animals and the burnt MP. “They’re useless to us now. Focus on the fox and shoot to kill. But remember to keep the lady alive, you hear?! Now getcha asses movin’!”

The two soldiers quickly marched out of the back room, eager to get away from the seething hybrid.

As he watched them leave, Nack pulled out his cell phone. Activating the screen, he quickly sent a message and then pocketed the device. He shook his head ruefully as he recounted the text in his head. “The things I do for a friend,” he mused, his scowl morphing into a small smile. He then adjusted his hat and sauntered out of the church to follow the soldiers.


Cosmo

“Haha, they’re looking for me again,” Cosmo chuckled as she and Tails watched the soldiers leave the church from their spot on the roof, Nack strolling out behind them. Hunching low to the roof’s shingled surface, the two Mobians watched them comb through the surrounding area.

Tails turned his head to her and arched a brow. “Wait a minute, again?” he asked, puzzled. “You mean, this isn’t the first time the Chaotix have been after you?”

She blinked at him, opening her mouth to respond but a thought crossed her mind. ‘Play dumb and pretend you don’t know anything and he’ll eventually open up to you!’ “The… Chaotix?” she asked after a brief pause.

The fox nodded, not noticing her slight pause. His eyes were trained on the Nack, the hybrid marksman. “Yeah, Kintobor’s all-Mobian special forces, espionage and tactics group,” he said. “Their official job description is to scout out for and recruit future SOLDIER talent, but in truth, they get involved in things Kintobor would never dirty his hands with. Like rounding up Mobians for Roboticization, murder, kidnapping…” he paused, trying to find the right word to summarize what they do. “…You know, spy stuff.”

Cosmo giggled. “Spy stuff?” 

Tails scratched the back of his head. “Yeah,” he said, looking at his side. There was silence for a moment, before he spoke again. “So why are they after you? There must be a reason?”

Oh yeah, there’s a pretty big reason alright,’ she mused inwardly. “…No, not really,” Cosmo replied after a pause. She looked at the fox and grinned. “Maybe they think I have what it takes to join SOLDIER?” 

Tails smirked. “Maybe you do,” he said. “Ever thought of joining up?”

Cosmo let out a tiny smile, while her sarcastic side ran wild in her head. ‘Yeah, sure, let’s join the very same organization Spikes was in! Somehow, maybe I too will go missing on a routine job and then pass away unexpectedly. Sounds like a fun time!’ “I don’t really know… but I do know I wouldn’t want THOSE guys to recruit me!” she said pointing to the soldiers and the Chaotix member prowling about. “Seriously, the way they were acting, it was like they were trying to kidnap me or something…” 

“Then let’s get out of here before they get that opportunity,” Tails said, turning towards the mountain of junk behind the church. Keeping low, he made his way across the roof and started ascending the massive heap, taking great care not to disturb the pile as he climbed.

Cosmo’s eyes lingered on the fox for a moment. ‘I could ditch him. I could ignore the voices and the signs that have plagued me these last few weeks and continue my merry way. I could keep running. I should keep running.’ She stood up and followed after him, climbing up the junk at a slower pace than the warrior. ‘But… I can’t. I can’t run away this time.’

‘The more I look at Tails… the more I see Sonic. Somehow, I get the feeling that they knew each other… which now gives me the best lead to find out what truly happened all those years ago.’ She cursed under her breath as she trudged over a broken refrigerator, a realization blossoming in her mind. ‘In the end… the voices – no the Planet gets exactly what it wants…

My cooperation.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 18

Chapter 18: The Road Home



Bark

“Train’s leavin’! Cream, we gotta move!”

Darting out of the shadows in the Sector 4 train yards, Bark and Cream raced to a freight train that was enroute towards the Slums. Cream arrived first, hopping onto the third last car and wrenching open the door. Holding onto one of the handrails, she stuck her hand out for the bear to catch, pulling him in and shutting the door before they reached the security gate.

Inside were hundreds of tightly sealed, steel barrels, sitting upright and arranged into rows, each containing depleted RINGTEK batteries of all shapes and sizes from Sector 4. The two raced to the corner of the boxcar where a set of large barrels stood upright. Hastily vaulting over the barrels and landing in the space behind them, the two Mobians pressed against the car wall as the train came to a sudden stop. They held their breaths as the car door slid open.

Two security guards – an older, heavyset Human woman and a slim, green-skinned iguana – entered the car to perform an inspection before the depleted RINGTEK was shipped off to a dumping facility in the Slums. They each wore a black and white uniform with scruffy black shoes, a protective vest and a belt holding a 22-calibre pistol and a long club. 

The woman stood by the door, a disgusted look on her heavily-made up face as her partner started from the side opposite the two stowaways. “Can you believe this?” she said to her partner. “Back to back terrorist attacks! And by the same group too! I mean, I don’t understand,  it just doesn’t make sense how the Company can allow these things to happen-”

“I know, but I’m mo’ worried about the eventual rate hike that’s goin’ to happen, now that two reactors are outta commission,” the iguana interrupted through an accented, slow drawl. He drew and swung his club absent-mindedly as he inspected the barrels and peeked around corners. “This job barely paid enough as it is to keep the lights on when all the reactors are runnin’. Just imagine how much we gonna be dinged once the end of the month comes ‘round?” He performed one last visual sweep of the area. “All clear here, did ya go check the other side yet?”

His partner slowly walked over to the other side of the car. She attempted to look over several barrels but instead groaned loudly.”Look, let’s just be clear; no one’s gonna be stupid enough to try and smuggle themselves into the Slums, no one,” she said, her hoarse and loud voice echoing through the car. “If we were stationed on the bottom looking for whatever idiots were thinking of getting to the plate, I’d probably say otherwise, but really, who the fuck would willingly go to the Slums of all places?”

“Pro’lly the same terrorists who blew up the Sector 5 Reacta?” he replied, crossing his arms. “I know I would if I were ‘em.”

Bark suddenly felt a chill go up his spine. He unconsciously started tensing his right arm, his left thumb on the safety as the iguana kept talking.

“Hey, just go take a peek, yeah?” he said to the woman, irritably. “Ain’t gonna do ya no harm-”

The woman huffed, her jowls wobbling as she cut in. “Look, we’ve inspected, what, twenty, twenty-five cars today? And we’ve found nothing! We never find anything!” she whined. “I’m old, I’m about to retire and I just want to go home, so let’s just close her up and get the hell out of here… please?”

Bark and Cream heard nothing but silence for a few moments. The woman’s partner then let out a long sigh. “Alright, alright,” the iguana droned, scratching the back of his head. “Le’s get outta here then.” He stowed his club and made his way out of the car. The woman eagerly followed suit as she hopped off the train and shut the door behind her. 

The two TORNADO members waited with bated breath in the dim lighting for several minutes before the train started on its course down to the Slums. Once it picked up speed, they both relaxed, with Bark exhaling in relief. “Thank the Goddess… I thought we were done for,” he said to Cream, who was resting against the wall beside him. “Remind me to thank Wedge and his contact for hooking us up! We’d be stuck on the Plate if it weren’t for them!”

“Yeah,” Cream said, her head turned away from the bear.

Bark turned to look at her. “Hey, he’s fine,”he said to her after a pause. “He’s tougher than he looks! He’s a former SOLDIER and he can fly! Man, that guy’s the real d-”

“He was bleeding. A lot,” she interrupted, pulling her knees to her chest. The corners of her eyes started to moisten and Bark knew she was fighting to keep her emotions in check. “You saw it too, didn’t you? The piece of metal sticking out of his tail?”

The bear deflated as he remembered seeing the blood dribble out of the pierced appendage. He shook his head to rid himself of the image. “Yeah, but-but that doesn’t mean he’s dead,” he responded. “For all we know, he coulda found the strength to fly down safely, y’know?”

“I know. And… you might be right,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I just… I think he might not be as OK as he lets on, you know?”

Bark looked at her oddly. ‘What the hell?’ “Whaddya mean by that?”

She faced him and took a breath to steady herself. “…I-I mean,” she started, curling up into a tighter ball. “He’s… well, you saw how he was back at the reactor?”

“Yeah. So?”

So? I’m worried!” Cream said crossly, her brows knitted into a scowl. “Sure, he’s stronger now, but what did that strength cost him?! He’s having seizures, Bark!” She let out an exasperated breath upward that tickled her bangs and then rested her head on her knees. “I just… wish I knew what happened to him in the years he left home… I didn’t get a proper chance to ask him, what with keeping up appearances at the bar and preparing for these missions and all….” 

The bear felt a stab of guilt at her words. “People change, Cream,” he said, masking his shame. “You can’t expect them to stay the same their whole lives?” 

“I know… but his change feels too… drastic, I suppose?”

