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An incredible sight met their eyes. There was clanking and buzzing and sawing and flashing. The toons walked into the largest room that they had ever seen before. The ceiling rose hundreds of feet above their heads, and the floor was hundreds of feet beneath the narrow bridge that they stood on. At the opposite end of the bridge, there was another door.
Giant gears turned on the walls as cogs were assembled and moved along a conveyor belt. The entire cog assembly process could be seen right there. It started with sheets of metal and ended with completed cogs that were taken through a hole on the opposite side of the wall. This was their answer, and they knew they had to stop it somehow.
"Amazing!" Evina gasped. "So, this is where all the cogs are made! We finally found it! Goopy, how are we going to shut it down?"
Goopy turned his attention to Evina. "I have a theory, but I can't say for sure."
"Please say it," Evina insisted.
Goopy opened his laptop and typed in some calculations. "I believe all the cogs are connected to a common signal, this powerful one that I've been tracking for a while. It seems to give the cogs commands like when and where to invade, as well as other things like software updates. If I could find the computer that is sending this signal, I might be able to use it to shut down all the cogs at once."
The toons looked at each other with looks of surprise. This was the miraculous solution they had been hoping for, one they hardly imagined could exist.
"Let's go!" Evina said. "I bet when we find the president that the machine won't be far." After taking a few steps, he felt secure. "I think it's safe to cross."
They took small, careful steps. One wrong move, and they would plummet into one of the deadly moving parts in the machines below. It took the toons about ten minutes to safely make it across the length of the factory and reach the next door.
Evina opened it with the same terror as before. It was another room but much smaller and cleaner. Evina closed the door behind them, and the clanking sounds stopped. They stood in the dim light.
The floor was made of white marble again, and there were statues of famous cogs on each side of the room. Judging by the chairs and décor, this looked like some sort of waiting room. At the other end, there was a magnificent set of double doors with a gear imprinted on them. Unlike the last doors, these ones were black and decorated with rare gemstones and pearls. They were not old or rusted. Above them it read:
United Nation of the C.O.G.
The first thing that surprised them was the magnificence of the door, but the most shocking fact was that it was the president's real office. Evina didn't know what to think of it.
"Here goes nothing," Evina said with a shuddering voice. He crept over to the door and opened it a tiny crack to peek inside. He felt crazy for trying this. It was very dark. Nothing could be seen or heard, so he opened it a little more. There appeared to be some kind of balcony up ahead.
On their hands and knees, the toons crawled along the marble floor to reach the banister. The light was dim enough so that they didn't think anyone could see them.
"You know," a voice quietly echoed from somewhere down below, "I kind of feel relieved that the chairman is dead." The toons recognized it as the voice of the V.P.
"Why is that?" another voice asked. It was the Chief Justice.
"He always treated us with disrespect, as if we were toons."
"Really? In what way?"
"He never listened to me," the V.P. continued. "It was like he hated Sellbots for some reason. He acted like he always knew better than anyone else. But without the proper funding, we couldn't have improved our security. Then he constantly blamed me for letting toons inside. How is that my fault? The little brutes barged in, and he was to blame for not funding us!"
The Chief Justice sighed. "I must admit that I've had similar experiences."
The C.E.O. was the next to speak. "He was always blaming me whenever something went wrong. And sometimes he would even turn me into... a Flunky." He paused awkwardly for a moment. "And by the way, why won't you let us search for those toons?"
Evina peeked over the banister and stopped himself from screaming with surprise. The spotlights from the high ceiling of the colossal room pointed down on the four cog bosses sitting around a table. And in the shadows behind them, there was the figure of something gigantic. It must have been hundreds of feet tall!
On the left side of the room, there was a large machine with blinking lights and thousands of buttons. And on the right side, a tall rocket stood. It was connected to a pump filling it with dip.
Evina gasped and ducked his head down. "Did you see... that?" he whispered to them. Simeon shook his head and decided to take a peek. He reeled back after a few seconds, looking very nauseous.
"You have no right to know of my plans," a booming voice spoke. It resonated throughout the room. "I was not aware of your ill feelings toward Bill, but you must remember that I built and programmed him myself. If he did all those things, then he must have done them for a good reason. You have no right to complain."
The C.F.O. rolled back from the table. "I really do love this company, but I just can't take the hypocrisy anymore! We don't get paid enough for what we put up with now, and I'm sure Bob isn't going to do any better than his father. You know, sometimes I wish I could be a toon. They never seem to fail."
