main chapter finished 9 /24 /03;
reformatted: 12 /14 /03;
revised/reformatted: 08 /04 /04
Antipode Evangel Presents:
Freedom Fighters of Mobius
Sonic the Hedgehog Neo Redux
Year 3235, Day 297
Dreams
Story (c) 2003 by the author. Based on characters created by Sega and DiC Productions, used without permission, but protected by applicable copyright laws... So there.
Dear friend...

The room was dark, devoid of any detail, but still it was a room. Tight and confining, yet the ceiling could not be seen, the walls could not be touched. He stood in that room, as if watching through glass a parade of images from a life that seemed an eternity ago.

A fleet of warships heading for the Royal Palace...

Squads of soldiers storming into the throne room...

Running through the woods, from some unseen threat...

Dear friend...

Through black fog a figure was visible, a large and menacing figure, hunched over the controls of some unholy contraption. He was beckoning through the mist, not to him but to someone elsewhere, someone he could not see.

The time has come...

Another shape appeared, smaller, but elevated, as if on a platform. He pressed his hands against the invisible box, knowing this new person has in grave danger, and he could save him, if only...

Time has come...

The fog lifted for a moment, and he instantly recognized the first figure. He lifted his head from above the console, turning to stare directly into his eyes. He looked back into his face, at his black, lifeless eyes, heavy brow, and thick mustache. Robotnik.

Robotnik turned back to his work, at the man standing above him on the platform. His mechanical hand reached for the lever, pulling it down to its position in a span of time that seemed as hours. The man looked down at Robotnik, then up at him. There was a fear in his eyes, a pleading that somehow in these last moments he may be saved, but such a chance did not come. The platform began to glow, that light reached up to grab at him, to take him from sight. He hung his head, in shame and disappointment. You couldn't do it, Sonie... Not this time...

Never...

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


"Uncle Chuck!" Sonic screamed, jumping bolt upright in his bed, forehead drenched in a cold sweat. He looked around him into the darkness of his hut, realizing in a moment that it was just a dream. A terrible, horrible dream.

The hedgehog swung his feet over the bed, resting his head into his hands and hoping he hadn't awakened any of the others. Too often he had that dream, those feelings of helplessness, but it would be pointless to dwell on them. It had happened more than ten years ago, and nothing he could do today could reverse those events. Sonic threw himself back onto his bed. He hated feeling helpless. It sucked.

Sonic reached out for the picture on his bedside table, one that it seemed like he looked at every day. It was hard to see in the moonlight, but he had it memorized anyway. The picture had been taken long ago, before the occupation that changed everything, and showed him at five years old sitting on his Uncle Chuck's lap, with his dog Muttski panting contentedly beside. It was the last memory he had from the simpler times, and he truly cherished it. Sonic looked at it for a long while, then placed it reverently back on the table, got up, and crossed the room to the window.

There was a full moon out that night, and the trees and surrounding foliage seemed to glow with its light. Across the way he could faintly see the outline of some of the other huts in the Knothole compound, all quiet and silent in the time of sleep. A slight breeze blew through the window, playing with Sonic's spines and tickling the back of his neck. He closed his eyes, listening to the sound of the crickets around his hut. He needed to take a walk to clear his head, he decided. The fresh air would do him some good.

Sonic pulled on a t-shirt and some shorts, then made his way to the commons area, finding a seat at a chair around one of the tables. He thought about lighting the lamp sitting there, but ruled against it. Instead, he leaned back in the chair and let out a heavy sigh.

"Sonic? That you?"

The hedgehog's eyes popped open and he looked around for the source of the voice. "Yeah, over here, Rote. What's up?"

Rotor the Walrus appeared from around the corner, some manner of strange device in his hand, and a manipulative tool in the other. "What's the matter? Couldn't sleep?" Rotor was the camp's mechanical genius, highly skilled in all manner of technology, both standard and improvised, which played a key role in surviving in the Great Forest. He was dressed in baggy pants, a jacket that seemed bulging at the seams with all the devices jammed into it, and his trademark baseball cap, backward.

"Naw, I just needed some fresh air, that's all," Sonic replied, waving him off. "What's that you're workin' on?"

"Oh, this?" Rotor asked, holding up the device in his hand. "It's a birthday present for Tails."

"Birthday present? You're kinda late, aren't you, Rote?" Tails' party was the next day -- no, Sonic corrected himself, later that day.

