A small crowd had congregated at the Train Graveyard station as Cream, Bark, Tails, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie arrived to take the train to the Plate. Approaching the gathering, Cream spotted Johnny – the red-haired regular at her bar – in the centre of it all. He was wearing a white, grease-smudged shirt, a faded black, leather vest, a pair of fashionably torn blue jeans and worn travelling shoes. Next to him was a small pack that was filled with all his valuables.
He stared forlornly into the crowd that gathered around him. “Guess this is it, everybody,” he said to them, his voice sombre. “It’s time I left. I’m heading far away, but when I come back here, I’ll be a better man! I promise!”
The crowd, a mix of humans and Mobians cheered at the redhead’s declaration. A badger – whom Cream also recognized as Johnny’s closest friend – stepped up to him. He raised his bowed head to him. “Johnny, do you really have to go?” he asked, his eyes welling with unshed tears. “What about your mom and dad? What about me? Who’s gonna be my drinking buddy from now on?”
Johnny scoffed at the mention of his parents. “They wanted me gone long ago,” he said bitterly. “Always said I’d never amount to anything, but I’m gonna prove them wrong! And,” he clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder, smiling broadly at him. “You’ll be fine, man. You’ll have to do the drinking for the both of us, but when I get back, you’ll be the first to know all of my tales! I swear!”
The badger sniffed and started to rub his eyes with the back of his arm. “I-I ain’t cryin’ man,” he said, his voice wavering. “Just-Just something in my eye, that’s all.”
Smiling wistfully, Johnny picked up his pack and started to head into the train car when he spotted Tails and the members of TORNADO just behind the crowd. His smile brightened at the sight of the rabbit. “Cream!” he called to her, waving.
Cream’s jaw dropped in surprise at the sight of her regular customer. She approached, with the others following closely behind. “Johnny! You’re seriously leaving?!” she said, shocked. “I thought you told your mom whatever to get a rise out of her! I didn’t think you were serious?!”
“No, he’s serious alright,” Johnny’s badger friend cut in, his face looking glum. “After we all listened in on your conversation between you and the merc last night, he got real quiet, you know? This was probably on his mind from time, but you two talking probably spurred him on-” He paused, his eyes widening and he clapped his palms onto his mouth. “Oooh, I don’t think I was supposed to mention that… Heh heh,” he muttered through covered fingers.
The brawler could feel the heat of her blush going down her cheeks and across her neck. She scowled indignantly at the crowd, who in turn glared at Johnny’s friend.
The badger looked down to the ground, abashed. “Sorry?”
“Cream, I can’t stay here and live my life in this dump, drinking myself to death,” Johnny said, catching everyone’s attention. “I gotta do something worthwhile in my life while I still have time to do so. I mean, look at him!” he pointed to Tails. “He joined SOLDIER, just like he said he would! If he can do something amazing like that, then damn right I can do the same!” He gathered his stuff and headed for one of the cars near the back of the engine. “This ain’t goodbye! I’ll be back! And you, childhood friend!” he shouted out to the two-tailed fox. “You make sure you take care of Cream! You promised, right?!”
Cream watched as Tails nodded, his eyes steely. “Yeah,” he said.
Johnny smiled heartily and flashed a thumbs-up as he climbed into the passenger car. Soon enough, the train whistle blared out. “11:40 train to Sector 4! Last call for boarding!” the red-dressed conductor yelled out.
“And that’s our cue,” Bark said, tapping his foot impatiently. “Let’s get on.” They hustled to the car at the front of the train and boarded it. Once onboard, the bear motioned Biggs, Wedge and Jessie to his side. “Hum, looks like this ain’t a private car,” he whispered. “So split up and act casual.”
The three nodded. Manoeuvring around passengers, Biggs opened the car door and ushered his teammates through before shutting it behind him. Those same passengers turned and caught sight of Bark’s Gun-Arm and Tails’ massive sword. Nervously, they began to disperse to the next cars, putting themselves as far away from the dangerous-looking individuals as possible.
Soon enough, the car was empty, save for a homeless canary bird wrapped in a ratty blanket at the back of the warmly-lit passenger car and a black-haired man wearing a burgundy suit, a white, starched shirt and a matching burgundy tie with polished black shoes. An embossed Kintobor pin was attached to his lapel. He sat, reading the daily news until he heard the sounds of people shuffling past him. The man dropped his paper and looked around the near-empty car until he saw the three Mobians. He gave a disdainful sniff. “Hmph, hoodlums again,” he muttered out loud. He turned to a new page of the periodical and then raised it in front of him to hide from view. “Don’t I just have all the luck on Mobius?”
