Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Alpha



Tails

“This way!” Bark hissed, hurrying down the reactor entrance walkway. He turned the corner at the T-junction, only to see a contingent of Kintobor MP’s burst out onto the walkway, rifles raised and cocked. The bear skidded to a halt, arms waving akimbo. “The hell?!” he shouted, surprised. 

“Let’s go the other way!!” Cream suggested, heading to the opposite side. She came to a stop and gasped as more MP’s poured out of the other entrance. “What-what’s going on?!” she sputtered.

As the soldiers closed in from both sides, Tails took stock of the situation. ‘The Robian ambush… The lack of security and personnel leading up to and on the manufacturing floor… And now trapped by grunts on both sides in front of a reactor that’s about to blow… No surprises here.’ “As I thought, it’s a trap…” Tails said softly.

The MP’s stopped at the halfway point of each walkway, their rifles still pointed at the three Mobians. From the entrance of the reactor came the sounds of footsteps – thick-heeled Oxford shoes echoing off the dull metal walkway. Emerging out of the shadows of the entrance was the President of Kintobor Incorporated, Gerald Kintobor, his thick, grey moustache curling upwards in a smile as he casually walked out.

Bark’s jaw dropped. “P-President Kintobor?!” he barked out, a shocked look plastered on his face.

Cream’s lips also parted, astonished at the turn of events. “Why is the president here?” she asked, flummoxed. 

“Tut, tut, little rabbit,” the Human responded in a mocking tone, waving a gloved finger as he spoke. “I’m here to personally congratulate you for being so dim-witted. Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

Bark’s left eye twitched at his words.

“You see,” the President continued, his smile deepening. “The moment after Number 1 went up in flames, I knew full well that a second attack was imminent. Thus, I set in motion counter-measures to ensure your capture. I had my men install a little fail-safe that warned if the anti-tampering alarms were bypassed. I deliberately sent my employees at the reactor home to reduce casualties. And I sent some of our strongest Robians to eliminate you.” He began clapping slowly, his lips and moustache twisting into a mocking smirk. “The fact that you survived is a testament to your strength. Bravo.” 

“I must admit, your plan to sabotage and destroy the city’s Reactors and RINGTEK Manufacturing Plants was careful – cunning even. However, you animalistic simpletons cannot compare to the genius of Gerald Kintobor. You took the bait, I sprung the trap and now here I stand, face to face with the infamous terrorist group, TORNADO,” He swept his eyes to each of the three Mobians, his wrinkled brow furrowing. “A pretty little rabbit girl who fancies herself a resistance fighter, a boorish bear with a fake arm and piss coloured fur and… the fox with two tails who quit SOLDIER to join this little ragtag group.” He glared at Tails. “Tell me traitor, what was your name?”

The former SOLDIER stepped forward, wearing a fierce look of his own. “Tails,” he replied icily.

“Hm, what a forgettable name,” Gerald said, shrugging. “However, if you become another Nazo, then perhaps the name ‘Tails’ would be much more ubiquitous, no?” He looked up to the dark grey clouds overhead, almost pensive in thought. “Ahh Nazo, despite being a Mobian himself, I quite admired his brilliance. Although, perhaps in the end, he was too brilliant-”

Bark roared loudly, breaking the president’s musings. “That shit doesn’t matter!” he yelled. “This place is going under and it’ll serve you fucker’s right!”

Gerald shrugged once more, disinterested in the bear’s words. “Ah, such a waste of fireworks, just to get rid of un-evolved, unintelligible, filthy Mobian trash such as you,” he said, voice filled with condescension. 

“Trash? TRASH!?” the bear shouted, froth spewing from his mouth. His body quivered with rage. “Y’all Kintobor are the TRASH, killing this planet! And you, the high and mighty Human who treats us Mobians like shit, are the king of the fucking TRASH! So you can go fuck yourself!”

The president sighed and shook his head in a regretful manner. “I grow weary of your deplorable words,” he said, pulling out his phone and pressing a button. “I’m quite busy at the moment, what with a company, a military AND a city to run, so unfortunately, I must take my leave.” 

Bark pointed his Gun-Arm at Gerald. “You stay your bald, old, moustached ass right here!” he yelled. “I ain’t done with you yet!”

“Oh?” the president said,  the aforementioned moustache curling upwards into a smile. “Well, I’m so sorry about that. As an apology for my abrupt departure, I have arranged a playmate for all of you.” He then snapped his fingers on his left hand.

The soldiers surrounding the Mobians suddenly withdrew from their positions. Shortly afterward, a humming noise emanated from the Sector 5 exit, which grew louder with each passing second. 

Cream looked in the direction of the retreating soldiers. “What’s that noise?!” she asked, her eyes narrowed. 

Bark moved to Cream’s side and shot a hateful glare at Gerald. “What the hell is this?!” he said as a tall, hovering green robot flew out to meet the group. Cream and Bark pressed up on the edge of the walkway railing to avoid being clipped, while Tails advanced up the walkway in the president’s direction. The robot stopped at the intersection and faced Gerald. The doors leading out of the reactor closed shut, the noise echoing in the silent air.

The mechaniloid’s body was shaped like an hourglass. The lower half was stabilized with three hover engines – two box-like units on either side, and a large engine extending at the rear – and a thick, cylindrical roller on its front, used to prevent it from tipping forward too much. A set of machine guns were equipped on its rear to defend it from back attacks. The upper half consisted of a broad, cylindrical canister for a head and a pair of arms, each long enough to reach the ground. Large, gripping pincers were affixed at the ends of each arm. A scope – similar to the one used by the Guard Scorpion – was attached to its right shoulder.  A hexagonal, orange lens was installed halfway up the canister and two large, black E’s were burnished in on either side. The very top of the canister was hinged on the back. In its direct centre of the hourglass body were two, red optical cameras recessed against a black plate. Its body, arms and head were decorated with black, red and white stripes and gold accents. A model number was etched on the right side of the canister: It read KI E-SERIES 100 – α.

“Behold,” Gerald announced with a flourish. “The E-100 Alpha: The first in a new line of E-Series robots designed to be the perfect techno-soldiers. Our Weapons Department built him based on my genius designs.” He flashed a wicked, toothy grin. “I’m sure the data he extracts from your dead bodies will prove quite useful for future experiments.”

His SkyTrans arrived for him the moment he finished speaking, its doors opening to receive the president. “Now then, if you’ll excuse me,” he announced, climbing in. The door slid shut behind him and the craft took off into the midday sky. 

“Wait!” Tails called out as the president departed. ‘What did he mean when he said that Nazo was ‘too brilliant’’ he mulled as he watched the vehicle disappear into the smog above. ‘Was he talking about Knothole-’

“Hey Tails!” Bark called out, interrupting the fox’s thoughts. He spun around to see the robot advancing towards the bear and the rabbit, its arms raised and waving about menacingly. “We gotta do something about this guy!?”

“Is this thing from SOLDIER?!” Cream asked, her body set into a battle stance.

Tails zipped behind Alpha and drew his sword, enhanced eyes searching for weaknesses in its armour. “Don’t be naive, Cream!” he said to her, teeth gritted. “It’s only a machine!” 

“Look, I don’t give a damn what it is!” Bark yelled, arming his weapon. “I’m gonna tear this piece of shit up into scrap metal!”

Alpha rocketed forward, its massive arms swiping at Cream and Bark, who backed away quickly. The bear fired several rounds at the robot and cursed as he saw that his shots barely made a dent in its thick frontal armour.

Cream drew Ice energy from her wrist and launched the spell towards the left arm in mid-swipe. The blue ball sailed past the pincers on its arm and instead clipped its shoulder, creating a layer of ice overtop of it. 

Seeing an opportunity, Bark focused his fire on the left shoulder and punctured the frost-encased joint with a hail of bullets before turning to the right arm to keep it at bay. Behind him, Cream broke into a run and jumped onto and off of the bear’ muscular shoulder as he switched targets, springing herself high into the air in an arc.

On the robot’s rear side, Tails gritted his teeth as he charged up the strongest Lightning spell he could muster. From his vantage point, he saw the robot’s shoulder freeze over, followed by a volley of bullets that tore through the flexible casing covering the joint. As he watched Cream shoot high up into the air, the fox called out to her. “Cream! Get out of the way as soon as you hit that shoulder!”

The brawler – hearing Tails’ voice – somersaulted at the apex of her jump, extended her left leg while tucking in the right and allowed gravity to pull her downward towards the Alpha’s shoulder. She landed a solid divekick onto the damaged joint and then scrambled back towards Bark. The force of the blow dislodged the arm socket and exposed a hole in its side.

Grinning, Tails followed up by pushing out his palms and calling “BOLT!” The thick, jagged yellow beam snaked its way into the torn side of Alpha, electrocuting its innards and causing the robot to shudder violently. 

Before he could celebrate his triumph, Tails heard a pinging noise coming from the bottom of the robot’s hover unit: a long spike with a thick wire extending from its body was suddenly embedded into the metal walkway. The warrior cursed under his breath. “Get back!” he yelled, leaping backwards himself. “It’s discharging the Lightning magic into the walkway!”

Cream also retreated away from the machine, but Bark, who was closer to Alpha, wasn’t so lucky. As he continued firing on it, the remnants of Tails’ electrical attack pulsed through the metal. The wave of energy struck him hard and he cried out, halting his attack. Grunting, he tried to move away from the machine but his limbs refused to move. “I-I can’t move!” he said through gritted teeth.

Using its still-functional right arm, Alpha backhanded the massive bear forcefully, sending him flying back towards Cream. Only Bark’s protective metal bands around his abdomen prevented his organs from being damaged from the force of the blow and instead knocked the wind out of him. Hey lay sprawled off at the midpoint of the walkway between Cream and Alpha.

The robot then activated the scope on its right shoulder. The beam locked onto Cream, who was standing by the sealed exit. “TARGET ACQUIRED. INITIATING COMBAT MODE: OPERATION 1,” Alpha’s speaker bellowed out in monotone. The top of its head opened up like a lid. From inside, a small cannon emerged and quickly fired a round, stubby object at the rabbit. 

At the exact same moment, Alpha retaliated against Tails using the machine guns on its back. Thinking fast, the fox drew his sword and stabbed it into the walkway, the flat side facing him and protecting his body like a shield. He braced himself against it as the guns started firing, feeling the shots rattle painfully on his body as the thick blade absorbed the impact. Tails used his free hand to draw up a small amount of All-Lighting energy from his weapon’s linked slots. He recklessly stuck his palm out and shot the magic it at the machine guns, bullets nicking his skin and fur. The energy impacted on the area between the guns, the magic seizing its internal mechanisms and stopping the gunfire. Knowing that he only had moments to spare before it discharged the energy into the ground, Tails retrieved his massive blade and dashed up to Alpha, quickly hacking away at the guns and mangling the barrels before pulling back.


Cream

While Tails was occupied with the rear guns, Cream eyed the oblong object travelling towards her, tracing its path. Just as it started to arc downward, she sprinted towards the exit door. The fighter hopped up and walked up several steps before kicking off with her powerful legs and sending her body right towards the munition. She twisted  in mid-air and the explosive sailed inches below her back. It hit the floor right next to the exit and caused a large explosion which breached the sealed door. The rabbit landed and looked back at the remains with equal parts shock and awe. 

“Cream, watch out!” She twisted around at hearing Bark’s voice to see Alpha in front of her, its right arm poised to strike. A fireball sailed over her head, hitting the robot’s arm and pushing it back slightly, giving her an extra few seconds to get out of the way as the appendage slammed down on the walkway. She glanced back to see the bear’s left arm outstretched, faint traces of Fire energy emitting from it. 

The bear hissed in pain from the strike he suffered earlier, but he grinned and flashed the rabbit a thumbs-up as they turned to face Alpha as another of Tails’ Lightning spells struck it, causing it to falter slightly. 

Recovering, it repositioned its side hover jets and spun around to face the two-tailed fox who launched the spell. Alpha rushed Tails and swung its right arm at him. Tails easily dodged the swipe, getting underneath the robot’s right side close to its arm and slashed several times at the delicate underside of the socket. The strike severed the joint and sent the arm flying over the edge of the catwalk to the slums below. Tails shimmied backwards to give himself some space. “Bark, how much time’s left!?” he called out.

From his knelt position on the walkway, Bark checked the watch on his left arm. His eyes widened. “Uh… Shit! Three and a half minutes!”

Tails swore loudly as well. He held his defensive position for a moment and then spoke up just as the robot turned back around to face the bear and the rabbit. “Bark! Cream! Full out magical assault!” Cream could hear the strain in his voice as he began to summon more magic. “Hit it with whatever you got left!” 

Alpha suddenly opened its top. The optic cameras in the centre of its body started glowing red. “DISABLING TURNING FUNCTION. INITIATING COMBAT MODE: 2,” It said. “BOMBER FAILSAFES DISABLED. CONFIGURING FOR MULTI-LAUNCH.” It disabled its side jets, the units flaring off and rerouted the excess power to the main cannon on its head.


Bark

Bark panicked.

His breathing hitched and his heart hammered loudly in his chest as he took stock of his surroundings. There was now just under three minutes on the clock before the bombs would go off and their only path to escape was blocked off by one of Kintobor’s deadly war machines. The mocking tone of President Kintobor’s voice echoed in his mind as he stumbled into a standing position to do as the fox commanded, his left arm still wrapped around his bruised side. 

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

He shakily placed a hand on the Lightning Emerald on his arm and tried to draw out another charge. He held the spell in his palm before it fizzled out, his heightened anxiety overriding his focus. “I… I can’t!” he forced out. “I-I got nothin’ left!”

“C’mon Bark! We can do this!” Cream cheered from beside him as she poured more Mana into the Ice charge in her hands. Her face tightened due to the mental strain she put on to strengthen the magic. “You just have to dig deep and try again!”

“Bark, we need you!” Tails called out from the opposite side as the robot continued its suicidal reconfiguration. “C’mon!! Don’t let us down, man!”

The bear began to hyperventilate as the blood pounding tremulously in his head drowned out all of the sounds around him. His throat constricted, his stomach churned violently and everything around him seemed to move in slow motion. He suddenly fell back to his knees and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw up. ‘I should have seen this coming…’ he thought, heaving as bile rose into his throat. ‘From the train and the upgraded checkpoints, to the lack of security in the reactor and then… this.’

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

I thought it was all going well. Biggs and Jessie and Wedge… I thought it was because of their efforts that we got through so easily, but it was all a setup… a trap to draw us HERE!”

“Did you really think that I wouldn’t expect a second attack to happen so soon?”

