Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 35

Chapter 35: End of the Line



Cosmo

It’s official: I am part of the weirdest group of Mobians that the world has ever seen.

It was one of many thoughts that ran through Cosmo’s mind as she, the Ex-SOLDIER Tails, the bartender/fighter Cream, the one-armed gunner Bark and Green XIII – a Mobian encased in living crystal and their newest ally – descended the stairs from the 68th to the 66th floor. Half an hour ago, she was certain that she would have been subjected to frightening experiments. Now, with every step she took downward, she felt closer to freedom and it was all because of her new friends.

Friends…’ she found herself lamenting as they approached the door to the 66th. ‘Apart from my ex, I don’t remember the last time I had any real friends, at least not of my age.’ She thought of Viv, the elderly alligator living in Sector 6’s Wall Market. Her mind then turned to her mother and the little girl who was now in her care. Cosmo wondered if they were alright as the group stole through the shadowed hallways towards the bank of elevators leading to their ultimate escape.

Tails jammed on the button to call the lift. “Nothing to do but wait,” he said to the others, who stood idling by the elevator doors. Bark and Cream both looked tense and Green XIII’s crystal face was as impassive as when Cosmo first saw him. Tails soon crossed his arms and began tapping his foot impatiently, a motion which the flower girl found interesting.

Again, just like him,’ she thought, tilting her head curiously at the action. ‘If he weren’t a fox, he’d be the spitting image of-

Her thoughts were cut off by the ding of the elevator. It was followed by a second and then finally a third. The indicator lights above the door of each elevator flashed from red to blue. All three doors opened at the same time with each car revealing a large platoon of soldiers that quickly surrounded them. Flanking them were four very familiar Mobians wearing black suits.

“Well, well,” Vector of the Chaotix whistled. His arm was bandaged and in a sling from the fight back in Sector 7. The lighting above him illuminated the large gold chain around his neck. “I believe you guys are looking to go up, not down.”

On his left, Knuckles scoffed. “I’m sorry to say that it’s the end of the line for you all,” he bristled at the group. He leveled an icy glare at them all. “I’m sure you all had a very fun time roaming around these floors. I’ll give you credit though,” he looked directly in Tails’ eyes. “I was impressed by the hack job you pulled off, fox. Had you not done that, we would have apprehended you before you reached the 62nd.”

Mighty stood by Knuckles’ left side, a dark look cast upon his face. He appeared to be struggling with something, but Cosmo couldn’t care less about what it could be. She recognized Espio, who stood beside the armadillo. His expression was as severe as Knuckles’. As she heard Tails growl softly from her right side, she felt her fists ball up tightly. ‘Why did I not see this coming?’ she thought angrily, her eyes squeezed shut to prevent tears from falling. ‘Knuckles or Kintobor wouldn’t let us go that easily! I should have said something!

“Alright, enough dawdling,” Mighty said after a brief pause. He motioned to the guards. “Round ‘em up, we’re off to see the President.” As the guards surrounded them, confiscated their weapons and Emeralds and bound their arms, Mighty then added. “Oh, and as for the girl in the green and white dress? Take her away separately.”

“No!” Tails called out as Cosmo felt herself being roughly tugged away from the group by two MP’s. 

“Let me go!” she hollered, struggling against their grip. However, they were too strong for her to break free. Helplessly, she watched as her captured friends filed into the elevator, the door sliding shut behind them silently. 


Green XIII

As he ascended the elevator with his escorts to the president’s office on the top floor of the Kintobor Building, Green XIII reflected on the events that led him to this moment. With his arms bound tightly behind his back, all the golem could do at this moment was think.

A mere month ago, he was plucked from his home near the ruins of Mobotropolis and whisked to this giant metropolis on the other side of the world to be experimented on. All due to the fact that one of Kintobor’s scientists accidentally discovered the scaling of green crystals on his arms when he had forgotten to cover them up during a routine visit to the ruins.

That one little careless act had many consequences,’ the golem thought as the elevator they were on stopped at the 69th floor. ‘I wonder how everyone is holding up during my absence? Hopefully they don’t give Grandfather too much of a hard time…’ His train of thought was broken as he was led out by the crocodile and a group of soldiers who were torn between fulfilling their duties and shying away from his hulking stone form. The golem suppressed a sigh as he tramped across the elevator lobby, past the stairwell and out to the main reception area. 

The space was simple, but lavish and looked fitting for an executive suite. On either side of the door were two, elegantly crafted wooden desks, the lights above reflecting off of the polished, dark brown stains. Through an open door to his right, he could see a set of tall filing cabinets. Ahead was a stairwell that curved up to the right and lined with fine, violet carpeting. Its mirror lay on the left side of the floor. A litany of colorful plants were tastefully strewn around the space. The sight – coupled with what he knew of Kintobor’s destructive policies towards the environment – made Green XIII’s stomach twist in a knot. 

The guards had him stop at the desk on his right. “Alright, I can take it from here,” the crocodile said. The soldiers saluted and then turned back towards the elevators. Turning back to his charge, the reptile studied Green XIII. “Man… aren’t you an odd one?” he commented, cocking his head to the side.

Green didn’t respond to the croc’s small talk. Instead, the golem stared out of the windows on the opposite side of the floor. Gazing past the transparent egg-like facade and the illuminated city skyline, he focused on a point on the darkened horizon – towards what he assumed was directly southwest of Megapolis. The craggy extrusions that made up his eyebrows furrowed deeply. 

Will I ever see my home again?’ he wondered.

A moment later, the other three Mobians he became acquainted with only an hour ago arrived, each handled by another Mobian wearing the same navy blue suit. ‘An hour of freedom… And now these three will suffer the same fate as I, I suppose,’ he mused sardonically as he glanced at them briefly.

A brunette woman with tanned skin and a willowy frame soon emerged from the filing room and sat down in a plush, leather chair. She pressed a button on the desktop phone. “Sir, I have the intruders here,” she said into the speaker, her hazel-green eyes narrowing darkly at the group from behind a pair of black, rectangular glasses. 

“Send them in, Monica,” another voice – reedy yet powerful – responded. Green XIII felt himself being roughly shoved up the right staircase and into the president’s office. It was as big as the floor below it, with a high domed ceiling and tall windows giving an unobstructed, 360 degree view of the city. Before the golem could marvel at this, he was pushed towards the enormous, tech-laden desk at the back of the room.

President Kintobor sat in his chair, his greying moustache upturned into a snarl. “When I first met you at the No. 5 Reactor, I didn’t realize then just how difficult you all were to kill,” he said, a vein popping on his forehead as the group came to a halt in front of his desk. “Since then, you’ve escaped the destruction of Sector 7 and even managed to get through this building – MY building.”

He stood up and started pacing behind his desk. Green XIII watched as his hands clenched and unclenched as he spoke. “I would honestly be impressed if I wasn’t so infuriated,” Gerald continued, his voice quaking behind held back rage. “YEARS of genetic research has now been lost, my security systems and armed forces have been made a laughingstock and the central computer for the Roboticizer has been completely destroyed!”

“But all that pales in comparison to the fact that you nearly, NEARLY took off with the company’s most prized asset!” he bellowed, slamming his gnarled fists onto his desk with such force that the noise echoed around the circular room. His glare, hidden behind his mirrored lenses, then centred on the Ex-SOLDIER. “I am going to kill and skin each and every one of you to use as my new personal flooring for this insult!”

“…Where is she?”  Tails responded coolly to the threats, his electric-blue eyes never wavering from the President’s own. 

The President paused to regain his composure and Green XIII arched his head towards the fox once more. An uncomfortable feeling coursed through him – the same one he had when he formally introduced himself to the former SOLDIER and his friends after they had finished off 512. ‘Something is off about him…’ he thought, studying Tails. ‘I get the feeling that I know him from somewhere…

“…You need not worry about her, fox,” the president said, forcing Green XIII to pay attention. The human’s reedy, elderly tone took on a calm, yet venomous edge. “The Seedrian is in a safe place.”

“The hell are you on about?” Bark snapped back, his hackles raised. He struggled in his bonds and was held back by the sour-looking armadillo. 

“Oho, so the vermin knows not of the Seedrians, hm?” President Kintobor responded mockingly, placing his hands on his desk and leaning forward, his jaw jutted outward. Bark snarled at the human and thrashed about, trying to shake the armadillo off of him, but he held fast. 

“I suppose I should tell you, but be not surprised if your limited intelligence cannot comprehend this,” the President continued through gritted teeth as he ignored the frenzied bear. “We two – Mobians and Humans – are NOTHING compared to the Seedrians.” He straightened up and resumed his pacing behind his desk. “They lived thousands of years ago, cultivating and nurturing the planet into what it is today. Without them, we would not exist. Today, they are nothing but a footnote in history.”

“So, the Seedrians do exist after all,” Green XIII popped in, his rough and gravelly voice catching everyone’s attention. “And this lady is one of them? Hm… this is most profound…”

Kintobor stared at Green XIII, though his mirrored lenses prevented the golem from seeing the old man’s eyes. “…Yes, she is the last Seedrian,” the President finally said, his tone more measured and controlled than before. “The Seedrians, or Ancients as they are known, will lead us to the ‘Fertile Grounds.’ I expect much from her.”

“The Fertile Grounds?” The golem replied, astonished. He arched a craggy eyebrow upwards. “Surely, you jest. It’s nothing more than a legend?”

“…Be that as it may,” Kintobor replied, the edge returning to his voice. “The research indicates that the legend may have some basis of reality. And if it’s real…”

“Then there’s gotta be Energen!” Bark interrupted, horror-stricken.

“Precisely!” Kintobor said, a wide grin stretching across his lips. His bushy moustache curled upward, matching his smile. “And that’s where the Energen Reactors and the next and greatest iteration of RINGTEK will be manufactured. The abundant Energen will just flow out on its own, driving down extraction costs and allowing for optimal profits.” His tone became more hurried and excited and he spread his arms out wide, his face the picture of rapture. “And that is where Neopolis will be built, the crown jewel of Kintobor Power Incorporated-”

“Oh fuck that!” the polar bear cut in once again. “That’s never gonna happen! Quit dreaming and wake up!”

The president strode up to Bark and pulled off his mirrored spectacles. He got up close to the bear and stared into his eyes with cold hatred. “Dreaming?” he sneered, grey eyes aflame with malice. “I assure you that this is no dream, but merely a reality that will happen. It’s a shame,” he straightened up and placed his spectacles onto his face. “That neither you nor your friends will live to see that come to pass.” He paused, letting the words sink in before continuing. “Nagus needs new data to restart his research and I can’t think of better candidates than you four.”

Green’s shoulders slumped. ‘And there it is…’ he thought sadly. ‘We’re all doomed, it seems.

“This meeting has concluded. Take them away,” Kintobor ordered, turning away from the group and staring out of the window.

As he was led away from the President, Green heard Bark roar loudly. “Hey! I ain’t done with you yet!” the bear spat as he struggled against the armadillo’s tight grip. “You think you can get away with this?! The blood of all of the Mobians you’ve either killed or roboticized are on your friggin’ hands! The blood of all of Mobius itself is on YOUR HANDS!”

Green missed the rest of the exchange as he was pulled down the stairs to the reception hall by the reptile. They soon joined the echidna and the chameleon by the elevators. Minutes later, the armadillo dragged in Bark – who was still struggling with his bonds – and joined the throng that congregated in the vestibule.

“Alright, lock ‘em up in the holding cells on the 67th,” the echidna instructed, pressing the call button. “Two to a cell.”


Tails

“Tails?”

The fox stared at the door of the cell that he and Cream shared, chewing a morsel of stale bread as he tried to come up with any options for escape. Swallowing, he set the tray of food on his lap next to him and turned to her when she called. 

She lay on the stiff cot to his left, looking up at him. Tails could see the spots on her body where she was either bruised or cut during the several battles spanning the past 72 hours. Despite the battle injuries, her beautiful face still radiated an air of optimism and a glimmer of hope continued to shine in her amber coloured eyes. “What’s up,” he answered quickly, realizing that he was staring.

“So, can we get out of here?” she asked.

He smirked. “Leave it to me, I’ll get us out of here,” he replied, giving her a thumbs-up. She flashed him a smile in response and lay back. 

Inwardly, Tails wasn’t entirely sure if they could get out. Weapon-less and without Emeralds, he didn’t feel as confident as he sounded. He went to the wall on the opposite side and sat on the floor. The back of his head bumped softly against the wall and he closed his eyes. 

We were almost out of here,’ he brooded, his eyebrows knitted. ‘And now… well now, we’re screwed. There’s no way out of this one.’ He sighed under his breath. ‘I wonder how Cosmo is doing?

Just then, he heard a tap-tap-tap on the other side of the wall, followed by a sweet, feminine voice. “Tails?”

“Cosmo?! You’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” she replied. 

Tails’ lips quirked. He suddenly felt a warmth envelop his body upon hearing her voice. He didn’t understand this feeling, but he relished in the comfort it gave him.

He heard her shift on the other side of the wall. “I knew you’d come for me,” she said warmly.

The fox scoffed in response. “Of course I would,” he said. “I’m your bodyguard, remember?”

“The deal was for one date, right?”

“Excuse me, but what’s this about a date?” came Cream’s voice. There was a frosty bitterness in it.

Tails suddenly felt a chill in the room. ‘Oh man…

“Wha-! Cream!?” Cosmo exclaimed. Tails could practically hear her do a double take. “Wh-Y-you’re… You’re there too!?”

“I’m sorry for barging in,” she said, not feeling very sorry at all. Her tone then shifted. “But, I do have a question for you Cosmo.” 

“…What is it?”

“Do the Fertile Grounds really exist?”

There was a pregnant pause that loomed in the air before Cosmo answered again. “… I don’t really know,” she answered. “But what little I do know comes from what my mother told me. My real mother.” 

Tails and Cream heard Cosmo stand up. She began to pace around the room. “She told me that the Seedrians were born of Mobius and take root in her soil to speak to her and unlock its secrets,” she spoke. “And… then the Seedrians will return to the Fertile Grounds; a land that promises supreme happiness.”

“…What does that mean?” Cream asked after taking the flower girl’s words in, her head tilted in wonder. 

“Beyond her words… I don’t really know…”

“…Speak with Mobius?” Tails butted in. He folded his arms and furrowed his brows, trying to make sense of it all.

“Just what does Mobius say, anyway?” Cream added.

“It’s too noisy to hear on a regular day,” came Cosmo’s response. Tails and Cream heard her sit on the hard bed in her cell. “There’s too much going on and too many people about. That’s why I can’t hear what they are saying…”

“What about now?” Tails asked

“Well… I’ve only ever heard it at the Church in the Sector 5 Slums,” Cosmo said. “But I’m sure if I leave this city, I’ll be able to hear it better.” She let out a long sigh and the cot creaked as she lay down on it. “Mom – my real mom – would always say that I would leave Megapolis, speak with Mobius and find my Fertile Ground.” Her voice started to crack. “I-I thought I would stop hearing her voice as I grew up, but…”

Silence permeated the space once more. The fox’s gaze went towards his childhood friend, who was staring at the wall separating their cell from Cosmo’s. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, her brows were creased and her lips were downturned. She put a hand on a spot behind her right ear and rubbed it absently. A memory suddenly flashed in Tails’ mind; he saw the reactor on Mount Mobius, where a younger Cream was kneeling by the body of an older rabbit with caramel-coloured hair. ‘That’s right, Cream lost her mother too…’ he recalled.

There was a knock on the opposite wall, causing Cream to snap out of her reverie. “Yo, Tails? Cream?” Bark’s baritone voice called out. 

“You alright?” Tails responded, keeping his voice low so that the guards couldn’t hear him. “And keep it down, will ya?”

“Ah shit, sorry,” came the bear’s response. “Yeah, I’m good. Oh, and our crystal friend is here as well. Say hi man.” 

“…Hello,” Green XIII greeted dryly.

Tails heard the polar bear grunt as he shifted on the floor. “So foxy, what’s the plan?” he asked.

The fox let out a long exhale of breath at the question. “Got nothing yet,” he replied. He tilted his head to the dim light on the ceiling. His vision started to swim as exhaustion crept in. ‘Getting tired…’  “It’s been a long couple of days for all of us,” he continued. “We should all probably get some sleep.”

His suggestion was met with silence. “…Yeah, you might be right,” Bark eventually said. “A couple hours of sleep might give us some new ideas, right?”

“Yeah,” Tails replied, his eyes getting heavy. It wasn’t very long before he fell asleep.


The Void

Tails opened his eyes to see the white expanse of the Void. “Is this gonna be a reoccurring thing?” he asked aloud, repressing a sigh. 

“No, this may be the last time,” a voice answered. In front of the fox was the familiar black garbed figure, his arms folded. The fox could feel the smile beneath his hood. “For a little while at least.” 

Tails tilted his head in confusion. “‘Last time?’ How come?” he asked.

“It’s because of what I told you a few nights ago,” a second voice called from behind. 

The fox turned around in surprise to see another hooded figure. He squinted at the figure for a moment, before his eyes widened. “You… You showed up the night after the first bombing,” he said slowly, understanding dawning on his muzzle. “And you,” he continued, facing the other figure. “You were there after I fell down from the No. 5? What’s going on here?”

The second figure walked past Tails and joined alongside the first and the fox could now see the distinctions between the two. The second figure was shorter than the first and while the colours of their shoes were identical, the patterning was different. The smaller had a two tone style – white in front and red in the back. His companion had a thick white stripe across the top of the shoe. 

“Yeah, OK, so… there’s two of us,” the first one said placatingly. He waved his hands in a calming manner in an attempt to soothe the now perturbed fox. “I know, I know it’s a lot to take in. But it’s really important that you listen to us carefully, little buddy.”

“He’s right,” The second chimed in. Tails recognized the serious tone from their first meeting. “You need to be ready.”

“Ready for what!?” Tails yelled, his patience finally hitting the breaking point. “What the hell aren’t you telling me?!”

“You already know what’s going on!” the smaller one fired back. He clenched his now-shaking fists at the Ex-SOLDIER. “You’re an intelligent being, you can connect the dots, can’t you!?”

“…You told me that ‘It started moving,’” Tails said through gritted teeth, remembering their earlier conversation. “I understand now that you meant Blakdüm-”

“And?” the taller one cut in calmly, a hand against his hip. “What do you think that means?”

“I don’t know what that means!” the fox roared back, his frustration building. “I don’t care if it means anything! And why do I keep coming-”

Suddenly, his mouth clamped shut against his will, cutting him off mid-speech. He tried to pry open his mouth with his hands, but they then snapped to his sides. Finally, his legs froze in place. Tails looked at the hooded figures, his eyes blazing with cold disdain as he stood frozen like a statue. 

The smaller one had his hand outstretched towards the fox, his fingers curled like a puppet-master’s. He turned his head to his companion. “He’s not ready,” he said darkly. “He won’t understand what’s going on here, not in the state he’s in. His claws are in too deep.”

The tall one placed a hand to his forehead and let out a groan. “I know…” he resigned, shaking his head. He then walked up to Tails, who looked utterly bewildered. “Look little buddy,” he said softly. He started to place a hand on the fox’s shoulder, but faltered mid-way, his arm swinging back towards his side. “…All I want you to know right now, is that… none of what happened in the past was your fault. I want you to remember that, OK?”

Tails glared right into the hooded figure’s eyes, which were a glowing shade of bright jade. ‘What the hell are you talking about? What am I not ready for? And who else is here?!’ were all questions he wanted to ask. He felt confused and frustrated at these visits.

“In time,” the figure continued, as if he was reading the fox’s mind. “All will be revealed. You’ll figure out what to do with it all when you do learn. I know you will.”

“We’re running out of time here,” the second figure called back, his voice strained. “That thing’s become aware of our presence.”

What has?!’ Tails mentally shouted as he tried to break free. ‘What else is here?!

The first turned to his companion and started walking away from the fox. “Ah well, can’t be helped, huh?” he replied nonchalantly. “S’OK, I have faith that he’ll pull through. You should too.”

“Hmph,” the smaller of the two grunted. “Fine.” He then relaxed his body and Tails suddenly regained control of his own. 

Roaring angrily, the fox rushed forward, his hands balled into fists. “Who are you?! Who else is here?! Answer me!!” he yelled, lunging towards both hooded figures, his arms outstretched. He passed right through them and collapsed into a heap on the ground. He craned his head back and saw that they vanished into thin air. “Why is this happening to me!?” he hollered out in rage, his fists striking the floor at every word. His chest heaved as he stared at the thin, web-like cracks that formed from his immense strength.

Suddenly, the cracks started to grow. Pieces of the floor started chipping and falling away to reveal a darkness that made his skin crawl. Soon, larger pieces of the floor fell away, which alarmed Tails. “Damnit, the place is collapsing,” he muttered under his teeth. “I can’t leave now, I need answers!”

He got up and started running. He didn’t know where he was going, but he let his instincts guide him. As the Void continued dissolving into nothingness, Tails spotted a door in the distance. It was the same one he saw in his previous visit, when he stayed the night at Cosmo’s house for the first time. 

The Void’s disintegration rapidly intensified to the point where it was disappearing faster than the fox could run. He unwrapped his tails and took flight, pushing himself closer and closer to the wooden door. As he flew, he heard the rumblings of a familiar laughter that chilled him to the bone. It was a cold, rough and deep chuckle that reverberated through every fiber of his being. Just as he managed to get a fingertip onto the brass knob, he felt his stamina give out and he tumbled down, down into the darkness with the laughter echoing through his brain.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 34

Chapter 34: The Crystal Golem



Tails

Tails drew his sword and faced down Specimen 512, Bark standing to his right.  The fox angled his head to the viridian creature on his left. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“…Green XIII,” the golem rasped, his voice sounding like crunching gravel. “An utterly nonsensical name that Nagus gave me. You can call me that, or whatever you wish.” He raised his massive, club-like fists into a fighting stance. “Perhaps I will tell you my true name, if we ever get out of this alive.”

“Fair enough,” Tails harrumphed. He then raised his sword and charged at the monster. “Let’s go!” 

Subject 512 became aware of the approaching Ex-SOLDIER and reacted. It swung its massive blob-like left arm to meet the fox’s blade, causing it to be embedded within its flesh. Shrieking in pain, the monster quickly followed up with a swipe of its long claws. 

Tails dipped forward and the claws glanced off his shoulder pauldron instead of striking his chest. He wrenched his blade free and got out of the way as Bark started to fire upon it, the bullets biting into the creature’s thick flesh. Roaring, 512 doubled over and shielded itself from the barrage with its left arm. In its hunched position, it convulsed suddenly as three large bulges appeared on its back.  The skin on its back stretched until it started to tear, purplish red blood dribbling out as the lumps grew.

Bark stopped his assault, bullet casings tinikling on the metal floor beneath him. “What the hell is it doing?!” he yelled to Tails as he reloaded. 

“It’s summoning some friends,” came Green XIII’s response before the fox could open his mouth. He strode forwards, a hand placed on a bangle stretched around its upper left arm.  He quickly slid a hand over two Emeralds affixed to the piece of armor and drew crimson energy from it. Fingers splayed and palm facing the twitching 512, the energy started to solidify into four large, fiery red chunks of crystal. “FIRE!” the golem called, just as three small, round yellow blobs erupted from 512’s back.

The crystal chunks shot out and embedded themselves in their targets. A second later, they exploded violently and showered 512 and the blobs with napalm. The monster shrieked and thrashed from the burns. It lumbered away from the holding tank and towards the circular pad and large array of supercomputers at the other end of the room. 

The yellow blobs remained by the tank. Two pairs of claws sprung out from their undersides. The soft tissues around its body hardened into a tough carapace. A slit at the front of its body opened vertically, revealing a glassy blue eye that swiveled around. They rolled around to douse the fires and then scurried away to different points of the floor.

“Magic is much more effective against 512,” Green XIII called out to the fox beside him as the creatures dispersed. “It’s skin is thick enough to withstand blades and bullets, but starts to weaken when exposed to elemental energy. Try Fire – the burns seem to weaken it better than other magic.”

“You sure do know a lot about this thing,” the fox remarked. He dug into his pocket for the Fire Emerald, swapped it for the Ice on his weapon and then drew energy from it.

“Not really,” the golem grunted in response. “But thanks to this -” he tapped the yellow Sense Emerald in the single slot on his armor. “- I know enough on how to harm it.”

Bark, seeing Tails draw reddish-orange energy, also followed suit. “What are those things, anyway?” he asked Green XIII, inquiring about the small, insect-like creatures that erupted from 512’s back.

“Ignore its minions, they’re a distraction and nothing more,” the golem called, a large, singular Fire charge in hand. He pointed it at the larger monster hunched by the pad, its flames now extinguished. “Focus your attacks on the big one!”

512 rose up from its position and bellowed threateningly. Murky green gas started to accumulate in its mouth as it started to charge towards the three fighters.

Wasting no time, Tails brought the Fire energy in between his palms and then pushed them out. “FIRE!” he called and the energy shot out, zigzagging towards 512. Suddenly, one of the smaller minions jumped into the magic’s path and took it with full force, the flames engulfing its body. The diminutive creature crumpled to the ground, convulsed and then went still. 

The fox narrowed its eyes as he settled back into a defensive stance. ‘What the hell? Did it just… block the attack on its own?’ he thought, racking his brain to comprehend what he just saw. Nearby, Bark and Green also cast their spells. However, none had reached 512 as the other two yellow creatures intercepted the magical attacks and lay dead.

512 came to a halt in front of one of its dead minions. It scooped it up, opened the mouth on its shoulder and devoured it. The sounds of teeth chewing and crushing the dead carcass made Tails’ insides squirm involuntarily as he held his stance, bracing himself for whatever came next. 

Suddenly, 512 doubled over, roaring as a growing bulge formed once again on its back. A few seconds later, the skin burst and a monster identical to the one Tails’ spell struck emerged and skittered to 512’s side. It’s glassy eye swiveled around and took in its surroundings. 

“Oh shoot, I forgot to mention,” Tails heard Green XIII call out from across the room. “It can regenerate its underlings by devouring them!”

Wish you could’ve told us that sooner,’ Tails internally groused as he maintained his guard. He watched with morbid curiosity as 512’s disfigured head and its smaller minion’s eye moved as one. Both eye and head locked onto the fox and 512 pointed in his direction. The smaller monster dashed towards him explosively and jumped forward, its sharp front claws outstretched. 

The fox stepped to the side and easily parried the strike, the claws screeching loudly against the face of the blade. Suddenly, he heard Bark yell out to him. “Yo! Watch out!”

512 had bounded right behind its smaller undering while the Ex-SOLDIER was distracted. Getting up close, it swiped at the fox’s side with its long claws, sending him flying across the room and into the holding tank. Tails yowled as his back collided with the tank, the glass cracking on impact. He slumped to the floor and clutched at his side dribbling with blood; the thick plate across his abdomen protected him, but the claws managed to pierce his side. ‘Great,’ he thought as he brought a hand to the Restore Emerald on his weapon.


Bark

Bark snarled as he unloaded another salvo at 512. The monster ignored the bullets entering its body as it ate and regenerated a second minion. The small monster then charged at the bear. “This can’t get any worse, can it?!” he yelled rhetorically. The bear rolled out of the way of the incoming minion and focused his aim at the larger creature now approaching him. 

512 stopped a few feet away from the bear, opened its mouth and belched. The green gas that had accumulated within spewed forth from the misshapen orifice on its shoulder towards Bark. The bear ceased fire and began to retreat as he tried to cover his mouth with the crook of his arm to protect himself. Some of the gas seeped through and he involuntarily inhaled it, the wretched taste causing him to drop backwards onto his rear. Seconds later, he started coughing violently and saw bright white spots float around his vision. “Th-the hell… is this?” he wheezed as he raised his now trembling arm and tried to aim at 512.

The monster approached the fallen polar bear and raised its massive left arm to pulverize him. Before it could land the blow, it was interrupted by a crystal explosion on its back. It screeched as the napalm burst coated its body with flames.

“Not happening pal!” Green said loudly. Bark watched as the golem bounded forward, jumped and dug his claw-like fingers into 512’s back. The monster emitted another pained screech as it tried to shake the golem off of its back. The two remaining underlings returned to its master and started tackling Green, who dug in deeper despite the painful bodyblows. 

Suddenly, Bark felt his body go slack. He lay back and looked into the ceiling, his vision becoming more blurry as whatever he breathed in was wracking through his body. ‘Is… is this the end for me?’ he wondered as he felt his body shut down.


Tails

Tails stood up after applying Cure magic to close his wounds. He rushed over to Bark’s side and knelt down. The bear stopped coughing, but his muzzle changed into a sickly, pallor definition. His eyes were bloodshot and froth was starting to gather on the side of his mouth. 

