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.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Trap



Charmy

Out of all seventy floors in the Kintobor Company Headquarters, the 53rd was the most plain looking of the lot. To the outside eye, the space consisted of three rows of windowless offices going from one side of the floor to the other. The offices, each uniform in size, were equipped with a desk and chair situated in the direct centre. What made this space unique was the array of display panels mounted on the walls. Each panel monitored the vital signs of a cadre of Robians. Platoons of fourteen of these transformed Mobians were either situated in the deepest, uninhabited areas of the Slums or in the hearts of the Energen Reactors powering the city. 

The lone occupant in one such room had dozed off in boredom, his feet propped up on the desk as he snored loudly. A black and yellow striped bee standing just over three feet tall, the Mobian wore an orange vest over a black jumpsuit with white and orange boots and white gloves with black trim on the cuffs. On his head was a black bomber’s helmet – modified for his antennae to stick out – with red trim around the edges and a pair of orange goggles on top. Pinned onto his vest was a small enamel pin; a stylized, yellow ‘C’ over top a broad red ‘X’ with a black outline. 

He had only fallen asleep moments ago when one of the panels on the wall started glowing red, the vital signs of three of the Robians flatlined, followed by four more a minute later. A klaxon blared out when half the unit was destroyed, startling the bee into wakefulness and causing him to fall off his seat in a panic. Rubbing his head and muttering out curses, he opened a golden eye towards the offending panel before staring at it in surprise, fully awakened at this point. “Oh shit…” he mumbled to himself. 

Picking himself up, he flew up to the offending panel, the gossamer wings on his back  buzzing at a high frequency and allowing him to stay aloft indefinitely. He hastily pulled out a personal handset and pressed a digit preprogrammed with a phone number.  Floating in front of the red coloured panel, he heard two dial tones before he got an answer. Not waiting for a greeting, the insect started talking at an alarmingly fast rate.

“Boss, boss, boss! You won’t believe what’s going on?! It’s crazy! Insane! Robians dropping like flies for some reason!” he chattered, streams of high-pitched words falling out of his mouth like water spilt from a glass, his loud voice overpowering the blaring alarms. “Here I am, sitting at this desk, minding my own business and monitoring Robian activity like you told me to, then all of a sudden, BOOM! Robians! Seven of em… Wait no thirteen… Wait, wait…” he paused, taking a closer look at the panel and watching final Robian’s vitals suddenly go offline. “…Nope, the whole unit’s dead. D-E-A-D, dead! Like completely finished, dead! Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done dead! Gone to the great junkyard in the sky d-”

“Charmy! ENOUGH!” a male voice bellowed out from the handset, cutting off the bee mid-sentence. “I get it! They’re dead! Now, cut the alarms off first and then speak.”

Charmy Beeson pulled the phone away from his ear and scowled at it, before placing it back on and speaking. “Jeez boss, no need to be so loud about it,” he replied, annoyed. He flew back to the desk, opened a drawer and extracted a tablet. Activating it, he swiped a finger on the monitoring dashboard and then tapped an icon that looked like a bell. A prompt appeared, asking to acknowledge all alarms. The bee tapped the button marked ‘YES.’ A moment later, the alarms went silent. The insect then brought the handset back to his ear after placing the tablet back on the table. 

“Now, can you tell me, calmly, what’s going on?” the voice on the other line said exasperatedly.

“So anyway, yeah, a whole unit of Robians were offed and-”

Charmy…” 

“Oh! Right, details,” the bee said, catching himself. He peered at the display in front of him, reading the location. “Hum, so, like, the unit assigned to the No.5 Reactor’s been completely wiped out, while the ones at No.4 are untouched.” He grinned. “Hey! That means they went for the No.5!”

“Hmph, as I thought they would,” the male on the phone said in a self-satisfied tone. “Good work, Charmy.”

Charmy’s grin grew even wider at the mention of praise. “No problem boss!” he said cheerfully, doing a victory loop-de-loop in the air. “Now, can I get out of here?” The moment the insect said those words, he swore he could feel the scowling glare coming from his superior.

“No, you’re confined to Robian Monitoring until further notice,” Charmy’s boss said icily. “I’m not willing to put you back on the field just yet after the mess you made on your last extraction attempt. Unless, of course, you want to be roboticized instead?”

The bee gulped. “N-No way man! Anything but that!” he said rapidly. “But Knuc-”

“Then remain here and wait things out until another crisis puts your transgressions out of the President’s mind,” the male said slowly, ending the call before Charmy could continue.

The bee glared darkly at the handset before sulkily hovering back to the desk in the centre of the room and sitting in the chair with his arms crossed. “Great…”


Knuckles

Sitting in an office three floors above Charmy’s position, Knuckles placed his handset on the desk after speaking with the bee and leaned back in his chair. He was an echidna with crimson fur and long, flowing dreadlocks. He wore a navy blue blazer, worn loosely to expose his bare chest. Beneath the jacket was the barest hint of a white, crescent moon birthmark, its arc pointing towards the ground. His legs were covered in navy-blue slacks and on his feet were a pair of fighter’s sneakers that clashed against the professional-looking suit. They were red with a yellow stripe across its width and green cuffs that hugged the leg, just below the calf. On top of each shoe, from the tip to the tongue, was a thick, riveted steel plate. Sighing deeply, half from the insect’s antics and half from overall annoyance, he turned his violet-blue eyes towards the clock on the desktop phone. He waited exactly thirty seconds and then picked up the receiver. He pressed a button that was labeled ‘Kodos.’

Answering almost immediately, the gruff Mobian on the other line spoke. “Whaddya want, runt?”

And it starts…’ “As instructed, we’ve upped the security protocols in the reactors, informed the workers of their cancelled shifts and disabled the mechanoids,” the echidna spoke, ignoring the jibe and resisting the urge to grind his teeth. “The Robian unit assigned to Reactor No.5 ambushed a set of intruders earlier, but they have been destroyed, all thanks to that terrorist group. I’ve reactivated the sentry units within the reactor.” He paused, allowing the words to digest in his superior’s mind. “The president should be notified of this.” 

“And since when the hell do you give ME orders?” Kodos sneered.

Knuckles closed his eyes in frustration. ‘No wonder everyone hates working with you…’ “I never gave orders,” he replied stoically. “I’m only relaying information to you. What you do with it is not my problem.”

The Mobian on the other line snorted. “Whatever,” he muttered. “I’ll speak with the President after this. Meanwhile, send two of your men down to the Sector 7 Slums and get them to meet my contact. Passphrase is the same as before. Get whatever info he has and then report back to me.” He paused. “Also, go do the usual; make the rounds, find our priority target, yadda, yadda, yadda.” He paused. “Oh and get me some goddamned results this time! And don’t send a screw-up like that buzzing annoyance!”

“…Understood,” Knuckles replied, hanging up the phone. He took several calming breaths and forced both red-furred fists underneath his desk to stop clenching tightly. After a few moments, he picked up the handset on his desk with a calmed hand, scrolled through the contacts list and selected a number. He heard three dial tones before he got an answer.

“Yeah?” a rough and gravelly voice answered on the other line. 

“Vector, get Mighty and head to the Sector 7 Slums,” the echidna said. “It’s time once again to meet our informant. The passphrase is the same as the last time.”

“Ugh, not that one again! If I have to say that phrase one more time-” 

“Just do it, Vector.”  

He heard a huff from the other line. “Fine, fine, we’ll get to it Knux,” he said. The line went dead.

Scrolling through the contacts list once more, the echidna selected another number. He got an answer just after he pressed the handset to his ear.

“Oi.”

“Nack,” the echidna said. “It’s your turn this month. Meet me in the briefing room in fifteen minutes.”

“Right, see ya there.” 

Ending the call, Knuckles tucked the phone in his pants pocket, stood up and walked around his desk towards the left wall where a black and grey, electronically locked storage cabinet resided. Aside from the cabinet, the rest of the office space itself was stark and spartan in design, consisting only of a modern, glass-top desk with a black wheeled chair and two, black stationary chairs for visitors. On the desk was an inbox, several pens and a black notebook that lined the left side of the desk, all neatly arranged. On the right was his company-issued laptop, its lid closed.  The walls were bare and painted dark grey to match the building’s muted and machine-like aesthetic.

The echidna approached the cabinet and pulled out a keycard from his inside coat pocket. He swiped it through the reader on the door. “Keycard Identified,” a computerized, female voice spoke out of the circular lock. “Access Granted.”

The lock clicked and the echidna opened the doors. The inside of the cabinet was as sparse as his office, the only contents being a polished, black .45 caliber handgun, several clips of ammunition and a pair of white gloves, which were well-cared for. He first took out the side arm and inserted them into a shoulder holster within his jacket and then placed three clips into his pocket. He then turned to the gloves. 

Each of the cuffed, five fingered gloves were equipped with a pair of thick, three-inch long curved spikes on the top of the padded knuckles. The echidna’s eyes softened slightly at the sight. He took the right glove in his hand and folded over the cuff to reveal words sown on the inside: ‘The Servers are the Seven.’ Memories, both happy and painful, soon flooded his mind. The gloves were once a source of pride, a gift to commemorate his Guardianship. Now, they served as a reminder. A reminder of all that he lost, of what he had to throw away in order to survive and of what he still had to do to redeem himself. 

Knuckles realized with a start that he was lingering. ‘Why am I thinking about the past now?’ he wondered as he slipped on the gloves, feeling the supple material conform to his bare hands. ‘What’s done is done… All I can do is move forward…

Shutting the cabinet, the echidna strode out of his office towards the briefing room, the sliding door behind him closing with a soft hiss.


Tails

Tails came to on top of a rusted, segmented walkway high above a pool of golden-silver Energen. With eyes going in and out of focus, the fox observed his surroundings. ‘This isn’t the No. 5?’ he mused, noting the crumbling walls and the outdated technology keeping the plant in operation. ‘But the place looks familiar… It almost looks like-

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud and horrified wail coming from directly in front of him. He tilted his head towards the end of the walkway and his eyes widened at the source of the anguish. 

It was his childhood friend, Cream Rabbelocke. Here, she was wearing hiking boots, brown climbing shorts, a brown traveler’s vest over top of a white button-down crop top, a pair of leather gloves and a wide brimmed hat. She was kneeling beside the body of a dead woman, impaled through the chest by a six-foot long katana. The sight brought a chill down the fox’s spine.

Cream cradled the woman’s head, bringing it up and allowing Tails to get a better look at her. She was an almost exact, older doppelganger of Cream, with the only difference being that she had auburn hair.

I… I remember that woman…’ Tails thought as his memories stirred. His pulse started to quicken as he finally realized where he was. That’s Cream’s mother, Vanilla! So then, this must be the Mount Mobius Energen Reactor back in Knothole, five years ago!’

A sudden, choked sob caused Tails to break out of his thoughts. Cream tenderly stroked her mother’s stilled and lifeless face. “M-mama…” she whispered, loud enough that Tails could hear with his enhanced senses. “How c-could he do this? That-that monster…” The fox watched as his friend balled her fists tightly, her suffering on full display. Tiny silver bolts of electricity started to crackle around her, as though responding to her emotions. “You rest mama,” she said quietly, stifling another sob. “I’ll put a stop to this… I’ll make that murderer pay for what he’s done!!”

Rising to her feet, she let out a wrathful howl, something that Tails could never have seen in the normally optimistic and soft-spoken rabbit. Her eyes glared darkly at the weapon sticking out of her mother’s back. Gripping the sword hilt and clenching her teeth, she pulled mightily. The weight of the weapon caused her arm to tremble as she extracted it out of the dead woman’s body with a squelch, blood oozing out of the wound. Turning away from her mother, Cream faced the doorway in front of her, the orifice torn apart by the very Mobian she vowed to kill. 

“Nazo… SOLDIER… Energen… Kintobor… Everything!” Cream yelled out, her voice growing louder and more vengeful as she spat out the words. “I hate them! I hate them all!” She stormed into the next room. 

Tails reached a hand out in an attempt to stop her, his mouth opening to form words. However, before he could even utter a syllable, a blinding pain shot out from his head, consuming him. In his throes of agony, he could hear a voice call out to him.

“…es… M..les… Miles!”


“Miles! Miles, wake up!” 

Tails’ eyes flicked open. He was back at No. 5. “It’s Tails…” he groaned out as he pushed himself off of the floor. 

“Hey man! Get a hold of yourself!” Bark hollered out irritably. “I ain’t paying you money to fuck around here!”

“Shut it Bark,” the fox muttered, getting to his knees. He looked up to see Cream, who was doing her best to mask her concern for him.

