Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 37

Chapter 37: The New President



Tails

“He-he’s dead…” Bark said haltingly, a bewildered chuckle escaping from his lips. “The President of Kintobor Inc is dead!?” He then erupted into a fit unbridled laughter. “I-I can’t friggin’ believe this!? What a stroke of irony!”

As the bear guffawed at his sworn enemy’s demise, Cream circled around the desk, her eyes latched onto the massive blade in the human’s back and a look of horror etched into her face. She inspected the blade closely and then shot Tails a wide-eyed look that made it seem like she saw a ghost. “Tails… this sword-”

“Yeah, it’s Nazo’s,” he finished, glowering at the offending weapon. Hatred coursed through his veins as he spat out the name and a fire started burning in his chest at the thought of the elite SOLDIER. “Only he could use a sword like that.”

Cream’s low voice snapped him out of his reprieve. “N-Nazo is alive?” she said shakily, backing away from the body. Tails again saw her right hand go to the back of her ear. ‘What is up with that?’ he questioned to himself, narrowing his eyes at her behaviour. ‘When this is all said and done, I should ask her-’

“Well, whoever did it, I’d like to buy him a drink!” Bark said loudly, breaking the fox’s thoughts, a triumphant and self-satisfied grin plastered on his snout. When he saw or heard no cheers of celebration, he eyed them all incredulously. “What the hell, guys? Don’t you know what this means?!” He spread his arms widely. “Kintobor’s toast! They’re done! It’s the end for them!!”

“N-N-N-Not q-q-q-quite…”

The group turned to the direction of the voice, their weapons drawn. Cowering from behind a decorative vase on the far side of the room stood Snively Kintobor, the head of the Space Exploration division and Gerald’s grandnephew. 

The diminutive, needle-nosed man stood out from behind the large vessel, his body trembling. His fearful and wide eyes travelled from the Mobians in front of him to the door leading outside to the large balcony. He suddenly made a break for the door, wailing pathetically as he ran. He only got halfway across when he was caught by Tails and Bark, both of them grabbing his arms and lifting him off the floor. He kicked and twisted in their tight grasp as they brought him back towards the desk. “P-p-p-please, don’t kill meee!” he squealed as the two pinned him against the desk. 

Tails levelled a harsh glare at him. “What happened,” he demanded coldly.

“Na-Nazo. He-he came. Nazo came,” Snively spluttered out as shaking intensified.

“Did you see him? Did you really see Nazo?” Tails pressed, his grip around the man’s arm tightening. He could feel his blood turn to ice in his veins. 

“Y-Yeah I saw him!” Snively replied incredulously, wincing under the SOLDIER’s grip. His eyes kept wavering between Tails’ sword and Bark’s Gun-Arm. “I saw him with my own eyes!”

“You really saw him? You’re absolutely sure?”

“Would I lie to you at a time like this!?” Snively shouted, his high and nasally voice shrill and hysterical. “And I even heard his voice too! He said something about not letting us have the Fertile Grounds.”

Cream had returned to the group, still shaken from the sight of the daunting blade in the former President’s back. “So what does that mean?” she asked Tails furtively. “Do the Fertile Grounds truly exist and that Nazo’s here to save it from Kintobor?”

“So… he’s like a good guy, then?” Bark inquired, his head turning to Tails and an eyebrow piqued.

Tails looked at the two, white hot fury coursing through him at the suggestions Bark and Cream put forth. “Save the Fertile Grounds? A good guy? No way!!” he denied vehemently, his mouth twisting into a snarl. “Nazo is anything BUT a good guy! I know him! He has a different agenda and it’s not a good one, that’s for-”

In a desperate act of self-preservation, Snively suddenly twisted his hand in the middle of the conversation and pulled, freeing himself from Bark’s grasp. Startled, Tails involuntarily loosened his grip, which allowed the small man to finally break away from his captors. He stepped several feet away from them and sucked in deep breaths as he glowered at the five Mobians, his brows furrowed and his teeth bared. “H-how dare you lay your filthy hands on me!” he screeched, spittle coming out of his mouth. “Do you not realize who you are all dealing with?!” 

Tails and the others looked at the little man, all of them completely nonplussed. ‘What is he going on about?’ the fox wondered, his eyes narrowing at Snively. ‘And when did he get so brave?

Seeing their befuddled looks only angered the little man more. He stamped his feet in a petulant manner and he looked as though steam was coming out of his ears. “You fools!” he sneered. “With my granduncle dead, I am now the President of Kintobor Power Incorporated! Me! Snively!” His sneer then turned into a twisted grin. “And as YOU all killed the previous President, I’ll make sure that you all are thrown into the deepest, darkest pit in all of Mobius for your heinous crime!!”

“… You and what army,” Bark deadpanned. He leveled his Gun-Arm at the human. “Cuz I don’t see anyone else here, do you guys?”

Snively paled as he watched them all shake their heads in response to the polar bear’s question.

The corners of Bark’s lips turned upwards. “I thought so,” he said, cocking his weapon at the trembling human. “Since we already ‘killed’ one President, there’s nothing wrong with offing a second.”

Before he could fire the trigger however, the sounds of a loud hover-engine blared out from the outside. The five Mobians turned around to see a Sky-Trans land on the massive overhang. In the confusion, Snively slipped away to the door leading outside. 

“Alas, you’re too slow!” he announced, chortling as he opened the door. The sounds of rushing wind echoed through the President’s office. “You should have killed me when you had the chance!” The door slammed behind him just as Bark fired a shot. It pinged loudly off of the metal surface.

Growling, the bear charged towards the balcony door. “C’mon you guys! We can’t let him get away!” he yelled. Tails and the others followed behind him.

Just as they clambered through the door and rounded the corner to the balcony proper, the five saw Snively disgracefully fall onto his backside, his hand cradling his left cheek. In front of him was another, taller man who leered down at him.

