The Golden Gear
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"I don't have a good feeling about that," the man said. He spoke in a large room, but the whole picture was too blurry to see its details.
A faint squeaking sound was heard again.
"It feels like history is about to repeat itself. This has happened before, although it was many years ago. I hope we can escape the enemy this time like our ancestors did before."
There was a sad squeak. Hope seemed to vanish.
"Do you think we should go back now?"
There was silence.
"Do you think they'll kill me?"
There was more silence.
"I might deserve it. I can feel the regret now stronger than ever. I did what I did because I wanted to help! I was too blinded by my anger to see a better way to act. Through these lonely years, I haven't been able to do anything to help them. All I can do is hope that everything turned out alright. Or what I mean to say is that I've been hoping it didn't turn out alright, and then everything will become alright. You know what I mean, right?"
The squeaking had been coming from a large swivel chair. Something jumped out of it, but the scene still had too much interference to see clearly.
"I'll tell you what," the man said. "We'll start heading home now. I have a feeling the time is coming soon. If we change our minds, we can always turn back. After all, it was so long ago that I'm sure they won't even remember me."
The blurry image of the squeaky thing shook what appeared to be a head.
"You're right. Nobody has forgotten me. I've changed the future forever, and nothing can make it go back to the way it was before—"
The alarm was ringing. Evina had experienced another dream. He had hoped he was rid of them by now. It was strange how they kept on coming back, and they always involved the man and the squeaking thing. Each time he saw one of the dreams, the picture got clearer, but it still remained a little blurry. If only there were a way he could bring it into focus.
The worst part was that the toons never understood his dreams. When they weren't in the best mood, they would laugh at him. So, he decided to stop bringing up the subject.
He still suspected that the dreams weren't simply a tale of the subconscious mind but rather something that was real. He could swear that the man and the squeaking thing were real, and that they were either friends or enemies, not neutral to him. He was absolutely certain that they had something to do with him; otherwise, he wouldn't be seeing them.
Nevertheless, he had much more important things to worry about. Today was Friday, the day that they were supposed to visit the individual known as Mr. M. After this meeting, if they survived, they would decide whether it was reasonable or even possible to continue their plans to stop the cogs.
Like other days, everyone put on their cog suits and grabbed a few pie slices for breakfast. The rotten throw gags didn't bother them anymore. They would never have guessed how many confiscated gags from sad toons were carried here in the pockets of cogs.
They had no intention of going to work as they had too much to do. And since the city was so shaken up by the incident of the previous day, many businesses were closed. They probably wouldn't be missed.
The first thing that they needed to do was return their loan. They took the next bus to the old bank. When they walked inside, they saw the same Loan Shark waiting for them there.
"That was fast," the cog remarked, "too fast if you ask me. Now you'll have a fantastic credit score! Why do I always get the smart guys?" he grumbled to himself as he took their money.
They had about twenty thousand cogbucks now. Most of it was from Evina's day at the meeting; the rest they found in the pockets of the stolen suits they were wearing. They could go home tomorrow if they wanted to, even though it would still be difficult to remain hidden, and they knew they wouldn't. They felt obligated to stay and continue their dangerous quest.
The next stop was Cog Standard Wear. "We need to make a good impression on our host," Harry said. "Dressing formally will show our respect. And if he's an enemy, it might make him think we're actually cogs and not toons. They probably believe that toons would never dress up this fancy, even when the occasion is extremely important."
Evina looked at the mirror. He pulled his bowtie tight and made sure everything was in proper order. It was unusual to see a toon in a tuxedo. His feathers were combed back, he had his bill polished, and he looked perfectly spiffy. Feeling satisfied, he opened the dressing room door and stepped outside.
"That sure took you long enough," Ricky grumbled. All the toons looked prepared for a fancy dinner. It took them a while to get home. They were extra careful not to step in any puddles from the recent rainstorm. It was cold again, and the puddles would soon turn to ice.
Harry took their minds off Mr. M by trying to explain some weather patterns. He taught them that the winds and water from the arctic were blowing down on Cogtropolis and nearby areas. It's a strange phenomenon that happens every once in a while. It makes the autumn feel like winter. Only now, on the roof of the apartment, did Evina remember that they were still in the desert. The air currents up there were warm and dry.
Unfortunately, they missed the bus and had to wait for another one. They wondered if they would ever risk going back to work. They had to do something about it. They could've resigned if they weren't staying any longer.
They arrived at the apartment late in the afternoon. They tried to eat as little as possible because they were supposedly going to have a gourmet dinner with Mr. M, and even if it was a trap, they wouldn't live long enough to need to eat.
It was assumed that Mr. M. had a Cog Digestive System installed; therefore, he was rich. He made it sound as though they were going to eat food and not have to guzzle octane.
