“You,” he whispered. “You’re the most obnoxious, asinine, GRATING bastard I have ever met. And I can’t stand to spend another second in here with you.”
“That’s a lot of big words. I can’t even believe you talk to your mother with that mouth,” Max said, calmly, half-trying to defuse the situation. Cocky seemed about to do something stupid. And he did.
“Screw this mission. And screw YOU.” Cocky dragged himself out of the shaft. Max was so astonished he could hardly react. “Cocky, wait!” he whispered. “The wizards!”
“SCREW the wizards!” Cocky shouted at Max. His voice was amplified by the shaft tenfold. He turned his head and pointed up at the floating figures. “HEY YOU, THE IDIOTS UP THERE! SCREW YOU!”
“The Hell’s this idiot doing,” Max mumbled to himself, alarmed. He had no choice but to crawl to the opening of the shaft and see what was going to happen. He cringed. Cocky turned around and ran for the door they had left behind. He was ditching Max, but not before ruining the mission in every possible way. Max cursed him under his voice. But cursing him was not necessary: Cocky wasn’t having the greatest of times. He was running towards the door, dodging a rain of fire and lightning. Max had to admit Cocky was very fast, but in the end it was for nothing. One of the wizards trapped him by icing the door over, and Cocky barely had time to step on the breaks before running face-first into a door popsicle.
Max decided he had seen enough. He quietly slipped out of the shaft and ran for the other door. No one heard him among all the zapping and screaming. He jumped up, grabbed the door handle, and got himself out. He felt a pang of guilt for Cocky, but whatever his fate, he had chosen it, not Max. For a second he hesitated between pushing forward or returning to help his partner, but then he remembered Sam, and suddenly the decision seemed quite easy.
Max continued on his own for some time, but soon he had to admit he had become lost. The beacons were at least useful so he could retrace his steps, but the whole place was a labyrinthic, Winchester Mansion-like collection of impossible rooms and dead ends. And either he was nowhere near the Toy or Norrington had been wrong, because he didn’t feel anything special beyond tiredness and frustration. He had too many choices and no idea which direction he was supposed to take. When he discovered he was walking in circles, he felt half-tempted to just pick up the beacons and give up. But he couldn’t do that, so he sat down and tried to think.
Finally, he returned to the point where he had to pick up a direction for the first time. He would simply follow the right-hand rule until he either felt the Toy or returned to that point. It was entirely possible the Toy was kept elsewhere, and if Norrington was wrong, he wouldn’t be able to find the Toy even if it WAS kept there. Wandering about the place just waiting for some wizard to drop by and kill him was pointless.
After what felt like an eternity he finally opened a door and was surprised to feel a strange sensation in the back of his skull. It tingled pleasantly, but with a dash of darkness, perhaps even terror, an emotion Max was hardly acquainted with. He felt both compelled to push forward towards whatever awaited or just turn around and leave. The room was filled with fog and it was hard to see anything.
Max walked slowly and cautiously. At the end of the room there was nothing except a spiral staircase. He started climbing, and with every step the sensation increased. Realizing it would soon start to become uncomfortable, Max picked up the pace. Finally, at the top of the stairs, there was another fog-filled room. The atmosphere was dense, but the lagomorph was really impatient, so he pushed forward without any kind of caution or hesitation. The room seemed as large as a cathedral, and Max started running, feeling an intense and unexplained need.
Finally he saw a table covered with purple velvet. A robot toy that seemed to have seen better years stood there. Max grinned and extended a hand towards it.
Then he was violently thrown upwards. Max was slammed on the ceiling with a sickening force, and then he fell down, but he never hit the floor.
There were a lot of insults exchanged in silence in the shadows of the ventilation shaft. Mostly rude gestures that were only half-understood, being the participants of different cultures. They were obvious enough, however, and since the lagomorphs couldn’t escalate the fight, they simply returned their attention to the blue light.
Cocky rubbed his hand. He was glad his gloves were made of one of the most resistant materials in the universe, or he would have been bleeding instead of just bruised. He promised himself he would get Max’s hand trapped in a vise somehow and then he’d turn around the crank. See how he liked it.
Max on the other hand, had already half-forgotten the incident. He was more curious about the blue light, so he cautiously approached the entrance of the shaft and looked.
“They’re going to see you and turn you inside out, and I’m just going to take a lot of pictures, you jerk.”
“There’s no one there,” Max said.
Cocky joined Max. “Up there,” he pointed. Two men in strange clothes and bathed in blue light that emanated from a halo floating above their crowns were talking. They were upside down, in accordance to the rest of the room.
“Uuuuugh,” Cocky moaned, and retreated.
“I can’t figure out what they’re saying,” Max noted. “I think it’s wizardspeak or something.”
“Well, we can’t do anything while they’re out there. We have to wait until they leave.” Cocky closed his eyes and waited for the nausea to pass again.
“Haha, sick again?”
“It’s your presence,” Cocky said, sarcastically. There was movement and then Max said. “Hey Cocky. I think you need to see this,”
Cocky opened his eyes and saw Max. He was standing on his hands, firmly lodged against the roof of the shaft in a sitting position.
“I think you’re the one who’s wrong, man,” Max said, grinning madly.
Cocky closed his eyes again. “Max,” he said weakly, “why do you have to be such a hateful little beast one hundred percent of the freaking time?”
“I dunno. Why do YOU have to be such a freaking space princess whatever percentage of the time trumps mine?”
Cocky sighed and gave up. “I never should have brought you.”
Max snorted. “Well, so far, I am the one who found the entrance to this place and the one who doesn’t feel sick by the mere act of being here. You, on the other hand, are a great kisser.”
