A Storm Approaching
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Surrender was certainly not an option. The toons turned around and darted behind the remains of the building. Several shots from sadness blasts nearly hit them, but they were quicker than before. Fortunately, there was a small side street behind the rubble that would lead them to the subway.
"Darn," Goopy spat after seeing the blocked street. Police were coming at them from both directions. It would only be a matter of seconds before they were caught. Everyone began to panic, looking for a way to escape, but Goopy was examining the wall nearest them.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Pink screamed.
"It's been a long time," Goopy said in a sad voice. He looked like he was unaware of the chaos.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN? ARE YOU CRAZY?"
Evina didn't know what was going on. This certainly wasn't the time and place to be admiring walls. They only had moments before the police would reach them. If Goopy was in a trance-like he was in the desert, then they were in big trouble.
Then Goopy waved his hand over the wall. "Do you trust me?"
Everyone shot nervous glances at him as the cogs climbed over the pile of rubble right behind them. "I do!" Evina shouted.
Goopy was becoming pale. "Hold onto me!" he ordered. All the toons put their hands on his shoulder. Then he hit the wall with his fist.
There was a loud crack. The wall appeared to tear apart. There was a gray emptiness behind it, and they were immediately sucked into it.
They were traveling somewhere fast, although they didn't know where. They couldn't breathe. They were being flushed down a whirlpool of what looked like murky water. Finally, they fell onto the floor of their apartment.
The toons stood up, gasping, and rubbed their heads. It was a little painful. They had a few cuts and bruises from the fight, but it really wasn't much.
"What the heck was that?" Zany cried.
"You mean you don't know? It was a glitch, a crack in the corner of a building that opens into the gray zone. It's a good thing I found it."
Harry patted Goopy on the back. "It's nice to know that we have someone with us who has a master's degree in glitches. I never thought we would need it!"
Each of the toons took turns to thank Goopy for their narrow escape. "It really was nothing," he insisted. "I've done harder things than that."
"Everyone did a great job," Simeon said. "We actually make a pretty good team. I didn't think we would get out of there in one piece."
Ricky turned on the TV. All of the news headlines were about them again.
"Look at this!" an anchorman exclaimed. "The V.P. was actually right! The toons have cog disguises! Unfortunately, he was destroyed by the blast. This is the only time the V.P has been destroyed outside of Toontown."
Another Newsbot appeared on the screen, standing in front of the rubble. "This is the place where the toons were reportedly seen running away. They completely destroyed the Sparx Convention Center. Engineers say the toons must have escaped using some sort of glitch. They were extremely lucky to have stumbled upon one. There are very few glitches in Cogtropolis that are big enough for a toon to enter. The Buildbots haven't been fixing them, because of their recent strike, but they are currently making plans for an operation to seal all known glitch tears and prevent another stunning escape like this."
"Yeah," a third Newsbot said, "they are clearly more intelligent than we first believed. Even our experts never suspected an attack of this magnitude. Their close escape was frightening."
"But at least we have their suits that they carelessly left behind," the first Newsbot said with relief. "There shouldn't be any more phony disguises. In other news, there have been recent claims from the government that say there is a dip deficiency. Dip tubes will no longer be manufactured. No further information was provided. So, if you see a toon, contact a law enforcement officer. They have some dip rations if needed."
The screen switched back to the second Newsbot. "This just in: There are new orders from the government directed to all citizens. Never search for the toons again. I don't know of anyone who has a clue what that means, but I'm sure the president has always known what is best for us. Remember not to worry, everyone. Trust our leaders and they will protect us."
Harry turned off the TV. "I've seen enough!" he declared.
"Well, that stinks!" Ricky griped. "Now, what can we do without our disguises?"
Harry quickly pulled out several suits from his bottomless pocket. The toons were amazed. "I somehow managed to grab these during our last little battle," he said. "They're not in the best condition, but they'll have to do."
They each got a suit to try on. It looked like they had outsmarted the cogs once again. They might even have a fair chance at surviving in the future.
"Uh, guys," Evina said nervously, "I think we forgot something." He held up the Mr. M note, and everyone turned around to look at it. It was that dreadful feeling again.
"We got our paychecks, and we have all the money we need to get out of Toontown!" Catman insisted.