Kintobor’s words kept repeating themselves in Bark’s mind, beating down his spirit. He hung his head downward, his eyes looking past the perforated pathway beneath him and into the slums below. ‘I-I failed them…’ he reminisced, as his watch beeped, signifying that the countdown to the explosion had reached the two minute mark. ‘Just like I failed my family and friends four years ago…

Bark shut his eyes tightly out of distress and shame at the reminder of his past. Beneath the eyelids, he saw the image of his dusty hometown of Anthraton – a coal mining town known for its vast quantities of high-quality anthracite – on the day of its destruction at the hands of Kintobor. He remembered seeing the charred remains of the town’s buildings. He remembered the screams from dying residents. He remembered how he felt upon seeing the blackened bodies of his wife and newborn child, a feeling that had not left him in the four years since that event.

Rage.

“No,” he muttered to himself, his anger and desperation roiling through him as he opened his eyes. He was dimly aware of the bright, silver bolts of electricity that started to crackle around his body, as though responding to the vortex of emotions swirling within. “This is not how it’s gonna end!” He rose to his feet as a golden aura of energy surrounded him, his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed to slits. He stared hatefully at Alpha as the aura congregated at the end of his Gun-Arm.

“For four, long years, I’ve dreamed of getting my revenge!” he hollered out, his eyes filled with bloodlust, his hackles raised and his mouth frothing. The energy condensed and formed a large, red orb that hovered mere centimeters from the six barrels of the Gatling Gun. “You bastards took everything from me! And now, I’m gonna take everything from you! Starting with the Reactors! The RINGTEK! AND THIS STUPID ROBOT TOO!” He pointed his arm at Alpha, who stared back at him with cold, unfeeling eyes. “You heard that, ya piece of scrap?! Imma take you out with one… BIG… SHOT!!” 

The bear let out a furious and guttural roar as he launched the orb. The shot hurtled past Cream and struck the front of Alpha’s thick plated armor. The violent swirl of energy chewed through the metal, into its RINGTEK power source and blew a hole out of Alpha’s thin rear armour. The robot started to shake wildly as surges of electricity coursed its way around its body, its energy source overloading.

“If your masters are listening, tell them I said ‘go fuck yourselves!’” Bark said, a savage and satisfied grin plastered on his maw, smoke coming out of the gun barrels. “And tell them that they’re next!”


Tails

On Alpha’s rear side, Tails stopped charging his Lightning spell and allowed the Mana to flow back into his body as he heard the bear’s battle cry. He dived just as Bark’s attack pierced through the robot’s body and out of its rear. The orb dissipated after travelling a short distance away from the fox. 

Standing, Tails cursed as he saw the machine in its death throes. ‘Shit! Only got seconds to spare!’ “Guys! Get back, it’s gonna blow!” Tails yelled out, leaping as high as his legs could push him.  He spun  his tails at the apex of his jump and pushed himself to fly faster. He had barely crossed over Alpha’s head when the techno-soldier’s body exploded, taking out the walkway below. Shrapnel of all shapes and sizes were sent flying in all directions.

Anticipating this, Tails quickly held the Buster Sword in front of his body to protect himself. His vitals were spared, but the bits of metal scraped and nicked his arms and legs. One particularly large piece flew past Tails’ blind spot and embedded itself into one of his tails. The fox hollered out, the blinding pain causing his tails to stop spinning. He dropped out of the air like a stone and groped around wildly until he caught a piece of exposed rebar from the remains of the walkway with his free hand. The thin bar bent with his added weight. 

Dangling a hundred metres above the ground with blood streaming down his tail, he looked up to see Cream, her arm outstretched and trying desperately to reach her friend. 

Bark placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s gonna blow, Cream! We gotta move!” he said, eyeing the timer on his wrist.

The rabbit glanced back to her comrade, her brows raised and pulled together. “Can’t you do something, Bark?!” she asked, her voice taking on a fearful pitch.

Bark shook his head, his eyes shut. “Not a damn thing,” he growled, his lips pressed together tightly.

Cream turned back to Tails and stretched her arm as far as she could. It was nowhere near the fox. “Tails, please don’t die, you can’t die!” she called out frantically. “There’s still so much that I have to tell you!”

“I know Cream,” was all Tails could say. The shard in his tail was excruciating, but he forced himself to tough it out. He tried pulling himself up with his arm, but the bar only bent further. Any more movement would cause it to snap off.

Bark looked back to the mercenary. “You gonna be aight?” he asked.

The fox shook his head. “Just get yourself and Cream out of here,” he said.

“Sorry about this.”

“Don’t talk like this is the end. I’ll see you later.”

Bark let out a heavy sigh and then grabbed Cream on the shoulder to pull her back and away from the reactor. “Yeah, later.”

At that moment, both bombs detonated, sending the reactor ablaze. The explosion jostled the walkway, snapping the rebar Tails was holding onto and sending him plummeting down to the slums below. Cream let out a wail as Bark dragged her away. 

Freefalling, Tails quickly tried spinning his namesakes out of pure desperation in an attempt to slow his descent. His bit his tongue to prevent himself from screaming out loud in agony. Despite his efforts and as the ground grew ever closer, the fox’s strength gave out; his tails stopped spinning and the Buster Sword slid out of his fingers. 

The sword fell through a large hole in the roof of an abandoned church and lodged itself into a beam on the rafters.

Seconds later, Tails crashed through the same hole and blacked out before he could hit the ground.


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

Chapter 15: Trap



Charmy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charmy…” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Knuckles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just do it, Vector.”  

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

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

“Oi.”

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

“Right, see ya there.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…es… M..les… Miles!”


“Miles! Miles, wake up!” 

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

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

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

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

 “…Cream.”

“Mmm?”

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

‘What happened to you after Knothole?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“3… 2… 1… Now!”

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

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

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

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

‘TEN MINUTES TO DETONATION.’


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

Chapter 14: Reactor No.5



Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Guys, focus,” Cream said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 13: Through a Rotten Slice



President Kintobor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” came the blunt response. 

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

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

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

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

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

“7 again?”

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

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


Cream

“Good, everything’s going as planned.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His only response was a snore. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 12: Train Troubles



Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Run!” Jessie yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jessie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 11: Emeralds – A Primer



Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


????

Tails opened his eyes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It started moving.”

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Of Promises and Payments



Tails

“Agh! What the hell are you doing?! Just butt out!”

An otter sitting on a pipe adjacent to a fenced off area near the checkpoint to Sector 6 fell to the dirt at the sight of Tails’ greatsword pointing at him. The fox raised an eyebrow at the strange fellow who was cowering in terror. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he said, sheathing the blade. “I heard some noise back here. Thought it was a Robian.”

The otter soon calmed down, picked himself up and brushed the dried earth off of his rear end and legs. His coat was a rich, dark brown and he had a circle of white fur around his left eye. He wore a simple green vest and a pair of black jeans with black and orange sneakers. He faced the fox and glared darkly at him. “Sheesh,” he muttered. “Here I am, sitting by myself in my special spot and you just barge in here with the intent to murder! Geez man…”

“Wait,” Tails said, holding up a hand to interrupt. “What do you mean, a ‘special spot’?”

The Mobian’s face went from fuming to smiling in an instant. “Yeah!” he exclaimed happily. “This place here is my special spot! It’s amazing! I mean, look what’s beyond there!” 

Curious, Tails looked through the fence the otter was pointing at. His head then started tilting back and his vision was filled by the titanic support pillar that balanced the load of the entire Sector 7 Plate. It was a colossal 75 by 75 meter concrete structure that extended from the ground level and into an insert on the plate’s underside 100 meters up. Right next to it was a smaller, steel tower with various cables going into the pillar.

Though his face portrayed indifference, Tails was inwardly awed at the sight. ‘I’ve passed by this thing multiple times… but I’ve never stopped to take a good look at it,’ he thought as he observed the steel tower and the cables that connected it to the support pillar. Those cables must be used to monitor the integrity of the pillar, probably to make sure it remains intact… Wish I could take a closer look…

The otter grinned. “A sight to see, huh?” he said, his rough and energetic pitch catching the fox’s attention. Tails saw the otter’s face fall a moment afterwards. “Y’know, there was a bombing up top,” he said, crestfallen. “If this pillar should come down, the whole plate’ll fall on us and everyone here will be toast… but what the hell am I worried about?” A grin returned to his face. “No point in doing that now, huh? Chances of this thing falling are moot, in my opinion!” 

‘Well… He seems upbeat, at least…’ Tails thought to himself. He turned around, but craned his head back to address the otter. “Listen, I gotta go,” he said. “You should get home where it’s safe.”

The otter scoffed. “Ah, don’t worry about me. As long as I’m in my special, wonderful place, I’ll be alright,” he said. “Anyways, my name’s Pacchi. My nan named me that cuz of the white patch on my eye. You’re welcome to come here anytime.” He flashed a salute from his left hand and then turned back to stare at the pillar.

Seeing that no danger was present, Tails walked away from the pillar-obsessed Pacchi’s ‘special spot’ and towards the residential district. Bark and his crew were waiting for him at the entrance gate. As he loped towards them, he saw the bear cross his arms, his face contorted into a scowl. “Yo, what the hell were you doing just now?” he asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Tails suppressed a sigh. ‘Still overly paranoid.’ “Thought I heard a Robian over there,” he responded, pointing to the fenced-off pillar access behind him. “Turns out that it was only Pacchi.”

The steely look Bark gave him softened slightly as he let out an exasperated chuckle. “Oh, you met that guy?” he said, wearily. “Yeah, he’s a weird one – totally and completely obsessed with the pillar, but he’s a decent fella. Anyways, come on y’all!”

Passing through the gate, the group entered the district and wound their way through the narrow streets towards the bar. Though it was the middle of the night, the district was alive with activity. Neighbours were milling about with one another on the streets and Tails could pick up their worry-filled conversations about the events that occurred on the Plate. Children, roused from their slumber, were out on the streets wondering what the commotion was about and why the adults were looking extremely concerned. The nervous chatter was juxtaposed by the loud and raucous noise coming from Vanilla’s Haven at the end of the main thoroughfare.

As they neared the bar, Bark pressed a tiny switch on the side of his Gun-Arm. Tails heard a sharp click and he watched as the bear removed the ammunition that fed into the prosthetic. From one of his side pockets, he then pulled out a long clip with a blue band around the base and inserted it into the feed. Tails looked at him quizzically. “What are you doing?” he asked as the group finally stopped at the entrance to the bar. From the boisterous commotion coming from Cream’s establishment, it sounded like she had a full house tonight. 

“It’s closing time,” the polar bear replied cryptically. He strode up the steps and burst through the saloon doors. He then pointed his gun upwards and opened fire at the ceiling. The explosive sounds of gunshots startled the patrons and they started to depart in droves, leaving their uneaten food and drink behind. Bark chased the rest of the stragglers outside and eventually tossed out a drunkenly protesting, red-headed man with his good arm. “You heard me! It’s one in the friggin’ morning! We’re closed for the night, so GET OUT!” he yelled, stomping down the stairs. He let Biggs, Wedge and Jessie pass him before he stood at the bottom of the stoop, blocking access to the bar. 

‘Hmm… blanks. Now that’s a way to clear out a room,” Tails mused as he walked up to the bar. He was soon accosted by the redheaded drunk, who stood up and shambled towards the warrior. 

“Hey… Heeeeey! If it ishn’t the childhood fren!” he said, his voice slurred from heavy drinking. “Um… Why… Why’d they throw ush out? We wash having funnnn…”

A badger came up to the man’s side and put his arm around his shoulder. “OK Johnny, it’s time to go home,” he said, hoisting him up before turning to the fox. An apologetic half smile crossed his face. “Sorry about that. After news of the explosion broke out, everyone started to panic… That is, until Cream announced that all drinks were half-off…” he sighed. “Say what you will about the state of affairs, but alcohol lets us forget that we live in a shithole, at least for a little while.” He turned towards the house next to the bar; a structure constructed using part of a mobile home and scraps of metal and brick. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta take this guy home. His parents’ll be furious, but still.” He departed with his drunk friend in tow.

“Hey, foxy! Get off your slow movin’ ass! You’re going in, aren’t cha?” Bark said harshly. He moved out of the way so that the fox could go through. Tails shot him a withering glare as he strode past him, pushed the saloon doors open and entered the bar.


Cream

“Papa Bear!”

Cream looked up from the sink as Hope bounded up to Tails, her eyes closed and a wide, joyous smile stretched across her lips. Before she could call out to her, the tiny girl then launched herself into the fox’s chest and hugged the startled Mobian tightly. 

“H-Hey!” Tails cried out. 

Hope stiffened. She lifted her head out of his chest and her crystal blue stared into his own glowing, electric blue. Embarrassed, she abruptly let go and dashed away to hide in a nook next to the bar counter. 

Cream watched the exchange and let out a gentle sigh as she opened the flip-top portion of the bar counter. She then walked to the little girl’s hiding place and bent down, smiling at her. “Hey Hope, aren’t you going to say hello to Tails?” she asked. 

Hope squeaked and nodded, her face a shade of fiery red.

Gathering the little girl, the fighter approached Tails. “Welcome home,” she said. Hope glanced at Tails for a moment and then buried her head into the crook of Cream’s neck, which caused the rabbit to giggle. “It looks like everything went well,” she said, as she placed the girl back down onto the floor. The little Human promptly hid behind the taller Mobian’s legs. Cream then shot Tails a stern look. “Did you fight with Bark?” she asked, her hands on her hips.

Tails gave a sidelong glance to the wall where the pinball machines lay. “…He started it,” he said after a long pause. 

The bartender huffed and crossed her arms. “I figured that was the case,” she said, exasperated. “Bark’s always pushing people around and you,” she emphasized this by pointing a finger at him. “Have been getting into fights ever since we were little.” She paused, her hard expression softening. “I was worried.”

Tails looked back at his childhood friend and shrugged. “No need to. I’m fine,” he said with an air of nonchalance. He then did a once-over on himself. “…Well, a little banged up, but yeah, I’m fine.”

Cream let out a laugh. “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” she responded. Her eyes spotted something sticking out of the fox’s side pocket. “Hey Tails, what’s that in your pocket?”

“Oh, this?” Tails said, reaching back and pulling out a pair of thin envelopes. He handed one over to her. “Here, open it.”

The rabbit gave her friend an odd look as she tentatively opened the paper to reveal its contents. Her eyes widened. “Flowers?” she said, a dreamy look in her eyes as she held the yellow daffodil in her hand . “Aw, how nice! You almost never see them here in the slums.” She looked down and tenderly caressed the soft petals with her fingertips. “But…” she started, glancing back at him with a tiny smile dancing on her lips. “A flower for me, Tails? Oh, aren’t you suave?” 

Tails tried to look indifferent, but Cream couldn’t miss the upward quirk of his lips. “No big,” he said, scoffing. “It’s the least I can do, considering all that you’ve done for me lately.”

Cream brought the daffodil up to her nose. “Thank you Tails, it smells wonderful,” she chimed. She turned around to the counter and quickly looked for a vessel to put it in. “I’d really love to fill this place with flowers… I think it’d make a nice touch. Don’t you think?” When she didn’t hear him respond, she turned back around to see the warrior kneeling in front of Hope. 