The man appeared to be a younger duplicate of Gerald Kintobor. He had the domed bald head, the long nose and wore the same type of mirrored pince-nez glasses as Gerald had. His mahogany moustache was even groomed in the same exact style as the dead President. The similarities to the two men ended there as the younger man wore an extravagant, high-collared crimson coat with white, textured trims going from the shoulders and down the sleeves to the golden yellow cuffs at each end. The coat had a set of four square golden buttons, two on each side of his chest, with a pair of white bands circling around its back. Down the centre of the coat was a wide silver zipper. The hem of the coat ended halfway up his round body and had four long flaps – two on the front and two on the back – that trailed towards his legs. The two flaps on the front had large silver buttons on the end. The man sported a charcoal bodysuit that hugged his rotund frame and wore jet black boots with silver circular plates on the ankles and square plates running up the length of his shins. 

“Ah fuckin’ hell,” Tails heard Bark swear loudly over the wind as the five skidded to a halt. He spat on the floor. “Ovi, I forgot about that bastard!”

“Who’s that?” Cream asked him.

“Vice President Ovi Kintobor. The President’s grandson,” was his answer. He cast a dark look at the human across from him “I heard he was sent away to deal with the aftermath of the war against Chun-Nan. Didn’t realize he was in town.”

“It so turns out that I was in the neighbourhood,” the man said, butting into the conversation. His gruff tone was light and conversational but Tails could pick up a sinister air in his voice that instinctively caused him to grab the hilt of his sword. 

“I was going to pay a short visit to my dear grandfather to let him know of our progress in the East,” the man explained, his hands moving as he spoke. “Imagine my surprise to find him dead at his desk, impaled by no other than Kintobor’s favourite war hero who was presumed dead for the last five years, Nazo.” He smirked and then turned his head towards the distance, a wistful expression on his face. “To be killed by the very weapon he created… there’s a delicious irony in that.”

His focus then turned to the rest of the group, an eyebrow piqued in genuine curiosity. “Now… who are all of you?” he questioned, folding his arms.

Tails stepped forward, his hand still on his sword’s hilt. He gripped it tightly and glared furiously at the man as he spoke. “I’m Tails, former SOLDIER, First Class!”

“Bark, the leader of TORNADO!” the bear followed, his good hand resting on his Gun-Arm.

“Cream! A bartender and member of TORNADO!” Cream said, her fists tightening beside her and brows furrowed.

“Cosmo. …A flower girl from the slums,” came Cosmo’s half-hearted response.

“Green XIII,” the golem said, scowling in disgust at the name “…A research specimen.”

The man clapped slowly, his lips twitching into a wry grin. “Hmm… What a crew,” he said. He then stroked his grand moustache. “Well, permit me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Ivo Robotnik, genius scientist and President of the newly-renamed Robotnik Corporation.”

Bark looked taken aback. “The hell are you talking about!? Aren’t you Ovi Kintobor!?” he shouted in disbelief. “And you’re only President because the old man died!”

“Oh, I discarded that old name ages ago,” Robotnik responded, waving his hand dismissively. “I never liked the family name; it speaks too much of antiquity, tradition and legacy. My legacy as a genius and now as President would be attributed to my family name and not my own merits.” He grinned malevolently, his stache stretching upwards as he did so. “And thus, I sought change so that I may bask in my own victories, released from the shackles of my family’s lineage. And by reversing my name, I seek to also reverse the fortunes of this company and steer it into a new and grand direction. And speaking of new directions…” 

Robotnik then aimed a kick at Snively’s stomach. He dropped to the ground, clutching his abdomen and cowering at the new President’s foot. “I didn’t appreciate you trying to claim my rightful position as head of this company, Snively,” he sneered. “But because you were so frightfully shocked at the sight of Grandfather’s death, I’ll let this transgression of yours pass.” He bent down, grabbed the lapels of Snively’s suit and raised him up so that he was level with his long nose and spoke through gritted teeth. “See that it does not happen again.”

“Y-Yes sir, of-of course, sir,” Snively stammered, his eyes looking everywhere but at Robotnik. 

Disgusted at his craven behaviour, the new President dropped him unceremoniously to the ground. The little man scampered away and into the SkyTrans. Robotnik faced the group once more. “Now, where was I,” he said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. He suddenly snapped his fingers and grinned. “Ah yes! I was workshopping my appointment speech.”

“He likes to make speeches,” Cream muttered to Tails under her breath as Robotnik cleared his throat. “Like grandfather, like grandson I guess?”

“…Grandfather tried to subjugate the world in two ways: spending money on the people and subtle discrimination against Mobians,” Robotnik began. “It’s no secret that after an undisclosed incident, his dislike for your kind had skyrocketed to the point where he would love nothing more than to either roboticize or induce mass genocide to them all. However, he couldn’t do that.” He walked up to Cosmo as he spoke. “Unlike him, the populace generally accepts and tolerates Mobians and the last thing he needed was any sort of backlash that would start a revolt, so he went subtle: higher taxes, lower wages, steeper penalties, the quiet roboticizations and the plate being out of reach for many, to name a few examples. But even then, those little things can spark a rebellion. Which led to you all.” 

He then meandered over to Cream, who glared defiantly back at him. “With the rest of the human population and even some of those privileged Mobians, Grandfather turned to money. It seemed to be working. The people thought that Kintobor would protect them.” He smirked at this, one part of his moustache rising upwards. “Work at Kintobor, get your pay. If a terrorist attacks, the Kintobor army will protect you. It was a very nice and convenient system.”

Robotnik made his way back to the SkyTrans. He turned to face the Mobians, his nostrils flared and brows lowered. “But I? I do things differently,” he said, his tone becoming ominous. “I’ve no major compunctions against Mobians and I couldn’t care less about my fellow humans the same way my Grandfather did. Instead, I’ll control the world with fear.”

Tails felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as Robotnik elaborated. “You see, fear doesn’t discriminate between man or beast. Fear can control the minds of both common people and Mobians and lead them to live peaceful lives, guided by my hand. Fear can quash dissent and quell even the smallest embers of revolution. Their fear of me and the rebranded Robotnik Corporation will preserve peace and stability throughout this world and save this company both money and time. There are no reasons to waste either of those on the community at large, when they can be channeled towards accomplishing bigger things instead. Things like attaining the Fertile Grounds, for instance.”

