A Story of Four Cogs
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Evina glanced at his arm on the ride back to the atrium. He couldn't locate the hole that had been there just a few hours earlier. He figured it must've healed quickly and tried to forget all about it. The crowds at the entrance to the elevator were even worse than before. People unexpectedly pulled him close to them and threw him around.
"Are the toons going to be destroyed?" some old cog demanded impatiently.
"If they aren't gone soon, I'll fall apart. They are killers!" another one spat.
Evina forced his way through the crowds of cogs as a black-suited cog came up to them.
"The entire meeting is strictly confidential," he informed everyone while adjusting his glasses. "Isn't that right, Flunky?"
Evina nodded and slowly backed away.
"But rest assured," the black-suited cog continued, "their plan will not fail! And even if those toons try anything tricky," he paused and whipped out a tube of glowing dip, "we'll be ready for them."
The cogs began to cheer now. They skipped merrily away to their offices. It was a very odd thing to see.
The atrium was beginning to clear away except on the main floor. The chairman was walking to the gigantic door with a thousand cogs following him, and Newsbots snapping pictures. He turned to them and said something before he cracked the door ajar and disappeared behind it. Evina wondered where he was going and what was behind that door.
The crowds dispersed quickly and quietly. Evina was almost completely alone again. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was about half an hour before Harry would get out of work, so he decided to take a look around.
Surely, I'm not the only one here, he thought. There were several black-suited cogs guarding the giant door while talking into their little headsets. They're the security like the high laff toons that roam around Toon Hall. Evina reasoned. Maybe that door leads to the president of Cog Nation. And I don't even know a single thing about this president.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the tiled floor behind him. It was Harry. He looked very glad like he was relieved to see Evina was still alive. They began to walk toward the exit together. The sky was foggy, and the air was chilly.
"I got out of work early today," Harry answered to Evina's bewildered expression. "The office didn't need me to sign too many papers today, so I just sat there most of the time. I was worried about you all day. Now, how was the meeting?"
Evina was a bit afraid to say. "It was ok," he said. "Uh... it was actually a bit strange. The chairman was there."
Harry stopped walking. He breathlessly turned around toward Evina slowly. "The chairman?" he asked with utter disgust. "Why the heck was he there? I thought it was a government meeting!"
Evina shrugged. "But they're planning something awful," he informed him as they walked out the door.
"And just what might that awful thing be?" Harry asked hesitantly.
Evina looked up to him sadly. "I've taken an oath to not tell anyone. If I do, they said they'll destroy me, and whoever I tell will have their hard drive erased. Then they'll find out we're toons because we don't have hard drives, and we'll be dipped."
Harry appeared to be pensive for a while. "I wonder what that awful thing could be," he said, smiling lightly. "I know you can't tell me so uh... let's just go into this dark alley here and not talk about it."
They ran into the alley and hid behind a dumpster. It was that same alley with that door with the golden gear picture painted on it, the locked door to the windowless building. "What is it?" Harry whispered impatiently.
"I'm really not quite sure," Evina admitted with a weak grin. Harry frowned. "But the cogs called it Operation D.R., and they say it will permanently rid the entire world of toons."
Harry was thinking again. "That's strange," he admitted. "I don't know what that could mean, but why was the chairman there again?"
"I suppose he was there to make the other cogs angry. The Secretary of Security was there, and he was furious to see Bill."
"Bill?" Harry asked.
"Yes, the chairman," Evina said.
"Oh, alright, I'm just sad to think that the cogs might be further in their plans than we thought. I hope it doesn't work... whatever it is."
"The chairman says they must finish it in less than a month," Evina whispered, afraid of Harry getting upset.
They stood up and walked out of the alley and into the street. Harry didn't seem to be angry anymore, just extremely depressed.
The entire time they hadn't noticed the dark figure that was also hiding in the alley, listening to everything they had just said. It pulled out a phone and called its leader. "The subjects have left the alley, sir," it whispered in the shadows. "They're heading toward the Cogs Inc. headquarters."
"If all of Toontown gets destroyed," Evina continued, "I wouldn't know how to react. It's just too terrible to imagine!" He and Harry walked into the entrance of the needle building.