Shit, it’s poison,’ Tails cursed, digging into a pocket and extracting a plastic vial filled with green liquid. ‘Thank the Goddess Viv had the foresight to give us a few of these Antidotes…’ “Drink this, Bark,” he instructed urgently, breaking the top and tilting it towards the bear’s mouth. “C’mon man, don’t die on me now…”

Bark drank the liquid and within seconds, the colour on his face returned. He turned over, retched loudly and then started dry heaving. “Agh, Goddess that’s disgusting!” he yelled, his snout twisted in revulsion. He inclined his head towards the two-tailed fox. “…Thanks,” he added, and for the first time, the fox could sense neither half-heartedness, nor sarcasm from his tone. 

Tails helped him up, a smirk crossing his lips. “No charge,” he said, helping the bear up and then drawing his weapon. “Now let’s say we help out our new friend, huh?”

As if on cue, Green skidded towards them, having finally been beaten off by 512’s underlings. He rose up gingerly and both Tails and Bark could see cracks along his torso, up his forearms and down his legs. They then watched transfixed as the cracks started to seal themselves up. 

Green stood up unsteadily and turned to look at the other two Mobians. “What are you looking at?” he grumbled, a pained expression crossing his chiseled face. “While you two were gawking, you both could have been taking that thing down!”

Tails shifted his attention towards the monster and cursed loudly, seeing that it regenerated its final minion. The monster shuddered after releasing the smaller creature from the confines of its back. It then roared loudly and started charging towards the Mobians, its mouth leaking gas. “Heads up!” he yelled as 512 belched another cloud of gas towards them. 

Both he and Bark retreated to avoid the poisonous cloud, but Green instead pressed forward. He passed through the mist unaffected and threw an uppercut at 512’s torso, stopping it mid charge. 512 swung its clawed arm at Green, but he crouched to avoid the swipe as he continued his attack on the monster, pummelling it with repeated blows. The golem used its mass to its advantage, the added weight and hardness of his crystalline make-up increasing the force of each punch. 

Bark suddenly spotted the yellow shelled creatures advancing on Green’s rear. “Yo! Crystal guy!” the bear shouted to catch his attention. “Watch your rear!”

“Wha-” Green XIII started, looking over his shoulder to see the three underlings skittering in a line towards him. That moment of hesitation was all the monster needed to strike. It reared its claws back and thrusted them into the golem’s chest, piercing his thick, stone hide. Green XIII cried out,  stumbled backwards and then tripped over the smaller monsters, sending him back onto the floor. The three then swarmed the fallen golem, their sharp claws pecking at the opening made by their master. 

“Bark, c’mon! We gotta hurry!” Tails called as 512 raised its bludgeoning arm. “Cast Fire on 512 while I clear those things off of Green!” He charged forward and swung his sword like a bat. The flat of the blade collided with the three monsters and sent them flying into the supercomputers by the circular pad. They crashed into the computer equipment, causing sparks to fly out.

Behind him, Bark held a glowing, orange-red orb in his left hand. He swung his arm towards the monster just as Tails swept the smaller ones away and called “FIRE!” A column of flames burst forth from Bark’s fist and arced right at 512, hitting it directly in its chest.

Tails then followed up Bark’s attack and slashed at the tube connecting 512’s left arm and navel. The tough flesh had weakened due to Bark’s magic attack and allowed the massive blade to cut through it cleanly. Blood spurted out from both sides of the severed vessel and the mutant emitted a horrible scream of pain. Its left arm then slumped downward and became unresponsive, becoming nothing more than a useless vestigial limb.

Meanwhile, Bark came up to Green’s downed figure. A trickle of blood pooled out from the slowly shrinking hole in his chest, the crystal growing over to cover the wound. He reached out a hand. “C’mon, get up,” Bark said, pulling the golem up onto his feet. 

The Ex-SOLDIER joined their side, his blade and his uniform were stained with 512’s blood. He handed a Potion to Green XIII.  “You alright?” he asked.

“Yes,” Green XIII replied, breaking the top and downing the restorative. “But this fight is not over yet. Be on your guard. 512 still has many tricks up its sleeve.”

The monster let out another bellowing shriek, causing Tails to wince at the sound. It opened its mouth and expelled poisonous gas over a wide area. The mist started to drift towards the three fighters and increased in size and density as the monster continued to exhale.

This isn’t good,’ Taiis surmised as he and Bark started to back away. ‘Gotta do something about that gas… but what though?’ He carefully assessed the cloud. ‘Perhaps… If we could create an explosion, the force of it could push the gas away. Grenades could do the job, but that still doesn’t stop the source of it all.’ He then witnessed Green XIII standing firm against the oncoming cloud and his eyes widened with realization as he remembered the events of the past few minutes. ‘Of course!

“Green, any chance you got enough Mana to cast some magic?” the fox asked.

“Yes, I do,” the golem responded, his eyes fixed on the poison-spewing creature ahead.

“Good, then I have a plan,” Tails said. He turned to Bark. “Bark, you have those grenades still?” The bear narrowed his eyes at him, perplexed, but then nodded in affirmation. “Alright, hand one over to me. Green, charge another Fire spell. We’re going to use the grenades to clear out some of the gas, that should give you enough visibility to send a charge right down its throat,” the fox explained. “If I’m right – and I usually am – the explosion should both stop the gas from forming and severely injure it.”

“…You sound sure of yourself,” Green commented gravely, tapping into the Fire Emerald on his arm and drawing the energy out. 

“Hey man,” Bark said to Green, his lips curled into a smile. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned after spending a few days with this guy, it’s that he knows what he’s doing. He’s legit.” He turned his attention to the fox and tossed him an explosive, before pulling another one out from his side pocket. “Alright foxy, you tell me when.”

Beneath his stoic exterior, Tails chuckled inwardly to himself. ‘About time he has faith in me,’ he mused. “Right, so on my mark, we toss the grenades and get behind the holding tank behind us,” he explained quickly, his eyes trailing the incoming poisoned vapour. “Once they explode, Green, you launch that down his throat. Bark and I will go in after and finish it off with more Fire spells.”

Both Mobian and golem complied with the fox’s plan. Tails turned his focus back onto the gas, watching it crawl towards them slowly. Behind him. Green held a magic-infused crystal chunk in hand as he waited for the signal.

The mist soon crossed the invisible line that Tails demarcated in his mind. “Now!” he yelled, pulling the pin out of the explosive and tossing it. Bark followed suit, pulling the pin with his teeth. The three then hurried behind the glass tank, with Green situated in front.

A second later, the explosives detonated and the shockwaves parted the gas enough that 512 could be seen, if only for a moment. Green lumbered out of his hiding spot, shot his hand holding his magic charge out and called, “FIRE!”

The projectile launched and sailed straight towards 512’s open mouth. At the last second though, the monster clamped its mouth shut and twisted its body so that the chunk embedded itself instead into its now useless left arm. It exploded, the flames covering the limb, but 512 made no sounds of pain.

Tails and Bark also cast their spells behind Green XIII’s, but they again were intercepted by two of 512’s underlings – both of which survived the crash into the supercomputer equipment. They again fell lifeless to the ground after making their sacrifice. Tails looked on in horror as the monster opened the orifice on its shoulder once again and belched out more clouds of gas towards them. It then started to step towards the three.

“I take back every good thing I said about you just now!” Bark grumbled to the fox, sweat accumulating on his forehead as he eyed the approaching cloud of poison mist. “What the hell happened?!”

“I-I don’t know?” Tails replied, flummoxed. It was the first time that his knowledge had failed him. He knitted his brows and went over what he knew once again. ‘Somehow, it knew to expect the magic attack. And earlier, it used its minions to intercept them as well. So what does it all mean?’ He scanned his surroundings and his eyes lay on the third yellow monster. It was tucked in between two large pieces of laboratory equipment on the other side of the room. It stood still, with its glassy blue eye trained directly on himself, Bark and Green XIII. And then suddenly, all the pieces lined up in Tails’ mind. 

That’s it!’ he thought, his eyes widening and mouth parting. His knowledge didn’t fail him – rather, it was incomplete. “The main body and the smaller monsters are linked!” the fox said aloud to his teammates. “It can see our movements with its minions; in fact, they’re not just minions, but they’re its eyes! That’s how it knows to intercept and anticipate our attacks!”

“So what do we do about it?” Green XIII asked bluntly, still staring into the mist that was slowly approaching them. “If it can see everything we do, how can we kill it?”

“Easy,” Tails said, smirking. A new plan had formed in his mind and he felt confident that this time, it would be foolproof. “We keep the optical monsters busy enough that the main body can’t see. Right now, there’s only one. Bark,” He turned to the bear. “How good is your aim against moving targets?”

The bear’s lips curled into a savage grin. “Pretty damned good, I’d say,” he said, a hint of arrogance in his tone. “Why d’ya ask?” 

“You’re on optical monster duty,” Tails replied. “Keep that one there busy enough so that it can’t focus on us. Meanwhile, Green and I will handle the big bad over there. If for some reason it gets past us and summons any more eyes, can I count on you to take care of it?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Bark answered. He creased his brows at the green fog in front of them. “But how are ya gonna get through the mist?!”

“Leave that to me,” the golem said, stepping up. “I see where this is going: I’m the only one for whom the poison doesn’t affect.”

“Alright then, get to it Bark,” Tails instructed. “Keep on ‘em like flies to shit.”

The bear threw the fox a wry grin and complied with his instruction, aiming and firing his gun at the smaller monster in the corner. It skittered out in a panic as bullets tore through the computer equipment and Bark gave chase to it. “Hey! Get back here you piece of shit!” 

Green XIII turned back to Tails. “So what’s next?” he asked. The mist had started to draw closer to them.

The fox charged another Fire spell in his hand. He started to feel the beginnings of Mana fatigue set it, but he pushed it aside and concentrated on the task at hand. “First, you get in close and stop it from spewing gas,” he said, his jaw set in a firm line. “I’ll launch a spell at the shoulder, which should weaken the skin enough so that you can then start pulling out its teeth.” He saw the golem raise a craggy eyebrow at him. “I need an opening big enough to send another spell down its throat, as I originally planned.” Tails clarified. 

“Ah, I understand then,” Green XIII acknowledged, his fists clenched tightly. “Get ready then, fox.” He turned away from the warrior and then charged forward into the mist towards 512. As he approached, Green XIII jumped up and then threw a haymaker at the monster’s true head. The stone fist collided hard with the disfigured mass that made up its head and sent it reeling backwards. The mouth on its shoulder closed involuntarily, cutting off the gas.

With the gas dissipating, Tails had a clear shot at 512. “Won’t be able to avoid it this time,” he murmured to himself, noting that Bark was keeping the third minion at bay behind him. “Green! Get out of the way!” he yelled as he brought his palms together, poured in more Mana to strengthen the spell and then pushed out, calling “FIRE!”

The energy shot out and struck the monster directly on the mouth on its shoulder, burning the flesh and weakening the muscles beneath it. Green XIII followed up with several strikes to the affected area to loosen the teeth before he started to rip them out. 512 hollered savagely as the bloody teeth, each as long as a human forearm, were thrown to the ground. Green XIII had removed a few before being swept away by the monster’s clawed arm.

Tails charged another spell behind the one he just launched. Between the spell casting, avoiding attacks and his current injuries, fatigue had now begun to set in. His breathing became laborious and sweat trickled down the side of his head. ‘Got to… keep it together,’ he willed to himself, gritting his teeth as he prepared the strongest Fire spell he could muster. ‘Only got one shot at this…

The golem roared and charged back at 512, despite the gouge marks made in his side from the earlier swipe. He weaved around the claw, climbed it’s arm once more and grasped two more teeth in its shoulder. He yanked hard, breaking them away and creating a large opening into its throat. “DO IT NOW!” he yelled out as he was swept away once more. The monster turned to Tails, sensing his presence and started bearing down on him, poison gas starting to accumulate and spill out from the large opening in its mouth.

The Ex-SOLDIER focused on the opening in 512’s shoulder as it lumbered towards him. He pushed out again with his palms and called “FIRE!” The magic shot towards the mouth, travelled into the opening made by Green XIII and into its body. 

512 halted its approach and convulsed violently, it’s claw shakily went to the throat of its true head. A roar – louder, drawn out and more pained than any Tails had heard from it – shot out of the mouth on its shoulder as its internals were blasted by Fire energy. The monster then toppled backwards and landed on the floor with a loud thud.

Tails fell backward onto his rear, panting from putting all of his remaining Mana into his final attack. He uncorked both a Potion and his second-to-last Ether and guzzled both of them down. Moments later, he felt the restoratives kick in. He slowly stood up and, together with the golem, approached Subject 512 carefully. 

Across the room in the control station, Nagus’ assistant burst out in a panic and ran to a door near the station. Tails watched as the trembling Mobian scientist hurried to leave, all the while glancing back at the fighters who felled the monster he unleashed. With a terrified squeak, he got the door open and sailed out, blubbering as he did so. 

Turning back to the monster, he kept his guard up and watched for any sudden movements. Bark soon joined them, having finally killed the last of 512’s minions. The three stopped a few feet away from the body, the chest heaving and the orifice on its shoulder sucking in deep, ragged breaths. Its true head turned towards them, the tendrils that spilled out over where its mouth was were wriggling chaotically.

And then Tails heard a sound coming out of it. It was faint, but his enhanced hearing made it possible to pick up the words coming out of its mouth. He lowered his sword, his eyes downcast and somber. “Hurts?” he said aloud, his brows furrowed. 

Bark and Green XIII looked at the fox with confusion crossing their faces. “That’s… what it’s saying,” he explained. “‘It hurts… kill me.’ It has probably been suffering since the day it was created.”

He approached the fallen monster. Up close to it, Tails could see the face in detail. Sunk into the skeletal eye sockets were a pair of bloodshot, glowing green eyes that looked back into his own. “K… KILL… ME…” he heard it say in a guttural, tremulous voice, the tentacles coming out of its mouth fluttering at every word. “IT… HUR… TS… NO… M… ORE… PLE… ASE…”

Wordlessly, Tails stood over the body and turned his sword so that the point hovered just above its neck. He looked back into its pleading eyes, sympathy for the creature stirring deep inside him. A second later, he plunged the blade into the soft tissue, severing its neck and vital arteries.

“THA…” was all the creature could muster out before dying instantly. The tentacles on its face stopped fluttering and its chest went still.

The fox pulled out his blade and wiped his brow with the back of his arm as Bark and Green XIII approached from behind. The bear let out a grimace. “What in the hell was that about?” he questioned Tails.

Green XIII answered for him. “It – no he – was a former Mobian,” he said, his raspy voice tinged with pity. “Experimented on by Nagus, just like I was. Only, the tests he was subjected to were much more severe and his eventual transformation was far worse.” His eyes travelled to Tails. “I surmise he regained enough of his sanity that he wanted you to end his suffering?”

Before the fox could answer, the doors to the lift on the far side of the room opened up to reveal Cream and Cosmo, the latter fully dressed and sporting a new bangle with four unlinked Emerald slots. They saw the men gathered over the fallen monster’s body and hurried over to them. “Is everyone OK?” Cream said, her brows creasing.

“Yeah, for the most part,” Tails responded, looking back to her and then gesturing to Green XIII with a thumb. “And we have this guy to thank for it.” 

The golem lowered his head and raised a hand in deference to the fox’s words. “Please,” he muttered, a hint of a smile crossing his stony lips. “If it wasn’t for the swordsman’s quick thinking and tactical mind, we would have been in far dire straits-”

“You came,” Cosmo’s quiet voice broke in. They all turned to face her. She bowed her head, with her arms crossed behind her back and the toe of her earthen-covered boot shuffling the floor. “I-I can’t believe you all came… for me…”

“Of course,” Tails smirked, a small grin crossing his face. “Did you think we were just gonna leave you here?”

Cream smiled at her. “Not a chance,” she answered Tails’ question while taking one of the flower girl’s hands into her own. “Like I said before downstairs, we’re friends. We wouldn’t dare leave you behind.”

“Yeah!” Bark sniffed, tugging at his cap and flashing a grin. “I mean, you saved Hope’s life, got her to safety and everything. I couldn’t just sit there and let you rot here? No way!”

“Y-you guys…” Cosmo trailed off, her eyes growing misty. 

Green XIII parted through the throng that surrounded the flower girl and approached her. To her surprise, he dropped to a knee, took her hand gently into his and pressed his lips unto it. He looked up to her now reddening face. “Milady, you must forgive me,” he stated eloquently. “I didn’t mean to frighten you so, but merely played the act for Nagus, you see. T’would be uncouth for a ki-ind of individual such as myself to behave in such a bestial manner, so I must apologize.”

Bark and Cream both gaped at the golem, astonished by his uncharacteristic nature. Tails, however, caught the slip of his tongue. He narrowed his eyes at him. “What are you anyways?” he asked. ‘Or rather, who are you,’ he mentally added as an afterthought.

Green XIII released Cosmo’s hands, stood up from his knelt position and faced the fox. “… I am a Mobian,” he started after a pause, his crystalized face unreadable. “But now, I’m also something else, due to Nagus’ experiments… In a sense, I am what you see right now.”

“OK then, so how’d you get past the poison gas?” Bark asked, his arms folded. “Despite that heavy duty body of yours, you still seem to breathe the same air as us, so what gives?”

The golem paused again to consider his words. However, Tails beat him to the punch. “He’s wearing a protective pendant,” he announced. 

All heads turned to him and the fox continued. “That crystal ain’t fully opaque,” he went on, peering through Green XIII’s body. Beneath the semi-translucent viridian layers, he could see the golem’s true body beneath. He was thin and lanky and stood a few inches taller than himself. His body was coated with dark, matted fur. Around his neck was a small, silver pendant that was shaped like a star. “Look closely and you can see a pendant that must protect against the effects of poison.”

“How very perceptive of you,” Green XIII commented lightly. He looked directly into the fox’s glowing eyes. “Judging from your eyes, you must be from SOLDIER?” 

“Former SOLDER, actually.”

“I see,” Green responded. He continued to look unblinkingly at the fox, who was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable at the gaze. “…Might I ask where you’re from?”

“Hey, um,” Cosmo interjected before Tails could speak. He turned to face her and saw that she had a nervous look about her. “So, while I do enjoy this chat, maybe we should, I dunno, get out of here first and then continue?”

Bark grinned at her sheepishly, his hand rubbing the back of his head. “Ah damn, y’know she’s right,” he said to Tails. “Ain’t no need for us to be in this crappy building now anyway, so let’s get the-” He stopped mid sentence, his mouth in an ‘O’ shape as a thought struck him. “Hey! We should destroy the Roboticizer while we’re here!” he exclaimed, pointing to the circular pad at the far side of the room.

“So that’s what that was,” Cream noted, a finger tapping her chin. “I was wondering-”

“No, It’s too risky,” Tails cut in sharply, his arms crossed. “In different circumstances, I’d be all for it, Bark. But right now, we have to focus on getting Cosmo out of here.” The fox then eyed the smashed supercomputers in the distance near the pad. “Anyway, it looks like 512’s friends have taken care of its brains. I’m not sure what the long term effects are, but we can speculate at what that might be at a later date. The fact of the matter still stands. We have to leave. Now.”

“Question is, how do we get out of here?” Cream voiced. Her finger lingered on her chin as she thought “Besides the lift here, there’s no other elevators on this floor or the one below.”

“If that’s the case, then the only other elevator available to us is the one on the 66th,” Tails reasoned. He started to make his way to a door on the opposite side of the room, the same one that the lab assistant escaped from. A small smile crossed the fox’s lips as he saw that the door remained unlocked. “We’ll take the stairs there,” he continued, opening the door and leading the others through it. “Stay together and keep your guard up; we don’t know what’s gonna come at us next.”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 33

Chapter 33: The Wizard of Genetics



Tails

“They were talking about Cosmo… right?” Tails asked.

He, Cream and Bark were crammed into an exhaust duct that connected the men’s bathroom to the conference room, where they watched the meeting through a grate. The ductwork was surprisingly strong enough to support their combined weight and Tails mentally thanked whoever was responsible for putting it in this particular area.

They dipped away from the return air grille as the one named Fiona arched her head upwards, her nose crinkled. “Something stinks…” they heard her mutter as she stared at the grille. Disgusted, she turned her nose and sashayed out of the conference room. As soon as it was emptied, the three resumed their conversation in hushed tones.

“I dunno?” Bark said, shrugging.

“Probably?” Cream interjected, her head tilted.

“Let’s go follow ‘em,” Tails whispered, crawling through the duct back towards the bathroom. He kicked the large, square grate beneath him, sidled out of the duct onto the toilet and exited the stall. He waited for Cream and Bark to follow suit, the former shutting the grate closed as she crawled out last. They left the bathroom and kept close to the walls as they snuck through the empty hallway and around the conference room. Tails peeked around every corner before they proceeded. At the third intersection, just as they passed the elevators and the door leading into the large conference room, the fox brought his hand to halt the group as he spotted Nagus talking to himself near the stairwell. He was fumbling for something within his pocket.

“Nagus… huh?” Tails muttered, his eyes narrowed as he watched the enigmatic man open the door. As they followed him from a distance, Tails couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about the gnarled scientist. That feeling persisted as they arrived on the 67th floor. The door leading out of the stairwell was left wide open.

“I’ve heard about this Nagus guy before,” Bark said at once, stopping in his tracks. “He’s the head of the Kintobor Science Department. They call him ‘The Wizard of Genetics.’ Rumor has it that his face and arm got mauled by an experiment gone horribly wrong; that’s why he always wears a hood and his arm’s always in that sling.” The bear gave Tails a quizzical look. “Tails, don’t you know him?”

The fox racked his brain to see if he could ever recall meeting him. He saw brief images – flashes of people, places and things – but no real indication of if he had ever seen the hooded scientist. And yet, he felt an odd, unexplainable chill travel down his spine. “No, this is the first time I’ve actually ever seen him,” Tails admitted, turning his head away from the bear. “So… that’s what he looks like…” Clearing his mind of his uneasiness, he then strode towards the open door. “Let’s keep moving; Cosmo might be somewhere around here.”

The silence on the 67th was oppressive. Tails, Cream and Bark crept around the austere and cold hallways, their footsteps echoing on the steel-grey tiles. They passed rooms filled with scientists so engrossed in their work that they barely registered their presence. And while a small part of him wanted to stop and observe the experiments being done on this floor, Tails knew that this was neither the time or place to do so. 

Passing a long hallway that led to a set of containment cells, the three soon entered a large, open area spanning half of the floor. Inside, wooden crates were placed around the room in an disorganized manner. There was a large, glass containment tank in the centre of the room, which Professor Nagus and one of his assistants were standing in front of. 

Tiptoeing to a stack of crates nearby, the three crouched down as Nagus spoke to his assistant – a platypus with bluish-green fur and well-groomed hair. “Raise him to the next floor,” he instructed, his high voice making the hairs on the nape of Tails’ neck stand on end. “He shall meet the mother of his future offspring before we conduct the extraction and fertilization process.”

“Yes, Professor,” the assistant said. They heard footsteps receding to the back of the room. Hearing the scientist mumble to himself, Tails peeked over and saw the creature that he was peering at closely.

It was unlike anything he had ever seen before; a mass of green, polished rock hewn into a humanoid shape. It was lying in a large glass tank, it’s body curled up into a ball.

He couldn’t see Nagus’ face due to the hood obscuring it, but Tails could imagine that he was smiling at the thing in the tank. “Ahh… my precious specimen,” he cooed, his high, clear voice coming out like a hiss. He turned away from the tank and followed his assistant to the back. Tails heard the sound of a door sliding open and closed and took it as a sign that the room was empty.

Emerging from their hiding place, the three Mobians approached the creature to get a better look at it. The fox assumed that the creature was a Mobian; the two triangular ears on the top made it obvious. The rest of its head and face was buried into its arms, which were covered in large, jagged chunks of viridian stone. It had a barrel-chested torso and thick, trunk-like legs.  

Cream got up close to the tank and looked inside. “A precious specimen?” she queried, angling her head back at the bear and the fox. A concerned and sympathetic expression crossed her face. “Is it gonna be used for a biological experiment?” 

“Man, what IS that thing,” Bark commented, folding his arms and cocking his head to the side. “It looks kinda like… a living Emerald or something? Weird…”

Tails turned to comment, but his eye caught something on the opposite side of the tank that made him do a double take. Moving away from the group, he approached the large steel door of a semicircular structure with various tubes and pipes coming out of the top. As he read the sign above the door, he felt his heart leap into his throat. ‘It can’t be…‘ he thought, his fur standing on end. He peered into the porthole and felt the blood pool from his face. His palms became clammy in his gloves and his heart started to pound painfully against his chest. 

The figure inside the structure was a hideously grotesque humanoid that resembled a woman. A large heart-like organ was at its bottom. Above it were two slender legs, a torso and two arms that were drawn towards its back. Vestigial organs and tubes sprouted out of various parts of its body; the largest tube looked like an umbilical cord that went out of its navel and connected to the heart organ on its feet. Two wing-like stubbs were attached to its back. It had two breasts; the right one was bare but its left had an eyeball in place of a nipple. It was blood red with a slitted onyx pupil in the centre. It’s skin was an iridescent shade of greyish-black, while the tubes around its body were blood red and pink in colour. The monstrosity was headless, but Tails didn’t need it to know exactly what or who it was.

“Blakdüm…” Tails choked out, his throat tightening as he stared in horror at the creature. He could have swore that the eye in its breast turned towards him. And then, after a long, drawn out second of it staring at him, the repulsive organism twitched. 

A ringing noise suddenly erupted in Tails’ head. He clutched at it with both hands as a cacophony of sounds and voices viciously echoed inside of his brain. 

…Tails, let’s go…

…Hometown? Must be nice…

…I wanted to join SOLDIER to be like you!…

…a mysterious power?…

…a monster?…

…p-produced?!…

… I’m going to see my mother…

…NAZO!!…

Tails screamed and dropped to his knees. The pain came in waves and he thrashed vehemently, wishing for his agony to stop.


Cream

Tails’ anguished cry pierced through Creams’s heart. She spun away from the stone creature in the tank and hurried to his side. “Tails!? Are you alright?!” she asked, kneeling down and placing a hand on his shoulder.

The fox raised a shaky finger towards the chamber in front of him. “Blakdüm…” he rasped, his mouth dry. “Blakdüm… Nazo’s… so… they’ve brought it here…”

Cream gripped his shoulder tightly. “Be strong, Tails,” she urged, her brows creasing.

Tails turned his head to both Mobians. “D-did you see it?” he asked, weakly.

“See what?” Bark responded, arching an eyebrow. 

“It’s moving… Still alive?” Tails replied shakily. 

Cream helped him to his feet, her eyes never leaving her friend’s face. He looked as exhausted as the day she first saw him again in Megapolis.

Bark looked through the porthole and recoiled at the sight. “What the fuck is that thing!?” he hissed, jumping backwards. “And where’s its fuckin’ head?! This whole thing’s stupid, Tails. Let’s keep going.” 

“…Yeah,” Tails said, finally regaining his stoic demeanor. He shook Cream’s hand off of his shoulder and started moving towards the back of the room where Nagus went. 

He moved a little too quickly in Cream’s eyes – as if he didn’t want to be anywhere near this thing any longer. She glanced at Bark, who met her eyes. They dared not say anything, for fear that the fox could overhear, but the rabbit guessed that they were both thinking the same thing: ‘What is going on with that fox?

They caught up with Tails at the end of the room. He stood by an elevator that led up to the 68th floor and was also holding a Green Emerald that gave off a sickly, purplish-green hue. “Poison,” Tails explained, noticing Cream’s puzzled look. He placed it in his pocket and then turned to the lift in front of him. “It looks like this goes up to the next floor,” he said, his jaw tightening. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say that’s where we’ll find Cosmo.” Without another word, they silently climbed aboard and ascended to the next level. 

The 68th floor consisted of a large, open laboratory theater filled with various scientific devices. To their extreme right was a massive apparatus that spanned a third of the floor. It consisted of a raised circular pad and several large, opaque tubes connecting to a machine above. Cream shuddered at the sight of the imposing mechanism. ‘What on Mobius is that thing?’ she thought. She leaned towards Tails to ask, but stopped short as his intense gaze was focused towards the centre of the room.

Nagus was standing in front of a large, cylindrical glass holding tank, a hand stroking his hooded chin. There was a sunken floor surrounding the tank, as well as a retractable walkway that connected it to the floor proper. Beside him was Cosmo, lying reclined on a medical bed with her arms secured to the sides and legs strapped securely into stirrups. She wore nothing but a thin, light blue gown. 