“You OK?” She asked. He nodded in response as he got to his feet.

 “…Cream.”

“Mmm?”

The fox opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly couldn’t find the words he wanted to say. He scrunched up his eyebrows, trying to force out the question that was in the furthest corners of his mind since he saw her again in that alleyway over three weeks ago, only to reappear now after he saw that flash from the past.

‘What happened to you after Knothole?

Instead, he shook his head. “Never mind,” he said, taking a deep breath to steady himself. “Come on.” Walking up to the reactor controls, he extended an open hand to her. “Hand it over and let’s do this.” 

Wordlessly, the brawler handed him the device. Recalling the instructions Jessie gave them, the fox connected the grey cable into the port and pressed the yellow button on the explosive’s control board, just below the blue and green buttons. On the RINGTEK-powered LCD screen, he saw the words ‘INITIATING ANTI-TAMPER DEVICE…’ scroll across the screen a few times, indicating that the program was running. A moment later, Cream and Tails heard a soft click as the tampering alarm relays disengaged. The LCD screen displayed the words ‘TAMPERING DISABLED.” 

Smiling in satisfaction, Tails extended the high-powered transmitter antennas, mounted the box onto the extraction pump’s main control panel and pressed the blue button to initiate the main unit start up and connection sequences. After a minute, the screen displayed the words ‘BOOT COMPLETE. RECEIVER READY.’ He finally pressed the green button afterwards to arm the device. The screen flashed twice, before a message crawled on the screen: ‘SYSTEM ARMED. AWAITING TRANSMITTER CONNECTION.’ 

Tails turned around and nodded at Bark, who grinned in response. “Alright, let’s head for the manufacturing plant,” the bear ordered.

The Ex-SOLDIER turned around to follow Cream and Bark. Had he not been so focused solely on getting out of the reactor, he would have noticed the tell-tale click of another relay on the extraction pump’s control board being energized… 


Exiting the elevator leading to the refinery, the three Mobians stopped off at the T-juncture to install the device router before heading into the RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant. The journey back up from the pump room and through the refinery was met with little resistance – something Tails felt suspicious about as he took point. Bark and Cream were right behind him, mounting the signal relays for the second bomb. 

Coming back through here was too easy,’ he thought, hand gripped on his weapon’s hilt as the three stole through the corridors. ‘Despite us taking out all those Robians when we got in and the few small automations on our way back up here, I can’t imagine that those guys would be the only line of defense in the reactor, not after last night.’  He observed the manufacturing floor through plate glass windows lining the corridor leading to the control room; the machines were shut down and no new RINGTEK was being produced. ‘And from the looks of it, there’s nobody up here in this part of the plant either… The lack of bodies is probably the result of Biggs and Jessie’s machinations with the union, but there should still be a skeleton crew working here at least… I’m starting to get a bad feeling about all this…

As they approached the Plant control room, Tails decided to voice his concerns. “Does something – anything – about this seem… off to any of you?” he asked, angling his head back.

“Nope,” Bark responded nonchalantly. “Stand aside.” He pushed past the fox, opened the control room door and barged in loudly, his weapon cocked and ready. After sweeping the room several times, he relaxed. “OK, coast is clear!” he said, a grin plastered on his snout. “Biggs and Jessie did real good on this! There’s practically no one here!”

“That’s what Tails is saying, Bark,” Cream said, her eyes narrowed to slits. “As we made our way here, I was also thinking the same thing; it’s too quiet, there’s too little resistance. I’m sure our guys did wonderfully, but everything seems to be lining up too well in my opinion. We should be cautious.” Tails nodded in agreement.

Bark looked at the two of them with a grimace. “Man, why’re you guys acting like such pessimists!?” he grumbled, setting the satchel down and extracting the second bomb from within. “Kintobor’s probably scared shitless cuz of yesterday’s attack. Maybe they shut down their shit to ‘reevaluate their security’ or whatever? Sides, I’m sure they wouldn’t expect back-to-back explosions happening less than a day apart anyway…”  

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Tails shot back, his arms crossed, a dark look crossing his face. “Everything that’s happened since we got in – from the Robians, to the lack of people and security forces – screams ‘Trap’. I should’ve seen the signs earlier.” He brought a hand to his chin and scratched it, his blue eyes closed in thought. “The problem is… I can’t seem to figure out Kintobor’s endgame here… Why go through the trouble of letting us infiltrate the reactor-”

Bark growled loudly as he leveled a glare at the fox. “To hell with why!” he spat, cutting the fox off, his tightly balled fist shaking. “What do you suggest we do, then genius?” Sarcasm was now dripping from his voice. “If this IS a trap, the front door’s the only way out. Unless you wanna jump from the catwalks and pray to the Goddess we survive a hundred meter drop to the slums below?”

“And we can’t go back either,” Cream added, her brows creased. “By the time we get back to the access way in the refinery, the whole place will be under.”

Tails sighed, his shoulders sagging in frustration. “Guess that leaves the front door as our only option,” he said, turning his head to Bark and giving him a level stare. “Bark, if we get out of this scot-free, I want more money.” He walked up to the control console. “Hand the bomb over so we can get the hell outta here.”

“Before we do that, we should deactivate the security doors leading out of here,” Cream said. “The three override switches should be somewhere in this room. All we have to do is press them at the same time.”

Tails nodded. “Alright then, let’s look for these switches,” he said.

“Hey, are these it?” Bark chimed in gruffly, pointing to a group of levers on the wall opposite of the control room’s entrance. His brows were knitted and his earlier bravado, Tails noted, was muted and more reserved.

It’s a little too late to realize that we’re screwed, Bark,’ the fox mused as he sidled up to the bear’s side, Cream right beside him. He angled his head towards the rabbit, who nodded. “Seems like these are it,” he said. “Cream, take the middle. Bark, you and I have the ends.”

The trio moved to their respective stations. Cream breathed slowly to steady herself. “I’ll count us down,” she announced, grasping the switch. “We probably have to be really precise with this, so take deep breaths and focus! We can do this!”

“3… 2… 1… Now!”

Three clicks echoed out in the room all at the same time. The intercom buzzed to life a short moment after. “Security system overridden for one hour. Opening blast doors.”

In the distance, Tails could hear the grinding noise of the steel plated security doors sliding open. He smirked. “Seems like that did the trick,” he said, moving towards the main console.

Bark handed the fox the explosive, which he affixed to the console’s underside. He extended the antenna and pressed the blue button on the unit to initiate the device. The fox mentally crossed his fingers as the control board searched for a wireless connection. A short time later, a message crawled on the display: ‘CONNECTION ESTABLISHED. PRESS BUTTON TO ARM.’ 

The trio breathed a collective sigh of relief. ‘Thank the Goddess that Jessie knows what she’s doing,’ Tails mused as he pressed the green button to arm the explosive.

‘TEN MINUTES TO DETONATION.’


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Reactor No.5



Tails

Biggs saw them off as Tails and the others entered the reactor through a low-height maintenance corridor. Crawling through the cramped space, the group soon emerged at the highest point of the refinery. The layout was exactly the same as No.1’s. The stairwells to their right curled around and down the massive refinement structure towards the extraction pump chamber at the bottom. Eyeing the top of the structure, Tails could see the elevator going up to the RINGTEK plant.

“So, how do we get down from here?” Cream asked beside him. 

Bark pointed to a set of large, two foot wide pipes. They sloped downwards towards the bottom of the refinery. “Hey, why not use these to get down?” he questioned.

“…This’ll work,” Tails said, investigating the pipes. “But it’s gonna be a one-way trip.”

Bark shrugged. “That’s no big deal,” he said. “Jessie’s given us instructions on how to get out of here anyway. Coupled with all the work that we did, we shouldn’t have any trouble getting in and out of here.”

That remains to be seen…’ Tails thought as they slid down the pipe and landed neary the door leading into the extraction chamber. Upon landing, Bark opened the satchel and, with Cream to guide him, began installing the signal boosters. They travelled up to the top of the refinery, where the elevator was located and then made their way down to the chamber entrance.

As the two worked, Tails’ enhanced senses picked up the sounds of servos whirring amid the dull hum of the refinery machines. He tentatively placed a hand on his sword hilt, keen eyes searching for anything out of the ordinary. ‘Something else is here…’ Tails soon halted in place at the bottom, near the doorway to the extraction pump chamber. “Guys,” he said, keeping his voice low as Bark installed the last booster for the room. “We’re not alone…”

Bark turned around, his eyes narrowed to slits. “Don’t tell me…” he started, growling. 

A loud, screeching hiss erupted over the din of the refinery. Four Robians suddenly emerged from various nooks and crannies and surrounded the group. The fox recognized the two squirrels; he had seen those back at Reactor No. 1. They were flanked by two boars, each with gleaming, pointed tusks and thick, rust-coloured armoured plating adorning their bulky frames.

Tails heard another metallic growl from behind him. Spinning around, he came face to face with three more Robians – canines, each with sharp claws, streamlined bodies and glittering, curved fangs. Their stubby ears stood up, spike-like atop their triangular heads. The seven robots surrounded the three Mobians, trapping them in a pincer formation. 

Tails, Cream and Bark faced the horde with their backs to each other as they waited for the snarling mechanical creatures to strike. The fox resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the situation. ‘Pinned in again? The Goddess must really want to screw with us today…’ he thought. He suddenly jutted his head upwards, the sounds of claws grappling the wall ringing in his ears, which then flattened. ‘Great, now there are more of them coming from above! 

Bark leveled his Gun-Arm at a squirrel, a savage grin on his snout. “The three of us, armed with magic and explosives, against seven Robians? I like these odds,” he said.

The fox glanced at the bear beside him for a moment. “Did you count the ones on the walls?” he replied, before turning his steely gaze back upwards. “There are about another six or seven of ‘em crawling down to us.”

“Shit…” the bear swore, his smirk instantly turning into a scowl.

“Do you think we can take them all on?” Cream asked the fox beside her as the Robians started to close in on them.

“Honestly, no,” the fox replied, his hand sliding up to the Lightning Emerald on the Buster Sword. “But if all goes to plan, then we shouldn’t have to.” He extracted energy from the Emerald and held a charge in his hand. “Bark on my signal, spray those guys behind us with gunfire. Cream, you and I will take out the three dog-bots and clear a path. Bark, you then drop a grenade in front of the door before following us through.”

Bark’s eye sidled to Tails. “And what’s that going to do?” he asked gruffly.

“We’ll go from taking on fourteen to taking on… about six, if my calculations are correct,” the fox replied, spell charge in hand. 

“And what if you’re not?” Bark countered as the Robians stilled. They were ready to strike. “I can barely handle the four in front of me and if those guys above drop unexpectedly, we’ll be in trouble.”

“Worry about that when it happens. Cream,” He addressed the rabbit on his left. “Get ready.”

The brawler nodded, drawing blue energy out of her Ice Emerald and cradling it in her hand.

One of the canine Robians let out a piercing, metallic howl, serving as a signal to the others to converge on the three Mobians. 

“Now!” Tails hollered out as he and Cream launched their magical assault on the three Robians in front of the extraction chamber entrance. Bark then swept his arm from side to side and unleashed a hail of bullets to keep the four others from advancing.

The Lightning spell hit the left-most Robian who initiated the attack, sending sparks of electricity shooting through its body and leaving a dead shell behind. Cream’s Ice spell struck the torso of the one standing right next to the Robian Tails eliminated. The sudden, rapid drop in temperature caused the chest area to become brittle and reduced the structural integrity of the thick armor plating protecting the Robian’s interior mechanisms.

Tails, with sword in hand, ran up and rammed the weapon right through the weakened armour. It pierced the mechanical heart pumping circulation fluid throughout its body and killed it instantly. Extracting the sword, the fox then turned to the lone Robian left defending the doorway, who was accosted by Cream. The brawler rushed up to the Robian, grabbed its arm and quickly performed a powerful, over-the-shoulder throw. The canine’s head hit the concrete flooring with such force that its neck snapped on impact. The rabbit released its arm and finished it off with a hard stomp to the head, before opening the door to the extraction chamber.

The fox raised an eyebrow, clearly impressed. ‘Short, sweet and to the point, I’ll take it.’ “Bark! Let’s mosey!” he called out to the bear, sheathing his sword and following Cream into the chamber.

Soon after the fox spoke, the seven Robians hopped off the walls and dropped in front of the polar bear. Startled, he halted his fire and did an about-face towards the chamber with the eleven robots hot on his heels. Bark hastily dug into the satchel, pulled out a grenade and tore the pin off with his teeth. As he approached the threshold, he dropped the explosive and dove head first into the chamber before it could detonate.

