When I woke up in the morning, my neck ached. As I unstuck my face from my desk, I rubbed my neck and slowly readjusted it to its normal position. The first thing I saw that morning was my huge stack of paperwork that was supposed to be turned in an hour ago. It was one of those rare days where the very last thing I wanted to do was work, but all I could do was sigh and get to work.
By lunchtime, I finished the most urgent paperwork. After dropping it off on Beppo's desk and wishing him a pleasant lunch, I hurried over to my desk and took a book out of the bottom drawer. I didn't always read, but today I needed a vacation. After grabbing a pastry from the Clubhouse kitchen, I nestled under my favorite tree in all of Bossbot HQ. It was behind the Front Three in a secluded paradise away from all other life forms. I decided to take an hour long break today before setting out on my search to find a new project.
After a peaceful, much needed break, I was finally beginning to feel better. When it was time to go, I dropped off my things at my desk, sad to leave my book behind. Of course my break had to end before I could find out if the cog survived the vicious monkey's birthday cake. Further disappointment would follow when for the next whole week, my search would prove unsuccessful.
However, a week later, I was re-organizing my desk since I had neglected it in my fervent search for a new project when Evil Twin approached me.
"Heyo, Daron," he said, smiling.
"Hey," I greeted, wiping the glass top of my desk with a towel.
"Can I ask you a favor? I've been so busy with all the new recruits and I'm supposed to be looking into something Stupid Stupid Stupid Rabbit tipped us off about, but I just can't today," he quacked.
"What did Stupid Stupid Stupid Rabbit say?" I asked, finally looking up at him.
"He lives in Melodyland and has heard a lot of talk about some local resistance group that is gaining a lot of traction there. Can you try to get in the group and see what it's about? Maybe try to foil their upcoming plans? I would really appreciate it," he pleaded, his eyes sparkling.
I paused and stared down at the newly cleaned glass to think about it. I really needed to focus on finding a new project. Someone was bound to find out soon that I only had three projects and I really couldn't afford to waste any time. Sighing, I replied, "You've got like 20 new recruits, right? Give me one of them and I'll be able to help you."
"Hm well... you can at least meet them. Come on, they're in the meeting room," he said, pulling my arm behind him.
"Don't worry everyone, Daron here is going to take over my other obligation. This means we can go back to training on schedule. Also, Daron is my colleague, a level 3 like myself. Everyone say hi," he announced, grabbing my hand and making me wave.
Most of the new recruits waved back, but others just scowled. It seemed to me that the latter were more cut out for the job. One yellow dog's scowl was especially bitter looking, which I found a little unsettling.
"Well, nice to meet you all. I'm sure I'll see you later sometime," I meowed, turning around. I didn't enjoy seeing Evil Twin's twenty plus trophies if I'm honest.
"So you'll do the Melodyland job right? I'll give you stock options!" he called out after me.
"Okay," I sighed, ambling back to my desk. It seemed I didn't really have a choice, but if I got lucky, maybe I could find a project at the same time. After putting on my coat and quickly making my desk appear presentable, I pulled out a teleportation hole from my pocket and jumped in. When I arrived at Alto Avenue, the street was deserted. Was it some special toon holiday today? I was pretty sure there wasn't a toon holiday in the middle of January. Was everyone at one of this group's meetings? Maybe, and if so, I hoped I'd be able to attend. To my disbelief, Baritone Boulevard and Tenor Terrace were also completely empty. Melodyland was a ghosttown.
Surely, the toons would return soon enough. I stationed myself in front of a cog building to do my regular procedure of luring toons into cog buildings, but gave up when the smell of fish from the nearby pond grew too much to bear. I'd rather drink oil than eat any kind of fish, and I didn't appreciate the smell either. Oil pastries could even be yummy with enough frosting. But what was I doing, standing here with my thoughts rambling on? It was clear that no toon would be here for a while, so I pulled out my whisper device to ask Stupid Stupid Stupid Rabbit if he knew where all the toons were. But my luck changed when I saw a toon far away. I couldn't tell the toon's height or even species, but it was a toon all right. The toon trudged slowly down the street, and it was a while before it were close enough for me to recognize its features. It was a red cat, and when he got closer, I noticed the state of his outfit. Faded orange sneakers, orange t-shirt, and dark red shorts. He stared at the ground the whole time until he noticed me. He glanced over at me, then did a double take when he saw me looking at him. His face broke into a sweet smile, which faded when he seemed to remind himself of something. He continued walking on, so I purred a "hello". Immediately he turned back around and smiled again.
"Hi," he meowed shyly, walking up to me.
"I'm so glad you walked by. I've been trying to get help with this building for a while now. Would you mind helping me?" I asked with a fake smile.
"Oh... sure!" he replied, stepping right into the elevator.
I followed, and when the elevator doors closed, I checked on my silly detector. I was hoping for a miracle. A toon with a level 4 or 5 silliness would be just the challenge I was looking for. I couldn't remember the last time I was with a toon with silliness above the average 3, so I held my breath as I quickly pulled the device out of my pocket and checked. My heart beat faster when I saw the result. This cat was a 4. Jackpot.
"What's your name?" he asked me, scooting a hair closer to me.
"I'm Daron, nice to meet you by the way. What's your name?"
"Benny," he mewed, "Nice to meet you too."
The elevator doors opened then and we made our merry way to the cog battle. I was so excited about finally finding an extra silly toon that I forgot why I was here in the first place. Plus, if I'm honest, his smile was contagious. I glanced over at Benny to see which gag he was going to use, and he looked up and smiled at me. For some reason, I couldn't keep from smiling back. His extra silliness was the culprit I was sure, so I stepped a few inches away from him. Thankfully, my smile faded and I was able to think straight again. He ended up luring, and I dropped a flower pot.