"The Cashbots track their money," Harry said. "The debt collectors would never let us board an airplane without paying back our loan."
"You don't know that! We could escape them again. We know where the cogs came from. Our work here is done! Why stay?"
Harry and Evina thought about it. They had completed their original goal, and now did seem like the perfect time to leave. The cogs were ordered to not look for them. They could avoid Mr. M altogether and get out of here before they were caught and dipped.
"No," Harry said, and Evina stood by his side.
"Are you crazy?" Pink asked.
"We are all going to die! Let's get out of here before things get any worse!" Ricky shouted.
"No, I agree with Harry," Evina said, "and do you know why?"
Everyone was puzzled. They wanted nothing more than to get back to Toontown. No toon could enjoy being a cog. It was amazing that they had survived even a week of it.
"Yes, so we know where the cogs came from," Harry said sarcastically. "So, what? It's an awful lot of work to travel around the world just to figure that out. I think we all know now what we are truly here for. There are several things that I want to answer, but first I want to remind you of your promise. When we were out in the desert, we said we would do everything we could to keep Toontown safe. Attempting to run back home is foolish, and with this news, it would make us look like cowards. We were destined to do this. We need to prove to the cogs, like the chairman in the dream said, that we are better than they are. We will find out who sent us millions of papers calling for our help. We will save Toontown or die trying."
Everyone looked like they were about to go back on their promise. They didn't know what to say. Things suddenly got much quieter.
"I'm not a person who is going to go back on my promise," Harry continued. "I would rather die as a hero than live a short while longer as a coward. We must do what we know we're capable of!"
The look on Ricky's face was fierce. He clearly didn't feel the same honor and duty that Harry had.
"Ok, so it's decided," Simeon said with a cynical tone. "We are all going to die trying to save Toontown from this... Operation D.R. And we don't even know a single thing about Operation D.R.!"
"Except the rumor that it's going to destroy Toontown. Why does it matter to us? We're already scheduled to die tomorrow evening at eight, am I correct?" Ricky laughed.
"We don't even know if Mr. M is an enemy," Evina protested. "He might be someone who wants to help us! He might not even know that we're toons!"
"We have no friends here!" Ricky shouted. "We're on the other side of the world from Toontown. Everyone here is desperate to see us melting in a pot of dip! Maybe I value our lives more than anyone else in here! Haven't we done enough?"
Evina couldn't fight him anymore. He stormed over to the window and stared out into the now cloudy Cogtropolis sky. The sun had been blocked by a few clouds that seemingly came out of nowhere. Everyone was contemplating what the consequences would be if they didn't go to see Mr. M.
"Are you absolutely sure that it's correct?" the dark voice asked.
The figure in the alleyway checked the scanner. "Affirmative, and I don't think it will be long before it happens. It could be tomorrow or Saturday."
"Are you absolutely sure? I don't have all the time in the world, you know."
"Yes, sir, I'm sure of it. If all of our data is correct, they will come."
The toons ate throw gags for lunch again. They needed to pay back their loan the next day to get that threat off their chests. Then they could not afford to waste any more money. They were bored and depressed. They had nothing to do. And even if they had some idea of what to do, they would be too nervous to do it. Tomorrow they would meet Mr. M.
Goopy started up his laptop. He discovered that the next flight to Sparksville was in half an hour. They couldn't get there in time. The flight after that would be on Saturday, and Mr. M would probably get them by then if they didn't go to see him.
Evina felt like he had to go somewhere. He couldn't bear sitting idle anymore. Being caged up in the room was just too much to handle. He needed a place where he could be alone to think.
He walked out the door without telling the other toons what he was doing. He found a staircase and walked all the way up to the roof.
Strolling over to the edge, he sat down, letting his legs dangle over. It was not a very tall building compared to others around, but tall enough to make the cogs below look like ants. In the distance, he thought he could see the Cog's Inc. HQ building.
The sky was very cloudy, and it continued to darken. Cogtropolis was a city of black onyx. It appeared to him like an endless field of glimmering black stone. Even the snow had turned into black ice. Hundreds of spikes protruded from the ground. They were the buildings of Cogtropolis. Even from the roof, he could not see the boundaries of the city. He felt trapped, but he had comfort knowing he was a little closer to the sky. Somewhere up there was the sun, the same sun that shined down on Toontown every day. It was not yet night, and although the clouds blocked it, he knew it was still there.