The blast engulfed four of the Robians –  two squirrels and two canines – their mechanical shells blocking the entrance, leaving the remaining two boars, two squirrels and three canines to mercilessly tear through their comrades’ destroyed bodies to get to their targets. Bark scrambled up to his feet and hustled down the ladders, joining Cream and Tails at the end of one of the catwalks leading to the very bottom of the reactor. Pointing his gun in the direction of the blood-thirsty robots, he shot a glare at the two-tailed fox behind him. “Hey man! I thought you said six would remain!” he shouted.

Tails countered with a flat stare of his own. “I said ‘about six’ not ‘exactly six’!” he retorted, sword drawn. 

“Guys, focus,” Cream said.

“So then, what do we do!?” Bark hollered, sweat starting to drip from his brow in consternation. 

Tails quickly looked around his surroundings. There were a set of pipes running parallel underneath the perforated walkway on which they stood. At the other end was a T-junction that was made of solid sheet of metal.  He could feel the ambient heat radiating around him from the machinery within the pump chamber. 

He smiled to himself as he put the information together in his mind. He then thrusted a hand into his left pocket and extracted the All Emerald from within – a gift from the weapon shop owner in Sector 7. “I have an idea,” he said, removing the Ice Emerald from his weapon and inserting the blue gem in its place. The fox arched his head towards Cream. “Cream, charge an Ice spell,” he said to her. “On my mark, cast it on the floor of the T-junction  in front of us. The surface there should freeze due to the moisture in the air. As the Robians rush in here, the ambient heating should start melting the ice enough to form some puddles.”

“Bark, charge up a Lightning spell. Aim at one of the big ones in the back. I’ll do the same for the ones in front.” He paused as he saw the bear’s worried expression. “You’ll be fine,” he said reassuringly as he placed his hand on the Blue Emerald, slid it over the link to the Lightning Emerald and extracted the yellow energy. Concentrating the magic between his palms, they soon coalesced into five small orbs hovering between his fingertips. “The moment they reach the puddles, we cast ‘em. If I’m right, the conductivity of the water and the metal plus the combined strength of our magic should overload their circuitry and render ‘em toast.”

“And if you’re not?” Cream asked as she prepared the Ice spell.

“Then at least they’ll be weakened enough for us to finish off easily-” he halted, pricking his ears and scowling at the sounds he heard. “Shit, they’re through! Cream, launch it!”

“ICE!” Cream called, launching the frozen orb towards the T-junction and forming a thin sheet of ice on its surface. Soon after impact, the heat radiating from the pipes underneath the walkway started to melt the frozen layer.

The unnatural metallic screams from the Robians grew more intense as they hurtled through the door and down towards the threesome. Tails gritted his teeth. “Bark, start charging!” he said.

Wide-eyed, the polar bear brought a hand to his armor and touched the Emerald nestled in its slot, tapping into its power. Feeling the magic seep from the gem and into his hand, he tried to form it into a ball like Tails did, but the charge collapsed and formed into an aura that covered his fist instead. Panicking, he whirled his head towards the fox. “Tails! What do I do?!” he hollered.

“Don’t fight it!” Tails said, injecting more Mana into the orbs in front of him. “I told you, everyone has their own unique style! Just relax and let the Emerald guide you!” The Robians soon arrived on the same level the three Mobians were on. “Get ready!” Tails called out.

The fox heard Bark let out a deep, calming breath to settle his nerves. From the corner of his eye, Tails saw the bear’s left arm stretch back like he was preparing to throw a ball, the aura on his hand now crackling with electrical energy. Bark trained his eyes on one of the heavily armored boars at the back of the pack as though he was aiming his right arm at it.

The seven robotic creatures continued their dash, propelled by the all-consuming command to eliminate all intruders engraved into their positronic brains. They soon neared the iced T-junction, which now pooled slightly.

“Now!” Tails yelled and then called “BOLT!” The orbs shot out as beams of electricity, each one aimed at six of the incoming enemies.

Hearing the cue, Bark brought his left foot forward, swung his left arm as if he was serving up an underhand pitch and called “BOLT!” The aura exploded and sent out a jagged, arcing bolt of lightning out of his fist. The bolt struck the boar in the back, sending jolts of electricity through its armoured body. At the same time, the Robian in front touched the melting pool of ice just as Tails’ lightning spell struck which, coupled with their close proximity to one another, increased the conductivity and effectiveness of the electrical attacks against them. 

Tails watched with a smirk on his lips as the bodies fell in front of him. ‘Just as planned.’  However, as he counted the downed robots, his smile flattened into a neutral line and then settled into a frown. ‘Wait a minute… two boars, two squirrels and two canines… one’s missing?’ “I count six bodies…” he said to the two TORNADO members behind him, reaching for his sword as he spoke. 

Suddenly, the third canine dropped down from above almost soundlessly and landed in front of Cream. The metallic beast lunged at her. She barely avoided being impaled, but one of the claws tore a deep gash on her left abdominal, red blood streaming from the wound. 

Tails and Bark whipped around to see Cream being attacked. The bear raised his Gun-Arm and tried to get a clean shot without catching the brawler in the crossfire. After a few moments, he dropped his arm and spat. “Shit, I can’t get a look!” he said to the fox beside him, frustrated. 

Tails gnashed his teeth as he observed the situation, Buster Sword at the ready. ‘Gunning it down won’t work; they’re moving too fast and Cream could be the one shot instead. Magic’s no good either because she could also get caught in the blowback… I need to wait for an opening before I can help out…’


Cream

The rabbit hissed out in pain as the canine scored another hit, this time on her thigh. Biting her tongue to prevent herself from crying out, she pushed through the pain and continued to evade the canine’s swift strikes.  The Robian suddenly reared its right claw back, as though to lunge at her; this gave her the opportunity she was looking for. Timing it, Cream stepped to the side of the narrow catwalk just as the canine blew past her. She then grabbed its arm and used its own momentum to throw it over the walkway. 

Its claws flailing wildly, the Robian managed to clutch the bottom edge of the walkway. Grasping the walkway with both hands it propelled itself upwards and onto the rail, only to meet Cream winding up for a punch. 

Her eyes were focused and her mouth was set in a determined line, despite the pain she felt from her wounds. She reared back, torso twisting to the right and focused her inner energy – her Ki – into her right fist. As soon as the Robian was exactly where she wanted it to be, she inhaled deeply and let out a loud kiai as she struck it hard in the stomach. The force of the blow created a crater in its metallic skin and sent it a good ten feet back. The canine let out a defeated howl as it plummeted into the raw Energen pool below, the corrosive liquid dissolving it in moments. The fighter then took a knee, the pain she felt from the inflicted wounds now becoming unbearable.

She craned her head to the side to see Tails running up to her, his face tightening in alarm. He knelt down to her, dislodged the Green Emerald in his armour and replaced it with another one from his pocket. Tapping into it, he drew out pale green energy, extended his palm and called out the spell, “Cure.” 

A blast of soft, green energy emitted from his hand and showered Cream’s body, the magic stopping the bleeding and closing up the wounds she suffered on her side and leg. Visibly relieved, Tails stood back up and faced Bark. “Hand me a Potion,” he commanded.

The bear fumbled in the satchel hanging from his body and extracted the vial of blue liquid, tossing it to the Ex-SOLDIER. Snatching it, Tails knelt back down, broke the top of the Potion vial off and handed it to Cream. She smiled at him gratefully. “Thanks… Tails,” she said breathlessly. She downed the medical concoction, her lips puckering from the bittersweet taste and then looked back at him with a question in her eyes. “Is… Is this what… fighting in SOLDIER… was like?”

“Yeah,” Tails said nonchalantly, standing up and lending a hand to the fighter. “You OK to stand?” 

Cream gave a nod of her own as she clasped the hand and felt herself being lifted to her feet. She felt a rush of vertigo and stumbled slightly. Steadying herself, she doubled over and placed her hands on her knees to rest for a moment before slowly straightening up again. “I’m good,” she said, noticing the look of concern coming from her leader.

Satisfied that all was well, Bark face settled back into his normal, glowering look. “Those Kintobor bastards,” he growled angrily. His snarl transformed into a maddened grin. “I’m gonna feel real good about blowing this shit up!” He turned to the fox and the rabbit. “Let’s go get the rest of these boosters installed; Tails, you take point, Cream in the middle, I’ll take the rear.”

Tails nodded, taking his position at the fore after replacing his Ice Emerald into his armour. Cream grabbed several signal boosters from Bark’s satchel and the group cautiously traipsed around the dead Robians and back up to the chamber’s entrance. As she and Bark set to work on installing the small, RINGTEK-powered devices, Cream saw a pained expression on Tails’ face from the corner of her eye. His muzzle was tightened and he looked as though he forced himself not to clench his fists. “Tails, are you OK?” she asked as she faced him, her brows knitted.

“I’m fine,” he grunted, shaking his head. He turned and started down the catwalk to the ladder leading to the main pump controls. “Let’s hurry up.”

Cream pursed her lips. ‘Something’s up with him…’ she thought as she and Bark followed the fox down to the very bottom of the reactor. The narrow walkway towards the main controls was illuminated in a silvery-gold light, which sent a chill down Cream’s spine. She chewed on her bottom lip as she forced away old and painful memories. Bark stopped midway, extracted the bomb enclosure from the satchel and handed it to Cream. He looked at her with hard and determined eyes. Cream got the message from his stare: ‘It’s time.’ She nodded and then, with the bomb cradled under her arm, walked up to the controls. 

Behind her, she heard Bark shove Tails with his metal arm. “Go set it,” he ordered. “Cream’ll keep an eye on you.”

She turned around to see Tails glare at the bear. “Still don’t trust me?” he said through gritted teeth.

“Being Cream’s good friend ain’t good enough for me,” Bark replied, his Gun-Arm pointed at Tails’ head. “Now get to it, we gotta get out of here.”

Scoffing, the fox started heading towards Cream when he stopped mid-way. He brought his hands to his head and clutched at the sides of his temples. He groaned as he doubled over in apparent pain.

Cream watched her friend drop to his knees, his fingers digging deep into his fur. “Tails! Tails!” she called out, running to his side with a panicked look on her face. 

Tails looked up, eyes locked onto hers for a brief moment before he collapsed on the walkway and blacked out. The rabbit let out a stifled gasp as memories from years ago began flashing through her mind. She felt terror well up inside her and the scar that crossed her abdomen began to burn as the old feelings she stowed away forced their way up. Her hand automatically went to the scar on the back of her left ear.

Those… Those eyes…’ she thought, her fingers trembling. ‘What… What is going on here?! Is my mind playing tricks on me? I-I must be seeing things…’ Despite her rationalizations, she knew deep down that what she saw was true. 

Tails’ right eye was his normal, electric blue, with silver and gold flecks swimming about inside the iris.

His left was an evil shade of pale, glowing green with a slitted pupil.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 13

Chapter 13: Through a Rotten Slice



President Kintobor

Gerald Kintobor sipped on the dark amber liquid from the tumbler he held in his hand as he settled his weary frame into the plush chair in his office on the Kintobor Building’s 70th Floor. Rolling up to the opulent desk adorned with screens, he picked up and opened the first of many folders brought to him by his aide, Monica. As he attempted to peruse through its contents, grey eyes behind the mirrored pince-nez kept flicking between the sheets of paper in his hand and the phone on his desk. 

Realizing that he was distracted, he sighed deeply and tore his eyes away from the phone towards the documents from the Science Department. It appeared to be a status report on a specimen that was acquired three weeks ago, followed by a request for experimentation form. The president sniffed. “Nagus and his playthings…” he muttered as he signed the approval papers without going over the full details and closed the folder.

As he reached for the next file, his phone started ringing. His moustache twitching in anticipation, he quickly pressed the speakerphone icon on the receiver. “Speak,” he said out loud as he grasped a thick, leather-bound portfolio. It read ‘Earnings Forecast for Q2 – Post-Bombing’. 

“Mr. President, we’ve just received notice of a security incident on the train leaving the Sector 7 station in the Slums, heading towards Sector 4,” a deep and measured voice responded on the other line. “The train, in fact, has not reached the checkpoint, but it appears that an unauthorized individual triggered its internal alarm systems.”

Sector 4 huh?’ “Well, has the culprit been identified?” he asked in a matter of fact tone. “Has the train been put on lockdown, at least?”

“…Unfortunately… no,” the voice on the other line said hesitantly. “T-the train is running on the older security systems. Whoever these guys are, they knew of the flaw in the lockdown procedure. It-it looks like they jumped.”