His eyes leveled towards Cosmo, who took a step backwards, her eyes wide with fright. Her hand shakily went to her lips. 

Tails stepped forward, finally having enough of the man’s declarations. He drew his sword and his lips curled into a snarl. “Bark, you and the others get Cosmo out of here,” he growled, his eyes blazing with fury.

“W-what?” Bark spluttered at him, taken aback by the fox’s sudden behavioural shift.

“I’ll explain later!” Tails yelled, glancing back to the bear for a split second before going back to Robotnik. “If you’re so gung-ho about saving Mobius, you’ll know that this guy here represents the real crisis for the world!”

Bark faced Tails with the look of complete and utter bewilderment crossing his snout. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” he shouted back angrily.

Tails twisted to look the bear in the eye while keeping his senses honed in case Robotnik tried to make a move. Despite the doctor’s flippant tone and attitude, the fox knew deep down that he wasn’t above pulling any dirty tricks. “Look, Bark, you have to trust me,” he said levelly. “Take my word for it. Go, get outta here. I’ll join you guys after I deal with him.” He faced the human once more, his weapon at the ready.

The doctor watched the exchange, the menacing grin on his face stretching his moustache upwards. “‘Deal with me?’ Oho-ho-ho-ho!” he laughed, throwing his head back. “This ought to be interesting…”

With the Mobian and the Human facing off against each other, Bark and the others retreated and ran for the door leading into Gerald’s office. “Go kick his ass, Tails,” the bear said, shutting the door behind him.

The two stood alone on the grand balcony overlooking the brightly lit city, each sizing the other up. Robotnik quirked his lips into a sardonic smile at the fox. “Why are you so intent on fighting me?” he asked.

“Because you seek the Fertile Grounds and Nazo,” Tails answered, maintaining his guard while pointing a finger at him threateningly.

The human sniffed. “How perceptive,” he said mockingly, his hands on hips and lips curled into a contemptuous smile. “Next, you’ll tell me that Nazo is an Ancient, which I already knew about. What other nuggets of information do you wish to share that I don’t already know?”

Tails’ ire at the rotund man grew the more he spoke. “…It doesn’t matter,” he said darkly. His leg muscles tensed as he readied himself to strike him down. “I won’t let you or Nazo have the Fertile Grounds!” He then sprang forward, his weapon behind his head and ready to cleave him in two. 

As his blade came down on Robotnik’s head, it was stopped by a silvery, translucent barrier that formed around the human. Tails looked on in shock at Robotnik’s smirking face. “Well, I guess this means we won’t become friends,” he jeered. 

Tails jumped back and created space between himself and the President just as another figure emerged from the shadows of the SkyTrans’ interior. It was a sleek, egg-shaped robot standing on a pair of spindly inverted legs with multiple points of articulation. Connected to the back of each leg was a medium sized black wheel. It had two cannons, one equipped onto each of its long arms. Its oblong shaped torso had a wide, white vertical stripe down its middle and a round searchlight on the left side of its chest. A shield-like plate and a pair of engine mufflers – all silver coloured – were attached to its pelvic area. The mufflers spewed yellow-grey smoke from its ends, away from the robot itself. Its head was as small and dome-like as its master’s, with a yellow shade covering over glowing green eyes. It’s body was painted jet black with silver accents around the joints and parts of the casings around its armoured limbs. Painted on the front of its body were the numbers ‘101’. A Green Emerald was nestled into a slot just below its number. It stood beside its master, its cannons pointed at Tails.

“Allow me to introduce the first of a new evolution in elite, mechanical soldiers: E-101 Beta,” Robotnik said. “Do you remember when you fought my grandfather’s poorly designed E-100 unit in Reactor No. 5? What you see before you is my complete and total overhaul of his shoddy work! Beta and his siblings are the first of their kind: sleek, efficient killing machines that can equip and utilize Emeralds in the same way we use them! It’s quite the marvel isn’t it?”

“…How is it using Emeralds?” Tails questioned, scrutinizing the robot. He had to wrap his mind around the concept of an inorganic machine being capable of using magic.

“That’s a trade secret,” the man answered coyly, shrugging. He crossed his arms and leaned towards the fox, inspecting him with a raised eyebrow. “You know, I did my homework on you.” He smirked once again. “You disrupted security systems and bypassed critical networks to cover your tracks, your knowledge in machinery is well above average and you also have something of a tactical mind for battle. Very impressive for a former member of SOLDIER.”

As Robotnik spoke, Tails covertly charged a Lightning-All spell from his armor. ‘That’s right, keep talking,’ he thought, sliding a hand behind his back and shaping the magic with his Mana. Two points of light formed on the ends of his fingers. ‘These’ll be the last words you ever speak!’ He then pushed out his hand and called, “BOLT!”

The points of lightning shot out and zigzagged towards Robotnik and Beta. The first struck the machine dead-on and showered it with electrical energy, but the second hit a rainbow-coloured barrier that surrounded Robotnik. The energy spread across the shield before dissipating into the air. 

“Mwahahaha!” Robotnik cackled, a wide and toothy grin spreading out on his lips. “Ah, you are a crafty one, aren’t you? But as you can see, it’s no use! These physical and magical barriers that Beta erected can protect me from just about anything!” He turned towards his machine. “And with a potent insulating material under his exoskeleton, along with an overcurrent protection device, Beta can withstand a great deal of electricity. All part of my genius!” He stared smugly at the bewildered fox. “Now, Beta, attack!” he ordered, gesturing a hand towards the fox.

“INITIATING COMBAT MODE,” Beta said in a deep, male-sounding monotone voice. It pointed its twin cannons and fired on Tails. The fox reacted quickly, strafing around the rapid gunfire and making a beeline to the wall on his right as the machine gave chase.

