Hopefully you enjoyed this long-ass fanfic! -drops dead-
Acknowledgments and disclaimers:
Sam and Max, along with Flint Paper belong of course to Steve Purcell. The rest of the incidental characters belong to Telltale Games except for Cocky and the space lagomorphs. Cocky and the space lagomorphs were designed by Steve Purcell for a long-cancelled game. My friend
Simina-Cindy helped me name them and came up with Cocky’s design under the helmet. I just fleshed him out and gave him a personality and a backstory.
Many thanks for all the people who have contributed to this fic in one way or another, who have made wonderful fanworks based on it, or simply spread the word about it.
Also many thanks to Steve Purcell and Telltale Games for creating these wonderful characters and stories.
And of course, thank YOU for reading it!
For organizational purposes, this fic can better be read in its tumblr form.
Max thought Sam was going to pulverize him with his hug, but he didn’t really mind. He was just happy to see his best friend again. Fortunately for his spine, the hug didn’t last too long.
“I thought you were…” Sam paused and let Max go. “Wait a second. Where’s the past ME?”
Now that’s a looong story, Max thought. But he managed to summarize it well.
“Oh yeah, about that: we were on a case and you got turned into a giant monster with electromagnetic powers, so I kinda had to blow you up.” Max paused for dramatic effect, then he said with his best maniacal grin: “It was horrible!”
Sam cringed and Max was instantly reminded that it was probably too soon to joke about it. An awkward silence followed. For a moment, Max was at a loss at what to say next, but he suddenly remembered what had brought him out of his funk. He got his Luger out.
“Soooo… wanna stop some crimes?”
They headed to the elevator. For a split second they shared a sideways glance and they both knew what it meant.
“Ooo, push ALL the buttons! I wanna scatter some dental retainers throughout the fossil record and see how long it takes anybody to notice!”
Sam laughed. “You crack me up, little buddy!”
The doors closed.
“So, where are we going? Or rather… when?”
“The future, big guy. We need more cards for the time elevator. I have no intention of sharing living space with those old… WAIT A MINUTE!” Max slammed the STOP button so hard a part of him expected it to fly in splinters. But alien materials seemed to be sturdy.
“What’s the matter, Max?”
Max was looking at him intensely. “Where’s your hat?”
“Oh, I took it off for a minute. It-”
“That’s no good. You need your hat. You can’t time travel without your hat.”
Sam frowned. “All right. But why is it such a big deal?”
"What, you want to plunge through history looking like a bum?"
"Speaking of bum, that’s really something, coming from someone who doesn’t bother hiding his own behind any kind of apparel."
"Don’t say ‘apparel’."
"However, I might have to be serious for a moment here. What kind of hopefully non-literal bee got into your bonnet?"
"There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. And that explanation is that I’m going to bite you if you don’t".
"Hey, there’s no need to get violent," Sam said. He blinked. "All right, where the HECK did that come from?"
"Your head just looks appetizing, like a cinnamon roll. I might not be able to contain myself."
"Figures." Sam shrugged and opened the doors. He got his hat. There was no wind, or it would have flown right away. He got inside the elevator again.
Max looked at him.
“Put it on.”
Sam rolled his eyes, but he put on his hat and adjusted the brim. “Happy?”
Max stared and stared while clouds of dust danced and settled in the damp basement. How could he forget about the time elevator? “You’re a massive idiot,” Cocky’s voice said in his mind. Admittedly, not a lot of people had called him an idiot and lived to tell the tale, but why was his voice the one Max heard now? It took him back to that night, where all he could ever pray for was time. Just a few more days. Just a few more hours. Just a couple of seconds. And bam, Sam was gone.
And all this freaking time he had a time machine.
Max’s heart was pounding so hard it made his head swim. It was not just how fast he had ran to the office building after pushing Frankie through a sewer grate. But Max somehow had already known what Frankie had revealed: that it was the only time elevator card in existence. Sam had threw them out of the window so long ago it was a miracle even one had survived all this time. And although it looked like ordinary card stock, the elevator didn’t work with homemade cards. The date and place could be written and the machine would read it correctly, but somehow the material was irreplaceable.
So he had one trip.
Max got a pen out and wrote carefully.
What time? The sun had been setting. It had been a little past 7. Seven would be okay, he calculated. He only needed to stop Sam from reaching the giant batteries. He wrote it down.
Max was about to write down the date when he realized he couldn’t do it. Neither Sam nor Cocky was there to stop him from trying. But what if he couldn’t save Sam? Would his already wispy sanity be able to endure it all over again?
And what if he did succeed? What if he managed to save Sam’s body and get his brain implanted in a clone’s body? How much of him had been left? According to Sam, very little. Max couldn’t deny that all the streams in Sam’s brain had been purple. He had seen it with his own eyes.
Another horrifying thought occurred to him. What if everything was perfect? He’d be stuck in that timeline anyway. But Sam would be with… the other Max.
It simply couldn’t be done. Max was about to tear the card in frustration and heartbreak when he remembered something Norrington had said. Something about… the universe. Cosmic laws? Something about the weird parallel of both Sam and Max turning into giant monsters.
And suddenly he understood a lot of things. For example, where Sam had gone when he had disappeared after his other self had died. Maybe Sam was still alive somewhere, probably feeling as metaphorically mutilated as Max. But judging by his own impulses, maybe Sam had chosen to take the hella train to Oblivion too. He had never been found dead, so he had probably chosen the sea.
Now there was something he could stop. And there wouldn’t be another Max; he would be dead.
He put the date on the card, hoping he was remembering it correctly. He put the card inside the slot of the elevator.
This wasn’t a rare occurrence, either. It seemed that he had gone through all the stages of grief just to quietly crash down again. And not only that.
Max was trying not to worry, but it was starting to feel slippery once more. Mostly at home, when he was alone and Sam’s absence filled every corner. He wondered what would happen if he started to zone out while he was on the job. It’d probably get him killed. More and more he felt convinced the Freelance Police had died with Sam and he didn’t have a place in his own life anymore. He was aware something would have to be done about it, and soon. People was noticing and giving him weird looks. He didn’t care what they thought, but he really didn’t want them to start asking him if he was okay. Max was worried he could probably end up hurting someone.
In the meantime, he roamed the streets. If someone’s gonna get hurt, it better be someone deserving, he thought. He silently walked through a back alley and spotted a familiar figure.
“Frankie the Rat,” Max said. His cigarette never left his mouth. He had picked on the habit at a terribly fast pace. There were a couple of kids with the minimal rodent, and those promptly vacated the scene.
“Hey!” Frankie protested. Then he turned to Max. “Ain’t doing nothing, copper.”
“Now you’re not, alright,” Max shrugged. “What are you trying to peddle now? You’re selling drugs to kids, I’ll punch you so hard you’ll fly into a country where it’s legal.”
“Nothing illegal, and none of your business,” Frankie was pretending not to sound scared.
Max grinned. That grin was almost always enough to make people cooperate. “I love that answer. I mean, I love giving that answer. Getting it makes me want to snuggle people with a sledgehammer.”
Frankie recoiled. “Alright, yeah. You win, copper. Goddamn police state! I’m just selling some collectables. See? It’s just some cards. Kids love those.”
Max snatched the card out of Frankie’s tiny, grubby hand. “Cards, huh? What kind of crappy Yoghurt-Oh or Magic the Hoarding are you…” But the question died a bloody death on the floor when Max saw the card. In it, a futuristic Sam and Max logo, and some numbers: 2108.0303.
It was hard to admit, but Sam’s death was the best thing that ever happened to Max’s career. While it had not been easy at first (at least Flint Paper had helped a lot) Max had adapted to solo work. Sam’s particular skills and abilities were missed, but Max had eventually learned to work around his absence. Soon, the most unexpected thing happened: he started being wildly successful.
Already a hero from having saved the city and the world, he got a lot of new clients and new cases to bury himself in. He was grateful for it. All he did for some time was work and sleep; sleep and work.
In the meantime, he solved cases with ruthless efficiency. All those years watching Sam do his thing had not been in vain. But Max had to admit it was all not that fun anymore. He would probably keep doing it, as there was nothing else he was good at, but it was honestly not the same without Sam.
