Emerald Canyon – The Rebellion Base

Amy slams a hand down onto Sonic's desk. "You thought you could hide it, didn't you!?"

Sonic is taken aback. "Amy!? What are you talking about?"

"You've been keeping it a secret all this time. But I figured it out. How could you lie like that?"

Sonic lets out a groan, rubbing a hand over his face. "Amy…I don't know what you think you 'figured out', but I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. Let's just talk."

"You won't be able to talk your way out of this one, Sonic the Hedgehog. I know everything."


Sonic the Hedgehog: The Chaos Project

Season 1, Episode 15

In Too Deep

Written by ChaosProjectAuthor


Earlier that day

Daily log, November 7th, 0 A.E. Sonic the Hedgehog reporting.

After over a month away on comm silence, Shadow's finally back from his mission today. When our prisoner informed us that Eggman's been plotting something, I tasked Shadow with figuring out what. He didn't have much to go on, so I don't blame him for taking this long. The last thing we want is for Eggman know we're on to him. If we're lucky, we might just manage to get the spring on him this time. All I know for now…is that Shadow found something.

—–—

Emerald Canyon – The Rebellion Base

Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Shadow have all gathered in Sonic's tent. All eyes are on Shadow. Knuckles urges, "…Well?"

Shadow glances around cautiously for a moment. "…I've been tracking Eggman's shipments. Weapons, construction materials, things like that. He's sending it all on long, roundabout paths, trying to make sure it isn't tracked. But I tracked it. And it's all going to one place." He looks to Knuckles. "Angel Island."

Sonic looks to Tails. "We already knew Eggman was building something there. What makes this different?"

Shadow narrows his eyes in thought. "The sheer volume of material going into this…it's more than just a factory, or even a fortress. Definitely enough to be self-sustaining. It could be a space station."

Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all say at once, "Death Egg."

Knuckles continues, "Would Eggman really try that again? What would that make this, his fourth attempt? Fifth?"

Sonic shrugs. "Honestly, I stopped counting a while ago."

Tails notes, "Whether it's a Death Egg or not, the question is what he plans to do with it. Why is he going to such lengths to keep this a secret?"

Shadow retorts, "Does it matter? Whatever he plans, it isn't good. The answer is to destroy it before he can get it off the ground. Figuratively or literally."

Sonic lets out a sigh. "Rushing in, guns blazing, blowing up everything in our way? We've been trying that for almost a year now. It hasn't been working very well."

"Do you have a better suggestion?"

Sonic thinks for a moment. "We should try this the sneaky way. Find a way in, without being seen, gather some intel, and get out. We'll have a much easier time stopping Eggman if we can figure out what he's doing first."

Tails questions, "We were spotted immediately last time we tried going to the island, and I'm sure security was tightened even more after we got out. How could we possibly sneak back in?"

Knuckles answers, "Easy. Go in from underneath. Take the underwater entrance through Hydrocity."

Sonic lets out a nervous, "Uhh…"

Shadow volunteers, "I'll go."

Sonic notes, "You can't exactly swim there. Even you can't breathe water."

Tails answers, "I have just the thing! I'll need an hour or so to make the last few tweaks, but it'll be ready!"

Sonic seems a bit surprised. "Well…that sounds perfect. We'll meet back up in an hour."

Knuckles nods. "Good. I think I'm going to have a talk with our prisoner."

Before everyone can separate, Sonic adds, "About that…the less our prisoner knows we know, the better. Try to keep this under wraps."

A voice from outside questions, "Keep what under wraps?" Amy ducks in from the outside of the tent.

"Oh, Amy, we were, uh, just…"

"Planning a secret mission?"

Sonic blinks silently a few times.

Amy holds up her hands. "Hey, don't let me stop you."

At her words, Tails, Knuckles, and Shadow start to shuffle out.

Once they're all out, Sonic questions, "So, Amy…is there something I can do for you?"

Amy smirks. "You mean besides marrying me?"

Sonic once again takes on a shocked, blank expression.

Amy starts to laugh. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding."

"Oh…right."

Amy crosses her arms and looks back towards the entrance. "So how come you never let me in on these secret missions, anyways? It's always Shadow, or Knuckles, or you personally. I'm just as capable as anyone else, you know."

"No one's questioning your performance, Amy. I did send you with the Chaotix to destroy that production facility back in April, remember?"

"That one doesn't count! It didn't even happen on–"

Sonic cuts her off, continuing, "Besides, you've been doing a great job around here, holding everyone together. I've been thinking about making it official."

Amy looks down to the ground. "I couldn't hold everyone together."

"You shouldn't worry yourself about that. No one could've stopped what happened."

"I feel like I could've…if I'd just…just…" She trails off with a sigh.

—–—

January 12th – Ten months ago

During the events of S1 E1

Rouge looks around through the spacious cavern in the side of the Emerald Canyon. "Hm. Roomy. I guess I can make do with this."

"Settling in alright?"

Rouge turns around with surprise. "Amy? Can I…help you?"

Amy smiles. "Just came to say hello to our newest member. Wanted to see how you were doing."

"Well, I'm fine." Rouge turns back to the depths of the cavern. "Nothing to worry about here."

"We couldn't contact you after the war started. What happened?"