“Cosmo!” Tails called loudly, drawing their attention. The flower girl’s eyes widened as she watched him advance toward the specimen tank with Cream and Bark in tow. 

“Ah, so that’s her name,” Nagus said, his eyes still trained on the tank in front of him. “And what is it that you three want?”

“We’re taking Cosmo back,” Tails replied, glowering at the scientist. He grasped the hilt of his blade tightly as he spoke.

“Hmmm, how quaint,” Nagus commented, his eyes now finally moving to the intruders. “A trio of outsiders mounting a rescue mission. I must congratulate you on coming this far.”

“Save your breath!” Bark growled from beside the fox. He raised his arm towards Nagus, who arched an eyebrow at the action. 

“Oh, are you going to kill me?” he asked, his high, clear voice taking on a mirthful tone. “Ha! A frivolous gesture that I don’t think you should entertain.” He then pulled out a large syringe and pointed it at Cosmo’s forehead. The tip rested directly on her skin. “Considering that if any of you make any sudden movements, the girl gets a lobotomy,” he continued, flashing a dangerous grin at the trio. “I need only her body for my experiment to succeed, not her mind.”

“Ugh,” Tails groaned through gritted teeth. He released his hold on his sword. Bark and Cream lowered their weapons at the same time.

“Good, it seems someone understands how to think logically as opposed to taking rash action,” the professor commented. He put the syringe back into his lab coat and then raised his good hand upward. “Bring the specimen forward!” he called loudly. 

In a control room on the mezzanine above them, Cream saw Nagus’ assistant activate the controls for the specimen elevator. A circular door at the centre of the glass tank slid open and a lift from below rose up. Carrying it was the creature Tails, Bark and Cream saw in the small cell on the 67th.

The crystalline monster in the holding tank uncurled himself, stood up and stepped off of the lift platform, its face revealed. Standing at the same height as Tails, it had a set of three thick crystal spikes that jutted out from each side of what looked to be a muzzle. There was a triangular chunk of rock placed where its nose would be. Its head was covered in a mass of spikes similar to a swept back hairstyle. Its lips were closed in a tight line and its heavily lidded, multifaceted yellow eyes gazed listelesly from the professor to Cosmo as it stood motionless with its thick, massive arms by its side.

Cosmo’s face whitened and she screamed at the sight of the monster. “Tails! Help!”

The fox leveled a harsh glare at the scientist. “What do ya think you’re doing!?” he demanded, frustration clearly showing on his face.

Nagus leered at the three Mobians. “I could say that I’m ‘lending a helping hand to a pair of endangered species’,” he explained plainly, making air quotes. “But that would just be a lie. You see, I have always been in the pursuit of genetic perfection. These two are the last of their kind; both have abilities unheard of or unseen in any living creature!” A maniacal grin stretched across his shadowed face. “Think what would happen if these abilities could be unlocked and studied further?! Or better yet, if they could be combined into one organism?! I could usher in a new age in genetic evolution!” He cackled loudly, his one arm spread wide while the other, confined in the sling, bounced uselessly off of his body. 

“You’re sick!” Cream yelled, horror-stricken by the professor’s declaration. “Cosmo isn’t some sort of experiment; she’s a living being!”

“You bastard! You’re gonna pay!” Bark snarled, his hackles raised and his fist shaking violently. 

“Bark, shoot the door!” Tails hissed suddenly. Cream turned her head sharply at his words. 

The bear also swiveled his head towards him. “The hell are you talking about?!” he spat, confused.

“The panels on the door there, the blue ones!” Tails answered over the mad scientist’s cackling. “Shoot them! Now!”  

Nonplussed, Cream saw that Tails’ eyes were trained not on Nagus, but the green monster inside the tank. Its head was tilted towards the fox and its own eyes swept up and down in a rhythmic fashion towards the aforementioned panels. Her jaw dropped. “Bark, just do it!” she yelled.

The gunner stepped forward, cocking the Assault Gun. “Alright then, stand back!” he called, roaring as he fired upon the panels.

The gunfire caused Nagus to cease his laughter. His mouth twisted into an expression of abject horror. “No! What are you doing!” he screeched as the bullets penetrated the panels, causing thin, web-like cracks to form on the door. 

The beast inside rose a club-like fist and struck, shattering the door and freeing it from its confines. Without warning, it stomped out of the holding tank towards Nagus, letting out a guttural roar as it launched a powerful uppercut to the scientist’s jaw. The blow sent him flying away from Cosmo and onto the floor. The crystal figure bounded towards the scientist and wrapped its hands around its throat in an attempt to choke him.

As this was happening, Tails and Cream ran over to Cosmo’s side and started freeing her from her confines. Once released, the flower girl shakily got to her feet. “Thanks, you two,” she said, her voice tremulous. 

“Y-you! How dare you all attack the professor!” a voice called out above them. It was the assistant from before. He flicked several switches from his position in the control room, snickering all the while. “Let’s see how you handle… THIS!” he yelled, slamming his palm onto a button. 

“No! You… fool!” Nagus choked out under the golem’s grip to the assistant. “Sample 512… hasn’t been… properly mind-wiped yet!”

Behind them, the circular platform at the centre of the holding tank reopened. Tails and Cream spun around to see a spindly, flesh coloured arm shoot out. Long, grey talons gripped onto the floor and gouged the surface as it pulled itself up. The shoulder attached to the clawed arm was an enormous, purple mass of muscle, with an elongated and horrendous gaping mouth stretching across it and filled with rows of sharp, pointed teeth. Sickly, green gas poured out of the corners of the mouth. The rest of its body slithered out of the hole: a broad chest and back covered in pale, puckered skin, a tapered waist with a tube coming out of its navel. The left arm was a heavy mass of pulsating tissue, to which the tube from its abdomen was connected to. The blob-like ends of the arm had small tentacles that twitched and squirmed independently of the main body. It stood on thick legs which had the muscle fibers exposed and a set of broad, three toed feet. It’s head was skeletal, with numerous tendrils spilling out from where its maw would have been. It stood at its full height, which towered over the Mobians and bellowed loudly from the mouth on its shoulder, a sickened and pained screech echoing through the room.

The rabbit retched at the sight of the creature named 512. Her heart hammered painfully against her chest, the rapid beat tattooing against her ribcage as the monster swayed about in the holding tank, taking in its unfamiliar settings. 

“He’s rather strong. I’ll help you all out,” a rough, deep and gravelly voice called from behind. 

Cream spun around and gaped at the green stone creature, who released Nagus from its grasp. “It talked?!” she yelped, her eyes as wide as saucers.

“Look, I’ll talk as much as I want to, milady,” The golem grunted in response as the scientist shuffled away from them. 

Cream readied a retort, but Tails stopped her. “Cream, I need you to get Cosmo out of here,” he said. HIs focus turned to the monstrosity in the holding tank. It started to step gingerly out of its confines, a suffering wail escaping from the mouth in its shoulder. 

The golem turned to Cosmo. “Your belongings might be in a storage locker on the 67th, by the holding cells,” he said before addressing Cream. “Lady rabbit, you should go with her and keep her safe.”

The rabbit opened her mouth to protest, but closed it after realizing why. “…Alright,” she said reluctantly. “We’ll be back shortly.” She turned to Cosmo and took her hand. “C’mon, let’s go.”

As the two ran back towards the lift leading to the 67th, Cream glanced back to Bark, Tails and the mysterious golem. “Good luck,” she whispered softly, the lift doors sliding shut.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 32

Chapter 32: Infiltration



Tails

It was well into nightfall when Tails, Bark and Cream had finally reached the surface of Megapolis’ central structure. The climb to the upper plate took the better part of five hours to complete. They had crossed broken train tracks, traversed over pieces of the plate surface suspended precariously by massive cables and swung over a yawning chasm between a section of the plate and a rail line that had a partially derailed train on it. They had to use a thin, creaking bar that swung between the two sections in order to cross. 

Getting through parts of the crumbling landscape would not have been possible without the two remaining batteries that the Ced, the junk shop owner and former Freedom Fighter, had given them. As Tails stepped out of a service hatch leading to the central part of Megaopolis, he made a mental note to thank the zebra if they ever got a chance to see him once again. Bark and Cream joined alongside him shortly after.

 The three Mobians then turned their gaze towards the Kintobor Building looming in front of them, nestled at the centre of the city like a colossal egg. Spotlights going around the building illuminated the smooth and polished exterior walls, which contrasted with the inky, dark skies above. 

Tails stood in the lead, his hand gripping the hilt of the Buster Sword tightly. ‘This is it, no turning back now…’ he thought. He arched his head back towards Bark and Cream. Their eyes met his own.

Let’s do this.

They ran forward and stopped just in front of the entrance. Bark craned his head up to the top of the egg-shaped skyscraper. “You should know this building well, huh Tails?” he asked.

“…No,” the fox admitted, shaking his head. “Not really. In fact, this might be the first time I’ve ever been to the Headquarters.”

“I heard stories about this place,” Bark said, his eyes still trained on the topmost floors of the building. “Every floor above the 60th is reserved for the execs and top scientists. It ain’t easy for regular employees to get into…” He brought his head down, removed his cap and raked his yellow-white hair with his good hand. “That must be where they took Cosmo.” The polar bear then put his hat back on and peered into the glass at the entrance. “Security seems to be pretty light,” he muttered, taking note of the lack of bodies within the atrium space. He suddenly grinned and cocked his gun. “Let’s go bust some shit up then!”

Cream stood before the polar bear, a glare crossing her pretty face. “I don’t think we should do that,” she countered. “The last thing we need is to draw attention to ourselves! What if they move Cosmo because they found out that we’re here?!” She crossed her arms. “I think it would be better if we sneak in.”

“Hell no! Cream, c’mon,” Bark retorted gruffly. “They might be doing some weird science-y shit to Cosmo if we keep wasting time like this! The front door is right there! Let’s go bust in and demand her back!! And besides,” he waved his arms around. “Where do you see a way for us to ‘sneak in,’ huh? 

“Actually,” Tails broke in, ending the bickering. “Cream’s right; let’s not cause too much commotion. As for sneaking in…” His eyes trailed from Bark’s frowning muzzle to a sign that said ‘Emergency Exit’. “…I think I have an idea.”


“‘Take… the stairs,’ he said… ‘Don’t… wanna cause… a ruckus,’ he said…” 

“Bark, quit your eternal bitching and climb,” Tails groused as they ascended the emergency stairwell. The egress was plain in nature, consisting of solid concrete walls and steps with numbers painted on each floor.

They had climbed the first six floors in silence until Bark broke it with his complaints. “Look, why… the hell… do we… need to climb anyway?” he gasped again as he trundled up the steps. 

“Because I told you, I don’t want security on our asses while we rescue Cosmo,” Tails snapped back in Bark’s direction. “…I doubt that’s possible though.”

A few floors later, Bark suddenly let out a chuckle that Tails could hear. “What’s so funny?” he called back.

“Nothin’” Bark said, huffing loudly. “Just that… I had you figured… wrong I guess… “ 

“What are you talking about?” Tails said, irritation growing in his voice.

“Even you… a mercenary…  would fight for… someone, huh?”

Tails said nothing in response. He heard Cream giggle next to him. The fox was pleased to see that she was keeping pace with him. He arched an eyebrow at her. “What’s that supposed to mean, Cream?

The rabbit didn’t respond, but pushed ahead, her long ears and cream-coloured hair bouncing left and right with every step.

The polar bear chimed in again after climbing several floors in silence. “Hey, this ain’t… one of those… endless stairways, right?”

“Of course not!” Cream retorted. She was breathing harder now and beads of sweat started to form on her head. “Just keep going!”

“… Geez… Just asking…” Bark trailed off. 

Tails said nothing, not wishing to join in on the banter. He kept Cosmo front and centre in his mind. ‘How could I have been so reckless… I should have told her to go home back in Sector 6.’ He recalled the conversation they had as they sat on the slide in the Sector 6 playground. It felt like years had passed since then. 

“Yo, forget this…” Bark wheezed, breaking Tails’ thoughts. The fox halted in his step and looked down to see that the bear had stopped several floors before. “I’ve had… enough. I’m… turning back.”

Both he and Cream went down a few flights to see the winded bear, his organic arm resting on the wall. Cream frowned at him, her hands resting on her knees. “And take just as long going down as you did coming up?!” the rabbit said through gritted teeth. Her face was now flushed and her breathing became laboured. She then looked at the fox beside her with narrowed eyes. “And you… how are you not tired?!” 

Tails shrugged. “SOLDIER makeup, I suppose?” he smirked.

Cream rolled her eyes and turned back to Bark. “C’mon Bark, pull yourself together,” she cheered as she slowly straightened up. “We’re almost there!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered in response. Pushing off of the wall, Bark took off his cap and started fanning himself. “Look, I’m just flesh, fur n’ blood. Well, minus this arm of mine.” He took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. “I’m no robot, nor am I some ex-member of SOLDIER or something,” he added, casting a dirty look at Tails, who arched an eyebrow upwards in response.

“Well, I’m neither of those things and I’m doing just fine!” Cream said hotly, her lips pursed and her shoulders bunching up. “Look, go down if you wish, but I’m going on!” She stomped up the stairs on her own but stopped at the top of the landing. She spun around to see both Bark’s and Tails’ eyes on her and then suddenly turned a furious shade of red. 

“Yaah!” she cried, crossing her hands over her skirt. “Bark! You go first!”

“The hell!? I wasn’t even… Ahhh forget it,” the bear conceded, hurrying up the steps and avoiding the rabbit’s eyes.

“Tails, you go on ahead too!” she said, glaring at him. 


After what seemed like hours, the three made it to the top of the stairwell. It stopped at the 59th floor. Bark collapsed on the step and took deep, gasping breaths. “F… Finally, muh-made it,” he spluttered, pulling out a Potion and drinking it. “Nuh-Never wanna… see more… g-goddess damned stairs for the rest of my life…”

Cream sat down on the step below and clutched the stitch in her chest while she caught her breath. “Oh… well… this was a good warm up, right?” she asked, trying to sound chipper. She drank a Potion of her own and relished the bitter taste. “Eugh, just what I needed to pep me up.” She turned to Tails, who was leaning on the wall next to the door, his arms crossed and head bowed. “This is it Tails,” she said to him. “We better get ready!”

“Right,” Tails agreed, pushing off the wall. “Bark, get up, we’re going.” 

They waited for the polar bear to get up and steady himself and then quietly went through the door to the 59th floor.

They stood in a large, spacious lobby area dedicated to the upper executive floors. On the wall next to the emergency exit were a pair of elevators labelled for floors 1-59. On the opposite side of the room were another set of three elevators with wider doors. There was also a massive atrium spanning from the centre of the current floor they were on to the first floor of the building. Along the top of the atrium was a half wall that was lined with plush chairs covered in royal blue fabric. The lobby was devoid of people, save for the three armored soldiers standing in front of the elevators leading upward.

Wanting to get the upper hand, Tails drew his sword, jumped across the hole in the centre of the floor and incapacitated the grunt standing by the leftmost elevator using the flat of his blade. Instantly, the other two grunts turned and aimed their guns at the fox. 

“Oh no you don’t!” Bark yelled out, pointing his Assault Gun at the guard closest to the Ex-SOLDIER. He fired a volley of bullets and was satisfied to see them pierce through the thick armor. The guard let out a moan and dropped down to the floor, blood pooling around his body.

The third guard backed away from his fallen comrades and fumbled for his radio. Before he could say anything, the device was mysteriously stripped from his hand by Cream. Zipping behind Bark as he provided cover fire, the fighter tapped into the Steal Emerald on her armour and nicked the radio from the startled guard’s clutches. She followed up by first clocking him in the face with a hard cross to stun him and then throwing him over her shoulder. The grunt’s head connected painfully on the polished floor beneath, knocking him out. 

With the battle finished, Tails quickly roved around the floor. He soon found an unopened storage closet near the elevators. “Let’s put the bodies in here,” he said, before frowning at the mess on the floor caused by Bark. “…We can worry about the blood spatter later,” he added, glaring at the now contrite looking polar bear.

As the trio hastily shoved the guards into the closet, Tails noticed something hanging out from one of their pockets. “Hm, what’s this?” the fox queried as he pulled out a keycard. “This must be what we need to get to the higher floors.”

“Then what the hell are we waiting for!?” Bark shouted out. “C’mon, let’s go!”

After sealing the door with a light Ice spell, Tails and the others piled into one of the large elevator cars, the doors closing shut with a swish. Three quarters of the car was encased in a glass tube that showed the inner workings that made up the smooth, egg-shaped facade of the Kintobor Building. The curved, one-way glass was held aloft by thin, steel structural beams. These beams were connected to another, thicker beam that was then connected to the inner building, like the spokes of a wheel.

“Will ya look at that,” Bark muttered through his teeth as he eyed the structure with disgust. “This building wasn’t really egg shaped after all, it’s just these walls that make it so.” He spat on the floor. “Talk about excessive…”  

Tails swiped the keycard on a touchpad at the opposite side of the elevator. The panel lit up and presented him with only three options: 1, 59 and 60. ‘No choice but to go to the next floor.’ He selected the 60th floor and it started to ascend.

Bark crossed his arms as they rose upward. “This is the real thing,” he said, his fist clenching. “Don’t let your guard down.”

Cream looked at both of them, her eyebrows creased. “I hope Cosmo’s alright…” she added.

Tails didn’t respond, but in his head, he wondered the same thing.

The elevator soon stopped at the 60th floor. Tails and company slinked out to what appeared to be a reception area and made a break towards a secluded hallway on the left. The fox peered out to take stock of the situation. 

“Two guards in front of those eight statues,” he whispered to Bark and Cream. “Four more by the desk at the back. From the looks of things, these guys are the night watch.”

“Hey,” Bark suddenly called in a low voice. He was on the other end of the hall. “There’s a door here marked ‘Security’, let’s check it out?”

The fox’s ears flattened. “Wait a sec!” he growled, annoyed at the polar bear’s recklessness. He and Cream followed along and met with Bark, who stopped right in front of the door. Tails approached the Security room and pressed an ear against the wall. He heard nothing but the dim hum of computer equipment on the other side. “Don’t hear anybody inside, let’s go.”

They entered to see a vast array of security monitors. Tails inspected the console, his eyes lighting up. “This terminal looks to be connected to the building’s mainframe… If I hack into it…” he muttered out loud, detaching his sword and sitting in the chair. He started typing, his fingers dancing rapidly on the keyboard.

“What are you doing?” Cream asked Tails, her eyes on the monitors above.

“Masking our presence,” Tails answered, his fingers dancing around the keyboard as he worked. “ Kinda like what I did back at Reactor 1. I’m disabling and cancelling as many alarms here as I can so that they aren’t totally aware of our presence. I also put most of the cameras on a feedback loop. The only thing I can’t override is the door access controls. Seems like that’s being controlled through a separate server.” He huffed and sunk back in the chair. “We’ll still need a physical keycard in order to advance. And the one we have only goes up to this floor.”

“Damnit,” Bark cursed. “Well, at least now we won’t have to worry so much about the entire army being on our asses.”

After a few minutes, Tails entered a final command on the terminal and then stood up. “Alright, I’ve locked the settings,” he said, satisfied. “They’ll have a hard time trying to sort that out.”

“Now, we just need to get to the next floor,” Cream said. She peeked out of the door to the right of the security monitors. “I can see a stairwell on the other side of this floor. We could probably get to it if we use the shadows of the statues to sneak by the guards.”

Ignoring Bark’s protestations about more stairs, Tails nodded. “I like that plan, I’ll go first.” He sheathed his sword, approached the door and kept his eyes trained on the patrolmen. “When I get to the centre, I’ll start waving you over. Stay by the door and wait for me to signal you.” When the guards were not looking, he stole across to each statue, staying in the shadows until he reached the large reception desk in the centre of the room. Turning back to the security room and monitoring the guards, Tails started waving the other two over.

He repeated this process by the door leading to the stairwell. He felt his heart jump into his throat when a guard stopped in his tracks, noticing the back of Cream’s boot as she stumbled towards the second to last statue. 

“Hm… Must be a trick of the light,” Tails heard the guard mumble. He took this opportunity to wave the rabbit over to the last statue. They then sidled around the wall and into the stairwell. 

“Whew, that was close,” Cream shook her hands and legs as the door slid shut, loosening the tension in both.

“Alright! Time to rock!” Bark said loudly, earning a glare from both Mobians.

“Bark, be quiet!” Cream shushed. “Remember, we’re here to save Cosmo!”

“Hell, I know that!” Bark retorted, rolling his eyes.

They climbed up to the next floor and passed through a door that – to their surprise – was jammed open to emerge at the 61st floor. The three Mobians found themselves in what looked to be an executive lounge. In the centre of the room was a large tree. Surrounding the tree were tables and chairs. There were food and beverage kiosks dotted around the space, along with tele-crates and various comfortable armchairs facing out towards the high glass windows that overlooked the illuminated city. Tails, Cream and Bark huddled in the hallway by the stairs as they watched over the few Humans and Mobians that stayed behind to work overtime.

“Alright, so we need a key to go up,” Tails said quietly as he observed the movements of each employee. “Question is: how do we do that?”

“Could we try stealing one?” Cream suggested, pointing to the Steal Emerald on her arm.

“No, too risky,” Tails replied, shaking his head.

“What about if we hold up one of these corporate slugs and demand a key to the upper floors?” Bark whispered, scratching his chin with his good hand.

“That’s even worse, Bark!”

“Alright then, smartass, what do you suppose-”

“-Uh?” A nasally voice behind them made Tails’ fur on the back of his neck stand up. He whirled around with a hand on his blade’s hilt to face a terrified looking sheep. He wore a simple, buttoned up dress shirt, a pair of charcoal slacks and scuffed dress shoes. He looked flustered and disheveled and his glasses were slightly askew. “A-are you here… for the door?” he stammered, trembling at the sight of the three warriors.

Tails blinked. ‘…Roll with it.’ “Yes, we are,” he answered coolly, loosening the hold on his blade. 

The sheep let out the breath he was holding and wiped his brow. “Oh good, then you must be part of the extermination squad I called for earlier!” he smiled. “The door to the stairs has been stuck like this for a while now; I thought one of Professor Nagus’ experiments might’ve caused it to happen, which is why I called!” He suddenly looked at the three of them in earnest. “Um… by the way, do you mind checking out the floor above us too? My boss is up there, but I’m… I’m gonna hang out here until the coast is clear.”

“Sure, it won’t be a problem,” Tails said, shrugging nonchalantly and ignoring the pointed looks from Bark and Cream. “Problem is, we lost our keycard dealing with something on the floor below us,” he continued, hoping that the sheep would buy the flimsy lie. “Got by with a spare, but it’s only good up to this floor.”

“Oh! Is that so?” The sheep replied, his eyes widening. “Well, in that case, take mine. I have a spare of my own. Check in on my boss, willya? He seems pretty frazzled, especially with the explosion that happened last night.” He stared out at the ceiling and shook his head in disbelief. “Can you believe that a bunch of terrorists dropped the Sector 7 plate?! Thank the Goddess that Kintobor’s search and rescue team were there… Imagine how many more people would have died without them?”

Bark opened his mouth to retort but Tails turned and silenced him with a glare. “Look, we might not have much time, if this experiment is still out there,” Tails remarked to the sheep curtly, turning back to face him. “Hand us the key and we’ll take care of it.”

“Ah! Right,” The sheep said, taken aback by the fox’s direct nature. He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out his card. “Here ya go. And thanks again for your help!” He turned around and returned to one of the tables near the tree.

As they clambered up the steps up to the 62nd floor, Bark was fuming. “Can you believe the nerve of that kid?!” he bristled. “‘Terrorists dropping the plate’ my ass! It was Kintobor who did it in the first place!”

“Bark, we can’t produce any physical proof saying otherwise,” Cream responded. “And besides, Kintobor controls the media outlets in Megapolis. They can say whatever they want and people here will deem it the truth, because no one else will say otherwise.”

“Still,” the bear harrumphed. “That don’t make it right.”

They got out of the stairwell and into the 62nd floor, which consisted of four large rooms arranged in a two by two array and a small office. The floors were waxed and polished and the cream coloured walls gave off a pristine glow from the ambient lighting above. 

“Hey, didn’t that kid say his boss is up here?” Bark whispered as they maneuvered the floor. Each had a plaque by its door that listed one of the four core departments within Kintobor Inc. “I’m just saying, if it’s only the one guy, we can overpower him, take his card and be on our way! I mean, this guy must be pretty high up, right?”

Tails let out a frustrated groan as they turned the corner past a room that read ‘Space Development’ and approached the small office. “Look Bark, you’re right,” he said wearily. “He’s the only person here who can give us the card, but let’s just try to convince him to give it up without a struggle? I’m not gonna remind you again; we need to be discreet until we get Cosmo out.”

Turning away from him, Tails missed Bark pulling a face and mouthing his own words behind his back in a mocking way. The office door slid open on approach and the three entered. 

The room was small and cramped, with a large desk made of polished and stained cedar covering almost half of the available space. There was a flat-paneled Tele-Crate against the corner of the room. Right beside where they entered was a smaller table that was covered with neatly stacked papers. 

Sitting at the desk was an older man with coiffed grey and black hair, a rounded nose, chiseled jaw and lines across his pale forehead. He wore a black suit with a red striped tie and smiled at the unexpected company, showing pearly-white teeth. He stood up from his chair and hailed at them in a deep, orotund voice. “Hello there. And who might you be? Wait, let me guess,” He cut in quickly before the three Mobians could get a word in. “You must be those… terrorists, aren’t you?” 

The room descended into a thick, ringing silence for a few moments. Tails didn’t want to risk bringing a hand towards his sword for fear the human might sound an alarm.

“Hm. Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am Carlo Bulliani, Mayor of Megapolis,” the man spoke without concern. “Well, actually I’m Mayor in name only since the city and everything in it is run by Kintobor Inc.” He made an exasperated noise and looked beyond them to the table covered with stacked papers.. “My real job is to watch over the company’s confidential documents… A glorified librarian is all I am these days.” He turned back to the Mobians, clapping his hands. A smile returned to his face. “I assume you’re not here just for a friendly visit?”

“No,” Tails answered, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the Mayor. “ We’re not.” 

“I see,” Buliani replied, stroking his chin. “So then… how can I help?”

The three Mobians looked taken aback by the Human’s words. A wan smile suddenly crossed the Mayor’s lips. “Surprised? Don’t be,” he said, his shoulders sagging forward slightly. “In all honesty… I’m tired of this place. I’ve neither agreed with Gerald’s draconian policies towards Mobians, nor endorsed his treatment of those living in the slums. I put up with both because I was too scared to do anything else. But dropping the plate… well, that was the last straw.” He looked into the fox’s eyes desperately. “They need to be stopped. Before they can do any more harm to the people here. And I get a strong feeling that you’ll be suitable for the job.”

“You’re a little too quick to jump in and help us?” Cream said after a brief silence, frowning at Buliani’s behaviour. “So, what do you want in return?”

“Oh, nothing really,” Buliani replied, sticking a hand in his jacket pocket and taking out a keycard. “I just want you all to promise me one thing: Give them hell and make those assholes suffer greatly.” He walked out of his desk and handed the card to the fox. “Kintobor needs to pay for their crimes. I figure screwing them over would be just as nice as seeing the President and most of those Department Heads dead.”

The room fell quiet once more, the only noise being emitted was the Tele-Crate blaring in the background. “We’ll do it,” Bark said solemnly after a moment. His eyes locked onto the man’s own hazel ones. “We’ll make sure they pay dearly for what they’ve done!”

Buliani smiled sadly. “Thank you,” he said, his voice thick as he bowed his head downwards. He took a deep breath to compose himself and then faced the three with an unsettled look in his eyes. “… So, the keycard I gave you will usually take you up to the 65th floor,” he started slowly and with uncertainty. “But… this morning when I got into the office, I noticed that the 66th floor was coded into it for some reason. There’s a department meeting happening tonight and perhaps someone in IT accidentally assumed I would be part of it?” He shrugged and let out a sigh. “I don’t know, but in any case, you three are lucky.”

Tails looked at the keycard in his hands and then towards Buliani. “Yeah, lucky us,” he said flatly as he turned to leave. “Thanks for your help.”

“Woah, waitaminute!” Bark called, causing Tails to halt in mid-step. He turned to see the polar bear address the human. “So, downstairs, an employee of yours asked us to check in on you. Seemed kinda worried, so… uh, you better make sure to let him know that you’re OK, yeah?”

