Author's note: while this is, technically, a continuation of one of my previous stories, you do not need to have read that to understand this. I hope.

Disclaimer: the characters and situations described herein belong, not to the author, but to one or more of the following: SEGA, Archie Comics, and Dic. This story is copyrighted Sam Durbin, a.k.a. Bryon Nightshade, and is bound by all applicable laws and statutes.


            It was all Uncle Chuck could do to avoid laughing at the Swatbots standing stupidly around him.

            Just yesterday, Sally had led a masterfully designed raid that had ended with the total crash of the Robotropolis mainframe. This did incredible damage to Robotnik's operations, effectively shutting down Robotropolis until the mainframe could be restored. Sally estimated this would take a week.

            She was determined to inflict as much damage as possible during that week. To do that, she needed Uncle Chuck's help. He was happy to oblige, and could do so with more safety than ever.

            With the crash of the mainframe, the assignments of the worker bot forces were lost and scrambled. Thus, there wasn't a bot in the city that knew for sure where Uncle Chuck was supposed to be.

            This made his job ridiculously easy.

            So long as he stayed away from Robotnik and Snively, he was pretty much free to roam around Robotropolis, and he was taking full advantage of this.

            Buildings he never could have plausibly approached before were open to him now. He'd had to dump his recorded information twice already, saving the visual record in his hideout computer to make room for more footage. After all, his memory was normal, but he only had so much room for direct video feeds.

            The microchip factory Sally was gunning for was busy. Before the strike, it had been down for a while as it underwent renovations. The renovations were almost completed, and Robotnik wanted the factory back up and running as quickly as possible. Efficiency in production was not a factor compared to simply making it run. Naturally, all sorts of problems were cropping up.

            If I didn't know better, Uncle Chuck thought, I'd say Robotnik's almost trying to build a second, backup mainframe. Well, why not? It would keep this from ever happening again.

            That alone was reason to hit the factory. Sadly, Uncle Chuck could see a great deal of worker bots in the factory. That meant that, unlike the more automated Swatbot factories, the Freedom Fighters couldn't simply demolish this lab—they were determined not to kill anyone who might be de-Roboticised later. That was one of the reasons Sally had given this mission a low probability of success—they had to find a new way to shut things down.

            It certainly wasn't because of the tight security, Uncle Chuck thought. Once again, he was barely able to keep the smile off of his metal face.

            It was going to be a busy, but satisfying, week.

            "Are you sure you're okay, Tails?"

            Tails looked at his friend. "Of course, Sonic, it's not like I chopped my arm off or something."

            "Tails, I'm sorry, I… I wish it hadn't happened. I was supposed to train you, an' I get you hurt instead."

            Tails frowned. "Sonic, you're acting like Sally."

            "What, somethin' wrong with Sally?" said Sonic, bristling.

            "I only need one," Tails answered.

            "One what?"

            Tails very nearly answered 'mother', but that didn't make sense, now did it? "Sally."

            "Why'd I think I was a hot shot an' could tell you how to use knives when I'm clueless? Tails, I'm…"

            "Sorry, I know. Sonic, take it easy!"

            Sonic finally sat down. Tails shook his head. All of this had come about because of Sally and Sonic deciding to make Tails a real Freedom Fighter. To do that, they'd started putting him through a rigorous set of training missions, with Sally planning them and Sonic doing them with Tails.

            Tails had gone on the raid that had wrecked the Robotropolis mainframe—his first mission as a real Freedom Fighter. Granted, the terror of the mission had given him nightmares, but he was ready for more. So Sonic had continued the training today.

            Around noon, Sonic had been teaching Tails all the vulnerable points of Swatbots—the joints, the eye, the seam between front and rear armor, the neck, and so on.

            First he'd taught Tails how to hurt a Swatbot just with paws. "Honestly, Sal is better at it than me, but she's busy." It had been easy and fun. Then Sonic told Tails to do the same thing at a run.

            "You see, Tails, you won't have time to just stroll on up an' say, "Hey, Swathead, wanna fight?" and then hit him. You've gotta BE hittin' him at warp seven, before he can turn and take a shot. We're getting back to that changin' the rules thing again. We play by their rules, we lose. We change the rules, we've got a fighting chance. Our best shot is to give them nada."

            That had been harder, but still fun. Sonic had made him practice a lot, and told him that they'd practice even more at it. "It's gotta be cool before you have to use it. I puked maybe a dozen times practicin' the Sonic Tornado—that wasn't cool. But now I can use it whenever, and boy does it do the job!"

