The Lost Slave
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Evina believed he was as content as he could be and ready to start the adventure. It was finally the time for the excitement to begin. "So, away we fly, I guess."
Gyro looked sheepish. "Uh, I need to make one more stop," he said. Evina shot back a distrustful glare. "This is the very last stop! I promise! I want to make sure we have all the supplies we need, stuff that could be found in Cogtropolis. For an adventure of this scale, we must be completely prepared."
Evina decided to accept this last stop, and he rested again to save energy for a time when he needed it. This time, they were traveling to Cogtropolis across the ocean. It was a different way than the route they had taken last year going the opposite way.
The ship rose higher until there was nothing but a blue blur below. Whereas it took the toons a week to get to Cog Nation, Evina was getting a trip there in an hour and a half. But after resting, and possibly dozing off for a short time, he looked out and saw an end to the blue. There was a stretch of gray needles out there, Cogtropolis, the capital of the extinct Cog Nation. It was tremendous in size, especially when seen from high above the ground. The edge did indeed touch the ocean. Evina suddenly remembered his night long ago on the roof of their cog apartment, smelling the seawater in the warm wind. This memory brought back so many others, and he had to assure himself that his friends at home would be safe. He lost them once, and he was determined he wouldn't let that happen again.
"Welcome back to our city," Gyro proclaimed. "Population: us." He landed the ship on a random street. "This really won't take long."
"I'll be patient," Evina said as he also exited the ship.
"Please, don't wander far," Gyro begged him.
"Seriously, dad, this place is one hundred percent empty. I'm perfectly safe."
Gyro smiled weakly, something he did quite often, then he turned and walked away.
Evina strolled in the opposite direction. Because it was the other side of the world, it wasn't day yet. The faint light of dawn was barely visible on the horizon, but it was just enough light for him to see where he was going. It was a strange but thoughtful experience. This was the great empire he had inherited, a giant city of gray and metal with not a single living thing in sight. All he heard was the sound of wind blowing through the gaps between the buildings.
He looked up and saw the countless rows of needle-like towers pointing up to the clouds, giants standing in the darkness. One of them, several miles away, stood above the others. It was the headquarters of Cogs Incorporated. Today, it looked much less intimidating than before. This was probably due to the fact that the cogs were no longer a threat to anyone, but the faint light of dawn also made it look beautiful. How is it possible that I survived falling off that thing?
Although some things appeared to be the same as before, there were so many details that were different. As he walked down the street, there was tons of litter everywhere. Rusted pieces of cogs and cars blanketed every surface on the ground. Above his head, the city lights were all out since the power was cut off. Many of the buildings had broken windows, caused by the explosion of cogs. Together, the whole place looked like some abstract piece of art.
Now he figured he had walked far enough, and he turned to head back to the ship before he got lost. After all, every street in each direction looked very similar.
But an unfamiliar noise scared him. It didn't belong here. He immediately stopped and turned around to see where it had come from. Was it really that manhole? No, that can't be, he thought. But then he heard it again. There was something under there, and it sounded alive.
He approached it cautiously. He had not expected to encounter anything unusual until they went to space. Lifting the metal cover, he slowly peeked inside. The sound was louder, and he could smell food. Is it possible that someone could be living in here? That's crazy. But after all I've seen happen, I'm starting to think anything is possible. He shouted down. "Hey, is someone down there?"
A small yelp was heard followed by the scuffling of feet. A pair of eyes stared back at Evina, the rest of the body hidden. "Are you going to hurt me?" a small voice whispered.
"What? Why would I—"
"Oh, well, in that case, feel free to come down."
Evina hesitated, but it didn't sound like the voice of someone unfriendly, so he climbed down the ladder and into the tunnel.
The place was set up like a tiny house with everything stuffed into one room. Trash and food were lying everywhere, and a television was tuned in on a soap opera broadcasting from Toontown. A toon was sitting in a dingy armchair in front of the screen. It reminded Evina of visiting his friends Ricky and Rocky, but much worse. The toon was a horse, and even though the lighting was bad, he thought it was colored brown.
"What? How could you be here?"
"I could ask you the same question," the other replied.
"But... don't you realize this is Cogtropolis?"
"Uh, duh," he shot back.
Evina wasn't sure how sane this toon was, or how it was even possible for him to live in a place like this.
"So, anyway, how did you get past the cogs?" the horse continued, interrupting Evina's thoughts. "I thought there weren't supposed to be any toons in Cog Nation."
"All the cogs are gone. The whole nation was destroyed."
"Oh really? I was beginning to wonder why I haven't seen one lately. It felt like a while."
"Half a year, to be more precise. Now, you have to answer some of my questions," Evina demanded. "How did you get here?"
The horse sighed and turned off the TV, leaning back in his ugly chair. "Well, it happened long ago. I was the victim of a strange event. I used to be normal like you, honestly, I was. One day I was in the Sellbot Factory in Toontown, fighting cogs, but when we got to the foreman, he was busy talking to someone I didn't recognize. It was a level 32 Mr. Hollywood, apparently the supervisor's supervisor. All the toons with me immediately fled when they saw him, as you could imagine. And I stood there alone facing a bunch of Sellbots, and nobody frightened me more than that Mr. Hollywood. He kidnapped me. Yeah, seriously!
"After traveling with limited oxygen for a while, I arrived in Cogtropolis. The cog wanted me to be his slave and perform a lot of menial work for free. I had no choice and, for a while, I wondered what my life was worth. But that cog became more nervous every day. It turns out he wasn't supposed to be taking any toons into the nation, and he didn't want me to be discovered.