“Here,” he said, handing over the other flower in the package to the little girl. “A little something… for putting up with me these last few weeks… and as a thank you for letting me stay here.” 

Her receding blush brightening once again, Hope clutched the white flower towards her chest and blinked shyly at Tails. Wordlessly, she scampered away and hid behind Cream legs. She peeked back at the fox for a moment before ducking behind them once more, her cheeks now a deep shade of crimson. 

The rabbit’s heart swelled with joy at the exchange. ‘I never knew he was good with kids,’ she thought as she watched Tails rise up. ‘It seems like Hope’s taken a shine to him, at last.’ “Sorry Tails, Hope’s a little shy,” she said.

Tails shrugged in response as he unsheathed his sword, walked to a nondescript corner of the bar and placed it against the wall. He then took a seat at a table near the one Biggs, Wedge and Jessie occupied. 

Cream’s eyes lingered on the sword for a moment. He had put it at that same spot every single time he returned to the bar after finishing his rounds for the day for the last three weeks. As she stared at the battle-scarred blade, she felt old and hazy memories bubble to the surface. She also felt a prickling sensation both on the scar that lined her abdomen and on a second, smaller scar on the back of her head, next to the base of her right ear. Cream forced herself to stow down feelings of regret and hatred while resisting the habitual urge to touch the scar on her head. She instead hoisted Hope up into her arms, placed her on a bar stool and then returned to the back of the counter.

Biggs stood up from his seat, approached the counter and asked for three shots of what he called ‘The Good Stuff.’ Grateful for the distraction, Cream giggled mirthfully as she pulled down a bottle of Downundian Whiskey from the top of the shelf. She then lined three shot glasses on a tray and expertly poured three, precise 1oz shots in each glass, taking care to ensure that not a single drop of the amber liquid was spilled. The task completed, she returned the bottle to the shelf and then turned to the sink opposite of the bar counter to begin washing up for the night.

Grinning, the raven haired man downed one of the shots and took the other two to his table. He then took one of the glasses and brought it over to Tails. “Heeeey! Tails!” Biggs exclaimed, his trademark grin plastered all over his face. His speech was starting to slur and his face was slowly turning red – clear cut signs that the whisky was doing its job. “Here, have a drink to celebrate, huh?” He held out the shot glass filled with amber-brown liquid. “It’s the good stuff: snatched from Downunda! It’ll grow hair on your chest, kid!” He paused, staring at the tuft of fur sticking out from the unzipped part of the fox’s vest. “Well… more hair than you have right now, I mean… Anyways, here, have one!”

Tails opened his mouth to speak in what Cream expected to be a refusal.  Instead she heard him say, “You know what, that’s not a bad idea.” The bartender spun around to see the fox pluck the glass from the Human’s hand and down it in one go. He swallowed and relished the drink. “Ahh… not bad,” he said, flipping the glass upside down and slamming it onto the table. “It could be stronger though.”

“Yeah!” The black-garbed man hollered jubilantly, getting up and pumping his arms in the air. “Yo, you really are a badass! That shit’s just over 80% alcohol and you downed it like nothing! Still,” he calmed down, settling back into the chair once more. “You’re only a rookie in this operation, see? So, y’know, you should listen to what I tell ya.” He lolled his head backward for a moment and  stared at the ceiling before it snapped back to Tails. “Oh! Hic… Um… don’t tell Bark what I just told you, alright?”

Tails gave him a flat stare. “Yeah, sure,” he said, his brows lowering into a scowl.

“Hey, aren’t you hungry?” Jessie asked him from across the table. “I mean, all that fighting and running around must’ve worked up an appetite, huh? I’ve eaten three platefuls of food and I’m STILL famished…”

“Yeah, me too,” Wedge chimed in between mouthfuls of the last portions of what was today’s special. “Mmm… Cream’s cooking is the greatest. Hey, Tails, I gotta tell you,” he faced the warrior. “Cream’s always let me taste her cooking; it’s probably the reason why I’m all roly-poly. But still, this bar’s famous because of the food and drink here.” He then returned to his eating.

Tails cocked an eyebrow. “… I’ll get something later,” he muttered as he pushed the chair back and stood up. He headed over to the saloon doors when they slammed open as Bark strode in.

Hope’s face brightened at the sight of the bear. “Papa Bear!” she cried as she hopped off of the stool and ran towards her father.

Bark’s grizzled frown morphed into a wide and playful grin of his own as he knelt down with his arms spread open. “Hope! I’m home, little cub!” he said as the little girl flung herself into his arms and nuzzled her face into the soft fur on his chest. The bear soon hefted the little girl onto his right shoulder and straightened up. It was then that he noticed the flower clutched in her tiny hands. “Hey, where’d you get the flower from?” he asked gently.

“Tails gave it to me,” she said, smiling at her father’s bemused look.

“Oh…” he said. He looked at Tails with an unreadable expression on his face before turning back to his adoptive daughter. “Did you thank him?” he questioned.

Hope’s cheeks turned a shade of bright pink as she looked back at the warrior. “… Thank you Tails,” she said before taking her father’s cap and hiding her face behind it. 

Bark burst into laughter. “Hah hah hah! Aww, don’t be shy kiddo,” he said in between guffaws. Reining his laughter in, he took his hat back and replaced it on his head. 

Cream crossed over the bar counter and cleared her throat to catch her leader’s attention. “You alright Bark?” she asked.

“Just great!” he responded, a triumphant grin plastered all over his muzzle. He walked towards the pinball machine at the far end of the establishment. Holding his daughter steady on his shoulder with his Gun-Arm, he bent over slightly, passed his hand underneath the machine and flipped a switch. “Alright everyone! Get down here, we’re starting the meeting!” he said, pressing the right and left flipper buttons twice and then pulling the plunger back three times.

The floor beneath him, along with the pinball machine, began to descend into a secret area beneath the bar. The three Humans got up and followed their leader, hopping down into the opening. Cream heard someone then reactivate the secret elevator to bring the lift back up. 

Cream called out from behind the bar as Tails approached the pinball machine, whose platform meshed perfectly with the bar’s hardwood flooring and concealed the hideout beneath it. “Hey Tails, why don’t you come sit here for a bit before going down?” she said, jerking her head towards the seat in front of the counter. “I’ll even make you something to drink? How ‘bout it?’ 

The fox halted in his tracks, walked back to the bar and took the aforementioned seat. He placed his elbows on the counter and propped his chin on steepled hands. “Really? You got anything stronger than that stuff you got from Downunda?” he asked teasingly.

The rabbit gave him a wicked smile. “Oh, something even stronger, huh?” she said. “Then I have the perfect drink for you.” She turned to the shelf behind her and started pulling five specific bottles down, setting them on the counter. “I’ve been meaning to mix this one for a long time, but no one’s been willing to try it. Therefore, you can be the guinea pig.” She then brought out nine jiggers, a chilled cocktail glass and a shaker from underneath the bar. Lining up the shot glasses into a row, she placed a scoop of ice into the shaker and started mixing Tails’ drink.

Cream started off by pouring out some Christmas Island Brandy into the first shot glass. She then expertly flipped the bottle into the air with her right hand while grabbing the one labeled Icicle Town Vodka with her left. Deftly, she began pouring three shots of the clear liquid as the bottle of brandy sailed down towards the surface of the bar. Upon pouring the third shot, she extended her right hand and delicately caught and balanced the bottom of the brown bottle with her pinky. Slipping it and the vodka back onto the counter, she moved onto the Mercian Absinthe. Swinging the bottle up and around with flair, Cream took a shot glass, flung it upwards and caught it, the bottle’s neck fitting neatly into the glass. Gracefully, she rotated both bottle and glass 180 degrees, placed it on the table and lifted the bottle. The measure was filled to the brim with bright, green liquid. She repeated this a second time and followed up with a shot and a half of the Station Square No.1 Gin. 

Grinning at the fox, she grasped the necks of both bottles and began juggling them. The gin bounced artfully off of her left elbow and the absinthe spun lazily in the air above her head. Catching it and setting it and the gin onto the counter, she poured the contents of the final bottle into a measure – a shot of Chaoberry liqueur. Lining them up in order, she poured the contents of each jigger into the shaker, closed and shook the contents vigorously and strained the deep burgundy liquid into the cocktail glass. 

She slid it towards Tails, who caught and stared into the muddled, blood red drink. He arched an eyebrow at her. “Pretty impressive moves there,” he said, his eyes sparkling with interest. “Do you do this with all your customers?”

“Only the very special ones,” Cream pipped, a mischievous and devilish look in her eyes. “Drink up… if you dare.”

Smirking, the fox took a healthy gulp of the dull red liquid. Instantly, he set the glass down hard on the counter and began coughing loudly. “Hack… What… What the hell is this?” he asked as Cream started laughing at him.

“Hah… That’s… Hah, hah… I call it an ‘Aunt Roberta’,” she said over fits of giggles. She took several breaths to calm herself before continuing. “A little drink that I came up with that’s got more of a kick than the whiskey from Downunda. I named it after a distant aunt of mine who was always sharp-tongued.” She cracked a large grin at the fox. “I’m glad to see that you’re enjoying it, Mr. Ex-SOLDIER.”

Tails narrowed his brows. “Bite me,” he responded hoarsely, annoyed that his quest for a good hard drink left him worse for wear. 

The rabbit only chortled in response. Settling down once more, she leaned in and placed her elbows onto the counter. She regarded the fox with concern filling her eyes. “You know, I’m glad you made it back safely,” she said.

Tails looked taken aback at her words. “What’s with you all of a sudden?” he replied, surprised. “That wasn’t even a hard job.” He took another swig of the potent cocktail – a little less than what he took the first time – and shuddered slightly as the stinging liquid went down his throat. 

Cream looked away from her close friend, her eyes downcast. “I guess not…” she said. “I mean, you were in SOLDIER, after all.” The two entered a comfortable silence as Tails kept drinking. “Make sure you get your pay from Bark,” Cream said eventually as the fox finished and set down his drink.

Tails nodded. “Yeah, I will,” he said “I’ll probably be going tonight, after I get my money. I’ll need to find a different base of operations for my services. Can’t very well work out of the same place that a terrorist organization resides in, right?”

Cream stiffened at his words. She felt her veins turn to ice and her hand clenched tightly on the counter “Y-yeah, of course,” she said hesitantly. 

“But I’ll come visit once in a while,” he added, seeing the rabbit’s bowed head. 

Though Cream heard his words, they barely registered in her mind.  ‘It makes sense what he’s saying… but I wish he’d stay,’ the thought ran through her head. ‘Something’s not right here… The way he walks, the way he talks…  The confidence and the swagger? It’s all throwing me off here… and it reminds me of someone- 

“…eam? Cream?” she was startled by the fox’s voice. “Are you OK? You look like you zoned out for a second there,” he said, a light smile on his muzzle.

Cream blinked. “Y-yeah, no, I’m OK,” she replied a little too quickly. She brushed a stray strand of ivory hair away from her face. “It’s been a long night for all of us. I must’ve made more today than I have all this month – it’s gonna be a busy one for the legers tomorrow. Oh, speaking of which, you should go down now. Bark’s probably getting impatient.”

Tails hopped off of the stool, a withering smile crossing his lips. “You’re right,” he said. “Time to get this over with.”

“Hey Tails?” Cream found herself blurting out as the fox left the bar and headed over to the pinball machine. He turned around to face her. “I know you asked me just now, but… Are you feeling alright?”

Tails’ eyebrow quirked up at her. “… Yeah, why?” he asked, nonplussed.

The fighter bit the inside of her cheek. “Oh, no reason,” she said, her smile a little too shaky. “You just look a little tired too, I guess.”

The fox returned a smile of his own as he went up to the pinball machine, hit the buttons on the sides and pulled the plunger three times to activate the lift and descended into the basement. 

As Cream watched him go down, she couldn’t shake off the dread she felt about him permanently leaving the bar. ‘There are too many questions and not enough time to answer them…’ she reflected as she began wiping down today’s detritus from the bar counter. ‘If he leaves… I fear that I may never see him again…


Tails

“Live from the studio in Sector 2, this is the Kintobor News Network,” the wide-screen tele-crate blared out as Tails got off the lift. “With your hosts, Scarlet Garcia and Moses Rye-Williams.”

Wedge got up from his seat at the square table in the middle of the room and pointed to the screen situated beside Jessie’s workstation. “Guys, guys! It’s starting!” he called out.

Bark ceased hitting a heavy bag at the opposite side of the room with Biggs holding it in place. Hope, sitting on a box and watching her father, hopped down and went with them out of curiosity. The three joined Wedge and Jessie and crowded around the TC, while Tails found a wall to lean on behind them.

“Hello, you’re watching KNN. I’m your host, Scarlet Garcia,” the brunette newscaster said to the cameras. 

Sitting beside her was a handsome, silver-furred lynx wearing a charcoal pinstripe suit, a light blue dress shirt and a muted, striped blue tie. “And I’m Moses Rye-Williams,” he said in a deep, modulated tone. “Tonight’s top news story: The explosion that rocked Megapolis, caused by terrorists blowing up the No.1 Energen Reactor and RINGTEK Plant just prior to midnight.”

Scarlet picked up from her co-anchor. “The terrorist group in question – TORNADO –  have also released a video in the last fifteen minutes claiming responsibility for the attack. The video proclaimed that Energen is not an infinite source of energy and that RINGTEK is doing more harm for the environment than good. They also accused Kintobor Incorporated of misleading the public on the health risks of RINGTEK and ended with dire warnings that the attacks would continue should the city continue to depend on this valuable resource.  The president of Kintobor Incorporated, which is the parent company of this news station, held a press conference immediately after the attack and had this to say:”

The station then cut to a recording of the press conference. President Gerald Kintobor stood on a podium behind a minimalist, metallic lectern, its top lined with microphones. A banner displaying the company’s logo was draped on the wall behind him. The white-suited Human cleared his throat to catch the attention of the press.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you for coming on such short notice,” he said in a calm and matter-of-fact tone. “I can confirm that the group that calls themselves TORNADO has carried out this attack on our great city. It is also expected that this group will continue its reign of terror upon the populace. However, I can assure you, good citizens of Megapolis, that there is nothing to fear.” His lips curled upwards into a winning smile. “I have just initiated measures that will help us root out these terrorists so we can bring them to justice. And,” he continued over the sounds of cheering. “And also, I have mobilized SOLDIER to protect our people against this senseless violence.” He paused, as the cheering grew louder. The recording ended and the broadcast cut back to the anchors.

“In other news,” Moses continued, shuffling his papers on the desk. “President Kintobor went on record to state that the current labour strike resulted in tonight’s terrible tragedy. He goes on to say that, and I quote: ‘The terrorists appear to have hacked the payroll system and have exploited a flaw which prevented payments from going through. We are working hard to correct this flaw and will ensure that everyone receives their pay plus interest.’”