Bark didn’t know how to respond to that. Instead, he let the conversation lapse into silence, the barrels jostling noisily around on the train as it made its way around the central pillar. Bark checked his watch. “We gotta jump off soon,” he said to the brawler beside him. She nodded in response.

The bear stood up and stretched, his backside sore from sitting on the hard, steel floor. His eyes trailed to the car door in the distance. Idly, he half-expected the two-tailed fox to wrench it open and waltz in dramatically, his comically oversized sword in hand and an arrogant smirk on his face. Bark would have yelled at him for being late and Cream would have tried to defuse the situation. ‘Ha, that would’ve been a good laugh,’ he smiled ruefully at the thought. He suddenly frowned as the rabbit’s words came back to him. 

“I didn’t get a proper chance,” she said… Oh Bark, you colossal moron,’ he chided himself, his shoulders slumping as he let out a deep sigh.

“I’m so stupid,” he said out loud, feeling defeated. Cream raised her head to watch him. “Tails.. He was right about it being a trap. He warned me several times, before and during the mission. I-I was so caught up about hittin’ Kintobor hard, that I didn’t consider that they would be so many steps ahead of us…” He looked at her with a pained expression. “I’m sorry….”

“Bark… it’s OK, don’t beat yourself up about it,” Cream said, standing up and walking towards the bear. She placed a hand on his left shoulder and looked directly into his eyes. “We gambled and they called our bluff. Everyone knew the risks, even Tails, who’s a pretty cautious guy in general. And yet he still agreed to go with us. He still agreed to follow you.”

The gunner placed his larger paw atop the hand that rested on his shoulder. He squeezed lightly. “…Thanks Cream,” Bark said, smiling sadly. “…I needed that.”


Cream

Moments later, the two jumped off the freight train as they neared Kintobor’s special ID security checkpoint. Cream took point and followed the map in her hand down the central pillar. The conversation she had with Bark about Tails was still ringing in her mind. The bear’s words – while encouraging – did nothing to assuage her feelings about the former SOLDIER’s mental state. ‘Not now,’ she thought as they approached a maintenance shaft leading down towards the Slums. ‘I have to focus on what is, not what happened… we’re not out of the woods yet.

She opened the hatch and wordlessly descended into the shaft, a visibly nervous Bark following close behind. Reaching the walkway below, the fighter honed her senses and watched for anything that loomed in the shadows. “Bark, try not to make too much noise down here,” she whispered as they stole through the passageways. “I don’t think we can handle an extended fight right now.” 

Despite the brief rest she got in the freight train, Cream still felt exhausted from the ordeal in the reactor. She could feel stiffness creep up within her body due to the constant cycle of overexertion and rest she put it through in the last several hours. ‘I’ve spent too much time working behind the bar and not enough on training, that’s why I’m so sore,’ she mentally berated to herself. ‘I’ve gotta change that when we get back…’

After an hour and a half of bypassing the ID Checkpoint station, sneaking around Mutates and travelling down the central shaft, the two Mobians finally emerged out of a large scrapyard close to the Sector 6 Slums train station. They made their way around the ruined buildings that dotted the area before arriving at a chaotic sight.

An angry crowd had gathered around the locked station gates, the people there shouting and hurling trash at the soldiers behind the fencing. Bark and Cream stealthily blended into the throng and then casually strolled past them to the old playground and finally towards the lineup of people waiting to pass through the checkpoint leading into Sector 7. 

Entering the queue, Cream took several deep breaths to steady her frazzled nerves. She let her mind wander back to the haunting image of Tails in the No. 5 Reactor as she waited for her turn. ‘His eyes changed colour…’ she ruminated, fishing for her ID card to show to the checkpoint security personnel. ‘And that’s on top of the seizure and the mixed-up memories… Does this all have something to do with the incident 5 years ago? What really happened back then? I wish I could remember fully…’

She thought about the scar on her head; a thin, arcing line going from the base of her left ear to the back of her head, stopping short from the base of her skull. Her long hair hid the mark well, but she could still catch the pale, scarred tissue in a mirror’s reflection if she looked hard enough. She chewed her lip as the line progressed. ‘…I remember a doctor telling me that this injury could possibly have jumbled up my memories of what really happened all those years ago. So, maybe Miles really was in SOLDIER, and I just couldn’t remember?’ 

Cream remembered the look Bark gave her three weeks ago, when he asked if she could truly trust him. He knew of the injury and of what it may have done to her memories. She shook her head in frustration. ‘No, my memories are fine!’ she insisted to herself as she resisted the urge to reach up and touch it.

“Ma’am? You’re holdin’ up the line,” the checkpoint guard grumbled. He was a large, muscular rhino, whose horn was chipped in a few places. He bore the look of someone who clearly didn’t want to be here at this current time

“Oh! Sorry…” Cream said meekly as she handed the fake ID over to the guard for processing. She felt her stomach knot up as the guard passed the card through the scanner.

A few tense seconds later, the scanner beeped and the guard handed back her card. “You can proceed ma’am,” he said to her.

Cream let out the breath that she held in as she waited for Bark to pass the checkpoint. She mentally thanked the Goddess that Kintobor’s scanner upgrades didn’t trickle down to the Slums. Once the bear made it through, they started heading for the bar. They only made it a few feet away from the bay doors separating Sectors 6 and 7 when the rabbit stopped in place, the hair on the back of her neck standing up on end.

‘Someone’s watching us…’ “Bark, hold on,” she said, stopping in place. She looked at him darkly. “We’re being followed, come with me.” She then hurried off from the crowded street to an alleyway between a set of buildings near the Sector 7 train station, a startled Bark following closely behind.

As she entered the mouth of the alley, she noticed a figure move in her direction from the corner of her eye. It was the same raccoon she had dealt with three weeks ago, his nose and face still bandaged from the vicious kick she gave him. She gritted her teeth and felt a wave of anger wash over her. ‘I swear, I kicked him to the curb and now he’s  following me again!? Of all the days to face another creep, it had to be this one and I’m sick and tired of it!’ 

Cream ducked behind a dumpster and grabbed Bark as he passed her. She pressed a finger to her lips before peering out of the trash bin and seeing the stranger walk slowly in their direction. She faced the bear. “Bark, listen quickly and follow my lead,” she said in a whisper. “When I give the go ahead, you jump out and push the guy following us against the wall.”

“Cream, what the hell is going on here?!” the bear hissed, completely bewildered at the turn of events. 

The fighter cracked her knuckles and grasped the lip of the dumpster. “I’ll give you the full details later, but long story short, this is the second time I’ve been followed by this guy and it’s making me feel suspicious,” she said. Concentrating on the ever-nearing footsteps of the interloper, she waited a few seconds before hastily pulling herself up onto the dumpster, her sore muscles protesting her every move. She then jumped off the lip and landed right behind the raccoon, her legs splayed and her right hand on the ground to stabilize her landing before righting herself into a fighting stance. “Now Bark!” she called out.

The bear lumbered out, grabbed the surprised Mobian by the neck with his beefy paw and slammed him hard into the wall on his right. The raccoon choked out a cry of pain as his back connected with the solid brick behind him.

Cream marched up to the trapped raccoon, her eyes blazing with fury. Grabbing his shirt collar and wrestling him away from the bear, she slammed him back into the wall. “Alright, I want answers,” she said, teeth bared into a snarl. “Three weeks ago, I beat the heck out of you and I expected you to stay away from me. Now suddenly, I catch you sneaking around and following me again!? What gives!?”

The raccoon spat at her face. “Fuck you, I ain’t tellin’ you shit!” he yelled out contemptuously. His eyes then trailed to her chest and a lecherous smile crept up on his muzzle. “Buuuuut, if you give me a good, long look at those melons underneath your shirt, then I’d be happy to share what I know?” he continued, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Whaddya say, baby?”

The brawler felt the heat creep up her neck, both from embarrassment and anger, at the raccoon’s suggestion. Beside her, Bark motioned to step forward, his hand ready to snap the lecher’s neck. Cream, however, raised a hand to stop him. Her eyes never left the bruised and battered face of her assailant, who now started to struggle in her unbreakable grip. “…I hope you’ll be sorry,” she said to him, her voice seething and her eyes narrowed into slits. “Because I won’t be after what I’m about to do to you.” 

She then took a single, slow, deep breath, looked into the raccoon’s frightened eyes and grasped his left forearm with both hands. Cream then brought her right knee up and violently snapped the bones inside. Still holding the arm with her left hand and ignoring his screeching and piteous howls, she struck the elbow with a Ki-enhanced palm strike, breaking it. The fighter then grasped his upper arm, planted a foot on his leg and then pulled to dislocate his shoulder. Finally, she lifted her foot off of his leg and shattered his left knee with a low side kick. The Mobian crumpled to the ground and let out an agonized scream, which was silenced as Cream grabbed him by the neck and squeezed his windpipe. She then picked him up off of the ground and slammed him against the wall once more.