"I feel the same way, Evina, but I don't want to hide in Cog Nation forever. We still don't know what we're going to do to fix all of this. I only hope Clara won't get hurt."
"Clerk Clara, my wife," Harry said. "We're tough together, we can get through almost any problem. I know how to manage most crises because of my counseling. I have Toon Council experience. She has the record for the most powerful trap doors in Toontown. But this might just be too much for us, for all of us. We might have to face the truth: we can't win against an entire nation of vicious robots."
Evina disagreed. "I personally think anything can be done no matter how bleak things look. I remember a lot of things we did that were considered impossible for anyone else."
Harry smiled. "I like your optimism," he commented, "but I'm not ready to take on twenty billion cogs."
They decided not to talk anymore because of the cogs that could overhear them in the building. They stood in the lobby and, soon enough, the other toons came trudging out of the elevator, looking very depressed. If they didn't get their super toon stuff soon, the transition to becoming cog-like was going to damage them permanently.
Harry beckoned them over to him. They approached him slowly and looked up at him. They were just like sad toons, but there was no playground to go back to. Evina figured that this sadness would have to become a normal part of everyday life for them. But fortunately, it was the weekend, and they would have some time to relax.
"That day went slower than molasses in the Brrrgh," Zany moaned, leaning against the wall of the skyscraper.
"How many black-suited cogs did you see?" Harry asked them.
"I saw several of them in my office," Catman said. The rest of the toons sleepily nodded their heads.
"I think it's obvious now," Harry concluded as he gestured for them to start walking. "Those cogs are spies, they're secret agents. The chairman has plenty of them that I've seen, and they guard the capitol building all the time. I have a bad feeling that they know we're the toons and that we're trying to do something here. We have to act fast before it's too late. But the real question is why they haven't destroyed us already?"
They passed the street and the large building with almost no windows. They went into the capitol again to get on the subway. Several cogs had gotten off work, and they were demanding the hear the meeting results were from the secret service cogs.
Evina, hoping nobody would recognize him from the meeting, slipped into the back of a train car with the other toons as it sped off.
Evina wondered why all the toons were begging him to be quiet. They quickly looked both ways after exiting the elevator on their apartment floor, and then they dashed to the door. Harry glanced around suspiciously as he unlocked their door as quietly as he could.
The room was completely changed. It was like a factory. There were tubs with strange looking liquids boiling in them, and tables set up around the room. The beds had been put up against the wall, and the curtains were shut.
Harry took extra precautions to make sure the door was locked before they all took their assigned positions.
"Put on an apron," Harry instructed Evina who grabbed one and put it over his cog suit. "Now, please check the rubber," he said, pointing to a tub of slowly churning, black liquid.
"It smells like new tires," Evina observed, "and it's thick and black."
"That sounds about right. Now, turn off the fire," Harry said.
The other toons had their own jobs at their various stations. It was incredible what they did without letting the hotel staff know about it.
Ricky and Rocky were making a metal mold around the table. They had traced their body sizes on paper and were trying to make the mold the same size.
"Ah," Simeon said, "now I remember these things!" He held up a pencil with dignity.
Evina was kept busy making sure the carbonium threads wouldn't get tangled. They were being woven into tiny, silk strings that were wrapped around empty spools on a machine Pink was operating.
Pink whistled as she continued to examine the mold and its precise shape. When everyone was satisfied, they poured the mixture of molten rubber and siliconium flodine into the mold. Goopy, Rocky, and Simeon worked hard at flattening it out to the exact shape, and then they peeled it off like a banana peel. They repeated this, making two pieces of rubber for every toon's mold. They had a large stack in the corner where it cooled into dark, strong, material.
After an hour or two, the machine stopped spinning the threads, and they ran out of rubber. They were finished with making all their supplies and celebrated as loud as they could without drawing the attention of the cogs in other rooms.
Harry leaned against the side of a tub, and it folded like a sheet of paper. When he was done folding up all their tools, he placed them in his bottomless pocket and lowered the beds from the walls. The room was all cleaned up.
