No Turning Back
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Evina's sleep was uneasy, and he opened his eyes to darkness. Then he cranked his head around to see what was happening. His eyes adjusted. Evidently, the Robber Baron he had seen earlier, and his friend, a Money Bags, were still awake. The reading light above the cogs' heads made it look like a show on a stage, and they were under the spotlight. Playing cards were scattered over the food trays.
"And then," the Money Bags chortled, "he told me he didn't have it." They both cackled like crazy.
"You ought to send the police after him," the Robber Baron advised him as he summoned the flight attendant.
Evina was still drowsy but was kept awake by the amusement of watching these cogs. The Name Dropper came and asked the cogs what they wanted.
"A bottle of ethanol," the Robber Baron said without looking at her.
The Name Dropper ran away and came back surprisingly quick. She uncorked it for them and handed it to the Money Bags who poured it straight into his mouth.
"No, no, no!" pleaded the Robber Baron. "Let's make a toast."
"Digestion!" he shouted with delight.
"Obviously," the Money Bags spat. "Why do you have to rub it in that I don't have a converter yet? Why don't you just get some of that food stuff?"
The Robber Baron poured two glasses. "I don't want to waste money on food until I get my taste bud drive installed."
The Money Bags looked defeated. A Loan Shark walked up to them and squeezed in between their two seats. It did not look comfortable.
"Where have you been, Alan?" the Robber Baron asked him.
"I was looking for something if you must know."
"Did you drop your checkbook again?"
"No, but I did you hear you two laughing. Are you really joking and playing games? If you don't stop, I swear you'll malfunction!"
Evina tried to go to sleep, even though it was difficult with the talking, the stiff seat, and the bumps of the plane. He understood the cog digestion thing now, but he had never witnessed cogs acting so strange before. Perhaps they behaved differently when they didn't think toons weren't watching. It wasn't important. The white noise of the engine helped him doze off, only for him to be awakened a couple hours later.
The Name Dropper made an announcement about breakfast. Evina was still very tired and, looking out the window, he saw that the plane was on the ground. The eyes on top of a nearby building glared down at him. Behind the buildings was the pink sunrise of the new day. Unfortunately, the feeling of hopelessness soon returned. He remembered that they had no plan or even the faintest idea of what to do when they got to the capital, and there was no turning back now. A feeling of dread entered his heart. He longed to be back at home.
What were we thinking? How could we actually treat this like it was a vacation? This is insanity. The security will be way too tight, and we won't survive ten seconds once we step off the plane!
When the other toons woke up to see they were surrounded by cogs, the terrible truth sunk in. They started contemplating dreary things similar to Evina. It had been over a week since they left Toontown Central, though it felt much longer than that. They thought about how good their lives had been to them, and how ridiculous it was to leave it behind. These thoughts, as well as many others, swirled around chaotically in their heads.
Most of all, they tried to avoid thinking about what was to come. What they feared most was the unknown, and they would have to face it very soon. To keep themselves busy, they played tic-tac-toe for a few minutes. They didn't want to talk very often because it seemed like some curious cogs were listening in on their conversations.
"Where are we?" Simeon asked the Name Dropper when she walked by their row.
"We are in Steelberg," she said, "about one thousand kilometers from Cogtropolis. We should be there soon." Then she went away to take other's orders.
"Uh, what is a kilometer?" Ricky asked Harry. The old rabbit, who was also very tired, sighed and dropped his head.
Fortunately for them, the nosy Corporate Raider seated behind them had gone off the plane for a while, but he returned just as Harry had finished answering their various questions.
The Name Dropper's voice came again from the speakers on the ceiling. "This is the last warning for boarding. The plane departs in fifteen minutes."
"I think we should get some exercise before it's too late," Rocky suggested. "I need to work off all this food."
It seemed unusually difficult for the toons to keep their balance. Their legs felt like jelly, and they had a hard time getting off the plane. The Steelberg airport did not have many cogs at this time. There were just a few wandering around. They had some unusual names, though. A cog that was labeled as a Newsbot came up to them. "Have you heard the latest?" he asked the group.
"No, and we don't need to," Pink said bluntly.
"Oh, well I thought you would like to know about the toons in Sparksville. I don't really want to believe it, but there is a picture right here." He showed them a newspaper. It showed them captioned as a group of toon suspects in disguise. They were running through an alley to the airport. They were struck with fear when they saw it.
"Well, I think we will take one, thank you," Pink said, and she paid him a cogbuck.
The toons walked back to the airplane while Pink read aloud. "A group of potential toon suspects rushing down an alley. Police say they believe the toons took a plane to somewhere else in Cog Nation. Sadly, the general population of the UCN thinks this is a hoax. But if it is indeed true, the nation may have some major problems ahead. Police have started investigating in the adjacent states from Sparksville." The faces of the whole group looked somber.
"I guess we were caught," Goopy said as they took their seats. It seemed much more crowded than before. Some cogs from Steelberg had boarded while they were out, and now every seat was filled. The doors slammed shut behind them, and the Name Dropper walked back into the aisle again.
"I want to welcome everyone who has just joined us. I am Kelly, and I will be your flight attendant for our trip to Cogtropolis. We will arrive there in about an hour and a half."