Rouge closes her eyes, sighing for a moment. "I'm sure you know what happened to GUN by now. Too many battlefields, not enough troops. I was in charge of a squadron deployed in Station Square. Asked for backup. Didn't get any. Troops went down one by one. When we got the surrender call, I got out of there as fast as I could."

"And after that?"

"Nothing. Shadow found me yesterday, brought me back here."

"How'd he know where to find you?"

"You should know, he and Sonic went out a week ago on a mission. They managed to dig up some GUN records, including where I was deployed. Then they split up."

"That's almost two weeks you spent alone in enemy territory. How'd you manage?"

"The whole world is enemy territory now."

"That doesn't answer the question."

"Is this a greeting or an interrogation?"

Amy gasps. "Oh, I-I'm sorry, I didn't…" She clears her throat. "I know…things must've been hard for you. It would be for anyone. I just want you to know…if you ever feel like talking about it…I'm here. We ought to stick together, don't you think?"

Still looking around at her new cave, Rouge absently answers, "Yeah, sure, why not?"

Amy awkwardly turns to leave. "Well…I guess I'll…see you around."

"Amy?" Amy stops as Rouge looks back to her. "I appreciate it."

—–—

Present day

In the very same cave, the bright yellow form of Heavy Magician slumps, tied to a large rock just as she was last seen.

Knuckles steps over the dirt and stone to face her. "Hey, robot. Time to talk."

Heavy Magician gives no response.

Knuckles kicks her in the foot, causing a loud metal clang to sound through the cavern. "Hey! Listen!"

Heavy Magician's eyes light up slowly, but otherwise makes no movement. "Don't suppose the Boss finally wants to negotiate for me?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Of course. Why would he? What am I worth that you could possibly want?"

"I need you to answer a few questions."

"Already told y'all everything I know."

"What's your boss building?"

"Don't know."

"Is it on Angel Island?"

"Don't know."

"What do they plan to do with it?"

"Don't know. It's like I said. I ain't worth much to 'em. Why would I know their secrets?"

Knuckles suddenly slams his wrists into her shoulders, pushing her up against the rock to look her in the eyes. "You have to know something!"

Magician still makes no movement of any kind. "You must be real lonely."

Knuckles suddenly steps back. "What!?"

Magician doesn't slump back downwards, instead continuing to look at Knuckles. "Last of your kind and all. I get it, ya know. I thought I was the last, once. More than once, actually, but the first time was the worst."

Knuckles puts on a scowl. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Just talkin'. Been stuck in here for months. Rather talk to you than myself. You wanna know what happened to me?"

Knuckles maintains a silent scowl.

"Death Egg was launched. Troops were deployed. And one little hedgehog started tearin' through 'em. It was all doomed to fail, I saw that. So ya know what I did? I disappeared. Broke my own transponder. Made myself invisible. And ran. Death Egg got blown out of the sky behind me. And just like that, I was alone. Course, I learned later that the Boss survived that wreckage. But I didn't know that. I played a dirty trick, I pulled back the curtain, and I left myself alone. Even old man Eggman never knew. When I came back, he rewarded my survival by assignin' me to the elite unit. The Hard Boiled Heavies. And when we found the Ruby, it found all that in me. The thing I hated about myself, the thing I couldn't admit to my own creator, that's what it made me into. Now I'm a trickster. And there ain't nothin' I can do about it."

Knuckles finally responds with a sarcastic, "How sad for you. Maybe I'll remember that when we're taking down the next one."

Heavy Magician makes her first movement, cocking her head to the side. "Next one?"

Knuckles reels back a step as he realizes that he's said too much. He quickly corrects, "We're going to find out what they're doing, whether you tell us or not." He turns to leave. But he stops as he sees Amy standing at the cave's entrance.

"Go on," she says. "I have a few questions of my own."

—–—

Tails gets a good grip on the grey tarp that conceals a large object underneath. "I give you…"

Sonic, Shadow, and Knuckles watch and wait, all expressing varying degrees of impatience.

Tails continues his dramatic pause a moment longer. But finally, he pulls back the tarp. "…the Tornado Mach 2!" Much like the previous Mach Tornado, the sleek fighter plane revealed underneath bears angled wings mounted over twin turbine engines, now all decorated in the classic red and white instead of the prior blue and yellow. There seem to be several other small cosmetic changes to the shape of the wings and tail.

An awkward silence ensues. Tails looks to the other three for some sign of feedback. Finally, Knuckles speaks. "So what?"

"Come on, aren't you impressed?"

Sonic sighs. "It's a nice plane, Tails. No one's questioning that. How does it help us get into Hydrocity?"

Tails smirks. "That's the best part." He pulls out a small remote. "Transforming to Whirlpool mode…now!" With the press of a button, the Tornado begins to change shape, as its wings fold inwards and slide backwards, a round glass dome extends over the two-seat cockpit, and a two-blade propellor folds out from the back. Though the vehicle still looks a bit more like a plane than a submarine, it appears quite seaworthy regardless.

"Well…that'll do the trick."

Tails beams happily. "I'm working on a few other transformation modes as well, but I only just got this one working. It's all ready to go."

"Where'd you get the parts to build this?"

"Remember that hunk of the old Death Egg Knuckles dragged in?"

Knuckles rolls his eyes. "How could I forget?"

