Disclaimer: You know the score. I don't own Sonic.... bla bla bla bla bla
Today it had taken Gerald to persuade him into the airlock. Every week the scientists asked for a little more, each time they pushed him closer and closer to breaking point. He hated Tuesday mornings more than anything else. Maria hated them too; she said he was always grouchy in the evenings, so shunned his company. That was worse than the training itself. He hadn't wanted to go, he'd feigned sickness and injury but the scientists simply ignored him. When that had failed he'd tried pure stubborn refusal and outright rebellion. He'd thought he might get away with it until Gerald arrived. Shadow found it very hard to say no to him, though his will today had held out a lot longer than it usually did. Nevertheless he found himself sealed into the airlock with only the promise of an afternoon off with Maria in the far and hazy future to hold on to.
He breathed heavily, trying to flood his system with air while he still had the chance. Already his heart was racing to the pace of a hummingbird. His agitation rose more and more the longer he waited, being sealed inside the featureless silver room would have been bad enough, but for once he feared what lay outside more than the tiny space.
"Are you ready Shadow?"
He nodded towards the camera. His palms were sweating inside his flame-proof gloves, his hands involuntarily clenching into fists. He concentrated on trying to subdue the rising panic, before it reached the level at which he would be unable to control the fire. Then he heard the ominous hiss and his heart rate soared even higher.
"We'll start with two laps of the main Speedway ok?"
Shadow didn't have a choice. He concentrated on drawing a final breath before the lasts of the air in the airlock drained away. He felt the familiar tightening sensation as whatever it was that made him who he was stopped every cell in his body from bursting out into the vacuum. He blinked his eyes as the momentary fuzzing of his vision passed and the pain in his ears receded to a dull ache. He had to be grateful for small mercies. The first time they'd done this both his eardrums had burst. Then the lasts of the air was gone, the door opened and he ran out onto the Speedway.
Subduing the panic was the main thing. Panic cost oxygen. He'd found that a slower ground eating lope was better than an all out run, he could go further, more comfortably, if slower. He quickly moved into the rhythm of his skate, allowing the least movement possible whilst maintaining optimum speed. He pushed forward, focusing on the stars, like he always did. There was some kind of shielding around this place, which let them give it an atmosphere and gravity if they wanted to, but there had been no air in this section for months. For all intensive purposes it looked as though the Speedway was open to space. Shadow could see the Earth at awkward angles. He preferred not to look at it though as it gave a sickening impression that he was running uphill.
He lapped the airlock in good time and turned back out onto the slow curve of the circuit. The Speedway was roughly circular, but wide and loose enough for him not to notice the bends. Even so the scientists made sure he ran each direction in equal measure. By the second lap he always began to feel the effects of running without taking a breath. It always started with a burning sensation in his chest, his lungs gagging for air like they would underwater, except here he would not choke on water, but nothingness, there was simply nothing here for him to breathe. Shadow pushed on, if he gave up the scientists simply wouldn't let him in, he'd be forced on. At the next stage he began to feel his muscles cease up, poisoned by lactic acid as his body tried to make enough energy to keep him alive. Half way round the second circuit he began to feel his hips and knees lock up. If the poison built up too much it would reach his heart, and stop it, and that would be the permanent end of the humans' experiment. They were supposed to be monitoring his life signs through the band on his wrist, but he doubted any of them would be capable of understanding what this felt like.
Coming down the home straight of the second circuit his vision began to tunnel. The stars and the Earth disappeared from his sight; all he was aware of was the gleaming metal of the Speedway stretching out eternally in front of him. By now the burning in his chest had spread to his whole body, but his mind had grown so foggy he noticed it less. His mind was totally consumed by the thought of returning to the airlock and how good it would feel to fill his lungs with clean air. Normally the airlock door would be open now, waiting for him, today it wasn't. His ears just picked up instructions.
"Go round the first short loop" one of his instructors was saying.
Shadow didn't have oxygen left to despair or fight. His mind becoming a numb, desert-like bleak he simply did as he was told.
All his muscles were locking up now. The easy gait had become crippled, every time he took a stride it was as though his bones had to be cracked out of place. His vision was now so narrow it was restricted to a thin circle in the centre. A fierce pain was building in the middle of his head, he was running out of air, but he had no strength or wit left to panic. His heart beat in his chest, thudding against his ribs like a dribbled basketball, but he simply ran. He came around to the Airlock again. It was still closed.