The Mayor blinked. “I’m… Sorry?” he said, a bemused expression on his face. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about? My budget prevents me from employing anyone, save for an intern, and I have no one working for me at this current time…”

The colour drained from each of Tails, Cream and Bark’s faces. They then thanked him after a pointed silence and turned to leave. 

Once they were out of earshot of the Mayor’s office, Tails rounded on his two companions. “Something’s off here,” he said to them, his expression darkening. “Why would that sheep on the 61st tell us that he works for the Mayor, only for the very man to say otherwise?”

“And then there’s the keycard,” Bark added, his arms crossed and his brows furrowed in thought. “He said that his car usually went to the 65th, except for today? Doesn’t that seem kinda odd?”

“You think it’s a trap, Tails?” Cream inquired, a worried look in her eyes. “Like what happened at the Number 5 Reactor?”

“…Even if it’s a trap, we’re already here,” Tails commented after taking in both of his companion’s opinions of the situation. He folded his arms in thought. “We’ve long past the point of no return, and sides, we’re not leaving until we get Cosmo out. Trap or no, we have to keep going.”

“Well, then what the hell are we waiting for?” Bark grumbled as he trundled forwards and jammed his finger on the elevator call button.

The car soon arrived and the three entered the elevator. As the doors slid shut, Tails’ eyes were fixated on a plaque labeled ‘Scientific Research’ and he suddenly felt a tinge of regret. ‘I… I wish I had some time to look into these files,’ he found himself thinking forlornly. He shook the thought out of his head as the elevator jolted upwards, earning looks from both Cream and Bark.

Reaching the 66th floor, they piled out of the elevator and again hurried into a secluded hallway as the elevator beside them dinged. Flattering themselves against the wall, Tails, Cream and Bark watched as two occupants got off the lift. 

The first was a vixen with sleek, auburn fur and reddish-brown hair. She wore a sleeveless black dress with a high slit, plunging neckline and matching black stilettos. Beside her was a massive lion, bronze furred with a short, flat-top haircut and a long groomed beard, both coloured platinum blonde. He wore a green military-style duster over black slacks and marched forward on polished combat boots.

“Ugh, I hate this conference room,” the female muttered to her companion, her voice as smooth as velvet to Tails ears. “Would it kill Gerald to hire a contractor and seal off the duct leading to the bathroom?”

“Quit your griping, Fiona,” the lion growled, his bottom jaw jutting out and making his large underbite more pronounced. “I’m already in a bad mood as it is. Let’s just go in and get this over with. I hate these meetings.” 

The three TORNADO members watched as the two Mobians approached a set of ornate, wood paneled doors across from the elevators. The lion brought forth a keycard from his jacket pocket and tapped it on the reader beside the doors. It beeped once, the lock disengaging and the lion pulled the door open to enter the room, the fox slinking in right behind him.

Tails turned to his companions as the door clicked shut. “We need to listen in on that meeting,” he whispered as the conference room doors closed with a faint click. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say that this whole meeting’s all about Cosmo. They might give us a clue as to her whereabouts.”

Cream tapped her chin thoughtfully. “But how are we going to do that?” she asked.

The fox took a moment to think. His ice blue eyes glittered as he recalled the words the scantily dressed vixen said before she and her companion entered the conference room. “I might have an idea,” he said, his lips quirking upward. He beckoned the two to follow him down the hallway on the left hand side of the conference room. “C’mon, we gotta find a bathroom…”


Christopher

Chris entered the 66th floor conference room with a stack of papers in his hand. He took his seat at one corner of the table and started laying them out along the desk. He looked distinctly less disheveled, having travelled to the rec area on the 64th floor and taking a shower for the first time in several days. While his face was impassive and expressionless, inwardly, he felt cold and hollow. His mind had been replaying the sounds of screeching metal and of the plate crashing to the hard earth below with a sickening thud. 

He suppressed a shudder, knowing that both Kodos and Fiona had their eyes on him. They were in the middle of an animated conversation as he came into the room, but then grew silent as he got to his seat. The lion scowled deeply at him, while Fiona shot him a coy look. He acknowledged their presence with a jerk of his head just as the conference room doors opened again.

Coming into the room was a short, wiry man wearing a tan suit. The newcomer had a pale, pointed face, a large hook nose, watery eyes, thin, balding hair and a pencil neck. In his hands was a mug filled with tea. “Kodos, Fiona, Thorndyke!” he called, his high, nasally tone jovial. “So good to see you all! Especially after such a rough night.” He took the seat opposite of Chris and took a sip from his mug. 

Great, Snively’s here…’ Chris thought darkly, giving the little man across from him a hooded look. Snively smiled simperingly at him and then took another sip. He smacked his lips loudly, which only added to Chris’ ire.

After a few moments of waiting, President Kintobor entered the room. The occupants stood at attention as he made his way to the head of the table. “Be seated,” he instructed, lowering his aging frame into the high-backed chair. Gerald turned his head to Chris as he sat down and indicated for him to begin.

Chris cleared his throat. “I have here the damage estimates for Sector 7,” he said, indicating the papers on the table. “Considering the various investments we made in the areas that have now been destroyed – factories, service-based industries and residential development – we expect to see damages in the range of 10 billion mobium.”

He was not surprised to see that his words had no effect on the occupants in the room. Gerald maintained his stony composure, his eyes imperceptible behind his dark, round glasses. Kodos picked out lint in his ear with his little finger, his eyes glazed over. Fiona leaned back in her seat and examined her nails, a bored expression crossing her muzzle. Snively sipped his tea, making loud slurping noises and again smacking his lips to Chris’ dismay. The sounds made the red-haired man grip the underside of the table tightly as he repressed the urge to lunge over and throttle him.

“…The estimated cost to rebuild Sector 7-”

“-We’re not rebuilding,” Gerald interjected.

“What?”

Gerald leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table and his fingers steepling. “We are not rebuilding,” he repeated slowly, ignoring the scandalized look the redhead gave him. “We’re leaving Sector 7 as it is and restarting the Neopolis plan.”

“…Then, the Ancients?” Chris asked, recovering from his shock.

“Yes,” Kintobor finished, his moustache stretching into a cold smile. “The Fertile Grounds will soon be ours.” His gaze turned back towards Chris’. “I want you to raise the Energen rates by 15% in every area,” he instructed. “And raise RINGTEK prices by another 20%.”

“Wahahahaha-hooo!” Snively erupted in a fit of laughter as he slammed his mug into the table, the contents splashing onto the polished wood. All eyes turned to him. “A rate hike! Simply marvelous idea, Granduncle! Now… if you could just include the Space Program in the new budget-”

“-Christopher and Fiona will divide the extra income from the rate increases,” Kintobor said impassively, glowering at his grandnephew.

Snivley wilted under the President’s gaze and fell silent.

“But Sir,” Chris stood up, his shoulders hunched and his hands splayed on the table. “If you raise the rates, the people will lose confidence!”

“Nonsense,” Kintobor waved. “The ignorant citizens will not lose confidence, not after our response to last night’s attack. In fact, I’ve received poll numbers that indicate trust in Kintobor Inc. has risen 25 points.”

“Ha ha ha!” It was Kodos’ turn to laugh. “Kid, we saved Sector 7 from TORNADO! Of course the people are gonna love us!”

Before Chris could make a retort, the conference room door swung open with a loud bang. Startled, Chris turned to see who was entering. Limping into the space was Professor Nagus, his amber eyes shimmering from beneath the hood he always wore.

“Ahh… Nagus,” Kintobor greeted, his moustache twitching upwards. “Good of you to finally join us. How is the girl?”

Nagus brought his left hand to his chin and started stroking it. “I’ve taken several samples from her over the past 24 hours and have analyzed them,” he said, his high, clear voice ringing through the room. “The girl does have similar powers to her mother, but they appear to be inert in comparison. An utterly inferior specimen, in my opinion.” He started to pace the room, his eyes still trained on the President. “The difference thus far is about 20%, but it climbs as I perform further tests.”

“And how long will the research take?” Kintobor asked, a slight edge to his voice.

“Currently, my estimates place it at 120 years,” Nagus answered and quickly continued, seeing the throbbing vein that sprouted on the President’s bald, liver-spotted head. “Luckily, the last sample I took a few hours ago has confirmed my suspicions that she is indeed quite fertile. I believe breeding her with an individual possessing similar powers will reduce that research estimate by about 95%.”

“… Possessing similar powers?”

“Ah, yes,” Nagus acknowledged. He stopped pacing and faced Kintobor. “We came across a Mobian around the outskirts of the ruined Mobotropolis. He would have been unremarkable, save for the odd, Emerald-like growths along his arms. We captured him and I coaxed out his latent abilities, as you already know from an earlier conversation. I managed to gather a reproductive sample from him before his mutation, of course, but he is a rather magnificent-”

“-Nagus,” Kintobor interrupted through gritted teeth. “Enough of that. What about the Fertile Grounds?”

“Ah, forgive me,” he said, bowing. “As for the company’s plans for the Fertile Grounds, it will all be dependent on the mother… She is quite strong-willed, but I believe she can be tamed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll need to prepare…” He trailed off, wandering out of the boardroom.

Gerald let out an exasperated sigh. “Meeting adjourned,” he said wearily, climbing out of his chair. 

Chris followed suit. He collected his papers and walked at a clipped pace out of the door. As he mashed the elevator call button, he heard Fiona say something, but he paid it no mind. The doors soon opened and he climbed in. He tapped the reader with his keycard and slammed his hand on the 65th floor button. “Screw all of this, I’m getting my robot and going to see my girlfriend…” he muttered, taking out his cellphone as the elevator door slid shut and the car descended.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 31

Chapter 31: The Former Freedom Fighters



Tails

The remnants of TORNADO had left Cosmo’s house around mid-morning, bound for the Wall Market. Tails would have liked to have left at the break of dawn, but Rose insisted that they rest more.

“You’re heading into the belly of the beast!” she had admonished the fox when he had brought this up to her. She had been using his Restore Emerald to speed up the healing process and she began to look haggard. “You need to rest! A few extra hours could be the difference between life or death!”

The fox had opened his mouth to counter, but Cream had kicked him in the shins before he could utter a word. Resigned, he allowed himself to recuperate until it was time to go.

After leaving the relative safety of Sector 5’s residential district, the trio passed through the broken wall into Sector 6 and climbed over the thoroughfare’s uneven terrain at a brisk pace. As they neared the Hell House’s domain, Tails held up a hand to halt their advance, his ears pricking upwards at the sounds of roaring in front of him. Moving carefully, he peered around the remains of a large crane and watched as the Hell House fought against a pack of Robians, who were prowling in the area. 

The Mutate’s limbs – a bizarre combination of organic and biomechanical arms – had exploded out of the fragile shell it constructed and grasped at whatever came near its vicinity. Its bulbous head had broken through the window above the door, its wild, jaundiced eyes roving over the Robians battling it. The Hell House barreled forward, the several pairs of stubby legs that shot out from the bottom of its shell trampling over a Wolf Robian.

Cream and Bark soon joined him and the three collectively winced as one unlucky avian Robian was caught in between two of its arms. The Hell House then proceeded to rip its wings clean off of its body. Noticing that they were with him, Tails motioned for both of them to stay close to the walls and sneak across to the alcove leading forward. The chaos of the one-sided fight gave them enough cover to reach the other side without being detected.

Bark turned back after he had squeezed his large frame through the narrow gap leading onward. “Good thing we didn’t have to take care of that,” he said sheepishly.

The mood turned sombre as they soon entered the playground. Cream and Bark stopped in front of the still-smoking wreckage of the Sector 7 plate, haunted expressions etched on their faces.  Tails joined alongside them after filching a Sense Emerald among the debris next to them. They all searched for words to say for the deceased, but nothing came to their minds. Tearing away from the horrific wreckage, the trio then entered the Wall Market. 

Compared to his last visit, Tails found the atmosphere in the slum city to be tense and unnerving. The crowds were not as dense as they were the previous day and a great deal of people kept their eyes to the sky, in case the Sector 6 Plate decided to crash down on them as well.

As they rounded the restaurant where he and Cosmo ate at barely twenty four hours previously, Tails heard a familiar, reedy voice call out to him. “Hey Foxy! Behind you!”

Turning around, he came face to face with Viv, Cosmo’s ‘aunt’. She tottered over to the three and gave them a gummy smile. “Well, fancy seeing you here,” she twittered. “And in normal clothing too!”

Bark threw Tails a funny look, his eyebrow arched. “Normal? What the hell is she talking about?” he asked.

Before Tails could open his mouth, Viv cut in. “Oh, so you don’t know?” she chimed, ignoring the fox signaling to her not to say anything. “Well, it turns out that this gorgeous rabbit friend of his -” she pointed at Cream, who blinked in response, a tinge of pink on her cheeks, “- was in the clutches of Don Corneo and in order to save her, he had to dress as a woman.” Viv let out a pleasant hum. “I do say, he looked quite convincing!”

Bark head slowly swiveled back to the mortified fox, who blanched. The corners of the bear’s mouth twitched and his eyes started water as he snickered loudly. Before long he collapsed into hearty, loud laughter, causing the on-lookers to jump in fright. “You… ha-ha-ha, You, dressed like a woman?!” Bark chortled as he wiped tears from his eyes. “Oh-hoh-ho, man, I’d pay good money to see that!?”

“Oh, shut up!” Tails snarled through gritted teeth, his shoulders bunched up and his ears flattened. He whirled around to Viv, who wore an innocent smile on her wizened face. “I’m glad we found you: You’re well-connected, right?” he asked, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice. Bark’s guffaws continued behind him. “Would you know of a way to get to the upper world?”

“I might,” she replied in a maddening tone that made the fox want to strangle her. “But here’s a question for you: where’s my darling Cosmo? Did you leave her at home?”

Tails suddenly turned his head away from her, his eyes downcast. “Uh… well,” he stammered, trying to find the right words to say, but she cut him off.

“Hm. I see,” she said matter-of-factly. “I think I can piece together what happened.” And without warning, she whipped the fox smartly on the head with her cane.

Yowling, Tails massaged the top of his head vigorously. Behind him, Bark laughed even harder. The fox glared at the alligator. “What the hell was that for?!” he shot out, hissing loudly before turning to the cackling bear. “And could you quit it!”

“‘What the hell was that for,’ he asks! I’ll tell you what!” Viv snapped back, glowering at him. “You were supposed to protect her and to keep her safe! Now, she’s in the hands of those bastards at Kintobor!” She threw her hands into the air out of frustration. “Do you have any idea – any at all – of what you’ve done?!”

“No, and I don’t really give a damn,” Tails fired back, his hackles raised. “Because we’re gonna get her back!”

“…Come again?”

“You heard me,” Tails said coolly. “We’re going topside to break into Kintobor’s headquarters and get Cosmo back.”

“A fool’s errand, boy,” the alligator sneered, her voice now taking on a hard, cold edge. “You wouldn’t be the first to try a dangerous stunt like that. I would know,” she looked out into the distance, a forlorn expression crossing her snout. “We did that almost fifteen years ago, back when I was part of the Freedom Fighters.”

Bark immediately ceased his laughter and gaped at the alligator. Next to him, Cream’s lips parted in surprise, her eyes wide and her brows raised to their highest point. “Y-you’re a Freedom Fighter?!” Cream said, awed.

“One of the original resistance groups,” Bark answered Tails’ unasked question. The former SOLDIER could see a sort of reverence in the bear’s eyes. “Before TORNADO, before any of the other resistance groups, it was these guys who ran the show.”

“…Yes,” Viv said, dropping the feebleness from her voice. Her voice was now rough and hardened; the tell-tale signs of a battle-worn warrior. “…I lost the ability to walk properly because we had the same fool-hardy idea as you.” She shook her head and then stared at the gates leading out of Wall Market. A distant look was in her eyes. “Although we achieved our goal in getting those two out, I don’t know how we got out of there alive.”  

Tails looked at her and cocked his head to the side, perplexed at the cryptic statement. He suddenly heard Cream gasp from behind him. “Wait a second, you guys were the ones who got Cosmo out in the first place?!” she exclaimed.

Viv scoffed and then smiled wistfully at the declaration. “That’s right, kiddo,” she said, her admission shocking the trio. She beckoned them to a secluded area nearby and then continued once they were out of earshot. “Back then, we discovered that Kintobor had tracked down and captured the last remaining Ancients – Cosmo and her mother,” Viv explained, keeping her voice low. “At the time, we had no idea what they had planned for either of them, but it didn’t matter; we knew we had to get them out of their clutches. But… we screwed up on the extraction attempt.”

Viv looked away, her ancient eyes tinged with regret. “…We entered a pretty lengthy skirmish at the end,” she continued quietly. “…I got shot in the leg several times. Bullets shattered the bone clean, so though I healed, I’d never walk properly again. In the confusion, the two Ancient’s separated from our group and escaped. How they ended up down here in the slums, I’ll never know…” She sighed. “It’s a shame the mother died – crossfire or maybe even Mutates might have gotten her on her way down… But at least Cosmo was OK.”

Her expression darkened and she glared hatefully at the fox. “…And now, the little girl we’ve sacrificed life and limb for is back in Kintobor’s greedy little clutches,” she spat. “And it’s all your fault, ya damned fox!”

“…So? Big deal,” Tails said brusquely, ignoring the scandalized looks from his companions. “Yeah, we screwed up, but that’s not gonna stop us. Even if you guys came out on the wrong side of things all those years ago, we’ll succeed in getting her out.”

“And why’s that?” Viv asked, her voice now venomous.

“Because you guys never had a First Class SOLDIER on your team.”

The alligator scoffed loudly and said nothing. Her eyes, however, scrutinized Tails for a very long time. “…Alright then,” she conceded, apparently satisfied with what she saw. “Come with me.” 

Tails, Cream and Bark followed Viv as she wound through the alleyways. They passed by the bar, the gym and even Corneo’s mansion until they came up to a path that ended at the barrier wall separating Sectors 6 and 7. The top portion was broken off due to the Plate collapse. Three children were standing in front of a thick wire that dangled from the top of the damaged wall. Two Human boys and a deer girl were arguing on who was going to climb it.

Viv approached the children and put on her most chilling glare. “You damn whippersnappers!” she hollered, making them all jump. “What the hell are you doing, hanging around this place! Get your asses home, right now! ”The children squeaked loudly and then bolted from the scene. 

Satisfied, Viv approached the wire, with Tails, Cream and Bark in tow. “The trains aren’t running and the city is basically on lockdown,” she said to the three. “This is the only way to get up to the upper city now, but it’s not gonna be an easy climb. Especially for you,” she motioned to Bark and his one arm. “Fortunately, I know a guy who could probably jerry-rig something up.” She started tottering back out of the alleyway. “Let’s go.”

Bark threw his other two companions a face-splitting grin. “Aw yeah! We’re gonna climb this damned wire to the top!”

“Hold on a second,” Tails protested, glaring at the polar bear. “There’s no way we can do this. You know how far up this goes?”

“What’s the matter?” Bark’s nose crinkled. “Whatever happened to that bravado earlier, huh? Was that just bullshit?”

“No, but I’m just being realistic-”

-To hell with being realistic!” Bark argued back loudly, cutting the fox off in mid-sentence. He pointed at the wire. “What does that look like to you?”

“…A normal wire?” Tails shrugged, his brows raised.

“Oh yeah?” the polar bear said, folding his arms, his head held high. “Well, to me, it looks like a golden, shiny wire of hope!”

His declaration was met with silence.

“…I hate to admit it, but he’s right Tails,” Cream said after a moment, her eyes trailing up the wire to the top of the city. “We have nothing else to go on. This could be our only way to get up to Kintobor’s HQ…”

Tails let out a long, hollow sigh. “OK, that was a bad analogy,” he said dryly, before glancing back at the bear. “But, Bark… I understand how you feel.” He half-smiled at his enthusiasm and then made a decision. “… Eff it, let’s go for it, then.” Both Cream and Bark grinned in response.

“Hey! Are you three coming or not!?” Viv bellowed impatiently, startling the trio. She stood at the mouth of the alley, her feet tapping in annoyance. “Bloody damn whippersnappers, wasting an old lady’s time…”

Wishing not to further arouse her ire, the three Mobians followed alongside her. Viv led them to what looked to be a giant junk pile that was nestled between the gym and the karaoke bar. They made their way through the mounds of scrap and up to a thick steel door, which the alligator knocked with her cane.

A slot at the top slid open. “Who is it?” a gruff voice barked out.

“It’s Viv, open the door, you lazy ass,” the alligator insulted, a ghost of a grin in her voice.

The door rattled as its occupant turned and unbolted the locks. It swung open with an audible, rusty creak, revealing a middle-aged zebra with a paunch. He wore stained, brown corduroy overalls over a faded, grey t-shirt and dark brown work boots that were caked with grease and grime. “Viv! You ornery devil!” he cackled gleefully, a toothy smile crossing his lips. He approached and gave her a hug. “What brings you to my joint?”

“Cut the shit, Ced. We have a problem,” Viv interjected, extricating herself from the embrace and getting straight to the point. “These guys behind us need our help. It’s about little Cosmo.”

Ced’s face fell. “It-It finally happened?” he gawked at the reptile’s serious demeanor. She nodded. He stood aside and motioned the four Mobians in. “Come on in,” he ushered. “Quickly, now.”

Shutting and bolting the door, Ced crossed the floor, muttering to himself all the while. He got behind the counter and took a seat on his stool. “OK, so what’s the situation Viv?” he asked, his tone all business. 

“Kintobor has Cosmo,” Viv explained, pointing to Tails, Bark and Cream with her thumb. “And these guys are the rescue team.” She paused and then added, “They’re what’s left of TORNADO. Our ‘descendants,’ if you will.”

The zebra whistled appreciatively. “Ain’t that a fact,” he murmured, a wistful look crossing his muzzle. “You guys were ballsy, blowing up two reactors.” He chuckled. “You made us look pretty bad.” Ced noticed the withering glare Viv shot him and hastily continued. “Alright then, so part-rescue, part-revenge mission, huh? I’m guessing Viv’s already told you about the wire? Well, lemme ruckus up somethin’ in the back.” 

He went around to the rear of the junk shop and the sounds of things being rummaged around were heard for a few moments. Ced soon returned with three cardboard boxes. Setting them on the table, he revealed a set of bangles, a pair of gloves and three, small black cubes.

“Here’s what I got: Three pieces of armor bangles made of raw Mythril scraps with a linked slot – my design, of course. A set of metal knuckles for the beautiful lady… and three batteries.”

“Batteries?” Tails raised an eyebrow, picking one up and inspecting it. Each of the cubes had a set of alligator clips and wires soldered onto what the fox suspected were positive and negative leads. “Why do we need batteries?”

Ced scoffed. “Trust me,” he assured with a knowing smile. “You’ll need ‘em for the climb up. Now, normally I’d charge about 3000 Mobium for the lot, but since you’re friends with Viv and Cosmo, I’ll cut you a deal: 1500.” He grinned, despite the glum looks he received. “Hey, I gotta make money as well, right?”

Resigned to his fate, Tails dug into his back pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. Inspecting it, he narrowed his eyes. ‘Damnit, this is practically all my money… but I can’t worry about that right now,’ “…Deal,” he responded, tossing him the cash and pocketing the rest.

“Knew you’d make the right decision,” Ced said as they gathered the equipment. His eyes stopped on the polar bear’s arm and he did a double take. “Well I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed, his jaw dropping. “Is that a Gun-Arm?! I thought I’d never see one of these in person! Do you mind if I take a looksee?” 

Hesitantly, Bark stepped forward and placed his arm on the table, to which Ced inspected. “Hmm… Looks like a first generation model. Good stopping power, but wholly inaccurate…” he muttered. He raised his head and met the bear’s eyes. “Tell ya what: since you’re gonna be sticking it to the Kintobor, I’ll give her an upgrade on the house – I’ve been lookin’ for an excuse to get rid of it anyway. You’ll also need a grappling attachment: can’t really climb a wire with one hand, huh?” 

Bark looked nonplussed as Ced returned to the back room. He hollered out as he searched for the Gun-Arm parts. “Hey Viv! This is gonna take an hour or two; mind taking those other two young’uns to gather supplies?” 

“Fine!” Viv hollered back. She motioned to Cream and Tails with a gnarled hand. “You two, come with me. Getting up to the plate is gonna be the easy part but surviving will be your main challenge. Let’s get your properly suited up. Oh,” she then smirked at Tails. “And don’t worry, dearie. We’re not getting you another dress.”

The fox reddened as he and Cream left the junk shop, with Bark’s loud guffaws echoing from behind him.


It was mid-afternoon when Tails, Cream and Viv returned to the barrier wall with provisions for the trip. They were met by Bark and Ced. The polar bear tapped his foot impatiently as he stood by the wire. “Finally! Where were you two?” he questioned, a note of irritation in his voice. 

“Don’t blame us,” Tails muttered, his eyes pointing to the hobbling alligator beside him.

Ced, meanwhile, sat on a stool beside Bark’s arm, a rusted toolbox by his feet. He wore a set of small, round spectacles and had a screwdriver between his teeth as he inserted a device into the bottom of the bear’s modified weapon. Gone was the six-barreled Gatling Gun and in its place, the new Gun-Arm sported a longer, sleeker body that was attached to a conical plate. It was equipped with two barrels; a six-inch long barrel on the top and a shorter, two inch barrel on the bottom. Both barrels were fed by four rifle cartridges inserted into slots along the side and underneath the gun. On the very top was an iron sight, painted red. Behind it were two Emerald slots, which were linked together. Connected to a port on the underside of the weapon was a hastily put-together apparatus that consisted of one of the batteries they had purchased and a mechanical clamp that kept opening and closing. 

The zebra smacked Bark on the leg. “Stop doing that, you’ll kill the battery!” he grunted, installing a case over the apparatus and then securing it with a few screws. “There! All finished.” His knees creaking, he stood up from his stool and admired his handiwork.

“You know?” Bark said to Ced, admiring the grappling claw on the bottom. “I always thought this bottom thingy was an exhaust port or something…”

“No, ya idjit!” Ced groaned, putting a palm into his forehead. “That port’s built for sensory expansions, like this grapple attachment.” He beckoned him towards the wire leading upward. “Just do what you were doing before, but don’t overdo it. Wouldn’t want you to run out of energy and fall to your death.” 

He handed the bear a new magazine bandolier which he affixed around his broad waist. “Don’t worry either about trying to find extra ammo,” Ced explained, reading Bark’s skeptical expression. “That new Assault Gun uses the standard infantry clips. Sure, it doesn’t empty as fast as your old gun, but this baby packs enough of a wallop that you can take down a whole mess of things with just a clip!” The zebra rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, sniffed and then beamed.

“Hah, thanks old geezer,” Bark grinned, tugging his cap. 

“Alright, that’s enough,” Tails cut in before Ced could issue a retort. His eyes were fixed on the wire. “Let’s get going. The longer we hang around here, the more Cosmo’s gonna suffer.” 

“Don’t forget these,” Viv said beside him. She handed the fox a burlap bag. Inside were a pack of restoratives and a set of five Emeralds: Fire, Ice, Lighting, Restore and an All. Tails distributed the supplies to Bark and Cream before pocketing the gems. “Now, go up there, get Cosmo back and kick Kintobor’s ass.”

Tails’ lips quirked at the alligator. “Thanks,” he said, his expression softening. Turning around, he, Cream and Bark then approached the wire and started their ascent.

“Good luck,” Tails heard the reptile whisper behind him as he pulled himself up, hand over hand, on the thick cable leading to the upper world.


Cosmo

Cosmo stared listlessly at the steel grey ceiling from the bunk she lay on. She was held in a small cell in one of the research and development floors within the Kintobor Building. Apart from the hard bed she rested on, there was a small commode on the other side of the tiny room. The walls were swathed in the same shade as the ceiling. 

She was unaware of how much time had passed since she was captured. All she recalled was that she was stripped of her clothes, weapons and equipment and given a gown similar to the one her real mother wore when they escaped. She shivered as the thought of her dying mother’s blood covering the flimsy garment bloomed in her mind. ‘At least they had the courtesy to let me keep my undergarments…’ Cosmo thought miserably. ‘Thankfully, they didn’t take the most important thing from me…’ 

She sat up, opened up her right hair blossom and plucked the pendant that she stashed at her first opportunity out from the folds of petals within. “Mom was always telling me to keep it safe,” Cosmo murmured to herself, running her fingers over the smooth, golden surface. The silver jewel inlaid within glittered in the light. “Guard it with your life, she told me. But I never knew why? Could it be related to -”

The sounds of footsteps approaching her door snapped Cosmo out of her musings. Gasping, she shoved the pendant and chain back into her blossom. It closed shut just as the door slid open with a swoosh. 