Bark eyed the man in the suit, hearing his words. His good hand clenched into a fist, which shook with anger. Before Cream could grab his arm to stop him, the bear sauntered up to the human hidden behind his papers. “Hey,” he said harshly. “You say something about us?”
The man drew the newspaper closer to his face, hoping that the Mobian would get the message and leave him alone. His actions only increased Bark’s ire. “Yo, I said, did you say something about us?!” he growled as he tore the paper away from the now-terrified man. Relishing the look of fear in the man’s eyes, Bark sneered at him before exaggeratedly looking around the train car. “Well, well, look at that,” he whistled sarcastically. “Car’s gone empty all of a sudden. Now, I wonder why?”
The red-suited man trembled in his seat, his lip quivering as he tried to say something. Summoning up all his courage, he looked Bark dead in the eye. “It’s-It’s empty b-because of g-g-guys like you!” he sputtered out, his voice high and squeaky.
Bark immediately slammed his fist onto the seat beside the man, causing him to tuck his head in between his knees. Despite his fear, his mouth didn’t stop moving. “You’ve-you’ve seen the news, right?” he spat out. “TORNADO says there’ll be more bombings! Only devoted Kintobor employees like me would go to the top plate on a day like today!”
The bear’s eyes narrowed. “You work for Kintobor?” he asked, levelling his gun at the executive’s head and pressing a barrel against his temple.
Feeling the cold metal against his head, the Kintobor employee trembled harder. “I’m not going to stoop to violence and I’m not giving you my seat either!” he whimpered loudly, his voice rising in pitch as he cowered in fear.
‘OK, that’s enough!’ Moving quickly, lest Bark pulled the trigger, Cream quickly went up to the bear and grabbed his shoulder. “Bark, stop it!” she said, glaring disapprovingly at him.
The bear cast a sidelong glance at the rabbit, his brows furrowing deeply. “Fine,” he huffed, pulling his arm back. He leaned in close to the snivelling Kintobor employee. “You’re fucking lucky she was here to stop me, you piece of shit,” he said in an undertone before rising and heading back, with Cream right behind.
Tails watched apathetically at the exchange. “You done?” he asked the bear when he returned.
Bark bared his teeth at the fox, growling. “Why the hell are you always so calm?” he said through gritted teeth. “Are you some kind of robot or something?” The fox ignored his comment.
A moment later, the passenger car rattled as the couplers between the cars snapped into place, linking them to one another. “Looks like they just finished connecting the cars,” Cream said, looking around. “We’re on our way.”
The engine hissed and the train began to move. “So, we’re on the train,” Tails said to Bark as he fingered the lone Fire Emerald inserted into his new piece of armour. “Tell me what’s our current situation, and what’s our next target?”
Bark chortled at the fox’s attitude. “Heh, well aren’t you the consummate professional?” he said sarcastically, before dropping his voice to a whisper. “Alright, listen. So the original plan was that we’d coast to Sector 4, get off the train and sneak into the reactor through the under-Plate system, as we discussed last night. But on the morning news, it was announced that Kintobor had upgraded their sensor arrays for all the upper plate ID checkpoints-”
“Which they’re really proud of,” Cream cut it, her hands on her hips.
“Apparently, this upgrade can spot even the most convincing of counterfeits,” Bark continued. “So we can’t use our fake IDs anymore.”
“Good morning and welcome to the Megapolis Lines,” the intercom buzzed out, cutting into Bark’s speech. “You are currently riding the Magenta Express Line to the upper plate. Our next stop is the Sector 4 Financial District station. The arrival time will be 11:55 am.”
Cream glanced at the digital clock above them. The time read 11:45 am. “So that means we have about three minutes until we reach the checkpoint,” she said.
“Exactly,” Bark said. “So the new plan is that we jump off the train before we hit that point and then find a way to the reactor through the plate’s underside. According to the data Biggs swiped from No. 1, we can use the maintenance walkways and ducts by the security checkpoint to bust our way in instead.”
“OK,” the fox said, pushing off from the wall. “So what should we do in the meantime?”
Bark rolled his eyes. “The hell do I care what you do?” he said, exasperated. “Just sit down and shut the hell up!”
“Sorry,” Tails replied, not sounding sorry at all. “I got this thing against sitting down in trains.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Bark groaned, throwing his arms into the air. “Just do whatever you want!” He stepped away and took a seat near the still-trembling Kintobor employee.
Taking that as her cue, Cream traversed down the nearly empty car to the rail monitor screen. “Hey Tails,” she called out. “Come over here! Let’s look at the map monitor together.”