Scarlet picked up from her co-anchor and continued to talk about other news stories related to the attack. At this point, the team heard enough and took this as a cue to move away from the TC. Bark and Biggs returned to the heavy bag, Hope returned to her spot, Wedge sat back down to papers splayed across a table and Jessie straightened up on her chair and faced the monitor, staring at the data streaming from the data stick Biggs recovered. 

A few moments later, the woman slammed her hand hard on the workbench next to her, covered in various electronic equipment. She stared at the screen, her eyes narrowed to slits. “Shit,” she muttered. Noticing that the room went silent, she swiveled the chair around and faced the group. She scratched the back of her head nervously. “Sorry,” she said quickly. “I think I know why the alarms went off when Tails mounted the bomb; it turns out that we neglected to disarm the tampering alarms before turning on the device and mounting it. It was a miscalculation on my part that caused it, but at least I know for next time.”

The fox pushed himself off the wall and continued into the hideout, which caught Wedge’s attention as he was nearest to him. “Hey, he’s here Boss,” he said to Bark. 

Bark stopped once more. “Finally!” he said, disgruntled at waiting. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you: Those tails of yours, that let you fly like that? Are they for real? And how the hell did you do that in the first place?”

The fox stopped in his tracks in front of the TC. ‘Well, that came out of nowhere…’ “…Yes, they’re real, I was born with them,” he responded after a brief silence. “And yes, I can fly. How, I can’t tell you. You’ll have to live with that.” After gauging Bark’s reaction, the fox eyed him critically. “I get the feeling you have another question you want to ask me. Care to share it?” he said cockily.

Scowling, Bark thought for a moment. “Yeah, one more,” he said curtly. “Anyone from SOLDIER fighting us today?”

Tails moved to the space in front of the tele-crate. He crossed his arms and shook his head. “None,” he said. “I’m positive.”

“You sound pretty sure of yourself,” Bark responded, hitting the heavy bag once.

“I AM sure,” Tails retorted, gritting his teeth. “If there was anyone from SOLDIER at the reactor today, you wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

The members of TORNADO watched the exchange with baited breath as the tension between the two Mobians got thicker by the minute. The polar bear glared at the fox. “Don’t go thinking you’re the shit just because you were in SOLDIER,” he said, growling. 

The Ex-SOLDIER turned his back to Bark, processing what he said. ‘So, this is the thanks I get for saving him, huh? Some employer he is…’ he reflected, his folded arms hiding his clenched fists. He turned back around and was about to speak his mind, only to see Bark’s fist miss the punching bag, hitting Biggs instead. 

The force of the blow sent the Human flying into the wall. He crumpled to the ground like a sack of flour. “Did… anyone see that… truck that hit me?” he said, dazed.

Bark cringed as he heard the man hit the wall before rounding on Tails. “Yeah, you’re strong,” he said. “Probably all those guys in SOLDIER are.” He gave the fox a dirty look and raised his voice to a commanding level. ”But don’t forget your two-tailed ass is working for TORNADO now! Don’t get any ideas about hanging onto Kintobor, hear me?”

‘OK. That’s it.’ “Stayin’ with Kintobor?” Tails said, his own voice seething with anger. “You asked me a question and I answered it… That’s all.” He walked up to the bear, stood on his tip-toes and used his tails to balance himself. He leveled his electric blue eyes with Bark’s reddish-brown orbs. “I’m going upstairs,” the fox hissed. “I want to talk about my money.” Righting himself onto the floor, he turned away and headed for the lift.

Cream suddenly hopped down into the hideout. She halted in front of the mercenary, panic flooding her face. “Tails, wait!” she said. “We can still-” 

 “Ah, let him go Cream,” Bark interrupted, his lips curling into a sneer. “Looks like foxy here still misses the Kintobor.” 

Tails faced the bear again, his eyes blazing with anger. “Shut it!” he snapped, the room going dead silent as he spoke in a harsh tone. “Need I remind you that I’m a mercenary? I don’t work for you or for Kintobor. I work for myself and I care for one thing and one thing only: my money. I suggest we meet upstairs and you pay me. Now.” He turned back to the elevator, brushing past Cream as he did so and activating the lift.


Tails paced back and forth, waiting as patiently as he could for Bark to arrive and pay up so he could leave. He perked up as he saw the elevator descend, but frowned when he saw Cream coming back up instead of his employer. “What are you doing here? Where’s Bark,” Tails asked firmly. 

The rabbit ignored his question. “Tails, please,” she said, giving him her most imploring look. “I’m asking you to join us.”

“I’m sorry Cream…” Tails muttered, turning away from her. 

Cream sighed, frustrated at her friend’s attitude. “Look, Mobius is dying. Slowly, but surely it’s dying,” she said. “Someone has to do something about it and I know that –“ 

“Then let Bark and his buddies handle it,” Tails interrupted. He picked up his sword and strapped it to his back before making his way out of the bar. “Look, when he gets his act together, tell him to find me at the Wall Market. I’m out of here.”

“SO! You’re really leaving?!” she shouted out suddenly as Tails pushed on the saloon doors. “You’re just going to walk out and ignore your childhood friend?!”

Tails whipped around. “How can you say that!?” he said angrily, his calm and collected persona put aside. “ I’d never leave you alone! I just can’t stand Bark! He’s an asshole!”

Cream mouth parted open slightly at the fox’s words. She took a step towards him. “So, you didn’t forget then? Our promise?” she asked cryptically.

Tails took a step back. “Promise?” he whispered, his mind racing for information. All he got from it was static… and the sounds of a sinister laugh echoing inside his brain.

The fighter looked away to the floor. Her shoulders slumped and she let out a wistful sigh. “You forgot the promise?” she said, her voice laced with sadness, disappointment and a little incredulity. “Tails, it was seven years ago…”

Her words triggered something in Tails’ mind. He felt as though the floodgates within him opened and was suddenly awash in memories that drowned out the buzzing static within him. “…The Great Oak Stump,” he blurted out abruptly. 

Cream’s head shot up and she blinked at him. “You mean…” she said, trailing off, hope shining in her amber eyes.

“Seven years ago,” Tails continued, taking a step towards her. “I asked you to meet me by the Great Oak Stump, right by the well in the middle of Knothole. I remember it was a cold, winter’s night.” He paused, looking down to the floor in a rare show of embarrassment. “I… honestly thought you’d never come…”


Fourteen year old Miles Prower was freezing his tails off.

It was a cold and clear winter’s night in Knothole Village as he huddled at the edge of an oaken stump fifteen feet in diameter. He wrapped his two, bushy tails around him to keep warm. The trees that surrounded the town looked more like the skeletal arms of great beasts, rather than the beautiful foliage and knotted limbs that the hamlet was known for. The light from the full moon illuminated the towering figure of Mobius’ highest mountain in the distance.

The fox shuddered as waves of cold air hit him. He cursed himself for dressing inappropriately for the weather – a black t-shirt, blue shorts and a pair of red and white sneakers. He had no chance to grab his jacket before he could sneak out of his house. Glancing furtively at the building next to his own, he let out a deep sigh as his frustration mounted. 

“Where are you…” he whispered, burrowing deeper into the layers of fur keeping the cold out. He almost wanted to give up and go home.

His ears pricked as he heard the crunching sounds of gravel being stepped on behind him. He swiveled around to where the sounds originated from and spotted a figure approach him from behind the elevated water well. The fox could barely make out the silhouette, but inwardly he hoped that it was the Mobian he was waiting for.

“Hey Miles,” it said, in a soft, sugary-sweet voice. “Sorry I’m late.”  The figure stepped out of the shadows and the moonlight revealed a young rabbit girl with ivory fur and patches of brown on her ears, head and around her eyes. She wore a thick brown winter coat over a subdued orange coloured dress and matching brown winter boots. 

Miles shook his head. “It’s OK Cream,” he said, a ghost of a smile on his lips. 

The young girl walked over to the stump, hopped onto it and sat a few feet away from the two-tailed fox. The two entered an awkward silence as Miles tried to form the right words in his head. Eventually, the rabbit bit the bullet. “So Milles, you said you wanted to talk to me about something?” she asked politely.

The fox gulped, feeling a lump in his throat. He unwrapped his tails, turned towards her and gave her his most determined look. “Come this spring… I’m heading to Megapolis,” he said.

Cream shrugged, looking down and away from him. “All the boys are leaving town,” she said.

“No, but I’m not like those guys,” he said, his pre-pubescent voice cracking. “I’m not just gonna find a job, I’m gonna join SOLDIER!” He brought a clenched fist up to his face, looking at it. “I’m going to be the best there is… just like Nazo.”

Bringing a hand up to her mouth, Cream’s eyes widened. “Nazo… The great Nazo?” 

“Yeah,” Tails replied. The two then lapsed into a long silence.

“… Isn’t it hard to join SOLDIER?” the rabbit asked, glancing at Miles, who looked away at her gaze.

“I… might not be comin’ back to this town for a while.”

“Oh…” Cream said, her head bowed. “Well… will you be in the newspapers if you do well?”

Miles shrugged, his voice hopeful, but unsure. “I’ll try to.” Silence permeated between the two teens once more.

Cream suddenly slid across the stump and moved closer to the two-tailed fox. She looked at him fiercely. “We should make a promise.”

The fox looked taken aback at her suggestion. “Huh?” he said, confused.

She looked away from him once again, a tinge of red dusted on her cheeks. “Umm… if you get famous and… If I’m ever in a bind,” she began shyly. “You come rescue me, alright?”

Miles started blushing himself. “W-what?” he stammered.

“Well, whenever I’m in trouble, my hero will rescue me,” she said, her face turning redder at every moment. “I want to experience that at least once in my life.”

“What?” the fox repeated, clearly not believing that this was happening.

Cream turned her head towards him. “Come on Miles!” she said, “Just promise me, please?” 

Miles relented. “Alright… I promise,” he said as a shooting star sailed above them, sealing the promise under the moonlit sky…


Tails frowned after recalling the memory of years gone by. “I’m sorry Cream,” he said to her. “I’m not a hero and I’m not famous. I…I can’t keep the promise.”

Cream moved closer to him, trying to look into his eyes. “But you got your childhood dream didn’t you?” she asked. “You joined SOLDIER. So come on! You have to keep your promise…”

Before the mercenary could respond, he heard the lift ascend to bar level. After a moment, it raised up with Bark in tow, his arms folded and his snout painted with annoyance. “Hold up a sec Tails,” he said gruffly. Stepping off the lift, he dug into his vest, pulled out a wad of cash held together by a money clip and tossed it to him. “Here’s your pay as promised,” He turned his back to the fox, tapping his foot impatiently. ”Now get the hell out of here and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” 

Catching it easily, Tails fingered the bills and counted them in his head. ‘1,500, huh? Not bad.’ Instead of pocketing it however, his eyes travelled to Cream. She was standing in between the two, chewing her lip as her eyes travelled between the fox and the bear. Tails took a moment to think about what she said and about the promise they made all those years ago before coming to a decision.

“Is this my pay?” he asked, looking at the money with feigned disdain. “Don’t make me laugh.”

Bark did a double take. “What?!” he barked out, half-surprised and half-furious at the fox’s declaration. “Then you’ll –“ 

“If you got the next mission lined up for me, I’ll do it for double,” Tails interrupted, a smug smile crossing his lips.

The polar bear reeled back from the fox’s words. “What!!!” he shouted, his eyes seeing red. He went to approach the mercenary, only to have Cream stop him mid-way.

“Hey, hey, it’s OK Bark,” she said, before speaking to him in an undertone that Tails could hear. “Look, I know we’re really hurting for help, but… you’ve seen first-hand what he’s capable of. We’re gonna need him if we’re to succeed.”

Bark sighed, rubbing his forehead with his palm. “Y’know, that money was supposed to be for Hope’s school fund…” he whispered, shaking his head.

Tails frowned, his enhanced hearing picking up their conversation. ‘That money was for Hope? I may be a mercenary, but I’m not that heartless.’ “Bark, I have a suggestion for you,” he said to the bear. When he got his attention, he flung the money clip back to him. 

Hastily catching it, Bark gave him a confused look. “What are you –“

“Call it insurance on your end,” Tails butted in again. “You keep the 1,500. If we succeed, you agree to pay that back to me plus another 3,000 on top. If I don’t perform to your standards during the next job, then you keep the money and I don’t get paid. Plain and simple as that.” He gave the polar bear a moment to let it sink in. “So, how about it?”

Bark crossed his arms and contemplated his offer. “This,” he eventually said, holding up the bills. “Plus another 1,750.”

And here we go…’ Tails thought, inwardly smiling. ‘Either I convinced him that I’m the best man for the job, or he’s desperate.’ “2,600,” the fox countered.

“1,900!”

“2,200.”

“2,000!”

“Done,” Tails said with a cocky smile on his face.

Cream approached the fox and beamed at him. “Thanks Tails,” she said.

“Well, if you’re done, we got work to do,” Bark groused as he returned to the pinball machine. “Gotta go over the plans for the next operation. We start bright and early in the morning, so get down here and pull your weight merc, because I’m paying you good money for this!”


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Aboard The Megapolis Express



Bark

“Tails never made it.”

Bark, Biggs and Jessie looked at Wedge, who suddenly spoke out and broke the long and tense silence that lingered over the group. He and the other members of TORNADO were sitting in a boxcar that they snuck onto before the last train of the night departed from the station. The portly Human sat hunched on a large, wooden crate with his shoulders slumped forward. 

Biggs leaned on a wall near one of the sliding doors, his eyes downcast. “You think he was killed?” he asked aloud.

Bark, who sat crossed-arm on the other side of the car, scowled at the raven-haired man. “No way!” he lashed out. “A guy like that can definitely take care of himself!”

Jessie sat close to Biggs on a box covered with a blue tarp. Her face was sullen and ashy. She turned her head and looked wistfully in the direction opposite of the one the train was currently travelling on. “Tails,” she whispered, loud enough that even Bark could hear.

The bear clenched his fist tightly as he sat and ruminated about the Ex-SOLDIER. In the three weeks since he met him, Bark knew full well that the fox was a punctual sort of Mobian. He would always arrive at the bar he was staying in either a few minutes early or right on time – never late. ‘It’s bad for business,’ the bear recalled the mercenary saying once to Cream in a conversation he had overheard. ‘No one’s gonna offer a job to anyone who doesn’t respect their time.’ 

The sudden thought of the bartender caused Bark’s stomach to drop. ‘Shit, how am I gonna explain this to Cream?’ he wondered. ‘Should I lie and say he ditched us? Or be truthful and say he never made it back… Oh man…

The occupants in the boxcar had lapsed back into silence when they suddenly heard a thumping noise over the top of the train. Bark quizzically looked up at the ceiling for a moment, his finger flicking off the safety of his Gun-Arm. When he heard no further sounds after a few moments, he relaxed and let out a deep sigh. ‘Probably nothing,’ he thought.

“Say, you think,” Biggs started, trying to fill in the repressive silence that fell over them once more. “Tails’ gonna fight to the end for TORNADO?” 

