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The toons enjoyed their new black suits for a little while longer before getting ready for bed. They had to admit that Evina's magical disturbance was a bit dangerous, but in Cog Nation danger had become a part of everyday life.
The sunset was beautiful. The last bit of light glistened off the skyscrapers outside the window. Then the endless sea of gray disappeared as Simeon shut the curtains, and they went to their beds.
Surprisingly, Evina didn't have any dreams. He tried his best to find the face of the person from his previous dreams, but he couldn't figure it out.
Then, suddenly, he saw a toon. He couldn't tell what species he was, but he somehow seemed familiar. The toon silently handed Evina an envelope with a golden seal, and Evina took it. Before he could open it, he woke up.
The day was Sunday, exactly two weeks after they departed Toontown Central. It was a calm day without the terror of office work. Many cogs stayed home to recharge their batteries and rest for the upcoming week.
The snow had piled up high, so they didn't even think of going outside. Most of them tried instead to think of things they could do with their suits and figure out what their next secret plan would be.
"First of all," Zany began, "I want to know about this president guy and why he does everything the chairman asks him."
Nobody had an answer except Evina who had been looking for a chance to tell everyone. "In the dream, the chairman said he was the first cog made from 'the machine'."
"Why do you still believe in that stupid dream?" Ricky scoffed.
"Because I know it means something!" Evina shot back. "I think it represents death. I think it means we are the reason Toontown is ending."
"Toontown is ending because we came here?" Pink asked with a puzzled look.
"Yeah, from the meeting, I think they said Operation D.R. commenced right after we arrived."
Everyone looked at Harry for an answer, and he waited to make sure nobody else was going to speak before he said anything. "It's an interesting theory, but I think the dream might have been symbolic; it's the shape of our fears. Or maybe it just means nothing. We were all scared of the chairman, so the dream just came by coincidence."
Evina looked disappointed again. It felt like they were never going to figure anything out. "Well, I think we should go and discover more about this president," he said, "because we still don't have anything else to go on. I thought we were going to know where the cogs came from by now. I thought we would have completed our original goal!"
"Well," Harry explained, "I think it's obvious that the cogs come from a machine. Where else could they come from?"
"We just have to stop that machine. Why didn't we completely destroy the Sellbot Factory?" Simeon complained.
Harry looked puzzled. "Uh... you all know the Sellbot factory doesn't make cogs, don't you?"
The toons looked betrayed. For years, they had assumed or been tricked into thinking that cogs were produced at the factory, even though it was obvious they didn't really originate there.
"Have you actually looked around the factory or did you just defeat the cogs?" Harry asked them.
"We just defeated the cogs," Ricky admitted.
"Well, being a member of the Toon Council, I thought it was my duty to take a look around. Apparently, the Sellbot factory only makes office supplies and spare parts for cogs working in the Toontown area. There really is nothing special there."
"Really?" Goopy said with his eyes popping out.
"Oh yes," Harry said, "there are no hard drives made, No CPUs, no metal plates, only office supplies and spare suit parts." The other toons looked a bit embarrassed as Harry continued. "The Sellbots use that factory to make the stuff they sell to cogs in Toontown. That's what they do. It would make sense for them to make their own products in their HQ."
"Oh," Pink said, "we thought they started there because it was the first cog HQ."
"No," Harry said, "it wasn't the first HQ created, it was just the first one discovered. I was fishing in my favorite spot on Oak Street when I heard a strange noise coming from the end of the street. It sounded like a metal clang. I went to see what it was, but I tripped on a rock and fell through the hedge. When I stood up and looked around, I saw that there were countless Sellbots on the other side in this eerie, dark place. I immediately went back to report it."
"Oh, I get it," Catman said. "The Toon Council built the tunnel to let toons go in and slow down the Sellbots."
Harry nodded, stood up, and faced the window. "I'm sorry," he said. "I now wish that we had brought the whole Toon Council with us here. Maybe we would think more reasonably working together. They probably don't believe we still exist." He looked toward the ground slowly and sadly. "I'm not the toon I used to be. I know it's only a matter of time before I'm gone, and you're on your own."
Evina ran up to him. "Please don't say that, Harry. You will live. We all will."