Interesting… and quite cunning too,’ Gerald thought as he mulled over the man’s words on the other line. He twisted the end of his silvery-grey ‘stache. ‘Using the underplate system to infiltrate the reactors… I will need to address this in the future.

He then leaned forward, his elbow resting against the desk and his chin propped on top of his fist. ‘That reminds me,’ he continued mentally. That SOLDIER escaped on a train leading to Sector 7… It may have been a coincidence that he chose that particular one… but now this new incident introduces a new element. Something that I may have overlooked…’  

“S-sir?” the man on the other line cut into his thoughts. 

Gerald’s lips curled into a sneer, a realization suddenly striking him. He bit back the growl in his voice and instead responded in a neutral tone. “Monitor the remaining routes leading up to the Plate and report back to me if any other anomalies arise,” he said. Hearing the voice on the other line acknowledge his request, the president ended the call. He then pressed a button on the speed dial – this one was labeled ‘Public Safety.’ 

The phone rang twice before he heard an answer. “Mr. President,” a gravelly, baritone voice dripping with sarcasm responded on the other line. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Kodos, I want you to increase Robian security in Reactors #4 and #5,” he said, biting his tongue afterward to prevent himself from spewing invectives at the Mobian on the other end. “It seems our recent troublemakers may be targeting one of those two next. Also, call back all of the E-Series units in both reactors; they’re more costly to replace than those savages. Monitor the Robian activity and report back to me immediately if a skirmish breaks out.”

“Why?” came the blunt response. 

“I want to meet them in person,” Kintobor growled, his teeth gnashing. “And deliver to them… a gift. I shall contact you again with details when I am enroute.” He then paused and held in a sigh, hating himself for what he was about to say next. “…Inform the workers in both of the reactors and plants in Sectors 4 and 5 that their shifts have been called off and that they can go home. They’ll be paid for their time.”

“…Fine,” Kodos said dismissively after a pause. “Anything else?”

The Human’s spectacled eyes loomed darkly over the speakerphone. He imagined the smug and self-important Mobian on the other side. ‘This filthy, mongrel scum needs to learn his place!’ he thought crossly, his fist tightening and trembling with suppressed rage. ‘He still dares to address me in such a manner?! After yesterday, he should feel lucky that he hasn’t been roboticized!’ 

There had been many times before then that he wanted to go through with it, but he always stayed his hand. While he hated Kodos, he still made him an executive within the company because he recognized his talents for war. The Mobian was a brilliant military tactician. It was he who led the Kintobor armies to countless victories during the Great War, fifteen years ago. It was he who had sacked Mobotropolis and razed the city to the ground. And it was he that helped depose the Mobian monarchy that acted as a check to his company’s ever-growing power. 

He therefore stowed away his hatred – if only for a moment – and answered Kodos’ request. “Ask your informant to send another one of his men back down to the Sector 7 Slums,” he ordered, again stowing his anger against Kodos. “Preferably, one that won’t be beaten up by a girl.” 

“7 again?”

“Yes,” the president answered, fingers drumming on the desk. “If my suspicions are correct, the terrorist’s home base is in that sorry hovel. However, we need to be 100% sure before we retaliate. See that this is done.” He paused and then gave his final statement, with every word punctuated. “And do not fail me again.”

Ending the call before the Mobian could respond, the president interlaced his fingers together, a contemplative look on his face. After a few moments, he pulled out his handset from within his suit jacket pocket and dialed a number. He received an answer after the first ring. “Ready my transport,” he said to the individual on the other line as he began to collect the remaining files in his arms. “We leave in twenty minutes.”


Cream

“Good, everything’s going as planned.”

Tails and Cream rejoined Bark further up the tunnel, who flashed a grin at the two. “Sure, we hit a snag with the ID card thing and whatever, but we’re cool,” he said, facing the direction the train was travelling in. “Biggs, Wedge and Jessie are ahead getting things ready for us, so let’s move it and meet up with them!”

The fox crossed his arms. “OK, sounds good,” he said. “Just keep your guard up ‘til we reach the Sector 5 Reactor.”

Bark cast an annoyed glance at the mercenary. “Hell, I know that!” he spat, jogging up the tunnel. 

Cream let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, here we go again,” she muttered to herself, following the bear with Tails by her side. Trekking up the tunnel, she suddenly felt the fur on the nape of her neck stand up. “Tails,” she whispered, leaning in close to the fox. “I get the feeling we’re being followed.”

Tails nodded at her. “Yeah, I hear something too,” he said. “Doesn’t sound like a Robian though? It’s more… organic than robotic.” He then looked at Bark, who was a few feet ahead of him. “Yo, head’s up, we’re being followed,” he said, keeping his voice low.

“What do you mean ‘we’re being followed’?” the bear asked loudly, causing the two behind him to flinch. “Is it Kintobor?!”

“Bark!” Cream hissed, her eyes narrowing. “Keep your voice-” she was interrupted by the sounds of gurgling and snarling near her. “-down.” ‘Oh crud.

“An ambush!” Tails yelled, drawing his sword as six creatures emerged out of the shadows; three in front and three behind, effectively pinning them down. Each creature consisted of two pairs of bony, stick-like legs connected to a grotesque black and purple, three foot long conical body, its back end tapering off into a thick, curling two foot long tail. On top of its ‘head’ had two pairs of yellow eyes arranged in a horizontal line. Below the eyes was a large, circular mouth containing rows of sharp, pointed teeth, each five inches long. They hissed loudly at their next meal, their sharp legs clicking hard on the track surface.

Cream glanced to her left side and saw the fox grit his teeth in annoyance. “We’re outnumbered and we can’t linger around,” he said to Bark and Cream, who stood at the ready. “There’s no telling if another train’s gonna come our way, so we have to get outta here fast!” Assessing the situation, the fox placed a hand on the Fire Emerald in his new armor. Sheathing his sword, he drew reddish-orange energy out of the gem. “FIRE!” he called, pushing his palms out.

The magic shot forth from his hands as a sunset-coloured beam and impacted on the closest monster in front of him, causing it to burst into flames. It shrieked loudly, swiveling around in an attempt to put out the flames. The two other creatures beside it recoiled as the bright light caused by the flames affected their sensitive eyesight. 

The fox smirked. “Magic works best on these guys,” he called, sword slashing at the other two weakened monsters. “Let’s make quick work of these things!”

As Bark turned to unleash a hail of bullets on the other two blinded monsters, Cream faced the three Mutates blocking their path forward and settled into a fighting stance. ‘No problem, I’ll handle this.’ She placed her left hand on the jewel embedded into the slot on her right fist and concentrated as Tails instructed her to, drawing out blue energy. She formed it into a ball, cupped it with both hands and placed them by her side, pouring in more Mana to strengthen it.

One of the three Mutates snarled, its limited intelligence suggesting to the two beside it that the rabbit was the most vulnerable. The three monsters bound over to the rabbit in an attempt to overtake her and rend her flesh.

Cream gritted her teeth and steeled herself as they approached. Once in range, she pushed her hands out and called “ICE!” The ice ball launched as a projectile and hit the lead creature, the energy spreading out over its body and freezing it in place. The two Mutates directly behind it tripped over their frozen comrade’s outstretched legs which caused them to stumble.

Bark turned around and fired at the disoriented Mutates. A few stray shots struck the yellow eyeballs, eliciting unholy cries of pain from them. Satisfied, he turned around to see Tails finish off the last monster with a cleave. “Alright, that should be good enough! Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yelled out, beckoning to the two of them. Taking advantage of the chaos, the threesome escaped up the winding tunnel until they could no longer hear the cacophony coming from the monsters. Their progress, however, was halted when they arrived at the checkpoint.

A large array of sensors lined the walls, ceiling and track of the next 100 feet in front of them. Green, crisscrossing beams of light filled the entire corridor, leaving barely any space for even the most skilled of contortionists to move through. 

The warrior shook his head at the sight in front of them. “Well, there’s the checkpoint, we can’t go further,” he said, peering through the beams and scoffing at them. “After coming this far, only an amateur’d get caught now.”

Cream shivered at the sight of the array. During the few trips she made topside, she never thought twice about the checkpoint system. Now, as she watched the penetrative beams from outside of the trains, she felt violated. She resisted the urge to wrap her arms around herself and instead approached Bark. She took out a thickly folded piece of paper from the polar bear’s satchel. Walking back to Tails, she opened it up to reveal a map and scanned its contents. “Jessie and the others were probably just here recently,” she said. “The duct leading to the Plate underside should be right beside us-”

“Hey! I think I found it!” Bark said, cutting Cream off. He pointed to a spot on the left wall. The dim lighting from the checkpoint security beams illuminated a thin piece of reflecting tape on a section of the wall. Below the tape was a recessed handle, which the bear grasped and pulled. A hatch opened, revealing an entrance that led to the Plate underside. Bark peered down and grimaced as he looked down into the narrow shaft. “Damn, that looks kinda small… We have to squeeze into that to get under the Plate?” he moaned.

Folding up the map and walking up to Bark’s side, Cream looked down, paying close attention to the sides. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything down here that will get us stuck,” she observed.

Tails also glanced down briefly, before turning to the bear. “All part of the mission, right Bark?” he said, smirking.

Bark groaned. “Ah alright…” he resigned, shuddering at the drop. “But man, that thing gives me the chills…”

The fox entered the shaft first and climbed down the ladder. “It’s clear!” he soon shouted. 

Cream immediately scampered down the ladder and landed lightly on the perforated walkway. She flashed him a bright smile, before turning to Bark. He hesitated slightly before following along, squeezing his large frame into the hatch and slowly making his way down.

As he neared the bottom, the bear’s hand suddenly slipped from the rung. Yelping, he dropped to the walkway and landed hard on his feet, the heavy boots making a loud, clanging noise on the metal floor that reverberated throughout the shaft. He grinned sheepishly at the dark glares emanating from his companions. “Heh… Sorry,” he said, scratching the back of his head.

Tails rubbed his temples with a thumb and forefinger, his eyes closed in annoyance. “Keep it down, man!” he hissed irritably, moving up the corridor to the next hatch and opening it. “Let’s try not to bring too much attention to ourselves. There’s no telling what kind of nasties live down here.”

“You mean,” Cream started, a perturbed look on her face as the three climbed the next ladder down. “There are more Mutates here? Not just in the rail corridors?”

“Cream, if there’s a will, there’s a way,” The fox answered sagely, his voice stolid and business-like. “Mutates can live practically anywhere. Sides, if I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say we’ll run into more of those on the way to the Reactor.”

As they traversed the next several walkways, Cream could suddenly hear the rushing sounds of wind blow about nearby. The noise came from a partially opened hatch at the end. Opening the hatch, the group entered a wide open area at the very bottom of the Plate. An assortment of platforms interconnected with catwalks spanned the underside of Sector 4. Beneath them, a hundred meters down, were the Sector 4 Slums. 

Bark sidled up to the edge of the platform they were on and looked down. He let out a nervous gulp. “Shit, now that’s a drop,” he commented in a low voice as he backed away.

Tails looked around, his sharp eyes taking in every detail in the space. “So, where do we go from here?” he asked, his arms crossed.

The fighter scanned the map, while occasionally looking at her surroundings, until she recognized where they were. “Here,” she said out loud, pointing to a spot on the paper. She trailed her finger horizontally to a duct that was hastily circled in red ink. “And there’s where we have to go.”

Bark trundled up and looked over Cream’s shoulder. “Doesn’t look too far?” he said, scratching his chin thoughtfully. As he raised his head up and to the side to investigate the path, his eyes suddenly went wide like saucers. “Uh, don’t look now,” he started, flicking the safety off on his Gun-Arm. “But we got company!”

Cream tore her eyes away from the sheet and turned in Bark’s direction. In front of her were a trio of Mutates. A pair of large insects with green plated exoskeletons, yellow underbellies and sharp, sickle-like front claws slithered up to the group. A loud buzzing noise came out of their long needle noses. Behind them was a mutated pufferfish, its top half covered in smooth, deep blue scales while rows of spines lined their white undersides. A pair of long, webbed fins on either side of its body flapped continuously and kept the odd, fish-like creature airborne. Its mouth was lined with serrated teeth and its ruby eyes glared hungrily at the trio of Mobians. 

The fighter’s fingers fumbled as she hastily folded up the map and tucked it into the waistband of her leather skirt. Beside her, Tails faced the Mutates, sword drawn and a wry smile on his face. “Ah, damn. If you guys took on my bet, I’d be 200 mobium richer,” he said. 