“Now that your bones and your pride have been shattered, maybe now you can tell me why you’ve been following me?!” she asked, venom dripping from each word. She threw a hook at the raccoon’s already bruised face and then released some of the pressure off his neck so he could speak. 

She nearly backhanded Bark when his hand rested gently on her shoulder. Cream arched her head towards the bear and saw that he was looking at her with genuine fear in his eyes. He leaned in close and spoke softly into her right ear. “Hey, easy girl,” he said in a placating voice. “Let’s leave this lech alone and go home, OK?”

“OK, OK… I-I’ll talk…” the heavily injured raccoon said suddenly, his voice hoarse from his sobbing. “I’ll-I’ll talk… just please… don’t-don’t hurt me anymore…”  

Cream tore her gaze away from the concerned bear and leaned in closely. She could smell the rank stench of alcohol and cigarettes on his breath. “Then, answer my question,” she said slowly. “But be careful. If you say anything other than the answers that I’m looking for, I start breaking more things. Are we clear?”

The raccoon nodded quickly and started speaking. “I… I didn’t wanna come back here… N-not after what you did to me the last time, b-but the boss told me to-”

“Who’s your boss?” Cream interrupted, her hand tightening on the raccoon’s neck. 

“Ack! It… it… the… Don…” he choked out as he desperately tried to extricate himself out of the rabbit’s immense grip. 

“The Don?! You don’t mean Don Corneo?!” Bark shouted as he let loose a stream of invectives. “What does that motherfucker have to do with all of this?!”

Cream narrowed her eyes at the trapped pervert and slammed him back on the wall. She then loosened her grip on his throat. “Answer his question!”

“He… talks to someone on the phone… sounded real important,” the raccoon forced out. “The Don then orders us… to hang around Sector 7… Wanted us to look for someone with a gun on his arm…”

“And who is this important person?!” Cream butted in as she cocked a fist back. 

He flinched and began sobbing hysterically. “I-I swear-r-r! I don’t know-w-w! I’m just a flunky-y-y!”

‘… I guess we’re gonna have to get it from the source then…’ Cream then lowered her fist and waited for the Mobian to calm down. “…How do we meet Corneo?” She asked after he regained control of himself.

“…C-Corneo’s looking… for a bride,” the raccoon said, gasping every couple of words, his damaged windpipe making it harder to speak. “Crime business runs itself… so now he… wants to settle down with a girl. Every week, he picks three girls from the brothel he owns… choses one and determines if she’s bride material…” Despite his plight, he smiled ruefully at Cream. “Part of the… reason why I was… following you was to… recruit you. You’re just his type.”

“So, how does he find out if a girl’s ‘bridal material’?” Bark asked, cutting in before Cream could say a word. He pointed his gun at the racoon’s head and glared darkly at him. 

The raccoon said nothing, but gulped loudly as he quaked in fear, his eyes moving between the bear’s ferocious look and the metal prosthetic aimed at his temple.

Cream let out a revolted noise at the raccoon’s insinuations and released the lecher. He slid to the ground and lay there in a heap. “Let’s go Bark,” she said, walking back towards the main street. “We got what we need from him.” The bear raised his arm, engaged the safety and quickly followed her out.

As soon as the two left the alley and turned the corner, Cream stopped and leaned against a wall. She felt sick and horrified at what she had done and part of her wanted to run back and apologize profusely, despite her saying otherwise.  ‘I can’t believe I just did that…’

“Cream, really, what the hell was that all about?” Bark asked her quietly, his eyes narrowed. “That was way outta character for you?”

“I… I dunno?” she replied, shaking her head. She tilted her head back and bumped it lightly against the wall, her eyes vacantly gazing at the Sector 7 Plate above. “…H-he was there when… when I saw Tails for the first time in-in years.” She then turned her head away from Bark’s, her eyes downcast and focused on the dirt road below. “When I saw that goon again, on top of everything that happened at the reactor, it just made me feel so mad… I remembered everything that I lost – my home, my friends… and even parts of my memory… and I just… snapped.” She sighed deeply, her shoulders sagging. “I feel terrible about what I did…”

“…But we didn’t come away empty handed,” Bark said, folding his arms. “Corneo seems to be involved in all of this. Why he would want anything to do with us seems really suspicious…”

“Yeah,” Cream nodded. “We need to find out what he knows and how far up this goes. In fact…” She closed her eyes and mentally prepared herself for what she was about to say next. “…I have to go to him myself and get the information from him directly. And I have to do it alone.”

Bark jumped back in shock. “What!” he exclaimed, his jaw dropping. Collecting himself, he looked at her with scorn in his eyes. “Are you friggin’ crazy!? There’s no way in hell I’m letting you do that!”

“Bark! We’ve been compromised!” Cream shot back hotly. “If Corneo knows about us, then who else does?! What if Kintobor knows?! We could all be in danger here! I have to do this! I’m the only one who can do this!”

Bark gritted his teeth, let out an aggravated howl and slammed his fist into the wall that Cream leaned on. “…Fine,” he fumed darkly, his eyes screwed shut. “…Before I saw what you did to that guy back there, I’d ‘ve said no, dragged your cotton-tailed butt back to the bar and that would be the end of that…” He turned to look at the fighter with stern, disapproving eyes. “…But now… I ain’t interested in having my arm ripped off in the process.”

Cream flinched and her lips pressed into a grimace. “I’m sorry,” she said meekly.

“…And ‘sides,” Bark continued, ignoring her apology. His voice grew morose as his gaze turned to the dirt path beneath their feet. “You getting the scoop from Corneo might be a better plan than any that I could come up with…”

Cream pushed off of the wall and once again placed a hand on the bear’s shoulder. Her eyes softened. “Bark, you’re a great leader,” she said calmly. “Great leaders make mistakes, that’s true. But they also care about their team and their input on things. Don’t ever forget that.”

Bark scoffed, the corners of his lips turning upward at Cream’s words. “…Well, c’mon then,” he said, straightening up.  “We gotta head back to base to share the bad and worse news to the team. Then… I guess we’ll go from there.” 

Cream nodded silently as the bear put a comforting arm around her shoulders and the two walked back to Vanilla’s Haven. 


Fleet

An hour after his assaulter and her partner left, Fleet finally found the strength to move his body. Biting his tongue to prevent himself from crying out in pain, he pushed himself up and against the side of the building and rested his back against the wall. 

“Fuckin’ rabbit,” he muttered to himself, hissing as he re-positioned and snapped his dislocated shoulder back into its socket. Reclining back onto the wall, he suddenly chuckled to himself. ‘Well… they’re fucked now,’ he thought to himself smugly. ‘I know exactly who they are… That bastard with the gun for an arm must be the guy that Kintobor was lookin’ for-

The sudden sounds of footsteps down the alleyway caught his attention and cut him off mid-rant. Fleet shrank against the wall and started to quake. He was convinced that the crazy rabbit and the gun-armed bear had returned to finish him off.  

Two individuals soon entered within the range of his vision. The first was an armadillo with black fur, a polished, maroon-coloured armor shell, tanned, toned limbs and funnel-like ears. He wore white leather gloves on his hands and dark red shoes with white soles and overlay lines crossing the tops. He wore a serious, granite-like expression on his face.

His partner on his left was a large crocodile who was covered in scales of viridian and had short, copper-red spikes going down his back. He wore gloves with black and gold metal bands protecting his wrists, along with black boots with golden lining on the seams. Around his neck was a thick, gaudy gold chain that clinked with every step. Unlike his partner, he wore a content grin on his snout and rhythmically snapped the fingers on his right hand as he listened to the music coming out of a pair of yellow and black headphones atop his head. 

Both Mobians wore identical navy blue jackets, slacks and white shirts, all neatly pressed and immaculate. The armadillo wore his shirt buttoned up to the collar with a navy blue tie. The crocodile had only the bottom third of his shirt buttoned and left the top of his muscular, yellow underbelly exposed. 

The perverted raccoon grinned at the sight of the two Mobians, his pain forgotten for the moment. “H-Hey… you two,” he rasped, coughing to clear his throat. He waited for the crocodile to remove his headphones before speaking further. “If… if you’re at the bar… with loads of cash…what would you spend… it on?”

The two sharply-dressed Mobians looked at each other for a brief moment before turning their eyes back to Fleet. Suddenly, the crocodile slammed his right foot on the raccoon’s broken forearm. Pain shot through his arm and he howled in agony. “I’m not saying that Goddess-damned passphrase again, Fleet!” the crocodile growled, addressing him by name as he ground his foot against the shattered bones. His voice was coarse, as though two stones were grinding against one another. 