Rotor rubbed his neck with his free hand. "Yeah, well, that's why I'm up at two in the morning, heh heh."

Sonic craned his neck to get a look at the device, which appeared to be a leather strap with two round pieces of glass attached on one side, along with a small panel armed with buttons. "What is that thing, anyway?"

The techie held out the device so Sonic could see it better. "It's a pair of aviator goggles, for when Tails is out flying, he can look cool. It's also got infrared vision mode so, I don't know, he can see people coming."

Sonic crossed his arms. "...So he can see 'bots comin', ya mean?"

Rotor shrugged. "If it can help out the cause, as well as make the little guy happy, I'm all for it."

He smirked. "Yeah, good idea, Rote."

The walrus put the goggles away. "What'd you get him?"

Sonic froze. With all the mission planning over the past week, we had completely forgotten his buddy's birthday! "Stupid, stupid..."

"What?"

"How could I forget my little bro's birthday?" he cried, throwing up his hands in frustration.

"Uh, oh. Well, if you want, I got a whole mess o' stuff in my lab. Just come on over some time."

Sonic sighed. "Maybe in the morning. I'm too tired to really do anything right now."

"Okay, Sonic. But don't forget. Tails would be really disappointed if you forgot, you know."

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


"Sonic, Sonic! Wake up!"

"Huh... wha?" Sonic's eyes half-opened, which hurt from the morning sunlight coming into the commons room. He realized that he had never gotten off the chair from the night before, and had fallen asleep at the table. He squinted against the glare, then shielded his eyes with a hand as he struggled back upright. "Is it... morning already?"

"Yooouuuu bet it is, Sonic! And guess what day it is! Guess, guess, guess!"

Sonic was now fully awake and could see the excitable young fox in a vest and denim shorts jumping up and down on the table he was formerly using as a pillow. He smiled. "I give up. What day is it, Tails?"

Seven-year-old Miles "Tails" Prower plopped down on the table, his two bushy tails fanning out behind him. "You gotta guess..." he pouted, looking up at him, hands resting in his lap.

"All right, all right," Sonic replied, pushing out of the chair and pacing back and forth in mock concentration. The cub swiveled his head to watch, enjoying the little games they played. "Is it... Harvest Day?"

Tails giggled. "No, silly."

He came up behind him. "Is it Festival?"

"No! Sonic, you're not even tryin'!"

Sonic rubbed his chin. "It couldn't be somebody's birthday, could it?"

Tails jumped to his feet. "It's my birthday, Sonic! Today's my birthday!"

The hedgehog gave a look of mock surprise. "Ya don't say! Hey, little bro, you're gettin' older all the time! Didn't you just have a birthday?"

Tails smirked. "Yeah, last year."

Sonic yawned and stretched. "So, I guess we'll be havin' a party today, huh?"

"Yeah, a big party! Aunt Sally and the other's are plannin' it right now!"

He looked around. "Hey, where is everybody, anyway?"

Tails pointed at a hut at the north end of the camp. "In the Meeting Hall. I'm not allowed in 'cuz 'it's a secret,'" He rolled his eyes.

"Well, I should get over there then." He went over and gave Tails' hair a shake. "Happy birthday, little bro."

"Thanks, Sonic."

"See ya later!" he called out as he took off across the compound at full speed, which for Sonic was really fast. He reached the door to the hall in three seconds flat, and was able to hear the voices on the other side:

"...Okay, Rotor, you collect all the presents-"

"Will do, ma'am."

"-Antoine and Felix are in charge of the decorations, and Bunnie, can you do the cake?"

"You got it, Sally-girl."

"Sonic will be the distraction to keep Tails out of the camp until everything's ready."

It was at the mention of his name that Sonic made his entrance, bursting into the room and placing himself in a chair in the space of two seconds. At the front of the room, Princess Sally Acorn looked up from her clipboard to the new, late arrival. "Well, well. Speak of the devil and in he comes."

"Hiya, Sal. What'd I miss?"

The squirrel threw up her arms. "Oh, pretty much everything pertaining to Tails' party. The only thing you have to do is-"

"Distraction, huh? No prob. Just leave to the old hedgehog. He knows where the little guy will be kept busy for a while."

Sally planted her hands on her hips and gave Sonic "the look." "Now, Sonic, I don't want any funny business out of you. Just try, try, to stay responsible about this. Please?"

Sonic gave a look of indignation. "Li'l ol' me? When have I ever been not responsible?"

She rolled her eyes. "Let me count the ways...