"And so, he hid me in these sewer maintenance tunnels. Nobody ever came down here, so it was the perfect place to live. My work for him became less and less frequent until, at last, he gave up on me. I still had huge supplies of food, so that wasn't a problem. I never left this tunnel, but I could hear the cogs up above. Then one day the noises stopped."
Evina was shocked. "So, you mean to tell me you've been living down here for years and never left?"
"Yeah, I guess. Time flies when you're doing... well, I don't really know what I'm doing." He tossed another empty bag of chips away.
Evina rubbed his head and leaned back against the tunnel's metal wall. "I can't believe this."
"Yeah, well stuff happens, man," the horse told him. "It's a thing we call life."
"What is your name, anyway?" Evina demanded.
The slave looked up and pondered. "Well, I don't exactly remember, but the cog nicknamed me Glue Stick."
"What? That's awful!"
"Actually, I think it's grown on me. Now, who are you?"
"I am Evina Gearloose."
"And you thought I had a bad name? Anyway, it was a pleasure meeting you, but I have some TV shows to catch up on."
Of all the things that shocked Evina that day, nothing was as strong as this. "No, you have to get out of here!"
"Come on!" He grabbed Glue Stick and dragged him to the ladder. It seemed like he had become too weak to climb, so Evina had to push him out.
"It's cold out here," Glue Stick said as soon as he stepped out.
"Get used to it!" Evina climbed out and sat next to the freed slave. He looked like he had completely forgotten what the outside world looked like. "Now we need to get you back to Toontown."
"Uh, no offense, but I don't think I want to go back there. Those days are long gone. Do you even have a clue what I've been through?"
Evina felt like retorting with a lengthy explanation of his troubled past, but he ignored it. "Alright then. Would you like to come with me and my father?"
"On an adventure to outer space, to see other worlds."
Glue Stick returned an incredulous look.
"Really it would be great."
He sighed. "Ok, why not?"
"But as long as you are willing to accept danger."
Glue Stick gave him another weird look.
Evina realized his mistake. He shouldn't have asked that sort of thing so soon after saving some guy's life.
"You know what? Anything that happens will probably be better than going back to Toontown, as long as it's not boring."
"Alright, let's go!" Evina took Glue Stick's dirty hand and led the way back to the ship. Although this guy was lazy and obnoxious, he once again felt the excitement at the thought of having someone else to come with them. Hopefully, this guy will prove to be useful. Well, I don't know, maybe not. I'll ask Gyro anyway.
"You're weird," Glue Stick said, unexpectedly.
"How come your eyes are all funny?"
Evina didn't want to explain, he just pulled the other toon back to the ship. Once they came up to it, Evina opened the door and let him step inside.
"Hmm, nice place you got," Glue Stick remarked. "Can it really fly?"
"Oh yeah," Evina beamed. Then there was a loud squeak behind him. He didn't realize that Gyro's helper had stayed in his ship. Looking at the little robot, he could clearly see its anxiety of having an unfamiliar toon in the ship.
Evina tried his best to him it down. "Don't worry, he's a good guy."
The tiny robot didn't seem to believe him and turned to look out of the back window. Evina looked that direction as well. He saw Gyro returning to the ship with a box full of random stuff.
The old chicken slid a door open with a free finger and looked up at the others. He instantly dropped the box when he saw Glue Stick, and his mouth fell open.
"It's alright, dad," Evina calmed him. Then in great detail, he explained how he had found the horse and what had happened to him.
Gyro listened to the whole story, silently, with a cynical expression on his face. "So, even if he is telling the truth, how will he be of any use to us?" He folded his arms and sat down in the pilot's seat, glaring at Glue Stick.
Evina wasn't sure how he was going to answer. He hadn't thought any of this through very well. Maybe Gyro had become comfortable with the idea of being alone with his son.
"Well, I know a lot of stuff," Glue Stick said.
"Like what?" Gyro demanded.
"For example, all that cog tech that you dropped." He pointed out each item. "That's a neutrino modulator, and that's a negative energy battery unit, and that is... ooh, a full set of industrial-grade gralt ion turbo engine fuses."
Gyro looked mildly impressed, and even Evina hadn't been expecting that. "Alright, fine, you can come."
Glue Stick looked pleased with himself. "Thank you."
Gyro took out a clipboard. "Now it's time for the final inventory." He glanced at his helper, and it saluted back at him. "Food and water supply," he began. There was an affirmative squeak. "Fuel." Squeak. "Backup energy." Squeak. "Spare parts." Squeak. "Pencil." Squeak.
Evina jerked his head to see where the helper was pointing to. The giant, magical pencil they had stolen from the cogs last year was locked away in a drawer at the back of the ship.
"Good, good," Gyro smiled, "and now for the systems."
The helper walked over to a series of computer controls against a wall and turned them on. Evina hadn't seen this system turned on before. It was covered in lots of multicolored lights and monitors. It began emitting a mechanical hum.
"All systems are go," Gyro announced. "Seal hatches."
There was a suction noise, and the doors were sealed airtight. They didn't look like they would ever be opened in this state.
"Prepare for liftoff."
Evina made sure that everyone's seatbelts were secure, and then he gave his father a thumb up.
"Here we go!" Gyro grinned. The ship rose into the air, above the street, above Cogtropolis, and higher than they had ever gone before that year. With incredible speed, it blasted away into the sky.
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