“Easy Vector, lay off of his arm,” the armadillo beside him said, his own voice deep, smooth and calming. “Too much pressure and he’ll probably pass out from the stress and pain.”

“Whatever Mighty…” Vector muttered, releasing his foot from Fleet’s arm. He grabbed his collar and brought him up to his long, toothy snout and hardened amber eyes. “So, what happened to you? Didja get beat up by a girl again?”

Asshole…’ Fleet looked away from Vector’s eyes. “…Not just any girl,” he retorted, his voice wheezy. “But she was travellin’… with the guy you’ve been lookin’ for. The one with the gun on his arm…” 

Mighty moved to the opposite wall, folded his arms and frowned. “Huh, it seems that two of the three have survived,” he commented. “But them being here doesn’t prove that their base is here. They could’ve been just passing through the Sector?”

Fleet shook his head tiredly and faced the crocodile with a scowl. “…That girl, she owns a bar here,” he continued. “It’s a front though; there’s some… secret elevator shit goin’ on there…” Flint suddenly coughed loudly, his throat scratchy and raw from his windpipe being crushed. “Tried… getting close… got booted out by some… lady and a kid…”

The reptile sniggered. “First a girl and now a kid? Sheesh, it’s just not your lucky day, man,” he chortled before turning to his partner behind him. “Ain’t that right, Mighty?”

The armadillo looked back with an expression of complete disinterest.

Vector rolled his eyes and then rounded on Fleet. “Alright then, so what did you tell ‘em?” he asked. “The bear and the rabbit? It looks like they did a number on you, but left you alive, so I’m guessing that you spilled something?”

“N-n-n-nothing! I said… nothing at all!” he stuttered out, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down. ‘Now, could you get off my case and get me to a fuckin’ hospital, please?!’

Vector’s eyes bore down at the raccoon for several moments before releasing him from his grasp. Fleet dropped painfully onto the ground and he scrambled piteously back to the wall in terror. The crocodile folded his arms and put his right hand under his chin, stroking it in thought. “You’re lying,” he deduced, to the raccoon’s surprise.

“N-no way! I’m-I’m not lying! Really!” Fleet said, visibly shaking. ‘How? How does he know?!’

Vector smirked. “Wanna know how I know?” he asked, as though he was reading his mind. “Well, it’s not the trembling,” he began to pace back and forth in front of the raccoon, his hands behind his back. “Nor is it your dilated pupils either. Both of those are caused by a combination of fear and pain.” He then stopped in front of the raccoon and stared down at him. “Nah, I can tell that you’re lying by the way a vein on your throat twitches, which is what it’s doing right now.” 

Fleet touched his throat and felt the very vein the reptile was talking about move under his fingertips. He hung his head, knowing that he was caught. “Alright… I-I only told ‘em… that the Don was… involved,” he said dejectedly. “I-I never mentioned… you guys or-or Kodos or whoever, I-I swear!” 

“Well… Alright then, that seems legit,” Vector said flippantly, another toothy smile on his face. “And because you answered so honestly, you’ll be getting a nice little reward; Mighty, tell ‘em what he’s won?!”

“Of course,” the armadillo said, pushing himself off the wall. “Fleet, we’re gonna get your arm, leg and throat fixed up, no problem.” 

Fleet felt himself being picked up. The armadillo then allowed him to use his body as a crutch. The raccoon smiled, tears welling up in his eyes.”Th-Thank you,” he said, sniffling loudly.

As they started walking, Fleet noticed that they were heading deeper into the alleyway, instead of towards the main street. Fleet craned his head back towards Vector, who held his phone to his ear. He wore a darkened expression on his snout. 

“Oh, there’s one little catch,” the crocodile said to Fleet, who was now struggling against the armadillo’s iron grip. “See, you shouldn’t have lied to us in the first place. Though you told the truth in the end, I don’t know whether to take you for your word or not. Instead of going to a hospital to treat your wounds, well… let’s just say that Sector 2 is in need of new Robians, you know what I mean?”

Mighty kept a firm grip on the struggling Mobian as he dragged him towards the other end of the alleyway. Two Human MP’s were waiting. “Take him,” the armadillo said, shoving Fleet roughly into the arms of the to his left. 

The raccoon writhed in the soldier’s hands, his fear and panic overriding the pain in his arm and leg. “Wait, stop! Please?!” He begged as the armadillo walked back into the alley. “Please, y-you can’t d-do this to me?! Plea-” 

He was struck and stunned by a blow to the back of his head. The last thing he saw as a living Mobian was Mighty’s head turning to face him. The armadillo stared at him forlornly. “May the Goddess have mercy on your soul, Fleet,” he heard him whisper before turning back around.

 A second, harder strike caused Fleet to black out.


Vector

Vector stowed his phone away and pulled out a cigar as he watched the raccoon’s body being dragged away. Placing it into his mouth, he tapped an Emerald on one of his wrist guards, extracted a sliver of energy and snapped his fingers. A small flame appeared on his index finger. Moving it towards the cigar, the crocodile lit it and took a long draw. Extinguishing the magic, he held the smoke in for a few heartbeats before releasing it through his nose, the grey plumes rising up into the Plate-covered sky. 

He glared at his partner, who approached him. “Mighty, what have I told you?” He asked as the armadillo returned, his head bowed. “You can’t keep looking so guilty every time we hand another low-life to the Roboticizer patrols. It’s gonna make us look bad.”

“Save your breath,” Mighty grumbled. He returned to his spot on the wall and crossed his arms, scowling. “You know how I feel about us throwing members of our own race under the bus and forcing them to become robotic slaves for the Humans.” He exhaled deeply through his pointed, black nose. “Why do we keep doing this, Vector?”

“You know the answer to that question,” Vector snapped, taking another draw from the cigar. “So stop asking it. Unless you wanna trade places with Fleet over there?”

Mighty turned sharply away from the crocodile, who continued to smoke for several minutes. The armadillo spoke once more just as he was halfway done with his cigar. “If what Fleet said – or didn’t say –  is true…  then the group’s top two may be onto our operation here. We know that they survived the reactor explosion and that their base is here in Sector 7…. Shouldn’t we take ‘em down now?” 

Vector shook his head as he finished his cigar and flicked the nib away. “Nah, we maintain orders,” he said, once again pulling out his phone. Activating it, he selected a contact and hit the call button. The line connected after the third tone. 

“Hey Knuckles? It’s Vector. TORNADO’s hideout is here in the Sector 7 Slums.”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 17

Chapter 17: The Flower Girl From The Slums



The Void

Tails opened his eyes to a sea of white. 

This place again. Why am I here now?’

“Good. You’re awake.” 

Tails spun around, his hand groping for his sword on his back. To his surprise, he grasped for air once more. The hooded figure in front of him chuckled as the fox muttered curses.

“For a smart guy, you sure are dim, y’know?” it said cheerfully, walking forward “It seems like you’re still in one piece-”

“Quit it,” Tails interrupted, his voice echoing through the Void. He crossed his arms and stared contemptuously at the garbed individual. “What is this place? Why do I keep coming here?”

The figure halted in step and stared at the fox for a moment. “You know,” it said, as if Tails didn’t interrupt earlier. “Back then, you were able to get by with scraped knees and a bruised tail.”

The fox was taken aback at the figure’s words. ‘This guy… sounds different from the first time…’ he noted, quirking an eyebrow upward. ‘He sounds… older? And looks taller too… What is going on here?’ “…What do you mean by ‘back then?’” he finally asked after a long pause, narrowing his eyes.

The hooded form tilted its head to the side. “You mean you don’t remember that time?” it asked sincerely.

Tails started to get frustrated. He felt the urge to walk up to the figure and shake it violently for answers. “What do you mean by ‘that time?’” he said instead, burying the feeling. “What about now?”

It shook its head at the fox. “…Don’t worry about it then,” it conceded, shrugging. “But you’re right in that you need to focus on the present moment.” It paused and crossed its arms. To Tails’ eyes, it appeared to be considering its next words with care. “…Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself moving. Trust me,” it added, seeing Tails’ skeptical gaze. 

Shrugging, the fox closed his eyes and did as instructed. He suddenly felt a vibration on the floor he stood on. “Goodness! You’re alive!” a voice boomed out.

“Alright! Now keep your eyes closed, little buddy!” the hooded figure called out. 

Tails continued to squeeze his eyes shut as he felt the vibrations around him getting stronger. He suddenly felt a whooshing sensation in his stomach, as if he was falling from a great height. Eyes still closed, he yelled out to the hooded figure. “Who the hell are you!?”

“…A very close friend.”