As he ran, he drew more Lightning energy from the Emerald on his weapon. He stepped up the wall, kicked off, twisted in midair and thrust his palm out, calling “BOLT” The beam of Lightning magic shot out and hit Beta between the eyes, knocking it backwards and showering it again with electricity.

Tails landed and charged forward to slice Beta. Suddenly from his right side, a shot rang out and the fox could feel a bullet slam into his unprotected shoulder. Screaming out in pain, Tails stumbled and dropped his sword, giving Beta the opportunity to recover. The robot rose up and landed a powerful blow to the fox’s face with one of its heavy cannon arms. He sailed backwards, landed onto the ground and then slid to a halt. Tails coughed as he rose to a kneeling position. His eyes travelled past the robot towards Robotnik, who shouldered a collapsible rifle. 

The doctor grinned malevolently, clearly enjoying himself. “I suppose in another life, I would have been content to sit back idly and let my machines fight for me,” he commented lightly. “Personally though, it’s much more fun to be involved, don’t you think?” He cocked the gun and took aim. “And now, this short, but entertaining game is over.”

“Yeah,” Tails admitted through clenched teeth. Small silver bolts of lightning arced around his body and his fur began to give off a golden hue as he started to stand up. His injured right arm dangled limply and blood dribbled out of the bullet wound in his shoulder and down the limb. “The game IS over… for you!” Standing upright, he stood erect and revealed a large, shining yellow charge of Lightning energy that he concealed in his left hand. “Let’s see if that shield of yours can handle a focused burst like this!” As he continued to pour a dangerous amount of Mana into it, he saw Robotnik’s face grow pale as he squeezed the trigger. 

In a split second, Tails twisted his body to the side as the rifle shot rang out. The bullet zipped past his cheek and took out a tuft of white fur on his muzzle. The Ex-SOLDIER righted himself, pointed his hand directly at Robotnik and called “BOLT!” The massive charge burst from his hand and hurtled towards the doctor, who looked on dumbstruck. 

At the last second, Beta stepped between its master and the spell, crossed its arms and took the entirety of it. The intensity of the magic overloaded the electrical protections within its body and caused an explosion that resulted in both of Beta’s arms being blown off from its body. The barriers around Robotnik faded and he received a deep, long gash on his right arm from the shrapnel. He stumbled away to the side and placed a hand on the bleeding wound to stem it.

The golden hue now concentrating on his namesakes, Tails burst through the smoke of the explosion toward Beta, pivoted and whipped his tails around with such speed that it cut the very air between himself and Beta’s body. The supersonic swipe created a shockwave that sliced through the robot’s thick armor and its internal mechanisms. The top half of the body slid off and crashed into the floor with a loud clunk. 

His determined eyes turning towards Robotnik, Tails dropped to a knee as he strained out every remaining drop of his Mana to charge a final Lightning spell at point-blank range. He raised his hand towards the human. “Without… your guard dog, you won’t be able to… avoid getting fried!” he spat out, teeth bared in anger.

Next to Tails, the robot’s flat head slowly rotated towards Robotnik. The human looked back at it impassively. “Hmph,” the doctor sniffed. “I had such high hopes for you Beta. You should have shot the creature while it was still down, but instead, you just watched on. I’m disappointed. I should have enlisted your brother, Gamma, instead.” With his left hand, Robotnik aimed his rifle and shot Beta directly in the head. The robot’s green eyes dimmed and it ceased movement.

Tails watched the exchange with baited breath. ‘Can’t… hold it… much longer…’ he stressed as the charge flickered and then suddenly died in his hand. Gasping for air, he glared defiantly at the human and waited for him to finish him off. 

To his eternal surprise, Robotnik stepped backwards towards the SkyTrans and holstered his rifle. “Heh… I think that’s all for today,” he said, a smug smile crossing his lips, despite the blood dripping down his arm. He turned around and walked towards the SkyTrans. Midway, he looked over his shoulder to Tails. “Oh, I do hope your friends aren’t taking the elevator,” he said, a sadistic grin stretching his face. “If they are… well, they’re in for a nasty surprise!” With a wave and a cackle, he boarded the vessel. “Adieu, until we meet again, my friend!” Robotnik shouted over the wind as the SkyTrans soared off, leaving an utterly surprised and furious Tails on the balcony.


Mobius VII – Book 1: Escape From The City – Chapter 36

Chapter 36: Trail of Blood



Tails

Tails jolted awake, the cruel laughter he heard while in the Void still ringing in his ears. Shaking himself awake, he stood up from the floor and stretched his whole body to loosen up. It wasn’t until he arched his head towards the door that he noticed that it was ajar. 

“What the?” he exclaimed softly, doing a double take. “The door’s open… when did this happen?’ He poked his head out and peered at his surroundings. ‘No guards… but there’s a smell in the air… Blood?’ He turned quickly towards Cream. To his relief, she still lay on the cot asleep, her breathing light and rhythmic.

The fox then cautiously crept out of the cell and followed the scent of blood. It led him towards the door leading out of the security hold on the 67th floor. Rounding the corner, he came upon the grisly sight of the dead security guard laying on his back. His entrails were spilling out from a large gash crossing from one side of his abdomen to the other. Tails retched at the sight and smell of the body; it appeared that he was dead for less than an hour. He looked around and saw several slash marks gouged into the walls. Mingling with the guard’s blood on the floor was some blackened and rotted-looking organic matter that Tails couldn’t identify. “What the hell happened here?” he muttered out loud. Bending down and holding his breath, he searched the remains until he found the keys to the prison cells. He kept his wits about him as he returned to Cream.

“Cream, hey Cream!” Tails called, rousing her. “Wake up!”

The rabbit sat up, fully alert. “What is it?” she asked, her eyes turning to the open door. “And how’d you get the door open?”

“It wasn’t me,” Tails denied, shaking his head. “Though I wish I could say it was.” He jerked his thumb towards the door. “The guard outside’s dead, but whoever murdered him overdid it. There are gouge marks all over the walls and there was even some sort of biological matter on the floor mixed in with the guard’s blood. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was, pardon the pun.”