Harry looked back at Evina with an unrealistic smile. His face looked as grave and solemn as ever. "Thanks," he said weakly. "After I discovered the Sellbot Headquarters, people went berserk trying to find the other ones. Yet nobody actually found out where the cogs originated, at least not until now. Now we know that the first cogs were made here in Cog Nation."
The rest of Sunday passed, and the toons didn't do very much. They tried to brainstorm what to do next, but they couldn't figure out anything except going back to work and paying off their loan.
They didn't want to go out in the weather in search of food, so they had more throw gags for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They began to wonder if the cogs at the dump would ever become suspicious about where all the rotten gags were disappearing to.
Below their building, they could see the tiny city streets being plowed by little black dots. Unfortunately, tomorrow they would have to go back to work. Another week of pain was coming, and they couldn't do anything about it.
"One down... and eight hundred seventy-nine more to go." Evina was at his desk stamping papers with the Bossbot seal. There must be a lot of applicants this week, he thought. It hadn't been long since he signed one of these. It was only last Monday, yet it felt long ago.
Sometimes he noticed himself sitting idly and daydreaming, then a cog would walk by his cubicle, and he would suddenly snap out of it. At least he was learning to do it less frequently.
The water cooler reminded him of Donald's Dock. The water was always so fresh and cool there. Where was all the clean water coming from here in Cog Nation?
The shining light above his head reminded him of the gardening that he did under the warm summer's sun. Harry always gave him the jellybean combinations, so he never had to figure them out himself. He considered what great time and effort the farmers put into their work.
Speeding by on a black roadster, and listening carefully, he might hear the sound of the wind bending the delicate blades of wheat. Sometimes he would catch a glimpse of farmers planting seeds. They seemed to enjoy working. It was an easy job with the help of technology, but he still wished he could be a hard worker like them. He wanted to feel like his life was worth something more.
He used to race through the big, red barn and feel the cool air rush through his feathers before going back out into the sunlight. The urban races were fun too. He would fly through the city streets as fast as lightning. What city could that have been, anyway? It's obviously not part of Toontown Central.
And then there was Goofy. He was a great guy. Most toons never paid him much attention, but he would often stroll in and greet everyone in the wackiest ways. What great toons those Toon Council members were. They worked in that giant, shiny Toon Hall. Evina went in there all the time to talk to Harry and almost seemed to be a permanent part of their day.
It must be a very old building, that Toon Hall. I have seldom seen buildings built like that anymore. The newer buildings were much more rushed during construction. Some of them were tilted because of their poor workmanship. Most of them creaked and let the rain come in through leaks in the roof. Some of the pillars were not quite symmetrical or even vertical for that matter.
Why would they even do such a thing? Sure, Toontown doesn't have the best architects in the world, but they don't seem like they even care. Why would I want to go back there to see all of that again?
The fences were so childish. It made it look like the toons needed to be reminded to not wander too far away from the streets. Everything seemed to be bulging. They overstuffed the furniture and put a painted rubber layer over it. It didn't look realistic at all. Why was stiff and ugly such a common theme in Toontown? Did they not have other resources?
Then I heard Mr. Alumi talking about how the toons have plenty of resources and never make good use of them. Are they really that dumb? Do they really care about anything that they use in Toontown?
Whatever is going to happen, there is no need to rush back to that place. We can take our time. After all, the toons probably don't want us back. Nobody stopped us from going. It's much better to sit here for the rest of my life and work.
"Uh... Mr. Evina?" a cog's voice spoke.
Evina was shaken awake from his thoughts. He forgot about work again, and now he was surely going to get fired. But luckily for him, it was not Mr. Alumi who had spoken. It was a mailman. He looked at Evina in a funny way and dropped a letter on his desk before leaving.
Evina doubted it was a bill. All bills and paperwork of any sort were sent to Harry. And Harry's phone couldn't be broken again. Anybody would call him if they needed him.
The letter looked like it was very important. It was sealed with the image of a shiny, golden gear. It actually was addressed to Evina. It had to be for him, and it had to be bad. There was nothing else to think or say or do. He just stared at the letter, too afraid to open it.
He finally picked it up with caution like it was contaminated and dropped it in the corner of his desk. It was best if he decided to continue with his work and forget about it now. If it were really urgent, he assured himself, they would call him for sure.