Tails

Tails’ eyes snapped open to the sight of ocean blue orbs staring back at him. They belonged to an oval-shaped, pale peach face that was framed by bright viridian hair. Two red-rose ornaments lay on either side of her head. Her thin brows were creased in worry, but relaxed upon seeing the fox rouse from unconsciousness. “Oh, thank goodness you’re alright,” she said, her delicate lips upturned into a tiny smile, her soft voice sounding like honey in his ears.

She leaned back as Tails rose up painfully into a sitting position. His entire body ached and he could feel the beginnings of a large bruise forming on his back. “Easy now,” she said from her knelt position as Tails looked around groggily at his surroundings. “You’re in a church in the Sector 5 Slums. You really gave me a scare when you fell through like that.”

Tails rolled his neck to ease some of the stiffness while recalling previous events. ‘There was the trap sprung by Kintobor, the fight against that Alpha robot… and then the explosion that took out the walkway…’ He looked in her direction. “I… came crashing down?” he asked.

The woman nodded. “Yep, it seems like the roof and the flower bed here broke your fall,” she said, smiling. “You’re lucky.” 

“Flower bed?” Tails asked. He looked down and his eyes widened at the sight. He sat in a field of white and yellow flowers. “…Is this yours?”

She nodded again and burst into giggles as the fox rose up as quickly as he could. He brushed the dirt off of his body. “Um… Sorry…” he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. 

She shook her head, still smiling at him. “Don’t worry, it’s alright,” she replied, standing up. “The flowers here are quite resilient and have no trouble blooming, despite the lack of sunlight and the polluted ground.” She walked up to the podium, its wood cracked and rotted with age and turned to face him. Her arms were spread wide. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” she asked him.

“Yeah,” Tails replied. He noticed her eyes were sparkling in the church’s ambient lighting. He felt mesmerized by them – by her –  for some reason, but he couldn’t point out why exactly. ‘It’s the same as before… back in Sector 8,’ he thought as he watched her. Suddenly, her image doubled and Tails felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. He looked down to see that some of the white flowers were covered in small splashes of blood. His own, which originated from the piece of metal that was forcefully inserted into his left tail, the bit of scrap sticking out of the appendage. 

Gasping, he felt the stabbing pain return full force and he dropped back to a knee. ‘I lost a bit of blood…’ he surmised, taking several deep breaths. From nearby, he heard the soft hitch of the green-haired woman’s breath, followed by the sounds of footsteps to his right. Tails turned his head to see the flower girl pry a loose floorboard free and retrieve a first-aid kit from a depression beneath it.

Returning quickly to the fox, she opened it and started taking out three Potions, some gauze, a bottle of disinfecting alcohol, a pair of tweezers and a suture kit. “That thing’s stuck in you real deep,” she said as she handed him a phial. Her eyes didn’t meet his own; she kept them on the wound of his tail. “Drink this first and then I’ll pull out what I can, sew this up and wrap some gauze around it.”

The fox nodded his head tiredly as he reclined into a sitting position. The light scent of the flowers wafted into his nose. It was pleasant and soothing. “Thanks…” he said, closing his eyes and relaxing as the woman tended to his injury.


Nack

Nack Fang observed the crowd of people flocking towards the Sector 5 train station as he loped into the residential district. The violet furred, wolf-weasel hybrid sported a pair of navy-blue slacks and a jacket over an untucked white long-sleeved shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar. Two pistols were held in a double shoulder holster underneath the jacket.  His rumpled clothing and aloof behaviour allowed him to blend in with the crowd. He soon sidled up to a run-down shanty and leaned against the wall with his arms folded, his sharp eyes picking through the crowds. “Now, lesse where you’re at, love,” he muttered in his Downundian accent.

Ahead of him, the gates to the trains were shut. The conductor on the other side of the fenced gates addressed the throng of furious and scared would-be passengers. “Everybody, if I could have your attention!” he hollered out over the incensed mob. “All trains will be out of service for the foreseeable future due to today’s terrorist attack! We will let you know immediately when the train’s are back in service! Thank you for your coop-” His voice was drowned out by the intensified shouting on the other side of the gate.

The weasel-wolf suppressed a sigh as he tipped the garish, wide-brimmed, brown leather fedora on his head to shade his eyes from the artificial lighting above as he left the station. ‘She ain’t here… So that leaves the other usual spot then.’ 

Nack slunk out of the residential district, his gait easy-going. A pleasant smile adorned his muzzle and his exposed left fang gleamed in the light. He made a left out of the district gates and continued down the path for a few hundred meters until he spotted a large pile of scrap next to a rusted crane. 

There were six figures next to the dilapidated crane; three soldiers and three mutated mutts. The soldiers were the standard, run-of-the-mill MP’s that were everywhere in the city. The mutts, however, were a special breed developed by the Department of Science. They were large and muscular, with coarse, dark fur and a tentacle-like tail erupting from the base of their neck. They approached the Mobian and the guards stopped in front of him. The soldiers brought the savage mutts to heel before snapping to attention.

“No sign of the target, sir?” the middle soldier asked. 

Nack sneered at the threesome. “No. Which leaves the other place,” he said, inclining his head down the path leading to the city walls. His eyes settled on an abandoned church near the outskirts. “Alright then mates, let’s shove off. The sooner this is done, the sooner I can get meself a drink…”


Cosmo

“So, we meet again.”

Mentally, Cosmo kicked herself as she sat next to the two-tailed fox and wrapped gauze around his one injured tail. ‘After sitting here with the guy who fell through my roof and tending to his wounds, that’s the first thing that comes out of my mouth?’ She noticed the fox’s ears perk up at the sound of her voice. He twisted his body to look at her directly and the flower girl had to suppress a shiver at the unnerving sight of his unnatural eyes. 

Just like his…

Shaking off the uncomfortable feeling, she tilted her head and looked back into his glowing irises. “Do you remember me?”

He blinked twice before nodding. “Yeah I remember,” he said. A smirk suddenly crossed his lips. “You certainly weren’t drunk and dancing around the place, that’s for sure.”

The flower girl’s expression darkened. ‘Why, you little!’ “Excuse me but -”

“Relax, it was a joke,” he interrupted, his smirk deepening at Cosmo’s reaction. “I remember buying flowers from you that day.” His expression fell and a wry smile soon crossed his lips. “If that’s what you look like when you’re mad though, remind me not to do that again.”

The flower girl harrumphed, crossing her arms and turning her nonexistent nose into the air, her eyes closed. “Still, you were very rude to me,” she intoned in mock anger, before looking in his direction with one eye, the corners of her lips quirking upwards. “But… I guess I can forgive you, since you bought a flower from me.”

The two sat in silence before suddenly bursting into laughter. Cosmo giggled and the warrior let out a soft chuckle. Soon, the laughter died and silence permeated the space once more. He turned his head towards the back wall and stared at the crumbling masonry behind the dais as she continued her work.

“Is this a coincidence?” he said after a pause. “Meeting you again, I mean.”

Cosmo shrugged and examined her handiwork. The pieces of shrapnel were plucked out, the wound was sown up and dressed properly. ‘Mom would be proud of me.’ “Perhaps so, perhaps not?” she replied, packing up the first-aid kit and rising to put it away. “Even still, I’m surprised you’re even alive at this point.” Her eyebrow arched upwards. “Before you crash-landed, you had cuts and nicks all over your body and bits of metal scrap all over your arms and legs. That large piece in your tail was particularly nasty-looking; you might not be able to use it properly for some time.” She folded her arms and cocked her head to the side. I’m curious… Wanna tell me what happened?”

The fox shook his head. “…It’s a long story,” he said cryptically, looking away from her.

“Might it have something to do with a certain explosion on the plate that cut off the power down here for a few minutes, perhaps?” 

Cosmo saw his head turn sharply towards her. Though he kept his face impassive, she noticed that he was blinking a little too quickly. ‘Bingo.’ “Hmm… alright then,” she said after a pause, a look of satisfaction on her face. “I won’t pry.” She returned to the spot where she kept the medical kit, placed it in the depression and set the loose floorboard back in place. “Say, I feel like talking,” she said to him, dusting her hands off. “Are you up for it?” ‘Please say yes, please say yes, please say yes!

The two-tailed fox shrugged at her. “Yeah, I don’t mind,” he said.

The flower girl beamed at him. “OK, well, uh… give me a minute or two to check on my flowers and then we’ll talk,” she said. She walked to another section of the patch – away from the fox – kneeled down and started rooting through her plants. She picked out dead leaves and petals while dealing with the inner turmoil within her mind.

