(A/N: Helllooo guys…um, yeah, sorry for the infrequent updates. I know I say that and continue, I'm sorry, it's kind of just the way it works. My life is crazy busy and I have little time to write anything of substance usually, or only bits and pieces here and there. It'll get done eventually, though, I promise. But here's this! Yay! Update! We're finally getting to the real juicy stuff…heh heh heheheheh…enjoy!)
BONUS A/N: Anyone speak Latin? Title's a bit of a spoiler ;) Thanks for reading!
Cora was having difficulty breathing.
Her hands were clutched so tight on the hoverped handles that her knuckles had gone ghastly white and she scarcely had a coherent thought. One word kept cycling through her head. One name.
Astro Astro Astro Astro Astro Astro Astro.
They had to make it to him before Tenma did.
She willed the hoverped to move faster, even though she knew it was already going at its top speed. Zane was zooming parallel to her at the same rate, a stony, serious look on his face that he rarely ever had. Zane wasn't exactly Mr. Serious, but in this case, they were both in the same boat.
Toby road not far behind them, shouting out various directions as they went and taking seemingly random turns and shortcuts. They weaved between buildings, flipped tables and benches and startled a few early-birds walking their pets. At one time, they even had a few police hovercars on their tail, but Toby quickly helped to shake them.
Cora hardly noticed. Her thoughts were all on Astro, every muscle in her body tense and every nerve tingling as she prayed to everyone and anyone she could think of that she wasn't too late.
The city was starting to thin and the outer skirts of the once-floating island were coming into view. Metal was giving way to slightly churned earth and a few sproutings of real – not artificial – grass.
They were almost to the chute.
"Will hoverpeds work on the Surface?" Zane shouted over the wind in their ears.
"Don't know!" Cora yelled back. "Guess we'll find out!"
Before she could even punctuate the 't' in 'out', the chute loomed straight ahead and Cora plowed down it without a split second of hesitation, lifting off the seat a bit and holding on for dear life at the severe incline. The wind whipped in her hair, the small thrill of weightlessness filled her stomach –
And then the hoverped leveled with the ground and crashed with a spectacular face plant.
Cora was thrown over the handle bars, only half-able to soften her fall with a semi-somersault, landing awkwardly on top of her left leg. Two other crashing hoverpeds soon followed.
So hoverpeds didn't work on the surface.
Good to know.
She heard a groan and Zane's unruly mass of hair came into her view blearily. "Astro," he muttered groggily.
She struggled to her feet. "We…have to keep…moving," she wheezed. Her chest seemed tight and it was hard to breath. The impact had jolted her pretty bad.
Zane made a face and grunted, but got to his feet as well, turning to help unearth Toby from the remains of his hoverpad. The three hobbled on in silent determination, running to the best of their ability and leaving the wreckage behind. Failure was not an option.
Cora was on fire. Her leg throbbed with pain from how she had landed, but she simply used that as focus, picking up speed and running almost faster than she had every before – and that was saying something. She dodged debris and junk and rock like they weren't even there, and didn't hesitate for shout nor sound.
Her breath was ragged and her lungs burned, but her will only grew as the silhouette of the orphanage came into her view, framed by the orangey glow of the rising sun.
"C'mon," she gasped, trying to push a bit more speed out of her tired legs as Zane and Toby huffed and puffed behind her, kicking up dust in their wake. "We're …almost…"
Her chest seized up on the word 'there' as she plowed up the hill sheltering the orphanage and the open land of spare parts she used to call home came into full view.
And parked on top of one of Hamegg's experimental robots - squashed to pulp - sat a Ministry of Science hovercar and an ominous black limo with the seal of the President on the door.
Cora blinked, her limbs suddenly feeling clumsy and slow, like she was trying to move through molasses. She vaguely registered Zane's voice and a hard yank to her arm, pulling her from sight behind the hill. She hardly noticed, feeling numb as she watched with Toby and Zane as the orphanage's doors were blown off its hinges by armed guards, their blasters glowing with green energy. She could hear the demanding voices of the officials and Hamegg's surprised shouts as his home was invaded.
She felt the numbness subside and her blood began to boil as she watched Bill Tenma and Dr. Elefun step out of the Ministry car, flanked by President Logan. They stood side by side, looking on as they waited.
She chocked, and she felt Zane's hand roughly clamp over her mouth before she could let forth the scream of rage and pain he knew was coming. She sobbed into his hand, trying to break free of him as he restrained her from lurching forward. "You can't," he whispered to her, and he was crying too. "You can't Cora, it's too late. You can't, we can't…"
She couldn't. Every inch of her, every atom, wanted her to hurl herself at Tenma and rip him limb from limb, bashing the heads in of every guard and knocking the President unconscious to prevent them from…from…
Heavy boots on metal floors and the shuffling of unbalanced feet sounded, and Hamegg was roughly shoved out the front door. He fell on the doorstep ungracefully, his rotund form rolling in the dust with loud complaints of protest and plea. But they fell on deaf ears.
"Hamegg, you are under arrest for aiding a fugitive and conspiring against the government," the official stated as Hamegg was ungraciously lifted from the ground and dragged away, cuffs being snapped on his wrists as he went. "You have a right to a lawyer – "
"I know my rights!" Hamegg snapped, his eyes blazing as they fixed on Tenma and Tenma alone.