Nodding, Tails advanced up the car. As she watched the fox approach her, Cream thought she heard the whinging of the trembling man Bark terrorized. But as she strained her ears, she instead heard his breathless exclamations. “Oh man, oh man!” he mumbled to himself elatedly. “I’m gonna brag to everyone at work about this!”
In an instant, the fox’s sinewy and lithe form filled her vision. He looked down at her and the fighter felt transfixed by his electric blue gaze. ‘So intense…’ Snapping out of her trance, she looked coyly at him. “Hmm, have you seen this already?” she said with a finger tapping her chin. “Well, that’s OK.” She turned back towards the monitor but craned her head to look at the fox from the corner of her eye, a sly smile on her lips. “Come a little closer, I promise I won’t bite.” She had to give her friend credit for keeping a straight face.
What she didn’t expect was for Tails to sidle closer to her, their bodies almost touching. He extended his arm, his hand nearly brushing against the rabbit’s cheek and touched the capacitive screen to activate the unit. He noticed her eyes were still on him. “What?” he asked.
Flustered, Cream hastily turned her head back towards the monitor. “N-nothing,” she said as she brought up the rail map.
At that moment, the lights on the train car started flashing red and the intercom emitted a shrill beeping noise. An error message appeared on the rail monitor. The rabbit jumped back in surprise. “That’s odd,” she said to Tails. “The upper plate checkpoint was supposed to be further-”
“Attention all passengers!” a booming, female voice spoke from the intercom. “Type A Security Alert! Unidentified passengers have been confirmed! A search of all cars will be conducted!”
The intercom repeated its message as Cream looked around, her eyes wide. “What’s happening?” she said, perplexed.
Tails’ eyes darkened, and his eyebrows lowered. “I’ve got a good idea…” he started before the door leading into the next car abruptly opened, revealing a wide-eyed Jessie.
“Guys! We’re in trouble,” she said, alarmed. “I’ll explain later, but you gotta hurry into the next car!”
Her eyes darted away from Cream and Tails, which the fighter noticed. ‘She’s hiding something.’
Bark stood up, his teeth bared in a mixture of rage and apprehension. “Jessie! What the hell-”
“Look, we don’t have time for this!” the brunette shouted, turning around. “Just get in here before they force it closed and lock it!” She braced herself against the door, holding it in place. “Hurry!”
“Motherfucker,” Bark hissed to himself, hurrying up to the door. “Someone blew it.”
“Unidentified passengers located in Car #1. Preparing to-” The intercom was cut off as it was destroyed by a hail of bullets coming from Bark’s Gun-Arm.
“Shut it!” he snarled, before wheeling on the other two Mobians. “Let’s get moving!”
The three dashed into the next car, with Jessie right behind them. The door forced itself shut and two, thick steel bars slid into place horizontally from the middle, barring access to the previous car. “Car #1 Locked Down. Upgrading to Warning Level #2,” the intercom in the next car announced. “Scanning for unidentified passengers.”
As soon as they entered the car, Bark rounded on Jessie. “Again, what the hell’s going on here, Jess?!” he shouted.
The brunette looked down and away from the bear. “Look,” she said, hesitantly. “I think I screwed up, OK? I’m sorry-”
“What!?” he roared, cutting her off, spittle flecking from his mouth. “Whaddya mean, ‘I screwed up?!”
“Bark, you can yell at her later!” Tails’ calm and collected voice interrupted the ursine’s tirade. He had to shout over the sirens. “For now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
“Fine,” he responded, looking away from the woman before giving her the last word. “Jess, this ain’t no joke, you hear? I want an explanation as to how you messed this up.”
Wordlessly, she headed to the end of the next car where Biggs and Wedge were waiting. The raven-haired man waved them down. “Hurry up yo!” he shouted amid the panicked commuters trying to make sense of what was going on.
“Yeah! They’re gonna lock the door!” Wedge added, holding the door to the next car open.
“Unidentified passengers located in Car #2, prepare for lockdown.”
“Run!” Jessie yelled.
The group hurried to the end of the car, pushing past the other passengers in their mad dash to the end. They barely scraped through as the door behind them locked into place. “Car #2 locked down. Upgrading to Warning Level #3,” the robotic voice from the speaker announced. A moment later, another message blared through. “Error: ID storage overload. Purging data from Cars 1 and 2 and resuming search once purge is complete.”
Jessie heaved a sigh before facing her leader. “OK, you want an explanation? Then listen up!” she said crossly. “This train is running the older KI Sec-Type-A security system. Once it detects an illegal ID, the system automatically locks down all of the cars until it reaches the station, where Kintobor guards will be waiting. But due to a flaw in the system though, it locks down each car after 15 seconds. So, by moving up to the back of the train, car by car, we can exploit that flaw and continue with the mission without any hassle.”