“You’re right. I am the one who’s not supposed to be here, then.” Cocky was not joking at all. He felt really tempted to just get the Hell out of there, wizards or not. The Devil take Max. He’d take care of Sam and disappear. No guilt feeling was worth this aggravation.
“Only took you a whole hour to figure that one, genius,” Max said, dismissively. Then he started making faces again. Cocky lifted his hands as a sign he personally was gonna do nothing to stop that and that he couldn’t care less. Max stuck a thumb in his mouth and sneezed in a silent implosion. His eyes bulged out in a cartoony way.
“SHHH!” Cocky whispered, (barely) covering Max’s huge mouth with his gloved left hand. It tasted like brick. “In-doors-voice!”
Max pushed the hand away. “The next time you try to cover my mouth with your hand, you’re gonna lose that hand.”
“And the next time you try to do your best impression of a vuvuzuela, I’ll just bonk you on the head and leave you to the wizards.”
“Awesome. I like it rough,” Max smiled unnervingly.
Cocky groaned. He looked around. The room was curved and crooked strangely. It was as if all the angles were about to collapse. He shook his head, as the whole thing was making him slightly nauseous.
“This place is madness,” Cocky whispered. “We have to be careful or it’ll mess with our heads.”
Max shrugged. “Bah. No big deal. I’ve been in a place like this before. Multiple times. Sam always forgets to pick up stuff and has to come back at some point or another…”
“There are other places like this?” Cocky decided to start moving. He wanted to get out of the theater as soon as possible. There were no places to hide in the room, so they couldn’t stay long anyway. But he felt as if he was smack-the-walls drunk.
“Not a lot of them. There was this roadside attraction, a long time ago. You may feel somewhat seasick at first. You’re looking a little green, hunny-bun.”
“Ugh, green is not my color.” Cocky thought of lying, but it was pointless. “Admittedly, it is a bit disorienting. Max, let’s go. I’ll let you torch down the place afterwards, I promise.”
“And that’s why I love you,” Max said, and made a kissy sound.
“You’re not helping with the sickness, you know,” Cocky said. He leaned on wall, feeling beads of cold sweat forming on his forehead. Max smiled sweetly.
“I could help you, I guess. But you’re in charge. I’m sure you already know what to do.”
“I’m going to puke all over you and then you’ll feel sorry for tormenting me like this,” Cocky said, bitterly.
“Whoa, baby. I didn’t know we were already at that stage,” Max said. Cocky closed his eyes, trying to regain some control. The more he looked around, the worse he felt.
Finally Max seemed to have some pity on his reluctant partner. “Fine, I’ll tell you, you big baby.The secret is just rolling with it. Don’t try to look at everything at the same time. Focus on a single thing, and keep moving towards it. Then choose another thing. If you try to make sense of the whole she-bang your brain will believe you’re on drugs.”
“I hope you’re not pulling my leg on this, bro. Because if you are, then I hope your pelt is not dry-clean only.”
“Don’t worry, regurgitation is one of my favorite things to do. I’ll be sure to return the favor.”
Cocky opened his eyes. There was an old-looking light fixture on the wall. Cocky looked at it for a minute and the nausea seemed to subside. He walked towards it and it was surprisingly easy.
“Huh. That seems to work. Thanks, mate. I owe you one.”
Max tried to think of something mean, but he couldn’t think of anything. He shrugged. He had no idea why he hadn’t simply left Cocky behind and went to look for the Toy by himself. It would have been so easy. But Max liked working with a partner, even if he didn’t like that particular partner that much.
Cocky reached the door –the crooked door- and opened it cautiously. He peered in, but there was nobody inside. The room looked like an exact replica of the one they were about to leave behind… only it was upside down and stretched out as if it was made of chewing gum.
Cocky felt the nausea returning, but he fixed his sight on a distant, dusty ceiling chandelier. He walked towards it, concentrating on breathing. To distract himself, he asked Max: “Do you think this is all an illusion, or do the rooms really look like this?”
“Does it matter? We need to take what we see for granted. Otherwise we could be just walking into a giant trap with metal teeth and not knowing it.”
“Now that’s a comforting thought,” Cocky said, sarcastically.
Max frowned, as he had an eerie déjà vu sensation. He had slipped into his natural role unknowingly, as always. And Cocky had responded exactly as Sam would have, only Sam would have been sarcastic towards the general situation, not Max. Max suddenly had a glimpse of what would happen if he couldn’t save Sam after all. He would forever feel like a gear out of place, and a sudden desperate loneliness gripped his throat.
“Uh… sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Cocky said.
“Huh??” Max realized Cocky was looking at him cautiously. “No, I was thinking about something else.”
Cocky nodded and kept walking. They were reaching the chandelier when they heard voices approaching. And footsteps.
Max tried to run back towards the door but Cocky grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him silently towards an ornate cast-iron grill covering a nearby vent. Ordinarily the vent was out of their reach, but since the room was upside down, it was the only place to hide. Cocky reached the grill and pulled, but it was only when Max joined forces with him they could actually tear it open. They both climbed inside and, not knowing what to do with the grill, they pulled it inside with them. All this operation was done quickly but noisily, and it ended with both of them covered in sooth and dust. Cocky sneezed discreetly, but soon Max was going through the motions and preparing for one of his admittedly epic sneezes. Cocky saw the catastrophe coming and quickly covered Max’s mouth with his hand. Max bit hard into that hand, and Cocky screamed into his own fist. They were in that ridiculous situation when a blue light bathed the room and they silently retreated further into the shadows.