Cream threw him a rueful smile. “Attempts at humor aside, we should get the others out,” she said.

Tails handed her a set of keys. “Go get Cosmo, I’ll go help Bark and Green XIII,” he said. 

They both left their cell, Cream heading to the left and Tails to the right. The fox opened the door to the cell and saw Bark flat on his back snoring loudly, while Green XIII sat against the wall, his head hung to his chest and lolling to and fro in a state of fitful sleep. Amidst the bear’s wheezing, Tails could hear the golem murmur the word ‘Grandfather’ to himself in his sleep. 

“Hey, get up!” Tails called loudly. 

Bark spluttered awake while Green XIII’s head jerked upwards. Both of them glared sourly at the fox until Bark eyes widened. “Woah, wait, hold up!” he spluttered. “How’d you get in the door?!”

“Look, there’s no time to explain,” the fox replied, lowering his eyebrows into a glare. He started tapping his foot impatiently. “Just come with me. Something’s wrong.” He did an about-face and headed out of the cell door, leaving the bear and golem bewildered. They soon regained their senses and started following behind him. 

Making his way back to the dead guard, Tails forced down the uneasy feeling that was rising up to his throat. ‘Is this related to what I saw in the Void?’ he questioned. Cosmo and Cream soon joined the three men. The group looked on at the macabre scene in front of them. 

“B-By the Goddess,” the flower girl said, her hands leaping to her mouth and her eyes wide like saucers.

“What. The. Fuck,” Bark exclaimed, his jaw dropping. “That… That is gruesome, yo.”

“There’s no way that a single Human or a Mobian could have done this,” Green XIII commented, peering over the bear’s shoulder. He appeared to be unbothered by the scene. “My guess is that another one of Nagus’ experiments has escaped. Frankly, I’m not surprised; this has happened quite often in the month or so I’ve been here.”

“…Then why didn’t whatever attacked this guard come after us?” Cream asked, her head tilted to the side. She looked away from the eviscerated corpse and towards her childhood friend. “More importantly; why did it open our cell door?” 

Tails put a hand under his chin and stroked it. “That’s a good point,” he said, arching an eyebrow at the rabbit. Her questions only intensified his apprehension at the situation, but he forced himself to maintain a measure of calm. “It doesn’t make sense…” His eyes then went to the decaying matter on the floor. “In addition, there’s this stuff on the ground.” He pointed to the putrid mass of matter on the floor near the dead body and then arched his head towards the golem. “You’ve seen this before, Green?” he asked him.

“…It does look familiar,” the golem rasped, tilting his stone-encased head to observe the matter. “But… there’s no way that it could be…” Trailing off, Green XIII stepped over the corpse and opened the door out of the holding cells. He peered down the dimly lit hallway before his eyes settled on the blackish-looking blood on the ground. “…It looks like there’s a trail of it leading away from here,” he commented back to the group. “Let us regain our armaments and then follow it, see where it leads.”

“Lead on then, Green,” Tails instructed. As the golem headed forward, he turned to the women. “You two stay close to me. Bark, can you hold the rear?”

The bear recovered the dead guard’s spare ammunition clips and inserted them into his weapon. He grinned, bearing his sharp teeth at the fox. “You can count on me,” he said confidently. 

“Right then,” Cream said, turning to the fox. “Let’s go Tails.”


Cosmo

There was a heaviness in the air as Cosmo, Cream, Tails and Bark followed Green XIII through the dimly lit 67th floor. While the silence before was oppressive, it now felt stifling and made the hairs and fur on each Mobian’s back stand on end. The group made a quick pit stop to retrieve their belongings and then continued to follow the bloodstained path towards the specimen containment area that spanned half of the floor. Despite there being nobody around, the five had their weapons drawn out as though they expected something to jump out at them.

As they turned the corner into the containment area, they saw more human and Mobian bodies lying in heaps, all suffering fatal and messy wounds. One dead owl in particular was sprawled against the tank Green XIII was in. He had a gaping and bloody hole through his chest, his beak was contorted into a frozen expression of horror and his vacant and glazed stare was focused on the now destroyed containment tank that once held Blakdüm. 

The door looked to be torn open from the inside. A slick pool of blood and black, decaying matter stood outside the tank. Severed body parts were strewn around the floor near it and the stench of death was cloying. 

Cosmo covered her mouth with her jacket to avoid the smell. The more the flower girl saw, the more she had to fight against the overwhelming urge to turn around and run away from it all. She shrunk away from the mess of life fluids dripping off of the twisted metal and her hands were white from holding her staff in a bone-crushing grip.

Green XIII stepped forward and inspected the holding tank, his stony face stark and impassive. Cosmo couldn’t tell if he was alarmed at the sight or not. “…Most interesting,” he commented to the group, his words slow and meticulous. “It seems that the blood originates here. The trail then travels to our cells, returns to this point and then finally goes towards the lift in the back.”

“So, again, WHY did it come to our cells?” Bark asked, tugging on his cap. “And why didn’t it enter? I mean, it’s weird?” Cosmo noticed that his hand was trembling. Whether it was from fright or from adrenaline, she wasn’t sure. 

“… Well, there’s no point in trying to figure this out now,” Tails said after a pause. He turned towards the blood leading to the lift, his brows lowered. “Let’s keep following-“

“I heard something,” Cosmo said in a tiny voice she knew full well that he would have heard. “Maybe… Maybe a few minutes before you left your cell, Tails… I’m-I’m not sure.” 

The fox stopped mid-step and turned around to face her. Soon three more pairs of eyes were on her. Cosmo wanted nothing more at that moment than to wilt away and dismiss her musings as nonsense. Instead, she continued to speak.

