The New Home
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After Harry had left, Evina looked on as he faded away in the distance. "Well, let's go then," he said weakly.
The toons reluctantly followed him into the building. A smell of old grease met their noses. As they were looking around, a Mover & Shaker glided over to them.
"Welcome to Lightning Lane Apartments! It's just as good as a five-star hotel! Are you going to rent one today?"
"Yes," Evina said in a cog-like tone. "How much will it be?"
"Well, for starters, you need a down payment of twenty-eight thousand cogbucks." Evina sighed and gave him a large amount of their money. The Mover & Shaker counted it out and walked away behind a counter to get a key. "This is your key, enjoy your stay. You're in room 8921." Evina took the key and walked over to an old elevator. He thought with amazement how they were staying in a hundred-story apartment building. These cogs were so densely populated. The elevator arrived, and he pressed the button to the 89th floor. When the doors closed, the elevator creaked and rattled before slowly moving upward.
Something seemed really odd about this elevator. It took about five seconds to go up one floor, so they knew it would take a while. Evina was so exhausted from the lack of food that he sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. He looked up at the flickering lights on the ceiling of the elevator. A few flies were buzzing around. It was hot and smelly.
"This isn't very fun," he muttered. The other toons turned and looked at him.
"You seriously thought this was going to be easy?" Catman asked. "What part of Cog Nation sounded like a fun idea to you?"
"We paid a ton of money to live here!" Evina yelled. "I never expected... this!" Nobody responded, and the elevator continued to creak. "And tomorrow," he continued, sounding annoyed, "we have to see our boss and become a level 1 cog. Then we have to work and work and work..." The other toons sat down and looked very drowsy. "I bet Toontown doesn't even know we're still alive. They've probably forgotten all about us."
"But the newspaper," Pink yawned.
"How many toons do you know that actually read cog newspapers?" Pink shrugged and closed her eyes. He wasn't sure if she was asleep. Evina was fuming with anger that only became worse and worse. "I would rather be dipped than live as a cog in the middle of a city out in the middle of nowhere!"
"Stop it. You don't know what you're saying," Pink uttered before nodding off like the others.
Evina looked at the floor they were on, which read 23, before he, too, fell asleep.
They were all startled awake by a loud ding. The elevator opened up. The toons crawled out and stood up. The elevator shut and began its slow descent. For a minute, they were afraid of being lost. They were in a dark room with lots of boxes. At the end of the room, there was a door that they decided to go to. It was a long hall with bright lights, and everything seemed a bit cleaner and welcoming, even though it was still old and run down. The door they came out of was marked as storage. Something told them that they had not purchased the best of the apartments.
Evina led them down the hall as the numbers increased. They soon came across number 8921, and Evina inserted the key. He opened the door with a creak to reveal the room. It looked very much like the rest of the building, very old, although they had tried to keep it somewhat clean. A lot of furniture had been provided, some of it was fresh and new; it clashed with the old feel of the room. Overall, it seemed very small. It wasn't much, but it was home.
The best part was the window at the far wall that gave them a spectacular view of the city with no visible end. It was a vast stretch of tall gray buildings as far as they could see. Some of them were taller than their apartment, and some of them were shorter.
Evina ran over to the phone and dialed the office. "Yeah, why is the elevator so slow?" he demanded.
There was silence on the other side for a moment. "The door closed just as I was about to warn you that you were using the freight elevator," the Mover & Shaker spoke.
Evina was humiliated by their mistake. He had to admit they were much more tired than he first thought. He hoped he wouldn't make a stupid mistake like that again, or they might be discovered as toons. Just then, he suddenly remembered the feeling of hunger again, and it could no longer be put off anymore. "Do you have any food?" he asked.
"Why yes, we do. There are many residents here that have the CDS. What would you like to order?"
"Oh, nothing much," Evina smiled.
Another three hundred cogbucks were carelessly spent on food that night. Evina was fully aware that their money needed to be spent wisely and knew they would likely only have throw gags to eat in the coming weeks.
"Whatever this stuff is, it sure is good," Rocky mumbled.
Evina carefully examined the white, cubical box. "It's some kind of human food from a place called China."
Rocky licked his fingers. "I think I could spend my life there... eating, of course."
Evina smiled and looked out the window to the dark night. "I just want to go home. I know it's boring there in Toontown, but this adventure is not really what I had in mind."
Pink approached him silently. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"You never would've thought that a toon could appreciate this," she said, gazing into the cascade of lights.
"Yeah, it is magnificent," he agreed, "but it belongs to our enemies. We must get out of here as soon as we can and bring their secrets with us if possible."
Pink suddenly lost her enthusiasm "Yeah, I'll have to see the C.E.O. for the first time tomorrow."