Bark gave the Human a pointed look. “Why the hell are you asking me? Do I look like a mind-reader?” he replied acidly. He then thumped the box beside him hard with his Gun-Arm. “This is all screwed up…” he said exasperatedly before going quiet again.

“Hey Bark, what about our money?” Wedge asked a few minutes later. 

Bark hit the box again with his artificial arm, not in anger but because he forgot one, small detail. “Uh… sorry guys, got nothing for ya…” he replied sheepishly. 

The Human gave him a flat stare. “Ahhh…” he groaned, shaking his head in frustration.

A moment later, the thumping sounds returned and the boxcar door suddenly began to rattle. Alarmed, Bark stood up and motioned to Biggs and Wedge to ready their weapons. He flicked off the safety and pointed his arm at the door, which was shaking slightly in a combination of fear and panic. ‘Who’s out there?! Is it Kintobor?! Have they found out about us? Or did that fox lead them to us??

Soon enough, the door slid open. Roaring furiously, the bear unloaded a salvo of bullets against the would-be intruder, with his human counterparts following suit. The shots sailed out and ricocheted against the outer steel lattice structure of the main support pillar they circled around. 

Once Bark and the others ceased fire, the individual who opened the door then grabbed the top lip of the open car and flipped inside of it. Bark saw a blur of orange, white and blue fly into the space and land in a flourish. 

“Tails!” the three Humans exclaimed in surprise, their moods instantly brightening. Bark lowered his arm and stared, slack-jawed at the Ex-SOLDIER’s sudden appearance.

“Hey guys,” Tails said nonchalantly, rising up from his crouched position and brushing himself off. “Looks like I’m a little late.”

Bark snapped out of his stupor. “Oh, thank the Godd-” he started, speaking without thinking. He caught himself, cleared his throat and then addressed the fox. “Ah…I-I mean, Y-You’re goddess-damned right you’re late!” he spluttered instead in a more forceful manner, his chest heaving as his initial shock wore off. “We’re sitting here, wondering where the hell you went and then you come waltzing in here outta nowhere and make a big scene of it all!”

Tails shrugged. “Well, I would’ve been here on time,” he said. “But I ran into some unexpected company on the way. And as for the entrance,” he let out a small, self-satisfied smile. “It’s no big deal. I do this all the time.”

The bear scowled and kissed his teeth. “Tch, you’re full of shit,” he said angrily. “Don’t give a damn about no one but yourself, while everyone else was-” his eyes went wide like saucers and he clapped a hand over his snout before he could finish his sentence, to which the fox smirked in response. 

“Hmm… sounds like you were worried about me!” he said, arching an eyebrow in amusement.

Bark stood there at a loss for words. He opened and closed his mouth a few times as he struggled to find a witty retort. Clenching his teeth, he soon gave up and growled at the mercenary. “That’s coming out of your paycheck, hot stuff!” he spat. Shaking off his embarrassment, he moved to a door leading to the passenger cars. “Alright everybody, get up!” he ordered. “We’re moving out, follow me!” The door slid open with a rattle and he walked out, inwardly relieved that he wouldn’t have to face Cream with bad news.


Tails

Wedge got up from his spot and smiled widely at the fox. “Hey Tails, you were so awesome back there,” he said in passing as he followed Bark.

Biggs stopped in front of the fox and scratched the back of his head. “Heh heh… Tails!” he said sheepishly. “We’ll do even better next time!” He left as well, the door sliding shut and leaving the fox alone with Jessie.

The brunette approached the freight car door, which was still open from Tails’ dramatic entrance. “Be careful, I’ll shut this,” she said, sliding it closed and locking it. She turned to Tails and then raised her eyebrows at his appearance in the dim light of the train car. “Oh Tails! Your face is pitch black!” she remarked, bringing a hand to his face. 

The fox caught Jessie’s hand before it reached his muzzle. He glared sharply at her. “Don’t,” he said, his voice steely.

The woman chuckled softly as she gently extricated her hand from his grip. “At ease, Ex-SOLDIER,” she said as she wiped the soot from the train exhaust off of his cheek. “I’m just cleaning up your face. I’m not about to break the Taboo.” She then stepped back and smiled at her handiwork. “There! All done!” Turning around, she made her way to the door leading to the next train car. As she laid a hand on the door handle, she twisted around to face the fox one more time. “Thanks again for helping me back at the reactor,” she said, before her cheeks started to redden. “It’s a damn shame you’re not Human, I think you’d be my type.” She slipped through the door before Tails could react. It closed behind her with an audible click. 

Blinking at the odd exchange, Tails used the solitude to give himself a few moments to rest. He rolled the shoulder of his sword arm and stretched his arms, torso and legs to keep them limber – the constant activity and strain started to make them feel sore. He then pulled out his sword and inspected it. There were only a few nicks and scratches on the broad blade, but no major wear and tear on it. ‘I’ll have to get it sharpened and cleaned eventually,’ he observed, testing the edge with an ungloved finger. ‘It’ll hold for now, though.’ 

Putting the weapon on the magnetic disk on his back, he pulled on his glove and then focused on the two folded, rectangular sheets of parchment paper in his side pocket. Extracting them, he saw that there were no crumples or creases on it; the flower girl who wrapped it certainly knew what she was doing. ‘Who was she?’ he wondered as he gently stuffed the envelopes back into his pocket and headed for the exit. ‘Why do I have the strange feeling that our paths will cross again? And why the hell am I looking forward to it??

Tails followed TORNADO past the freight cars and into the passenger cars. No matter how hard he tried, the image of the flower girl just wouldn’t leave his mind and it was starting to bother him slightly. When he finally caught up with Bark and his crew, his thoughts were finally broken by the sound of a soft, female voice blaring through the train’s intercom system:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for riding the Megapolis Railway Magenta Express Line, brought to you by Kintobor Power Incorporated. This is the last train leaving Sector 8: Theater District. Our final destination is Sector 7: Train Graveyard. Transfers to the Gold Line are available. The expected time of arrival is 12:45 PM, Megapolis Standard Time.”

Dragged out of his thoughts, Tails watched as Bark waltzed up the aisle and plop down into a seat next to a badger wearing an expensive, Kintobor-branded business suit. The Mobian, startled by the polar bear’s presence, got out of his seat and headed to the next car down. “This is why I hate the last train,” the fox heard him grumble as he left.

Bark glared at the departing Mobian’s back. Tails couldn’t see his face but he surmised that the bear wanted to give the badger a piece of his mind. Thinking better of it, Bark leaned back on his seat as the door shut behind the suit and tipped his hat to cover his eyes. Biggs, Wedge and Jessie maneuvered around the car and took up positions at its front, middle and rear. Tails leaned up against a pole near the back of the car and listened in on the conversations between passengers.

“You see the headlines on KNN?” A bald Human wearing a rumpled suit said to a hare wearing a short sleeve button up shirt and khakis, about three seats ahead of the fox. His voice was just above a whisper, but Tails was easily able to pick it up from where he stood. “The terrorists who bombed the No. 1 Energen Reactor are said to be based in the slums…” 

The hare nodded. “Yeah… blowing up an Energen Reactor AND a RINGTEK plant? Geez, they must’ve had some serious balls to pull that stunt off,” he replied.

“Mmm. Indeed,” the bald man said crossing his arms and closing his eyes in thought. “They must have a calculating leader. I wonder what they’ll do next?”

“Hey!” Tails turned his head to the sound of Bark’s voice. “Stop standing around like a damn kid,” he said, giving him a flat look and then tilting the red hat over his eyes once more. Tails glared at the bear and didn’t move from his spot – partly out of spite and partly to see if he could dig up more information that could eventually score him a new job. 

With the Bombing Mission more or less completed, the fox knew that he needed to secure more work. Making it as one of Megapolis’ top mercenaries was going to take a lot more than the few jobs he recently pulled. He also realized that he would need to set up his own base of operations, along with ways and means for others to contact him for his services. ‘Plus, I can’t keep imposing on Cream’s hospitality,‘ he thought as he mentally made a list of things to do when he got back to the Sector 7 Slums. ‘While I know she wouldn’t mind me staying, sharing an address with a terrorist organization may make things complicated… No, it’s best I leave tonight. Maybe I’ll head for the Wall Market in Sector 6?

“Psst, hey Tails,” Biggs suddenly whispered to him and interrupted his thoughts. The fox’s bright blue eyes spied him sitting in a seat at the midpoint of the passenger car. He motioned the fox over. 

Tails straightened up and meandered to the grinning Human. “So, I’ve been wanting your professional opinion on this for a while now,” he said the fox in a conspiratorial tone. “But what did you think of our plan to induce a labour strike? Pretty nifty, eh?

“…Enlighten me,” Tails deadpanned as he crossed his arms. “I wasn’t privy to the details when I signed on for this. Whatever I knew, it was provided on a ‘need to know’ basis.'” 

“Well, it was pretty awesome, let me tell you!” Biggs continued, completely missing the sarcasm in Tails’ voice. “To put it simply, Jessie and I found a backdoor to the payroll departments of both the security detail and maintenance workers for each reactor. Using that backdoor, we were able to stop payments going through over the course of the last three weeks, while pulling personal information for the most incendiary and vocal members of both unions. Then, using those addresses, I sent anonymous notes saying that the company doesn’t care, that they’ll dismantle their union and all kinds of other stuff. Long story short, they revolted and started a strike. They only had a small crew of non-unionized soldiers and maintenance workers to watch the place, making it easy for us to do our thing. Pretty cool huh?”

Tails narrowed his eyes at Biggs. “Yeah, cool,” he said coldly. “But now that you’ve played your hand, Kintobor will have no trouble connecting the strikes with the bombing. It’s likely that they’ll end the disputes, find and fix that backdoor and increase the fortifications for each reactor tenfold. I doubt that this ploy will work again.” Though he spoke harshly, in truth, Tails was impressed with the detail they put in to make the whole plan work.

To the fox’s disbelief, Biggs’ grin grew even wider. “Aha, and now here is where this comes into play,” he said, extracting a black data stick from his back pocket – the same one Jessie handed to him at the split in the Reactor. “With the data I pulled from the RINGTEK plant’s central computer, Jess and I should be able to construct a map of the underplate system of the city. And that means better ways to sneak in and out of each of the reactors.” Biggs leaned back and placed his hands behind his head. “Anyways,” he continued, his voice taking on a more serious edge. “It looks like the train hasn’t switched to the advanced security mode yet. I’m sure that’ll change by tomorrow. It’ll be another wrinkle in our operations, but I think we’ll get by alright.”

“Tails?” Jessie’s voice cut in from the front of the car. She stood in front of a capacitive touch-screen monitor a few seats away from Bark. “You want to look at this with me? It’s a map of the Megapolis Rail System.” 

Using this as an excuse to end the conversation with Biggs, the fox went to her, a puzzled look crossing his muzzle. Jessie chuckled at his expression. “I hear you haven’t been around the city in the last five years,” she said. “Things have changed on the railway since then, so I figured, why don’t I get you up to speed?” She touched the screen as he stopped behind her. An image of the city from a top-down perspective soon showed up. “Let’s look at it together. I’ll explain it to you.” She paused as the glow from the screen illuminated the faint freckles on her pale, pretty face. “You know, I like this sort of stuff,” she continued, her hazel eyes focused on the image on screen. “Bombs and monitors… you know, flashy stuff.”

“So, here we have an interactive model of Megapolis. It’s shown here at 1/10000 scale,” she began. “The top plate is about 100 meters above the ground.” She put her finger on the model and swiped up. The image rotated and now showed a cross-section of the city, with the upper plate, the massive central pillar and a set of thick concrete and steel pillars underneath the center of each plate. 

“Let me guess,” Tails said, his hand stroking his chin. “The central structure holds the entire city up. And there are eight, smaller pillars located underneath each plate’s centre of gravity to balance the load.”

Jessie smiled at him. “That’s right! You really do know your stuff!” she said light-heartedly. “Here’s a little bit of trivia for you: did you know that each sector used to be a town? I think the names are in the old archives, but nobody here remembers them anymore. Numbered sectors made it easier. That’s the kind of place this is.” 

She then tapped on a button on the bottom right marked ‘Rail.’ The city on screen transformed from a solid, three-dimensional object to an isometric wireframe model. The model showed the upper plate, the central pillar and the Slums underneath.

The upper plate had three sets of blue rings circling the city. Each ring was connected to one another at certain points, creating a web-like network that serviced all of Megapolis. The Slums, on the other hand, had a single, deep yellow circle that was the same diameter as the largest circle on the upper city. In between the two lines and spiraling up and down the central pillar, was a magenta line. 

Jessie touched that line. “See this line here, spiraling around the central pillar? It was introduced about three years ago as a way to ease congestion along the Upper and Lower City routes. Normally, trains on the upper and lower cities would travel up or down the pillar and then go along the upper or lower lines. The problem was that the central pillar only allowed for two tracks for trains to go up or down. And they couldn’t add additional lines to the pillar without having to tear the whole thing down again.” 

She tapped a button marked ‘Play’ near the top corner of the screen and Tails watched as the animation played, showing the transit system in motion. “So, Kintobor ended up isolating the pillar routes into a new line dedicated to moving people from the Slums to the city and vice versa. At the top and bottom, there’s a switch track that sends the train to its intended direction. Once they arrive, they can transfer to either the Blue or Gold lines to get to where they need to go.” Finally, she tapped an icon with a crosshair symbol on it. A yellow dot appeared on the magenta line, halfway down the central structure.

“Here’s where we are,” she said, pointing to the dot. “Right now, we’re just about halfway down the main support structure. At the centre of the pillar route, and at eight points around the Blue and Gold lines, there are ID Checkpoints –“

“An array of sensors, right?” Tails cut in, inspecting the map with mild curiosity.

The woman nodded. “Exactly. They check the identities and backgrounds of every passenger on the train by linking the data back to the central databank at Kintobor HQ.” She dropped her voice back down to a whisper, leaning in close to the fox. “Anyone can tell that we look suspicious, so we’re using fake ID’s.”

All of a sudden, the car was bathed in a flashing red light and the intercom speakers emitted a shrill beeping noise. Jessie rolled her eyes. “Well, speak of the devil. That light means that we’ve entered the ID Security Check area,” she said. She then leaned in closely and whispered into his ear. “When the lights go off, you’ll never know what kind of creeps’ll pop out.” 

A moment later, the screeching noise from the speakers stopped and the lighting returned to normal. “Phew… Finally, I thought it’d never end,” Jessie said, adjusting her headband. “At least that means we’re almost back now, that’s a relief.” She stared into the screen for a moment and then turned back to the fox, her eyes brightening. “Hey! I got an idea! For a reward, because you got us outta there alive, I mean,” she said, noticing his perplexed face. “How about… I make you a special, custom-made ID? I mean, I made you a really generic one, but I feel that you deserve a proper ID; one that can get you through the city without any hassle? Whaddya say?”