Gerald looked up at the clock running on the wall of the Speedway Control Centre. It read 4:44. The longest Shadow had ever been in the vacuum was 5:13, and that had been pushing it. Nervously he knew he had to have faith the scientists who ran this part of Shadow's training; he had to trust that they knew what they were doing. He couldn't help but feel guilty as they pushed Shadow further though. His creation expected him to protect him; he'd gone into the Speedway for him because he believed in him. Gerald couldn't shake the gnawing sensation that he'd betrayed him. 4:56. A commotion in front of him disturbed his thoughts and drew his eyes from Shadow's laboured progress.
"What d'ya mean the airlock won't open?"
"They just won't open! System failure, they won't budge!"
"Fill the atmosphere!"
"That'll take hours!"
"Just do it!"
"The valves are fused!" The technician, white faced banged on the control panel in front of him "Open damn you!"
5:09. Gerald felt his heart fill with panic. He wanted to do something, shout and rant for them to get the airlock doors open; but that wouldn't help. He found himself pinned numbly to the spot.
"Get people suited up and ready to go out there on the double!"
"By the time they walk from the other hatch it'll be too late!"
"Just do it!"
The technician fought with the computer, trying to bypass the problem in the program. By then Gerald's eyes were back on Shadow. He saw the look on his face as he realised the airlock doors weren't open for him. His eyes widened and his face was covered with a kind of stricken terror. He looked from the doors up to him in the Control Centre and pleaded with his eyes, "please no more tests, let me breathe" he seemed to say.
Shadow clawed at his throat, desperate for air. He felt he would explode. The terror was back. It consumed him. He was almost blind now. He stared up at his father and begged with his eyes, begged for mercy. Finally his vision tunnelled out completely. The last thing he saw was Gerald Robotnic's blank eyes staring into his. But with his vision he didn't drop into oblivion. He put his hands against the doors and scrabbled against them, he tried to call up the fire to burn the doors open, but there was no fire left to call.
5:13. Shadow clawed at his throat, as though he would rip it out himself. 5:15. He turned to the doors and scrabbled weakly against them, like a dog trying to dig its way through concrete. 5:17. What was he going to tell Maria? 5:19. Shadow stopped struggling and simply draped himself against the door, resigned to his fate. 5:19. All the biosensors were ringing. 5:21. The frightened technician succeeded in opening the airlock doors. Shadow managed to pull himself clear and they closed behind him. The airlock began to flood with pure oxygen. But by that point Shadow's heart had stopped.
"Medical team to Speedway airlock!"
The pressure in the airlock rose faster than it should. Gerald wasn't sure if Shadow's body would be able to compensate. He found himself running for the airlock doors, accompanied by almost everyone in the room, except the technician, whose stomach suddenly decided to reject his breakfast.
The medical team met him at the doors. They opened with a faint hiss. The medical team raced passed Gerald and down to Shadow. The problem was obvious. Gerald again found his feet rooted to the spot, his eyes filling with tears. He watched helplessly as so many medics swarmed Shadow that his black form was hidden beneath a tide of white coats.
It only took one shock to start the resilient creature's heart again. Gerald felt relief wash over him like a waterfall, and was finally able to move himself closer. But the medics were faced with a new problem. Shadow's heart was beating, but if they couldn't get oxygen into his system it would soon stop again. One of the medics pushed a tube up Shadow's nose, and began to force the gas into his lungs. Now all they could do was wait. After a long moment his chest rose as he attempted to breathe on his own. A small cheer ran round the group. Shadow was out of immediate danger, but brain damage was now a real possibility. The medical teams never quite knew what to expect anymore. Project Shadow had destroyed all their concepts on what was dangerous and what was the limit for a living creature. They just didn't know anymore. They all stepped back or stood up bar one. She coaxed Gerald closer, lifted Shadow's stiff body and placed him in his arms. With a guiding touch on his elbow and dragging the oxygen machine behind her they left the airlock.
The most noticeable thing Gerald could perceive about Shadow's improvement was the unlocking of his muscles. Gradually he became limp in his arms. At the same time his temperature increased to something more like normal rather than that of a cold hard lump of rock. By the time they reached the medical bay Shadow's fingers were twitching. Maria had heard the alert and was already there waiting for them. When Gerald lay him down on a bed Shadow groaned. Maria looked at him for a moment then stared resentfully up at her father.
"Father... let me in..." Shadow mumbled
Maria and Gerald were on either side of him. He knew by the sound of their breathing. He was in the medical bay, he could tell that by smell. His vision had yet to return. Besides that all he knew was that he would now be having more than one afternoon off and that Maria wouldn't shun his company tonight...