Zany flung the curtains open to reveal another dark night. Although the stars could not be seen, the tiny lights in the windows of the skyscrapers created a twinkling effect. The toons took off their cogs suits and got ready for bed.
They were all eager to get new supplies, considering the condition of their old ones, and the condition of the clothes they were wearing. They lied silently in their beds watching the lights on the city.
"You won't believe the things you can find at the junkyard. Who knew there was so much surplus industrial equipment for us to use?" Harry remarked.
The other toons didn't respond, because they didn't seem to be in their right minds. They got a lightheaded and dizzy feeling. They began to feel slightly nauseous.
The smell of the rubber and other chemicals made them feel strange, and images flashed before their minds. They wondered if it was the lack of sleep or even the madness of becoming a cog.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and whoever was there let themselves in. The chairman strolled inside and shut the door. He sat down on at a table in front of them with a grin.
Evina wondered how it was possible for his rigid face to grin that way.
The chairman looked at the toons for a minute before pouring himself a glass of ethanol.
The toons thought it was an unexpected and marvelous occasion to have the chairman here.
Who cares about all the people who say he would kill us. He's our friend now, Evina thought.
They remained lying on their backs for quite some time while the city outside remained still.
The chairman broke the silence. "What a delightful smell, it reminds me of the Sellbot Factory."
"Oh, you like our rubber?" Harry asked. "We've been doing things you never would've expected us to do. We're developing superpowers."
The chairman appeared to be extremely interested. His eyes opened so wide, you could see them glow silver in the moonlight. "You're right. I've monitored every move you've made since entering the city, but I never expected you would get here in the first place. How did you get to Cogtropolis, anyway?"
Zany laughed. "It wasn't easy, I tell you. We had to cross mountains, fight molders, and do all sorts of other things."
The chairman's grin disappeared. "My son was right. He always used to say, 'the chairman won't be happy about this' whenever the toons sabotaged his clubhouse. I still can't believe you got past those molders. We had hundreds of them out there, and they hardly tried to stop you."
"Hundreds of them?" Simeon smirked. "Then they must be cleverly disguised."
"I find them a bit strange and abnormal," Bill said while pouring another glass. "I never really liked the idea, but my son insisted on having them. He begged for days on end for those strange mole people to guard his golf courses." Everybody laughed like maniacs.
Evina's head spun around and around. "I'm glad we made it here," he chuckled, "otherwise, we would have to stay home and be clueless for the rest of our lives."
"Too right, you know," Bill agreed. "It's much better to die for Toontown than to sit around doing nothing useful."
"Yeah," Pink said, "I always wanted to be known for something... something really important."
"Oh, but you will! Toontown will honor you forever, or at least until we destroy it. You are much more important than anyone I know."
"Oh, really?" Harry asked incredulously.
Bill looked offended. "Why certainly! Take the V.P. for example. I was so disappointed when my son said he was hiring him for his Vice President. The company had to pay for him to get all his upgrades and gadgets. Now all he does every day is sit around doing promotions. He gives out promotions way too easily. I mean, only fifty-five hundred merits for a high Mr. Hollywood promotion!"
The toons watched him with interest as he poured a third glass of ethanol.
"We gave him eyes in the back of his head, hoping it would open his mind to a greater understanding, a new perspective even. I thought he would see our side of the story. Sadly, he hasn't done a thing but hide in his office like a coward. He's always afraid to fight toons."
Catman laughed. "Is that so?"
"Oh yes, he believes peace is the only way to go. He spends almost no money on security. It's embarrassing. What a sad excuse for a cog that man is."
Evina tried to think through all his dizziness and found a bit of sympathy for the Vice President. It must be hard for him to be put back together after being defeated over and over again. But no! He is a cog, and cogs get what they deserve! Maybe it'll teach him a lesson about trying to take over Toontown.
The chairman continued. "And as for the Chief Financial Officer... he gets so angry all the time. I think he's really mastered that obsession with money, but he's become almost too greedy. Then he loses everything when the toons break in and hit him with a train."
Everyone laughed hysterically. Seeing the C.F.O. getting hit by a train again seemed extra amusing tonight.
