The Slave and the Darkness

by K. M. Hollar

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Copyright info: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and related characters are copyright by Sega. The Three Laws of Robotics created and probably copyrighted by Isaac Asimov. Mekion, Zephyer, and all non-official characters and concepts are copyright by K. M. Hollar, 2003. Do not copy these characters and concepts without permission.

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Chapter 1: Resurrection

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"You are a creature of darkness. You hate and fear the light. You dwell in deepest shadow. You will hunt at my bidding, kill at my bidding, and act at my bidding. You are mine, body and soul."

The darkness enfolded him like a cocoon; safe, warm and comfortable. The voice was all around him, penetrating his brain like the slow, inorexible trickle of lava.

"Since the failure of the Mecha-bot line, I have developed the technology of Mecha-Fusion. You are the first of these units, and you obey only me."

He was incapable of disobeying that voice. It was his master, his leash, his guide. Still the voice went on, chanting the words.

"You do not question me, fight me, or rebel against me. I am your master. You will live in darkness and move at night. I am your master. Even if my orders seem strange, you will obey me. I am your master. These are the laws that you will live by." The voice paused, and he waited.

"First. Do not harm me or through inaction allow harm to befall me. Second. You obey my every command, except where they interfere with the First Law. Third. You may defend yourself as long as doing so does not interfere with the first two laws."

The voice fell silent and he lay in his cocoon as the words embedded themselves in his subconscious, for he could not stop them.

A change came. His pulse quickened and his breath came faster, for he was permitted to awaken now that his programming was complete. He opened his eyes and looked up through green water at the wavering, rippling image of his Master. His Master reached into the water, lifted him out of the tank, and carried him to a table where he laid him down.

"Mekion is completed, eh?" said a new voice. "He doesn't look like much. Leviathan was better."

"Leviathan had free will," said the Master's voice. "Mekion cannot disobey me. It is his prime directive."

"Then he doesn't have free will," said the scornful voice. "How do you expect a slave to carry out an objective?"

"He possesses free will," snapped the Master. "But he has been programmed to remain loyal to me."

"You make me sick, Mecha," said the scornful voice. Then Mekion's body was blasted by drying fans, drowning out further conversation.

As he dried, Mekion became aware of a creeping chill along the right side of his body. He opened his eyes and shut them again--above him was a light. He was a creature of darkness, and bright light hurt him. He lifted a hand and shielded his face. He opened one eye the barest fraction and looked at his hand silhouetted against the light. It was finely-fingered, made of metal, and tipped with steel claws. He lifted his other hand--it was stiff with cold--and gazed at it. It was flesh and blood and covered by damp fur.

Mekion sat up and hugged himself. He was shivering in the fans, and along his right side was a deep chill. His left side had no sensation at all, and when he squinted at himself in the bright light he saw why--half his body was sleek black metal. The other half was flesh, and where the two joined along his torso was a strip of plastic-like material, neither flesh nor metal. The fur was shaved along it.

This did not upset him. He felt no emotion at all--he was simply cold.

The fans shut off, and in the sudden silence he heard the scornful voice say, "You idiot, do you want to give him hypothermia?"

Mekion squinted toward the voice and saw his Master approach him with a blanket. He wrapped this around Mekion and turned a dial on the hem. The blanket filled with heat.

"Aww, how sweet, Metal Sonic's babying the prototype," sneered the other robot, its green eyes glowing.

Metal Sonic turned off the overhead light, and in the resulting dimness Mekion was able to see like a cat. He saw his Master--Metal Sonic--was a short blue robot, fashioned after a Mobian hedgehog. He moved with an easy, oiled grace that bespoke of power and speed. The other robot was red with long triangular 'dreadlocks' that swung when he moved. His body was heavier and he moved with the slow stolidness of a wrestler. Mekion identified them as Mecha-bots two and four: Metal Sonic and Robo Knuckles.

Metal Sonic turned to his associate. "This creature is more sensitive to environmental changes than you or I. Alleviating its distress will make it all the more loyal to me."

"Yeah, loyalty's a fine trait for someone else," said Robo Knux. "Just not you."