“We could have just parked the DeSoto outside of you guys’ office. It’s just a couple of blocks away,” Cocky said.
“Ever heard of a getaway vehicle, or did they never teach you about them in Loser Academy?”
Cocky rolled his eyes and considered explaining Max that running away on foot was probably a lot better than getting stuck in traffic, all things considered. He decided against it. They were both tired and cranky and starting arguments was probably not a good idea.
“All I’m saying is, a huge DeSoto with your Freelance Police logo parked right in front of the building is not EXACTLY inconspicuous.”
“Don’t say ‘inconspicuous’.”
Cocky sighed. He jumped over the DeSoto’s door and checked the address. “Looks abandoned.”
“Hey man, I’m the detective here. I’ll be the one making the really smart deductions.”
Cocky looked at Max. “Are you going to be a jerk every second I’m with you?”
“Okay, just checking.” Cocky slid through the side of the building. It looked really old. The windows were all boarded up, and the shadow it threw was too cold and dark.
Cocky started pushing the wall here and there. Max snorted.
“There are better ways to demolish a building. You could use a wrecking ball, for example.”
Cocky decided to ignore Max’s attitude the best he could. “Papierwaite said there was a secret entrance you could access by pushing some bricks on this side of the building.”
“Papierwaite’s a nut, and he was probably pulling your leg.”
“Maybe. It’s worth a try. Are you going to help me look for it, or are you just going to stand there and make snarky comments?”
“I’m going to stand there and make snarky comments,” Max said.
Cocky kept pushing bricks, feeling embarrassed and surreal. To take his mind off it, he said: “Let’s go over it again. What’s the plan?”
“Go in, take the Toy, go out.”
“You have the Dark Energy detector. I have the beacons and the beacon locator. I will be in charge of putting beacons here and there, as a sure crumb-like path for our enemies to follow us, find us, and disembowel us.”
Without looking at Max, Cocky said: “I would suggest placing the beacons where they can’t be easily seen. But of course, you don’t need that suggestion, seeing as how you’re brilliant.”
Cocky returning the barbs made Max smile with his big, serrated teeth. It was fun playing tennis against a wall, but it was more fun playing it against someone else.
“Speaking of brilliant suggestions, what IS the plan if we’re spotted?”
“It depends. If we have the Toy, we just get the Hell out of Dodge.”
“And if we don’t?”
“I’ll evaluate the situation and act accordingly. Just follow my lead.”
“Follow your lead, huh?”
Cocky gave Max an exasperated look. “Yes, follow my lead. What I do depends entirely on a number of variables. How close we are to the Toy, how many people spot us, if there are wizards guarding that thing…”
“What, so now I have to ask for your permission to break some skulls? You’re lame, man.”
“There will be no skull-breaking. Tempting, but no. We either hide or retreat.”
“You retreat. I don’t.”
“That’s okay. You get killed. I don’t.”
“Except I have the beacon locator. Good luck getting out of there.”
Cocky kept pushing the bricks, while he cursed himself for not listening to Momma Bosco when there was still time. What was about Earth that made him make so many stupid mistakes?
“Except that I have the Dark Energy detector. Good luck finding the Toy.”
“The Toy will call me.”
Cocky turned around to look at Max. “Come again?”
“The Toy will call me. Norrington said so. My brain has an untapped psychic potential. The Toy will call me, and awaken it.”
“Ooh yeah. About that. Norrington told me not to allow you to touch that Toy.”
“Well guess what, you will not be around to stop me. Because you will be retreating like the good little coward you are.”
Cocky gave Max a look so dark Max took a step back.
“Retreating is a strategy,” Cocky said. “We would come back, better prepared. You think it’s cowardice? Wow, what an idiot. I know now why you’re trying to save Sam. Because without him there’s no one to stop you from killing yourself.”
Max’s hands turned into fists. Cocky just kept looking at him, unflinching, until Max turned away. “We don’t have TIME to return later. We just have to get the Toy right now.”
Cocky sighed and returned to push bricks. “Max, using the Toy is just an idea. We don’t know if it will work. Maybe it will actually kill Sam, are you aware of that?”
“It will work,” Max mumbled. “It has to.”
“I just don’t think it’s worth throwing your life away for it.”
“Well, thank you for telling me what is or isn’t worth throwing my life away for,” Max said.
“So what do you gain by getting killed but still not getting the Toy?”
“You’re the only one who insists I’d get killed. I don’t see why I’d get killed. Do you see Papierwaite? I bet I could give that chump a beating with both hands tied behind my back and my eyes closed.”
“Uh-huh, but we’re not here to fight wizards, Max. Papierwaite managed to convince me it’s not a very good idea.”
“He also convinced you that there was a secret magic entrance and here you are. Pushing bricks.”
Cocky grunted and said: “Do you have a better plan? Speak up. It’s a way to pass the time while I push a million bricks on my own.”
“Oh please. Like YOU are going to follow any plan I come up with, no matter how good, Master Tactician.”
Cocky had the decency of actually blushing. “Point. I probably won’t. But at least I’m willing to listen. It’s your planet, and your city, and your neighborhood. I’d be a fool not to.”
“Uh-huh. Speaking of which. Do you know what this building used to be?”
“An old theater,” Cocky said. “Papierwait told me.”
“Did Papierwaite tell you that a hundred years ago, my great grandfather Maximus accidently managed to summon an Elder God? An Elder God we now call Norrington and who remains to this day attached to Paperwaite’s torso?”
“And it all happened here. Inside this very theater. On stage.”
