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The sky was black and bare. The park was deserted. Bright lights from buildings nearby left blurry streaks of color on his vision. As his eyes adjusted, they provided just enough light to navigate. Typical. His only thought was how much he didn't want to go to work today. He was unusually tired, but that might have been typical too. It was hard to tell these days.
The toon was a duck named Evina Gearloose, and he was the retired hero of Toontown, a fact forgotten from days long ago when things were different. There was a time he wished he could be forgotten, but he didn't expect it to happen so fast. None of that mattered anymore. There were no more heroes. People only knew him as the guy with a funny name.
Evina wasn't in a hurry to get there early. He only did it because he knew he should. He strolled into the tunnel that led to Punchline Place.
It looked the same as before; it always did. Many shops hadn't opened yet. Only the streetlights were on. He continued walking.
Often, he would look back at his memories, remembering the times when lights weren't needed on these streets. It was a strange thought. In such a short period of time, everything had transformed, never to be the same again. Now, over nine years later, it was hard to believe things were ever different.
Nothing could have stopped it. Nobody realized it was coming, but it came. There was no fight, so there was no glory in their defeat. It was pathetic. They watched helplessly as their world crumbled, sinking into the impenetrable darkness. If only he hadn't allowed a mistake to happen. Perhaps if he hadn't closed the portal this wouldn't have happened.
But living in the past didn't do him any good right now. He needed to get in the right mind for work. He reached Toon HQ a minute later.
He opened the door to find what he expected. He was the first one on shift. Pulling up a chair near the counter, he sat down drowsily, propped his arms up, and waited.
"Another rough night?" the monkey asked.
Evina tried to keep his eyes open. "I should be asking you that. You work the night shift."
"But it's pretty much the same as your shift," the other reminded him.
"Oh yeah," Evina sighed. "Sorry Otis, you have to forgive me. Old habits."
"No problem. And oh, look what the cat dragged in!"
"Ha-ha, that joke never gets old." The dark blue mouse rolled his eyes with sarcasm. "You can go now, Otis."
Otis stood up to leave, and the other officer took his place.
"Hey, Kyle," Evina returned dully.
"I guess nothing happened during the night?"
"Oh, well there's still plenty for us to do," Kyle said. He promptly presented a stack of pink papers and dropped it on the counter. "We have to put up more of these."
"Are they nuts?" Evina groaned. "I'm already sick of seeing them."
"Hey, it's the chief's orders," Kyle said. "I don't like it any more than you do."
Evina pulled the stack toward him and looked at it a page with disinterest. He practically had them memorized. "I'll do it when I have the time," he mumbled.
"Whatever you say." Kyle appeared just as tired and unmotivated as Evina was.
The door swung open. The two didn't have to look to know who it was.
"Very lively today, aren't we?" An aqua dog hastily marched into the HQ, shut the door, and walked over to them. She always looked wide awake compared to the other two.
"Hi, Jenny," the boys said in unison.
"I assume you already heard about the tip we got last night."
Evina jerked awake. "What?"
"Don't worry," she said. "It was a false alarm. I don't think the exhibit will have any security trouble. They have more than what's needed to keep the gem safe."
"The gem?" Kyle said. "What's that?"
"Oh, come on!" she shot back in disbelief. "You can't tell me you haven't heard of the Crystal of Yensid!"
"It's supposed to be priceless," Evina said. "And legend has it that, somehow, it can grant a toon with crazy powers. It's all nonsense, of course. Most likely it wasn't even created by Yensid."
"I see now," Kyle thanked him. "But, by the way, who's Yensid?"
Before Evina could express his annoyance, the door opened once more. None of them had expected this. A red rabbit stormed into the HQ. He did not look happy.
"Officers Evina, Kyle, Jenny, what are you doing here?" he demanded. It was the chief of police, George Sprocket. Long ago, he was Chief Justice of the cogs. Few toons remembered them anymore.
Kyle didn't know how to respond, "We uh—"
"You didn't see the news!?" he cried.
"Is it Flippy again?" Evina asked. "Because ever since he was booted from office he's been acting like—"
"Look at the alerts!" the chief ordered.
The three officers jumped up from the counter and sprinted to the computer screen. They hadn't even noticed that a red light was flashing.
"We only just got here!" Kyle defended himself.
The chief dropped his head, looking weary. "Yes, I don't think they could've picked a better time to attack the museum."
Jenny's mouth dropped open. "Son of a weasel!"
"No kidding," he said. "Now get going!"
The officers ran to the back room to get their supplies. They hadn't been expecting action so early in the day. They threw on their blue police jackets and grabbed a hammer.