Tails stroked his chin thoughtfully at her proposal. ‘An ID card… would make my life easier,‘ he reasoned. I wouldn’t be limited to working solely in the Slums. And from the looks of it, Jessie’s good at what she does.’ “Alright, I’ll take you up on that offer,” he said, deciding to place his trust in the woman.

The brunette beamed. “OK then, I’ll put a lotta effort into it and make it with a BANG!” she said, exuberantly. 

“Hey Tails,” Bark called out to him once again. This time, his tone was more measured. The fox arched his head to face the bear, who was now staring out of the window. His gazed out somberly at the city below. “Look at that, you can see the surface now. This part of the city doesn’t have proper day or night.” He looked up at the mass of steel above. “If that plate wasn’t there… we could see the sky.”

Tails walked over and looked out the same window. “A floating city,” he said. “Pretty unsettling scenery.”

The bear got out of his seat and stared bewilderedly at the Ex-SOLDIER. “Huh? I never expected to hear that from someone like you,” he said. “You’re just full of surprises.”  He looked back through the window and his eyes hardened at the sight of the plate above. “The upper world… a city on a plate. It’s cuz of that fuckin’ ‘pizza’ that people underneath it are suffering!” he exclaimed, slamming a hand on the back of the seat. “And the city below is full of polluted air. Meanwhile those Energen Reactors suck up all the energy to create RINGTEK, which then gets tossed into the land below. Did you know that the metals they use to make them have started to leech into the water supply? They’re literally poisoning us,” he breathed a deep and weathered sigh at that fact and turned back into his seat. He tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. “It’s shit like this that makes living there nearly unbearable…” 

“And then, to make things completely worse, we now have to deal with the Robians. We have to sit and watch our kind be transformed into soulless robots, only because our very existence offends a powerful Human. Now they’re down here, terrorizing everyone and killing indiscriminately, no matter who they are or what they look like…” 

Tails listened intently to Bark’s speech. He rose from his spot and crossed his arms. “So why doesn’t everyone move onto the plate then?” he asked.

Bark shrugged. “Dunno,” he said in a defeated and off-handed manner. “Maybe because they don’t have any money? Or maybe… because they love their land, no matter how polluted and terrible it gets.” 

The fox nodded, looking back out the window. “I know,” he said. “No one lives in the Slums just because they want to. It’s like this train. It can’t run anywhere except where its rails take it.”

The train soon spiraled down the last quarter of the central pillar. A switch track activated at the pillar’s base and directed the train towards the Sector 7 station. The locomotive slowed down as it approached the platform and came to a stop just a few meters away from a dilapidated passenger car lying on its side, the shell slowly rusting away and revealing its interior. This, like several dozen other cars and broken, outdated locomotive engines, littered an expansive area between the train station and the edge of the city, stopping short of the high structural wall separating the city from the outside world.

The car doors opened and passengers began to disembark, all of them eager to return to their homes and loved ones. The members of TORNADO plus Tails were among those getting off and they blended in with the crowd to avoid being noticed by the guards. Once clear, Bark waved his Gun-Arm and pointed it to a secluded nook away from the platform. “Gather here, y’all!” he called.

The group formed a huddle around the polar bear. “Alright, the mission was a success,” Bark said, keeping his voice low. “But don’t y’all be complacent! Blowing up No.1 was the easy part, so you better not have been scared of that explosion,” he paused as a savage grin grew on his lips and a manic fire ignited in his eyes. “Because the next one’s gonna be bigger than that!” He broke the huddle and started for the residential district. “Meet back at the hideout! Move out!” he said. 

The three humans followed suit, while Tails walked back at a leisurely pace. While he was starting to understand Bark’s motivations against Kintobor, he knew better than to get caught up within his and his group’s struggle. He was a mercenary, after all; money was all the motivation he needed. ‘Time to get paid and get outta here,’ he thought, smiling to himself.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Random Encounters



Bark

Jessie blew a strand of hair away from her face as she prepared an improvised explosive to use on a collapsed wall blocking their way out. The force of the explosion from Reactor #1 caused the facades of the unused emergency exit to crumble around TORNADO. Some portions had already caved in, causing the group to sidle around or crawl underneath the rubble. 

Bark and the other two members of the team sat in silence as she worked, their faces contorted in a myriad of emotions. Behind them, Tails leaned on a wall, his face the picture of a mercenary – cold, stoic and calm.

Biggs was the first to break the silence. “Hey Jess, you sure this won’t kill us all?” he said in a half-hearted attempt to make a joke, his voice echoing around the sunken passage.

“Shut it Biggs!” Bark seethed. “Keep your voice down or the whole fucking place will collapse on us!”

“Sheesh, sorry I tried to lighten the mood,” the Human relented in a much quieter tone, rolling his eyes. The group settled into silence once more until he piped up again, this time in a more somber voice. “Guess that means Mobius will keep on living… at least, a little while longer.”

“Yeah,” Wedge said, gripping his rifle in his sweaty hands, his eyes downcast and his shoulders hunched over.

Bark said nothing. He stared at his remaining hand instead as it trembled. While he was initially elated at the prospect of striking a blow against Kintobor, the heady rush of endorphins soon wore off and left him feeling a gut-wrenching weight deep in the pit of his stomach. ‘What on Mobius have we done?’ he reflected, lost in thought. ‘How many people died from the-

His musings were snapped when Jessie stood up after she placed the bomb on a weak spot on the wall. “Guys! Stand back!” she called, putting some distance between herself and the device. The others followed suit.

The device detonated after a ten second count, blowing a hole in the wall and clearing the way to Sector 8. The explosion caused the already weakened passageway to collapse. Tails ran out first, followed by Bark, Biggs and Jessie. Wedge brought up the rear just as the corridor came down behind him. He bent over and panted loudly as he clutched a stitch in his chest. The portly man soon made his way to the rest of the crew after he had caught his breath.

The three Humans and two Mobians emerged in a small clearing in Sector 8’s upper plate, a short distance away from the entertainment district. Bark motioned for them to huddle up as he silenced his earlier thoughts back in the passageway. “OK, now let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, keeping his voice low. “The rendezvous point is at the Sector 8 station, just beyond the theater district. Thanks to the chaos we caused, security will be all over the place.” Bark paused and looked around, spotting multiple paths leading to the streets. “If we move as a group, we’re bound to look suspicious,” he continued. “These back alleys around us should take us out to different areas of the street, so split up and get to the train. Move out!”

The group scattered in different directions. Biggs and Jessie ran in the same direction down an alleyway. The woman cut left while Biggs continued onward and rounded another corner to the main street. Wedge took a passage next to them leading to another section of the street. He slowed down as he approached the mouth of the alleyway and then ducked his head and stuck his hands in his pockets, walking onto the road and acting as nonchalant as possible. Bark spun around and strode up a staircase behind him that led up and over to the theater. 

Mid-way up, Tails called out. “H-hey!” 

The bear turned back around to face the fox and cast a hardened look at him. “If it’s about your money, save it until we’re back at the hideout.” He trundled back up the stairs and left the mercenary to his own devices.


Tails

Tails sighed, watching the retreating bear as he turned the corner. ‘So much for ditching them here and now, I’ll have to wait til we’re back in the slums.’ Seeing no other options available to him, the fox decided to take the same path that Bark did. He climbed up the stairs and winded around a four story tall building whose exterior was pockmarked with debris from the exploding reactor, before stopping at a juncture. 

To his left was a ladder leading up to the roof. Another stairwell leading down to street level stood in front of him. ‘I could probably get to the station faster if I go across the rooftops and fire escapes,’ Tails pondered as he explored his options. ‘But if I were a bettin’ fox, I’m sure they would have SkyTranses covering the air and they’d spot me pretty easily jumping from roof to roof. No, I better stick to street level.’ Breathing deeply through his nose, his decision made, Tails descended the stairs to ground level. Touching down on the paved surface, he found himself in another narrow corridor leading out towards the theater. Passing a large transmission pipe that was leaking out Energen, he strode out and calmly assessed the scene in front of him. 

The aftershock from the reactor explosion created upheaval around the district. Cars were overturned and signs mounted on the walls were knocked down, its pieces scattered along the asphalt. Chunks of concrete and brick that were blown off from buildings littered the streets and blocked passage to parts of the district. The theater next to him suffered severe structural damage; the lights had been blown off and the sign that read ‘Look-a-Like’ was on the verge of falling to the ground below. Scores of Mobians and Humans hurried to the sites of the blockages to assist rescue workers, while others shoved and pushed their way towards the train stations in a desperate attempt to escape. Tails watched them pass as he surreptitiously walked down the street. 

A grunt elicited from a woman nearby caught his attention. It was followed by the sound of something soft hitting the ground and rolling towards him. The object stopped by his boot and Tails peered down to look. “Flowers?” he mumbled, tilting his head curiously at the rounded woven basket.

Two dirt-caked boots suddenly entered his field of vision and stopped right in front of the basket. Tails’ eyes trailed up the slender legs and past the flowing white dress with the scoop neckline that came down to her shins with points at its hem. They travelled over the patchy, brown leather satchel that sat up against her narrow waist that had a wide, silver-buckled belt wrapped around it and the unopened, forest green coat that came up to her midriff before finally stopping at her face. She had delicate, pale-peach features that were framed by bright, chartreuse-green bangs. Her thick and wavy hair was arranged into a ponytail braid with a pale pink ribbon tied around the base. Atop her head were a pair of ruby-red rose ornaments that were in full bloom. She had a rounded bump where her nose should have been; a fact that didn’t bother the fox in the slightest. 

When their eyes met, Tails saw her crystal blue orbs widened into saucers and her pretty pink lips parted into an O shape. He then noticed her eyes go from his face to the hilt of his sword and then back again.

“I-I’m sorry,” the Mobian suddenly stammered out as she knelt down to pick up the basket of flowers, her pale, peach-coloured cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Some panicked idiot ran into me and I dropped my basket…” She stood up, brushed some of the lingering dust off of her dress and stared at the fox once more. “Um… do you know what happened here?” she asked in a soft, sweet tone. She placed her hands behind her back and started shuffling from side to side, her eyes downcast. “I was on this street, minding my own business when the reactor exploded and rocked the whole Sector.”

Tails felt something stir in his mind as he listened to her speak. Something about her felt familiar to him and he couldn’t help but think that he had seen her or heard her voice before in the past. Try as he might, however, he couldn’t remember ever meeting her before tonight. He knew that he had to continue onwards to the train leading back to the slums, but a part of him wanted to stay and talk with her. ‘But… why?’ he wondered, an unsettling feeling bubbling in the pit of his stomach. ‘Why do I want to stay for?

He was startled back into reality when the woman leaned towards him, her head tilted to the side and her brows creased with worry. “Are you alright?” she asked. “You kinda zoned out there for a second?”

“It’s nothing,” Tails replied, blinking rapidly. He swept a hand over the bangs on his forehead as he racked his brain for something to say. “…but I was wondering,” he paused, his eyes going to the basket of flowers in her hand. “I’ve never seen flowers here in Megapolis, not since I got here at least?”

The Mobian pulled back, her lips curling up into a tiny smile. “Oh these?” she said, pointing to the yellow and white flowers that were carefully cut and arranged into her basket. “Do you like them? They’re only a mobium each?”

Tails nodded and pulled out some paper bills from his back pocket; the spoils from the various odd jobs he had completed in the three weeks prior to tonight’s operation. As he pulled out a single mobium out of the wad in his hand, he was suddenly struck with a thought. “Can I get two?” he asked, handing her a second bill. 

The woman beamed merrily as she took the money. Tails watched as the flower girl knelt down and pulled out two square sheets of brown parchment paper from her satchel. She then carefully selected two flowers from her collection; one yellow, the other, white. Placing the paper on the pavement, she neatly arranged the flowers and then folded up each sheet of paper to make a thin envelope.

Standing up, she handed him the two sheets. “So you can put them in your pocket,” she said, watching the fox’s puzzled face. Her work done, she turned around, flashed him one last smile and then briskly walked away.

Tails arched an eyebrow as he watched the flower girl turn the corner at the end of the street. He then spun around and made his way through to an unobstructed boulevard that led to the train stations. ‘That was strange,’ he thought, his brows furrowing into a deep scowl. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever met her before… so why do I get the feeling that I know her?’ He stopped to peer up at a large, Gothic-styled analog clock. The time read 12:06 am. ‘According to the briefing, the train leaves in 7 minutes… better hustle.’ 

After jogging half of the block, he emerged onto a large, stone bridge. He spied the station entrance located at the other end. Tails slowed his pace back to a walk, but kept his sense alert. 

Suddenly, he heard a voice call out forcefully from behind him. “Hey! You there!” 

Tails halted just as he began to cross the bridge. He gnashed his teeth. “Perfect, just what I need…” he groused softly to himself. “Kintobor soldiers…” He waited until they got close to him and then turned around. 

Two MP’s with their rifles drawn out, approached the fox. The one on his left was a short and thin Human with wiry muscles. The second on his right was a large and heavy-set brown bear, its snout poking out of the mask that obscured the soldier’s eyes. 

The former SOLDIER threw them a bored look. “What?” he asked roughly.

“We’ve received reports that an individual with a distinct weapon was involved in the bombing attack,” the smaller soldier answered in a clipped tone. “Given that huge sword on your back, we’re going to have to ask that you disarm and come with us to answer some questions about your whereabouts in the last hour.” He and his partner raised their rifles at the warrior. “That wasn’t a request by the way.”

The fox rolled his eyes at them. “You guys sure are original,” he said dryly as he raised his hands up. “But honestly, I don’t really have the time for this.” Before the guard could blink, the warrior rushed up, drew his sword and cold-cocked the larger of the two in the muzzle with the flat of his blade before rounding on the Human. He threw a quick, horizontal slash that nicked the Human’s arm and forced him to drop his weapon. Tails used the momentum of his swing to execute a side kick to his opponent’s gut, knocking the wind out of him and sending him sprawling to the ground. 

The first guard Tails had stunned staggered up to his feet. He drew out a baton from his belt and loomed over the shorter Mobian. “You got lucky, punk,” he growled menacingly. “C’mon, let’s see what you’re made of!”

“Well, someone’s brave,” Tails retorted as he bobbed around the bear’s wild swings. “If I weren’t already pissed at the sight of that uniform, I’d almost feel sorry for you.” The fox blocked a two-handed overhead swing with the flat of his blade and then wrapped his tails around the ursine’s legs. Yanking hard, he sent the bear sprawling to the ground before plunging the sword into his breastbone. The soldier gurgled for a few moments as he choked on his own blood until he expired. 

Wrenching the blade free, Tails turned to the bear’s partner, who was gingerly picking himself up from the ground. He was soon flanked by three more guards who heard the ruckus a distance away. Two were hogs wearing the standard blue uniform, while the third soldier was a hare wearing thick, orange body armour and hefted a six-cylinder grenade launcher. “Surrender!” one of the hogs called out as he and his comrades pointed their arms at the fox.