Cocky stopped pushing bricks. “Are you going somewhere with this?”
“No, I’m just rambling like the required brainless wacky sidekick I am.”
“I don’t buy that.”
Max shrugged. “My grand greatfather lived around here. So did my grandfather. Sometimes I would visit. I got easily bored and went exploring. I know every nook and cranny in this neighborhood.”
“Are you trying to tell me you saw the inside of the theater before it got closed?”
“No, you dumbass. It was closed after Papierwaite’s incident, more than a century ago. I’m trying to tell you I know the way to get in.”
“YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, YOU PIG!” Max yelled, and looked around for something to throw at Flint Paper. The rugged detective was less than impressed. “Will you get the Hell down from there, you chump? I’m not here to arrest you!”
Max looked at Flint Paper dubiously. He was perched up on top of some complicated-looking machinery. Flint lit up a cigarette.
“I’m assuming you never found Sam’s brain, or maybe you’re still looking. But it’s too late, kid. Ol’ Stripey kicked the bucket. I’m sorry.”
Max jumped down. “I did find his brain. And we put it inside the body of one of Sam’s clones.”
“Really? Well, that is pretty crazy, even for you. But it’s a relief. All Sam has to do is to show up at the police station, and you’re off the hook.”
“Aw, man,” Max sighed, disheartened.
“Unfortunately, Sam turned into a giant monster and went into a rampage a few hours ago,” Norrington explained.
“I’m sure there’s one or more cosmic laws involved. The important thing is, he’s pretty much unrecognizable. Max will have a hard time convincing the authorities that’s Sam.”
“Ugh, I can’t go to jail now,” Max said. “I have to save Sam. And the city. And the world.” The lagomorph sounded exasperated. “Why do they think I killed him?? He’s my best friend!”
“Well, everybody’s gone crazy. Sam’s a national hero and a celebrity now. He’s dead and you’re nowhere to be found, so naturally everybody just assumed you took a powder.”
“Figures. A lifetime building up a reputation of being a ruthless killer, and NOW it comes back to bite me in the ass.” Max grunted. “So, I guess I can’t go to the office now.”
“Well, you can, if you want a ride on a black-and-white. And speaking of rides, you need to ditch the DeSoto, or they’ll know you’re here.”
Max nodded. Flint Paper looked at him and said: “Maybe it would be a better idea just to turn yourself in. Clear the air, y’know.”
“I can’t do that. I don’t have the time right now. I have to save Sam first. If I do, he can prove my innocence himself.”
“What if you don’t?”
Max looked at his toes.
“Then the world ends,” he shrugged. “And none of this will matter anyway.”
Cocky scratched his head. He had not thought Max didn’t seem particularly suited for precision surgery ops. “Well, that might be a problem. You see, I’m pretty sure Max won’t like the thought of being left out of this.”
“You don’t need to tell him anything,” Momma Bosco suggested. “Just go and do what you need to do.”
“Yeah, and if you get killed, he can still try and save Sam,” Paperwaite said. Cocky looked at Paperwaite, unnerved. “Dying is not in the plans,” he said, coldly.
“Dying is never in the plans,” Paperwaite noted, with evident self-satisfaction.
“You can’t count on the plans working when you’re carrying around a live-bomb like Max,” Sybil said.
For a moment, Cocky almost agreed. But then he remembered how Max had killed Dr. Von Crazy without even a whisper. Maybe he WAS capable of many more things than what these people thought.
“We’ll go together, and that’s final. Well. I still have to ask him. It’s entirely possible he won’t want to come with me. We’re not exactly a match made in Heaven, and maybe he’ll want to be around in case Sam comes out of the sea.”
Momma Bosco threw her hands in the air, evidently giving up. Cocky turned to Papierwaite. “So where can we find this Brotherhood? Hopefully not inside a volcano or something like that.”
Papierwaite rolled his eyes. “Of course NOT, that would be ridiculous. It’s an old building on the corner of Sierra and Lucas Street.”
“Neat. Old buildings are doable. So uh, can you draw me a map of the place?”
“I can give you the address, but then you’re on your own.”
“Oh,” Cocky said, disappointed. “I thought you said you were a former member.”
“Well, I WAS. Many decades ago. But still, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how it looks inside.”
Cocky looked at Papierwaite and wondered if he had a touch of the crazy. Norrington explained, patiently.
“It’s a DIMENSIONAL building, Cocky. It twists and turns into itself. It changes all the time and might not even look the same to Max and you.”
Cocky’s ears went down. “Just great.”
“Not all’s lost, however,” Norrington said. “You only need to enter the building and keep going until you get closer to the Chtonic Destroyer. I’m assuming you have a Dark Energy detector?”
“I used to,” Cocky said. “But it went down with my ship.”
Norrington turned to Momma Bosco. “That shouldn’t be too complicated for you.”
Momma Bosco smiled. “Give me an hour.” And she left the room.
“You’ll never get out of the building on your own,” Norrington pointed out. “You’ll never find your way out. Momma Bosco has some beacons the molemen use on their tunnels. Max and you can mark your way in so you can get out quickly once you have the Toy.”
Cocky decided he liked Norrington. “Now that’s an idea. Thank you, this really helps.”
“You must not lose your wits, however. Dimensional buildings are meant to be disorienting. A lot of what you’ll see will be a mere illusion. Think gallery of mirrors.”
“Only the mirrors are magic and they will kill you,” Papierwaite said.