"It's all your fault," he spat at him, straining against his captors like he was planning to tackle the scientist. "All your fault! He loved you, you monster, and you left him for spare parts!"
Tenma watched his former colleague with sad brown eyes before looking away, a stony mask for a face. "Goodbye, Hamegg," he said emotionlessly, ignoring the screams of outrage the former Ministry man emitted as he was unceremoniously pushed into the back of the limousine and shut inside.
His tantrum was only muffled, but Cora hardly noticed. The last guard had stepped outside, and someone was with him.
Astro stood at the guard's side, his face blank and devoid of any kind of human emotion - any hint at all her Astro was still in there. His brown eyes glinted with a slight inhuman blue glow and he walked like he was made of the metal he was, his steps slow and clunky and his arms lying listless at his sides.
He didn't make a sound, but his father let out a slight hiss, his façade crumbling slightly as emotions coursed through him. Cora screamed again into Zane's hand, attempting to lunge, but he held her back, crying right with her.
"Move, robot," the guard ordered, pushing Astro forward with a sharp jab with his probe. The poor little robot stumbled at the shove, falling over his large boots and crumpling to his knees.
Cora screeched and her muffled yell of horror was mirrored by Elefun, who rushed to Astro's side. Gingerly, he helped him back up and glared fiercely at the guard.
"Be careful!" he hissed venomously. "He is worth twenty of you!"
The guard put his hands up in a gesture of apology, looking put off. Tenma's lip quivered. "Let him go," he said. "It doesn't matter."
That was obviously not the best thing to say because Elefun rounded on him, eyes ablaze. "It doesn't matter?" he repeated, aghast. "It doesn't matter! By God, it matters, Tenma!"
But Tenma just shook his head slowly. "He's not Astro anymore," he said slowly, looking at Astro's blank face sadly. "Not anymore. Now he's just a robot."
"But…but…" Elefun blubbered, but before he could form coherent words, Tenma had strode past him to stand before Astro, his face stony.
"Robot," he commanded, his voice demanding but wavering.
Astro's head snapped to attention and Cora's hands shook as she clawed at the grass in agony.
Tenma swallowed roughly, as if contemplating his words. "Deactivate yourself," he said finally, chocking on the words.
Astro looked up at his creator with wide brown eyes, processing his request. Then, in one swift, mechanical motion he pressed his hand to his chest, opened the hatch and ripped the Core from his body.
Cora let forth an inhuman scream, hardly muffled by Zane's hand, but it didn't matter. She was crying, Zane was crying, even Toby was gripping the grass in horror. With a sickening clunk, Astro fell to his knees, the Core slipping from his grasp and rolling across the ground. As if in slow motion, he fell forward, motionless, into the dust.
Tears ran down Elefun's face, Hamegg banged on the window of the limo like a lunatic and even President Logan seemed a bit upset.
Tenma's lip quivered, but he did not break. Slowly, he bent down and plucked the Core from dirt with shaky fingers. He turned.
"Here," he said stiffly, handing the Core to Logan, who took it with numb hands. "Do what you want with it. I don't care anymore."
His eyes flickered behind him briefly, before fixing back to the Ministry car. "Just…dispose of him," he swallowed thickly. "I need to get back to my son."
He made a break for the car, not looking back. He didn't specify who 'he' was, but it was hardly necessary. Logan looked on at the deactivated robot sadly, the core glowing ominously in his hands.
A respective silence filled the yard that even Hamegg didn't break, as if mourning.
Then the sound of an engine starting broke it, and the Ministry car speed away, Tenma at the wheel. Tears were rolling down his face as he disappeared into the maze of Surface junk.
Cora had collapsed. Her back rested against the rough, charred grass of the hill and her arms lay as listless as Astro's at her side. The tears had stopped, the screams had stopped – she was just empty, a shell of her former self, the self she had been for so little a time, when everything was right. It had been too short. Much too short.
It was over. All over. They had failed. They had been so close, they'd tried so hard – and still they had failed him. Still she had failed him. He would have done anything to save her, and when he needed her most, she had fallen short.
The tears came again with renewed vigor. She had held the Core in her hands…they'd waken him…gotten the chip…
But all too little, too late.
Toby cleared his throat softly, looking at her with sad brown eyes that sympathized but didn't quite have the same depth of pain as Cora's. How could he? He hadn't known him. Not really. He had tried to help, tried his best, but it hadn't been enough. All he did now was add to her pain.
"What do we do now?" he asked quietly.
Zane looked to her with dead eyes, him and Toby both waiting for her response, her verdict, as if she were the judge with the final say.
Final say in what? What was there to say?
"We don't do anything," she said.
Yards away from the orphanage and concealed by a mound of metal trash, two silhouettes observed the events that transpired in silence, rigid and watchful.
Only after the President's withdrawal did they move.
The shorter of the two turned to the taller one, raising an eyebrow.
"So?" he asked.
The taller man chuckled, stepping out of the shadows with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Everything is going perfectly," Stone said, his dark eyes glinting with anticipation. "The fools are doing all the work for me."
He chuckled again darkly, turning swiftly on his heel.
"We'll start soon."