"Anyway, that's about all that's needed for the party," Sally continued, putting the clipboard away and pulling out her palmtop computer, Nicole. "We also have something else that needs planning. Nicole, please display diagram 12-A."

[Processing, Sally.]

The front of the device shone a blue hue, and an image wavered into being before it. It was a structure, obviously a large one, which would have been straight and square if not for the multitude of antennas and receivers sticking out of the roof, and various points on the upper walls, all pointed to the sky.

"This is Robotnik's information depository," Sally informed, arms crossed. "Almost all information held in a computer bank on Robotropolis or transmitted through radio has a backup copy here. We also hope that his confidential files are here, too, because that's what we're going to need."

Sonic was skeptical. "What's the op, Sal?"

"We're going to sneak a team in to try and download all the information Robotnik has on the Roboticizor. Even if it's encrypted we have a better chance of decoding it here than in enemy territory."

"Are we doing this before or after the little guy's party?" Rotor asked.

Sally sighed. "Many of you may be disappointed to hear, but I think it should be done before the party." Then, amid moans of dissent: "The celebration will be that much more enjoyable after a successful mission."

Sonic made a fist. "Well, I'm game. When do we go?"

"What makes you so sure you're going, Sonic?"

"Oh, come on, Sal... 'Sneak a team in,' 'enemy territory.' That's practically my job description."

"That's taken deathly out of context, but you're right. A four-person team: Sonic, Antoine, Bunnie, and myself. The rest of you, do your own parts to make sure this is the best party Tails has ever had."

The majority of freedom fighters left to dispel over the compound, leaving the four members of the team left in the room. As the door closed, Sally queried Nicole for a simple diagram of Robotnik's base, the city of Robotropolis. It appeared, and she motioned at the eastern edge of the map. "This would be the best way in, but we'll have to get through Robotnik's perimeter security. After that, though, it's only a kilometer or so to the depository. Any questions?"

"Oui, I have a question, my princess. Ah, what are ze predicted troops will we be expecting in ze area?" Sonic rolled his eyes at Antoine D'Coolette's question; he was such a worry-wart. Sure, he was the only one of them with any formal combat training, but he didn't seem to put it into effect much. Before the throne was usurped, the coyote was in training to become a member of the royal guard, and he thought that it was duty to protect Princess Sally at all costs. He even insisted on wearing an outfit similar to that of the old guard: navy blue with gold trim, meticulously kept, complete with a rapier scabbard on his belt.

"Good question, and unfortunately I don't have much of an answer," Sally replied, then paused. "Nicole, please predict troop positions in the area based on recent mobilization reports."

[Working, Sally... Predicted troop complement is approximately 72 SWATbots, 32 scout drones, 47 spy probes, 12 combat carriers, and 10 radar towers in a two-kilometer radius of the information depository.] The map was now flecked with red dots marking Nicole's predicted troops positions.

The sound of metal-on-metal clicking emanated from Bunnie's seat as she tapped her clawed left-hand fingers on the chair. "Ah don't like the looks of it, Sally-girl," she offered in her Southern-Mobius accent. "It ain't so bad, unless ya figure on the countless other troops 'Botnik's got waitin' on standy." She stopped her tapping and crossed her arms, the metallic left contrasting sharply against her tan-sleeved right. Georgia had been one of the first casualties of their war against Robotnik, captured during a scouting mission into the forest. She had been put through his devilish contraption, the Roboticizor. They were able to rescue her before it was complete, but it still turned her left arm, both her legs, and some of the left part of her face to a metallic alloy. Georgia returned to duty, with the adopted codename "Bunnie Rabbot." She wanted more than anything to help with the construction of a "de-roboticizor," not just for herself but for the countless other citizens of Mobius who had been transformed by Robotnik.

"It's not a problem," Sonic interjected. "We can be in and outta there in five minutes, tops."

"We all have to give it our best, as always," Sally sighed. "If there's nothing else, we'd better get going. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can concentrate on... better things. Meeting adjourned."

The three of them rose to leave, but Sally stopped Sonic in mid-stride. "Sonic, you stay. We have to talk."

Bunnie and Antoine exchanged knowing glances. There were many times when Sally said that they should "talk," and most of the time it was after Sonic did something she did not approve of. They left the meeting hall quietly, and Sonic watched them go. Now he was alone, left to face the wrath of the Princess.