Sonic smirks. "Turning Eggman's weapons into ours. I like it. How soon can you get this mission started?"

Shadow walks up to the Tornado and looks through the glass to the controls. "Looks simple enough. I can go now."

Sonic puts on a scowl. "I was asking Tails. You aren't talking about taking this thing out yourself, are you? You need a pilot."

"It's a stealth mission. Fewer is better. I can pilot it myself."

"Really? Ever piloted a submarine before?"

"Ever piloted a GUN-issue hovercraft without prior training? No? I have."

Sonic doesn't seem sure how to answer.

"Specially engineered brain, remember? I have a way with vehicles. Controls in general, actually."

Knuckles mutters quietly, "Showoff…"

Sonic shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. I was worried enough about your last mission, this one's way too dangerous to go without someone to watch your back. And I'd rather that be someone who knows the untested vehicle you're taking inside and out."

Shadow lets out a groan. "Fine then. Why don't you go with him?"

This prompts an outburst of laughter from Sonic. "Me? Under miles of water? Stuck inside that cramped box? Ha ha!" He suddenly assumes a straight face. "No. You volunteered, you aren't backing out now. You're going with Tails." He smirks. "That's an order."

Tails stares at Shadow with a confused expression.

—–—

February 4th – Nine months ago

During the events of S1 E2

Sequestered in his tent, Tails carefully makes the finishing touches to the sleek black new version of his TAL computer. A knock comes on the tent's supporting post. Tails only looks up for a moment. "Hm?"

Amy peeks her head in through the tent entrance. "Tails? It's me."

Tails continues to work as he answers, "Oh, hi, Amy. Come in."

"Hey. How're you doing?"

Tails' focus seems a bit split, as he takes a moment to respond, "Uhh…what do you mean?"

"Sonic told me what happened on the mission. Buried under ten tons of rubble. Must've been…pretty scary for you."

"Oh, that? No, I'm fine. If anything, you should be talking to Hero." He puts down his tools for a moment. "He was out there on his own for over a month. I got the feeling…something happened to him the day Eggman took over."

"I already tried," she responds. "You know how he is."

"Right. Doesn't like to talk much." He goes back to work.

"Do you think you were ready?"

This causes Tails to stop again. "Doesn't look like I was, does it?"

"But what do you think?"

Tails closes his eyes, and takes a long sigh. "I was ready. I know that I was. I just wanted…to show everyone…to show Sonic…that I don't need to be the kid around here anymore. I just wanted to earn some respect. But I messed it all up…"

"Tails…you need to realize that none of it was your fault. You did more than any of us could've. If it weren't for you, Hero would still be alone out there. You found him. You brought him back. You should be proud of yourself for that."

"I almost died. Almost got Sonic killed, too. It was sheer luck that we made it out. Everything I tried to get down to a science. And we got out on luck. I thought I was ready. But maybe I wasn't." He looks back down to his work. "That's why I need to make this perfect."

"You know, Sonic said…well, he thought that…you were done with that thing."

"I am. That's why I'm giving to him."

"You're giving away TAL?"

"I think it's exactly what Sonic needs. So I'm going to fix it for him."

"Fix it? Did it break?"

Tails hesitates for a moment. "No. It just needs to be perfect, that's all." After another moment, he adds, "I…didn't really know how I felt about all this…until you asked."

Amy smiles. "It's important to talk about your feelings. Otherwise, it all stays locked up inside, until it finds a worse way out."

Tails looks down to his work, but he still smiles in response. "Thank you, Amy." He goes back to work, this time with a greater finality.

Amy stands to leave. But before she goes, she adds, "Tails…the things that you're able to do…are incredible. You earned my respect a long time ago."

"I'm glad. But I know not everyone feels that way. I'm going to show everyone."

Amy smiles one her way out. "Good luck."

Once Tails fastens the last screw, he sets the device down for a moment. He glances back, ensuring that Amy has left. Then he takes a long breath. He mutters to himself, "Moment of truth…" After a pause to clear his throat, he continues more clearly, "TAL…project possible courses for the war, and determine the course that minimizes long-term casualties." He holds his breath as the screen of the device activates, and the request is processed. Many unintelligible charts and numbers begin to appear all over the screen. But in the center, in clear red text, the answer appears. 'CONCLUSION: IMMEDIATE SURRENDER'.

—–—

Present day

"Ocean depth reading at…one thousand feet. That should be plenty. Preparing to submerge…now!" Tails presses a button on the main control panel.

The Tornado Mach 2, skimming low over the surface of the water, begins its transformation sequence, its nose dipping downwards, slicing into the ocean and continuing deeper in submarine mode.

Tails looks up to the glass dome that covers the cockpit, admiring the shimmering rays of sunlight that pass through the surface of the water high above. "Hey, Shadow?" He doesn't get any response. He turns around in his seat, glancing back to see Shadow sitting silently in the backseat, eyes closed and hands folded. "Shadow?"

Without opening his eyes, Shadow growls back, "What?"

"To make sure we aren't noticed, we're making a slow approach. Autopilot will get us there in about two hours. Just…wanted to keep you updated."

"I already know how long it's going to take. You told me before we left."

"Yeah, I know, I just…since we're stuck in here together for a while…what do you want to do?"