            Things had gotten more real—and thus decidedly less fun—when Sonic had handed Tails a knife and told him to try that. "Face it, Tails. We don't have Bunnie's strength or Sal's aim. But there's nothin' wrong with makin' up for that somehow. You did great with a knife last time, so we thought you might be good with 'em." He stopped, as if he was trying to convince himself of the truth of his words. "If you don't wanna use it, fine, I'll juice on to rope."

            But Tails had wanted to learn the knife, because he never wanted to be in a place where he couldn't hurt Swatbots, and his paws still needed work.

            Once again, they ran through the exercises first in slow motion, then on the run. This time, though, something had gone wrong. As Tails was transferring the knife from one paw to another, his fingers had slipped. The knife had gone the wrong direction, and the next thing he knew, he had a nasty cut on his arm.

            It had hurt and bled but wasn't serious. Nonetheless, Sonic had reacted by ending the day's training immediately and bringing Tails back to Knothole for care.

            Rosie had cleaned and bandaged the wound. If her winks were any indication, she knew Tails felt it was all unnecessary. She'd even whispered to him, "Sonic would have to lose a limb before he'd come here himself!"

            Now, though, she was gone, which left Tails alone with the animal he was beginning to think of as Sonic the Worry-wart.

            Sonic said, "I know you think I'm goin' overboard…"

            "Sonic, you're way past overboard!"

            "Well, I wanna do this right!" Before Tails could say more, Sonic said, "I know, I know, just 'cause I wanna do it right doesn't mean I'll always be right. That doesn't mean I have to be cool with it."

            "Sonic, it's worse than that," Tails said. "You're babying me."

            Sonic's head snapped to attention. "Yeah," said Tails. "I mean, it's one thing to know you didn't do everything right—it's another to think you can't do anything 'cause you might mess up."

            Sonic grimaced, but didn't speak. "Sonic, it's just a flesh wound. I'm not gonna spend the rest of today sittin' here! If you won't train me, I'll find Aunt Sally!"

            Tails blushed after saying it, and not just because he hated using such a mean tone to Sonic. It was an awkward mix of immaturity and the desire to not be immature, and Tails wasn't really sure how Sonic would react. Would this work, or would it justify him? Because when Tails thought about it, he didn't want to train except with Sonic. At the same time, he couldn't very well step back—it was said, and to recant would be another way of saying he wasn't ready, wasn't sure of himself. Like Sonic, one of his desires was to never ever have to say that.

            Luckily, Sonic saved the situation. "Hey, relax, big guy. You're right, it's just a scratch. Let's hit the road, lil' bro!"

            But when they got back, they practiced with paws and with rope. The knife stayed where it had fallen.

            Sally half-grinned at Rotor and Bunnie as they watched, slack-jawed, her plan of attack.

            Only half-grinned, because her insides were twisted up in knots. She had more doubts about her plan than her companions did.

            "Well, uh…" started Rotor, then thought better of it.

            "You see, Ah think…" Bunnie trailed off as well.

            The plan was enormously ambitious, Sally knew that well. It would destroy a lot of raw material and ruin the productive capacity of the factory for a very long time—if it worked.

            The problem was that it was a bad plan.

            "Come on," said Sally. "Say what you want to say."

            "Ah can't, Sally-girl," said Bunnie, folding her arms. "It wouldn't be decent."

            That was Bunnie's way of saying she only had bad things to say about the plan. Sally expected no less.

            "Well, Sally, it—it has its good points," Rotor began, "but I can't figure out how it's supposed to work."

            That was another circuitous way to doubt the plan. How it works is in front of you, thought Sally. What you meant was, you don't know how we're supposed to pull it off.

            "It's simple," said Sally. "Bunnie, you and I will levitate into position. Rotor and Tails will copy Sonic's speed. Sonic will learn how to be multiple places at once. If we hurry and learn it all before tonight, we'll be fine."

            They stared at her.

            She cracked up laughing. "Guys, the fact is that this plan won't work as it stands. I'm trying to get Uncle Chuck to get more information, starting at the refinery. But for now, tonight, we're hitting a cargo bay instead."

            Rotor and Bunnie sighed in relief, causing Sally to smile. "Just remember, even cargo bays are difficult targets," she said to them. "Here's plan B. Now let's see if we can do something tonight."