A/N: Sorry for the super long update. We found out that my mom has cancer so I've been spending as much time with her as I can while she's fighting it. Thank you for your understanding.
Chapter 4: Easy Come, Easy Go
It was another routine day.
Corn had found out from his coworkers that the restaurant had apologized profusely for the behavior of the other customers, and had tried to cut half of the food cost in order to make up for it. His coworkers would have none of that, however, insisting to pay for the whole meal – they thought it was entertainment, and that none of it was the restaurant's fault.
It was days like this that Corn was proud to have coworkers like his.
The company he worked for was very well known – the Onrio company. He hadn't picked the name himself but he did make the original plans for all the robots, and assembled them all by hand. It was slow, but everyone was greatly pleased with the amount of work that Corn put into each one.
He sat there, head bent over as he was working on one model in particular, a frown etched on his face. His laptop remained open beside him on the desk, and what ws curious about it was the fact that a little face was bouncing around on the desktop screen, looking annoyed.
"Hey! Aren't you done yet?" It exclaimed, and the face grew larger until it filled the whole screen, a growling sound emanating from the speakers.
"Not yet." Corn let out a sigh as he sat up, giving a pointed glare to the computer. The face grew smaller again, though still managed to look put out, despite how small it shrank.
"What's that word you people say? Penny for your thoughts?" The face on the computer muttered, flipping upside down and continuing to drift across the screen. It received no answer, but the annoyance faded into a curious look, a question mark appearing beside the eyes on the screen. It fell silent, knowing something was up; Corn usually answered with a sharp remark at his snide attitude towards him, but now he wasn't saying anything at all, and though he hated to admit it, it worried him. Corn was the only one who cared enough to keep him running 24/7, even when he was gone, out to the 'real world' as the computer had called it. Glancing over again, the computer blinked visibly, watching as Corn stopped and rose, walking over to the window.
"Hey!" It remarked, flailing around on the screen as it bounced from side to side, much like a screensaver. It murmured quite a few more obscenities before realizing that Corn was gone, lost somewhere in his own mind. "Fine, you can reboot me then. Sheesh, I get no respect." Sticking its digital tongue out, the screen flickered off, turning completely black.
Corn remained staring at the window, frowning at the leaves falling. It had really been that long... three years and he'd thought about the GG's off and on, but he'd – sadly – been filling his work quota more, concentrating on what he was doing rather than getting the old gang together again.
He really was a terrible leader, in his opinion. Sure, the others may have looked up to him, but... how would they react now, with all things considered?
He had a clockwork routine. Day in and day out, he worked the same exact shift, had the same exact work. The work was slow, but he managed – he always did, somehow. His work had led him to build machines, and with his wit he'd managed to make excellent technology that helped with the building of the robots. That got him to think, though, if he built the robots, why exactly did they need the Krang chips? Wouldn't they work just fine without them?
"Hey, Roboy, bring up–" Corn turned to look at the screen, wincing as soon as he saw the black emptiness of hibernation. Sulkily, Corn slouched in guilt as he shuffled over to his worktable again, picking up a random chip and reading over it for about the thousandth time since he worked there.
"Krang chips. Don't understand why these are needed, but if they want them in there..." He sighed as he set it back down next to the scattered scraps on the table, turning away and crossing his arms. It bugged him. It bugged him a lot.
There was far too much to think about, in his opinion; the fact that he couldn't get a hold of certain people in the higher-ups, as well as the fact that the Rokkaku had been absolutely dead quiet. And his opinion of the Krang chips wasn't really high – in his opinion, they weren't really needed at all. Had they even been tested? They seemed far too easy to overpower, and it seemed that all the Rokkaku used them for was to look for anyone on the streets that were breaking the much-too-strict rules.
Corn itched to go blading again; it called to his soul, but he always mashed it down, writing it off as something a child would do. Nowadays, no wheels were allowed on the street save for the cars – no skateboards, no blades, no bikes... nothing. It was pure Utopia for the Rokkaku, but the people were suffering. Even casual bikes weren't allowed, for those people strictly wanting to exercise.
It was a wonder cars were still allowed.
Standing up straight, Corn made for the door, grabbing his backpack and slinging it over one shoulder. He needed time away from the office to think, feeling that the office was too stifling for his creativity at the moment. Besides that, Roboy could interrupt his train of thought at any moment. Roboy was excellent at derailing thoughts, and reveled in it.
Corn waltzed out past the secretary, waving a hand in dismissal of himself. "Taking a walk. Not sure when I'll be back, but I need a few things."