"I'm meditating."

"Really? Because I was hoping…we could…talk." Shadow doesn't answer him. "Umm…I noticed…you seemed pretty intent on coming out here alone. Is there a reason for that?"

Shadow lets out an exasperated sigh. "I could've done this alone. You didn't need to be here."

"Wouldn't you rather have someone to watch your back?" Once again, Shadow doesn't answer. "You know…meditating actually sounds like a pretty good idea. Clears your head, right? Mind if I join you?"

"Knock yourself out." He mutters something else, but the rest is unintelligible.

Tails closes his eyes and folds his hands much as Shadow does. He takes a few loud deep breaths, in, and out. Then he begins to chant, "Ommmm… Ommmm… Ommmm… Ommmm… Ommmm…"

Shadow finally bursts out, "What are you doing?"

"It's a mantra. It's supposed to help with meditation."

Shadow enunciates very clearly, "Not, with, mine."

Tails lets out a sigh of his own. "You think I'm annoying, don't you?"

Shadow pauses a moment before he answers. "You're making it hard to object to that."

Tails takes several moments to take in that answer. "I…I really thought…after the second war…that we were finally friends. That you finally liked me. But you've hardly said a word to me since then, not unless you absolutely had to. Why? Why do you always have to be alone?" Taking Shadow's silence as a given, Tails continues on his own, "…I just want you…to see me as a friend. The way that I see you."

There's a long silence before Shadow finally answers. "You don't want to be my friend."

"You're wrong! I do!"

"You think you do. But you're wrong. You don't know anything about me."

"Then tell me! There are so many things about you I'd like to know."

"Like what?"

"Like…like what you said today. You have the ability to…to…look at a control mechanism, and understand instantly how to operate it. That's amazing! It makes me think that…your brain…must work on a whole different level from what we think of as possible. Does it work like that…in other areas? Can you…read unfamiliar languages, or…understand someone's thoughts by judging the microexpressions on their face? Do you have…eidetic memory, perfect recall?"

Shadow puts on an aggressive scowl.

"Wait, no, I didn't mean–…I-I know that you…forgot…" Tails shakes his head and continues, "That's just part of it. There's also…your Chaos powers. I mean, Sonic has Chaos Control, but you have, like, all of them–"

"That's a lie. I can't use the Chaos Shield."

"Well maybe you could learn! I have no idea how any of it works, it's a completely untested branch of science. And I want to know more."

"So that's what I am to you? A curiosity? A thing to be studied?"

"No, it's not like that at all! I want to get to know you, the same way anyone knows anyone! Yes, I'd like to know what you can do, but I also want to know…what…what you like, what you dislike–"

"I dislike this conversation."

"I want to know…the way you see the world. What do you see as right or wrong? What makes you happy? What…what movies do you like, what hobbies do you have, what's your…favorite color?"

"You did not just ask me what my favorite color is."

"Why shouldn't I? I want to understand you. I want to be there for you. I want to be your friend."

Shadow looks up through the glass above them. A colorful school of fish swims by. "You want to know more about me?" He slowly looks back down to Tails. "Know this. Bad things happen to the people I care about. So stay away."

Tails shows shock at the sudden admission. But he quickly shakes it off. "I'm not worried about that. I'll take that risk."

Shadow suddenly bursts out, "Don't you get it!? It's not for your good! It's for mine!"

This time, Tails is driven completely speechless. "Shadow, I…I didn't…didn't…"

"Every time I think that I've come to terms with what I've lost…I get a reminder that there's always more to be taken away. It isn't worth it. You want to help me? You want to support me? You can do it by staying away. That's what I want. That's what will make me…happy."

Tails thinks on that for a short while. But finally, he responds, "Is that really happiness? Cutting yourself off from everyone so that you can never be hurt? Don't you ever feel lonely?"

Shadow closes his eyes. "Chaos taught me…that every smile is matched by a frown. Every friendship leads to a loss. It's better to stay in balance. Sonic doesn't believe that. But I do. It's just better that way."

"…Is this because of Rouge?"

"…I don't want to talk about that anymore. In fact, I don't want to talk at all. I'd like to meditate."

"…Okay."

—–—

July 5th, 0 A.E. – Four months ago

After the events of S1 E8

Shadow walks into his own sparsely-decorated tent with slow, deliberate steps. He holds up his own clenched hands, seeming almost unsure of what to do with himself. Suddenly, he grabs at the side of his face with a growl, ripping off the patch bandage stuck there, revealing the pair of rapidly-fading marks left on his cheek by a punch from Knuckles. He tosses it aside, but seems little more satisfied than he was before.

A knock comes at the front of the tent. When Shadow doesn't answer, its source voices, "Hey, Shadow? It's Amy. Can I come in?"

With a long sigh, Shadow lowers himself to the ground, sitting on his mat and leaning against the back wall so he can see the entrance. Once there, he mutters, "Fine."

Somewhat hesitantly, Amy ducks inside. She becomes even more concerned by the sight of Shadow sitting motionless by the wall.

"What do you want?"

"I…I wanted to see how you were doing."

"My best friend is a traitor. I've been better."

Amy doesn't seem quite sure how to respond.

Shadow responds for her. "Leave. I don't want to talk."