Max kept telling himself at some point he would have to scratch Sam’s name off the door just so people stopped asking about him, but he didn’t have it in his heart to do it. He had taken down all the pictures, as he realized there was not a single framed pic where they were not together, and Max didn’t need to be constantly punched in the gut that way, thank you very much. All in all, friends and acquaintances had the opinion that Max had taken Sam’s death admirably. They didn’t know about the empty chambers in Sam’s gun, or how Max sometimes prowled the dark streets looking for thugs to beat up and let off some steam, or why Max only took baths now. Because the shower reminded him about the rain, and how the realization Sam had still been in the giant monster when it died had hit Max in a place he didn’t even know it existed.
But everything eventually faded. The guilt. The nightmares. Even the frustration and the unbearable loneliness. As the months went by, the hole in his chest slowly started to close. Max had the suspicion it would never close completely, but that was okay too.
In truth, it was not the cigarette smoke that woke Max up, but the searing light through his eyelids. He pawed around blindly for some kind of shield, preferably of the blanket kind, but there was nothing but air there. Then the light suddenly disappeared and Max barely opened his eyes. Flint Paper’s solid silhouette was blocking the sunlight.
“Sorry about that,” Flint said, without ever dropping his cigarette. “But it smells like a damp crackhouse here.”
Max watched the dust dance in the sunlight for a couple of beats.
“You okay, chap? Honestly, I could figure out you probably needed to be alone. But Sybil’s recruited me to check on you. And you know, that dame can be hella pushy when she’s got her mind onto something.”
“Mmh,” Max shrugged. In truth, he didn’t know if he was okay or not. It was kind of like waking up to find you were missing a limb, but at the same time being so deep at the bottom of the barrel you actually did not really care about it. It all balanced nicely into numbness.
“Do you need anything? It’s almost noon, so I figured you could be up for some lunch.”
Max frowned. He couldn’t even remember when he had eaten last. Everything was kind of foggy. What day was it? Was it even important?
“I’m not hungry,” he said. Then he sneezed loudly.
“Maybe taking a nap in the freezing rain wasn’t such a hot idea, Ears,” Flint Paper commented.
“Is that what I did?” Max asked, confused. “I don’t recall doing that.”
“Well, you were when I found you,” Flint said. “I brought you here. You didn’t even wake up.”
Max looked around. The office looked dark except for the bright patch of sunshine falling on the couch. He rubbed his eyes.
“How did you find me, anyway? I thought everybody had evacuated the area.”
Flint Paper extinguished his cigarette.
“When your little cousin got that huge gun out of the DeSoto’s trunk, I knew he meant business. In any case, I couldn’t stay. I had to take Sybil and Momma Bosco back, but as soon as it was all over I started looking for you. I was almost sure you had not survived, but then again, you guys always surprise me.” The tough detective shrugged. “And in case you were injured, I wasn’t just going to just leave you there.”
Max seemed to ponder this. “Why am I not in jail? Weren’t the cops waiting for me here?”
“Oh, believe me, if they were before, as soon as Sam was out of the sea again any other matter stopped being relevant. And anyway, I talked to President Superball and told him how you took the monster down. You’re free to go. Heh, you’re probably getting a medal and a parade or something too.”
The tiny lagomorph shuddered at the mere thought of this. Suddenly all he ever wanted was to go back to sleep. Sleep, and hopefully wake up to find out it had all been a nightmare.
Flint Paper saw Max’s ears go down. “I know,” he said.
“No, you don’t,” Max said, indifferent. “I don’t think you do.”
“Maybe I do. In any case… fair enough. I’ll give you some space. Deal with it as you want. I just look at you, and I worry, that’s all. I just want you to know that if you ever need anything, I’ll just stop punching whatever punk I am happening to be punching at the time, and I’ll listen.”
It meant nothing to Max, but he didn’t want to be a jerk. Being a jerk was just too much work. “Okay, thank you.”
“Also, I brought you your stuff. It was in my safe, but since you don’t have electromagnetic powers, I guess you’ll need it to work.”
Flint Paper pointed to Sam’s desk. Max raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I almost forgot about those.”
“I don’t think you can use Sam’s gun, but it’ll be a nice thing to remember him by. Don’t you think?”
Max felt his eyes stinging. “Yeah, definitely.” He blinked rapidly. “Uh, you know. Maybe I am a bit hungry.”
“Well, I can bring you something if you don’t want to go out.”
The tiny lagomorph purposefully stopped looking at the guns. He leaned back in the couch and closed his eyes. “Anything would do, really. But if you’re going to get some Chinese…”
“I wasn’t, but now I’m going to.”
“You don’t really need to…” Max stopped talking and sighed. He turned his back on Flint Paper, hoping he wouldn’t notice anything. The closest Chinese food place was a good solid four blocks away, and right at noon it would be full of customers. That is, if the apocalypse had not killed business. He heard Flint Paper close the door behind him. He counted to two hundred without moving, and it was about then when he heard the door open quietly. Max didn’t move or opened his eyes. Finally, the door closed softly again. For good measure, Max counted to two hundred again.
Then he got up and walked to Sam’s desk. He ignored his Luger and immediately took Sam’s gun. He checked: it wasn’t loaded. Feeling nothing, he opened the top drawer and took a single bullet, which he loaded into the cylinder. He spun it, thinking again about what Sam had said. Going out with a bang, and not with a whimper. Max placed the unblinking black hole against his forehead, thinking the bullet would probably make a dent on the back of his head. But then again, it was a high caliber one. The most likely outcome would be messy, but everybody knew it was the best way to kill a zombie. He pulled the trigger.
Max spun the cylinder again and thought about empty things. The chambers in Sam’s gun. The black, spiraling void in the sky. That thing in his chest.
He spun a third time and thought about how he hated silence. He pulled the trigger. And this time, silence was broken.
The phone was ringing loudly. Max screamed and dropped the gun without even noticing. The chamber probably wasn’t full anyway, or the gun would have gone off. Max fell off Sam’s chair, or he almost did. He sat on the floor, blinking as if he had suddenly woken up from a dream.
The phone rang and rang and Max gingerly got up and walked towards it. He had never, ever answered the phone in that place, and suddenly there was no one else to do it. He picked up the receiver, swallowing hard. “Hello?”
Max listened for a few moments. “Uh, no. He’s… not here. He’s out.” Max idly toyed with the cord. “Well. Yeah. We do that? I guess. Yeah, where? Wait, I need to write that down. Okay. No, I’m on my way.”
By the time Flint Paper came back with the food, there was no sign of either Max or his gun in sight.
Battery Park. The sun was setting and bathing the towering monster with a red, dying light. Behind the beast the sky was already dark.
Max climbed a smoking pile of rubble that was blocking the way. He felt so tired he was actually becoming sluggish. But he couldn’t afford that. He had no idea what he was doing, but he felt a desperate need to do something. At the top of the pile he saw Sam’s back. The muscles were rippling with strange movement, and a purple glow was coming out of the parts of his body that were translucent. Max lost his footing and tumbled down the pile, narrowly avoiding being impaled by a rusty rod. He rolled down and stopped his fall with his sprained hand. He cried out and cursed Cocky once again. But there would be time for that later. Or maybe not.
Max got up and turned around to see Sam face the giant batteries. Why are those things even there, Max thought, and started running as fast as he could. Not fast enough, however. Sam lifted his arms and the tiny lagomorph only could shout at the top of his lungs: “Don’t you dare do this to me, Sam! You can’t DO this to me! Not after all the crap I’ve been through!”
Sam briefly turned around to see him. Max thought that in five seconds flat he would be able to reach Sam’s feet. If he clung to them, Sam would not be able to electrocute himself without killing Max. He was very well aware it was probably suicide, but he wasn’t really thinking at that point.
But he didn’t have five seconds. Without any hesitation Sam simply lifted his arms and placed his palms against the terminals. Max winced as he watched Sam shake and convulse, roaring. And then Sam simply dropped his arms again and stood there, immobile, with his head down.