“That doesn’t explain how the fake ID was identified?” Cream said, looking at Jessie. She turned her head away and didn’t respond.
“Purge Complete. Unidentified Passengers: Moving to the back of the train. Currently tracking location.”
“Shit! The second wave has started! Come on!” Jessie yelled, spinning around and running down the train. A rooster blocked her path. Without missing a beat, the woman slowed down, bent over and threw an uppercut. Her fist connected with his solar plexus and knocked the wind out of him. He dropped to the train floor like a sack of stones amid the screams from the other passengers mingling with the blaring alarms. Jessie hopped over the downed avian and followed Biggs and Wedge into the next car. Cream, Bark and Tails were hot on their heels.
“Car #3 Locked Down. Upgrading to Warning Level 4.”
“Keep running!” Tails yelled over the klaxons as the six sped through to the last car. He and Bark pushed through the throng, while Cream effortlessly vaulted over bodies. She passed by Johnny, who was perched on top of his seat and fearfully watched her and the others shoot by him. The group dove into the last car just as the door shut.
“Car #4 Locked Down! Upgrading to Maximum Security Alert!”
Bark grinned. “Alright! We made it!” he exclaimed, trudging up the aisle to the very back of the train where Biggs Jessie and Wedge were waiting.
Jessie handed the bear a satchel, which he secured tightly onto his back. “There are twelve potions, three ethers and three phoenix downs in there, along with some grenades and extra ammunition,” she called over the sirens. Her voice was almost mechanical and devoid of the usual charm she exuded. Cream also noted that the woman was avoiding both her eyes, as well as Tails’. “I’ll carry the rest of the supplies, as well as the bombs. We’re about two and a half minutes to the checkpoint. If you check the map, there should be a large duct that leads to the plate underside just in front of the sensor array.” She nodded to Wedge, who forced open the door leading out into the tunnel.
“OK,” Bark replied stoically. He turned to the fox and rabbit behind him. “Alright you two, we’re jumping first,” he said to them. “Biggs and the others will follow after us. They’ll guide us to the reactor. Afterwards, they’ll rendezvous with us back at the hideout.”
“Boss, hurry up,” Biggs urged, keeping an eye on his watch. “You guys gotta jump in, like, sixty seconds!”
Cream nodded, her lips pressed into a tight line. “Alright then, I’ll go first,” she said, ignoring the lump in her throat. “Should be no problem.” ‘Yeah, after all, I’m just jumping out of a high-speed train…’ She made her way to the exit, the rushing wind blowing through her hair and ears. She gulped at the sight and then took a glance at her friend, standing behind her. “Scary, huh?” she said to Tails, a hesitant smile crossing her lips.
Tails shook his head and cocked an eyebrow at her. “Too late to be saying that now,” he said. He then frowned. “Why’d you come along anyways?”
The fighter’s eyes widened. ‘Of all the time to ask!’ “Well, I came because…” she started, before trailing off into her mind. ‘I came because I want to be -’
“Hey! There ain’t no time for that!” Bark yelled, interrupting Cream’s thoughts. “Jump!”
“Alright, alright, I’m going!” Cream relented, rolling her eyes. She stood at the doorway, glancing back at the two-tailed fox. “Watch closely Tails, I’m gonna jump!” With that, she leaped off, her face in a determined scowl. She rolled on the track upon landing and then flipped back onto her feet.
Tails approached the door, glancing back at Bark. “You don’t care if I go first?” he asked.
Bark cast a hardened look at the mercenary. “A leader always stays ‘til the end,” he replied in an almost sagely tone. “Look, don’t worry about me, just jump off! And don’t get your twin-tailed ass hurt either! This is only the beginning!”
Tails nodded, his eyes flicking over to Jessie for a brief moment before jumping off himself. The woman felt a chill down her spine.
Bark then stood in front of the car door. He looked at each of the humans with an unreadable expression on his face. “Later! You guys take care of the rest!” he said before jumping off as well.
Jessie poked her head out to see the bear tuck into an ungainly roll and land with a crouch. She heaved a deep sigh. “OK you two, let’s go,” she said wearily.
Biggs clapped a hand on her shoulder, which surprised her. “Hey, it’s not your fault,” he said, flashing a roguish grin. “Sides, even with this hiccup, we’re still in the clear! So chin up!” Wedge, beside him, nodded in agreement.
‘Thanks, guys,’ “Alright then boys, let’s do this!” the brunette said, jumping off the train, the other two following right behind her.