Sally ran a hand through her auburn hair and cantered her head to one side. "Sonic, what's the deal? You knew we were planning Tails' party, but you weren't here. You finally show up and -- well, look! -- your clothes are dusty, your hair is a mess. Why?"

Sonic let out a sigh of his own. "I had... that dream again last night."

Sally's demeanor visibly softened. "Uncle Chuck?"

"Yeah. I can't help but think about him, Sal. And I can't help but blame myself for what happened."

She took two steps toward him. "That happened ten years ago, Sonic. You were five; there wasn't anything you could have done."

The hedgehog looked up into her eyes. "There had to have been somethin'!"

Sally placed a hand on Sonic's shoulder. "Look, how long have we known each other?"

"Pretty much forever."

"Right. Now, you can either keep kicking yourself in the head because of what happened then, or you can work in the now, to try to keep Robotnik's horrors from affecting anyone else. Understand?"

"Yeah, I needed that. Thanks, Sal, you're right."

She smiled. "As usual."

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


As soon as they had packed up what little gear they would need, the team set out from Knothole, toward Robotropolis, due north several miles. As soon as they were out of the forest Robotnik's noxious clouds of pollution were visible even this far away, spreading as far as the eye could see. His poison chemicals were everywhere: in the soil, in the air. Even in the water; a toxic river was what caused Tails' mutation.

Sonic sighed as they emerged from the wood, his mind remembering vividly -- part from the dream, he realized, and part from his own memory -- what Mobius was like before the takeover. It had been called Mobotropolis, then, the Imperial city of the House of Acorn. King Acorn, Sally's dad, had just gotten finished fighting the Great War against the Power Guardians, strange mystic creatures who protected the Items of Power from evil. The Guardians had turned against them, though, and began using their powers to fight the Kingdom. The War was long -- almost five years, if he remembered it right.

The day the war ended and the last Item was recovered there was much rejoicing throughout the kingdom. It took another few weeks to wrap everything up, but there was a grand banquet planned then, where the heroes of the war were to be commended for their bravery. Opening speeches hadn't even been completed when the fleets came. Sonic, Bunnie, Antoine, and Rotor had been there as "friends of the princess," and were herded to safety as the initial wave struck. Sally's nanny, Rosie, had specific orders about what to do if the children were ever in danger. She took them to the King's resort in the woods, Knothole, where they would be safe until the calamity was over. It wasn't that simple. The children watched from the forest as the great plumes of smoke and flame reached into the sky from the destruction of the city, and when the debris cleared, there was a new ruler: Doctor Ivo Robotnik.

Sonic shook his head to clear the unpleasant memories. He turned the entire city into one giant factory, producing the war machine that would conquer the rest of Mobius. They had been fighting him for ten long years now, with no end in sight.

"Hey, sugar-hog, y'all right?"

He sighed, seeing the sympathetic look on Bunnie's face. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just... memories, that's all."

She looked up to the sinister skyline on the horizon. "For all of us, that's fer sure."

A new set of structures was visible now, tall cylindrical towers with light-beams shining from them, scanning the ground below. In the lead, Sally stopped just before the peak of a hill, where hopefully the guard towers couldn't see them. "There's the perimeter."

Sonic started up the hill. "Don't worry 'bout it. I'll distract 'em, you guys start in."

The princess stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Sonic, I really think we should stay together."

He frowned. "Okay, how do you suggest we get past 'em?"

There was a long pause. "We could go between the towers where the radar is weakest, get past to-"

"No good," Sonic interrupted. "Those spy drones'll see ya as soon as ya clear the hill."

Sally ground her teeth. "We could take out the drones then. At least the ones that are liable to see us."

"Uh, excusez moi, Princess," Antoine spoke up, his pistol shaking nervously in his hand. "But I do not think we will be having enough weapons or time for zat."

"Antoine's right," Bunnie agreed. "I think ol' sugar-hog should do a distraction."

Sally pursed her lips, weighing her options. As much as she hated giving in to Sonic's childishness, there was a job that needed to be done, and he could help to do it. "Sonic?"

"Yes'm?"

"Go ahead."

"All right!" Sonic leapt out from behind the hill, hitting the ground running. "Juice time!"

In moments he was nothing but a blue blur, heading straight for the two guard towers closest to them. The guards noticed him and began issuing orders into their radio equipment, swiveling their lights to track the incoming hedgehog. The spy drones and SWATbot storm troopers nearest to Sonic came rushing in to intercept the intruder, cameras and laser rifles coming to bear.