“Sam?” Max took a step towards the monster. Suddenly Sam looked up. The whole sky lit up and Max averted his sight. Even through his eyelids he saw the flash and heard the thunder. It sounded like an explosion, and Max had to cover his ears. When the thunder stopped he opened his eyes and saw Sam was changing again. His skin was torn to shreds as he outgrew it; the head grew sharper; the snout grew longer. Out of pure preservation sense Max turned around and ran away, stumbling as an earthquake shook the ground and brought down everything around: buildings, trees, billboards. Glass exploded everywhere and the skies opened to reveal a black void swirling above what used to be Sam. He was three times bigger now, a flashing humongous thing that made sounds that were not meant to be heard in any rational universe. As if it was a giant vacuum, the black hole started sucking everything in. Rubble and dust and debris rushed to the portal and disappeared inside the darkness. It was not so much a rush of air as a bending of reality itself. Even the ground and the sky seemed to twist towards it, as they were no more than paintings on a wrinkled tapestry.
And Max just stood there and watched the world end.
A bright light washed over them suddenly, and Cocky pulled Max out of the way, falling to the ground. Flint Paper got out of the DeSoto, which had been carelessly parked in the middle of the street.
“Sorry about being late, fellas,” the tough detective said, eyeing the destruction. “I had to jump over three police cars to get here.”
“Next time let us know you’re going to do something like that, you full-blown sociopathic maniac!” Papierwaite wailed, getting shakily out of the car.
Flint eyed the wizard. “I told you guys to buckle up, didn’t I?”
“Forgive me,” Norrington said. He looked mightly pissed. “I prefer not to go into apocalypses with a taste of safety belt in my mouth.”
Momma Bosco spoke from the passenger seat. “Are you boys okay? I lost communication for a while.”
“We heard you, but we were too busy escaping,” Cocky explained. Max looked at him, furious. He pushed Cocky out of the way, violently. Cocky made a face, but he didn’t say anything. He understood too well.
“Couldn’t you find the brain?” Sybil asked, getting out of the car as well.
Max didn’t answer. Cocky looked at him sideways.
“Sam didn’t let me,” Max said, finally. “He wanted me out. I don’t know why.” He turned to look at Cocky, who swallowed hard. “According to this little traitor, he’s heading to Battery Park.”
Sybil eyed Cocky cautiously, but she had the good sense of not saying anything.
Momma Bosco suddenly gasped. “Oh, no!”
Max raised his ears. Norrington sighed.
“I told you this would happen,” Papierwaite said, angrily.
“What? What is happening?”
Norrington cringed. “Sam’s going for the next stage, Max. He’s going to turn himself into an Elder God and open the portal. He needs a big surge of power to do it… thus…”
“Battery Park,” Momma Bosco nodded.
“Wasn’t… wasn’t he already one? What does that mean?” Max couldn’t help but puffing up in horror.
“No, he was merely a beastly kind of eldritch creature.” Norrington seemed sad. “That is probably why he wanted you out. Being inside him during the change would have probably killed you both. And, if by any mere chance you survived, it would have destroyed every trace of sanity you ever had.”
“How do I stop him?” Max asked, and the only answer was a dreadful silence, punctuated by thunder and the howling wind.
Finally, Papierwaite spoke. “You can only point the Chtonic Destroyer to him and hope the explosion doesn’t raze the surrounding three blocks to the ground.”
“I lost the Destroyer,” Max admitted. “It sank into a pool of acid.”
“What? You can’t be trusted with a priceless artifact for half an hour, bunnyman, because you immediately-”
“Silence, Anton,” Dr. Norrington ordered, flailing his tentacles around. “That doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing does, actually.”
“I can’t stand around like this. I have to do something.” Max looked at the group. “I’m catching up with Sam.” He turned around and ran. The monster had already reached Battery Park, and a strange grave hum filled the air.
Flint Paper watched Max go and stated, almost serenely: “I guess this is curtains now, eh, folks? I’ll be honest. I never expected it all to end like this.” Paper tossed his mangled up cigarette butt on the pavement and stepped on it, pointlessly as it was. “But I guess being swallowed up by a portal to another dimension is one hell of a way to go.”
“Are you okay?” Sybil asked.
“Could be better, definitely. Sipping on bourbon and listening to old tunes, for example.”
“Not you. HIM.” Sybil pointed down. Cocky was sitting on the ground with his head between his knees.
“I felt a bit woozy for a moment. I’ll be all right,” Cocky said, weakly.
“Not surprised,” Flint Paper pointed out. “Kid looks like a dirty sheet that just got out the wringer.”
“We should probably take him back to the lab and give him some medical attention,” Momma Bosco said.
“The world’s ending, woman.” Papierwaite seemed strangely okay with the perspective. “What difference does it make?”
“God, you’re such a jerk,” Sybil groaned, rolling her eyes.
“I’m just being practical,” Papierwaite sniffed. “Besides, I’m not planning on getting in that junk boat again. If there’s going to be fireworks, I need a prime spot to laugh maniacally, as if I had orchestrated it all.”
Flint Paper scoffed. “A good idea if I ever heard any.” He opened the door of the DeSoto and tapped Cocky lightly on the shoulder. “Hey Ears, your ride is here. I’ll take you back to the lab if you want. Or you could take a nap on a slightly more cushioned surface, rather than the pee-slathered street.”
Cocky looked up. “Actually, can I have the keys to the DeSoto?”
“Call me a Grampa if you want, but I don’t think you’re in any condition to drive.”
It was a nightmare run. Cocky fled in the dark, stumbling into walls, tripping and slipping. But also jumping over stuff, climbing like a cat, sliding down. Unfortunately he didn’t have a secret pocket like Max, and thus he only had one hand available.
Every time he looked back Max kept getting closer and closer. He was shouting things at the top of his lungs, and Cocky had a flashback to when he was hanging upside down and screaming every vile threat he knew. Cocky felt tempted to shout back something, but he saved his breath. It was like being chased by a tiny lethal animal that would just shred him to tears if he managed to catch him.
He reached the vine they have climbed and without thinking he jumped on it and started sliding down it. Cocky was just barely breathing above the surface of panic, but he knew he couldn’t afford to try and climb down in a safer way. Not only Max was breathing down his neck now; Sam was also moving around, making everything more difficult. It was madness.
Sooner than he thought he found the hole that was supposed to connect the tunnel to the mouth. There was no time to check, and he jumped through it just as Max’s hand brushed the makeshift velvet pouch. Cocky’s heart skipped a beat as he somersaulted in the air, not knowing where he would end up.
He tumbled in the semi-darkness, but the ground was soft. Cocky guessed he had landed on the tongue of the creature. “Watch out!” Cocky cried out for Max to hear, as he suddenly thought about the dark hole of the throat, which had to be around nearby. But he really was worrying for nothing. Max landed on his shoulders, bringing him down again. “Oof!” he grunted, missing his helmet for the umptillionth time.
The space lagomorph suddenly realized two things. One, Max was standing between him and the only way out, which was the mouth of the monster. Two, he really didn’t have a plan. This was not a weird occurrence in his life, but usually the little worker at the back of his mind pulled through. This time, he felt as if he had been in the same room as the little worker, Cocky would already be poking him with a stick and asking him if he was okay. Or maybe it would be the other way around.
“Give me that,” Max growled, darkly. “Do it now and I’ll let you live.”
Cocky shook his head, panting. Max advanced on him and Cocky couldn’t retreat, as the throat was right behind him and the floor was slippery. “There’s no time, Max. We have to go. We BOTH have to go, NOW.”
Instead of sagely nodding and heading for the exit, Max punched him in the face. He never even saw that coming, and as he flew backwards Cocky only could resignedly think his fourth beating of the day was probably coming. But when he landed and he kept sliding towards the dark hole of the throat, any kind of rational thought disappeared and was replaced by a burning, desperate panic. The glove in his left hand did nothing to stop his momentum, and he simply had to let go of the velvet sack to bury his fingernails in the meat of the tongue. “NO!” Max cried, and Cocky realized the Toy, lacking fingernails and still in its fancy package, had simply disappeared down the chute.
They heard a distant splash. Max seemed stunned for a moment and then he headed for the throat. Cocky barely had time to hug Max’s feet to prevent him from diving into the hole; Max went down but he still tried to crawl towards his doom, kicking Cocky repeatedly and with stunning force. Cocky realized that in a matter of seconds he’d have to let Max go or they would both fall down the throat and die. Pointlessly, he screamed: “Sam! SAM, help me! I’m about to lose him!”