“Quit bein’ a smartass!” Bark grunted as he fired on the insect to his left. The bullets barely penetrated its thick exoskeleton as it slithered up and slashed at him with its claws. Ceasing fire, the bear backed away as the claw grazed the protective bands around his waist. As he fell on his rear, he pointed his arm and fired at point-blank range. The insect flew back to the ground, its tubelike mouth was snapped off and what was left of its face was mangled and bloody. It twitched a few times and then lay still.

Cream saw the first insect go down from the corner of her eye. Suddenly, the second was upon her, both claws raised and slashing downwards. The fighter nimbly dodged to her left at the last moment and countered with two punches and a hook. The three strikes hit the thin upper limb connecting it’s claw to its body. The appendage snapped loudly, but the creature ceased to relent. Spinning around, it expelled a thick, stringy substance at Cream, who was slow to react. The silk spun around her, binding her limbs and causing her to fall to the ground. Cream forced herself not to panic though and instead drew more magic from the Ice Emerald on her wrist. As the insect continued to cocoon her, she tore an arm free from the strands, thrust her palm outward and called “ICE!” 

The ball of frozen energy shot out and struck the insect, freezing it on contact. Tails soon rushed over to help, swinging his sword and shearing the monster’s head and torso off of its body. The top half slid off and landed with a dull thunk on the platform. The fox turned and dashed over to Cream. “Don’t worry,” he said as he started to pull the threads off of her body. “I’ll getcha outta here.”

Before Tails got half of the silk off of her, Cream watched with shock as a string of large, blue bubbles struck her friend from behind. Tails’ eyes flared widely with surprise before they suddenly closed. He slumped forward and the brawler could hear him snoring softly. ‘He’s asleep!’ she thought, alarmed. 

“Tails! Wake up!” she yelled, shaking him with her free hand as the pufferfish Mutate the fox battled with earlier flew towards them, its jaws snapping eagerly for its next meal.

Gunfire erupted from the fighter’s left side, the bullets tearing through the floating Mutate’s body as it neared the two Mobians. It shrieked loudly as it fell to the ground. Cream saw Bark lumber up to the pufferfish from behind her. He aimed down at it and fired another salvo to finish it off. He turned back to the rabbit and flashed a triumphant grin. “Well, that takes care of that!” he said.

Relieved, Cream started to remove the rest of the threads off of her body. Bark came up to her and extended a hand, for which she gratefully took. The bear pulled her up and the two then turned their attention to Tails, who stood with his body slumped, head down and sword pointed to the platform. Cream regarded the slumbering fox with concern. She placed a hand on his shoulder and shook him a little roughly. “C’mon, get up!” she said.

His only response was a snore. 

The rabbit sighed and looked over to Bark, whose grin grew deeper. “…Can I hit him?” he asked excitedly, his hand tightening into a fist. “I’m never gonna get another opportunity to smack him in his self-important face! C’moooon, lemme do it?!”

Cream stared at him flatly, her brows furrowed. “No!” she growled fiercely. “I know you two don’t like each other, but him falling asleep doesn’t give you an excuse to resort to violence!”

“Hey guys!” a voice suddenly called out before Bark could make a retort. Cream looked to her left and she smiled. It was Wedge.

The portly man waved and hurried across the walkway. Stopping in front of the group, he turned a perplexed eye to Tails. “Oh, he got hit by one of those bubble things too?” he asked, his gravelly voice sounding amused. “Yeah, Biggs got a dose of those earlier. Luckily, I had a few of these smelling salts in handy.” He pulled out a thin, white packet that was lined with perforations from his back pocket. Wedge approached the fox, snapped the packet in half and put it under his nose.

Tails’ eyes shot open and he yelped out loud. He jumped back and raised his sword, his head swerving fervently and hackles raised as he searched for enemies. 

“Easy there, hotshot,” Cream said in a placating manner, her hands raised in a non-threatening manner. Watching him calm down, she smiled mirthfully at him. “Good morning sleepyhead,” she joked, her eyes twinkling.

“Erg… Bite me,” Tails groused, his face flushed with embarrassment. He stowed away his sword and turned to Wedge, cocking an eyebrow at the Human. “…Thanks,” he said after a long pause, crossing his arms.

Wedge chuckled heartily. He crossed over the walkway and waved the three Mobians over. “Follow me, we’re almost there,” he said.

They traversed across catwalks and platforms while avoiding other Mutates, before finally reaching a ladder leading up to a large maintenance shaft.  Wedge stopped beside the ladder. “The reactor’s up ahead,” he said. “Jessie’s just inside, finishin’ up with the explosives and stuff. Oh and Bark?” he turned to his leader and gazed at him solemnly. “Go easy on her, OK?” 

The bear didn’t respond, but Cream could see his eyebrows creasing as he ascended up to the shaft.

The interior portion of the maintenance hatch branched off into two paths; one straight ahead and one to their left. They found Jessie sitting at the fork, sulking dejectedly, a set of packages laying beside her. “Hey,” she said, looking up to them. “I’m sorry you guys, The ID scan problem on the train was my fault.” Her eyes trailed over to Tails’. “I made your ID card special, Tails… that’s why it happened…” Breaking eye contact, she bowed her head and let out a deep sigh. “I put my heart out into making it, but I failed.” 

Bark strode up to her and gently laid a paw on her shoulder. “Jess, it’s OK,” he said to her, his eyes softening. “Don’t blame yourself over it. The plan was to jump off anyway. We just had to do it earlier than scheduled.” He straightened himself up and smiled warmly at her. “Now, we have a job to do, so let’s get to it.”

Jessie’s lips curled upwards slightly as she stood up and dusted herself off. She motioned for Bark’s satchel and began stuffing the bomb components inside. “I finished assembling it moments before your arrival.” She paused, looking at each of them. “It operates a bit differently than the one we used yesterday; the bomb for the pump chamber is actually the secondary bomb. You’ll have to install signal boosters like before – I’ve circled optimal locations on the map for both the Plant and Reactor levels. Once you get to the bottom, make sure you install the grey cable first, then press the yellow button on the bomb console. It’ll execute a program that will disable any anti-tamper devices. When it’s done, arm the bomb as normal. The screen will show that it’s searching for a connection, which will be established once you mount the router and primary bomb. If you follow the points on the map, the bombs should be armed and synched with no issues.”

“You’re sure?” Bark asked as he took the pack, an eyebrow raised critically at her.

“I’m sure,” she replied, looking up and into his reddish-brown eyes. “I may have screwed up with the ID card, but there’s no way I could do so with the wireless network. Need I remind you that I was working in Security and IT before I joined?” She paused. “Oh, speaking of which, there should be a security override console within the Plant control room. If you throw the three switches inside simultaneously, you’ll be able to bypass security and open the doors. Much easier than inputting codes to force open locks. From there, you’ll head to another maintenance hatch in the Sector 5 exit to get back to the under-Plate and towards the railway. Just keep an eye on the map, and you’ll be fine.”

Bark chuckled softly. “Listen Jess,” he said, shaking his head with amusement. “Aside from the events earlier… you did good, alright?”

Jessie smiled again and then led the three down the left path. At the end was a ladder going down another shaft that led to a lower level. “Biggs is waiting down there,” she said, stepping to the side. “He should have the access hatch leading to the reactor opened by now. Once he’s confirmed that you guys got in, we’ll head back to base.” She started to walk back to the juncture where the paths split, but then turned around, a wistful look in her eyes. “And Tails?” she said to the fox. “Next time, I’ll give you something more decent. I’ll be back at the hideout working on it.”

“…Sure thing,” Tails acquiesced, a smile crossing his lips. Cream waved to her as she, Bark and Tails descended down to the next floor.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Train Troubles



Cream

A small crowd had congregated at the Train Graveyard station as Cream, Bark, Tails, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie arrived to take the train to the Plate. Approaching the gathering, Cream spotted Johnny – the red-haired regular at her bar – in the centre of it all. He was wearing a white, grease-smudged shirt, a faded black, leather vest, a pair of fashionably torn blue jeans and worn travelling shoes. Next to him was a small pack that was filled with all his valuables. 

He stared forlornly into the crowd that gathered around him. “Guess this is it everybody,” he said to them, his voice sombre. “It’s time I left. I’m heading far away… but when I come back here, I’ll be a better man! I promise!”

The crowd, a mix of Humans and Mobians cheered at the redhead’s declaration. A badger – whom Cream also recognized as Johnny’s closest friend – stepped up to him. He raised his bowed head to him. “Johnny, do you really have to go?” he asked, his eyes welling with unshed tears. “What about your mom and dad? What about me? Who’s gonna be my drinking buddy from now on?”

Johnny scoffed at the mention of his parents. “They wanted me gone long ago,” he said bitterly. “Always said I’d never amount to anything, but I’m gonna prove them wrong! And,” he clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder, smiling broadly at him. “You’ll be fine, man. You’ll have to do the drinking for the both of us, but when I get back, you’ll be the first to know all of my tales! I swear it!”

The badger sniffed and started to rub his eyes with the back of his arm. “I-I ain’t cryin’ man,” he said, his voice wavering. “Just-Just something in my eye, that’s all…”

Smiling wistfully, Johnny picked up his pack and started to head into the train car when he spotted Tails and the members of TORNADO just behind the crowd. His smile brightened at the sight of the rabbit. “Cream!” he called to her, waving. 

Cream’s jaw dropped in surprise at the sight of her regular customer. She approached, with the others following closely behind. “Johnny! You’re seriously leaving?!” she said, shocked. “I thought you told your mom whatever to get a rise out of her! I didn’t think you were serious?!” 

“No, he’s serious alright,” Johnny’s badger friend cut in, his face looking glum. “After we all listened in on your conversation between you and the merc last night, he got real quiet, you know? This was probably on his mind for time, but you two talking probably spurred him on-” He paused, his eyes widening and he clapped his palms onto his mouth. “Oooh… I don’t think… I was supposed to mention that actually… Heh heh,” he muttered through covered fingers.

The brawler’s scandalized blush went down her cheeks and across her neck. She scowled dangerously at the crowd, who in turn glared at Johnny’s friend. 

The badger looked down to the ground, abashed. “Oops… Sorry?”

“Cream, I can’t stay here and live my life in this dump, drinking myself to death,” Johnny said suddenly, catching the crowd’s attention. “I gotta do something worthwhile in my life while I still have time to do so. I mean, look at him!” he pointed to Tails. “He joined SOLDIER, just like he said he would! If he can do something amazing like that, I damn well can do the same!” He gathered his stuff and headed for one of the cars near the back of the engine. “This ain’t goodbye! I’ll be back! And you, childhood friend!” he shouted out to the two-tailed fox, who gave the redhead a level stare. “You make sure you take care of Cream! You promised, right?!”

Cream watched as Tails nodded, his eyes steely. “Yeah,” he said.

Johnny smiled heartily and flashed a thumbs-up as he climbed into the passenger car. Soon enough, the train whistle blared out. “11:40 train to Sector 4! Last call for boarding!” the red-dressed conductor yelled out.

“And that’s our cue,” Bark said, tapping his foot impatiently. “Let’s get on.” They hustled to the car at the front of the train and boarded it. Once on board, the bear motioned Biggs, Wedge and Jessie to his side. “Yo, looks like this ain’t no private car,” he whispered quietly. “So split up and act casual.”

The three nodded. Maneuvering around passengers, Biggs opened the car door and ushered his teammates through before shutting it behind him. Those same passengers turned and caught sight of Bark’s Gun-Arm and Tails’ massive sword. Nervously, they began to disperse to the next cars, putting themselves as far away from the dangerous-looking individuals as possible. 

Soon enough, the car was empty, save for a homeless canary bird wrapped in a ratty blanket at the back of the warmly-lit passenger car and a black-haired Human wearing a burgundy suit, a white, starched shirt and a matching burgundy tie with polished black shoes. An embossed Kintobor pin was attached to his lapel. He sat, reading the daily news until he heard the sounds of people shuffling past him. The Human dropped his paper, looked around the near-empty car until he saw the three Mobians. He gave a disdainful sniff. “… Hmph, hoodlums again,” he muttered out loud. He turned to a new page of the periodical and then raised it up in front of him to hide himself from view. “Don’t I just have all the luck on Mobius?”

Bark eyed the man in the suit, hearing his words. His good hand clenched into a fist, which shook with anger. Before Cream could grab his arm to stop him, the bear sauntered up to the Human hidden behind his papers. “Hey,” he said harshly. “You say something about us?”