Instead of listening to him, Amy begins to approach closer. Maintaining a cautious distance, she sits down beside him. "Shadow…do you remember what I told you…back on the ARK?"

Shadow stares on ahead silently. After a while, he finally makes an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

"You don't? But I thought that…that you got all of your memories back."

"I remember most of my life on the ARK…in bits and pieces. But after the Doctor woke me up…almost nothing."

"What…do you remember?"

"…Hatred. Revenge. Pity. Regret. Respect. And falling. That's the only part I remember clearly. Falling. Other than that…a few scattered words, images. I trusted her…because I believed I already had. It was all founded on something I couldn't remember. Something I couldn't be sure even happened."

"It did happen. And what I said back then…it went something like this. Sometimes…people can be selfish. They can act for the wrong reasons. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't see the good in them."

"That isn't her. She's not a selfish person. At least, I didn't think…"

"Maybe…you're right. Maybe her reasons weren't selfish. None of us knows what she was thinking."

"But…she would've said something…right?"

"You know her better than anyone. You're the only one who can answer that."

Shadow closes his eyes. "I don't know. I just don't know…"

"That's okay. You don't have to know. As long as you don't let this change…how you see the world. Or how you see yourself."

"…It might be too late for that."

—–—

Present day

"Shadow, look!" Tails excitedly points into the darkened waters up ahead. Like a mountain range turned on its head, a cluster of rocky formations jut downwards from the surface high above, marking the underside of Angel Island. From down below, none of the mechanization seen on the island is visible. "I've never seen it from down here before. I mean, I've seen it fly, but…somehow, seeing the whole landmass just floating on the water like this…it's almost as magical."

"How far out are we?"

"Oh, uh- About 25 minutes. Sorry, I-I forgot, I didn't mean to interrupt–"

"It's fine."

"Oh…okay."

After only a moment of silence, Shadow asks, "Why me?"

Tails looks a bit confused. "…Sorry?"

"Why are you so fascinated with me? Why do I have to be your friend?"

"Well…I…umm…" Tails doesn't seem quite sure how to answer. "Well…I think that you're…cool."

"Cool?"

"Yeah, you know, like…like Sonic."

"You think that I'm like Sonic?"

"No. I think you're cooler."

Shadow remarks sarcastically, "So a twelve year old thinks I'm cooler than Sonic? What a compliment."

Tails mutters, "I'm turning thirteen in a couple weeks…"

Shadow continues with sarcasm, "Well Happy Birthday to you."

Tails closes his eyes with a sigh. "Shadow…I told you once before…that I…that I can hardly imagine what it's like…to live through all the things I know you have. But no matter what happens to you…no matter how much you get hurt…you never let that stop you. You never lose hope. You never run away. You never turn back. No matter how bad things get. I think that's what's cool about you. And I want to be like that."

Shadow seems ready to respond. But he hesitates. "You…want to be like me?"

Tails nods resolutely. "Yeah. I do."

Shadow slowly begins to shake his head in disbelief. But as he opens his mouth to speak, a violent crash shakes the vessel, setting off a blaring alarm that bathes the cockpit in a strobing red light. Before either one can react, another crash follows the first.

Shadow finally gets out, "What's happening!?"

Tails frantically looks over the indicators on the control panel in front of him. "I don't know! Nothing's showing up on radar! Nothing but water!" He braces himself in time for another jolt. "I think we might be under attack!"

"You think!?"

Instead of finding the answer in front of him, Tails points out through the glass shield above them. "Out there, I see it!" In the dark waters outside, a seemingly disembodied pair of golden eyes locks its gaze on the passengers of the vessel. Tails gasps, "Discord…"

The watery creature's eyes narrow as it prepares to charge once again. Shadow growls, "Tails, do something!"

Tails grabs the control yoke. "Taking evasive action!"

The vessel sluggishly banks to the side and dips downwards into a spiral through the water. Discord is far faster, slamming straight into the glass dome.

A thin stream of seawater sprays into the cockpit through the newly-formed crack. Shadow blocks it with a hand, shouting, "Doesn't this thing have any weapons!?"

"The torpedoes are designed to go through the water to hit a solid target. They won't be any good here!"

"Can they be detonated remotely?"

"This close to us? We'd be caught in the blast! We'd be destroyed!" Tails throws the control yoke to the side, but it isn't enough to stop the next crash. Another, larger leak springs in the cockpit.

"We'll be destroyed either way!"

Reluctantly, Tails flicks a switch on the control panel, and a specialized periscope rises from beneath Shadow's feet. "Take aim, and fire on my mark."

Shadow puts his eyes up to the scope, twisting and rotating it to aim the weapon. Through the crosshairs in his sight, Discord's eyes can be seen clearly as it prepares to charge yet again. "Target acquired."

"Not yet."

Discord soars rapidly toward them. "It's going to hit us!"

"We can take another hit, don't fire yet!"

Shadow seems prepared to make another objection. But instead, he tightens his grip with resolve.

Discord is only a second away. For one eerie moment, nothing can be heard but the blaring siren and the spraying water. Then Tails' shout rings out. "Now!"