Unexpectedly, the floor tilted in the opposite direction and the lagomorphs slid away from danger. Max was still kicking him, however, and Cocky was trying to gather enough breath to swear at him when the mouth opened and a gigantic hand grabbed him and pulled them both out. Cocky suddenly found himself hanging upside down again, only this time he was holding Max’s full weight. Incredibly enough, Max was still trying to kick him. “Will you KNOCK IT OFF??!!” Cocky shouted angrily, but suddenly it didn’t matter anymore, as the hand let him go and flew away like a gigantic, oddly-shaped bird. Cocky landed badly and twisted his right ankle, but he didn’t even have time to register the pain. The great beast almost crushed him as he went past him, leaving him shaken but glad they were both finally out of the monster and on terra firma.
Cocky had barely started to pick himself up when Max jumped on his back and started landing blows on him. “Oh, there it is,” Cocky thought, annoyed, and tried to turn himself around to kick Max away from him, but he couldn’t. Finally he managed to grab Max’s fist and twisted, effectively spraining it for the second time in the day. Max was surprised enough by the pain to let Cocky slide away from him, and he could get up before Max attacked him again. In true Max-fashion, he started trying to punch him, sprained-wrist or not. Cocky didn’t try to hit back. He just dodged the blows and moved around Max, retreating and going round, over and over, limping awkwardly. Finally, Max stopped, apparently exhausted, but Cocky told himself that it meant nothing. He could be trying to make Cocky lower his guard and attack at the most unexpected second. He was glad for the reprieve, however, as he was himself just running on fumes at the moment and his ankle was killing him.
“I am going to make you pay for this,” Max said, in a tone so full of pain Cocky couldn’t help but cringe. “You ruined everything. Everything!”
“I’m sorry,” Cocky said. He realized it was pointless, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I could have saved him. I could… the Toy is gone. It stopped calling to me. Why did you do that??” Max seemed paralyzed with rage and disbelief.
Cocky swallowed hard. “I did it to save your life. I could have escaped on my own, you know. But I knew I had to make you follow me. I knew you wouldn’t have left if I asked.”
“NO ONE ASKED YOU TO SAVE MY LIFE!” Max suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs. Cocky took a step back.
Max looked at Cocky as if he had gone crazy. “Lies.”
Cocky shivered. The wind was picking up.
“I noticed the stream was turning purple, and Ms. Bosco was screaming in the communicator that Sam was heading to the sea. I didn’t want to touch you after what happened… last time. So I put my hand into the stream too. And Sam spoke to me. He told me what he was going to do, and what I had to do to get you out before it was too late.”
Max frowned and looked at the towering monster, already four blocks away. The sky was full of black clouds. The sun was setting soon.
“He’s going into the sea already,” Max said, dismayed. “Sam told me he could stop it.”
“You don’t understand.” Cocky shook his head. “The monster is heading to the sea. That at least is true. But Sam’s stopping him before that.”
“Then why didn’t you let me save him??
“He doesn’t want to be saved, Max,” Cocky said, softly. “He’s going to Battery Park.”
“We must be getting close to the brain,” Cocky said. “If there is one.”
“Nice thinking, Sherlock.”
“This place, I know. You know what, we should rush through these caves. There’s nothing but purple streams here.”
“I hate them,” Max said, resentfully. “I hated touching them. I hate the very fact that they exist, infecting my best friend. I hate the way they make me feel.” Max could have kept going on about how he hated them, but deep down he knew it was only fueling the dark thoughts. He had needed almost half an hour to recover from the experience, and whether he wanted to admit it or not, he had been left pretty shaken. The worst thing about it was what it meant. If he didn’t find a different-colored stream, then Sam was gone for good. How much of him was left?
Cocky didn’t say anything. Max turned to look at him. He looked different now somehow. Instead of his trademarked unflappable, cheeky attitude, he looked depressed and somehow haunted. It made Max want to beat him up so he would stop being such a space princess. Cocky looked up and returned a decidedly hostile gaze. Max shook his head and pulled forward. It’s this place, he kept thinking. It’s this place.
Why was he even allowing Cocky to walk behind him? His memories didn’t lie. Surely someone who had gone through all that couldn’t survive with his sanity intact. And Max had watched him kill over and over again with such an impressive skill and cold blood one would no doubt think it was like a second nature. He was a murderer and he’d even had the gall to apologize to Sam as he was dying. “Nothing personal,” he had said. Max felt his hands tightening into fists, felt the madness carousel spinning inside of him.
Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. Running lazily across one of the walls of the cave he had just entered, a periwinkle-white stream pulsated with light. There were a couple of purple ones too, but they were on the other side of the cave. They approached carefully and then stood there, immobile, for a little while. Then Max put the robot toy down, along with the communicator.
“If it happens again, pull me out, please,” Max asked.
Cocky nodded. “Okay.” He pocketed the communicator and dragged the velvet pouch out of the way, while he looked fearfully at the purple streaks. Max looked at him, once again unable to believe just how strong these dark forces were. Had he really had those thoughts about him, just some seconds before? It was just Cocky, pale and silent. A guy who was not just the slave, or the war hero, or the ruthless mercenary, or the one who did not know how to apologize properly. He was all and the same, and they were on the same side for the time being, and Max was grateful for his presence, for a million reasons. The most important one was, perhaps, that none of his friends were there with him, in the darkest of all places. Only his enemy was standing by him, and he had come more or less willingly.
Cocky turned around to look at him. “Are you really gonna do this?”
Max unconsciously mimicked Sam. “Can’t think of a reason not to.” Then he stuck his right hand into the blue-white stream and got sucked into another reality.
Cocky took a step back, breathless. He couldn’t quite process what had happened. He had peered for an eternal second into Max’s mind and it had been terrifying. A flawless mixture of genius and madness that had almost crushed him under its weight. But there was also a terrible darkness in there, although he wasn’t sure if it was Max’s or coming from some kind of cosmic horror. He looked at the small lagomorph, who seemed stunned. “You okay, bro? I don’t think that was one of our best decisions.”
Max turned to face him, but it was as if he was looking through him.
“I looked inside you. For a second there.” Max exposed his teeth in an awful grin, and Cocky’s fur stood up in instant horror, as if someone had scratched a blackboard with some very long nails. “I got the answer to my question.”
Cocky felt as if he had suddenly been drenched in ice water. “What…?” He managed to stammer, but he wasn’t physically capable of anything beyond that.
“They were bored, I guess. And you were a notorious troublemaker. So who was to stop them? They just thought it’d be hilarious,” Max commented, in a mocking tone.
“Max, stop,” Cocky pleaded, shaking violently as if he was naked in the howling wind. “Don’t.”
Max took a step forward, grinning, still bathed in that poisonous, pulsating purple light.
“The guards there, they had a contest. They had a contest to see who could make you scream the loud-”
But he never finished the phrase, or maybe Cocky didn’t hear it. The next thing he knew he had Max pinned to the ground. His knife was out, and it was purple, and everything was purple. He was going to disembowel that little bastard, cut him open from head to toe. Max didn’t seem to notice. He was clutching his temples weakly, and he was moaning incoherently. “Get out of my head. Get out of my head.”
Cocky suddenly was aware of what he was doing and what was happening. “It’s this place. It’s this light. It’s making us… it’s…” His voice trailed off, and for a moment he clutched his knife tighter, because he was going to do it anyway, he was going to break the Law. Max’s blood called to him with the dark and sweet voice of sacrifice.
With a hand that felt colder than ice he suddenly threw the knife into the darkness. Cocky crawled away from the purple light and somehow he managed to drag Max with him. He didn’t stop until that horrifying, demonic craving disappeared. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “It’s okay, we’re safe now. It’s okay.” Cocky looked down and discovered Max was looking at him, really looking at him this time.
“N-no killing me before I save the world,” Max mumbled.
Cocky let out an exhausted, shaky laugh. “We should get that in a t-shirt, mate.”
“Yes, hon? How are things going inside?” Momma Bosco’s voice sounded a bit contaminated with static.
“Well, I’m thinking we must be in the head or pretty close to it. Are we? Can you tell?”
“Your signal is near the head. Haven’t you found the brain? It MUST be close. Unfortunately I can’t pinpoint an exact direction for you, but look around and you’ll find it.”
Max felt relieved. “Ah, good! Okay, but I have a question. I’m standing at the entrance of some sort of cave. I’m feeling some strange vibe coming from it. I don’t know if it’s dangerous or not.”
“Hang on, let me put Papierwaite on.”