Sonic noticed them out of the corner of his eye as he ran, altering course just slightly enough that he was headed straight for one of the towers. As Sally, Bunnie, and Antoine crept out from their hiding place and ran for the city, he smiled. Now to ditch these SWATbutts. There were four of them to his left, five to his right, and at least two spy drones hovering above him. As he reached the base of the radar tower he leapt high into the air, hitting the wall at an angle and jumping off in the opposite direction. As he descended he rolled into a ball, his hedgehog spines sticking out in all direction. He landed on the SWATbot directly under him, the spines puncturing the metal armor and several control wires, dropping the 'bot to the ground. He jumped upright, then as the body was falling off onto the next 'bot, then the next one and the next one. He hit the ground running once more, then sped off to where was friends had gone.

The outermost edge of Robotropolis was a ring of old abandoned homes that used to belong to the citizens of Mobius. Now they were broken down hulks of mortar, a good place to hide from spy drones. Sonic skidded to a stop in an alley between two houses, then slipped into one of them when he was sure no one was looking. "How was that, Sal? Am I good or am I good?"

"Don't get too cocky, Sonic," she replied. "That was the easy part." She retrieved her palmtop from her belt. "Nicole, map please."

The device lit up the old room, displaying again the holographic map of Robotropolis, magnified for the sector of the city they were in now. A blinking red dot showed their position, and a red square, their objective. "It doesn't look too difficult, we just need to head down the street here, maybe cut through the alley... What do you think, guys?"

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


Sonic's stunt did not go unnoticed. As the SWATbots saw the hedgehog approaching, they triggered an alarm that wound its way through Robotropolis' security network to the Imperial Palace, where it was retrieved by Robotnik's second-in-command. He looked the communiqué over, knowing what it was about already; these "Freedom Fighters" had been doing this for so long already. He sighed, knowing that he should tell Robotnik what was going on, if not just to see the big fuss he would make about it.

He got off the chair and headed through the door into the hallway, navigating the maze of passages that used to house dignitaries from foreign states on matters of business. Now he and Robotnik were the only "true organics" left in the city -- no, he corrected himself, Robotnik was far from human. He had "upgraded" himself so much that possibly his brain had started to go, too. Robotnik knew that his Roboticizor wasn't well-built enough to keep the subject's mind intact, what made him think that his own procedures would work any better?

Before the large double doors of the war room he stopped, making sure that he had enough composure to face the dictator's wrath. When he was as ready as he could be he stepped forward, triggering the automatic doors and stepping through. The inner sanctum was kept dark, save for a hellish red spotlight shining on the elevated control chair in the center of the room, surrounded by panels and view screens. They were all off, perhaps so that Robotnik could meditate. What though, the aide wondered, would a madman meditate on?

Robotnik obviously heard the door open, but made no effort to look at him. "What do you want, nephew?"

Colin Robotnik took another hesitant step into the room. "Uh, s-sir, another group of 'Freedom Fighters' has infiltrated our perimeter defenses. They appear to be-"

"Whose perimeter defenses, Colin?" Robotnik's low hissing voice stayed its tone.

He swallowed. "Y-Yours, sir. I only meant that-"

"Is the rabbit with them?"

Colin knew the answer, but he checked his notes anyway. "Oh, yes, sir. And the weapon is charged, as you requested."

Robotnik swiveled the control chair around, drawing in a wavering, hissing laugh. "Very good. Very good indeed. Where are they now?"

"In the south-east slums, sir. We tracked them with the spy drones."

The rotund man placed his fingers together, his metal right with his organic left. His dark, artificial eyes stared over them at his aide, outrageous mustache completing his disconcerting appearance. "Load the coordinates and fire the RASP signal on my command."

"Y-Yes, sir."

He grinned an evil grin. "And do try to relax, nephew. At times you can be so... snivel-y."

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


"...Maybe cut through the alley. What do you think, guys?"

"Ah think we should be okay," Bunnie said, looking at the map. "As long as we make sure none o' them SWATbots see us- AHH!" Bunnie's knees suddenly gave up and she collapsed to the ground, using her arms to prop herself up. Her face was contorted in a mask of pain, both her eyes screwed shut in agony.

Sally was the first to her side. "Bunnie, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Don't touch me, Sally-girl," she managed through clenched teeth. "Ah think the... the 'bots are comin' back on."