"You can't handle this?" the deep voice asked, apparently amused. "Then consider yourself fired, all of you."
The C.E.O. slowly rotated his head up to the dark monster. "Um... what did you say?"
"You're fired," the voice repeated a little louder, annoyed this time.
The four cogs looked at each other, and then they nervously rolled away without another word.
"I can run this nation and its economy completely on my own," the voice announced defiantly. "I don't need help from ridiculous cogs who dream of being toons."
An elevator opened. The four fired cogs reluctantly rolled inside and disappeared. The giant monster let out a deep sigh.
"That must be the president," Evina whispered to the others.
There was silence for a moment. Nobody moved; they were all listening intently for whatever would happen next.
"And speaking of toons," the president said to himself, "I think it's time to stop this silly game."
The toons looked at each other, still hidden behind the banister. They had no clue what the president was talking about.
"Stop mocking me! This is not a game of hide-and-go-seek. How stupid do you think I am?" Massive footsteps shook the ground, and they got louder. The president was coming. "Come out, come out," the voice called. Blinding, red lights flashed down on the toons. "...wherever you are!"
With amazing speed, they all jumped up and fled from the enormous hand of the president. They leaped off the balcony and landed on the floor below, amazed that the impact didn't flatten them.
"You toons are unbelievable," the robot remarked. "Did you actually believe I had forgotten about you? I was waiting for you. You came in here and trapped yourself! And I didn't have to lift a finger!"
The toons sprinted under the cog's legs and dashed toward the dip rocket as fast as they could. The green fluid was rising higher and higher inside it.
"In mere minutes, this rocket will launch. I will destroy Toontown, AND YOU WILL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY AGAIN!" He roared with evil laughter that made the whole room tremble.
Evina didn't even get close to reaching the rocket before the president stomped on the ground, sending a shockwave that knocked everyone off their feet.
His glowing, red eyes were full of hatred, and they were staring right at Evina. Several blasts of laser were shot, almost hitting him.
The toons knew that gags were useless against him, so they decided to distract the president while Goopy figured out a way to disable the giant machine.
The president chased after Ricky and Rocky and blasted them with his laser vision. They fell to the ground unconscious and covered in soot. It only took a minute for the president to blast all the toons except Goopy.
Goopy reached the cog control panel and began examining the wires. Then he started cutting some of them.
"I think I'm missing one," the president said, looking around for Goopy. He found him in the wires of the machine. "DON'T TOUCH THAT!"
He ran, bent down, picked Goopy up, and trapped him in his hands. "I don't understand how pathetic, little toons like you have come to be such a nuisance to us. It's insulting to be fighting things so feeble and brainless."
Goopy pulled out a small device and typed in a code. He submitted it to the cog computer, and it began to flash. Then the president looked down at Goopy and blasted him with laser vision.
The toons woke up sometime later in a small chamber. There was only one door, and it was without a window or a doorknob. The light hanging from the ceiling was faint and flickering. The toons couldn't see anything very well. They wore chains on their arms and legs. Every inch of them hurt from the laser burns.
"I knew this was going to happen," Evina sighed. "Now Toontown is going to be destroyed. And I know it was all my fault for coming here in the first place. I would rather have had a peaceful death. Being dipped quickly from an unexpected rocket wouldn't be that bad, but knowing that your end is coming, and having to wait for it, is so much worse. You see everything that has happened in your life coming back to haunt you."
"But we did it," Goopy said. "I locked into the signal of the cog computer. I sent a command that told all the cogs to self-destruct."
"You mean, all the cogs are gone?" Evina asked.
"Yes, every cog in the whole world... except for the president. He didn't receive the signal because he wasn't created with the machine."
"Then what I want to know is where he came from in the first place!" Evina screamed. "He wasn't created by a machine, and I don't think he just fell from the sky! He was made by an intelligent being! A toon created him! I know it! Some toon started all of this!"
"Why would a toon start the cogs? That's absolutely ridiculous!" Pink exclaimed.
"Scrooge said he came here to look for someone. That someone must have been the toon who created the cogs," Evina reasoned. "And I'm pretty sure I've seen him in my dreams."