A beat, and then Anton Papierwaite’s strange accent came from the communicator. “Yes?”
“Hey Pay-pee, two questions. Well. For Doctor Norrington or you, whoever knows the answers.” Papierwaite groaned on the other side of the communicator. “Turns out, I just remembered I found a psychic toy when I was merely the cutest little ball of fluff. The Reverse Magician Hat.” There were a lot of exclamations of excitement coming out of the receiver. “Hey! Hey, we can throw a party later! I just wanted to ask if it’s still dangerous for me to touch the robot toy, all things considered?”
“Let me get this one,” Norrington spoke at a louder volume then. “Yes, it is still dangerous. Not all the Toys are equally powerful or harmless. The Chtonic Destroyer taps into some powerful energy to work. Such energy combined with your Gift could harm you, seeing as how things have happened in the past. But it seems that you will have to take the risk, seeing as no one is there with you to act by proxy.”
“I’m here!” Cocky said, cheerful. “Really, what would you people do without me?”
“Hi Cocky!” Sybil exclaimed, apparently from the other side of the room.
“Hi, pretty lady!” Cocky snatched the communicator from Max. “How’s life on the other side of the monster?”
“SHUT UP, YOU!” Max got the communicator back. “So uh, okay, gotcha. Dangerous. Huumm. Okay, next question. I’m in a cave that has something strange on the walls. They look like canals, and a strange purple substance is running through them. From here it’s some sort of fluid, but it might be some kind of gas. I don’t know. Is it poisonous, y/n?”
A silence. A muffled discussion among Papierwaite and Norrington. Finally, Norrington said: “We don’t know.”
“Oh, awesome,” Max said, sarcastically.
“Wait. What you’re looking at, Max, are streams of consciousness. Um. So to speak.”
Max looked confused. “I don’t get it.”
“It means if you can touch it, you can tap directly into the thoughts of your giant host! And maybe control it.” It was Papierwaite who said that.
“Wait, I can control a giant monster?” Max’s eyes grew three sizes.
“Up to some point, I’m guessing,” Norrington said. “It’s up to you if you try. Of course, if you could convince Sam to stop devouring civilians or let us help him, that’d be wonderful.”
“And if you could convince him to not stomp on us or go early into the sea, it’d be greatly appreciated!” Papierwaite said.
“Wait, he’s already marching towards the sea?? How far is he from it?”
“No, he’s not… walking towards the sea, Max.” Norrington seemed hesitant. “But he’s not exactly very far away from it. If he decided to go, it would only take him a few minutes to reach it.”
“Crap,” Max mumbled under his breath.
“Um, wait,” Momma Bosco said. “There might not be a correlation at all, but…”
“But what?” Max was now impatient to go look for the brain, knowing time could be ticking away.
“The closer you got to the head, the closer the m-… Sam moved towards the sea. It’s almost as if he knows what you’re trying to do and wants to prevent his own destruction.”
Max blinked. “I TOLD you we were being watched,” he said to Cocky. Cocky shrugged as if signaling that was not his fault.
“Okay, so what do we do? Are we screwed? Even if we don’t drown somehow, we’d zap Sam’s brain and his corpse would sink to the bottom.”
Cocky said, “I have an idea.” He entered the cave and ran to the other side. “Ask her if Sam’s moving now!”
“Is Sam moving?”
“No,” Momma Bosco said.
“Thank God,” Max said. He entered the cave and started crossing it. “Wait,” Momma Bosco said. “He’s moving. In that direction, yeah. Confirmed.”
Max stopped. “What do we do?”
“I can’t get near the brain. Maybe Cocky can? How close to me does he have to be for it to work?”
“It works only on touch,” Norrington said, softly. “Sorry, Max.”
Cocky grabbed the communicator. “What’s the nearest escape route? Just in case.”
“Well, ain’t got the slightest idea,” Momma Bosco sounded lost.
“If you allow me, ma’am…” Norrington took over. “This might be speculation, but did you say you climbed through a tunnel?”
“Yeah, there was some sort of root or vine climbing all the way up too.”
“I see. Well, around the middle of that tunnel there should be some kind of connecting hole. It probably leads to the mouth of the creature.”
“Oh, I think I know where that is!” Cocky said excitedly. “I was climbing the vine when I smelled something weird. I bet the entrance is near there.”
“We still don’t know what we have to do to save Sam,” Max pointed, desperate.
“It seems to me you need to try and take control of the great beast,” Norrington said. “It’s the only way.”
Max exhaled. “Okay, let’s try that. How do I tap into the thoughts? Do I drink from that substance or…?”
“Good Lord in the Heavens, NO!” Norrington exclaimed. “Touching it will be enough. Dip you hand in the stream and you’ll connect mentally to Sam.”
“Be careful, however! If you connect mentally to the Eldritch creature, you could lose your sanity!”
“Wait, so uh… no, I don’t get it. Isn’t that the point?”
“We were discussing that,” Norrington said, uncomfortable. “You will probably find two kinds of streams. Different colors. One belongs to Sam; the other, to the Elder God. But we have no way to know which one is the dangerous one.”
Max swallowed. “So, it’s basically a 50/50 chance of me losing my mind?”
“You are a notably resilient individual, Max.” This was Sybil. “It could be traumatic, but perhaps you’re strong enough to take it.”
“You have no idea what you’re speaking about, woman!” Papierwaite exclaimed. “The mere touch of these horrors is nothing like you can imagine!”
“I’m just saying!” Sybil retreated.
“Stop being a jerk, Papierwaite,” Cocky said, menacingly. “The lady knows what she’s talking about.”
“Thank you,” Sybil said, vindicated. Max gave Cocky the dirty look and said: “Okay, I’m taking the risk. Anything else?”
“Don’t carry the Chtonic Destroyer while you’re tapping into the stream. It might react on its own or you might activate it if you lose control.”
“Okay, got it.”
“Good luck, boys,” Momma Bosco said. “I’ll let you know if there are changes out here. Out and over.”
Max turned the communicator off.
“Wow. Eff your life, mate,” Cocky said, sympathetic.
“I know, right? Blergh. I guess I don’t have other choice, so let’s do this.” Max gave Cocky the communicator. “Hang onto this too.” Cocky took the velvet sack and nodded.
“This is risky as Hell, Max. Maybe we should look for another way.”
“There is no time to look for another way,” Max said, resignedly. “Bop me in the head if I go crazy or something, okay? Maybe it’ll be just like, I dunno. Tuesday.” And he gingerly dipped his right hand into the soft flowing purple fluid.
“Was that supposed to be a joke?” Max purposefully made a detour to avoid a jelly-like blob that displayed a dozen or so eyes. They blinked in turn, like a LED light.
“Yes. Laugh,” Cocky said, deadpan.
“It IS funny,” Max said, “considering that I have actually felt watched since I escaped the pools of acid.”
“Not me. I was too busy trying to escape certain death. Say, what the Dickens is that? Do you know?”
Max turned to see. “Looks like cellophane. I’m not surprised. Sam is really too impatient to unwrap anything. We will probably also find all the chewing gum he has swallowed in the last seven years… wait.”
Cocky turned quickly around, alert. Max was pointing to a cave-like room one level above where they were. Purplish light could be seen faintly pulsating inside.
“We have to find a way up,” Max said. Cocky nodded and pointed to what looked to be a pile of rocks. They easily climbed up and reached the entrance of the cave.
“Sam’s going to be really happy when I tell him his dumb gallstones were finally useful for something,” Max snorted.
“What is this place?” Cocky asked. It looked like an ordinary cave that lead somewhere else, but there was something strange on the walls.
“Hmmm,” Max pondered. “Might be time to ask for help.” Cocky looked as Max got the communicator out of apparently thin air.
“Where were you keeping that?”
“My inventory, dumbass. Where else?”
“Uh… what’s your ‘inventory’? Please do not tell me that’s just a nickname for your colon.”
“Haha, no. You know. Your special place. The place where you keep stuff on you.”
Cocky looked at Max.
“You don’t have one?”
“Nnnno. No, I don’t have a… special place.”
“That’s ridiculous. Every lago has one.”
“Oh yeah, like who?”
“Well, there’s me, and…” Max stopped. “Huh. Well, I’m not going around asking people about their special places. That’d get me arrested.”
Cocky looked at Max with narrowed eyes. “Waiiiiit a minute… you know, there’s a Toy of Power that actually does that.”