Cocky looked at Papierwaite and suddenly felt very tired. He shook his head and said: “If what you’re saying is true, I need to be at the top of my game. We need that detector for the mission, so until it’s built, I probably should get some rest too. I didn’t get any sleep last night.” Cocky looked around for a suitable surface, but there was none. He sighed. “The DeSoto will have to do, I guess.” And he marched out. Sybil left as well, although she promised to return later.
Something like forty five minutes later, a broad-shouldered man entered the building through the blatant hole in the wall. “Good morning, Mr. Paper,” Norrington said. “How ya doing, fellas,” Flint Paper said. He marched straight towards Max and shook him roughly. “Hey. Hey, you.” Max turned around to see him with an eye half-closed and a thread of drool going down his chin. “Haaay Flunt, g’night,” and he instantly fell asleep again.
Flint Paper shook Max so violently he made him look like a crash test dummy for a second. “WAKE UP, kiddo, this ain’t Kansas anymore.”
Max blinked rapidly. “Huh?”
“They found Sam. He’s dead. And there’s a warrant for your ARREST.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Sybil said. “I want to save Sam if it can be done. Sam and Max have saved (and ruined) my life several times. I’d sure like to return the favor.”
Momma Bosco shrugged. “I like those boys, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the entire human race for them. I will help in any way I can, but…”
“We can’t just let Sam die,” Cocky said. “He’s a national hero. Or something? Anyway, we should at least try, because…”
“And who are you, EXACTLY?” Papierwaite demanded to know.
“My name’s Cocky. I’m…” But WHAT was he, exactly? If he said “a friend” and Max was not completely asleep, he was sure he was going to get punched. An enemy? An ally? “Involved,” Cocky finished the sentence. “I am partially responsible for the situation Sam’s in.” But he wasn’t. Not really. It would have happened sooner or later.
So, what was he doing there, really?
“How is that even possible?” Norrington asked.
“It’s a long story, Mr. Tentacles,” Cocky said, slightly miffed at being interrogated. “In any case, I am interested in saving Sam, if it’s possible. If it’s not, I can guarantee you I’ll…” Cocky turned around to see Max, but he was snoring softly. “I’ll deal with the problem. Believe me, I have no intention of dying in this stupid planet.” Cocky shut his mouth, suddenly aware he had probably said too much.
Sybil was looking at him funny. “Are you an alien?”
“What? NO. No, I’m… just like him,” Cocky pointed to Max.
“You ARE an alien!” Sybil said, genially. “Someone took a required blurry picture of you the day a UFO fell into the Hudson, and it was published in The Alien Love Triangle!”
Cocky gave up. “Fine. Yeah. I’m an alien. We come in peace, blablablah, take me to your leader. Happy?”
Sybil crouched down to examine Cocky. Normally he’d be flattered, but he was just unnerved. “So tell me already, is it true you have a clone of Elvis?”
“We’re not too fond of cloning,” Cocky smiled slightly. “We prefer reproducing in sexier ways.”
Sybil giggled. Cocky was pleased.
“Are we done fangirling about extraterrestrial life forms? If I recall correctly, last time we met some it was less than pleasant.”
Cocky turned to see Papierwaite. “The space gorilla, right?”
A thunderbolt appeared on the nechromancer’s forehead. “The. Space. Gorilla.”
“Let’s just say that the meeting of the minds resulted in a clash of epic proportions,” Norrington pointed out.
“Oh yeah. About that.” Cocky nodded quickly. “I understand he was looking for some sort of magical artifacts. The Toys of Power? Did he find them?”
“He found them. Lost them. Found them again. Lost them. I lost count,” Papierwaite said. “In any case, they were destroyed.”
“But not all of them,” Cocky said. “I came to this planet looking for the only one that remains. The Chtonic Destroyer.”
“And whaaaat is your interest in the Chtonic Destroyer?” Papierwaite screeched. “We’ve had it with the toy collectors here!”
Cocky decided Papierwaite was decidedly hostile but couldn’t receive the required bitchslap he needed. Unfortunately, Norrington appeared like a reasonable… being. He decided to be patient.
“I needed it to deal with an Overlord from the Dark dimension. Fortunately the problem got solved while I was away. So I don’t actually NEED it anymore, but I was just wondering if it might help us with Sam.”
Sybil intervened. “We tried using it last time, when the same thing happened to Max. Say, whatever happened to it? I was just too busy giving birth to remember.”
“We took it, of course. Did you think we were just going to leave one of the most valuable artifacts in the Universe inside a giant eldritch bunny?”
“So you DO have the Chtonic Destroyer with you?”
“Not anymore,” Norrington said. “It was stolen by the Brotherhood.”
The inside of the lab was bathed in its unnatural glow. The good thing about being a dilapidated building was that you almost didn’t notice the monster-made newly holes in the walls.
Everybody was talking at the same time. The worst offenders were Papierwaite and Momma Bosco, occasionally punctuated by Sybil. The only one that was standing apart and somehow aloof was Cocky, who was not participating in the discussion for the moment being.
Max was sitting on a chair, feeling tired and unhappy and increasingly impatient. Watching Sam disappear into the water had not been the worst, but the feeling he couldn’t do anything about it was. Was he gone for good? Where was he now? WHO was he now?
“What I want to know is,” Momma Bosco said, “who is going to pay for the destruction of my lab?”
“It’s just some holes in the walls, woman,” Papierwaite pointed out. “Your monster insurance should cover it, no problem!”
“I don’t HAVE a monster insurance, mister! Who does??”
Papierwaite scratched his head.
“How can you not? We do have it, for the museum. You never know, especially when you dabble on the occult in your spare time. We….”