OK, he’s willing to talk. Great. Good. Now, how should I start this? “…Hi stranger, nice giant sword you got there, any chance that belonged to somebody else?” No, no… that’s stupid. How about; “Hi, you’re clearly a SOLDIER, what with the glowing eyes and all, so would you happen to know a guy by the name of…” Ugh, that’s coming off too creepy… Well, what about: “I saw a vision of you and I meeting and-” Argh! This is stressful! I got nothing!’ 

Cosmo continued to ruminate as she monotonously worked through the yellow and white plants. She barely noticed the pair of large, brown boots approach her from her left side. “Just a little longer…” she murmured as she plucked out a dead flower from the patch. 

How would Spikes approach this?’ she wondered ruefully as she saw the fox’s boot tap impatiently. Suddenly, an epiphany struck her. ‘…He’d start with the obvious!

Bolting right up and facing the bewildered fox, she smiled sweetly at him. “You know, I just realized we don’t know each other’s names, do we?” she said, bringing a hand to her chest. “My name is Cosmo, I’m a florist.” 

“Me? The name’s Tails,” the enigmatic male said as he adopted – what Cosmo assumed to be – a cool pose. “As for my occupation… I’d say I do a little bit of everything.”

“Oh, like a jack of all trades?” she opined, cocking her head to the side and putting a finger on her cheek. ‘*cough cough* Mercenary.’

Taiis shrugged. “Yeah, I do what’s needed,” he said.

“Hmm… OK then,” Cosmo replied. ‘Nailed it.’ She brought her hands behind her back and started swaying on the spot, the old floorboards creaking as she put her weight on them. “Say… here’s an odd question,” she started. “Do you have any Emeralds on you?” 

The fox raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. His eyes danced with amusement. “Yeah, I have some- Oh!” he suddenly exclaimed as he shoved a hand into his left pocket and dug out a pale, green gem. “I completely forgot that I had this Restore Emerald… I can use this to fix up my tail and-”

“Except, you’ve lost a lot of blood and any magic use now – even healing magic – may probably do more harm than good,” Cosmo interrupted, a slight wince on her face. “So, uh, maybe don’t use any spells until you get some more rest?”

The fox blinked at her and then scoffed. “So… you do know your stuff,” he said, a look of amusement on his countenance.

Cosmo frowned and crossed her arms. “Of course I have to know my stuff, I live in the Slums for goodness sake!” she huffed, which elicited a chuckle from the fox. “Knowledge is the best way to survive, after all!”

“OK then,” he said, his laughter dying down. “I get it. So why do you ask? Nowadays, you can get Emeralds anywhere.”

Cosmo looked furtively to the left and right before beckoning Tails closer with a finger. As he inched up to her, she dropped her voice to a whisper. “Because… I have a really special Emerald, one that’s good for absolutely nothing.” ‘And why are you telling this strange, two-tailed fox that little tidbit of information, Cosmo!?’ she mentally berated herself.

Tails stepped back, an eyebrow arched. “Good for nothing? You probably don’t know how to use it.” 

She snorted, furrowing her brows. “I do know how to use it! It’s just…” she trailed off, glancing down and away from Tails and letting out a sigh as she did so. “It really doesn’t do anything. It belonged to my mother, so… I feel safe just having it on me.”

Tails nodded. “I see,” he said, scratching his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “So, where’s this special Emerald of yours anyway, if it’s on you?”

“Oh! It’s right here,” Cosmo said, pulling out the pendant from beneath her dress. “…Wanna take a look?” 

Tails blinked a few times, before nodding and taking the pendant into his hand. He stared down at the small, silver gem inlaid into its centre. 

The flower girl couldn’t help but feel awkward about the ordeal. ‘What were you thinking, woman?! Why did you let him take a look!?’ she chastised herself as he brought the pendant closer to his eyes. She couldn’t help but quiver at the sight of his bright, glowing eyes. ‘They’re like ice, those things…’ 

A moment passed and Cosmo couldn’t stand the attention much longer. She needed him to stop looking. A thought suddenly popped into her head, which caused her to smile malevolently. ‘This is a crazy idea… but, let’s see if this works.

“So, you’ve been looking at that thing for quite some time,” the flower girl said in a casual tone. “Which makes me think… Are you really staring at the jewel or are you just taking a look down my dress?”

Tails snapped out of his daze. He tore his eyes away from the pendant and looked at Cosmo. His mouth parted in surprise. “W-what?” he spluttered.

“I’m saying… Did you like what you saw just now?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

The fox stepped back, his jaw working as he struggled to form words. His face took on a sudden, deep shade of red. “N-n-no!” he floundered

At that point, Cosmo lost it. She sniggered a few times before erupting into peals of laughter, moisture forming on the sides of her eyes.

The fox’s ears lay as flat as the stare he gave her. “W-what’s so funny?” he stammered hotly, which only caused Cosmo to laugh even harder.

Soon enough, she calmed down, wiping off the tears and blowing hard to catch her breath. “Whew… OK… I’m… I’m sorry,” she forced out, her jaw feeling sore from laughing so much. “I just-”

The church doors suddenly burst open, hitting the walls with a loud bang, the rusted hinges squeaking loudly as the doors bounced back. The twosome darted their heads to the lone figure sauntering into the church: a weasel-wolf with purple fur wearing an untucked shirt, a rumpled pair of navy-blue slacks and matching blazer. On his head was a brown fedora, which he tipped as a greeting. He grinned at the pair, his exposed left fang gleaming in the ambient lighting. “‘Ello there,” he said in his strange accent. “Oh, don’t mind me. Keep on conversin’.”

The flower girl sobered up quickly. ‘Oh no, not now… not today!’ “Hey, Tails,” she whispered to the fox, who recovered quickly from his embarrassment and stared down the intruder. 

He turned his head, keeping one eye on the stranger at the door. “Yeah?” he asked softly.

“Ever been a bodyguard?”

Tails raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to speak, but Cosmo continued. “You DO everything, right?”

“… Yeah that’s right.”

“Then get me out of here,” she implored, facing the fox. “Take me home.”

He gave her a small, cocky smile. “…OK, I’ll do it,” he said after a pause. “But it’ll cost you.”

‘Mercenary to the end…’ “Well, let’s see…” Cosmo said thoughtfully, racking her brain for a moment before answering. “How about… if I go out with you once?”

“…Deal.”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Alpha



Tails

“This way!” Bark hissed, hurrying down the reactor entrance walkway. He turned the corner at the T-junction, only to see a contingent of Kintobor MP’s burst out onto the walkway, rifles raised and cocked. The bear skidded to a halt, arms waving akimbo. “The hell?!” he shouted, surprised. 

“Let’s go the other way!!” Cream suggested, heading to the opposite side. She came to a stop and gasped as more MP’s poured out of the other entrance. “What-what’s going on?!” she sputtered.

As the soldiers closed in from both sides, Tails took stock of the situation. ‘The Robian ambush… The lack of security and personnel leading up to and on the manufacturing floor… And now trapped by grunts on both sides in front of a reactor that’s about to blow… No surprises here.’ “As I thought, it’s a trap…” Tails said softly.

The MP’s stopped at the halfway point of each walkway, their rifles still pointed at the three Mobians. From the entrance of the reactor came the sounds of footsteps – thick-heeled Oxford shoes echoing off the dull metal walkway. Emerging out of the shadows of the entrance was the President of Kintobor Incorporated, Gerald Kintobor, his thick, grey moustache curling upwards in a smile as he casually walked out.

Bark’s jaw dropped. “P-President Kintobor?!” he barked out, a shocked look plastered on his face.

Cream’s lips also parted, astonished at the turn of events. “Why is the president here?” she asked, flummoxed. 

“Tut, tut, little rabbit,” the Human responded in a mocking tone, waving a gloved finger as he spoke. “I’m here to personally congratulate you for being so dim-witted. Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

Bark’s left eye twitched at his words.

“You see,” the President continued, his smile deepening. “The moment after Number 1 went up in flames, I knew full well that a second attack was imminent. Thus, I set in motion counter-measures to ensure your capture. I had my men install a little fail-safe that warned if the anti-tampering alarms were bypassed. I deliberately sent my employees at the reactor home to reduce casualties. And I sent some of our strongest Robians to eliminate you.” He began clapping slowly, his lips and moustache twisting into a mocking smirk. “The fact that you survived is a testament to your strength. Bravo.” 

“I must admit, your plan to sabotage and destroy the city’s Reactors and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plants was careful – cunning even. However, you animalistic simpletons cannot compare to the genius of Gerald Kintobor. You took the bait, I sprung the trap and now here I stand, face to face with the infamous terrorist group, TORNADO,” He swept his eyes to each of the three Mobians, his wrinkled brow furrowing. “A pretty little rabbit girl who fancies herself a resistance fighter, a boorish bear with a fake arm and piss coloured fur and… the fox with two tails who quit SOLDIER to join this little ragtag group.” He glared at Tails. “Tell me traitor, what was your name?”

