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!”


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

Chapter 22: Playground Chat



The Void

“…You seem pretty tired?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really,” the younger Tails said nonchalantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

Tails,

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

Rose

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


Cosmo

Cosmo lay awake in her bed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’m so sorry Mom.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” Tails nodded. 


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

He suddenly thought of Cream. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know, in SOLDIER?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What’s going on here, Cream?


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

Chapter 21: A Night at Cosmo’s



Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shook his head slowly. 

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

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

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

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

“Yeah?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tails nodded. “Thank you.” 

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 20: An Urban Dilemma



Christohper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, well, someone’s hard at work.”

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

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

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

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

“Ahem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 19: The Chaotix



Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nack

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh man, you’re dead!”

“They’re all ruined!”

“You’re gonna catch holy hell!”


Tails

“Here, you better hold on to this.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tails!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nack

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

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

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

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

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


Cosmo

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

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

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

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

Cosmo giggled. “Spy stuff?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cooperation.