"I wish I could just disappear," Evina said gloomily. The toons turned their attention to him with somber faces in agreement.
"I believe we all feel the same way," Pink said as the plane began to take off again. "But it's really not your fault. We were all in this together."
They were flying over myriads of Cog offices and apartments. The buildings they passed were a lot larger than the ones they had seen before. It also seemed like they were packed in closer together. They assumed that they were getting closer to the capital of Cog Nation where the legendary, incredibly powerful cogs resided. This seemingly endless stretch of gray curved around the newly discovered world. Even from their height, they could no longer see any trace of Toontown, and everything looked gray. The plane ascended up through the clouds and blocked their view again. Most of the toons started falling asleep after a little while, but they tried their best to stay awake for when they reached their destination. Harry was gazing intently out of his window when they began descending slowly. "It's all my fault," he murmured with frustration. "Why did I ever allow myself to do it?" He appeared to be emotionally tormented for his decision to come with the toons.
"It was my idea," Evina said.
"Yeah, but you were just excited for adventure! You didn't know any better. I was the one that allowed you to do it," Harry ranted with frustration as loud as he dared. "I wish I never did it." Harry started crying. "If Cog Nation is anything like what we've seen, then our chances of living are one in a million."
"Yeah, but," Evina gulped, "what if it's much worse than what we've seen?"
Harry groaned loudly, hysterical once again, his face tight and sweaty. "Then it's one in a billion."
"But we must do it," Evina said. "We can't turn back now. You said it yourself! We haven't even found out where the cogs have come from! There is no way we can turn back now. We are not cowards!"
Harry blew his nose. "You're right. We do it or die. There is no turning back. If we run into trouble, we die. If anything goes wrong, we die. The only way we can get out is if we get enough money for a ride back while avoiding any cogs who suspect that we're toons. That's not as easy as it sounds!"
"Or," Evina considered, "we could defeat Cog Nation."
Harry shot back a grim expression. "Don't ever joke like that. Not even all the toons in the entire tooniverse could do that, even if they could all be here at the same time. And you must remember that all of the cogs' property is teleport locked. Nobody can teleport in or out. We can only fly out or get out the hard way."
"And the painful way," Evina shuddered. "But let's not think about that."
After another couple of minutes of silence, or maybe longer, Goopy looked over Evina's shoulder to see out the window. "It looks like there's something big out there," Goopy informed them as he glanced down out the window. Immediately everyone heard a wheezing sound. Goopy turned as white as snow. He spun around and started hyperventilating.
"It's... it's!" he squealed.
"What is it?" Pink asked with fright.
"D-don't ask and, most importantly, d-don't l-look!" Goopy said before fainting.
The intercom turned on, and the voice of the Name Dropper was heard. "We will now begin our descent to Cogtropolis."
"I wonder what could've happened to him," Harry muttered as he also glanced out of the window. Like Goopy, he spun around in fright with his face very pale. He was at a loss for words. "Oh my... it's... unbelievable!"
Just then, the Name Dropper came over to them. She saw their looks of shock and the unconscious Goopy. "What happened here?" she demanded.
"He malfunctioned," Ricky said as realistically as he could.
"Oh dear, you'll have to see the mechanic I suppose. We will reach the ground soon." She quickly hurried away and strapped herself in.
Pink quickly got out some pixie dust she stole from the gag room at the Sparksville airport and sprinkled it over Goopy who regained his purple color back. He woke up with horror.
"We're descending!" Harry told him.
"Oh no!" Goopy gasped. "I can't do it. I just can't!"
Ricky and Rocky tried to sneak a glance out the window, but Harry quickly pushed them away. "No looking! Just brace yourselves for whatever might be coming."
There was a lot of commotion as the other cogs became anxious to land. Everyone was relieved at the knowledge that they would be getting off the plane soon, except for the toons. The toons had their hearts pounding loudly in their chests. The plane tipped down. They plummeted, and all the light suddenly disappeared. The plane went underground.
"We are on the underground runway," the Name Dropper announced. "Welcome to Cogtropolis! The population is three hundred million and always growing!"
"Yeah, we all know that," the Robber Baron scowled as he picked up his carry-on luggage with the Money Bags and the Loan Shark. The toons could no longer see anything out the window. It was like they were in a cave. The plane had stopped
"Well, here goes nothing," Catman said as they stood up. It was true. They had nothing to lose but their lives. At least they thought it was well worth paying for the good of Toontown if Toontown needed it.
Goopy and Harry seemed more frightened than the rest of them from what they saw from the sky. They stepped off the airplane and almost screamed at the thing they saw first. There was a Big Wig level 38 standing there, clearly waiting for somebody to get off the plane. The Cogtropolis airport was absurdly huge, but as it was underground, there were no windows to see what was outside. They followed the signs that would lead them to the exit.
Extremely powerful cogs were chaotically rushing everywhere. Eventually, the toons passed all the gates and reached the escalators that led up to the surface. Pink handed Goopy a paper bag to slow his breathing. She knew that they would soon see what Goopy and Harry had seen. They were caught in the flow of hundreds of cogs, trapped on their way up to the exit.
"Here we go," Harry told them nervously. "I wish us all the best of luck because we'll definitely need it."
The crowd pushed them out the door and into their worst nightmare.
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