The former SOLDIER stepped forward, wearing a fierce look of his own. “Tails,” he replied icily.

“Hm, what a forgettable name,” Gerald said, shrugging. “However, if you become another Nazo, then perhaps the name ‘Tails’ would be much more ubiquitous, no?” He looked up to the dark grey clouds overhead, almost pensive in thought. “Ahh Nazo, despite being a Mobian himself, I quite admired his brilliance. Although, perhaps in the end, he was too brilliant-”

Bark roared loudly, breaking the president’s musings. “That shit doesn’t matter!” he yelled. “This place is going under and it’ll serve you fucker’s right!”

Gerald shrugged once more, disinterested in the bear’s words. “Ah, such a waste of fireworks, just to get rid of un-evolved, unintelligible, filthy Mobian trash such as you,” he said, voice filled with condescension. 

“Trash? TRASH!?” the bear shouted, froth spewing from his mouth. His body quivered with rage. “Y’all Kintobor are the TRASH, killing this planet! And you, the high and mighty Human who treats us Mobians like shit, are the king of the fucking TRASH! So you can go fuck yourself!”

The president sighed and shook his head in a regretful manner. “I grow weary of your deplorable words,” he said, pulling out his phone and pressing a button. “I’m quite busy at the moment, what with a company, a military AND a city to run, so unfortunately, I must take my leave.” 

Bark pointed his Gun-Arm at Gerald. “You stay your bald, old, moustached ass right here!” he yelled. “I ain’t done with you yet!”

“Oh?” the president said,  the aforementioned moustache curling upwards into a smile. “Well, I’m so sorry about that. As an apology for my abrupt departure, I have arranged a playmate for all of you.” He then snapped his fingers on his left hand.

The soldiers surrounding the Mobians suddenly withdrew from their positions. Shortly afterward, a humming noise emanated from the Sector 5 exit, which grew louder with each passing second. 

Cream looked in the direction of the retreating soldiers. “What’s that noise?!” she asked, her eyes narrowed. 

Bark moved to Cream’s side and shot a hateful glare at Gerald. “What the hell is this?!” he said as a tall, hovering green robot flew out to meet the group. Cream and Bark pressed up on the edge of the walkway railing to avoid being clipped, while Tails advanced up the walkway in the president’s direction. The robot stopped at the intersection and faced Gerald. The doors leading out of the reactor closed shut, the noise echoing in the silent air.

The mechaniloid’s body was shaped like an hourglass. The lower half was stabilized with three hover engines – two box-like units on either side, and a large engine extending at the rear – and a thick, cylindrical roller on its front, used to prevent it from tipping forward too much. A set of machine guns were equipped on its rear to defend it from back attacks. The upper half consisted of a broad, cylindrical canister for a head and a pair of arms, each long enough to reach the ground. Large, gripping pincers were affixed at the ends of each arm. A scope – similar to the one used by the Guard Scorpion – was attached to its right shoulder.  A hexagonal, orange lens was installed halfway up the canister and two large, black E’s were burnished in on either side. The very top of the canister was hinged on the back. In its direct centre of the hourglass body were two, red optical cameras recessed against a black plate. Its body, arms and head were decorated with black, red and white stripes and gold accents. A model number was etched on the right side of the canister: It read KI E-SERIES 100 – α.

“Behold,” Gerald announced with a flourish. “The E-100 Alpha: The first in a new line of E-Series robots designed to be the perfect techno-soldiers. Our Weapons Department built him based on my genius designs.” He flashed a wicked, toothy grin. “I’m sure the data he extracts from your dead bodies will prove quite useful for future experiments.”

His SkyTrans arrived for him the moment he finished speaking, its doors opening to receive the president. “Now then, if you’ll excuse me,” he announced, climbing in. The door slid shut behind him and the craft took off into the midday sky. 

“Wait!” Tails called out as the president departed. ‘What did he mean when he said that Nazo was ‘too brilliant’’ he mulled as he watched the vehicle disappear into the smog above. ‘Was he talking about Knothole-’

“Hey Tails!” Bark called out, interrupting the fox’s thoughts. He spun around to see the robot advancing towards the bear and the rabbit, its arms raised and waving about menacingly. “We gotta do something about this guy!?”

“Is this thing from SOLDIER?!” Cream asked, her body set into a battle stance.

Tails zipped behind Alpha and drew his sword, enhanced eyes searching for weaknesses in its armour. “Don’t be naive, Cream!” he said to her, teeth gritted. “It’s only a machine!” 

“Look, I don’t give a damn what it is!” Bark yelled, arming his weapon. “I’m gonna tear this piece of shit up into scrap metal!”

Alpha rocketed forward, its massive arms swiping at Cream and Bark, who backed away quickly. The bear fired several rounds at the robot and cursed as he saw that his shots barely made a dent in its thick frontal armour.

Cream drew Ice energy from her wrist and launched the spell towards the left arm in mid-swipe. The blue ball sailed past the pincers on its arm and instead clipped its shoulder, creating a layer of ice overtop of it. 

Seeing an opportunity, Bark focused his fire on the left shoulder and punctured the frost-encased joint with a hail of bullets before turning to the right arm to keep it at bay. Behind him, Cream broke into a run and jumped onto and off of the bear’ muscular shoulder as he switched targets, springing herself high into the air in an arc.

On the robot’s rear side, Tails gritted his teeth as he charged up the strongest Lightning spell he could muster. From his vantage point, he saw the robot’s shoulder freeze over, followed by a volley of bullets that tore through the flexible casing covering the joint. As he watched Cream shoot high up into the air, the fox called out to her. “Cream! Get out of the way as soon as you hit that shoulder!”

The brawler – hearing Tails’ voice – somersaulted at the apex of her jump, extended her left leg while tucking in the right and allowed gravity to pull her downward towards the Alpha’s shoulder. She landed a solid divekick onto the damaged joint and then scrambled back towards Bark. The force of the blow dislodged the arm socket and exposed a hole in its side.

Grinning, Tails followed up by pushing out his palms and calling “BOLT!” The thick, jagged yellow beam snaked its way into the torn side of Alpha, electrocuting its innards and causing the robot to shudder violently. 

Before he could celebrate his triumph, Tails heard a pinging noise coming from the bottom of the robot’s hover unit: a long spike with a thick wire extending from its body was suddenly embedded into the metal walkway. The warrior cursed under his breath. “Get back!” he yelled, leaping backwards himself. “It’s discharging the Lightning magic into the walkway!”

Cream also retreated away from the machine, but Bark, who was closer to Alpha, wasn’t so lucky. As he continued firing on it, the remnants of Tails’ electrical attack pulsed through the metal. The wave of energy struck him hard and he cried out, halting his attack. Grunting, he tried to move away from the machine but his limbs refused to move. “I-I can’t move!” he said through gritted teeth.

Using its still-functional right arm, Alpha backhanded the massive bear forcefully, sending him flying back towards Cream. Only Bark’s protective metal bands around his abdomen prevented his organs from being damaged from the force of the blow and instead knocked the wind out of him. Hey lay sprawled off at the midpoint of the walkway between Cream and Alpha.

The robot then activated the scope on its right shoulder. The beam locked onto Cream, who was standing by the sealed exit. “TARGET ACQUIRED. INITIATING COMBAT MODE: OPERATION 1,” Alpha’s speaker bellowed out in monotone. The top of its head opened up like a lid. From inside, a small cannon emerged and quickly fired a round, stubby object at the rabbit. 

At the exact same moment, Alpha retaliated against Tails using the machine guns on its back. Thinking fast, the fox drew his sword and stabbed it into the walkway, the flat side facing him and protecting his body like a shield. He braced himself against it as the guns started firing, feeling the shots rattle painfully on his body as the thick blade absorbed the impact. Tails used his free hand to draw up a small amount of All-Lighting energy from his weapon’s linked slots. He recklessly stuck his palm out and shot the magic it at the machine guns, bullets nicking his skin and fur. The energy impacted on the area between the guns, the magic seizing its internal mechanisms and stopping the gunfire. Knowing that he only had moments to spare before it discharged the energy into the ground, Tails retrieved his massive blade and dashed up to Alpha, quickly hacking away at the guns and mangling the barrels before pulling back.


Cream

While Tails was occupied with the rear guns, Cream eyed the oblong object travelling towards her, tracing its path. Just as it started to arc downward, she sprinted towards the exit door. The fighter hopped up and walked up several steps before kicking off with her powerful legs and sending her body right towards the munition. She twisted  in mid-air and the explosive sailed inches below her back. It hit the floor right next to the exit and caused a large explosion which breached the sealed door. The rabbit landed and looked back at the remains with equal parts shock and awe. 

