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When they arrived at the apartment, they were extremely tired. Harry unlocked the door, and the toons wearily and slowly made their way into the room. They pulled off their cog suits and slid into bed without doing anything else. It was nice to have most of this day to catch up on lost sleep before going to work again. They weren't hungry, they were only tired. Evina lied down in his bed and drifted off to sleep almost immediately.
"Hello, Mr. Evina," spoke a deep voice. Evina spun around to see the evil, solid face of the chairman, standing in their room. "I don't particularly enjoy having toons foil my plan," the cog said.
Before Evina could move, the chairman lifted him up by the neck and put him close to his face. "We will dominate the planet! Pathetic toons like you will never stand in our way!" He hurled Evina into a large barrel of boiling dip.
There was a shrill beeping that woke Evina in the dark. It was such a terrible sound to hear. Couldn't anyone get some sleep around here? It continued its merciless beeping. "Won't somebody make it stop?" he asked. When nobody answered, he got out of bed and found the source of beeping to be coming from a clock that read 4:00 AM. He couldn't believe so much time has passed since yesterday already.
"Why is it waking us up?" Evina demanded.
"Do you want breakfast or not?" Harry asked him.
"I do," Evina replied, sounding surprised.
The dark figure of Harry moved over to the clock and pressed a button. The beeping stopped, and the toons were heard groaning as they woke up. The only light was the faint, pink glow of sunrise behind the silhouette of the skyscrapers. It reminded Evina of Minnie's Melodyland and, for a brief moment, he longed to be home once again. Unfortunately, Harry yanked the curtains shut, abruptly ending his daydream. He turned on the harsh lights, and they couldn't see clearly for a full minute.
The toons seated themselves around the table looking dreary-eyed, yet someone seemed to be missing.
"I'm really not much of a morning person," Rocky mumbled, still in bed. He had a pillow held down over his head to block the light.
"I wish we ate dinner last night," Pink said. "I'm so hungry this morning."
"Then take a few more throw gags," Harry said. They all had to admit that throw gags were getting a bit old. They had to eat them every day now. Harry had somehow found the confiscated gag disposal center nearby. Cogs that came to town emptied their pockets of gags they stole from sad toons. Harry decided he would start a habit of stealing some every other day or so before they were dumped into the furnace. Sorting through the rotten stuff wasn't fun, but it would supply them with free food and gags.
They put on their cog suits once again and started to head to the door. "Here," Harry said to Rocky as he rolled up a piece of a birthday cake into a cylinder. "This can be your breakfast burrito." Rocky took it and winced, swallowing it as fast as he could.
"I'm starting to have a lot of strange nightmares," Evina grumbled. "I know it's only a matter of time before we're caught by the cogs and dipped."
"No," Harry protested as they got off the bus at the subway entrance, "you must remain optimistic! We've been through this many times before. You're smart, and you'll never give away our true identity. You've been around cogs long enough. We all know how they are."
Evina looked up at him. "I know, I know. I'm just afraid I won't be able to handle being a cog, and one day, I'll lose my mind."
"Oh, I see," Harry said. "I do cog-like work all the time, maybe not at this kind of level. The key is to not think about the time or where you are. You have to pretend it's a game, a serious game. They tell you to do something, and you do it. It's just like a trolley game."
"Uh, but what if we lose the game?" Simeon asked hesitantly.
"You'll get fired, we'll be caught, then we'll all die, but I'm sure that will never happen." The toons looked at him, shivering with fear. "Sometimes being scared of something can help you do it better," Harry continued. "Just don't be too scared. Everyone is counting on each other. We do trust each other, don't we?"
The toons looked at each other and replied yes in unison. The subway approached. Fortunately, just like the day before, there were not that many cogs around to listen to their conversation, and they got a seat on the train.
They dozed off. Then they woke up what seemed like minutes later when the train rocketed into the sky again. They had to remember to keep themselves awake for work. There were many more cogs that had gotten on by that time. The doors opened, and they poured out.
A Spin Doctor was apparently waiting for someone. He walked over to Harry. "You must be Mr. Oldman if I am correct."
"Then come with me." The Spin Doctor walked off with Harry following him.
"Be smart," Harry told the toons before he walked into one of the mysterious doors with the Spin Doctor.
Everyone stared at Evina. He didn't know what to say at first. "Uh, let's go to work then," he said with an air of authority. They marched outside, pretending they knew what they were doing. The sight of the needle-shaped building made their hearts skip a beat, and they thought about the work they were about to do in there.
Walking quickly and carefully, they went to the building. They felt much more in danger and exposed without having Harry around to lead them. Everyone expected him to know what to do. He was on the Toon Council and knew a lot about cogs. But besides that, he was just an old, normal, clueless toon like them. All his experience didn't measure up to the power of these seemingly invincible cogs. They wondered if it was by luck that they survived this far. They thought that it only had to be only a matter of time before their luck ran out. One of them would slip up, and they would all be destroyed.