"Going rogue was foreseen long ago," said Metal Sonic, turning his back on the other robot and focusing glowing eyes on Mekion. "Since the ARK incident, Dr. Robotnik has proved that he can concoct foolish schemes without my aid."

"Yes," said Robo Knux. "Now you're free to dream up foolish schemes on your own."

Metal Sonic slashed at Robo Knux, who parried the blow with upflung arms. Robo Knux's arms were scored with scratches from many other such attacks. Upon looking closer, Mekion saw that Metal Sonic's arms were also marred with claw scratches. These two were at it all the time, it seemed.

Metal Sonic turned to Mekion. "If he were to attack me, what would you do?"

"Nothing," said Mekion in a raspy whisper, which was all that remained of his voice. "You would not be harmed, for you are capable of defending yourself."

Metal Sonic was still for a moment, red eyes glowing. Mekion found the light too bright and gazed instead at the intake in his Master's torso.

"His logic is flawless," said Metal Sonic, turning to Robo Knux. "Preserving his brain was my finest achievement to date."

"Sure," said Robo Knux. "You've managed to make a mortal into a fiend like us. I predict he'll fail--you cannot deprogram his emotions."

"He has no emotions."

"Is that so?" said the crimson robot, striding up to Mekion. He examined the cyborg for a moment, then lashed out with one pair of eight-inch claws. Mekion blocked the blow with his robot hand, a few sparks flying from the clash. With his other hand, Robo Knux sliced at Mekion's flesh side. Mekion twisted aside and slid off the table. He stood behind it, rubbing his side where Robo Knux's claws had scored him.

"How do you feel now?" said Robo Knux.

Mekion checked himself for blood, an instinctive thing left in his brain from his previous existence. "I am feeling angry and defenseless," he said. "Master, please give me a weapon so my right side is protected."

"Emotion, but still logic," said Metal Sonic, who had watched the abuse of his creation with the attention of a scientist. "His potential is enormous, Robo Knux. You cannot deny that."

"No," said Robo Knux, staring down Mekion, who was watching him warily. "And he learns fast. Mind if I drill him for weaknesses?"

"If you damage him, I shall take it out of your hull," said Metal Sonic.

"I'm only going to talk to him, sheesh," said Robo Knux, his green eyes brightening in a glare. "Okay Mekion. If I were to kill you in the next five minutes, would you be afraid?"

"No," said Mekion at once.

"If I told you to kill Sonic, what would you do?"

"Would the order come from my Master?" said Mekion, looking at Metal Sonic.

"Yes," said Metal Sonic.

"Then I would kill Sonic," said Mekion.

"He has no idea who the hedgehog is," said Metal Sonic. He relayed a three-dimensional image of Sonic to Mekion's computer/mind input. "Would you kill him if commanded?"

Mekion was silent a moment, and squinted as if he recognized the image. At last he said, "I would kill him."

Robo Knux glanced at Metal Sonic and shared the next question he wanted to ask. Metal Sonic stiffened. "Do not ask him that. It would break his mind. Let him adjust to the fusion process first."

"You take the fun out of everything," growled Robo Knux.

Metal Sonic stepped forward and led Mekion out from behind the table. As the fused creature passed Robo Knux, Mekion made a lightning-quick cut with his claws at Robo Knux's side. It only scratched the paint.

"Hey!" said Robo Knux, moving to retaliate, but Metal Sonic intervened, hand raised. "You started it."

"And he continued it," snapped Robo Knux. But the echidna robot made no further hostile moves, and watched as Metal Sonic guided Mekion through the dark room and out toward the training chambers. If he had been capable of smiling, Robo Knux would have smiled. This newcomer did not take anything lying down.

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Mekion trained in total darkness. He ran obstacle courses, trained with knives and blasters, and engaged in mock combat with Metal Sonic. Mekion's normal eye functioned poorly in darkness, but his robot eye saw with night vision, which Mekion found more comfortable than natural light. Darkness hid him and protected him.

One thing bothered him. His metal half was black, but the fur on his flesh half was snow-white. He pointed this out to Metal Sonic. "White stands out, Master. Could we paint my fur to make me black?"