The banhammer was an unusual piece of equipment. If successful, it would teleport its target to wherever it was programmed to send them. In this case, the destination was a cell in the nearest Toon HQ. Unfortunately, they didn't always work as desired. It was even rumored that some enemies had developed immunity to them.
In his efforts to fight the rising crime, the chief tried to allow police the use of sadness blasters, an old cog technology, but it wasn't without controversy. Many toons were certain they would end up in the wrong hands. Nothing got in the way of gangs.
During Evina's last adventure with his father when they went to Earth, not everything was peaceful back at home. Crime began to rise for the first time in ages. Glitches were abused for personal gain. And certain neighborhoods were terrorized by the so-called hackers. They exploited natural glitches in the tooniverse for their selfish needs. It was disgusting. Evina's friend, Goopy, who devoted his life to the study of glitches, couldn't take it anymore. He had to resign from his work and retire in hiding, hoping that the gangs wouldn't find him. The idea of being forced to work for them was appalling.
When the portal closed on Earth, the tooniverse was sealed off from the outside world. The toons felt a distinct lack a purpose. They were emptied out, slowly devolving into something feral. The sun fled from the sky. Total darkness came, and still, nobody had any clue how bad it could get.
All former threats were put to shame and either absorbed or put out of business by the two giant organizations of evil: s<um and d!rt. It was a popular topic of discussion as to which was more dangerous, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that both were responsible for the downfall of their society. Now they lived in fear, always afraid to step out of the streetlights and into the shadows. There was no more day, no hope for a future, just eternal night.
They were ready to go now. The three officers dashed out the doors of Toon HQ and jogged down the street, hammers in their hands, heading toward the museum.
"We're not going in through the front door," Jenny told them. She was the senior officer in their little group and usually gave the orders. "We'll come in through the west alley. Got it?"
"Right," the other two replied, even though they were trying to catch their breath from all the running.
At last, the museum was in sight. They didn't see any attack in progress. The only way it could be threatened was in a very sneaky, professional break-in.
They crept into the alley as quietly as they could and crouched down against a wall. Evina looked up and saw an orange pig with a black mask on, climbing a rope up to a window above them.
"Do you think we should wait?" Evina whispered.
Jenny didn't look happy at all. "No, we're going in now."
All three of them fired their hammers at the pig. He shouted, fell, and disappeared in a puff of smoke before hitting the ground.
A few windows shattered. More masked toons had heard the noise and were ready to strike back. They had things with them that they pointed at the officers.
The silence was broken by the sound of gunshot. Bright energy beams ricocheted off every surface, and the officers ran for cover.
"Sadness blasters!?" Kyle cried.
"Cover me while I clear the entrance," Jenny ordered.
"I don't think that's a good idea!" Evina cried, even though she wasn't listening.
She ran out into the open, and the sadness beams rained down around her. She couldn't dodge them all. A beam hit her, and she fell to the ground.
Kyle and Evina peeked around the corner every few seconds to take a shot with their hammers. More windows shattered. They hit one of the enemies; they disappeared in a puff, but there were so many more.
Kyle took out his walkie-talkie. "This is Officer Kyle. We need backup! Repeat: We need backup at the museum NOW!"
Evina darted out from hiding and was lucky enough to dodge the shots fired at him. He found a blaster dropped by one of the thugs. He had never encountered a robbery like this before. He didn't know how else to defend himself. Taking aim at any enemy in sight, he fired the blaster and saddened some of them. Now it was safe to get Jenny. He dragged her out of the open to rest where Kyle was hiding. Then a shot hit him in the back. Even though The Shadow made him immune from going sad, it hurt like crazy and weakened the surrounding muscles.
"Let's go!" Evina shouted, trying to ignore the pain. He led Kyle to the front door and kicked it open, firing accurately at every masked toon in sight. Some of the museum guards were tied up and gagged. Kyle freed them while Evina searched the nearby rooms for anyone he missed.
"Do you think they took the gem?" Kyle asked anxiously.
"I don't know, but this level appears to be clear. Let's go up."
They jogged up the stairs. The spot of Evina's sadness hit was aching more now, and he was growing more fatigued with every passing moment.
Someone was guarding the door to the special exhibit hall. Kyle used the banhammer to take care of him because it was quieter than any blaster. But it still caused enough noise to make them worry that more enemies would arrive. Luckily, that wasn't the case. So, the two of them went into the hall, surprised to see the crystal there with nobody in sight.
"That's weird," Evina said, looking at the sparkling beauty. It reflected the eerie glow coming in through the window, the only light in the room.
"There's no way to protect it with the guards gone. So, I think we should take it back to HQ," Kyle suggested.
"No, I think I'll take it back to my HQ," a sinister voice said from behind them.