“Fascinating. Now if we can just-”
Cocky ignored him. He started talking excitedly. “The Reverse Magician Hat! You have it, don’t you? It looks like an ordinary old white hat.”
Max blinked. “Well, spank me hard. I had not thought about that since forever. I found something like that when I was a kid, and I DID think it was a magician hat, so it’s not weird I could just pull stuff from it.” He scratched his head. “So wait, if I already touched one of the Toys, does that mean I can use the Chtonic Destroyer anyway?”
Cocky shrugged. “I’d guess so.”
“What does the Reverse Magician Hat do? Do you know?”
“It allows the bunny to pull things from the hat, of course. So uuuh, are you carrying your Hat right now, or did you at some point put the Hat inside the Hat?”
“Maybe? I dunno. Ugh. We don’t have time for this, man.” Max pressed the buttons. “Momma Bosco?”
“Is there no other way?” Max asked. The climb looked quite to be quite steep.
“I’m pretty sure,” Cocky said. “I wandered for a while and it always came to this point. I couldn’t climb with my hands tied up like that, so I looked elsewhere for a way out. There was none. I got trapped by the tentacles when I was on my way to the acid pools.”
“Didn’t you just say you checked everywhere?”
“I wanted to see if there was something in the debris to cut the zip-ties,” Cocky said. “If push came to shove, I would have tried the acid.”
“Yeah, okay,” Max said, resigned. “You know, this is going to suck.”
“Are you kidding?? Climbing is FUN!” Cocky grinned madly. “Unnnnnless you have been awake for 36 hours straight.”
“Exactly, Feathers. Um. Okay. I wish I had thought to bring a rope and a hook.”
“Or a jetpack!”
“You’re unnervingly chipper and it’s making me paranoid,” Max growled.
“I’m just glad to be free, man, you have no idea,” Cocky looked around and up. “We need a plan, but I can’t see very far. It’s too dark. I guess in our circumstances we should just start climbing and keep going for as long as we can.”
Max nodded. Without hesitation, he jumped up and started crawling his way up. It was a dark, circular tunnel, its walls criss-crossed by what looked to be veins. Something like a thick root grew in the middle and went up, sometimes stuck to the wall, sometimes it dangled in mid-air, like a vine.
“I’m gonna try this thing,” Cocky said. “Seems less work.”
“It’s too smooth,” Max said. “No cracks or anything to pull yourself up. You’re gonna break your damn skull.”
“Eh. Shiny rubber pants, remember?” Cocky started going up as if he was climbing a tree. He went a lot faster than Max, too. Max felt annoyed at this and started going faster. It soon turned into a competition where they would direct quick, angry looks to see where the other was. This kept going for a while when suddenly Max slipped. With a yelp, he disappeared into the darkness.
“Max!” Cocky shouted. “Mate, you alright?!”
No answer. Cocky climbed down as fast as he could, while muttering all the curses he knew. He found Max clinging by his fingertips from the vine and breathing heavily, pale. Cocky shook his head and helped him up and almost managed to lose his balance himself. They stopped to catch their breath for a while.
“You know, Max, perhaps we’re just the biggest idiots ever.”
“Me for going too fast, you for trying to catch up.”
“You’re tripping. I’m faster than you.”
“You were the one who tripped.”
“Point.” Max said, humbly. “What do you say we stop the pissing contest, and we try to reach up at a decent pace?”
“No, I think we should keep racing to the top until we humpty-dumpty ourselves on the ground. Good-bye, slow poke!” Cocky got up and started climbing again. Max got up himself with a groan and walked like an old man to the edge of the vine that hugged the wall. Cocky looked down at Max with his ears up.
“What?” Max asked, annoyed.
“Uh, I’m waiting for you? You didn’t think I was serious, did ya?”
“I never know with you,” Max said. “I don’t think I can climb that, anyway.”
“But the vine is more forgiving of our mistakes. Plus, we can help each other in the tight spots.”
“That’s so sweet I might cry, Cockwell. Solidarity and stuff. Yeah. I’ll stick to the wall.”
Cocky made a face. “C’mon, you don’t have to be such a hard-ass one hundred percent of the freaking time.”
“I’m not being…” Max started, but he closed his eyes and he gave up. “Fine. You win.”
“That’s the spirit,” Cocky said, chipper. “Hey, this is funny. Instead of climbing the beanstalk to get to the giant, we’re already inside the giant!”
“What the Hell are you talking about, space nerd?” Max frowned.
“Man, I don’t even know,” Cocky shrugged, and extended a hand down to give Max a boost.
“Look, all I need is for you to get my knife and cut these zip-ties. Then I’ll free us both.”
“If you think I’m gonna go around in your pants fishing for your knife, think again.”
“Okay, I’m thinking about it again.” Dead silence. “No? Damn, tough crowd.”
“I have decided to ignore you forever. Bye now.” Max looked away.
“My knife is in my belt, you humorless sack of fur. Only It’s mag-locked in place. You need to look for the release locks on the inside of the belt.”
“What the hell is mag-locked?”
“It’s a technology that uses a very strong magnetic bond to… uh, are you falling asleep???!”
“Yes. I am bored already. What the hell is mag-locked? I asked you, and you didn’t even answer.”
Cocky clenched his teeth.
“Let’s say it like this. My knife? It’s glued. Magnetically. To my BELT.”
“Uh?” Max looked skeptical.
“My boots are mag-locked to my feet, too. Or why do you think I haven’t wriggled free simply by taking off my boots? Or why I’m zip-cuffed over my gloves?”
“Good question. I was wondering about that.” Max looked at Cocky. “Wait, is that why I couldn’t take off your clothes while you were unconscious?”
Cocky gave Max a long and intense look. “I… am going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“Well, normally I go around naked, so I thought the cops would fall more easily for the switcheroo if I…”
“I AM GOING. TO PRETEND. I DIDN’T HEAR THAT.”
Max conceded. “Sheesh. Okay. Also it explains why I couldn’t take off your helmet when we were fighting.”
“That’s kind of stupid.”
“You know what’s stupid? When you’re somersaulting in the middle of a fight and your knife falls off your belt and takes your eye out. Or when someone crazy takes off your helmet so they can open your skull and steal your brains.”
Max seemed to consider this. “Okay, point. So, um. Let’s try this, then. It might be our only shot at getting free. Where is the knife?”
“Finally! Knife’s on the left side. Lock’s a little bit off-center, on the inside of the belt. Now, you need to-”
“Wait. My left, or your left?”
Cocky closed his eyes.
“Ssssssssweet Fluffy One.”
“Okay, Grumps. I got it. YOUR left.”
“THANK YOU. Now, careful when you release the lock. The knife will be let loose immediately, and if you’re not grabbing the handle, it’ll fall to the ground and we’re screwed.”
“Yeah, I’m not an idiot,” Max said, and Cocky had to bite his tongue to not say anything. “Here we go.”
Max started swinging closer and closer to Cocky, who was trying very hard not to close his eyes every time Max’s hand flailed near his face.
“This is difficult,” Max complained. “Why don’t you try swinging closer too?”
“With what, my tongue? I don’t know if you have noticed it, but I’m OWW OWW OWW!” Max had managed to grab Cocky’s right ear. He started pulling the space lagomorph towards himself. Cocky cursed under his breath. Max ignored him and pulled harder until he could reach Cocky’s collar. The whining was replaced by grunting and choking sounds. “I swear to God, princess,” Max groaned, and reached out to grab Cocky’s belt. He almost immediately found the knife’s handle. “This it?” Max asked, and Cocky barely nodded.
Once Max’s hand was firmly over the knife’s handle, his other hand moved from the collar to the inside of the belt. The grunts turned into giggles.
“Seriously?” Max said, annoyed.
“I am VERY ticklish,” Cocky explained. “It’s my only weakness.”
“Riiiight,” Max said. A click, and the knife was in his hand. Still grabbing Cocky’s belt, Max held the knife between his teeth and used his two hands to turn the space lagomorph around. “Hold still,” Max instructed, and Cocky cringed internally, bracing for the worst. But Max cut the zip ties cleanly and without harming him.