The toons were startled by the anguished roar from the president on the other side of the door. He was livid. "You've destroyed them. YOU'VE DESTROYED EVERYONE! I don't know how you did it, but you are going to pay! I am going to launch the dip rocket soon, but first I will execute you. And I will record it so that when I bring back my children, I can show them your death. Then they will see who destroyed their ancestors. Your pain and terror will bring them joy, their true vengeance. They will become inspired, and they will hate you forever!"
"Oh no!" Catman sobbed as gases seeped out of vents in the chamber's walls. It was the same chemical that poisoned them in their apartment.
The toons felt nausea come back, and their heads began spinning. The chairman walked inside and stood in the middle of the room, looking at Evina with a blank expression.
"Didn't I tell you?" he said. "You are going to be famous now. Cogs of the future will see the video of your demise. You will be a permanent part of history. It's a good thing you didn't stay home and become nothing."
"This isn't what I wanted," Evina said coldly.
The cog shrugged. "Then what was it that you wanted when you came here?"
"Just get out of here!" Evina screamed. "You're an illusion! We destroyed you, and you don't exist!"
"I'll leave," the chairman agreed, "but I brought along someone that I thought you'd want to see."
Harry appeared next to the chairman. He looked around sadly at all the toons in the room. He seemed to be struggling to say something, but the words wouldn't come.
Evina cried deeply and looked into the eyes of Harry. "It's my fault! MY FAULT!" he cried. "Please forgive me! Don't go!"
Harry raised his arm and waved. "Goodbye," he said miserably.
"No! Don't leave us here! I need you!" Evina sobbed as the ghosts faded away. "You were my best friend! You helped us so much! Now you're gone, and it was all my fault!"
Evina dropped his head and cried, and the tears didn't stop. He was wallowing helplessly in his pain and his guilt. He was left empty with the fact that everything bad had happened because of him. Harry had warned him so many times. If they had not come, the cogs probably wouldn't have even resorted to starting the dip rocket. But now there was nothing left for them. The end was here. There would be no hope for them today.
Then he was aware that the gas was clearing away. He was drenched in sweat and tears. The door opened, and the hand of the president grabbed the end of the chain that they were all linked to. As he pulled it, the toons stood up and walked in a line out to the hall.
Their chains clinked along the floor as they walked to the execution room. They saw it was a small chamber, one that had probably never been used before. The ceiling was opened so the president could look down on them from his giant room above.
They each stood on a separate, circular platform. Then they were raised into the air. A red light on a camera in front of them turned on, indicating the start of the recording. The shackles broke. The toons were disconnected from the chains holding them together, but they still had ropes tied around their hands and feet.
A tub of glowing dip was placed under each platform. And it didn't take an expert to figure out what was going to happen next. Their feelings of horror were too much to describe. Their hearts were beating quickly and loudly in their chests during their last moments. It was just like those dreams that he kept having, but this felt much worse, and this was real. There was no waking up from this nightmare.
"Toons," the president addressed them hatefully, "you have been found guilty of many crimes, the most serious of which are listed here: trespassing, impersonation, vandalism, theft, destruction of the entire cog population, and attempting to stop the nation's plans for world domination. Therefore, you are sentenced to be destroyed this day by cartoon dip. Do you have any last words?"
In just a few short moments, Evina's whole life flashed before his eyes. He saw all the good times and all the bad times. He remembered the warm breeze and sunshine in Toontown Central. He longed to be there. He knew now that it was better to be bored and alive than to be destroyed. He saw them hopping over the fence and heading to the mountains. He remembered Pete and his magnificent palace. He saw Clarabelle and her warm smile. He saw the native toons and their hospitality. He remembered the cool feeling of the caves and the dry heat of the desert. The feeling of entering Cog Nation was exhilarating. He stood on the top of the apartment, looking out at the city, with the beautiful, orange sunset behind its silhouette. The storm was approaching, and his arms were out, feeling the warm breeze blowing through his clothes, letting the rain fall.
The memories ended. He turned his head up with his eyes closed, not wanting to look at the president, and directed his words to Harry. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Evina shed his last tears and looked at the other toons at his sides. They looked dreadful, with faces full of fear, shining with green light from the dip below. He wondered if he looked just as bad as they did. With all his heart, he wished they didn't have to suffer this with him. He believed he was the only one who deserved this punishment.
"This will be a demonstration to show the world that nobody can stand in our way," the president said. "The cogs will remember how they were victorious over the toons, and the toons will never be a threat to them ever again." He smiled maliciously and pulled a lever.
The platforms dropped, and the toons screamed. They plunged deep into the tubs of dip.
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