He stamped faster than he ever had before. He stamped even through his daydreams. The stamping became an instinct that day, and it almost seemed like fun. It was several hours and a few cups from the water cooler later that he discovered he had run out of forms. He was finished with his work on time! That was a first for him, and he was proud of it.
He relaxed for a moment and put his feet on his desk, letting the bright artificial light shine on his face to make him feel even more relaxed. Although he had stopped stamping, his hand felt like it was still moving. He imagined himself stamping golden gears on envelopes.
He opened his eyes for a moment and saw the face of a Micromanager looking down at him. "Hi, Mr. Evina!" she greeted him. "I thought you were coming over here last week. I've waited all weekend for you."
"Well, I've been a bit busy lately," he said, trying to find any believable excuse.
"Really? You don't look like you're doing much right now," she teased. "Why don't you come over to my cubical for a moment?" Evina could not find any way to escape so he surrendered. He walked around the office to her cubicle. He had forgotten all about this arrangement, and it didn't make him happy to remember.
Her cubicle was similar to his. There was a gigantic stack of phone books next to her chair that she stood on to spy on him. A vase full of strange gray flowers was on her desk alongside a computer with lots of numbers on its screen.
"I've been watching you," she said.
Evina wasn't pleased with being woken up from his daydreams for this. "Did it ever occur to you that some people might find that a bit disturbing?"
She laughed lightly. "I'm sorry, but I just wanted to have you work for me. I'm what you might call 'wealthy' now, and I was thinking about starting my own business. I want a nice five-story building in Toontown."
Evina pretended to be interested. "Why in Toontown?"
"Oh, I hear a lot of things about it. It's supposed to be dangerous and strange. I would love to live in a place with thrilling adventure, and it would also be a great place to perform my research."
"But it's very colorful. We cogs don't like color, right?" Evina finished the sentence wondering if he should have spoken at all.
She smiled and put her hands behind her head, leaning back into the swivel chair. "You're a very strange man, Evina. There is a reason I still stay in my office. Yes, I'm a bit afraid of those toons and their terrible, deadly humor, but things are going to change soon. We should be much safer after the government's plan to rid the world of them."
Evina swallowed back the fear of that idea. "Oh, well that's great," he said, noticing the nervous quivering of his voice. He cleared his throat. "What kind of work do you do? I'm just a Flunky, you know."
"Oh... just really easy stuff," she said. "Trig and calculus and computer programming. I'm making the Cog Nation of the future; didn't I tell you? When Toontown is destroyed, we'll have a lot of construction work to do. It's a wonderful new frontier full of opportunity, and I don't know why any cog wouldn't want to invest in its development." Evina felt uneasy with the confidence in her voice.
She turned to her computer and pressed a few keys. An image of several cities came up. It was a very realistic model of the future.
"That looks great," Evina said, trying to hide his real emotions.
"Yeah you can do a lot with this simulation program," she said. "Let me show you what some of the future security plans are." Evina watched intently as she added some toons on the street. "Ooh, this is a good one," she assured him as a cyan rabbit walked over a manhole.
The rabbit was completely destroyed by a giant snare that appeared out of nowhere. It had the longest, sharpest teeth he had ever seen. Some of the next things he saw were too gruesome to describe. She showed him lasers with the power to blast through steel, and there were trap doors that opened up into beds of nails or a pool of dip.
Evina began to sweat, even though the black suit he was wearing underneath was keeping him cool. He continued seeing more weapons: dip guns, spinning blades, and an assortment of other cruel ways to eliminate toons.
"We hope," she said, "that the toons will never come back again, and we'll never have to use those. But you can never be too safe, they say. So, what do you say? Are you going to help me?"
Evina was hesitant to answer. He knew there was no way he could get out of this easily. She was so close to his cubicle and would bother him about this forever. But he was certain that help with work wasn't the only thing she wanted. She liked him, a little more than he would have preferred. He was about to say no when a yes slipped out.
"Thank you so much," she said with a smile.
Evina didn't know how there could be anything about him that a cog would like. He instantly regretted this decision though saying no wouldn't have been any easier. He stood up to leave.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I... I think I need to go talk to my boss," he said.