The city's image disappeared. Evina suddenly had a disturbing view of the C.E.O. blasting off their suits and laughing at them. In the green light, one could see fear etched into their faces as they were slowly lowered into a barrel of boiling dip.
"Are you alright?" Goopy asked as he joined them by the window.
Evina came back to his senses. "Oh yeah, I'm just nervous about going to work tomorrow. I mean, it's not like I've done something like this before," he said. There was a loud crash behind him, and Zany yelled at someone. "Save some food for Harry!"
Ricky and Simeon had already fallen asleep, and soon Zany went over to lie down on a sofa.
Even though the day had been the longest and hardest he had ever experienced, Evina couldn't go to sleep. He couldn't even think about sleeping. He kept having visions of gruesome things happening to them. Also, he had to be responsible for them until Harry came back.
Many of the lights outside the window had turned off, yet many remained on. Only a few stars could be seen. He imagined what it would be like to see them more clearly.
All the toons had gone to sleep. It was eleven o' clock, and Harry had still not returned. Evina was just about to face the truth. He knew Harry had been right. Something bad happened to him, and now, he, Evina, was their leader. He had no idea what to do next, and he knew they would not survive.
Evina jumped at the sound of a key in the door. He turned around to look at it, creaking softly as it slowly opened. It was Harry. He stood before the door, looking like he had just had a piano land on him. He staggered into the room and fell into a chair.
"What happened to you?" Evina cried.
"The Police," he gasped, "they're everywhere! I think I was nearly caught. The entire night has been a complete nightmare. I am very lucky that I managed to grab this." He presented a thin, transparent, plastic bag with complete Cashbot and Lawbot suits in it.
"There's some food in the fridge," Evina told him.
"Well, that's something nice to know," Harry replied. He pulled out a few boxes of food. A delightful aroma met their noses. "By the way, what is this stuff?"
"Human food," Evina said.
"Ah, it's pretty good. I hope you didn't spend too much for it. And I think you should get to bed because we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
"I know," Evina whispered as he crawled into his bed, "that's what I'm afraid of."
Evina woke up after what seemed like only a few minutes. He remembered hearing strange voices in his sleep. Dreams like that had never happened to him before. The others were already dressed. Catman and Harry were wearing bright, new suits. They were all eating breakfast.
"Come over and eat," Ricky said.
Evina staggered out of his bed and over to the table. "Let's see what's on the news," he suggested. The TV screen flickered on to reveal a policeman looking cog. The bottom of the screen read:
Chief of Police, Cogtropolis
"Although the toons were only sighted here yesterday," the cog began, "we have all available city Servicebots working on finding them. We will do absolutely everything we can." Crowds cheered his words. Then Evina noticed a dark, mysterious figure standing in the shadows behind Mr. Cable. "We will have this case solved and the toons terminated within a week!" The cogs below him cheered some more, and the toons became very uncomfortable.
The dark figure in the shadows bent forward and whispered something in the chief's ear. It was a cog, but Evina couldn't see much else. Harry bent forward to see what was happening, and Evina kept watching intently.
The Chief appeared nervous. "Yes, sir, uh... no, sir, yes, sir!" he said, and the mysterious figure walked away. "Alright, everyone," he announced uneasily, "the search has been called off." The cogs changed their tone from excited to angry when this was said. "You can all go home now and forget about those toons!" There was loud shouting from the crowds as the chief walked away.
Zany turned off the TV. "What was that all about?"
Harry pondered what he had seen and heard. "That cog in the shadows... I barely saw its face for a second. I don't know what it is."
Evina was also trying to figure it out. "He must have been important because he told the chief to call off the search for us. And why would a cog ever do that?"
"I don't know," Harry said, "but they obviously have something planned for us that we can't plainly see."
After some more thinking, Evina cried out. "I've seen that face before!" Everyone stared at him. "I don't remember where. It's a dark, evil looking thing. I just can't remember where I saw it!" The toons gave him looks that urged him to continue thinking. "It had a completely solid expression," he said.
"Almost all cogs have a solid expression," Pink reminded him.
"But this one is different somehow," he said. "It looks like stone. It is cold and unchanging."
Before Evina could think anymore, Harry interrupted him. "We must hurry, or we'll be late!" They quickly shuffled out into the hallway and ran down to the elevators. "I don't understand why they're so slow," Harry grumbled.
"Don't tell me you accidentally used the freight elevator like us!" Goopy cried.
"Freight elevator?" Harry said ashamedly. "Well... nobody's perfect." The toons quietly laughed together as they got into the correct elevator and descended at a much higher velocity. They reached the lobby in about a minute.
The strange Mover & Shaker waved to them as they left the apartment. It was early in the morning, and the dew lay in drops on the grass by the bus stop. It seemed to be getting colder and colder outside each day. They were questioning whether it was still summer. The streets were as busy as they always were, and the sky was getting lighter by the minute.