The secretary looked confused. "But didn't you just get a shipment in?" He turned and gave her a rather dull look, trying to think of a good excuse as he stopped in his tracks. She withered under his gaze and turned a bright red color, deciding not to pursue the train of thought as she found the papers in front of her looking rather interesting indeed. "H-have a nice break."
"Thanks..." Giving a nod, he continued to walk, glad he didn't have to really explain himself as he exited out of the doors to meet the gaze of the security officer that stood at the front of the building. There was animosity there, but neither ever acted on it; they merely knew where the other stood.
This particular Rokkaku was young, having shot up in the ranks rather quickly only to have ended up taking an injury to the knee due to a random gang member, impairing his ability to walk well. Tab felt terrible about it, but was secretly glad that it wasn't any of his gang members that did the deed.
Corn cringed. Former gang members, he had to remind himself. He knew that he was well known for not being influenced at all by large sums of money nor bribing offers or threats, as well as his love for anything machinery. Nothing would turn him away from that, come hell or high water.
The security officer knew that Corn had been a former gang member, but his prejudice was influenced heavily due to being injured by one. Groups didn't matter – the fact that it had happened did. They'd gotten into heated arguments before, which led to a quiet understanding. If neither of them talked about it, and pretended everything was fine, there would be a peace between them.
"See you soon." Came the rough, disciplined voice of the officer, and Corn could read the underlying sneer that ran underneath of that.
"Yeah." Deciding not to call him out on it, Corn shifted his eyes away as he continued to walk. There was no point to fighting anymore; the Rokkaku had won, and had taken control of the city long ago. He didn't know how it was done, but when the GG's had split up... there was absolutely no sign of the other gangs anywhere. It was like they had disappeared off of the face of the earth...
"Cornflower." He turned his head sharply at his name, wild golden hair fluttering in the wind as he looked for the source of the voice. Turning to the side, he blinked a few times before realizing just who it was that was standing before him. The waitress from before.
Her arms were loaded with three bags of groceries, and she tilted her head, smiling just a small bit. Her attire was more modest than before. Instead of a slitted top and short skirt, she now wore a large sweater with long pants to deal with the cold breeze of the fall.
"Hey." He muttered, feeling his heart leap into his throat. He remembered that she looked almost exactly like Gum. Was it really her?
"Gum was the only one who ever called me that..." Corn muttered, raising a golden eyebrow.
"You want me to call you Tab then, like everyone else does?" She tilted her head curiously at him, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "It took you long enough, though…"
"... no." He allowed a small smile to tug at the corner of his lips. "It's good to see you again, Gum." It was really her. She'd confirmed it, and the man had to shove his hands in his pockets as he fought not to jump up and down in joy.
"Likewise." She struggled with the third bag as she moved to step forward, sighing in relief as Corn jerked forward, taking it out of her arms with ease. "Thanks."
"Anytime. Where you headed?" Slinging his arm around the bag and shoving his free hand into his pocket, Corn turned in time to walk beside her, not at all minding going out of his way. It felt like old times, them walking together like this.
He had to admit, he used to like Gum for her attitude (as well as looks – no one could deny that), but she'd always flitted away as fast as a hummingbird, flirting with other guys and freely breaking their hearts. A sigh escaped from his lips; in retrospect, he was glad that she had never flirted with him, though he was damn sure that his heart wouldn't be broken by the likes of her. He was just too tough, wouldn't let it get to him.
But he still wondered, what an actual relationship with her would have been like.
"Back to my apartment. Don't have work for a few days after the fiasco with that bitch." Reaching down, Gum rubbed her hip, wincing as she stopped a moment and righted the two bags before continuing.
"I can carry another bag for you if you'd like–"
"M'fine. I'm a big girl, you know." Gum snapped irritably, lowering her head. "Sorry. You're... not our leader anymore, so don't act like it, Corn. Some of us had to grow up." Corn bit his tongue, looking sharply away and wincing. It wasn't that he was used to being leader that he asked – he asked because it was in his nature. He was used to helping, even as a GG. That was who he was.
"That's not fair, Gum."
"Neither is abandoning us. Don't." Gum glanced at him as he opened his mouth to reply.
"No. You listen." He started to say, only to be cut off by her. It really was like old times.
"I'm happy where I am as well, but don't you think it's fair that we check on everyone else?" Gum shook her head, holding up a finger as she walked. He wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise with her like this. "We don't even know if everyone is still, well... alive." Shoulders slumping, Corn nodded mutely as he closed his eyes for a brief moment, letting her blow off some steam. "Don't you think it's weird that nothing's been on the news? No Rokkaku gloating about how they've gotten anyone... it's almost like everything's controlled here."