“Focus, Papierwaite,” Norrington said, impatiently. “We have a bigger crisis in our claws than just simply property damage. If we don’t stop that portal from opening, no insurance is ever going to help us.”
“Not to mention what will happen if the monster feels like stomping on the Museum on a whim. Assuming it ever comes back from the ocean.”
“Has anyone heard from President Superball? Don’t tell me they’re going to try and drop a nuke here again.”
This disturbed Max enough to make him raise his ears.
“I talked to him,” Momma Bosco said. “The monster is gone for now, so they don’t have a directive. I guess they will try helicopters and big guns first if it comes back.”
Sybil shook her head. “This is Maxaggedon all over again. Last time they almost killed us. We’re running against time here.”
“Nukes are going to be the least of our problems if we don’t—“ but then everybody started talking at the same time again. Max couldn’t stand it anymore. So he got up from his seat and started screaming at the group. “Shut up, all of you! Just SHUT UP!”
Max was easy to find; he only had to follow Sam. And Sam was easy to find: he only had to follow the path of destruction.
Cocky parked the De Soto in a space that had been recently vacated in quite a violent fashion, by, he guessed, the UPS truck he had found upturned one block away. Max was hunched over himself, apparently out of breath.
“Need a ride?”
Max turned around and saw him. Cocky didn’t expect a friendly encounter, but Max seemed more tired than angry.
“What the Hell are you doing in my car?”
“Giving you a ride.”
Max gave him a shifty look. “Go to Hell.”
Cocky tried another strategy. He smiled.
“In this car, maybe I can. It’s a sweet set of wheels. Battered, but classy. Maybe I will keep it.”
“What? No, you will NOT!” Max climbed into the De Soto. Cocky immediately fired up the engine and rolled down the street. He saw on the corner of his eye Max’s fist getting ready to hit him. He swerved to avoid a motorcycle lying sideways in the middle of the street. Max was thrown against the door. “Don’t distract me, bro. It’s hard enough to drive in this junkyard with an eye half-closed. If you bust my remaining eye we’ll both kill ourselves.”
“How do you have a copy of the keys to my CAR?”
“I have keys to everything. You guys are real sound sleepers. You are really not afraid of anything in this world, are you? Who the Hell keeps everything wide open and unlocked in New York City, eff-eff-es?”
“Why are you even here??”
Cocky made a face.
“Right now, I have a mission. A mission, and two choices.”
“Ask me about the two choices first.”
“Man, I don’t care about your choices.”
“You should care. My mission involves Sam. The thing is, I have to reach a decision. I have to choose.”
Max just looked at him. “Okay, I’ll bite. What choices?”
“I have to choose between being honest with you, or just betray you again.”
Max fell silent for a moment; then he finally said: “You can’t betray me again. That would imply I trusted you in the first place. And that’s something I won’t do.”
“That is up to you, really. I have my mission. We could work together, or I could work against you. If I work against you, I don’t really have to choose anymore.”
“Why are you even telling me all this?? Who cares what you do, you goddamn space pest?”
“Because I still owe you something for what I did. Even if all this is not my fault anymore.”
Max sighed. “Be honest with me, then. I’m too tired to put up with you, Cocky. Have some guts, for once.”
Cocky frowned as he realized Max was implying he was a coward again. But he decided to let it slide. His was simply the way of the assassin, and being sly and deceptive was in the job description. How was he supposed to explain that to someone like Max? He probably thought that anything short of jumping on a huge enemy and slapping him on the face was cowardice.
Cocky parked the DeSoto again, this time simply on the sidewalk. He never took his eyes off the wheel.
“We are trapped on this planet for the time being,” Cocky said. “My friends are trying to build a new spaceship, but if your f… if Sam opens a portal to another dimension, this planet and everything in the vicinity will be absorbed and annihilated. This is something that will happen. We just don’t know WHEN.” Cocky swallowed hard. “My mission is to stop this from happening.”
“How?” Max frowned. “How can we stop it?”
“Either by killing Sam, or trying to save him,” Cocky mumbled. “It depends on if you’re going to work with me, or not.”
Max ignored Cocky. He jumped the gap between the two buildings and headed for the fire escape. Cocky turned around to see his friends. “Well, that’s about the worst thing that could have happened. But we’re all alive, more or less. So I guess it counts for something. Des, are you okay?”
Desiree nodded. “That was a close call, but nothing’s broken. I think. Brock?”
“I’ll probably need therapy, but aside from that… I’m more worried about Cocky and his close encounter with a bazillion volts.”
Cocky shook his head. “I’ll survive.”
Desiree gave him an impatient look. “I don’t need this cutesy crap right now, Cockwell. I don’t know if you noticed? Our healing gun was probably destroyed. If you need a doctor, you have to tell us right now.”
Cocky considered lying for a moment, but then decided it would only add to their problems. “Well, I was dizzy and semi paralyzed for a few minutes, but it’s getting better with time. I think that’s just a normal reaction to electrocution. My only real problem is the healing gun effect being reversed, because Max beat me up real good and pretty.”
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of him, but you look like road-kill. I am honestly surprised. It usually takes at least three to make you eat it like that.”
“Just three?? I’m offended, Des,” Cocky said, without an inch of irony. But then he scratched his head, embarrassed. “I made the same mistake usually others make about me. That is, underestimate me based on how I look. And there’s the fact that he…” Cocky interrupted himself. He didn’t want to talk about how absolutely deranged Max was acting, because he felt deeply guilty about it. “I think that I honestly would have fared better by slamming myself repeatedly against a brick wall.”
Brock intervened. “Maybe we should have someone look at you, Cocky. You might be bleeding internally, or worse.”
