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.


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

Chapter 25: Outfoxing A Dilettante



Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosmo and Tails both nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk! For if you don’t tell us…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Christopher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 24: A Vixen For The Night



Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ll help you find him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t say that…” Cosmo muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonight.”

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘She’ was actually a ‘he’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Three… Two… One…  Go!”


Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He rolled his eyes in response. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember why you’re here, Cosmo.

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

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

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

“What did you say, Cosmo?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the sooner I can get some answers.


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

Chapter 23: Reuniting in Wall Market



Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

The fox raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, with Tails,” Cosmo responded. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, we have two here, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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