Discord collides with the vessel. Spiderwebbing cracks spread across the glass as it shatters. A torpedo fires. Discord retreats to prepare for another attack in its usual pattern. And as it turns to charge, the torpedo, now right in front of its eyes, detonates. A bubble of fire and smoke explodes outwards, a perfect sphere of empty space lost inside miles of open water. On the outer edge of the shockwave, the damaged Tornado Mach 2 is shredded to pieces.

—–—

September 10th – Two months ago

After the events of S1 E12

A small fish swims away from a sudden disturbance in the water. A shiny fishing hook sinks slowly into the freshwater stream. Big the Cat sits by the river bank, patiently watching the bobber drift steadily downstream, Froggy staying faithfully by his side.

"Back to work already, Big?"

Big turns his head to look. "Silly Amy. Fishing isn't work."

"Of course," Amy laughs. "What was I thinking?" With a smile, she takes a seat next to him. "So…how're you feeling?"

Big continues to stare at the water. "Happy."

"But…you weren't happy before?"

Big doesn't answer immediately. His face shows no sign of worry. He only stares at the water with his wide eyes as he always does.

"It's okay to talk to me. I've sort of turned into the unofficial counselor around here. When anyone has a problem, I talk with them about it. It can be hard to talk about something like that. But it always helps." She takes a pause, but Big still doesn't respond. "You were imprisoned by Eggman for more than six months, while someone else was pretending to be you. I know that had to be hard."

"It was hard. But my friends helped me. I'm better now."

Amy seems about to respond. But she freezes with one finger still in the air. "Your friends… As in…who?"

"Uhh…" Big stares more intently at the water, now showing the first signs of stress. "…I forget?"

Amy puts on a frown. "Big, Heavy Magician may have been a good liar, but you certainly aren't. Someone helped you escape. Who was it?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about it…"

"Not supposed to? Does someone else know about this?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about that, too…"

Amy closes her eyes. "You aren't going to tell me, are you?"

Big answers somberly, "I promised…"

Amy stands with a soft sigh. "That's okay, Big. You don't have to break your promise. We're just glad to have you back."

—–—
Present day

Tails braces himself for the onrush of freezing seawater as the vessel splits open around him. But the water never comes. Cautiously, he peeks one eye open. His sight is met with a glowing golden light. He gasps in wonder as he fully takes in the sight of the sphere of translucent gold that keeps the air in and the water out.

Shadow stands above him, bracing his outstretched hands against either side of the barrier, appearing to hold it up as much with his physical strength as with his strength of will.

"Shadow…this is a Chaos Shield! You learned a new Chaos power!"

Grunting under the immense pressure, Shadow still manages a smirk. "Just like you said. Seems like…you might know more about these things than I do."

Tails looks directly above. "We're floating towards the surface. How much longer can you keep it up?"

Shadow does his best to manage his rapid breathing. "Not… …long…"

Tails encourages, "That's okay. The higher we go, the more the pressure will let up. A little higher, and it'll be safe to swim the rest of the way. You just have to hold out until then."

Despite Tails' encouragement and Shadow's efforts, a crack quickly forms in the barrier. Just as through the glass of the Tornado, a spray of water spews in, dousing Shadow in the side of the face. He shakes his head, spraying droplets in all directions as he tries to focus. Through gritted teeth, he jokes, "Refreshing."

The cracks spread wider and wider. Water has already filled the barrier to their ankles, and continues to rise. Tails takes the biggest breath of air he can manage. The Shield shatters, and the water rushes in.

—–—

October 19th – One month ago

After the events of S1 E14

An odd pattern has been drawn in the dirt, with a simple stone placed in the center. Nearby, Espio stands silently, carefully drawing his eyes over the contents of a familiar ornate scroll. He closes his eyes with a long breath as he rolls it closed. Then he turns his attention to the rock. Glaring at it with intensity, he throws his fingers together in a ninja handsign, shouting, "Ninja Arts: Shadow Sealing!"

For a moment, nothing happens. But then, Espio glances over his shoulder as a sudden gust of wind blows from behind him. He looks excitedly back to the rock. The wind disturbs the dirt pattern around it, reshaping it into nothing but a bumpy mess. Nothing else happens. Espio slouches down with a sigh.

"Hey, Espio, there you are!" Espio tenses up from Amy's shout as she runs up from behind him. "I've been meaning to talk to you about something." She stops as she gets a look at the ruined pattern surrounding the stone. "What are you up to here?"

Espio holds his scroll close to his chest, as he begins to explain, "In this scroll, Master Shino recorded his most sacred Arts, those mastered by none but himself. He insists that it's possible, that the natural life energy which these abilities draw upon exists inside all of us, and flows through the world around us. I've tried to learn his Sacred Ninjutsu Arts before. But I'm having no more success with this scroll than I had without it. Perhaps I simply don't have the talent."

Amy gives an encouraging smile. "You only met Shino for the first time yesterday. I'm sure you'll get it with enough practice. It just takes time."

Espio lets out another sigh. "You're right, of course. So what is it that you wanted to see me about? Nothing about my emotional issues, I hope."

"Am I that infamous already? Well, luckily for you, this is…more about a personal favor."

"Favor?"

"There's something I was hoping you could help me with. It's…sort of like a mystery."

"I'm listening."

"Well…I was talking to Big. And he let it slip that…he didn't break out on his own. Okay, maybe that sounds obvious now that I say it out loud. But my point is, he had help, from someone he won't talk about."