"Yes, later on," said Metal Sonic. "The reason I have not done so is this." He indicated the strip holding Mekion's halves together. "The fur around this was shaved in preparation for the sutures. If your fur was dyed now, when this grows back it would be white and you would resemble a skunk."

Mekion touched the short, itchy fur and wished his whole body was metal.

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The place where Mekion found himself was a vast, empty underground laboratory of Robotnik's. It covered a square mile with tunnels, rooms, vents and shafts. Robotnik had many underground labs of this sort scattered around the country, and moved between them as the mood struck. The empty ones made great hideouts for the Mecha-bots, who were familiar with their master's technology and layouts.

This particular facility was under a mountain in North Mobius, and it had a construction bay for building small-scale robots. It suited Metal Sonic's tastes, and he set up housekeeping with a new experiment--Mekion--to keep him busy. Robo Knux moved in and out, for assassination jobs were few, and he was bored. He amused himself by annoying Metal Sonic, for the two had a long-standing feud that flared up from time to time.

Mekion was free to wander the complex as he chose. It had few lights, and he found himself at home in the dark tunnels. The one time he opened an outer door was at noon and the light stunned him. It took half an hour of crouching in darkness before his eyes readjusted. After that he did not touch the outer doors, which Metal Sonic noted with satisfaction. There was little chance of Mekion venturing outdoors and losing himself on the mountain slopes.

Mekion spent three months in the underground lab, training under Metal Sonic and learning to co-ordinate his robot and organic halves. His organic side became stronger, and his fur grew in thick and healthy. But his robot side needed no strengthening, and time and again Mekion wished he were all robotic or all organic. His metal arm, leg and eye excelled in combat situations, while his organic side possessed delicate senses of touch, smell and taste. These came in handy when working with small instruments.

At the end of three months, Metal Sonic deemed him ready for a field test. He waited until Mekion was eating his usual set of vitamin-enriched rations, then sat down across the table from him. It was pitch black, as usual, and Metal Sonic kept his eye-lights dim so as not to dazzle his creation. "You are ready for a field test."

Mekion kept eating, but his organic ear pricked forward.

"A field test is when a unit enters the conditions where it is expected to perform, and does a task. I am going to send you on a series of missions to adjust you to the outside world. When you finish we will begin."

Mekion followed his master to the outer door, and stood well back as Metal Sonic unlocked it. But outdoors it was night, and there was no harsh sun to blind him. He slipped out after his Master and found himself ankle-deep in a soft, frigid substance that covered the ground.

"This is snow," said Metal Sonic, scooping some up in a claw and holding it out. "It is frozen water, a form of precipitation. It can contribute to the overcooling of your organic side if you are not careful."

Mekion took the lump of snow and licked it. Cold and tasteless, it melted into water in his mouth. "One could drink this if water was unavailable," he whispered.

"Yes," said Metal Sonic, his eyes glowing with approval for the reasoning powers of his student. "Your first field test is to keep me in sight at all times. Starting now." He walked away down the mountainside and Mekion followed, trying not to slip. To his dismay Metal Sonic ignited the engine in his torso and shot away at an angle. Mekion had to run to keep up.

Metal Sonic stayed within half a mile of the base, shooting up and down, dropping behind piles of rock, keeping track of how long he could break Mekion's line of sight. The lesson came to an unexpected halt when Mekion's organic foot twisted between two rocks and sprained the muscle.

It was three days before Mekion could walk again, and he knew he had displeased his Master by being weak enough to receive injury. A sprained ankle, of all things! His organic side protested that he was working in unknown conditions on a rocky hillside. But his robot side replied that injuries or not, he had failed his mission by being weak.

His next field test was to locate a small beacon hidden on the mountainside and retrieve it. Mekion completed this objective in twenty-four seconds. Metal Sonic immediately sent him out on three more missions.

Conditions varied. Sometimes it was clear, with pale starlight. Other times there was moonlight. Sometimes the wind was blowing, and Mekion's organic side would grow stiff and unresponsive with the cold. Or it might snow, and visibility dropped to nothing. It was midwinter in the Ice Cap mountains, and the weather was cruel.