Sonic watched on helplessly from across the room. To prepare his victims for Roboticization, Robotnik injected them with tiny machines, called nanobots, whose job was to begin converting all the host's organs into mechanical ones, as long as they had a power source to run on. Since Bunnie's operation was never fully completed, her entire body wasn't robotic, but there was enough of the little critters inside her that they could do her serious damage, if they were ever re-activated. And somehow, Robotnik just reactivated them.

Bunnie completely collapsed to the floor, body rolling reflexively into a fetal position inside her brown cloak, convulsing harshly. Beads of sweat were visible on her forehead as she tried to keep from screaming against the pain.

"Bunnie, what can we do?" Sally insisted. "Bunnie!"

And then her shaking stopped, as her body succumbed to the pain and she blacked out. Sally cried out, reaching forward to test for a pulse, regardless of her friend's warning. She found one, though it was very weak. She got to her feet. "Antoine, you watch Bunnie. Sonic and I are going in alone. Call on the radio if you need help."

"Do you think that is wise to be doing, Princess? If something were to 'appen to you, I could not-"

"We'll be fine, Ant," Sonic frowned at him as Sally picked up her pack from where she had dropped it. "Just make sure nothin' happens to Bunnie, a'right?"

Antoine hesitantly nodded. "Oui."

Sonic and Sally moved cautiously out into the street, glancing about them nervously for SWATbots. There were none, none that they could see anyway. "All right, Sal. Which way?"

"North..." she looked around. "This way," she pointed down the street, and they headed off.

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


Tails was excited. He knew he was getting a "surprise" party, the way every kid seems to know it, whether you let it slip or not. He made his way through Knothole with a silly, eight-year-old grin on his face, trying to make out the words of anybody's conversation as he passed. After all, he thought to himself, you never know when someone will say something important.

After a few hours of this, though, he grew tired of it, and was content to sit in the wooded area close to camp, listening to the birds and playing at the dirt with his shoes. It was in this moment of solitude that Tails realized that Sonic had been avoiding him for some time. He's probably getting something really great for the party, he thought, which widened his grin even more. Sonic was his bestest buddy in the whole wide world; anything that he did was "way past cool," as he would put it. Tails wanted to be just like Sonic.

The cub got up on the log he was sitting on. The thing about Sonic, though, was that he was fast. Really fast. If Tails was going to be just like him, he would have to get faster, too. And that would mean practice. He jumped down to the forest floor, crouched down in a position similar to that of Sonic when he was getting ready to run, then took off as fast as his little legs would carry him.

Even though it was no where close to how fast Sonic could go, to Tails it was the greatest feeling in the world. He imagined that he was running right alongside his friend, and that he would go even faster than Sonic was, and beat him in the race. He wasn't watching where he was going, and tripped over a tree root. Tails tumbled into the foliage, was stunned for a moment, then started laughing at himself.

Rotor appeared from down the path. "Tails? What're you doing out here?"

"Runnin' with Sonic," he replied between giggles. "I mean, like Sonic. I'm gonna be just like him when I grow up."

Rotor smiled. "That's going to take a lot of practice."

Tails got up and brushed himself off. "I'll practice every day, then. I'm gonna get faster."

"All right, bud. Practice time's over. Come on back and wash up. Dinner's almost ready."

The two of them started back, Tails running as fast as he could and getting there first.

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


The data depository was only a few miles past the perimeter, and Sonic and Sally reached it without hassle. As they approached the entrance to the facility, they paused, waiting and listening for the telltale sounds of approaching footsteps from Robotnik's goons. Strangely, though, they heard nothing.

The front of the building was featureless apart from the two-meter-high blast door that protected the inside from the elements. Sally crouched down to the left of the door, pulling Nicole from her belt and attempting to break the security lock. Almost everything in Robotnik's empire was computerized; having a supercomputer of their own and someone who knew how to use it was a great asset, and why Sally went on almost every mission Knothole attempted.

With a pleasant-sounding chirp, the lock's operation lights flashed green and the door slid open. Sally got back to her feet and they both went inside. The robots that manned the equipment in the building needed minimal lighting to operate, compared to that which most organics were used to. The two made their way forward in the dimness, hoping that they wouldn't trip any security systems on their way in.

Nearly every computer console they passed -- about every five meters or so, once in the facility -- was manned by a 'bot. Fortunately, for the sake of mass-production Robotnik didn't put security detection programming into these "workers," so Sally and Sonic were relatively safe as the passed. With the help of Nicole's map, Sally led them through the maze of hallways in the depository to the central core, a towering mass of storage disks that reached to the ceiling, almost twelve meters high.