The single Newsbot they fought behind the airport tunnel nearly defeated them, and these cogs were many times stronger than it was. The level 50 cogs could probably defeat them with hardly any effort at all, and there was no playground to go back to.
They crossed the street and came to the green field where they had listened to the meeting the day before. They passed the dark, mysterious, almost windowless building and came across the HQ sign.
The needle building stood there with unrealistic stability. A building that high would have collapsed a long time ago, they thought. They wished they could stay out there in the field with the sunlight and cool breeze. Why must we go into that dreadful building? Evina wondered.
The toons stood near the glass doors where many cogs were beginning to stroll inside. Then they looked at Evina.
"I think it's time for us to go," Evina said. He did not look happy about it. They started for the door, and Simeon hesitated before moving with a horrified expression on his face.
"You can make a better cog than any of us," Evina assured him. "I'm sure you'll do great. We can do this!" Simeon nodded in response with his eyes still fixed on the invisible roof of the building.
The glass doors slid open automatically to let them come in. It was bustling with many more cogs than they had ever seen before and, at first, they were unsure what to do. There was a dark wooden floor in here and a glass chandelier hanging from above.
The toons moved forward, looking for a place to be helped. They spotted a black marble counter that had a large sign over it that read, 'Help Desk.'
The toons decided to go there. Evina approached the counter first. The Gear logo was engraved into the wall behind it, and a Mingler glided over to them.
"Hello!" she beamed. "Welcome to Cogs Incorporated! Would you like some help?"
"Yes," Evina replied speedily, "do you know where," he pulled a business card out of his pocket and read it, "the Client Communications Department is?"
"It is on floor 318," she answered before he finished speaking. "The main office is at the end of the hall."
Catman pulled out another business card from his own pocket. "Where is the Product Refund Calculations Office?"
"It is on floor 92, the second door on the left."
"And what about the Marketing Research Development Center?" Pink asked.
"That's on 321," the Mingler finished. "Is there anything else?"
"No, that's fine. Thank you," Evina said. They turned around and headed to the elevators at the opposite end of the lobby. The cogs are completely insane, he thought. Why would they go to the trouble of adding so many details? And why must everything be polished and gold-plated? The toons would never put this much work into something.
There were hundreds of elevators here. They reserved their own elevator, and they were not happy with what they saw. The elevator doors shut and waited for them to select a level. The elevators were just as clean and shiny as the rest of the place, but every inch of the walls was covered with buttons.
The new Flunkies scanned the buttons looking for the floors they needed and pressed the buttons 92, 318 and 321.
"I really don't have a good feeling about this," Pink whispered.
"Going up," a voice female cog voice said from above. The elevator suddenly accelerated to sickening speeds. They went up like a rocket, and the digital counter went crazy. Their legs could no longer support the pressure. They fell down and struggled to get up again. The seconds it took felt like an eternity as they went up to the clouds. Then it stopped.
The elevator stopped abruptly, and the toons' feet lifted off the ground. "Level 92," the voice said. The doors opened with a ding, and Catman exited. He looked happy that he didn't need to go higher. The doors closed again, and they were taken on another intense blast upward. A few seconds later, the elevator abruptly stopped again. The voice said, "Level 318." The rest of them got out except Pink who had just three more levels to go. They all felt very nauseous. The elevator closed, and Pink went up.
The toons felt like they were lacking oxygen at this elevation. They were lightheaded and staggering around like disabled goons. They seemed to be in a long hallway lit by bright, fluorescent lights, brighter than any other ones they had seen before. They followed the Mingler's instructions and walked to the furthest part of the hall.
They were in a sort of trance when they opened the door. The place was larger than they thought. Cogs were working in their cubicles and doing things toons had never seen before.
"I wish Harry had taught me more about office work," Evina said gloomily.
A Head Hunter walked up to them. "Ah, you must be the new flunkies," he said.
"Ye-yeah we are," Goopy stuttered nervously.
"There is nothing to be afraid of here. I'll teach you all about office work." He gestured them to follow, and they went with him timidly. He took them past many rows of cubicles. Each of the cogs had different personalized decoration in their cubicles, but almost all of it was the color gray.
"There are three things you want to avoid:" the Head Hunter recited, "toons, an angry boss, and most importantly, distractions." He stopped and spun around to face them. They were surprised by the abrupt halt. "Gray is a marvelous shade," he said. "It keeps you working on your task, and it's not too dark or bright."
The toons looked at Evina with puzzled expressions. He returned them in the same manner. The Head Hunter opened a door and held it for them to enter first. They assumed it was his office.
"This," he said proudly, "is the water cooler. You use it to prevent overheating and to wash away contaminants." He moved to a small item on the desk. "This is a pencil sharpener. You use it to sharpen pencils."
"Simeon raised his hand."
"I forgot, what is a pencil?" Simeon asked.