"An…inside job?"

"Maybe. But there's more to it than that. I think that someone else knows about it. Someone else here in the Rebellion."

"Are you suggesting…some sort of conspiracy?"

"I…I don't know."

"And Big wouldn't say anything about it?"

"No."

Espio suggests simply, "I could interrogate him for you."

Amy is taken a bit by surprise. "Umm…no, let's, let's not do that. I just…want you to keep an eye out. Tell me if you notice anything odd. And…keep it covert."

"Covert is what I do best. I will complete the mission."

—–—

Present day

Shadow's knees buckle as the barrier collapses around him, leaving him in a fetal position as the water rushes in. All sound is nearly muted, blocked by the murky water. The sudden chill over his body seems to grant him another moment of lucidity as he reaches out, sluggishly clawing his way up towards the shimmering surface, where Tails propels himself much more rapidly. But the surface becomes harder to see. Shadow's vision begins to fade along with his consciousness. He claws a hand into his chest, as if struggling not to breathe. The last thing he sees is a hand grasping his own. Though the hand is much too large, he seems to imagine it as the dainty hand of a human girl, attached to the sleeve of a familiar blue dress. "Maria…"

—–—

Shadow opens his eyes to the sight of the moon and stars, the feel of an ocean breeze against his skin, and the sound of a propellor cutting through the water. "Wha…?" He reaches up to rub at his eyes. He continues to drag a hand over his head, wiping the sticky grime of dried saltwater from his fur.

Finally, he starts to look around. His hands move down to his seat. The same seat he occupied in the Tornado. He looks down to his feet, submerged directly in the water, each making its own small wake as the seat is propelled forward. The seat doesn't appear to be attached to anything, simply pushing itself across the water with him in it. "What's going on…?"

Tails' voice cheers behind him, "You're awake!"

Shadow twists around in his seat enough to look behind it. Tails takes a hand away from the back of the floating chair to wave hello. He appears to be swimming through the water, pushing the seat and Shadow with his bare hands. Although, the way his tails cut through the water more closely resembles the propellor of a motor than a swimmer, pushing them along at an impressive pace.

Shadow appears more confused than ever as he tries to collect his thoughts. "You…you saved my life…"

"Only as many times as you saved mine. I'm just glad we're both here."

"The mission…" Shadow suddenly twists around in his seat again. In the distance, the mechanized Angel Island slowly sinks beyond the horizon. "Shouldn't we go back?"

Tails shakes his head, inadvertently putting his mouth under the water for a moment. After a moment to blow his lips dry again, he continues, "We promised. No unnecessary risks. Even if we were never spotted by Discord, going in without a quick way out would be a bad idea."

"Discord…do you think it's…"

"I doubt it. Chaos certainly never went down that easily. Scared him off, maybe."

Shadow takes a moment to think back further. He looks down to his seat. "Your plane… I'm…sorry…"

Tails makes a rough shrug. "I have nasty habit of destroying these things. I can always build a new one."

Shadow looks back down to the water, thinking a while longer. "…You should rest. I can push."

Tails gives a laugh. "Don't be silly. We're almost to shore, and we can get there a lot faster like this. We can rest then." They both go silent for a while. "…And Shadow? I think it was really cool how you used Chaos Shield back there. You saved us both."

"Well…" Shadow puts on just a hint of a smirk. "I am the coolest." After a moment, he adds, "If I hadn't listened to you…if I'd fired any earlier…that explosion would've killed us. Or Discord would've. No matter how well I could've handled the controls…I never would've known how many hits we could take. But you built it. You knew everything about it. That's…pretty cool, too."

"Shadow…thank you…for trusting me."

Shadow stares off ahead. Just as Tails said earlier, the shoreline is quickly approaching. "Yellow."

Tails appears confused. "Huh?"

"You asked me…what my favorite color was. It's yellow. Like…Maria's…hair…" He mumbles the last word, biting his lip as he immediately realizes that he's said too much.

Tails is too stunned to give any response. He can't help but glance at the yellow fur on his own arms.

Attempting to break the awkward silence, Shadow continues, "And…let me guess, yours is…blue?"

Tails chuckles softly. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? But actually…I've always had a thing for red."

"Really?" Shadow can't help but glance at the streaks of red fur on his own arms.

"Yeah. In fact, if it weren't for the red coat of paint on the original Tornado, I don't know that I ever would've met Sonic."

"Sounds like an unusual story."

"I can tell you about it sometime."

Shadow puts on the slightest smirk. "Alright."

They both take another moment of silence. "…Shadow… … …I'm glad we're friends."

"… … …Me too."

—–—

Earlier that day

"Go on," Amy says. "I have a few questions of my own." She waits until Knuckles is gone before she makes any other move. But finally, she steps deeper into the cave. "You're hiding something."

"Déjà vu," Heavy Magician answers. "Wasn't I just here?"

"A friend of mine's been keeping an eye on you. Said you'll talk to anyone who listens. Is it true what you said about being alone?"

The Magician cocks her head to the side. "Course it was true. What's that got to do with anything?"

"I think it's very important. Tell me about Rouge."

"Rouge? This lady's nuts…"

The heavy side of Amy's hammer drops to the floor with a thud, as she leans over the handle to glare at the Magician. "I sure hope you're talking about Rouge."