"So you've noticed too." Corn grimaced bitterly. He had noticed it – anytime he'd watched the news, they talked about everything good. There were no reports on crimes. There were no reports on diseases.
The only thing that there were reports of was how something benefited mankind.
"How could I not notice, Corn? I don't know what you've been doing – wait, scratch that. Machines, huh." Stopping at a set of stairs, Gum rubbed her forehead as soon as she set her bags down, motioning for the door. "This is my place. Kinda small, but... it's only one person. I'm used to the garage, even after all this time." She gave a small smile before reaching into her pocket and pulling out a set of keys, unlocking the door.
"Ladies first," Corn muttered in an amused tone, reaching down and grabbing the bags before she could protest. Rolling her eyes, Gum walked over and opened the refrigerator, motioning with her arm.
"Well, if you're going to carry them, you might as well put them away, too." Corn had to hide his smirk as he did just that, letting Gum lock the door behind them. It didn't take long to put away the groceries, and when he was finished he wadded up the bags to throw them in the trash.
"It's a nice place." He murmured softly, taking the time to look around. As Gum had described, it was fairly small, but very well kept. Blue curtains hung over the window in the small living room, and a tan foldout chair sat against the wall facing a medium-sized box that he instantly recognized as a television. It was an old model, and he had to wonder why she kept the thing when working at a well-established restaurant, earning high-end tips. Walking over to the counter, he let his eyes wander over the kitchen now. On the stove was a rather well-worn teapot with a handle broken down the middle, though it still seemed to work fine, as the actual teapot itself was holding up nicely. Beside it was a toaster with one of the tabs missing, and beside that was a knife set with chipped handles. The fridge itself was peeling, the outer layer looking as if it had been through a world war.
"Why such old things...?" Corn found himself asking,
"I'm putting my money into more useful things than useless trinkets that won't aid me when I die." Came her long but simple answer as she leaned against the kitchen door frame, staring at him with cool eyes. "Plus, if things aren't replaced here, the rent stays insanely cheap. Also, hardly any thieves if they manage to break in. It's merely about looks."
"Oh... I guess that makes sense." He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, not knowing what else to say. It was rather embarrassing for him to come to a dead end in the conversation. She was rather intelligent though, which was another quality trait he admired in her.
"Well, you don't have to just stand there and look pretty. You forgot the cupboards." Gum snorted as she smirked, pointing out the bag on the counter. Corn jumped before flushing a light red, reaching into the bag to pull out a few cereal boxes and selection of grains and oatmeal. He glanced around before opening a cupboard and placing a few things here and there, a bit surprised at how empty the insides looked. Really, the food she'd just bought would last only a week or so, and it made him have a pang of worry.
"How often do you come here...?" Gum stopped, shutting the fridge and looking at him, shoulders slumping. When she didn't answer, Corn turned to her and reached out with a hand to tilt her head up, fingers resting gently under her chin. "Hey. Are you really okay?"
"I'm far from okay." Her face went dark, and she jerked her head away, crossing her arms. "Of course, you wouldn't have figured that out if your friends hadn't shoved you out to eat, away from your work."
"They're not really my friends–"
"Then what are they, Corn? Tell me what the hell they are. You don't think of anything else but your work, and–"
"Damn it, Gum, stop making me out to be the bad guy here!" He gritted his teeth, and reached up to pull his hat down, fingers clasping on empty air. That's right – he'd forgotten his hat.
Old habits died hard.
"Then be a little active! I bet you've thrown out your skates too, since you're with the big guys now–" She stopped as he whirled in one motion, jerking his pack over his shoulder and opening it, shoving it in her face. Her eyes grew wide at seeing the blades so very well cared for sitting in the pack, no dust evident on them. "Corn, you–"
"I can't wear them anymore, but I don't have the fucking heart to throw them away, Gum." Corn wrapped his arms around the backpack for a moment before zipping it back up and slinging it over his shoulder again. "It doesn't feel right, going anywhere without them. I make skates, too, but I haven't bothered to make a pair for myself. What's the point? You see Rokkaku everywhere you go. I'm already being watched enough as it is, so I don't need to do something drastic to call even more attention to myself." Gum stared at him, closing her eyes and shaking her head as he stopped, eyes narrowing at her actions.
"You... disappoint me, Tab." He started, jerking a small bit as she called him by his normal name – not the name she had given him herself. "You're the one I would have least suspected to have given up so easily."