“Good,” a high, clear and cold voice rang out. “You’re awake. This will make things much easier.” 

The stranger entered the door and Cosmo felt a wave of revulsion washing over her. He wore a hooded lab coat that partially obscured his face in shadow. She could see his leering red-amber eyes, the pointed chin and a gleeful grin that spread wide across his lips. He reminded her of a child reuniting with a lost toy or plaything.

His left arm was completely covered in bandages from the elbow down to his fingers and was bound in a sling. He walked into the cell with a slight limp, his right leg dragging behind him slightly as he crossed the floor. Two human MP’s flanked him and stood by the door, their masked faces impassive as they watched the hooded figure pull out a syringe from his coat using his right hand as he approached the flower girl. 

Cosmo wanted nothing more than to run and hide somewhere far away from this man, but she felt frozen in place by the cold and unfeeling eyes that roved over her. He stopped in front of her and bent forward, inspecting her as though she was a piece of meat he was purchasing at the grocery store. 

“Did you know,” he said, his high, clear voice chilling her to the bone. “That the genetic difference between you and your mother is quite vast? You look exactly like her, but the DNA you had inherited from your biological father is likely interrupting your ability to utilize your latent powers.” He leaned back and tapped his chin with his good hand. “Whereas your mother was aware and able to willfully control her powers at a young age, you, on the other hand, have not even shown the slightest glimmer of your abilities.” He shook his head condescendingly. “You may have a gift to call upon more of an Emerald’s power than the average living organism, but that pales in comparison to what you should be able to accomplish, in comparison to your mother. This will not do at all.”

Hatred welled up in the flower girl’s body, followed by a deep sense of shame and inadequacy at what the scientist said about her. She glowered at the hooded man, her face growing hot and her fists shaking beside her. 

“Luckily,” he continued, unaware of her anger towards him. “We may have a workaround in place to speed things up. I shall take one last sample from you to analyze before we commence with the extraction process.”

Cosmo’s anger towards him suddenly turned into confusion. “E-extraction process?” she faltered, her brows creasing.

He flashed another smile that nauseated her. “Why, for your eggs, of course!” he gloated. “Did you think that you Ancients were the only creatures connected to this planet? If we can’t get you to use your powers willfully, we’ll make someone who can!”  The hooded man then threw his head back and cackled, his right arm outstretched while his left bounced uselessly against his chest.  “This shall be the finest wizardry I’ll perform yet!” 

The flower girl’s face went as pale as the gown she wore. 

Once the man’s laughter subsided, he motioned to the two guards behind him. “Hold her down,” he said.

“Yes sir, Professor Nagus,” they answered in unison.

Cosmo scooted back towards the corner, her lip trembling as the MP’s loomed over her and clamped down on her arms. She squirmed fruitfully as they forced her left arm into position. As she watched the needle go into her arm, her mind went to the two-tailed fox. 

Tails… Help…’ 


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 30

Chapter 30: A Hidden Agenda



Knuckles

Knuckles lay awake in his bed. He stared at the ceiling of his tiny apartment with his arms splayed out. From the corner of his eye, he could see through the slats on his window shade that the sky outside was lightening. Dawn approached.

He turned to his side and looked at the clock on his bedside table. “6:30 in the morning,” he groaned to himself. “Felt like I only had an hour of sleep…” He rolled back onto his back and his eyes trailed back to the ceiling. They glazed over as he once again recalled the events that occurred nearly six hours ago.

I should be happy,’ he thought, watching as thin rays of sunlight illuminated the dust motes floating around. ‘We eliminated the rebels, reclaimed the Ancient and we delivered her to the Company… so, why do I feel so unsettled?’ 

Is it because you feel guilty for all those people and Mobians you killed in the process?’ his inner voice questioned immediately. 

The echidna turned over to his side and brooded over this thought. He had killed many over the course of his ten year career as a member of the Chaotix. His methodical approach and taciturn demeanor enabled him to become the youngest leader in the team’s history. Through it all, he never felt any guilt or remorse for his targets.

You never had to deal with collateral damage on this scale, did you?’ his conscience told him. ‘Or… do you feel guilty because of something else?’ The thought only caused him to tighten his jaw. 

Before he could delve deeper into his quandaries, he heard the familiar chirp of his cell phone go off next to his alarm clock. Pushing himself up into a sitting position, he flipped the phone open and answered without looking to see who called. “What is it?”

“Well, good mornin’ to you too, sunshine,” Vector chimed from the other line. “Look, that fight at Sector 7 really did a number on us. We need to talk about personnel. Now.”

Knuckles ran a hand through his dreads and suppressed a groan. ‘Just what I need, more work problems…’ “…Can this wait until later in the morning?” he asked, growing irritated.

“Well, I wish I could,” The crocodile responded nonchalantly. “But I really needed to let you know that we had a Eureka moment with Julie.” Knuckles drew in a sharp breath suddenly as Vector went on, “I’m recommending that we promote her to Field Agent. I think she’ll do well.”

“…Alright,” the echidna said, collecting himself and staring out of the window towards the brightening sky, the gears in his mind turning wildly. “Have everyone in the briefing room in an hour. We’ll discuss it then.” He ended the call, threw off the covers and got out of the bed.

The studio apartment was as sparsely furnished as his office was. Besides the bed and the nightstand next to it, the one room flat had a small kitchenette, a table and a single chair. There was a wardrobe on the wall opposite the window. Behind the bed was a tiny washroom with a stand-up shower and a sink, which Knuckles went into first. 

Refreshed, he turned on the lights in his flat, opened the wardrobe and put on his uniform. After pulling on his gloves, he dialed a number on his handset which answered on the first ring “Prepare my SkyTrans,” he instructed, striding to the door and grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl on the table as he passed it. He shut the lights off as he left. 

From his apartment in Sector 3, it took half an hour by air to reach the Kintobor Building, a massive, egg-shaped skyscraper standing at the centre of Megapolis. The mirrored windows along the building’s facade reflected the polluted, smoke-grey sky. Knuckles didn’t wait for his SkyTrans to land on the pad at the base of the building; he opened the door as it approached the landing zone and jumped out. He fanned out his dreadlocks and caught a draft, which kept him aloft. Stretching his arms out in front of him, he glided down to the ground, landed in a crouch, stood up and then entered the building’s vestibule in one fluid motion.

He pulled out his identification card and scanned it on the security terminal. The terminal beeped and the automated turnstile doors swung open. Knuckles passed through them and into an open foyer spanning three stories. It had clean, modern lines and pops of silver, gold and royal blue colour that offsetted against the cold, concrete grey walls. There were two sets of stairs on the left and right ends of the foyer leading up to the second level. They were arranged in an eye-catching, angular manner and were covered with a plush navy carpet runner. Automated escalators on either side allowed for quick travel between the three floors. All around the massive space were various examples of RINGTEK applications, including vehicles, small electronics and appliances. Flat paneled Tele-Crate screens arranged on the walls of each floor showed videos of various Kintobor tech in use. At the centre of the first floor was an information and security kiosk, its edges illuminated in a bright violet light for easy visibility. Directly behind it was a large sign that was illuminated with spotlights on the bottom. The sign read “Welcome to Kintobor.”

Knuckles crossed the polished, marble floor, passed the stairwell leading to the second floor and made his way to the elevator bank at the end. With his back towards a mint green, three wheeled pick-up truck, Knuckles pressed a button and entered an empty car. He scanned his card on the elevator access card reader and pressed the button labelled 50. The doors closed and the elevator shot upward. Within ten seconds, it stopped at the 50th floor and Knuckles got off. He traversed down the plain-looking hallway, hung a right past his office and opened the first door on his left. The plaque on the outside read “Briefing Room.”

As the echidna expected, the rest of the Chaotix were already in attendance. Vector, Charmy and Nack sat at the far end of the long conference table. Charmy and Vector both had bruises on their bodies. Vector’s right arm, burned from his skirmish, was wrapped tightly with gauze. Nack wore a sling around his right arm and his right wrist was encased in a cast.

Next to Nack was Mighty, the bright lighting reflected off of his polished, maroon carapace. His jacket was rumpled and his dark eyes were downcast and unfocused. ‘It looks like he had to drag himself here,’ Knuckles judged, his eyes moving to the rest of the team. 

Leaning against the wall across from Mighty was a chameleon with purple skin, a yellow horn and sharp amber-coloured eyes. Around his wrists were black armbands. Twenty small, triangular knives were inserted into slots around each band. He too wore the standard navy blazer and slacks, a ridge of three black spines poking out from the back of the jacket. He coiled and uncoiled his tail unconsciously as he surveyed the room. “Knuckles,” he intoned, dipping his head into a bow.

“Espio,” the echidna responded with a nod of his own. He then turned his attention to the final three members in the room. 

Sitting beside Mighty was Ray, a flying squirrel with beach-blonde fur, a tan muzzle, beady black eyes, small triangular ears and a long bushy tail. Like Charmy, he wore a black jumpsuit with folds of reinforced fabric that fitted over the webbed skin between his arms and waist. He cracked a hesitant smile at Knuckles, who did not return it.

On Knuckles’ left was Honey, the team’s computer ace. Wearing an identical blazer and slacks as the men, she was a light orange cat with a peach muzzle and narrowed dark brown eyes that stared at the laptop that sat on the conference room table. Her long, thick black hair was tied into two ponytails with a pair of elaborate, white lace hair barrettes. On her wrists were a pair of black, spike-studded bracelets. She reclined back in her chair, her whiskers twitching as she typed something on the computer. The fingers on her right hand were restlessly drumming the armrest and her lips were twisted into a frown as she waited for the meeting to begin. ‘Probably working on some new code,’ Knuckles assumed as he moved to the last member of the team. 

The final figure was the one that Knuckles’ gaze lingered on the longest. Like him, she was an echidna. She had rose-pink coloured fur, a beige muzzle and dreadlocks with lilac tipped bangs. She wore the same navy trousers, but opted to wear a figure-hugging short sleeved dress shirt with the collar unbuttoned instead of the standard blazer. Her violet hued eyes met his quizzically, to which he averted quickly. 

Time to get this started, I suppose…’ Clearing his throat, Knuckles addressed the room. “First of all, I’d like to congratulate Nack, Vector and Charmy on a job well done. Additional credit goes to Mighty, for without his contacts in the underworld, we would not have been able to pinpoint the location of TORNADO’s base of operations.” 

Silence filled the room. Ray and Charmy shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Mighty cracked his knuckles audibly under the table. The pink-hued echidna looked down and away from her superior. Undaunted by the sombre atmosphere, Knuckles continued. “Be that as it may, TORNADO has done a number on some of our operatives. One of which will be out of commission for a few weeks.” His eyes trailed to Nack, who returned a petulant look of his own.

“In light of this, I’m promoting our newest recruit, Julie-Su, to Field Agent,” he instructed, catching sight of the woman’s surprised reaction out of the corner of his eyes. He angled his head towards Honey. “Honey, she’ll be partnering with you for field training. Once she’s ready, she’ll be assigned temporarily to your team. Is that clear?”

The cat tore her gaze from the screen in front of her and gave Knuckles a sidelong glance. She shrugged and then said in a casual, airy tone, “Yeah, no problem.”

Accepting that response, the Chaotix leader continued. “Moving on, while we can confirm that the human members of the group have been eliminated, I have not received any reports about the Mobians. So Vector, Charmy and Ray” he hailed the three Mobians at the end of the table. “Monitor chatter throughout the city. If you get any verification that they are somehow alive, bring the news to me immediately.” 

Charmy grinned. “I’m cool with that!” he exclaimed, his cheerful demeanor putting a dent in the dour setting. “So long as I don’t have to go back to Robian Monitoring…”

“Keep up that attitude and you will,” Knuckles deadpanned and he saw that the mood in the room lifted slightly. Espio and Ray cracked a smile. Julie-Su stifled a giggle. Honey scoffed lightly and her frown softened. Vector and Nack looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Mighty’s expression, however, was still stoic. His head was bowed and his eyes stared unfocused on the conference table.

“As you all know, we have also succeeded in capturing our number one target,” Knuckles resumed once the group settled down. “Despite our continued successes, the President has been hounding us for results on the Ancient file. Last night was our final chance; we were to retrieve her by night’s end or be Roboticized.” He paused, allowing the gravity of his words to sink in. “Fortunately, unlike before, tracking and predicting her movements have been much easier the moment our target became in league with the EX-SOLDIER. I was able to intercept and retrieve her without a struggle. And now that we’ve accomplished our primary objective, we can proceed with the usual business of maintaining the company’s interests. The first being the retrieval and elimination of our primary informant in the Slums.” 

He then faced the last two Mobians in the room. “Mighty, Espio, you’ll return to the beat,” Knuckles instructed. “Gather recon from the usual places and root Don Corneo out from any of his hiding spots. You are authorized to use whatever means necessary to retrieve him. However, use your judgement wisely as you do so.”

Espio acknowledged the order with a curt bow of the head. Mighty gave Knuckles a blank look. “Understood,” he said softly, his black eyes dull and unfocused. 

“Alright, you have your orders,” Knuckles said, his way of ending the meeting. As the Mobians rose from their seats, the echidna advanced on Mighty before he could get up. “Stay here, we need to talk,” he whispered into his ear. 

As soon as the room emptied, Mighty furiously slammed his hands on the table, his vast strength causing a crack to form horizontally across the surface. “How can we just go on and ‘protect the company’s interests’ when people are dying?!” he seethed angrily, before turning his glare towards the echidna. ” They dropped a section of the city onto another section of the city!! How can we justify that much death?! We may have dirtied our hands from time to time, but this is just too damn much!!” He gripped the sides of his head and his teeth clenched tightly. “How long are we going to stand by and watch this, Knux? How. Long?”

Knuckles took a seat and waited for a few moments after the armadillo vented his frustrations. “…You’re letting your emotions get the better of you, Mighty,” he finally said in a cool tone. “Vector has told me of the comments you made during your last sortie. I understand your disgruntlement – hell, I sympathize with you, but this is the line of work that we are in. The line of work that you chose to be in. Success means that we live for another day. Failure means either the Roboticizer or death.” He folded his arms and softened his gaze at him. “But if you want out of this, if this is too hard, then just say so. I won’t hold it against you.”

Mighty glowered defiantly at him for a few moments and then turned away, his eyes focused on the door instead. “…No,” he spat. “…I’m staying. Someone needs to be the moral compass of this team… Might as well be me.”

“Good,” Knuckles said, a smile creeping up on his lips. Leaning back, he pulled out his handset and checked the time. ‘Shit, I’m gonna be late…‘ He stood up and motioned to the door. “Alright, get going then, Might. Find Corneo and bring him back to us. And the costs to replace the table will be coming out of your pay.”

Silently, the armadillo stood and shuffled towards the door. The door swooshed open as he approached, but Mighty turned back, his nostrils flared and lip curled up into a sneer. “You know,” he said bitingly. “You asked all of us to make a promise to a very good friend of ours. And we kept it at your request.” He narrowed his eyes and cast a dark look at the echidna. “I just can’t believe that after all these years, you were the one who had to break it.” Mighty broke eye contact and left the room, the automatic door closing silently behind him.

Knuckles maintained his stoic composure, despite feeling taken aback by the harsh words that were now ringing through his skull. After what felt to him like hours, he got up, left the briefing room and made his way to his office. Closing the door, he put away his gloves and sidearm in the storage cabinet and then sat at his desk. He opened and powered up his laptop. When it was loaded, he opened a program and started typing absentmindedly. Next, he checked his handset, flicking through messages that he had already read in the morning. He then opened a notebook beside him and jotted a few, nonsensical lines. 

He randomly performed these three actions, repeating them until he heard a faint, hissing noise from above. Knuckles then set his pen down on his desk and straightened up in his chair. “Hey Archy,” he called out. 

A puff of thick, plum-coloured smoke suddenly appeared on his desk, right beside his laptop. When it evaporated, the echidna saw before him a bipedal fire ant. The stranger stood six inches tall and wore a brown fedora and a matching sleeveless leather jacket. His antenna waved out from two holes in the brim of his hat, which he tipped with one of his four arms as a greeting. His mandibles crinkled upwards into a smile. “Mornin’ Guardian,” he spoke in a voice much deeper than his small stature.

“Don’t call me that,” Knuckles growled, glowering darkly at the ant. “I don’t deserve-”

“OK, let’s skip the pity party, hm?” Archimedes cut in, crossing both pairs of arms and clacking his mandibles. “I only got enough juice to keep the jamming devices and camera feedback active for about five – maybe ten – minutes. Which reminds me,” he arched an eyebrow. “What kept you so long? I thought the code word Vector told you would have had you running here faster than a lightning’s flash?”

Knuckles snorted. “The last twenty-four hours have been… a challenge,” he retorted. 

“The Plate fallin’?”

“And other things,” the echidna added, his eyes trailing away from the fire ant to the storage locker “…Kintobor played our hand.”

Archimedes’ eyes widened. “The girl, then?”

Knuckles didn’t answer, but clenched his fists tightly. 

“I see,” the fire ant said, understandingly. “Well, let’s get down to why I’m here first.” He started pacing the desk. “I checked out those locations you gave me the last time I was here. All of them showed no trace of your people. However one of those tips led me to another place: a secluded compound in the forests near Westopoils.” 

Knuckles cocked his head. “Westopolis? Isn’t that where-”

“-Where Mighty and Ray found Julie-Su? Yeah,” Archimedes finished. “I managed to poke around the place; it was deserted by the time I got there. Looked like they had to make a hasty exit and their clean-up crew did a shitty job. They took most of the important stuff, but I was able to find a few things.”

He stopped pacing, pointed towards the echidna’s desk and snapped his fingers. “Open the drawer,” he ordered.

Knuckles opened it to reveal a manilla folder that wasn’t there before. Placing it on the desk, he riffled through the pages and his lips tightened into a thin line. “Interesting,” he muttered.

“Interesting? More like shady,” Archimedes jibed sharply. “I bet that there’s the reason why Julie-Su has no memory of the last ten years.”

“…There’s a name here,” Knuckles said, his eyes hovering over a word on the page he was holding. “Twilight Cage? What does that mean?” He pinched the ridge between his eyes. “And why does it sound familiar?”

“There’s a location associated with that word on the following page,” the fire ant added. “It’s across the West Ocean, near Station Square. I’m planning to hit that next to see where it leads.”

“Alright,” Knuckles said, his eyes still on the page he was reading. His hands were trembling. “In the meantime, I’ll have Honey do some hacking in the Kintobor servers. Perhaps she can find something there about this ‘Twilight Cage’…” He then let out a long, deep exhale of breath and his shoulders drooped tiredly. Here, in the cover of static, he could let his guard down. “Finally, Archy. We might have a lead. An actual solid lead to my clan-” 

“Knuckles, how long are you gonna keep this up?” Archimedes asked all of a sudden. Startled, the echidna looked down to see the fire ant cross both pairs of his arms and level an admonishing glare at him. “This ‘corporate pawn’ act? You’re clearly out of it right now, I can see it in your face.” He unfolded an arm and adjusted his hat. “I know you’ve killed many over the years, but yesterday’s actions were just over-the-top. The Plate and the girl…  Knux, you gotta do something?”

The echidna gritted his teeth. “First Mighty and now you?” he grumbled, placing the papers back into the folder and which he then stuffed into a briefcase next to his desk. “What is it with everyone today?”

“Knuckles, can’t you see?!” Archimedes reasoned, his arms spread imploringly. “Gerald was willing to drop a frigging Plate to eliminate six people! What’s to stop him from doing it again?! Can’t-”

“What can I do, Archimedes?!” Knuckles cut him off, uttering the fire-ant’s full name acidically. He rose up, his hands were placed atop his desk and his teeth were bared. “We are being watched at every turn! There are cameras and listening devices in my office and my home! I’m pretty sure that after this fiasco blows over, we’ll have monitors keeping a direct eye on us!” He sat down and breathed slowly in an attempt to calm himself down. “To the company, I’m just an orphaned echidna who rose through the ranks by being a highly unbiased assassin. To Kintobor, who deeply distrusts and fears all Mobians, I’m a threat.” His eyes locked onto the fire ant’s. “He doesn’t know what I am or what importance I hold within my clan. And it needs to stay that way for the foreseeable future until we can find my people and reclaim our home and its greatest treasure. So yes, we’re not making a move right now.”

Archimedes opened his mouth to counter, but closed it. “…Fair enough,” he said instead. He looked away, his mandibles clacking together in thought before he looked back to Knuckles. “…Still, you can’t just leave the girl here,” the ant started, speaking slowly to catch the echidna’s attention. “… If your hands are tied, what if, instead, you let those guys from TORNADO handle getting her out?”

Knuckles’ head turned sharply and he looked over the diminutive Mobian with a critical eye. Seeing that he got his attention, Archimedes continued. “…Dunno about you, but I get a strong feeling that they survived that fiasco at Sector 7. Call it ant’s intuition.” He then paced the length of the desk once again. 

Knuckles’ eyes followed him, an eyebrow arching upwards as he thought about his friend’s suggestion. “… So what you’re saying is that I should cover up their deaths?” he inquired slowly.

“That, and aid them in some way when they eventually come up here,” Archimedes said, a wry smile on his face. “Something tells me – Ancient or no – that they’d fight tooth and nail to get her back.” The ant then looked at the time on Knuckles’ laptop. “Well, time’s up for now,” he said, adjusting his hat. “I’ll let you know through the usual channels when I’ve found something. I’ll see you soon. And think about what I said, hm?” He tipped his hat and then vanished in a puff of smoke.

Knuckles watch the place where the fire ant disappeared from for a few beats. Realizing that the jamming devices were about to shut off, he grudgingly returned to his laptop. In the midst of his aimless busywork, he noticed to his surprise that the screen displayed Nack’s dossier of Tails – the former Ex-SOLDIER aligned with TORNADO. As he heard the faint hiss shut off, he opened the file. 

Perusing the contents, his mind then turned to the fox. ‘The sword, the demeanor, even that look of defiance… they’re all too similar to be just a coincidence,’ he pondered, a perturbed frown crossing his muzzle. ‘If the fates are inclined, he may also have inherited his propensity to survive catastrophic explosions…

If that’s the case… If he’s alive… Perhaps I can use him to get Cosmo out?

Opening the notebook next to him to scribble some notes, he heard himself mumble under his breath. “I’m gonna make sure I keep our promise to you, Sonic.”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Rose’s Story



Rose

“It was during the Great War. My husband was sent to the front; to Mobotropolis on the other side of the world…”

“One day, I went to the station because I got a letter saying he was coming home on leave…”


The steam from the train engine billowed around Rose as she hurried to the train platform in the Sector 5 slums, a letter clutched tightly around her fist. The train had just stopped into the station and a crowd was gathered in front of the passenger cars, waiting for the doors to open to reveal their loved ones. 

Rose stopped at the back of the gathering to catch her breath and fix her hair. The sounds of the train door opening and the coachman’s cry of “All change!” caused her head to snap up. One by one, the passengers made their way out. The majority of them were soldiers from the war abroad. Some sported bandages and splints, while others had missing limbs. However, each of their grim, exhausted faces lit up at the sight of those they had left behind to join the war front. They greeted their family and friends with hearty hugs and sobs.

The woodchuck scanned the platform desperately for a sign of her husband, but as the train emptied and the crowds thinned, her hopes gradually diminished. Finally, as the last of the passengers disembarked, the train coachman looked inside to check for any stragglers and then ordered the doors shut. 


Panicking, Rose approached the coachman, a silver-furred wolf. She looked into his eyes imploringly as she explained her situation. However, the wolf shook his head.

“That’s the last of the passengers. Try back tomorrow maybe?” he said.

Disappointed, Rose descended the platform, sat on the bottom step and put her head on her knees. Her soft sobs were drowned out by the loud train whistle…


“My husband never came back. I wondered if something happened to him? But as I walked back home, I thought that maybe his leave was cancelled?”

“Regardless, I went to the station every single day, hoping he would show up. Then, about three weeks after I got that letter…”


Rose walked to the station as she always did, right after her shift at the military barracks. Her uniform was rumpled and streaked with dirt and sweat as she trekked the familiar steps up to the platform, hoping beyond hope that today would be the day when her husband came back. She expected to see the wolf coachman smile at her as she approached, but instead saw a different and more frightening sight.

She hurried to the steps, where a woman was lying on them, blood pooling from a gaping wound in her side. Rose bent down to examine the injured woman, but one look was all it took for her to realize that she was dying. 

She was unlike any human or Mobian the woodchuck had ever seen before. She had pale peach skin, sky blue eyes, a bump in place of a nose and powder-blue hair. She was wearing what looked to be a hospital gown, the blue outfit stained red with her own blood. The most intriguing thing about her was the object on the crown of her head; a large, white lily flower ornament whose petals appeared to be shrivelling and blackening gradually.

A little girl was crying beside her. She was nearly identical to the woman, save for the bright green hair and the twin hair ornaments that were shaped like rosebuds. They buds quivered as the child continued to sob, calling out to her mother and praying for her not to die.

The blue-haired woman craned her neck towards the woodchuck, her face in a pained grimace. “P-please…” she choked, tears welling in her eyes. “Please… take Cosmo… somewhere safe…”

With what little strength she had left, she placed two fingers into her wound. Gasping from the pain and exertion she put on herself, the dying woman pulled something out from within it. In her hand was a small, blood-covered silver jewel, to which she placed in Rose’s trembling palms. “Take… It… Cosmo’s… Our legacy…” Her eyes met Rose’s, the light starting to fade from them. “Promise… me…”

The woodchuck nodded vigorously without hesitation. The child named Cosmo kneeled down to her mother’s side, who gave the child one last smile before closing her eyes. Cosmo sniffed loudly, rested her head on her dead mother’s chest and began to sob even louder.

After a few moments, Rose knelt down and tentatively stretched her hand to the child. She placed it on her shoulder and Cosmo looked at her through tear-stained eyes.

“Come with me little one,” Rose said softly, tears of her own starting to form. “I will take care of you.”

Cosmo stared at the woodchuck for a few moments, her eyes glassy. She then took the Mobian’s hand and stood up, nodding silently.

As the two made their way out of the station, Rose glanced back at Cosmo’s mother, only to see that her body had vanished, gown and all. All that remained of her was a bloodstain on the step.


“Being a nurse, I was used to seeing this sort of thing happen. As for Cosmo, well, my husband never came back and I was lonesome. And I promised her mother that I would look after her. So I took her home with me.”

“It wasn’t long before she and I grew close. Cosmo loved to talk and she never ran out of things to say. She told me she escaped from some sort of research laboratory somewhere. And that her mother had returned to the planet, so she wasn’t really lonely… and many other things.”


“Returned to the planet?” Bark asked, puzzled. Tails and Cosmo shot him a look that said ‘Don’t interrupt.’

Rose nodded, unfazed by the bear’s interruption. “I didn’t know what she meant,” she said, her eyes downcast. “I asked if she meant that she’s now a star in the sky, but she told me that it was Mobius itself… She was a mysterious child in many ways…” She let out a sigh and then continued her story.


“It had now been over a month since I got the notice. And then one day…”


“Mom. Please don’t cry.”

The woodchuck looked up from the stove towards Cosmo, bewildered by her sudden exclamation. “Did-did something happen, my dear?” she asked, her eyebrows raised.

Cosmo, now wearing a simple earth-brown dress and a pair of shoes, stood by the kitchen table, her eyes down and away from Rose. “Someone… Someone dear to you has died,” she said haltingly. She bit her bottom lip so hard that she was drawing blood from it. “His spirit was coming to see you… but he already returned to the planet.”

She then did an about-face, ran out of the door and into the garden by their house. Rose could only stare open-mouthed at the retreating figure, her body suddenly tensening. “It can’t be,” she whispered to herself, a thought crossing her mind. She furiously shook her head and went back into the kitchen, busying herself with dinner and putting the thought aside.


“When she told me that, I didn’t believe her. But… several days later, we received a notice that my husband had died. Even though Cosmo told me days before, I never blamed her for his death. In fact, it only solidified my belief that she was an exceptionally special girl.”

“Over the next five years, we bonded. I loved her as if she was my own and she loved me, despite missing her real mother. A lot had happened, but we were happy… And then Kintobor finally tracked her down…”


There was a knock at the door. Before Rose could get up from the sofa, a lanky, twelve year old Cosmo flew out of the seat next to her and headed for the door. “I’ll get it!” she called.