The whole operation was done fast and efficiently, and Cocky couldn’t help but to be impressed and to feel somewhat bad for having such little faith in Max. He rotated his wrists to restore the circulation to his hands. In the meantime, Max folded over himself in an impressive display of abdominal strength and slashed away at the tentacles that were holding his feet. The tentacles immediately withdrew and Max fell to the ground. He stood up somewhat dizzily, trying to recover.
For a minute Cocky looked at Max nervously, unsure if he was just going to leave him there again. But finally Max just held out the knife towards him. “You coming, or what?”
Cocky looked at Max trying to wiggle free of the tentacle-like thing that was holding him upside down. “It’s no use, dude,” he said. “Those things are very strong; I’ve been trying for a while now.”
“So what do you expect me to do, just give up and die?”
“Surely they have a purpose,” Cocky shrugged.
“Well, duh. Their purpose is to trap chunky meat-beings who manage the escape the pools of acid.”
“What I’m trying to say is; I’m guessing something will happen eventually. Maybe we’ll be carried somewhere else to be digested.”
“Oh wow, you just convinced me that I really need to get out of here as soon as possible.” Max kept on struggling for a while. Cocky gave up trying to talk him out of it. He guessed Max would eventually get tired or maybe he’d even get free.
As predicted, Max finally sighed and grew still. “This wouldn’t have happened if I had not been a stupid idiot and tried to free you.”
“I wouldn’t even be here if I had not been a moron and tried to help you.”
“None of this would have happened if you had not kidnapped me and tried to steal my best friend’s brain.”
Cocky rolled his eyes.
“Wrong. It would have happened anyway. But I wouldn’t be here. My friends would have picked me up in their spaceship and I would probably be cracking skulls on some distant planet now. So you see, I guess in some ways I’m still paying for my bad deeds. It’s too bad I’m also paying for my good deeds.”
“It wouldn’t have happened if instead of… instead of…” Max seemed to lose his train of thought.
“Blood’s already going to your head, huh?”
“Ugh. No. I’m just tired.” But Cocky thought Max was lying. He was probably starting to feel the buzz.
“You might try and sleep if you can. I tried a little while ago, but only dozed for a bit.” Cocky made a pause. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I hung you up from the ceiling like that when we kidnapped you. I guess I forgot just how darn uncomfortable it is.”
Cocky said nothing, and Max didn’t pursue. Well, he’s finally learning, Cocky thought.
After a pause, Max said: “Okay. Apology accepted.”
The space lagomorph raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Max shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, whatever. It was never about what you did to ME, anyway.”
Cocky snorted. “Oh, so I guess you zapped me with my own taser as a totally non-related event, then.”
“Can’t say it wasn’t satisfying,” Max admitted. “But if I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t personal. I just can’t afford to go to jail right now… and you know how we all look alike to THEM.”
The space lagomorph nodded.
“And I didn’t want you to come here with me. I don’t want to have to keep an eye on you so you don’t kill Sam whenever you decide.”
“Well, that worked really well for you, didn’t it?”
“I don’t even… how can you even be here, anyway? Ugh, you’re like a curse.”
“Hey, it’s not like I wanted to. The cops zip-cuffed me and put me in a police car. And guess who dropped by to have a snack.”
“I saw him around,” Max said. “It never occurred to me he was eating people. And even less you.”
“I guess I’m lucky that way,” Cocky said, sarcastically.
“Wait. He ate you, police car and everything, I’m guessing. And you managed to escape a car sinking in a pool of acid with your hands tied up behind your back?”
“I guess I’m pretty damn awesome,” Cocky said, very full of himself.
“You’re so awesome you’re hanging from some tentacles,” Max pointed out.
“Admittedly, besides of being awesome I sometimes manage to be spectacularly stupid,” Cocky said. “But, so are you. On both counts.”
Max did not seem to know what to answer to that.
They just hung there for a while, in silence. Max massaged his temples intently, and Cocky wished his hands were free to do that. But what was a little headache in comparison to everything else that had already piled in?
“Hey, Cocky,” Max said, quietly.
“I’m sorry I made fun of your marks.” Max made a painful gesture. “They don’t look ridiculous. They look… badass. Or something? Ugh. Sorry. I was just being a jerk.”
Cocky was honestly surprised. He shrugged uneasily.
“It’s okay, man. I actually don’t have a problem on how they look. It’s just that I don’t like to remember how they got there.”
Cocky wondered if Max would resist the temptation of further probing the subject. To his relief, Max said, instead:
“Sam would have stopped me, you know? He would have seen it coming, and he would have stopped me.” Max sighed. “I don’t do these things on purpose. Or at least, I do them and later I wish I had not. It gets me into a lot of trouble.”
“I know that feeling,” Cocky said. “I mean, that’s exactly the reason I am here, no?”
Max grabbed his ears and started massaging them slightly. “You’re under no obligation to do anything anymore, you know. You helped me steal the Toy, and you rescued me from the wizards. That’s enough in my book.”
I never did it for you, Cocky thought. But since Max was going through the trouble of being diplomatic, the least he could do was to reciprocate.
“Well, that’s good to know. Still, IF we manage to escape these things, it’d probably be less dangerous to go along with you, at least until I find a way to get out of Sam. Unless you don’t want me to.”
Max shrugged. “Man, I don’t give two flying craps if you do or not. Just don’t slow me down or try to kill me or anything like that.”
“Eh, fair enough,” Cocky said.
Max started kicking the tentacle that was holding him up. “That is, if these goddamn things ever let go. C’mon! You! Let go!” The tentacle just seemed to squeeze tighter. Another tentacle flailed angrily and captured Max’s free leg. “Aargh, no!” Max squirmed around in frustration.
“Oof!” Max tumbled around Sam’s mouth while at the same time trying to avoid the razor-sharp, giant teeth. He quickly waddled towards the throat and rolled himself in a very small ball, hoping Sam would pass him like a pill. He felt himself pushed down by some tight, moving flesh walls. Finally, after a short freefall, Max hit a metal surface.
The tiny lagomorph looked around. He was lying on the roof of a car. He had been lucky, as he had narrowly missed the windshield, which would have broken and probably injured him. But he soon realized his luck had been even bigger. The car seemed barely afloat a lake of acid, if his eyes and nose weren’t mistaken. Alarmed, Max looked around for a way to escape. There was enough debris for him to jump around to safety, but he’d have to be careful. If he slipped, it was bound to be unpleasant.
Max quickly reached the edge of the pool. Looking around, it seemed like Sam had been ingesting a whole buffet of vehicles and presumably people. Max made a face. He had to stop this madness.
If he had thought for a moment that Sam would hesitate to eat him due to of all the decades of partnership and friendship, he had been wrong. Max had simply jumped up and down in front of him, trying to grab his attention. “Hey, hey big guy! Look at me, I’m delicious and bred for quality!” Being the only living being in the vicinity that was not running away screaming his head off, Sam quickly grabbed him and tossed him in his horrible eldritch belly mouth as if he had been some vaguely anthropomorphic-looking piece of popcorn.
The whole place pulsated with some sickly-looking blue light. Max tried to figure out where to go. He started walking and discovered several pools of acid, each one with its share of debris and vehicles. He carefully avoided them, having to walk through some narrow places. But soon, he was in a tunnel, a very dark tunnel. Things moved at the end of it, and Max felt a little worried about what they could be. However, there was nowhere to go but forward.
He had reached the end of the tunnel and peered into a cave. Some tendril-like things moved and danced lazily, hanging from the ceiling. Max was trying to decide if they were harmless or dangerous, when he heard a voice and jumped in surprise. “Max? Are you all right in there?”
Suddenly he remembered the communicator. “Yes, I made it inside. This place is freaky, but I’m managing.”
Momma Bosco sounded relieved. “Excellent. I’ll tell Flint Paper. He was worried about you.” A pause. “How does it look inside?”
Max tried to think of what to say. “There’s pools of acid and tentacle-like things. You know. Basic monster anatomy.” He thought of something. “What did MY innards look like?”
“Like a 60’s-decorated bachelor pad,” was Momma Bosco’s unsettling answer.
“Oooooookaaaaay? Um, listen, I have to go. I have to find a way to the head, I guess.”
“Keep me updated. If you have any question or feel you could use help, push both buttons at the same time.”
“Gotcha. Over.” Max cut off the communication. The silence was unsettling, but he was eager to resume his mission.
“You should have asked where the nearest hot dog cart is,” another voice suggested from above Max.