“I… I woke up because of the guard,” she said. She felt her hair blossoms tremble as she recalled the guard’s gurgles and death rattle as he died on the other side of the wall across from her bed. “He sounded like he was trying to scream… but he couldn’t. A-After he fell silent, I started hearing footsteps. They were… slow and sounded heavy – like-like boots, y’know?” She turned her head away from the group and towards Green’s old containment tank. “I-it passed my cell and then I suddenly… heard a door swish open. Then I heard the footsteps again and then… I think it stopped by my door.” She felt her stomach churn as she continued. “I… I felt this… this pressure,” She let out a shaky breath and shook her head. “I-I can’t explain it, it was just… a terrifying and overwhelming power. Like something that’s not of this world… And then it laughed.” Her eyes met Tails’ own as she said this. “It was low… but it was cruel, cold and… murderous.” 

Cream reached out and took the flower girl’s hand, her brows creased and concern flooding her face. Cosmo squeezed back and smiled ruefully at her, grateful for the wordless gesture.

Bark took off his cap and scratched his head. “So… what does this all mean, Tails?” he asked Tails, giving him a sidelong glance. 

“…I dunno?” the warrior replied. Cosmo, however, could see that his fur was standing on end and his pupils were dilated – as though he had an idea what was happening. “But… like I said before, there’s no point in trying to figure this all out right now. Let’s keep going.” He turned around and stalked off towards the elevator. 

The polar bear cast a skeptical look at the fox’s back. “‘No point in trying to figure this out’ my ass,” he muttered, replacing the cap and adjusting the fit. He turned to the others. “C’mon, let’s go.” 

The five Mobians piled into the lift at the back of the room. As they passed the halfway point to the next floor, they heard a muffled cacophony of violent shrieks, followed by the sounds of men yelling. “Keep your guard up,” Tails said quietly as the lift stopped and the doors opened to the 68th floor. They clambered out quietly and drew out their weapons.

Unlike before, the lighting in the theater was dimmed. The fixtures above them were damaged as a result of an ongoing battle between assailants that Cosmo couldn’t see. She could, however, hear that the battles were on the other side of the floor, well away from their location. The horrible sounds of flesh being severed and the screams from Nagus’ twisted experiments made the flower girl’s skin crawl. She hunkered down with her companions under the shadows of the control room above, one hand gripping her staff, the other hovering over the Fire Emerald in the weapon’s slot. 

“Sounds like SOLDIER’s fighting ahead of us… Green, can you see the trail?” she heard the Ex-SOLDIER whisper ahead of her.

“Mmm… Yes, I do see it,” the golem responded, his rasp coming through as a hiss. “There are multiple trails, all of them the colour of blood save for one that is black and rotted. That one-” he pointed to a trail leading away from the fighting. “-Leads out of the lab and towards the stairwell we took to get back to the 66th.” 

“OK then, let’s avoid getting tied up with SOLDIER and get-” Cosmo heard Tails pause for a moment before he raised his voice. “Out of the way!!”

Tails’ warning came just as a large figure dashed clumsily towards them, a large, clawed hand raised. The group spread itself out as the monster slashed at nothing. It soundlessly rose up and Cosmo let out an audible gasp. “Isn’t that the monster from before?!” she cried, her eyes widening.

Standing underneath a flickering light was the body of Subject 512. Its head was still severed and lolling to the side, connected only by a thin strand of muscle. The mouth on its shoulder was shut and downturned, creating a garish looking frown. It rose up and shuffled forward in a hunched position, its only working arm swinging wildly. 

“HOLY SHIT!” Bark yelled, pointing his shaking Gun-Arm at the creature. “It-It’s alive?!”

“No,” Tails replied coolly, retaining his calm composure, his sword out in front of him. “It’s definitely dead. My guess is that its body had been reanimated somehow…”

As the fox spoke, the sounds of something being suckled out echoed amidst the fighting on the other side of the floor. Suddenly, the eyes belonging to a pair of smaller, pale-looking creatures peeked out from 512’s back. To their collective horror, the five Mobians watched as the thin, snake-like monsters detached from the felled experiment’s back with a squelch and retracted a set of long, spike-like prehensile tails from its exposed spinal cord. 512 froze in place and then fell forwards to the ground with a loud crash. The monsters then slithered off of the corpse onto the laboratory floor and finally faced the group. 

Under the dim, flickering lights, Cosmo shivered at the sight of the grotesque and writhing things in front of her. At roughly a foot shorter than her own height, the pale, flesh coloured creatures stood upright on thin, coiled spike-like tails and had tube-like bodies that flared out towards their heads. A pair of stunted, purple tentacles erupted out of the tops of their heads in a Y-shaped pattern. They each had two pairs of thin and spindly arms that jutted out halfway up their bodies. On its head section were three pairs of angry unblinking red eyes. In its centre, from the top pair of eyes to just below the second pair of arms, were a line of circular mouths for which rasping, sucking sounds came out of each orifice. Each mouth was lined with a set of sharp, pointed teeth and dribbled purplish-red blood. 

Tails made the first move. He rushed forward and slashed diagonally at the first flesh-colored mutant, who twisted at an awkward angle to avoid the cut. Circling behind him, the second mutant bent forward and thrust the tip of its tail at the fox, striking the top of his arm. Tails gritted his teeth as the needle-like barb penetrated his skin before he wrenched his arm away.  

A low and sickly growl caused Cosmo and Cream to look behind them. They came face to face with an emaciated four-legged creature. It had yellowed eyes and its animal-like snout was gaunt and skeletal. Its nostrils were long and wide and its mouth was wide open, revealing a set of mismatched pointed fangs. It had cropped medium length hair that was a bright, blood red and a discoloured, bluish-white patch on its forehead. Its rail-thin, dirt-coloured body was covered in long, sharp-looking spines. Its front paws weren’t paws at all, but two fanged mouths that snapped as it slinked forward. The rear paws contained eight clawed toes that jutted out in a circular pattern. Its tail stood upright threateningly, revealing the three spiked barbs at the end. It was hunched down, as though it was about to pounce.