Rose chuckled at her energy. She suddenly heard a loud gasp from the door and her mirth was replaced with a feeling of dread. She rose quickly to see Cosmo running to her side, her face pale and her body trembling. 

A figure entered the house. He looked to be a teenager, barely a few years older than her adopted daughter. He was an echidna with red dreadlocks, a tan muzzle and cold violet-blue eyes. The navy suit and slacks were tight against his taut, muscular frame. The spike-tipped gloves and steel toed boots sent an unnerving shiver down the woodchuck’s spine. 

Soon enough, the echidna spoke in a deep and measured tone. “Greetings, I am Knuckles from Kintobor Inc. We’d like you to return Cosmo to us. We’ve been searching for her for a long time.”

“I’ll never go back!” Cosmo shouted, her shoulders shaking. “Never!”

“Cosmo, please listen to me,” Knuckles continued calmly. “You are very important to the future of this city, this planet even. You are of special blood.” He let the words sink in before continuing. “Your mother, your REAL mother, was an Ancient.”

Cosmo shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. “That’s not true!” she said heatedly. “That’s not true at all!”

“Don’t be daft,” Knuckles countered, his fists tightening. “Surely, you must’ve noticed that you can hear voices?” He lowered his head, massaged it and let out an exasperated breath through pursed lips. “Look, the Ancients will help lead us to a fertile land of opportunity.” He looked at Cosmo, who stared back fiercely. “Cosmo, you can bring happiness to all those in the slums, to you mom. That’s why Kintobor wants your coop-”

“Didn’t you hear me!? I said no!” The girl spat, her face flushed with anger. Rose tried to place her hands on Cosmo’s shoulders in an effort to calm her down, but she shook them off and headed for the front door. “And I don’t hear voices anyway! Only crazy people do and I’m not crazy!” She slammed the door and took off towards the residential district.

The woodchuck fixed Knuckles with an icy stare. “I think you’d better go now,” she said. 

Knuckles scoffed and said nothing. He turned to the front door and opened it. Before crossing the threshold, he looked back, his cold eyes boring into Rose’s hazel ones. “She’s not going to be able to run forever. One day, she will come back with us, that’s a promise.” He then left, closing the door behind him.


 “I knew that she was an Ancient and that she had special powers. I knew that she had an incredible connection to Mobius, but for Cosmo’s sake, I pretended otherwise. She tried desperately to hide her powers, to be normal and all I wanted for her was to have a normal life…”


Tails

Tails sat quietly as Rose related her tale to the three of them. He spoke out first when she finished. “It’s amazing how she’s avoided Kintobor for all these years…”

Rose nodded. “Yes, they needed her for whatever they were planning,” she replied. “They wouldn’t harm her.”

“So why now?” Cream asked, her lips downturned and brows pulled together.

The woodchuck gave her a wan smile. “She brought a little human girl here with her,” she said. “Knuckles found them on the way here and issued her an ultimatum: go to Kintobor in exchange for the little girl’s safety.”

Tails looked in Bark’s direction. “That’s probably Hope,” he said.

The bear stood up quickly, his bulging eyes scouring the house in search of his child. “Hope!!” he exclaimed, his roving eyes centred on Rose. “You mean, Cosmo was caught because of Hope?!”

He walked up to the woodchuck and hung his head low in front of her. “I’m-I’m so sorry,” he blubbered, swallowing hard. “Hope, she’s my daughter… I’m really, really… sorry…”

Rose looked at him with astonishment. “You’re her father?!” she gaped. “How could you ever leave a child alone like that!?”

Bark sniffled loudly. “…Please don’t start with that,” he croaked, his voice thick with emotion. “It goes through my mind all the time, ‘what would happen to Hope if I…’” He shook his head and let out a shaky breath. “But you gotta understand, I don’t have that answer. I wanna be with Hope… but I have to fight. Otherwise, this planet’s gonna die…” He rubbed the wetness out of his eyes with his good hand and stared into Rosie’s eyes, his own filled with conviction. “So, I’m gonna keep fighting. But I also want to be with Hope, I worry about her all the time…” He let out a groan and started massaging his temple. “See? I’m going in circles here…”

Rosie’s glare softened. She sighed, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. “I think I understand what you’re saying…” She pointed to the stairs. “She’s asleep upstairs, in the first room to the right of the bathroom.”

Bark thundered up the stairs before she could even finish her sentence. Once he was out of view, Tails heard Cream sigh deeply in the seat beside her. “This is all my fault,” she said, rubbing her ears, her brows knitted. “I was the one who got Cosmo involved…”

“That’s not true,” Rosie admonished lightly. “Cosmo wouldn’t think that.” She then stood up and went into the kitchen. She returned with a large first-aid kit in hand. “You three look like you’ve been through the ringer. Let’s get you patched up.”

“I’ll go get Bark,” Tails said before Cream could open her mouth. He rose from the table and headed up the stairs. The sounds of gruff crying and squealing laughter met his ears as he reached the upper floor landing. He opened the door to Cosmo’s room to see Bark squeezing his daughter tightly, his muzzle buried into the crook of her neck.

“I’m so glad,” he cried, his throat constricted. “So… So glad you’re OK, cub.”

The little girl squirmed under her father’s tight hold, her smile reaching her eyes. “Papa Bear!” she giggled loudly. “Don’t cry! Your whiskers hurt!” She freed herself from his grasp and saw Tails stand in the doorway, watching. “Mr. Tails!” Hope called.

“…Just call me Tails,” the fox noted, a wry smile crossing his lips. 

“Guess what, guess what?” she continued, her eyes sparkling. “Cosmo was asking me lots and lots of questions! Things like ‘What kind of guy is Tails like?’ I bet she likes you!”

Tails gave her a quizzical look. “Maybe?” he said, more to himself than to Hope. Inwardly, he was curious. ‘Why ask a little girl questions about me?’ he wondered. 

Before he could pry further, Bark approached him. The righteous fury returned to his eyes. “You’re gonna help Cosmo, right?” he asked. “She’s done so much for me… I can’t just sit here and do nothing, I wanna go with you and fight!” He smacked his gun into his open right palm, his hackles raised. “Kintobor’s gonna pay for what they’ve done!”

“Tails? You and Papa and Cream are gonna bring Cosmo back, right?” Hope chimed in.

The fox looked directly at both of them, his eyes blazing with confidence. “Of course,” he said with conviction. “We’re gonna get her back, I promise.” He inclined his head towards Bark. “Better get downstairs, Cosmo’s mom’s patching us up. We should rest up for a little while. We need to be fully prepared for the fight ahead.”

The bear grinned. Kneeling down to his daughter, he cupped her chin with his hand and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Now, you go back to sleep, little cub,” he said, looking directly into her eyes with a softness Tails didn’t realize he had. The girl beamed and kissed her father’s nose in acknowledgement before returning to her bed. “Let’s move, foxy,” Bark grunted, rising from the floor and heading back downstairs. 

Tails turned to follow him but Hope’s voice stopped him. He turned to see her grinning at him. “I promise I won’t tell Cream,” she said in a secretive tone, bringing a finger to her lips.

The fox quirked his lips slightly and then followed Bark down. Rose had finished tending to Cream’s injuries and was now starting to apply ointment to Bark’s burns. The charred marks on the back of his arms contrasted greatly with his yellow-white fur.

“Tails, I’m coming with you too,” Cream said, her mouth set in a tight line. She held an ice pack to her ribs.

“I wasn’t gonna object to it,” he responded, sitting in the chair next to her. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling, his mind racing. “We’re going right into Kintobor Headquarters… so we gotta be prepared for the worst.”

“I know,” Cream agreed, adjusting the cold compress. “Right now, I feel like I need to push myself beyond my limits. If I stay here, I’ll go crazy.”

“Hey,” Bark called across the table. He winced as Cosmo’s mother now sprayed antiseptic onto the large cut on his shoulder. “So, do we have a plan? How the hell are we gonna get up to the Kintobor Building?” He removed his cap and dusted it off, earning a glare from Rose. “I mean, there’s no train that goes up there anymore-” He hissed mid-sentence as the older Mobian started to wrap gauze around his leg.

The rabbit stared around wistfully, a finger tapping her chin. “…Maybe we can try the Wall Market?” she suggested. “We might be able to find something there.”

Tails said nothing in response. He leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers, his eyes lost in thought.

“Uh?” Bark addressed the woodchuck, his head bowed. “I’m sorry to ask, but could you-”

“I don’t mind,” she interrupted, anticipating what he was going to say. She quirked her lips upward. “Go. Fight. But make sure you come back to her. And don’t get killed.”

“We won’t,” Bark reassured her. “But this place is dangerous now. Once we leave, you better go somewhere else.”

She hummed a response, now making her way towards the fox. As she started cleaning and dressing the wound on his shoulder, Tails’ mind dwelled on Cosmo. ‘Hang in there Cosmo, we’re coming to get you…


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 28

Chapter 28: Aftermath



Bark

“Cosmo!” Tails and Cream both shouted out at the sight of the flower girl. 

Bark lowered his arm, astonished and at a loss for words. ‘Who is that girl?’ he wondered, blinking. ‘And how did she get involved with Tails and Cream?

The red echidna in the SkyTrans feigned surprise. “Oh, so you know each other?” Knuckles asked mockingly. “Well, isn’t this perfect. You get to see each other one last time before you die. You should thank me.”

Tails growled, his brows furrowing at the primly-dressed anteater. “What are you gonna do with Cosmo?” he asked angrily.

The echidna shrugged, his lips curling into a smile that was as cold as his eyes. “It’s not my call,” he scoffed casually. “We have standing orders to find and secure the last remaining Ancient. It’s taken us some time, but now I can finally report our success to the President.”

All of a sudden, Cosmo leaned out of the transport, cupping a hand around her mouth. “Cream, don’t worry!” she shouted. “She’s alrigh-”

Her speech was broken by Knuckles, who twisted around and slapped her across the face. She landed on her behind and clutched her now red and swollen cheek. She bit back tears as she leaned back over the door and called out to Cream once more. “Hurry and get out!” she croaked weakly.

Knuckles shook his head and scoffed. “It’s pointless,” he said to the flower girl, his voice carrying to the three Mobians on the platform. He turned to face them once more. “But you three seem like a tenacious lot. You’ve already escaped from two exploding reactors, a Robian ambush and a fall from the top of the Plate. Let’s see how you get out of this one. Good luck!” He then laughed long and hard as the transport rose upwards and flew away from the pillar. As soon as it cleared the Sector, the explosions started.

Chunks of the main support pillar started breaking off, the pieces descending to the ground below. One such piece from the very top of the support column dropped in an arc and smashed the stairwell leading downwards. The last remaining members of TORNADO were trapped.

Tails, Cream and Bark scrambled around, looking for alternate routes of escape. “Hey twin-tail!” Bark hollered amidst the explosions. “Can’t you fly us out!?”

The fox shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it that far,” he admitted, his jaw tightening. “We’d drop like the pillar pieces above us before we even make it halfway down this tower.”

Growling, Bark turned his head in all directions, looking for something, anything that could aid in their escape. ‘This can’t be how it all ends? There HAS to be something around here! There has-’ His thoughts screeched to a halt as he spotted a wire attached to a grapple point on the tower’s platform railing. Tracing its path, he found that the taut cable was attached to the top of the plate and acted as a support to prevent the tower from swaying. Below the support point was the checkpoint to Sector 6. The bear’s eyes lit up at the sight. “Yo! We can use this to get out!” he shouted to his two companions, pointing a beefy claw at the wire. 

Tails inspected the cable in question. His eyes travelled the same path Bark’s did earlier and the bear could see him make the same calculations he made earlier. The fox nodded a few seconds later. “Good enough, let’s go!” he shouted immediately. 

The bear climbed up onto the railing first and grabbed the cable tightly in his one hand. Cream followed suit, clambering over top Bark’s shoulder to get a proper hold. Finally, Tails wrapped his namesakes around his waist, sheathed his sword and scaled the bear’s other shoulder. Gripping their means of escape tightly, he looked down at Bark and nodded. 

Now or never… Please let this work…’ Bark thought, sending a quick prayer to the Goddess. With his Gun-Arm free, Bark aimed at a point between his legs where the cable was attached to the railing and shot at the connection.

The wire anchor broke free just as the rest of the pillar imploded. Hearts leaping into their throats, the three Mobians veered away from the tower, not daring to look back as the Plate started to collapse. The girders and support beams that connected the upper section of the city to the main central column buckled and failed. Free from the things that held it in place, the Plate finally descended to the Slums below.

Amidst the loud screeching of metal shearing away, Bark could also make out the sounds of people screaming loudly below him. He looked up and watched as the Plate fell towards him, the massive hunk of steel getting closer and closer by the second. His heart hammered loudly in a panic and adrenaline forced him to maintain the tight grip on the wire. 

Bark, Cream and Tails swung through the Sector checkpoint just as the Plate hit the ground with an audible, earth-shattering thud, sending dust and debris everywhere. The cable suddenly turned slack and the three Mobians crashed into the sandpit at the abandoned Sector 6 playground. 

When he slid and rolled to a halt, Bark craned his head towards the checkpoint, raised his good arm towards the flattened slum and croaked, “H…Hope…” Exhausted and his heart pounding fearfully, the polar bear’s head dropped down into the dirt and he slipped into unconsciousness.


President Kintobor

Gerald Kintobor stared out of the window of his office towards Sector 7, observing the destruction that had been wrought. While a small part of him lamented the extreme loss of life, he nonetheless smiled coldly at the carnage. “Magnificient,” he whispered as he downed another shot of his favourite bourbon. He turned back to pour himself another glass when the phone on his desk started ringing. Gerald pressed the speakerphone button. “What is it, Monica,” he said brusquely as he prepared another dram from the crystal bottle next to the phone.

“Sir, the media is congregating in the press room,” Monica answered, unperturbed by her boss’ blunt tone. “They’re expecting you to say something about the latest attack.” She let out a shaky breath and suddenly her professional veneer slipped off. “An entire Plate, sir… I-I can’t-”

“It’s alright,” Gerald  responded in a more conciliatory manner. “We’ll get those bastards for this.” He drained the glass and relished the feel of the biting amber liquid down his throat. “Tell the press corps that I’m holding an emergency meeting here in my office in order to get all of the facts. Once I’ve finished, I will come down and provide a plan of our next steps.” He placed the glass down on the table, allowing his secretary time to write down the notes. “Contact Kodos while you’re at it and tell him to get up here-”

“Uh, sir?” Monica jumped in, her voice suddenly squeaky. “Uh, um, K-Kodos is already here. Uh, s-shall I send him up?”

Gerald snorted. ‘Speak of the devil and he shall arrive,’ he thought, gripping the glass on the table. “Let him in then,” he said curtly, ending the call and pouring himself another drink. “Looks like I’ll need to find a replacement Head…” he grumbled as he swallowed another shot of bourbon.

The moment he slammed the glass back down on the metal desk, Kodos appeared. He proudly strode forward on the plush carpet, looking arrogant and satisfied with himself. It was the one thing about the lion that Gerald despised the most, more than him being a Mobian. He gripped his glass so tightly that a crack started to form at the rim. “What is it?” Gerald demanded, his brows furrowing.

Kodos gave him a toothy grin, ignoring the hostile tone from his boss. “The deed is done,” he said. “Sector 7 and that rebel group are no more.”

“I’m fully aware of that,” Gerald snapped as he reached for the phone. “If that’s all you’re here to inform me on, then I might as well call the guards and have you and your cronies escorted to the Roboticizer!”

“Ah, ya might not want to do that just yet,” Kodos replied, dismissing his superior’s threat. He was still smiling. “Y’see, I got some more news for ya.” 

Gerald’s hand hovered inches from the phone on his desk. “Go on…” he said tersely. 

“Why don’t I just show you instead,” the lion responded, pulling out his handset. Activating the screen, he accessed a file and then turned the unit towards the president.

Gerald’s jaw involuntarily dropped at the sight of the photo on screen, but he quickly regained his composure and straightened up. Behind the cellphone, Kodos’ smirk only broadened. ‘He’s clearly enjoying this,’ the president thought dimly as he processed what he saw before him. “Well… This changes everything,” he said slowly. “…We shall hold a board meeting tomorrow night to discuss this.”

Kodos’ look of triumph melted. He narrowed his eyes and his face suddenly twisted into a scowl. “…Yes sir,” he said after a moment, putting away the phone.

“If you’re looking for some sort of recognition, then you should be grateful that you and those fools have been spared for the moment!” Gerald spat venomously, interpreting the lion’s sour face correctly. “…From now on, I shall be keeping an even closer eye on you all. I’ve found that there has been too much leeway given to this group. It should not have taken this long for you all to secure the target.” He walked to another window behind his opulent desk chair, his back towards Kodos. “You’re dismissed.” he finished without looking at the lion.

Gerald heard the Mobian growl lowly, followed by the sounds of footsteps muffled by the carpet runner leading down to the 69th floor. As soon as they receded, Gerald spun around and returned to his desk hurriedly. He picked up his phone and hit a button on speedial. 

He received an answer after the fourth ring. “Yes?” a high, clear voice hissed on the other line. 

“It’s me,” Gerald responded. He drummed his fingers and tried to keep himself calm. “I’ve news for you.”

The voice on the other line grumbled. “Mr. President, please be quick,” he said in an irritated tone. “I have an experiment here that has shown me such great promise -” he paused here and Gerald could hear the sounds of screams coming from the other line. The screams started high but then grew deeper in tone as the seconds passed. “Mmm… Yes, yes, the results… They are promising,” he murmured, unaware that the president was on the other line. “The muscle mass has increased and… solidified into a stone-like substance?! What a remarkable mutation!” he paused again and Gerald could imagine him nodding to himself.  “… I will need to chip off a sample to analyze -”

“Nagus,” Gerald cut in quickly. Time was not on his side, he needed to go to the press room. “We have her.”

The voice on the other line stopped muttering immediately. “…Is this true?” the one named Nagus asked. 

The president was unable to contain his excitement any longer. “Yes,” he said fervently. His breathing quickened and he could no longer keep the excitement out of his voice. “Yes! She is ours! The Ancient is ours once more!”

He was met with silence. Gerald wondered if the scientist had even heard what he said. “…Have your men bring her to my lab,” Nagus finally responded after a few moments. “I need to study her, now that she is fully matured. We will see if the plan continues as originally conceived, Mr. President.”

“Excellent, she will be delivered to you momentarily,” Gerald answered, a grin forming under his bushy greyed moustache. 

Nagus hung up without a word. Placing the receiver back onto its cradle, the president straightened himself, his wizened bones creaking from the movement. He then grabbed the padfolio on the other side of his desk and started making his way down to the press room. Despite the falsified grim look that he plastered on his face, he could not help but feel inwardly content. The rebels were dead and the Ancient was back where she belonged. 

He let a smile creep out as he entered the elevator. ‘The future of this company now looks bright,’ he thought happily as the doors slid shut.


Tails

“Hope?! HOPE!!”

Tails was abruptly awakened to the sound of Bark screaming at the top of his lungs. ‘How long were we out for?’ he wondered as he pushed himself up from the ground. As he steadied himself, Tails saw a flash of white-yellow fur fly past him at a frenzied pace.

The fox’s eyes followed Bark until they lay at the Sector checkpoint. His mouth parted in a mixture of awe and horror.

The plate had completely crushed the Sector 7 slums.

Cream sidled up next to him, looking slightly banged up from the fall. She brought a shaky hand to her lips and stared at the wreckage. “My goodness…” she whispered, the fingers of her other hand trailing up to the back of her neck.

“HO——-PE!!” Bark’s yells into the ruined slum snapped the two out of their stupor. They hurried to the checkpoint and watched as the bear tried to claw through the debris with his good arm, tears starting to form in his eyes.

“Biggs!! Wedge!! Jessie!!” he continued to call as he haphazardly threw junk behind him. Tails watched with a heavy heart as the bear’s frantic pace slowed to a crawl and then stopped altogether.

“Goddess damnit!” Bark suddenly cursed, slamming a fist into the wreckage. He continued hitting it with both arms, yelling out at every strike. “DAMNIT! DAMNIT ALL TO HELL!” He was now heaving, tears streaming out of his eyes and down the sides of his muzzle. “What the hell was this all for?!” he asked hollowly before letting out an inhuman wail.

Both Tails and Cream went to the bear’s side. “Hey Bark!” Tails called, grabbing a shoulder. He shook him in an attempt to break through to him. “C’mon, snap out of it!”

“Bark, stop,” Cream added, her voice tremulous. “Please stop, Bark…”

Bark suddenly lifted up his Gun-Arm and Tails moved to unsheathe his sword to protect Cream and himself from his rage. Instead, the bear pointed it at the twisted metal and emptied the rest of his ammunition into the wreckage, howling all the while. 

Tails relaxed his grip once the Gun-Arm’s feed was emptied. However, Bark continued to fire. The sounds of his gun clicking on nonexistent bullets within its chambers mingled with his wails. At long last, Bark ceased firing and dropped to his knees, his great frame shaking. “Damn… it all…” he sobbed hoarsely.

Seeing that it was safe to do so, Tails and Cream each put one of Bark’s massive arms around their shoulders and led the bear back to the playground. As they hobbled back, Tails noted dimly that the crash caused steel beams and rebar to be embedded into the playground equipment. He spotted a glint of yellow, but ignored it for the time being. Together, he and Cream settled Bark down on a swing that was still intact. 

The bear slumped forward, arms leaning on the chains of the swing and his face awash in grief. “Hope…” he said thickly, wiping his snout with the back of his hand.

All of a sudden, Cream gasped out loud. Her eyes went wide with realization and Tails could hear her heart quickening. “Bark!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Hope… I think Hope is alive!”

The bear snapped out of his trance. “W-What?” he stammered, rubbing his eyes vigorously. “Don’t fuck with me Cream, are you serious!?”

“Yes!” she answered, a hopeful smile stretching on her face. “Right before they took Cosmo, she said, ‘Don’t worry, she’s alright.’ She must have been talking about Hope!”

The bear chuckled incredulously at the rabbit, a glimmer of relief on his muzzle. “R-really?” he breathed.

She nodded. Her eyes travelled to the Plate and her smile dropped. Tears once again welled in her eyes and Tails knew she was doing all she could to hold them back. “But…” she started.

“Biggs… Wedge… and Jessie,” Bark continued for her.

“All three of them were in the pillar.” Tails finished for them, his fists clenched. 

“You think I don’t know that?” the bear shot back at Tails, scowling. He then shook his head and let out a defeated sigh. “We all fought together… I… I don’t want to think of them as dead!” 

Cream nodded in agreement. “…and all the other people in Sector 7,” she added glumly. She continued to rub the back of her head absently with a hand, her fingers playing with the hair at the base of her skull.

As the conversation lulled into an uncomfortable silence, Tails thought of Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. Though he initially cared little for them, he could freely admit that he had some begrudging respect for what they stood for. He respected the fact that they believed in the righteousness of their actions – despite them being extreme – and that they believed that they were protecting Mobius and its people from Kintobor. 

Now, they were dead, along with the many others who were unable to escape from the Plate falling on top of them. The fox felt a fire ignite in the pit of his stomach and his jaw clenched at the unspeakable carnage the company inflicted on its own citizens. Now, that same company had Cosmo in their clutches…

“This is all screwed up!” Bark shouted suddenly, his voice breaking through the thick tension in the air. “They destroyed an entire slum just to get us! They killed so many people-”

“Are you saying it’s us?” Cream interrupted, a hollow look in her eyes. She now gripped her head with both hands and looked down to the ground. “I mean… Because TORNADO was here? Innocent people… lost their lives because of us?”

Bark hopped out of the swing and shook his head violently. He spoke, but Tails didn’t hear him. His mind buzzed and his thoughts moved away from the countless dead, instead wandering first from Cosmo, to Knuckles – the Chaotix member who captured her – and then finally to what he said before they left.

We have standing orders to find and secure the last remaining Ancient.”

Ancients…’ Tails contemplated as he mindlessly walked towards the playground entrance leading to the Sector 6 thoroughfare. He dimly heard Bark calling for him, but he ignored him as a dull thumping sensation in his brain suddenly dampened the sound around him.  ‘The last time I heard that term was… five years ago…

“Hey Tails! Wait up!” the bear shouted from behind. 

Bark’s loud voice brought the fox out of his stupor. He looked around and saw in surprise that he was already halfway towards Sector 5. Bark and Cream then ran to his position. 

As soon as the pair caught up, the bear leveled his eyes at Tails. “You know where Hope is, don’t you?” he asked, the fire returning to his eyes. 

Tails blinked. “Yeah, I have a hunch,’ he responded, his brows knitting together. 

“Then take me to her,” Bark demanded. “Please.” He let out a smile when Tails nodded again. “Thank you…”

“You’re going to help Cosmo?” Cream asked as the three set off. 

“Yeah…” Tails said, stopping in his tracks once more. “But before that, there’s something that’s been bugging me…”

The rabbit tilted her head, concern flooded her face. “What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s about… the Ancients…” And as he said it out loud, he felt a jolt run through his body. Words that weren’t his own suddenly overwhelmed him. He then heard a voice call out. A deep and commanding one that was very familiar to him.

“In my veins courses the blood of the Ancients! I am one of the rightful heirs to Mobius!”

The feeling in the fox’s body left as fast as it came forth. He dropped to a knee, his hands trembling and his breath shaky. “…N-Nazo?” he stammered.

Cream stooped down beside him. “Are you alright?” she asked, biting her bottom lip. 

“Hey! Pull it together, man!” Bark scowled, his arms crossed. “I need you to take me to my daughter!”

Tails pulled himself up and glared irately at the bear’s insistence. “Right then, let’s go,” he said wearily.

The trio traversed through the ruined, canyon-like pathways of Sector 6.  Reaching a familiar place, Tails then carefully instructed the other two on how to avoid the disguised Mutate he now dubbed the “Hell House.” Once they slipped out of the monster’s sight, they hurried through the broken checkpoint leading into Sector 5.

Continuing onward, they soon reached the residential district. Tails felt thankful for the lack of resistance from both the Mutates and the Robians. ‘The crash must’ve scared ‘em all into hiding…’ he surmised as he led Bark and Cream through the gates leading into town.

Sector 5 was completely silent. While not as bustling as the Wall Market, the fox couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the lack of bodies on the streets. They stole through the narrow pathways in between buildings and entered into the clearing that led to Cosmo’s house. 

While Bark and Cream marveled at the sight of the natural vegetation, Tails stopped and stared at Cosmo’s front door. His brows were furrowed into a scowl. “Oh man, I just remembered,” he moaned.

“What?” Bark and Cream said together, joining him at the threshold. 

“…We’re gonna have to tell her mom what happened.” 

Surprise had coloured Bark and Cream’s faces and their mouths were shaped in an ‘oh’. Tails would have found the sight comical, if not for the seriousness of the matter. 

He turned to knock on the door, when it opened. Rose stood behind it, her eyes puffy and cheeks red. “Come inside,” she said, retreating into the house.

When all three Mobians had entered, the woodchuck faced them. “Tails, yes?” she started. Seeing him nod, she continued. “It’s about Cosmo-”

“I’m so sorry,” Tails cut in, shaking his head. “Kintobor has her.” 

“I know, they took her from here,” she replied. Seeing the shocked look on their faces, she let out a tired sigh and pressed on. “She wanted this… no, she knew this would happen. She always knew this day would come.”

“Why does Kintobor want her so badly?” Tails asked, his arms folded and his eyes narrowed.

Rose’s shoulders slumped. “Because she is an Ancient,” she said matter-of-factly. “The sole survivor.”

“Ah, now I get it,” Bark spoke suddenly. Everyone turned to look at him. “I mean, it was obvious from the onset but now, it really makes sense. You’re not her actual mother are you?”

“…Yes,” she said, sitting down at the dinner table. The three other Mobians followed suit. Rose placed her hand on the table, took a deep breath and then began her story. “It all started fifteen years ago…”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 27

Chapter 27: Facing the Chaotix



Cosmo

Cosmo emerged to a scene of chaos.

The citizens of the Sector 7 Slums were running around in a panic. Some gathered their most precious possessions from their homes, while others took to breaking into shops and stealing whatever they could. Amidst the pandemonium, the flower girl made her way through the growing crowds towards the bar at the far end. She pushed open the saloon doors and entered Vanilla’s Haven.

The bar was emptied of all of its contents. All the liquor was stripped from the shelves. Chairs and tables were overturned. A pinball machine in the corner was smashed. The cash register was forcefully torn off of the counter, leaving a hole in the rough surface. 

Her eyes darted around the raided store as she looked for the child. “Hope!” Cosmo called out, her hands cupping over her mouth. “Hope, where are you?!” 