"I don't know why, but I feel so tired," Evina said.
"It's because we are on the other side of the world. It's about six o' clock at night in Toontown," Harry said. A large bus was approaching from their left.
"Wait, if we can get promoted that means we'll have to go to the Cog HQs back in Toontown!" Simeon whispered with excitement.
"No, not out here. The bosses come here occasionally, but they'll never send us all the way to Toontown. Cogs are designed to be very frugal, and the ones in Cogs Inc. are especially stingy."
They lost all their hope of returning home another time as the bus screeched to a stop in front of them. Harry had bought them some transportation passes so they could save a little money. After transportation, suits, food, and shelter so far, they had spent about thirty thousand cogbucks.
"Where are you going?" the driver asked. It was a level 2 Short Change.
"The capitol," Harry replied.
"This bus doesn't go all the way to the capitol. It'll take hours. Only the subway does. You're new here I suppose?"
"Yes, and by the looks of it, you are too," Harry finished coldly before they took their seats. The Short Change scowled and closed the doors before driving away. "Let's be glad we don't have his job and get paid something like five cogbucks an hour," Harry said.
The others nodded and tried not to laugh as the bus made a very sharp turn. They were on a street with much wider buildings. One of them had a large sign that said:
Cog Standard Wear
Simple Business and everyday clothing
Harry thought of how he barely made it home from the night before. "It's one of only six major companies that Cogs Inc. has not monopolized." The toons were wondering how Harry knew so many interesting facts about the cogs. He noticed their puzzled expressions and handed a booklet to Evina who opened it up. The bus stopped, and they got off at the subway station. Evina started reading about the new company he was working for as they went down the stairs into the station.
"Cogs Inc. is the largest corporation on the planet, obviously. It has sixty billion workers, blah, blah, blah. It is the original company that seems to run the nation. Wait... what's this? Their chairman is the very first cog created in the nation. He works with the President of the UCN to make important decisions and advance the technology to improve the modern life of cogs. The city still works today to build cogs from scratch and make the UCN grow."
All their eyes grew large. "The cogs obviously came from here," Goopy said, "from a machine. But where did the machine come from, and who is this president?"
None of the toons had the answers to these questions. They had to stop reading because they could no longer see in the dark, musty smelling tunnel. Evina put the booklet away as they waited for the train. Within a minute, a giant train rocketed into the station, and it opened for them to get on. They boarded it and held onto a bar. This was not a slow train, and they needed to hold on tight.
"Next stop," a voice said from a speaker above, "the airport, then 54th avenue, then the capitol."
The train accelerated instantly, and they almost fell over. They went deeper and deeper into the unknown tunnel. Unexpected turns made them almost lose their balance, and occasionally, the tunnel curved to make the train go up or down. Other trains passed by them with a roar, and their lights blinded them for a moment.
Fortunately, most of the cogs exited at the airport so a few seats were open to them. Their hands hurt from holding onto the bar, and they were glad to rest for a minute. None of the cogs appeared to be looking at them so Evina handed Zany the booklet to read. Everything else that she read out of it was very vague. There were still so many unanswered questions.
"I think we still have a lot of things to figure out for ourselves," Harry said. "At least this only an orientation. We don't have to do any real work until tomorrow."
"That's great because I'm so tired," Rocky grumbled.
"You know, tomorrow we have to get up two hours earlier," Harry said.
The other toons groaned and prepared themselves for the 54th avenue stop. Almost all the cogs exited at this stop, but they gasped when a bunch of policemen stepped on. The cogs seemed irritated about how the search was called off.
"Seriously," one of them murmured, "I think he's lost his mind. The toons are a threat to our entire society!"
"Well, whatever the reason is, it must be important," another one said.
"Important? I can't see why; now we might all be in danger!" the first policeman protested. The doors of the subway closed, and it began to move.
"Next stop, the capitol," the speaker said. The tunnel they were heading through was different from the previous ones. It was a bit wider and cleaner. It took them a while to realize they were going faster. The train was slowly but continuously accelerating.
The police seemed to be holding on tighter to the bar while continuing their conversation. At that moment, the toons saw what looked like a cloud of fast-moving mist. They held on tight. There was a roar as they burst through a jet of water. The windows were now crystal clear. There was still a long tunnel ahead of them, and they were still accelerating.
The toons were wondering why they kept going faster, and the police didn't seem to care very much. They wondered if they had finally lost their minds. They were going by so fast that everything outside the windows was now just a blur. Soon they were all jolted back into reality by the speaker.
"We are going up. Please hold on tight."
The toons looked frantically over at Harry who apparently had no idea what this meant. Then suddenly they saw the tunnel coming to an end.
"Hold on tight! We're going up!" Harry shouted. The train track quickly curved upward, and they shot into the clear, blue sky.
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