The man drew the newspaper closer to his face, hoping that the Mobian would get the message and leave him alone. His actions only increased Bark’s ire. “Yo, I said, did you say something about us?!” he growled as he tore the paper away from the now-terrified Human. Relishing the look of fear in the man’s eyes, Bark sneered at him before looking around the train car in an exaggerated manner. “Well, well, look at that,” he whistled sarcastically. “Car’s gone empty all of a sudden… now, I wonder why?”

The red-suited man trembled in his seat, his lip quivering as he tried to say something. Summoning up all his courage, he looked Bark dead in the eye. “It’s… It’s empty… b-because of g-g-guys like you!” he sputtered out, his voice high and squeaky.

Bark suddenly slammed his fist onto the seat beside the man, causing him to tuck his head in between his knees. Despite his fear, his mouth didn’t stop moving. “You’ve… you’ve seen the news, right?” he spat out. “TORNADO says there’ll be more bombings! Only devoted Kintobor employees like me would go to the top plate on a day like today!”

The bear’s eyes narrowed. “You work for Kintobor?” he asked, leveling his gun at the executive’s head and pressing a barrel against his temple. 

Feeling the cold metal against his head, the Kintobor employee trembled harder. “I’m not going to stoop to violence… and I’m not giving you my seat either!” he whimpered loudly, his voice rising in pitch as he cowered in fear.

‘OK, that’s enough!’ Moving quickly, lest Bark pulled the trigger, Cream quickly went up to the bear and grabbed his shoulder. “Bark, stop it!” she said, glaring disapprovingly at him.

The bear cast a sidelong glance at the rabbit, his brows furrowing deeply. “Fine,” he huffed, pulling his arm back. He leaned in close to the sniveling Human. “You’re fucking lucky she was here to stop me, you piece of shit,” he said in an undertone before rising up and heading back, with Cream right behind.

 Tails watched apathetically at the exchange. “You done?” he asked the bear when he returned. 

Bark bared his teeth at the fox, growling. “Why the hell are you always so calm?” he said through gritted teeth. “Are you some kind of robot or something?” The fox ignored his comment.

A moment later, the passenger car rattled suddenly as the couplers between the cars snapped into place, linking them to one another. “Looks like they just finished connecting the cars,” Cream said, looking around. “We’re on our way.” 

The engine hissed and the train began to move. “So, we’re on the train,” Tails said to Bark as he fingered the lone Fire Emerald inserted into his new piece of armor. “Tell me what’s our current situation, and what’s our next target?” 

Bark chortled at the fox’s attitude. “Heh, aren’t you the consummate professional?” he said sarcastically, before dropping his voice to a whisper. “Alright, listen. So the original plan was that we’d coast to Sector 4, get off the train and sneak into the reactor through the under-Plate system, as we discussed last night. But on the morning news, it was announced that Kintobor had upgraded their sensor arrays for all the upper plate ID checkpoints-”

“Which they’re really proud of,” Cream cut it, her hands on her hips.

“Apparently, this upgrade can spot even the most convincing of counterfeits,” Bark continued. “So we can’t use our fake ID’s anymore.”

“Good morning and welcome to the Megapolis Lines,” the intercom buzzed out, cutting into Bark’s speech. “You are currently riding the Magenta Express Line to the upper plate. Our next stop is the Sector 4 Financial District station. The arrival time will be 11:55 am.”

Cream glanced at the digital clock above them. The time read 11:45 am. “So that means we have about three minutes until we reach the checkpoint,” she said.

“Exactly,” Bark said. “So the new plan is that we jump off the train before we hit that point and then find a way to the reactor through the plate’s underside. According to the data Biggs swiped from No. 1, we can use the maintenance walkways and ducts by the security checkpoint to bust our way in instead.”

“OK,” the fox said, pushing off from the wall. “So what should we do in the meantime?”

Bark rolled his eyes. “The hell do I care what you do?” he said, exasperated. “Just sit down and shut the hell up!”

“Sorry,” Tails replied, not sounding sorry at all. “I got this thing against sitting down in trains.” 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Bark groaned, throwing his arms into the air. “Just do whatever you want!” He stepped away and took a seat near the still trembling Kintobor employee. 

Taking that as her cue, Cream traversed down the nearly empty car to the rail monitor screen. “Hey Tails,” she called out. “Come over here! Let’s look at the map monitor together.”

Nodding, Tails advanced up the car. As she watched the fox approach her, Cream thought she heard the whinging of the trembling Human Bark terrorized. But as she strained her ears, she instead heard his breathless exclamations. “Oh man, oh man…” he mumbled to himself elatedly. “I’m gonna brag to everyone at work about this!”

Suddenly, the fox’s sinewy and lithe form filled her vision. He looked down at her and the fighter felt transfixed by his electric blue gaze. ‘So intense…’ Snapping out of her trance, she looked coyly at him. “Hmm…” she said with a finger tapping her chin. “Have you seen this already?  Well, that’s OK.” She turned back towards the monitor, but craned her head to look at the fox from the corner of her eye, a sly smile on her lips. “Come a little closer, I promise I won’t bite.” She had to give her friend credit for keeping a straight face.

What she didn’t expect was for Tails to sidle closer to her, their bodies almost touching. He extended his arm, his hand nearly brushing against the rabbit’s cheek and touched the capacitive screen to activate the unit. He noticed her eyes were still on him. “What?” he asked.

Flustered, Cream hastily turned her head back towards the monitor. “N-nothing,” she said as she brought up the rail map.

At that moment, the lights on the train car started flashing red and the intercom emitted a shrill beeping noise. An error message appeared on the rail monitor. The rabbit jumped back in surprise. “What? That’s odd…” she said to Tails. “The upper plate checkpoint was supposed to be further-”

“Attention all passengers!” a booming, female voice spoke from the intercom. “Type A Security Alert! Unidentified passengers have been confirmed! A search of all cars will be conducted!” 

The intercom repeated its message as Cream looked around, her eyes wide. “What’s happening?” she said, perplexed.

Tails eyes darkened, his eyebrows lowered. “I’ve got a good idea…” he started before the door leading into the next car suddenly opened, revealing a wide-eyed Jessie. 

“Guys! We’re in trouble,” she said, alarmed. “I’ll explain later, but you gotta hurry into the next car!” 

Her eyes darted away from Cream and Tails, which the fighter noticed. ‘She’s hiding something…’ 

Bark stood up, his teeth bared in a mixture of rage and apprehension. “Jessie! What the hell-”

“Look, we don’t have time for this!” the brunette shouted, turning around. “Just get in here before they force it closed and lock it!” She braced herself against the door, holding it in place. “Hurry!”

“Motherfucker,” Bark hissed to himself, hurrying up to the door. “Someone blew it…”

“Unidentified passengers located in Car #1. Preparing to-” The intercom was cut off as it was destroyed from a hail of bullets coming from Bark’s Gun-Arm.

“Shut it!” he snarled, before wheeling on the other two Mobians. “Let’s get moving!”

The three dashed into the next car, with Jessie right behind them. The door forced itself shut and two, thick steel bars slid into place horizontally from the middle, barring access to the previous car. “Car #1 Locked Down. Upgrading to Warning Level #2,” the intercom in the next car announced. “Scanning for unidentified passengers…”

 As soon as they entered the car, Bark rounded on Jessie. “Again, what the hell’s going on here, Jess?!” he shouted. 

The brunette looked down and away from the bear. “Look,” she said, hesitantly. “I think I screwed up, OK? I’m sorry…”

“What!?” he roared, spittle flecking from his mouth. “Whaddya mean, ‘I screwed up’?!”

“Bark, you can yell at her later!” Tails’ calm and collected voice interrupted the ursine’s tirade. He had to shout over the sirens. “For now, let’s get the hell out of here!”

“Fine,” he responded, looking away from the Human before giving her the last word. “Jess, this ain’t no joke, you hear? I want an explanation as to how you messed this up.” 

Wordlessly, she headed to the end of the next car where Biggs and Wedge were waiting. The raven-haired man waved them down. “Hurry up yo!” he shouted amid the panicked commuters trying to make sense of what was going on. 

“Yeah! They’re gonna lock the door!” Wedge added, holding the door to Car #3 open.

“Unidentified passengers located in Car #2, prepare for lockdown.”

“Run!” Jessie yelled.

The group hurried to the end of the car, pushing past the other passengers in their mad dash to the end. They barely scraped through as the door behind them locked into place. “Car #2 locked down. Upgrading to Warning Level #3,” the robotic voice from the speaker announced. A moment later, another message blared through. “Error: ID storage overload. Purging data from Cars 1 and 2 and resuming search once purge is complete.”

Jessie heaved a sigh before facing her leader. “OK, you want an explanation? Then listen up!” she said crossly. “This train is running the older KI Sec-Type-A security system. Once it detects an illegal ID, the system automatically locks down all of the cars until it reaches the station, where Kintobor guards will be waiting. But due to a flaw in the system though, it locks down each car after a 15 second period. So, by moving up to the back of the train, car by car, we can exploit that flaw and continue on with the mission without any hassle.” 

“That doesn’t explain how the fake ID was identified?” Cream said, looking at Jessie. She turned her head away and didn’t respond. 

“Purge Complete. Unidentified Passengers: Moving to back of train. Currently tracking location.” 

“Shit! The second wave has started! Come on!” Jessie yelled, spinning around and running down the train. A rooster suddenly blocked her path. Without missing a beat, the woman slowed down, bent over and threw an uppercut. Her fist connected with his solar plexus and knocked the wind out of him. He dropped to the train floor like a sack of stones amid the screams from the other passengers mingling with the blaring alarms. Jessie hopped over the downed avian and followed Biggs and Wedge into the next car. Cream, Bark and Tails were hot on their heels.

“Car #3 Locked Down. Upgrading to Warning Level 4.”

“Keep running!” Tails yelled over the klaxons as the six sped through to the last car. He and Bark pushed through the throng, while Cream effortlessly vaulted over bodies. She passed by Johnny, who was perched on top of his seat and fearfully watched her and the others shoot by him. The group dove into the last car just as the door shut.

“Car #4 Locked Down! Upgrading to Maximum Security Alert!”

Bark grinned. “Alright! We made it!” he exclaimed, trudging up the aisle to the very back of the train where Biggs Jessie and Wedge were waiting. 

Jessie handed the bear a satchel, to which he secured tightly onto his back. “There are twelve potions, three ethers and three phoenix downs in there, along with some grenades and extra ammunition,” she called over the sirens. Her voice was almost mechanical and devoid of the usual charm she exuded. Cream also noted that the woman was avoiding both her eyes, as well as Tails’. “I’ll carry the rest of the supplies, as well as the bombs. We’ve got two and a half minutes to the checkpoint. If you check the map, there should be a large duct that leads to the plate underside just in front of the sensor array.” She nodded to Wedge, who forced open the door leading out into the tunnel.

“OK,” Bark replied stoically. He turned to the fox and rabbit behind him. “Alright you two, we’re jumping first,” he said to them. “Biggs and the others will follow after us. They’ll guide us to the reactor. Afterwards, they’ll rendezvous with us back at the hideout.”

“Boss, hurry up,” Biggs urged, keeping an eye on his watch. “You guys gotta jump in, like, sixty seconds!”

Cream nodded, her lips pressed into a tight line. “Alright then, I’ll go first,” she said, ignoring the lump in her throat. “Should be no problem.” ‘Yeah, after all, I’m just jumping out of a high-speed train…’ She made her way to the exit, the rushing wind blowing through her hair and ears. She gulped at the sight and then took a glance at her friend, standing behind her. “Scary… huh?” she said to Tails, a hesitant smile crossing her lips.

Tails shook his head and cocked an eyebrow at her. “Too late to be saying that now,” he said. He then frowned. “Why’d you come along anyways?”

The fighter’s eyes widened. ‘Of all the time to ask…’ “Well I came because…” she started, before trailing off into her mind. ‘I came because I want to be -’

“Hey! There ain’t no time for that!” Bark yelled, interrupting Cream’s thoughts. “Jump!”

“Alright, alright, I’m going!” Cream relented, rolling her eyes. She stood at the doorway, glancing back at the two-tailed fox. “Watch closely Tails, I’m gonna jump!” With that, she leaped off, her face in a determined scowl. She rolled on the track upon landing and then flipped back onto her feet.


Jessie

Tails approached the door and glanced back at Bark. “You don’t care if I go first?” he asked. 

Bark cast a hardened look at the mercenary. “A leader always stays ‘til the end,” he replied in an almost sagely tone. “Look, don’t worry about me, just jump off! And don’t get your twin-tailed ass hurt either! This is only the beginning!”

Tails nodded, his eyes flicking over to Jessie for a brief moment before jumping off himself. The woman felt a chill down her spine. 