The Head Hunter was so shocked that he nearly lost his head. He offered them a quick demonstration of how to use the water cooler as he tried to cool off from his anger. "Ok, a pencil is a simple writing instrument used for taking notes, working equations, and many other things. According to legend, it was even used to create toons." He shuddered at the thought. "Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that. Anyway, I think the mechanic left out a few important files on your hard drive!" Then he led them out of his office.
The cog pulled out a key from his pocket and stretched out his arm as they approached another door. He unlocked it and swung it open. It was different than any other room they had seen in this office. There were some sofas, a television and machines with food and cans in them.
"This is a vending machine. You insert cogbucks here." The Head Hunter put a cogbuck into the slot. "Then you press a button to choose what you want. Though you'll need one of our patented digestion systems to eat food."
The toons were interested in learning about such things, and they wondered if their situation was not as difficult as they feared. The Head Hunter walked over to a shelf and took a few boxes off it. He handed one to each of the toons.
"I think you're ready now," the cog said, and he walked out again. They each had their own cubicles that were noticeably smaller than the ones that the more experienced cogs had.
Evina was pushed into a swivel chair by the Head Hunter who put the box on his desk and opened it. There were business cards with his name on them. There were also some foreign office tools.
"Remember me because I'm your boss," the Head Hunter said. "I'm BB-00883921. You can call me Mr. Alumi." He walked off to see the other toons and give them training.
Evina felt so terribly alone. The bright fluorescent light was located directly above his head. All he could hear was the sound of phones ringing, pens scratching, and cogs talking. He examined his polished, wooden desk carefully. There was a sticky note on the edge. It said:
Staple these product order forms with one paper from each pile. Come to my office when you are finished.
Evina was contemplating what a staple was. He tried the roll of sticky stuff, but it didn't hold the papers together really tight. It reminded him of his duck tape, so he figured that it was some other kind of tape. He searched through folders, paper clips, and other strange looking objects until he reached something promising. He was trying to remember what a staple was. This thing looked like it has staples in it.
He was frustrated and tried fruitlessly to get the staples out into the paper. An hour had already passed since Mr. Alumi left. Then he got an idea. He thought that maybe if he put the paper stack corner into the slot, it would be easier for the staple to go into it. He did it, and nothing happened.
Why doesn't anything work for me? He slammed a fist into the top of the stapler out of frustration, and there was a crunch heard. The papers were stapled. He beamed at this great accomplishment. Few toons could say they've actually stapled a stack of papers before. Most toons wouldn't even know even the first thing about office work.
It became a game as he quietly hummed the Toontown national anthem to himself. He grabbed a pink, green, and white sheet, then stapled them together and put it onto a stack. Then he would do it again and again. This type of stuff wasn't that hard. But he contemplated what might happen if it got harder. He knew tasks were bound to get more difficult as he received higher promotions. There was no doubt Mr. Alumi would expect a lot more out of him as he improved.
He wondered if maybe he should just pretend to be stupid. He would get the basic wage and never get promoted. It took him long enough to work out the stapler, and he didn't want to go through any more agonizing hours of that. He had to face the fact that toons just couldn't do that stuff like cogs could. Harry sat down and signed his name on papers all day. He went to meetings occasionally but never really did hard work. For all he knew, the cogs may have wanted Evina to do math.
He knew nothing of basic math, let alone things like algebra and calculus. Why isn't Harry here being a Flunky instead of me? Being a lawyer can't be too hard. You get paid a lot for reading and yelling at people. Oh yes, I'm sure being a Lawbot must really be better than doing this. Yet at that moment, he noticed he wasn't doing anything.
Mr. Alumi happened to be passing Evina's desk as he was thinking. "What are you doing here? Are you idling? There's tons of work to be done!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Evina confessed. He considered what wrath the Head Hunter had planned for him. Being fired didn't sound like fun. He never did like being shot from cannons much. He also didn't like the idea of dip much. He noticed Mr. Alumi was still glowering down at him. "I was trying to figure out how to staple, and I got a few done. I promise I'll work faster."
The Head Hunter sighed and raised his head to breathe deeply. "Alright, I'll forgive you, but this must not happen again! I expect to see you finished soon." And with that, he walked away.
Evina sighed with relief and started stapling faster than he ever had before. There was no way he was going to risk that happening again. "I must stay focused!" he whispered.
Just then, Simeon walked by. Evina waved at him, making the other flinch. "Oh, it's just you. I wish you wouldn't do that!" he said to Evina. "I'm already nervous about this stuff without you scaring me all the time! I've had to make calls to all these creepy cogs."
"Well, at least you didn't almost get fired like me," Evina said.
Simeon looked embarrassed. "Mr. Alumi came to yell at me four times already. I don't think I'm good at this."
"I don't think I'm good at stapling papers," Evina said.
"I wish there was some way we could switch jobs," Simeon said hopefully.
"That's a great idea! Let's ask him if we could switch."
Simeon didn't enjoy the idea of confronting the Head Hunter again, but Evina insisted. They marched down to his office together.
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