The officers turned around and their mouths dropped open in horror. It was Alistair McKillden, the boss weasel of s<um. They recognized him from photos but had never seen him in person before. All that mattered to them now was what he held in his hands. It appeared to be some kind of sadness submachine gun.
He fired sadness shots at a rapid rate. Glass cases broke everywhere, and their fragments flew in every direction, scattering the dim light in a flashing haze.
It was impossible to fight him. All they could do was run. Kyle was hit about a dozen times in a few seconds and fell to the ground.
Evina was livid. He felt like calling upon The Shadow's power, but that was far too risky. He couldn't allow that. He couldn't control it anymore, and he was too weak. All he could do was drop his weapons and raise his arms in surrender.
The weasel sneered. His eyes glistened evilly under the shadow of his fedora. He snatched the gem in his grubby hand and walked toward the window. "It was nice meeting you, duck." He leaped outside and disappeared.
Evina picked up the blaster and ran for the window, but he knew it was hopeless. The boss was nowhere to be seen.
He went to Kyle's unconscious body and picked him up. As he wiped away the glass fragments, he could see, even in the dim light, that the sadness shots had left burn marks. This only made Evina hurt worse. "Hang in there, buddy, I got you."
Evina carried him down the stairs and set him down on the carpet. He sat beside him, too tired to do anything else.
The museum was full of broken artifacts and unconscious s<um members. Their silhouettes were all that was visible, like a dark, abstract painting. Sirens were heard from outside and flashing lights appeared. Apparently, the main TTPD squad had finally arrived. Many officers stormed the building with bright searchlights and banhammers in hand. They spotted Evina.
"Took you long enough," Evina said. "You just missed them. The crystal's gone."
Evina was sitting down on a couch, trying not to fall asleep. He was at the main police station, waiting for his superiors to come out and speak with him. Both sides had a lot to explain. Jenny and Kyle were lying down nearby. A medic was applying pixie dust. They were expected to make a full recovery soon.
The door opened, and the deputy walked into the room. It was a bulky bear with thick, untidy, dark brown fur. He was the legendary Carnivorous Grunt, an intimidating creature on normal days, but he looked even unhappier than usual. He walked up to Evina with his arms crossed. "Now, will you tell me what actually happened over there?"
Evina was suddenly furious again. "You're asking me!? Why don't you tell me where the heck you were while we faced all of that on our own!?"
"Hey, we have our own—"
"I don't care! Why did the chief send only three of us to face a full-scale invasion?"
The red rabbit finally showed up and stepped in front of Grunt. "I apologize for that. It was my fault. I had the main squad busy with another assignment. That's why they were completely unprepared to help. It was wrong of me to send you out without more support."
Evina opened his mouth to speak but closed it again and turned away from the others. Jenny and Kyle were looking much better. They awoke and sat up with some help.
The chief picked up a sadness blaster with a look of contempt on his face. "We were afraid of this," he sighed. "It seems we need to rethink our tactics."
"Indeed," Grunt said. He intentionally avoided looking directly at Evina. "And from what I heard, we even had McKillden show up."
"It's true," Evina said.
The chief sat down and wiped his brow. "And besides all that, they managed to get no fewer than twenty-two of their men into the museum. Can you believe that!? How could they move them all without anyone noticing? Did they glitch through the walls of the building!?"
"I have a theory," Jenny said. Everyone turned to look at her. "I was doing some studying on the cogs lately, and apparently, they had a system of sewers running beneath Toontown. They weren't really sewers, though, just tunnels barely wide enough for a small goon to walk through and transport information or important supplies."
"And what does that mean?" Grunt demanded.
"Well, if the cogs could do something like that without any of us realizing it, why couldn't s<um do it? I believe they may have developed a system of tunnels much more elaborate than the cogs had. That would explain how they get around so secretly."
"Officer Jenny," the chief said, "if what you say is true, that there are tunnels underneath our feet transporting criminals all across Toontown, we are doomed. Is there anything they can't do? What will it be next? Dip?"
"I'm really sorry to hear that," Evina said. Everyone turned to look at him now, wondering why he was interrupting their conversation. "I have to go."
The chief stood up again. "What!?"
"I have to resign."
"Evina, do you have any idea what you're saying? You're one of our most valuable officers, and Toontown needs toons like you more than ever before!"
"I'm sorry," Evina said again, "but this is personal. I don't think I'm fit for duty anymore."
The chief was about to ask, but he caught a glimpse of the gray eyes, and he had a hunch what it might be. "Please," he begged.
Evina didn't reply. He removed his police jacket, along with the badge, and handed it to the chief. "It was a pleasure serving with you." Then he walked to the door and left.
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