As she rounded the bar and headed towards the kitchen, she suddenly saw a flash of gold poke out from underneath the counter. She quickly raised the piano hinge on the bar counter and found the little girl huddled in a corner, her light blue dress soiled and her messy blonde hair partially obscuring a pair of scared blue eyes, both of which shone with tears.

Cosmo carefully got down to her hands and knees so she could be at eye level with the child. She smiled at her. “Hey, it’s OK,” she said calmly. “I’m not here to hurt you, I’m here to take you away from here.” Noticing the frightened look Hope gave her, Cosmo quickly added. “Cream and Tails, they both sent me here to get you to safety.”

“Cream and… Mr. Foxy Tails?” the little girl said, her lip quivering. 

It took every ounce of Cosmo’s willpower not to laugh at that moment. 

Instead, she bit the inside of her cheek. “Yes,” she said in a shaky, snickering tone. ‘Mr. Foxy Tails! Oooh, I gotta remember that one for later!’ She took a deep breath and put on a more serious face. “Now, come on, we have to get out of here!” 

She extended her hand and the Human girl quickly took it. Cosmo wasn’t sure she gained her trust, but she nevertheless gathered her up and carried her out of the bar. 

Arriving at the checkpoint leading to Sector 6 moments later, Cosmo saw that it was torn down by the escaping mob. The mechanism that held the large bay doors closed were smashed to pieces and the doors were wrenched open by the fleeing populace. The Kintobor security force tried in vain to hold them back, but were overpowered by the sheer numbers. Cosmo entered the throng and pushed her way through it, all while cradling Hope protectively in her arms. Above her, the sounds of gunfire rang through the air. 

The flower girl soon broke through the crowd and started making her way towards her home in Sector 5. She was the only one going down this path as the rest of the crowd hurried to the safety of Sector 6’s Wall Market. Cosmo did not speak as they traversed the ruined and rugged pathway between Sectors 6 and 5. 

As she neared the same mutant house that she and Tails met earlier, the flower girl looked down to Hope. She pressed a finger to her lips, indicating to her that she should be quiet. Holding her breath, she watched and waited behind a mound of junk until the concealed Mutate turned away from them and then sprinted towards the hole in the checkpoint wall that separated the two Sectors. Looking around to ensure that they were no further danger, she turned her attention back to the little girl trembling in her arms. “Okay, I’m going to put you down now,” she announced. 

Cosmo slowly placed her onto the firm ground and again kneeled to meet her at eye level. She gave the little girl her warmest smile. “I’m Cosmo, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I sell flowers.”

“Oh!” Hope exclaimed suddenly. She dug into a pocket on her light blue dress and extracted a dried and pressed flower. “You mean like this one?” she said, a shy smile on her face.

Cosmo beamed. “Exactly like that one,” she said cheerfully. Her face then fell into a puzzled expression. “But how-”

“Mr. Foxy Tails gave it to me,” Hope said, clutching the flower tenderly. Her head was bowed and she shuffled on the spot. “He’s a bit scary, but he seems nice.” She looked back into Cosmo’s eyes and her brows creased upwards. “Do-do you think Cream and Mr. Tails and my dad are gonna be OK?”

Cosmo nodded vigorously in response. “Of course,” she said. She didn’t mention that she had no idea who her father was, but instead humored her. “I’m sure all three of them are going to be just fine.” She stood up, held out her hand and flashed her most winsome grin at Hope. “C’mon, we’re going to my place. You’re going to love it,” she said.

Hope smiled and took Cosmo’s hand. They set off on the pathway to Sector 5’s residential district. ‘She must know Tails,’ Cosmo thought, stealing a glance at the human girl as they walked. ‘I mean, it sounds like Tails has been around long enough for her to be familiar with him? So…’ 

“Hey Hope?” she started in what she hoped was a laid-back tone. “…So, what’s ‘Mr. Foxy Tails’ like?”


Tails

“Biggs!” Cream shouted out. She and Tails had only gone about a quarter of the way up the tower when they spotted the raven-haired human lying spread-eagle on one of the landings. His eyes were closed.

Tails moved in closer and kneeled down to inspect his wounds. His body was riddled with bullet holes. ‘He’s not gonna make it…’ 

Biggs cracked an eye open, hissing as he tried to move his head to face the fox. “So… Tails…” he said, struggling to speak. “You don’t… Care… What happens… To Mobius?”

“Save your strength, you’re wounded,” Tails responded. 

The raven haired human let out a chuckle and groaned in pain afterwards. “…Thanks Tails…” he said weakly. “Go… Go help… Bark…” He coughed, blood starting to dribble down his chin. “He’s… still fighting…”

Tails nodded solemnly and continued on. Cream followed behind him a moment later. From the corner of his eye, he could see that her glower had deepened. 

Rounding the next several flights of stairs, they ran into Jessie next. She was leaning on a railing and was struggling to stay upright. Like Biggs, she too had bullet holes in her torso. Tails could see that at least one of them was life-threatening. ‘Not her too…

“Tails… Cream…” she said, a feeble smile crossing her lips. “Glad I… Could see you… One last time…”

“Don’t say ‘last’,” Tails replied softly. Then he added, more to himself than to Jessie, “You’re gonna make it. I know you will.”

Jessie shook her head and gave them both a rueful grin. “It’s… alright,” she said, tears now spilling out. “We… We probably… deserve this… All… All those lives… lost… because of… because of what we’ve done…”

She lost her balance and slumped down onto the stairs. Cream caught her and set her down gently. “Jess…” she said softly, a pained expression crossing her face. 

Jessie placed a hand on Cream’s. “Go… Fight…,” she uttered, her strength waning. She took a shuddering breath as she lay on the metal flooring. Her hand slipped off of the fighter’s, who were now shaking.

Cream rose up, a blazing, maddening look in her eyes. She took off without Tails, hopping the steps two at a time in a frantic rush to reach the top.

Tails blinked suddenly as he watched his friend ascend upward. ‘I forgot that they were close,’ he realized as he followed right behind her. ‘Losing her bar, her home and now her friends? That’s rough…

He arrived at the top just behind Cream. Bark pointed his gun at the stairs and did a double take. “Cream! You came back! Tails! You’re friggin’ alive!” he shouted, half jubilant, half relieved. He pointed his Gun-Arm back toward the large craft hovering in the air. “Be careful! They’re attacking from that SkyTrans up there!” he said, firing shots at it.

The car veered away from the shots and then eased back slightly, allowing the three Mobians a moment of reprieve. “We should check our equipment before they attack with full force!” Cream said. She and Bark swapped Emeralds, with he taking Ice and she taking Lighting. Tails removed the All Emerald and replaced it with an Ice Emerald of his own. He then swapped the Restore on his armour with the Lightning on his weapon. ‘Won’t hurt to have an attack spell on my armour, in case I lose my weapon,’ he reasoned.

The SkyTrans suddenly sped forward, the door on the side opening once again. “Look! Here they come again!” Cream shouted. 

The three raced around the platform as a violet furred figure jumped out and landed right beside the support pillar’s monitoring station. He inserted a data stick into a port, which activated upon insertion. “Too late, mates!” the figure boomed out as the three TORNADO members rounded on him. “Once I press this button, it’s all ova!”

 Tails recognized the Mobian at the panel. “You!” he shouted. “You’re the one from the church!”

“Indeed I am, ya sod!” Nack said gloatingly. Ignoring the cries from Bark and Cream, he pressed a key on the panel. 

An alarm blared out as a computerized voice announced, “Emergency Plate Release System has been activated.”

“And there ya have it,” Nack continued, a wide grin on his muzzle. “Mission accomplished!”

“Don’t be so pretentious!” Tails said, glaring at the wolf-weasel. “All we have to do is beat you and disarm it!”

“Tut, tut,” Nack tsked, waggling a finger mockingly. “You think you can do that, foxy? I’d like to see you try.” He noticed the fighter and the gunner close ranks around the fox. “Three against one?” he said flippantly. Them’s not fair odds, ain’t they? Whaddya say we… even things up, eh?” He turned to the SkyTrans above him. “Come on out boys!”

Two more figures jumped out of the open door of the SkyTrans hovering above. The first that landed on the platform was a large crocodile wearing a pair of yellow and black headphones. He had hard, viridian scales and copper-red spikes going down his back. Cracking his knuckles, which were covered with black and gold cuffed gloves, he chuckled loudly. Tails could see the sharp and pointed teeth through the reptile’s grin. Like Nack, he too sported a navy blue jacket and white undershirt. The top third was unbuttoned which exposed his burly chest and gaudy gold chain necklace.

The second was a bee who flew out on gossamer-fine wings. He wore a black bomber helmet and an orange vest over top of a black jumpsuit. On the vest was a pin, with the letters ‘CX’ emblazoned on it. He hovered to the platform and landed next to his other two compatriots, who were much taller than he was. From a holster on his back, he pulled out a pointed blade with a rod that he extended, transforming the weapon into a spear. He had a wild, manic look about him and grinned widely at the prospect of battle.

“There we go, all Even-Steven now,” Nack said, a smarmy smile crossed his lips as he spoke. He drew out his pistols, cocking and pointing them at the fox. “Now, you’ll see what happens when you get in the way of the Chaotix!” He addressed his two comrades. “Vector, Charmy, let’s kick their asses!”

The two Mobians named Vector and Charmy rushed forward to face off against Cream and Bark respectively, leaving Tails to deal with Nack on his own. With Sector 7’s survival hanging in the balance, Tails steeled himself and prepared for the fight of his life.


Bark

Bark let loose a volley of bullets at the bee, roaring furiously as the shots rang out of his arm. He watched as the insect weaved around the shots as if they moved in slow motion. 

“Can’t catch me!” Charmy mocked playfully, making a face as he spoke. Suddenly, he zoomed over Bark’s head like a bolt of lightning, doubled back and then dived towards him before the bear could fully realize what was going on. 

It was only luck that saved Bark from being impaled. He stumbled as he turned around to keep his eyes on the bee and the spear point cut a large gash in his right shoulder instead of going through his chest. He roared in pain and clutched his shoulder to staunch the blood. The bee rose up once more and then dived like a bird of prey. 

However, Bark was ready for him this time. He swung his Gun-Arm upward just as the bee entered his range and swatted him hard. Charmy flew erratically as the strike stunned him. He recovered just in time to avoid another salvo fired from the bear.

Bark gnashed his teeth in frustration. ‘Damn thing moves too fast for me to get a clear shot at him!’ he thought, snarling as the bee zoomed above him again. Realizing quickly that he needed to reduce his blindspots, Bark put his back against the central mast of the monitoring tower and pointed his gun upward, scanning the sky for the small Mobian. 

He spotted the bee to his left, who ceased moving and hovered casually. His derisive look suggested that he dared the bear to fire his weapon again. “Aha, aren’t you smart,” Charmy smirked. “Using the tower to stop me attacking you from behind. But that’s not going to help you!” He darted down and swerved to the side as Bark fired again. The bee stopped just outside of his melee range and extended his spear, stabbing Bark in the leg. Charmy then pulled back, flying up high once more and repeated the same action on Bark’s other leg.

The gunner hissed, feeling slick blood slowly dribble out of the shallow wounds on his thighs and shoulder. He looked up and saw Charmy’s grin grew even wider, aggravating him further. “Alright, no more games,” he muttered, doubling over and drawing Fire energy out of the Emerald in his weapon. 

Charmy took no notice, stretching his arms in an exaggerated yawn. “You’re supposed to be the leader of TORNADO? You’re such a bore,” he called to the weakened-looking bear. “I should finish you off right now, but I feel like playing a little bit longer-”

Bark rose up, swung his right arm skyward and called “FIRE!” cutting off the bee mid-sentence. A pillar of flames shot out of his hand and struck the insect fully in the chest, burning him. Charmy howled in pain and struggled to keep airborne, his movements were still too inconsistent for Bark to get a proper bead on him.  

Instead, the bear dug into one of his pockets and pulled out three Potions. He snapped the tops off each and poured them on his wounds. As he felt the medicine work into his body, he saw that the bee had recovered. His wings were singed, his vest was burned off and he had an enraged look in his eyes. 

“You bastard!” he roared, teeth bared. “I’m going to kill you! I’ll skin you alive and-” 

But Bark attention wasn’t focused on Charmy’s rants. Instead, his focus turned to the objects he felt in his pocket as he grabbed the restoratives. ‘The grenades! I forgot that Jessie gave me these as we went up!’ his mind raced, fingering the explosives. ‘I wonder what would happen if-

“Hey! Are you even paying attention to me!?” Charmy hollered, his rage palpable. He placed a hand on the green gem inlaid into his weapon, drew out Emerald energy and gathered it into his index finger. “I SAID if you like the heat so much, then have some on me! FIRE!” he called, pointing his finger directly at Bark. A beam of red Fire energy shot out like a bullet. 

“Oh shit!” Bark yelled, barely rolling out of the way as the magic struck behind him and exploded. The heat of the impact singed a chunk of fur on his back and caused angry red burns to form on his right thigh. Growling through his teeth in pain, the bear slapped his left hand onto his armor and drew out Ice energy.

In spite of the pain he felt from the burns, Charmy scoffed. “You think your magic’s gonna hit me!? Your bullets couldn’t even touch me! …Granted, that first shot was a lucky strike, but what makes you think the second time will be any different?!”

“What’s different here,” Bark said through gritted teeth, shoving his hand into his pocket and collecting a grenade. Pulling it out, he saw that the Ice energy enveloped the explosive, and a savage and satisfied sneer crossed his muzzle at the sight. He pulled the pin with his teeth, cooking it as he finished his sentence. “Is that I’m making this up on the fly!” He tossed it upwards and called, “ICE!”

The grenade, encased in Ice energy, rose up and exploded in front of a surprised Charmy, sending a volley of thin ice shards hurtling in all directions. The majority of the shards struck the bee’s body as he tried to retreat, with many of them penetrating through his wings. Overwhelmed by the cold energy and unable to keep aloft, Charmy dropped from the sky before landing hard on the pillar platform. He fell unconscious upon impact. 

Bark, to a lesser degree, was also showered by the thin, needle-like fragments. He felt a stinging, cold sensation in his arms and back as he ducked forward and covered his head. Once the magic dissipated, he got into a sitting position and slumped against the monitoring tower’s mast to rest. He panted as he downed his last Potion. “Holy… shit… can’t believe… that actually worked!” he muttered breathlessly in disbelief. 

Once he gained control of his breathing once more, he looked up and saw the fallen Chaotix member out of the corner of his eye. Feeling his rage reignite, he pulled himself up, walked over to the body and pointed his Gun-Arm directly at the bee’s head. “Say goodbye, you Kintobor-loving scum,” he growled venomously under his breath.

And then a loud, agonizing roar pierced the air, followed by Nack’s voice. “Like it foxy?!” Bark heard the hybrid cackle loudly. 

The gunner faltered. He glowered first at the quarry by his feet and then in the direction where Tails was fighting. He squeezed his eyes shut as he made his decision. “…Shit,” he spat, raising his arm and barreling around the mast towards Tails.


Cream

“You’re pretty strong!”

“You’re not half-bad yourself!”

Cream and Vector broke away from their skirmish, both fighters panting slightly as they circled one another. Though the rabbit’s visage exuded a calm intensity, inwardly she was perturbed. ‘His skin is as hard as steel! I don’t know if I’ve even made an impact,’ she mused, tightening her fists. 

He suddenly advanced and swung his fist down so quickly that Cream barely got out of the way. However, she couldn’t avoid the subsequent tail swipe that sent her flying hard into the tower’s mast. “OK, that’s it,” Cream muttered, more to herself than to the Chaotix member as she pushed off of the steel wall. The brawler brought a hand up and beckoned the crocodile forward.

Grinning and accepting the invitation, Vector ran up to face her. As soon as he got within range, Cream quickly placed a foot against the wall behind her, kicked off and threw her entire weight into a savage haymaker that connected with the crocodile’s snout. He staggered to the side, disoriented. Cream landed and then followed up her attack by grappling the reptile around the head. She then repeatedly struck his underbelly with her knees,  getting in a few shots until Vector blocked an oncoming knee, twisted to get out of the hold and then punched her in the gut.

With his hand still in Cream’s abdomen, the crocodile shoved her hard, his vast strength sending her flying into the platform’s railing. She yelped loudly as her back connected with the cold steel and then crumpled to the floor. She let out a few gasps of pain, before gritting her teeth and pushing herself up.

Vector shook his head in amusement as he watched the rabbit get up. He folded his arms nonchalantly. “For someone so beautiful, you sure do punch hard,” he chortled, before unfolding his arms and settling into a stance. His hand, Cream noticed, was glowing.

Ah nuts, I should have known he was charging a spell,’ she thought, her body tensening as she waited for him to cast the spell so she could dodge it. She saw the crocodile grin smugly as the energy formed into a red ball in his hand. Without warning, he shoved the orb into his mouth, which caught the rabbit off guard. 

The look of shock she gave him was all Vector needed. With a roar of “FIRE!” he spat the energy ball out. The ball, which was now four times its size,  rocketed towards Cream, who could do nothing more than cross her arms in a defensive stance. She bore the brunt of Vector’s Fire spell and cried out as she struck the rail behind her once again. She collapsed onto the metal floor and rolled around instinctively to put out the flames on her body. 

“Y’see, I have this neat little trick where if I put magic in my mouth and spit it out, it amplifies,” Vector said in a conversational tone as she lay there. “Yeah, so I risk seriously harming or even killing myself, but… the rewards make it worthwhile.” 

The rabbit slammed a hand onto the platform and struggled to push herself up. She could hear him chuckle. “The fact that you’re still moving after that is a testament to your strength,” Vector continued. “It’s been a while since I had a good challenge.” He paused and Cream watched as he turned away from her, his arms again folded. “Regardless of the circumstances… I’d stay down if I were you.” Cream noted a hint of sympathy in his voice. “This fight’s over.”

‘…He’s right,’ Cream admitted to herself as she looked through the perforated flooring towards the Slums below. ‘…It has been a long time since I was challenged like this.  If things were different… I would have enjoyed this fight.’ Groaning softly, she slowly rose to her hands and knees and shakily pushed herself back up into a standing position, pain coursing through her body. ‘But he’s wrong in one instance; this isn’t over yet! What he’s doing and what he stands for…  I can’t back down and I can’t let them get away with this! I will not let them destroy Sector 7!

She placed her right hand on the Lightning Emerald in her weapon and drew out energy as she settled slowly into a fighting stance. At the same time, she felt a prickling sensation, similar to what she experienced when she, Tails and Cosmo fought the Aps in the sewers. Her body radiated a golden light and silver bolts of electricity started to emanate from her fists once more. The two mingled with the yellow-white energy in her hand that she was pouring Mana into. “Again!” Cream called out forcefully, cupping the Lightning magic in both hands and placing them by her side, her eyes blazing. 

Vector turned around. HIs eyes were closed and he smiled mirthlessly. “Oho, you are a glutton for punishment, aren’t you?” he said, as he conjured another Fire orb in his hand. His expression then changed from light-hearted to serious upon seeing the fierce look in the rabbit’s eyes. “Hm… What’s this?” he commented, his jaw tightening. “There’s fire in you yet, huh? I like that in a woman…”

Cream ignored the comment as she strengthened the spell in her hand. Her body yearned to release all the pent-up energy, but she held firm. ‘Not yet. I have to time this just right.”

Amidst the sounds of fighting all around her, Cream heard nothing but the rhythmic sound of her breath. She waited for the crocodile to make the first move. Suddenly, Vector inserted the energy in his mouth and Cream retaliated by pushing her hands forward. But as the crocodile launched his amplified spell, Cream pulled her hands back and performed a split at the very last second. She pressed her body as low to the floor as she could and the fireball passed mere inches over her. She felt the intense heat radiating from it as it sailed away from the pillar. Without a moment’s hesitation, she raised her upper body, pushed her hands towards Vector and called “BOLT!”

The Lightning magic shot out and struck the bewildered crocodile. The electric current pinned him in place long enough for Cream to get up, her fists now ablaze with silvery-golden energy. She rushed in and performed the same Ki-enhanced five hit combo and somersault moves she used on Aps. When she landed, she then circled around to the still stunned Vector’s back and grappled him around the waist. With a loud kiai, she lifted him up and executed a suplex. Vector’s head connected hard with the metal floor and with a groan, he slipped into unconsciousness.

The rabbit gingerly rose to her feet and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Serves you right,” she sniffed at the reptile. 

She pulled out a Potion from a pocket in her skirt and downed its contents to recover. She suddenly spat the last bits of it out when she heard an anguished roar from her right, followed by the weasel-wolf’s voice. “Like it foxy!?” she heard Nack cackle loudly. Fear started to envelope her.

Ignoring the soreness she felt, Cream hobbled in the direction of Tails’ screams. “Hang in there Tails,” she mumbled to herself as she fished out and drank another restorative. “I’m coming…”


Tails

As soon as Vector and Charmy left to fight his friends, Tails immediately blocked the shots fired from Nack’s twin pistols with the flat of his blade. The fox then pushed forward, his senses helping him to avoid or deflect the bullets that were raining down on him. Once he got in range, Tails swept his blade horizontally. To his surprise, Nack jumped over the blade and fired a shot at his face while in mid-air. The bullet impacted harmlessly on the metal floor as Tails read the path of the bullet and moved his head before the hybrid could pull the trigger. 

Nack landed, got in close to Tails and struck his face with the butt of his left pistol. Before he could fire a shot with the right, one of the fox’s tails swung around and lashed Nack’s wrist like a whip. The hybrid yelped loudly as he dropped his firearm, but then struck Tails’ diaphragm with his right elbow.

The wind knocked out of him, Tails stumbled back. He raised his sword just in time to fend off another volley from the gunner, who recovered his dropped firearm. While in his defensive stance, he drew Ice energy and palmed it in his left hand. Honing his ears, which were stinging from the loud gunshots pinging against the sword, Tails blindly charged forward in Nack’s general direction. He heard him step to his right. 

The fox slowed down, used the momentum to pivot his body and thrust his left arm in the weasel-wolf’s direction, calling “ICE!” The blue energy darted towards an astonished Nack, his dual pistols pointing at Tails’ head. The hybrid crossed his firearms and let go, backing away as the magic collided and encased them in ice. 

Immediately after he cast the spell, Tails raised his sword up and brought it down with a cleave, smashing the pistols into pieces. The blade’s tip swung mere inches from the retreating Chaotix member, who now had his back against the monitoring tower’s platform railing.  He gave the fox another unctuous smile, his hands raised up in surrender. “Oh, now this won’t do,” he said, his voice biting. “I liked those guns, ya cheeky git!” 

Nack let out a long exhale and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Tails saw that all traces of his earlier humor were gone. They were the cold, dead eyes of a professional killer. 

“Alright, warmup’s over,” Nack growled, his flippant and aloof air giving way to a more sinister one. “Let’s get serious, eh?”

He snapped his fingers and the SkyTrans they arrived in rose up behind him. The spotlight on its undercarriage pointed directly at Tails, who shielded his eyes from the harsh brightness. The fox then heard Nack yell “Oi! Drop the Marvelous Queen!” 

His command was followed first by the sound of a gun cocking and then a high pitched whine, which stood out against the low hum of the transport’s mag-lev engines. And then suddenly, all Tails knew was pain.

He felt two small prongs shallowly penetrate his left leg, followed immediately by a high-voltage electric current that coursed through his body. Tails let out an agonizing yell as he felt every nerve in his body being seared by the electricity. It felt as though he was on fire. In the throes of agony, he heard Nack chortle. “Like it foxy!?” he called.

Dimly from his left, he heard Bark shout out, followed by the faint sounds of gunfire. He felt the prongs detach abruptly from his leg and he crumpled to the floor. He took several deep, gasping breaths and his hand clawed for the Restore Emerald on his weapon. Drawing the magic from the gem, he slapped his hand onto his chest and choked out “CURE!”

The restorative magic enveloped him and healed his body from the electrical damage it suffered. He gingerly rose up into a crouching position and watched as Nack turned the curious weapon in his hand towards him. On reflex, Tails raised his sword and blocked the oncoming volley. They pinged harmlessly off of the thick blade, but impacted with such force that the vibrations rattled up the weapon and into the fox’s arm. ‘What the hell kind of bullets are these?!’ he thought as his fingers started to grow numb from the repeated shocks.

Behind him, the sounds of both footsteps and crackling electric energy swiftly found the fox’s ears. He heard the voice – which he now realized was Cream’s – call out “BOLT!” The electric ball streaked over his head and he felt the jarring gunshots cease. Tails pulled himself up onto his feet and saw the hybrid suffer a glancing blow from the magical attack, his arm getting clipped as he rolled away from it. As Nack rose up, Tails finally got a proper look at his new weapon.

It was a large semi-automatic rifle equipped with multiple tactical rails. Coloured chrome silver with bluish-violet accents, the weapon sported a collapsible stock that rested against the weasel-wolf’s shoulder. It had a pistol grip and a curved magazine, which Tails recognized contained high-caliber ammunition. A scope was equipped on the top tactical rail, while a launcher was positioned on the rail underneath the gun’s barrel. A rail on the left side of the gun had what looked to be a taser equipped, the two pronged tips covered in his blood. 

On the opposite side of the monitoring platform, Bark, who found cover near the tower’s monitoring panel, slid a grenade over to Nack. Hearing him kick it away, the bear got out of his cover, swung his energy-coated right fist towards the Chaotix member and called “FIRE!” 

However, it seemed that Nack anticipated this. Angling his body so that the pillar of flame sailed harmlessly away from him, he pointed his rifle at the bear and pulled the trigger on the launcher beneath the gun barrel. The projectile soared over to the bear, clinked once and then exploded into a field of yellow energy. The expanding energy soon solidified and trapped the gunner in a pyramid-shaped enclosure. “Try gettin’ outta that, mate!” the wolf-weasel yelled as he turned around and drew a bead on Cream and Tails.

The two circled around the tower mast, avoiding the bullets as they pinged harmlessly on the floor. Tails banged a fist on the metal wall, his expression heated. “This isn’t good,” he said to Cream, who was next to him. “Somehow, we need to get Bark free from whatever the hell he’s trapped in.” He looked at his friend directly. “Can you handle that?” 

She nodded. “Alright,” Tails replied, hoisting his sword up. “I’ll keep that bastard company. Get Bark out however you can and we’ll triple-team him. The fox slipped out from behind the mast, his sword in his defensive stance. “Hey! Over here asshole!” he jeered, bracing himself against the rifle bullets as he advanced. Hearing the high-pitched whine again, he ran up, dropped into a slide to avoid the prongs and then swiped at the weasel-wolf’s legs with his sword. Nack got a nick in his right calf as he rolled away from the strike. He retracted the taser prongs and pointed the rifle at one of the fox’s tails, but Tails quickly advanced on him and slashed, giving him no room to aim.

From the corner of his eye, Tails saw Cream circle around the structure towards Bark, who was pounding on the walls of his enclosure, his muzzle frothing in rage. Before she could even address the issue, she spun around and came face to face with a revived Vector and Charmy, both looking battered, but still able to fight. The bee pointed his spear at Cream and grinned. Beside him, Vector cracked his knuckles, his eyes set in a glare. Without warning, they both attacked and the fighter struggled to keep up with the onslaught. 

Fury roiled through Tails at that moment. He swung his blade recklessly at Nack with one hand while he placed the other on his armour and drew Lightning energy. Backing the Chaotix member again to the rail on the edge of the platform, Tails then executed a desperate gambit: His tails shot forward and wrapped tightly around Nack’s wrists and forced them down, preventing him from using his weapon. He followed up with a shoulder charge which sent the stupefied Nack over the rail, his tails relinquishing the hold they had on his arms simultaneously. Without checking to see if he truly fell, he raised the arm holding the Lightning magic, thrust his palm out and called “BOLT!” 

Tails’ spell was not aimed at the two Chaotix members, but instead struck the prison holding Bark captive. The three fighters ceased their skirmish as the energy barrier dissipated. All that remained was Bark, huffing loudly, his eyes narrowed into slits. Golden energy was radiating off of his body and the aura quickly coalesced into a crimson orb at the end of his Gun-Arm. 

“You’re mine, you sons of bitches!” he roared, pointing his arm at Vector and Charmy and firing. Cream rolled out of the way as the orb traveled to the two Mobians. Bark watched as Vector jumped in front of Charmy, grabbed him and dropped to the floor, the projectile skimming and burning the scales off his right arm as he did so. 