"Uhh…right. Yeah. Rouge. Talked to her a bit while I was undercover. She was worried about some kind of selfish decision she had to make. I didn't pay her much attention. She's the old man's problem."

"While you were pretending to be Big, you talked to her?"

"That's right."

"Good. Now tell me about Big."

—–—

The present moment

Amy slams her hand down onto Sonic's desk. "You won't be able to talk your way out of this one, Sonic the Hedgehog. I know everything."

Sonic leans back in his chair, closing his eyes with a long, perturbed sigh. "Alright, Amy. Tell me what you think you know."

Amy enunciates her response very clearly. "She's not on Eggman's side. And you knew. And you've been keeping it from all of us. I want to know why."

Sonic's mouth gapes open.

"It's like you don't even care."

Sonic takes a long breath to steady himself. "Amy…what I'm about to tell you…can't leave this tent. Can you promise me that?"

"…Why should I?"

"Because every person who knows is an unacceptable risk." He takes a pause. "I guess it doesn't matter much anyways, if you already know."

"Go on."

"…Alright. Here's how it happened."

—–—

February 28th – Eight months ago

The events of S1 E3

Sonic sits across from Rouge in his own tent. "Rouge…I'm going to ask you a simple question. Can I trust you?"

"Well of course you–"

Sonic holds up a hand to stop her. "I want you to think about this. Think hard. And only answer me if you absolutely mean it."

Rouge does have to think for quite some time. But finally, she answers, "I mean it. You can trust me. With anything."

Sonic nods slowly. "Good. Because there's something very important I want you to do for me."

"What can I do?"

Sonic glances over at his TAL computer for a moment before answering. "What do you think our chances are of winning this war?"

"How should I know?"

Sonic lets out a sigh. "I could give you an exact number, if you want. It's practically zero."

"What are you trying to say? That you want to give up?"

"No. But you do."

Rouge puts on a confused scowl. "I don't follow."

"Eggman has every advantage in this war. The numbers, the resources, everything. If we keep trying to fight as we go, without a bigger plan, without a clear path towards winning this war, we'll only be wasting lives. And we're going to lose. If that's all we can do, then we'd be better off surrendering now. We need to seize an advantage of our own."

"And what advantage would that be?"

"There's only one Eggman. We stop him, and the war's over."

"And how do you propose we find him? He could be anywhere in the world, and he certainly doesn't want to be found."

"Not by his enemies. But that's where you come in. I want you to be his ally. I want you to betray the Rebellion, to join Eggman's side. And if you're lucky, if you can gain enough trust, he might just show himself to you willingly."

"And then what? I assassinate him?"

"No, no killing, you have to promise me that. Capture him, bring him back to us, we can handle it from there."

"…Why me?"

"You've worked with Eggman before. You're the only one he would ever consider trusting now."

"I'm also the only one who's ever betrayed him."

"I'm not saying it'll be easy. In fact, it might just be a suicide mission. But you're the only one who has a chance."

Rouge stands in contemplative silence for a long while.

"This is a volunteer mission. I don't want you to accept unless you're absolutely–"

"I'll do it."

"Rouge…you're putting your life in danger."

"As a GUN Agent, I put my life in danger every day. Any risk is worth doing good for the world. If I can risk my own life to end this war, I won't hesitate. I'll do it."

Sonic puts on a reluctant smile. "I'm glad. Starting now, your job is to find a way out of here, you want a personal invitation from Eggman."

"How should I–"

Sonic holds up a hand for her to stop. "From now on, I know nothing. This conversation never happened. I don't talk to you about it, you don't talk to me about it, you don't report to me, you don't ask me questions. As far as I'm concerned, as far as the Rebellion is concerned, as far as Eggman is concerned, you're betraying us and joining him."

"You mean I can't–"

"Can't tell anyone. For any reason. I already know too much as it is. If even one person finds out, if that person gets captured, interrogated, then that's it. Game over. Do you understand?"

"…I understand."

"I'm counting on you, Rouge. We all are."

—–—

Present day

Now, it is Amy whose mouth gapes open.

"Do you understand now, Amy? Yes, I've had to lie. But it's all been for her own safety. Any day now, she could put an end to the war."

Amy still appears too stunned to respond.

"Amy? You…feeling alright?"

Amy mutters almost inaudibly, "I wasn't talking about Rouge…"

Sonic's eyes go wide as he takes in that statement. "Uhh…oops."

"You're saying…that she's not a traitor? That she's been on our side the entire time?"

"Yeah, that's what you were–… Wait a minute, if you weren't talking about Rouge, then who…?"

—–—

Shadow and Tails practically flop onto the shore, both equally exhausted. Lying on their backs, they stare up at the open sky, before turning their heads to face each other, and sharing in a brief laugh. Then they share a long sigh of relief.

Their view of the night sky is disturbed by the appearance of an odd sparkling smoke. The cloud suddenly puffs outwards, revealing the floating yellow form of Heavy Magician, notably missing her large top hat. "You boys need a lift?"

Before either one of them can react, the Magician flicks her wand downwards, enveloping all of them in a much larger cloud of the same smoke. When the cloud dissipates, all of them are gone.

To be continued…