It suddenly loped forward towards the two women and jumped at them, the mouths on its front paws opened wide. At the last second, Green XIII intercepted its attack by grabbing both paws in his hand. Grunting, the golem wrestled the beast away from the women, all while the mouths on the end of its forearms snapped repeatedly in his face. As it struggled in the crystal golem’s arresting grip, the patch on the monster’s head started to shine with a dull light. It brought its face up to Green XIII’s chest, opened its mouth and launched a fiery shell into it. It exploded on contact and the impact sent the golem flying. Screaming out in pain, he collided with Bark – whose attention was on the other two mutants Tails was facing – and the two Mobians were sent sprawling across the floor towards where the destroyed supercomputers for the Roboticizer lay.

Realizing that she had little time to lose, Cosmo quick-charged a Fire spell from her weapon and launched it before the monster could regain its bearings. It hit its mark, sending its body ablaze.

“So, that thing’s called a Zenene!” Cream said beside her. Cosmo glanced at her and saw that her irises flashed a bright blue. Her finger was on the Sense Emerald affixed to her armor. “Be careful, it absorbs Poison and Fire isn’t very effective on it!”  

True to her word, the Zenene dropped and rolled on the floor to put out the flames. Cream released her hold on the yellow gem, dashed forward and then clocked the beast in its face as it rose up. She then followed up with a side kick which sent it stumbling backwards. 

Regaining its footing, the creature sprang forward, its forearms outstretched and jaws gaping. However, the fighter anticipated the lunge and dropped into a low crouch. The Zenene sailed over her, but one of the spikes on its tail managed to graze her cheek. Turning around, the Zenene belched out a smoke-coloured gas from its mouth. The mist, combined with the low lighting, obscured the monster. Cream kept her guard up, her sharp eyes roving around and searching for any signs of movement.

As Cream fought, Cosmo drew blue energy from the Ice Emerald she had equipped onto her Four Slot bangle. Her staff floating in front of her at waist level, she brought the energy between her palms and charged it with Mana. She watched the fight and waited for the right moment to cast it.

From the corner of her eye, Cream saw the flower girl prepare her spell. However, that split second switch in focus gave the Zenene the opportunity it was looking for. It bounded forward from its smokescreen into Cream’s blindspot and thrusted a jawed hand into her side. The fangs clamped down and tore a chunk out of the fighter’s left oblique. Cream screeched painfully and threw a kick in retaliation before backing away. She hissed as she pressed a hand against the torn flesh to stem the bleeding.

Cosmo looked on, horrified, but maintained her spell charge while keeping her eyes locked onto the monster. From her peripheral vision, she saw Green XIII rise up in the distance. The golem started lumbering towards Cream and Cosmo, his loud steps briefly catching the Zenene’s attention. ‘Now!’ she thought, pushing the spell out of her hands and calling “ICE!”

The magic raced towards the mutant and struck it unawares, causing it’s joints to stiffen up. Capitalizing on the opportunity, Green XIII joined his fists together as he changed direction and bounded towards the Zenene, brought them up and then, with a roar, slammed the mutant’s head with a hammer blow. The force of the attack shattered its skull, killing it instantly. 

Not waiting to see if the golem finished off the mutant, Cosmo ran up to Cream, her hand now extracting green healing energy from her Restore Emerald. Reaching the fighter, she placed her hand a few inches over the gushing wound and called “CURE!” The magic traveled out of her hand and seeped into Cream’s wound. 

The rabbit watched amazed as the Restore magic halted the bleeding, mended the patch of skin that was ripped out and finally caused fresh cream-coloured fur to sprout out and cover the scar tissue. She threw a grateful look at Cosmo, before it was replaced by one of panicked alarm. “Look out!!” she cried.

Cosmo looked behind, only to be struck face first by a floating, metallic pod. The flower girl skidded and rolled along the floor until she came to a halt by the holding tank. Her face felt like it was on fire and tears formed on the corners of her eyes as she slowly picked herself up from the ground. Getting into a kneeling position, she first prodded her cheek gently to see if anything was broken. ‘OK, good, it’s only swollen…’ she surmised, wincing in pain. She then turned her attention back to Cream. Her eyes went as wide as saucers and she let out a gasp.

Cream’s body was once again enveloped in a golden aura and her normally gentle face was now contorted in a dark scowl. “You’ll pay for that!!” she yelled savagely as the aura now concentrated onto her fists and feet. The fighter then began a relentless assault – first, by throwing the same bone-breaking five hit combo she used on Corneo’s pet back in Sector 6. On the fifth hit, she reared back and somersaulted backwards, both feet striking the pod’s metallic face and causing it to crack. Landing in a crouch, she set her feet, leapt up into the air and descended to deliver a devastating drop kick. The pod creature attempted to back away in an effort to preserve itself as its shell continued to crack open, but Cream wasn’t giving it any relief. With lightning-like feet, she circled around the pod, grabbed it and executed a suplex. 

The abuse the enraged fighter laid on the pod caused its shell to shatter, revealing a disfigured, adult human head on the body the size of an infant child’s swimming around in a pinkish substance. Rage still coursing through her, Cream ripped the abomination out of its protective cocoon, slammed it hard onto the ground and then crushed the head with the heel of her boot. She took several deep breaths to calm herself down and then brought a hand to her lips in abject horror on realizing what she had done. She stepped away from the still twitching body, her face sickened.

Cosmo quickly went to the fighter’s side and carefully placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, thanks for that,” she said consolingly, her lips crinkling upward. 

“Do not feel so badly for it,” came Green XIII’s voice from the rabbit’s left side. The explosion he suffered from the Zenene left a large hole in his crystalline carapace that was slowly closing up. Cosmo could now see wisps of brown and beige fur that were once concealed by the thick crystal. He glanced briefly at the headless mutated human near Cream’s foot. “If it’s of small comfort to you, know that many of Nagus’ experiments – like this Brain Pod – yearn for death as opposed to living as atrocities.” His lips quirked into a smile of his own at the rabbit. “You did it a favour.”

The fighter’s expression softened, but the remorse in her eyes still remained. Cosmo took her by the hand and shook it. “C’mon, we gotta help out Tails and Mr. Bark!” she said, trying to stir her from her stupor.