Cocky shook his head. “No. To tell you the truth, I do think I have a couple of broken ribs. And a huge bump on the back of my skull. But it’s not so bad, and we’re in a jam, right now.”
“Yeah, we noticed,” Desiree said, sarcastically. “Still, what I’d like to know is what we’re going to do with you.”
Cocky shrugged. “I just need some happy-pills. I’ll manage. I promise to look for help if I start feeling something is seriously wrong.”
Des turned to Brock. “Is he telling the truth? I never know.”
“I’m thinking yes. In any case, when he’s like that, you will never convince him otherwise.”
Desiree nodded. “Okay. Here’s what we need to do. Brock, we need to get out of the planet. In fact, we should get to Io to get a new ship there. But if we can’t, I’ll settle for going beyond the Belt and sending a distress signal from there. Please tell me it can be done.”
Brock visibly swallowed hard. “I don’t know, Des. There are no spacecraft on this planet.” No one said anything for a minute. For the first time, the reality of an inevitable death loomed over the group. “Maybe I can scavenge some parts from our own ship. But you’re asking me to build a spaceship from scratch…”
Cocky intervened. “I have a spaceship. Well, it doesn’t work. But it’s a start. Only, it’s designed to work with a brain…”
“Maybe I can work around that,” Brock said. “The only thing is, I don’t know if I will make it work on time. The Dark Seed has hatched. It might open a portal at any second now.”
“Let’s not think about that,” Desiree said. “Let’s just work as fast as possible. Brock, go see if you can find something. I’m especially interested in the guns, because if someone finds them they’ll surely be stolen. Hurry. I’ll go help you in a minute.”
Brock never hesitated. He jumped the gap between buildings and left. Desiree turned around to look at Cocky. “Where exactly is that spaceship you mentioned?”
“It’s in the place where you rescued me. It’s a secret lab. Maybe Brocky will find something he can use there, too. The place is abandoned, so no one ever goes there. Oh, there’s also a dead body, so… we might want to do something about that.”
Des frowned. “Are you being hunted?”
“No. No, I’ve had no problems with the police force here. Wellll aside from the fact that I kidnapped Max. But I don’t think they went to the cops. The REAL cops I mean.”
“But you would be if they found out you killed a human?”
“I didn’t kill that man. Max did. Same difference, because they’d probably blame me. We should just get rid of the body or move the ship elsewhere. Wait, why are you asking me all this, as if I’m not going with you guys anyway?”
“You’re not coming with us.” Desiree’s tone was final.
“What? Why?! Look, I know you’re mad at me…”
“I am SO MAD at you, Cocky. But this is not about that. You have a different mission. You’ll have to go follow that monster wherever it goes. And if it starts opening a portal…”
Cocky made a face. “Ugh. I don’t want to. Not after all this. Why does it have to be me?”
Desiree sighed. She produced a tissue from one of her pockets and started rubbing the blood off Cocky’s face with it. For Des, that was a tender gesture. Cocky closed his eyes and said nothing. What he really wanted to say was that he was happy to see she was alive and well, but that was idiotic. All he’d manage to do is say it in a terrible awkward fashion and then she’d stop doing… whatever she was doing. Which was almost like a caress. Almost. With a little imagination.
“Because it’s a monster the size of a building,” Desiree finally said. “And you’re the best at what you do.”
Pieces of the ship flew everywhere. The beast ululated while writhing still under its transformation. Electricity arched and seemed to change colors as it danced in the night.
Cocky made a noise no alien mercenary had ever produced and foolishly attempted to run towards the edge. “No!” Brock screamed, holding him upright, barely. “No. Don’t get any closer. It’s no use.” His voice seemed to break. “No use.”
Cocky wanted to say something, but every time he tried it was like gazing into an abyss. He couldn’t possibly comprehend a loss that big. A part of him thought it was pretty ridiculous, since the three of them were more or less in mortal danger most of their time. Cocky had considered this along with his own death, and he had always been pretty much okay with it. Only that now that it had finally happened, he discovered he had been a complete idiot. A drooling, brain-damaged moron. He also discovered that, maybe, this was going to be the one thing that destroyed him completely. At least in all the ways that counted.
“We should look for a way to get down to the street,” Brock mumbled. “Maybe she’s down there. Maybe she survived.”
Cocky briefly looked up. It was usually hard to read Brock’s expressions, as he was someone who usually bottled a lot of his emotions. But it was obvious he was absolutely shattered. Cocky wished he could offer Brock some comfort; after all, he had just lost his girlfriend. But he couldn’t, for his own grief shadowed everything else, even the compassion he should feel for his best friend. All he could do was squeeze Brock’s shoulder silently and nod.
They were about to turn around when a bulldozer ran them over and they fell to the ground. Cocky landed on his bad ribs and stifled a scream. To round things nicely, Brock landed on top of him. There was an inhumane roar that they thought was being produced by the monster, but there were actual words in it.
“YOU UNBELIEVABLE BITCH!” Desiree screamed, completely out of it. She reached the edge and for a crazy moment she seemed about to jump off it and perhaps try to land a punch on the towering beast. “Look what you did to my ship look what you did to my ship LOOK WHAT YOU DID!!”
There was a surreal moment for Cocky in which he thought he had finally snapped and he was imagining the whole thing. But a second afterwards it was obviously real when Brock jumped up and ran towards her. Cocky had the wildest desire to laugh. There was nothing amusing about the situation, but his relief was so immense he didn’t know how to react.
Brock dragged Desiree away from the edge, and at first she didn’t even seem to notice Brock. She kept screaming she was going to kill that thing.