"I'm not a risk taker. I never was. Not like Beat or Yoyo." Gum winced at the names, her fingers digging into her sides as she took a few breaths to calm herself. After a good solid quiet minute, Gum shifted her sweater collar down to reveal her shoulder, showing him finger marks that seemed to have dug so deep that they left scars. "They have new machines. I went skating a while ago, and, well... now you know why the Rokkaku seem so lazy."
"They're not supposed to be used for that." Corn looked outraged, unconsciously reaching out to try to soothe her, but he caught himself before he actually touched her. She didn't seem like she wanted sympathy.
"Then go figure it out, golden boy. I'll remain here, while you go do the work you're used to." Waving him off, Gum frowned viciously as she half turned away, getting to the point of ignoring him. This, he was used to, and silently noted that she still had the same tells.
Sighing internally, Corn turned and left, knowing full well that once Gum had an idea in her mind, her stubbornness wouldn't let her do anything else. He lingered at the door a moment, glancing back at her.
"I'll visit, okay?"
"Do what you want." Shoulders slumping, he turned and left, closing the door behind him as he glanced at the watch on his wrist. Had it really been an hour already? He groaned. No wonder the secretary had been nervous.
Turning and running back, he narrowly avoided a few cars, finally making it back to the building and giving a slightly happy glance to the guard that still remained there, earning a confused look. The run had felt good, and he didn't feel so bad anymore – except for Gum, but apologies could always come later.
"Sir…?" The secretary called, waving him over. Confusion flitted across his face before she held out a hat for him. It was the one he'd left at the restaurant, looking like it had been washed. He took it with a nod of thanks, walking to his office as he turned it over and found a note inside, scrawled with words he knew was written by Gum.
This hat is still stupid, Cornflower. -G
The words brought a grin to his lips, and he couldn't help but laugh as he walked into his office, shutting the door behind him. So she had done her homework as well, following him to where he worked and dropping off the item he'd left. Well, well.
Damn it. Even though Gum had chided him for pretty much everything he'd done, it felt good. Almost like old times. Being around her made him feel like he was in love with her once again. Shaking his head, Corn chalked it up to just being a childhood crush. It couldn't be anything more – he'd always admired her ability to teach others, and her quick wit like his. She'd been his go-to gal, his co-leader, his partner in crime…
She'd been so perfect the first time they'd met. Corn had been such a klutz on his skates when he first started out, but after they'd met she'd taught him a few moves. After learning the basic moves, his grinding was mediocre to average at best, but his jumps were outstanding and definitely something to brag about. Not to mention that he had intense stamina, which had gotten him and Gum out of trouble.
Gum was his partner. Her, him, and Beat… all three of them had started the gang together. It was a slow start due to the rivalry between him and Beat, but after adding Yoyo to the team the two seemed to hit it off and have a somewhat halfhearted rivalry between the two of them.
And then there was Roboy. The first robot that him and Gum had made, to help teach new recruits when she wasn't able to be there. Of course, Beat had to help as well, which is why Roboy had the attitude that he did. He gave hardly any respect, and had the mouth of a sailor. He was still worth building, in Corn's opinion.
Glancing over, Corn noticed the screen was on and blinked out of his nostalgia as the face on the screen grew larger, looking absolutely outraged. "Someone tried hacking into me!" It protested, making Corn grow pale, eyes widening.
"Did you know who it was?" He was worried. No one was able to break into the computer that held Roboy, because the program he built him on was entirely unique. "Did you get online?" Shit, what would he do if someone got a hold of this program? He didn't know was what the hacker's intentions were, but it worried him.
"Why don't YOU figure it out, bozo? You're the computer whiz!" Roboy's face bounced, glaring daggers at Corn with ease. "I can't help it if I get bored–" Blip. The screen went fuzzy, and then slid into static.
"Hey, hey, Roboy...!" Corn cried, both palms slamming down on the keyboard, his fingers typing furiously. He stopped as soon as the static faded altogether, a video coming onto the screen and showing nothing but a silhouette of a figure.
"I think you would care to know where your friend is... and I just so happen to know."
"What kind of shit is this?" Hands slamming on the table the computer sat on, Corn stared at the screen as anger overwhelmed him. His friend? They must have been talking about Gum. He had just visited her, and worry ebbed at him. Had he put her in danger? "I don't respond well to threats." Corn's fingers were gripped so tightly on the edge of the table that they were beginning to cramp.
The figure seemed to take delight in this, tilting their head before responding.
"Oh, by all means... it's no threat. Not a threat at all. Just information. But I'm sure you'll care to know where an old gang member of yours is... I believe he goes by the name of Beat?"