“You should be payin’ more attention to ya surroundin’s mate!” A voice called beneath Tails while he watched the scene unfold. Nack had not fallen, but instead grasped the end of the platform with a free hand and pulled himself up. Flipping over the railing, he drew a knife from his jacket and plunged it into the fox’ shoulder. Howling, Tails responded by grabbing Nack by the lapels of his rumpled jacket and headbutting him. Both stumbled about, stunned from the fox’s impromptu attack. 

Before the weasel-wolf could get his bearings, he was ambushed by Cream. Her hands glowing blue from tapping the Steal Emerald, she swiped the hybrid’s rifle with ease and threw it off of the platform. She then subsequently grabbed his shooting wrist and broke it with a twist. Nack screamed and blindly aimed a swipe at the rabbit’s head with his good hand, which she easily avoided. Cream retreated to Tails’ position and they both watched as Nack clutched his broken wrist. They were soon joined by Bark as the Chaotix member backed into the platform railing. He bared his teeth at the three and stared directly at the fighter with pure hatred. “I’m gonna getcha for that ya stupid-”

Before he could finish his sentence, he suddenly heard a series of shrill beeps emit from the watch on his other hand. His eyes widened. “Oi, Vector, Charmy, we gotta go!” he hollered to his teammates, alarm laced in his voice. “It’s time!”

The crocodile, still holding the bee in his uninjured arm, grudgingly got up and jumped over the railing next to him. Nack, still grimacing, followed suit. He breezed past a bewildered Cream and Bark and hopped over the same rail Vector and Charmy used. A moment later, the SkyTrans that was circling the monitoring platform rose up from below and zoomed away from the pillar and up into the city above.

Recovering quickly from her confusion, Cream raced to the monitoring control panel and looked desperately at it, unsure which button or switch would disarm the system. “Tails! Come quickly and help!” she cried frantically. 

Pulling the knife painfully out of his shoulder and discarding it, Tails ran over to the panel. He extracted his last Potion and swigged half of it down as he quickly looked over the data on the screen. His face suddenly darkened. “It’s not a normal time bomb,” he said to Cream grimly.

“That’s correct,” a voice called out from behind. 

Tails, Cream and Bark turned around to see a second SkyTrans rise up from below. Standing behind the open door was a red echidna sporting long dreadlocks and wearing a full navy suit. He was shirtless and the smallest trace of a white, crescent shaped birthmark could be seen from underneath the jacket. He wore blood red shoes with a yellow stripe and green cuffs on the top – colours which stood out comically compared to the crisp suit. The eyes, Tails noted, were not comical at all. Hued in a deep violet-blue, they were stern, cold and unforgiving. 

The echidna crossed his arms and the fox got a glimpse of the long, sharp twin spikes mounted on the pair of gloves worn by the interloper. “It’ll blow the moment some idiot touches it,” he continued, his eyes sliding over and meeting the fox’s own. “But you probably already knew that, huh Ex-SOLDIER?”

Tails narrowed his eyes, seething at the echidna. ‘He sure did his homework,’ he thought darkly. 

“Permit me to introduce myself,” the echidna continued. “I’m Knuckles of the Chaotix. I always feel that it’s important to share one’s name before an enemy’s last moments. It’d be a shame to go to Hell without knowing who killed you, right?”

“Please! You have to stop this!” Cream cried, ignoring the comment. But the echidna shrugged and shook his head.

“Can’t do that,” Knuckles said impassively. “Only a Kintobor employee with executive-level clearance can override-”

“Shut the hell up!” Bark cut in, pointing his Gun-Arm at the SkyTrans. “And do as the lady says, huh?”

“Ah, ah, ah,” the echidna tutted, waving a hand dismissively at the trigger-happy bear. “You might make me injure our special guest.” And from within the transport, he grabbed someone by the arm and pulled them forwards into the light. 

Tails’ heart sank and his stomach churned at the sight of the flower petal dress, the green jacket, the rose petal hair blossoms and the bright, sky blue eyes that stared back at him. 

It was Cosmo.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 26

Chapter 26: The Race to Sector 7



Tails

Tails, Cream and Cosmo slid down a chute and landed hard in a pool of murky water. Groaning, the fox pulled himself up and suppressed the urge to gag, the stench being nearly unbearable to his hypersensitive nose. Plugging his nostrils, he looked around the channel that he and the others landed in. ‘Seems like we’re in a storm drain of sorts,’ Tails observed. To his right, he saw a ladder leading up to an elevated section of the channel. “There might be a way to get to Sector 7 from here,” he murmured to himself. Moving on, his eyes soon trailed to the bodies of Cream and Cosmo rousing nearby.

The rabbit was the closest in proximity to him. “You alright?” Tails asked as he approached her.

She rose up and wiped the dirty water off the side of her face. “Man, this is terrible,” she said, disgusted. She started wringing the excess water out of her ears and hair. 

Tails then ran to Cosmo’s side and knelt down to her. “How ‘bout you?” he asked. “You alright?”

The flower girl nodded. “Yeah,” she replied, picking herself up. She soon twisted her face in revulsion and gagged. “Eugh, what a stench…”

“…Be thankful you don’t have heightened senses,” the fox deadpanned, his nose wrinkling at the smell.

Cosmo smiled at him, despite her grimace. “ I am, actually,” she quipped, before letting out a sigh as she looked around at her surroundings. “Well, at least the worst is behind us-”

A loud gurgling noise erupted from behind them, halting her in mid-sentence. Two yellowed eyes looked out to the three Mobians beyond a tunnel obstructed by thick steel bars.

Cosmo wilted, her hand clasping the staff in her belt. “Spoke too soon, huh?” she said weakly.

Corneo’s voice suddenly broke out from a speaker ahead. “Oh Ap~s!,” the toad called in a sing-song voice. “Come and get your din~ner!”

The bars in the tunnel descended into the ground, creating a pathway between the creature and the Mobians. It bounded towards them, roaring loudly.

“Get ready!” Tails called, drawing his sword. Hastily, he replaced the Ice Emerald in his armor with the Cover Emerald he picked up at Cosmo’s house. Pocketing the other gem, he settled into a stance and braced himself.

Soon, the creature emerged from the dark tunnel and the dim lighting illuminated its features. Aps was a grotesque, blue-skinned Mutate. It’s bottom half was covered in matted, dirty brown fur and it walked on two large, trunk-like legs with hoofs at the end. A long, prehensile tail that ended with sharp, protruding spikes helped it to maintain its balance. Its upper half was grossly over-proportion compared to its lower body. The arms themselves were thicker and more muscular than its legs and its shackled hands were large enough to hold a small car. Two large horns protruded out of the massive hump on its back.

Aps beat its chest with both hands and bellowed, a long, forked tongue lolled lazily out of its gaping snout. Its sharp, misshapen teeth, coupled with the garish, golden harness it wore around its mouth, prevented the monster from closing it properly. 

The Mutate reared forward, its beady eyes searching for its meal. Spotting the trio in front of it, the monster lumbered towards them with surprising speed, its massive arms dragging on the ground as it moved. 

“Get out of the way!” Tails shouted, sidestepping as the monster swung its arms downward, slamming the ground where he once stood. Recovering quickly, the fox aimed a slash at one of its arms, but the flesh was so thick and rugged that his blade barely penetrated it. Aps retaliated by backhanding the warrior, sending him flying towards a wall. 

“OK, let’s try this!” Cream yelled, charging an Ice spell. She cast the spell, the ice ball travelling and striking the monster in the face. It cried out in pain and tried to rub the cold off from its eyes. While it was distracted, the fighter rushed in, jumped and landed a flying kick to one of its knees. Aps howled loudly as it was forced to kneel. “Cosmo, now!” the fighter called, getting out of the way.

Cosmo had been charging a spell of her own shortly after Cream launched hers. She swept her hands down as she called “FIRE!”  A large pillar of flames erupted from the ground and enveloped the creature’s skin and fur. It screeched loudly as the flames caused it to writhe around in agony. “I think Fire’s more effective here!” the flower girl called out to the others.

Corneo’s voice crackled on the speaker once again. “ Oh shit!” He called out, his voice now high-pitched and panicky. “Don’t worry my sweet! Daddy’s got you!” There was a loud click over the speaker, as if something was switched on.

From behind him, Tails heard a grinding noise, followed immediately by the sound of rushing water. Realizing that he had no time to lose, he sheathed his sword and headed back to the two women. “We have to get to higher ground! Grab hold!” he said, holding out his hands. “Hurry up!”

The two grabbed on and Tails tossed them up to the elevated section of the drain channel. He followed behind them, clasping the edge and pulling himself up just as the murky water swept down through the channel. It submerged the lumbering beast and put out the fire that covered its body. The smell of singed fur lingered in the air as it rose up from the ground. 

“Let’s finish this!” Cream said, her eyes blazing. She hopped off the ledge and charged another Ice spell. Instead of aiming it at the monster, she instead directed the magic to the ground, which was now covered in water. The Ice magic froze the ground in front of Aps, who stepped on it and immediately slipped painfully onto its backside.

Wasting no time, the fighter circled around to the creature’s back, focused her ki into her fists and punched several times where she thought its kidney was located. Aps let out a long, piteous moan and started thrashing its arms and tail wildly.

In her haste to end the battle, Cream failed to notice that her back was against the drain wall, giving her little room to maneuver. Aps’ tail abruptly swung in her direction, the spikes aimed directly for her chest. She gritted her teeth and prepared for the worst.

All of a sudden, Tails was in front of her with the Buster Sword held in a defensive position. The spiked appendage deflected off of the blade several times and the fox grimaced as he felt the vibrations from each strike rattle unpleasantly in his arms. The purple Emerald in his armor glowed brightly and then faded once Aps moved away from them. “You alright?” he grunted, turning to the fighter. 

“Yeah,” came her response. She suddenly gasped and looked beyond the fox’s shoulder. “Cosmo! Look out!” she called. 

The warrior whirled around in time to see the Mutate grab hold of Cosmo, who was still on the ledge above. Collecting her from the top, the monster began to squeeze and the flower girl let out a wail, tears streaming from her eyes.

“Ha-ha! That’s right, my sweet!” Corneo’s voice chortled from above. “Crush them!” 

Cream then stepped forward and Tails saw that her body was suddenly enveloped in a bright golden aura. Tiny bolts of silver electricity arced around her fists. “LET HER GO!!” her voice rang out angrily, as if responding to the toad’s taunts. She rushed up to the Mutate’s leg and struck its knee with five heavy, ki-infused punches, breaking the joint. She then rolled to the other leg, hopped onto the other knee and somersaulted off of it,  her heel shattering the bone. 

Aps released the flower girl from his grasp as his legs buckled. It toppled forwards, bellowing loudly as it crashed into the ground . Tails ran to Cosmo’s side as Cream continued her assault by striking it in the face with a flying kick. “Cosmo! Speak to me!” he said, guilt racking through his body. ‘I should have never let her come with us…

She winced as she wrapped an arm around her left side. “I-I’m OK, Tails,” she said, gasping for air. “No-No worse for the wear. Just pass me a Potion, we-we gotta help Cream!”

No sooner did she speak those words did the fighter rejoin them, the golden aura around her body dissipating. “I think it’s on its last legs,” she breathed, her eyes narrowed into a harsh glare. 

“Then let’s put it out of its misery,” Tails responded. He fished out a restorative for Cosmo and then readied his sword. “You two hang back and prep your strongest magic while I distract it. When you’re ready, launch them and I’ll go for the neck to finish it off.”

Cosmo and Cream nodded and started preparing their spells, both packing in as much Mana as they could. Tails then rushed ahead to the now disabled Mutate, who pushed itself into a sitting position. The fox jumped in and started poking it with his sword to provoke it. Aps flailed its arms and tail about, tears streaming from its eyes from both pain and frustration.

Above them, Corneo’s frantic voice blared through the speakers. “No! My poor Aps!” he choked out. A series of clicks followed by a roar of frustration followed. “Why isn’t this friggin’ watergate-thing working!?” he yelled, the sound of him repeatedly slamming his fist on the controls echoing through the sewer.

Tails ignored the toad and instead focused on keeping away from the monster’s limbs while listening intently for the two women behind them to finish their preparations. Soon enough, Cosmo and Cream both launched their attacks. “FIRE! ICE!” they called together, sending both of their fully charged magic to the Mutate. The combination of hot and cold elemental powers overwhelmed it and sent it into a stunned stupor. It leaned back and exposed its neck. 

Now’s my chance!’ Tails dashed forwards, jumped and with a yell, plunged the sword into the base of Aps’ throat. Blood spurted out as its major artery was severed. It croaked out a death rattle as the fox pulled out his sword, before slumping back and becoming still. 

Above them, Corneo started wailing. “Oh, my precious pet!” he sobbed loudly. “I’ll make sure you’ll all pay for what you-”

Finally rid of the Aps, Tails then shorted out the speaker using a weak Lightning spell. “I was getting tired of hearing his voice,” he grumbled, washing the blood off of his sword with the dingy water. 

With the battle over, Cosmo brought a hand to her now trembling lip, her eyes on the dead Aps. “How inhumane,” she murmured. “For it to be mutated like this… it’s – it’s unconscionable…”

“Blame the radioactive runoff from Kintobor’s reactors, it’s what’s been causing all of the mutations in the first place,” Tails explained plainly, sheathing his weapon. “Anyway, it’s dead now, so let’s go. We can’t delay any further.”

“But Tails,” Cream said, her shoulders slumping. “Hope… Bark… The people of Sector 7… Th-They could already be-”

“No!” Cosmo forced out, shaking her head. She took the rabbit’s hands into her own. “Cream, don’t give up hope! Never give up hope! It must be difficult to break the pillar, right?” She then looked pleadingly to the fox.

He nodded, launching into an explanation. “If anything did happen, we would have felt the tremors. The plates themselves weigh a ton as it is and, combining that with gravity, would result in part of this storm drain being crushed as well from the impact. …To put it simply, we would have noticed the plate falling a while ago.” 

Cream’s eyes went from Tails to Cosmo. She gave them both a shaky smile. “…You’re both right,” she said, her face alight with renewed hope. “So, we still have time!” 

“Yeah. So let’s get going,” Tails motioned to a ladder on the far side of the drainage channel. “We get up to higher ground first. From there, we can look for a way back to Sector 7.”

They ascended up to the top of the channel. On the far side, they watched as the channel sloped downwards at a steep angle. Tails approached the edge and peered down into it. He was able to see something in the distance, but there was not enough light to make out the details. He closed his eyes and buried himself in thought. ‘It’s too dim. But maybe…

He opened his eyes. “Cosmo, hand me the Fire Emerald? Cream, come here for a sec.” 

The two women did as requested. The flower girl handed the gem to Tails, who then handed it over to his friend. “Take this, charge up a fireball and launch it down there,” he commanded, pointing to the bottom of the tunnel. 

“Ah I get it, you’ll use the light to see what’s down there, right?” she said, understanding his intentions. Seeing him nod, she continued. “OK then, stand back.”

She replaced the Emeralds, charged up a Fire spell and cast it down the channel. The fireball illuminated the path and Tails could see another storm drain channel at the bottom, along with a ladder on the far side of the wall going upward. 

“…There’s a ladder down there,” Tails said. “If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say that’ll lead us topside.” He looked around and saw that the only way down was to slide down the channel. “Looks like it’s a one-way trip. Let’s take a break to catch our breath and then we’ll head down.”

As they did so, the fox spotted something in the refuse on his right, glinting under the low lighting. He ambled towards it, shuffled some rotted cardboard boxes away and revealed a Yellow Emerald. ‘Steal? This’ll be useful,’ he thought. Returning to the team, they modified their Emerald configurations. Cream sported the new Steal Emerald in the armour slot, while taking back the Ice Emerald from Cosmo. Tails placed his Lightning Emerald in his armor slot, opting to link the All and Restore Emeralds on his weapon. Cosmo installed the Fire Emerald back into her staff.

Tails turned to the two women. “Ready?” he asked. They nodded. “Then let’s go.”

The three Mobians descended and landed hard in a shallow, ankle-high pool of stagnant water. Ascending out of the channel, they made their way to the ladder on the wall and then climbed up. Cream ascended first, followed by Cosmo and finally Tails at the rear.


Cream

The fighter soon reached the top of the shaft and pushed on the manhole cover, raising it up and sliding it to the side. She poked her head up and looked around. “I think we’re in the right place!” she called, hopping out of the hole. Cosmo and Tails followed suit.

They emerged in the Train Graveyard – a vast rail yard filled with abandoned train cars. Many of them were broken beyond recognition, but some still had power within them. The haphazard way the railcars were arranged created a maze that blocked their way to Sector 7. 

Tails huffed a sigh at the scene. “Cosmo, I’m sorry I got you invol-”

“Don’t tell me to go home,” the flower girl broke in seriously, her eyes on Cream, who mounted the car in front of her and surveyed their surroundings.

“I think… Yes, I can see the train station in the distance,” she said slowly, her squinting eyes adjusting to the bright lighting in the Slums. “If we move through the lit cars, we should be able to get through.” She turned to the two, a look of worry etched onto her brow. “Please, let’s hurry.”

Nodding, Tails and Cosmo followed Cream to the top of the car. Together, the three traversed through the Train Graveyard, their footsteps the only sounds being made in the space. Their progress was slowed by Cosmo, who wasn’t as athletic as the former SOLDIER and the martial artist. As they made their way up and across another car, Cosmo called out to Cream. She slowed down so that the flower girl could catch up. 

“Hey, I never got to say thank you,” Cosmo said as they walked carefully, the rusted metal shell creaking from their combined weight. “For getting me out of that jam, I mean.”

The fighter smiled listlessly at her. “No charge,” she said. Her eyes trailed back to the path ahead. The crowded railyard opened up to a clearing, with the path beyond blocked off by a line of locomotive engines. “I hope we get there soon…” she sighed, biting her lip.

She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get there,” Cosmo replied, smiling serenely at her. Cream said nothing and only shrugged in response.

Her hand still on Cream’s shoulder, Cosmo’s face suddenly grew mischievous. “I know this probably isn’t the right time, bu—t,” she started. She turned to see if Tails was out of earshot, before digging out the disposable camera from her pocket and showing it to her. “… I did get you that picture that I promised!” 

This time, Cream couldn’t help but smile. Cosmo, too, beamed brightly at her. “There, that’s better!” she exclaimed as she let go of the fighter’s shoulder, her hands clasped in front of her. “A… friend of mine always said that the best thing to do when times are bad is to find something that’ll make you smile. A smile, he said, is the one thing that no one or nothing can take away from you.”

“…Good advice,” Cream said, before taking the flower girl’s hands into her own. “…Thanks Cosmo, I needed that.”

“No problem,” Cosmo said, winking as she stowed the camera away.

“Hey!” Tails’ voice echoed out, startling them both. He stood at the centre of a large space not far from the car they stood on. “Everything OK?”

“Yeah Tails!” the fighter replied, waving to him. “We’ll be right there!” Sharing a warm glance to each other, the two soon hopped off of the car they were on and met with the fox at the middle of the clearing. 


Tails

Tails surveyed the line of engines in front of him with mild interest. “I can’t tell from here,” he said to the two as they caught up to him. “But there might be some juice left in those engines ahead. If we use one of them to move the cars out of the way, that might create the path we need to get out of here.” As he finished speaking, his ears perked up and he drew his sword. “Behind us!” he called.

Three diminutive wyverns swooped in from above, shrieking loudly. They had thin, sickly green bodies and flew on translucent cyan wings. They had spiked barbs at the ends of their tails and the tips of their wings had curved fangs designed slicing.  They attacked first, spitting out sharp ice spikes from their mouths.

Tails blocked the assault with his sword, while Cream led Cosmo away from their range. The flower girl quickly pulled out her staff as she ran, drew energy from her Fire Emerald and cast it on one of the wyvern Mutates. Its wings caught fire and the webbed skin around it burnt away, causing it to drop from the sky. The fox ran up and finished it off with a cleaving blow that severed its head. As he raised his weapon, a sudden sound of grating metal caused Tails’ head to jerk to his left. ‘Oh hell…

A group of six Robians marched menacingly towards the group, their blood coloured optical sensors making them easily discernible in the gloomy train yard. They started screeching mechanically at the sight of potential victims, their teeth snapping and talons and claws all flexing with the intent to kill. 

“We don’t have time for this,” he muttered darkly as the Robians approached. They were halfway across the clearing. Scanning his surroundings, his eyes landed on the engines he observed earlier. The track it was on led directly into a derailed car aligned nearly perpendicular to the engine. At the other end, the car was wedged between another, which blocked the path forward. A plan started to form in the fox’s mind. 

“Tails! On your right!” he heard Cream shout out, interrupting his train of thought. Without missing a beat, Tails swung his sword. The flat of his blade caught the second wyvern as it dove for him tail-first. The thin creature crumpled to the ground nearby and Tails ended its life by crushing its breastbone with his foot. It exhaled a cold breath on expiration. 

He rejoined the two women, who were battling the last wyvern. Cosmo got a lucky swat in with her staff, stunning it long enough for Cream to grab and slam it into the ground. Grasping the wings, the rabbit stamped her foot into the wyvern’s back and pulled hard on the appendages, causing them to tear off. She dropped the wings and winced squeamishly at the sight of the blue blood spurting out of the now dead lizard’s back. Her eyes trailed from the grisly sight, to Tails and then finally to the Robians behind him approaching in the distance. Her face paled. 

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” Tails said, reading the rabbit’s expression. “C’mon.” 

He led them to the engine nearby while casting a glance at the Robians for a split second. They were investigating the dead monsters. ‘They’ll come after us next,’ he thought. He hopped into the train’s cab and quickly checked the drive controls and the RINGTEK storage. “They’re still good, got enough juice for what we need to do,” he said to himself before addressing the two women. “Cream, Cosmo, here’s the plan; we’re gonna use this train to both open the path ahead and beat down those Robians comin’ for us.” 

He flicked a few switches and pressed a button. The train’s RINGTEK sputtered to life and started the engine. He then adjusted a lever on the side of the operation board. “OK, it’s set to go,” he continued. “When I say now, pull this lever and hit this button at the same time.” He pointed to the two instruments on the board. “That’ll get the train moving fast.”

He made his way to the entrance of the cab and peeked out. The Robians stopped investigating the remains and were hastily making their way to their location, clearly hearing the sound of the engine starting. “Meanwhile, I’ll keep ‘em occupied,” he said, drawing his sword. He swapped the Restore Emerald with the Lightning one in his armour slot.

“I’ll come help!” Cream exclaimed, but Tails turned and shook his head.

“No, Cream. I need you to stay here and protect Cosmo,” he replied, hopping out of the engine. He missed the cross look the rabbit gave him. The Robians roared in alarm, the sounds of their grating metal voices irking the fox. “Remember to wait for my signal!” he called before rushing towards the incoming horde.

The three in front were moles, their long, sharp digging claws held in front of them like spears. Tails easily vaulted over the claws and used the head of one of the moles to soar over the other three Robians: a duck, a racoon and a wolf. “Come and get me!” he taunted, running towards the railcar at the other end of the track.

As he predicted, the six robots gave chase. He crossed the clearing towards the railcar sitting horizontally on the track, turned around and faced them with his back to the car. He placed a hand on the All Emerald, swiped it to the Lightning Emerald linked to it and drew out the energy. It separated into six points of yellow light; five on his fingertips and one on his palm. He poured Mana into them to strengthen the spell as the Robians charged forward. 

I hope whatever Cosmo did with my tails worked,’ Tails thought idly, gritting his teeth as he concentrated. ‘If not, then this might be troublesome…’

The pack was only a couple dozen paces away from the Ex-SOLDIER. ‘It’s now or never!’ “COSMO! CREAM! DO IT NOW!” he hollered loudly, hoping his voice carried to them. 

The sound of the rusted and squeaky train wheels turning confirmed that they did indeed hear him. The engine started to pick up speed quickly due to the fox’s machinations. 

The Robians were now within striking distance. Struggling to maintain his focus on them, the oncoming train and the spell in his hand, Tails squatted down and jumped upwards, just as the moles lunged at him. Angling himself, he muttered a quick prayer and then spun his tails. The muscles felt tight and tense from their lack of use, but he was slowly able to get airborne. 

He pushed himself higher so that the approaching engine wouldn’t crash into him, thrust the hand holding the magic charge downward and called “BOLT!” The six lights erupted into beams, one for each Robian. They struck simultaneously as the robots stepped on the track, the electricity stunning them long enough for the train sailing underneath the fox to crush them with the car in front. The force exerted by the engine on the car caused it to be dislodged from its position and dragged it far enough so that a path was opened at the other end. After travelling a fair distance with the front car in tow, the locomotive engine came to an abrupt, screeching halt, its wheels jumping the track as it did so.

Cosmo and Cream climbed out of the cab, both shaken and sporting a few bumps, but nonetheless uninjured. Tails landed awkwardly near them and he hissed painfully as he felt his namesakes suddenly seize up. ‘Still not 100%, but I can fly again at least,’ he thought, inwardly happy about his improved condition. He gingerly wrapped his two tails around his waist and sheathed his weapon. 

“You two OK?” the swordsman asked Cream and Cosmo. They nodded in response. “Alright then, let’s motor.”

“Right,” Cream said, her eyes alight with determination. She added in a murmur only Tails could hear. “Hang on just a little longer, Sector 7…”

The three Mobians then hurried through the open path and soon came across the Sector 7 train station. The conductor on the platform called out to them to turn back, but the trio paid no heed to his words. They soon reached the Sector checkpoint and the main support pillar holding up the Plate above. A crowd had formed by the fenced off portion of the pillar with everyone gaping at the scene above. They did not immediately notice the three newcomers.

“We made it!” Cream cheered, relief etched onto her brows. “The pillar’s still standing!”

“Hold on,” Tails said, raising a hand, his ears upright. “I hear something… above us…”

Cosmo cupped a hand to her ear and angled her head towards the support pillar. “Is that… gun fire?” she asked.

Their eyes trailed up to the top of the steel structure. They could see Bark through the grating up on the topmost platform, firing his Gun-Arm at an agile moving SkyTrans. Wedge was also on the platform providing supporting fire. Tails could see the transport door open, where a familiar-looking purple-furred figure stuck its arm out and fired several shots from the pistol it held in its hand. The bullets sailed past Bark and hit Wedge, who stood behind him. The human staggered backwards off of the platform and fell, crashing into the ground near the three Mobians.

“Wedge!” Tails shouted, running towards the fallen man. The crowd by the fence heard the fox yell and turned to see the grisly sight on the hard earth. Wedge’s body was mangled from the fall and blood was pooling from the wounds in his torso. His red bandanna had flown off during the fall and fluttered to the ground nearby. 

“T… Tails…” he croaked out. His vital fluids were oozing out of his mouth as he spoke. “Y… you remembered… my name…” He let out a rattling gasp and then continued. “Bark… Up top… Help… him… An’… Tail…s? S… Sorry…”

As he choked out his last words, Wedge died, his tears now mingling with the blood on the ground. His head lolled lazily to the side and his eyes stared unfocused and unblinking into the distance.

Tails watched as the light faded within the human’s eyes. Grasping Wedge’s bandanna beside him, he placed it over the dead man’s face. He stood up and clenched his hands tightly as anger coursed through him. “I’m going up!” he said loudly. 

“Tails, I’m coming too!” Cream said, unshed tears shining in her eyes. She hastily wiped them away and put on a scowl. “They’ll pay for what they’ve done!”

The fox nodded and then turned to Cosmo. “Cosmo, stay here and help everyone to evacuate,” he said to her.

“Hope!” Cream shouted suddenly. She clasped the flower girl’s hands. “Could you please do me a huge favour?” she asked pleadingly. “My bar is just up the street here and there’s a little human girl with blonde hair inside. Her name is Hope. Could you-”

Cosmo tenderly pulled out one of her hands from the fighter’s grasp and placed it on top of Cream’s. “I’ll get her somewhere safe,” she said gently, a knowing smile on her face.

The rabbit flashed a grateful smile of her own. She then turned to the crowd. “Everyone! You have to leave!” Cream hollered out to them, waving her arms to catch their attention. “It’s not safe here! You all have to get out of Sector 7!”

As she spoke, Tails moved towards the fence. His eye caught Pacchi – the otter he met days ago at this very spot – who was trembling in fear. Recognizing the fox, he crossed over to him. “M-my special place,” he moaned to the fox. “Y-you have to save it!” 

“…I’ll try,” he responded halfheartedly. He pulled out a Potion and drank it to pep him up. “…You should get out of here. Now.” 

The otter nodded and backed away. “Cream, let’s move,” Tails called as he opened the fence door. The fighter wordlessly followed behind him with a determined look on her face that matched his own.

They started climbing to the top.