"Not so hard," Sally breathed, tapping buttons on Nicole to attempt a log in of Robotnik's data network. "There's a lot of junk in here; Robotnik doesn't put a lot of priority on keeping his servers clean, I guess. All right, I've located his central files. Just a moment more...

"Got it!" Sally called out, closing Nicole and replacing the computer on her belt. "Lets' go!"

"Lead the way," Sonic offered and followed her out into the corridor. Sally brought them out of the monstrous building back out onto the street, and they started south toward the other half of their team.

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


Antoine sat on a chunk of rubble in the main area of the house, pistol in his lap, nervously staring at the outside door. Bunnie was still curled up in the center of the room, either sleeping or in a coma. She wasn't dead, at least he knew: even in the dim light he could make out her laborious breathing. Poor Bunnie... he thought to himself as he watched over her. The pain she must have suffered, must still be suffering. To have such strength...

A sound from nearby made the coyote look up back through the door. "Princess? Iz that you?"

It came closer, and now it was obvious that whatever it was wasn't moving on foot. Next came the whirring, the metronome-like beep, beep, beep of an anti-grav generator. A spy drone! Antoine tightened his grip on his weapon, lifting it with apprehension at the door. The sound came nearer still, and he could place it through the wall to the right of the door, slowly making its way down the street where Sonic and Sally had just gone. If the drone were to look into the house as it passed by...

He jumped off his seat and took a kneeling stance beside Bunnie, realizing that she would be the first thing the 'bot would see as it turned the corner. There was a moment of long silence as Antoine waited, sweat beading on his forehead. He reached up with a hand to loosen the collar of his uniform, his temperature rising with his nervousness. Maybe the drone will go right past, he thought hopefully. Maybe it won't see-

But then it was too late. The spherical 'bot hovered slowly past the doorway, small spotlight illuminating the ground in front of it. Antoine held his breath, lower lip quivering. The 'bot slowly swiveled its beam into the house across the street, then floated into the house and began scanning the rooms. Antoine exhaled, then reached down and shook Bunnie's shoulder. "Bunnie! Bunnie, wake up! We 'ave to go!"

It did no good; she was still out. Frantic, he fumbled for the radio on his belt. "Princess! Princess Sally! Come in!"

The spy drone was moving to exit the house, and could now see directly into their hiding place. It paused, camera refocusing for the combination of light and distance. Antoine panicked, and fired a shot that connected with the drone's metallic casing and fried the circuitry within. It shorted out, falling to the ground with a slight clang and rolling to a stop. He picked up the radio again. "Princess Sally, we 'ave been found! Please respond!"

There was the crackling of static, then Sally's voice issued from the speaker. "Hold on, Antoine. Sonic and I are on our way back."

He replaced the radio on his belt, sitting back on the ground. They had better hurry. If the drone was able to call for backup, we could be surrounded by SWATbots any minute now.

Antoine was silent for a moment, weighing his options. Even with the cover provided by the darkness and the walls he would still be outnumbered and outgunned by a security team. And he was unable to move the sleeping Bunnie; leaving her out in the open would be unacceptable as well. He got up, circled the chunk of mortar he had been sitting on previously, and tried to move it with a push. It didn't move at first, so he pushed harder, in the direction of the door. He succeeded only in tiring himself out.

He laid panting on the ground beside the boulder, cursing himself for wasting his strength. Red-faced, he stared up at the ceiling of the house, trying to at least listen for any approaching footsteps.

"Gahs? Are y'all here?"

Antoine rolled over at the sound of Bunnie's weak voice. "Bunnie? You are awake?"

She didn't move, and her speech came slow and hoarse. "Ah don't think ah can move at all," she managed. "That you, Antoine?"

He got up and moved to her side. "Oui, it is me. Zey 'ave not yet retairned."

She laboriously rolled herself over with her organic hand; her robotic one didn't seem to be able to move at all. "And you stayed with me? Oh, Antoine, that is so sweet o' y'all."

Antoine smiled, admiring her efforts at ignoring her obvious pain. He put the best heroic inflection he could manage into his voice. "Do not worry, Bunnie. Zey should be back shortly, and we will return to Knothole."

"Ah, don't worry 'bout me, darlin'. Ah... Ah'm fine..." her voice trailed off, and rolled back onto her side, returning once again to sleep.