The day wore on as they waited for the time to arrive. They were too nervous to do much of anything. Evina was so bored that he decided he would tell everyone about his dreams again. They tried to ignore him, just as he knew they would. Nobody seemed to believe they meant anything significant. And before they knew it, it was seven o' clock.
They left the apartment, possibly for the very last time. Then they walked calmly to the subway station. Most of the cogs had returned to their homes by now. There were not many outside.
They got on the subway and rode to Capitol Court, the same stop they get off at when they go to work. The subway didn't have that many cogs, but the journey seemed much longer than normal. Simeon looked like he was about to turn and run away, but the toons dragged him out with them. They left the train and the capitol. Then they saw something amazing.
They had never been to the capitol at night before. The windows were glowing, and the giant stone pillars were illuminated with spotlights. The Cogs Inc. building was also lit up, and a bright beacon shined from the top. Most cogs had left the office, but the toons could trace a line of little lights up into the sky before they blended in with the stars.
Harry sighed. "Let's go." There was only one significant building nearby besides the headquarters and Cogs Inc. They went up to it and saw the number on the wall. "1013," Harry said. "This must be it."
It was the same brick building without the windows that the toons had walked by every day. Evina remembered he hid in this alley with Harry when they talked in secret. It was full of garbage, and a dim, flickering light hung above the grimy door with the golden gear painted on it. It was odd to think how anyone meaningful could live in a place like this.
They were too afraid to do anything yet. This place seemed shrouded in darkness. Slowly, they walked into the dirty alley with their formal clothes and stood under the light. They looked to the left and to the right. Nobody else was around. They were alone. Evina stepped up to the door.
He hesitated for a second, listening for a sound. There was only the electric flickering and buzzing of the light overhead. Then he put his hand up to the door and rapped three times on the image of the golden gear. There was a strange echoing bang heard inside. They waited, and every moment was painful. They waited for someone or something to come to the door.
A little rectangular window slid open above the picture of the gear, and a pair of intimidating eyes glared down at them. This terrified the toons. Evina hastily dropped his hand in his pocket and fumbled with the note that Mr. M had sent them. He held it up a safe distance from the door.
The eyes quickly scanned the note under the light, and the little window slid shut. A moment later, there was a click, and the entire door swung open. They saw a long, clean, bright hallway ahead of them.
Harry decided to go inside first, and the other toons followed closely behind him. Simeon rushed in at the last moment before the door swung shut on its own.
They appeared to be all alone in the narrow hallway. There was a thick, red carpet lining the whole length of the hall. The wallpaper had an intricate golden pattern, and the ornate lights lit up the area like the sun lit the afternoon sky. This was not what they had been expecting, but the scary truth was that they were still alone, and they would probably not be able to escape if something bad happened.
The entire hall was empty except for some simple decorations. There were no windows and no doors except the one behind them and one on the opposite end that looked like an elevator. The atmosphere seemed interesting but ominous, and there was nothing they could do but play along. Simeon, who was in the back, kept looking over his shoulder to make sure that nobody was following them.
As they came near the elevator, it suddenly opened with a ding. It was decorated similarly to the hallway. They stepped inside nervously, and once Simeon came in, the elevator closed itself. There were no buttons in the elevator.
They felt themselves moving upward, and it was quick but smooth. Light jazz music played from a speaker above. When they finally reached the top, the elevator doors opened.
The sight was unbelievable. They stepped out into a huge, lavish room. There was a wide, spiral staircase that went up to many other levels. Huge paintings of famous cogs were hung on the walls. Rare rugs and assortments of fancy furniture met their eyes. The image of a giant golden gear decorated the wall in front of them. The toons had never before seen such a colorful place in Cog Nation. It was fit for a king. The lights were turned off on the opposite end of the room, so they couldn't see anything too far away.
Now the elevator doors closed, and the lights dimmed. They now suspected they were in danger. Pink grasped Evina's arm tightly, and the other toons stopped breathing.
They heard nothing at all for a little while, and then there were light footsteps coming down the staircase. In the dim light, they saw a short, shadowy figure approaching them very slowly. In one of its arms, it carried a cane. The figure spoke to them. "Welcome, toons... I am Mr. M."
It was a familiar voice. Evina was sure he had heard it somewhere before, maybe in an old movie.
Harry was quivering he shook his head. "No... it can't be!" he gasped.
"It most certainly is," the voice laughed. The rest of the lights turned on to reveal an old, white duck in a custom-made Cashbot suit. He wore a top hat, and he leaned against the cane by his side. "Welcome to the Golden Gear Hotel! Mr. Scrooge McDuck," he said bowing to them, "at your service!"
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