The tests Mekion disliked the most were survival tests. They came unannounced, and he had to react creatively. His first one happened during a blizzard. It was twenty degrees below zero, and his mission had been to find a red flag by sight and bring it back. He stumbled back to the outer door, fighting the wind, snow plastered to his body and perishing with cold, and found the door was locked.

He stood there, teeth chattering and organic side entering hypothermia, wondering what to do. If he died of cold he had failed. No, he had to get inside somehow. There were other doors leading into the lab--perhaps one was open.

He made it to another door half a mile away, and crouched in the shelter of the frame before he could summon the strength to try the bolt. The door opened, and he dragged himself into the warmth of the base. Metal Sonic was waiting with blankets. He spoke no word of praise, but his personal care for Mekion was reward enough.

Another time Mekion was out on a clear night, following an infrared trail, when Robo Knux attacked him. Metal Sonic had not planned this test, but it was a matter of survival and Mekion intended to survive.

He was taken by surprise, and Robo Knux had laid open his chest and shoulder before Mekion could react. As Robo Knux swept by and circled around, Mekion scanned the area--if he ran, Robo Knux would catch him. He had to hide. To his left was an outcropping with gaps between the rocks. He squeezed into one of these, robot-side out, and turned to face Robo Knux, who leered into the crevice.

"Smart one, aren't we, Mekion? Hiding like a little rabbit."

Mekion didn't know what a rabbit was, but they must be smart if they hid in rocks. He waited until Robo Knux reached in to claw at him, then caught his enemy's arm in his robot hand and pulled. Robo Knux's head slammed into the rocks. He ripped his arm out of Mekion's grasp and stood back, thinking. Mekion waited. His robot side was in control, alert to the situation and ignoring his organic side, which was shivering with cold and burning with pain across his collarbone.

Robo Knux flew up on top of the outcropping and reached down from above, trying to rake the top of Mekion's head with his claws. Mekion was wedged too smugly to duck, so he grabbed Robo Knux's hand and yanked. This time he pulled the robot's arm down and pinched it between his body and the rock, so Robo Knux could not withdraw his hand.

Robo Knux struggled and cursed, but Mekion was strong and had leverage on his side. Robo Knux fought until he realized his arm was separating at the shoulder, then lay still on top of the rock. "You're a smart one, Mekion."

Mekion said nothing.

"Let me go?" said Robo Knux. After a moment he added, "I'll let you go back to the base. Come on."

When Mekion did not answer, Robo Knux said, "It was all in fun. I wasn't going to hurt you much, I swear."

Mekion continued to wait.

"You'll freeze to death in a few hours," said Robo Knux, peering down into the crevice at Mekion's head. "I'll win by default because you're weak."

Mekion said nothing.

Robo Knux searched his databanks for creative ways to verbally abuse his opponent, and struck on the question Metal Sonic had forbade him to ask. "Hey Mekion," said the red robot, green eyes lighting up, "do you remember Maria?"

Mekion's robot side analyzed this question and rejected it as nonsense before it could register in his organic brain. Still without speaking, he lifted his robot hand and began to punch holes in the metal skin of Robo Knux's arm. If he could get a row of these holes, he could break off the arm and deprive Robo Knux of his claws.

Robo Knux was watching, however, and realized what Mekion was doing. He reached down with his other hand and swiped at the organic side of Mekion's face. Mekion flinched, and Robo Knux wrenched his arm free. He examined the holes punctured in his metal. "When you come out of there, you're going to pay for this."

Mekion weighed his options. It was true that he was slowly freezing to death in this crevice, and he could not stay here much longer. But Robo Knux was unaffected by the temperature--in fact, the cold made his hardware work better. If Mekion was to reach shelter, he had to leave now, when Robo Knux was least expecting it.

He bolted from cover and had a head start by the time Robo Knux fired up his engines and roared after him. Mekion leaped rocks and skidded through patches of snow, reckless in his haste. He was not afraid--death was not an option for him--but he was intent on passing this survival test, even if he injured himself racing back.

Mekion reached the door a breath ahead of Robo Knux and whisked inside. There was no time to shut the door, and Robo Knux could get in, anyway. Leaving the door open, Mekion fled through the darkness, panting, entered his private chamber and slammed the door. It had no locks, so he set himself against the door to hold it shut.