“Cream, watch out!” She twisted around at hearing Bark’s voice to see Alpha in front of her, its right arm poised to strike. A fireball sailed over her head, hitting the robot’s arm and pushing it back slightly, giving her an extra few seconds to get out of the way as the appendage slammed down on the walkway. She glanced back to see the bear’s left arm outstretched, faint traces of Fire energy emitting from it. 

The bear hissed in pain from the strike he suffered earlier, but he grinned and flashed the rabbit a thumbs-up as they turned to face Alpha as another of Tails’ Lightning spells struck it, causing it to falter slightly. 

Recovering, it repositioned its side hover jets and spun around to face the two-tailed fox who launched the spell. Alpha rushed Tails and swung its right arm at him. Tails easily dodged the swipe, getting underneath the robot’s right side close to its arm and slashed several times at the delicate underside of the socket. The strike severed the joint and sent the arm flying over the edge of the catwalk to the slums below. Tails shimmied backwards to give himself some space. “Bark, how much time’s left!?” he called out.

From his knelt position on the walkway, Bark checked the watch on his left arm. His eyes widened. “Uh… Shit! Three and a half minutes!”

Tails swore loudly as well. He held his defensive position for a moment and then spoke up just as the robot turned back around to face the bear and the rabbit. “Bark! Cream! Full out magical assault!” Cream could hear the strain in his voice as he began to summon more magic. “Hit it with whatever you got left!” 

Alpha suddenly opened its top. The optic cameras in the centre of its body started glowing red. “DISABLING TURNING FUNCTION. INITIATING COMBAT MODE: 2,” It said. “BOMBER FAILSAFES DISABLED. CONFIGURING FOR MULTI-LAUNCH.” It disabled its side jets, the units flaring off and rerouted the excess power to the main cannon on its head.


Bark

Bark panicked.

His breathing hitched and his heart hammered loudly in his chest as he took stock of his surroundings. There was now just under three minutes on the clock before the bombs would go off and their only path to escape was blocked off by one of Kintobor’s deadly war machines. The mocking tone of President Kintobor’s voice echoed in his mind as he stumbled into a standing position to do as the fox commanded, his left arm still wrapped around his bruised side. 

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

He shakily placed a hand on the Lightning Emerald on his arm and tried to draw out another charge. He held the spell in his palm before it fizzled out, his heightened anxiety overriding his focus. “I… I can’t!” he forced out. “I-I got nothin’ left!”

“C’mon Bark! We can do this!” Cream cheered from beside him as she poured more Mana into the Ice charge in her hands. Her face tightened due to the mental strain she put on to strengthen the magic. “You just have to dig deep and try again!”

“Bark, we need you!” Tails called out from the opposite side as the robot continued its suicidal reconfiguration. “C’mon!! Don’t let us down, man!”

The bear began to hyperventilate as the blood pounding tremulously in his head drowned out all of the sounds around him. His throat constricted, his stomach churned violently and everything around him seemed to move in slow motion. He suddenly fell back to his knees and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw up. ‘I should have seen this coming…’ he thought, heaving as bile rose into his throat. ‘From the train and the upgraded checkpoints, to the lack of security in the reactor and then… this.’

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

I thought it was all going well. Biggs and Jessie and Wedge… I thought it was because of their efforts that we got through so easily, but it was all a setup… a trap to draw us HERE!”

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

Kintobor’s words kept repeating themselves in Bark’s mind, beating down his spirit. He hung his head downward, his eyes looking past the perforated pathway beneath him and into the slums below. ‘I-I failed them…’ he reminisced, as his watch beeped, signifying that the countdown to the explosion had reached the two minute mark. ‘Just like I failed my family and friends four years ago…

Bark shut his eyes tightly out of distress and shame at the reminder of his past. Beneath the eyelids, he saw the image of his dusty hometown of Anthraton – a coal mining town known for its vast quantities of high-quality anthracite – on the day of its destruction at the hands of Kintobor. He remembered seeing the charred remains of the town’s buildings. He remembered the screams from dying residents. He remembered how he felt upon seeing the blackened bodies of his wife and newborn child, a feeling that had not left him in the four years since that event.

Rage.

“No,” he muttered to himself, his anger and desperation roiling through him as he opened his eyes. He was dimly aware of the bright, silver bolts of electricity that started to crackle around his body, as though responding to the vortex of emotions swirling within. “This is not how it’s gonna end!” He rose to his feet as a golden aura of energy surrounded him, his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed to slits. He stared hatefully at Alpha as the aura congregated at the end of his Gun-Arm.

“For four, long years, I’ve dreamed of getting my revenge!” he hollered out, his eyes filled with bloodlust, his hackles raised and his mouth frothing. The energy condensed and formed a large, red orb that hovered mere centimeters from the six barrels of the Gatling Gun. “You bastards took everything from me! And now, I’m gonna take everything from you! Starting with the Reactors! The RINGTEK! AND THIS STUPID ROBOT TOO!” He pointed his arm at Alpha, who stared back at him with cold, unfeeling eyes. “You heard that, ya piece of scrap?! Imma take you out with one… BIG… SHOT!!” 

The bear let out a furious and guttural roar as he launched the orb. The shot hurtled past Cream and struck the front of Alpha’s thick plated armor. The violent swirl of energy chewed through the metal, into its RINGTEK power source and blew a hole out of Alpha’s thin rear armour. The robot started to shake wildly as surges of electricity coursed its way around its body, its energy source overloading.

“If your masters are listening, tell them I said ‘go fuck yourselves!’” Bark said, a savage and satisfied grin plastered on his maw, smoke coming out of the gun barrels. “And tell them that they’re next!”


Tails

On Alpha’s rear side, Tails stopped charging his Lightning spell and allowed the Mana to flow back into his body as he heard the bear’s battle cry. He dived just as Bark’s attack pierced through the robot’s body and out of its rear. The orb dissipated after travelling a short distance away from the fox. 

Standing, Tails cursed as he saw the machine in its death throes. ‘Shit! Only got seconds to spare!’ “Guys! Get back, it’s gonna blow!” Tails yelled out, leaping as high as his legs could push him.  He spun  his tails at the apex of his jump and pushed himself to fly faster. He had barely crossed over Alpha’s head when the techno-soldier’s body exploded, taking out the walkway below. Shrapnel of all shapes and sizes were sent flying in all directions.

Anticipating this, Tails quickly held the Buster Sword in front of his body to protect himself. His vitals were spared, but the bits of metal scraped and nicked his arms and legs. One particularly large piece flew past Tails’ blind spot and embedded itself into one of his tails. The fox hollered out, the blinding pain causing his tails to stop spinning. He dropped out of the air like a stone and groped around wildly until he caught a piece of exposed rebar from the remains of the walkway with his free hand. The thin bar bent with his added weight. 

Dangling a hundred metres above the ground with blood streaming down his tail, he looked up to see Cream, her arm outstretched and trying desperately to reach her friend. 

Bark placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s gonna blow, Cream! We gotta move!” he said, eyeing the timer on his wrist.

The rabbit glanced back to her comrade, her brows raised and pulled together. “Can’t you do something, Bark?!” she asked, her voice taking on a fearful pitch.

Bark shook his head, his eyes shut. “Not a damn thing,” he growled, his lips pressed together tightly.

Cream turned back to Tails and stretched her arm as far as she could. It was nowhere near the fox. “Tails, please don’t die, you can’t die!” she called out frantically. “There’s still so much that I have to tell you!”

“I know Cream,” was all Tails could say. The shard in his tail was excruciating, but he forced himself to tough it out. He tried pulling himself up with his arm, but the bar only bent further. Any more movement would cause it to snap off.

Bark looked back to the mercenary. “You gonna be aight?” he asked.

The fox shook his head. “Just get yourself and Cream out of here,” he said.

“Sorry about this.”

“Don’t talk like this is the end. I’ll see you later.”

Bark let out a heavy sigh and then grabbed Cream on the shoulder to pull her back and away from the reactor. “Yeah, later.”

At that moment, both bombs detonated, sending the reactor ablaze. The explosion jostled the walkway, snapping the rebar Tails was holding onto and sending him plummeting down to the slums below. Cream let out a wail as Bark dragged her away. 

Freefalling, Tails quickly tried spinning his namesakes out of pure desperation in an attempt to slow his descent. His bit his tongue to prevent himself from screaming out loud in agony. Despite his efforts and as the ground grew ever closer, the fox’s strength gave out; his tails stopped spinning and the Buster Sword slid out of his fingers. 

The sword fell through a large hole in the roof of an abandoned church and lodged itself into a beam on the rafters.

Seconds later, Tails crashed through the same hole and blacked out before he could hit the ground.