“WITH MY OWN BARE HANDS! Hear me? HEAR ME??!”
Brock forced her to face him. Even from where he was lying, Cocky could see that under the rage was a shell-shocked, blank expression. “How are you even alive? We thought you were dead!”
Des stammered. “I don’t know. I was inside the ship, then I was out. Bumped my head really bad, too.” Desiree half-turned and yelled again: “You also owe me a new head, you goddamn thing! I’m thinking I’ll take YOURS, what do you think about THAT??!”
Brock pulled her against him again and hugged her fiercely. It took her a few seconds before she responded in kind. They were both silhouetted against the glowing monster, and Cocky smiled slightly while he felt that familiar pain, that old sweet sadness creeping in. He was glad he was lying on the ground so couldn’t interrupt with a hug of his own. He could watch them from afar and see just how perfect they were together. How perfect the moment was in spite of everything.
But he also noticed his friends were dangerously close to the edge and right next to a thrashing beast who was still flailing around. Cocky got up with a lot of effort, determined to pull them away from the danger they were not even noticing, entranced as they were. He walked towards them and was about to call them when he was interrupted by a long, high and sarcastic laugh.
Cocky was completely blinded by the purple flash of Brock’s gun. He closed his eyes and the purple flashed repeatedly behind his eyelids. When the gun went silent, he quickly blinked to make the spots go away, and he vaguely saw Brock do the same. “Gods, what the Hell is even wrong with that…
Cocky was completely blinded by the purple flash of Brock’s gun. He closed his eyes and the purple flashed repeatedly behind his eyelids. When the gun went silent, he quickly blinked to make the spots go away, and he vaguely saw Brock do the same. “Gods, what the Hell is even wrong with that…
shinakazami1 said: Wait… is that mean that it’s au from Sam & Max 3 season that Max from past what saying about?
Cocky was completely blinded by the purple flash of Brock’s gun. He closed his eyes and the purple flashed repeatedly behind his eyelids. When the gun went silent, he quickly blinked to make the spots go away, and he vaguely saw Brock do the same. “Gods, what the Hell is even wrong with that thing??” He sensed Brock crouching next to him, and whispering. “It’s been doing that for a while. I dunno, I was hoping you’d take a look at it when… when you got back. Cocky, did I hit him? Where is he? I can’t see a thing!” “Shhh,” Cocky whispered, who actually couldn’t see a lot either himself.
Finally, he discovered he could almost see without the spots with his left eye. He covered his right eye. Sam wasn’t in front of them anymore. He quickly looked around for him, but it was as if he had vanished.
“Either you vaporized the puppy or he went away,” Cocky said. “Are you sure? Dammit, I SHOULD have used my goggles, that’s why I have them, but…” “Yeah, okay. No sense in beating yourself, mate. Help me up and let’s see if my legs have returned from their vacation.”
Brock nodded. While he was helping Cocky get back on his feet, Cocky saw movement with the corner of his eye. Alarmed, he turned around violently and almost lost his balance. “What’s that??”
The taller lagomorph squinted. “I think it’s Max. He must be looking for his friend.”
“Max? How the Hell did he get on the roof of that building?”
“By climbing the fire escape too, I’m guessing,” Brock pointed. “At least he’s okay. I thought he was dead.”
“Ugh. You have no idea, Brocky. It’d probably take a nuke to the chest for him to croak.” Cocky had a disturbing idea. “Let’s go before he jumps the gap and gives me another beating for zapping his hairy boyfriend with an electric gun.”
Cocky was only half-joking, but really, the only thing he wanted to do was to climb inside his bed bag and sleep the hours away until he could get a new shot of the healing gun safely. Maybe then he could start forgetting Sam, Max, and planet Earth even existed. His life would no doubt be better by then.
They took a couple of steps and then they heard a rumble. Then they heard Max’s voice yelling: “No way. NowaynowaynowayNO. WAY!!”
“I don’t like this,” Cocky said. All the fur in his neck was standing up and his ears were all puffed up. His kind had always relied on rather obscure instincts to survive, but rarely they were so finely tuned as Cocky’s. “Brock, let’s go before something else happens.”
Brock took a step to his right, half-dragging Cocky with him. “You got that right, m-…” But he never finished the sentence. There was a loud CLANG to his right. He took a step to the left, and then there was another noise, this time on the left side. It was pretty much an unidentifiable noise. It sounded both liquid and harsh. “Where is he?” Brock asked, so low Cocky almost didn’t hear. Another noise behind them, this time a mere whisper. Cocky decided to ignore it and stubbornly kept trying to command his legs to walk. “COCKY!” Brock howled, and there was such terror in his voice Cocky felt really tempted to not look back. To simply keep walking and not look at whatever was going to kill them.
But a vast movement on the verge of his sight forced him to turn around and see.
The monster was there, all right. But he was bigger now. His shoulders disappeared under the corners of the building, and each massive hand was clinging to opposite ledges. He was apparently standing on the street, and yet, a head that looked vaguely alien in a fish-like fashion was looking down on them.
Sam’s mouth had disappeared and it had been replaced by some sort of snout with things moving in the very end. Long, prehensile things. The ears were tentacle-like appendages. The eyes were shiny, giant black seeds. And he was still changing before his eyes. Growing things of horn and light. Just looking at them was painful, as if Cocky’s brain was about to just curl into itself and suck its thumb.
Behind them, the ship lighted up and started humming with life. Cocky and Brock started moving again, but just as they were reaching the ramp, a massive claw reached out and closed around the ship, crushing it like it was a soda can.