At the mention of his name, the three heard gunshots coming out of Bark’s weapon from the far side of the room, next to the doorway that led to the main stairwell. They cut across the floor to see the polar bear and Tails backed into the wall by the two flesh-coloured mutants. A third soon joined them. Bark fired at each of them individually, but the creatures weaved around the erratic shots as they slithered closer. From behind him, Tails struggled to move. His body looked rigid and stiff and his face was contorted in a frozen grimace. The only parts of his body that were still moving freely were his eyes.

Enroute to their friends, Green XIII placed a hand on his own Sense Emerald on his armour and activated it. “Vargid Police,” he explained to Cosmo and Cream as they stopped a few feet away, his jade eyes flashing bright blue.. “Creatures that can paralyze and even control their prey while they latch on and absorb their victim’s blood from their many orifices. They are weak on their own, but they can be formidable when fighting as a group. We should assist Bark and Tails quickly.”

“No need to tell me twice!” Cosmo stated, preparing a Fire spell in hands. She raised her hands upward to charge the magic and then swept them forward as she called, “FIRE!” A column of flames erupted underneath the middle Vargid Police, burning it to cinders. 

The remaining two mutants whirled around to see Cream and Green XIII storm towards them. Cream had a ball of Lightning magic ready; she halted her advance abruptly, pushed her palms out and called “BOLT!” The spell shot towards the Vargid Police on her left and struck it before it could react, electrocuting and stunning the creature long enough for Bark to finish it off with several shots from his Gun-Arm.  

Green XIII closed in on the final mutant and grabbed the stunted tentacles on its head. The creature let out a squeal and thrusted its needle-barbed tail into the golem in a fit of desperation, but couldn’t get past his thick, stone armor. Letting out a mighty yell, the golem raised up and started swinging the mutant into the ground repeatedly until its shrieking became silent. 

By that point, Tails started regaining movement in his body as the paralysis wore off. He stretched and groaned, massaging his limbs back to life. “Thanks everyone,” he said, a hint of gratefulness etched in his indifferent tone. He stood up and his ears perked amidst the discord on the other side of the room. “Let’s get going,” he said, placing his Buster Sword on his back once more. “The fighting on the other side seems to be ceasing, meaning we’re gonna be next if we don’t hustle!” He turned to the crystal golem. “Green, you said that the trail leads upwards?”

“Correct,” he replied, nodding. He approached and inspected the door leading to the main stairwell. “It looks like the door has been forced open, so we shouldn’t need a keycard to keep going.”

As the group stepped through the threshold and into brighter lighting, Cream winced at seeing Cosmo’s face. “Ye-ouch Cos,” she said, half-smiling. “That thing got you pretty good, huh?”

“Wha- Oh, this?” the flower girl responded, touching the large welt on her cheek. It stung on touch. “Yeah, it’s not too bad…” 

Tails rounded on the two and inspected Cosmo’s face. “Hold on for a moment,” he said, drawing his sword and tapping the Restore Emerald in it. Drawing and shaping the energy with a portion of his Mana, he brought his two fingers to the flower girl’s cheek. Cosmo felt herself flush involuntarily as his gloved fingers hovered above her bruised and swollen cheek. “Cure,” she heard him call softly. 

As the magic worked into her face and reduced the swelling, she stared into his piercing electric blue eyes and suddenly felt a tiny spark within herself. A spark that she thought she would never feel again. ‘W-what’s this?’ she found herself thinking as she felt herself diving into the fox’s eyes. ‘What is it… that I’m feeling?

A second later, the moment ended. Tails abruptly turned around and continued out of the hallway, following the rot-stained trail. “C’mon,” he called to the girls.

“Cosmo?” Cream’s voice broke the flower girl out of her bemusement. She looked at the fighter, who wore an unreadable expression on her face.

“R-right, sorry,” Cosmo replied, clearing the fog out of her head with a shake “Let’s go.”  

As they climbed the stairs up to the 69th floor, the Mobians found that the blackened trail became stained with blood once more. The severed bodies of dead humans surrounded them as they followed the path up one of the plum carpeted staircases leading to the President’s office on the 70th floor. 

The office was as pristine as ever, save for the bloody trail which ended at the foot of Gerald Kintobor’s desk. The group approached it with trepidation, only to find a stunning sight that took the air right out of the room:

Gerald Kintobor, the president of Kintobor Power Incorporated and the de facto ruler of Megapolis, was slumped forward onto his desk in a pool of his own blood, a six-foot long katana impaled through his back.


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

Chapter 35: End of the Line



Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Green XIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

“Tails?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cosmo?! You’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” she replied. 

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

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

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

“The deal was for one date, right?”

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

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

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

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

“…What is it?”

“Do the Fertile Grounds really exist?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about now?” Tails asked

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

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

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

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

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

“…Hello,” Green XIII greeted dryly.

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

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

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

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


The Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 34: The Crystal Golem



Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bark

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Former SOLDER, actually.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 33: The Wizard of Genetics



Tails

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

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

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

“I dunno?” Bark said, shrugging.

“Probably?” Cream interjected, her head tilted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Tails, let’s go…

…Hometown? Must be nice…

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

…a mysterious power?…

…a monster?…

…p-produced?!…

… I’m going to see my mother…

…NAZO!!…

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


Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 32: Infiltration



Tails

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

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

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

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

Let’s do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s even worse, Bark!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Christopher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…The estimated cost to rebuild Sector 7-”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Possessing similar powers?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 31: The Former Freedom Fighters



Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Come again?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but I’m just being realistic-”

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

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

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

His declaration was met with silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cosmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tails… Help…’ 


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

Chapter 30: A Hidden Agenda



Knuckles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Plate fallin’?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 29: Rose’s Story



Rose

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


“Mom. Please don’t cry.”

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 28: Aftermath



Bark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


President Kintobor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tails

“Hope?! HOPE!!”

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

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

The plate had completely crushed the Sector 7 slums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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