“You idiots!” the wiry MP shouted out, his hand applying pressure to the wound on his arm. “He’s hostile! Fire on him!”

Their hesitation gave Tails the opportunity to charge and launch a Lightning spell. The Human rolled out of the way as the magic sailed and struck one of the hogs behind him. He was thrown back from the electrical attack, hit the ground and spasmed violently until he lay still. The fox placed the flat of his blade in front of his body to protect himself from incoming shots as he ran up to the other remaining soldiers. The telltale sound of a grenade canister being fired caused Tails to jump instinctively. The munition exploded behind him and the shockwave pushed the Ex-SOLDIER right into the path of the guards. He went into a shoulder roll, righted himself and stabbed the second hog in the stomach. Pulling his blade free, Tails turned to the grenadier and threw two slashes. The first scraped the hare’s armor horizontally, but the second diagonal slash severed his unprotected right leg. The hare’s howls were cut short when the fox lopped off his head as he toppled over. 

Tails craned his head towards a billboard on one of the rooftops. The digital display noted the time: 12:11 am. “Shit, I gotta go,” Tails swore under his breath. He sheathed his sword and broke into a run across the long stone bridge leading to the station.

Suddenly, the same MP he injured before reappeared with five more grunts alongside him, all with their guns drawn. Brows knitted in equal parts annoyance and exasperation, Tails increased his pace as rifle bullets whizzed past him. Amidst the sounds of gunfire, Tails could pick out the MP activating the radio on his shoulder. “Hostile heading for the station! Cut him off!” he heard him yell.

From the station side of the bridge, Tails spotted four more guards emerge to block his access to the entrance. Cursing, the warrior halted at the midpoint of the bridge and settled into a defensive stance. ‘Great, I’m surrounded… and the train’s leaving any minute now-’ 

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a whistle in the distance. This was followed by sudden vibrations on his feet. His eyes then darted away from the incoming grunts and towards the edge of the bridge as a train thundered underneath where he stood and travelled into the tunnels leading down to the Slums. Tails quirked his lips into a smile at the sight of the last car descending downwards. ‘I have to time it just right,’ he thought as he slowly backed up to the edge. He angled himself in a way that the digital clock on the billboard above him was in his direct line of sight. The time read 12:12 am.

The soldiers edged their way up and formed a half-circle to corner the warrior. They all pointed their rifles at him, save for the one Tails wounded earlier. “OK, that’s as far as you go!” the man said, a wide, toothy grin forming on his masked face.

Tails reluctantly sheathed his sword, rolled his shoulders and threw a cocky look at the soldier addressing him. “Didn’t I already say that I really don’t have time for you losers right now?” he asked in an offhand manner. “How ‘bout you all run home to your mommies and let me be on my way. It’s clear that you’re all way out of my league.” As he spoke, he eyed the time from his peripheral vision: 12:13 am. He then heard a train whistle go off in the distance. ‘Get ready…

The man’s face went beet red. “Fuck off! You’re gonna pay for what you’ve done to my partner!” he spat, his shoulders bunching up. His jaw was clenched tightly and a vein was popping out from his neck. “Screw the President’s orders: Kill him!”

The fox hopped onto the bridge railing just as the soldiers fired, their bullets riddling the stonework with holes. Tails then started running on the narrow ledge back towards the theater district. The soldiers continued firing, their shots trailing just behind the mercenary. As he ran across, he felt the vibrations beneath his feet grow stronger as the train approached. Tails jumped off just as the first few cars passed underneath him. He landed hard on his hands and knees and kept his head low to clear the tunnel going down to the Slums. His heart was pounding loudly against his chest as the train rattled along.

He smiled, thinking of the soldier he insulted. ‘I dunno about before when I met him on the bridge, but If I were a bettin’ fox, I’d say he’s extremely pissed off now. That made my day.’ As the train descended down the enormous main support pillar separating the upper and lower worlds, Tails started to make his way towards the freight cars at the back of the train. ‘I sure hope to the Goddess that I’m on the right train,’ he thought idly as he moved from car to car.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Escape



Tails

The Guard Scorpion stampeded across the platform and attempted to run down the Ex-SOLDIER and the TORNADO leader. Narrowly diving out of the way and tucking into a roll, Bark righted himself and unloaded a volley of bullets as he bellowed loudly at the mechaniloid. His shots pinged harmlessly off of the substantial armour covering the Scorpion’s vital components. The Roboguardian skidded to a halt and turned around before spreading its arms outwards to activate its head-mounted scope. The Search Scope – a wide, yellow beam projecting from the small device – swept the area in front of it. 

Bark ceased fire and started to hastily back away from the mech. The beam moved faster than he could and it soon tagged his foot. “Oh shit!” he cursed loudly as he stumbled backwards and landed on his rear.

“Target acquired,” a neutral, mechanical voice announced in monotone. The scope shut off and the Scorpion resumed its operation. Using the data captured from the various antennae on its head, the Guard Scorpion processed the information and executed its first subroutine. Raising its arms up and forward, it aimed its Vulcan cannons at the bear. Bark froze in place, his eyes glued on the high powered machine guns pointing right at him. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the bullets to fly, fully expecting his life to be over in that instant. 

Tails moved on instinct the moment the Scorpion raised its arms. He ran up to the bear, grabbed the back of his vest by the collar and leaped away from the mech just as it opened fire, the shots ricocheting off of the steel platform.

Landing on the floor ungraciously, Bark opened his eyes and turned his head to see the fox standing in front of him and preparing to cast a spell at the guardian. “Thanks,” the bear said, breathing heavily as he picked himself up off the floor.

“Don’t mention it,” the fox replied tersely as he shot his palms out and called “BOLT!”

The Lightning spell struck the Guard Scorpion dead-on, the electrical energy causing the machine to stumble as its directional systems were disrupted. Running up to it after launching the magic attack, Tails unsheathed his sword, leaped up and cut open the polymer shielding on its arm to expose its internal wiring inside. Landing next to the mech, he started to move away from the guardian as it righted itself, but was caught by the Search Scope.

“Target acquired,” the machine repeated. The Scorpion then bent forward and extended its prehensile tail, thrusting it several times at the Ex-SOLDIER. Tails weaved around each strike, but still ended up getting one of his namesakes nicked as the large, spike-ended extremity whizzed past. The barrage continued until the Guard Scorpion pulled back and moved away from the Mobian. It then opened its exhaust and intake ports, to which Tails surmised that it had issues with overheating. 

The fox used that opportunity to charge up another Lightning spell and aimed for the section he cut open. Firing it off, he witnessed the electrical attack enter the arm and travel throughout its body, causing substantial damage to the Roboguardian and disabling it once more. 

Just as he was about to charge another spell, Tails dropped to a knee as he suddenly felt exhausted. ‘Damnit, I must still not be at 100% yet,’ he thought angrily as he took several deep breaths. ‘Six spells in and I’m already feeling burnt out. Taking stock of his current situation, Tails guessed that he had three or four more casts before he would run out of magic. ‘That Lightning spell was effective, but not enough to take it down… I need access to something more vital…’ He skimmed his eyes over the robot as it finished discharging the electrical energy and rebooted its systems. His eyes finally landed on the cameras mounted beneath the bulletproof glass on its torso. “Bingo,” he muttered to himself, an idea beginning to form in his mind.

Bark rushed up to the downed Mobian, his arm raised and ready to provide covering fire against the Scorpion, which now stood erect as it finally discharged the electricity through a grounding circuit. “You alright?!” he hollered at the two-tailed fox behind him. 

The fox groaned as he rose up from the ground and settled back into a fighting stance. “Yeah,” he responded. “But we need to finish this fast. I’m nearly at my limit with magic.” He paused as the bot stomped forwards and extended its tail. Tails and Bark jumped away to avoid being impaled by the spike-tipped end.

“Limit?! Ain’t you some sorta big time SOLDIER?!” the bear hollered as he fired retaliatory shots at the Scorpion’s joint casings. “I ain’t paying for you to tell me this shit?!”

“No, you’re paying me to ensure that we win and get out of here alive,” Tails retorted, attacking from the Scorpion’s left side. Sensing that the swordsman was more of a threat, the Scorpion rotated its body to face the fox and shot point-blank at his direction before following up with a sweep from its tail. Tails dodged the shots and then flipped over the tail, but he wasn’t prepared for the mech to swipe at him with the back of its arm. The fox only just got his blade up in time to protect himself as the guardian’s appendage slammed into him, sending him flying in Bark’s direction. He bounced off the floor once, rolled and then landed into a crouch, his brows narrowed into a scowl and eyes flared with rage. “That was a lucky shot, you bastard,” he snarled, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “Definitely won’t happen again.”

Bark halted his assault and flanked Tails as he staggered upwards once more. “Listen up Bark!” the fox yelled out over the sounds of raining bullets. “Remember how we dealt with those Robians earlier? We’re gonna do the same thing!” Tails began preparing an Ice spell and palmed the magic orb in his left hand. “I’ll go in and bait it into raising its arms. Once it does, concentrate your fire on those camera lenses on its chest after I launch my Ice spell. Then, I’ll short-circuit the son of a bitch. That should finish it off.”

Bark ceased fire and looked at him skeptically. “Uh, you sure this is gonna work?” he asked, an eyebrow raised at the fox.

“Trust me, I did the math,” Tails countered hotly as he poured more Mana into the spell in his hand. “It’s gonna work.”

“Alright, if you say so…” the bear trailed off before glancing back to the Scorpion. “Oh shit! Heads up, it’s using that targeting scope-thingy again”

No sooner did he say so, the mech loomed in front of them and activated the scope on its head. Before the beam could even land on the two however, a grenade suddenly landed on the back of its head and bounced once before exploding. The shockwave took out the array of sensors mounted on its head, while damaging the targeting scope.

Half-blinded by the loss of its environmental instruments, the Scorpion diverted all of the remaining power in its head unit to the Search Scope in order to continue its assault. The destroyed sensors retained just enough information to allow the Scorpion to deduce the origin of the grenade; the walkway just above it. Hopping backward, its six legs crashing thunderously on the platform, it pointed its cameras upward and saw Jessie. The woman was crouched on the walkway above, her hand digging into her pack frantically to produce another grenade. Reacting, the Scorpion rushed towards and crashed into the wall, which caused the walkway above to shake violently. 

The Human stumbled backwards and got her foot caught in a grate. “Ungh, dammit! I’m stuck!” she called out as she attempted to wrench her leg free. She watched as the Scorpion stepped backwards and pointed the Vulcan cannons towards her. 

Tails reabsorbed the Ice spell as the mech aimed to kill the brunette and then hastily charged and fired off a Lightning spell. The Scorpion staggered, its legs stumbling about once more as the magic struck at it from behind. Recovering quickly, it turned around and barreled its way towards the two Mobians while swinging its tail wildly.

Bark and Tails leapt out of the way once more, but the erratic movements of the tail spike managed to slice the fox’s shoulder open as he rolled past the Scorpion. He swore, hissing in pain as his blood intermingled with the fur on his arm. “Listen Bark, we gotta do this hard and fast,” he called out to the bear across from him as he prepared another Ice spell, his teeth gritted from the creeping exhaustion he felt through his taxed body. “Wait for the signal and then go!”

The mechaniloid skidded to a halt, turned back around and activated the Search Scope once more. The polar bear circled around and kept his distance while Tails stayed put as the yellow beam landed on him. He held the orb of bluish-white magic once again in his left palm and waited for the right moment to strike. 

“Target acquired,” the mechanical voice spoke. It raised its arms and pointed its Vulcan cannons once more at the fox, whose eyes flashed at the sight of its exposed cameras. 

“Bark! Do it now!” Tails shouted, just before the Scorpion could attack. He pushed his arm out and called “ICE!” as he barely scraped through the resulting machine gun fire. The spell shot out and hit the glass casing around its eyes, causing it to cool rapidly.

The bear halted in place, aimed at the iced spot and then fired upon it, his eyes blazing with anger. The shots easily shattered the weakened glass, damaging the lenses and tearing a hole large enough to expose the delicate components beneath it.

Finally, Tails pushed himself to draw out Lightning energy once again. The strain of magical overuse present on his muzzle, he cast the spell. The Lightning beam travelled a direct path into the exposed area and straight through to its core systems. The magic damaged the unprotected electrical components inside them and caused a systems crash within the Scorpion. The large mechaniloid shuddered and then collapsed onto the platform, an undamaged lens on its chest dimming from bright green to black.

Breathlessly, the two fighters looked at each other for a brief moment before smiling and then bursting out in laughter; Bark throwing his head back both in elation and relief, while Tails let out a low and satisfied chuckle. Even Jessie weakly laughed as she continued to pry her foot out from the grate. 

Soon enough, the laughter subsided. Bark looked back at the fox and jerked his head towards the bomb. “Alright merc, turn this thing on and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said, grinning at the fox.

Tails sheathed his sword and made a beeline for the bomb. He suddenly paused in mid step though as his hearing picked up a peculiar sound coming from the Roboguardian they defeated. The servomotors within it were whirring into motion. The fox’s jaw tightened as he realized what was happening. “Shit,” he muttered to himself, before turning back to Bark. “Watch out! It’s not over yet!”

The polar bear opened his snout to speak but was interrupted by the reactivation of the Guard Scorpion. Running on an auxiliary RINGTEK-powered engine, it stood up shakily and its remaining eye was gleaming in the dimly lit space. It then tucked and locked its arms into its sides before raising its tail up above its head. The tip opened up in three sections and exposed a stout nozzle. The machine then started to shudder violently as it stood in place.

Bark raised a puzzled eyebrow at the odd behaviour of the Scorpion. “What the hell is it doing?” he asked the warrior, before shaking his head to clear his confusion and glared at the mech. “Ah screw what it’s doing! We got no time for this!” he yelled, lining his Gun-Arm up at the hole in the Scorpion’s chest. “Happy trails, you piece of shit!”

Tails watched the machine’s erratic movements with equal curiosity for a brief moment before suddenly making another realization. ‘That thing’s not acting strangely, it’s baiting us into thinking that it’s weakened!’ “Bark! No!” he called out, drawing his sword and running to the bear as fast as his legs could take him. “Don’t shoot! Attack while its tail’s up and it’s gonna counterattack with its laser!”

Tails’ words fell on deaf ears as Bark had already fired a volley at the components in its chest. As the bullets tore through the hole in its torso, the Guard Scorpion stilled itself momentarily before firing a focused, white-blue energy beam from the nozzle at the end of its tail. Sweeping the tail around the platform, the Scorpion’s energy ray made its way towards Bark, who stared helplessly at the approach of his demise for the second time.

The two-tailed fox roared loudly as he pushed his weary body and mind beyond its limits. A golden aura started to radiate from his body, with tiny bolts of silver electricity crackling and arcing all around him. In his frantic dash towards the bear, he dimly noticed that his tails had started to rotate. As they spun faster, his feet touched ground less and less until he was fully airborne, his two tails spinning rapidly like a pair of helicopter blades. 