"Ok, well I guess I'll see you tomorrow then," she said.
Evina tried to smile as he walked away, but he knew it looked terrible. He went back to his desk to get the stack of papers, but he didn't dare stay there in case he was being watched. He didn't want to know what it was like to feel the wrath of a furious Micromanager.
He walked to Mr. Alumi's office, still intent on turning in his work on time. The door was open, so he walked right inside. Mr. Alumi was sitting at his desk. A Big Cheese level 40 was standing with his arms folded in the back of the room.
"Hello, Mr. Evina," the Head Hunter said as he looked up from his desk. "I would like to introduce you to Mr. Swiss, my boss." He indicated to the other cog. "It's just my annual performance review. So, what do you need?"
Evina set the very heavy stack of papers down on the desk, and the Head Hunter looked up at him skeptically.
"Is it finished?"
"Yeah," Evina said. "I stamped them all."
Mr. Alumi flipped through them like a giant textbook of identical pages. "That's a first," he remarked. "I never expected you to finish the job on time. What are you going to do now?"
"I don't really know," he admitted.
The Head Hunter got a very large box from under his desk and handed it to him. "Since you have plenty of Stock Options for a Pencil Pusher promotion, I think you ought to have this. Practice makes perfect." Evina struggled with the box as he stood up to leave. He had no idea what was going to be inside. "Oh, and don't forget that the C.E.O. will be in town next Monday."
Evina nodded and made his way out the door. It took him a while to reach his cubicle. He couldn't see anything in front of him and ran straight into a Yesman, knocking the smile right off the cog's face. Other times he hit walls. When he was frustrated enough to put down the box, he realized he was already at his desk.
He cleared everything off his desk except the letter. It haunted him with its shiny, golden seal and the elegant handwriting addressing him on its front. When he opened the box, he was disappointed to see thousands of pencils waiting to be sharpened. "I hate Mondays," he grumbled.
Evina arrived back at the apartment later that day. The sharpening actually wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. Maybe he was learning to accept it more easily. If it meant continued employment, then he certainly needed it. He jumped out of his cog suit and slid into bed in his black suit. He thought about how they now had super powerful supplies and hundreds of gags in their bags, yet they still didn't know what to do with them.
Then Evina thought about the letter he still had. He remembered that it had been the same letter that he saw in his latest dream. This did not make him feel any better about it.
None of the other toons knew what else to do, so they wanted to go to straight to bed. They seemed to be getting more and more depressed every day. Every morning they awoke weaker than before. This continued to happen even though the black suits and gloves were helping them a lot. Even Harry was miserable. It wasn't until dinner time that anybody spoke.
"Well," Evina said, startled by hearing his own voice after such a long time, "I got enough Stock Options for a Pencil Pusher level 3." Everyone looked at him then stared back at their food. "I think I might get a raise," he continued.
"That's nice," Harry said in a monotonous voice, still staring down at his fruit pie slices. The silence was distressing. He had to do something that would break this awful tension, something that would give them hope and something to do. He finally decided to open the letter. He removed it from his pocket. The other toons glanced at it for a moment before shifting their attention back to their food.
Evina opened it delicately and removed a pristine sheet of paper. Unlike most of the letters he had seen before, this one was written in very good handwriting. He read it to himself, expecting it to be something incredible.
Dear Mr. Evina,
I would like to invite you and your friends to dinner with me on Friday. You look like very hard workers, and I would like to get to know you better. I understand you are all new to Cogtropolis, and I feel it is my obligation to help you.
Please, do not be frightened by this letter. I do not wish anybody harm, but I believe there are several things that you ought to know.
If you value your life as much as I do, then I suggest you come to 1013 Capitol Court at 8:00 PM on Friday, and don't forget to bring this letter with you. It'll be your ticket to get in.
Please keep the contents of this letter completely confidential.
Oh yes, the letter was incredible; it was incredibly startling. They know we're toons! They found us! It's a trap, I know it is! He dropped the letter on the table and gasped.
"What's wrong, Evina?" Harry asked in response to Evina's terror. He took the letter and adjusted his glasses to read it. "Oh dear," he said gravely, looking up at them with fear in his eyes, "this isn't good at all."
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