Exactly thirty-seven minutes later, there came a light knock on the door. Mekion rasped, "Who is it?"

"Your Master," said Metal Sonic. "The fiend has been dealt with. You have passed a survival test."

In relief Mekion left the door and collapsed on his cot, drawing a blanket over himself. The scratch across his chest painted him, but he decided it was unimportant, and fell asleep at once.

When he awoke he could scarcely move his organic arm, and went in search of his Master.

Metal Sonic glanced at the cuts and said, "Wash them and bandage them. You should not have let him harm you."

And so Mekion came to despise survival tests, for his organic side let him down in extreme situations.

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After this, Mekion began training for daylight conditions. Metal Sonic sent him out in the twilight before dawn, when the light was low. Mekion learned to cope with it. Then his training moved up a few hours, and Mekion was outside at sunrise and able to bear it. He did not like it, but his eyes could function, and light did not hurt him as much.

"Why, Master?" he asked. "I am a creature of darkness. It is my element. Why make me move about in daylight?"

"Your first mission is forthcoming," said Metal sonic. "You must be able to function in daylight conditions to accomplish your objectives."

A mission. Mekion felt a thrill of excitement in his organic heart. Not a mere field test--a mission that would put to use all the skills he had learned! He threw himself into his daylight training, determined to master every obstacle Metal Sonic could throw at him.

It came almost too soon. Mekion doubted that he was prepared, but he said nothing as he stood in his dark room and faced his Master, who spoke without moving.

"You have been trained in combat, but on this mission you are not to use weapons. Your mission is to come within three feet of critical targets, record their images in your mechanical eye, and return to base. The targets must be unaware of your presence at all times. By revealing yourself you fail an objective. Now. Your primary target is ..."

The words "Sonic Hedgehog" appeared in Mekion's mechanical mind input.

"He is your most dangerous opponent," Metal Sonic went on. "Your second target is Miles Prower, also known as Tails. Your third target is Knuckles Echidna. Above all, you must not be seen."

Mekion nodded with excitement. "Yes Master."

Mekion was equipped with a map of the Robotropolis and Great Forest area, and a partial map of the Floating Island. Then Metal sonic escorted him to the door and said, "You are expected to find your own nourishment. It is part of the mission. Survival is one of your objectives."

Oh great, another survival test. Mekion said nothing, and stepped out onto the snowy mountainside. Metal Sonic closed the door behind him, and the cyborg was alone with no assets but his wits and his databanks.

The night was clear and crisp, and a crescent moon hung low in the west. Mekion drew a deep breath and felt the cold stab his organic side like a thousand needles. He must travel south to reach the Great Forest, and travel would be easier at a lower altitude. On clear mornings he had seen the lowlands, which were less rocky. Mekion set off down the mountain.

There was a thin path that zigzagged back and forth across the slope, weaving its way down through the snow and boulders. Mekion had never followed it more than two miles, and now was excited that he was able to follow it to wherever it went. Fur fluffed out against the cold and clanking faintly, the black and white cyborg faded into the night.

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"That's the dumbest set of objectives I've ever heard," said Robo Knux.

He and Metal Sonic were looking at a green-lit radar map in the mountain base, watching Mekion's progress. Metal Sonic had just informed his brother-robot of Mekion's objectives.

"I mean, they're sure to notice him," Robo Knux went on. "He's still half-white, for crying out loud! Won't they recognize him?"

"If he is seen, yes," said Metal Sonic. "But avoiding detection is what he was trained for."

"Avoiding detection nothing," spat Robo Knux. "You know who he is. What if he remembers them and defects?"

"It does not matter where he is or what he does with himself," said Metal Sonic, glass-paneled eyes reflecting the screen. "He has been conditioned with three critical laws that he cannot break. He will always belong to me."

"I could kill him for you."

"There is no need for that. Besides, you would take unnecessary damage." Metal Sonic looked at the unpatched holes in Robo Knux's arm. "If he must be destroyed, I will do it myself. He has been conditioned against hurting me. He would only stand there while I ripped him to pieces."

Neither robot spoke, but their eyes followed the progress of the green dot that was Mekion. He was marked and did not know it.