"Oh, I didn't know you were going to drop. Sorry," he gasped.
"No problem. Is it all right if I train drop?" I asked sweetly.
"Sure! I'll train my sound then," he replied, a new smile lighting up his face. Before I could stop myself, I smiled again too! How did he do that?
After I finally wiped the smile off my face (again) I remembered why I was there.
"I'm trying to get into that new resistance group here in Melodyland. Do you know where the building is? I've heard they're up to some great stuff," I said, glancing over at Benny.
"Oh, I haven't heard of it. I'm not from around here, so I'm not the toon to help," he replied as he watched my flowerpot miss for the third time in a row. He didn't seem to mind, though.
"That's okay. Where are you from?" I asked, gazing at him curiously.
"Valentoonia. I live with my sister who needs me to look after her. I was going to go fishing before you asked me to help with this building. She loves piano tuna," he mused, returning my gaze.
After a short silence, he added, "Where do you live?"
My heart beat faster as I tried to figure out how to respond to that. The best I could come up with was, "Well, I'm thinking of moving here to Melodyland to be in that resistance group. I couldn't seem to find anyone to ask, until you showed up of course. Where is everyone?"
Benny chuckled. "The whole town was kind of turned upside down after what happened yesterday, I think," he said as he threw a fruit pie at the Back Stabber in front of us.
"Oh, what happened yesterday?" I asked, genuinely clueless. It seems I did too good of a job blocking out yesterday from my memory.
"It was all over the news! First, there was the bank robbery. By a toon. Then," he bent over laughing, then continued, "Coach Zucchini lost his mind live on TV. It was so funny. His evil twin was causing some sort of commotion on Oak Street right in front of his brother's gym. I forget what exactly he was doing, because I was doing the dishes while listening to the news. It was something genuinely bad though. Anyway-" he cut himself off short as he ducked to avoid the cog explosion.
Once Benny defeated the cog, we entered the elevator. I waited for him to continue his story, but he seemed to have forgotten about it already. He was standing uncomfortably close. I stepped back slightly just as he reached his paw out to me. I had no idea why he was doing this, but when I looked down I realized what he was looking at. The elevator doors opened to the second floor, but he didn't seem to notice. He was holding my necklace in his glove, watching as the dim office lamps made it glimmer.
"A cog gear necklace... I've never seen anything like this before," he said gently, locking eyes with me. He was definitely too close now.
"Yeah, it's... I got it from..." I began nervously. He wasn't supposed to see the necklace in the first place, and I was grateful that he didn't know what it meant. But I had no other explanation for it.
"It's beautiful," he breathed, smiling bright.
"Thanks," I replied, unable to take my eyes off him as I tucked my necklace back into my shirt.
"So, is it just a fashion accessory or does it mean something?" Benny questioned, eyeing me playfully. Was he on to me?
Before I could respond, he continued with a laugh, "What if it meant that you were a cog or something? Or a spy?" He looked at me again with a certain look in his eye that really made me think he knew.
"I'm afraid it's just a necklace," I replied, trying to figure out how to change the topic as quickly as possible. "Hey, you didn't finish what you were saying about the news yesterday. Did anything else happen?"
"Yeah, and I think this was the worst thing of all. I'm sure you already heard about Pajama Place," he mewed sadly.
"Oh, yes, I do know about that one. It was sad," I replied, adding in my head, "it was sad for us cogs."
"The Queens were heartbroken when they heard the news. But, it could have been worse right? The residents were able to stop the cogs before the entire street was destroyed, thankfully."
"Believe me, I was heartbroken too," I whispered, remembering all my fallen coworkers. Suddenly, it dawned on me that we hadn't left the elevator yet. We both become aware of this when the impatient cogs who had been staring at us this whole time began attacking both of us with a double power trip. I wasn't ever supposed to be attacked, so I hastily pulled my necklace out again and made sure they saw it. Then, I watched as Benny shakily stood up again. The pain was clearly visible in his face as he limped straight into battle. He looked at me, unsure of what to do. I wasn't even sure what to do. Normal protocol was to let him go sad, but it wouldn't make a very good impression on my new project if I did nothing to protect him.
"You know what, why don't we forget about this building?" I suggested.
"You know a way out?" he asked doubtfully.
Pretending that I didn't have a key right now in my pocket, I pleaded, "Mr. Big Wig, will you please allow us this one chance to escape with our laff? Benny will give you all his dollar bills."
"Hand them over," came the Big Wig's stern reply.
Benny was shocked that this actually worked. I mean, this wouldn't have worked if I didn't have the position I did. He quickly dumped out his gag pack and unhooked the dollar bills from his fishing pole.
"Here you go...sir," Benny said uncomfortably.
"Thank you," the Big Wig replied. After counting the money, he smiled slightly and led us over to the emergency exit door.
Outside, the wind was blowing leaves everywhere and clouds began to roll in. One look at Benny and I knew that he was in a good mood. He didn't even seem upset by the bad weather rolling in. In other words, it was the perfect time to seal the deal. But as I opened up my mouth to speak, he already started talking.
"I... I'm really glad you asked me to help with that building, even if we didn't finish it," Benny said shyly.
Was he... blushing?
"I'd like to see you again," he added quickly with a smile.
Of course I smiled too. I didn't even have to ask him first! I didn't realize I made such a good impression.
"I'd like that very much," I grinned back, showing my fangs.
After adding each other's names to our whisper devices, I said goodbye. He wanted to hang out more, but my main objective was already complete. I could have taken the rest of the day off, but I was in too good of a mood. I was ecstatic, to be more accurate. For the rest of the day I continued my search for the resistance group, but the streets were almost barren. By sundown, I had only seen two toons on the street. Where was everyone?