Bark then stood in front of the car door. He looked at each of the humans with an unreadable expression on his face. “Later! You guys take care of the rest!” he said before jumping off as well. 

Jessie poked her head out to see the bear tuck into an ungainly roll and land with a crouch. She heaved a deep sigh. “OK you two, let’s go,” she said wearily. 

Biggs clapped a hand on her shoulder, which surprised her. “Hey, it’s not your fault,” he said, flashing a roguish grin. “Sides, even with this hiccup, we’re still in the clear! So chin up!” Wedge, beside him, nodded in agreement.

Thanks guys,’ “Alright then boys, let’s do this!” the brunette said, jumping off the train, the other two following right behind her.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Emeralds – A Primer



Cosmo

Cosmo let out a loud, shuddering gasp as her eyes snapped open. Bolting upright and looking around wildly, she soon realized that she was at home, in her bed. “A dream,” she whispered as she took several deep breaths to calm herself from the jolt that roused her. “Just… just another dream.”

The flower girl wiped away strands of green hair from her sweat-drenched brow with the back of her hand. She turned to the bedside table, next to the simple, metal framed bed she slept on, and read the time on the alarm clock that sat upon it. It read 8:22 am. “Ugh… six hours?” she groaned softly as she shifted the covers off of her body and slid towards the edge of the bed. “I feel like I barely slept…” 

Cosmo rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and then stepped onto the cool, oaken hardwood floor. She wore a thin, white nightgown with spaghetti straps that hung loosely on her frame, just below her knees. As she brought her arms up and arched her back into a deep stretch, she  recalled the events that transpired on the previous night. Visiting the broken pipe in Sector 8, the visions and voices, the reactor explosion and finally…

‘A fox with two tails…’ she thought, turning on the light in her room and heading towards an antiquated mirror hanging on the wall opposite her bed. She stared at her bleary-eyed reflection. She had light circles underneath her eyes, her lips were dry and her hair was undone from the hastily-bundled up braid she tied up before flopping into the bed. Shaking her hair, she saw the long, bright green tresses flow down to the middle of her back. The rosebuds on either side of her head were closed up. Tsk-tsking at her appearance reflected on the mirror’s surface, she picked up a brush on top of a aged, five-drawer dresser nearby and started to comb out the tangles in her hair. 

‘The uniform… and the sword on his back… they look exactly like his… I never thought to ask him back then if it was one of a kind or not. It could just be a random coincidence that the fox has the exact same sword… but still…’ 

As she reflected on the mysterious stranger, she separated her hair into three bunches and neatly tied them into a large braid. She then placed a bright, red elastic hairband at the bottom end to keep it in place. Finally, she reached for the pink ribbon that was folded up on the dresser next to where the hairbrush lay, wrapped it around the base of her braid and tied it into a bow. 

Cosmo checked herself over, but then noticed that something was off about her appearance. Peering at her reflection closely, her blue eyes widened as she realized what was missing. “Oh! Wow, I can’t believe I forgot about these!” she said, resisting the urge to smack herself on the forehead. “Sheesh, get a grip, Cosmo.” 

She closed her eyes and felt the buds on either side of her head start to rustle. A second later, she opened her eyes and she saw in her reflection two, blood-red roses in full bloom. Smiling, she shut off the light and opened the curtains in her room to let in what little light passed through the open sections of the Plate above her. “Good morning, Sector 5,” she whispered, a pensive look on her face. Turning away from the window, she disrobed, pulled on a clean duplicate of the dress and jacket she wore yesterday and then set about her morning routine. Entering the bathroom next door and turning on the tap, Cosmo let herself get lost in her thoughts amidst the monotonous tasks of getting ready for the day. 

Man, what a weird dream… Hooded men, bright green eyes and that two-tailed fox… It feels like someone or something is trying to get a message to me, but whatever that message is, it’s coming in pieces. And whatever pieces I do get, I can barely understand them.

Cosmo washed her face and patted it dry on the towel hung near the sink. As she shut off the water, she gripped the taps tightly as a forlorn feeling washed over her. ‘I wish mom was still here to tell me what all of this means…’ Snapping herself out of her funk, the flower girl opened the door and bounded down the stairs to the kitchen to see her mother preparing breakfast. 

She was a woodchuck in her late forties with auburn brown fur and shoulder-length chestnut hair that tied into a high ponytail. Turning to face Cosmo, she wore a simple off-white, floor-length dress and a forest-green apron. Her lips perked upwards. “Good morning, sweetheart,” she said warmly.

“Morning Mom!” Cosmo replied playfully, beaming at the older Mobian. “I hope I didn’t wake you when I got home early this morning?”

The woodchuck shut off the stove and drew near the green-haired girl. “No, but I couldn’t fall asleep anyway until I knew you were home,” she said, her smile dropping slightly. She tenderly placed her hands on Cosmo’s cheeks and cupped them, concerned hazel eyes looking into the flower girl’s own crystal blue. “Are you OK dear?” she asked her, a tinge of worry in her voice. “I-I hope you weren’t anywhere near that explosion?”

‘Sorry mom…’ “Nope, I was on the Sector 3 plate,” she lied effortlessly, doing her very best to hide her guilt. “It took forever to get on a train home – what’s usually a half hour’s trip took me almost three!” She pouted, hoping it would help sell the lie further. “I would have called you but-” 

Her mother’s stern look cut her off mid-sentence. “But nothing,” she said plainly. “You should have called – what if something happened to you? What if-” she halted, looking away from Cosmo. She sighed and then tenderly looked back at her adoptive daughter’s face. Her hands lingered on the flower girl’s cheek and she leaned into their warmth.

“Never mind, at least you’re home safe and that’s all that matters,” her mother finally said, her hands sliding off. She then entered the kitchen and returned with a plate of sunny-side up eggs, two slices of bread topped with fresh fruit and a small bowl of oatmeal. “Eat up,” she said, setting the dishes on the well-used wooden kitchen table. “You know what I always say: Breakfast is –“

“The most important meal of the day, yeah mom, I know,” Cosmo groaned, rolling her eyes. Picking out a fork, a knife and a spoon from the cutlery drawer on the opposite side of the wall, she took a seat in her favourite of the three chairs surrounding the little table – the one facing the window overlooking the vast and beautiful garden that she tended to- and began to eat, her mind still preoccupied with the dream. 

‘It’s how it ended that’s getting to me; I saw myself falling through the roof of the church and into the flower bed. Could that mean something?’ she paused, her finger tapping her chin in thought while chewing her food. Her mother returned to the table and placed a glass of orange juice near her. ‘I guess I know where I’m going to be today.

Cosmo wolfed down the rest of her meal and swigged down her glass of orange juice. “Mom, I’m heading to the church!” she called, rising up from her seat. “I probably won’t be back until the end of the day. I’ll take yesterday’s leftovers with me.”

Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head in exasperation. ”Alright Cosmo,” she said wearily. “Just make sure you’re safe out there, OK? And try to be home early, please?” 

The flower girl shot her mother a cheeky grin and kissed her on the cheek as she passed her by. She headed to the fridge, took out her uneaten dinner from the previous night and packed it into an insulated lunchbox. Grabbing her basket and her retractable staff from the table near the front door, she yelled out a goodbye, opened the door and then left for the church.


????

Tails opened his eyes. 

Instead of seeing the room that was loaned to him since his arrival at Vanilla’s Haven, he saw a vast expanse of white space. The fox blinked and scanned the expansive and endless void for a moment until he made a logical conclusion. ‘I must still be asleep,’ he thought. 

“Hey,” a voice called out from behind him. It echoed lightly within the expanse

Startled, the fox whirled around and grasped for his sword only to find that it wasn’t on his back. Eyes narrowed, he warily faced the newcomer. It was wearing a black robe and hood that shrouded its features, save for its feet and hands. It wore a pair of white gloves and red and white sneakers. The figure was only a few feet shorter than he was and its voice, though muffled by the garments it wore, was slightly familiar to him. 

“Do you know what you’re doing here?” the shadow asked. “Do you know… who you really are?”

“…Of course I know who I am,” Tails said, his own voice echoing throughout the space. “I’m Tails, a former member of SOLDIER. I quit them and became a mercenary.”

The figure leaned forward tilted its head to the side as if it were scrutinizing the fox. “So, you say you know who you are and what you’re doing,” it said. “But is that really what you should be doing; fooling around and taking the odd job here and there?” Straightening up, he raised a gloved hand, pointing a finger at the warrior. “The problems you have right now are serious. Much more serious than you’ve let yourself believe. They won’t go away just by thinking of them, nor can you change anything by just sitting back and looking at it.” 

Before he could ask, an intense pain erupted inside the Tails’ mind. He screamed out and dropped to his knees as he clutched his head with both hands, thrashing about in an attempt to relieve his suffering. “What… What do… you…? What are you talking about!?” he said, gritting his teeth in agony.

The figure dropped his hand. Instantly, Tails felt the pain stop, as if his head was released from a tight vise. “Below you. Look into it and tell me what you see,” the shadowy instructed.

Still on his knees, the fox looked down and saw a reflection of himself, with eyes closed and body still. Tails felt the hairs on his neck stand up as his doppelganger started to open its eyes. The right eye was his usual electric blue, but with silver and gold flecks dancing around the iris. The iris of the left eye however was a harsh, light green, the pupil a slit instead of a round shape. The eye stared back at Tails with malice. “What is this?” he questioned, feeling an unnatural tingle going down his spine.

“Something that you should know and that you should have realized,” the voice said cryptically. “What you might be feeling now is the realization that the worst thing imaginable has happened.”

“What has?” Tails asked, looking back at the hooded person and his patience nearing its breaking point. “Tell me, WHAT HAS?!” As he shouted, the white space around him started to disintegrate, leaving behind nothing but darkness. 

As the degradation inched closer and closer to the two, the wraith-like being brought up a gloved digit to its lips and motioned the warrior to be silent. “The worst has happened,” he repeated. 

“It started moving.”

Before Tails could open his mouth, the darkness swallowed him whole. The last sound he heard before blacking out was a loud thump…


Tails

Tails awoke to the sound of a fist pounding the door. He was back at Vanilla’s Haven, in the room Cream loaned him. “Wake up foxy! Meet downstairs at the bar, it’s time!” Bark’s voice called out from behind the room door. 

Getting up, the fox shook the cobwebs out of his head and wiped the cold sweat off his brow. ‘Man, what a dream,’ he thought as he headed into the washroom to refresh himself. Returning to the room, he pulled on his SOLDIER uniform, strapped on his armor and headed downstairs to the bar which was abuzz with activity.

Biggs, Wedge and Jessie had just departed as the Ex-SOLDIER walked in. Bark was sitting at one of the tables with a grizzled-looking hound. The two were speaking in low tones over papers that were scattered all over the surface. Cream did a once over of the bar to ensure that things were locked and secured tightly. Hope sat at the bar counter with some paper and a box of crayons. 

Seeing that everything was in order, she picked up a carafe filled with coffee and walked up to a table on the far end of the bar where a woman was sitting with a mug in her hand. Tails recognized the Human as Cream’s next door neighbor.

“Thanks for taking care of Hope on such short notice,” the rabbit said to the woman apologetically. She refilled her coffee and placed two packets of cream on the table. “I mean, what with the fiasco going on between the two of you and Johnny-”

The thin, auburn-haired woman shook her head. ”No, no, it’s alright,” she cut in, her voice a high, nasally tone that made Tails feel slightly uncomfortable. “It gives me something else to think about besides the fact that my troublemaking son is leaving home… It’s a good distraction.” 

Cream took her hand, patted it gently and shot her a gentle smile. “Don’t worry, everything will work out,” she said optimistically, turning around to return the coffee pot to the percolator. The woman smiled ruefully at her retreating figure and then stared forlornly into the steaming mug of black liquid.

In the midst of the conversation, Tails retrieved his sword and sheathed it. He approached the bartender and snatched a piece of toast from a plate that she set on the bar counter in front of her. “Oh, good morning Tails!” she said, turning and smiling at him. “I was just talking to the neighbor. The person we usually ask to watch Hope is feeling ill, but Johnny’s mother stepped up and agreed to help, thank goodness.” She tucked a strand of hair behind one of her long ears. “So… I trust you slept well?”

“Yeah, I slept alright.” Tails said as he took a bite out of the toasted bread. Smirking, he added, “But if I was next to you, I’d probably sleep a lot better.”