Looking back at the day's events felt like reliving a nightmare, one that was too strange to be real. He struggled to accept it had actually happened. He felt alone, more alone than he had ever felt in his life. He didn't feel like part of the crowded city, and he even felt distant now from the other toons.
A breeze rushed over the tops of the buildings. Evina heard nothing but the wind. He felt safe here, very safe, and very alone. He took off the spare cog suit he was wearing and stood up in his black toon suit. The wind ruffled through his feathers. It was a surprisingly warm and comforting breeze.
Those were the days. He was alone in Toontown Central. He was so bored. He probably got more sleep during the days than the nights. The warm wind blew, and the trees bent. He liked the cool shade of the trees.
Going to fight the cogs was a bit boring after a while. It was just the same thing over and over again. Why did we break into the Sellbots' office supply factory, defeat a guard in the control room, run back to an HQ and get some jellybeans or a piece of cog suit? Cog suits are uncomfortable. The toons back in Toontown should try them on for a few weeks instead of an hour and experience what it's really like. What is this I smell? Is it salt? Is there an ocean nearby?
Thinking of Donald's Dock brought back many fond memories too. How long would it be before he got back to Toontown? Would he ever see it again? Would he be welcomed there after all this time of slowly transitioning into a cold, hardened businessman? Would he ever be safe or happy? These questions ran through his mind, and he opened his eyes.
He looked over the edge of the building "Yep, I'm still here," he murmured. "That would be a big drop." He turned around, lied down against the concrete roof, and gazed up at the dark clouds. The roof was surprisingly clean, washed clean from the recent rain. He had a temperature resistant suit on. No matter what surface he would lie on, he wouldn't feel hot or cold. Everything would be soft and comfortable. Clouds gently swirled like a dark sea in the sky.
When you're away from home, you take the little relaxing moments for granted. When you're in Toontown, there's no Chairman, no work, no fears, no nightmares about your fears, and nothing accomplished. The toons do nothing good and nothing bad because they can't understand either. They are always in a neutral state. They don't know enough sadness to enjoy the happiness. This sounds familiar somehow. Where have I heard it before? When you're at war, things are quite different. Everything is demanding your life. A minute of relaxation is heaven.
Evina sat up quickly. "War!" he said aloud. It was something that he hadn't given much thought to before. It was one of those things that toons never dealt with before. They had never been tempted to be dishonest or violent because their lives had been perfect. But now their lives depended on it. This was the complete transition from innocent to savage. This was the final transition from toon to cog.
Evina stood up now and thought about it. "War," he said again, slowly pacing the roof. "This is war." He looked over the edge and saw the millions of tiny enemies below. "We're doomed," he sighed.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and was scared half to death by it. Twisting around he saw Pink standing there.
She paused a second before she spoke. "I'm scared."
"Me too," Evina said.
"Are you sure we can't leave now?"
"We can't," he confirmed, turning his attention to his feet. He didn't want to see the tears welling up in her eyes. Ms. Bolt had proved to Evina that the toons had missed something. She was a robot, and yet she had loved. She felt emotions. How was that possible? What kind of monster would have started all this? Who was the dirty fiend who built that machine? He had to learn it for sure. He was desperate for answers, and he had a feeling that maybe the mysterious Mr. M would be able to answer them. Besides all that, he would never forgive himself if he let Toontown suffer the result of Operation D.R.
"We've known each other for a while now, ever since we bumped into each other in Toontown Central," she sobbed. "You are just like a brother to me."
He hugged Pink as the first raindrops began to fall. "I know, but we can't quit now. This is war."
Thunder echoed in their ears and shook the ground. The sky began to grow even darker. A storm was approaching, and when it hit it would be strong.
Evina was reawakened to the present situation. He no longer cared about going home or going to work. That was not important. Nothing was important. He thought about the horrible things looming ahead of them, the dangerous things they would have to do, the horrors they would have to witness in order to save the world.
It rained, and it came down hard. The sky around them slowly faded away from their view. Two toons stood on the roof of a building, a building in a great city that they could not see, thinking of the tremendous war they were about to fight.
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