Max arrived to find that Momma Bosco’s was a full house. Flint Paper, Papierwaite and co., Sybil and even Harry Moleman was there. “I’m back!” he announced, chipper, the improvised velvet sack bouncing against his shoulder.
Harry Moleman saw Max and he jumped into the dirt tunnel. Max bent over and shouted into the hole: “Sorry about that, Harry! I was in a really bad mood!”
The echoes confirmed Harry Moleman was running away, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Momma Bosco looked at the lagomorph, eyes widened. “Heaven’s sake, hon! Are you alright?”
Max looked down at himself. Most of the blood wasn’t even his, but he preferred to grin and say: “Well, you shoulda seen the other guy.”
“Where IS the other guy?” Sybil asked. She looked worried. “Your space cousin?”
Max shrugged. “I dunno. In jail, maybe? The cops thought he was me and he got arrested.”
“Max, that is terrible! How could you let them do that?” Sybil was positively indignant.
“Chillax, woman. As soon as they realize he’s not me they’ll let him go,” Max said. He didn’t add there was a good chance of the cops having actual physical evidence against Cocky, but hey, it WAS his crime after all. There was no chance of Cocky actually doing time, anyway. Either he saved Sam and Cocky walked free, or he didn’t and everybody would bite the big one.
“I am sure we are all utterly fascinated by your continued misinterpretation of what is actually legal,” Papierwaite said, sarcastically, “but sadly the world’s fate is in your grimy hands.”
“Hey!” Flint Paper said, hostile. “Whatta you got against grimy hands?”
“What Papierwaite means to say is that we must act quickly now,” Norrington intervened, and pointed to one of the screens in the room. “Sam came out of the sea an hour ago and he’s rampaging through the city as we speak.”
Max looked at the screen, fascinated. “I know,” he said, slowly. “I saw him on my way here. He was near our office. I hope this means…” but he never finished what he was going to say. Max was embarrassed; suddenly aware of how ridiculous and far-fetching his own hopes were.
“I’m sure Sam’s still conscious somehow inside… that thing, Max,” Sybil said, and Max hated her in that moment. Not only for her uncanny ability to see through him as if he was a greasy napkin, but also because of the pity in her voice.
Max shook his head and turned to Norrington. “Let’s get to business. I have the Toy here, Doc. What do I do with it? How do I use it?”
Norrington cleared his alien throat. “I was hoping your friend Cocky would use it in your place. Your Gift is strong enough to share the power safely with someone by proxy without putting yourself in danger.”
“Well, no dice,” Max said. “I don’t care about danger.”
“Still, maybe someone else could go with you?”
“I’m all up for it,” Flint Paper said. “Where?”
“Me too,” Sybil added.
“Not me!” Papierwaite said. “I have had enough going inside monsters in my lifetime, thank you very much!”
“Wait, inside? Oh no, no no. I’m sorry, Max,” Sybil retreated.
Flint Paper shook his head. “Sorry, fellas. But I draw the line at ingestion.”
Max sighed. “What, you all going yellow on me??? NICE.”
“I’m sorry,” Sybil repeated. “I agreed to go inside past-you only because they needed someone with my surgery skills. If my presence is absolutely necessary, I WILL go. But frankly I’d rather help in some other way? I have a baby now.”
Sybil looked positively mortified. Max felt bad for her and shrugged. “It’s okay, Sybil. I understand. And I don’t need anyone else. Just tell me what I have to do.”
Suddenly everybody was silently. Finally, Momma Bosco said, “We believe we have a chance to save Sam.”
Max looked up, expectantly. “Yes?”
“But… only his brain. Not his body. It’s okay, as we can simply repeat the strategy. Keep the brain alive and look for a clone. If we don’t find one, I’ll simply create one. But that takes longer…”
“You still have the jar, don’t you?”
“Eh, I made a fresh one. That’s not important. You have to go inside Sam and find his brain. From what I have observed, the inside is insulated. I would still prefer it if you wore a Faraday suit, but I’m afraid there are none in your size.”
Papierwaite laughed sardonically. Max turned to look at him and said: “Yes, let’s all make fun of each other sizes.” Papierwaite turned red, but closed his mouth. Momma Bosco continued.
“So, you find Sam’s brain and you use the Chtonic Destroyer on it. Once it’s free of dark energy, the monster will die. Then we can simply open his skull and retrieve the brain. No need for Sybil to go inside.”
Sybil looked relieved. There was another silence. It was Papierwaite who broke it. “So, is anybody going to tell him, or should I do it myself?”
“Never in your life, Anton,” Norrington chastised.
“Tell me what?” Max was suddenly very afraid.
Another silence. Finally, it was Sybil who said, apologetically: “We don’t know.”
“Know what?” Max’s heart was beating hard and loud inside his chest.
“We don’t know what’ll happen to Sam’s brain. We are almost positive his body would be destroyed completely if you use the Toy…”
“The instruments are very clear on this,” Momma Bosco said. “His brain was not physically transformed. It’s still a tiny dog brain, controlling a massive creature.”
“So what’s the problem?” Max said. He was starting to get impatient with all the dancing around.
“We uh. We don’t know just how infected Sam’s brain is with dark energy. Could be a tiny bit. Could be a lot. Whatever it is, when the Chtonic Destroyer touches it, it’ll be gone. Uh, in any case…” Sybil paused and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “We don’t know if he’ll come back… complete.”
The tiny lagomorph suddenly remembered a raging storm and Sam’s voice, cold and lethal, growling: “NO.”
But he pushed the memory away. He simply said, in a flat voice: “Okay.”
“Do you still want to do it?” Momma Bosco asked.
“Of course I still want to do it. I want him back. As long as he’s still Sam, I’ll deal.”
Is that what the future was about? But Sam, I can’t take care of you if you’re dead, Max thought, and his throat seemed to close to a pinhole. His eyes prickled, and he blinked rapidly.
“Oh, c’mon, guys, don’t be such Downer McDowneys.” Flint Paper said, chipper. “I’m sure ol’ Sam has had plenty of brain injury before, and he shrug it off like cakewalk. Isn’t that right, Squeaky?”
Max nodded, grateful for once for Flint Paper’s intervention. “Actually, yeah. In any case, we can only do what needs to be done and hope for the best.” Max tried to compose himself. “So, okay… sounds like a plan. How do I get inside Sam? I suppose it should be something like you guys did with past-me? How do I get him to eat me?”
“Pfft, that shouldn’t be a problem at all, kiddo,” Flint Paper snorted. “He’s eating everybody and their neighbor.”
Max turned around to see the screen. Sam was pouring the entire content of a bus inside the mouth on his belly as if it was a bag of M&M’s.
Max cringed. “Ooo, that’s not going to sit well with Superball.”
“I already talked to him,” Momma Bosco said. “But it’s not looking good. They already authorized to launch the nukes.”
“Are you KIDDING ME!?” Max was apalled. “With me they waited for a whole WEEK!”
“Yeah, but you weren’t doing that, tough guy. You were stamping things around and licking stuff and giving nightmares to people. Not devouring tax-paying, voting-registered citizens.” Flint Paper lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Max. The lagomorph took one. The tip trembled slightly as he took the first drag. He closed his eyes. “How long do we have?” he asked, exhaling the smoke.
“Twenty four hours. Less than twenty-four hours. It was approved at noon today.”
“Then we only have tonight,” Max said. “He probably will be going into the sea at sunrise again. We don’t know, really, do we?” The lagomorph grabbed the velvet pouch. “I have to get going, then.”
“I’ll drive you there,” Flint Paper said. “Then I’ll follow the monster around, just in case. When you’re ready to hit the brain, I’ll fetch the girls so they can work their magic.”
Momma Bosco chuckled slightly at being called a girl. She turned to Max. “And I will be your contact with the outside world. Here, this is a communicator we can use to talk to each other. I’ll keep you updated on what Sam is doing.”
“Okay, thank you.” Max grabbed the communicator. It seemed simple enough to operate, so he didn’t ask any more questions. He had a sudden need to put himself on the move so he could stop thinking. He was disheartened and tired beyond belief, and he could only think of the endless hours ahead of him. Endless hours that probably would not even be enough. Suddenly he felt it was all too much. Just too much.
“I’m almost ready,” Max said. “I just have to take something with me before I leave. It’ll just be a minute.”