"Usually, only his cash register head remains in one piece," Bill said. "Then he goes back to his vaults and hugs bags of coins again. I have to admit he's better at promotions, but he does the most idiotic things."
Evina felt like he was going to go back to sleep, but he tried to stay awake and listen to the chairman. "What kind of idiotic things, Bill?"
"Oh, not much," he replied sarcastically, "just putting a train rail without traffic lights outside the door of an emergency exit. Then he makes his guards stand in the mints all day without doing any work. He does disappoint me with his lack of leadership skills too. He gets mad whenever he has to do something he doesn't like. If I tell him I need to experiment on eighty Robber Barons for an explosives potency test, I mean it! It's just another bad choice my son made when choosing his companions."
The toons now howled with laughter at the C.F.O. as the chairman poured the last half glass of ethanol from the bottle. Evina, however, started feeling sad for the C.F.O., even though it was completely unnatural. He tried to push the sympathy out of his mind.
Bill examined the inside of the bottle to make sure there was none left. "There weren't many cogs back in the day, so my son didn't have a great variety to select from." He set the bottle down with disappointment and changed the subject. "The Chief Justice is an absolutely ridiculous character. He is even better at promotions, keeps his HQ clean, and maintains order... but he's blind! He can't tell the difference between an oil can and a stick of dynamite!"
Some of the toons fell off their beds with laughter.
"I tried to convince the president about him, but he refused to listen to me. Perhaps he sees something in the Chief Justice that I don't. He sits there in his courtroom, idle all day. He actually hates trials and makes his verdicts without thinking them through. Why would he let the toons walk away again and again?"
The toons laughed more until they hurt. Their heads spun faster, and they didn't understand why everything was so funny to them.
"Please, let's not even discuss the lack of security. We all know spotlights don't repel you toons very well. It just becomes annoying. He lets you in, thinking you're his jury and never even checks to see who you are." The chairman rolled his eyes.
The toons stopped their excessive laughter and got back up onto their beds. They watched the chairman with such curiosity like he was a doodle doing a rare trick.
"Now that I think about it, my son hasn't exactly been very productive either. I've tried my best to lead him the right way. I programmed him all by myself to help me with the business. Even to this day, I never had the chance of making him a decent face, still debating if he deserves it. It's sad. His childish, incompetent behavior has truly disappointed me."
Bill got out a pair of wire cutters and fumbled with them absentmindedly. "I don't think the president would mind if I let a few of the cogs go," he said with a smile. "After all, it's for the greater good. I've already proven I'm worth more than those fools, more than the cabinet, more than anyone in the world."
"You're even better than the president?" Rocky asked him.
Bill looked back at him with surprise. "No... oh no... don't you realize," he said, gazing with his silvery eyes into Rocky's face, "that the president made me? I am the first cog made with his machine! I owe everything to him. Together, with his leadership skills and my business skills, we will rule the world!"
Harry looked out the window into the dark night. "I think it's time for us to go to bed, Bill. Can we get some rest?"
The chairman stood up. "Of course, you can get some rest, but it's not the kind you were probably expecting. Yes, Mr. Oldman, I think it's best if we do it now."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked with his mouth wide open.
"I mean, it's time for you to become famous, at least for a little while. I will have to kill you all." He snapped his fingers, and black-suited cogs came into the room with a barrel of dip. "You can't deny it. You came willingly into this nation," the chairman taunted. "You are heroes, and you'll be remembered as such, dying for the cause of your little colorful spot on the map. We cogs will rule the world, and you'll have rest from all your troubles."
"But what about Clara?" Harry protested.
"I wouldn't worry about her. Once operation D.R. is ready, she'll be with you again."
"Ok then... let's get it over with," Harry said with defeat.
"That's right," Bill smiled. "You toons have surprised me. You're more skillful than any cog I know, even those buffoons working at the capitol, but I still have to kill you. It's my job. I'm a cog. It's in my nature. I'm programmed to do it. You don't have a choice. So, I hope you enjoy your fate."
There was a flash of neon green, and Evina felt like he was drowning. He was falling through a green lake of infinite depth, and the faces of four sad cogs appeared in his mind before everything faded away to nothing.
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