Cream’s eyebrows shot straight up in shock. “Um… I-I don’t know what you mean,” she stammered, turning her reddening face away from the fox, who let out a chuckle at her expense. Forcing herself to stop blushing like a schoolgirl, Cream looked back at the fox, her eyes alight with determination. “Tails, I’m going with you today,” she said, her mouth set in a grim line. “It’s all hands on deck for the mission, since Kintobor’s probably gonna throw everything at us. And before you argue,” she cut in, seeing his mouth open. “I’ll be fine. Besides, I want to see the fruits of my training. I want to know if I’ve done enough to really stick it to them, you know?”

Closing his mouth, Tails nodded. “Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from,” he said. He looked over her shoulder towards Bark and the hound sitting with him. “Who’s that guy he’s talking to?” he asked. 

“Oh, that’s the Weapon Shop owner from down the street,” Cream replied, inspecting her gloves as she spoke. “That reminds me; Bark wanted to talk to you about something. You should probably see what it’s about.”

Finishing the light breakfast and wiping the crumbs off of his muzzle, Tails headed over to the table where the polar bear and the hound were sitting at. “Bark,” he said, crossing his arms. “You wanted to see me about something?”

Bark raised his hand and motioned him to wait. “OK, so we’ll see you in a few,” he said to the hound, who got up from his seat, shook the bear’s hand with a toothy grin and then left. The bear then turned to the mercenary, his lips set into a tight line. “Today, we’re hitting the No. 5 Energen Reactor and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant,” he said. “As we predicted, Kintobor has upgraded their security to make things harder for people to get up and down the Plate. We have a workaround for it, so I’ll fill you in on the full details once we get on the train.” 

He paused, took off his hat and placed it on the table. His eyes on the red and white cap, he then ran his hand through his  long, yellow-white hair before exhaling loudly. 

Tails surmised that there was something else he wanted to say. “Spit it out, Bark,” he addressed sharply. “You didn’t ask for me just to state the obvious, so what’s up?”

“Alright, look,” the polar bear started, sounding incredibly uncomfortable. “Before the next mission… there’s something I wanna ask you.”

“Go on?”

The bear started to squirm in his seat.  “I, uh… I don’t really know how to use Emeralds!” he blurted out, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “I mean – I’m not stupid, I know what they are and all, I just never found a use for ‘em.” 

The fox cocked an eyebrow at his employer. “Is that so?” he said casually. “So, how have you been-”

“Look,” Bark cut in through gritted teeth. “I’ll give back the one you found yesterday at No. 1… but just teach me more about them, alright? We got time? I’m sure it won’t take long…” 

Tails mulled over Bark’s request. ‘Well… as I always say, the more you know, the better your chances of survival…’ “…Fine, I’ll go over it with you,” he said resignedly. He twisted back towards Cream, who watched the conversation whilst nibbling idly on a piece of toast. “Hey Cream, come over here,” he called. “I dunno what you know, but a refresher wouldn’t hurt, right?” 

“R-right,” she said, coming over to the table. Tails noted the hesitance in her voice, but paid it no mind as the three Mobians crowded around the table. 

Tails extracted the two hexagonal green gems from the linked slots near the base of his sword and placed them on the table, side by side. They glimmered in the warm, yellow lighting above. The fox stared down at them as he collected his thoughts and he suddenly saw a flash of white cross his vision. Closing his eyes and rubbing them with his thumb and forefinger, he saw an image form beneath the lids. A flash of silver spines, the licks of red-orange flames and a cruel, pale green eye with a slitted pupil.

His eyes snapped open and he could feel his heart pounding inside of his chest. ‘I… I must still be a little tired,’ he reasoned. He looked up and saw Bark and Cream looking at him; the former had a perplexed expression, while the latter gazed on with concern. “I’m fine,” he told them, clearing his throat and launching into his explanation. “I’ll be brief since we’re on a time crunch, so try to keep up.”

“As you probably already know, Emeralds are created when Energen condenses to the point of crystallization. This process usually takes years to accomplish naturally, though with the advent of the Energen Reactors and RINGTEK plants, they’ve become more of a byproduct of the refinement and manufacturing process than anything else.”

“Now as for the types of Emeralds, there are five of them, each a different colour: Green, Yellow, Red, Blue and Purple,” Tails pointed to the two Emeralds on the table. “Green ones are Magic Emeralds. They’re the most common and abundant types of Emeralds you’ll find. Each Green Emerald has its own unique magic associated with it. For example,” he pointed to the Ice Emerald. “If you look closely into this Ice Emerald, you can see tiny crystals inside of it. The same goes for all Emeralds you’ll find; in fact, you can see its effect most of the time by just looking at it.” 

“So then,” Bark interrupted, pulling out the Emerald he swiped from Tails at the No.1 Reactor and placing it on the table beside the other two. “What’s this one do? All I see is some kinda green light inside of it. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it does? Pun not intended, of course.”

“…That one’s a Restore Emerald, it allows you to cast Cure magic to heal wounds,” Tails replied, gazing flatly at the bear’s lack of witticism.  “It’s much more effective than using Potions, but you want to be careful not to depend on it too much. Trying to summon up more Mana than you have will lead to a condition called ‘Mana Fatigue,’ wherein one feels exhausted due to magic overuse. You don’t ever want that to happen while you’re in the thick of battle, so try to be conservative with your magic. Only use it when you need to. If it ever comes to the point where you’re burnt out and there’s trouble, drinking a phial of Ether will replenish your Mana.” 

Tails looked past Cream’s shoulder to the tele-crate on the wall which noted the time. ’10:00 am. Based on what Bark and Jessie said last night, we’re taking the 11:40 train on the Magenta Line to upper Sector 4. I’ll also have to account for the time we’ll spend at that weapon shop too…’ “We’ll go over the remaining four types of Emeralds very briefly and then I’ll explain how to equip and use them. Shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.”

Watching them nod their heads at him, Tails continued. “So, yellow represents the Ability type. Ability Emeralds bestows specialized skills when equipped and tapped into. So, with a Steal Emerald for example, it will give you the knowledge on the arts of thievery. The only downsides are that Abilities have a bit of a windup time, since you have to tap into the Emerald in order to use it and secondly, to keep using these Abilities, you’ll have to keep the Emerald equipped at all times, so it can affect your configurations.” 

“Next are the Red Emeralds, which represents Summon magic. This type of magic is much more powerful than normal magic used with Green Emeralds. Summon Emeralds call forth the entity locked within them to aid you in battle. Calling forth these creatures requires a tremendous amount of Mana, so expect to feel gassed afterwards. This type of magic is best suited for extreme measures.”

“Fourth on the list are blue, or Support Emeralds. These can only be equipped onto linked Emerald slots on weapons and armor; placing them in single slots will do nothing. Equipping a Blue Emerald in conjunction with a Green, Yellow or Red Emerald will bestow supportive effects – either passive or active – to the linked Emerald. For instance, equipping a Green Emerald in a linked slot with the active supportive Emerald, All, you can use multi-target types of magic instead of single-target spells. The main drawback is that its strength is proportional to the number of targets. The same idea goes for restorative magic too, so it might be wise to gauge the situation first before using area of effect spells.”

“Most active Support Emeralds have a cooldown period before they can be reapplied to spells, summons or Abilities, so it’s something to be aware of. Passive supports, like Elemental, have no cooldown periods. When linked to elemental magic, the Elemental passive bestows a weapon with an elemental attack or an armor with an elemental defense. Another example is Counter Support, which counters an enemy’s attacks with the paired Emerald.”

“The last type, Purple, belongs to a catch-all category called Independent Passive. Independent Passive Emeralds can increase your physical or mental capabilities, bolster your stamina or Mana reserves, or grant passive abilities such as detecting ambushes from behind or protecting a vulnerable ally. They can’t be linked with anything and you can’t interact with them like the other four. You just set it and forget it. You two with me so far?”

Cream nodded with rapt attention, while Bark did the same, albeit uncertainty. 

“OK, so to equip Emeralds, you’ll notice that most weapons and armor have small holes built into them designed for Emerald use – those are called slots. Looks to me like both of your weapons have a single slot to equip Emeralds, so take one from the table and equip them.”

Cream picked up the Lightning Emerald and installed it into the slot on her glove, located on the top of her hand. Bark inserted the Ice Emerald into the slot on the left side of his Gun-Arm.

Tails gave her a small smile. “Good,” he said, sounding pleased. “Now, how do you guys feel?”

Bark hesitantly put a finger on the gem and suddenly jolted backwards as if he received a shock. “Woah, this is awesome!” he said excitedly. “I can feel the power… and something else too?” He closed his eyes and his brows scrunched together. “I feel… a little weaker? What the hell?”

“So do I,” Cream parroted the bear’s sentiments.

Tails scoffed and placed a hand on his hip. “Well that’s the thing,” he said to the two, a smug smile on his lips. “There’s always a catch when it comes to obtaining great power and equipping an Emerald is no different. Magic and Summon Emeralds both enhance your magical output for effective spellcasting. To do that however, it draws and converts some of your own physical strength. That’s why you feel a bit weaker when you equip one.” 

He saw Bark’s snout twist with confusion, and so he reworded his statement. “Simply put, right now you’re stronger mentally but weaker physically. In a sense, equipping Emeralds is kinda like holding a double-edged sword. It’s a bad idea to overload yourself with lots of Magic and Summon Emeralds, but if you mess around and combine them with the other three types, you’ll find the perfect setup suitable to your fighting style.”

“Using magic is easy; just place your hand on it and concentrate on drawing the energy out. The knowledge locked within the Emerald will assist you with accumulating and shaping the magic with your Mana. Once you’re ready, call the spell to fire it off. Everyone has their own unique style for using magic, so how you use it is up to you. You can strengthen a spell by pouring more Mana into it, but it’s ill-advised to do so. A stronger spell may make a difference in a fight, but the trade-off may also leave you worse for the wear. Just trust in the Emerald’s guidance and you’ll be fine. For Commands, tapping into it will allow you to use them. Just remember that it takes a bit of time for the ability to activate. Finally, to use Active Supports, place your hand on it first and then slide it over the linked slot to the other Emerald before using it. Doing so will add the effect of the Support Emerald to the linked Emerald,” Tails paused to let the information sink into the two Mobian’s heads before reaching the end of his tutorial. “Place the Emeralds back on the table.”

The two removed the gems from their slots and did as instructed. “Now, one last thing,” Tails said, pointing to the three gems sitting side by side. “When equipped into slots, Emeralds synergize with your body. So as you grow stronger, they grow stronger too. Eventually, they’ll grow enough to grant access to new spells and abilities, while reducing cooldown periods and Mana consumption. When they reach the apex of their growth, they are said to be Mastered. A Mastered Emerald grants the user full access to its power, while providing a wealth of additional bonuses, or so I’m told.” 

Tails paused in his explanation suddenly and he crossed his arms. ‘Come to think of it, I’ve never Mastered an Emerald as of yet…’ he mentally admitted, his brow scrunched together. Noting both that time was short and that Cream and Bark were staring at him, he pushed the thought out of his mind. “So, when an Emerald is Mastered, a chunk of it breaks off and creates a fresh duplicate of the original that can be used and grown all over again. And that’s my lecture,” the fox concluded, taking a breath. “That’s all I can teach you, the rest comes with practice. Honestly, it’s not that tough once you get the hang of it.”

Cream blinked a few times, before nodding slowly in understanding. “I think I get it,” she said, a grin slowly creeping up on her face. “At least, I understand this more than I did before. Thanks Tails!”

Bark’s scowl said otherwise. “What the hell is all this ‘It’s not that tough’ crap?” he said, leveling a glare at the Ex-SOLDIER. He threw his head back and groaned loudly. “Shi—–t! I’m freaking clueless…” he said, shaking his head as he left the table for the door. “…Anyway, it’s about time to shove off. We’re heading to the weapons shop down the street. That guy I was talking to has some stuff ready for today’s operation – he’s one of us, don’t worry,” he added, noticing the fox’s skeptical gaze. 

Turning his attention away from Tails, he approached his daughter sitting on the stool by the bar counter. “Now Hope, Daddy has to go out and save the world, alright?” he said to her gently. “So you make sure you be a good girl to Mrs. Marino and don’t cause trouble for her, otherwise I won’t bring back any ice cream. Do you understand?”

The child perked up at the mention of the frozen sweet. “I promise that I’ll be really, really good, Papa!” she chirped happily. 

“And keep an eye on the store too, kiddo,” Cream added in winking as she followed Bark to the door. Tails inserted the Ice and Lighting Emeralds back into the Buster Sword and shoved the Restore Emerald into his pocket. He waved lazily at the little girl before joining the others.

“Okay! Good Luck!” the girl said cheerfully before returning to her drawing.