Concentrating on Bunnie's condition, Antoine didn't hear the rhythmic clicking of several pairs of boots on the street outside, coming ever closer to his position. He heard it now, and had just enough time to poke his head out the door to see a squad of six SWATbots headed toward him. He brandished his weapon once more, reaching for the radio with his left hand. "Princess, ze SWATbots are coming. Please, 'urry!"

He retreated back into the house, taking up a post between Bunnie and the door, kneeling into a firing position. In only a few moments the first SWATbots appeared outside the door; he fired, missing but forcing the trooper back out of the doorway. He heard orders being shouted, then two 'bots stormed across the doorway. Antoine fired again, this time hitting one of them in the chest and dropping him to the ground. The other, however, was able to make it to the other side of doorway, giving him an edge with a flanking maneuver.

Antoine laid prone on the ground, hoping the darkness inside would be enough to keep him from being seen. Two SWATbots, one on each side of door, began firing into the room; blindly, it seemed, for they didn't hit anything near him. He looked up as they were ducking back behind the doorway; the shot he snapped off hit the house on the other side of the street. He ducked his head again, mind devoid of plans or tactics, worried only for his life.

"Yee-ha!" came a very familiar yell as a blue blur ran past the doorway, jumping up and kicking the two guards on the head. They fell over, and Antoine jumped to his feet, running out into the street to see Sonic finishing off the other two SWATbots as well.

"Oh, Sonique! I am so 'appy to see you!"

Sonic turned, pointed and shouting. "Ant, behind you!"

He spun around to see the last SWATbot towering over him, laser rifle held ready. All time seemed to stop as he squeezed the trigger... BLAM!

Antoine's eyes slowly opened to the fact that he was not dead. He looked up in time to see the robot falling forward, burning hole in his back. Beyond, Princess Sally brought her smoking pistol up from her firing position. "Little careless, Antoine?"

He sighed. "Oh, merci, Princess! Shall we be leaving now?"

"Yeah, let's," Sonic said, kicking the body of a fallen trooper. "Wait, where's Bunnie?"

"She is inside," he answered. "She does not seem to be getting any bettair."

Sally checked on her. "Sonic, can you get her back to Knothole? Antoine and I can get out of here all right. Bunnie needs help now."

"No prob, Sal. I'm on it." He gently lifted her into his arms and started for the south edge of the city, not as fast as if he was unencumbered, but still fast enough. Sally and Antoine began running after him; not trying to catch up, there was something else they needed to do first.

They reached the perimeter just as Sonic was disappearing over the hills, and all the SWATbots around stopped shooting as they lost their target. Sally slowly crept up to the base of one of the spotlight towers, trying to place it between her and all of Robotnik's goons standing around. She crouched down, reaching into her pack to produce a small device about as large as her fist. She slapped it onto the wall, pressing the button combination needed to start its lights flashing. "Let's go, Antoine!" she yelled out, arming her pistol now and firing randomly at the SWATbots, just to get them to move.

The two of them started back to the forest, the robot guards firing waves of shots after them. "Princess," Antoine managed between gasps, "Why did you make the SWATbots be noticing to you?"

"So they wouldn't notice this," she answered, fingers curling around another small, hand-held device, this one with a button on one end. Her thumb came down on it, and a deafening roar sounded around them as an explosion lit up the night sky. Sally turned back in time to see the guard tower, now with its base completely blown away, sway and teeter before plummeting to the earth, crushing at least two 'bots beneath it. The rest of them were distracted enough that Sally and Antoine could run over the hills and back to the Great Forest.

-=:=-=:=-=:=-=:=-


Colin swallowed the lump in his throat as he addressed the dictator of Robotropolis. "Sir, the Freedom Fighters have escaped back through the perimeter. The squad you sent and one of your guard towers have been destroyed."

Almost more menacing than Robotnik's anger was his calm. "Do we have evidence that the RASP signal did was it was designed for?"

He checked his notes. "Security tapes show that only two of them entered the depository. Perhaps the rabbit was incapacitated as planned."

A pause. "What information did they get away with?"

"It appears to be... the plans for the Roboticizor, sir."

"It is of no consequence," he answered. Colin didn't understand that at all. He had definitely expected a rise out of him of some degree for that.

"W-what do we do now, sir?" he stammered.

"Now, 'snively,' we wait. Now we wait for the results we need."

::END OF CHAPTER::


Revision history:
08 /04 /04 :: added HTML formatting, revised Bunnie's accented dialogue (I was getting complaints from my southern girlfriend ¬.¬ )