Now moving faster than he would have on two feet, Tails flew towards Bark, grabbed him by the collar once again and threw him away from the Scorpion’s energy beam. The fox then twisted his body so that his spinning tails faced the ground. The movement caused him to launch upwards vertically until he was high above the mech.

At the apex of his flight, the fox stopped spinning his tails and briefly hovered in zero-G. He held his sword in a two-handed grip behind him and then plummeted towards the machine, his weapon blazing with ethereal gold and silver energy. Tails let out another mighty roar and brought the Buster Sword down on the machine vertically. The blade sliced through the Scorpion from its head to its six, clawed legs and the fox landed in a crouch just in front of it.

Rubbing his head as he got up after being tossed for the second time, Bark gaped as he watched Tails rise up and walk calmly towards him, his unnatural blue eyes burning brightly in the dim light. The Guard Scorpion stood frozen in place for a moment until both halves toppled away from each other and crashed into the platform loudly, the mechaniloid being cleanly cut through by the fox’s enormous weapon. The glow from the remaining camera eye on its chest fizzled out permanently and signaled its complete and total deactivation. 

Tails faced the robotic remains, pumped his left fist up, spun his sword twice and sheathed it, placing it on the magnetic disc on his back. He struck a pose as he did so. “Game over,” he said, a small, tired smile crossing his lips.

The polar bear looked at him with awe. “Holy shit, that was amazing! How’d you-“ he started before Tails lifted a hand to interrupt.

“Look, there’s no time,” the fox cut in, running over to the bomb placed on the reactor core. He pressed the green button near the LCD display and initiated the detonation sequence. The screen flashed once and then returned a timer. Ten minutes to detonation. 

Tails rounded back to the bear. “We have to get out of here, now!” he said.

Bark snapped out of his revelry and then met Tails’ insistent look with a grim expression of his own. “Yeah, but we got a problem,” he said, looking at the wall where the Roboguardian crashed into after Jessie blew up its head sensors. The dent it made in the wall had also completely destroyed their only way back up. “Didn’t notice this till now, but the ladder’s totaled. How the hell are we gonna get up now?”

 Tails eyed the display. Nine minutes and 45 seconds remained. Drawing his sword, he jogged up to Bark and stuck out his other arm. “Grab on and hold tight,” he commanded.

Raising an eyebrow, Bark clamped his hand tightly around the fox’s wrist. Tails then bent his knees and jumped, his Energen enhancements allowing him and the bear to launch high into the air. Spinning his namesakes at the top of his jump, the fox propelled himself and Bark over the catwalk where Jessie lay. Tails dropped the bear, landed and then helped Jessie free her foot from the grate.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, rubbing her ankle. She pulled out four Potion vials and handed them to the Mobians. “We have no time to wrap the wounds, but the Potions should help until we get out of here.”

Bark guzzled down both his restoratives while Tails poured one onto his shoulder and injured tail before downing the other. Once finished, they broke into a run with Jessie following closely behind.

The Human checked her wristwatch as they moved. “I’ve set my watch to synchronize with the bomb, looks like we have about eight minutes and thirty seconds left!” 

“And with the time we wasted fighting that ‘bot, I’ll bet that security forces had time to call in reinforcements. We’ll have to break through them.” Tails responded, reaching the next ladder going up. He motioned Bark to go first before stopping Jessie. “Do you have an Ether in that pack of yours? I’m gonna need one of them.” 

Jessie nodded and then pulled out another thin phial full of red liquid. Handing it to Tails, he broke the cap and swallowed the contents before following Jessie and Bark up the ladder. As he ascended, the fox felt a sudden rush of energy welling up inside him, signaling that the Mana reserves in his body were partially replenished. ‘Perfect,’ he thought, as his ears started picking up sounds from beyond the door leading out of the conversion chamber. ‘And not a moment too soon.’ “Security’s caught up to us! Prepare for an ambush!” He yelled out, drawing his sword as he stepped off the ladder.

As if on cue, three more Squirrel Robians dropped from above and landed on the catwalk leading out of the chamber. They were flanked by three MP’s, their rifles drawn and cocked. Tails leaped up and spun his tails as fast as he could, rocketing over the Robians before landing in front of the startled grunts. He threw three quick, consecutive slashes to the three MP’s, slaying them as he then turned his attention to the Squirrel Robians.

Bark rushed up to the closest bot like a berserker. Ducking and weaving around its swipes, he used his Gun-Arm as a melee weapon to bash in its skull several times to disorient it, before picking it up and flinging it over the walkway. Jessie, meanwhile pulled out her pistol and lined up a shot as the second Robian made its way to her, screeching savagely. Those cries ended however, when the woman placed a well-aimed bullet right through its glass-silicate eyes and into its positronic brain.

“Woo! Nice shot Jess!” Bark commented as Tails finished off the last Robian by cutting it in half horizontally and then impaling the sword into its head as its body landed on the ground. “That was a one in a million-”

“Keep your guard up!” Tails ordered, cutting the bear short. His heightened senses picked out the sounds of more claws skittering along the walls. He started to charge a Lightning spell. “We’re not out of this yet!”

As soon as he finished speaking, three more Robians suddenly appeared, each scaling the walls below the catwalk the two Mobians and Human stood on. The robots jumped off to face them. Without wasting any time, Tails launched the spell at the closest Robian, frying it and leaving a dead husk in its wake. He then stabbed the second one just as it touched the ground. Flinging its remains over the walkway, Tails then charged a quick Ice spell and fired it at the final Robian. The spell cooled the third Squirrel’s exterior enough for Bark and Jessie’s bullets to finish it off. Without pausing to rest, the three exited the chamber and into the refinery.

“Time!” Bark yelled to Jessie as they bolted to the staircases leading up to the elevator.

“Five minutes, fifteen seconds!” She answered.

We’re not gonna make it…’ The fox thought. ‘Unless…’ “Hold on, stop here,” he said to the two while drawing out his weapon. Both of them looked at the fox with puzzled curiosity. “Jessie, grab hold of the hilt, Bark take my hand,” he instructed “We’ll cut about two minutes if I fly us to the elevator. Now, quit gawking and grab on!”

Bark and Jessie hastily took their positions. Tails crouched, jumped up with his two charges in tow and then spun his namesakes. The fox gritted his teeth as he strained to fly them past the six flights of stairs leading to the lift.

As they traveled upwards, Jessie noticed that the refinery path was covered with grunts running towards the main pump chamber. Fearing that they would try to disarm the bomb, she dug into her pack and extracted her last grenade. Pulling the pin with her teeth, she dropped it towards the entrance leading into the reactor’s heart. 

Tails landed on the platform by the lift just as an explosion, followed by the sounds of agonized screaming echoed through the refinery. The three clambered into the elevator car and Jessie frantically pushed the ‘Up’ button in an attempt to get the car moving before the remaining soldiers caught wise to their whereabouts. The doors closed soon enough and the car ascended upwards, granting its occupants a much needed opportunity to catch their breath. 


Crouched behind a crate full of RINGTEK rings and armed with a rifle procured from an MP he incapacitated during his escape, Biggs trained the iron sights on the elevator leading down into the reactor, waiting and watching for his teammates to return. When he saw the lights indicating that the elevator was in motion, he put his finger on the trigger and took a long, deep breath to steady himself.

The lift stopped and the doors opened, revealing Bark, Tails and Jessie. Grinning, the man hopped out of his hiding spot, flashing a salute. “Yo, what took you guys so long?” he joked, wiggling his eyebrows up and down. Noticing the withering looks they were giving him, he relented. “Alright then, let’s go!”

The lift doors closed once more and descended back down to the refinement plant. “We better hurry,” Bark said, his brows furrowing as he cocked his weapon. “We’re about to have company. Jesse, how much time’s left?”

Jessie ran up to the control panel, opened the sheet of paper with the codes on it and plastered it against the wall so she could read it. She then checked her watch. “We got less than three minutes,” she said, hammering away at the controls to reopen the doors that shut when the alarms went off. It only took her a moment before she cracked the code and the first door opened. “I got this one! Biggs, help Tails and Bark while I get the second one,” she yelled as the elevator doors opened up, revealing a contingent of Kintobor MP’s who piled out and opened fire at the TORNADO operatives. 

Taking cover, Biggs and Bark traded shots with the soldiers while Tails covered Jessie while she worked, using the massive sword as a shield. He placed a hand on the Lightning Emerald and prepared another charge while he defended the brunette. Working furiously, Jessie entered the last few keystrokes and listened as the code registered and the door opened. “Guys! It’s open! Hurry! There’s only sixty seconds left!” she yelled.

Tails held the Lightning charge in his hand while Biggs and Bark backed away towards the entrance. As soon as they cleared the second door with Jessie, the mercenary launched the spell at the door panel leading to the elevator, shorting it out and closing the door on the soldiers before running out himself.

Wedge spotted his teammates emerge from the reactor. Waving to them, he opened the emergency exit to Sector 8 and stood by the door. Biggs led the pack, followed by Bark and Jessie running side by side and Tails bringing up the rear. As they reached the T-junction on the walkway and swerved to the right, Jessie lost her footing, stumbled and fell flat onto her face. Tails stopped by her side, helped her up and together they escaped just as the bomb detonated.

The CPU on the main bomb located in the conversion chamber executed a command at the 30 second mark, sending a signal up from the high powered transmitter, through the cleverly hidden signal boosters and up to the router that was already connected to the secondary explosive Biggs mounted in the RINGTEK Manufacturing Plant. Now synchronized, the bombs detonated in unison as the countdown hit zero.  The resulting blasts ignited the Energen and the RINGTEK, setting off a chain reaction which travelled upwards through the reactor and out of the top of the enormous exhaust stack, spewing out a ring of fire that illuminated the city and the night sky.


President Kintobor

“Sir, we have a situation!”

An administrative secretary shouted out loud as she breathlessly scrambled up the stairs to the 70th floor of Kintobor’s main headquarters, located in the centre of the city. At the top of her ascent, the woman adjusted her knee-length pencil skirt and glasses, both askew in her haste, before striding forward to the man standing next to the opulent desk at the far side of the circular room. He was looking out of the reinforced, floor to ceiling panoramic windows that arched upwards and met at the centre above, forming a dome. The design allowed anyone on the floor an unrestricted, 360 degree view of the entire city. 

From behind a pair of tinted, thick-lensed pince-nez, President Kintobor observed the damage wrought from the reactor explosion. He wore a snow-white coat over wizened shoulders and black slacks over polished, black shoes. His lips underneath a thick, bushy grey moustache tightened into a thin line, his long, hooked nose wrinkled and the hands behind his back balled into fists as he watched a secondary explosion erupt from the top of the reactor’s stack. “Yes, I can see it right now, Monica,” he said, his reedy voice laced with anger. “Have you any information about the perpetrators?”

Snapping to attention, Monica opened the leather-bound organizer she carried with her, cleared her throat and spoke. “At approximately 2300 hours at Sector 1 station, two soldiers were incapacitated after investigating the late train entering the station. According to their statements, the usual crowds they see on a daily basis at that time did not exit the cars; they were empty, save for two Humans, a woman and a man. One of the soldiers was able to radio for backup before being knocked out. Three MP’s responded to the call but were killed in action; two with severe laceration along their waistlines and the third charred black from a magic attack. We originally suspected that one of the assailants was armed with a sword and Emeralds to cause that kind of damage.” 

“Hmm… and how come we were not aware of their movements?” the elderly man asked as he stroked his moustache in thought. 

“It seems that after that initial assault, all of Reactor #1’s security systems had been hacked,” Monica reported, flipping through her handwritten notes. “Whoever broke into the security systems was very good at what they were doing,” she continued. “Disabled communications, the motion and thermal sensors, set the security cameras on a feedback loop and then further disrupted things to mask their presence.”

“Well, that is regrettable,” Kintobor commented acidly. “So, we have no way to identify who is responsible then?

The attendant cast her gaze towards the floor and tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear. “Um… Not exactly, Mr. President,” she said hesitantly. “The Chaotix have recovered – ”

“Oh, they’ve recovered something hm?” Kintobor interrupted derisively, his lip curled up into a sneer. “As good little lap dogs should. Now, if they put as much focus into bringing us our missing crown jewel as they do with all their assignments, then they’d be more deserving of a proper reward.” He scoffed and turned away from the carnage towards the secretary. “Well then, let’s see what have they ‘recovered’?”

She then produced a data stick from her organizer and handed it to the President. He took the stick, walked over to his desk and inserted it into his computer. Once loaded, he opened the single file that resided in the device. He then hunched over the desk and watched the recording, the light from the screen reflecting on his squat, bald and wrinkled head. Once the video finished playing, he looked back at the woman, his eyebrows scrunched together, his annoyance visible. “Is this all they got?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. President,” the woman replied.

President Kintobor straightened up, his back creaking from the movement. He stroked his moustache in thought for a moment and then picked up the phone beside him. He pressed the button marked ‘Security’ on the speed dial and only had to wait a moment before he received an answer. “Send additional troops to Sectors 1 and 8,” he said. “They are to look for anyone wearing a SOLDIER uniform and a large weapon on their back. Find him and bring him in alive, if possible.” 

He ended the call and then pressed a second button labeled ‘IT.’ “Is the new ID Security Scan software update ready for deployment?” he asked as soon as the call connected. “Good. Have it installed immediately on the upper plate checkpoints on the Magenta Line. I want them all operational before the first trains leave their stations in the morning.” 

Hanging up the phone, he then turned his attention to Monica. “Go to PR and tell them I want a press conference set up in the next 30 minutes,” he said. “Then, I want you to contact Kodos and have him brought here. I want an explanation as to why this happened on his watch.” He paused, turning back towards the firestorm that was Reactor #1. “Mention to him if he’s not here in the next 10 minutes, I’ll have him Roboticized and taken apart for the Weapons Development department to use.”

The secretary acknowledged her superior’s request and hurried off down the stairs to her task.

As his aide left, Kintobor picked up the receiver and pressed the button marked ‘Operations.’ “This is Kintobor,” he said on receiving an answer. “Go to each of the seven remaining reactors and install a secondary, silent alarm in the tamper-proof circuit. If the tamper-proof is disabled for any reason, get that circuit to relay a signal directly to me.” He paused, listening to the response before furrowing his brows and clenching his teeth in rage. “I don’t care how you do it, just do it!” he yelled at the unfortunate soul on the other line, spittle escaping from his mouth. “I want a solution by first light, or I’ll have you Roboticized! I don’t care if you’re Human! Now get it done!”

Slamming the receiver back on its cradle, the president stood up and ambled back to the window facing No.1, his body illuminated in the orange glow coming from the flames sprouting out of its remains. As he surveyed the carnage, his mind reeled back to a figure that stood out in the security footage he just reviewed.

A two-tailed fox with unnaturally glowing blue eyes.